Category Archives: California wine

Dinner with The League of Gentlemen

The League of Gentlemen has not gotten together in a long time to have dinner and drink wine. Since last week was the birthday of one of our founding members, some of us decided to celebrate his birthday at one of his favorite restaurants, Marseilles in NYC.  The theme was Burgundy but as always we started with Champagne, and there were a few surprises.

Champagne Blanc De Blancs Cramant Grand Cru 2008 Lilbert-Fils made from 100% Chardonnay from the Cramant in the Cote des Blancs. Most of the fruit comes from the Buissons vineyard that has very little topsoil and at 40 centimeters below the surface there is pure chalk. The vines were planted in 1936 and have a full southern exposure. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel. Dosage 7g/l. This is a crisp, complex Champagne with hints of citrus fruit and white peaches and hint of pear.

Meursault 1995 Robert Ampeau & Fils 100% Chardonnay. Located in the Puligny – Montrachet region of Burgundy covering 10 hectares of vineyards. They harvest by machine and allow other plants to grow between the rows of vines. The wines are not released by the winery until they feel they are ready to drink. The wines are fermented without stalks in cement cuvees and aged in barriques, mostly used for 10 months. The wine has hints of honey and nuts with mineral notes and good acidity.

With the Champagne and the Meurasult we had oysters, clams and crab


Crab meat

Volnay Taillepiedes 1er Cru D’ Angerville 1998.  100% Pinot Noir The domaine’s plot of Taillepieds is 1.o7 hectares at the top of the hillside of Volnay, south of the village. The soil of Taillepieds is very poor and rocky. Its steep slope, the thinness of the soil and the particularly solar exposure give the wines of Taillepieds its finesse and elegance. The owner Jacques D’Angerville’s believes in non –intervention winemaking which he learned from his father. “ I want to do as little as possible to the wine,” he says.  After destemming, fermentation lasts for 10 to 12 days, with a 15 to 18 month élevage in mostly used barrels. To extract fine tannins, the cap was kept moist by twice-daily pump overs. This was drinking very well with nice Pinot Noir flavors and aromas.

Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru “La Croix Rameau” 2002 D’ made from 100% Pinot Noir. The soil is pebble alluvium and the vines are 40 years old. The vineyard is situated at the bottom of Romanée Saint Vivant and is part of the Clos des Neufs Journaux that was previously owned by the monks of Saint Vivant. Croix Rameau is the smallest 1er cru in the Vosne-Romanée, just 6 hectares. Harvest is by hand and the use of any chemicals is avoided. The present owner Jean-Jacques Coudray-Bizot like to quote his grandfather Dr. Bizot who was a surgeon and wine maker at the Hospice du Beaune. When it comes to wine “you have to hurry up and wait.”  This is very traditional Burgundy, opulent and meaty with nice fruit and hints of spice.

Gevrey – Chambertin  Dominique Laurant 1998 100% Pinot Noir  Dominique Laurent produces wines from his small négociant business in Nuits-St-Georges. He sources fruit from very old parcels and his offerings range up and down the Cote d’Or. He makes his own barrels and only uses Tronçais wood, selected by him, and air dried for at least 3 years and in some cases 7 years. He sells barrels to other Burgundy producers. Dominique finds plots of old vines in the best part of interesting vineyards. The wine is delivered early in the New Year from the producer who has vinified it, sometimes under Dominique’s directions. The wine may be transferred to new barrels, never racked, because it is essential to keep all the gas from the original barrel. The wine is aged without the addition of sulfur until ready for bottling.  This was a 1998 but did not seem as if it was ready to drink.


Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello “Santa Cruz Vineyards” 1988 made from 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. This was the surprise and it was served blind. This is a big wine but the label said 12% alcohol. I know many like this wine but I stopped drinking it after a few sips.

With the red wine we had steak

Muscat-Trockenbeerenauslese 1995 NO 5 (Austria) Kracher. The winery is in Burgenland an hour southeast of Vienna near lake Neusiedi. The area is ideal for the development of “botrytis cinerea” (noble rot). This was the perfect way to end a wonderful dinner.



