Wine Flight

IMG_2048Welcome aboard! Fasten your seat belts and secure your belongings. Before taking off, I would like to share some announcements about our flight. First, I had the great honor of selecting the theme “travel” after winning the #MWWC24, which was a lovely surprise. Thanks to all who voted for my post and continue to encourage my jack-assery. Secondly, some passengers may consider this theme broad and possibly unimaginative, but I selfishly stuck with it because of my enchantment with those tiny, precious bottles of wine served on airplane flights. A recent spate of coast to coast “travel” fueled me to share my inflight wine experiences. Not only has this been an idle curiosity of mine, but ultimately it should be useful information. After all, I am a pragmatic wino. Lastly, please remain seated as there could be some turbulence in my wine reviews. I may have taken my low standards even lower as I came to realize that a captive audience of strangers on a 6 hour fun ride at 39,000 feet will drink just about anything. There was no recourse and it was far too late to change our theme from “travel” to “vodka.” Nah zda-rovh-yeh!

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VOTE by clicking HERE

Virgin America SFO to PSP
Bottega Gold Prosecco, Valdobbiadene (Veneto), Italy  $8.50/20cl Mini Bottle

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My flight from SF to Palm Springs was short and uneventful. However, I cringed thinking of what was on the wine list. I had committed myself to tasting at least one wine per leg of my itinerary. After perusing my touch screen menu, I was pleasantly surprised with the offering. Being budget conscious (and sadly not drinking gratis in Business Class,) I decided to try the Bottega Gold Prosecco.

When in doubt my fearless flyers, get the bubbles. How bad could it be? And Prosecco mitigates further risk of gag-reflex due to the protective veil of bubbles and pleasantly high sugar content. This beauty did not disappoint.

Presentation was very chic for a single serve wine. I found the cap very clever – screw top but molded to look like a caged cork – clever! Nose was apricot, grapefruit and the first sip very citrusy, green apple, surprisingly dry, mousse copious and very effervescent for a Prosecco. Ok, the finish was a little bitter – this happens with some Cavas and Proseccos. Although the finish was abrupt, it didn’t ruin the overall enjoyment, it’s just a little reminder that you are drinking Prosecco on a plane and not Champagne in a Chateau. After all, we are in economy class and I’m just happy to have an aisle seat.  Rated an enthusiastic buy again!

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The wine list was impressive for my low standards. I think I made the right choice passing on the splurgier picks and the “One-Hope” Cabernet, which I found to be rather pessimistic.

American Airlines SFO to JFK

Fruit and Cheese Plate, $8.79 
Fresh fruit served with Brie, Cheddar, Dill Havarti and Muenster cheese. Served with gourmet crackers.

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Like them or not, I’m an avid American Airlines traveler, I want to keep my status, so they have my loyalty. I am just a couple of thousand miles shy of being a million miler. Not that it means much, but I’m hell bent on hitting that milestone one cheese plate at a time.

I NEVER order wine. It is too sketchy. But for you my fabulous followers, I did the deed. I manned-up and got myself a bottle of economy class white and main cabin red. I will be polite, but after my brief tasting, I tried to pass it off to the kid sitting next to me until she said she wasn’t old enough to drink. I then turned my head to the Chatty Cathies behind me and they gladly took the swill, tapered their conversation and fell asleep. 2 problems solved. Net-net? I’m glad I was able to savor the moment with the fresh flavors of my American Airlines cheese plate. I’ll take two more and a vodka.

La Noria, Villa Noria, Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc, Vino d’España, $8.00/187ml
Pineapple, first sip, peach, ripe apricot, hot alcohol and slight bitterness on the finish, lingers on the back of your throat with a little honey suckle and lemon rind. Rated politely drinkable. Pairs well with crying babies and chatty neighbors when imbibed copiously.

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Orquestra, Felix Solis, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vino d’España $8.00/187ml
Grapey nose, tannins, Rioja, short finish of wet stone, not much fruit, dry, could taste and feel the alcohol. Mouthfeel was not smooth and creamy or rich and bold it was wet stone, asphalt, thin. Rated drinkable in times of horrific turbulence, a bird hit or when lightening strikes the engine and fills the cabin with smoke. Remember, serve yourself before you serve others. JuiceboxOxygenMask copy

Well, I am certain my experience is merely a product of my destiny. When I researched what first and business class were drinking it was very respectable, if not downright despicable to those of us who fly economy. But I’ll let you be the judge….I’ve included the American Airlines wine list for your perusal. AAWineList

 

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But for now, please return to your seats, put your seat in upright position, lock your tray tables and store your items safely below the seat in front of you. The attendants will be coming through the cabin to collect any garbage and recyclables. Please refrain from digging in the first class cabin trash for any remaining drops of Roderer Brut Vintage Champagne. Although it is not considered an FAA offense punishable by law, it is still absolutely appalling behavior. Just be grateful that you are permitted to breathe the same recycled air as those in the upper classes. Thank you for flying the thirsty skies. Buh, bye.

