Charlie Opines About Wine

In my search for interesting wines to serve to guests at our Cape Cod Bed and Breakfast, I attend many planned and impromptu wine tastings. I am happy to share my experiences with you. It's a tough job but someone has to do it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2014 Summer Wine Tastings Underway in Sandwich

Smiling man with glasses
Charlie Preus
Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

Sure signs of summer on Cape Cod, other than the perfect weather:  increased traffic on the bridges, paying to park at the public beaches, and new guests every day at our Inn seeking that unique experience of a summer escape to our beautiful island. Or, as one of my friends said, another day of living "the dream".

For us wine lovers, another true sign that summer has arrived is when the weekly Wednesday wine tastings move from inside the restaurant to the patio at the Belfry Bistro. At the second of the patio tastings, we had wines presented by Mr. Joseph Carr. No summer series of wine tastings would be complete without Joe's visit. Mr. Carr is a well known and successful Napa Valley winemaker, founding his Joseph Carr Wines in 2005 and later the wildly popular Josh Cellars label, dedicated to his father. Even though he is known worldwide for his Napa wines, he is also a favorite son of Cape Cod as a part time resident of Dennis. We locals and regulars at the tastings eagerly anticipate his informative and entertaining presentations.

At past tastings we have enjoyed all of the afore mentioned wines. This tasting was my first introduction to Carr’s latest venture, Dylan’s Ghost Winey, a collaboration with the renowned Napa winemaker Aaron Pott. We had the tasting of the inaugural release of their joint efforts. The wines are being made in very limited quantities in the Oakville facility from select vineyards in Oakville, Stags Leap District, and the Oak Knoll District.

Rose wine with white lable
2013 Angel
The ever engaging Mr. Carr regaled the participants with the story of his personal wine journey that has culminated in these special new wines. He explained how a random vineyard walk with Aaron included a conversion that moved from soil and grapes to the brooding literature of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. He reminded us that the iconic folk/rock legend Bob Dylan had changed his name from Robert Zimmerman to also honor this same poet. Mr. Carr connected these dots to the logical origins of his new Dylan’s Ghost Winery. All the enjoyable stories and antidotes aside, the proof is always in the quality of the product, the wine, and we were not disappointed.

Red wine with white lable
Dylan's Ghost
Hell Hollow
We tasted three Dylan’s Ghost wines and the old classic Joseph Carr Chardonnay, which we have discussed before in this blog and will not cover again here. We started with the light and refreshing 2013 “Angel”, a 100% Cabernet Franc Rose from Napa Valley. Cab Franc is one of the major classic Bordeaux blending grapes that you are only recently seeing bottled as a single, stand alone varietal, and I have never seen a Napa Cab Franc Rose. The wine was crisp and fruity and perfectly paired with Oysters Rockefeller. The wine was a real treat and, with only 200 cases released, may be very hard to find.

Next we had two great reds, which I think will be the signature wines from this new winery. We had the 2010 Dylan’s Ghost "Hell Hollow" paired with Chicken Tagine. This cuvee is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc. Again, limited production with only 400 cases produced.

Red wine with white lable
The Beast
For me, the last wine was the best. It was the 2010 Dylan’s Ghost Stags Leap Ranch
"The Beast". This single vineyard field blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Syrah was by far the biggest and best of the night and paired very nicely with Tuna Sashimi.  With only 500 cases made, it was a great treat.

Although of very limited production, Dave and Kris at Cellar 55 were able to secure some for this tasting and with their contacts maybe able to fill some future orders. It’s worth asking them next time you stop by their shop.

