New World vs Old World with Mary Burnham – October 14

October 17th, 2014

As the line between new world and old world wines continues to blur, we found ourselves stumped this evening as we blind-tasted through 6 comparisons of typical varietals made by old world and new world producers. With each pair, the class was literally split every time on which was which. As Mary explained, when we talk about old world, we mean Europe, while new world encompasses everywhere else. Old world wines are generally more earthy and savory, with marked acidity and minerality and less alcohol. New world wines are typically more fruit-forward, less acidic, and higher in alcohol. Did these generalizations hold up in this group?

In the first pair, wine #1 was fruity and dry, with grassy notes, citrus peel, and marked acidity. Many guessed it was a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – but it was a white Bordeaux. Wine #2 was creamier, with sweet vanilla oak, lemon merengue, and peach; more complex, silky but still crisp. Were we in Pouilly-Fumé, France? Actually, Washington State. I didn’t even know anyone was making Sauvignon Blanc in Washington – this was actually majority Semillon (61%) with 20% Sauvignon Blanc – but I expect I will be re-visiting this producer, Buty.

In the next pair, many immediately thought #3 was a German Riesling due to its pungent petrol character. I got beyond that and began to think we were in Australia, since theirs take on that character as well but tend to be very lime-y and dry, which was how I would characterize this wine.  Wine #4 was more floral and peachy, like many Rieslings I’ve had from Finger Lakes producer Hermann J. Wiemer that highly mimic a German Mosel style when young.  The big reveal – #3 was from Oregon and #4 was Austrian!

The next two sets were a bit more obvious to me – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. New World chardonnay tends to have more pronounced oak, and I almost always prefer a more refined French style. With Pinot Noir, new world versions tend to be very fruity, whereas French versions are more funky and earthy, which I also prefer. Both sets were more typical expressions of new world and old world, though not obvious to everyone.

The second set of reds was a fun one – meaty, savory and spicy with firm tannin against brambly, sweet spice and soft tannin. We had ourselves a Crozes-Hermitage Syrah against a Barossa Valley Shiraz. We learned that the Barossa Valley does not cool off at night, so the grape skins don’t thicken, contributing to softer tannins in the wine. This was a great pair that solidified my favorite for the night in the Crozes-Hermitage, since I love this style and producer and the price cannot be beat, especially for a wine that will continue to improve with cellar time.

The last set was another tough one, mostly because both these wines were very tight and could use some more aging and air. The first had a eucalyptus nose with black fruit and violets on the nose. The second was a bit more closed on the nose but we could discern some vanilla. With a few bites of cheese, things started to become clearer – these were Cabernet-dominated wines, Bordeaux from Graves against Napa Valley’s Opus One.

A wonderful selection of wines with some curveballs…

  1. Chateau Lamothe de Haux White Bordeaux 2011 ($15)
  2. Buty Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc-Muscadelle 2010 – Columbia Valley, WA ($25)
  3. Chehalem Willamette Valley Dry Riesling Reserve 2007 – Oregon ($20)
  4. Hogl Wachau Riesling Smaragd Bruck 2007 – Wachau, Austria ($30)
  5. Domaines Leflaive Macon Verze 2012 – Burgundy, France ($39)
  6. Wente Riva Ranch Estate Chardonnay 2012 – Arroyo Seco, Monterey, CA ($18)
  7. Flowers Van der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000 – Sonoma Mountain ($60)
  8. Domaine Trappet Chambertin Grand Cru 2000 – Cote de Nuits, Burgundy, France ($200)
  9. Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage 2012 – Northern Rhone Valley, France ($30)
  10. Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2011 – Barossa Valley, Southern Australia ($28)
  11. Chateau Smith-Haut Lafite 2006 – Graves, Left Bank, Bordeaux, France ($90)
  12. Opus One 2006 – Napa Valley, CA ($290)

-Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

Madeira Master Class – October 10

October 13th, 2014

We were thrilled to host this Madeira Master Class at SFWC, led by professionals from The Madeira Wine Institute – the governing body of winemaking on the island of Madeira, Portugal. Madeira is a fortified wine known for its longevity – but did you know the best Madeira can last 300 years? Rui Falcao, our instructor, told us about the oldest Madeira he’s tried, which was from 1715. It was not only good, but very good – nowhere near tired or gone. How does this tiny, mountainous island whose subtropical climate is always 70 degrees produce one of the world’s most indestructible wines? Acidity! Like Champagne, Madeira’s wine grapes produce extremely acidic wines that are undrinkable in their normal, vinified state. But this acidity provides the backbone of a wine balanced by natural sugar levels and the addition of neutral spirit to raise the alcohol from about 9% to 18%. With the right amount of aging, a beautiful, complex wine emerges.

