How Did You Do in Our ‘Wine Numbers’ Quiz?

green vineyardOn Tuesday, we presented a numbers-focused wine quiz.

In case you missed it, here’s how it worked: I assigned each number below a letter. Below that, I assigned each answer a number. Your job was to match up the letters and numbers. To review…

MATCH THESE NUMBERS…

  1. 200+
  2. 373
  3. 474
  4. 720
  5. 366,973

TO THESE ANSWERS…

  1. Number of cheeses available at V. Sattui Winery’s Italian Market in St. Helena (Napa Valley), Calif. The market also features house-made sandwiches, panini and salads, and the Sattui estate offers extensive tree-shaded picnic grounds. More info: vsattui.com
  1. The average size of a vineyard, in acres, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. (Source: Food and Wine magazine)
  1. Number of bonded wineries in California in 1940. As of 2012, that number had increased to 3,754. (Source: Wine Institute)
  1. The number of bottles — the equivalent of 60 cases — that can be produced from a ton of grapes. That’s an average figure, by the way, as grapes of different sizes produce different amounts of juice.
  1. Number of acres devoted to winegrape vineyards in Australia, as of 2012. (Source: The Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory.)

 

So… how well did you do? Here’s how the letters and numbers in our quiz match up:

A — 1

B — 2

C — 3

D — 4

E — 5

I’m guessing hardly anyone got 100% because, after all, what kind of quiz doesn’t mix up the order of the questions and answers at least a little bit? I’ll tell you what kind of quiz: This one!

If you did happen to score 100%, congratulations! Open a special bottle of wine tonight and toast your wine number wisdom.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Sampling Barossa Valley’s Food and Wine Traditions

aussieBecause today’s Vinesse Cyber Circle offering focuses on the wines of Australia, I thought it might be appropriate to spotlight one of that country’s top “wine country” destinations.

The Barossa Valley is a major wine-producing region and tourist destination of South Australia, some 37 miles northeast of Adelaide. Barossa Valley Way is the main road through the valley, connecting the main towns of Nuriootpa, Tanunda, Rowland Flat and Lyndoch.

Barossa food weaves Old World culinary traditions with seasonality and Australian practicality into a mouth-watering tapestry. Sewn by many hands since its beginnings, the valley is a glorious abstract of color bound by a framework of devotion and hard work.

Although the earliest land owners were English with large holdings in the Barossa Ranges, it was German-speaking settlers, devout Lutherans, who had the most significant impact on the flavors of Barossa food. They arrived with only a few possessions, but carried a wealth of culinary traditions in their bags.

They were hard-working folk who cleared land for farming and built their homes with wood ovens and smokehouses. They planted orchards, vegetable gardens and vineyards, grazed animals and felled trees to fuel their stoves. Virtually every home had fruit trees, vines and a vegetable garden.

Driven by the need to preserve the bounty of the land and a stoic belief in the waste-not, want-not principle, they smoked meats and dried fruit, fermented and pickled vegetables, made cheese and fermented grapes to make wine. Treasured family recipes, handed down from generation to generation, tell this story again and again, and preserve a foundational food imperative: Nothing is wasted at Barossa tables.

The Barossa townships were established early. Butchers opened their doors and the aroma of their smokehouses full of ham, bacon and mettwurst attracted customers. Bakeries offered traditional Streuselkuchen, honey biscuits and freshly baked bread. The culinary threads were deftly passed from farmhouse kitchens to village butchers and bakers.

The custom of socializing with family and friends at the dining table, on food grown, prepared and served at home in a generous spirit, is deeply rooted in the Barossa’s culture. Accordingly, it was no accident that the “Barossa Cookery Book,” thought to be the first regional cookbook in Australia, was chosen to raise funds for the war effort in 1917. It is still in print today. So deep-seated was the practice of home entertaining that the first restaurants in the region did not open their doors until the 1970s.

The Tanunda Show, now more than 100 years old, adopted a distinctly regional flavor, with competitions for the best dill cucumbers, pickled onions, Rote Grütze and Streuselkuchen taking pride of place in the show hall. The entry forms read like a roll call of the early settlers — Andretzke, Lehmann, Gramp, Rothe — equally divided between men and women. With judges clad in white coats and a strict scoring system, these were (and continue to be) fiercely contested categories.

There’s no better example of Barossa traditions than its food. The influence of the self-sufficient and hard-working settlers is still strong in Barossa butcheries, bakeries, restaurants and homes. Preserving, smoking and baking are still a part of everyday life, and the results include smoked mettwurst, lachschinken, traditional breads, bienenstich and streuselkuchen, dill cucumbers, pickled onions, olives and olive oil, egg noodles, and a variety of chutneys, pickles and preserves.

