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.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wine Blending: A New Craze?

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

In my never-ending search for wines to share with guest at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast, I attend all kinds of formal and informal wine tastings. In fact, I usually do some sort of structured tasting at least once a week. No, seriously, this part of my job and most tastings follow a predictable course. For example, the weekly Wednesday tasting at the Belfry Bistro normally includes four wines, two white and two red, each pared with an appetizer to complement that given wine. At a recent event I was introduced to a wine blending experience, which gave me a whole new appreciation for wine. Jan often asks me if I would every want to make my own wine and up to now I was always more interested in enjoying the product of others' efforts than making my own. But this attitude may be changing with my new knowledge. 

The event was officially titled, Magnificat: The Art & Experience of Blending. It was held at the Belfry Bistro and was co-sponsored by Cellar 55 Wine Merchants, the Horizon Beverage Company, and Constellation Brands. Julie Handel Ochse, Constellation’s Sales Director for Luxury Wines, hosted and lead us through the blending experience; an educational, fun, and completely new experience for me and I think for all the other participants.   

Julie gave us a lot of background before we got to the art and fun of blending. The great French wines from Bordeaux are the classic examples of a blended wine where a number of different grape varietals are blended together and presented as the finished wine. In France, Bordeaux is classically made from five black grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. For centuries, the magic and mystery of each individual bottle of Bordeaux is the result of where the different grapes are grown, the terroir, and then how the winemaker chooses to mix or blend the five varietals.

In the 1980s, as California wine varietals gained worldwide attention, some of the early Napa Valley pioneers wanted to demonstrate their skills and create memorable blends. They coined a uniquely American word, Meritage, derived from ‘merit’ and ‘heritage’, to designate proprietary wines made only of the five Bordeaux varietals. One of the driving forces in this movement was the Franciscan Estate Winery with its 240-acre Oakville vineyard in the very heart of Napa Valley.

Franciscan's Magnificat
Franciscan’s first 1985 Meritage was labeled ‘Magnificat’ after a classic Bach choral piece written for five voices, i.e. the five classic Bordeaux grapes. Jan is a classically trained singer and I am sure has sung this piece and the next time I hear it I’ll sip a little of Franciscan’s Magnificat and hear it from a new perspective.

With that background, let’s get back to the blending. Each participant was seated in front of a placemat on which sat eight glasses, five with wine in them and three empty. The five glasses had a measured amount of the five varietals placed in a circle that identified each. Two of the empty classes were on circles marked respectively Trial Blend 1 and 2. Also on the mat were a booklet and a plastic pipette. For those of us who as students missed some of our Chemistry classes, what is a pipette? It is a long tube with milliliter measurement markings on it that you suck on to pull liquid into the tube to transfer to another container. I would have called it a miniature ‘wine thief’, like those I have seen used at barrel tastings. Julie instructed us on how to use the pipette and read the markings.

Photo of wine blending kit
First we tasted each of the five varietals and Julie reviewed their characteristics with thoughts as to how each may influence the taste of a blend. Then we used the pipette to extract the amount of each varietal that we felt would make the perfect blend and deposited it in another wine glass. After tasting our Trial Blend 1, we repeated the exercise, adjusting the amount of the varietals used to create our Trial Blend 2. It was very interesting to see the difference that your blending choices had on the final wine. Our last glass on the placemat was then filled with the 2007 Magnificat and we had the chance to do a side-by-side comparison of our Trials and the real thing. Julie also shared with us the actual 2007 Magnificat blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec, and no Cabernet Franc.  

When I finished, my placemat, glasses, and hands were wine stained from my sloppy use of the thief, but even though a little red, I had great time. Yes, I learned more about wine making then I knew before, but to be honest I did not enjoy either of my two trials anywhere near as much as the real Magnificat. So, I also learned to leave the winemaking to the pros, but I appreciate even more the skill and effort it takes to create the marvelous blends we enjoy. Stay with us at our bed and breakfast and I’ll share some of my favorite blends with you and we will have a magnificent time. And, as always.....
Happy Wine-ing

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

North By Northwest Wine Tasting

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

North by Northwest can be more than the position on a campus if you found yourself at a wine tasting in Sandwich in the summer time. At a recent tasting at the Belfry, I was looking for wines to serve our guest at our bed and breakfast and was taken in a whole new direction as we tasted NxNW wines from King Estates.

The King Estate wines from Eugene, Oregon was one of my early introductions to great wines from Oregon. Tasting their Pinot Noir in the late 1990s made me see that I was limiting my potential wine enjoyment when I only focused on California wines. The highly successful King Estate has moved into new geographical areas as they expanded from their traditional strength in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris to other varietals. The King family NxNW project is focused on grapes from vineyards in the Columbia River Basin that spans Oregon and Washington. Many consider this Columbia River Appellation an emerging wine growing region with unique ‘terroir’ that holds promise for great wines.