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Filed under Burgundy, California wine, Meursault, The leagueM of gentlemen

California Dreaming

Could it be possible?  A winemaker who has been making wine in California for over 40 years but still holds on to his French roots?  These questions were soon answered when I was introduced to Bernard Portet.

Bernard Portet

Bernard Portet

As soon as Bernard began to speak, he had me. He said that winemaking is all about place, though at some wineries, technology has replaced terroir.  He stated that wine is not as important as the food.  It is second to the food and Bernard asks his wife what’s for dinner before he chooses the wine, not the other way around.  Of course he only drinks wine with food.  Super ripe, heavily extracted wines with high alcohol are not his style. “Why make Merlots that taste like Syrahs? Where is the charm? Big, alcoholic super extracted wines overpower the palate and sacrifice varietal and regional typicity, as well as complexity.”  In an age when a lot of wine is reaching 16% alcohol his wines range between 13.5 and 14.1 percent of alcohol.IMG_2431Portet’s assemblage winemaking style has become his signature. He does not own any vineyards and buys all of the grapes since he feels that he can buy the best grapes available.  He blends wines from different varieties and terroirs to create finished wines greater than the sum of their parts.  He feels that it is a style that creates unique distinctive wines.Bernard was born in Cognac and his father was a regisseur  (estate manager) at Cháteau Lafite and his mentor.  He explained that the name of the winery Heritance is derived from heritage (his family has been making wine for 9 generations) and inheritance (from his father Andre who taught him all about wine).

The Wines of Bernard PortetIMG_2416

Sauvignon Blanc 2010 made from 91% Sauvignon Blanc and 9% Semillon. The Sauvignon Blanc comes from vineyards located in St Helena and the Soscol Hills south of the city of Napa. The wine is aged in stainless steel. No malolactic fermentation. Bernard said that this is more like a white Bordeaux in style. It is a subtle well-balanced wine with hints of herbs, grass, good acidity and a touch of citrus fruit. $24

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 88% Sauvignon Blanc and 12 Rousanne. The Rousanne comes from the Paso Robles area where the soil is well drained sandy-loam. The grapes were hand harvested in mid-September at an average brix of 23.0. Bernard said Rousanne was very much like Sauvignon Blanc and added that this wine was more California in style. It had more body than the 2010 with a touch of grass, citrus aromas and flavors with undertones of ripe grapefruit and tropical fruit. $24 IMG_2421Pinot Noir 2011 Stanly Ranch, Carneros, Napa Valley. Grapes were hand harvested between July 24-August 7 at an average brix of 24.2.  The vineyard is vertically trellised with a density of 1,500 vines per hectare. The soils are mostly alluvial and sedimentary and well drained. Bernard said that Carneros with its marine-influenced climate is considered the best growing area for Pinot Noir in the Napa Valley.  The grapes were cold soaked for several days at 50 degrees F.  Fermentation took place in open top stainless steel tanks.  It is punched down twice a day and pressed after a short maceration. The wine is aged in used French oak barrels. This is a wine with aromas and flavors of red fruit, a hint of cherry and a touch of mint. $24IMG_2424

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley. Made from 94% Cabernet, 4% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. The grapes come from the valley floor vineyards in the St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville and Oak Knoll appellations. The soils are alluvial and gravelly. The vineyards have generally good drainage and although all are drip irrigated very little irrigation was needed in 2010. Because of the cool weather it was a relatively late harvest. Bernard said it was like the weather in France. The grapes were hand harvested in September at an average brix of 23.5 to 24.5
The grapes were cold soaked for a few days to enhance extraction and color and the musts were fermented at around 85 degrees F. for about 10 days. Assemblage of the small lots and varietals took place in various stages. The wines were aged for about 20 months in both new and mature, medium-toast French oak barrels. This is a round and soft wine with red fruit aromas and flavors, hints of blackberry as the wine opens up and a touch of spice. $36

Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Napa Valley 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot. Bernard said the Merlot was necessary to make the wine complete. This wine is full, round and well balanced. There are black fruit aromas and flavors, a hint of violets, and a touch of spice. $36IMG_2422