Stay curious!

loie

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All Aboard the Cava Express!

Easter is coming, Easter is coming! Hurry, stock up on wine, chocolate eggs, ham, millinery and wine. And after you dust the mantle, press the table linens and polish the silver, go ahead and buy even more wine. Every good Christian, not in recovery, needs plenty of after church lubrication. Depending on the the brunch, lunch or dinner you will be giving or receiving, quantity of wine is highly variable, but for God’s sake, don’t run out. Whatever the event, remember, Jesus is the reason for yet another season, so let’s raise a glass of his finest juice. Alleluia!

I found the perfect Cava for this Eastover (Easter+Passover.) Although, the occasion of this wine’s discovery was during a lunch that followed an ominous birthday outing at Sonoma Traintown. More on that later.

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A perfect day at Sonoma Traintown…requires attaching your child and their grandparents to a leash and ample booze afterwards to calm the nerves.

Cava must be made in the Denominación de Origen (DO) of Catalonia and produced in Spain via the champenoise traditional method, wherein the base cuvee is bottled with a mixture of sugar and yeast to ferment in bouteille. The typical grapes that go into a Cava are Macabeo, Xarello, Parellada but often Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc are a part of the blend.

Admittedly, Cava is a bargain.

Cava can be priced at a 1/4 of the price for Champagne and better sparkling wines. Cavas are refreshingly dry and crisp. Who can resist a burst of earth, sun and the espirito de España with their roasted pork, potatoes au gratin, rich buttery fish or as an apertivo with Marcona almonds, Manchego cheese accompanied with slices of crisp green apples and honey. Yuuuuum. Excuse me while I take a fridge break.

Ok, I’m back.

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NV M. Chevallier Carte Noire Methode Traditionelle Brut Cava $6

Available at Trader Joe’s

The sparkler I have road tested for you today is a Cava I acquired at Trader Joe’s. M. Chevalier was well situated amongst the masses of value wines. Lovely, classic label, easy to find and priced just right. There was incipient potential.

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Cheers to your 72nd birthday and survival of your progeny.

The occasion was my sister’s father-in-law’s 72nd birthday. We arranged a visit to Sonoma Traintown* with the raucous brood of grand kiddies and a requisite pizza party après voyage. My sister’s father-in-law, a retired DDS and self proclaimed wineaux, is now officially my drinking buddy at family gatherings. In his honor, I decided to break out the cheap stuff. M. Chevalier was the perfect libation to celebrate not only his birthday, but our aplomb at search and rescue.  After the retrieval of a grand daughter from the duck pond and the end to a frantic 15 minute search for a missing grandson (found oogling toys in the gift shop of his own volition,) it had been a lovely day without an Amber Alert, but my nerves were eviscerated. My only respite was shoving pizza in my face while drinking bottles of bubbly in a completely fenced-in back yard sans livestock and naturally or artificially occurring bodies of water. We all needed to let off some steam. And good news!  This wine made me want to sound the horn. Chooo chooooooo.

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The site of the first harrowing incident, the duck pond. Although the sign states “no rock throwing” the littles interpreted that as permission to throw themselves in the pond. Crafty little buggers.

The nose was faint, but the first sip was delightful, crisp green apple, a hint of brioche, a smooth nutty finish with a lovely minerailty. Cavas can have a bitter finish, hence, they are often not at the top of my bubbly list, although their price points are in my repertoire. Nice effervescence that was great for cooling the engines and sparking vibrant family debate about historical revisionism of our childhood memories. To each his own version of that harrowing trip to the Grand Canyon. 

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If the pond doesn’t claim your first born, the llamas and Sabbatic Goat will. The look on that baby’s face says “Dad, is this a  petting zoo, or a Satanic ritual. Get me the hells away from that Baphomet.

 

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Hold on to your French braids my dear child, this is going to be a bumpy ride….specifically for your parents as your grandparents chaperoning style is rather lasisez fair. Wheeeeeeeee!

This wine was a delight and very guest worthy as the septuagenarian birthday boy loved it too. He noted it was not complex and although a rather mild wine, it still held his interest. This wine will pair as well with your Easter or Pasover feast as it paired with my peperroni pizza at the end of a ride on the “crazy train.” Music please….

Stay curious,

loie

*Sonoma Traintown is a fabulous getaway for the family. Reasonably priced and surrounded by delicious restaurants, vineyards and gorgeous scenery. My characterization is based solely on my personal angst about visiting amusement parks with throngs of small reckless children and insouciant senior citizens. Traintown can be very crowded on weekends during high season. If you have the luxury of visiting on a weekday, it is a sheer delight. Be forewarned about visiting the gift shop with your children – you may risk embarrassing fits of extortion if you don’t make a purchase. 

Family, Wine & Tradition: A New Generation of California Wine Makers

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This is my entry into the Monthy Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC14.) This month’s theme, chosen by last month’s winner, Bill of Duff’s Wines is “tradition.” I could have written more than anyone would care to read, and probably have. However, I was so inspired by this theme and the story I chose to share, I hope you bear with me and my lengthy tome. If you want to cut to the chase, the wine reviews are at the bottom, but you’ll be missing out on all the insanely interesting content in between. Just sayin.

