Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wine trials: High end wineries hunker down, dig in and keep focused on making great wine

Dip in wine club

Livermore's Steven Kent Winery has seen a slight dip in its wine club. Members benefits from exclusive offers, such as buying up the 192 cases of 2006 Gielmetti Vineyard Clone 30 Cabernet Sauvignon for $300 per three-pack, the highest price for a Livermore wine. The wine is made from four different clones of Cabernet grown on two different sites for a total of less than two barrels of wine from each vineyard.

The real pinch is in the two house wines — a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon — that owner Steven Kent Mirassou makes for 40 properties of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain. That has dipped nearly 20 percent. And, as 2009 moves forward, it may drop more, Mirassou says.

Still, it's not the time for Mirassou to veer from his goal: to make Cabernet from Livermore that rivals in quality Cabernet made anywhere in the world. "I would be naive to think or say that the economy isn't a challenge right now," Mirassou says. But that's not stopping him.

Staying the course

Perhaps the biggest lesson about staying the course comes from wine industry matriarch Carolyn Wente, whose family has been producing wine in the Livermore Valley for 125 years and has survived busts galore. Wente reports a 10 percent loss at the restaurant level, particularly at the end of last year. But here's her contingency plan for 2009: Hire two more regional sales managers and keep the winery's marketing strategy exactly where it is.

Why? She cites a Nielsen statistic about the recession of the 1980s. Companies that maintained aggressive sales and marketing efforts enjoyed more growth after the recession — some 275 percent in the five years after the recession — compared with the 19 percent growth among companies that cut or reduced those budgets.

Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eckert Estate Winery

I visited Eckert Estate Winery last Monday. Mike Eckert initially came to the Livermore Valley to raise horses. After attending a wine event and tasting some of the local wines from Livermore he decided to start making his own wine. After several years of home wine making he decided it was
time to go commercial. In addition cases of wine where everywhere in his house and started to become some of the furniture. He opened up Eckert Estate Winery in 2001.

I tasted the 2007 Viognier grapes for this wine came from Lodi. Lodi is quite friendly to Rhone varietals. Spicy and fruity. Try this wine with Mushu Chicken topped with plum sauce.

The 2001 Livermore Cabernet is a full bodied wine. Full of fruit very berry. Mike put 10% Merlot and 5% Malbec in to the blend. Aged in French and American Oak for 22 months. Drinkable now but it can also be put away for a couple years. I took a couple of bottles of this home.

Next was the 2000 Lodi Petite Sirah. If you looking for a "BIG" red, this is it. I get blackberry flavor. Despite it is a 2000 vintage it could still be put away in the cellar. Yet has aged enough to drink now. Couldn't pass this one up. I took a couple of bottles home of this one too.

On the property is Arroyo Windmill Grove, an olive oil mill. It is open on Saturdays for olive oil tasting.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Thomas Coyne Winery Winter Open House Wrapup.

I visited Thomas Coyne the first two days of the Open House. The tasting room was built in 1881 as a winery called Chateau Bellvue. From the tasting room they have a wonderful view of the Livermore Valley and Mt. Diablo which happened to have snow
on that day.

He offered 24 wines for tasting until the Vino Tinto Barato sold out the first day. This was the bottle you own wine. Tom said he made four barrels of Vino Tinto Barato and sold all of it before the end of the first day of the three day open house. That's 100 hundred cases using the 25 cases of wine per 55 gallon barrel formula. Vino Tinto Barato is Italian for "cheap red wine". This red blend is nicely balanced, fruity and had quite a bit of Merlot in it. I could detect some Grenache as well. Tom said it is his secret formula and wouldn't give details on all that went into the blend. But it is well worth the price of $5 a bottle. This will be available again on Memorial Day Weekend in May.

I was at the tasting room quite early and they had not
opened yet. There were others there earlier than myself. They were all anxious to bottle their own wine that day. Some were tailgating in the parking lot waiting for the tasting room to open. It is obvious that bottle your own wine is very popular as people line up early for this.

New released wines:
2007 Livermore Chardonnay which a portion had been fermented on the the skins, that is unusual for white wines, and the rest barrel fermented. This explains why this Chardonnay is not over oaked. It went through complete malolatic fermentation and aged surlie
on French Oak for ten months. Very fruity and drinkable now, yet could be put away for couple of years. Only $20 a bottle. This is the second time Thomas Coyne has made Chardonnay other than "Sweet Emilie, Chardonnay Port. One would never know it. It tastes as if he has always made Chardonnay. I took some of this home with me. Only 58 cases made.