Madeira is always a single varietal wine. The 5 main permitted varietals vary in natural sweetness, so their wines will usually follow suit. Sercial is a always a dry wine; Verdelho – medium dry; Boal/Bual – medium sweet; Malvasia/Malmsey – sweet/rich; Tinta Negra is the only red varietal, vinified as a white, and it can be any level of sweetness. Though it accounts for 82% of Madeira production, it used to not be talked about, but as recently as the day of this class it had been recognized as a Noble grape varietal and will be included on the label going forward.

Madeira has a total of just 900 acres of vines. Vineyards are managed separately from the wineries, and there are only 8 Madeira wineries in existence. One of these opened 3 years ago and it was the first new winery in 60 years. Clearly, Madeira winemaking is a very old tradition. (Fun fact: the fathers of the U.S. Constitution toasted its signing with Madeira!) The Madeira Wine Institute does all of the analytics on each wine and tastes them before bottling to make sure the wine matches its proposed labeling criteria. After a blind tasting, an approval allows the winery to bottle and sell the wine. Madeira wines are either a blended style (meaning a blend of different years, not grapes); a Colheita single harvest – also known as a “baby vintage” that must be aged for a minimum of 5 years to be labeled as such; or a Frasqueira/Vintage – which must be aged for a minimum of 20 years to be labeled with that vintage.

The tasting included a wonderful sampling across these grape varietals and aging categories. We learned that Madeira should be served cold, and one shouldn’t try to follow it with any other wine – the finish is long and lingering.  Despite the “sweet” character of many Madeiras, the bracing acidity actually balances that sweetness, making it a friendly wine on its own or with food.

Typical Madeira aromas include toasted almond, caramel, molasses and raisin. My favorite was the Colheita 1996, with its honey and orange blossom character; the finish went on forever. The Malvasia 1989 was also a treat, with burnt orange peel and caramel.

Wine List:

  1. H&H Sercial 10 Años
  2. The Rare Wine Co. Savannah Verdelho
  3. Broadbent Malvasia 10 Años
  4. Blandy’s Colheita 1996
  5. D’Oliveiras 1989 Malvasia

Thank you to Rui and the Madeira Wine Institute for choosing SFWC to host this informative and delicious tasting!

-Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

The Three Big B’s of Italy with Mauro Cirilli – September 30

October 8th, 2014

Last week in wine school we were educated about the subtle but significant differences between the 3 Big B’s of Italy: Barolo, Brunello & Barbaresco.  Mauro Cirilli, Italy’s top Sommelier, returned to SFWC for another round of his Italian wine series.  These 3 wines (named for their regions) are known for their longevity, structure, acidity and food friendliness.

Barolo and Barbaresco wines are both made 100% with the Nebbiolo grape. These northern Italian regions of Piedmont have a cooler climate, and the food of the region tends to be rich, so Nebbiolo pairs well with the cuisine. Minimum aging requirements for Barbaresco include 26 months in oak for regular wines and 50 months for Riserva wines. In Barolo, minimum aging for regular wines if 38 months and 62 months for Riserva. These two regions are a bit like Burgundy in that all wines are single vineyard designated. Despite their proximity, these two regions vary in climate and style due to Barbaresco’s closeness to the Tanaro River, which provides a maritime influence that helps Nebbiolo ripen a bit earlier than in Barolo. This results in earlier fermentation and less maceration, so the tannins in a young Barbaresco are not as tough as in Barolo, hence the reduced aging requirement.  Barbaresco is more approachable than Barolo earlier, but it won’t age as long. Barolo is one of the greatest wines of Italy, with its trademark calcareous soils and vineyard slopes contributing to the complex aromas of tar and roses and extremely long cellar life.

Brunello – short for Brunello di Montalcino – is in the region of Tuscany, known for olive oil and lighter foods, and the 100% Sangiovese wines complement this cuisine perfectly. Montalcino has one of the warmest and driest climates in Tuscany, and this particular clone of Sangiovese is unique to the region – it ripens more fully and consistently here than anywhere else in Tuscany, contributing to the body, color, extract and tannins commonly associated with Brunello di Montalcino. Sangio in Italian means blood, but in contrast to the Sangiovese in Chianti, Brunello is described as “fleshier.” Minimum aging for these wines is 48 months or 60 for Riserva.

Traditional wineries use large oak vats while modern wineries may used smaller French barriques. All 3 of these wines are lightly pigmented and tend to have a garnet color, with high tannin, high acidity, and medium to full body.

We tasted Barbaresco first, enjoying the licorice, spice, dried fruit flavors. My favorite was the 1990 Ceretto, from Bricco Asili. It took a while to open up but once it did I loved the roses and that smooth finish.

Barbaresco:

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco, Riserva, Montestefano (in Barbaresco)

2007 Gaja (in Barbaresco)

1999 Scarpa, Tettineive (in Neive)

1990 Ceretto, Bricco Asili (in Barbaresco)

Next, the Barolos. Meaty, savory, rich with sweet spices, violets and roses, rhubarb, licorice and fennel. The 2001 even had an interesting combination of mint crème and butter toffee along with tar and dried flowers. It was tough to pick a favorite in this group but all of them could definitely age much longer.

Barolo:

2010 Andrea Oberto, Rocche (in La Morra)

2006 Boroli, Villero (in Castiglione Falletto)

2001 Giuseppe Mascarello, Monprivato (in Castiglione Falletto)

The Brunellos were more approachable, with juicy ripe fruit and savory herbs and earth.  My favorite was the 2004 Casanova di Neri, which also showed dark violet, prune and sweet licorice in beautiful balance.

Brunello di Montalcino:

2006 Gianni Brunelli

2006 Gaja, Pieve di Santa Restituta

2004 Casanova di Neri, Cerretalto

All of these wines had amazing acidity and structure and could age even longer. They would be fabulous with a meal but we did fine with a delicious assortment of Italian cheeses.

Next up with Mauro: Indigenous varieties of Italy on Nov 4. I can’t wait for this class – join us!

-Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

Fall Wine School Kick-off: Tasting & Describing Wine with Mary Burnham – September 23

September 29th, 2014

We launched our Fall Wine School with the first class in our Intro Series: Tasting & Describing Wine. Mary Burnham is a freelance writer and author of Food and Wine Magazine’s Wine Guide.

Our Tasting & Describing Wine class focuses on blind tasting and interpreting our senses. We observe the smells, sensations, and flavors of the wine and draw conclusions as to grape varietal and place of origin. For beginners, it is a really helpful class in learning how to recognize certain characteristics and match them with a particular wine. Mary did a superb job of taking us through the components of the wine, from flavors to acidity to body to tannin, and helping the students determine the wine in each glass.

We enjoyed an interesting progression of white wines from zesty Champagne and Sauvignon Blanc to creamy Chardonnay and slightly-sweet Riesling. For reds we went from Pinot to Syrah with some typical favorites in between, ending with a 1992 Napa Cab. Thanks again to Mary for a great class and to the students who attended – we hope to see you again this fall! Let us know what you thought.

Wine List

1. Champagne Collet Brut Grand Art NV – Champagne, France

2. Maimai Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

3. Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Valmur Grand Cru 2010 – (Chardonnay) Chablis, FR

4. Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay 2008 – Napa Valley, CA

5. Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2011 – Mosel Valley, GER

6. JK Carriere Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2002 – Willamette Valley, OR

7. Felsina Chianti Classico Berardenga 2008 – (Sangiovese) Tuscany, Italy

8. Scherrer Vineyards Alexander Valley Zinfandel 2005 – Sonoma County, CA

9. Domaine George Vernay Cote Rotie La Blonde du Seigneur 2010 – Northern Rhone, FR

10. BV George de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 – Napa Valley, CA

- Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

School is in Session!

September 18th, 2014

Please join us for our upcoming classes here at The Wine School @ San Francisco Wine Center. The first four classes are posted, including our two Intro Series classes with Mary Burnham and two Italian focus classes with Mauro Cirilli.

Click on on the Classes portion of the website or go here to see the schedule and sign up: http://www.sfwinecenter.com/classes.php

We’ll be posting additional classes soon for dates in October, November and December covering Burgundy, Champagne and more so check back frequently to the ‘Classes’ calendar on our site.

See you in school!

  • Share/Bookmark

Wines of the Anderson Valley and Mendocino County

June 30th, 2014

After a successful “Pinot Days Night” tasting at the San Francisco Wine Center on June 17 and the actual Pinot Days event at the Metreon on June 21, we continued the Pinot Noir theme at SFWC with wines from Mendocino County, including the Anderson Valley. Representatives from Waits-Mast and Alder Springs poured their wines for a group of wine collectors, and we threw in some Copain Wines from Anderson Valley as a bonus.

