Hard to Pronounce, Easy to Love

Never judge a winery by it's size, architectural bling, or name recognition. The most unique and well-crafted wines usually come from garage-sized tasting rooms with homemade labels on their bottles. Boekenoogen is definitely beyond garage status, but their tasting room has that down-to-earth charm, the servers (usually a Boekenoogen family member) are the most genuinely friendly and humble folks I've met on the wine trail, and the wines are just jaw-dropping good.

We first tasted here 2 years ago and never forgot the wines or the experience. Pinot, Chard and Syrah are the standouts, but everything they make is gold in my book. We learned a lot about the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation during our tasting back then, and even more this year when Mr. Boekenoogen himself was pouring our wines. He was so pleasant and unpretentious...we wanted to stay and drink his wine with him all day. Instead, we brought home some of their perfect Pinot (Dijon clone), delicate Viogner, and cool climate Syrah.

If you are more concerned about finding memorable, small-production, quality wines than you are with finding a photo-op winery, make sure Boekenoogen is on your list. You'll be a fan for life.


Gas Station Revelation

One thing I've always been great at is being disappointed. In my teens it was my "super-strict" parents, in my early 20s it was the entire male species, and now...after befriending my parents and finding a man worthy of woman, I have mediocre wines with clever marketing tactics as a target for my nagging discontentment. Horray!

So imagine my surprise when I twist the top off my twelve dollar bottle of red wine, purchased from a gas station in Georgia, timidly pour myself a glass (expecting a subtle sadness to fill my mouth) and instead taste...what is it?...no, it can't be...near...perfection?!?

My impossibly lush fantasies of a simultaneously velvetty, spicy, jammy, and meaty purple juice, finally materialized in a plastic cup! Just when I thought I was destined to an eternity of deep, disturbing discontentment, my sanity is rescued by the suspiciously simple phrase "California Red Wine".

It's not very often that my palette encounters something as blog-worthy as this (and the date on my last post will confirm!) ...Frontier Red Lot No. 91, from Fess Parker Winery in Santa Maria, CA is a revelation. It's the kind of wine that you are afraid of being left alone with (especially in a sparse/ lonely/ cable TV-deprived hotel room). It's the kind of wine that a very cunning gentleman would bring on a first date. The kind of wine that, I dare say, would turn the frown upside down on even the most pleasantly pessimistic wine nerd. It can be done!

Syrah, Grenache, Petite Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault and Carignane make a luscious crew in Fess Parker's Frontier Red. My high-priced wine dealer friends will surely be enraged when they run across this superstar red for around $12. Blackberry jam, bbq smoke, purple silk, and a liquid smile...why are you still sitting there?! Go get some!


Woman's Best Friend

I spend about 10 days per month at home living a fairly normal life, with a charming man and snobby cat named Margot. I get 8 hours of sleep, hit the gym, and cook dinner every night. It's a wonderfully stable existence for those 10 short days.

The other 20-odd days a month, I spend packing and unpacking a suitcase with the same 4 outfits and ziplock bag of 3 oz toiletries, navigating high school parking lots, giving pep-talks to apathetic teenagers, GPS-ing the nearest Whole Foods for dinner, and sleeping in predictably-decorated hotels, by myself. For weeks at a time.

"How do you do it?", my friends say. "Dont' you get lonely?"

Sure, loneliness comes in minor spurts, but it's no match for Woman's Best Friend. Supposedly, men have dogs (or cats, in the case of more eccentric man like my own) to bring them comfort and companionship. But some gals needs a more portable companion; One we can count on the minute lonliness, fatigue, or boredom hits; A friend who doesn't need to be entertained or nurtured, but who can calm the most turbulent storm within and rescue us from the edge of insanity - like all great friends do.

So ladies, if you haven't been acquainted yet...it's time you meet your new best friend, the reliable rescuer: PINOT NOIR.

Ahhh, just the name itself casts a spell...can you feel it? Then, go grab yourself one of these beauties...

I know, drinking Pinot Noir from Germany is a bit like giving grandma a bb-gun for her birthday...it just doesn't make sense. But this one is the exception to the rule. It's subtle, complex, and incredibly drinkable. And for $5.99 you'll be going back for cases of this juice from the Fatherland. Find it at Trader Joe's.

