Several readers have asked do I only drink wines from California. The answer is absolutely no, as I drink wines from many states and variety of countries and locations within those country. Then why do I generally only write about California wines? Do I prefer California wines over other countries?
So to answer the question I have to go back 9-10 years ago when I started writing about wines and wineries. I was working on my writing skills (which I am not formally trained) so a friend mentioned the easiest way to begin writing about something I knew. That left the door open to about three subjects: high technology (my career), golf and wine. While having spent over 30 years in high technology memory, microprocessors, ASIC’s (application specific integrated circuits), executive management, etc., writing about this would garner about 100 readers. Writing about golf is trying to define “fine art” or “classical art” – lots of words describing movements and era’s, but it comes down to individual taste as to either you enjoy it or not (nor was I trained in this discipline). So this left wine as the default candidate.
While I have been enjoying wine since going to school in Switzerland and experiencing many villages and ordering 1 deciliter blanc or 1 deciliter rouge at the age of 20. Every village had their vines going on the hillsides and it was a local drink. Now I don’t remember in the local village pub having any wine list or recommending a particular wine, it was what was grown by the village winemaker as this was in the countryside not a metropolitan area.
Wine, when returning to USA and then 21, I took a liking to as something as “an intermediate step”. Beer was blah (little or no microbreweries then) and hard liquor was something I wanted to abstain as I had seen the divesting effective on many people close to me. So wine, which was relatively up and coming in Napa Valley (mid-1970’s) and I enjoyed the ambiance and people involved in the business. Robert Mondavi sold me the first case of wine I ever purchased a 1974 George de Latour Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I still have one bottle of it in cellar to remember that day in 1978.
So back to the question of only drinking California wine. I started a Blog and website called California Wines and Wineries as I figured I would not run out of material with so many wineries here in California. So it makes sense that I try to write about wines from the various AVA’s and sub-AVA’s here in California from Temecula, Santa Barbera, San Benito, Central Coast, Santa Cruz, Livermore Valley, Sierra Foothills, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, etc.
But even with covering such a diversity of wines, people, varietals, terroirs, AVA’s, etc., within the state of California, I do still drink wines from other regions and countries. As the anonymous quote goes “Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you”. I have tasted wines from over 45 countries while on business travels and personally was only hurt slightly hurt by tasting wines in India, Brazil and China. I have done wine tasting in the France, Japan, Frankfurt, Brazil, China, Taiwan, wine tours of Italy, Switzerland (as an adult), Mexico, Canada, etc. And have tasted wines from around 40 states within the USA.
Today I still write about once or twice a month on my website about a wine from Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc., just for my own education and enjoyment. I’m I partial to California wines, yes, but I am not exclusively nor biased for or against other areas. In fact I go to more educational sessions on foreign wines than domestic wines for my own self education.
So to those who think I only taste or drink California wines, here are a few pictures of wines which I have enjoyed which are not California wines but generally not written about.
The few pictures below (and I have lots more) should answer the question, that I do drink other than California wines!!
Yes this is one of my “off California wines” for the month of October. Why? It is important to understand what are the main differences between Sauvignon Blanc in the USA (specifically Northern California) verses New Zealand? Briefly, in Northern California it tends to be more fruit aromatic with minerality notes with the sharp citrus taking a second row. Over the years, wineries either pushed the fruit-forwardness or lowered it with barrel aging. Others push the citrus flavors along with floral bouquets.
In New Zealand the grapes come mostly from the southern island of New Zealand. Here the Sauvignon Blanc tends to be herbaceous and fruit forward with decidedly tropical fruit flavors dominating the palate. Authorities in New Zealand claim their sandy soils impart good drainage causing the grapes to grow fuller-bodied and more fruit-forward. Yet once you taste a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, the sharp acidity and citrus produces a love it or leave it demarcation. It is critical to understand what food you are pairing the Sauvignon Blanc with. I always keep Sauvignon Blanc’s from both Northern California and New Zealand on hand depending on food choices.