The Wednesday tastings are always fun, but to have Joseph Carr share these great wines made it very special. The next time you visit Cape Cod, stay with us at our Sandwich Bed and Breakfast and make it on a Wednesday to experience a great wine tasting and maybe even meet the likes of Mr. Carr.
Happy Wine-ing

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Re-visiting Whitehall Lane Wines

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

What a difference a few decades can make. Jan and I first visited Napa Valley in the 1970's and last visited it on our famous 2006, 13,000 mile ‘road trip’. On both our first and last visit to Napa Valley, we stopped at the Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena, CA. In the 1970’s, the ‘tasting room’ was little more than a table in the corner of the barn that housed all the wine making equipment. The last time we visited, they were in the process of completing a new building, so we tasted in a make shift temporary tasting room/gift shop.  At every tasting, regardless of the setting, I was attracted to the wines and really favored their Merlots, even though they are noted for their award winning Cabs.  

photo of ripening green wine grapes on the vine
The reason I mention this brief trip down memory lane about Whitehall Lane, is that I just had the opportunity to attend a Whitehall Lane tasting at the weekly Belfry Bistro tasting. It was a great chance to revisit their wines and catch up on new developments at the winery. The tasting was led by Scott Fitzsimmons, the Regional Manager for Whitehall Lane Winery and Vineyards, who was assisted by Polly Hemstock, the Sales Consultant with Classic Wine Imports, who is the Massachusetts distributor of the Whitehall portfolio of wines.

In the three decades since my first visit, the winery had changed hands a few times. In 1993 the current owners, the Leonardini family, took control. They replanted the original Estate Vineyard, built a state-of-the-art winer, and acquired six other primer vineyards throughout Napa Valley. Whitehall Lane’s vineyards are recognized as the source of world class Cabernet and Merlot and any excess fruit is highly sought after by other well know Napa winemakers. Not surprisingly, the best of all the grapes goes into Whitehall Lane’s own special wines. 

During the tasting I attended, Scott wove the winery history and vineyard details into the introduction of the four wines we tasted. Scott stressed that their goal is to make wines that are very approachable and ready to serve immediately; explaining why they are very popular on many fine restaurants’ wine lists. We pre-tasted all the red wines at the beginning of the evening as we opened all the bottles to be served that night. As promised by Scott, they were all inviting, but as each was served, after breathing for anywhere from a half hour to an hour, the wines improved markedly. For the three wonderful reds we enjoyed, I would recommend decanting or at least aerating with something like a Vinturi to maximize your pleasure.

We started the tasting with a light and lively 2011 Sauvignon Blanc paired perfectly with a House Cured Salmon Gravlox. I am not a big fan of the classic New Zealand, over the top grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc, but often find typical California Sauvignon Blanc bland, to almost tasteless. I liked this very much and plan to stock some at the inn to finish out the summer months serving it to our guests.

bottle of red wine from whitehall lane vineyards
Next we jumped into the reds and the 2010 Tre Leone Napa Red with Basque Extraordinaire Cheese and Fig Puree. This is the first release of this new wine, designed as a tribute to the three generations of the Leonardini family engaged in running the winery. It is a proprietary blend of mainly estate grown Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah. The actual percentage of each grape is not listed on the label or the website, but Scott did share with us that it is definitely Merlot based. Maybe that is why it was my favorite of the night, going back to my longtime affinity for the Whitehall Lane Merlots.
Next we had the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon matched with the Pan Seared Duck Breast. The final wine and pairing so outshined this wine, that I all but forgot this third round of wine and food. So what was the last wine you ask?

The high note and close of the evening was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and the Chocolate Espresso Mousse. This is a prime example of a classic Napa Valley Cabernet with just a touch of Malbec. Scott lovingly explained its pedigree and stressed most Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserves of this quality, including wines from famous neighboring wineries, is selling for half again as much as this wine. Interesting, this premium wine no longer uses a cork; they have gone to the Vino-Seal™ glass closure, just one more change for the better that can happen in a few decades. 

I guess I have changed as much as Whitehall Lane has over the years, but I think wine still keeps me fresh.

