Sunday, March 11, 2012

All Dressed In White....or perhaps just Naked.

You know when you decide to buy a car but before you make the purchase, the model you have been eying seems to turn up everywhere? That has been my experience lately, only with Blanc de Pinot Noir. I'm not sure how this wine flew below my radar or perhaps it is becoming a "trend." Having recently spoken to a winery who is considering making one, my fear is that it may become trendy. I have a strong dislike for trends in the wine industry but I won't rant about that in this post. Either way, new style or trend, I'm intrigued and on a mission to learn more.

Luckily, for us wine nerds, this isn't another grape variety to memorize on top of the approximate 10,000 already in existence. (Which, by the way, I have all memorized.) It is a style of wine making which takes pinot noir grapes and separates the skins from the juice immediately, similar to how white wine is made...hence, "blanc" de pinot noir. Without the skin contact, the red colour which we know to be pinot noir, does not have time to develop. So...what does it taste like you ask? Well, I had the privilege of sipping one producer so far, the Novy Family Winery out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

As I sipped the 2010 Novy Family, Blanc de Pinot Noir, I couldn't quite place my finger on what I was experiencing right away. The wine was very tart, high in acidity, slightly blush in colour and was very subtle in smell and on the palette. After I let the wine warm up a little, I was able to get roses on the palette along with some minerality and citrus fruits. I struggled to find really strong fruit characteristics or structure besides the high acidity. But this is when I realized the wine reminded me of sparkling wines. In particular, champagne. Imagine a fine champagne without the bubbles: tart, subtle but a delight with seafood and salads. And since pinot noir is often used in champagne production, it all made sense. It's pinot without the colour or the's not white, it's just completely naked.

As I move forward with my exploration of other naked pinot noirs, I will be interested to see how they compare to the Novy Family in order to get a better overall understanding for this style of wine. I don't want to make any overarching judgement, but I am curious to taste more. After all, test driving wines are a hell of a lot more fun than test driving cars! ;)

Do you have any recommendations of Blanc de Pinot Noir to try? Let me know!

Charlotte :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love for Oregon Wines

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Happy Valentine's Day everyone!! It's no secret that I have a serious love affair with wine so upon my relocation to Portland, Or., it is also no surprise that I didn't waste much time diving right into some serious wine tasting. This past weekend, after visiting the beautiful but dormant rose garden, my family and I decided to warm up at the bar of Southpark Seafood. Being the wine geek that I am, the wine list provided some great reading material. (Seriously, if you want to have a conversation with me over dinner don't take me to a restaurant that has a great wine list, my nose will remain in the book for the majority of the meal.)

After a much agonizing decision making process, I settled on a 2010 Domaine des Cassagnoles Colombard, Petit Manseng and Ugni Blanc blend. I know, I know not from Oregon but from the Gascony region south of Bordeaux. But this was one hell of a wine retailing for around $12 a bottle! This wine encompassed everything I love about white wine. It has minerality, white flowers, chalk and even a grassy element. Doesn't sound like the most appealing combination but trust me on this one.

With my palate excited by this french white blend, I was ready to transition to some Oregon pinots. When in Rome, right? This lead me to taste two pinots from Belle Pente. Based in the Yamhill-Carlton region of the Willamette Valley and founded by Jill and Brain O'Donnell in 1994. It is an organic and biodynamic vineyard site with just over 16 acres planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. The 2007 Belle Pente Murto really stood out to me. Heavier in body than the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and paired great with the cheese plate. Both wines provided great complexity and subtleness, I highly recommend checking them out.

Lastly, I tasted a wine which truly blew me away! Immediately after smelling and tasting this wine, I was convinced it was from Europe. I would have argued it to my death but even best trained palates can be taken by surprise which is what I love so much about wine! This amazing wine was the 2008 Ransom Cabernet Franc. Unlike any Cab Franc I have tasted being produced in the states before. I immediately felt like I was sitting on the coast of Spain. This is a winery high on my list to visit. They were recently featured in this month's Oregon Wine Press, you can read more about them here. They also distill spirits which includes a Gewurztraminer Grappa! Oh my, here I come!

With many more winery visits lined up over the next couple of weeks, you can be sure I will be sharing more of my Oregon tasting experiences!

Sending each of you lots of love and may you experience some romance in a bottle today!