For a splurge, this wine will make you feel like a queen. When a friend of mine bought a half-bottle for $35 I called him crazy and reckless and...then I tasted it and shut up. It's explosively delicious and a bit meatier than most pinots, making it the perfect quaff for coaxing you off the ledge. $35 will get you a 2-glass split, but it's worth the magic. Fine wine shops carry this gem.

LIOCO ROSE - 2008 Sonoma Coast
Lioco Rose of Pinot Noir is liquid romance. You'll still get all the lusciousness of Pinot Noir in a corally-pink pour. Perfect for summer picnics (or drinking alone in a dismal hotel room). $12-$14 at nicer wine shops.

So what if you don't have a dog, a boyfriend, or a shoulder to cry on? You've got the entire wine aisle at your nearest grocer. And it's much cheaper than a therapist. Pinot to the rescue!


Amateur Speed Blogger, at your service

SPEED BLOGGING @ The North American Wine Bloggers Conference 2009
(Yep, I'm here! Does this make me a real blogger now?)
July 24th, 2009

You will know that this is indeed a live wine blogging post by the increasingly nonsensical descriptions of the wines to follow. I hear there will be around 40 glasses coming my way, and my spitting skills are lacking (er, non-existent). So, pay close attention to the first 10 or so wines...and the rest you may have to read for entertainment purposes only! Here goes...

1) BENOVIA - 2007 Savoy Vineyard (same as Radio Couteau) Pinot Noir, Russian River (2nd vintage...they're new) - classic Pinot nose, soft berries, warm spices...cinnamon, cardamon. Palette is very dry, mostly earth. Not your typical tarty RR Pinot. 14% ABV 370 cases. $50 Tasting by appt only.

2) LIONS PRIDE 2007 RR PINOT NOIR - 115 CASES, $35 (sales go back to ag dept. at El Molino HS) Delicious nose, like cherry pie. On second sniff, smokey meat. Best of both worlds. Pure fruit at first sip, zippy, jammy, great for amateur pinot drinkers who are terroir-phobic. Plummy, hint of herbal tea. Students from Forestville HS make this stuff!! Is that legal??

3) 2005 ROCKAWAY CAB from Rodney Strong, Alexander Valley.
Big beautiful bottle - super masculine. Porty nose, chocolate covered cherries. Instant chalkiness on the palette (but that's why you drink cab, right?) Tannin bomb, but nice balance of jammy fruit and that dirty taste some of you love. Needs a med-rare steak by it's side for optimal consumption (that, "or a hot tub and a very good looking lady" says the wine rep) 1800 cases. by allocation only. 4% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, the rest Cab. $75

4) CORNERSTONE CELLARS 2005 HOWELL MTN CAB (they only do cab here) - tingly nose, putting off some raisiny fruit. Very chalky, duh (I don't think I'm a cab girl yet). Why am I tasting smoked salmon on the finish?? Is that supposed to happen? I guess we'll call it meaty. These wines are made for the shelf, he says. 600 cases. $100...yikes

5) 2006 SIGNATERRA by Benzinger - Bordeaux blend 64% cab, 36% merlot. $40 New brand. Certified organic. Complex, mentholly, surprisingly light for a Bord.blend. Merlot gives it a nice ripe fruitiness while still staying bold. I actually like this one (even though I said "I hate Bordeaux blends" when it was poured). You can find this in stores soon.

6) *MATTHIASSON "WHITE WINE" Napa Valley. Sauv Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, Tocai Fruilano -each one contributes to the overall yummy balance. So many things going on here...citrussy, tropical (papaya?), silky body and zesty finish. Even a pinch of summertime grassiness. This one I gotta swallow! 290 cases. $35

7) 2005 Napa Cab, Joseph Phelps - I hear this is pricey stuff, even though I'm none too thrilled about ANOTHER Cab. Geesh. They are Cabist around here. Pretty earthy, but not as tannic as the rest. Meh. Next...

8) *2005 CIGARE VOLANT, BONNY DOON VINEYARD - Homage to Chateneauf du Pape. Our table is verrrry excited about this wine (and the fact that the infamous Randall Graham is pouring for us). Pretty, French-ish label. Maybe it's a placebo effect, but I'm getting cigar on the nose. Oh my, the taste is so spicy...is it cumin? Ethic, for sure. Pepper...so sexy. Goes down silky, like it's been breathing for hours. This is a date wine! Each sip is a new encounter with pleasure. Buyer beware! $32...you can't get a better deal than this.

