Too Much Wine Too Little Time

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Wente Vineyard 2005 Sandstone Merlot

In these tough economic times we are all facing these days, we know we need to cut back on things, so we have been looking for some everyday good drinking wines to share with you that are very reasonable priced. A Wente Vineyard 2005 Sandstone Merlot was recommended to us by our local wine manager. This Merlot is estate grown in the family’s sustainably farmed vineyard in the Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. Wente also has vineyards in the Livermore Valley. Wente was established 125 years ago and is still a family run winery with the fifth generation now in charge. For those of you that don’t know, Wente also has a world class 18 hole golf course winding through the hills of the vineyard. Several years ago, Wente partnered with professional golfer Greg Norman to create the golf course. Wente also offers accommodations and a restaurant on the grounds. In the wine production end of the business Wente offers a variety of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are estate grown wines, small lot wines, and the Nth Degree limited production small lot wines. As previously mentioned the Sandstone Merlot is an estate grown wine that is a medium bodied, fruity wine with a bit of spice on the finish. A well balanced, easy drinking wine that we were able to purchase under $15 which should keep your budget in check, while enjoying good wine!

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Hang Time

With another California grape growing season beginning will the controversy over “hang time” come up again. Hang time, or extended hang time is a relatively new term referring to the amount of time growers allow the grapes to hang on the vine before they harvest. This issue was big in recent years mainly for two reasons. The first being grape growers felt they were being cheated by the longer hang time. Ed Weber, the Napa County viticulture advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, conducted a study on Cabernet grapes. Weber concluded that for each degree of brix, or sugar over 26 degrees, a Cabernet grower’s tonnage would decline by 5% due to dehydration. Since most growers are paid by the ton for their grapes they are obviously not happy. For those who don’t know, brix is the measurement sugar in the grapes. A common standard around for years was for red grapes to be harvested at 24 degrees brix, so you can understand growers concerns about the trend of pushing grapes to 26 degrees and beyond. The second part of the controversy relates to alcohol in the wine. Winemakers can predict that about 50-60% of the grapes sugar, (which cannot be added in California) will convert to alcohol. So if you do the math on a grape with 24 degrees brix you can see that after fermentation your wine will have about 12.5-13% alcohol. Take it a step further, a grape that comes in with 28 degrees brix can produce as much as 16-17% alcohol, a pretty potent wine. Anyone who knows wine is aware of the ongoing discussion on the good and bad of higher alcohol, a subject for a whole other story. If you watch labels you are aware of a gradual increase in alcohol levels of California wines and recently many European wines too. Some reports say California grapes are being picked at as much as 4 degrees higher brix then those harvested over 30 years ago, raising average alcohol levels from 12.5 to 14.8%. Higher alcohol levels can give the wine more body and a feel of richness. There is a down side to higher alcohol levels in America that hurts profit margins. A wine above 14% alcohol is taxed at a rate 30% higher than those under 14%. There are some high tech methods for reducing alcohol though, a process that is controversial, yet widely used and not a subject winemakers like to discuss. So as a consumer how should we feel about this controversy? I can say that especially in light of our recent economy I agree with the growers in regards to compensation for longer hang time grapes. A standard needs to be agreed on, and one example already in use by some, is paying for grapes by the acre, which just may be the answer. As for the wine and higher alcohol, I am all for it. As a long time lover of big bold California reds, I can assure you longer hang time gets my vote. Good winemakers strive to make a well balanced wine and I think that is the key, as long as alcohol does not hurt the taste, or aroma. So for my part I hope the growers and winemakers, if they have not done so already, work it out and continue to make those fantastic big California reds.

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Mediterranean Pot Roast

Looking for an interesting recipe for company? We just prepared this Mediterranean Pot Roast that was outstanding, a recipe from Betty Crocker. We paired it with Italian style green beans, potatoes, gravy, salad and some biscuits. The best part of this dish is that the pot roast is done in the slow cooker for 5-6 hours so the meat is extremely tender. Also a good portion of your prep is done long before your guests arrive, so you can concentrate on your side dishes and enjoy your company. We used the below recipe but added our twist with a bit of red wine added to the broth. We also saved the drippings from searing the meat and mixed them with some broth, store bought gravy mix (McCormick to be exact), again adding a little red wine to the gravy as well. Lastly we added some sundried tomatoes to the gravy to simmer for a while and removed them just before serving. Give it a try, it was real hit. The dish pairs well with a bold full bodied red, or white wine to compliment the beef and tomatoes.

1 boneless beef roast (preferably a rump roast)
1 tablespoon of Italian Seasoning
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
1/2 cup sliced pitted Kalamata olive
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 cup of frozen pearl onions
1/2 cup red wine

Spray skillet with cooking spray, heat over medium high heat. Lightly salt and pepper beef, cook in skillet about 5 minutes, turning once, or until brown on all sides. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and chopped garlic, remove from skillet. Place beef, seasoned side up, in a 4 to 5 quart slow cooker, spreading tomatoes and olives over roast. Add broth, onions and this is where we added the red wine we had opened for extra flavor. Cook 5-6 hours on low heat until tender.
For the gravy (which is not part of the recipe) we used the skillet drippings from the beef adding red wine to deglaze the pan. Next we added 2 packages of McCormicks brown gravy made following package directions.