Alder Springs is located in northern Mendocino County, 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, on an old ranch property. The hilly landscape reaches 4,000 feet and boasts bright sun, cool nights and low-vigor soils. 140 acres of grapes are planted at elevations ranging from 1,700 to 2,700 feet. Alder Springs makes Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Rhone varietals with a focus on clonal selection, state of the art rootstock and superior trellising. The property is beautiful, and Marsella poured their full range of wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Counois called ‘Kinesis’ – this was my favorite for its meaty, spicy character that kept changing in the glass.

Waits-Mast Family Cellars is a husband and wife team from San Francisco who make their wine in the city, sourcing their fruit from vineyards in Mendocino County, Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley and Sta. Rita Hills. Focusing only on Pinot Noir, these wines are beautifully spicy and complex, with balance and grace. My favorite was their 2012 Deer Meadows Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, which smelled like a cinnamon bun and continued on the palate with exotic spice and fruit.

Copain Wines, located in Healdsburg, Russian River Valley, sources fruit from there as well as Anderson Valley and Mendocino County for their Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay. We poured their “Tous Ensemble” Anderson Valley Chardonnay alongside 3 Pinot Noirs from Anderson Valley. “Les Voisons,” or “the neighbors,” is a Pinot Noir blended from a cluster of neighboring Pinot Noir vineyards in the Deep End of Anderson Valley. This was the crowd favorite, with its smooth spice and fruit.

Funny enough, Waits-Mast and Copain both had a Wentzel Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, so the comparison was interesting: Waits-Mast was more fruit forward leading to spice, while Copain had a clove spice nose that was integrated with the fruit throughout.

Thanks to Marsella, Jennifer and Brian for sharing your wines on this pleasant evening!

Wine List:

Alder Springs

  1. 2009 Chardonnay
  2. 2010 Chardonnay
  3. 2012 Pinot Noir
  4. 2012 Kinesis
  5. 2009 Syrah
  6. 2012 Syrah

Copain

  1. 2012 Chardonnay “Tous Ensemble” Anderson Valley
  2. 2010 Pinot Noir Kiser “En-Haut” Anderson Valley
  3. 2011 Pinot Noir “Les Voisins” Anderson Valley
  4. 2011 Pinot Noir Wentzel Anderson Valley

Waits-Mast

  1. 2012 Pinot Noir, Deer Meadows Vineyard, Anderson Valley
  2. 2011 Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley
  3. 2010 Pinot Noir, Londer Vineyard, Anderson Valley

-Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

Pinot Days

June 22nd, 2014

This year SF Wine Center partnered with Pinot Days and hosted a booth at the event on Saturday, June 21. It was a great opportunity to mingle with fellow wine lovers and collectors, sharing the merits of wine storage. American Pinot Noir dominated the event with a couple Kiwi representations, but SFWC was the only table pouring Burgundy:

If you were lucky enough to taste this elegant, silky wine with subtle fruit and good acidity, then we hope to see you again soon at SFWC!

-Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

GLG Wine Labs at SF Wine Center

June 20th, 2014

What happens when a bunch of scientists get together for some wine education? Last week San Francisco Wine Center found out as we hosted “GLG Wine Labs,” a private wine tasting event for Gerson Lehrman Group, which is a membership network for one-on-one professional learning comprised of thought leaders and practitioners. In attendance were 15 senior life science executives plus SFWC instructor Jordan Mackay. The tasting featured four old and new world wine comparisons, with the goal being to educate the group on the differences between the wines and the factors that cause those differences, including climate, elevation, soil, grape varietal, barrel selection and aging.

The first comparison involved Rose – one from Loire, France and the other from Sonoma, California. The French rose was a lighter, more salmon color, with good minerality and acidity and lower alcohol. The American rose was more fruit forward and oaky, with higher alcohol and a more pronounced pink color. Jordan explained the three main methods used for making rose wine – one being to pick the grapes early when their acidity is high to create a light, crisp pink wine, another being to bleed off some juice from fermenting red wine to further concentrate that wine and create a rose wine as a byproduct, and the third being to mix red and white wine (this is not done often). In the old world producers tend to make rose by the first method, whereas in the new world rose wine is often made by the second.

The second comparison – Riesling – introduced another aspect of wine: bottle variation. On the Oregon Riesling, the first bottle was corked, so we got a lot of sneaker funk and wet cardboard. On the fresh bottle we got more typical new world Riesling aromas of rubber and lime. The German Riesling was markedly different, with a deep golden color and an oxidized/developed nose of caramel, raisin, honey and apricot. The second bottle was fresher, with peach, celery, toasted corn and honey developing on the palate.

The third comparison was a beautiful exercise in well-made Pinot Noir – one from Burgundy and one from the Anderson Valley in Northern California. The Burgundy had a perfumed nose with delicate red fruit, warm spice and nice acidity. The Anderson Pinot had an herbaceous nose with ripe fruit and oak spice.

Finally, the fourth set – Syrah – showed a nice contrast between Rhone and California, with the former being a very typical representation of the grape with black pepper and gamey meat qualities, while the California was more fruit forward.

Overall, the event played well to this scientific crowd who was able to let their inner wine geek shine. Cheers, GLG!

Wine List*:

  1. Domaine Laporte le Bouquet Loire Valley Rose de Pinot Noir 2012 (France)
  2. Reuling Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Rose 2012 (California)
  3. Max Ferdinand Richter Graacher Domprost Mosel Valley Riesling Kabinett 2004 (Germany)
  4. J Christopher Willamette Valley Riesling 2004 (Oregon)
  5. Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret Savigny-les-Beaune Les Narbantons 1er Cru 2011 (Burgundy, France)
  6. Copain “Les Voisins” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2011 (California)
  7. Saint Cosme Saint Joseph 2010 (Northern Rhone Valley, France)
  8. Alban Vineyards “Patrina” Central Coast Estate Syrah 2010 (California)

*These wines are available for purchase through SFWC – contact us if interested!

- Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

Sharing Pinot with the Corkdork

June 5th, 2014

This week, storage member John (aka The Corkdork) shared a bottle of Pinot Noir with us in The City Room at SFWC. It was produced by winemaker Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr, a sommelier who oversees the wine program of the Michael Mina restaurant group and is involved in various wine making projects. Raj is also a wine educator and writer of the book Secrets of the Sommeliers, co-authored with Jordan Mackay, a frequent SFWC educator.  As the label shows, the  fruit for this wine came from the warm Sta. Rita Hills Appellation of Santa Barbara county, which is not only the location of the movie Sideways but a region some believe to be the best place in the New World to grow Pinot Noir, due to its cool Pacific marine layer. While enjoying this easy-sipping Pinot on a pleasant afternoon, we noticed blackberry jam and delicate spice on the palate. Thanks, John and Rajat!

- Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

Wine and Watches

June 1st, 2014

Last month the San Francisco Wine Center sponsored a tasting at Ben Shemano Jewelry, a beautiful second-floor showroom in Union Square that specializes in antique and custom jewelry. For collectors of the finer things in life, the focus of the evening was on fine wristwatches from designers including Rolex, Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piguet. For the group of about 30 people we poured an array of wines from around the world and shared stories about winemaking and travel. We even learned that the late owner of Pride Mountain Vineyards in Napa Valley was a former dentist. Wonder what toothpaste he’d recommend for wine stains? He actually wasn’t a practicing dentist but a consultant who advised other dentists on how to optimize their office layouts.

From the white wine drinkers we found many Sancerre lovers and even converted some to Riesling fans. It was a warm evening in San Francisco and many opted for the cold ones. We encountered those who thought Riesling was always sweet, so we educated them on the various styles of Riesling and the labeling term used to denote ‘dry’ in German, which is ‘trocken.’

Red wine fans enjoyed classic west coast examples of Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel, plus a Chilean blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. A couple of magnums dared to impress bold palates and showed how the right amount of air can make a wine open up.

Inevitably, with an even number of wines it’s easy to find yourself comparing. 2 whites, 2 reds, 2 magnums. The Sancerre had a flowery nose and a rich palate. The Riesling had the distinct petrol nose that developed into stone fruit, followed by beautiful citrus and orange blossom on the palate. The Oregon Pinot Noir was earthy and leathery, while the Napa Petite Sirah had a flowery but smoky nose with spice, lead pencil and roses on the palate. The two magnums couldn’t be more different; the Brown Zinfandel was immediately rich, fruity and lush, while the Chilean blend was super tight, smoky and herbal at first, eventually opening up to reveal warm spice, red fruit, and an herbal forest. I found this one to be the most interesting, particularly as it evolved over the course of the evening.

Wine List

1. Gitton Sancerre 2012 – France
2. Peter Jakob Kuhn Riesling Trocken 2010 – Germany
3. Provocateur Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2003 – Oregon
4. Pride Petite Sirah Napa Valley 2003 – California
5. Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley 2006 – California (Magnum)
6. Primus The Blend Colchagua Valley 2008 – Chile (Magnum)

Bites from The City Kitchen complimented the wines and provided a wonderful appetizer to later dinner plans. For some, the jewelry was dessert.

- Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark