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Background on Verdejo
Verdejo is a white wine grape that originated in North Africa and was transported to the Rueda region of Spain around the 11th century. Today approximately 47,000 acres (converted from hectors) are planted in Spain. The grapes are generally harvested at night with cooler temperatures to provide less oxidation or browning of the juice to provide the wine clarity.
Finding Verdejo produced in the USA is similar to finding Waldo! In the latest report from California Department of Food & Agriculture (April 2022), Verdejo is not even listed by acreage! In the report all 881,000 acres of grapes are detailed by acreage, Verdejo is not to be found. In researching I found a limited number of producers in Lodi, Yolo County, Sierra foothills and Clarksburg. Not to be confused Verdejo and Verdelho are two very different and distinct grape varieties.
2021 Above The Rush Wines Verdejo
This Verdejo from Above The Rush Wines in Vallecito, California is fairly classical of Spanish Verdejo in aroma and flavors. First on the eyes possessing a pale straw coloring and light viscosity. The wine from the color provides no clue what is follow in aromatics and flavors. On the nose, has a fruity, but not sweet aroma. The first whiff of Verdejo provides a grassy herbal scent similar to Sauvignon Blanc, but very constrained verses a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. A light citrus note of lime quickly follows the herbaceous qualities. On the palate, it requires a few sips to fully appreciate its’ traits and flavors. From honeydew to almonds each can be detected. It is bright with acidity and absolutely no sweetness! On the finish, minerality and stone fruit provide a distinct flavor which sets it apart from Sauvignon Blanc. A slight inherent bitterness can be found on the finish of this grape varietal, but is quickly overcome with food. The wine is a good match with seafood and pork dishes. So when wanting a white wine other than Chardonnay, Verdejo is a good and thoughtful alternative. Price is listed at $24/bottle.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Wanting to give this wine its full due, I had a glass at lunch with Maguro sashimi. The Maguro fish was a bit strong especially with the soy sauce, ginger and wasabi. When eaten plain, the taste and pairing was more enjoyable but a white sashimi would have proven better. Believe the best sashimi pairings with this Verdejo would be Hotate (scallops), Saba (Mackerel) and Hamachi (Yellowtail).
Then in the evening, it was paired with a chicken breast that was lightly glazed with mesquite spices. Then drizzled with Raspberry Chipotle sauce from Stewart & Jasper Orchards. Accompanied with rice and peas. The smokiness of the mesquite chicken and chipotle and the sweetness of the raspberry along with the dry and subtle fruitiness of the Verdejo provided a juxtaposition of flavors that were delightful in the mouth.
The conclusion of the tasting of Verdejo from lunch to dinner, is that Verdejo is a unique wine and one that food has to be carefully aligned with in order to appreciate its full potential. Will definitely try this again with Saba and Hamachi in the near future.
Background on CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers)
In order to understand the winery, it is essential to understand what organic farming and certification is all about. A very brief explanation, when Charlie Barra started the winery almost 40 years ago, he undertook a Herculean task of making it organic on his terms. In his words “Yes it’s more work (annual audits/certifications, paperwork, labor requirements), more risk (crop devastation from pests) and not necessarily a bigger payout, buts essential to the well-being of this planet”. His vision was remarkable.
The BARRA of Mendocino has been CCOF for over 20 years and took 3 years of inspections prior to become complete. Charlie’s favorite saying is that he had been farming organically for over 55 years! Organic certification requires the vineyards are maintained without conventional pesticides or herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Crop covers, of bell beans, red clover and peas are planted between the rows of vines and when flowering are then turned back into the soil for nutrients for the vineyards/grapes. The micro-organisms in the soil allow the vines to utilize the nutrients efficiently.
