Thunder grumbles old man curses as the rain spits half-heartedly on the black streets. The July heat gives itself up to the rain, but just a little bit. Heat’s oppressive sister, humidity, fills the space between the raindrops with breath-sucking glee.
Nights like this call for a chilled glass of wine. Typically sultry summer nights push my hand onto the neck of a cold bottle of rosé or white wine. When the night sky is blackened deeper by rain, red wine whispers in my ear. Hot rainy nights call for a cool bottle of Pinot Noir.
Tonight 2012 Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir graces my glass. Carmel Road is made with pinot noir grapes grown in three vineyards in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County. The cool weather and layers of Pacific fog with sustainable practices slow the ripening of grapes, letting them retain the crisp acidity that makes pinot noir sing.
It smells of cherries aged in a dusty cellar and the petrichor aftermath of a rain shower deep in the woods. The earthy plum, cherry and berry flavors with hint of tea and mocha fit the rainy weather mood exceedingly well. Its 60 degree chill takes the edge off of the sticky heat. A wine as soothing as the patter of rain.
It sells for around $22 a bottle, which means it’s not too expensive to open one any night it rains.
Carmel Road provided a sample of this wine for review.
When you imagine Napa Valley, what is the first thing that comes to mind? I think of gracious winery tasting rooms with spacious outdoor seating areas to take in the picturesque views of the vine covered hills. That’s exactly what Beautiful Wife and I experienced while sitting in the courtyard at Cliff Lede Vineyards (pronounced LAY-dee sorta how Styx would sing it) on a gorgeous October day.
The winery has a small art gallery and its spacious tasting room opens onto a covered patio and courtyard bedecked in flowers, vines sculpture and an outdoor fireplace. It was a casual and idyllic setting to taste through the winery’s line-up. Our host gave us a bit of a history lesson as he poured each wine.
Canadian wine collector, Cliff Lede, had such an intense passion for Bordeaux wines that he decided to try his hand at making his own Cab-based wines in the Staggs Leap district. He bought the winery property in 2002, fired up the winemaking equipment in 2005 and hired a top notch winemaker, Chris Tynan, from Colgin Winery in 2012. Cliff Lede Vineyards now makes Sauvignon Blanc and seven styles of Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery also purchased Anderson Valley Pinot Noir producer, Breggo Cellars in 2009 to round out its portfolio.
Four years ago, we spent our tenth wedding anniversary visiting wineries in the Anderson Valley. We spent the better part of an afternoon in the Breggo tasting room in Mendocino sipping on lush Pinot Noir and chatting up jazz musician, Joshua Redman. Waves of nostalgia washed over me when we saw the Breggo on our tasting menu. Another fine anniversary trip.
Mr. Lede’s love for the arts is on display beyond the paintings, sculpture and poetry in the Poetry Inn. He is also a big music buff with an affinity for classic rock. His love for music spills into the vineyard blocks, which are named for his favorite songs. These names in turn show up in the names of wines like Songbook, High Fidelity and Landslide Fire with a Spinal Tap-esque Marshall double stack amp on the label and a volume knob that goes to 11 on the foil capsule.
A taste through the Cliff Lede wines showed that many of them go to 11.
2012 Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
Bright as an autumn day in California, this Sauvignon Blanc twinkles pale sunshine in the glass. It’s a floral scent and crisp citrus flavors are accompanied by melon, green grass and seashell. It begs for a buttery croissant to start off brunch. It sells for $23.
2012 Breggo Pinot Gris Anderson Valley
The Pinot Gris had slightly more heft than the Sauvignon Blanc and was broader on the palate. It had zippy acidity with plenty of lemon zest, grapefruit and green apple flavors accompanied by almond and yeast. I wish I had a plate of oysters to go with it. The Pinot Gris cost $25.
2011 Breggo Pinot Noir Anderson Valley
Anderson Valley is known for its cool climate Pinots and 2011 was a particularly cool growing season. It brought out high acidity that punctuated the red cherry and tart plum flavors. I could mistake this for an Oregon wine with its mushroomy, dank forest undertones. I’m a sucker for this style of Pinot and would serve it with roast duck. It goes for $38 a bottle.
2011 Cliff Lede Vineyards Claret Napa Valley
Our first Cabernet of the session, the Claret, is made from a blend of 32% Merlot, 18% Petite Verdot and Cab Franc. It has a fresh, herbal nose and brings a big dollop of stewed fruit up front with plum, cherry Coke with violets and cedar. It’s a bold wine that would go great with smoke ribs. It runs $45.
2010 High Fidelity Napa Valley
All I could think about when this wine was poured was Jack Black belting out “Let’s Get it On” in a Chicago bar in the movie High Fidelity. And get it on, we did. Merlot is dominant in this Bordeaux blend, bring abundant blueberry, blackberry, plum and cassis flavors balanced with chocolate and baking spice. The tannins are smooth and velvety. After a few sips I wanted to upgrade my soundtrack to Marvin Gaye. Grilled lamb would cuddle well with this wine. I will set you back $80.
2010 Landslide Fire Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
This predominantly Cabernet wine is made with grapes from the Landslide and Light My Fire blocks with a compliment of other
Bordeaux blend grapes including 13% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. The Marshall amp label is a good indication of the power inside the bottle. It has full throttle blackberry, plum cassis, licorice, violet, mocha and tobacco flavors with earthy minerals and firm tannins. It was approachable now, but it definitely has potential to rest for eight to 12 years. Only 822 cases were made of this limited production wine. It sells for $95 a bottle.