Spencer Knowles, Wine Manager at the Horizon Beverage Company, guided our tour of this new frontier, as we tasted four wines from NxNW. With over 80 attendees at the tasting, I helped my friends from Cellar 55 Wine Merchants pour. I previewed all the wines, but was too busy during the tasting to experience the food parings, which everyone raved about, so I’ll only talk about the wines and not the food parings. 

NxNW Wine Logo
We started with the NxNW 2010 Riesling Horse Heaven Hills. As the NxNW project stresses the ‘terroir’ and different varietals, this Riesling exemplifies both. It is a dry and crisp wine from contracted grapes grown in Washington State’s renowned Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Like all NxNW wines, there is limited production --for the Riesling only 5,000 cases were bottled--which may sound like a lot, but isn’t when you consider that King Estates’ Acrobat label produces 42,000 cases of its Pinot Gris. I am not a big white wine person, but have been serving the Acrobat at the Inn since a tasting last year and may try the Riesling this fall.

Next, we went to the NxNW 2008 Columbia Valley Syrah, my favorite of the night. Although I missed the paring, I am sure this big wine went great with its steak paring.

Wine label for North by North West WineThis is a very limited production wine with only 333 cases produced and we were very lucky to taste it and have the opportunity to purchase it. NxNW labels are visually interesting and very informative. They include all the ‘technical’ information about each wine including the Vineyards, Soil type, Harvest date, etc. Although maybe more info than anyone needs, I find it fascinating. But then I like the details. The case production is the only other item I would like to see on it. Then you would know just how rare and special a wine is.

We finished we two Cabs, the NxNW 2009 Columbia Valley and the 2009 Walla Walla.  Both were big, heavily tannined wines that will age well. Although they are both distributed nationally, at 5,000 cases the Columbia Valley is more readily available than the Walla Walla at only 675-6 packs.

Walla Walla Wine LabelThe more exclusive Walla Walla is also sequentially numbered, another fact that is on its label. The Walla Walla Cab, like the limited production Syrah, was a real treat to taste and have the opportunity to buy. Come stay with us at our bed and breakfast and I may be serving some of this great, rare wine from the Northwest. 
Happy Wine-ing

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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Tasting of Grgich Hills Estate Wines

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

Oh what a night! I love that song by Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons, and it describes a recent tasting where I found some great wines to serve guests at our bed and breakfast. On a wonderful summer evening at the Belfry, I tasted great wines and learned some great history about the early days of Napa Valley wine making. As some of you may know, I love history and often the story about a wine is as good or better than the wine.

The tasting was hosted by Cellar 55 Wine Merchants and presented by Polly Hemstock from Classic Wine Imports. We shared four wines from Grgich Hills Estate from Rutherford, in the heart of Napa Valley. I was so intrigued with Polly’s historical notes on the history of the founder and the Estate that I spent time later researching it. My understanding of Mike Grgich’s important place in the history of Napa gave me a much deeper appreciation for the wines we tasted that night. 

Photo of Grgich Hills Winery in California
Grgich Hills Winery
Mike Grgich, born Miljenko Grgic in Croatia, came to the United States in 1958 to work for some the early pioneers of the fledgling wine industry in Napa Valley. He apprenticed at the established and well respected Souverain Cellars, Christian Brothers, and Beaulieu Vineyards. He moved on to become a young winemaker for the new venture started by Robert Mondavi, who was his lifelong friend. In 1972, he joined Chateau Montelena as a limited partner and winemaker where he made the 1973 Chardonnay that won the famous Paris Tasting. The best book about this historic 1976 event is the ‘Judgment of Paris’ by George Taber. A less historically accurate, but very humorous and informative movie called ‘Bottle Shock’ also covers the event. The significant message in both is that for the first time, California wines were recognized as better than the historically far superior French wines. As stated by Mr. Taber on his on his book cover, “The Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine".

For years I have seen Grgich Hills wine in shops, but never tasted any and never realized that this Grgich was the famous winemaker from the Paris tasting. I also did not know that the "Hills" in Grgich Hills is for Austin Hills of the Hills Brothers Coffee family, Mike's long time business partner. I thought the winery established in 1997 was located on a hill named Grgich in Rutherford. See how little I know. But this night’s tasting set me straight on many facts and exposed me to the wines that are still being made by this California legend, even as he approaches 90.

Polly artfully weaved in these bites of history that I loved as we explored the wines. The first wine was the 2010 Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc Napa Valley pared with a Summer Fruit Salad with local honey. This oak finished Sauvignon Blanc was heavy on the grapefruit and went super with the honeyed fruit. Next we had the 2009 Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay pared with a Pan Seared Local Striped Bass. The combination was terrific, the Chardonnay is what made him famous and this was proof that he has lost nothing in the years since his 1976 victory.

I quickly learned that although he may be famous his Chardonnay, he knows how to make a great red. We started with the 2008 Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley with Prosciutto and Fig Pizza. I fell in love with this Zinfandel and the fig paring was perfect.

