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, December 20, 2011

Cape Cod Holiday Wine Tasting

Charlie’s Weekly inWine-ings

I consider attending wine tastings a very important part of my job as Wine Steward at our Sandwich bed and breakfast. I see it as part of my professional responsibility to find wine to serve our guest at our Sandwich bed and breakfast. My search has taken me to many different settings. We all have seen the signs in our local liquor store: Free Wine Tasting Today. Back in a corner you find a store employee standing behind a card table or better yet, a makeshift table made out of stacked wine cases offering thimble sized plastic cups of wine. The wines may be billed as a “special” purchase, which may mean a cheap deal that the wholesaler talked the store into “blowing out” the inventory. Yes, I always stop and taste.

So, what do you think I would do when I get the email that says “Tonight - The Finest Fine Wine Event Ever - 6:30 at Cotuit Liquors”?  Even knowing my predisposition to the usual liquor store tasting as I described above, the headline alone got me to open the email and read on. The hype continued with “Featuring over 20 hard to find wines that NEVER get poured, at discounted prices”. They had me hooked. In my almost 20 years of visiting and living on the Cape, I have been to Cotuit Liquors many times and know they have a wide selection of wines and some very nice high end wines.  

The tasting lived up to the hype, it was coordinated by Wendy Koder a wine consultant and featured 20 wines from the Martignetti Companies, a major wine wholesaler. Wendy and a very knowledgeable team of Martignetti and Cotuit Liquors’ employees staffed three tables. As you entered the queue, you were handed a real wine glass and a list of the wines by table. Table One was seven champagnes, from Moet to Dom Perignon, from Blanc de Blanc to Rose and priced from $74.99 to $174.99. I have had the likes of Veuve Clicquot before, but never the La Grande Dame 1998 at $149.99, which was my favorite sparkling of the night.   

Table two had a mix of seven whites and reds; the only white I tasted was the Far Niente Chardonnay 2010.  I served the 2008 at Thanksgiving and think the 2010 is also a great wine even at $51.99. I tasted four reds, two Pinots and two Merlots, ranging in price from $44.99 to $84.99. A new wine to me was the Leonetti Cellars Merlot 2009 from Walla Walla Valley Washington. It really caught my attention with a unique flavor profile, but at almost $85 it may not make to my guest wine list.

The last table was six big reds from France, Italy, Napa Valley and Washington State and priced from $74.99 to $199.99. I tasted all and was excited by my first taste of two very well known Napa Valley Cabernets, Silver Oak 2006 and Knights Bridge 2007. A real treat was tasting the 2008 Doubleback Winery Cabernet, again from Walla Walla. This is a highly rated wine, Wine Spectator 94 points, from a new winery started by Drew Bledsoe of New England Patriots’ fame. Who knew Drew was also a talented winemaker with a big future in the wine game now that he is no longer playing pro football. The website says the 2008 is sold out, but we know you can still get it at Cotuit Liquors. 

In wine, a high price doesn’t always mean it is a great or even good wine, but in this case I think it sure made a difference. I had a great time and tasted some wines I have never had before mainly because of the price point. I will be keeping my eye out for the next in-store tasting to make sure I don’t miss an opportunity to find the next great wine for my guest at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast

Happy Wine-ing & Happy Holidays

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Spirits of Christmas in Sandwich, MA

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings
In the Spirit of Christmas!!!

‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…’ well maybe not so much based on the weather here at our Sandwich bed and breakfast. No snow yet and another week of 50 plus degree temperatures. I think I am starting to like this global warming stuff. In spite of the weather, our historic Village is decked out for our annual celebration of Holly Days In Sandwich. This is a two-week-long event that kicks off with the tree lighting and carol sing on the first Friday of December. The town tree is across the street from the end of our driveway and the carol sing is around the corner at the First Church of Christ.

During December our quests enjoy partaking of the free festivities and we also have a weekend Christmas Package that includes tickets to ‘Gardens Aglow’ at the Heritage Museum and a special Wine and Food tasting at the Inn. You knew we would have to work wine into this somehow. Jan titled the package ‘In the Spirit’, for both the spirit of the holidays and the spirits, wine, that I like to serve our guest. I pick the wine and Jan prepares the food parings.   

I think celebrations and sparkling wines are made for each other, so I started our tasting with a Botter Prosecco, NV. Botter is a small family-owned Italian winery that has produced wines since the early 1900s. A non-vintage, NV, means they blend wines from different years to produce a predictable taste from year to year. Prosecco is to Italy, what Champagne is to France, and I think it is a great sparkling wine to start a holiday tasting.   

Some of my guests were from California, so I felt pressure as I presented some my favorite California wines from my cellar. We next went to a Mount Eden 2007 Edna Valley Chardonnay, Wolf Vineyard. Mount Eden Vineyards is located in Saratoga, CA south of San Francisco in the Santa Cruz Mountains’ appellation. I tasted this wine a year ago at a Cellar 55 tasting and loved it. I have not tasted their 2008s yet, but a Mount Eden Chardonnay was rated 95 points by Wine Spectator and chosen as the 13th best wine of their Top 100 Wines of the Year 2011. I was very pleased that our California guests liked it and I am anxious to try some of the 2008s. With the two white wines, food wise we severed Lemon Humus with Flax Pita Bread and crab cakes.

As a smooth transition, I move from the California Chardonnay to a California Point Noir, the 2008 Ceja Carneros Pinot Noir. Ceja Vineyards is located in Carneros and we had the great pleasure of visiting the origianl winery in 2006 and meeting the entire Ceja family. I have been a wine club member for five years and am always happy to share these wines with guest, ususally East Coast guest, but this time even Californias who have never expereinced this great Piont. Jan prepared a wonderful bruschetta with pesto and mozzarello cheese on a Italian bread to serve with the Pinot.