To view the other entrants and cast your vote (for moi) please click here.

Link not working? cut and paste this url into your browser:

https://mwwcblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/mwwc14-time-to-vote/
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Tradition can be ceremonial, a societal rite, a commitment between friends, a practice between professionals. Tradition can be a declaration of allegiance that marks a time and place with displays of national or cultural heritage. What is the common thread? It is ritual, it unites and establishes an identity and depending how strong the tradition, it can survive passages of time spanning centuries.

One can hardly argue that historically the strongest traditions are forged through family. The great wine dynasties of the world are the perfect illustration of tradition and how powerful it can be. It is no mistake that the most recognized names in the wine world are Gallo, Sebastiani, Mondavi. These family brands were started generations ago by their eponymous scions and to this day are still owned and operated by their progeny*. The California wine industry owes much of what it is today from the generational vision and wisdom passed through heirs who are as passionate about continuous improvement of the craft as they are their family heritage.

The growth of the wine business swelled in the 90’s and early 2000’s and a new generation of vintners who had the technology, education and drive to take the family business into the realm of multimillion dollar mega brands emerged. Most of California’s 2,000 wineries are owned by families. They are a major economic engine in the state and have an economic impact of $45.4 billion on California’s economy.** Of the top 10 wine businesses in the US, four are still family owned and operated and collectively produce over 100 million cases of wine annually.***this is Falcon Crest on steroids, and I’m not referring to Lorenzo Lamas.

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I’m no horse whisperer but I think that horse is trying to stay out of the shot. “Hey, don’t shoot wide, shoot up and vertical, sheesh, my pals at the polo club don’t know that I’m doing these cheesy gigs to pay off my gambling debts and I want to keep it that way.”

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Gallo, valued at over 3.8B is the worlds largest family owned wine company with Trinchero Family Estates, DVF (Indelicato Family) and Jackson Family Wines ranking thereafter respectively. Gallo has over 65 brands in their portfolio including some trending value wines including Apothic Red, Barefoot and La Marca Prosecco.

In early October, I received an inquiry from a representative of the Scotto Family Cellars. Bradley Gray is a local Sonoman who does PR for the wine industry and stalks elusive wine bloggers (it’s a small town, I’m trying to remain semi anonymous as cheap wine is not a popular subject in polite society around here and inevitably I’m going to insult the wrong person and be forced to hide out in Napa – egads.) He noted that I had ranked the Scotto Family brands, Rare Red Grape 4 Blend, $7.99 and O.V.O.C. 2012 Regio Zinfandel $8.99, as a#1 and #6 respectively on my 2014 top 10 under $10.

He proposed I meet the Scottos, 5th generation wine makers, and taste some of their other wines. Not one to turn down a party in my honor, I accepted the invitation and proceeded to work with Brad on a date and a guest list. I had never met the Scottos prior to tasting and loving their wines. I was very excited to meet these innovators of premium value wines. How do they do it? Making good wine for less than $10 is a daring and magnificent feat and I suspect, much more difficult to achieve than painstakingly creating finely crafted small lot vintages. I’m over simplifying it, but that is where my thoughts wandered.

We decided to meet at the Depot Hotel in Sonoma. Built in 1870, the Depot Hotel was originally the local hotel for passengers passing through from San Francisco. Since 1922 it has functioned as a restaurant and the environment is charming and the food delicious.

When I arrived, I was greeted by Bradley and an enthusiastic Anthony Dominic Scotto III, CEO of Scotto Family Cellars, and his younger brother Paul, the winemaker. My first impression: these brothers are rather youthful to be running a very large and rapidly growing family business. My second: they are justifiably proud and grounded in their family history. My final impression: these guys are über talented! Let’s start tasting.

After the typical Californian perfunctory chat about traffic, road conditions, variations on freeway choices and the severity of our mild weather, Anthony started to tell the family story.

Anthony and Paul’s great grandfather Salvatore Dominic Scotto started a winery in Ischia, Italy, an island on the Gulf of Naples, in 1883. In 1903, the family emigrated from Italy and settled in Brooklyn, NY. near the docks where Dominic had worked as a ship’s caulker. His sons, Leo, Anthony, Sal and Frank were taught how to make wine in 5 gallon crocks which were sold from horse drawn wagons. Dominic opened a wine store in 1909 but had to shut it down during Prohibition. After the 13 year ban, the sons reopened the store in 1934 at 318 Court St., where it has been located and operating for the past 80+ years. (Read a lovely article about the 80 year anniversary in the New York Daily News by clicking here.)

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Scotto History: Meet Leo, Anthony, Sal and Frank (sourced from Pardon Me For Asking; News from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn and Beyond… blog)

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The original cart that traversed the streets of early 20c. Brooklyn selling crocks of wine. Not the sole culprit but ample motivation for having a large family.