History of the Winery
Charlie followed his father and maternal grandfather who migrated to Mendocino County from Piedmont, Italy in 1906. Charlie began farming grapes in the mid 1940’s and in 1954 purchased Redwood Valley Vineyards. He worked vigorously with Karl Wente, Robert Mondavi and others to be one of the first growers of many varietals planted on the North Coast. Today the ranch grows organically Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Muscat Canelli. Besides the BARRA of Mendocino label, they have two other labels, Girasole Vineyards and CORO Mendocino. Charlie passed in 2019 and his wife of Martha who worked with him for almost 40 years, is heading the family winery which now stands at 350 acres and a 2.8 million gallon custom crush facility. They launched the BARRA of Mendocino Brand in 1997 and the Girasole Brand in 2003. Their son and daughter also have major responsibilities to keep the “family farm” running.
The 2019 Barra Zinfandel Estate Wine
The organic grapes come from the Bella Collina ranch and were hand harvest. The must was mixed twice a day to extract a beautiful color, flavor and smooth tannins. They strove for “a deep ruby color with flashes and jewel tones” and by all accounts achieved their goal.
First on the eyes a mesmerizing colors of purple and ruby awaits the partaker of this wine with medium viscosity. On the nose, aroma of fresh cherry pie in grandma’s kitchen is the predominant scent. Once on the palate, the red Bing cherries along with raspberry and Christmas spices dance merrily in the mouth. On the dry finish with 20% new French oak barrels provides a texture and structure and a soft vanilla finale.
This wine is 89% Zinfandel and 11% Petite Sirah and aged 17 months. Only 243 cases were produced and the suggested retail is $24/bottle. That is a phenomenal value for the layers of enjoyment for this dry Zinfandel wine from Mendocino County.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Paired this evening with a fried pork chop with seasonings of various spices including mesquite, topped off with Stewart & Jasper Orchards Cherry Pepper Sauce. Accompanied with rice, steamed broccoli and a fresh garden salad. The pork chop with soft smoky mesquite flavor and the candied cherry sauce combined beautifully with the robust Zinfandel with flavors of cherry and a sweet finish of vanilla.
This wine will make the Best Wines tasted in 2022 (out in December) for the bountiful flavors and tastes in the up to $50 category! Less than 2% of all wines make my annual listing for “Best Wines Tasted during any given year! Additionally, at the price point, it is an absolute deal!
There is a lot to be said about Cuda Ridge Wines in Livermore, California. A key point is that they produce Bordeaux style wines. The Cuda Ridge winery and Tasting Room is located at 2400 Arroyo Road in Livermore, California. Cuda Ridge Wines current production is approximately 2100 cases. Cuda Ridge Wines produces the following Bordeaux varietals: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and most recently their addition of Carménère. Always experimenting, Larry Dino owner & winemaker will produce non-Bordeaux style wines which are designated under their Black label, these wines include Sangiovese, New-World style Cabernet Sauvignon and others. Each of varietals produced are small lots ranging from 100 – 450 cases. Cuda Ridge does extensive blending of the varietals and strives for lower alcohol wines with intense complexity and character, traditional of the Bordeaux style wines.
Cuda Ridge Wines – 2020 Petit Verdot
First, what is Petit Verdot? The literal translation is “little green one”. This is because it is a late ripening grape from the Bordeaux region in France. It is a commonly used grape in blending, usually in small amounts to add color, tannin, structure and herbaceous notes of violet and sage. Today it is common to see 2% to no more than 10% in many Cabernet Sauvignon’s and other wines. The number of producers that make a 100% Petit Verdot are fairly limited as this is a hearty, earthy and brawny wine. It is a concentrate grape with abundant color and structure. Petit Verdot typically has extremely strong tannins, higher acids, extremely dry and black fruits. Think of Petit Verdot at a party as the guy with the loud voice and dancing wildly.
