Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Virtual Twitter Tasting: Hope Family Wines

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a Virtual Twitter Tasting. It's been a few years since I have particpated in one, but when I do, I always enjoy them. They are quick, yet fun. How tough is it to sit in front of your computer with three bottles of wine, sip on them, and then tweet up some wine tasting notes?  This Twitter Tasting in particular was part of the Boston Wine Expo #BWETaste held this coming weekend, and they teamed up with
Hope Family Wines, of Paso Robles, CA to provide the wines. 

In 1978, the Hope family arrived in Paso Robles looking for new opportunity and certainly found it, which eventually the Paso Robles area would become known for world-class wines. The Hope Family Vineyards, formerly apple orchards, has been certified sustainable SIP (sustainability in practice) since 2009. To this day, the Hope Family Wines are still family-owned and operated, and produce five individual label brands: Liberty School, Treana, Candor, Troublemaker and Austin Hope. For our Twitter Tasting, we had the opportunity to taste the Troublemaker, Liberty School, and the Treana. 

The TroublemakerTroublemaker is a truly a busy wine. This "table" blend carries a little smoke, violets,  it's juicy, and ends with a a little nutmeg and pepper finish. SPICY! I sipped on it for a couple of evenings and kept finding more interesting things going on with it.  But it would make sense since this red blend consists of 46% Syrah, 14% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 25% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah. Food pairings? It's almost endless, especially in the casual department: meatloaf, charcuterie, veggie burrito with grilled veggies and spicy beans, and even BBQ ribs. $20. 

Liberty School - 2013 Merlot.  So, I am a fan of Walla Walla Merlots. As far as I am concerned there is no Merlot other than a Walla Walla Merlot. Therefore I put on my neutral cap, and gave Liberty School a try. It was a big nose of cherry juice and blackberry jelly. On the palate it is full of dark fruit such as bramble berries and plums, and a hint of sage. The finish is a bit on the cocoa side ending with a touch of nutmeg. I thought the tannins were fairly smooth for a new wine.  Food pairings? Roasted or grilled meats, Easter ham or Passover brisket. I would even make a redux out of this Merlot, toss in a few sauteed shallots in butter, reduce and drizzle it over a grilled piece of salmon. $16.

Treana Red - 2012. The Treana is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah, and habeen the Paso Robles benchmark blend, since 1996. At first glance you cannot overlook the beautiful packaging with the raised gold lettering. This girl, known as Treana, is still young and she would probably like to lay down for awhile - - at least seven years - - to feel her very best. Big flavors of cherries, smoke, and dark plums. For food pairing, I would spend some time with the meal such as a Port braised beef short ribs, Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon, or a dinner size Caesar salad with strips of smoked beef brisket or skirt steak on top.  Also, anything with bacon - - yes, even chocolate covered bacon. $45.

When it comes to domestic wines, I will admit I have a bit of a Walla Walla or State of Washington palate, so I always enjoy tasting wines from other regions, and often I am prepared to not enjoy them. However, the wines from Hope Family are very solid wines and if they were available at my local wine shop, I would certainly look at purchasing them. Well done, Hope Family Wines. 

Received as complimentary samples

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Saying Goodbye: Mannina Cellars

Time rolls along and before we know it, we look at a landmark and it is ten years later. Indeed. When I think of the time Mannina Cellars was first getting their start, so was this wine blog - ten years ago.

Don and Jason 
It's with a sad heart that I read last night Don and Nicole Redman have chosen to close Mannina Cellars after ten years of operation. It's bittersweet news, but I am very happy for them. They are free of the liabilities, the rigorous responsibilities, and hard work that goes along with owning a winery and vineyards. As they can tell you first hand, that owning a winery is not at all like the critics will lead themselves to believe, that winery owners sit in their chateau every evening overlooking their land and the sunset while sipping on a vintage wine. Even if an active owner of a winery does have a chateau, he or she is probably working his or her butt off in the cellar or working long hours during out of town events. And quite too often, winemakers usually wear more grapes than they drink. A winery like Mannina Cellars is no different than any mom and pop business. Don and Nicole have a young family and now have more time to watch their daughters and son grow and be a part of those monumental times of their children's lives.

A young friend from Wyoming, Jason Baggett, was looking to extend his education and go the winemaking route. We encouraged him to come to the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla instead of  the U.C. Davis winemaking program. Jason was looking for an internship before he would land in Walla Walla and start school. He called me one day and asked what I knew about Mannina Cellars and the guy that owned it. I told him it was a perfect fit and to take the job. I remember calling Don and telling him that Jason would be the perfect fit - - and they were. To this day, even though Jason has moved back to Wyoming, Jason and the Redman family have a lifelong friendship. I love living in a small world.

Don had a unique story that I felt was an important one to share as in my book, Wines of the Walla Walla Valley: A Deep-Rooted History. He was one of the young winemakers who I featured as "Go West Young Man  ..." on page 95. Now a winemaker story that has come to an end ... and hopefully a happy ending.

Through the years when I had an opportunity to go out during the wine tasting event weekends, Mannina Cellars was usually the first on my list - - and I even did some bottling for them. Don and Nicole will be missed in the wine community and I wish them my very best on their next journey.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Bubbling Over: Champagne Tasting

The last couple of years I have really paid attention to Champagnes, and other sparkling wines, such as Cremants and Cavas. We seem to have this attitude that Champagnes and other sparklers are reserved for special occasions. Not so! The older I get, every day I wake up is a special occasion. Possibly the myth behind it all is that Champagnes are expensive. Not always true. There are many affordable sparkling wines on the market, and again, especially Cremants, Cavas, Proseccos, and good domestic sparkler can be found at affordable prices - - and I am not referring to those cheap American ones that are nothing but cheap white wine injected with carbon dioxide, either. 

Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant in Walla Walla held a Champagne tasting last week. The perfect time of the year to get us out of the slumps of a long winter and Valentine's Day around the corner. Of course, I had to attend, as I couldn't let such an opportunity slip by. Jenna Bicknell, manager of Whitehouse-Crawford was our host for the evening. She poured for us a total of eight different labels of bubbles.  All of them were Non Vintage, except one.  As always, I do not score, but instead will visit each of the wines and give my notes. 

Pierre Peters, NV Brut Grand cru, Blanc de Blanc, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
This is a sixth generation grower's Champagne.  The  estate is located in one of the villages that has received Grand Cru status, as well as the estate uses sustainable vineyard practices. Pierre Peters is a recognizable name for many Champagne lovers, but not one that can easily be located on the grocery store shelves, either.  It is 100% Chardonnay with very clean and crisp notes. 

Agrapart & Fils, NV Brut, Les Sept Crus
Sept Crus (7 Crus) means 100% of the fruit is produced from each of the seven villages in the Cotes des Blancs: Avize, Oger, Oiry, Cramant, Avenay,  Val d'Or, Bergères les Vertus, and Mardeuil. This translate into 70% Grand Cru, 30% Premier Cru.  This current NV is 50% each of the 2006 and 2007 vintages with 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir.  This is also a biodynamic wine that is on its way to be certified. Once again, it was a clean and bright palate with a bit of graham cracker on the nose. 

Vilmart & Cie, NV Brut, 'Grand Cellier,' Prenier Cru, Rilly la Montagne
Like Pierre Peters, Vilmart & Cie is another recognizable label, but again not one that you will find readily in a grocery store. It is a fifth-generation estate which dates back to 1890. The wine is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir from 2 parcels in Rilly-la-Montagne – “Les Hautes Grèves”  and “Les Basses Grèves.” Like all of Vilmart's cuvees, this wine does not go through malolactic fermentation and spends time in oak. For the NV wines, oak aging is completed in large cask from 500-2000 liter. The mouth was rich and creamy, leaving a very juicy finish.  

Jean Vesselle, NV Extra Brut Cuvee, Bouzy
From what information I could gather, this is a third generation winery, and this Cuvee was produced from the organic vineyards in Bouzy, which is 100% Grand Cru terroir. It had a minimum of 2 years of age with zero dosage (dosage = an addition of  liquid that consists of a mixture of  wine and pure cane sugar). 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. The nose was very licorice/eucalyptus and a rather austere funk. On the palate it was a little oxidized with a flat finish. I was not a fan. 

Boizel, NV Brut, Blanc de Noirs, Epernay
Once again, another Champagne with much familiarity. It is 100% Pinot Noir and sourced
from some of the best Pinot Noir Crus in the Champagne region such as: Mareuil sur Ay, Cumieres, Mailly, les Riceys. The nose was quite luscious and rich like breathing in an apple orchard or a warehouse full of fresh picked apples. Clean, fresh, crisp, with a finish like applesauce. 

De Sousa, NV Brut Tradition, Avize
This was a blend of several vintages, and with a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and unlike the others preceding, there was the addition of 10% Pinot Meunier. I thought the nose was quite tropical with notes of pineapple. Very full and lively bubbles. A slight oxidized and smokey notes - perhaps from the Pinot Meunier? However, it finished almost to zero - flat. 

Gaston Chiquet, NV Brut Tradition, Dizy
This Champagne is produced of all Grand and Premier Cru fruit from the Dizy, Hautviller, and Mareuil sur Ay.  It is 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, and 25% Pinot Noir.  It was a blend of the 2010 vintage, with 8% each of the 2009 and 2008 vintages. Frankly I kept trying to find some kind of distinguished characteristics in this bubbly. The nose and finish was rather dusty and muted.  The finish seemed also muted and soft on the palate. 

Bollinger, 2002 Brut Grande Annee, Ay
A vintage, as well as another recognizable label. This wine is a blend of 16 villages, in which 75% are Grand Cru and 25% are Premier Cru. Bollinger's tradition is to only use the cuvee juice in making of their La Grande Annee, and the first fermentation is always carried out in 100% old oak barrels. The wine is aged on the lees for a minimum of five years. 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay.  The nose was slightly nutty, as well as the palate. Nutty, lightly oxidized, but not cloying. It was smooth and that slight nuttiness just blended well.  The finish was crisp and bright. 

Last but not least, was a "secret" sparkling wine in a decanter.  We had an opportunity to taste the wine and Jenna later came by with the bottle. The wine was Domaine Huët Vouvray, Cuvee Brut  - a sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire region. Therefore, it was not be a traditional Champagne. The color was very bright and vivid yellow with classic Vouvray notes of pears, honey and flowers. 

Overall, many of the familiar wines for me were some of the best that I enjoyed, which were the Bollinger, Boizel, Pierre Peters, and the Vilmart & Cie - - but whether or not I enjoyed them all, it is always important to have the experience to learn and discover something new. 
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