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A notable improvement in sales and delivery methods from prior technology. (sourced from Pardon Me For Asking; News from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn and Beyond… blog)

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The Scotto Wine Cellar store today. Notice the Smart Car instead of the hand cart?

Scotto Liquors is one of the oldest liquor stores still in operation in the state of New York. The Scotto family sold the store in 1989, but the current owner,  James Benedetto, still honors the family heritage and has kept with tradition by offering hundreds of wines, imported from around the world, ranging in price from $6.99 to several thousand dollars for a highly sought wine like Romanee-Conti wine from Burgundy.

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The original cult wine. Drawn by a Scotto uncle who was a Franciscan monk, the Scotto brothers told me that the happy gent on the label looked exactly like their maternal grandfather – coincidence or premonition?

Anthony Sr. (aka A1) and his brother Sal create Villa Armando Rustico, one of the oldest US wine brands and in 1963 they decide to move West to California and buy a facility in Pleasanton that is named Villa Armando. This becomes the home to their rapidly growing wine business and the mass production of wine that paved the way for Anthony Jr. (aka A2) and subsequently Anthony the Third (aka A3) to build a family business with overall capacity of more than 300,000 cases annually and over 40 brands of wine today. In 2004, A3 opened Scotto Cellars and since 2009 the business has experienced double digit growth year over year becoming the 35th largest winery in California. They operate properties in Napa, Amador and Lodi with Paul (a U.C. Davis Viticulture & Enology graduate who worked for one of the Russian River’s premiere Pinot Noir producers) overseeing winemaking. Soon the remaining siblings came into the business (and complimentary businesses as their sister Natalie operates her own distribution company) and thus the new generation of Scottos is shaping the future of the wine industry. The work they are doing today ushers in a new era of “premium value wines” which is enabled through advancements in agricultural/production technology, an uninhibited new generation of wine drinkers and the industry’s synchronicity with social media. The Scottos are barely in their 30’s and they get it. 13_1_14-familygroup

Sunday night dinners at their grandfather’s winery home was where the grand kids heard stories about their family history and their grandfather made sure they understood that the best wines are those enjoyed with family and food. A3 honored his grandfathers wishes when he ensured we ordered food to compliment the wine. (Ok they bought me a pizza and gave me a few bottles – full transparency here.) We then proceeded to taste the following wines. Some are my tried and true value wines, some are a bit splurgy, all are very well done and I do have my favorites.

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A3 schooling us on Scotto Family Values: “Listen to your customers. Keep the grapes happy. Wine is a part of the meal, in fact, it’s the 5th food group, Ok, any questions?”

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Rare White Blend $7.00 

Notes: Nose tropical fruit, pineapple. First sip bright, crisp with a long finish that belied some fruit but overall dry. A pleasant, unassuming white blend that is easy drinking but well rounded, good body and balanced acid. You really can’t go wrong with any of the Rare Blend wines by the Scottos.

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2012 Regio Dry Rosé, El Dorado County, CA $11.99 — CASEWORTHY!

I LOVE this Rosé. It was a damp, cold, overcast day when I tasted this wine. It instantly reminded me of summer. The bouquet won me over, fragrant, big florals and ripe fruit. The first sip was honeysuckle and fresh berries with a crisp dry finish. Dreamy. For the price, beautifully done.

2012 Steel Canyon Chardonnay, Napa, CA $15.00 

This was a perplexing Chardonnay but had merit for the body and richness one would expect from a Napa Chard. Aged in New French Oak it had high acid and a velvet vanilla finish. All the right notes one would expect. To be fair, I think what threw me off is my preference for un-oaked Chardonnay of which I have become accustomed, resulting in oaked Chardonnay no longer suiting my palate (I suspect it never did to being with.)

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2010 Serafina Barbera, Amador County CA $26.00

This is Paul Scotto’s winery owned and operated independently of the larger enterprise. No doubt he is a highly skilled winemaker but these vintages reflect the inherited talent. I don’t believe this wine is widely available but if you can buy it direct you will have lengthy conversations over the complexities with your wino buddies. After letting it open up, I noticed the gorgeous deep red purple color. Nose was dried cherry with baking spices which mirrored the first sip which had great mouthfeel and and acid finish that became more earthty and complex especially once you caught the light tannic menthol in the finish. Very interesting and surprisingly, the complexity holds up well with wood fired pizza. This wine is also aged in American and French Oak so you get what I’m saying about keeping your mind busy with this find.

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2012 Anthony & Dominic Pinot Noir, Napa, CA $17.99

At first, the concept of this wine was off putting. It was like a Syrah in disguise. This is not a Pinot that comes from a colder Sonoma coast climate or the Carneros region that cools in the evening with the wetland fog. This is an unapologetic inland valley Napa Pinot Noir grape and it requires a different mindset. Some may say why bother, but once I got my head around this wine, I could appreciate the expression of the Pinot Noir grape through the heat of the valley. This wine is best described as a Napa style Pinot Noir. I think defying the traditional coastal, cool climate styles is surprising and innovative. I don’t know what possessed the brothers to create this wine, but I really liked it, once I reframed my perspective and appreciated the creativity.

