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The hunt for Red October

The hunt for Red October….red wine, that is. In search of some new big bold reds, that is my motto this month. You know the ones I am talking about, the ones that stand up to rich foods. Tonight we grilled T-bone steaks before the rain moved in and I said, although it is Monday and I normally might skip wine during the work week, I really wanted a nice red with my steak. I guess it because we rarely eat red meat so when I do have a nice steak, I want a nice red wine to accompany it. This month has brought us some outstanding reds such as a 2004 PreVail West Face Red. A very bold yet smooth red that we recently tried for the first time. PreVail is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend grown on the West facing slopes of PreVail vineyards. PreVail’s motto is to produce “wines that PreVail.” We also had a 2005 Scout’s Honor by Venge, a tasty blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Charbono. The Scout’s Honor was part of a case reorder from Venge that we recently purchased as we had finished our shipment from our trip in May. Part of the hunt was also a Pozzan 2006 Napa Valley Back Barn Zinfandel, Oakville Cuvee. This single vineyard Zinfandel is produced from a premium Oakville vineyard adjacent to the Pozzan family house in Napa. Pozzan makes several varieties which I had previously tasted, but this is the first time trying the Zinfandel. It is a easy to drink wine with the perfect combination of Zinfandel flavors, black pepper and ripe fruit. Not sure I have a clear winner and maybe I won’t as I continue the hunt for red October, but I do know I am drinking some outstanding wines in the process!

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The “other” Napa tasting

I’m talking about olive oil when I say the “other” Napa tasting. Well, to be honest it is not just Napa, but it is another popular product from Napa and other parts of California. Olive trees are quite common in California and some of the best olive oils are produced there. Much like wine, olive oil is tasted and rated. The varieties of olive oil available today is huge. Some restaurants even have olive oil menus similar to wine lists. Like wine, olive oil is rated on it’s appearance, aroma, mouthfeel and flavor. Most times a bland or “country” style bread is used for tasting purposes when sampling olive oil. Appearance is the color and clarity. Most olive oils are somewhat cloudy. The color can denote the zone of it’s origin or ripeness of the olives, how long the skins were in contact with the olive. Again refering to how long the skins were in contact with the oil reminds us of the wine making process when it is noted how long the grapes skins were fermented with the juice. Next is Aroma, which olive oils tend to give off scents of artichoke, tomato leaf, green apple, pine nut, basil, sage and even cinnamon or dried chili powder. If the oil smells musty or metallic at all, it is not recommended for consumption, it has become oxidized. Mouthfeel and flavor is a little more complicated and probably only done by true tasters as most folks do not simply take a swig of olive oil. While we may love olive oil, we typically cook with it, blend it for salads, dip it in bread, etc. True olive oil tasters actually take a small sip through a clenched jaw and suck it quickly to the back of the throat. They do not sip oil and allow it to linger as one would with wine tasting. Denser oils are usually from hotter climates, while fluid ones are from the more Northern regions. The olive oil spectrum is huge, there is extra virgin, flavored, mixed with herbs, you name it, you can purchase it.

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Venge Vineyards opens their new location

Venge Vineyards Venge Vineyards returns at their new location in Calistoga! After the original location in St Helena, the historic Rossini Ranch property was sold last May, Kirk Venge owner/winemaker took the opportunity to go it alone with the Venge label. Kirk purchased the 12.6 acre Berlin Ranch in North Calistoga and recently opened his offices there. Kirk is the son of legendary winemaker Nils Venge who now owns Saddleback Cellars located in Oakville. Nils has a long history working for some of the top wineries in the valley. In 1985 while a minority partner in Groth Vineyard Nils received the first 100 point perfect score from wine critic Robert Parker. His 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon earned Nils the title “The King of Cabernet”. Nils left Groth in 1993 to focus his attention on Saddleback Cellars and consult for other wineries. Kirk joined Saddleback in 1999 after returning from working the harvest in New Zealand and was charged with overseeing the resurrection of the Rossini Ranch property and start up of the new Venge Winery. Kirk’s strong foundation, skill and talent as a well regarded winemaker will continue the success of the Venge label. The new location is just minutes from Calistoga on the historic and picturesque Silverado Trail in a region known for its natural beauty and legendary wineries. For more information check out their new web site at www.vengevineyards.com.The new location is not presently conducting tastings, however, they do offer a selection of their wines at Silenus Vintners and for purchase online.

