Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Good holiday wishes from the Justers! Or, as one of our favorite Christmas cards reads: SeaZINS Greetings! :o)

The tree above is in the tasting room at Alderbrook Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg. I think that P and I could manage to build a tree like this with the wine collection he's started over the past year or so! Maybe next year... if we don't drink it all!

I hope everyone has a safe and Merry Christmas with plenty of good wine!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Trip to Sonoma & Healdsburg - August 2007: Part 2

Continuing the story of our first trip to the Russian River area with a review of our visit to Ferrari-Carano...

After leaving Manzanita Creek, we drove up Dry Creek Road to see a lookout point that was recommended to us (since everyone was stuck on our newlywed status and thought we must need a spot to make out or something!). ;o) We never quite made it to see the bridge over the river because Dry Creek Road is FULL of wineries. We kept passing winery after winery, all of which were closing in less than an hour. We thought we'd go see the bridge, then stop at a couple of tasting rooms on the way back out. However, as we kept driving and driving... and driving... we finally saw somewhat of a viewpoint of the water, stopped to take a couple of pictures, then decided not to venture on to find the bridge because we wanted to go back and stop at Ferrari- Carano before they closed since that's a wine P sells at work. We were SO GLAD we made it back before they closed! After tasting in a warehouse earlier that day (Fun? YES. Scenic? Not so much!), it felt very fancy and impressive to pull up to this place. This is what we saw as we rounded the walkway from the parking lot to the tasting room:

I was dazzled by the grounds, but P wanted to taste some wine before they locked up, so we went in the tasting room. I was dazzled again because they also have a nice gift shop (I'm all about good shopping!). So you know the hours and don't have to rush like we did:

P usually has a Chardonnay and a Fume Blanc to sell at work, so those are what we focused on tasting. We tend to not like Chardonnay, but we learned that what we really don't like is an overly oaked, buttery Chardonnay. FC makes a light Chardonnay that isn't heavily oaked, therefore we actually liked it! P wasn't expecting to like it since many people have said that they think it IS oaky and buttery, but we tasted more of what we read in the tasting notes:

2006 Chardonnay - Alexander Valley [ $28 ]

The 2006 Alexander Valley Chardonnay is a delicious wine with floral and fruit aromas of pear, Fuji apple, citrus and honey graham cracker with a hint of rich caramel and toasted coconut marshmallow. Generous on the palate, creamy vanilla undertones balance layers of toast and spice on the finish, while the tropical flavors linger to the end.

Maybe it was partially psychosomatic since I'd read all those yummy things in the tasting notes, but I did taste a lot of tropical fruit. After all, earlier that day I had learned how to swirl, sniff, and really taste wine, right?! I was finally feeling like those tasting notes were making some sense! I felt all professional at the tasting bar. ;o) It was good to find a Chardonnay that we liked since we assumed that we hated them all!

The Fume Blanc (like a Savignon Blanc) was tasty, too. It also had some tropical flavors that really came through for me. I'm a sucker for tropical flavors!

2007 Fumé Blanc - Sonoma County [ $17 ]

Our 2007 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc is a blend of vineyard lots from various appellations of Sonoma County — Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River Valleys. We focus on sites with well-drained soils and different rootstocks in order to craft a wine that is refined and elegant with a rich palette of fruit. Zesty flavors and aromas of grapefruit, citrus and honeydew mingle with a subtle grassy note that is complemented by a lingering finish of mango and guava. Aging partially in stainless steel and older French Oak gives this wine a crisp freshness and a subtle oak character that adds great complexity and depth.

The Fume Blanc is also less expensive than the Chardonnay, so if it came down to which one I'd buy, I might save some $$ and pick the Fume Blanc.