The Barossa now is world-famous for its amazing wine culture, but this is matched by a rich food heritage and passion. When you visit, you’re sure to become a fan of more than just the wine.

Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop, on the outskirts of Nuriootpa, offers tastings, sales and limited-edition seasonal produce. Customers can browse locally produced regional goods, purchase one of Maggie’s signed books, have a light lunch or simply sit back and take in the view. There also are daily cooking demonstrations.

The Barossa Farmer’s Market has become a Saturday morning institution. It’s open from 7.30 to 11.30 a.m., and you can taste and buy the best the Barossa has to offer. More than 50 stalls provide meats, bread, cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, oils, preserves and local specialties.

The Barossa Valley Cheese Company in Angaston is an award-winning manufacturer of artisan cheeses. Company founder and head cheese-maker Victoria McClurg and her team are always seeking innovative ideas and refining traditional methods in cheese making.

For a unique dining experience, check out the Hentley Farm restaurant, located in a renovated stable on the grounds of Hentley Farm Wines. Daring flavors are presented in multi-course “discovery menus,” with or without wine pairings, and no meal is complete without popping a few wine marshmallows.

Chateau Tanunda, established in 1890, is one of Australia’s most beautiful winery estates. Located in the heart of Tanunda, it’s home to grand buildings, manicured gardens, croquet lawns and a heritage-listed cellar door (Aussie-speak for tasting room) and winemaking facility. Take a tour of the estate, enjoy a cheese platter and a game of croquet, and taste a broad range of internationally acclaimed wines.

Once you’ve visited Chateau Tanunda, you’ll want to explore other Barossa cellar doors. Because all are welcoming and offer unique cuvees, the challenge will be deciding which ones.

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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log

How Much Do You Know About Wine Numbers?

Fotolia_8632182_SThe world of wine is brimming with numbers — sun days in the vineyard, tons on grape scales, milliliters in bottles, and on and on. It’s enough to drive a math-challenged person like your beloved wine blogger nuts.

In the spirit of sharing the insanity, I thought I’d put together a little quiz dealing with wine numbers. Are you up to the challenge?

Here’s how it works: I’ve assigned each number below a letter. Below that, I’ve assigned each answer a number. Your job: Match up the letters and numbers. Got it? Good. The answers will appear in Thursday’s blog, so make a note to check back.

MATCH THESE NUMBERS…

  1. 200+
  2. 373
  3. 474
  4. 720
  5. 366,973

TO THESE ANSWERS…

  1. Number of cheeses available at V. Sattui Winery’s Italian Market in St. Helena (Napa Valley), Calif. The market also features house-made sandwiches, panini and salads, and the Sattui estate offers extensive tree-shaded picnic grounds. More info: vsattui.com
  1. The average size of a vineyard, in acres, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. (Source: Food and Wine magazine)
  1. Number of bonded wineries in California in 1940. As of 2012, that number had increased to 3,754. (Source: Wine Institute)
  1. The number of bottles — the equivalent of 60 cases — that can be produced from a ton of grapes. That’s an average figure, by the way, as grapes of different sizes produce different amounts of juice.
  1. Number of acres devoted to winegrape vineyards in Australia, as of 2012. (Source: The Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory.)

Speaking of Australia, in tomorrow’s blog, we will sample the food and wine traditions of Australia’s winegrowing hub, the Barossa Valley. And then check back Thursday for the answers to today’s quiz.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Secrets of the Niagara Escarpment

NiagaraFalls_OntarioWhat has been called the “ancient backbone of North America,” the Niagara Escarpment is a prominent rock ridge that spans nearly 1,000 miles in an arc across the Great Lakes region.

The Niagara Escarpment runs from eastern Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and through southern Ontario to western New York State, where Niagara Falls cascades over it, giving the escarpment its name.

The New York portion is home to a unique winegrowing region. It’s the warmest area in that state due to its proximity to the Great Lakes and the Escarpment itself, which traps warm air currents from Lake Ontario.

The dolomitic limestone soil of the Escarpment and the gravel silts near the lakeshore, along with the moderate climate, are ideal for growing grapes and a wide variety of fruit. The Niagara Escarpment was officially recognized as an American Viticultural Area in 2005, and the larger “Greater Niagara” region is one of the fastest growing wine regions in New York.

So, what exactly is an escarpment? It’s the steep cliff edge of a cuesta, which is formed from slightly tilted layers of rocks. The steep cliff face forms when crumbly rocks, such as shale, are eroded from beneath erosion-resistant rocks like limestone or dolomite, which then break off to make the cliff face.

