It’s Summer! Drink Sauvignon Blanc.

 

Happy Summer, Winos! Those of us who live in the Phoenix, Arizona area have been experiencing summer for a solid 3 months. From now until September, we accept “Excessive Heat Warnings” of over 110 degrees as just another summer day.

Whether you are experiencing excessive heat or just regular ol’ “hot and humid”, nothing goes better with heat than refreshing alcoholic beverages. And I presume that wine is your alcoholic beverage of choice. One of the most refreshing wines to sip on by the pool or beach is Sauvignon Blanc.

Q: Is “Sauvignon Blanc” a grape varietal or a region?

 

A: Grape varietal.

Wines made from primarily one grape varietal are often referred to by their varietal. E.g. [the bracketed words are not usually stated.] “That bottle of [wine made from] Sauvignon Blanc [grapes] has a lovely balance of fruit flavors and minerality.”

Like many grapes, Sauvignon Blanc can result in a large range of flavor and style in the bottle depending on where it is grown and how it is made. A Sauvignon Blanc from France, for example, has a different flavor profile than that of California. Sure, there are common characteristics across the board, but understanding the differences helps us refine our palates. Here’s a quick look at the different flavor profiles between each of the key regions that produce Sauvignon Blanc.

Note: There are, of course, more regions that make Sauvignon Blanc. For the sake of blog posting length, I’m just covering these primary SB growing areas!

General Characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc:

Dry, white wine that is typically light to medium bodied and has an herbal undertone. From there, the wine can have fruity, floral, and/or smoky characteristics.

France

  • Region: Loire Valley
  • On the Label: “Sancerre” or “Pouilly-Fumé”
  • Typical Flavors: Herbal, Smokey (gunflint)
  • Typical Characteristics: Crisp, Focused, Elegant

WINE-KNOW PAUSE: Ok – are you thinking… “Gunflint’?! What the heck kind of flavor is that?!” Well, think smoky, but that sort of metallic smokiness that you can smell after shooting a cap. This is caused by the kind of soil/gravel that the vines grow in!

  • Region: Bordeux
  • On the Label: Graves
  • Note: White wines from Graves are a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and another grape called Semillon. This changes the flavor profile quite a bit.
  • Typical Flavors: Honey, Minerals
  • Typical Characteristics: Rich, Round, Bright

Note about “On the Label”: European/French wines don’t always include the grape varietal (“Sauvignon Blanc”) on the label, so look for a white wine with these words on the label. They are regions that make white wine with Sauvignon Blanc.

New Zealand

  • Region: Hawkes Bay, Marlborough
  • On the Label: Sauvignon Blanc
  • Typical Flavors: Grapefruit, Limes, Herbs, Melons
  • Typical Characteristics: Crisp, Focused, Sharp

(I know – this is quite a range! But think green fruit and herbs)

California

  • Region: Napa Valley, Sonoma
  • What to look for on the label: “Sauvignon Blanc” or “Fumé Blanc” (<<it’s the same)
  • Typical Flavors: Citrus/Grapefruit, Melon, Herbal
  • Typical Characteristics: Refreshing, Vibrant, Clean

Chile

  • Region: Casablanca Valley, Maipo Valley
  • Typical Flavors: Melon, Floral
  • Typical Characteristics: Light, Fresh, Some Minerality
  • Note: Can be made from a different and similar grape called “Sauvignon Vert” or “Sauvignonasse”, but labeled Sauvignon Blanc.

South Africa, Italy, and Austria are also known for producing lovely Sauvignon Blanc.

Go get out there in the hot summer sun and taste the differences between regional Sauvignon Blancs! I think you’ll be quite surprised at how easily you’ll be able to pick up both the commonalities AND the differences. (Of course, Wine Star Services is always happy to help with such comparative wine tastings!)

 

Sauvignon Blanc At A Glance

Sauvignon Blanc At A Glance

 

Did You Wine Know… All About Sonoma County Regions

No matter what store you’re in while on a wine shopping trip, you’ll see Sonoma County, CA wines on the shelf. And each of them says something about a valley or a region. Do you ever stand there and wonder (like I do), “what difference is there between Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley?”  While I’ve always been curious about the differences between these sub-regions within one of California’s biggest wine-making region, I have been too lazy to look up the answer. Until now…

Sonoma County Fun Facts: Before jumping into the details, let’s look at some quick facts on the region.
  • Located directly north of San Francisco and borders the Pacific Ocean
  • Consists of 1 million acres of land (two times bigger than Napa Valley)
  • The first vineyards in Sonoma were planted in the early 1800s, initially by Russian fisherman.  (Who would have guessed?!?!)
  • Made up of 12 “American Viticulture Areas” (AVAs). What’s an AVA, you ask? Well, upon an initial glance, I think we need a whole post just on this topic. But in summary, AVAs are wine regions based on geographical/climate differences.

