NO, Not the Wine Tasting Test!

“I don’t know anything,” she said.

“You don’t have to, it’s not a test – what do you like?” 

I decided to share my love of wine with people I have never met at a party hosted by a new work colleague. To make it fun, I brought two different wines with only one thing in common: they’re both uncommon.  One was from the South-west of France and the other was from a place South of San Francisco, Santa Cruz. Here’s the book on them:

Quinta Cruz (Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard’s Iberian line): 2009 Souzão Click here to see the label

A rare Portuguese variety. The aromas and flavors are like nothing you have ever had in a red wine before – Very deep berries, earth, tar, anise, floral elements, and other subtle aromatics.   About the grape: Souzão (or Sousão or Vinhão) is Portuguese wine grape that is used in the production of port wine. While originating in the Minho regions, it is used primarily in Australia, California and South Africa. In Portugal, it is also an authorized planting in the Douro, and Dão-Lafões area (Vinho do Dão). The grape is known for the deep color it produces in a wine as well as its coarse and raisiny taste. In Australia Souzao is used to make port style wines and also table wines, often blended with other Portuguese grape varieties. In Australia Souzão  is used to make port style wines and also table wines, often blended with other Portuguese grape varieties.

La Folle Noire d’Ambat 2010 Region: South West France (Fronton) Click here to see the label  

About the Grape: Negrette is a black-skinned variety predominantly found in Fronton, south-western France. It is a descendant of Mavro, an ancient variety from Cyprus, and legend has it that the Knights Templar carried the vines back from there to Gaillac. Over time, the variety spread to nearby Fronton, which today is its undeniable home. Negrette is used in the production of both reds and rosés. Its rosé wines are very fruity, with a distinctive violet flavor and a spicy finish. They tend to be fuller-bodied than south-eastern French rosés. Negrette reds are soft, silky and perfumed, with the same distinctive violet aroma as the rosés, along with certain animal and undergrowth flavors

Here’s the skinny from all the wonderful people willing to taste and talk with me about wine. Now the fun begins as the 9 brave tasters took on one incredibly young and tight red from France (I should have opened it up the day before) and a California red featuring a Portuguese grape. The results: good conversation and 6 would buy the California red but only 3 would buy the French red. Here are  “Wordles” of what was shared under “impressions.”

First up, Negrette


Next up, Souzão


The results were not surprising when pitting a fruity juicy California red against an unusual variety from the Southwest of France – most American like the wines that reflect our domestic fruit. What was most striking to me was not these words but the number of times that people said essentially that they “know nothing about wine” and the number of times I had to remind people that this is not a test and if it were one, they could not fail it because all they had to know is what they like. That sense of wine tasting as “Jeopardy” on wine facts needs to change, and I will do my part in this new wine tasting revolution for wine tasting that is JOYFUL!

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Discovering Mediterranean Island Wines of a Mixed Heritage

Discovering Mediterranean Island Wines of a Mixed Heritage

I want Corsica; give me Corsica – that is France, by the way, not Italy.

Today at a packed tasting (as in I have never seen so many people here, especially with more not-the-usual thing wines) at the San Francisco Wine Trading Company got to know 8 wines from Corsica imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.

When I asked a fellow taster what he thought of the wines, he mentioned that he is not fond of Italian wines – hmm, rather than go into a geography lesson, I nodded. However, I can see why he would be confused since Corsica was once like nearby Sardinia a part of the Roman Empire.

Still, it’s part of France but more than a bit tinged with Italian wine influences as three of the whites tasted have Vermentino in them and several of the reds have an indigenous variety called Niellucciu – a supposed relative of Sangiovese.

Fun tasting of nine different wines– definitely not the usual thing (though the sour cherry of a Chianti was present in more than one of the reds).

What I took away in the 6-pack wine caddy:

2010 Domaine Maestracci, white Corse Calvi “E Prove” – briny and bracing, will sip  in lieu of a good Muscadet

2010 Domaine Yves Leccia, white Corse “Biancu Gentile” – a rich white with weight, honeysuckle on nose and a richness that begs for more

2010 Domaine Maestracci. Red Corse Calvi “Clos Regina” – rustic, earthy bordering on austere but just bordering – bring on anything with this steel-tanked quaffer

2010 Domaine de Gioieilli, red Vin De Pays Corse “L’ile de Beautie” – sour cherry and lavender all wrapped up in a pleasnt barnyartd and hay package

2010 Domaine Leccia, red Vin de Pays Corse  – my fav, balanced and well integrated with wild raspberries and flowers on the nose and a pop of pepper and herbs – got 2 bottles of this one

Photo of some of the 5 reds was uninspired – tired today – promise to do better next time!

Keep exploring and surprising yourself about what you really like. (Green eggs and ham, anyone?)

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Blitzed (Again)

Last week I attended the sneak peek wine tasting hosted at 18 Reasons for Bi-Rite Market, which has a twice-yearly wine blitz – 20% off cases. Yeah, BiRite! Normally I am pouring wine as an 18 Reasons volunteer but this time I played the role of guest.

Twenty wines ready for the tasting. Where’s my big red cup? They did not have one. Made the tasting tricky but I survived.

Headline: Good Bargains that are Interesting to Boot.


2010 Pepiere Muscadet Clos de Briods – sea breezes, briny and delish. $15Check out this fellow blogger waxing poetic on the 2010 Muscadets.

2010 Lemasson Poivre et Sel – Pineau d’Aunis grape from the Loire Valley. $16. Yes it does smack of salt and pepper and in a good way indeed and NOT just on the nose! Decide for yourself.  $16

2009 Domaine Combier Crozes-Hermitage – a little Northern Rhone of Syrah that is a little young but more promising than price tag would lead you to believe. $22. Dark fruit, smoke, anise spice and good minerality.

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Back on Track: Feeling So Alive while Drinking Zesty Spanish Blend

Hi everyone, a time for passages and transitions. My mom passed away. I wrote about her on my Fearless Women blog

Then I realized that there is one thing we know about life: it goes on.

And that bring me back to one of the loves of my life: wine.

Tonight has Abadal Seleccio 2003 Pla de Bages ($43), a Spanish wine that blends Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Cabernet Franc (40%) and Syrah (20%). A fascinating and complext wine that captures the spirit of the three grape varietals: it was big. rich, well-structured with  a mid-palate explosion of dark fruit (blackberry and currants). Smoke, leather and herbs (mint) and spices too. As it unfolded on my palate, I remembered why I love wine, why I love life and how thankful I am for the opportunity to drink and share with others like you. If you find it, buy it, savior it and then let me know what you think. Not a fan of R. Parker but he might have nailed this one and I won’t mention the points given because I think that reducing wines to a point system is ridiculous.

Let’s, instead, tell the story of each wine we meet.

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Democratizing Winemaking?: Tasting in the Grass at Crushpad

Take two wine geek stripes off my shoulder pad; I went to a tasting without my note book. Also, I thought I had to take home a list of wines offered but my husband swears the woman at the cash register snatched it from him. And so I can only tell you of the wine that is and the wine that might have been (mine):

I tasted two 2009 Pinots from Fielding Porter, both sourced from the Santa Lucia Highlands – one from a single vineyard called the Doctor’s Vineyard and the other from a blend of three different vineyards (including the doctor). The one from the single vineyard was having an identity crisis – am I a Syrah or a Pinot?  The cuvee on the other hand knew about Pinot (albeit one from California, not France or Oregon) is about: it had good acidity, cherry fruit but not the funk that I like in Burgundy. What the heck, it was good, drinkable California deliciousness in a bottle and so I scored two bottles at only $15 each. What a deal.

The other one was a 2005 Napa Cabernet from Bodhi. Though this baby was in need of more time in the bottle, it was quite yummy, balanced and interesting, especially when compared to the big, dark fruit, heavy-metal style Cab with which it shared a tasting table. Good balance and a hint of violets like a Fleurie but I passed even thought price tag was $20. My partner-in-wine said, if you want Fleurie-like violets, then go get a Fleurie! Can’t argue with that. CA Pinot is no real substitute for Cru Beaujolais (and shouldn’t be).

Anyway, Crushpad had a super event and if you ever want to make your own wine, no need to sell everything you own (and then some) to buy the set up. Crushpad is bringing winemaking to the little guy, and you gotta like that – well, I do. They are even doing crowdfunding of winemaking. Check them out

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That’s Muscadet, not Muscat!: Life’s a beach

Muscadet tasting the other night at 18 Reasons was enlightening and enlivening. I was volunteering but had the pleasure of tasting 9 Muscadets from the Loire Valley. Let me stop before I begin to wax poetic about the joys of LV and just get to my notes on four of the wines.

First up was the sparkler, the n/v Atmosphere from Domaine de la Louvetrie (by winemaker Jo Landron). Sea salt spray on nose, tart fruit mellowed by oats and yes, yeast in abundance. Kind of fun especially if you like sour (I do).

Domaine de la Pépière was next, featuring the artistry of winemaker Marc Ollivier. I just want to talk and talk about the 2010 Clos des Briords (old vines), which I need to stash in my cellar. Honeyed nose, rich on the palate, stony with a long citrus finish and hint of straw. Oh my, what might it become with a few more years of aging?

Two of the wines from Domaine Luneau-Papin (winemaker Pierre Luneau-Papin) left an impression on me for opposite reason. The 2010 VV Pierre de la Grange intoxicated me with its straightforward “drink me now,” fresh, bright minerality – with a hint of spice. Then we ended on a non-Melon de Bourgogne based wine, the 1993 Gros Plant (a.k.a., the grape variety Folle Blanche.) It was a tart mind-bender. The color of cream sherry, it had a nutty nose but surprised you with a big acidic kick. The wine had been decanted but still begged for more air. It was definitely not a usual taste but one that I enjoyed– it was complex and kept evolving in my glass. Sip, savor, slow and mindful wine tasting was in order with that puppy.

So don’t say goodbye to summer — yet! Instead, open a bottle of Muscadet to serve with oysters, shrimp or fish done simply and say hello to sun, sand and surf. Cheers!

PS – No disrespect meant for Muscat. In Paris I had lovely versions that made wonderful aperitifs. That is another story to tell because here in the USA have been unable to find anything quite like the ones there. The quest continues.

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Zen and the Art of Swirling Sediment

This evening the fun in the glass was Chateau Berliquet 2000 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Now about expectations: it was a Right Bank Bordeaux and so dominated by Merlot but from a heralded vintage. I had hoped for “wow” but for the price (about $50) found it pleasing but unimpressive. And I snatched it from my cellar a tad too early. Ok, mea culpa, but what did I learn?

The fruit there is surprising but saved by herbal notes, a tinge of dusty cocoa and relatively smooth tannins after it opened up a bit.  Yes, it has some finesse but a little too much jammy fruit and too modern in style for my taste and so would not buy again. It was a recommendation from a sales clerk who obviously did not know me very well.

Had it with my steak, mushrooms and sunchokes meal but wish I had it with wild boar or quail. Bring on the game with this wine.

Naturally, there was the real game at the end:  what to do with all that chunky red stuff in the glass?  My husband taught me the slow swirl and sip. It’s really something of a meditation. In the end, you also feel triumphant for not letting the sediment get the best of you.

So wait a little on this 2000 Bordeaux and then give me a call. Since the wine is on you, I’ll make you a dinner to pair with it that will make your heart sing.

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