Winecast 77 – Champagne

by Tim Elliott on December 19, 2014

Champagne flutesMy first true Winecast in 5 years to celebrate the 10th anniversary of this podcast and wine blog. And there is no better theme than the celebrated, often imitated, but never duplicated sparkling wine region where the modern wine industry was born: Champagne.

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“Hock, Moselle And The Rest”

by Tim Elliott on October 7, 2014

I recently began rereading George Saintsbury’s classic, “Notes on a Cellar-Book.” The 1920 volume was one of my first wine books read back in the early 1980’s that I had not thought much about since. With time – and much more context and experience with wine – I am finding the book a fascinating window into late 19th and early 20th Century views on what makes a wine truly great.

Notes on a Cellar Book coverI was reminded of this last week when I read Jancis Robinson’s post about Riesling. She rightly talks about how Riesling gets short shrift when compared with top varieties such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. I regard the grape in the top tier of white varieties along with Roussanne, Marsanne and Chardonnay. Each of these grapes make wine of power and subtly which can age for years with the proper terroir and attention to winemaking.

Not surprisingly – at least to me – Steve Heimoff used this post to vent his astonishment about how wine geeks adore Riesling. I’ll give Steve a pass here since I know how hard it is to get good German and the wines of Alsace in California and how many crappy California Riesling must have been in his mouth. But his points are well taken.

Riesling is a grape that can be easy to enjoy but difficult to fully understand. Like all great varieties, it is layered and nuanced. But unlike most of the other great varieties, Riesling has an animal character that can put you off in its youth. It’s strong and undefiant, which is part of the reason I like it so much.

Another reason many might view Riesling as not noble is the stereotype many of us Baby Boomers have of the variety from our youth. How many of us grew up seeing Blue Nun or Zeller Schwarze Katz bottles on our dinner tables in the ’60’s and ’70’s? At some level that has to bring the grape down but I was able to develop a love for the variety even after these indignities. But it took years and a lot of really stellar bottles to convert me.

Bringing this post back to the beginning, Chapter VI of, “Notes on a Cellar-Book,” has these words near the beginning:

…despite the wonderful first taste of the great ‘Auslese’ wines, I think both Hock and Moselle best as beverage drinks; for in these lower quantities, the overpowering and almost barbaric volume of flavor does not occur, and they are fresh and pleasant quenchers, going well with most sorts of food.

“Hock” is an old British term for white German wines much like “Claret” is used as a generic term for Bordeaux red. In Saintsbury’s time Hock was the best of the German Rhine wines. Even then, nearly 100 years ago, Riesling was a niche variety. And I think it will continue for another hundred years.

Until then, more for me!

Cameron Hughes, Lot 467, Lodi Field Blend 2012 ($9)

by Tim Elliott on October 1, 2014

I have written and podcasted many times over the years about by love of California Zinfandel and Zin-lead field blends. The tradition of the field blend was brought to California by Italian immigrants over 100 years ago and some of the most individual expressions of this tradition are still bearing fruit in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. The technique is simple, interplant a vineyard with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet and other varieties, then harvest them at the same time and co-ferment. This tradition reaches its peak with Ridge’s Lytton Springs and Geyserville vineyards which has been chronicled here many times over the years.

Cameron Hughes, Lot 467, Lodi Field Blend 2012Finding distinctive Zinfandel for under $20 is difficult these days and almost everything under $10 does not display much of what makes this variety so special. Occasionally you will find something on close-out that falls within this price band but these are very few and far between. But négociants such as Cameron Hughes regularly bring us wines of distinction that overperform their price point, as is the case with this wine.

Podcast listeners will remember Cameron Hughes from my interview on Winecast 73 seven years ago. Much has changed with his operation over the years but his brands are still as meaningful for wine lovers looking for a bargain. So when I found this wine — a Lodi Field blend of 56% Zinfandel, 17% Syrah, 16% Petite Sirah, and 10% Tempranillo — for $8.99 at my local Costco, I grabbed a bottle.

Lodi has had a long history with Zinfandel dating back to the Gold Rush of the mid 19th Century. I’m sure field blending was also part of this tradition in the region but I’ve never tried any until now. And I don’t think the term “field blend” is regulated so it’s possible some back blending went on to create this wine, but it makes little difference to me since the traditional expression remains in the glass.

Cameron Hughes, Lot 467, Lodi Field Blend 2012 ($9) — Black/purple color with aromas of blackberry jam, fennel, chaparral and sage. Rich blackberry, blueberry and kirsch flavors with white pepper finishing with supple tannins. A bit boozy at the end but balanced currently by exuberant fruit. If you see this at your local Costco, buy it, as this one will not last long. My new go-to BBQ and pizza wine.

Score: 90
13.9% ABV
Composite cork closure

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WBW80: Dry Rosé

by Tim Elliott on August 14, 2013

Back when I first started podcasting about wine, in late 2004, there were maybe 40 podcasts in the world. But there were even fewer wine blogs and soon I discovered the monthly tasting event called Wine Blogging Wednesday joining on its eighth outing back in early 2005.

Over the years I have participated in WBW now 49 times and have hosted 6 times and I am pleased to have it return after a hiatus. The theme I chose for this outing is consistent with the wines I drink this time of year. While I do continue to drink reds, most of the time white or rosé wines are what I choose due to the temperatures outside and the food of the season. And while rosé wines such as white Zinfandel have carved out a significant presence in the market their residual sugar makes them more difficult to pair with food. So I drink exclusively dry rosé in the summer.

WBW 80 Rose WinesFor the selections made for this month’s WBW I decided to sample what is available under $10 a bottle. After looking at some local stores and big box retailers I settled on a couple of bottles from Trader Joe’s both under $6 a bottle. At this price I wasn’t looking for the best rosé but something that would complement a hamburger or taco. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The first bottle is Trader Joe’s Napa Valley Rosé 2012 ($5.99, 13.7% ABV) – It is a light ruby color in the glass with aromas typical of rosé, strawberry, cherry and citrus. There are bright grapefruit and strawberry flavors finishing dry with a touch of bitterness. I found it refreshing but a bit subdued in character but still a decent value. The varieties used were not disclosed but I assume Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were most of the blend.

My second selection is from Spain, the Albero Bobal rosé 2012 ($5.99, 12.5% ABV) – Also a nice light ruby color the aromas here are all strawberry and grapefruit. In the glass the wine shows strawberry and lemon flavors finishing dry with nice acidity. A very pleasing rosé made from a grape I have never tried before. A win-win!

Both of these wines show how far we have come delivering value even in niches like dry rosé. I’m looking forward to reading what everyone has tried to fill out my cellar for the remaining weeks of summer. You can follow along on my Delicious feed.

Thanks also go to Lenn for asking me to host yet again who I will soon pass the baton to for hosting WBW81 next month. Look for a roundup post for WBW80 Friday or Saturday for all the rosé goodness.