9) *KAZ 2008 PETIT SYRAH, grapes from Lake County, winery in Kenwood - It's a family affair, father makes the wine, son designs the labels, sister pours? Anyway, it's cute. They're kooky and lively. Very interesting...bursting, slightly tangy berry flavors. Not your typical chalk-bomb PS. They did an expert job hiding the 16.6% ABV!! Doesn't pack the heat you'd expect (which is good if you like drinking more than you should). I'd buy this one. Lemon rind or something tarty-bitter going on. Available at the winery in Kenwood.

10) CONCONNAN - 2006 PETITE SYRAH (Flagship varietal). Grown in Livermore. They love this stuff in France. Much drier than that Kaz...not really my style, but I think it's quintessential PS style. But for $15, I'll give them some props!

11 ) BELLA ZIN - Don't think I need to taste this one...been there, done that, visited the winery.

12) RIVER OF SKULLS, TWISTED OAK, - 88% Mourvedre / 12% Syrah. Very excited about this one...there is a huge skull on the label. 100% creepy, they say. TB Released next month. Damn, I love Mourvedre!! This is a red wine that's not afraid to be a little girly. Much more fruity than skully. Hmm, I quite like it.

Well, so much for my 4o glasses. I'm still sober. I want my money back!
At least y'all have some goodies to add to your shopping list, anyway.


Feeling Frizzy

There's no better place in America to conjure up a craving for a cold, fizzy glass-o-something than Savannah, Georgia. And in August, it's status quo to have a glass in hand at all times (except at work...or at church...or while driving.) Well, you get the point.

As a former resident of the Peach State, I had many a summer to contemplate the perfect grape-flavored refresher, and it was a tough call. I must admit, I did resort to mojitos and martinis at times, but in the end it was the discovery of something all-too perfect for those sweaty summer days. I discovered a drinkable oasis, somewhere between beer fizz and champagne pearls lies the land of FRIZZANTE.

Frizzante is more of a descriptor than a type of wine, since lots of different wines can be "frizzante" just as long as they capture the tingly fizz sensation, which makes them your best friend in 200% humidity. Vinho Verde (from Portugal), and Albarino (from Spain) are notorious for their frizziness, and I've got a few to share before summer is over...

(Note: you can't always tell a wine will have the "fri
zzante" quality just by looking at the bottle or on the label. Frizzante wines come in different shapes and colors, so if you don't want to decode, just ask your local wine department geek if he has any "frizzante whites" and he should take you straight to the right stuff).

Now, for your shopping list:

Broadbent Vinho Verde (Portugal) $8 - easy to find at Whole Foods. Trader Joes has an even cheaper version...just ask the wine guy. Worth every penny!

Alianca White Blend Vinho Verde de Portugal $9 - another WF find. I prefer the TJ's version for it's drinkability and affordability, but this is still darn good stuff.

Pazo Serantellos 2008 Albarino, (Rias Baixas, Spain) $12 - lemon-limey with a nice body an
d hint of fizz.

Go get your frizz on!


Everybody Loves FAT

You know wine people are strange for a few reasons... they lift everything to their nose before putting it in their mouth, they plan their vacations around "appellations" not destinations, and they get excited about by things that taste like cement, dirt, and bacon fat.

Seems to be the nouveau chic flavor these days, popping up in all sorts of unexpexted places. I recently had a dessert with bacon & caramel gelato, a bac-o-bit chocolate bar, and now Syrahs boasting they come with a baconny finish. Sounds good if you like camping, right?

The first time I encountered meat in my wine was at an uber-expensive family-owned winery in Napa (most of their clients came from Europe or Malibu, and sadly know nothing about wine except that it makes them feel classy). Anyway, they had this huge cave where they aged about 70 wines...each one in a different type of barrel. I got to taste just about all of them, not because I'm anyone special or live in a beach palace, but truth be told I worked there (for a few hours) and was getting schooled. And it was quite educational, up until about the 5th tour of the day when the barrels started talking to me and I couldn't feel my face.

But before that happened, I do vaguely recall tasting 3 wines...all Cabs, aged in barrels made from 3 different types of wood (American, French, and Czech). Then for comparison, we tasted 3 more Cabs all in French oak barrels, but each oak was from a different forest in France. I never knew it could get this complicated, but whatever, I kept drinking....er, learning. It really was fascinating, how each tasted - not totally - but distinctly different.

One of the barrels was rumored to impart a "bacon fat" quality to the wine. No way, I thought. There's no bacon in that wood! Or is there...?

