Posts Tagged ‘Wine tasting’

My first trip to Napa Valley

June 21, 2010

Napa Valley is the place for wine.  If you’re a wino like me, you know what I’m talking about.  Just like skiers have the Swiss Alps, political junkies have Washington D.C., and geeks have Comic Con—we have Napa Valley.  I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to visit Napa for the very first time on a recent family mini-vacation up to San Francisco.

On the recommendation of my wine instructor, I visited The Hess Collection Winery.  The winery was started by Donald Hess, a Swiss-born entrepreneur who came to the States looking for business opportunities.  During his stay he fell in love with Napa Valley and eventually started his own winery in 1989.

The building where the Estate lives today was originally built in 1903 as a winery.  When prohibition came about in the 1920s, the winery was overtaken by The Christian Brothers who were permitted to make sacramental wine.  Up to this day, Mr. Hess continues to rent the property from The Christian Brothers.

First thing’s first, we headed to the tasting room!

For ten dollars, I tried four wines.

I began with the 2007 Mount Veeder 19 Block Cuvée, a delicious blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 4% Syrah, 4% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot.  This complex wine has aromas of black currant and plum.  Intense dark fruit flavors and medium plus tannins interact on the tongue to produce a strong finish.

Next I tried their 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah.  Not to be confused with Syrah, Petite Sirah is a varietal whose namesake came from early planters who mistook the variety for Syrah when it was first being introduced to Californian vineyards, but because it’s grapes are much smaller it was deemed “Petite Sirah”.  Black fruit character, high tannins and high acidity intertwine to create a highly drinkable wine.

Hess produces two characteristically different Chardonnays—think of it as French vs. Californian.  Their 2007 Su’Skol Vineyard Chardonnay is more reminiscent of a traditional, French-style Chardonnay because of it’s time spent in 30% new French oak barrels, adding flavors of toast and vanilla to the mix.  In stark contract, their 2007 Hess Collection Mount Veeder Chardonnay reflects a crisper, more fruit-forward style with flavors like nectarine and apricot—a trend that is becoming increasingly popular with Californian Chardonnays.

Surprisingly the Mount Veeder Chard was aged in four-to-five-year-old French oak, not stainless steel like one might assume.  Because the oak is older it only gives off neutral flavors, no oak.  I favored the Mount Veeder Chard, which is saying a lot for someone like me who is slightly obsessed with buttery and oaky French-style Chardonnays.  Wine Spectator gave it a 90 point rating out of 100, so you know it must be good!

The best part about The Hess Collection Winery is the winery itself.  Like something straight out of a fairy tale, the property is breathtakingly beautiful.  In the garden they have a lovely outdoor seating area reserved for food and wine tastings.  Luckily it was a slow day so we were able to secure a nice table beneath the trellis.

We ordered a sampling of three cheeses for $14.00 which came with Manchego cheese, blue cheese, and a triple-cream cheese made from organic cow’s milk.  On the side they included a bowl of candied walnuts and the best dried Michigan cherries you’ve ever tasted.

During our visit to the winery, we took advantage of the free tour where I learned a lot about the history of the winery and the owner, Donald Hess.  The tour also included a visit to the vineyards, where they harvest grapes for their Mount Veeder wines, and is followed by a short-film in the theater.  The film goes into depth about the land they harvest the grapes on and the specific opportunities and challenges they face with growing wine on mountain terrain.

The tour finally ended with a stop in their wine barrel room.  Here the wine ages for a chosen period of time in oak barrels, allowing it to develop new flavors and complexities.

If The Hess Collection Winery is any indication of what Napa Valley has to offer, then I’m ready to dive in feet first!  Even though I only had time to visit one winery, I definitely maximized my visit by taking advantage of the free tour, enjoying a wine tasting, and noshing on tasty cheeses.

If that isn’t the quintessential Napa experience, I don’t know what is.  What I am sure of, however, is that I want to return someday in the near future.  In the words of my Govenator, “I’ll be back.”

Cheers,

Jess

Orfila Vineyards & Winery

April 24, 2010

I may not live in California’s “wine country,” but San Diego is definitely not lacking when it comes to wine.  Last week I visited Orfila Vineyards & Winery for the first time and was blown away by the magnificent views from the winery—it was like something straight out of a fairy tale.  Or maybe it was just a fairy tale to me because my dreams involve someday working for a winery ;).  Either way, it wasn’t hard to appreciate the beauty.  Orfila is located in Escondido, California on top of beautiful rolling hills with a lovely view of mountains in the background.

This has already gone on my list of “top picks” for places I would like to get married!  Orfila happens to do a lot of weddings right in front of their vineyard and they also have a huge outdoor tent for receptions.  Seriously, it’s the perfect spot for anyone who wants a romantic outdoor wine-themed wedding.

