All posts by Sip Tripper

About Sip Tripper

A passionate travel writer excited to share wine reviews, winemaker profiles and wine destinations with like-minded wine enthusiasts.

U.S. Zinfandel Recommendations from a wine judge

It’s no surprise to me to discover the best of class U.S. zinfandel hails from Lodi, California, also referred to as the “unofficial” zinfandel capital of the world. Close to 40 percent of the nation’s best zinfandel is grown in this northern portion of California’s Central Valley.

As a wine judge at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, I was bestowed the honor of selecting the best of 82 U.S. zinfandels priced between $28-$31 per bottle. Here is a list of my team of three’s picks:

Many congratulations to all of these zinfandel producers, and special congratulations to best of class, Prie Winery!

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A glacially-refreshing bubbly

During Napa Valley Restaurant Week, I visited four Up Valley restaurants to see what the chefs have been up to, but at Acacia House in the new Las Alcobas resort located in my hometown of Saint Helena, I also took advantage of a local perk: if you live in town, you are waived a corkage fee.

To celebrate, I brought a bottle of Pata Negra (a Spanish term that translates, “highest quality”) Cava, made with organic grapes in the traditional Champagne method. This cava is now available in the U.S., by the way.

Our server opened the bottle shortly after we drank a sample glass of the bar’s signature margarita, which lived up to the rumored hype of this frothy-topped tequila goodness.

As I dipped my toast point in a bowl of creamy, salted cod, I followed with a first sip of the Barcelona-produced Pata Negra cava. One word came to mind: glacial. For the price point of $14.99 a bottle, this Catalonia cava is a refreshing teeny tiny bubbly choice for sipping a dry, slightly acidic Macabeo varietal. It paired well with our appetizer and again with a mushroom risotto topped with scallops. I would like to try another bottle with some manchego cheese.

Rooted in Spanish culture and tradition, the Barcelona-based Pata Negra winery is located atop a hill that slopes gently toward the Mediterranean Sea. Today, the winery is surrounded by an estate of 309 acres containing cabernet sauvignon, merlot, tempranillo and chardonnay vineyards. I do hope to taste their tempranillo soon.

About that label: Although it would seem the fractal label design was inspired by a giraffe, it is actually fashioned after the gate of Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Mila in Barcelona. The building is an architectural masterpiece with an undulating stone facade with twisting wrought iron balconies.

Available in Brut Reserva, Brut Rosé, Organic Brut and Organic Brut Rosé varietals, Pata Negra Cava is available online and at select retailers.

Holiday Gift of Paso Robles picture book

Former Time magazine editor George Taber is known for his “’76 Judgment of Paris” book about Chateau Montelena’s chardonnay besting French wines. His latest publication, however, is a preface to “The Winemakers of Paso Robles,” a coffee-table book with authentic photographs — down and dirty winemaking — of Paso Robles wine country along the Central Coast of California.

In his preface, Taber refers to Napa and Sonoma wine regions as Disneyland-esque, regardless of the fact that these two wine regions of Northern California produce some of the best cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays in California, if not the U.S.

Like the Napa Valley produces Bordeaux-style wines, Paso Robles produces Rhone-style wines. As someone who loves a good Chateauneuf de Pape, and after flipping through the images of this book, I want to visit this wine region and really taste my way through the grenache blends.

The author and the photographer of this ground-breaking, large format book, Julia Perez, spent a year profiling 53 winemakers who are transforming an up-and-coming wine region into to a world-class destination. Immersed in the vineyards, wineries, crush pads, and tasting rooms of this gorgeous and burgeoning wine region, they document and uncovered the struggles and successes of being a winemaker.

Throw in a few bottles of Paso Robles wines and a copy of this oversized book ($119) to gift to that someone special who really wants to learn more about the winemakers behind the scenes.

If you need more inspiration before you buy a copy, watch the video below. It shows the process of becoming a published book.