Come and stay at our Sandwich Inn and let me share some wine and wine stories with you.  I may not have the Reserve and mousse available, but I bet we can find a very good Merlot and some chocolates.     
Happy Wine-ing
Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day-Tripping to Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod

Charlie with wine tasting presenter Rebecca and bottles of wine.A few weeks back, Jan and I had a rare day with no guest check-ins to keep us at the Inn all day. Taking advantage of our freedom, we played tourists on Cape Cod. We ventured down Cape or up Cape, depending on who you are speaking to, and went to Truro. Truro is about forty five miles from Sandwich, going north on Route 6 between Wellfleet and Province Town. At places along the way, the Cape is less than a mile wide and the views are breathtaking with water on both sides of the road.

Although enjoying a little free time from the Inn, we did put on our concierges’ hats when we stopped at Truro Vineyards. Of course, it's not too much of a stretch for us to mix business and pleasure by exploring one of the Cape’s only two wineries. Truro Vineyards grows their own grapes, harvests them in the fall, and does the complete cycle from crush to fermenting to bottling on the property.

We arrived just in time to participate in the next wine tasting. Tastings run daily on the half hour.   A tour is also available two times a day that starts with a stroll through the vineyard, stops at the barn to observe the fermentation and bottling processes and ends with a tasting. We passed on the tour and went directly to the tasting. The tastings are held in the beautiful pavilion nestled in the vineyard, behind the gift shop.  

Grape vines in the vineyard at Truro Vineyard of Cape CodWe had not been to this vineyard in a number of years, not since the Roberts Family bought it, and we had not seen the many upgrades made in their short tenure. The pavilion is one noticeable improvement along with the new large barn. Probably less noticeable, but just as important, is the improvements in the vineyard. The number of vineyard-planted acres has been expanded and new growth stock planted and also new varietals. The coastal location has warm ocean breezes that temper the climate; this plus the sandy soil has proved ideal for growing grapes. The vineyard now has five acres of vines growing Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot which are all hand-picked at harvest time. The winery also sources grapes from other vineyards in Massachusetts, New York, and California. From the combination of locally grown and sourced grapes, Truro Vineyards produced seventeen different wines available for purchase. 

Wine tasting pavilion
At the wine tasting in the Pavilion, we had the opportunity to taste nine of the seventeen wines.  All nine of the wines are presented on the bar at the front of the Pavilion and served to the tasters at the individual tables. Each table is equipped with tasting information, crackers and water. Our tasting consultant was Rebecca, who was very knowledgeable about the history of the vineyard and each of the wines offered. For the $10.00 tasting fee, each participant got to try five of the wines offered that day and got to keep the etched Truro Vineyards’ tasting glass, a nice and functional souvenir.

As with all professional tastings, we started with the white wines. The first was the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc sourced from California grapes. Next we tried a lightly oaked, 2011 Chardonnay from local grapes. We finished with a semi-sweet Vignoles sourced from the New York Finger Lakes. Each lived up to the notes provided on the tasting information and started us on the right foot for the reds, my preferred color. In the reds, we started with their signature varietal, the 2011 Cabernet Franc from 100% estate grown grapes. Cab Franc is one of the key blending grapes in France, but we are now often seeing it bottled separately in the United States.  It appears to be a grape the does well in many diverse growing locations. Next we had the 2011 Zinfandel from California grapes. We finished with the 2010 Triumph, a Meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Fran, and Merlot. As this was my favorite, I bought a bottle to enjoy at home. I would have liked to have tired their other estate grown wine, the Merlot, but it was not offered at this day’s tasting. The daily tasting wines offered
changes frequently; a good reason for a return trip.  

Lighthouse wine bottlesWe also did not taste the Lighthouse Series wines: Cape Blush Lighthouse, Cranberry Red, and Diamond White. These wines are best known for the recognizable bottle in the shape of a classic Cape Cod Lighthouse. The Roberts family has continued this trademark Truro Vineyards’ bottling tradition to the delight of tourist from around the world who takes home this unique keepsake from their wonderful visit to Cape Cod. Come stay with us at our Sandwich Inn and we may just be serving some of the wines from Truro Vineyards in our daily wine offering and, if not, we’ll give you directions so you too can enjoy a great day trip to an unusual Cape Cod treat.

Happy Wine-ing

Written by Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center