Matua started producing Sauvignon Blanc in 1974 as the first winery in New Zealand in the Marlborough area. Today, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is world famous for its unique, fresh flavors, lime zest and lemongrass. They use grapes from all over Marlborough to provide a blend of extremely crisp tropical flavors from the entire region. This is an “inexpensive” wine but when looking for a crisp citrusy wine, it is always a “go to” wine.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Bought a fresh piece of Halibut today and decided prepare it with a tropical salsa. The salsa consisted of fresh diced pineapple, red bell pepper, purple onion, mango, cilantro, lime peel, crushed red pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Marinated for 1 ½ hours in the refrigerator. The Halibut was marinated in olive oil, lime juice and granulated chicken flavor bouillon for thirty minutes. Then cooked in a skillet for 3-4 minutes on each side. Topped off with the salsa and a side of flavored rice. Pairing the tropical salsa with the citrus and tropical wine was spot on for a beautiful food and wine pairing.
First time trying this wine early this week and it is always fun to try to figure out the “mix” of varietals in a blend especially when not on the bottle. First on the eyes, it had to be Petit Verdot due to the deep coloring. On the nose, a very distinct Merlot aroma with a floral bouquet wafted into the senses. And lastly upon my first through third sips, blackberry and spices were lovely with structured but not overwhelming tannins securing the finish in the palate hinting it was Cabernet Sauvignon. That was my “uneducated guess” or assessment.
The next day, I sent an email to the winemaker, Mike Blom with my notes. Sure enough it did contain, 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. What escaped my taste buds was a darn 2% of Petite Sirah! The wine was aged 27 months in a mix of French and American oak barrels. The alcohol percentage is 15.2% and was unfined. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah are from the Pope Valley vineyards. The Merlot is from the Napa Valley vineyard. This bottle retails for $44.
A very mellow and relaxing blend and easy to sip after dinner. Camouflage is one of Madorom’s two labels. The Camouflage series consists of a red blend, a Rose blend and Sauvignon Blanc. The other offering by Madorom is their Black Label and with two varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
An unusual occurrence this last weekend of eating both Friday and Saturday nights at Vine18 at the Copper Valley Golf Course. But unusual is not a bad thing when the meals are so exceptional!
Friday night was the Mahi Mahi special which 4 out of 6 people attending thought it was one of the best dishes they had eaten at the clubhouse. Unfortunately the Mahi Mahi was completely sold out on Friday as table to table recommended the dish. So Saturday, did not know what to expect. To my delight, Chef Albert Reyes prepared a scallop special.
The four fresh and tasty scallops were pan seared and then topped off with a butternut puree on a bed of sautéed spinach. Cauliflower and fennel with toasted sesame seeds and seaweed along with tomato and green peppercorn citrus jam adorned the plated presentation. This was one of the tastier dishes of scallops enjoyed anywhere!
Not knowing this “fish special” was in store, a variety of wines were brought for the dinner of eight. They included a 2016 Toscano white Barbera, 2019 Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve, 2014 Caymus Vineyards and a 2015 Hindsight Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2015 Hindsight was brought to dinner as one of the couples had not ever tasted a Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. He really enjoyed the Hindsight Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon!!
When in Las Vegas last week, we made reservations at Majordōmo Meat & Fish restaurant in the Venetian Resort. This came highly recommended and will begin on a positive note. As the name implies, majordomo means a person who speaks, makes arrangements, or takes charge for another. To this extent the service was beyond reproach and the wait staff along with the sommelier was top notch. Additionally the food was also delicious, hot (or cold depending on the dish) and entrees plated nicely. That is one of the major reasons one goes to a sought after dining experience for delicious food.
The tragic flaw was the noise level. While sitting at a four top, we had to literally yell across the table to be heard. The music was so loud and the bass turned up to mimic a war drum cadence. What the restaurant failed to understand that when folks go out for a nice meal they want to socialize! Ambient music is fine, but it should not fill the room like the casinos. Unfortunately this was sufficient to ruin the experience or want us to come back for another meal.
I started off with a half dozen oysters on the half shell with mignonette, horseradish and Tabasco. The oysters were fresh and succulent. A glass of 2015 Mayacamas Chardonnay was a lovely pairing.
