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.

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