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Napa Harvest 2008 Update

Almost all Napa districts are reporting the 2008 harvest is over. A few are taking advantage of warm dry weather for a little more hang time, and will finish up with steady picking in the next two weeks. Reports across the board are of low crop yields maybe down as much as 40-50%. Lack of early rain in February, March and April, the history making frost and a prolonged heat spell during bloom all contributed to the low yields. Yet those factors also may have a positive effect on the quality of the fruit with small berries and excellent flavor density. Winemakers are optimistic that quality will be very high with some going so far as to say this could be a great vintage. Lee Hudson of Hudson Vineyards summed up harvest 2008 by saying “Harvest is drawing to a close with just odds and ends remaining to be picked; on to 2009, let the New Year begin.”

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October 2008

Wine Spectator magazine reports in their November 2008 issue that Amazon.com is jumping into the wine business. The largest online retailer is launching a new Web site dedicated to wine. Consumers in 25 states will be able to purchase wine on the site by mid autumn, with expansion to other states in the future. A Napa wine executive who has spoken with Amazon stated “I think their intention is to have nearly every wine available on their Web site”. Started in 1994 as an online book seller they moved into many other products including electronics, clothes and movies. Amazon has enormous resources with revenues over 17 billion reported last year. Amazon has tried to recruit scores of Napa Valley estates. Details on wine producers and a range of foreign wines that will be available have not yet been released. For the full article see Wine Spectators November issue or visit winespectator.com.

Authorities in Italy have released thousands of bottles of Brunello Di Montalcino that were seized back in April of this year. Vintner Castello Banfi released a statement today saying there bottles have been released from impound and are back on sale.
Over 600,000 bottles were seized in April after an Italian magistrate alleged that there were too many of them for the wine to be authentic. News reports stated that investigators calculated that the land dedicated to Brunello could not have yielded as many bottles as it did without mixing the wine with another grape variety. Italian authorities had no comment on the investigation.

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Fall cleaning

Fall cleaning seems like an odd title for wine babble, and no, I am not cleaning out my wine cellar.
Although, that could be fun. I am actually talking about my magazine rack and my bookshelves and the stacks of magazines in the corner of the office. The old editions of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Food and Wine. I decided we need to take charge of the magazine situation around this house and start clearing out the number of magazines before they take over all of our living space. That being said, I vowed to pick up a few magazines each day and thumb through to remove any interesting article or recipe I might want, rip out the page, and toss the rest of the magazine. Well, actually I look, rip my pages, then pass it to my husband for his review, then he removes his pages and then we toss. I know you are probably laughing because it sounds as though we are saving stacks of paper now instead of whole magazines, but trust me, it will be organized scraps of paper! Besides the obvious humor in this exercise, I am enjoying looking back at 2004 editions of the magazines. It is interesting to check out the ratings, some of the same names you know are always going to be there, but it is also strange to look back and wonder what ever became of a winery that you no longer see on the shelf. I also find it very interesting that on recent trips to Napa where I thought I discovered wines I had never heard of before, and now looking back in an old magazine I see the name in print… guess I missed it at the time. Call me crazy, but I am enjoying myself. We have a 2004 issue of Wine Spectator, the annual wine country review edition that we have decided to keep and compare with other annual editions to see how they have changed over the years. This is going to take us quite a while so I am sure you will see interesting old artifacts pop up on our site.
Until next time…. cheers!

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Wine of the month for October

Wine of the month for October is reflective of my wine tastes of late. I am all about the blends. Of course, I still love my Cabernets and Zinfindels, but I am really digging the blends lately. Source Napa 2004 Heritage Sites Napa Valley Red Wine is the October wine of the month. The 2004 is the latest release of the Heritage Sites produced by Davies and Gamble. The winery was originally founded in 2000 by Bill Davies (the Davies family owns Schramsberg Vineyards) and Tom Gamble (the Gambles have farmed in Napa Valley since 1916). As you can see between the two family names there is a lot of Napa Valley history behind this label. The Heritage Sites 2004 vintage is a blend of 62% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot with the fruit being from three Napa Heritage properties; Mt Veeder, Pepper Hill (a hillside in Carneros) and the Mayacamas foothills vineyard originally farmed by the Christian Brothers over 100 years ago. With only 400 cases produced this wine is well worth it’s price, retail $38.00. I was able to pick it up on sale a bit cheaper. It offers wonderful aromas of chocolate, cherry, spice and oak. The taste is smooth, lots of deep dark cherry with hints of spice and vanilla. The wine is certainly a keeper for many years to come, but is also very enjoyable now.

