Category Archives: wine travels

Seven of Hearts is Your Lucky Card in Carlton

The simple storefront for the Seven of Hearts / Luminous Hills tasting room in Carlton.

In our admittedly limited experience in Oregon, most of the wineries have their tasting room at the winery. Seven of Hearts is different, with their tasting room in a store front in “downtown” Carlton. Carlton consists of maybe two stoplights and another few stop signs, so downtown might be stretching it just a bit.

Seven of Hearts / Luminous Hills tasting room shares space with Honest Chocolates.

Walking into the shop is interesting. It seems slightly unorganized inside, with a tasting bar, a desk, some displays and more stuff scattered about. But at the same time you’re taking in the visual, you’re getting the nose. You’re getting the smell of whatever they’ve been pouring that day, and you’re also getting a whiff of the chocolate that is not only being sold, but also being made, at the back of the shop. Byron Dooley is the proprietor of Seven of Hearts, and his wife is the proprietor Honest Chocolates. (That’s really sad: a relationship based on wine and chocolate. Whatever the sacrifices they’ve had to make, it’s working for them. Sarcasm, folks.)

Byron buys most of his grapes from various Willamette Valley vineyards, but a few years back he purchased a small vineyard, now called Luminous Hills, where he grows Pinot Noir and bottles it under his Luminous Hills label. The majority of his wines are sold under his Seven of Hearts label. Here’s a quick summary of what we tasted:

Byron’s style for Chardonnay is fairly understated. The 2014 Willamette Valley Chardonnay underwent no malolactic (ML) fermentation, but saw some new oak, while the 2014 Gran Moraine Vineyard Chardonnay had ML, but only neutral oak. We really liked the Gran Moraine; a few bottles of that came home with us.

His Pinot Noirs were also tended toward an understated style. It was interesting though that the 3 PNs we tasted from Seven of Hearts, all blends from various vineyards, were good, but not great. However, the 2014 Luminous Hill Pinot Noir was very good, one of the best we tasted on our trip, and a very good value.

He also makes a GSM (Grenache, Mouvedre, Syrah) blend, and a Bordeaux blend. We tasted both the 2014 GSM and the 2014 Tradition. We liked them both – the GSM especially was nicely balanced and would probably lay down for a few years, comparing nicely to a good California GSM – but we were in Oregon for the Pinot Noir, so neither of those made the cut to be brought home. The Tradition tasting is served with a bit of the Salted Currant Ganache from Honest Chocolates. Byron also makes a Pinot Noir port, and pairs it with Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee Bark for tasting. I didn’t try the port, but the chocolate was delicious.

By the way, for all the feeling of clutter in the tasting room, Mackenzie and Eric provided us with a great tasting environment. Not rushing us, answering all our questions, even those we hadn’t yet asked. Very knowledgeable and nice.

We tried another of the chocolates from the back, and walked out with a dozen truffles for us, and more to take home as gifts. Quite good!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Elk Cove Vineyards: An Oregon Pioneer

Elk Cove Vineyards (ECV) crushed their first grapes in 1974, planted their first Pinot Noir vineyard in 1975, and now makes about 45,000 cases each year. Of that, about 1/3 is Pinot Noir, another third is Pinot Gris, and the rest is split between Reisling, Chardonnay and rosé of Pinot Noir. Their early start qualifies them as a pioneer in the Willamette Valley, while their quality, longevity and volume make them one of the current leaders.

The original vineyard at Elk Cove Vineyards was planted in 1975.


Elk Cove Vineyards

We weren’t sure what to expect with ECV. We turned a corner and came through a line of pine trees, and there were vineyards (their original 1975 vineyard) right there in front of us, and the winery down at the bottom of the hill. Beautiful. As we pulled up to the tasting room, we noticed the flower gardens, also beautiful. And the vineyards come up to the edge of the deck off the tasting room, so you feel like you’re in some sort of Eden-ic spot.