2006 California Confluence is a Bordeaux blend of Cab, Cabernet Frank, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Merlot. Very nice. Full bodied wine that is full of fruit. I'm getting cherry on this one. It's drinkable now but has the grape tannins to allow it to be cellared for several years. This is a real value at $20 a bottle.

2005 Livermore Cabernet Franc, a nice wine with the grapes from his neighbor John Kurtzer. Tom says this is a tricky Cabernet Franc because the grapes ripen late and are picked in October. There is always a concern for rain which could cause some mold on the grapes and take away the fruit that is present in this wine. It's only $18 a bottle and could be put away for a few years but is drinkable now as well. Only 100 cases of this nice wine.

2005 Lodi Malbec. Not a wine that is commonly found. It's a varietal normally used as a blending wine. This one is BIG on fruit despite it is a lighter red. Nice wine to have in the rack. It's only $18 a bottle.

It was busy as Thomas Coyne but everyone looked like they were having a fun time including the help. Can't help but have a good time when there is good wine around.

Thomas Coyne graduated from Penn State.
You will always find him in the tasting room wearing a Penn State ball cap. He also has a museum behind the tasting counter of Penn State paraphernalia.

I will be visiting Eckert Estate Winery today. They also have bottle your own wine. Mike Eckert won't tell you what it is until you get there. It is available for tasting. Look for my blog on Eckert a bit later.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

To aerate or not to aerate? That is the question.

I have had discussions with people over the years whether to aerate or not to aerate wine or just decant it and let it sit. In my opinion go a head and aerate it. Some times you don't have the time to let it sit. Aerating allows oxygen to penetrate the wine and open up aromas and taste.

For myself I've been known to take a tight wine and pour it into a glass pitcher and swirl it, shake it and slosh it around in order to open it up. If I had been given a choice I would have used an aerator. Much faster and much more convenient.

Recently a wine contact, Stark Silver Creek ask me what kind of aerator I would use. After working in the wine industry for many years, I have used three different kinds of aerators. While the following three aerate the wine well. I say go for what works for you. Do you want to put on a show for your friends then go for this model. I consider this model cumbersome. But hey, if you want to put on a show, go for it!

Another model I have used is this one. It can be convenient until the steel insert inside the rubber cone moves around and stops the wine from flowing through. I'll pass on this one as well. I don't want to fight with my aerator.

The third model I have used is my personal preference. No muss no fuss. Sure, you won't be putting on a show and it may not look as elegant as the others. However you can sit down and enjoy conversations and food on the table with your friends and not have to do battle with your aerator. I own this model.

Look for a wrapup from me on the Thomas Coyne Winery Winter Open House.
You can always follow me on Twitter.
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Friday, February 13, 2009

Sparking wine and chocolate. It must be Valentine's Day

OK, I'm just going to say it. Sparkling wine and chocolate do not pair well! There, I said it. No matter how you try they do not work well together on the palate.

However, chocolate with red wine or ports pair well together on the palate. Wines that have tasting descriptions of berries or chocolate will go nicely with chocolate. Look for that in Merlot and Cabernet for the most part. A nice port made from
Portuguese varieties such as Trousseau, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Souzao would be a treat with chocolate. Port flowing over a nice piece of dark chocolate in your mouth is heaven.

Well, if you believe there is a good pairing of sparkling wine and chocolate, please leave a comment and let us know what it is. I have an open mind.

Happy Valentines Day!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Thomas Coyne Winery Winter Open House

Time for Thomas Coyne's Winter Open House. Feb 14, 15 and 16. All wines are poured at the open houses along with his new releases. One of the best wineries in the Livermore Valley, CA.

New Releases:
2007 Livermore Chardonnay
2006 California Confluence
2005 Livermore Cabernet Franc
2005 Lodi Malbec

As quoted from their Website.

"Once again it's time for "Bottle Your Own Wine" We will be selling Vino Tinto Barato at the Open House. Bring your clean bottle, we will fill, cork and label it for you for $4.50 per bottle. Use our bottle for $5.00. Or you may bottle label and cork it yourself. This is only available Feb 14 and 15."