Charlotte :)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Change is Gonna Come

Wow! I don't know about you but January has flown by! I embraced this new year with open arms and strong convictions and with the recent start to the Chinese New Year, I feel like I have been spending the whole month celebrating a fresh start. While there is a lot of truth to that last statement, I am also gearing up for the major changes this week, which is why I have been MIA on the web circuit - I apologize.

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I have spent a  lot of the last month listening, reflecting and growing. Four and a half years ago, I packed up my Honda Civic, blasted Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry" and moved to Sonoma sight unseen.

I have since immersed myself in the Californian wine industry working in both Sonoma and primarily San Francisco. Living, breathing and tasting wine. I have met an amazing network of friends and like-minded "winos". As my passion for wine continues to grow and yes, as I get older, I'm realizing that in order to embrace life in a way which matters the most to me, it is time I embrace some changes in order to "redesign" my life.

So without further ado, I have TWO huge announcements:

1) I am taking a "sabbatical" of sorts and relocating to the Portland, Oregon area. I grew up in the area and I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family in addition to getting to know the rapidity growing NW wine industry. Bay Area, please don't cry, you will always be home to me and I plan to be back shortly.

2) Keep your eyes on this blog/webpage...not only is a "face-lift" on the way but The Wine Key will become a center for wine education offering coaching and fun lessons on wine. Starting in February, I will become dedicated to teaching about wine and can't wait to interact closer with my readers and clients. Stay tuned for more. :)

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As I spent the next couple of weeks enjoying my beloved San Francisco, I am feeling empowered by change and excited for my new journey. Oregon wine friends, feel free to reach out, I would love to connect once settled!

Finally, as to not leave you completely wine deprived, here are a couple of wines I am currently gushing over:

Sandhi Wines from Santa Barbara. I recently tried their inaugural 2009 vintage out wine world, this is a game changer! I plan to do a full write-up on this one soon.

Benito Santos Albarnio 2010 Rias Baixas: This is what I consider to be a true expression of a Spanish albranio. Crisp, medium rich mouth feel, full of sophisticated citrus fruits including apple and a flavorful finish.

Looking forward to sharing my journey with you!

Charlotte :)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Popping for Bubbles

With 2011 drawing to a close, (how did that happen so quickly?!), I can't but help about some of my favorite bubbles for ringing in a fresh slate. Whether you will be saboring a bottle at midnight or slowing sipping your way through many bottles on New Year's Eve, I have put together a short list of some of my favorites.

Before I dive into the list, this time of year all is a very reflective time for me as with many others I'm sure. I once read that life is lived in stages and phases. I couldn't agree with this more especially as a stage of my life is drawing to a close while many phases are also beginning. As many commit to going to the gym everyday next year, while a good goal, I know if I go twice and that will be an accomplishment, I will be focusing on living in the moment while pushing towards goals such as becoming a better wine writer for example. I'm looking forward to both my personal and profession worlds undergoing some major revamping this year and would like to thank all my readers and supporters - you're the best! I wish you all the happiness and health New Year!

Alright, with the mushy stuff out of the way, here are my recommended bottles to pop:

Gruet Sauvage Brut - The most amazing wines to come out of New Mexico - seriously. This sparkling is full of green apple, citrus and flowers. Dry and crisp and retailing for around $17 it doesn't get much better than this outside of the Champagne region of France. And while you are at it, check out their Chenin Blanc - it rocks!

Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc - Rachel Zoe would either love or hate me for saying this but "I die" for this sparkling. If there is only one bottle to open as the new year approaches, this is it.

Cristalino Cava Brut - The best "cheap" bubbles out there if you ask me. Add a scope of your favorite sorbet for a fruity dessert or pre-party aperitif.

Anything Mumm - cause she knows best ;)

Gratien and Meyer Saumur Rose: Who says you can't drink summer in the dead of winter?! This unique sparkling is made from Cabernet France and Grolleau grapes. Crisp and delicious any time of year.

Have a great time celebrating and see you next year!

Charlotte :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wine for Whisk(e)y

No, don't worry, I'm not abandoning wine for whisk(e)y...well not yet anyways. But let me ask you, what generally comes to mind when you think Japan? Cherry blossoms? Sushi? Memoirs of a Geisha? (even though that wasn't very accurate). Perhaps even sake comes to mind but how about single malt whisky? Yeah, that's right, the Scots may not be too thrilled, but I am!