The red wine I remember most was the Siena. From the tasting notes:

2006 SIENA - Sonoma County [ $23 ]

Ferrari-Carano’s Italian heritage is reflected in this Sangiovese-based, easy-sipping, multi-dimensional blend. Select lots of grapes were chosen from our vineyards in Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys to create a beautifully balanced and medium-bodied wine. SIENA is supple and ripe with heady fruit aromas of cranberry, strawberry and cherry complemented by cinnamon, nutmeg and cocoa. Juicy strawberry and raspberry jam flavors are followed by a round, viscous finish of caramel, roasted marshmallow and spice. Excellent red fruit vitality is met by good acidity, round, gentle tannins and a lingering finish.

We learned that the Siena contains Sangiovese and Malbec (which has become a trendy varietal). Again, I liked all the fruit that I could actually pick up on & taste. This was a really nice blend that P and I both enjoyed. P says this is a good choice for serving a picky wine crowd since it's medium bodied, not heavy with tannins, and the fruit flavor really comes through. I agree!

The tasting room was shutting down, so we ventured outside and noticed something on our way back to the car:

This was by a small gate, so we went through to see what was going on behind the fence. We were SO HAPPY that we ventured into the gardens! What a beautiful place. Too bad they don't allow picnicking because it'd be a lovely spot to hang out with a glass of wine and some cheese or something. Here are a few pictures to demonstrate:

The middle picture is of a cork oak - the tree that corks are made from! It was so cool to see and touch the bark. Everything in the gardens was gorgeous. If it weren't closing time, I would've stayed longer and probably taken tons more pictures of all the plants and flowers. I'm sure you'll be subjected to my plant and flower pictures within this blog since I'm always taking pictures of them wherever we go. P makes fun of me, but I've gotten some awesome shots!

Gratuitous photo-taking aside, that was our trip to Ferrari-Carano that ended our anniversary day trip to Sonoma & Healdsburg. From a warehouse winery to a grand estate winery, we had a well-rounded wine country experience. It was a fun & educational day that truly opened the door to our wine-geekdom!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Trip to Sonoma & Healdsburg - August 2007: Part 1

I guess you could say this is the trip that started our love affair with Healdsburg and other areas of the Russian River Valley! I'll write this in two parts because I have a feeling it will get LONG! Here is Part 1.

My husband, P, had a business meeting with a wine broker in Sonoma. It was suggested that I tag along and we make an anniversary day trip of it since our first anniversary was the weekend before this meeting. We started the day at the wine broker's office to taste some of the wines that P sells. I had never really done a lot of wine tasting before and really didn't know what the heck I was doing. It was really nice to be tutored by P's new friend, Scott since he was willing to help us with the language used "in the biz" to describe wine. I'd always wondered what the big deal with swirling and talking about "the nose" & "the legs" was about. I mean, who knew wine had its own body parts? People examine the color & clarity (what is this, a precious gem?!). Just drink the stuff, right?! Oh how naive I was back then! I've learned a lot in past year or so, but this is what I really count as Day One of enhancing my wine knowledge. Here are some things I learned that turned me from a casual wine drinker into a Wine Geek in the making:

Looking at the color and clarity of a wine can tell you a lot about it before you taste it. Red wines can really be purple, maroon, ruby red, even a little brownish. White wines can be almost colorless, light yellow, golden yellow, greenish, and again - even a little brownish. Some wines will be really clear and almost watery, while others will be grainy and opaque. I never really thought about why this might matter, but it can. Some people think that they hate all red wines, when really they just don't like super heavy, gritty, dark red wines. Others might think they don't like white wine, but they really just don't like "creamy" whites. I'd never paid that much attention, but now I can actually tell (or at least guess!) a lot about a wine just by looking at it!