Larry Dino provided me an advanced bottle of his 2020 Petit Verdot that will be available on November 5th to his wine club members. It is 100% Petit Verdot. On the eyes this is not your see through, translucent sipping wine. It is as dark as a cavern and could be used in redacting any proprietary military or legal document!! It possesses a medium to medium heavy viscosity when swirling in the glass. On the nose, the first scent awakens one that something special is about to happen. Black fruits along with lilac and violets slap you upside the head with a bouquet of wonder and enticing charm. Present also are aromas of vanilla, spice and cedar. Once on the palate, plum, blackberry and blueberry dance wildly in your mouth. The fruit is counterbalanced by dried herbs, mostly violets. The finish is dry and full bodied with strong tannins. It was aged 18 months in 100% American oak barrels with 48% new and 52% once used. The wine goes for $41/bottle. Only 102 cases were produced in 2020 due to California fires and smoke. Normal production is closer to 350-400 cases. Also this wine comes in at 13.6% alcohol.
Food and Wine Pairing
Due to the firm tannins and concentrated fruits, food and Petit Verdot can be tricky. Foods with lots of protein and fat are generally recommended. Rich cuts of red meat (steak, lamb) and wild game birds are more typical friendly pairings.
This evenings food pairing was a marinated ribeye steak in Japanese barbecue sauce (Bachan’s) and seared at 550 degrees. The sauce is their “hot and spicy” label and when barbecued, formed a tasty glaze on the steaks. Accompanied with a Yukon Gold potato, baby asparagus and a fresh garden salad. The best pairing was the baby asparagus with the Petit Verdot drawing out unique herbaceous flavors. Even the ribeye was challenged to hold up to the Petit Verdot but did so heroically. Tonight it worked very well with the meal. This is definitely not a standalone sipping wine for the occasional Chardonnay or Pinot Noir wine drinker!
If hearty and bold wines are in your wheelhouse, this is surely a treasured wine!
Previously I have written about the Hindsight Winery in Calistoga and their excellent red wines, especially their Cabernet Sauvignon’s. About six months ago their long time winemaker, Jac Cole retired. Now some excellent news—they hired Michael Weis, who was the head winemaker at Groth. He is well known for making spectacular wines and I believe he received 100 points from Wine Spectator for one of his Sauvignon Blanc vintages. Additional reading about the winery and ownership can be found at:
The Hindsight 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Wine
Their inaugural Sauvignon Blanc release under Michael Weis was handcrafted with an artisan touch. First on the eyes it is a golden straw color and medium viscosity. On the nose, floral aromas waft into the senses, along with green apple which is most prominent. On the palate, citrus accents of lime and lemon come into play and are kept in check with flavor but not overpowering. The finish provides a mouthful feeling of a much heavier wine rather than a “light Sauvignon Blanc”. This is most likely due to the addition of nine percent Viognier. This also helps lower the acidity. This wine goes for only $25.99! It is not an “in your face” over citrusy Sauvignon Blanc and thus makes it perfect for standalone drinking pleasure or to be paired with a variety of foods.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Picked up a wonderful shellfish and seafood yesterday while in Modesto. For dinner this evening was a special meal starting off with Royal Miyagi oysters. The Royal Miyagi oysters have been grown and cultured in Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture for over 300 years. These oyster are now on the northwestern North America off the coast of Washington and British Columbia near Vancouver Island. They are raised by the suspension line and beach methods. These two methods allows them to “toughen up” by giving them a stronger, less brittle shells and firmer “sweet” meats. Served with “uncut” horseradish and a drop or two of Tabasco sauce on each oyster.
Chilean sea bass is often considered the filet mignon of fish. It is typically expensive and a highly regulated fish. In 1994, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration accepted the alternative market name of Patagonian toothfish as Chilean sea bass. It is a stark white meat that is oil rich and when cooked correctly, is flaky and sweet. Pan fried in Canola oil, Chardonnay wine, ginger paste, capers, salt & pepper, lemon juice and minced garlic. Garnished with fresh parsley and capers. Accompanied by baby asparagus and mushroom sautéed in garlic and seasonings. Also a mix of long and short grain rice.
While this 2020 Hindsight Sauvignon Blanc can easily be enjoyed by itself, it was a delightful and an especially refreshing wine to be shared with this food. Another reason it has made my Best Wines of Year!