Vino Tinto Barato (cheap red wine) is a nice red table wine. Well balanced. You would be hard pressed to find a better deal.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

John Christopher Cellars Wine Club Party

Had a nice time at the party. They served Chili, Cesar salad and tortilla chips and a bean dip. The new release 2005 Quixotic 50 percent Petite Sirah and 50 percent Syrah. Very nice full body wine. Drinkable now yet can be put away.

Picked up two bottles of Quixotic, 2005 Petite Sirah and Endeavor, which is a blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.

Club wine pickup at Bodegas Aguirre Winery

Nice day in the Livermore Valley today. Around 65 degrees. Picked up my club wine at Bodegas Aguirre. Non Vintage Forte Port. It's a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Touriga National and Tempranillo. Dr. Aguirre said it too four years to make this to achieve the right balance hence the non vintage status. 2007 Carneos Chardonnay. Full of fruit and 2004 Petite Sirah Gran Reserva. Very nice and very "BIG". Tasted the 2005 Trio which is a blend of 40% Cabernet, 40% Merlot and 40% Petite Sirah. Some people believe blends are cheap and not well made. Well, it takes talent to blend wine with balance. The 2005 Trio is full body, drinkable now. Very smooth.

Per Dr. Aguirre reported that the 2008 Grape Harvest shows great promise. Low yields of high quality grapes. He assures me that the Petite Sirah is so powerful in flavors and color he is tempted to sell it with whitestrips to prevent permanent tooth stains. Bring a tooth brush!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Wine Country Tour Today

February 1, 2009 by morewines

I will be visitng the Livermore Valley Wine Country today.

Look for updates here or follow me on Twitter.

The first stop was Pagemill Winery.They moved to the Livermore Valley from Palo Alto in 2004. First wine tasted was the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Livermore Valley. Very fruity. Alcohol level is 14.4. Nice wine. The 2007 Chardonnay, California is a nice Chardonnay. My opinion of Chardonnay is there is just too much of it in the world. Next wine is the 2005 Syrah Sleepy Holler Vineyard, Pope Valley. Nice Syrah well balanced. I took home three bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and one bottle of the Syrah.

Next stop was Steven Kent Winery. Collector Club Wine Pickup. 2006 Barbera. Normally Barbera is a very heavy and usually a high acid wine. Yet this current release is a fruity wine, drinkable now and has a presence of grape tannins that would allow this wine to be put away for a few years. Two bottles into the collection.

Longevity Winery is the next stop. One of the newest

wineries in the Livermore Valley. They started as a wine club. After years as home winemakers they started their own label and opened up a tasting room in an unusual location. It's a block away from the Livermore Airport and water reclamation plant. However they have some very nice wines. Tasted their 2007 Viognier and took home a few bottles for the collection. Excellent Viognier. I describe it as flowery.

What about that $50.00 bottle of wine?

February 1, 2009 by morewines

Jerry, a friend of mine, has expressed interest in tasting some Livermore Valley wines particularly Thomas Coyne. He has high hopes that wine is not $50 a bottle.

That has lead me to write about wine and the price we pay for it. First let me say this. Good wine does not have to cost $50 a bottle! There are many good wines for under $25 and some under $20.

I was wine tasting with a friend last month. We both belong to several wine clubs and we had to pick up our club wine at a couple of wineries. One was Bodegas Aguirre Winery. Dr. Aguirre, the winemaker, was telling some of us about a blind tasting he had recently participated in at Ruth Cris’ in Walnut Creek, CA. His wine was up against several wines ranging in price from $80 to $160 a bottle. The winning wine that night was Dr. Agurrie’s 2004 Cabernet Savignon. The price on this wine is just $35.

Bottom line is this. In the Livermore Valley Wine Country, if a winery has priced their wines at $50 a bottle. It is most likely over priced.

Bud Break is early this year.

May 31, 2008 by morewines

I had a conversation with Thomas Coyne in late April. He said “Bud Break” had come quite early this year. In Napa, Chardonnay buds appeared the third week in April and the following week in the The Livermore Valley. He expects this year to be a good year for wine grapes.

Bud Break is the begining of the growing season and tends to come early in warmer wine regions.