The vineyards come right up to the deck at the Elk Cove Vineyards tasting room.

Out of the car, and it’s obvious that they’ve just “finished” harvest. Finishing harvest has a different definition for winemakers and lay people. For us lay people, we think of finishing harvest in a literal sense, that all the grapes have been harvested. The winemaker and his/her team think of harvest as extending through to when they’ve got the last wine out of the fermentation tanks and into the barrels. While there’s still wine in tanks, the winemaking team has to be there every day, a few times each day, to make sure that the fermentation process is proceeding according to plan. When they get the last wine into barrels, the 2+ months of being at the winery every day is over; harvest is over for the winemaking team, and they can see their families again. One of the first tasks after finishing harvest is cleaning out the skins from the tanks, and from the smell that was the task they were getting on with that morning.

The tasting experience was also nice because of the person behind the bar. Joe worked for about 30 years at Intel (maybe the largest employer in Oregon) as a software engineer. Having retired a year ago, he’s now serving wine, and playing classic rock in the tasting room. Eagles, Heart, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, … My high school and college sound track.

The La Boheme Vineyard at Elk Cove Vineyards was planted in 1985.

Well, I’m about 400 words and 5 photos into this blog and have yet to say anything about their wine. Lori got one tasting flight, and I got the other, so that we could maximize the number of wines we tasted. Looking back at my notes, we didn’t taste the Pinot Gris, and the Chardonnay and rosé we tasted left no memorable impression on me. The 2015 Estate Reisling, which is made off-dry with less than 1% residual sugar, was nice to taste.

On to the Pinot Noirs. We tasted

2014 Willametter Valley Pinot Noir: Cuvée (blend) made from grapes from all six of their vineyards.

2014 Mount Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir: This vineyard is near Yamhill, and this was Lori’s favorite.

2014 Clay Court Vineyard Pinot Noir: Their smallest vineyard, volcanic soil, Parrett Mountain area, and home to the ECV founders. My favorite.

2014 La Bohème Vineyard Pinot Noir. This vineyard was planted in 1985 on the other side of the winery from the original vineyard.

2014 Windhill Vineyard Pinot Noir: Not our style.

2014 Goodrich Vineyard Pinot Noir: Their newest vineyard.

All together – the setting, the tasting room atmosphere, the quality of wines – this was a great wine tasting experience.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Brigadoon: A Magical Oregon Winery

On our last day of wine tasting in Oregon, we ventured south of Corvalis. Though this is 75 miles south of McMinnville and our previous two days of wineries, this is still the Willamette Valley. After going to one of the larger, well known wineries, we visited Brigadoon as the last winery on our trip.

Brigadoon tasting room.

You might know of the musical Brigadoon, with the basic set up that Brigadoon is a magical spot that appears in the Scottish Highlands for one day out of every 100 years. The winery Brigadoon is, fortunately, there every day of the year. It’s a small winery; only about 1,000 cases per year of the three Pinots (Gris, Blanc, Noir) plus Reisling. The Pinot Blanc was interesting and different than the others we tasted on this trip, as it was done with no malolactic (ML) fermentation. It was good, best we had in Oregon, although I still am not a huge fan of this varietal.

Their Pinot Noir was quite good, and at $23 per bottle, the best value we found on our trip. Just when I thought I had bought all the wine I was going to for the trip, here was one I couldn’t pass up. So I had some shipped direct to the house. (The other wine purchased on the trip came home with me, as Alaska Airlines, and maybe some of the others, will let you check one case of wine at no charge flying out of Portland Airport.)

The picnic area at Brigadoon.

Some other interesting points about Brigadoon. It’s kid-friendly, with some toys in the small tasting room to help keep the little ones occupied while you’re enjoying the wine. They’ve got a nice picnic table there, which we took advantage of, having brought sandwiches. (We also bought a bottle there to have with our lunch.) They have a nice, friendly dog, Gracie, at Brigadoon. At least friendly to humans; not sure about other dogs.