Next up was a beautifully prepared Heirloom tomato salad. This included avocado, Korean chili vin and salsa seca. The crunchiness with the sweet tomatoes was a culinary highlight of appetizers. A bottle of 2015 Optima Cabernet Sauvignon was selected to go with this and other appetizers at the table.
For the entrée a ten ounce prime flat iron steak was selected. This was prepared with a spicy garlic marinade and smoke onion. We brought a 2005 Silver Oak, Napa Valley to celebrate and kick off our Las Vegas stay. The wine was smooth and delicious from its deep color to the wafting fruits of the harvest. Oak, mocha and a hint of vanilla pipe tobacco made this wine while worthy of the time cellared. A smooth and long lasting finish. Kelly the Sommelier on duty did a great job decanting and preparing the wine for the entrée.
I normally don’t write a negative story and this is only negative about the loud music. The food and wines were great, but it overwhelmed what should have been an excellent experience. We left there without having dessert as our hearing was at this point completely diminished.
A couple of us ventured to Vine18 at the Copper Valley Golf Club as they were offering another special seafood dish. After the week before special swordfish, nothing could be as good! We were wrong! Read previous story at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2021/09/25/2015-hoopes-chardonnay-gennys-vineyard-and-fresh-swordfish/ and here is the picture:
For those not familiar with Hindsight Wines from Calistoga, this is truly a story of a group of friends who enjoy wine wanting to share their wine with wine aficionados with quality wines without breaking the bank. Read a previous story at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2020/07/16/hindsight-wines-cabernet-sauvignons-calistoga-estate-howell-mountain/ . Besides their award winning Cabernet Sauvignons, they produce a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay.
We started out with a charcuterie plate prepared for our table by the Sous Chef which tasted as good as it looked! Artisan cheeses, cured meats, grapes and spreads of ground mustard and fruit compote were on the plate.
So I grabbed the 2019 Hindsight Chardonnay from Napa Valley from the cellar to enjoy with the upcoming special at Vine18. First time I had tasted the Chardonnay so was very excited to see if they could equal the quality of their other varietals. First on the eyes a light golden color and medium viscosity. On the nose it was very aromatic with jasmine and honeysuckle. On the palate is where some strong flavors of pear and pineapple prevailed. On the finish, it showed some great acidity, perfect for the special fish dish. This Chardonnay is sourced from both Carneros and Oak Knoll AVA’s. It is fermented in stainless steel, then aged 3 months on the lees in neutral French oak. It does not have that “buttery finish” and seemed more “old world” in its flavor profile of great European Chardonnays. The wine is listed on their website at $32/a bottle and check out their website for amazing sales!
The Mahi Mahi was served in a coconut pineapple burblanc sauce. The dish was prepared with shallots, 43 liquor, ginger, pineapple and coconut milk. It was finished off with a macadamia crushed topping and served with an herb risotto and fresh seasonal vegetables. The wine with the pineapple flavors meshed nicely with the Mahi Mahi for a delightful food and wine pairing this evening.
Both Vine18 and Hindsight Wines continue to impress me and others this last Friday night!
One Steakhouse Founded by Morton Brothers – A 1200 Degree Success! With Hindsight, Leal Vineyards, Far Niente and Trinchero Wines.
One Steakhouse was founded by brothers Michael Morton and David Morton who are known as the “first family” of steakhouses founded by Arnie Morton. They are located inside the Las Vegas luxury property of Virgin Hotels.
Our foursome actually ate here twice: our first evening and our last evening in town. So for the record, the pictures are from two meals!! One of the keys to tasty steaks is cooking them at 1200 degrees! They are able to sear them on the outside while having them perfectly medium to medium rare on the inside!
The chilled Hamachi slices that were citrus cured and served with sweetie drop pepper puree and jalapeno sauce were scrumptious.
One of the key reasons for the second visit was the Charred Spanish Octopus cooked in port wine. The size and tenderness of the dish was spectacular. We even got the chef to clue us in on how he prepared and cooked the octopus to be so tender!
The Heirloom Tomato and Burrata with aged balsamic, arugula pesto and spicy almonds was again an amazing dish.