Photo of a Grgich Hills Cabernet WineWe finished with the 2007 Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon pared with a Slow Cooked Colorado Lamb Pot Pie. The Cab was great, but I got so excited about the Lamb paring that I forgot about the details of the Cab. I only hope they put this Pot Pie on the fall menu at the Belfry Bistro.

Back to my earlier refrain; Oh, What a Night! I got a lot of great history and a lot of great wine and food parings. As is often the case with low production, legendary wines, the price point is not something that makes it attractive to serve as a house wine, but I still had a great time and, as always, gained knowledge and another story to share with guest at our Inn.

 Happy Wine-ing

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wine, Wednesday, and My Birthday

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

How dedicated am I to finding good wines to share with my guest at our bed and breakfast? So dedicated, that I attended a wine tasting on my birthday. OK, so it wasn’t that much of a sacrifice. As many of you know, I help my friends at Cellar 55 Wine Merchants and the Belfry Bistro almost every Wednesday evening during the season. Since my birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, I did not work and instead Jan took me to the tasting for my Birthday. It was a treat to actually sit and enjoy the wines and food parings. It was a double treat since the wines were from the Siduri family of wines, a winery we tasted last year and that I liked very much.

Paul Russo, Fine Wine Consultant from Masciarelli Wine Company, presented the four wines; two Siduri and two Novy. Siduri Wines, based in Santa Rosa, CA, has been making ultra premium, single vineyard Pinot Noirs from grapes sourced from California and Oregon since 1994. Siduri’s founders and winemakers, Adam and Diane (Novy) Lee, have kept Siduri only focused on Pinot Noirs and in 1998 expanded into other varietals, with the help of family members, under the Novy Family Wines brand. 

Paul started the night with the 2010 Novy Russian River Gewurztraminer pared with Coconut Shrimp with Pineapple Salsa. I am not a big fan of Gewurztraminer and found this one, like most I have tasted, too sweet for me. It did improve with the shrimp and, since Jan doesn’t eat shrimp, I enjoyed two servings.

We next moved to the 2010 Novy Four Mile Creek Red Table Wine pared with a Sweet and Savory Chicken Lettuce Wrap. Last year I served the 2009 at the Inn and it had been selected by the Wine Enthusiast magazine as one of the Top 100 values of 2011. This year’s blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Zinfandel somehow missed the mark for me and left me flat. Jan liked the lettuce wrap and she enjoyed two servings as I contemplated the difference a year can make in a wine. This is another good reason to go to wine tastings and revisit wines you have enjoyed in the past; to see if they still meet your expectations. I’ll wait until the next vintage before this wine is served at the Inn. 

Chelhalem Moutnains
At the halfway point of the evening, we switched to Siduri and made my evening. First, we had the 2010 Siduri Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir pared with Grilled All Natural Pork Loin with Plum Chutney. Siduri specializes in only Pinot Noir and these grapes were sourced from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I had not had this wine before and loved it both with and without the pork. You can drink this by itself or with a heavy meal.

We finished with 2010 Siduri Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir pared with a Frozen Chocolate Cabernet Shooter. The grapes are blended from five different vineyards all from the Santa Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara County, CA. This is the third vintage of this wine that I have had and it is as good as ever. For me it was the perfect match to the Chocolate and by far my favorite wine of the evening. 

Ok, so I thought the evening was all about me when the staff led the 70 plus guests in a round of Happy Birthday to me. It’s acceptable to think that way on my birthday, especially since I was working so hard looking for the next great wine to share with my guest at our bed and breakfast. Come stay with us and, even if it’s not my birthday, I’ll share my latest finds with you.    

Happy Wine-ing

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

Grerat Napa Valley Wines

Photo of winemaker Jamey Whetstone and blogger Charlie.
Jamey Whetstone & Me
Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ing

Hey dude! Wines Up! 

Tell the truth, what do you think of when you think about California? A lot of that California image is about longhaired blonds, surfing and a laid-back life style. So, I think Jamey Whetstone is the quintessential picture of the cool, laid back Californian. This is Jamey and me at the bar at the Belfry. What do you think?

The crowd at a recent Wednesday tasting had the chance to meet this exceptional winemaker in person. It is always fun to hear how each wine you are tasting took its course from a grape on the vine to the juice in your glass and to hear it from the man who actually made all the critical decisions is even more exciting. I am happy my search for wines to serve guest at our bed and breakfast let me cross his path.

This is the second time I have met Jamey Whetstone the founder and winemaker at Whetstone Wine Cellars, a boutique Napa Valley winery. Based on his appearance and his general California attitude, one would think he is a native of the wine country fulfilling his destiny, but oh how looks can be deceiving. At our tasting, Jamey shared four of his excellent wines and his unusual career path to creating great wines. As the night of sharing proceeded, we learned that Jamey actually hailed form the East coast and moved form Charleston, South Carolina to St. Helena to manage the famous Mustards Restaurant. Jan and I have had the pleasure of dining their a few times on our Napa excursions and loved it. Jamey told wonderful side stories about the great Robert Mondavi sitting at his bar challenging him to find a better Pinot Noir than he personally had made for Mustard's to serve as their house wine.

