To Drink and Think

Crotchety and tempestuous. Blessed and grateful. Productive and contributing member of society or permanently attached to the chaise with endless reruns of Grey's Anatomy? These are the grand choices I struggle with. Okay, how about somewhere in between? Just finished up with another wine club newsletter, and thought I'd share my favorite wines from one of the best-kept secrets in Sonoma with you this month. These wines aren't available everywhere (what would be the fun in that?) so if you are tempted, you can always get them at my shop, or online direct from the winery.


Porter Creek This has got to be one of my favorite producers in Sonoma. It's super-small, the tasting room is an old shed located next to their chicken coop, and the wines are superb.  Their dedication to the land and the grapes is nothing short of amazing-- and the wines prove it. Winemaker/owner Alex Davis focuses on minimal manipulation in the cellar, which allows the authentic nature of the grapes to shine.

2010 Fiona Hill Pinot Noir Retail: $43

Truly a delight, the Fiona is rarely available, as every vintage sells out almost instantly. Feminine and sensual, with notes of crushed cranberry and raspberry, with a shot of minerality and woodsy depth in the midpalate. Try to hold off for at least six more months, though it is unmistakably gorgeous now. Would be perfect with a springtime appetizer of morel mushrooms on brioche toast.


2011  Mendocino Carignane Retail: $27

Carignane, a traditional Rhone blending grape, is full of rustic and charming character. This bottling from old vines is brash and a little bit spicy, with some brooding dark fruits thrown in for good measure. Think about pairing with short ribs, grilled quail, or even a hefty, grass-fed burger.

2012 Sonoma County Rosé Retail: $22

My darling, my love-- Rosé. No I am not biased. This bottling is FANTASTIC. $22 might seem like a bit steep for picnic wine, but Good Lord. This wine is usually only available to Porter Creek's wine club members, but guess who managed to get her hot little hands on a case? Moi! Fresh and vibrant, this wine races with acidity and delights the palate with strawberry, rhubarb, kiwi, and a touch of orange blossom. Drink this with charcuterie. Drink this with cheese and olives. Drink it with fried chicken. Drink it with pork tenderloin, ham, pasta, sandwiches... Drink it alone, standing up in the kitchen while you do the dishes and listen to Nouvelle Vague. Just drink it, and smile.

Wine Country Chronicles: Barrel Tasting

Every year, an organization called Wine Road Northern Sonoma County puts on an all-weekend-long event for wineries to offer barrel samples for their soon-to-be released vintages. It's a lovely opportunity for people to get a sort of "sneak peek" at what the last year's harvest has in store for them. It's a simple enough arrangement: At any participating winery (this year there were 130!), you pay $30 and receive a souvenier glass and a wristband that allows you to access tastes from the barrels, current releases, and delightful nibbles at ANY of the participating wineries for the ENTIRE Friday thru Sunday weekend. It's an incredible value in these days where some wineries are charging up to $40 to sample 2-3 wines.   There are minor downfalls, as with any deal this wonderful. The low price tag and sheer number of wineries and tasting rooms involved create an irresistible opportunity for local college kids, large groups of giggling housewives, and others looking more to get down and party than those looking to seriously taste and explore the possibilities of each wine. However, these large groups of people probably are the only reason why it is possible to hold an event of this magnitude! But as long as I can get a little wine in my glass and am able to say a few words to those pouring (often the winemakers themselves,) it really isn't much of a complaint at all. Especially if it exposes those who might not have a huge passion for wine to some really neat stuff. Anything that has the possibility to spark interest in the uninterested is great for wine industry... right?

And of course, there's the wine. It was wonderful to be able to do a vertical tasting of the wines from several different wineries. Wilson Winery let us taste their 2008 still in the barrel, as well as their '05, '06,  and '07 vintages. What is remarkable about doing a vertical tasting is how amazingly different each wine can really be. It's a fantastic opportunity to see how nature affected each year's grape harvest and how the personality and style of each wine really is varied. 

wine road glass
wine road glass

Attending barrel tasting also gives us an excellent opportunity to purchase "futures." Basically, this means you have the opportunity to buy the not-yet-released wines you are tasting before they are available to the public. You don't get to take them home right away, of course. You have to be patient and wait until the wine is in the bottle and officially released! But most wineries offer these futures at a pretty little discount-- sometimes as much as 50% off what they will eventually retail for! So it's a special deal, especially if you are excited by what you taste in the barrel.


What a fantastic way to ring in the spring! To taste some delicious wines straight from the barrel while taking in the gorgeous scenery... The bare vines, so naked and vulnerable, with the riotous streaks of yellow mustard bursting through the rows... Already I'm looking forward to next year, when I can take possession of our futures and start exploring the new season's offerings!