The rocks of the Niagara Cuesta were tilted when the Earth’s crust sagged, forming a bowl-shaped depression beneath Michigan. The Niagara Escarpment is the exposed, up-tilted, outer edge of this feature.

Niagara-Escarpment-WinterMany different types of wine are made on both sides of the Canadian border. On the American side, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Riesling — along with a handful of hybrids — dominate tasting room wine lists. On the Canadian side, “ice wines” — sweet elixirs crafted from last-of-the-harvest grapes — have gained worldwide recognition among sweet-toothed wine lovers.

When you’re in the area, check out the wineries… and the “ancient backbone of North America.”

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

The Green Efforts of 2 Northern California Wineries

Green EffortsYou begin to realize just how big California’s North Coast wine country is when you use Google Maps to figure out how far it is from Napa Valley’s Markham Vineyards to Mendocino County’s Parducci Wine Cellars.

Care to take a guess?

It’s exactly 73 miles, a trip that takes a little less than an hour and a half on Highways 29, 128 and 101.

Markham and Parducci may be dozens of miles apart geographically, but they are close neighbors when it comes to their efforts to protect the land for future generations.

Markham Vineyards’ view of wine growing has always been to respect the land and fruit while working diligently to make both better. The only difference now is that the objective has a name: sustainability.

The use of cover crops and alternate row cultivation to limit tractor and fossil fuel emissions, while still encouraging beneficial insect and plant growth, are methods that Markham has embraced for decades.

Sustainability starts in the field and focuses on environmentally beneficial land management practices. At the winery, the focus on sustainability continues in a more complex way. Water conservation remains key in efforts to be good stewards of the historic property; all winery wastewater is reclaimed.

Markham supports local California suppliers that provide packaging materials such as glass, labels and bottle capsules. Partnering with a local recycling center allows the winery to reduce its landfill impact by recycling all packaging materials. Even Markham’s grape pomace is recycled locally, and the winery purchases it back in the form of compost for its vineyards.

Parducci’s waste water reclamation efforts are well known in Mendocino County, and recently caught the eye of television producers.

In episode 9 of Food Forward TV, “Quest for Water,” Parducci proprietor Tim Thornhill takes viewers on a tour of Parducci Wine Cellars.

Where waste water once flowed freely from Parducci’s drains, Thornhill has designed and implemented a system of reclaiming and treating the waste water efficiently, so it can be re-used for irrigation. It’s an important part of the winery’s conservation and sustainability efforts.

Click here for a link to a trailer for the program.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment

The Genesis of Italy’s ‘Super Tuscans’

iStock_000017467842SmallWith “Big, Bold Reds” being today’s featured sampler from Vinesse, it seemed like a good time to share the following question that recently came in.

It has to do with some of the big, bold red wines of Italy…

QUESTION: I’ve heard the term “Super Tuscan” used a lot, but I’ve never seen those words on a wine label. What exactly is a Super Tuscan?

ANSWER: In the 1970s, a new generation of Italian winemakers — seeing the simple Chianti wines of their fathers derided by critics and the public alike — took a leap of faith.

They decided to craft ultra-premium wines, and to do so, they had to break a lot of long-established Italian winemaking rules. Rather than blending a certain amount of white wine with their Sangiovese, which had been the tradition, they began making 100% varietal bottlings of Sangiovese, 100% varietal bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, and blends of the two varieties.

They also aged their cuvees in barriques, rather than giant casks, so that the wood could lend additional complexity. Interestingly, because Italian wine laws had no designation for such wines, the government told vintners to label them simply as “vini da tavola” table wines.

It was the wine media that tasted the wines, liked them a lot, and dubbed them “Super Tuscans.”

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Posted in Wine FAQ

Culinary Regrets of an Erstwhile Chicago Resident

hotdougsI lived in Chicago for 14 years, beginning in 2000, but I never considered myself a Chicagoan.

I now live in Las Vegas, but I doubt I’ll ever think of myself as a Las Vegan.

I was born and raised in California. My daughter was born there. So were my grandkids. Most of my friends still live there.

Regardless of where I may live, I’ll always be a California kid.

But back to Chicago for a moment. During my 14 years and four months in the Windy City, there were two things, in particular, I came to love: the music scene and the dining scene.

The music scene ranged from the intimate Old Town School of Folk Music to the mid-sized Chicago Theatre to stadium shows at Wrigley Field. The food scene embraced every type of ethnic cuisine you could name, a bevy of “American” restaurants and steakhouses, and the kind of places you’d be more likely to see on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”

I’m not sure whether Hot Doug’s ever was featured on “Diners,” but it should have been, as owner/chef Doug Sohn found a way to stand out in a city that’s home to more than 2,000 hot dog stands.