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Pennsylvania Region

The web site Appellation American states that “ Pennsylvania has an ideal climate for a mid-Atlantic state to become a major player in the North American wine world .” With mild winters and a long moderate growing season minus the problem causing heat spikes, and enough natural precipitation to nurture vines, a climate similar to that of Germany. Add the rolling hills south eastern Pennsylvania is known for and you have some natural drainage and ideal southern exposure. The state boasts more than 90 wineries, spread across the state, with five being classified as American Viticultural Areas, and a wine trail in about every part of the state. Pennsylvania is the nations eighth largest producer of wine and fourth largest grower of grapes.
There are over fifty grapes grown within the state with close to 14,000 acres planted. The ten most recognized being, Chardonnay, Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vidal Blanc, Riesling, Niagara, Concord, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Gris/Grigio. The Appellation America database identifies 719 wines labeled with the Pennsylvania designation. With a mix of red, white, rose, sparkling, fortified, dessert, and late harvest. Chaddsford Winery located in Chadds Ford PA in the beautiful historic Brandywine Valley owns the distinction of being the largest winery in the state, with Clover Hill Vineyards and Winery located in the Lehigh Valley a close second. Both are family owned as are most of the wineries in the state. Despite uncontrollable factors faced by the vineyards such as a shorter growing season, cold weather, and humidity many wineries have produced nationally recognized and award winning wines. These regional factors can make each vintage unique.
Grape harvest season in Pennsylvania begins about mid August and ends in mid October.
Most wineries offer tasting, tours and special events through out the year.