Jamey described his official entry into the wine industry as a temporary hiatus from the restaurant business that had him driving a tractor in the vineyards of Larry Turley. He credits this accidental detour with the discovery of his passion for making wine. Jamey gained invaluable experience with some of the most notable wine masters of Napa Valley and know has his own labels, a growing reputation and a near cult following.

Photo of a bottle of Manifesto Zin
Manifesto Zin
We tasted three wines from a joint venture called Manifesto Wines. With humor and refreshing honesty, Jamey explained how Manifesto was created to produce affordable and highly marketable wines. He shared that they also help him support his passion as expressed in the limited production Whetstone Cellars’ Pinot Noirs.   

We started with a nice 2009 Manifesto North Coast Sauvignon Blanc pared with Barnstable Oysters. Next we had an easy drinking, 2009 Manifesto Lodi Zinfandel pared with Grilled Fresh Black Mission Figs with Honey Goat Cheese. Then the 2009 Manifesto North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon matched with a Grilled Pineland Farms Flat Stake.

We finished with the 2010 Whetstone Cellars Jon Boat Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir accented by a very nice Belgian Chocolate Flan.
Photo of Whetstone Wine
Whetstone Cellars

The last was the best, but then I seldom have met a Pinot I did not like. The final wine also spoke to Jamey’s passion. Throughout the evening he spoke of his good luck and the fortunate experiences that guided him, but I think his talent and skill have more to do with it than random luck. I enjoyed his wines as much as his stories and have found some new wines for guests at our Inn. Join us and I’ll do the best I can to repeat Jamey’s stories as we share his Manifesto and maybe his passion too. 

Happy Wine-ing

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

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Wine on the Patio on Wednesdays

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings 

You know summer is almost here when the weekly Wednesday wine tastings at the Belfry Bistro move to the beautiful outside patio. During a lovely May evening, I was introduced to more potential wines to serve my guest at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast inn. We explored four wines from Argentina with Spencer Knowles form the Horizon Beverage Company. All the wines were made by Pascual Toso Winery or in Spanish, Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso, from Mendoza, Argentina.

Photo of a bottle of 2009 Torrontes
Pascual Toso has been making wines since Mr. Toso emigrated from Italy in the mid 1880s making it one of the oldest wineries in Argentina. In 2001, the Bodega hired the renowned Paul Hobbs as a winemaker consultant to help them produce a higher quality of wine, which has resulted in the wines we tasted. In earlier blogs I have shared my experience with the excellent wines from the Paul Hobbs Winery in Sebastopol, CA.

At this tasting, we began with the 2009 Torrontes. This is a unique Argentinean grape variety which produces a crisp, refreshing white wine. It was well paired with a Lemon Fried Calamari. My guests will definitely be seeing this at the Inn. 
Photo of bottle of 2009 Chardonnay

Next we moved to the 2009 Chardonnay paired with a Walnut and Pear salad. This wine is fermented in stainless steel and only sees limited amounts of Oak. I tend to like a lighter, less oaked Chard and liked this very much. Guests at our inn will certainly have an opportunity to sample this wine at our regular afternoon tastings very soon.

Photo of a bottle of Argeneinean Malbac Wine
Our first red was the 2009 Malbec paired with a Braised Brisket. Argentina is famous for its Malbecs and no one does it better than Pascual Toso. This was my favorite wine of the evening and my favorite pairing. The Chef finished the Brisket with a Malbec barbecue sauce that made me wish I could cook. 

We finished our tasting with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chocolate Chevre. A perfect pairing for the end of a delightful night on the patio, and the first of many this summer, I am sure.    

Come stay with us an join me on the patio and we can share a taste of Argentina. Sorry, I will not be cooking, but the wine will still be great. 

Happy Wine-ing

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wine Tasting at its Best

Photo of Charlie the wine blogger.
Charlie’s weekly Wine-ings

New guests are arriving for their holiday and I feel the pressure to find new wines to serve them while they are with us at our bed and breakfast. Lucky for me, I have friends in the trade that invite me to some very unique wine tastings. Within a week’s time, I enjoyed two such special tastings. 

The first was billed as a ‘Trunk Show Tasting’ of wines by Heidi Berrett at the Embargo restaurant in Hyannis. As I learned, Heidi has an impressive resume, making wines for some of the Napa Valley’s super premium cult wines. Her works include perfect 100-point wines for Screaming Eagle in 1992 and 1997. I was excited to taste her latest project, Amuse Bouche. This is a big Napa Valley Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend created in a Pomerol-style to rival Chateau Petrus and Chateau Le Pin. These two first growth French wines often are almost untouchable with prices as, on release, they are in the thousands of dollars. I found the 2008 Petrus on-line for $2,799 and the 1982 for just over $9,000. It is not surprising that I have never tasted these wines, so I cannot honestly compare them to the 2009 Amuse Bouche I tasted. The 2009 may have been the best Merlot I have ever had and, at over $200 a bottle, may also be the most expensive. 