The 6 ounce filet mignon could be cut with your fork and was extremely tender.
On one evening I ordered the Diver Sea Scallops prepared with celery root, trumpet mushrooms and herb butter. These were almost sweet and very savory.
Wines consumed during the two meals included a 2014 Trinchero BRV Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, 2015 Leal Vineyards Cabernet Franc, 2017 Hindsight Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain and a 2019 Far Niente Chardonnay. Each and every one a perfect match for the steaks to be consumed and the Hamachi fish. Steaks ranged from a split Rib Eye to Filet Mignon. Each morsel so tender it could be cut with a fork!
The Wine Director, Anthony Ramirez was charming and accommodating in our discussion of the entrees and wines for the evening.
Two very pricy meals, but what a rare treat while vacationing in Las Vegas! A great start and a perfect finish for the week.
The saying “what happens is Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas” can no longer be the saying for at least this scrumptious meal! After experiencing one of the most eclectic and delicious meals it has to be shouted out for creativity and flavorful dishes.
First if you want the glamour and lights and dazzle of the Vegas strip, this is not your restaurant! It is located in an industrial park on the other side of Interstate 95. Only a 10 minute taxi/Uber drive, but it takes you completely away from the hustle & bustle. This restaurant was recommended by friends Steve and Vashti Roebuck and when we pulled up compared to some of the others on their list, I was a bit surprised and underwhelmed. That was very quickly turned around when opening the car door, the aromas hit us upside the head.
The menu which provides some entrees, does have mostly tapas and side dishes. Having just eaten at two very “fancy upscale” restaurants the previous two nights, thought tasting some tapas would be a smart change. I could not have been luckier or more correct.
Started out with an appetizer called Habanero Guacamole. This consisted of avocado, habanero, pickled onion, cilantro and oregano. A spicy and enjoyable dish with the Garage Wine Company 2017 Cabernet Franc from Maule Valley, Chile. A special twist on a “standard appetizer”. After this, nothing came close to standard or ordinary.
Next up was Cantabric Anchovies. This dish is Bay of Biscay anchovies, grilled bread, tomatoes and garlic. The sweet tomatoes with the salty anchovies is a tapa dish I will not forget for the flavors. A solid 10 on a scale of 10!
The next small appetizer was the Seared Scallops Al Guajillo. This was cooked and served on a cast iron plate with fresh scallops, grilled lemon, guajillo chili and garlic chips. Another solid 10!
Perhaps one of the most delectable treats this evening was the Iberico Dates. Bacon wrapped dates with almond, blue cheese and with a balsamic-apricot reduction sauce. This paired with the Cabernet Franc and 2009 Outpost Cabernet Sauvignon was almost an “out of body” experience. A 10+ rating.
My entrée (appetizer), was a tapas dish called Tropical Ceviche. Prepared with raw Mahi Mahi, mango, red onions, tomato, cilantro and citrus juices, simply another home run. Plated in small bowl inside another bowl with ice cubes which kept the ceviche cool and fresh while eating this tasty dish. A very nice touch and much appreciated. Of course another 10+ rating!
The final appetizer of evening was Roasted Corn off the Cob Esquites. This toasted corn bowl consisted of cilantro, lime, chipotle aioli and queso fresco (cheese). We had been experimenting with a similar dish at home, but this beat our meager attempts with lime and chipotle aioli. For sure a 10 rating!
One of the other wines enjoyed this evening was a 2009 Outpost Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine on the eyes was a deep brick red with a medium heavy viscosity. Blueberry, pepper and fresh violets on the nose. On the palate, it burst forth with vanilla pipe tobacco, licorice and both blue and black fruits. The tannins have soften and Howell Mountain minerality lingers on the finish.
The others had “regular dishes” if that could even be stated at this restaurant of Mediterranean Branzino, their “TRES” pork chop (with piquillo-jalapeno hash) and a Grilled Spanish Octopus (with roasted peppers, garlic, olives). On last side of Broccoli Carbon Carbon was served with grilled broccoli, pipan and guajillo chips! Sorry no pictures as I was too busy eating my delicious dishes!!