2014 Vatan Tinta De Toro – Christopher Columbus Ship Named La Pinta Brought Tinta De Toro to the New World in 1492!
Brief History of the Tempranillo
Wines from Toro, located in Northwest Spain and their noted Tempranillo wines, are especially known for coloration and boldness. The literally translation is “dark bull” – meaning this Tempranillo is not for the faint of heart!
The Tinta de Toro Spanish grape dates back to the 2nd century B.C. It was the drink chosen for Christopher Columbus’ trip to India when he discovered America. A fun fact is that so much wine was stored for the voyage in 1492, one of the ships was name “La Pinta” (pint) because the cellars of ship were full of this dark beautiful wine.
The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish word temprano (meaning early), a reference to the fact that it ripens several weeks earlier than most other Spanish red grapes. That said most Tempranillo’s exhibit a big blackberry, leathery and a slight smoky aroma – an earthiness character.
The 2014 Vatan Tinta De Toro
Enjoy this wine last night for something “different” from the cellar. For the 2014 Vatan Tinta de Toro, a large portion of the grapes come from a vineyard planted in 1943 with some coming from their renown 1910 vineyard. After fermentation the wine is aged in new French oak barrels for 22 months. What comes out on the other side is a mouthful of wonderment! The 2014 vintage also came out at 15.5% alcohol adding to the robustness of this vintage.
Antonio Galloni stated it best in his review stating it is a “Dark purple. Fresh black and blue fruits, pipe tobacco and candied violet on the highly perfumed, smoke-accented nose. Fleshy, seamless and broad in the mouth, offering intense blueberry and cherry-vanilla flavors and an exotic touch of Indian spices. The spicy quality carries strongly through the finish, which clings with excellent tenacity and smooth, building tannins.”
Most California Tempranillo’s do not come close to this intensity. So if you are looking for a “different big red” without the stark tannins, pick up a bottle of Tinta de Toro for a big, bold, exotic yet integrated wine.
Wine found at The Wine Steward. http://thewinesteward.com/
Fall is also the demarcation for the beginning of football season, new shows on television, new car introductions, saying goodbye to the hot days of summer and best of all the ushering in of some wonderful holiday traditions like Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It also means we can enjoy the most recent release of Wood Family Vineyards 2021 Chardonnay!
Located in eastern Livermore Rhonda has been a mainstay of the Livermore Valley for over two decades. You can read more on her background from airline pilot to award winning winemaker at:
Here is a partial listing of her current winning wines:
- 2021 “Pink Pearl” Rose – Best of Class – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2021 Albariño – Best of Class – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2019 Cabernet Franc – Double Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2019 LVVC – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2019 “Viva” Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2019 Merlot – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2019 “The Captain” Red Blend – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2019 “Big Wood” Zinfandel – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2019 “Woody’s” Cab Cabernet Sauvignon – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2018 “Especial” Cabernet Sauvignon – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2018 Clone 30 Cabernet Sauvignon – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2019 “El Loco Rojo” Bordeaux Red Blend – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2019 GSM – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2019 ‘Muy Bueno” Zinfandel – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
The Wine – 2021 Wood Family Vineyards Chardonnay
Rhonda Wood, owner and winemaker, has consistently made award winning wines and truly one of my favorite Chardonnay’s for the last six years. While always delicious and winning awards, with caramel and full secondary malolactic fermentation creating a tinge of buttery finish, each year has a slight change. Her 2021 Chardonnay is 98% of the same “deliciousness” as her 2020. The slight changes were twofold, the first being a more “mouth filling” slightly heavier body due to more stirring of the lees during barrel fermentation. The second was a hint of an ever slight sweetness on the finish. The balance of the wine was almost identical in color (golden yellow), aroma (fresh brioche), taste (pear and apple) and a beautiful finish! This wine was as “comfortable and inviting” as her previous vintages once again. It is like coming home from a hard day at work and collapsing in your favorite recliner! The bottle sells for $32.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Paired this evening with a chicken and Bok Choy stir-fry. Ingredients included besides the cut crosswise chicken, cornstarch, Canola oil, dark sesame oil, uncooked onion(s), ginger root, minced garlic, uncooked Bok Choy, water and low sodium soy sauce. Garnished with sesame seeds. The mouth filling Chardonnay and wine made a wonderful food and wine pairing.