I had selected another red to serve, but the caroling was starting and we all rushed to see the tree lighting. I’ll keep this last red to serve next weekend as we gladly do this all over again. Holly Days is a special time in Sandwich and we have an In the Spirit Christmas package if you would like to join us at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast.
Happy Wine-ing This Holiday Season

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wine for a Sandwich Thanksgiving

Stop Wine-ing and Be Thankful

Thanksgiving week is a wonderful week for those of us who love wine. For this special holiday I like to share great wines from my cellar with my guest at our Sandwich bed and breakfast. This is a time to be thankful and a time to share, both of which I had the opportunity to do this year. 

As a lead into the holiday, my friends at the Cellar 55 Wine Merchants hosted their annual in cellar tasting on Tuesday night. As always, they selected excellent wines to share that they felt would enhance the meal. I had the pleasure of tasting wonderful wines from Napa Valley, France and Argentina. From around the world, a wide selection of great wines is available at the Cellar to help you enjoy your holiday. Yes, this is research and work for me.  

On Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Belfry Bistro sponsored a very special wine tasting.  All proceeds from the tasting went to benefit the non-profit R.I.S.E. Worldwide. R.I.S.E.’s mission is ‘to be a catalyst to education, entrepreneurship, and generational change within insolvent communities’ by developing community centers in Tanzania, Africa. Chris Wilson’s son Alex is the founder and driving force behind this endeavor.  Chris, and all of us who attended, had a chance to be thankful for what we have in America and share with others across the world. And we also tasted some great wines, including a 2008 Peter Michael La Carriere Chardonnay, and a 2008 ZD Point Noir.  A chance to ‘do good’ and have a great time, another reason to love wine. 

Far Niente Winery
On the big day, we had our traditional dinner at the Inn with guests and friends. As you might expect, our friends enjoy wine as much as we do and I am thankful that Jan’s best friend Donna from Napa Valley also graciously shared some wine from her cellar with us.

To kick off our festivities, we started with a 2008 Far Niente Chardonnay and a very unique 2008 En Route Point Noir from Donna’s cellar. Far Niente in Oakville is a magnificent estate that we had the pleasure of visiting a few years ago that is best known for its classic Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet. The same Far Niente partners created En Route in the Russian River Valley to focus on the best Point Noir.  

With the heaping amounts of turkey and dressing and more sides than you can image, we served two Zinfandels from my Cellar, a 2005 Downing Family Zinfandel and the 2008 Papapietro Perry Zinfandel. California Zin is a versatile wine that can perfectly compliment the wide range of flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner. I think these two, although different in style and location, Downing in Napa and Papapietro in Sonoma, each added to the bounty of food we shared.

As we lingered over our pumpkin, apple, pecan, lemon meringue, mixed berry, and sour cherry pies, and more wine, we were all thankful to be together.

Next year plan to join us for this great day of celebration at our Sandwich bed and breakfast, just miles from where they held the first Thanksgiving in 1620. Sandwich is also a great place to visit over the Christmas Holidays, we are open and would offer a warm Sandwich welcome, and a bit of wine.

Happy Wine-ing

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Friday, November 11, 2011

Some Favorite Wines

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ing

I am still on the hunt for special wines to serve guest at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast this fall and winter. I long to make another trip to California to do more in-depth research but, alas, a weekly wine tasting at the Belfry Bistro sponsored by Cellar 55 Wine Merchants is as close as I am going to get this year. A recent tasting introduced me to a whole new area of California that I will need to add to my next trip plan, Lake County.

On our last trip to California a few years ago, we drove south to Jacksonville, FL and picked up Interstate Highway 10 and stopped when we hit the Pacific Ocean. We spent two months working our way up the coast from Santa Barbara and through all the great wine country made famous in the movie Sideways. Taking the winding and scenic US 101, we hit numerous great wineries in Paso Robles with brief tourist stops in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey, all of which have thriving vineyards and small wineries. We bypassed San Francisco and went straight to St Helena, in the heart of the Napa Valley, where we spent a week revisiting some old favorites and discovering new gems, like Vincent Arroyo the maker of Jan’s much loved Petite Sirah. To end our tour, we made our way over the mountains into Sonoma County. It is hard to believe that in all of our years of living in California and visiting Napa, we had never made it to Healdsburg and the hundreds of great Sonoma wineries.

Our next trip to the west coast will include more time in Sonoma, but we will also venture further North to Lake County, based on my recent tasting experience with the wines of the Langtry Estate & Vineyard. Langtry is located 90 miles north of San Francisco, and just over the hills from Calistoga and the Napa Valley, in the Guenoc Valley. The winery takes it’s name from Lillie Langtry, the infamous British theatre star who purcased the estate in 1888 with a stated goal of making “the greatest Claret in the country”. Claret was a turn-of-the-century British term used to descibe a red blend similar to the classic French Bordoux. Lilly Langtry grew Bordoux grapes and produced award winning blends in the hillsides of the Guenoc Valley until she sold it in 1906. Interestingly, in 1981 the Guenoc Valley AVA (American Vitcultural Area) was established and the Langtry Estate & Vineyards became the first producer with its own appellation. Maybe too much background, but this helped me to understand the labling of the wines we tasted. Offically, the wine tasting was titled The Wines of Guenoc Langtry Estate. As I did my research, I learned the winery is Langtry Estate and Vineyard and they sell wines under both a Guenoc Lake County and the Langtry Estate lables. Keep this mind as I tell you what wines we tasted and if you look for them online or in a wine shop. 