It probably says something about our priorities that the dog is mentioned before the people. Chris Shown, proprietor and vineyard manager, was behind the bar when we were there. He grew up in Napa Valley, but moved to the Willamette Valley for his own vineyards and winery. In addition to talking about his wine, he’s still a fan of the SF Giants, and as the season had just ended for the Giants that was as much a topic as the wine.

Root vines at Brigadoon.

Also, they grow root stock there, not just their own grapes. You are probably aware that most grape vines start with a relatively generic root stock, with the actual wine grape varietal grafted onto the root stock about one year after planting. Brigadoon works with nurseries in Oregon as a root stock provider, and so you see a few fields of untrained, untrellissed vines there, which was an interesting sight.

This was a great tasting experience, and I hope to get back there (or at least keep buying their wines).

L’Chaim,

Larry

Torii Mor Winery

Lori and I recently spent a week going from Seattle to McMinnville (Oregon’s Willamette Valley) to Corvalis (wineries, breweries, and a California v Oregon State football game that did not end in the Cal Bears favor). Torii Mor was the first winery we visited. A great way to start.

The architecture of the winery and tasting room, and even the landscape architecture, has a slightly Asian feel. This might be the place to discover the zen of Pinot Noir. It’s a very calm place, but that belies the intensity of the effort going into the wines. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface.

We started with their whites, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. The Pinot Gris had really nice nose, more substantial body than we’re used to seeing in a Pinot Gris, and nicely balanced flavors. It reminded us a bit of a good Sauvignon Blanc, with enough acids to work well with a range of foods. Pinot Blanc is a mutation of Pinot Noir, except now a green grape (white wine). This really didn’t do anything for me, but in fairness to Torii Mor, we didn’t taste even one Pinot Blanc in Oregon that we were at all interested in taking home.

On to the Pinot Noirs. I’ve had Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs in the past, and enjoyed them, but with living in California I’ve been drinking Pinots from the Russian River Valley, Carneros region, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey) and Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara) for the last 20 or more years, with hardly a bottle of any other Pinot (Burgandy, Oregon, New Zealand) thrown in. This was my first visit to the area, and my first time ever really focusing on Oregon Pinot Noir. The climate there, a bit cooler than in California, leads to Pinot Noir grapes with less sugar at full ripeness and therefore less alcohol. Lighter body seems also a regular characteristic, as does less bold fruit flavors. Yet these characteristics do not diminish from the quality of the wine, it just makes them different, and interesting. And when they’re well made, very enjoyable.

With Torii Mor, we found a range of Pinot Noirs, depending on which vineyards from which AVAs they were sourcing the grapes. One of our favorites was the 2014 Yamhill Carlton Select Pinot Noir, which surprised us with the complexity of the wine with such a light body. We brought a bottle of that home with us, and opened it our first night back, tasting it against an Armida 2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir. They were both easily identifiable as Pinot Noir from the flavors, but completely different wines, both excellent.

By the way, Torii Mor has a couple of winery cats that hang out around the tasting room. And if Eddie is behind the tasting room bar, you’ll get a nice description of the wines and vineyards, without him telling you what you’re going to taste in advance.

I don’t know when we’ll get back to the Willamette Valley, but I’m already looking forward to the next trip.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Zin and Pinot and Pints, Oh My!

My cousin came to town between Christmas and New Years Day, and had one day for sightseeing with us. We hadn’t seen Diego for about 13 years, as he’s from the branch of the family that’s based in Argentina, although he’s currently living in Spain. He was traveling with his girlfriend who, as it turns out, is currently living and teaching English in Spain, but grew up only 30 minutes from us here in the Bay Area. We decided to spend the day up in Sonoma County, eating and drinking and seeing some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, and also seeing our boys and their families.