Photo of Amuse Bouche wine lable.
Another unique attribute of this wine is that a famous artist creates each vintage’s label. When the 2010 is released it will have a label by the late actor Toni Curtis. Only 575 case of the wine have been made, but each lucky person on the limited allocation list will also receive a lithograph of Cocktails for Two, numbered and signed by Curtis. I am sure the release price will also be reflective of the great wine and unique art the buyer will receive. I am sorry that I am not on the list. Some of us may have recognized the Berrett name from the famous 1976 Paris tasting when two California wines beat the best of the French wines in a blind tasting. Jim Berrett made the winning Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, and is the father of Heidi’s husband Bo Berrett.

Although the Embargo tasting was fun, a week later I had an even better experience at Cellar 55 where we tasted wines from Tom Eddy Wines. The key was that we tasted the wines with Tom Eddy himself, the owner and winemaker at Tom Eddy Wines.

What a great experience. Tom has been a force in Napa Valley since the 1970’s and has worked with some of the best-known names in the industry before starting his own winery in 1989. On his website he states:

Photo of winemaker Tom Eddy with a bottle of his wine.
Tom Eddy
“Making wine has been, and always will be, our passion, our work, and our play. But as we dedicate ourselves to quality in our wines, we are acutely cognizant that it’s also about the journey: relationships created, wines shared, concern for our community, and the environment; sprinkled with lots of laughter. Our goal is a life well lived, with honesty, humility and integrity, all of which we hope translates into our wine.”

We leisurely tasted five of his wines over two hours that just flew by as Tom told how he made his wines, but also told stories of his almost 40 years in Napa Valley. I liked his 2009 Elodian Pinot Noir the best and now proudly display a bottle signed by Tom in my cellar.

Tom’s stories included how he did not get one of the first jobs that he applied for in 1974 with Warren Winiarski at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Winiarski’s 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was the red wine that beat the French wines at the afore mentioned 1976 Pairs tasting. We encouraged Tom to write a book to capture these great memories and share with us. He personally knows, and is one of, the great California wine makers that have made California the world leader in wine that it is today. 

What a week, tasting some of the most expensive wines I have ever tasted and then personally meeting and sharing wine with one of today’s wine maker legends. Stay with us at our Sandwich Inn and I might just share some this wine with you. 

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 16, 2012

Wine Tasting Notes

Photo of Wine Blogger Charlie Preus.
Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ing

Guests are arriving daily and I am hot on the trail to find new wines to share with them at our Sandwich Inn. The Belfry now has a formal tasting ever Wednesday, which gives me a close to home opportunity to taste new wines. It is also a time to see wine loving friends that I have not seen all winter.

Photo of Seven Heavenly Chardonnay wine.
Last week, the Belfry and Cellar 55 co-hosted a tasting featuring the Michael and David Winery and presented by Polly, the very knowledgeable Sales Consultant from Classic Wine Imports. Brothers Michael Phillips and David Phillips are the co-owners of this Lodi, CA. winery where their family has farmed since 1860. The family survived the dark days of Prohibition by selling their grapes around the country with detailed instructions on “how not to have the grapes turn into wine.” This early sense of humor and creative marketing can still be seen today in the wines we tasted.
Photo of Petite Petit red wine.
We started the tasting with the 2010 Seven Heavenly Chardonnay, a lightly oaked, crisp wine that was paired with Garlic Shrimp. The tasting notes say this is the sister bottling to their better-known Seven Deadly Zins but personally I liked the Zin much better. This white was quickly forgotten as we jumped to the reds.

Our first red served was the 2010 Petite Petit paired with Yellow Fin Tuna. I have had the last three vintages of this wine and have loved it every time. The 2010 stands right up to past years and is still a wonderful blend of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot. The wine was big and too big for the tuna, but I still enjoyed it very much.

Next we moved on to the 2007 6th Sense Syrah paired with bacon wrapped pork tenderloin. I had not had this wine before, but it fits right in with Michael and David’s other cleverly named wines; it was very big and went great with the smokey pork.

Photo of a bottle of 6th Sense Syrah red wine.

We finished with the 2009 Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a chocolate mousse. Who doesn’t like Cab and chocolate, truly a match made in Heaven.

Photo of a bottle of Earthquake Caberner Sauvignon wine.So, it was a lovely night of new wines and old friends. Come and stay with us at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast and let me introduce you to some new wines and we may even become old friends.
Happy Wine-ing

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

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Special Wine With Friends

Photo of wine blogger and innkeeper Charlie Preus
Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

Yes, the busy season is right around the corner for us as Cape Cod Innkeepers and I am looking for wines to offer our guest. I have attended a few of the industry tastings and a few of the formal tastings at the Belfry Bistro. But a recent ‘impromptu’ tasting with my friends at Cellar 55 Wine Merchants introduced me to exceptional wines. As you may know, the same wines are not available everywhere. Limited distribution may be a factor if only a small number of cases were originally produced or selected placement could be the winery’s marketing strategy. You may find a wine you love in a restaurant that is not sold to retail stores, or select wines may only be available for purchase at the winery or to their wine club members. I belong to a couple wine clubs whose wines are not distributed to any east coast wholesalers or retailers.