I hope you are not confused and I assure you Polly Hemstock from Classic Wine Imports, who lead the tasting, made it all very clear and easy to understand. And as is often the case, the wines spoke for themselves. We started with a nice white, the 2010 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc paired with Taylor Bay Scallops. The wine was very light and well balanced and a nice match for the scallops.

The white was nice, but Langtry is known for its Petite Sirah and has some of the oldest California Syrah vines which were planted in the 1850s. Next we tasted the 2009 Lake County Petite Sirah paired with Beef Bourguignon. This wine was very easy drinking with less tannins then many Petite Sirahs I have tasted. When tasted together, the food and wine pulled more flavors from each other and both were enhanced.

My favorite wine of the night was the 2008 Guenoc Victorian Claret North Coast, an interesting blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Petite Sirah. It was very smooth and again very light on the tannins. I think this wine would have lived up to Lilly Langrty’s high standards for a Claret. It went nicely with the Black Mission Figs and Manchego Cheese pairing, but I could enjoy drinking it by itself and I did later in the evening.

Our last wine was the 2009 Guenoc Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon paired with the Belfry’s killer Chocolate Decadence Cake. The Cab was OK and made better by the Cake, but I have always been a sucker for this dessert.

I enjoyed the wines and food very much and will buy some of these wines for my guests at our Sandwich Inn. I think the wines are better than the labeling, as I tried to explain before. Just looking at three examples here, it is not clear how they are trying to position themselves. All three lables have the name Guenoc on them but in two different fonts and boardering, i.e. they look differernt, and no mention of Langtry Estate. The two Lake County bottles have a barren tree, which the back label identifies as a 300 year old Guenoc Valley bent Blue Oak tree that somehow symbolizes ‘determination’. The same tree is on the label of the Langtry Single Estate Vineyard wines sold as Langtry, with no mention of Guenoc. The lable on the Victorian Claret is a picture of Lilly Langtry, although Lantry Estate is not mentioned. From my reseach, I think they have an interesting story to tell, but I am not sure how clear it is in this packaging. So, ignore the packaging and enjoy the wine, that’s what I plan to do.

Happy Wine-ing

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Food Network + Wente = entwine

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ing

I am always amazed that there is so much to learn about wine as I search for wines to serve to guest who are staying at our Sandwich bed and breakfast. Over my years of tastings, I understand what I like to drink the most, based on my personal taste. I also know what food combination's I favor. I do not pretend to be an expert on food pairings, but am always impressed with how a food or a wine or both can drastically improve when properly paired. The weekly wine tasting that I attend at the Belfry Bistro is a great place to experience the results of good pairings. I would love to be able to remember and replicate the pleasure of the pairings, but even after attending many tastings and trying to take copious notes, I have not mastered this skill. But fear not, I may have found a solution to enhance this skill set or at least a short cut to better pairings. 

As often is the case, what is a problem for someone becomes a market opportunity for others. Enter the Food Network to address this marketing opportunity. The Food Network is a well known ‘brand’ in relationship to the preparation of food. Jan never misses an episode of The Iron Chef and our quests have benefited from the cooking tips she absorbs from their fine programming. The Food Network has partnered with Wente Vineyards in a new venture named entwine.  

At a recent tasting, Polly Hemstock from Classic Wine Imports introduced the entwine line up. Earlier in the summer she had lead a tasting of Wente Vineyards, a legedary family owned winery that has continuously produced wines since 1883 in Livermore, CA. The experts from the Food Network sought a wine partner to create wines to match with food flavors. They selected Wente and have worked with winemaker Karl Wente to create the wines of entwine. The goal is to help the consumer make matches that perfectly balance the food and wine. “entwine - It’s the coming together of food and wine. And, it’s the coming together of one of America’s oldest wineries and the most trusted name in food: Wente Vineyards and Food Network.”

That night we tasted the 2009 Pinot Grigio, the 2009 Chardonnay, the 2009 Merlot and the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. Each was paired with one of entwine’s recommended food pairings.

After the tasting, I did more research on their website and studied the label on a bottle of Merlot that I wanted to try again. The website is very informative and offers almost 300  wine and food pairings, each with an easy to follow recipe, as you would expect from the Food Network staff. Each label also has a nice simple description of the wine, i.e. the Merlot is – ‘juicy and mouthwatering-think mid-summer plums and cherries with a hint of black tea’. It also includes a list of seven food items to ‘entwine’ with this Merlot; a very helpful start for anyone looking to match up food and wine. It is sort of like a Food & Wine pairings for Dummies, but very helpful and very well done. The wines were, as designed and promoted, easy drinking and very food friendly. All were also moderately priced at less than $13.00, a price point that could make it a house wine for our Sandwich bed and breakfast.

I am as intrigued by the marketing concept as much or more than by the wines themselves. In a down economy, it is no secret that fine wine sales are not what they used to be. A recent victim to the down turn was a nice wine shop in Hyannis next to Trader’s Joe's, The Wine List. They offered simple descriptions of the wines, even displaying them in order of increasing intensity and flavor profile. They also suggested food pairings. I think their concept was similar to entwine, but on a much smaller scale. It will be interesting to see if the cross promotion and marketing power of the Food Network can pull the entwine line through the distribution channels. As I wait to see the results, I will enjoy experimenting with their pairings and drink more of the wine. Again, it is tough work, but someone has to do it.
Happy Wine-ing!

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Old Vine Zinfandel

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

Zin is not a Sin
Last week, just a day short the fall equinox, I was working hard to find wines to serve guest this fall at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast. The weather was just perfect at the Belfry patio wine tasting, sponsored by Cellar 55 Wine Merchants. Knowing that fall is around the corner, I am looking for hardy wines to serve and this all Zinfandel line-up gave me some food for thought.