Malbec 2010 “Nandù” Mendoza, Argentina. 97% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon for the acidity. Grapes are from the Maipu area, the vineyards are at 2,624 ft. and Luján de Cuyo area at 3,116 ft. The average vine is 18 years old with a vertical trellis system. The average yield is 5 tons per acre.
Bernard said that the area is semi-desert like with an average temperature of 60 degrees F. Average rainfall is 8% per year, mostly in the summer. The soils are a blend of clay, sand and silt, consisting of a fair amount of gravel and small stones and well drained. Due to the proximity of the Andes mountain range, the nights are fairly cool. All this makes for very good conditions allowing for an even, slow maturation of the grapes. The grapes are hand harvested between March 20 and April 10 in 880 pound bins at an average brix of 23.5. 50% of the wine is aged in stainless steel and concrete tanks and the other half in French oak barrels for 9 months. Bernard called this wine an “Argentine Malbec with a French spirit.” This is difficult to believe but it did not taste like any Malbec from Argentina that I have ever tasted before–in fact it may be the best one I ever tasted. This is a wine with aromas and flavors of plum, blueberry and later blackberry with a touch of cedar. $24IMG_2426Bernard saved a gem of a wine for last.   Cabernet Sauvignon 1972 Clos du Val. Made from 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot. It reminded me of an old Bordeaux when they use to make them in this style. It had red fruit aromas and flavors, more then a hint of cherry and overtones of leather. The waiter made the mistake of leaving the decanter next to me …..

Bernard is co founder of Clos du Val and was there for 40 years. 1972 was his first vintage. Mixing grapes was not done in California in those days.

Bernard and his former colleague at Clos du Val, Don Chas formed Polaris Wines which produces Heritance and Ñandú.


Filed under Bernard Portet, Cabernet Sauvignon, California wine, Clos du Val, Heritance, Malbec, Nandu, Sauvignon Blanc

A Panel Discussion of Robert Mondavi at The New School in NYC

The Culinary Luminaries series of panel discussions at the New School University in New York City celebrates crucial figures of the past and present world of food and gastronomy.  James Beard, Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, Craig Claiborne, Joseph Baum, Clementine Paddleford, Pellegrino Artusi, and Michael Batterberry are among those whose contributions have been explored.  The series is sponsored by the Food Studies Program at The New School for Public Engagement. Fabio Parasecoli, Associate Professor of Food Studies is the head of the program.

Last Fall I attended the program on Pellegrino Artusi (Michele was on the panel) and enjoyed it very much.  After the event, Professor Parasecoli asked me if I would like to be part of a panel on Robert Mondavi. I told him it would be an honor.

Robert Mondavi, Culinary Luminary
The panel considered wine and its role in U.S. culinary culture through a discussion of the life and work of Robert Mondavi, the pioneering Napa Valley vintner. Mondavi championed fine wine as an integral part of the good life in any country.  The speakers explored his decisions as a producer, his marketing practices, his international collaborations and global influence, and related cultural and economic issues
.   This is the link to the video. It runs for almost an hour but I think you will find it very interesting.
Panelists: Tyler Colman, author of Wine Politics; Frank J. Prial, former New York Times wine columnist; Charles Scicolone, wine writer and wine consultant; and Julia Flynn Siler, author of the bestselling The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty. Culinary historian and New School faculty member Andrew F. Smith moderates.
The first speaker was Ms. Siler and she spoke about  the Mondavi family and how poor business decisions led to their downfall. She also said the no one from the Mondavi family would speak to her about her book.
Tyler Colman spoke about food friendly, estate wines in California through the lens of Robert Mondavi’s legacy.
Frank Prial spoke about his first meeting with Robert Mondavi in the early 1970’s.
I spoke about California wine in general, Robert Mondavi’s contribution to wine and his worldwide influence on wine. I also said that what Julia Child did for food in this country, Robert Mondavi did for wine.



Filed under California wine, Robert Mondavi

Tasting Wine on the Crystal Serenity

Ever since I studied Byzantine history many years ago, I have wanted to visit Istanbul, or Constantinople, as I like to think of it.  So when the opportunity arose for Michele and I to teach wine and food classes aboard the Crystal Serenity Epicurean Discoveries Cruise, I finally had the chance.  We boarded the ship in Athens and during the next two weeks we visited Santorini, Crete, Israel, Cyprus, Mykonos and Kusadasi with Istanbul as our final stop.  I can’t think of a more enjoyable or luxurious way to travel.   