With that preamble, here’s our agenda for one day in the wine country:

• Wine tasting at Armida Winery
• Lunch at Matteo’s Cocina Latina in Healdsburg
• Wine tasting at Woodenhead
• Hiking in the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
• Dinner at Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol
• Ice cream at Sub Zero in Sebastopol

Wine tasting at Armida was an easy choice, because our son Brandon, aka Winemaker B, is the winemaker at Armida. Moreover, the views are great, and so is the wine. Brandon gave us a tour of Armida, which started with a quick taste in the tasting room, and finished there as well. The zinfandels were a hit with our guests, and a bottle of the Reserve PoiZin (with the coffin package) went home to Diego’s girlfriend’s family.

Matteo's Cocina Latina in Healdsburg serves some of the best Mexican food in the Bay Area.

Matteo’s Cocina Latina in Healdsburg serves some of the best Mexican food in the Bay Area.

Lunch at Matteo’s was another easy choice. Great Mexican food, but not the conventional Mexican-American fare. This is a restaurant that has been in the top 100 in the Bay Area according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which is a pretty elite list given the quality of food in the Bay Area.

We had time for another winery between lunch and the Armstrong Redwoods, and so wanted something relatively convenient to the drive from Healdsburg to Guerneville. This narrowed down our winery choices to only about 50. Woodenhead was chosen because of their emphasis on Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, because we had recently opened our last bottle of Woodenhead Pinot Noir and needed to buy more, because they have a nice, cozy, comfortable tasting room and because the view from the deck outside the tasting room is quite nice. Certainly our stop there didn’t disappoint anyone.

My cousin Diego and his girlfriend on the left, Lori and I on the right, at the Colonel Armstrong redwood tree

My cousin Diego and his girlfriend on the left, Lori and I on the right, at the Colonel Armstrong redwood tree

From there we went to the Armstrong Redwoods. Until a visitor stands next to one of those Coastal Redwood trees, the numbers that you read – hundreds of feet in height, tens of feet in diameter, more than 1,000 years old – are just numbers. Then you experience it in person, and realize what those numbers mean. It’s awe inspiring, and spiritual, in a way that can only be felt, and not read about.

Dinner was a family gathering at the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol. While the Russian River Valley and surrounding areas are now known mostly for wine and redwoods, this was once a great area for growing hops and brewing beer. Well, the hop vines are gone, but this area is now one of the great areas for craft beer brewing in California. Hopmonk brews a few of its own, but also has other local craft beers on tap. All the adults at the table had the Hopmonk brews, and we were quite impressed. On top of that, the food was very good, and they were able to easily accommodate and provide good service to a large group, ranging from 2 year olds to their grandparents.

Finally, even though it was the middle of winter, we needed dessert, and Sub Zero beckoned. This is a new ice cream store in the Barlow center, which makes their ice cream to order by combining the raw ingredients in a bowl, mixing them together and then freezing them on the spot using liquid nitrogen. Their claim is that this technique produces a creamier ice cream, and since texture is a big part of taste, this should improve the ice cream. The ice cream was very good, but even better was eating with everyone around the fire pit outside the store, then working off the ice cream by chasing a granddaughter around the area, and being chased by her.

I’m not sure a day could be any better.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Santa Cruz Thanksgiving

Lori and I spent the week of Thanksgiving in Aptos, a little town just south of Santa Cruz (actually it’s east of Santa Cruz, but you have to go “south” on Highway 1 to get there), in our vacation house just a 10 minute walk from the beach (Seacliff State Park). It was a great week from a weather point of view, with only one day of rain. There were great sunsets, as you see above, and great ocean views.

We were joined there for the holiday, and a couple of days on either side of it, by Winemaker B and his family. This meant some interesting wines for the meals, from his cellar and ours. Here’s a quick rundown:

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Buena Tierra Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Crosshatch (Carr Vineyards & Winery) 2010 white blend, Santa Ynez Valley
Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Old Vines, Lodi

This doesn’t include the wines for the Thanksgiving meal, which won’t be talked about here. (We opened a vertical of Syrah from a single winery, and it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Nice to have opened the bottles, and they were quite nice with the turkey, but not a highlight to spend time on.)