 

Kosher Psagot Merlot with Hanukkah latkes

Move over Manischewitz! I’ve discovered a wine that pairs best with your Hanukkah latkes, especially if you make them with lots of veggies and cheese. What goes best with these Judaic delights is Psagot’s 2014 Merlot. This wine label with the image of a Second Temple-era coin adhered to the label is produced in Israel and made from 100% Merlot grapes, aged for 13 months in French wood barrels. The bottle itself is a nice decoration for the table, with a label written in both Hebrew and English.

Flavors of dark berries and aromas of plum, cherries and leather offer a hint to what’s next… that long and lingering blackberry finish. This mellow merlot’s distinctly Israeli flavor profile also pairs well with meat dishes and will make it a unique addition to any meal. (SRP $26)

With only two nights left before Hanukkah concludes, be sure to serve a bottle of Psagot with those latkes! Happy Hanukkah to all…please enjoy this shared message of the meaning of Hanukka:

When the rabbis of Talmudic times asked, “What is Hanukkah?” their answer focused on the purification of the Temple and the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days, despite the fact that there seemed to be oil enough for only a single day. As a new spiritual leadership dealing with the religious challenge of Jewry’s survival after the loss of Jewish sovereignty and power, the rabbis stressed the divine miracle to the exclusion of military and diplomatic acts and the sovereignty exercised by the Maccabees after their victory.

Similarly, medieval Jews focused on the divine miraculous activity in Hanukkah, projecting their own sense of helplessness and their longing for the messianic redeemer to do it all for them.

By contrast, modern Zionists saw in Hanukkah a reflection of their agenda: They celebrated Maccabee military prowess and political achievement. An early secular Zionist song proclaimed that “a miracle did not happen to us, we found no cruse of oil.” To these Zionists, the Maccabees’ state-building was the eternal message of the holiday.

For modern liberal Jews, Hanukkah became the holiday of religious freedom. The Maccabee fight was presented as the uprising of a religious community against suppression. The Festival of Lights was a victory for, and a living model of, the religious tolerance that Jews sought in the modern world. To uphold this view, liberals had to filter out the fact that while the Maccabees fought for the right to practice their own religion, they were hardly pluralist. In fact, the Maccabees fought Hellenizing Jews–those who were assimilating into Greek culture–to the death and suppressed them as they achieved power.

Read more, courtesy of BeliefNet.com

 

The Upshot of Rodney Strong

Northern Sonoma County, especially Knights Valley and Alexander Valley, produce some of the best dark berry fruit for wines. Both winegrower Ryan Decker and winemaker Justin Seidenfeld have created Upshot, a Rodney Strong red blend at a reasonable price of $28. The label is a circular calendar highlighting the back story in the making of this wine, and the tagline, “Life Simply Does Not Blend Itself” is playful and approachable to wine novices and oenophiles.

Speaking of back story, the Rodney Strong story published on their website is quite interesting:

“Our story begins over 55 years ago, when a celebrated American dancer named Rod Strong settled in Sonoma County to pursue a second lifelong creative passion: winemaking. Rodney Strong Vineyards was the 13th winery bonded in the newly discovered Sonoma County wine industry. A trio of winemaking paths crossed when Rick Sayre joined the team as Winemaker in 1979, and again when the Klein Family, 4th generation California farmers, purchased the winery in 1989 and initiated a renewed commitment of modern artisan winemaking. Through the years, Rodney Strong Vineyards has earned the reputation for critically acclaimed Single Vineyard and Reserve wines, stand out Estate releases and best-in-class Sonoma County varietal wines.”

Upshot actually means, “the final or eventual positive outcome or conclusion of a discussion, action, or series of events” — and this red blend is a collaboration of the winemaking process from the 2015 harvest to the 2017 release.

Five grapes were involved in this blend: zinfandel, merlot, malbec, petit verdot and …wait for it….riesling! Says winemaker Justin Seidenfeld,

“The Upshot of blending these varietals is a wine that was made to underscore my passion for blending wine, a place that I love, and my enjoyment for this amazing life I get to live.”