He did it by concocting unique hot dogs and sausages, and topping them with gourmet ingredients you’d be more likely to encounter at the Chicago home of revelatory bites, Grant Achatz’s Alinea.

I visited Hot Doug’s on two occasions during by tenure in the Windy City. I would have gone more often, but the restaurant was a bit out of the way, and the two times I did go, I had to wait in line for more than 90 minutes.

Hot Doug’s served the classic Chicago hot dog — topped with mustard, onions, relish, tomato, sport peppers, a pickle spear and celery salt — but so did those 2,000 other hot dog stands. I wanted to taste what made Hot Doug’s different, and for me, that meant sampling encased meats that had some kind of association with wine.

On one occasion, I had the Chardonnay and Jalapeno Rattlesnake Sausage, topped with pomegranate mustard and cheese-stuffed hot pickled peppers. I must admit that I could not taste the Chardonnay in that sausage.

On the other occasion, I had the Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and sel gris (a.k.a. Celtic sea salt). And I must admit that I could not taste the Sauternes (a sweet dessert wine from France) in that sausage.

I remember wishing I had a glass of Chardonnay to drink with that first long sandwich, and a glass of Sauternes to taste with the second, but Hot Doug’s was not that kind of place. With so many flavors going on in those sandwiches, I’m guessing any wines served with them would have had their flavors overwhelmed. But that’s just a guess; how cool it would have been to be proved wrong.

I had put a return visit to Hot Doug’s — appropriate wines in hand — sometime next year on my culinary bucket list. Sadly, on October 3, the restaurant shut down. It wasn’t from lack of business; if anything, the restaurant had too much business.

From what I’ve read, it simply sounded as if Sohn needed a rest, and perhaps a few opportunities to have the tables turned with someone serving lunch to him.

I plan to Google his name every so often, just to see if he emerges somewhere with another restaurant concept or, perhaps, a resurrection of Hot Doug’s. But for tonight, I’ll have to settle for raising a glass of Chardonnay and, later, a glass of Sauternes in his honor.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Forchini Winery: A True American Success Story

dry_creek_zin_2012From estate-grown to estate-bottled, Forchini Vineyards & Winery is a small, family owned and operated winery committed to making distinctive wines from historic vineyards in the Dry Creek and Russian River Valley appellations of Sonoma County.

Having been grape growers in Sonoma County since 1971, the dream of creating wines from their own vineyards finally became a reality for the Forchini family in 1996. That year, in a small barrel room, 425 cases of wine were produced. Annual production today is limited to 3,000 cases of wine, which are consistent medal winners in major wine competitions.

“You will taste the love of the land and grape in every bottle of Forchini wine,” a family spokesperson says.

Dedication to the environment is a top concern at Forchini. Sustainable vineyard practices that minimize pesticide usage are employed in all of the family’s vineyards, and composting of winery pomace has been a tradition for decades. Solar power is generated for winery buildings and vineyard pumps, while goats and sheep are pastured in the vineyards during winter for cover crop control and soil rejuvenation.

Owners Jim and Anita Forchini first came to Sonoma County in 1963 from Southern California, where Jim had been working as a mechanical engineer, writing contracts and executing procurements for NASA spacecraft programs.

From 1963-1976, he worked in Sonoma County, performing product development for two major manufacturing companies. It was during this period that he gradually developed an interest in viticulture — the result of his Italian heritage, being exposed to the surrounding vineyards, and making wine with friends.

With this growing interest, in 1971, Jim and Anita invested in a 24-acre ranch in the Russian River Valley, which had a mix of old grapevines and prunes. They soon became immersed in the renaissance of the Sonoma County wine industry, which was upgrading from generic vineyards and prune orchards to premium varietal winegrapes.

After acquiring an additional 20-acre vineyard property in Dry Creek Valley in 1973, Jim was approaching a career crossroads. Torn among the demands of private industry, a growing family of three children, and operating two vineyards, he decided to make a career change in 1976. He became a full-time winegrower, with the dream of one day building a small winery.

The family traded up to acquire 67 acres in Dry Creek, maintained its 24 acres in the Russian River Valley, and devoted extensive time and effort in replanting both vineyards to premium varietal grapes, while preserving some of the older Zinfandel vines.

In 1996, the time was right to build the long-desired winery. Jim took several courses at U.C. Davis and did extensive self study. The family’s first year production of 425 cases of estate Dry Creek Zinfandel won a gold medal in the West Coast Wine Competition, and the winery was on the map.