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Buena Tierra Vineyard

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Buena Tierra Vineyard

Woodenhead Pinot Noir: This is a small winery in the Russian River Valley (RRV), specializing in Pinot Noir. We did an interview with Zina Bower, the co-owner, in the early days of the ViciVino.com website. This bottle was what I like to think the RRV does best, Pinot Noir with some restraint, delicacy and subtlety. After 10 years this wine was all we expected, balanced from nose through entry through mid-mouth through finish. Not real heavy bodied, it went great with a shrimp stir fry we cooked on the barbeque. We have consistently liked their Pinot Noir; unfortunately this was our last bottle. Time to go up and buy a few more.

cross_hatch_white_blend

Crosshatch: This is the brand name for some interesting blends from Carr Vineyards & Winery in Santa Barbara. We enjoyed our visit to their tasting room this past summer, and really loved how they handle Rhone varietals. The reds we bought — Syrah and Grenache — will sit for another few years, but this white was ready now. The Crosshatch white blend is 70% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, and was delicious. Definitely ready to drink.

Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Lodi Old Vines, Schmierer Vineyard

Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Lodi Old Vines, Schmierer Vineyard

Soquel Vineyards: We’ve mentioned Soquel Vineyards a few times before in blogs, including writing about the 2004 vintage of this same Zinfandel. Soquel consistently produces excellent wines, and their tasting room is a great experience. The 2006 Zinfandel was lovely, sort of the “Mama Bear” wine: Not too big, not too soft, aged just right for drinking over the holiday.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Te Whare Ra in the OXO Tower Restaurant

Lori and I spent a week in England in December. One of those business/vacation trips, which ended up being great. We were staying in a small town, Thame, which is near Oxford, and is where my day job company is located. Two days Lori took the train into London, with me joining her there in the evening. One of those evenings was a theater evening (Billy Elliot), while the second was to meet with friends that we hadn’t seen in a number of years. After wandering around a Christmas market near the Millennium Bridge, we went to the OXO Tower Restaurant (only 8 floors up to the top of the tower, but still a pretty good view overlooking the Thames River and London).

Incredible cheese trolley at OXO Tower Restaurant in London

Incredible cheese trolley at OXO Tower Restaurant in London

The restaurant has a very good reputation. The food was very good, and the service was excellent, except for the sommelier. After looking through the wine list I found a bottle of Te Whare Ra 2010 Syrah, from Marlborough, New Zealand. The sommelier tried a couple of times to talk me out of this bottle, suggesting both South African Syrah and Australian Shiraz as alternatives with bigger, bolder flavors. But I didn’t want that – didn’t want bigger, bolder Syrah with the mix of meals we were getting – and I did want the Te Whare Ra bottle.

Te Whare Ra 2010 Syrah, Marlborough, New Zealand

Te Whare Ra 2010 Syrah, Marlborough, New Zealand

When we visited New Zealand in 2005, and visited the Marlborough area where Winemaker B and then-fiance-now-wife Kim were spending 6 months (Winemaker B’s first post-UC Davis graduation job was in Marlborough), our favorite winery was Te Whare Ra. The name is pronounced Tea Far-ee Ra, and means house of the sun in Maori. There was a young couple running the place; I seem to remember twins about 1 year old at the time.

Te Whare Ra 2004 Gewürztraminer, Marlborough, New Zealand

Te Whare Ra 2004 Gewürztraminer, Marlborough, New Zealand

This couple really knew what they were doing around wine. They made the standard crisp Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but also made a Gewürztraminer that we all loved. I don’t remember much about red wines, but anyone that can make a good Gewürztraminer can make almost anything. That was proved out with the 2010 Syrah. Not so big and bold, but lighter, smooth with a good balance between fruit and acids. It went great with our dinners.