I found this wine enjoyable without being pretentious… simply a good table wine priced at a great value. Just as taste sensations change in different contexts and situations, it’s interesting to note that there are white wine characteristics that come through within the deep blackberry and dark cherry burst of flavor, especially on the nose, as well as in the light tannin structure. And I enjoyed this with a variety of popcorn snacks and a turkey burger!

Visit https://www.rodneystrong.com/wines/upshot/ for more information.

Martha shares her palatable wine picks

True-to-form, Martha Stewart excels as the DIY queen for home-bodies who seek to simply decorate their surroundings or add pizzazz to dinner parties. So, it would make perfect sense for the gal who continues to experience a career as a television personality, author, publisher — not to mention her former real-life role as a white-collar criminal and amazing ability to get back in the game — to assert her notoriety and jump on the bandwagon of a trendsetting wine company!

Her website: marthastewartwine.com offers a guide for matching her suggested wines with the flavors on a dinner menu. Her tips keep in line with her brand’s mission, which is to celebrate the art of creative living, simplified. For example, she includes “Easy-to-Find cheeses That Will Work Every Time”, listing:

  • Double Gloucester
  • Sharp Cheddar
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Gouda
  • Manchego
  • Chevre
  • Brie
  • Havarti

Martha claims to have personally tasted each and every wine she’s selected from worldwide vineyards. With every order she includes a pairing chart for reds, whites and sparkling wines to highlight four choices of food pairings.

The old adage, “you get what you pay for” rings true, but there’s really nothing wrong with that if you’re seeking sips that won’t break the bank, yet are acceptable — even enjoyable.

My palate was poised for 4 bottles that included 1 Arbos Bianco of Italy, 2 French whites and 1 2014 Le Vassal De Mercues Malbec Cahors. Of the four, I would re-order the 2016 Cuvee Joelle Mauzac, a white wine from South West France that wasn’t too dry or sweet — an easy wine to drink, and absolutely order the A D’Arche White Blend Bordeaux (50% Semillon and 50% Sauvignon Blanc), a diamond in the rough with a lovely floral and citrus nose and flavor that highlights its terroir of Bordeaux minerality. I’d recommend enjoying both of these wines with smoky cheese and charcuterie.

With the holiday season swiftly approaching, giving the gift of a Martha Stewart Wine Company box is affordable and fun! You can order holiday gift packs of 4 bottles for as low as $59.95.

 

Celebrated sips: California’s Central Coast

Living in the Napa Valley, I’ve become accustomed to high-end wines crafted by celebrated winemakers known throughout the world. So when I had the chance to try three wines of the Central Coast, I was a bit skeptical. With Thanksgiving nearly here, I decided to first try the 2015 tangent Albariño of Edna Valley ($17), mainly because I enjoy this Spanish varietal and realize it is sparsely planted in California.

The Niven family’s estate vineyard, Paragon, revels in its SIP™ Vineyard Certification (Sustainability in Practice). The grapes for tangent grew in the Edna Valley, halfway between Monterey to the north and Santa Barbara to the south, mimicking the Rías Baixas climate in the province of Galicia.

My first pour enlightened me on the idea that you really can bring a taste of Spain to California, even with American soil and cultivation. The nose on this wine proved citrus clean and fresh, and the taste was pure Albariño, dry and light with medium acidity. When you buy this wine, try it with sushi (ahi tuna) and you will not be disappointed. In fact, you can drink this wine alone and be perfectly happy.

Next, I tried a 2015 Zocker Grüner Veltliner of Edna Valley, a really good pick to bring to your host for Thanksgiving dinner ($20). These Grüner Veltliner and Riesling grapes are grown in the same region as the tangent Albariño, and is also SIP™ certified. Also, both of these white wines were aged in stainless steel tanks without ever sitting in an oak barrel. And both are screw caps.

Aromas of pepper, tastes of minerality and melons set the stage for a winning wine crafted by winemaker Christian Roguenant. Kudos!