Photo of a bottle of Sea Smoke Pinot Noir
As to the recent impromptu tasting, Cellar 55’s David just recently returned to Cape Cod from their seasonal yacht purveyor business on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. When he called to invite me to share some special bottles that he brought back, I was there before he got the corks out of the bottles. We started with a 2009 Sea Smoke Southing Pinot Noir. I had only heard the name Sea Smoke from David when he would call over the winter to tell me about the great wines he had access to in the Islands. I loved this wine and with a little research learned it is a ‘world-class’ Pinot from Santa Barbara’s Santa Rita Hills AVA. This is the kind of wine that Miles, the lead character in that great movie Sideways, would have held up as proof of his belief that Santa Barbara is the perfect place to make perfect Pinot Noir. Then David tells me that as good as this wine is, the Sea Smoke ‘Ten’ offering is twice as good. Unfortunately for me, none of the Ten made it on the plane.    
Photo of a bottle of Turley Howell Mountain Zinfandel
Next we went to a 2009 Turley Cedarman Vineyards Howell Mountain Napa Valley Zinfandel. Unlike the Sea Smoke, I am familiar with Turley wines and have enjoyed their Zinfandel in the past. Actually, Jan and I visited the Turley Wine Cellars in Templeton, CA. (near Paso Robles) on our great 2006 wine adventure. At the time, I was doing a consulting project that required telephone conference calls at noon Eastern Standard Time. We were traveling in the RV and I planned my day around the 9:00 AM Pacific Time conference call and visiting Turley winery. We arrived in our fairly large RV at the tasting room’s small parking lot at about 8:30 a.m. and watched the employees coming to work as I conducted my call. After a few hours, I was afraid I would be asked to leave as tourist filled the lot. Thankfully, no one chased me off and I went in and tasted some great Zinfandels from some very old (over 120 years) vines.

Larry Turley is known for his big Zins, which he feels can only be made from these ancient vines. I did learn from this tasting that the first Turley Wine Cellars was, and still, is located in St. Helena, CA in the heart of Napa Valley, thus this Howell Mountain vineyard designation on the label. So, although I thought I was knowledgeable about Turley, unlike Sea Smoke, I again learned something new and enjoyed a great bottle of wine. 

What a life, a friend brings wines that we will never find in Massachusetts and shares them with me. Come and stay with us at our Inn in Sandwich, MA, and I’ll be happy to share some of my interesting wine finds with you.  
Happy Wine-ing

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cape Cod Wine 2012

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings  

Wow, it’s great to be home from our winter travels. As we prepare our bed and breakfast for the first guest of the season, we each have our jobs to do. Mine is to find more great wine to serve. Fortunately, another right of spring on Cape Cod is the formal industry wine tastings held by wine wholesalers and distributors. Most wines make it to your favorite retail wine shop or restaurant via one of a dozen or so wholesalers/distributors that have contracts with the winery. All during the year, their sales teams call on my friends at Cellar 55 to introduce them to new releases from their client wineries’ products by bring the  samples to the store. Once a year, select wholesalers bring all their clients to Cape Cod and invite us to easily sample the complete range of wines offered by the numerous wineries. In my role as Wine Steward at the Inn, I am obliged to attend as many of these ‘trade’ tastings as I can and am pleased to be invited. 

So what’s more fun than going to a wine tasting of four or five wines?  How about a tasting of hundreds of wines. That’s what a trade tasting is all about. My first week back from Florida, I went to the M.S.Walker tasting at a hotel in Hyannis. Walker is a major New England distributor of both liquor and wine. They represent over 150 well-known wineries just in North America and 100’s more from around the world. The tasting was held in the hotel’s ballroom from 3:00 to 7:00 PM. At about 4:00, I walk into a huge room with 46 tables of wines, each offering anywhere from four to six wines to sample. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. With over 300 wines, you need a strategy more than stamina, and a wooden leg wouldn’t hurt.

Strategy wise, I start by review of the thick tasting book which identifies the wines offered at each table. I have to admit I look at the selling price; I mean would you rather start with an $8.00 bottle or a $50.00 bottle? Again, this is a tasting and you should not be actually consuming large qualities, but you will be absorbing a fair share and there is only so much time. I also had an assignment from Cellar 55 to find certain varieties of wines to fit into certain price ranges. So a key to my table selection was the variety offered and the price points.

With these guidelines, I charged through many tables of fine wine and some not so fine. I made a few discoveries that I recommended and hope will be on the Cellar’s shelves this summer. I was very impressed with the Kim Crawford Pinot Noir. I have never been a big fan of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for which Kim Crawford is often held up as the global standard. The Pinot was excellent and I think fits in nicely with the range currently offered by the Cellar.  