The always entertaining and knowledgeable Spencer Knowles, from Horizon Beverage Company, presented four very interesting and very different Zinfandels. I am sure I do not even have to mention that they were all RED Zinfandels. Yes, most tastings start with white wines and move to reds and yes, there is something called white Zinfandel. But we did not taste any white Zinfandels tonight, thank goodness. All right, I am being a snob. White Zinfandel is still one of the most popular and highest selling wines by volume in the United States and it is made from the red Zinfandel grape. In the 1970s, Sutter Home Winery in Napa Valley was experimenting with different fermentation methods for its’ not very well selling red Zinfandels and “accidentally” created a very sweet, pink wine. They called it White Zinfandel and it immediately became a national favorite. I have to admit I have drunk my share of White Zin, but that was in the 1980s and it seemed the right thing to do.

Although, most Zinfandel fans today will not drink White Zin, or admit to ever consuming it, the wild financial success of White Zin actually saved the great old Zinfandel vines that now produce the red wines we enjoy. Zinfandel is one of the oldest varieties of grape to be grown in California. In fact, until just recently it was believed that it was the only indigenous American Vitis Vinifera grape. Now we know it is related to the Italian Primitivo grape and can trace it origins to Croatia. So, thank you to all those folks who have consumed large quantities of White Zin over the years. 

The first wine of this tasting was the Cameron Hughes Wines 2009 Flying Winemaker Zinfandel. Cameron Hughes is a negociant who literally flies around the world buying wines and working with winemakers to produce exceptional wines. This wine is sourced from 100 year-old vines in Lodi, CA. Many say Lodi is to Zinfandel what Napa is to Cabernet. This wine, like most Lodi Zins, is a big wine that paired nicely with the food tasting of sirloin capriccio.

Next we tried the 2008 Valley of the Moon Sonoma Zinfandel. Valley of the Moon Winery traces its’ origins to 1863, making it one of the oldest wineries in Sonoma with some old Zinfandel vines. Different from the first one, lighter to me, but a perfect partner for the spiced Long Island Duck that it was served with. 

As the sun set, we moved to the Kenwood Vineyard’s 2009 Jack London Zinfandel. The grapes for this wine are from a vineyard once owned by the world famous author Jack London; thus the name. Again, these Sonoma Mountain Zinfandel vines are over 100 years old. The great pairings continued with the serving of a nice pan roasted pork tenderloin.  

We finished with my favorite, the 2009 Mauritson Dry Creek Zinfandel. Mauritson Family Winery, located in Healdsburg, California, is a small family winery that has farmed the Dry Creek and Anderson Valleys for six generations. I have enjoyed their 2007 and 2008 Zins and was not disappointed with the 2009. It was paired perfectly with the Belfry’s tasty marinated hanger steak.  

I am sorry that my pairing descriptions are not detailed enough to adequately state the excellent results of the food and wine match ups. Each wine was different and each food pairing pulled the best from the wine and vise versa. I love Zinfandels (red, that is) and this night just reinforces my commitment to share more Zins with guest at our Sandwich Inn this fall.

Loving Zin is not a Sin. 

Happy Wine-ing!

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sandwich to Dennis: Wine Road Trip

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

In the peak of the season at our bed and breakfast, we seldom get away from Sandwich or the Inn. After breakfast, we are cleaning up and getting ready for tomorrow’s breakfast and new guests, then new guest arrive between 3:00 and 6:00 PM. Last week we had that rare day with no check-ins and our current guests were on day trips or already fixed for dinner reservations. With a sense of adventure, we planned a spur-of-the-moment Road Trip.

We called friends who live in Wellfleet during the summer and winter in Florida. We actually see them more during our winter RV travels than we do during the summer season. Luck was with us and they were available to meet to catch up. We picked a spot in Dennis, the Harvest Gallery Wine Bar. Surprise, yes, the road trip involves wine and my never-ending search for great wines to serve our guest.

As stated on their website, “Harvest Gallery Wine Bar entertains all of the senses!”

Michael Pearson, the owner and also an artist, has combined his love of wine, food, art, and music to create an atmosphere like no other. Harvest Gallery and Wine Bar features over 30 Cape Cod artists accompanied by a full-service wine bar featuring wines from all over the world and a locavore-minded menu with seasonal specials and deserts – all to be enjoyed with live music.

We found everything stated on the website to be true. We planned to meet our Wellfleet friends and others at 6:30. We were the first to arrive and picked the best table in the gallery. Are we getting that old? We are now the early birds.

As a true wine bar, they offered a long list of nice wines that could be tasted as a ‘flight’ of three 2 oz. glasses for only $10.00. I like flights; it is a great way to try a lot of different wines that you may not otherwise sample if you had to buy a bottle. I went with an all red flight of:

Pinot Noir- “Bourgogne by Albert Bichot”, 2009, Burgundy, France
Malbec /Merlot – “Esprit de Flore” 2008, Cahors, France
Cabernet –Owen Roe “Sharecropper’s” 2009, Columbia Valley, WA.

I ordered the Esprit de Flore, but was accidentally given the “Rook”, a Merlot/Syrah from Corvidae Wine Co., so in fact I had a four wine flight. I have had the Rook before and have had other wines form Owen Roe, but never the Sharecropper’s. After our flight tasting, we moved on to a very nice Australian Shiraz/Grenache blend, the “Wallace” 2007 Barossa Valley.

As we enjoyed our wines, we shared a Mediterranean Plate of hummus, taboulli, cucumber, and pita, plus some great guacamole with chips from the very nice small plate menu. After a few hours we had caught up on what our friends and their families had been doing and discovered a few new wines to serve to our guest at our Sandwich Inn. As early birds often do, we also left early. By then the Harvest Gallery and Wine Bar was packed with a younger crowd and the entertainment was in full swing. So we made a short night of it, but had a great time on our Road Trip.

