Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What is a Meritage?

Lately, at Trader Joe's, we've had several Meritage blends to offer.  As a result, I've had more questions asking what a Meritage is.  In my monthly wine newsletter for our store, the feature article was "What is a Meritage."  That writing follows for you reading pleasure.

Once upon a time, many years ago, in a land far, far away, the term “Meritage” was born.  Wait, it was in California, so not so far away, and it happened in 1988, not that long ago, but before many of this store’s Crew Members were born (they’re so cute and young, aren’t they).

A group of California vintners, who were dedicated to producing wines made in the Bordeaux tradition of blending specific grape varietals, created the the term Meritage from the words merit and heritage.  In fact, the correct pronunciation of “Meritage” rhymes with “heritage.”  Although Bordeaux wines and hence, Meritage wines can be blends of either red or white varietals, today we’re talking about the red Meritage wines.

The guidelines state that at least two of the five traditional Bordeaux grapes must be blended (all five can be blended, if desired).  The five are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.  No one grape can exceed 90% of the finished blend.  Other than that, there are no rules.

As in Bordeaux, the percentage of any given grape in a Meritage blend can vary vintage to vintage, depending on the crops that year.  And also as in Bordeaux, a Meritage wine emphasizes the region or appellation where the wine originates.  This is in contrast to naming a wine by its grape variety such as a Syrah, Zinfandel, or Cabernet.  So you’ll often see it called a “Napa Meritage,” or a “Central Coast Meritage.”

Each winemaker has many options when structuring his Meritage as each grape brings a unique quality to the final product.  Cabernet Sauvignon, for example is full of black fruit, particularly black currant, and has high acidity and tannin levels.  Merlot is more subtle and softer and offers more red-fruit character, such as cherry.  Cabernet Franc can be spicy and often adds floral notes.  Malbec adds rich color and red fruit, and Petit Verdot can also add rich color with firm tannins and some spiciness.

If you go to my blog, you’ll read of a blending class that we took at Conn Creek Winery in Napa.  I created my own Meritage using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Malbec.  I did not include the Petit Verdot in my final blend as it had lost its typical varietal characteristics while in the barrel.  But what a fun experience!  Oh, and that Meritage won a prestigious blind wine-tasting up in the San Francisco area, but that’s another story.  I must remain humble.

Tom da Wine Guy

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Weekly Wine Tasting at Trader Joe's

Most Wednesday's at TJ's Ventura, we do a wine tasting to inform the Crew.  We have a fun experience and revel in "product knowledge."  The tasting notes I wrote are below, but today's tasting featured five French wines.  The surprise to me was that the favorite wine of about 17 of the 20 participants was the Muscadet from the Loire Valley.  It's from the Sevre et Maine region, which it turns out, is the premier Muscadet region in all of France.

So, check it out at your TJ's outlet.  $6.99 a bottle.  Also, check out the green tag on the top of the label.  That means the wine was intended for consumption in France.  The green sticker means the producer paid  tax to sell it in France.  If it's intended for export, the tax is not paid.  So in summary, you can get a fine wine from France that was not intended for your consumption.

Look for Chateau Des Cleons 2009 Muscadet Sevre et Maine for $6.99 a bottle and drink what the French were supposed to drink.  I would suggest having it with seafood because that's what the French pair this wine with.

As a side note, all five of the French white wines were admired greatly.  Our Crew was pleasantly surprised and delighted with the tasting and "product knowledge."  And it gets the work day off to a pleasant start.  Besides, we had cheese, bread, and different fruits to accompany the wines.  It was a delicious repast.

Here are the tasting notes....

Chateau Des Cleons 2010 Muscadet:  Muscadet is made from the Melon Bourgogne grape and comes from the most western part of the Loire Valley.  Most Muscadet is made “Sur Lie” or “on the lees” (spent yeast cells), meaning the wine was left in contact with the yeast lees for several months before bottling.  This adds extra flavor and a refreshing spritz.  Muscadet is a fabulous wine to pair with seafood.  Muscadet is rarely in oak, mostly stainless.  Alcohol=12%.   $6.99 a bottle.

Chablis:  This 2009 white wine is 100% Chardonnay and is fermented in stainless steel.  Chablis is the northernmost region of Burgundy where the weather is harsh, wet, and cold, and the soil is clay and limestone.  Makes for an often very acidic wine. Alcohol=12.5%.  $7.99 a bottle.

Le Ferme Julien 2010 White Blend:  A blend of Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, and Roussanne from the Rhone Valley.  Bourboulenc adds acidity, Grenache Blanc is the workhorse for the white southern Rhone wines and adds high alcohol and low acidity, Ugni Blanc, a neutral grape, is used as filler for inexpensive southern blends, and Roussanne, an aromatic, elegant white from the northern Rhone.     Alcohol=13%.    $4.99 a bottle.

Mouton Cadet 2009 Bordeaux:   From the western side of Bordeaux.  A blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon,, and 5% Muscadelle.  Sav Blanc adds crisp austerity, Semillon is dry and clean, and Muscadelle adds a light floral character.  Alcohol=12.5%.   $7.99 a bottle.

Pouilly Fume:  This wine from the eastern Loire Valley is 100% Sauvignon Blanc.  Fermented in stainless steel and is generally crisp, clean, and acidic.  Another great wine to pair with seafood.  Alcohol=12.5%.  $10.99 a bottle.

Get to Trader Joe's and find any or all of these very nicely priced, yet, superb wines.

Tom da Wine Guy

Friday, June 10, 2011

Goldeneye Winery in the Alexander Valley

"WINE:  Helping ugly people have sex since 3000 B.C."  -Unknown-

As regular readers of this blog know, I am a BIG fan of Duckhorn and Paraduxx Wineries.  Me and my usual drinking buddies (all family members on this trip) have wanted to visit the third winery in this group of Duckhorn wineries for some time.  As you may recall, Duckhorn focuses on premium Bordeaux varietals while Paraduxx specializes in blended wines with special attention to Zinfandel.  Goldeneye produces premium Pinot Noirs.

Our friend Angela at Paraduxx introduced us to Jennifer who the next day would be in attendance at Goldeneye.  So, early the next morning, off we headed for Goldeneye in the Alexander Valley of Mendocino County.  The drive was about 1-1/2 hours from our Sonoma hotel and it was a beautiful drive through tree lined curving roads and fields of wild flowers in abundance.  The roads snaked back and forth through the hills.  It would have been a great ride in a sports car like my cool and pretentious Honda Z2000 but this day we were in bother-in-law Glenn's more prosaic Camry Toyota.  The good news, of course, is that his Camry holds not only more people, but more cases of wine (and even his trunk size was tested).

Upon arrival at Goldeneye, we're greeted by Jennifer who turns us over to Hospitality hostess, Emily Hillman.  Emily was terrific, warm, friendly, engaging, and knew her wines.

I will start by saying that all the wines we tasted were of the highest quality.  The following wines were tasted and made our knees buckle.  I almost had to call 911.

1)  Anderson Valley 2010 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir.  A delightful Rose'.
2)  Anderson Valley 2007 Pinot Noir.  100% Pinot Noir blended from 10 different vineyards.
3)  Anderson Valley 2007 Pinot Noir, single vineyard, 100% Pinot from Confluence Vineyard.
4)  Anderson Valley 2007 Pinot Noir, single vineyard, 100% Pinot from The Narrows Vineyard.
5)  Anderson Valley 2007 Pinot Noir, single vineyard, 100% Pinot Noir Gowan Creek Vineyard.
6)  Anderson Valley 2005 Pinot Noir, 100% Pinot Noir blended from 12 Vineyards.
7)  Anderson Valley 2010 Gewurztraminer.  This was a surprise!  Just off-dry.  Really good.

We also tasted two wines from their Migrations series, a 2008 Pinot Noir and a 2009 Chardonnay, both Anderson Valley wines.

All of their Pinot Noirs are aged in 100% French Oak for 16 months.

I've purposely kept this short and pithy otherwise I could have rambled for many paragraphs.  Let me summarize by saying that the Goldeneye wines are as spectacular for their specialty (Pinot Noir) as the Duckhorn and Paraduxx Wineries.

All three wineries produce Premium wines that while not inexpensive, are nevertheless, worth every penny.  So get thee to Napa and the Anderson Valley for some really fine wine tasting at the three Duckhorn Wineries.

Tom da Wine Guy

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Brief Trip to Napa and then on to Sonoma!

"When I read about the evils of drinking alcohol, I gave up reading."   -W.C. Fields

The goal of our intrepid threesome was Healdsburg in Sonoma County but first we stopped at Paraduxx Winery in Napa to visit our friend Angela, theTasting Room and Hospitality Manager.  Paraduxx is one of our favorite wineries and we always stop for a tasting.  It establishes the benchmark for fine wine and warmth of character and customer service.  Paraduxx is hard to beat.  I always tell my Trader Joe's wine clients to visit Paraduxx if they're going to Napa.  Those that have visited have often become members of the winery.  so be sure to visit on your next trip and tell Angela that you're a friend and reader of Tom da Wine Guy and she may just give you a hug in addition to her exemplary service.

We left for Sonoma, and specifically, Santa Rosa to visit a winery or two before they all closed.  As fate would have it, we ended up at De Loach, and what a fine time we had, due in large part to Brad Bou, our host and wine pourer.

Brad was affable, knowledgeable, and entertaining.  I'm not going into details of our wine tasting other than to say that De Loach focuses on Pinot Noir and that we enjoyed them immensely.  Very fine wines!  But our biggest surprise was their "mini barrel" wine presentation.  This is very clever!  They actually have boxed wines that are then placed inside a small barrel with a spout.  This is the greatest invention for a party wine that I've ever seen!  Too bad they didn't have this in the movie "Animal House."  There is a 10 liter (13 bottles) or a 3 liter (4 bottles) that is then placed in these mini barrels.  Wow, really fun and really fine wine in those boxes.

That was the end of the day.  We retired to our hotel, went out to dinner and planned our next day's wine visits.

Tomorrow, Alexander Valley and Goldeneye Winery.  Yes, yes, yes!

Tom da Wine Guy