Now to top off the entire experience of these diverse and exquisite dishes, the staff and owner Angelo Reyes were beyond friendly and accommodating recommending wines and foods. By the way, no corkage charge (unlike the strip at one restaurant we ate at for $50) that was again much appreciated. Just as an aside, their wine list was similar to the food menu, unique and chosen for specific flavors to match their food menu.
The clincher for why this restaurant was my choice of the best of the week is three fold besides the food and wines. First, the owner provided “free of charge” a port for us enjoy for the end of our meal. Secondly, the moderate level of music in the establishment. Even at some of the “upscale” dining restaurants, we could hardly carry on a conversation without shouting across a four top table! And thirdly the personal touch and guidance throughout the evening from the owner. In fact since they were not located on the strip, meant no taxis were present to take us back to the hotel. When asking if he could call a taxi, Angelo went as far as to order and pay for an Uber ride back to the hotel! These small but significant facts could not be found at any restaurants “on the strip”. And as aside, this meal was extremely filling (both quality and quantity) and was a third of the price higher end and rated restaurants enjoyed during the week.
This is one restaurant in the land of glitter and noise, who understands and really gets the reason people want to dine out and enjoy tasty meal. Kudos to TRES Cazuelas staff and Angelo for this wonderful evening. No wonder why OpenTable provided it in their top ten rated restaurants as number 5 in all of Las Vegas!
Hoopes Vineyard has a great tagline with a picture of the dog jumping thru the hoop being “In Dogged Pursuit of Perfect Wines”. From my perspective it could be “we will jump thru hoops to make your experience enjoyable”. Known for their Cabernet Sauvignon’s, I previously picked up a couple of bottles of their 2015 Carneros Chardonnay and it was excellent! Winemakers Ann Vawter and Jennifer Rue, found a vineyard in Carneros called Genny’s Vineyard. Carneros is an area heavily influence by the maritime coolness from San Pablo Bay. It also has very shallow soil. Thus the vineyard has a low yield with small berry size. It does produce a desirable and distinctive character in which to make Chardonnay. The wine is made in 100% French oak barrels, with 33% being new. It is aged 10 months Sur Lie. They only produce 146 cases of Chardonnay. On the eye, a bright almost glistening golden straw color and medium to medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, pineapple, pear and honeysuckle. On the palate, French pastry and vanilla crème brûlée produce a fullness not normally found in many Chardonnay’s. The pear and green apple produce a wonderful and long lasting finish.
As we headed out for dinner (knowing a fish special was being offered), I pulled the 2015 Hoopes Chardonnay from the cellar. Paired last evening at Copper Valley’s Vine18 restaurant with a special swordfish offering. The swordfish was served with a pineapple medley, baked potato and fresh string beans. The pineapple medley and flavors in the Hoopes Chardonnay were a perfect match. Perhaps with the exception of several winemaker dinners, this was the best meal that Copper Valley Golf Club has produced! 3 out of 4 of us selected the special swordfish offering and it was cooked to perfection and plated very elegantly. All of us gave kudos to Executive Chef Albert Sandoval and George Lee, General Manager for providing this special offering.
For dessert, we skipped the various pastries and sweets and had a delicious Freemark Abbey 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon!
I was asked recently that question by a friend who purchased four cases of a very nice red wine how long will it last before hitting its apex (begin turning bad). To answer this question requires a deeper dive into chemistry, viticulture, history/precedence, storage and a little luck! My initial response after tasting it was between six to eight years from now or eleven to thirteen years from vintage date. But that is based on having years of experience tasting and cellaring wine. So now I was researching the “why” behind it to provide more definitive guidance to my friend. The wine in question was a 2016 Madorom Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.
While these comments are based on science and experience nothing is for certain! So a quick refresher: drinking wine too young you are left with it being too fruit forward. Drinking it too late, it is a flat red tasteless liquid. But if you hit it just before its apex of full maturity, you will unleashed the miracle of that vintage.