Another find was the Matanzas Creek Winery 2007 Bennett Valley Merlot. I was aware of the Santa Rosa winery’s name, but had never tried any of their wines. I have not been drinking a lot of Merlot lately, but this is one that will get me back on the trail of other Sonoma County Merlots. A great thing about a trade tasting is the chance to try some new wineries. 

Another great thing about a spring trade tasting is seeing friends in the hospitality business. The ballroom was packed and I saw dozens of people I have gotten to know over the years, most of which I now only see at such events because when the season starts we are all too busy to connect. Old friends and new wines made for a perfect welcome home. So many wines and so little time. 
Happy Wine-ing
Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wine & Memories

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ing

Happy days are almost here again! Wednesday, the wine tastings resume at the Belfry Bistro. As we prepare for our Valentine’s Day guests at our Cape Cod bed and breakfast, I am still looking for the right wines to serve. While waiting for the formal tasting to start, I have been informally exploring wines that cross my path. A Christmas gift of wine from guests that have become good friends brought back a flood of childhood memories. No, I did not start drinking wine when I was that young, but all wines have a story to tell. 

Kevin and Lynne from Canada have stayed with us many times over our nine years here, the last time was this past 4th of July, but that is another story. Kevin is an amateur wine maker and always brings us a few bottles of his latest vintage. Our routine is to sample one of the new ones along with one from his last visit. For the occasion I invite other wine loving friends for what has become know as Wine Patio. I then cellar the remaining new ones until Kevin and Lynne return.

I knew Kevin had a temporary work assignment in California and I knew he and Lynne would take advantage of their proximity to great wine country. Right before Christmas a packaged arrived with brochures and wine guides from Santa Barbara to Napa Valley that confirmed they visited a lot if wineries. How envious am I? They teased me with the documentation of their travels, but also included two bottles of wine. The first was a 2010 Charles Shaw Cabernet, which I know Kevin included as a joke. Charles Shaw was first widely distributed in Trader Joe stores at a ridiculously low price and is infamously known as Two Buck Chuck. Unfortunately, the level of quality is also reflected in the price. I’ll save this one for Kevin’s next visit. The second wine was a 2008 Fess Parker Santa Rita Hills Ashley’s Pinot Noir. In no way is this a joke and I could not wait to taste it, sorry Kevin.

The Fess Parker Winery is in Los Olivos, California in the Santa Barbara Wine Country made famous by the Sideways movie about Pinot Noir. This was a great bottle of Pinot, but the flash back of memories for me is the Fess Parker name. Who growing up in the 1950s and 1960s does not remember Davey Crocket and Daniel Boone?

Fess Parker was a TV actor that portrayed both these historic frontiersmen and inspired the sale of millions of coonskin caps and buckskin jackets with fringe. I wish I could find that picture of me marching in the 1955 Palatine Illinois Centennial parade in my cap and jacket my mother made for me carrying my antique 22 rifle pretending to be a mini Davey Crocket. Fess Parker is gone, passing away in 2010 at age 85, and his family continues to run the winery and are making some great wines. If you visit the winery you will see a lot memorable from the Crocket/Boone era.

So a great bottle of wine has brought me a flood of great memoirs. Come stay at our Sandwich Inn and we can share a bottle of wine and create new memories. 

Happy Wine-ing

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

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wente Wines Informal Tasting

Charlie's Weekly Wine-ings 

Informal wine tastings have been helping me find new wines to serve guests at our  bed and breakfast. Through my friends at Cellar 55 Wine Merchants, my local wine shop, I have met a lot of the Sales Consultants who represent the major wine wholesalers. Their job is to go to retailers and restaurants and introduce the wines they sell. This can only be done by tasting all the wines. It doesn’t sound like that hard of a job, but of course professionals like these taste, but do not drink the wine. That is a skill I have had trouble mastering, since I always want to drink it. When Cellar 55 is open, one sales rep or another is stopping by about every other day showing either new wines or the latest vintage of stocked wineries. I am often there at the right time to get to participate.

Since the Cellar is closed until April, while the team is tending their other business in the US Virgin Islands, I have been missing these weekly tastings. But the Sales Consultants still make calls on other businesses in Sandwich and sometimes stop by the Inn. Recently, Polly from Classic Wine Imports dropped by with some interesting offerings from Wente Vineyards. It’s nice to have friends in the trade.

My blog followers may remember me mentioning Wente in previous blogs. I have not thought about or tasted Wente wines since an ill-fated San Francisco Bay sailing experience over the Thanksgiving Holiday in 1976. So over 35 years ago, at a tasting room in Tiburon, CA I had my first Wente wines. As I recall they were called Adequate Red and Adequate White and we concluded they were incorrect about the white. Just in the last year I have been reintroduced to Wente and in fact have written several blogs about them. On a recent visit, Polly shared some of Wente’s higher end, Estate Grown wines from their Heritage Block selections.