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The Chadds Ford Trip

Having arrived home from our wine weekend in Chadds Ford Pennsylvania. I wanted to quickly get down my thoughts on a fun and educational trip. We began our trek on Friday afternoon leaving at around 4:00 PM. The weather report for the entire weekend was for rain heavy at times as a tropical type storm was quickly moving up the east coast. Having already decided rain was not about to dampen our weekend, we were off for a fun time. The drive down was a little on the frustrating side, the newly purchased Maggelin GPS unit was set to a selection of least use of freeways. You know, a nice, easy, stress free drive on less traveled roads. Well… that added about an hour and a half extra to the trip, we hit just about every red light in the state of Pennsylvania (at least it seamed that way) and the rain was coming down pretty heavy for the last hour. Although, I do have to remind myself it was rush hour on a Friday.
After a four hour trip we arrived at the bed and breakfast and were quite surprised to find it was located just inside a large new residential development. It was dark, but from what we could see it was a lovely old farm house on a beautiful piece of property, it just seemed to be in a strange location. We later learned from Shirley (the owner of the B and B) that the original owner had sold off all the farm land surrounding the house to a developer and kept the home intact as a bed and breakfast on the large piece of land. After checking in Shirley showed us to our room and reminded us to come for breakfast in the morning. We rushed out for our dinner reservation as we had called once already while stuck in traffic to get a later time. Dinner was at a local spot called the Sovana Bistro, a rather up scale place with very good seasonally inspired and locally sourced food. The restaurant is a BYOB so we were able to bring our own wine with the choice being a 2004 Silver Oak Alexander Valley, however, they also have a wine list and we were disappointed not to see any local wines on the list. After a nice dinner it was back to the B and B, and being quite tired from the drive we retired for the evening.
The next morning we went down for breakfast early and found Shirley busy making us a full breakfast starting with a fruit plate, pumpkin bread and apple tarts. The presentation of the fruit plate looked like it came from a five star restaurant, we were very impressed. We finished up with a mushroom and cheese omelet, toast, juice and coffee. Shirley also provided some great conversation on her life and local history. A nice start to our day and all included in the room price (which I must add was very reasonable). Shirley goes out of her way to make you feel welcome, so if you ever visit Chadds Ford, check out the Foxcreeks Farm Bed and Breakfast.
After breakfast it was off to check out the Brandywine Valley. We started out at Longwood Gardens, with 1,050 landscaped outdoor acres and 20 indoor gardens including a heated conservatory, the main fountain garden, Italian water garden and an open air theatre, the place is a garden lovers dream. Of course time did not allow for us to see everything, so Longwood is on the list for a return visit. It was then off to our first winery visit of the day, Twin Brook Winery off of Strasburg Rd in the town of Gap about a half hour ride from our B and B. Arriving we learned that our visit coincided with a wine trail festival weekend, meaning you could purchase a pass to taste at all five local winery’s, all were having their own special events and needless to say were pretty busy. Prior to becoming a winery the most recent activity at Twin Brook was dairy farming. Four acres of grape vines were planted in 1985, later growing to 30 acres, and in 1989 Twin Brook became a modern winery. Entering the tasting area we were guided to the barrel cellar first, where we tasted a sample of unfermented grape juice and a sample of the same from a tank fermenting for about a week. After a short question and answer session, it was back to the tasting bar upstairs where we sampled a mix of about a dozen red, white, dry and sweet wines. All good, though none really stood out for me. I would have to say the Cabernet Franc was about the best so we bought a bottle to retry at home. Twin Brook is well worth a visit if you are in the area. The winemaker is a great guy, however, I think my personal taste did not allow me to enjoy as many wines as someone who is partial to sweeter wines. Our next stop was Kruetz Creek Vineyards located off Guernsey Road in West Grove, PA. The tasting room is in the basement of the owners home and was quite crowded with a bus load arriving while we were there tasting. Again we tried about a dozen wines and were not extremely fond of any except the Ruby K Port which was pretty good. We did thoroughly enjoy our host, a woman who normally works at the tasting room located about an hour away according to what she told us.
Leaving there we headed back to Kennetts Square to find a place for lunch. We had some time to kill before the reason for our trip, an appointment with wine maker/owner Eric Miller of Chaddsford Winery. Lunch was at Newton’s on State Street, a pub and casual dining restaurant. I think you know the type I am referring to, a bar along with dining room seating. We chose the bar side so we could watch some college football. A quick lunch of sirloin burgers and we were more than satisfied, and off to Chaddsford.
We arrived at winery which sits back off the Baltimore Pike about halfway between Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine River Museum, and met up with Eric Miller. Chaddsford is recognized as the largest and most respected winery in Pennsylvania, and the crowd confirmed that. Recent reviews in prestigious publications such as Food and Wine, Gourmet Magazine, The Robb Report, and New York Times, have helped the winery achieve a national reputation for excellent wines.
We spent just about two hours with Eric who I know is a very busy man. Our visit was both educational and fun as we tasted numerous barrel samples of his wines and toured the lab, barrel room and bottling line. My opinion of Eric is he has a strong passion for making wine, absolutely loves what he is doing and is just as happy to share that passion and knowledge with other wine lovers, not to mention that he is a fun guy. I believe he realizes the responsibility of being the states largest winery and has a clear vision of how the wine he makes will help to shape Pennsylvania’s status as a premier wine region.
Brandywine Valley is a stop you have to make if you love wine and make sure Chaddsford Winery is on your list.

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Wine as a way of life

As I sit here with a glass of Chaddsford Cabernet Sauvignon that we purchased this past weekend while visiting the winery, I am thinking about the statement wine is a way of life. That is a catch phrase that we so often hear, whether it be quoted by someone or printed on a cocktail napkin, I know it is frequently used. “Wine is a way of life”- what a statement. It means something different to all of us, for the winemaker/vineyard owner we spent time with this weekend, it really is his whole life. For me, wine is something I enjoy as part of my life. I also think about the book I am reading, the Far Side of Eden by James Conaway; also author of Napa: the story of an American Eden. The book is subtitled New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for the Napa Valley. I will give you a quick review on the book when I finish reading it, but it is about the greed and social status that wines brings to some. The story is told back in the 80′s when owning a winery was a measure of who you were and people trying to get into the Napa didn’t really know much about wine or the valley, they just knew they wanted to be a part of it. Wine as a way of life meant something completely different to those folks too. Take the folks working for a magazine like Wine Spectator that taste, rate and review wine as a job. A whole new meaning for them too, wine as a way of life, I’ll bet those folks enjoy a glass of wine with dinner after work just as much as I do even though they have already “worked” at it all day. How about the workers in the vineyards that tend to the vines? Again, wine as a way of life means something else to them. They are the roots of the project, if you ask me probably one of the most important. If the vines are not tended to properly, there is no wine for the winemaker to make, or the guy to rate, or even for me to casually drink while I type. So there you have it, wine as a way of life. It is funny how a statement can be viewed from so many angles and so many levels all about the same topic. Right now wine as a way of life for me means signing off and enjoying my glass of Chaddsford with my dinner!