The four key variables for red wine that can be aged are: chemistry, viticulture (vineyard management and terroir), the winemaker and storage. First chemistry which involves various facets of knowledge including the interaction of oxygen with polyphenols (tannins, color pigments and flavor compounds), acids and alcohol. All have a role in wine development and maturity. The phenolic elements in red wine come from “the grapes anthocyanins (color pigments) from the skins, and tannins (structure) from the skins, pips and stalks” to quote Rupert Joy, wine writer. A wine of deep coloration usually will have a longer life. So the first thing to notice is the color of wine in a crystal wine glass as a solid indication. The reason for understanding the color is from length of skin contact which produces concentration of polyphenols.
The second variable is viticulture or what happens in the vineyard. The “terroir” may have the ability to produce quality tannins. Yields are also critical during the maturation process stemming from the vineyard. Vines and grapes are each struggling to get the appropriate amount of nutrition, minerals and water. Too much fruit and you are left with less than optimum grapes on the vine. That is often why winery’s in their vineyard management state “they dropped a percentage of fruit” off the vine. If wineries were allowed to let the vineyards grow unchecked they could have 7-10 tons of fruit on the vines. Higher yields but undesirable fruit for winemaker with reduced phenolic content. Similar also with old verses new vines. New vines produce bigger grapes (juice) and thinner skins. With shallower roots this allows the vines to suck up more water and thus lower in phenolic compounds.
The third is the history of a wine/vineyard over time. That is key with old world wines as they have history on their side. New world wines have limited history and precedence in comparison. Also the “magical dust” bestowed by the winemaker. This comes from the length and temperature of maturation (grapes giving up their polyphenols). Additionally items such as amount sulfur dioxide, filtration, yeasts, barrel choices (new vs used) and type of barrels (French, American, Hungarian, etc.). The interaction of the barrel allowing tannins to be added but keeping out unwanted excessive oxygen is a very tight waltz between the two. It is needed to get the desire tannins and anthocyanins and the process helps to stabilize the wine’s color and structure. Key is the alcohol level and acidity level that they purpose in their skills of a varietal.
So once the pedigree of the wine is understood, chemistry, viticulture, history and the winemaker, the next portion that is critical, “laying down” wine for future consumption. Here again the gains are worthwhile, but can be totally lost by miscalculating the wine. Key for storing wine are: constant temperature, limited UV rays (even by lighting), limiting bottle movement, laying it on its side, keeping the cork moist and correct humidity levels. The Holy Grail of storage is knowing when the wine is about to hit its apex from the initial bottling.
So how is the consumer to know all this? When purchasing a “good quality wine” it is helpful to get the winemakers notes which talk about its ability to be aged. Normally acidity, pH levels and phenolic intensity are not listed on the bottle! Nor is the age of the vineyard and yeasts. So take the age ability from the winemaker, pour a glass to see the color, smell the wine for fruit and then taste the wine for the aromas/flavors and on the finish understand the acidity and tannins levels. So if a winemaker states this wine is good for 15 to 20 years and you buy 4 cases, I typically “guard band” their view by 10%. I would then put it into the cellar for 13 to 18 years as an expiration date. Additionally, I would taste a bottle every 6-9 months to understand the changes and how it is maturing. You can always change the expiration date (pulling in or pushing out) based upon your tasting experience.
Some additional suggested reading material:
The final comments are from a conversation with Mike Blom who is the winemaker at Madorom. Hopefully these comments will help confirm some of the information above:
- The grapes for the 2016 vintage came from two vineyards. One off the Silverado Trail and the other from Pope Valley. Clones were mostly #4 and #337.
- The vineyards were both 10 years of age.
- They age the wine for 3 years in barrel. They use 26-28% new oak and the balance used/neutral oak. 70% are French oak and 30% American oak.
- The 2016 harvest was a wet year with a late rain, which required a longer hang time for the grapes to ripen.
- The 2016 harvest was the 16th harvest for Mike at Madorom.
- Mike has 40 harvests to his credit and is extremely knowledgeable.
- BTW, I called Mike after I had written the article and asked how long to hold the wine. He was in complete agreement with initial assessment.
Previously had never tasted Madorom wine before but it is on my radar going forward as it was delicious and age worthy for a cellar. Hope this brief article is helpful for you getting the most out of your wine.