Happy Wine-ing

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wines From Wente Tasted in Sandwich

As summer is waning, I am still wine-ing and looking for wines to serve my guest at our Cape Cod Inn. Wednesday’s weekly wine tasting at the Belfry Bistro gave me some good ideas for my fall offerings. Classic Wine Imports’ Sales Consultant Polly Hemstock hosted the tasting of Wente Vineyards wines. We were fortunate to have Dan Meunier the New England Regional Sales Manager for the Wente Family Estates to discuss the four wines poured.

As I leaned, and I always learn something, Wente is the oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery in the country, founded more than 128 years ago. Today, the wine making and vineyard management is under the fourth and fifth generations of the Wente family. The Wente Estate wines are made from grapes from their almost 3,000 acres of “sustainablely” farmed vineyards. For over one hundred years they have been in the forefront of the “new” concept of sustainable production, which now many consider to be the new wave in wine making. Wente Vineyards is located just east of San Francisco in the historic Livermore Valley and is also now recognized as one of California’s premier wine country destinations. They feature wine tasting, fine dining, music festivals, and championship golf. Ironically, I was first introduced to Wente in the late 1970s on my first and only sailing adventure in San Francisco Bay. We sailed with an inexperienced friend from San Rafaela past San Quentin to Tiburon, CA. Wente had a tasting room just off the pier where we purchased and drank a little wine before our ill fated return sail. After a long frightening trip home in a stormy and turbulent November San Francisco Bay, I had intentionally forgotten my Wente wine tasting along with the rest of that nautical experience.

My Wednesday tasting of Wente Vineyards inspired me to recall my sailing memories and also created a new appreciation for the Wente wines of today. We started with a Tamás Estates 2009 Pinot Grigio. Tamás Estates is a part of the Wente Family Vineyards portfolio that has focused on Italian style grapes. This crisp and refreshing white wine paired nicely with Atlantic Salmon Tartare, a nice summery start to the evening.

Next we had the Wente 2009 Riva Ranch Charonnay, with Baked Stuffed Barnstable Littleneck Clams. Wente was the first California winery to produce a wine labled Chardonnay in 1936 and many of today’s great Chardonnys are grown from Wente clones. Although aged in oak, the oak was so subtle that I thought it was a non-oaked Chardonnay, which I tend to like.

Our first red of the night was the Wente 2009 Sandstone Merlot, paired with Seared Long Island Duck breast. This merlot is one of Wente’s Vineyard Select wines named for the specific vineyard sourced for the grapes, i.e. the Sandstone Vineyard. This wine is fremented and aged in stainless steel and not oak. This method yields a lower tannined, friutier, and very approachable merlot. It worked perfectly with the Duck.

Cabernet Sauvignon
As the sun was setting on a perfect Cape Cod evening, we finished with the Murietta’s Well 2008 The Spur. Murrieta’s Well is another part of the Wente Family Vineyards portfolio. Also in Livermore, its origins date to the discorvey of an artisan well in 1850 by a Joaquin Murrieta. The Wente’s have been involed since the 1930s and now produce some interesting blends. The Spur is a very drinkable blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot,  Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. Murrieta’s Well also makes a white called The Whip. I assume the inspiration for the name comes from a western, cowboy, horse theme and not…., well I won’t go there.

It was another great night of wine tastings and food pairings. I now have more choices to offer my guest at our Sandwich Inn and a whole new respect for the Wente Family of wines. 

Happy Wine-ing,

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cape Cod Tasting Features Napa Valley Wines

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

July flew by, August is almost gone, and we have been very busy at our Cape Cod Bed and Breakfast. One of my chores is to pick the wines to share with our guests; I work at this by helping pour wine at the weekly Wednesday wine tasting at the Belfry Bistro co-sponsored by my friends at Cellar 55 Wine Merchants. I literally work for wine and last week’s pay was outstanding in the form of Piña wine, a cult wine from Napa Valley, California. 

The tasting actually started with two French Rose’s from Chateau D’Esclans, which didn’t leave much of an impression. I have not had a lot of experience with Rose’ and am not qualified to judge, but personally I have had other less expensive Rose’ that were more memorable. The Rose’ was just a warm-up for the real star of the show, the Piña Napa Valley wines. Mary Tarpy from Andes Imports Company introduced the two wines we enjoyed. 

Piña Brothers

The Piña family history in Napa Valley is traced back to 1856 when their Spanish ancestors first farmed the land. Over the last century and half they have expanded from growing grapes for others, to the full service Piña Vineyard Management that controls the growth cycle for many of the most famous Napa Valley wineries. The current four Piña brothers, Larry, Davie, Ranndy, and John, have demonstrated their leadership as viticulturists and now have extended that expertise to their own small portfolio of single-vineyard wines from their own vineyards.

The grapes for all Piña wines are from their five exceptional vineyards: the Buckeye Vineyard, the D’Adamo Vineyard, Firehouse Vineyard, the Ames Vineyard, and the Wolff Vineyard. Although they are famous for their single-vineyards wines, we started with the 2008 Cahoots, which is a blend from all five vineyards. The Piña label declares Cahoots "A secret collaboration of wines". In only its second year of release, the winemaker Anna Monticelli says "This balanced wine is very approachable and ready to drink now". Unlike their other Cabernets, this wine is crafted to drink younge. I am pleased to say I had already tasted the 2007 and now have tasted the 2008. Both are great, easy drinking wines.

We closed with the single-vineyard 2007 Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon pared with the Belfry’s signature Chocolate Delight desert. Dave from Cellar 55 describes it as a Cab-lovers Cabernet. I know I enjoyed it, especially with the wonderful chocolate. I enjoyed both wines, but at half the price the Cahoots has found a home in my cellar for those special occasions that beg for a great Napa Valley Cab.

All Piña red wines are bottled in striking black bottles with gold etched text. As happy as I was to consume the contents, Nancy Simison, a fellow wine lover and local glass jewelry artesian, was just as happy to take home the empty bottles. She heats the bottles and gives them new life by creating beautifully etched and functional cheese trays. Nancy's art is available at the Collections Gallery on Jarvis Street in Sandwich, just up from the Belfry. I have one of her trays and enjoy recalling the first experience of the wine as I serve my guest from the tray, a gift that keeps on giving. 

Happy Wine-ing!

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cape Cod Summer Evening Wine Tasting

Cape Cod + Summer Evening + Wine = Perfection!

My research for great wines to serve my guest at our Cape Cod Bed and Breakfast never ends, and I love it. If you follow my wine-ings, you may have picked up on my preference for red wines. Last week, I jumped at the chance to help at Cellar 55’s and Belfry Bistro’s tasting that featured all California reds. As dark and stormy as the tasting the week before had been, this night was a picture perfect Cape Cod summer evening.

Paul Russo, the Fine Wine Consultant for Masciarelli Wine Company, did the honors of introducing the wines for the evening. The program listed four wines from the Siduri Winery and the Novy Family Wines. Paul gave us the interesting family background that ties these two quality producers together, and I also found a lot of facts on their websites. The winemakers for both wineries are Adam Lee and Diana (Novy) Lee. Together, they fulfilled their dreams by starting Siduri and achieved success as a nègociant producing highly rated Pinot Noirs with grapes from the best vineyard from Santa Barbara, California to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Adam and Diana and some Novy family members expanded into other varietals under the Novy Family Wines brand. They are literally a "warehouse winery," which means exactly what it sounds like. Both Siduri and Novy Family Wines are produced in a warehouse facility in Sonoma County. They say, “It's low frills, but it allows us to make great quality wine and offer a much more personal tasting experience to our visitors”. I have had wines from both labels, but was unaware of the interconnection and would love to visit them on my next trip to Sonoma.

With this bit of family history, we started the tasting with two Pinots from Siduri. I have always liked their colorful label, which depicts the Babylonian Goddess of wine, Siduri.  The website explains that, in Babylonian mythology, the goddess Siduri held the wine of eternal life. My doctor must agree with the Babylonians since he recommends a glass of red wine a day, and I do my best to follow my doctor’s orders.

Our first Siduri was the 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir paired with a Long Island Duck Leg Confit. This was followed by the 2008 Santa Lucia Highland Pinot Noir paired with a Prosciutto and Arugula salad. I was too busy pouring to enjoy the pairings, but had time to taste the wines side by side. I had the blended 2008 Sonoma Coast last year, but never the single vineyard Santa Lucia Highland. Wine Spectator rated them both over 90 points and I liked them both, maybe leaning slightly to the 2008 Santa Lucia Highlands.

From the Novy Family we started with the 2009 Novy Four Mile Creek paired with a Braised Pork Belly. I discovered this wine last year at Cellar 55 Wine Merchants and have worked into my guest wine offerings ever since.

Although I could not find the exact percentages for 2009, in the past this has be a nice blend of Grenache, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir grapes form some of California’s most famous vineyards. The winemakers take some of the best grapes they have not used for the single vineyard Siduri and Novy wines and makes this easy drinking red table wine. It went great with the pork. 

Our last wine was the 2009 Novy Sonoma County Syrah paired with a Malted Milk Chocolate Shake. Last years 2008 Syrah was my first introduction to the Novy Family Wines and the 2009 lives up to my expectations. And what’s not to like about red wine and chocolate, hands down my favorite paring of the night.

Another great night of wine and food, it’s all in a day’s work for me. I am a lucky man.
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 20, 2011

Sandwich Wine Tasting - Wines of Argentina

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

Work, work, work! Another Wednesday night and another wine tasting at the Belfry Bistro. My work to find new and interesting wines to serve guests at our Cape Cod B&B never ends. I actually was recruited to help pour for the tasting by my friends from Cellar 55 Wine Merchants, so I did ‘work’ in addition to enjoy some new wines. Yes, I work for wine.

All the wines we experienced were from the Bodega Luigi Bosca of Mendoza, Argentina. The Arizu family, who has been growing grapes there since 1901, owns this Bodega. The family is known as winemaking innovators and is one of the leaders in the development on Argentina’s flourishing wine industry. Andrew Craighead, from Testa Wines of the World, conducted the tasting. Andrew is the Luigi Bosca New England Regional Manager. It is always a plus when someone directly connected with the winemakers can give you insights into the people who crafted each bottle.

Our Argentina adventure started with a 2010 La Linda Torrontes. La Lindas are the entry-level wines in the Luigi Bosca lineup. Andrew describes the Torrontes grape as one of Argentina’s most popular white grapes that yields a wine in taste somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay. This light, fruity, dry wine was paired nicely with an interesting grilled peach salad.

Next we had the 2010 La Linda Rose Malbec. Mendoza is known worldwide for its Malbec, so it is not surprising that they produce a Rose, but the typical boldness of the heavy Malbec grape left me with a ‘tartness’ I have not experienced in other Roses made from lighter grapes. I was too busy pouring wine to taste it with the suggested pairing of a Great Hill Blue Cheese and Fresh Plum Tart. Others said the tart mellowed the wine.

