Behind the Scores – Decanter Magazine
Wine scores are an integral part in the way we interact with wine. Sure it isn’t exclusive to the world of wine, we use rating sites to make decisions whether to watch a new film tha...
On the road in California - A whirlwind visit of Napa
The last day in Napa Valley was filled with producer visits and covered both sides of the valley. If there was a common factor it would be a commitment to the vineyards first and foremost with the final product being wines of exceptional quality. Kongsgaard, located high on Atlas Peak, specialises in rich but balanced Chardonnay that are filled with exotic aromas and an intense, savoury Syrah. The winery is dug into the side of the peak with long, cool walkways lined with barrels and fermenting tanks named Ludwig and Fimasaurus and musical compositions taped on their sides. The wines are opulent and expressive while still maintaining balance and long lingering finishes. On the other side of the valley and up Mt Veeder is Mayacamas Vineyards, an almost forgotten hero of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. All too often in Napa Valley, wineries are sold and corporate companies from other sectors come in and take over without a complete understanding of what wine making is about, or even worse, no appreciation for what made the wines so special. I'm happy to say that Mayacamas has been given a new lease of life with Charles Banks, Andy Erickson, Phil Coturri and the always charming Jimmy Hayes bringing new life into the vineyards and wines. One predominant factor that makes the wines so unique is their location; they are at the start of the Mayacamas mountain range and the prevailing winds keep the vineyard cool with fog blanketing the lower parts of the mountain and vineyards. If you are lucky and the fog has cleared you may be be able to see San Francisco in the distance across the bay. Down to the valley floor is Corsion Winery. I'm greeted with a glass of Corazon, dry Gewürztraminer, to start my tasting - I couldn't be happier. By now the temperature is rising outside and the dry white wine is filled with lychee and white flower aromas and a crisp acidity; it's so refreshing. I always look forward to visiting Cathy and trying her Cabernets - like her, they never disappoint and they always leave you wanting another visit. I was fortunate enough to try 1999, 2010, 2013 and the 2012 Kronos, they all share a common core of restrained power but each had an individuality representing their respective vintage. Finally over towards Napa (the city) and Matthiasson Vineyards, I find Steve to be, like Cathy Corison; inspiring. He is a viticulturalist first, having worked for some of California's most well known winemakers. Now he is making his own wines. His philosophy and work in the vineyard is unique and so are the grapes he grows. From Ribolla Gialla and Refosco to Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, the quality of the wines is a direct result of his viticultural skills. The wines linger on your taste buds and connect to the mind - they are subtle but cerebral. I've learned so much about Napa Valley over the last few days and have seen it from a new perspective. In the past I have often found it to be boring and repetitive, I can now see that I just didn't know the right people and hadn't tried the exciting wines they make.
We’re often asked how you go about making rosé wine. Is it red and white wine mixed together? Is it made from red grapes or white grapes? Is it more like a red wine, or a white wine? With Roberson’s sister company London Cru making its first ever rosé in its Fulham winery, we thought it was about time to debunk some common rosé myths... Myth 1 – Rosé wine is made from red wine and white wine Although some rosé champagnes are made by blending a small portion of finished red wine to a base white wine, this is not a method used for making still pink wines. In fact, it is banned in France and some other countries when creating a still rosé. There are two predominant ways of making still rosé – saignée and maceration or direct pressing. Saignée (say ‘san-yay’) means ‘bleeding off’ in French. This method involves placing red grapes in a tank, then after a short period running off a certain amount of juice from the tank which is then fermented and made into rosé. The resulting wine has a light (pink) colour because it did not have elongated contact with the skins and pulp in the tank before being separated. The leftover juice and skins in the initial tank is then made into red wine – this method has the added benefit of improving the concentration and quality of the red wine (like reducing a sauce in cooking). You could say it’s hitting two birds with one stone! This is the method used to make London Cru’s Rosaville Rd and it is often said to make the best quality rosé. Its proponents say it produces bolder flavours and greater varietal character. The second method is maceration or direct pressing. Red grapes are pressed straight after harvest (either as whole bunches or after being destemmed) and the resulting pale pink juice is then left to ferment, away from any contact with the skins and pulp of the grape. This is the most common method of making rosé and is popular in Provence. Myth 2 – Rosé is not a good food wine Falling in between red and white, rosé is less intense than a tannic, full-bodied red, but more in depth than a light white. This makes it perfect for food and really versatile. Top restaurants seem to agree, as rosé is asserting itself as a real contender on many a restaurant wine list. London Cru wrote a blog post all about rosé’s talents as a serious food wine. Think pasta parcels, risotto Milanese and soft, oozing burrata. Myth 3 – All rosé is sweet In the past, a lot of rosé wine had sugar added, and these rosés were often darker in colour with a brighter pink hue. These wines tended to be mass produced and low quality, but things have really changed. With the recent surge in popularity of rosé (#YesWayRosé), the trend is for drier styles and lighter pink colours. Like any wine, the style can vary, but the majority of rosé sold at a quality producer will almost certainly be dry, crisp and refreshing and perfect for sipping by the pool. Myth 4 – Rosé is just for summer You’ll find that a lot of rosé wine’s marketing focuses on it being the perfect summer aperitif or BBQ wine. However, there has been a real change in the thinking around rosé and recent surveys have shown that wine lovers are buying this usually summery drink throughout the year. This is especially true for bolder, premium rosés that pair perfectly with a range of foods. Hemmingway said rosé was “a great wine for people that are in love”. We agree – whatever time of year that may be!