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2012 Scotto Family Cellars Malbec , Sierra Foothills, CA

I believe this was one of the last wines we tasted as all I have on my notes is “blackberries.” And if you don’t believe me, check out this great post from Benito’s Wine Reviews – click here – and see why he is also a fan.

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2012 50 Harvests 2012 Meritage, Napa, CA $50.00 — SPLURGY GOOD BUY!

The grand finale of our tasting epitomizes tradition in a bottle. This Napa Valley Meritage is the first the family has ever released and both honors the past 50 years of their history in California, as well as signifies the beginning of the next 50 years. This was a very memorable wine and a special privilege to taste it with the brothers. I won’t get carried away with notes, I simply and wholeheartedly enjoyed the richness of the fruit, the balance, and the nuanced flavors of this beautiful vintage. (He may have said it better; Benito’s Wine Reviews about 50 Harvests – click here to see it for yourself) The Scottos are members of the Meritage Association and have created this Bordeaux style of wine with each varietal (60% Cab, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, 10% Malbec) fermenting and aging separately prior to blending and bottling. Although ready to enjoy now, I noticed immediately upon the first sip, this wine had great aging potential of 3-5 years. The perfect gift for those you know who appreciate wine and those you know who geek out on wine. But the best thing about this exceptional wine and generous tasting is knowing that the impressive family who made this commemorative vintage are also creating fabulous “premium value” wines we can buy anytime at the supermarket. Somehow that makes everything taste even better. 

Stay curious,

loie

References:

* 2004 Constellation Brands acquired the Mondavi winery in a controversial takeover for nearly US$1.36 billion. Robert Mondavi’s younger brother Peter still runs the Charles Krug winery their father bought in 1943. Following the sale of the company, Mondavi partnered with his youngest son Tim Mondavi and daughter Marcia Mondavi to make a single wine from a single estate which formed the family partnership Continuum Estate which is still run by Robert’s son Tim, daughter Marcia and grandchildren.

**California Wine Institute, California Wine Families – The Next Generation

***Wine Business Monthly Feb 2014, WBM 30 Review of The Industry

Pretty In Pink…We Think.

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Veuve du Vernay Brut Rosé 750ml

French Sparkling Wine, $3.99 – $11.99

Find a bottle near you on WineSearcher.com

It was a dark, wet Thursday evening and I was Rushing Through the SF Ferry Building as my ship had come in to take me home. As I passed the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant (motto: “We spit so you don’t have to”) I realized I owed the world a sparkling wine review every week until New Year’s Eve 2015. Last week was a home run (Dibon Brut Reserva Cava Penedes, Spain $9.99) so I was brimming with ambition for my next selection.

The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant is one of the anchors in the renown SF Ferry Building. If you visit SF, this stop on the tour is worth the aggravation of parking drama or extra cab fare. The Ferry Building is best known for the amazing farmer’s markets on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Widely acclaimed for the high quality farm fresh produce and artisanal foods, it is renown as one of the top farmers markets to visit in the country. Saturday mornings especially, you will very likely see some of San Francisco’s best known chefs fondling the watercress, nosing a Chanterelle or ogling the Romanesco. Nearly 25,000 shoppers visit the farmers market each week, but everyday the plaza is home to many highly regarded foodie merchants/innovators including; The Slanted Door, Cowgirl Creamery, Heath Ceramics, Blue Bottle Coffee, Sur La Table, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and more, more, more.

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Inside the SF Ferry Building – Check out La Mia Vita Blog for a great pictorial of the foodie extravaganza!

The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant has a loyal wine membership that begets their robust calendar of events, tastings and pairings. Their mission is to find the most interesting and delicious wines from smaller producers around the world – I’m on board with that. They also have a store located in the über foodie fabulous Oxbow Market in Napa. One of their founders/buyers was honored as “Sommelier of the Year” from the James Beard Foundation and all the partners have impressive bios as wine industry professionals. As I write this, I’m pressure texting a friend to join me for their 6th Annual Champagne and Oyster Fête this Wednesday. Ahoy there!

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The Cowgirl Creamery cheese counter at the SF Ferry Building. My quest for the best in cheap wines is to off-set my costly habit for cheese and shoes. #trueconfession

As I ran past all the stalls to catch my ferry, I saw the display of sparkling wines under $20 front and center. How long could this take? Bad judgement? Well, I do tend to push the edges of timeliness and if there is a plane, train or ferry to catch, subconsciously it becomes a game of chicken. My race against the clock felt necessary in this instance. I had wine to drink and a post to write.