The quote on the label of my final wine review of this area says it all: “Her Secret is Patience”. The 2014 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon ($24) of Paso Robles is a glowing representation of what Mother Nature can do with finesse. Its motto is “Taste and Believe” and I am on board as a believer! With just enough oak to create cherry and vanilla notes, and a light spice finish, this smooth cabernet sauvignon I sipped has only one drawback for me… I wish I had saved it to enjoy it even more in a few years. Stock your wine cellar with this one, and you won’t be sorry!

Lesson learned: Central Coast wines are worth sipping, and even though the pricing is less than the majority of Napa Valley wines, it doesn’t mean they are lesser in quality and taste!

Mercer Wine of Washington State

I was caught a bit off-guard when I first sipped a 2015 Mercer Sharp Sisters Horse Heaven Hills red blend. The blackberry taste of syrah dominated the blend of which a majority was cabernet sauvignon, followed by syrah, merlot, petit verdot, Grenache and a bit of carignane; all grapes were grown in Washington State.

Mercer

Although elements of Rhône, France wine tasted familiar, the terroir of Washington State was foreign to my palate. I had met plenty of California, French, Eastern Europe and Italian wines, but this was my first encounter with Washington State, considered in the wine world to be “the new kid on the block”.

Out of three wines I sampled, one caught my attention as the winner in the trio, and surprisingly it turned out to be the white wine in the bunch: a 2016 Mercer Horse Heaven Hills sauvignon blanc. A clean, fresh aroma of citrus and newly bundled hay set the stage for a refreshing taste of perfectly ripened fruit and balanced acidity. The fruit hailed from the rolling hills on the Mercer estate Princeton vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, where the climate proved agreeable for this second vintage, with cool nights and warm days. Priced around $15, this bottle is worthy of a purchase, but I suggest getting a case before they sell out.

My third taste was an inky 2015 Mercer Horse Heaven Hills malbec, a better taste than many Argentine malbecs I’ve consumed. This is a wine that opens nicely, escalating in jammy flavors. The grapes were grown in Spice Cabinet Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills on a southeast slope above the Columbia River. The crop received morning sun exposure and avoided the afternoon harshness of the sun. The wine-making skills excelled, with a double sort, and without crush. It’s the whole berry for this malbec, aged in both new and old French oak barrels for 18 months, and then blended together. It works.

For more information on Mercer wines, visit MercerWine.com.

Blind tasting 16 rosé wines

Following almost two years living in the Napa Valley, I was finally invited to Spottswoode. Alas, I never tasted a drop of Spottswoode wine, but I did sit across from Beth, the owner, and it was an amazing experience to listen to her feedback.

The reason I sat at the tasting table in this historic family estate in St. Helena was to blind taste 16 rosé wines. The event was coordinated by Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf, a French native who grew up in Auvergne and moved to Calistoga with her husband, winemaker at Spottswoode. Claire is the owner of Calistoga’s Picayune Cellars & Mercantile, and I love her rosé.

Tasting in groups of four wines, there were about 8 wine tasters who sniffed, swirled, sniffed and sipped to decide whether each rosé was Old World or New World, hipster-worthy and within price ranges of under $15, $16-$25 or over $26 a bottle. We graded by number and discussed the wines of each grouping.

The million dollar question remains: Is rosé is a wine to take seriously or is it a pool wine … a flavored beverage? Could rosé be food-pairing-worthy and serious competition among whites and reds? Well, one factor is certain: rosé wine has piqued as a summer trend for 2017. My guess is that the strong will survive, and out of 16 tastings, I’ll share with you my shortlist of five worthwhile rosé wines to sip past summer.

#1 – Azur 2016 – New World, Hipster, over $26 blend of gamay, Grenache and barbera grapes.

#2 – Terrebrune – Old World, established, over $36 a bottle

#3 – Miraval – Yes, this is the Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt rosé – Old world, $16-$25 a bottle, soft on the palate and good minerality.

#4 – Picayune – made with syrah, Grenache and barbera grapes, priced $16-$25, New World and hipster

#5 – Hogwash – New World made with Grenache grapes with alluring aroma and taste

Remember, rosé all day!