Wine Country Chronicles: The Shyness of Taste

Most of us have heard about the infamous tasting of 1976, where French and California wines were tasted blind by a panel of snobby French judges in Paris. The California wines rocked the house, much to everyone's surprise. They've made movies and written books all about it. If you haven't yet heard this fascinating tale, read the original Time article here Needless to say, I thought it would be fun to kick off my informally-formalized independent wine education with a mini-tasting here in the house. With Chris otherwise engaged preparing us dinner, I started off with two whites I had picked up at Cost Plus that morning. From France I had the Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse, a white burgundy. And my representative for California chardonnay was a Gundlach Bundschu from Sonoma. Both wines were from the 2007 vintage. I opened them up, gave myself some generous pours, and set about to write what I thought of them.

All of a sudden, I felt strangely nervous. Who do I think I am, that I can just presume to open some wines I know nothing about and then write what I think of them? What if I think it tastes like something that's not really there? What if I don't notice something about the wine that is painfully obvious to everyone else?

Why this sudden reticence? I'm certainly not one to shy away from speaking my mind, no matter what the subject. So it should be no different when it comes to my opinions about wine, right?

See, this is the funny thing about the wine world. It can be so intimidating to explore, with different people proclaiming opinions with an air of absolutism, magazines assigning points to "grade" wines and a plethora of different varietals and styles. Most of us simply don't have the knowledge, time, or money to be able to give ourselves a thorough education in all the dizzying aspects of the art of enjoying and understanding wine.

Plus, isn't the idea of taste subjective? I don't care for the taste of peanut butter, but it might be your favorite foodstuff in the pantry! Additionally, two people can like an identical dish but for different reasons. So, couldn't it be the same for our tastes in wine?

As our tastes vary, so shall our opinions. And if I think a wine tastes like hibiscus or seems flirty, that's just my way of expressing a personal opinion. There shouldn't be any reason to be shy about that.

Taking a deep breath, I sipped. Pen in hand, I boldly wrote my first impressions. The Pouilly-Fuisse was slightly sweet. It was crisp at first, then softened to something silky. It was pale. Light-colored. It had a fragrant perfume. And then came the chardonnay. It was so different! It was richer, golden-colored. It tasted like butter. It coated my mouth in a way totally unlike the French wine.

Excitedly, I sipped more. Chris jumped in, cautiously proffering his opinion as well. We were so taken with our new roles as wine critics that we forgot the whole tasting-in-moderation aspect of the wine tasting. Hm. I had planned on doing a red wine tasting that evening as well, but we polished off the last of the two bottles of white, I thought I might just postpone it for a day or two.

But we had so much fun! I liked writing about the wine -- it made me think about it more, and enjoy it even more than if I'd just absent-mindedly sipped it. Wine has always stimulated conversations, daydreams, pleasures, and friendships. Too often it can also stimulate depression, discord, and strife. I think the balance can be struck not just in moderation, but in always remembering to savor and enjoy the experience of drinking-- and feeling a little gratitude for the blessing that is wine.

Shyness simply cannot mix with unbridled enthusiasm. And so, I vowed that night to dispense with my hesitations and embrace this magical world of wine and words, sans fear.

Wine Country Chronicles: The Beginning

Living in busy, compact San Francisco, sometimes I forget that we've got the gorgeous sprawling wine country for a backyard. As a child, my parents always dragged me along to tastings, where of course I couldn't understand why they wanted to sip that vile stuff in dark cellars. And I've been up there as an adult for weddings, events, or on my way up to Oregon or the coast for vacation.  wine country hill2

And though I do love wine now, somehow its never occurred to me that I would actually enjoy wine tasting. So the wine country remained a far-off place in my mind -- something for tourists or people with suitcases full of money to spend on huge crates of Pinot Noir. 

But then the other night we were at Chris' parents house in the North Bay, and we tried some delicious wine that was a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery was in Sonoma County, and all their wines were apparently just fantastic. As Chris had some business to attend to in Santa Rosa, we thought it might be nice to drive the extra twenty minutes and cruise by this land of delightful grapes. 

domaine carneros flowers

The resulting adventures have sparked yet another time, money, and imagination consuming passion of mine. This post marks the beginning of a series of posts about our experiences in Napa and Sonoma Counties and other wine country locales. There will be posts about biodynamic and sustainable wineries, local restaurants and shops, wine varietals, tastings, tours, bottling, and more. I hope to take you on the trip with us as we explore and learn more about wine and the lives of those who live among the grapes. Hopefully it will prove interesting, whether you are a certified oenological expert or a wine neophyte, or even if you're somewhere in the middle, like myself. And if you don't like reading about our adventures, well, at least we'll have enjoyed some good wine.