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Ferry Building and Bay, San Francisco CA, c.1910

I was in luck, no lines and the wine merchant was at the ready to provide guidance. I explained that I wanted a sparkling wine under $10. What did he recommend? At first he was puzzled, and expressed that my request was a tough one, could I spend a few more dollars? Sure, why not? Better to take his recommendation than miss my ferry and swim to Alcatraz. I had to abruptly explain that my ferry was leaving in less than ten minutes and the only requirement is that “It can’t be crap.” He handed me a wine, briefly explained the notes and origin, I gave him my credit card, signed, grabbed the receipt, the wine and booked off to my pier. Two minutes to spare, the booze cruise was still there! Hurrah. I got on board, went straight to the bar, ordered dinner which consisted of a Captain Morgan and Diet Coke with a side of Ranch Flavored Cornnuts. My compliments to the chef.

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Those cornnuts are not levitating, they are just happy to see me.

Oh, so now where were we? Yes, yes, I was reviewing a wine.

After a leisurely 50 minutes on the ferry, I was home. I chilled the bottle in the fridge (45° F.) Before serving, I placed the bottle in the freezer for ten more minutes. I admit, I was concerned that this wine might ruin my night, so I wanted it to be ice cold. Who needs another cranky post. When I finally had the courage to pop the cork, I was happy to see a lovely salmon pink sparkling come to life. The nose was fruity, candy apple. First sip I tasted strawberries, florals and it had a nice balanced acid and flavorful intensity. Even though it was fruit forward, it was not sweet and the finish was long and dry. Mousse was moderate but still rich. As the wine warmed, the flavors nicely became more intense but I also noticed a nutty bitterness, which made me reconsider whether or not I loved this wine. However, the packaging was very pretty. The chocolate brown foil with pink and gold accents was very tasteful and felt luxurious when serving this wine to guests. Billecart-Salmon it was not, but it was very enjoyable cold and exhibited quality beyond other sparkling value wines at its price point. I would buy this again and I would be comfortable bringing this to an event.

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Surprise and delight! The pink underside of the brown foil impressed me. It does not take much.

There was very little on the label to tell me what this wine was about. It was rather mysterious. The Veuve du Vernay site specifies this wine as 11% alcohol and a blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Syrah. This brand was created by Mr.Jean Eugène Charmat, the French scientist, who in 1907 invented the cuve close (“sealed vats”) method of producing fine sparkling wine which has since been adopted worldwide. Most sparkling wines are produced in one of two ways: Method Traditionelle wherein secondary fermentation happens in bottle, or vat fermentation which is eponymously named the Charmat method.

What’s with the “Veuve?” Monseiur Charmat had a high regard for a widow (veuve) in the village of Vernay who helped him to start his business. When Eugène Charmat’s son Robert created a new sparkling wine of high quality in the 1960s, he named it in honor of the lady whom his father esteemed so highly. Today Veuve du Vernay is an internationally known brand of value sparkling wines from France that are priced well as a result of Monseiur Charmat’s invention 108 years ago.

Let’s raise a glass in honor of the inventor and founder who made it possible for the world to enjoy quality inexpensive sparkling wine today. Down the hatch!

Stay curious,

loie

TOP 10 UNDER $10 : #Wine Suggestions For Thanksgiving!

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Golly! Is it really Thanksgiving time already? I just got out of recovery from Halloweek and without missing a beat, we are off planning the big Turkey trot. I have never hosted more than a Taco Tuesday but have logged many hours assisting a hapless host on this most notorious of American holidays. Hosting is a performing art typically reserved for the patriarch &/or matriarch of the family. When not in the homeland, the stage is kindly set by a friend who has a few extra seats at their folding table and a tolerant extended family too enthralled with football to succumb to social awkwardness. Ahhhh, the memories. And when the police have left to have dinner with their own families, and the dishes are dried, the pie put away and bail has been posted for that gregarious uncle who got a little carried away, we tuck ourselves in for the night and give thanks for the wine that got us through it.

This holiday you will be tasked with making wine selections for an array of occasions. Hostess gift, friendly gathering, family affairs, work events and after parties of one. Sure, sure, sure. Who wants to look gauche by bringing cheap wine to a party – the horror! Then again, who realistically can serve unlimited bottles of fine vintages for hundreds of guests other than your wealthy relatives – actually, they won’t be either.

Cheap is chic! Living well doesn’t mean living expensively. Sharing those special splurgy vintages with winos who can appreciate it is much different than ensuring your Great Aunt Helen enjoys that glass of quaffable red that puts some color in her cheeks. And if the hostess is a snob, then rise to the occasion and bring a respectable wine, but I don’t know a wino who doesn’t appreciate a good tip and a smart deal every now and then. Hey, every bottle does not find a place in the cellar, they often end up at the next party or in the fridge….yes even the reds!

After 6 months of mining the bottom two shelves for the most delightful of deals, I present my 2014 top 10 wines under $10 USD. I urge you to let me know if I’m full of giblets. If you violently disagree with any of these selections, please pipe up. I am not perfect and sometimes I’m swept away by the “conviviality” of the tasting. My first and foremost objective is to provide good guidance. Mistakes happen and when they do, better it be a value wine than a $78 bottle-o-fancy like the one I bought a few months ago. Oh, boy, was that a party.

