Wine Flavor Profile Affected by a Number of Factors

August 19th, 2014

One of the fun things about wine tasting is comparing and contrasting the flavor profile and characteristics of the same type of wine made by a different winery.

If you’re relatively new to wines and haven’t tried this, your first reaction might be, doesn’t one merlot pretty much taste like any other merlot?

To that I would say, you are mistaken, grasshopper.

There are a multitude of factors that can affect how a wine tastes, and today, I’ll give you what many consider to be among three of the most important.

First, vintage. Like any other agricultural crop, wine grapes can fall victim to poor weather conditions. As you might suspect, wetter and cooler than normal growing seasons don’t allow the grapes to fully ripen and develop their signature flavors. The resulting wines can be higher in acidity, lower in alcohol and lacking in character.

nullSecond, geographic region. The climate, soil conditions, and even the specific vineyard in which the grapes are grown can have a profound impact on the wines they produce. For starters, know that grapes grown in cooler climates generally result in wines with brighter, leaner flavors while those in warmer climates yield more full-bodied wines.

Third, winemaker style. A winemaker has a host of options to exercise that can help him or her arrive at the wine they’re trying to achieve. For example, the use or non-use of oak during the aging process, as well as the length of aging time, can affect the wine’s flavor, color, and aroma.

nullSide-by-side tastings can help you discern the differences that these and other factors have on a wine. Have fun with this by organizing a group tasting or simply make notes on your own for comparison purposes.

Here are my tasting notes on a chardonnay and a pinot noir produced by two different wineries. The first, Stoller Family Estate in Dayton, Oregon, was Wine Press Northwest Magazine’s 2014 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. The second, J Vineyards & Winery, is located in Sonoma County, California.

The Stoller 2012 Reserve Chardonnay (about $35) is the leaner of the two, with aromas and flavors of green pear, Fuji apple and citrus throughout and a finish suggesting lemon chiffon. The J Vineyards 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (about $28) is bigger and rounder, with baked apple flavors accentuated by a touch of orange zest and toasted vanilla.

The Stoller 2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (about $25) is a sensual delight, with floral aromatics, red berry and cherry flavors, and an almost sultry, inky finish with hints of baking spice. The J Vineyards 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (about $37) displays gentle raspberry and strawberry fruits with an underlying note of lavender. It’s delicate, beautifully balanced, and a pleasure to taste.

California, Oregon Great Sources for Pinot Noir

March 25th, 2014

Finding pinot noir from Washington isn’t always easy. Finding a good pinot noir from the state can be even more difficult.

Close-to-home wineries Challenger Ridge and Mount Baker Vineyards come to mind as producers of this finicky grape, as well as a few wineries in Eastern Washington within the Lake Chelan Appellation and from Gingko Forest Winery in Mattawa.

But if you want an established domestic source for pinot noir, California and Oregon are unquestionably your best bets.

California’s Carneros, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast regions provide the perfectly cooler climate in which pinot noir flourishes; and in Oregon, the Willamette Valley has become world-renown as the quintessential producer of pinot noir in the United States.

nullOne sticking point I often have with this wine is its price. Although what you pay is purely discretionary, be forewarned that some pinots may cost you a small bundle. For most of us, this isn’t a problem as long as the wine delivers. The rule of thumb, simply stated: pay more, expect more.

Here are some suggestions of pinot noir from California and Oregon for you to consider:

Simi Winery Sonoma County 2011 Pinot Noir (about $24) – Pie cherry, raspberry and pomegranate flavors predominate, with slightly herbaceous undertones and a whisper of smokiness on the finish. Roast chicken or salmon come to find as first-rate food pairings.

Robert Mondovi Napa Valley 2012 Pinot Noir (about $26) – This is the style of pinot noir I prefer, with slightly darker berry fruits on the palate and a bit of a softer finish. Even those it’s more fruit forward, the wine’s underlying earthiness and minerality gently remind you that this is undeniably pinot noir.