Sonoma County RegionsSonoma’s American Viticulture Areas (AVAs):  So let’s talk about these AVAs. Because Sonoma is so big, it has quite the landscape variety – mountains, valleys, rivers, plains, etc.  And all of these climate differences change the way vines grow… and therefore, the make-up of the grapes… and ultimately, how the wine will taste.

While Sonoma has 12 AVAs, there are four key regions. And those are the four regions that we’re going to discuss here. Why is this information important to know? Well, because we’re going to review what each region produces best…. so when you’re at the store wondering if you should get a Pinot or a Cab from say, Alexander Valley, you’ll know which is your best bet. That or you can impress the fellow shopper with your wine know about Sonoma.
Alexander Valley: 15,000 vineyard acres, 42 wineries
This area is located on the northern end of Sonoma County, and has a warm days, relative to the area, and cool nights due to coastal fogs.  Because of the warm days, it best grows grapes that do better in warm climates, including Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. My favorite part of this post’s research are these words from the Oxford Encyclopedia of Wine: “Alexander Valley is noteworthy among other Sonoma county appellations for the fleshy voluptuousness of its wines.”  Finally! I’ve been looking for a fleshy voluptuous wine!! The Wine Bible notes that Alexander Valley Cabs are “agreeable with notes of chocolate warmth”.  Chardonnays from this area are more bold, full-bodied that Chardonnays from cooler climates.
Wineries from Alexander Valley to check out: Geyser Peak, Clos du Bois, Murphy-Good, Silver Oak
W2WK Note: Anyone who has been following this blog for a little while knows that W2WK is a fan of the Costco and Trader Joe’s wine selections… both have delightful self-labeled Cabernet Sauvignons from this region!
Russian River Valley: 15,000 vineyard acres, 70 wineries
The Russian River Valley is much cooler than the Alexander Valley as much of it is only 10 miles from the ocean.  Naturally, this results in the production of more wines from grapes that grow best in cooler climates. This primarily includes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Chardonnays from the Russian River Valley will be less full-bodied than those of Alexander Valley, but more well-balanced. Pinots from here will have a lovely richness and and complexity to them.  Grapes from this region are also used for Sonoma sparkling wines.
Wineries from the Russian River Valley to check out: Williams & Selyem, J. Rochioli, Kistler, Iron Horse, Sonoma-Cutrer, Gary Farrell, ad Dehlinger
Dry Creek Valley: 10,000 vineyard acres, 50 wineries
This region is one of the oldest in Sonoma, where one can see lots of old gnarled vines (indicative of old vines). The climate is warm during the day with night/morning fog. This leads to a balance between typical maritime and inland climates. The warm days result in the region being known for producing Zinfandels and Cabernets.  “Some Dry Creek zinfandels are big and meaty; others, soft and graceful. What the rest of them share is a sensual richness of flavor that can be irresistible.” (The Wine Bible)  As far as white wines go, look for Sauvignon Blancs from Dry Creek.
Wineries for the Dry Creek Valley to check out: A. Rafanelli, Ferrari-Carano, Mazzocco, Ridge
W2WK Note: This blog has posted about a Ridge Zinfandel before. Check it out!
Sonoma Valley: 14,000 vineyard acres, 55 wineries
Sonoma Valley has a variety of geography and climate as it sits at the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountans.  This variability allows for a large variety of grapes to be grown in the region.  This includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandels, Pinot Noirs, and Chardonnays.
Wineries from Sonoma Valley to check out: Laurel Glen, Ravenswood, Hanzell, Kistler, Matanzas Creek.
What are your favorite Sonoma wines? And which do you think you’ll run out to try? I think I’m going to dive into some Dry Creek Valley wines myself!
Sources of all Wine Know for this post:
  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of Wine
  • The Wine Bible
  • www.sonomawine.com

Divine Wine Sunday: Tobin James 2009 Ballistic Zinfandel

As previously noted, I fall easy for a bottle of wine with a good label… And the wines of Tobin James Winery do not disappoint.   All of their bottles are brightly colored with their signature sun logo.  When I visited their winery last November, they had little sun patches that they gave out with the tasting… and for some reason, that easy little marketing delighted me to no end.  (I’d be the worst test case for marketing… would find any silly thing kinda fun.)  But I digress.