Wine is about people and place and time, as well as about the wine itself and the food being enjoyed with the wine. This was a reminder of New Zealand 10 years ago, and now has a place in our memory with our friends Chris and Catherine with whom we enjoyed this wonderful bottle and meal.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Sangria in Puerto Rico

The origin of Sangria? Who knows? Here’s my story. A long time ago, the Spanish had a problem: what alcoholic beverage to drink when it is really warm out? Beer wasn’t their alcohol of choice in the first place; neither were distilled spirits. What Spain does have though is wine, especially red wine. Drinking red wine on a hot day does nothing to cool you down, it just gets you drunk. Putting ice cubes in red wine is an offense against the laws of nature (or some such reasoning). What if you put fruit in with the wine and let them stew together, and then add ice? Sangria!

You don’t want to use your good wine, but you don’t want something terrible either. A wine that is relatively light bodied and fruity is called for. (Light on the tannins please!) Tempranillo or Garnacha (Grenache), the primary red varietals in Spain, work well in their less expensive incarnations. Working with California varietals, I like Zinfandel or even Merlot for the Sangria base.

As far as what else goes in the Sangria, there are undoubtedly thousands of different recipes: different fruits, additional alcohol (brandy, liqueurs), sparkling water or lemon-lime soda even. White wine Sangrias are also pretty darn good.

Lori and I split a pitcher of sangria at a sidewalk cafe.

Lori and I split a pitcher of sangria at a sidewalk cafe.

On our recent trip to New England and Puerto Rico, I ended up having a lot of Sangria. It was served at the wedding we attended in New Hampshire, and then with the heat in Puerto Rico, something was a necessity. As I’m not a huge fan of rum, and rum is the major alcohol of Puerto Rico, I needed something else to drink, and there was my long lost and newly rediscovered friend, Sangria.

Sunset over old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Sunset over old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

As far as I can count, I had Sangria at six different places in Puerto Rico, almost every night. I’ll blame it on the sunset colors reminding me of Sangria. I missed the first night because I had one of the Puerto Rican beers; didn’t make that mistake again. And I missed the last night because we were doing a nighttime snorkeling trip in a bioluminescent bay and got back to the hotel too tired to drink. (By the way, the bioluminescent bay swim was one of the coolest things ever. Swimming and your hand trails strands of light in the water. Magic. Belief in a higher being. More than just science. Do it if you ever get a chance.)

The danger with Sangria is that it can easily get too sweet. The wine you’re starting with typically isn’t going to have a lot of acid, and you’re adding fruit and potentially other components that have some sugar. I encountered this quite often. It was still good, but not great. The two best from the trip were at Aji Dulce, a restaurant in Old San Juan, and at the Tamboo Tavern, a bar/restaurant right on the beach in Rincón (Sandy Beach). Both were nicely balanced takes on Sangria, and earned a second glass.

I’ve talked before about rosés as great for warm weather, and now I’ll keep Sangria on that same list.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Wine, Cheese and Chocolate in New Hampshire

Kim and Jason at the altar, on the beach at Newfound Lake, NH

Kim and Jason at the altar, on the beach at Newfound Lake, NH

Lori and I were in New England last week for a wedding. End of September in New England: beautiful weather, beautiful leaves, old friends, the son of those old friends getting married; how could we not attend? Driving up from Boston to New Hampshire for the wedding we stopped at a rest/tourist information area. Glancing through the brochures we found one titled Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Trails in New Hampshire. OK, you had us at wine, but the rest is not bad either. We had a free day after the wedding, and wanted to tour around; might as well have wineries etc. as a target for that driving.

We first visited Gilmanton Winery and Vineyard. Actually, bad timing on our part. They not only make wine, but also serve brunch on the weekends, and it’s a very popular place. So popular that they didn’t have anyone to serve us in the tasting room. The closest we got to tasting was grabbing a couple of grapes from the vines growing there. What was growing there was Concord grapes (perfectly ripe), so it was just like tasting grape jelly.