  Since it was a wine and food themed cruise, several other presenters spoke or demonstrated on board including Chef Azmin Ghahreman of Sapphire Restaurant in Laguna Beach, California, the “Modern Mixologist” Tony Abou-Ganim, and Darioush Khaledi, owner of Darioush Winery in Napa Valley.

Darioush Khaledi

 On our first full day at sea, Mr. Khaledi presented his wines in a tasting billed as Bordeaux vs. Napa.  Bart Dufour, the head sommelier for the cruise, introduced him and spoke about the Bordeaux wine.   From the start, however, Darioush made it clear that the wines should be judged on their own because what is being produced in Napa is very different from what they are doing in Bordeaux. 

Bart Dufour

 The glasses used for the tasting were very unusual.  Mr. Dufour said that the glasses, made by the Reidel Glass Company of Austria, were made solely for tasting wine, not drinking it. The tulip shaped bowl rested on a hollow stem one inch wide and two inches high. The wine was poured into the stem and the bowl remained empty. In order to coat the sides, Mr. Dufour laid a glass on its side and the wine went to the edge and stopped. He then turned the glass until it was coated with wine. This works great but care must be taken not to pour a little too much wine into the stem or it could spill out.

 The wines of Darioush Signature Series

Darioush said that there were 60 different types of soil in the Napa Valley and that during the harvest the grapes can be picked at three different times.

 Russian River Chardonnay 2007 100% Chardonnay. The wine is barrel fermented and spends 11 months in 75% new French oak and 25 % in used barrels of Siruge, Damy and Francois Freres Burgundian barrels. Darioush said that there was very little rainfall and that it was the lowest Chardonnay yield of the decade.  Darioush does not own this property. This is a big Chardonnay but not over the top with citrus fruit and hints of white peaches and nice acidity.

 Chateau Brane-Cantenac 2004  Margaux 55% Cabernet Sauvignon,40% Merlot, 4.5% Cabernet Franc and 0.5% Carmenére. There are 6,666 to 8,000 plants per hectare. The wine is aged in barriques for 18 months of which 60% to 70% are new. Mr Dufour described this as classic Bordeaux and he was right.

 Napa Valley Shiraz2007 100% Shiraz. The wine spends 18 months in new French oak Siruge, Damy and Francois Freres Burgundian barrels.  Darioush said that the length of time a wine spent in wood depended on the vintage.  This was one of the biggest wines that I have ever tasted with a mixture of chocolate, spice, bold fruit and a hint of cinnamon.

 Darioush was born in the Shiraz region of Iran. He is very fond of his Shiraz wine and feels this is the correct name for the grape. He also said that he believed that Iran, and in particular the city of Shiraz, was where wine was first made.

 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. The wine is aged for 22 months in new Taransaud Chateau traditional French oak barrels from Troncais. There was a mixture of mocha and bold fruit with under tones of expresso.

 The Bordeaux in the tasting was placed before the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. This was correct because the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon were very big alcoholic wines typical of California. 

 Later in the cruise, I had the chance to taste the olive oil from Darioush.  It was excelent.

Sangiovese in Tuscany was the title of  tasting that I did on the last day at sea, but more on that next time.

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Filed under Bordeaux, California wine, Darioush Winery

In Old California-California Centenary Wineries with Peter Mondavi, Jr., of Charles Krug Winery

Over the years the Wine Media Guild has organized many great tastings but our April event was truly historic. Wines from seven California wineries that were established over 100 years ago presented some of their oldest wines.  Deborah Park Wong, a Wine Media Guild member who lives in San Francisco, was the member sponsor and was able to persuade the wineries to send samples going back to1935 and from the legendary 1974 vintage among others. Unfortunately, Deborah could not attend the tasting as she was out of the country.

Schramsberg Vineyards 1882

Sparkling-1981 Blanc de Blanc, 1992 J. Schram Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the 2004 J. Schram Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which sells for  $100 – All were showing very well.