While I’m drawn to wines of any winery that I’ve visited, this winery is full of tasty wines at a nice variety of price ranges.  Today’s post, however, is about their Zinfandel. Now, I have to admit, I have not often picked up Zinfandels.  I’m not totally sure why, but I think it is because I had only had very fruity Zins.  But my Paso Robles visit gave me a new (and improved!)  perspective on Zinfandels and I’ve been enjoying a fine variety since!

Divine Wine of the Week: Tobin James 2009 Ballistic Zinfandel, Paso Robles, California

Price Range: $13.99 at Costco, $18.00 from Tobin James Winery

Wino Assessment…

This wine had a big fruity flavor to start.  I’d describe it as a peppery cherry kind of flavor… but instead of finishing off with that heavy fruit, it finished almost soft and smooth.  It was like a little treat for the wine to finish off so smoothly after such boldness to start.  So, clearly, I really enjoyed it!

The Wine…

Tobin James’s website says that their Ballistic Zin has “Layers ‘n Layers of juicy Zin flavors.”  Not exactly a detailed description, but sometimes brevity is best.  And that about sums it up!  I picked up this bottle at Costco, and their description on the shelf read:

“The fruit aromatics are fresh, with raspberry taking the lead. Characteristic notes of pepper add to the complexity, the well judged use of oak allows the fruit to take center stage.”

Umm… can I just say that I’m pretty excited that I used the word “peppery” in my description.  And then found that Costco also described it this way?!   Note, that I probably did read the description when I picked up the bottle a few weeks back – so maybe that word was stuck in my sub-conscious, but either way, I feel like all my Wine Know studying is starting to pay off. (And yes, I realize my fruit descriptor wasn’t quite as spot on, but hey… cherry vs. raspberry… in a wine, is it really all that different!?!)

Anyway, the take-away here is that this Zinfandel is tasty and delicious… and very reasonably priced!

The Bite…

As some of you saw in my recent blog announcement, I picked up a couple of new wine books recently and have really been enjoying them!  So tonight, when spicy beef tacos were on the at-home dinner menu, I went to my trusty new book, Wine, Food, and Friends, to see what Karen MacNeil, the author, would pair with a spicy dish. One little tip in this book states that “dishes with bold, spicy, hot flavors are perfectly cut out for bold, spicy wines.  This is one reason why many Tex-Mex dishes work so well with zinfandels…”.  So basically, this sentence was why I pulled out the one Zin I had in my wine fridge to accompany my spicy beef tacos.  And indeed, the peppery but smooth Zin was delightful with the spicy beef and sriracha sauce.

So if you’re picking up a bottle of Zinfandel, it is likely to be a big, fruity wine… and therefore, should go well with your favorite tacos or burritos or other spicy delights. Hell, if you like sriracha like I do, you may just want to pour a little bit of that sauce in a dish and a glass of Zin and call it a night!

Happy Sunday, Winos!  May your week be peppery and fruity – seems like a nice balance for wine, and for life!

Divine Wine Sunday: Inconceivable Cab

Winos and Wine Knows alike… here it is… the most exciting Divine Wine yet to be presented here on Wino to Wine Know.  (Exciting in my book, anyway.)  A few weeks back, thanks to Action Dave, I learned about The Bottle of Wits – a wine made in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the  glorious movie, The Princess Bride.  And now, thanks to a loyal blog follower and blushing new Wino – we’ll call him “the Karate Kid” – I have had the pleasure of tasting The Bottle of Wits – Inconceivable Cab.  And without a doubt, regardless of what it tasted like, it HAD to be posted for name alone as the Divine Wine of the Week.  (Quick preview: lucky us – it ALSO tasted great!!)

Divine Wine of the Week: The Bottle of Wits, Inconceivable Cab, Cabernet Sauvignon,

The Bottle of Wits, Inconceivable Cab

Price Range: $28 from Alamo Drafthouse (and now available online!)