Wente’s Heritage Block wines are grown in specific vineyard blocks named for the pioneers who relate to the history of Wente Vineyards’ winemaking tradition and premier Estate vineyards. We started with the 2010 Riva Ranch Chardonnay. It is a nice medium-bodied Chardonnay with a rich, golden color. I prefer Chards with less in your face oak and, although this sees 10 months barrel aging, it is very subtle and much to my liking.

Pinot Noir
Next we had the 2008 Reliz Creek Pinot Noir. You may consider this more of Burgundian style wine with more earthy and mineral qualities. The grapes are sourced from vineyards that are planted with old Pommard clones, which paired with their wine making process supports the French style. It was just delightful.

We finished with the 2009 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Livermore Valley vines planted in the 1880. This was Jan’s favorite and she is not a big Cab drinker. It is a very drinkable and smooth wine. The old vines give it depth and intensity, but with low tannins.

I am not sure how these reds will age, but they are very approachable now and would not last long in my cellar. We did not have food pairings with this impromptu tasting and all of these wines may have more surprises in store when enjoyed with a meal. Wente wines are way past that almost Adequate state of 35 years ago.

Jan, Polly, and I sat around the kitchen counter and tasted these fun wines. What a nice way to spend time on a cold February afternoon and I think I found some new choices for guest at our Sandwich Inn. Come and stay with us and a friendly Sales rep my pop in with some wines to share at our wine kitchen. 
Happy wine-ing!

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Pino I Still Love

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

For my blog followers, you may know that I have been missing the formal weekly Wednesday wine tastings in Sandwich. Good news is they are starting up again in a few weeks. Since we are still in town and still having guests, I need new wines now to serve at our bed and breakfast. I am taking advantage of less formal tasting opportunities and creating some of my own by revisiting wines I have liked it the past. 

A wine loving friend gave me a Papapietro Perry 2000 Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir for Christmas. My good friends know I love Papapietro Perry, which I discovered on our great 2006 wine odyssey when we put 13,000 miles on our then new Winnebago Aspect. We went across country on US I 10 and stopped when we hit the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, CA. We worked our way north on Highway 1, also known as Pacific Coast Highway, and ended up in Healdsburg in the heart of the Sonoma Valley.

An old high school friend from forty years ago introduced me to Bruce Perry at his tasting room in newly renovated buildings that originally was a sun-dried tomato process farm. My friend knew Bruce and his winemaking friend Ben Papapietro in San Francisco, where they used to drink home made wine from Ben’s garage. They have come a long way from that garage.

That day we also met Ben and barrel tasted the just harvested 2005 vintage. I fell in love with their Pinot Noirs. It was not surprising that I had not heard of Papapietro Perry since at that time they were not widely distributed outside of Sonoma. Even before we made it home, awareness of this wine was raised when the next issue of the Wine Spectator reviewed all the wines I had tasted giving them all 90+-point ratings. The next year, The Pinot Report named Ben Papapietro the #1 Master Vintner of 2006. Their success continues with most of their 2008 releases still scoring in the 90+ ranges. Not only did I think the wine was great, but so do a lot of the industry experts.

I joined their wine club and now look forward to my semi-annual shipment that I hoard for special occasions. I enjoyed the 2000 with friends, sort of an informal tasting, and if you visit us at our Sandwich Inn, I just may be serving one of my cellared Papapietro Perry wines.   
 Happy Wine-ing
Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Last Wine Tasting of 2011

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ing

So what do I do when the formal weekly tastings are over? The Belfry is closed for the month of January and the Cellar 55 team has gone off to their other business, Cruz, in the US Virgin Islands. I still need to keep looking for wine to serve guests who stay at our inn, so I take advantage of less formal opportunities.

Luckily, right before Cellar 55 closed, I got a call for one last impromptu tasting when Polly, from Classic Wine Imports, stopped by with a special treat. At a recent Belfry tasting, Polly had presented some delicious Cline Vineyards wines from their Ancient Vines collection. That night we enjoyed the 2009 Carignane, the 2010 Cashmere, and a great 2010 Zinfandel. After these three nice wines, Polly said that one she did not bring to the tasting was even better, the Ancient Vines Mourvèdre.

Mourvèdre is one of the thirteen grapes permited in the making of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in France’s Southern Rhone Appellation. It is seldem bottled as a single varietal, even in the United States it is more often blended with other Rhone grapes. Most of Cline’s Ancient vines, including the Mourvèdre, are between 80 and 120 years old, giving this wine a unique character that only comes with age. Polly was right, it was an exceptional bottle and I am very pleased that she shared it with us.

This impromptu tasting happened on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, and it was the perfect way to end the old year, with good friends and a great wine. For a number of reasons we have not yet left for our annual RV trip and, since we here, our Sandwich Inn is open and we would love to have you visit us. We can sit around the fire and have an impromptu tasting of our own.

Happy Wine-ing

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