As fall is upon us, you can also be assured that awards will be forthcoming for this vintage of Chardonnay!
Susan Tipton’s Acquiesce Winery features exquisite white French wines exclusively. When Susan Tipton founded Acquiesce Winery, she was on a mission unique to Lodi AVA and in fact, most AVA’s areas. She sought to offer only white Rhone wines. She was chastised and admonished why she should not focus on solely white wines. Yet based on her passion and life experiences in France, she proceeded without wavering. She sourced and planted the best vines from the Chateau de Beaucastel of Chateauneuf du Pape on her quest. Today she has and continues making artisan and award winning boutique wines. Her awards are too numerous to list. For the full story on Acquiesce see a previous story at:
The Wine – 2019 Acquiesce Ingénue
The wine features a combination of French varietals in her 2019 Acquiesce Ingénue. Don’t let the name fool you as its definition states “an innocent or unsophisticated young woman, especially in a play or film”. This is a unique white blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc and Picpoul Blanc. The gestalt of this wine, when you combine the Grenache Blanc (pleasant minerality with hints of green apple and apricot), Bourboulenc, a rare varietal in the United States with as Susan states “…beeswax on the nose, citrus flavors of orange and key lime…..with a honeyed finish”, Picpoul (with pineapple, lemon custard and floral nose) and Clairette Blanche (again an uncommon varietal in California (with a medium-heavy viscosity, mild grapefruit and a floral bouquet) you have an exquisite and one of kind experience. Truly a symphony of flavors to be enjoyed. Each of the varietals received an award winning Gold, Double Gold Medals or Best of Class in various competitions. The 2019 Ingénue won Double Gold at the 2021 American Fine Wine Competition and a Gold Medal at the 2021 Orange County Wine Society Wine Competition. Some of her wines have been awarded 98 points and in 2022 Sue Tipton was honored as the Best Woman Winemaker from the International Women’s Wine Competition! The current release is the 2021 Ingénue and is listed at $36/bottle. A great uncommon find and worthy of honor in any cellar!
The Food and Wine Pairing
Our Friday Wine & Dine group met at Verona18 restaurant last Friday evening. I pulled this wine out of the cellar as several specials were being offered. A special appetizer caught my attention of a lightly fried plate of artichoke hearts. It was prepared with spices and drizzled with lemon juice and an accompanying aioli sauce of butter and garlic.
The evening special fish was fresh swordfish with a medley of fresh fruit salsa along with vegetables and rice. The meal and wine were absolutely a match made in heaven!
It was by happenstance I noticed a new (for me) winery called Above the Rush in village of Vallecito on Highway 4 on my way to Murphys in the Sierra foothills. On the return trip, I took a gander to see what Above the Rush Wines was about. I was greeted by a welcoming Sheri Hendriks who owns the winery with Rob, her husband. It turns out it is a second label from Aloria Vineyards located in Murphys. I briefly tasted a couple of Aloria wines about 2-3 years ago but have never participated in an in depth review of the wines. So this turned out to an excellent opportunity to get some background for Above the Rush as well as Aloria Vineyards.
Sheri provided the detailed background on their property of 120 acres with 52 acres being planted. It is on a valley and hillside with magnificent views of New Melones Lake. The property is at 2200 foot elevation. They started the second label to show case some of their newer additions to the lineup of wines. I only had time to taste two wines. The first being their 2021 Albariño and their 2019 Tempranillo. I was extremely impressed with the 2019 Tempranillo and purchased one bottle on the spot for a dinner coming up. The label is looking upward through the trees to the night time sky verses a crowded city. Their tasting include small bites to enhance and showcase the wines.