Note: The Alamo Drafthouse is actually a movie theater.  Their full title is the “Alamo Drafthouse Cinema”, and they celebrate a chosen movie each year via a special bottle/line of wine.  This year, in honor of the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride, the Alamo Drafthouse bottled The Bottle of Wits. And we Princess Bride fans, who are also Winos, will forever be grateful.

Wino Assessment…

Disclaimer: Normally, I do not read about the wines that I’ve selected for Divine Wine Sunday until after I’ve written my own assessment.  Since I have been pretty darn excited about trying The Bottle of Wits (and because I had already blogged about it – though not as a “Divine Wine”), I felt it necessary to disclose that I did read the description of the bottle before writing my “Wino Assessment”.

That said, did I enjoy The Bottle of Wits Inconceivable Cab? YES!  And yes, you’re right.  I was slightly swayed by the idea of The Bottle of Wits… and then when I saw the packaging, I was swayed even more.  I thought, “there’s no way I won’t like this wine!”  I mean the box itself has lots of PB quotes all over it.  It indicates that the wine is “iocane free” … “most likely”.  How could a PB fan not love that?!

But ok – beyond the awesome packaging (both on the bottle and the box), the wine was very enjoyable!  For me, it was an ideal combination of that Cabernet dryness and a smooth fruit flavored finish.  The wine left your tongue a little chalky, but not so much that you needed a glass of water to accompany your glass of wine.

The Grape…

I have posted on Cabernet Sauvignon here on Wino to Wine Know before.  There is certainly more to say about this wine, but for the purpose of this post, I think it will serve it justice to reference the details of the grape from the previous Cab Sauvignon write-up.

The Wine…

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema included a nice description of their Inconceivable Cab.

“Inconceivable Cab” is a 2009 vintage California Cabernet, with a deep ruby hue. The nose is all black currant with subtle hints of oak. Medium bodied, full of plum and black cherry fruit, balanced by firm acidity and tannins. On the finish, lingering notes of cedar and vanilla dominate. It is complex & intriguing, with no trace of iocane powder.”

For sure, I am happy to know that there was no iocane powder in this wine, for I have not yet built up my tolerance like the Dread Pirate Roberts.  That said, the power of suggestion is strong with me, and I totally agree that there were plum and black cherry flavors.  That and the “lingering notes of cedar…” are certainly accurate descriptions now that I’ve heard it after tasting this delightful red.  (Some day, I’ll be able to construct such elegant sentences to accurately describe vino.)

The Region…

California Cabs are recognized and respected around the world and the state plants about as many of these grapes as the Bordeaux region does.  Apparently, those crazy Californians from Stag’s Leap Winery beat out the Wine Know Frenchies back in 1973 in a blind tasting (funny because I just commented on this wine last week in the Wine Talk Leap Day post per CA Wino’s comment!).  In the late 1980s, California’s vines were hit with phylloxera (vine disease) which forced many parts of the region to replant all together.  But by the late 1980s, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were replanted and in nearly twice the numbers they had been before the pesky vine disease. An interesting Cali Cab fun fact is that Cab grapes from Sonoma County have anise and black olive flavors, while Napa Valley Cab grapes tend to have black fruit flavors.

 

The Bottle of Wits, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

In conclusion, I gotta say that I’m so glad this Inconceivable Cab is not only something I can and have now conceived, but also a wine that I truly enjoyed!! For the delight of the wine AND the fantastic packaging, I highly recommend ordering it if you’re a Princess Bride fan… or maybe you’ll be as lucky as me and have someone like the Karate Kid be kind enough to pick up a few bottles while visiting the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.

Divine Wine Sunday: La Crema

A few years back during a lovely dinner party, someone pulled out a bottle of La Crema Chardonnay.  And I remember it distinctly – mostly because white wines do not usually make a memorable impression on me.  Sure, I like white wines and drink them regularly.  But for whatever reason, reds typically leave me wanting more than white wines do.  However, I remember so clearly sitting around the dinner table with many good friends, and taking a sip of this Chardonnay and thinking, “wow – this is lovely.”  Since then, I have enjoyed La Crema on multiple Chardonnay occasions… but it’s time to Wine Know a little more about it….