Drum roll please:

My fave! These guys sell a tonnage of this wine in Texas at HEB – the number one red wine sold currently. I love this wine because, every time I decant it, the flavor changes and is so smooth, enjoyable and guest love it. They ALWAYS comment on how good the wine is – this is red wine crack for guests. It is on the fruit forward side for those winos with a rarefied palate, but let me tell you, me likey and can’t image a dish (other than fish) that this would not complement. I would even venture to serve this with a rich chocolate dessert – outstanding!

I’m finding that this brand hits it outta the park with its other varietals as well, so I’m gonna give them props for getting it right and making a red jammy whammy that pairs well with turkey smothered in rich gravy with a italian sausage stuffing. I think this would be great with lamb and any gamey flavorful meats. Prime rib would be a match made in heaven.

I have bought this wine now 3x and enjoyed it more than I should.Crisp, not grassy like other NZ Sauvs and very citrusy acid without a trace of a sour aftertaste – eeeew – hate that. Pairs well with a turkey left over sandwich on sourdough, aioli, pepper, butter lettuce, tomato and let’s throw in a piece o’bacon for good measure.

Oh, so delicate, delightful, it takes me to Provence. Not much more to say. Perfect for those guest ambivalent about white or red and want something light to complement their meal, not take over the show. The lightly roasted brussels sprouts will love this co-star as well as the harcourt verts and cauliflower au gratin.

A little spice makes this light and lovely Pinot a friendly accompaniment to yams, sweet potatoes and fluffy dressings. Baking spices will linger with each sip after every bite.

The bold richness of this wine will definitely pair nicely with the heartier foods on the table. Cheesy potatoes au gratin, crusty olive loaf bread and onion tartes. Turkey lovers will enjoy the mingling flavors when this is paired with buttery mashed potatoes and rich brown turkey gravy.

I think this Merlot is a great starter wine to get the appetite going. Serve this with hors d’oeuvres, olives, bold cheeses, charcuterie and mon rêve: a creamy, dreamy Emmental and Gruyère fondue – ahhhh go big or go home.

For those guests who want white wine, this is a crisp but hearty white that helps keep the palate cleansed between bites and finishes nicely with roasted potatoes and veggies drizzled with butter, spices and a little balsamic. Perfect match for asparagus and hollandaise.

A shockingly good Cab whose price per bottle is less than a latte. Easy drinking once it breathes for an hour and lovely paired with a bite of turkey and cranberry sauce. The fruit and the tannic spice will enhance the succulent flavors and spices of your Thanksgiving dinner.

A lighter red that will pleasantly build on the flavors of rich gravy, buttery potatoes and savory dressing. This wine will cut the richness and finish strong without an overwhelming boldness.

Most of these wines are widely available at Safeway, Von’s, TraderJoe’s, WholeFoods and various national grocery chains. If you must search further, I suggest going to WineSearcher.com which is a great resource for finding wines in your hood.
Stay curious!
loie

Get your keys to the castle! A Guest-Worthy Pinot Noir for $8.99 – For Reals…

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2012 Castle Rock, Cuvée Pinot Noir, CA (cellared and bottled in St. Helena)

I am always scared to taste a Pinot Noir under $10. Why? Because a good Pinot under $10 cannot be done. Can-not! No way. No. Not ever. Never. Well you know what they say about saying never. Never.

Wincing, I opened the bottle. My victim that day was a local chef and presumably someone who would unfriend me for exposing him to this swill. I prefaced my tasting with apologies and gratitude for his bravery. We uncorked, poured and the rest is surprising. We are still friends.

It smelled like a Pinot to me, fresh, light, young, with notes of cherry and hibicus. First sip was peppery, baking spices, dark fruit, currant, medium bodied and very mild tannins with a pleasant woody finish. Very drinkable. Wow, what a delight. I have yet to meet a Pinot for this price point that I could take home to momma – this passed the sniff & sip test…with flying colors.

Who is Castle Rock? I like to research the makers of these fine wines of “Cheapeaux” and often you find a barrel load of corporate drivel laced with fabrications about growers, makers and wineries you will never visit because they in a warehouse in Commerce, California. Ok, I am verging on snobby which is not my style, but let’s keep it 100. How is it possible for these wines to be priced so freakin cheap? Yes, we have all heard the machinations about Two Buck Chuck consisting of high percentages of gopher guts and pesticides (my friends at Trader Joe’s HQ vehemently deny these rumors and I believe them.) But when a wine is actually good and as guest worthy as this one, I’d like to understand how they pulled it off. I mean, bravo, they actually made a ridiculously cheap bottle of wine truly enjoyable.

Moreover, Castle Rock wines are widely available. I believe this one was acquired at a Safeway. So after poking around, I discovered they offer wines from Napa/Sonoma in California, Willamette Valley, Oregon, and Columbia Valley, Washington but they are HQ in Rancho Palos Verdes in Southern California. What exactly does “bottled and cellared in St. Helena” mean anyways? The plot thickens. Go to the source – their website. Ah-ha – this is how they do it.