As the weather threatened to rain on our beautiful patio setting, we moved onto the 2008 Corte Reservado Malbec & Syrah. This is still a La Linda wine, but a ‘Reservado’, a nice blend of Malbec, Syrah and a little Merlot. I really liked this wine. I would always go for a Syrah over a Malbec and this blend hit me just right. It was an excellent choice to pair with the Snake River waygu Flank Steak with Grilled Summer Vegetables.

We literally raced the rain to pour everyone a glass of the last wine, the 2008 Luigi Bosca Cabernet Sauvignon. We finished the tasting inside, as the attendees enjoyed this last wine with a well matched Belgium Chocolate and Raspberry Flan.

Even a downpour could not dampen this wonderful night of Argentina wines. I think I found a couple the guests at our Sandwich Inn would enjoy. My work is never done, but then I am not complaining, since I enjoy the work so much.

Happy Wine-ing,

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cape Cod Anniversary Wine Tasting

If you stay at our Cape Cod Bed and Breakfast you’ll learn that we like our wine. I love to share wine with our guest and friends and, often over wine, guest become friends. I spend a lot of time tasting wines to offer to our guest, and in this role I frequent the Wednesday tastings at the Belfry Bistro.

On a recent Wednesday, Wendy from Trio Wines introduced us to what she considered to be reasonably priced, easy to drink summer wines. We started with a light white, the 2010 Octave Vinho Verde from Portugal. I love heavy ruby ports from Portugal and have never had a Portuguese white wine that I fondly remember. This white does not change that observation. Next, we went to a 2009 X Winery White, North Coast, an interesting blend of mainly Sauvignon Blanc with touches of Albarino, Muscat, and Chardonnay. I felt the Muscat imparted a sweetness that was not for me. I learn something at every wine tasting. Tonight I was introduced to two new grapes, the Vinho Verde and the Albarino, and I learned they are not at the top of my wish list.

For red wines, Wendy suggested two very different wines from Argentina. The first was the 2009 2 Copas Red Blend, a blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Malbec, from Mendoza. Mendoza is famous for its great Malbec and you can taste the positive impact in this very drinkable and reasonably priced ‘deck’ wine.

We closed with the 2006 Andeluna Reserve Celebracion, a smooth blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. This wine was pared with a delightful Hanger Steak Brochette with Cous Cous, my favorite paring of the night. They truly did save the best for last with this selection.

After the formal tasting, several of our wine loving friends joined Jan and me in a toast to our 38th wedding anniversary. We shared a great Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir from the Belfry Innkeeper’s special wine list. This 2008 Estate Grown Carneros Pinot Noir may now be my new favorite Pinot, and you all know how I love my Pinot Noir.

Although the formal tasting did not yield any new stars for me to share with future guest at our Sandwich inn, it was still a great evening. I was introduced to several new varietals, some interesting blends and learned more about what I personally prefer. I enjoyed the learning experience. But the true highlight of the night was sharing wine with good friends as we celebrated another great year together. We are truly blessed.
Happy wine-ing,

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Oregon Pinot Envy on Cape Cod

We are back at home at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast and I am working harder than ever to find new and exciting wines to serve guest who will be visiting our inn this season. Now that we are home in Sandwich, my job is made easier since I only have to travel a few blocks to attend the weekly Wednesday wine tasting at the Belfry Bistro cosponsored by my friends at Cellar 55 Wine Merchants.

Last year I did a Pinot Envy blog, but last Wednesday night it was an all Oregon show. A nice opportunity to see the different winemakers’ styles and the variation caused by the location, terroir, of the same grapes and all within the same state. Pinot can be a difficult grape to grow but, after years of experience, the farmers and winemakers in Oregon are at the top of their game. 

Spencer from Horizon Beverages was our tour guide as we tasted our way around the state of Oregon. Each of our four Pinots was pared with a food offering that complimented the selected wines. We had two 2008 and two 2009 vintages. The 2008 Oregon vintage is acclaimed as one of the best in the last decade and the 2009 is also receiving high marks, as attested to by the wines we enjoyed tonight. 

Most of Oregon’s wine country hugs the Pacific coast from the Washington state line to the California border. The largest concentration of vineyards and wineries are in the Willamette Valley Appellation (AVA), running southwest from Portland down to Eugene. Our Oregon oenology journey started with an R. Stuart & Co. 2009 Big Fire Pinot Noir from McMinnville, OR. This lightly oaked, dark berry-flavored wine was pared with Gazpacho. Together, the soup pulled out a hidden spiciness in the wine that enhanced the flavor experience of both; a nice refreshing spring paring that I could see enjoying on my patio.  

Next we moved a little further down the Valley to the Dundee Hills sub-AVA and the Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards’ 2009 Pinot Noir ‘Willamette Valley’. The tasting notes said, ‘In our true “classique” style, this wine is approachable and fruit-forward upon release.’ I am not sure what is meant by the classique style, but it sure was what I call a ‘mouth-full’; it was very heavy in a good kind of way. The paring with Pinot Marinated Roasted Olives was a good match. The big difference in style made it impossible to compare the 2008 and 2009 vintages.

Our next stop took us to the end of the Valley, Eugene, and one of Oregon’s largest and best know producers, the King Estate Winery. We enjoyed a Signature Collection King Estate 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir. Lighter and fruiter than the Lange, it pared nicely with a Brie and Red Grape Quesadilla. I have also enjoyed other King Estate wines from their Acrobat and NxNW labels.
We end our Oregon wine wondering back up Valley in Carlton, not far from Dundee Hills. I think they saved the best for last when we finished with Alexana Winery 2008 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills. This luscious and smoky wine was paired with a delightful Cherry Clafouti. The 2008 Alexana gets my vote, but I have to admit I was introduced to this great wine last Thanksgiving by a friend who had lived in Oregon and had the inside track on Pinot Noirs.