Swirling and smelling really do make a difference! When you swirl wine in your glass, it helps to vaporize some of the wine's alcohol and release more of its natural scents - like the fruit! I saw people do this all the time and knew that it had to do with smelling before tasting, but had no idea WHY it was important. It was really cool to finally hear a reason! The aroma released is the wine's "nose." Finally, this stuff was making sense! I didn't learn about "legs" that day - I'll save that revelation for another adventure. ;o)

Sip, but don't swallow right away. I learned to roll the wine around on my tongue before swallowing so that all the taste buds could get a taste. Different parts of your tongue taste different things (bitter, sweet/salty, sour), so it's good to roll the wine around before making a taste judgment. I was even told it's sometimes good to "chew" the wine and release more flavor (I guess this kind of follows the swirling logic?). I was surprised at how many things from tasting notes I was actually tasting now that I was following some wine tasting etiquette instead of just slurping it down (Sometimes I still just slurp it down, though. Shhh!). :o)

There are tons more things I've learned since then, but that's what S focused on for me that day. I was glad to finally feel like a more sophisticated wine drinker after meeting with him! Since he knew that our first anniversary had just passed, he wanted us to have a special day. He set us up to go to Manzanita Creek Winery in Healdsburg. He even arranged for them to have lunch for us when we got there! It was so nice of him to hook us up and be excited about out anniversary with us. :o) At Manzanita Creek I met the winemakers, Jack and Bill Salerno (P had met them at work before), -- two super-cool guys! Bill is really shy, but really knows what he's doing with wine. Jack is the one we talked to more. He reminds me a lot of my dad. My dad has actually met Jack a couple of times now, and it kind of freaks me out how similar they are! If you're looking for a fancy winery, this is not your ideal. They are located in a warehouse in Healdsburg, not too far from fancy places, but not in a place you'd expect to find a winery (I think they even make some sarcastic comment about that on their website)! However "un-fancy" they may be, Jack and Bill make some of P's & my favorite wines. They make what I've heard referred to as "big" wines. Most of their stuff is high in tannins and alcohol content (woo!), so they are not for the lighthearted wine drinker! They make a lot of old vine zinfandels. They are all good! I also really like their 2003 Syrah Scarlet Late Harvest. It is a good dessert wine, but not too sweet from what I remember. Someday I'll remember to keep notes in the tasting log I bought and use more of my Wine Geek tasting language! To find out more about Manzanita Creek and their wines, check out their site:

Next up, Part 2: Ferrari Carano (THIS is where you need to go if you desire a fancy winery experience!) Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Castello di Amorosa
August 10, 2008

My parents, husband, and I got an early-morning, private tour of Castello di Amorosa, a castle built by Darryl Sattui in Calistoga. It is such a beautiful place! I took tons of pictures, but I'm having issues with Snapfish and the pics on my computer, so I found the image above on another site. That looks like it was still in the construction stages, because it's better landscaped now. While there we also did some wine tasting (of course!). Most memorable for me was their La Fantasia wine. I thought it was just a rose, but it was delightfully fizzy! I'd never had anything like it and realized why when I read their desciption of it: 2007 LA FANTASIA I thought that my husband bought a bottle, but alas... when we got home from this trip that was not one of the bottles added to our collection. It's sold out now, so no more until late-February 2009. :o( I hope the new vintage will be as good!
I've seen a lot of reviews saying that the castle doesn't focus enough on wines, the tour doesn't talk enough about wine, blah blah blah... I was more interested in the architecture and craftmanship and the incredible detail and care paid to old world techniques, so I actually wasn't even worried about the wine (too much). I get enough of that in every other place up there, so I was NOT mad at the lack of description of their winemaking process. I think it's worth a trip there just to see the building & grounds.

Special treat at the castle right now (or at least back in August): parts of the set of Adam Sandler's Disney movie Bedtime Stories that was partially filmed at the castle are still set up out front! I don't know if the plan is to just keep them there or what, but it was fun to see that stuff and know that Adam and the Disney crew were there. Now I want to see the movie (I think it opens Christmas Day) so I can say, 'I've totally been right there!" I know... I'm a dork. Thanks.

Disclaimer about this blog

Since I've been considering this blog idea for quite some time now, I have TONS of past wine experiences to write about. I'll try to keep things labeled with dates they actually happened so readers know when we visited certain wineries and/or tasted certain wines. I'll mix in new experiences with the old so you're not always reading about things that happened months ago. I promise that someday I'll be caught up and things won't be retrograded! Thanks for reading!