2010 Cliff Lede Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District
This is the bread and butter wine for Cliff Lede with more than 5,000 cases. It’s the one you’ll find readily at wine shops. It’s the wine I’ve had several times and ultimately seduced me into scheduling a visit to the winery. The Cab is blended with 11% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot giving it round, yet elegant fruit flavors of black currant, plum and blackberry along with tobacco and dark chocolate all set on a fine mineral backbone. Throw a few thick steaks on the grill to pair with this wine. It sells for $70 a bottle.
We spent a good portion of the afternoon letting the sun warm our faces and the wine warm our hearts. Cliff Lede is a fantastic place to lose yourself in art, music and wine.
The winery is located at 1473 Yountville Cross Road in Yountville. It’s about a quarter mile west of the Silverado Trail on the south side of the road and about a mile and a half east of Highway 29. Its open daily from 10am to 4pm and no appointment is necessary. If you want a tour and tasting program where you sit on the patio and taste through the whole line-up, you’ll need an appointment. Call the tasting room 1-800-428-2259 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set it up.
This article originally appeared in the November issue of Austin Woman Magazine, and it looks way better in print. Photo by Rudy Arocha; Platter, wine glasses and runner available at Breed & Company, 718 W. 29th St., 512.474.6679; Cheeses compliments of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, 4220 Duval St., 512.53.9610; Wine available at Twin Liquors.
This year, Thanksgiving falls on the first day of Hanukkah. It’s hard enough to pick the perfect wine for Thanksgiving dinner, but for families celebrating both holidays, it’s even trickier. A surefire key to success is selecting more than one type of wine. Bubbles are a must on the table, and it is also a great idea to have an elegant, refined red wine. A complex menu like those served at traditional Thanksgiving and Hanukkah begs for versatile wines.
Sparkling wine is as adaptable as a little black dress during holiday party season. No matter what foods you serve with it, those festive bubbles perk up the palate and put you in a good mood. Sparkling wine also has high levels of acid that cut through any rich and fatty foods like mashed potatoes with gravy or fried latkes.
You might not think of red wine when you gaze at that succulent turkey breast, but pinot noir deserves a seat at your table. Its lush fruit, mild alcohol and soft tannins give it the versatility to pair well with not only turkey, but also with red meats and just about any dish. Pinot noir is the ultimate svelte, elegant, complex wine, and red Burgundy is the best there is in the category.
Similarly, the Syrah-driven wines of the Côtes du Rhône region of France are earthy, fruity and foodfriendly wines. Unlike some of your relatives, these wines won’t dominate the conversation—or the food. The subtle, medium-bodied wines go with white meat or a traditional Hanukkah brisket equally as well.
Whether you are cooking at home or attending dinner at a friend’s house, plan to have one bottle of each for every two people. As a guest, you might not need to supply all the wine, but you should always bring a bottle of something to augment the host’s supply. It’s a nice gift if it isn’t served.
Here are my bubbly and red recommendations for your holiday feast:
Bargain Bubbly: Gruet Brut Non Vintage French Champagne may be the standardbearer for sophisticated bubbles, but domestic bubbly typically delivers better value. Quality American sparkling wines are made in the traditional method in California, Oregon, Washington and even New Mexico. French Champagne maker Gilbert Gruet moved to New Mexico in the early 1980s to make Gruet sparkling wine. Gruet brut is bright with flavors of apple, grapefruit, a hint of lemon zest and an edge of stony minerals that make it a natural dance partner with any food. Pick it up at Twin Liquors for $15.
Splurge Bubbly: Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ This Premier Cru rosé from the small French Champagne grower/producer Marc Hébrart is as refined and silky as you would expect from a Grand Cru. Its gorgeous salmon color and streaming bubbles are a delightful visual accompaniment to any table. It has a nice balance of fruit and earth with fresh apple, strawberries and funky goat-cheese scent. It finishes with crisp minerals and tart acidity. It’s a steal for $55, available by order at Austin Wine Merchant.
Bargain Red: Domaine d’Andezon Côtes du Rhône 2011 Domaine d’Andezon from the Southern Rhône tastes like a much more expensive wine made in one of the more prestigious regions to the North. This blend of mostly Syrah and Grenache has rich violet color and lush black fruit and wildflower aromas. The blackberry, licorice, herb and black-olive flavors are balanced with graphite minerality. It pairs well with duck, venison and brisket. It is available at Twin Liquors for about $15.
Splurge Red: Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Clos des Issarts” 2010The famed wine village of Gevrey-Chambertin in the Burgundy region of France produces some of the world’s most sought-after Premier and Grand Cru wines. The Faiveley has rich extraction, resulting in a dark ruby color. It has opulent, long-lasting scents of forests, fennel and ripe cherries. The well-balanced wine tastes of cherries, strawberries, mocha and dried mushroom. It has a silky texture, despite the racy acidity and firm tannins. It is elegance in a bottle for $95 at the Austin Wine Merchant.
Every Friday in September Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Austin and San Antonio is hosting comparative wine tasting sessions called “Bottle Wars” as part of their “Month of Discovery.” Every September, Flemings revises its wine list of 100 wines by the glass and this is a fun way of introducing some of the new choices.
Beautiful wife and I attended the “Pinot Smackdown” on September 7th and had a lot of fun comparing eight wines. Here is my score sheet:
My overall favorite was the Cambria from the Central Coast. I’d buy that again. I enjoyed the format, but whined to myself that I would prefer more Oregon Pinot and some Burgudy from France, but that’s because I’m a snot. The event was attended by wine aficionados and new comers alike. If you are just getting started in wine tasting, this is a fun, no-pressure way to do it.
Bottle Wars are held 5:30- 7:00 pm each Friday this month. Flemings serves light hors d’oeuvres and pairs eight to ten wines in each competition for $25 per person. Here is the schedule for the month.