Wente Vineyards 1863

 2002, 2004 and 2008 Nth Chardonnay -Classic California Chardonnay

The 2008 sells for $30

Buena Vista – 1857

1981 Sonoma Valley Carneros Pinot Noir – a great old wine with hints of leather, coffee and tea. However it did not have any Pinot Noir characteristics and blind I would have said that it was a great old Cab.

1990 Carneros Grand Riserve Pinot – this wine was just like the 1981 with a little less character.

2007 Carneros Ramal Vineyards Pinot Noir The Ramal Vineyard site has more than a dozen clones of Pinot Noir. The grapes were hand harvested from September 20-27. They were hand sorted and destemmed. Each lot was cold soaked for five days to maximize color and flavor extraction. Fermentation was in five ton open fermenters, punched down five times a day to broaden the texture and complexity of the wine.

The juice was in contact with the skins for 14 days.  Aged in Francois Freres, Dempotos and Remond French oak – 40% new, 50% one year and the rest 2-4years old for nine months. The wine had flavors and aromas of red fruit with hints of cherry and raspberry but with a sweet vanilla finish and aftertaste which I did not find pleasing.  $42

Charles Krug -1861

 Peter Mondavi Family flagship wines- Since 1944 this vintage selection Cabernet Sauvignon has been made only in the best vintages.

 1966 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 100% Cabernet Sauvignon – there was heavy rainfall in the summer with mild temperatures. During the harvest heavy fog blanketed the Napa Valley and did not burn off until early afternoon. This resulted in cooler temperatures and the late picking of Cabernet into early November. Then record high temperatures followed at the end of the month by heavy rains. The wine was aged for 29 months in French oak 92% and American Oak 8%. The wine was bottled in September 1971. There are two things to note here: the grapes were picked in early November and the alcohol content is only 12%.

1974 Lot F1 100% Cabernet Sauvignon- Lot F1 is from the Fay Vineyards in the Stags Leap wine district. The 1973/1974 winter was mild and the early spring and summer were both cool. The fall was long, warm and dry. Grape quality was excellent and harvest was completed before the rains came, the wine was aged in barrel for 15 months. Alcohol 12%

2008   91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot.   In 2008 because of weather conditions there were reduced yields and a lighter than average vintage despite a crazy weather year; the grapes were smaller but more concentrated producing wine that was well-structured, elegant and full of flavor. The wine was aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak and the alcohol content is 15%.  $60

Beaulieu Vineyards -1900

1979 George Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon This wine was a surprise. it had the most fruit of any of the older wines at the tasting and seemed like a much younger wine. For some reason I picked up a lot of oak and vanilla that made the wine disappointing to me.

1995 It was aged in all new oak and had the taste of vanilla and oak in the finish and aftertaste.

1990 This wine was brought to the tasting by one of our members and I liked it the best of the BV wines. I did not pick up the oaky flavors and found it very balanced. There was some discussion at our table which was the better vintage 1979 or 1990. I believe that the consensus was 1990.

2007   This was a big concentrated wine with a lot of up front sweet fruit, blueberry, cassis and a hint of spice.   $90

Simi -1867

 1935 “Montepulciano” Cabernet Sauvignon I sat next to Megan Schofeld, associate winemaker at Simi so I was able to ask a lot of questions about the winery. Megan said that she did not know why the word Montepulciano was on the label. There was only one bottle of the 1935 and there were 36 people so we all just had a little taste. The wine was alive, showing signs of age but still very drinkable. The wine is 76 years old and may be the oldest wine in terms of years that I have tasted that was in such good condition. Magen said that this was the first release after Prohibition.

 1974 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley– 1974 was a legendary vintage is California. I purchased this wine in the late 1980’s and I found it then and now to be a classic California Cabernet with hints of cassis,  dark fruit with the underlying aroma and flavor of bell peppers and eucalyptus. It was my favorite wine at the tasting.

1984 and 1994 both of these wines are classic California Cabernet with the same flavors and aromas as the 1974.