Divine Wine of the Week: La Crema Chardonnay, La Crema Winery, Sonoma Coast, CA

La Crema Chardonnay

Price Range: $15-20 in a wine store (it is available at most grocery stores, World Market, and even Costco), $22 from the winery

Wino Assessment…

What I like the most about La Crema Chardonnay is while it has some soft fruit or flowery flavors, its buttery and smooth finish is what makes it interesting.  I think it would go well salmon or any fish, but also with a steak.  I would not necessarily just sip this one without food – it seems like it would be best with a little something to bring out its flavor.

The Grape…

Chardonnay grapes are originally from the Burgundy region of France and is now one of the most widely planted white wine grapes in the world – it seems it is essentially planted everywhere that grapes are grown.  It makes up approximately 40% of the white grape vines planted in California and is the second most widely planted white grape in France. Chardonnay grapes are often used in making Champagne – often combined with Pinot Noir grapes.  In the Chablis region of France, Chardonnay grapes are the only grapes permitted in making white wines within the European Union “wine laws” (I put that in quotes because I believe there is a more proper name for said laws).  So basically, if you say, “I’ll take a glass of Chablis!”,  you’re really saying, “I’ll take a glass of Chardonnay from Chablis in France!”

The grape is generally easy to grow and is highly resistant to vine diseases.  It is not especially flavorful in and of itself, which means that a  winemaker has a lot of control in a wine’s taste via the winemaking process (see next section).  And in general, as a wine, Chardonnay is extremely popular, making it a relatively easy sell for winemakers.  “A typical Chardonnay winemaker is more chemist than vitner.”  (The Wine Avenger) That might be a harsh assessment, but when you read below, you may feel the same!

The Wine…

Two things primarily affect the flavor of Chardonnay grapes when turning them into wine.

(1) Malolactic Fermentation (yes – there will eventually be a wine word guide on Wino to Wine Know – this Wino can’t keep up!). According to my good friend, Wikipedia, “Malolactic fermentation (or sometimes malolactic conversion or MLF) is a process in winemaking where tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid.”  So, now that we know that, we know that the wines that go through that fermentation process have a more buttery taste, and those that do not go through the fermentation process have a crisper appley taste.  My guess is that the La Crema Chardonnay does indeed have some MLF happening (look at me already abbreviating my new favorite winemaking verbiage!).

(2) Barrel Choice:  There are generally three types of barrels used in wine making – stainless steel, used oak, or new oak. (The Wine Avenger).  Chardonnay is typically made in oak, and the flavor of the wine is highly dependent on how much that oak barrel was charred.  With a highly charred barrel, the wine will be rather “toasty”.  Other flavors tasted when drinking a glass of Chardonnay that come from the oak of the barrel include caramel, cream, smoke, spice, coconut, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla. (“New World Chardonnay”, The Wine Spectator)

So what we’ve learned so far is that Chardonnay grapes are grown all over the world, and the taste of a Chardonnay wine is really more dependent on both the maloactic fermentation process and its barrel rather than the grape itself.  I find this very interesting and feel that if I ever venture to make my own little barrel of wine, that perhaps I should start with Chardonnay!

What does La Crema Winery say about its Chardonnay?  “The 2009 vintage of Sonoma Coast Chardonnay opens with an intriguing interplay of lively citrus and subtle toasted oak, laced with just a kiss of butterscotch. The palate is round and nutty, with flavors of yellow apple and orange adding lushness, while well-balanced acidity creates a lovely vibrancy. Hints of vanilla and caramel add richness and texture to a long, fresh finish.”  (La Cream Winery)

Woot!  I feel like my Wino assessment was pretty close to the winemaker’s assessment! (Again, I write the Wino Assessment prior to my Wino research).  Of course, the winemaker has a much better and expansive selection of words, but I think “buttery” is close to “butterscotch” when speaking about wine flavors, and “soft fruit” is similar enough to “flavors of yellow apple and orange adding lushness.”.  Am I stretching too much??

Regions…

As previously stated, Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted white wine grapes in the world.  In the North America, it immensely popular in California, but is also grown in New York, Washington State, and Oregon.  Canada also grows Chardonnay (Canadian wine?? Hmm… I smell a future blog post.)  In Europe it is most popular in France.  And in other regions of the world it can be found in Australia, New Zealand, and South America.  Basically, if you’re seeking out some Chardonnay vines, just go to any wine country region of the world and you’re likely to find it.

So La Crema, in this Wino’s book, is indeed a Divine Wine! Give it a try and let me know what you think!

[Source for all this fine Wine Knowing in this post unless otherwise stated: The Oxford Companion to Wine]