The Wine: Above the Rush 2019 Tempranillo
The color was an amazing deep enticing purple, so unique and almost solid in coloring except the beautiful edges. The viscosity was medium to medium heavy. On the nose, aromas of black plums and leather are just the leading edge of flavor that awaits one. Once on the palate, the fresh lively fruit of cherry meets an earthly red soil to formulate a quintessential Tempranillo of “old world” taste. On the finish, cedar and pipe tobacco provided a long and hearty finish in the mouth. The acidity was bright and tannins were noticeable and correctly angular for a Tempranillo with surprising layers of enjoyment. The alcohol level is 15.8%. The wine was aged in barrel for 22 months with American oak, 50% being new. It is listed at $48/bottle.
The Food and Wine Pairing
This evening’s meal was baked chicken cheese enchiladas. Ingredients consisted of shredded cooked chicken, cream cheese, sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, fresh roasted corn kernels off the cob, cumin, dried oregano, cayenne and onions. Then topped off with a tangy salsa, cheddar cheese and green onions. Together this was a spectacular food pairing with the cherry and plum flavors of the wine softening the spicy enchiladas.
I will now need to go back and taste some of the other wines offered by Above The Rush Wines.
The Friday Night Wine & Dine group has had several birthdays and anniversaries in September. This week, two dinner parties were held to celebrate the birthdays and anniversaries. The first dinner was an Asian fusion theme dinner with a few exceptions!
Started the evening off with Champagne from Louis Roederer and Veuve Clicquot and appetizers of crackers and a special humus dip along with meatballs.
Dinner was comprised of several special dishes prepared by our hosts Ansuiya and Peter Singh. The first was a five spice pork tenderloin tossed with fresh vegetables and noodles.
The second dish was a Thai chicken with basil and chili’s. A special and tangy sauce of homemade tomato-habanero was a perfect complement and combination.
The next main dish was a seared ribeye steak with a Bourbon glaze. The sauce was comprised of a hot and spicy Japanese Barbecue sauce mixed with wasabi paste. This made the steak even more scrumptious and so tasty.
Another guest brought a “large bowl” of a fresh garden salad. The dressing was another original consisting of homemade white balsamic vinaigrette. The dressing was chosen to complement the spice of the main dishes.
Wines with dinner included a wide assortment of Wood Family Chardonnay (Livermore Valley), Tobin James “Big Shot” blend & Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles), Jeff Runquist Zinfandel and Barbera (Amador), Gossamer Cellars Petite Sirah (Murphys) and L’Autre Côte Cabernet Franc (Livermore Valley).
Dessert was an assortment of fresh cut fruits including Star fruit, Asian pears, peaches, Guava, Cumquats and nectarines.
For an after dinner drink, 12 year old Macallan and Glenmorangie were offered along with a Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky.
A similar meal (no pictures) was followed up the next evening at a different location and with more very excellent foods and wines. Wines included were Champagne from Moet & Chandon, Young Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (Amador), Prospect 772 Black Tie Charlie (Calaveras County), Wood Family Chardonnay (Livermore Valley), Vina Moda Grenache (Calaveras County), Toulouse Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley) and VJB Cellars Dante Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County).
I think we have a reprieve on birthdays and anniversaries for a couple of weeks in order to let our livers recover!!!
http://restless-frog.com/ (Gossamer Cellars)
Pulled this out of the cellar for our Friday night stand alone and outstanding wine: Outpost Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. Robert Parker gave it 95 points and stated “The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 20 months in 75% new French oak) reveals attractive scents of blackberries, black currants, charcoal and graphite, full-bodied flavors with impressive richness, a long, opulent mouthfeel and a heady finish“. Definitely spot on with the aromas and flavors. A great way to end the week. For more on Outpost wines see a previous story at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2015/12/20/outpost-wines/