Over the next four years, production increased to 3,000 cases, a level at which it remains today. Forchini Vineyards & Winery now produces six estate-grown and bottled wines.

The Chardonnay is crafted from grapes grown in the Russian River Terrace vineyard, located near the river. This site provides a cool climate with late-breaking summer fog that promotes extended hang time for optimum balance in grape sugar/acid ratios.

“Papa Nonno” is a unique blend of varietal grapes fermented together with a small amount of heirloom whites to produce a dry, fruity wine in a style similar to the Chianti wines of Tuscany.

“BeauSierra” is a Bordeaux-style red table wine made from multiple varieties.

“Old Vine” Zinfandel is produced from 100-year-old, non-irrigated, head-pruned vines grown in the family’s Dry Creek Bench Vineyard. These stubby, gnarled vines are a living testament to their endurance, resulting from the unique combination of an old clone grafted to St. George rootstock.

Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the elevated eastern bench land of the valley, and is hand picked to ensure quality.

And Pinot Noir is produced from the Russian River Terrace vineyard, where the microclimate is ideal for this early-ripening varietal.

In an ever-more-corporate wine world, Forchini Vineyards & Winery remains family owned and operated. Jim is the winemaker, Anita handles the office, son Andrew (featured in the photo above) is the vineyard manager, and other family members help out part-time.

It’s a real American success story.

- – – – -

Forchini Vineyards & Winery is located at 5141 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg, CA 95448. It’s open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and other days by appointment. Call 707-431-8886 for directions or other information.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction

A Wine Book That Stands the Test of Time

winewarSummer may be over, but you still have time for some good “summer reading.”

Although it was published in 2002, Wine and War remains one of the best wine-focused tales ever told.

As Library Journal noted, the book recounts “the dangerous and daring exploits of those who fought to keep France’s greatest treasure out of the hands of the Nazis. Whether they were fobbing off inferior wines on the Germans, hiding precious vintages behind hastily constructed walls, sabotaging shipments being sent out of France, or even sneaking people out of the country in wine barrels, the French proved to be remarkably versatile when it came to protecting their beloved wine.”

I read Wine and War when it first came out, and picked it up again this past summer. Over a long weekend in Michigan wine country, before and after winery visits, I read it all the way through… and enjoyed it just as much.

One of the good things about being “a certain age” is that you can re-read books, and it’s almost as if you’d never read them in the first place.

Last I checked, Wine and War is still available through Amazon.com. I suggest reading it with a glass of wine — perhaps a nice red Bordeaux — within arm’s reach.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Notes and Quotes of a Vinous Variety

iStock_000005364409XSmallTime for a clearance of notes, quotes and other vinous miscellany that, in their various forms, are threatening to gather dust on my desk or overload my hard drive. (Yes, I know about the cloud…)

  • “Wine is a living liquid containing no preservatives. Its life cycle comprises youth, maturity, old age and death. When not treated with reasonable respect, it will sicken and die.” Know who said that? None other than legendary cook/chef/author/TV host Julia Child (R.I.P.).
  • It’s promoted as Southern California’s largest wine and food festival, and the 2014 edition is scheduled for November 17-23. It’s the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, and details are available online now: www.sandiegowineclassic.com
  • There may be no better restaurant in Southern California for a romantic meal — especially at sunset — than 21 Oceanfront in Newport Beach. With stunning views of the historic Newport Pier, an array of seafood entrees and a well-selected wine list featuring more than 300 choices, 21 Oceanfront is reminiscent of a private supper club. A perfect choice for special occasion dining. For more information, go to: www.21oceanfront.com
  • Chevre is the French term for cheese made from goat’s milk. Because of its herbaceous and somewhat wild flavor, it pairs well with a wide array of wines. Among the most sublime pairing partners are Albarino, Riesling and creamy Chardonnay.
  • You probably don’t think of Iran as “wine country.” But it was within that country’s borders that evidence of the world’s oldest wine (made from grapes) was recovered. The find took place in Iran’s Zagros Mountains.
  • Looking for a different wine-touring experience? One of our favorite wineries in Sonoma County, Gundlach-Bundschu, takes visitors on estate tours on a vehicle called a Pinzgauer, which may fall into the ATV category (we’re really not sure!). You can view a picture of the vehicle and learn more about the winery’s tour program here: http://www.gunbun.com/tours
  • And finally, Bunny Finkelstein, co-owner of Judd’s Hill Winery, located on Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail, once made this observation: “Making wine is like having children; you love them all, but boy, are they different.”
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Posted in Editor's Journal
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