Apart from weddings, they have an amazing selection of wines.  While they happen to offer all your basic varietals, they specifically grow traditional Rhone varietals.  The reason for this is because the climate in Rhone is most similar to our own.  Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Viognier show their highest expression when grown in a maritime climate like the one offered in the San Pasqual Valley, just 15 miles from the coast.

I tried their Merlots and their Syrahs, (yes they have multiples of each), but what I was really blown away by was their white wines.  Now, I may have mentioned on here before that I started out as primarily a dry red wine drinker, but as I began taking wine classes my tastes evolved and I began to appreciate more white wines as a result. I have been especially obsessed with finding buttery Chardonnays that are maloactic fermented.

What exactly does this mean? Well, a lot of times the way a grape is grown will affect the taste of the wine, but there are also wine-making techniques that can enhance and add flavors to wine.  Maloactic fermentation involves stirring in the dead yeast cells leftover from fermentation, called lees, into the wine to add savory flavors of dairy, butter and cream.  These wines take on a whole different flavor profile and are much different than your oaky or fruit-forward Chardonnays.

Orfila’s 2007 Ambassador’s Reserve Chardonnay is the perfect example of what an ML Chard should taste like.  Additionally it is aged in French oak, giving it toasty and vanilla flavors.  I highly recommend it! 🙂

Orfila is also well known for their Estate Viognier.  Now, I have never been a huge fan of Viognier but I was definitely converted after trying theirs.  It’s amazing how you can try a varietal several times, but until you try a bottle where the winemaker truly captures the grape and balances the flavors just right, you may never know it’s potential.  With just the right balance of crispness and fruit, Orfila’s Estate Viognier is the perfect summer white—not too sweet, but not too dry.  Also aged in French oak barrels, it develops flavors of vanilla in addition to it’s cirtus and floral notes.

Last but not least, I really enjoyed Orfila’s California Tawny Port.  It is by far some of the best Port I have ever had.  With flavors of raisins, caramel, licorice and orange, it pairs perfectly with the dark chocolate they serve with it.  I liked it so much I had to buy a bottle which I am waiting to open for a future blog!  I bought some Stilton cheese the other day at Trader Joe’s that goes perfect with Port—I cannot WAIT to dig in!

So, for $10 I was given 6 different tastes of wine and a souvenir wine glass, in addition to the $18 bottle of Port I brought home.  I give this place two thumbs up.  Get out there now—go drink vino!

Cheers,

Jess

Wine Bars, Wineries, and Wine-ventions!

March 5, 2010

The other day I had an interview for an internship with a well-known wine bar in San Diego.  It turns out they have never actually had an intern, but they’ve been swamped lately and need somebody to step in and handle some of the catering duties such as renting out the back room for private parties and dealing with the overwhelming volume of emails that come their way about private event bookings.

I was so nervous during the interview that when I left, my entire body was literally aching!  I was that tense!  I am crossing my fingers that they give me the green light, because this job could lead to my ultimate goal of becoming an Event Planner for a Winery and Wine Tasting Room Manager!

After my interview I decided to meet up with my friend and fellow blogger of Eat Move Write, Ms. Jasmine herself.  Ok, she’s technically a Mrs. but Mrs. Jasmine just didn’t sound right!

I just recently moved to a cute little suburb east of San Diego called La Mesa.  It happens to be where I work and also where my friend lives, which is super exciting to me!  Even more exciting is the discovery I made last week when my dad was visiting.  After dinner, I happened to notice a brand spankin’ new tasting room in downtown La Mesa.  So of course I had to drag my friend along to check it out with me even though she doesn’t drink wine.

I had mistakenly thought this was a winery from Temecula that happened to open a tasting room down South.  In fact, San Pasqual Winery is a local winery that grows its grapes in Pacific Beach and is owned by a couple that lives in La Mesa.  They just opened their doors for business in late December of last year.

Wine Tasting at San Pasquel Winery

Wine Tasting at San Pasqual

The very nice gentleman behind the counter let me try their PB Passionfruit Wine made from locally grown passionfruit.  It was very light and fruity, but not super sugary or sweet.  He also let me try a batch of their Ranchero Cabernet Sauvignon/Nebbiolo Blend that had just finished being pressed and was getting ready to go into oak barrels.  This wine generally undergoes a year to year and a half aging process, so this was literally like tasting grapes right off the vine!  The wine had a very sour and bitter taste—clearly not ready for drinking!  But it was so fun and interesting to be able to taste a wine before it’s been aged… which reinforces to me just how important the aging process is to certain wine varietals.

For $8.50, you get 6 tastes of wine, $5 off your purchase of a bottle of wine, and you get to keep the wine tasting glass!  What a deal.  I will definitely be back to San Pasqual for a proper wine tasting!

Also, while you are there ask Darrell to show you his invention.  The Wine Bearer is an inflatable container used to protect your wine while traveling.  My mom and I definitely could have used that on our road trip.  Then again, I’m not complaining that she had to leave the wine in San Diego with me ;).

I’m going to leave you with a barrage of more random pictures from our day!

Cheers,

Jess