J Vineyards Misterra 2012 Pinot Noir (about $50) – This Russian River Valley gem is even darker still, with a scant amount of pinotage and the red Champagne grape, pinot meunier, blended in for added complexity. Blueberry, dried black cherry and notes of roasted coffee shine through to a bright finish with nuances of toasted oak.

Hyland Estates 2010 Estate Pinot Noir (about $35) – Sourced from the McMinnville Appellation (a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA), this lovely pinot opens with floral aromas, luscious cherry and strawberry flavors and expressive acidity. The finish comes across as borderline velvety with spicy accents. Outstanding!

Hyland Estates 2011 Cloury Clone Pinot Noir (about $60) – From the same region’s more challenging 2011 vintage, this pinot offers leaner layers of cranberry, raspberry and red currant flavors with trailing notes of sweet cedar and toast. Serving suggestions include roast duck, pheasant or perhaps pork tenderloin in a sour cherry reduction sauce.

California Well Represented at Vancouver International Wine Festival

March 18th, 2014

Even though last month’s Vancouver, BC International Wine Festival had a decidedly European flavor, I found myself spending plenty of time around the California wine section.

One thing that’s always appealed to me about California is the broad range of varietals and styles this top-producing US wine area has to offer.

From its cooler coastal regions known for leaner, brighter wines to its warmer central valleys famous for big, expressive reds, California has you covered at virtually every point on the wine spectrum.

nullPersonal favorites at the Festival included the Hope Family’s 2011 Treana White Wine (about $23), a nutty, butterscotch-like 50/50 blend of marsanne and viognier; and the overachieving Truett-Hurst 2011 Colby Red (about $14), a delicious combination of cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, syrah, merlot and petit syrah.

Everything from Michael David Winery (producer of Seven Deadly Zins) was an over-the-top guilty pleasure I couldn’t ignore. The 2011 Petit Petit (about $18) was a standout, with mouthwatering blackberry and currant flavors and a vibrant, slightly edgy finish to balance out the fruit.

Back at home, I’ve also enjoyed a number of new releases from California. Here are my tasting notes:

William Hill Estate Winery North Coast Chardonnay and North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon (about $17 each) – The chardonnay is a lovely choice, with luscious Bartlett pear flavors to lead off and brighter citrus notes near the finish with accents of vanilla and toffee. In between, there’s a pleasant layer of meaty chestnut that lends a bit of texture to the mid-palate.

The cabernet could use a bit more cellaring time, but aeration opens up the wine’s dark fruits of berry and plum for current enjoyment. There’s also a dusting of cocoa powder and a whisper of mocha on the finish.

Simi Winery 2012 Chardonnay (about $18) – This is a lighter style chardonnay with touches of apple, pear and white peach. Oaky undertones linger on the finish as a complement to the fruit without overpowering it. The wine should pair beautifully with roasted chicken and root vegetables.

Seghesio Family Vineyards 2012 Sonoma Zinfandel (about $24) and 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel (about $38) – One can’t talk about California zinfandel without mentioning this pioneering winery. Both wines offer understated, food-friendly interpretations of the grape that are a nice break from heavier-handed alternatives.

The Sonoma Zinfandel offers bright red fruits of raspberry and boysenberry, with a dash of dried herbs, pepper and sage; while the Old Vine displays aromas and flavors of slightly darker berries, layers of red currant and caramel, and a lengthy finish with hints of anise and spice. Try either with a pork roast or veal entrée.

Sparkling Wines Offer Crowd-Pleasing Choices

December 31st, 2013

It’s New Year’s Eve and that means it’s time to talk Champagne and sparkling wines.

For those of you who heeded my advice at this time last year and started enjoying sparkling wine year-round, good for you! For the rest of you who didn’t touch the stuff except at your cousin’s wedding in June and until tonight, allow me get a little preachy once again about the virtues of bubbly.

nullChampagnes (from the Champagne region in France) and sparkling wines are quite possibly the most versatile beverages in the world of wine. There are a wide array of colors, flavors and sweetness levels available that give these wines crowd-pleasing appeal.

A common thread that runs through many Champagnes and sparkling wines is their high acidity level.

High acidity is important for a number of reasons: it gives the wine a nice, crisp “lift,” it balances out the sweetness if there’s any residual sugar content, and it contrasts well with fatty and creamy foods.

That makes these wines a natural to serve with fried foods, cheeses, quiche, salmon and dozens of other possibilities.

Here are some suggestions that you can enjoy either tonight or any other time of year:

Who says your Prosecco has to overly sweet…or sweet at all? The Zardetto Brut Treviso (about $16) is a refreshing alternative from the Prosecco region made from the glera grape. Gentle apple and citrus flavors shine through along with a clean, slate-like finish and a splash of minerality. This wine works perfectly for starters and begs to be paired with shellfish or sushi.

You simply can’t talk about sparkling wines from Washington without including Treveri Cellars in the conversation. Their Sparkling Rosé (about $18), a blend of chardonnay and syrah, is a grand slam with yeasty, baked apple aromatics, mouth-watering strawberry flavors and a hint of tangy mandarin orange on the finish.

J Vineyards & Winery sparkling wines from California (pictured above) look stunning in bottles with an elongated neck that are easy to grip and pour. Their elegant exterior is only exceeded by the wine within.

The J Cuvée 20 Brut (about $28) explodes with flavors of pear and Fuji apple while ultra-fine bubbles impart a soft, creamy quality that suggests a finish of lemon chiffon. In the bottle, the striking salmon/pink hued J Brut Rosé (about $38) is an attention-grabbing work of art. In the glass, aromas of field strawberries lead off, with more berry flavors on the palate coupled with faint floral tones and a delicious trailing note of orange citrus.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Here’s a Trio of Superb California White Wines to Try

July 2nd, 2013

Last week I discussed the propensity of some people to overchill a white wine in the refrigerator or on ice before serving.

But remember that most medium to full-bodied white wines, such as chardonnay, viognier, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc shouldn’t be served too cold, or you’ll cover up the fruit and floral flavors and aromatics of the wine.

Here’s a good rule of thumb that’s worth repeating: no more than 45 to 60 minutes in the refrigerator should chill these wines sufficiently to the proper serving temperature of about 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. And if you’ve had them in the frig too long, simply leave them out on the counter for that same amount of time to gently warm them to this temperature range.

Today, I’ll venture outside of the Pacific Northwest for a trio of superb white wines from California that taste best when served lightly chilled.

J Vineyards & Winery 2012 Pinot Gris, California (about $15) – I’ve enjoyed everything that’s come out of this winery as of late and this pinot gris is no exception. It’s an excellent starter wine that should also pair beautifully with shellfish or a light seafood entrée.

nullSourced from a combination of grapes from several California appellations, it opens with gentle aromas of nectarine, melon and orange blossom. Generous flavors of green pear and kiwi initially hit the palate, with a refreshing smack of Macintosh apple and citrus on the finish.

Robert Mondavi Winery 2010 Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley (about $20) – Comprised of 94-percent sauvignon blanc and 6-percent semillon, over two-thirds of the juice for this wine was barrel fermented. After fermentation, it was combined with the remaining stainless steel-fermented juice and aged for five months in French oak.

This process lends character and creaminess to the finished product, but too much refrigeration will accentuate the oak and conceal the rest of the wine’s flavor profile, which includes key lime, lemon chiffon, a hint of fresh herb and just the right amount of bright acidity.

Franciscan Estate 2012 Equilibrium White Blend, Napa Valley (pictured above, about $23) – A base of sauvignon blanc is combined with chardonnay and muscat canelli to create this “wow” wine that is certain to provide you with sensory overload.

The honeysuckle and floral aromas of the muscat lead off, with a mouthful of fruit-forward peach, pear and ripe cantaloupe flavors to follow. The finish is big and round, yet strikes the perfect balance – or should I say, equilibrium – between slightly sweet and slightly citrusy.

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