After surviving a fairly debilitating cold last week, I managed to feel better just in time for the Women and Whiskies event. (Good timing right ;)) Finding myself smashed among too many people in the a small yet sleek sushi joint I was thrilled to start tasting some whiskies.
The highlight of the night was the Japanese whisky made by Suntory. Having set up shop in 1923 making them  the oldest Japanese distillery, they really know what they are doing. The 12-year old Yamazaki single malt whisky was subtle, smooth and almost evaporated from your tongue.  Having been matured in three different kinds of oak; American, Spanish, Japanese, the roundness of flavors were evident. Tasting of dried fruits, honey and toast. If you love peat this may not be the whisky for you, however, the subtly of this whiskey made for some easy sippin'.

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The 17 year old Suntory Hibiki blended whisky was also a must try. Sitting at higher price point around $90, this sleek bottle looking like a large perfume bottle was by no means lacking scents. With more baking spice aromas than the Yamazaki and also a fuller mouthfeel, this whisky would be the perfect gift for any whisk(e)y lover.

Other noteworthy whiskies were Russell's Reserve 10 year old Bourbon and the Glen Grant Speyside 10 year old single malt scotch. I have to admit I skipped right over the Wild Turkey, even if it was the 18 year old "classier" version than the corner store special we drank in college, I'm not sure if it was memory lane I didn't want to visit or rather the unpleasant hangover-ville, either way, the turkey stayed out of my glass.

To check out Women and Whiskies events happening in your neck of the woods, find them on Facebook for more information.

In the meantime, let me know if you plan to drink any whiskies this holiday season.

Charlotte :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Yup....It Has Been Two Years

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Today I am popping champagne and celebrating a new year, (early, I know). But today marks the two year anniversary of The Wine Key. (Happy Birthday!) They say as you get older, time starts to fly. Well if that is true, I'm starting to feel like I'm approaching 100 years old, and quickly. It feels like only a few months ago that I starting writing about wine. After two years, I honestly feel like I have said anything yet!

On this day, two years ago, I set out to write about a passion of mine with no expectations that anyone else would care to read about my wine experiences. As it turns out, I am fortunate enough to have developed relationships with loyal readers and met amazing co-conspirators that are just as crazy about wine as I am. This also being the week of Thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude for both my loyal readers and everyone I have met along the way. Connecting to my "tribe" has been inspiring to say the least. I have found a thriving online community that shares a wealth of information each and every day about their wines experiences and it was an honor to have met many of you at The Wine Bloggers Conference this year.

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As I celebrate this little milestone today, I am very focused on the future and excited about my plans to develop The Wine Key into much more than just a blog. Stay tuned for big announcements over the next few months. I find I am feeling similar to the Beaujolais Nouveau, which were released last Thursday; young, fresh, fruity, just a preview of what is to come. With additional aging and maturing, I hope to be celebrating even bigger achievements next year. (I apologize for the cheesy analogy but I'm clearly wrapped up in the moment - let me have it.)

So today, please join me is taking a moment to appreciate lives little accomplishments and cheers to new beginnings! Here is to finishing 2011 on a strong note and Happy Thanksgiving.

Charlotte :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Croatian Grape Juice

Somewhere nestled in the hills of San Francisco, I found myself in a chilly wine cellar of my unassuming host. As the recognition of wine labels started to register on my face, my host realized he was in good wine company, resulting in a stellar line-up of open bottles. This lead to the discovery of one delicious and exotic wine from Croatia.

Being a stones throw away from France and just across the Adriatic waters from Italy, I'm pretty sure if you were to squint hard enough from the shoreline of Croatia, you can see Italians sunbathing and eating spaghetti across the wavy seas. (Stereotyping, I am not.)

Croatia is shaped much like a seahorse and vintners have somehow mastered planting neat and tidy square vineyards within this oddly shaped country. Croatian wines joined the international wine stage in 2004 when the press got their hands on some wines and were pleasantly surprised. Like many parts of the Mediterranean, winemaking actually dates back to Antiquity and having recently gained in popularity due to amiable prices and exceptional quality.

Along the tail of the seahorse, lie Dalmatia. A well known wine growing region where both indigenous and international grape varieties are planted. In the northern part of Damatia, (similar latitude to Tuscany), among the limestone, red, and rocky soils, near Skradin, lies Bibich Winery. (If you know where this is without the use of Google Maps, I'm impressed). With a family history of winemaking, but with little interest from other family members, Alen Bibic revitalized the family business in 1995 at the ripe age of 22. Pun intended.

When Alen's bottle of 2007 Bibich Reserva was pulled from my host's cellar, I immediately poured out the previous wine from my glass in anticipation, (well poured it straight into my mouth that is, don't want to be rude at a dinner party now do I?!) The Reserva is a blend of Babic, Palvina and Lasin, all native varietals rumored to be cousins with the Californian Zinfandel. Aged 12 months in American oak barriques. This wine is both recognizable and unique. Being rustic much like its Italian counterparts but completely different with elements of raisinated dark fruits, musty cellar, cranberry, pepper spice with a solid tannin structure. Being relatively light to medium bodied, there is a resemblance to Zinfandel. Overall, an exotic blend sure to excite your palate.

When I ventured to K&L's website, they are selling this wine for $17.99. A wine worth much more and absolutely worth all the conversation that will be had while tasting.

My casual Sunday dinner with friends has now sparked a strong interest to learn more about Croatian wines putting them front and center on my wine stage.

Charlotte :)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween and the Headless Horseman

A lot of changes tend to happen for me around November 1st. This year is no exception. On this crisp and chilly evening of all Hallow's Eve, I find myself feeling sentimental as I celebrate my 4 year anniversary of living in San Francisco, packing to move into a new apartment, starting a new job and preparing for my first photography show, among other projects. As last minute alterations are happening to costumes, candy being handed out and pumpkins being lit, I find myself putting my feet up and popping the cork on a spooky wine.
Ash Hollow Winery from Walla Walla, Washington produces the Headless Red. With a label decorated by a Headless Horseman on what appears to be a creepy, foggy evening, I wasn't sure what to think. After watching their promotional video, I couldn't help but feel a little chill down my spine. A Bordeaux style blend made of 58% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah and 3% Malbec aged 30 months in 15% new French Oak and 85% neutral (which I love to hear!); I was amazed at the depth, subtleties and structure.

With the estate vineyard sitting at 45 degrees north in latitude, same as Bordeaux, it is no wonder this wine presents the complexity that it does. The 2008 had only 500 cases produced and smells of coffee, cranberries, dark plum, cherries and a hint of violet. The palate experiences plums, tart cherries, blackberries, cranberries and chocolate. The acid structure is right on point, making this a great food pairing wine.

As I sit back and relax, (enjoying my adult Halloween treat, if you will), preparing for the big transitions ahead, I hope, by the end of this bottle and week, to at least still have my head. ;)

Happy Halloween!

Charlotte :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Modern Day Box Wine

Lets face it, boxed wine conjures up the image of Grandma's afternoon rose in what appeared to just be a larger "juice box" than mine. Or similarly, memories of college friends preparing for Friday night by stocking Franzia next to the PBR and jugs of Carlo Rossi. Remaining naive to the contents in the box was bliss, discovering the bladder was terrifying. Why would I drink out of something that resembles hospital use only?!

I will never forget being at a restaurant, not so long ago, when the patrons next to me ordered the house wine only then to see the bartender removing the nearly empty bladder from a box, and squeezing the remains into a glass like it were the end of the toothpaste tube. It took all my restrained to not slide down the bar on my belly and intercept the horrific event I was witnessing.

So how did Franzia become "The World's Most Popular Wine," and is Box Wine making a comeback? Lets start with the Australians and the 70's.

Thomas Angove from South Australia was the first to patent the the bladder in a box format. This allowed producers to cut costs on bottles and corks particularly for those who were not making fine wine. The 1970s were also a time when Americans were not drinking that much wine. The industry was starting to gain traction but overall, wine was not a part of American culture. Therefore, families were not coming together over a bottle of wine at dinner. An inexpensive format that would allow wine to stay "fresh until the last glass," (as Franzia advertises), was needed.

Since the wine industry has really taken off and produced award winning wines at all price points, why do box wines still exist and can high end, fine wines, be packaged in this method recover from the stereotypes that have come to surround wine in boxes? Are we compromising the quality of wine for convenience?

I recently had the opportunity to try what I am calling "Modern Day Box Wines." From The Black Box, the Clif Family Winery's "Climber Pouch", CalNaturale, Vendange, among others. The best part, I am happy to report, there are no bladders involved!
Most recently I tried CalNaturale's Chardonnay and have to say, this is not a corrugated box becoming soggy by its contents but rather a fairly complex package made by Tetra Pak. The Tetra Pak cartons are made from paper with a twist off top, boasting half the carbon footprint of a glass bottle. What makes this wine a Modern Day Box Wine, is that the winemaking is traditional. A vintage can be found on the packaging in addition to single vineyard designation. The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles. The Chardonnay comes from Menecino, Ca. and is crisp, full of apples, pears, citrus, vanilla and holds a solid structure. Both wines are organic and retail at $12.99 for 1 liter and $6.99 for 500 milliliters.

Clif Family Winery markets directly to those who are outdoor adventurers through their Climber Pouch. Producing both an unoaked Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, their wines provide "all-terrain wine transport" and consider "Life [to be] a journey and every day we are inspired to travel lighter and appreciate more." In other words, if you lead a very active lifestyle, you can still have you wine and drink it too. Both, CalNaturale and Clif Family make wines in eco-friendly packages that are easy to reseal, stays fresh longer all the while providing convenience.
In a society that is so consumed by convenience, these wines are the snickers bars for the wine industry. Yes, we would all love to sit down and eat a chocolate cake but sometimes, we need a quick fix for the craving, a snickers bar does the trick. If you are going on a hike, who wants to carry the extra weight of a bottle? Grab a Tetra Pak or Climber Pouch. If I were into outdoor activities such as camping and hiking, these wines would be accompanying me. Will they be joining me at my next dinner party, no. With that being said, they are good, solid, wines showcasing modern winemaking. I would bring these wines to a picnic, unlike Franzia, which I wouldn't be caught dead with.

To answer some of my own questions from above, after tasting these wines, I don't feel we are compromising fine wine for sustainable packaging. (Not that I think bottles are bad, especially when recycled.) With that being said, these wines are not as good as they could be, but on the right track to becoming something outstanding. I like seeing vintage and vineyard designations on the packaging. I trust this product because there is a connection to place.

And to answer my other question, yes, I do think boxed wines are making a comeback. These Modern Day Box Wines are changing the stereotypes of its predecessors and redefining "box-wine" by addressing the need for on-the-go, convenient, eco-friendly wines. These wines are not your Grandmother's juice box but rather wines designed to be as active as we are while being environmental conscience.

Charlotte :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Touriga - More Than Just Port

Sometimes as a writer, I get caught up in drafting a wish list of subjects I am determined to research and write about. Like a lot of good intentions in life, we don't always get to the things on our "to-do" lists in a timely manor. In this case, I am acknowledge my newest obsession and had to stop all other projects to share it with you. Touriga Nacional is a grape varietal primarily grown in Portugal in low yielding crops producing a highly desirable flavour profile. Traditionally used in Port production, I have recently come across this grape being produced as a single variety in a dry wine. I was instantly hooked.

Imagine sitting atop haystacks in an aged brick coloured barn on a steep hillside on a summer's afternoon in Portugal overlooking rolling hills while lunching on hand crafted sandwiches getting ready to saddle the horses up for a trail ride through the vineyards and blackberry bushes. This is Touriga Nacional. A rustic, peaceful yet complex experience. Don't be fooled though, a slight astringency will follow the earthiness that may sneak up on you if you are not prepared.

With wishful illustrations aside, I have tasted a couple of producers lately and have been very impressed not only by the well-rounded product but the price retailing right around $15. Drinking a wine that creates an experience is powerful and in my book, the sign of a great wine. Being the most desirable grape for port production, the high skin to pulp ratio produces not only a rustic countryside aroma but is rich in raisinated fruits such as plums, blackberries and dark cherries.

With very small amounts of Touriga planted in the United States, it is not readily available. However, one producer based in Napa near my beloved Spring Mountain has vines planted in Sonoma County. York Creek Vineyards is growing Touriga for a port project they also produce this variety in a dry red wine style and a rose. They had my attention at first sip. Having selected their mountainous site to produce rich, bold and tannic wines I can only imagine my summer afternoon horse riding fantasy coming true.

With that being said, there are plenty of producers from Portugal being imported to the United States. One in particular I tasted at a local restaurant was a 2007 T. Roriz "Tradicional" Tega, Alqueve, priced at a very reasonable $8/glass.

If you happen to come across Touriga during your next dining experience, I highly recommend you give it a taste. You may not experience a rustic countryside fantasy in Portgual but it will give you something to talk about nontheless.

Charlotte :)