I am no longer envious of Oregon’s Pinots, just better informed with some great ideas for guest at our Sandwich bed and breakfast. Come join us at the Inn and see what I am serving.

Happy Wine-ing,

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cape Cod Innkeeper's Virginia Wine Tasting Tour

A Yankee Invades the Virginia Wine County

Even as our winter wanderings wind to a close, we never forget that we must find new and exciting wines to serve to guest at our Cape Cod Bed and Breakfast when we reopen in May. We plotted our return route to include meeting friends in the northern Virginia wine county. We spent Friday night at a very nice RV park in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia just across the Potomac River from Loudoun County Virginia. The next morning was cool and overcast when our friends Bob and Noreen, who live outside of Washington, D.C., picked us up for our wine adventure.

Bob, Noreen and Me at Breaux
Our tour guides, past guests at our Sandwich Inn and Virginia wine aficionados, prepared us for our day by providing state wine maps and a wonderful booklet, the DC’s Wine Country, Loudoun, VA. Touring Guide, published by the Loudoun Convention and Visitors Association, a must for a first time visitor. As always, I had done a little research myself and was amazed to learn that there are almost 200 operating wineries divided amongst Virginias’ six American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Loudoun County is in the Upper Northern Virginia district and home to twenty-two wineries/vineyards. What an opportunity to gain exposure to Virginia wines.

Our experienced friends drove us through the rolling hills with miles of grape vines, trellised and pruned, awaiting spring. Our first stop was Breaux Vineyards, one Virginia’s largest vineyards with over 100 acres planted with 18 different varietals. We arrived a little before 11:00 am and were the first car in the parking lot and the first guest to enter the Mediterranean style tasting center. Our tasting of the eleven wines offered started quietly in the spacious tasting room, but shortly after, as we worked our way through the whites, the calm was shattered as limo loads of young DC urbanites on chauffeured wine tours descended upon Breaux. Our hostess, Katie, stayed with us and guided us through the reds, including a comparison of the 2005 and 2006 Nebbiolo, by far Breaux best wine.  I also enjoyed their sweet desert wine, the 2009 Nebbiolo Ice. Since this was our first stop, we held off making any major purchases, but got all the shipping information we needed for the future.

Noreen skillfully kept us ahead of the crowds, which may have also been slowed by the intermittent downpours. The rain did not dampen our enthusiasm for discovering more wines as we worked our way across Loudoun County. Our next stop was at the Hillsborough Vineyards, a wonderful setting built into the steep valley slopes. I am glad we were not it the RV, as it would not have been an easy climb and there would have been no place to park or turn around. The seated tasting was held in the 1840s barn where we were served plated cheese and chocolates to accompany the wines. Most of the wines were from grapes that I had never heard of and could not pronounce, but they were very nicely presented in flights of two for easy comparisons. We did buy a nice late-harvest Viognier, the 2008 Moonstone. I was surprised to find I like the sweet desert wines from Virginia.

Next, as the sun broke through and the sky cleared, we made we made our way to Sunset Hills Vineyard, positioned in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The tastings are in a 140-year-old barn that was recently restored by a family of six Amish brothers. The 8,000 square foot barn features a stunning 35-foot cathedral beamed ceiling. As I recalled, the tasting room was much more impressive than the wines, all of which seemed light to me. However, all of the vines are newly planted and they have only a few vintages behind them.

As the rains started again, we made our way to Loudoun Valley Vineyards a short way down Va. State Route 9. This small vineyard’s tasting room is housed in an unassuming low building that matched the wines served. The most interesting thing was they offered their tastings in short stem less glasses, which some people think is not the best idea since your hands contact on the glass changes the temperature of the wine.

Our last stop was a very new winery, 8 Chains North, just opened this year. The owner/winemaker, Ben Renshaw, was the winemaker at Sunset Hills Vineyard before going out on his own. I liked some of the reds and think in a few years I would like to revisit this work in progress. After hours of tastings, we headed to Leesburg for a late lunch at Noreen and Bob’s favorite restaurant, the Wine Kitchen. Oh what a treat we were in store for.

The Wine Kitchens’ motto is "Eat, Drink, Simply." Delicious appetizers and small plates are all organic ingredients from local farms. The menu changes based on seasonal availability and wines offered. We grazed on bread and chesses, shrimp, scallops and lamb sausage. The wines, mostly non-Virginia, were offered in cleverly named three wine flights. I tried the ‘Roll out the Red Carpet’ flight of a Napa Cab, Washington Cab and an Italian Merlot. Every wine served is accompanied by humorous tasting notes written by owner Jason Miller. My Di Lenardo Merlot was described as:

"The Darth Vader of the wine universe – powerful, brooding and with merciless flavor. Dark notes of blackberry and anise create a deep bottomless boom James Earl Jones would be proud of. A shiny black helmet of licorice encapsulates notes of roasted coffee and dark chocolate that emerge breathlessly (hahhh pahhh) with each swirl of the glass. A finish that at first seems a bit aggressive and upset at the universe, but then fades quietly like a penny falling down a well, gently bouncing off the sides of your mouth."

I am not sure what it all means, but the wine was great.

Lightfoot Restaurant
After the Wine Kitchen, we had a nightcap at the Lightfoot Restaurant. Located in the turn-of-the century People’s National Bank, it’s wine is stored in the large bank vault that the bar is built around. It was a great end to a great day. With hundreds of more wineries yet to see in Virginia, we will be stopping next year on both are way to and from Florida.

Happy wine-ing

Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts.