June 2007 Archives

The Merlot Lovers Tour of Napa Valley

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Though Cab may reign supreme in Napa these days, Merlot has always been a member of the royal family--though somewhat in exile these days. But tastes are a fickle thing, and those who know the true beauty of a silky, carefully crafted Merlot aren't slaves to fashion, or the whims of Hollywood.

For those who remain true to great Napa Merlots, this is a wonderful time to taste the grape that steadfastly refuses to slink away quietly while others have their moment in the sun. In fact, 2002, according to published reports was one of the best years ever for Napa Merlot, with several top wines receiving stellar scores and launching a quiet renaissance of this noble grape.

Take a special varietal-inspired tour of Napa's best Merlot producers, located primarily along the Silverado Trail, but dipping into Rutherford, as well.

If anyone thought the 1976 Paris tasting, where several virtually unknown Napa wines bested their French counterparts was a fluke, they'll have to contend the 2006 COPIA tasting. In May, two panels convened--one in England, and other in Napa at COPIA--to re-evaluate the original wines and see who's stood the test of time. The results: the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon from the Santa Cruz Mountains finished in first, followed by the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cab, with a third place tie between the 1970 Heitz Martha's Vineyard Napa Valley Cab, the 1971 Mayacamas Vineyards Cab and a 1972 Clos du Val Napa Valley Cab.

Passport to Calaveras County

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calaveras.jpgBest known for its jumping frogs (courtesy of Mark Twain) and the once-bustling gold mines dotting the region, Calaveras County is a historic Gold Country outpost nestled into the foothills the Sierra Nevadas. And though each year, the county holds its jumping frog festival and eager tourists still pan for gold in the hills, Calaveras has another attraction bringing eager tasters from near and far--wine.

For Picnics, Think Inside the Box

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The 411 on better boxed wines

By Courtney Cochran

When I think of all the fabulous things that come in boxes – chocolates, engagement rings, and presents comes to mind – and then reflect on the sad reputation of wines that come in boxes, I get a little down. The reason is, although boxed wines are getting better, most connoisseurs still think of them as swill only fit for the likes of frat parties and pizza parlors.

But according to market tracker AC Nielsen, the overall volume of 3-liter boxed wine (the equivalent of four standard-sized 750ml bottles) grew 44% in the past year, compared with just a 3% gain in overall table-wine volume. Apparently, enlightened folks out there are drinking a lot more boxed wine. Let’s take a look at why:

Hip to be square
Boxed wines are gaining thanks to better varieties being offered in boxes (boxed Chard, anyone?) and a growing understanding amongst consumers of the value and durability boxes offer. Boxed wines can stay fresh in your fridge for as long as four weeks, since the collapsible bags inside don’t allow the wine to be spoiled by oxygen, and they’re often far less expensive than bottled wine on a per-volume basis.

But in spite of these gains, boxed wines still lag – painfully so – behind bottled wines when it comes to social acceptance. Case in point: Few folks who consider themselves truly wine savvy would be caught dead bringing out a box at a dinner party, even if it was the much-lauded Chardonnay from Northern California-based Black Box Wines that won a silver medal at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition not long ago.

When boxes rock
But one place boxed wines WILL make a splash – socially speaking – is on outdoor excursions. This is due to yet another attribute of boxed wines that’s contributing to their gains – their flexibility when it comes to transporting them. You can take boxes places you can’t take glass (think of the beach, tailgate parties, and camping excursions) and they’re far lighter than bottles to boot.

Besides all this, boxed wines are often made with environmentally friendly biodegradable materials, which means that you can now knock back better wine from boxes, and feel good while doing it. If that’s not socially acceptable, then I don’t know what is.

Top boxes
Target Wine Cube – These stylishly designed cubes come in 3-liter and 1.5-liter sizes (equivalent to 4 and 2 regular-sized bottles, respectively) and feature a wide range of varietals including Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Australian Shiraz and a Cabernet/Shiraz blend. Watch for new Riesling and Pinot Noir offerings in 1.5-liter sized boxes in fall 2007.

Delicato Bota Box – The colorful three-liter boxes from Delicato Family Vineyards consistently score highly with wine critics for their premium offerings of Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Cabernet. Priced at about $18 per box, the Bota Box offers award-winning wine for the equivalent price of $4.50 per standard 750mL bottle. Not bad.

Russian River Redux

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A region springs to life

by Courtney Cochran

Sonoma County's westerly Russian River Valley is like no other place in Northern California's storied wine country. 

One need only drive down winding, pine tree-dotted Highway 116 hugging the Russian River to feel transported to another place.  The towering redwoods and river-side clapboard cottages seem to belong to another time as well, a time when lazy days spent dangling your feet in the cool river while sipping a glass of one of the region's award-winning Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs were commonplace.   

There's just something about Pinot Noir that inspires near fanaticism in both winemakers and wine drinkers. Some say it's the inherent difficulty of growing the grapes that makes the reward all the sweeter. Others insist that, unlike other grapes, Pinot Noir holds the imprint of the grower and winemaker like no other varietal. Whatever the case, hordes of Pinot lovers will converge in Oregon's Willamette Valley this July to celebrate their passion for this amazing grape.
Pinot Noir got its start in America a little over 100 years ago in a rather surprising spot: Santa Cruz. Brought over by Paul Masson, a French immigrant (yes, that Paul Masson, of jug wine fame), the first cuttings were reportedly from the Burgundian vineyards of Louis Latour.

Now known as the "Cradle of Pinot Noir", this mountainous region is producing elegant Burgundian-style Pinots with intense fruit and complexity. Gaining the respect of increasing numbers of Pinot drinkers, the Santa Cruz appellation--which spans a wide swath from Half Moon Bay to Watsonville--has firmly established itself as a hotspot for this notoriously fickle grape by winning award after award for its steadfastly individual wines.