I'm no bacon coinossieur, but I did get a very noticeable "meaty" flavor, so I thought, hmmm maybe these wine people aren't totally demented. If I only knew that it was a contagious form of insanity I was exposing myself to...

Since that first sip of bacon I have come to enjoy the subtle liquid lard flavor in my wines. Ok, I exaggerate, its not really like drinking drippings...its more like eating collard greens that were cooked with a ham hock; the meaty essence lingering after each bite, evoking either pleasure or terror if you're of the meat-free persuasion. Same with these wines which were "cooked" in oak barrels; barrels which were "toasted" to a degree that makes whatever you put in them taste a little like smoked meat, or more specifically, campfire bacon. It's the wood, not the wine that's making you feel so carnivorous.

And that's why some of these wine freaks are so obsessive about oaked vs. unoaked, or what "type" of oak a wine is aged in. The wood can do some crazy, and often crazy-cool stuff to wine. So don't dis your wine geekazoid friend next time they agonize over a restaurant wine list.
You may score yourself a free piece of bacon!

Here's a couple of ways to incorporate some meat into your wine diet...great for vegetarians, too!

- Boxcar Pinot Noir (Russian River)
- Boekenoogen Syrah (Santa Lucia Highlands) ... this one's kinda hard to get, so just ask your local wine guy for a "meaty" Syrah.

Happy sipping!


The White Stuff

One of the most irritating questions I hear when tasting/drinking/purchasing wine is "Do you like whites or reds?" They might as well be asking "Do you like smart men or funny men?" The question is loaded, and my answer always makes them wish they hadn't asked...

It's all about context. I pair wines with my mood, not my food, which makes it impossible to say whether I like whites or reds. IT DEPENDS on the mood, the occassion, the company, and - most importantly - my stress level and how quickly I want that fermented grape juice in my bloodstream!!

So, Mr. Bartender, I'm not ordering Gewurztraminer because I'm a whimpy girl who only likes whites. I'm acclimating. There's a whole wine list to work my way through. Geesh, cut me some slack.

The brilliant Oscar Wilde once said, "the secret to being a bore is to tell everything", and I think it's a great quote to apply to wines. Too much of anything is indeed boring. I like my wines like I like my friends...mysterious and complex, not flaunting all their best qualities for you from the start, but slowing revealing further glimpses into their personality moment by moment, or sip by sip. Just like us humans, wines have been on a journey and each step of this journey - on the vine, off the vine, in the bottle, and beyond - shapes their personality, making them anything from shallow and dull, to provocative or boisterous. In fact, I believe that wines have genders, too, but that's for another post.

And that's the beauty of drinking the RIGHT WHITE. They can put on quite a show, stripping down to reveal layer after layer of flavor. Tropical fruits, spice, toasted nuts, petrol, cement. And the show goes on... The bad news is, you'll have to cough up more than $10 for a ticket to the white show. Most cheap whites will give you a quick peep of one-dimensional flavor and have nothing more to do with you. That's their job. But, if you're willing to step up your vino budget just a tad, you won't be sorry.

Here's some of my favorite, personality-packed whites, all under $20 and worth every penny!

2005 Bonterra Viognier (Mendocino County) - rich, creamy vanilla overlaps vibrant layers of peach, honeysuckle and orange blossom. A perfect balance of fruit and oak. Light enough for a pre-dinner cocktail, and strong enough to take to the table.

2008 Banyan Gewurtraminer (Monterey County) - zesty and refreshing, this Gerwurz is a vacation for the palette. "It's like biting into a guava", says a fellow vino vulure. Very smooth, slightly sweet, with just a trace of acidity. Delivers mouthfuls of tropical fruit and just enough sugar to balance the delightfully peppery first impression.

2006 Marc Kreydenweiss Pinot Blanc (Alsace) - Pinot Blancs are hard to find, but worth the search. Alsace makes some of the best. This one has a yummy nose of kiwi and honey, then comes a fresh symphony of granny smith apple, juicy peach and pear, with a satinny smooth finish. Opt for PB instead of an un-oaked Chardonnay next time you get your hands on a good wine list.

Marc Bredif Vouvray Chenin Blanc (France) - the nose hits you like a gust of sweet perfume...slightly grassy but lush with fig and peach aromas. Surprisingly rich body, generous with baked apple/pear flavors. French Chenin Blancs are a bit more minerally, giving this wine beautiful balance.

Happy sipping!