On the road in California - Viano, Broc Cellars and Smith-Madrone
After a night in San Francisco and a great dinner at RN74, I was back on the road and headed to three very different wineries: Broc Cellars in an old industrial neighbourhood in Berkeley, Viano Vineyards that has now been surrounded by the growing town of Martinez and Smith-Madrone sitting just on top of Spring Mountain. The three producers couldn't be more different in terms of location, vineyard techniques and wines made, yet strangely they seem to have a lot in common. Firstly the guys behind the wineries are all pretty easy going, opinionated definitely, but really down to earth and reasonable. Secondly they have the oldest vineyards or vineyard sites of all the wineries that I will visiting, some dating back to the late 1880's, and thirdly they only make small quantities of (delicious) wines: Riesling, Valdiguie, Zinfnadel, Muscat blends, Nero d Avola and even some Cabernet Sauvignon.
An update from California
One of the many great things about this road trip is getting to see people in their natural environment, not pushed onto a crowded tube or paraded around London, darting in and out of restaurants as we try to keep up with the schedule. Getting to spend time with Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr in their vineyard and the Lompoc Wine Ghetto really opened my eyes to how to how special the Domaine de la Cote project really is. (Sorry folks you'll have to wait to hear more about this). I was also fortunate enough to pop into Graham Tatomer's winery in Santa Maria, I've wanted to meet him for a couple of years now and he certainly didn't disappoint, his exuberance for Gruner Veltliner and Riesling is encouraging and from what I've tasted the best is yet to come!Before leaving the area I met Jeremy Meyer from Jackhammer and got the full story on these brilliant single vineyard wines and I can honestly say they are just as good in can as they are in bottle. I'm keeping it short today as I've got to drive to the Santa Cruz Mountains in the morning - Mount Eden awaits.
Anna Von Bertele
A letter to Viano
Dear John and David, It seems so long ago that we sat together eating pizza in London and I told you I was planning to come to California. You were so warm and insisted I visit you in Contra Costa County, about an hour’s train from San Francisco. I’m so glad I did. I couldn’t really imagine what your winery would look like – looking up Martinez, my destination on the bart, it looked like a town, so I was intrigued to see how your winery fitted in to this once agricultural, but now urbanised area. I felt the balmy heat as soon as I stepped off the train – expansive blue sky, land stretching for miles; I felt I’d come much further than an hour from the city. As I was taking in the new surroundings, you drove by in your pick-up truck and I was ready for my Viano adventure. I don’t know where to start with how much I love your place. The family feel extends right to your tasting room – I find the story of your grandfather coming over in the gold rush and settling in the area because it reminded him of his native Piedmont very romantic. And the fact that both of you and your children want to carry on the family business shows that wine-making must run in your blood and the work must be very rewarding; I’m not sure I could live in quite such close proximity to my siblings though! I really enjoyed trying the latest vintage of the wines in your tasting room, seeing your local customers popping in to top up their wine supplies and of course the tour of your impressive vines. Your vineyards are like no others I’ve seen with free standing, untrellised vines that look almost wild in appearance; I can now understand how your wines are so authentic to the variety and site. I also liked the sneaky preview of the Roberson pallet being prepared to ship. As for your wines, the Hillside white is always a favourite – I like the way it is NV and that you keep it consistent so it’s a reliable, lovely drinking wine whatever the year. I find all of them excellent value though and loved the new vintage of the Zinfandel with its vibrant fruit and ability to drink on its own or also with food. It was a perfect evening drinking your wines with your family, eating barbecued meat and watching the sun set over your vineyards. I hope the rest of your children’s studies go well at Fresno – they must have an advantage having grown up working alongside the vines with you. Thank you for such a lovely visit and giving up your time to show me around - sure, I believe that you were up at 5am to work the vineyards before it got too hot in the afternoon…. Look forward to you coming back to London soon. Love, Anna X
On the road in California - A Tribute to Grace
These days I am more likely to say I'm British than American, and for many reasons that I won't go into, I think of the U.K. as my permanent home. Yet once I step foot back into California it feels so comfortable and it’s easy to remember why I chose to live here so long ago. I'm staying in a caravan in Santa Ynez for two nights as I start my drive up the coast to Sonoma to visit 20 of Roberson’s producers in California. Already I have experienced a few things that are rooted in my brain as 'American’: the Mister Coffee coffee maker, the endless multi lane highways and the perfumed smell of the dark green shampoo that reminds me of childhood. It is all so familiar and seems predictable. Yet there is one thing about the US that is still so exciting, adventurous and definitely not predictable: the wines. This morning I went to visit Angela Osbourne of A Tribute to Grace, our Grenache only producer. We met at Bobs Well Bread in Los Alamos and drove two hours to the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard. At a 1000m above sea level it is one of the highest Grenache vineyards in the states and the rugged terrain is covered in dried grass and small shrubs. The temperature quickly hits 35 degrees with no shade in sight; luckily for Angela, the vines are dry farmed and heat tolerant as another year of drought seems certain. She is passionate about Grenache. Choosing to focus her attention on this one grape, she brings out the different expressions of it from eight single vineyards dotted across California. Both pragmatic and spiritual, she brings an ethereal touch to the grape, making wines that are seemless in the palette and yet full of flavour: round, rich red wines that you can get lost in. However I have to make sure not to get too lost – I have many more of our Californian producers to visit.
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