Getting to Gilmanton involved a couple of dirt roads, and took us past a small pond where the leaves were just starting to turn colors. Beautiful day, beautiful scenery.

Kellerhaus

Kellerhaus

Chocolate was next on the list. We went to Kellerhaus in Weirs Beach, which boasts of having an ice cream sundae smorgasbord. It did, and we did. Choose the cup size and ice cream flavor(s), then serve yourself hot fudge, marshmallow sauce, butterscotch sauce and all sorts of toppings. They also have a full selection of chocolate truffles and other candy delights.

Newfound Lake Vineyards tasting room

Newfound Lake Vineyards tasting room

Last on our list was Newfound Lake Vineyards, just on the other side of the lake from where we stayed for the wedding. They grow some of their own grapes right there, and also get some grapes from Suisun Valley in California (just east of Napa Valley). What they grow there is a white varietal called Edelweiss, which was pretty good. We bought a bottle and took it back to our friends’ house, where we had it with Thai food the next night (a pretty good pairing). The California grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which they make into both individual varietal wines and also a blend, called “Wicked Good Red,” or WGR. We liked the WGR a lot, and bought a bottle, which was consumed that evening with our friends and the bride and groom while watching the lunar eclipse.

Newfound Lake vineyards

Newfound Lake vineyards

I don’t think wine should be your primary reason for going to New Hampshire, but if you’re there and wandering around, visiting wineries is a great way to see the state and have some extra fun while you’re at it.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Harrison Clarke for Rhônes

At the Wine Bloggers Conference last year, one of the sessions was on Ballard Canyon AVA Syrahs. Ballard Canyon is one of the newest AVAs in the Santa Ynez Valley, and has made its reputation based on the Syrahs and other Rhône varietals that are typically grown there. I tried Syrahs from 7 different wineries in that session, with typically two vintages per winery.

Panel on Ballard Canyon Syrahs at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

Panel on Ballard Canyon Syrahs at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

One winemaker on the panel described Syrah by comparing the wines from this varietal to the dancing hippos from the movie Fantasia, but substituting the dangerous animals of the Nile for the cute animated hippos. (The music to that scene is Dance of the Hours, by Amilcare Ponchielli.) Not a bad analogy: Syrahs can be big and bold and graceful, and dangerous to novice winemakers.

Regarding the wines from the seminar, my favorite was the 2010 Syrah from Harrison Clarke Vineyards. It was still a bit young, but to my tastes a better balanced wine than any of the others, one that would have been great with a meal. So when Lori and I went to Santa Ynez Valley in July, a visit Harrison Clarke was high on our list.

We started with a tour of their vineyards, about 12 acres currently planted, with Roger Harrison. An interesting walk, as we seemed to stop every 5 steps for another 2 minutes of discussion about one aspect or another about the vineyard: differences between the top of the hill and the bottom, differences between the edge of the vineyard near a tree and the middle of the vineyard, differences between newer and older vines, differences between the Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre that they have planted their. Roger is in the vineyards every day, and his love of the grapes was obvious. By the way, they’ve also got a great view from the vineyard down Ballard Canyon.

Hilarie Clarke outside the Harrison Clarke winery.

Hilarie Clarke outside the Harrison Clarke winery.

We then adjourned to the winery and tasted with Hilarie Clark, whose love for her wines was as compelling as Roger’s love for his grapes. She’s no novice; the wines were big and bold and graceful, as I remembered from a year ago. Not only are they growing other Rhône varietals, they are making those wines. So we tasted Syrahs, and GSM (Grenache / Syrah / Mourvèdre) blends. There was also a very nice rosé of Grenache. We liked it all, but choices had to be made. In the end, the wines that made the cut and got taken home with us were

2011 Eve e Marie (70% Syrah, 30% Grenache blend)
2011 Cuvee Charlotte Syrah

Now we have a dilemma: We want to open these wines, but we also want to let them age for a few years or more. It’s a tough problem, but somehow we’ll face up to the challenge.

L’Chaim,

Larry