Monday, February 16, 2015

Hail to the Chief..of Wine

Recently, a wine-loving Facebook friend mentioned that she was auditioning for the game show Jeopardy.  As part of her studies, she planned on spending a lot of time on presidential history, as this evidently shows up often on Jeopardy episodes.  Though there is no Jeopardy audition in my future, I thought I would also study-up on my presidential trivia, pertaining to wine, of course! 

Current president Barrack Obama made headlines his second inauguration, not by choosing an American-made wine, but by choosing two wines from a lesser known wine state—New York.  The Finger Lakes region’s 2010 Tierce Dry Riesling was served at the inaugural luncheon along with a 2009 Bedell Cellars Merlot from Long Island. 
Tierce Dry Riesling--a Finger Lakes Wine.
For a toast over this same meal, another American wine was featured—Korbel’s Russian River Valley Natural Champagne.  Those of you who know that only wines produced in the traditional method from the Champagne region of France gasped at the label of that wine; you joined the French who were chagrined by the move as well.  However, French law has been loosely translated to allow the grandfathering in of certain sparkling wines as long as they are labeled “California Champagne.”

This isn’t the first time Korbel’s sparklings may have caused a controversy for a president and an inauguration.  Korbel wines crossed party lines and were also served for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1985, George Bush in 1989, Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997, George W. Bush in 2001 and 2005, and Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013. 
Korbel Natural "Champagne"
Jimmy Carter, known as being a peanut farmer, was actually a grape grower and wine maker.  He made his own wine for years, selling bottles of his private label wines at benefit auctions to support his Carter Center and its philanthropic work.    

President Gerald Ford, from Michigan, often served Michigan wines, wines that are now having a boom in growth and respect. 

President Richard Nixon loved French wines, especially Bordeaux.  It was said that he would often hide his bottle of wine from this prestigious region of France so guests drinking other wines wouldn’t know Nixon was breaking former President Johnson’s rule (and drinking wine much more expensive than theirs!). 

While he was president in the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson ushered in the golden age of American wine in the 1970s as he made the decree that only American wines should be served in the White House.  Up until this time, French wine and food dominated White House dinners.  After switching to American wine, American fare began to be showcased, as regional dishes were served more often as well.    
Ushering in the golden age of American wines.
President John F. Kennedy and his beautiful wife Jackie were the presidential couple known for bringing wine back to the White House table on a regular basis.  They loved French cuisine and also liked Bordeaux wines, but President Kennedy preferred whites, such as Chateau Haut Brion Blanc. 

History of wine in the White House becomes a little less evident before, during, and after the years of prohibition when groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union made alcohol a political issue and unpopular for a president to imbibe. 

George Washington was said to drink a lot of Madeira.  So much, in fact, that he spent thousands of dollars on the drink over the course of a year.

Of course, no conversation about presidents and wine would be complete without Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson was known for loving French wine, but he also had a great appreciation for Italian wines, like Barolo.  His Monticello estate had a wine cellar and special dumb waiter just to bring wine from the cellar.  He documented attempts to grow wine grapes in Virginia and the United States.  Unfortunately, at the time, none of the vines thrived.  (I think he would be so pleasantly surprised at the booming VA wine industry today.)   His vast collection of expensive and prestigious bottles was also well documented.  Much more mysterious was the fate of many of these bottles hundreds of years later.  (Read The Billionaire’s Vinegar to learn more about whether one of these bottles still existed to be sold at auction—good book.) 

The Billionaire's Vinegar--a great book on President Jefferson's wine history.
Even if you are not headed to your Jeopardy trial, presidential history is important.  To any wine enthusiast, presidential wine trivia can be really interesting.  From Madeira to Michigan, enjoy the wines of the presidents with a glass for yourself today.  Happy President’s Day!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I Love You--Wines I Love

            As Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, I have been thinking about love and all the different types of love there are in the world.  Obviously, this holiday centers on romantic love, or eros, but there are many other types of love to celebrate.  There is agape love, or unconditional love, usually applied to parents’ love for their children.  Another important type of love is philia love, or brotherly love seen in friendships.  I am not sure what category of love my affection for wine would fall under, but as I reminisced about the wines I have truly adored drinking this year, I realized that each one was somehow related to a person for which I care deeply.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Here are the wines I have truly enjoyed this past year and the special people I love who shared the wines with me.

            Vueve Clicquot Brut:  Purchased in a split, this was the bottle my husband and I enjoyed last year on Valentine’s Day.  We were actually staying in a hotel; however, not in a romantic endeavor for the lover’s holiday, but because we were on a two-day road trip for our son’s basketball team.  We tucked away two bottles of wine to enjoy when we were finished watching basketball, and this Clicquot was one of them.  Acidic and yeasty with lots of orange citrus on the palate, we toasted each other, our children, and our love of twenty-five years.
            King Estate Pinot Noir 2006:  After our bubbly toast, we moved on to one of my favorite grapes from one of my favorite regions, a Pinot Noir from Oregon.  I love the paradox of the delicate wine with a robust flavor.  Light bodied but filled with black and red fruits, a hint of eucalyptus mint, and perfect acid, the aromas seemed to last forever, and so did the finish.  We drank a glass of this by itself, but it would be a wonderful food-pairing wine for multiple foods.  Always better in great stemware, my spouse and I routinely carry stemless Riedel glasses on our travels for moments just like this.

            GH Mumm Champagne:  I love sparkling wines for all occasions, true Champagnes included.  However, special occasions scream for a quality Champagne, and this event was one such time:  our daughter’s college graduation.  As very young parents, the culmination of twenty-two years of dreams for our child was very special…for child and parents. I didn’t take any formal tasting notes on this wine; I just watched as the server uncorked the bottle and poured the beautiful bubbles into flutes.  Then I enjoyed every last sip, toasting the graduate, her BFF and fellow graduate, our family, and her friends.  An extraordinary moment, it was commemorated with a lovely glass of bubbles. 

            Le Cigare Volant 2009:  The next special wine relates to our youngest child, a senior in high school.  My hubby and I have spent years following our son’s sports career and have enjoyed every second of it.  In November, this athlete played in his last football game, a tough loss in the state semi-finals.  Though he wasn’t involved in the drinking of the Bonny Doon bottle, his father and I poured ourselves a glass when we returned home from the game.  We sipped together, mourning the loss in our own way, which was really about mourning the passing of time on our parenting.  For a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre) blend, it was robust without being overpowering, fruity without being sweet, and tannic without being bitter.  A balanced wine, we enjoyed it when we sipped before purchasing from the tasting room outside of Santa Cruz and enjoyed it again after this parenting moment. 
            Cartograph Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012:  I’ve already stated that Pinot Noir is my personal favorite grape…especially when made into special wines.  This summer, my family visited Cartograph Winery in Healdsburg, California, including meeting winemakers Alan and Serena.  I joined the wine club after tasting their amazing wines and seeing some grapes were sourced from Mariah Vineyards, spelled just like my only sister’s name.  I opened this bottle to pair with the annual murder mystery dinner a group of friends and I have made our New Year’s tradition.  Strawberry and cherry with earth and a bright chokecherry color, it was the perfect pairing for a slightly spicy jambalaya as main course.  It was an even better pairing with wonderful friends with whom I love to spend time!

            Williams Selyem Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011:  Another winery my family visited this summer, the facility is awe-inspiring, to say the least.  I bought several bottles, some to cellar and some to enjoy on special occasions.  My forty-first birthday seemed like a good enough reason to break out this bottle, sourced from the also prestigious Hirsch Vineyard in northern Sonoma, an absolutely beautiful wine in color, smell, and flavor.  It was another wine I merely enjoyed, instead of formally evaluating, while eating a steak and shrimp supper with my husband and son, basking in the blessings that aging has given me.

            Williams Selyem Heintz Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2010:  I wish I could claim ownership of this William Selyem wine, but I actually stumbled upon this by accident.  A friend of mine was given it from her father-in-law and almost gave it to her child’s teacher as a Christmas gift.  I selfishly told her to save it for herself, me, and a Chardonnay-loving friend.  We opened it to relish a sip on a random day while we enjoyed each other’s company, three girls giggling and laughing over a glass of vino!  Just a hint of butter on both the nose and the palate, this wine was packed with fruit flavor and perfect acid.  Truly, the best California chard I have experienced, made even better by the company shared while sipping it.

            Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling 2013: A fairly simple bottle of dry Riesling, I grew an emotional attachment to this wine region when I visited after the death of my father.  I enjoyed the area and the visit to this important and beautiful Finger Lakes winery.  After making the bottles of wine I brought home and got from a short-term wine club last over a year, I was so surprised to find this wine at a small-town liquor store in Wyoming (read about that lucky break here); I have returned to that store on several occasions to keep a bottle on hand.  I have a great appreciation for the Riesling grape, especially quality, dry Rieslings.  This reasonably priced wine smells of fruit and flowers, with a hint of stone.  On the palate it is a perfect representation of the flavor of a Riesling, just without the sugar that often overpowers these nuances in American examples. 

            Though it is incredibly difficult to categorize my feelings for wine, it was not challenging to choose my favorite wines of the past year.  They were all outstanding wines, but they were all also paired with great people—special people—at significant places during important occasions.  Being with the people I love while drinking these wines made the wines that much more extraordinary, that much more meaningful.  I loved these wines, each in unique and different ways, for both the wines themselves and those sharing with me.  That is love…of children, of spouses, of friends, of memories…of wine. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Coast vs. Coast

The Patriots versus the Seahawks…a Super Bowl match-up that will now live in infamy.  Water cooler talk today, the day after the big game, probably centers on the controversial coaching call in the final minutes of the game or the brawl that broke out not long after this call.  Some who cared less about the game itself might be commenting on the half-time show or the commercials throughout the event.  However, as I sipped on my glass of wine during the festivities, I starting thinking about New England wine versus Washington wine—a Super Bowl of its own, so to speak.  Unfortunately, this match-up is not nearly as close as last night’s 24-28 final. 

            Introducing, from the east coast, the New England wine-making community!  Coming in with a maritime climate, this opponent is at a bit of a disadvantage compared to its western adversary.  Though Massachusetts is actually five degrees further south in latitude (at 42 degrees), it is much colder with harsher winters.  Temps in January and February fall well below freezing, into the twenties and below.  Snow is a major problem here as well, getting, on average, over ten or twelve inches in these same cold months.  Nearer to the coast, the Atlantic keeps conditions somewhat less extreme, but as witnessed last week, Boston weather can be a serious issue.  Further into the state, temps and snow fall can even be more punishing, depending on the year.  This weather makes it more difficult to grow grapes for traditional wine making. 
New England weather--not always the most conducive for grape growing.
            The state falls behind in the number of AVAs (American Viticultural Areas—recognized legal, designated growing areas) as well.  The two areas Massachusetts boasts are Martha’s Vineyard and Southeastern New England (shared with Rhode Island and Connecticut) AVAs.  Martha’s Vineyard sounds as if it would be a fabulous place to grow grapes, but it is actually better known as a summer colony for the wealthy.  Grapes do grow on these islands (which are a little warmer due to the surrounding ocean), but the AVA caused controversy when it was established in 1985 because California is also home to a Martha’s Vineyard.  Southeastern New England AVA has been a growing area since 1984; both AVAs grow Vinifera and French Hybrid grapes—hybrid grapes grow well in the colder climate.
Martha's Vineyard does have some real vineyards!
             Not only does Massachusetts have fewer AVAs, the overall number of wineries is much smaller here than in Washington State.  In total, just over forty wineries call Massachusetts home.  Their locations range from Truro Vineyards on Cape Cod on the ocean to Balderdash Cellars near the western border of the state.  Many of these wineries make wines from fruit other than grapes, such as apples, blueberries, cranberries, and blackberries.  Grapes used here range from hybrids like Seyval Blanc to Vinefera like Chardonnay and Merlot.  Some wineries that make wine also source grapes from other areas of the country. 
Truro Vineyard, a winery on Cape Cod.
           Though the state is limited in the sheer number of wineries, the still-growing wine region has quality producers.  Westport Rivers on the south coast makes award winning sparkling wines, both in traditional brut styles and Prosecco styles.  Turtle Creek makes impressive selections from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while Still River makes a very unique Massachusetts apple ice wine.  In addition to wines, cheese is a hot commodity in Massachusetts.  Wine and cheese trails have sprouted up in all corners of the state, so when stopping at Truro on the Cape, cheese could also be purchased at Grey Barn and Farm.  When at Balderdash, make sure to get some classic blue cheese at Berkshire Blue, also on the western border of the state.
Pair some Massachusetts wine with Massachusetts cheese!
 Make way for competitor number two—Washington State!  Second in introductions today, but more impressively, the state is second in overall wine production out of all U.S. states, just behind California.  This total volume is proof of a climate that lends itself to grape growing.  Sitting just off the warm Pacific Ocean, even though Washington is a quite northerly state—and more north than Massachusetts—the ocean currents keep the weather stable throughout the year.  December and January can get cooler, but highs will still be in the 40s and back in the 50s by February.  Lows at nights may reach the teens, but the majority of months finds the state in the 60s and 70s.  Extremes are few, and this includes snowfall.  Outside of the mountains, snow is a rarity, especially close to the coast. Though Seattle is much more known for its rainy days and gloomy weather, Mother Nature definitely gifted the rest of the state (on the other side of the Cascade Mountains) with the climate jackpot as far as wine is concerned.   
Beautiful Washington vineyards.

Washington boasts thirteen AVAS throughout the state:  Puget Sound, Columbia Gorge, Horse Heaven Hills, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Snipes Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Lake Chelan, Ancient Lakes, and Naches Heights.  Puget Sound is the AVA closest to Seattle, but it only produces a small amount of wine.  The rest of the state definitely makes up for this!  Overall, more than 750 wineries make wine from over 43,000 acres of vineyards in the state.  Though some hybrids are grown here, most of the vines are from Vinifera species; Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Gew├╝rztraminer, Gruner Veltiner, and Sauvignon Blanc are just the short list. 
Washington's thirteen AVAs.
 Some of these wineries are large and very well-known with wine sold all over the country.  Located near the wine town of Woodinville, Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of these types of wineries.  It has vineyard acres all over the state and produces over two million cases of wine annually.  Best known for its Rieslings (like many wineries in Washington) and its beautiful chateau-style tasting room, this is by far the most famous Washington winery.  Additional producers known to many are Columbia Crest, Hogue Cellars, Pacific Rim, and Milbrandt Vineyards.  
Chateau Ste. Michelle Rieslings...delicious examples of a Washington wines.
 Other excellent wineries also make wine, only on a slightly smaller scale when compared to Chateau Ste. Michelle.  One of my favorites is Gramercy Cellars.  Started by sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife Pam, Gramercy makes wines that sommeliers, servers, chefs, and fans love.  My Facebook connection—and Washington wine “expert”—Duane Pemberton gave me a list of his highly-respected wines.  Urban winery Bartholomew in Seattle sources from multiple areas around the state, including Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  Pemberton also recommends Efeste in Woodinville and Pepper Ridge in Walla Walla.  These were definitely not the least of his favorites; Bryan Carter, Mark Ryan, Corvus Cellars, Fidelitas Wines, and Long Shadow also made his list. 

Gramercy Cellars--one of my favorite Washington producers.

Today the Patriots are basking in the glory of their spectacular and dramatic win over the Seahawks. Most people are probably discussing the coaching decision that changed the tide of the game or the fight that occurred just after this big play.  Maybe others are discussing Katie Perry’s halftime show wardrobe.  On the other hand, I am trying to figure out how to get some Washington wine in my glass tonight! Though it may not console Seattle fans, in the coast versus coast battle of wine, Washington State wins, hands down.  No offense meant to New England and Massachusetts, but in the world of wine, it just can’t stand up to Seattle’s home state.