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February 2009

The effects of the recession continue to be felt by charity wine auctions. The annual Naples Florida Winter Wine Festival and auction held the weekend of February 6th-8th, sold 65 lots in a live auction for $5.06 million, a 64% decrease from last year when 14 million was the total. Organizers said considering the state of the economy they were still happy with the results.
Money raised at the event goes to the Naples Children and Education Fund which supports local children’s charities. The auction was started nine years ago and has raised $74 million for charities since its inception.
Global Wine auctions were down a reported $25 million in 2008. With the Naples auction an early in the year event, the results suggest potential trouble ahead for the 2009 season.

A Los Angeles Times article reports the smaller grape harvest in the fall of 2008 may help the state’s winemakers. A government report states the amount of fruit harvested was down 6%. The drop in grapes harvested was caused by an early season frost, and sparse rain during the growing season last year that should keep inventories down and reduce pressure on wineries to slash prices. The state’s wine industry is already struggling with slow sales caused by the recession, and won’t have to deal with a glut of grapes from last year’s harvest. Most analysts believe California’s wine industry will experience modest growth at best this year and large inventories during a recession tend to hurt pricing.

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Valentines Day

Well this weekend was Valentines Day on Saturday and while most of the population was craming into restaurants, we ordered pizza. Yes, pizza. I have to say we tried going out on Valentines Day for a few years in a row, but we were actually really turned off by the whole thing. Many restaurants only serve a limited menu. I walked in expecting to order one of my favorite dishes only to find out it is not on tonights “special” menu… what is so special about that? The idea of the “special menu” which I affectionately call the short menu is so the restaurant can maximize the amount of meals they can serve in one night and the chef can keep up. This also results in meals being served faster and tables being turned over more quickly. This type of service also makes me feel rushed as I know they have overbooked and can’t wait to serve the next couple at my table as soon as they can get me out the door. Now, maybe I am being a bit harsh, and I am sure all restaurants are not the same so I am not knocking the industry as a whole, but I really prefer not to be out on Valentines Day with the crowds. So, our Valentines Day dinner out was Thursday evening at our favorite bring your own restaurant where we brought a Pride Cabernet Sauvignon. If you have ever tried any Pride wine, no matter the varietal, you know that all Pride wines are exceptional. Also, let me throw in here that if you ever visit Napa, a picnic lunch at Pride is a must, the view is outstanding. Anyway, back to Valentines. Our Thursday dinner was our night out, Friday we hosted 12 for dinner and on Saturday we cracked another nice bottle of wine, kicked back and ordered pizza. Now that to me is the best Valentines Day, your loved one, a great bottle of wine, pizza, and no crowds.

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Bottle Shock the movie on DVD

For all you wine lovers that missed the movie Bottle Shock when it was out in theaters, it has now been released on DVD. Being a wine lover and Napa Valley dreamer I knew I had to see the movie and seeing it in the theater on an Imax screen was incredible. I remember the opening scenes as you cut across the Napa Valley in a helicopter flying low over the vineyards and trees, I actually lifted my feet as it appeared you were about to clip the top of a tree. I can tell you it felt like I was right there in that helicopter. The views were breathtaking and for just a moment in time, I was back in Napa. Well, as Bottle Shock went to DVD my wife ran out and purchased it. We again watched it and while there was some minor disappointment without the Imax screen, I was once again back in Napa. Bottle Shock is based on the events that led up to the Judgment in Paris. For those who don’t know, the Judgment in Paris held in 1976, was when California wine beat French wine in a blind taste test. For a California wine to win forever changed the fortunes of Napa Valley wineries and moved California wines to a prominent position in the global wine industry. While not an Academy Award winning movie, a great story with a little comedy, some fantastic Napa Valley history and beautiful scenery. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in wine.

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Napa 2009

Napa 2009 is on! The airline and our Inn reservations were made this past week. We were able to reserve our favorite garden patio rooms at the Wine Country Inn. I am excited and ready to start searching out new places to visit. The economy shows no sign of improvement and my personal situation a little worse with my company laying us off every other Friday. I just refuse to let all that put a damper on our trip. Job or not we are going, and will definitely do our share in trying to stimulate the local Napa economy with some serious spending. We decided on a July trip this year and will be leaving on July 3rd and returning on the 10th. We are again planning a day trip out of Napa and after last year’s experience it will not involve the Pacific Ocean. As said I will be researching some new wineries and setting up revisits of old favorites. So stop back and keep up to date as the planning progresses.

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Earthquake 2005 Petite Sirah

Earthquake…Petite Sirah is the February wine of the month. Petite Sirah is not a common varietal that one would purchase, however, I highly recommend trying a bottle. The 2005 Earthquake is a California wine from the Lodi Appellation, produced and bottled by Michael and David Phillips. At first the wine was a bit tight when tasting, but soon opened up beautifully. Deep rich color, with ripe fruit and spice on the nose, and a bold almost peppery finish. Reasonably priced around $20, this is an outstanding value for this wine. For the full line of Earthquake wines including, Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as the other labels in the Michael David family of wines, check out