2004   Megan said that Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley poses the greatest diversity of soil types of any wine making region in California. There are numerous soil types and microclimate here allowing them to select from a diverse range of vineyards for their wines. Every vineyard block is kept separate throughout the wine making process and the best vineyard lots are selected for the final blend. They are blended in a small amount of classic Bordeaux varieties.

The wine is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Cabernet Franc and 2.5% Petit Verdot. It is aged for 25 months in 90% new French oak and the alcohol is 14.5% This wine had black fruit , hints of cassis, plum and black cherry.   $60

1935 Tokay– Dessert wine Megan said that she did not know what grapes were in the wine and why Tokay was written on the label. The wine was still alive and one would not think that it was 76 years old.

Gundlach Bundschu 1858

 1982 Rhinefarm Vineyards Vintage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon This was also showing very well with flavors and aromas of dark fruit and hints of prune.

1997 This was one of the best vintages of the decade for red wine in the Sonoma Valley. It was very fruit forward for a wine 14 years old.

2008 Gundlach Vintage Reserve– Red Blend $40- this wine was a little too modern for my taste. Their more modern wine is made from 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Petit Verdot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 10% Malbec. It is aged in 100% French oak for 18 months, 50% ofwhich is new. The barrels are medium tight grain, and medium to medium plus toast.  The primary cooper is Vicard.

The speaker was Peter Mondavi of the Charles Krug winery. Peter spoke about the history of wine in California, his own winery and the difference between the older California wines and the new ones. It was noted by many of our members that the older wines were 12% in alcohol while the new ones were closer to 15%.  Global Warming was mentioned but Peter prefers “Global Climate Change”. He feels that global climate change is not universal and it is only a secondary cause for the higher alcohol content. He pointed to the vines that are now being used. These vines are healthier than vines used in the past and are for the most part disease resistant. The flavor profile for the grapes has not changed but these “healthy” vines produce grapes with more sugar.  The result is a higher alcohol content. The vines also produce more leaves. He also feels that today’s consumer (along with some wine writers) want a wine with riper dark rich fruit flavors and the bell pepper, herbs, eucalyptus flavors are not what they are looking for in their wine. At best he said some may like these aromas and flavors but only as subtle components in the background. The two wines I liked the best in the tasting the Charles Krug 1966 and the Simi 1974 were all leather and bell pepper with a hint of eucalyptus. He also felt that the consumer does not want to age their wine but wants to drink them now. Peter said that we would never see wines of 12% alcohol from California again. He added that he did not believe the recent wines would age as well or as long as the older wines.

Chris Phelps, winemaker at Swanson and a guest of member Ed McCarthy agreed with Mr. Mondavi.  Mr. Phelps remarked that the weather patterns have been strange in California over the last few years  He said that today’s consumer would not like the low alcohol and subtle aromas and flavors of the older wines. He also agreed with Mr. Mondavi that the wines made today would probably not last as long as the older wines we tasted.

Most, if not all of the Wine Media Guild members preferred the older wines, with less alcohol and more subtle flavors and aromas.


Filed under California wine

Georgetta Dune and the Big House Wine Company

 Georgetta Dune and her husband Corneliu are from Romania.  He is a winemaker and Georgetta has a masters’ degree in food science.  Together they started their own wine making business.  One night, at a dinner party with a group of friends, they applied on a whim for the U.S. green card lottery. The odds were 30,000 to one on winning.  Luck was with them and on the day they were baptizing their daughter the news came that they had won.  The only person they knew in America was in Monterey California so that is where they went. Luck was still with them as Kendall Jackson was building a new winery.  Corneliu got a job as a cellar rat and Georgetta as a lab technician. Within a year Corneliu became the enologist. In 2006 Georgetta became the wine maker or as she likes to say the “warden” of the Big House wine company.

 Big House is located near the Soledad prison and the company was started by Randall  Grahm.  I guess he could not resist naming the winery Big House.