“After the harvest, the wines are made in accordance with Castle Rock’s winemaking standards, and are bottled at wineries, boasting state-of-the-art equipment, located in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and Washington’s Columbia Valley. Castle Rock’s business model aims to please, lovely on the palate, easy on the wallet. By virtue of having a low overhead, (no nagging real estate mortgages, no marketing teams or large staff to employ, and no elaborate facilities) Castle Rock is able to funnel all their capital into making the best possible wine for the best possible price.”

Well, I like a straight shooter, especially when it’s about what’s going in my Riedels. Moreover, their wines have won several awards of distinction, this 2012 Pinot Noir was awarded a double gold medal and 92 pts from the SF Chronicle Wine Competition. Oh-la-la! Pas mal.

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Adding further confidence, their wine makers/growers are both very established and respected in Washington and California. Greg Powers was recognized as a “Rising Star” by Wine Spectator and as one of the “50 Great U.S. Cabernet Producers” by Wine Enthusiast. He started his esteemed career very young by helping his father plant 80 acres of grapes on the family vineyard, Badger Mountain in the Columbia Valley which under his supervision, transitioned the farming from conventional to organic. The California grower and maker, Vic Roberts, is the owner and winemaker at Victor Hugo Vineyards and Winery in the heart of California’s Paso Robles wine country. In 1985 he pursued his dream of being a wine maker by planting 15 acres of grapes on his property which now stands at 78 acres, with the winery located in a picturesque, recently renovated 100 year old barn.

I believe the care and expertise that is put into these widely distributed value wines is fascinating and obviously yields impressive results. This is the dawning of the era of good cheap wine in the US. With producers like Castle Rock, I look forward to trying more….although I cannot guarantee I won’t wince before the first sip.

Stay curious!
loie

A Jammy Whammy! $9.99

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Line 39 2013 Petit Sirah California $9.99
Available at WholeFoods

It was my night to cook, so I was planning on al fresco dining with a menu consisting of an appetizer of cheese, main course of cheese, and a dessert of cheese. The perfect accompaniment would be a full bodied red and a crusty baguette. Bon appetit! Although this meal may not seem well rounded, I think displays of culinary acumen are highly overrated and should be supplanted by consumption and enjoyment. After drinking a green juice, eating a dry chicken breast and doing 50 burpees, I was ready for a heaping serving of self gratification. (I embellished my penance – I actually drank a green juice while spying on a crow rummage through my neighbor’s trash, that’s cheese worthy right?)

The cheese department at my neighborhood WholeFoods is conveniently adjacent to the wine department, wow, how ingenious. I selected three cow’s milk cheeses. First course was a mild nutty Gouda, next a strong, sharp English Seaside Cheddar, and finished the meal with a Dolcelatte (fattier cousin of Grogonzola, if you can believe that.) I pivoted 5 feet to the wine aisle and searched for a bold red to meet the challenge. Looking at the bottom shelf, the hang tags screaming “sale” caught my eye and I found a Petit Sirah for a deal – $8.99 which was a buck off retail of $9.99. Score!

Petit Sirah is actually the Durif variety of red wine grape. It is called “Petit Sirah” because the fruit is recognizably smaller and it is a hybrid of Syrah pollen germinating a Peloursin plant. It’s a full bodied grape that is often used as a blending partner to strengthen other wines.

Once home, I opened the bottle to let it breathe. My expectations were not high as I know all too well the dangers of this job. Once poured, I was optimistic as the nose was immediately a delightful plummy spice, very aromatic. First sip, was very jammy, full bodied, dark cherries, ripe plum, balanced tannins not much acid and a satisfying finish. By golly, this wine is thoroughly enjoyable. Perfect to drink right now with rich Italian foods, pasta, tomato sauce, BBQ and my triumvirate of cheese. It tamed the richness of the Dolcelatte and gave the simplicity of the Gouda a kick. I believe the best accompaniment was the English cheddar, where the sharp saltiness was perfectly match with the fruit of the wine. Add that crunch from the baguette – heaven!

This wine is highly quaffable, a great price and widely available through Whole Foods in the US.  It’s not a wine for a sophisticated palate to perseverate over the complexities but that’s not always the point either. It’s very fruit forward, ripe berries with a jammy boldness that pairs best with stronger flavors. Would be the perfect companion to a prime rib, or an Alfredo cream sauce but not a delicate terrine. It’s definitely guest worthy and nearly case worthy!

Another upside to this wine is the label. It is as tasteful as the wine and has an interesting story about the origin of the name which is derived from the 39th parallel that runs through the wine country of California. This is a great bottle to bring as a guest to dinner. No cutesy name and anthropomorphic mascots, just a clever story behind the wine to make it memorable. The host and other guests will have no idea you spend 1/3 of what they thought you did, how generous of you!

Stay curious,

loie