Georgetta and Her Wine at SD 26

 Georgetta said that when she came to Big House they were crushing 42 different varieties of grapes and she brought order by making the 42 varieties into individual lots. She said that she thinks of herself as a winemaker as if she were a perfume maker – that is, making a base wine and adding “the essential oils” to make it work, adding the different grapes to the base wine until she gets the right blend. She pointed to the Big House white as an example. When she first tasted the wine, she believed it was over the top. It reminded her of cheap perfume and it was made from three aromatic grapes: Malvasia Bianca, Muscat and Viognier.  After trying a number of different grape varieties, she added Pinot Grigio and Gruner Veltliner for the middle note and to add some depth. The top note was Gewurztaminer for rose petals. Now she had the aroma and taste that she wanted.

 She likes to think of Big House as the original unconventional winery and said that “We try to make wines which are a departure from the styles common in California.”

 We met for dinner at SD 26 to talk and to taste her wines. I found her very interesting and knowledgeable. She was also very honest in explaining how she made her wine. Sometimes wine makers will not disclose certain methods that they use or will tell you what they think you want to hear.

 Georgetta’s Wines

 Big House White 2001  It is a blend of many different grapes: 22% Malvasia Bianca, 15.9% Gruner Veltliner, 15.7% Sauvignon Blanc, 9.2% Gewurtraminer.7.9% Riesling, 7.3% Chenin Blanc, 6% Muscato Canelli,5’2% Viogner,4.5% Verdelho,4.4% Albarino and 1.1% Pinot Grigio.  Brix at harvest 21.0-24.0, the grapes are picked at night and cold fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and the wine does not undergo malolatic fermentation. Georgetta explained that this maximized the fresh fruit flavors and lets the wine retain a crisp acidity. The wine was aromatic, easy to drink with fresh fruit aromas and flavors and hints of white peaches and a touch of tropical fruit. I was surprised by the long finish. The wine does not remain on the lees because the grapes used would produce a bitter wine.

 Unchained “Naked” Chardonnay 2010 100% Chardonnay– the grapes are picked at night or early in the morning.  Harvested at 22.0-24.0Brix. Cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks and as Georgetta put it, the wine is free from the common secondary malolatic fermentation which is a frequent “sentence” for California Chardonnay. Gerogetta loves the term “naked” because it allows her to create a Chardonnay free from the confines of oak barrels.  It is a fresh and bright unoaked Chardonnay that is more like an aromatic white than a California Chardonnay. It is very crisp with hints of green apple and pear.

 Big House Red 2009 is a blend of 27% Petite Sirah, 14.5% Syrah, 8.6% Barbera, 6.4% nero d’Avola, 6.1% Tempranillo, 3.3% Malbec, 2.4% Aglianico, 2.4% Souzao, 2.3% Charbono, 2.2% Petite Verdot, 2.1% Cabernet Franc, 2% Tannat, 12.5% other Esoteric Reds.  Harvested at 23.0-28.0 Brix. The grapes were cold soaked for a few days and were fermented at 60-65 degrees. Part of the bled underwent malolatic fermentation. The wine was aged for a time mostly in French and American neutral oak. Georgetta said that they were barriques but were three years old or older and she does not want her wine to taste like wood. The wine was fruity with hints of cherry and spice and a touch of vanilla, perhaps a touch too much for me.

 The Usual Suspect 2009 100% Cabernet Sauvignon  90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Grenache.  Harvested at 24.0-26.0 Brix. Gerogetta said that she tried a number of different grapes to blend with the Cabernet but none seemed as good a match as the Grenache. Georgetta said that this wine was made and aged the same as the other red wines but I did not find that touch of vanilla. It was an easy drinking wine with good body and the addition of Grenache made it more aromatic. This was a perfect combination with the roast goat and potatoes that I had ordered.

 Cardinal Zin 2009 80% Zinfandel, 10% Mourvedre, 8% Carignane, 2% Petite Sirah. The grapes were harvested at 26 Brix and higher. Georgetta said that in order to bring down the alcohol level she added water to the wine which is legal in California. The tiny grapes were cold soaked and fermented in cool stainless steel tanks and then malolatic fermentation took place. It was aged the same way as the other red wines. There were hints of blackberries, spice and a lightness that is unusual in a Zinfandel. I enjoyed it with the rest or the goat.

 All the wines have screw caps and all sell for $10.  They are also available in a box and Georgetta said that it is the same wine that is in the bottle.

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