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On The Road | 1 Wine Dude - Page 19

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Young Guns, Part Deux: Porch Wines And Porch Rock With Karl Wente

Vinted on April 19, 2012 binned in crowd pleaser wines, on the road, overachiever wines, wine review

Standing in between fifth generation Livermore wine producer Karl Wente (who is light, with executive-style, thick brown hair, and built like an NCAA basketball player) and his best friend (who is dark, soft-spoken, and built like an NCAA basketball player) is a bit like what I imagine standing at the bottom of a well might feel like.

It didn’t help that, as Karl and his buddy played small acoustic instruments (guitar and viola, respectively) that in their long, lanky arms looked not unlike undersized toys, all 5’5” of my frame was manning a large upright bass and fumbling my way through a jam of Karl’s laid-back, folk-inspired tunes (what he calls “Porch Rock”).

So while I certainly enjoyed performing in the impromptu concert inside Karl’s probably-in-constant-state-of-semi-renovation living room, I couldn’t shake the feeling that, when I’d been invited to Karl’s home to taste through the modern Wente portfolio, I’d actually been invited to taste a lineup of wines made in Brobdingnag (what, you’ve never read Gulliver’s Travels? As my late grandmother used to say, “what the hell AILS YOU?!??”)…

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Young Guns (Interviewing Envolve’s Bachelor For Playboy.com)

Vinted on April 4, 2012 binned in interviews, on the road, Wined Down (Playboy.com)

Ok, so, let’s get one thing out of the way right now: NO we did NOT talk about that Courtney chick, okay?

During my recent jaunt to Napa Land, I stopped at the (gorgeous) Puma Springs vineyard for a quick lunch-and-tasting interview with two of the young gun winemakers behind the Envolve wine, the most famous of which is Ben Flajnik, who everyone and their sister now knows was the star of the most recent run of ABC’s The Bachelor.

Which everyone calls “ABC’s The Bachelor” as if it competes with another The Bachelor reality somewhere. Which I think is totally odd. But not as odd for me – or, more accurately, not as surreal for me! – as Playboy Playmates telling me over social media that they loved my wine article (and yet, it happened).  Anyway

What’s gotten lost in all of the Bachelor-mania (which is a lot like Beatle-mania only over just one guy) is that Ben and his partners (Danny Fay and Mike Benziger, the latter of whom has some serious CA wine street cred running through his family tree) are making some seriously good wines, which I learned when interviewing them for the new column on Playboy.com (the title of which is “Wined Down,” in case you were playing along on the title suggestions thrown in by readers)…

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Cleaning Barolo’s Clock? (Going Old School With Travaglini’s Recent – And Not So Recent–Gattinara Vintages)

Vinted on March 29, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road

Italy’s northwestern region of Piedmont gets a lot of attention in the wine media world. Or, I should say, its tiny subregions of Barolo and Barbaresco, the anointed spiritual homes of the Nebbiolo grape, get the lion’s share of the area’s wine media attention – the rest of the dozen or so winemaking appellations in northern Piedmont more or less get ignored by all but the geekiest among us.

Which is both a curse and a blessing: on the curse-this-damned-oppression side of things, it means that the other areas in Piedmont struggle to achieve recognition and market share; on the bless-me-I’m-rich-in-all-things side, wine lovers can grab elegant, food-friendly, and extremely long-lived Nebbiolo wines for prices that, while still expensive, can be a fraction of what the most celebrated Barolos and Barbarescos command. And I suspect things are likely to stay that way, given that these wines are such a “hand sell” at the moment – they need food, and in many cases a lot of time in bottle to round out. But in terms of value for money? They might just be poised to clean Barolo’s clock…

The trick is that you need to be down with Old School wine. And when I attended a Wine Media Guild of New York luncheon at Felidia in NYC to taste wines from one of those competing northern Piedmontese wine regions – Gattinara -  things were definitely old school. Ever met Ed McCarthy? He was our M.C., and he is totally awesome – but totally awesome in a totally old school way. And the wines of Gattinara, when done well, are similar to Ed – awesomely old school. As in earthy, a little funky, and making the most sense when put into proper context: in this case, after aging to let those massive Nebbiolo tannins and acid settle down and smooth out, and put into your mouth when eating good food…

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The Greatest California Vineyard You Don’t Know About (Communing – And Drinking! – With Old Souls In Lodi)

Vinted on March 27, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road, overachiever wines, wine review

Well, you may actually know about it, but that would certainly put you in better shape than I was when my friend and sommelier legend Randy Caparoso kidnapped me from Premiere Napa Valley in February, insisting that I spend some time in Lodi to see some down-home, old school wine farming.

What I wasn’t entirely prepared for was just how old that old school was going to be.

As in, going on 126 years old, old. Think about that the next time you read the words “old vines” printed on a wine label; you know, right before you think “well, hell, I know some really old vines, suckah!.

What Randy insisted on showing me first was Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard, nestled in the Mokelumne River area and home of Cinsault vines planted in 1886 on their own roots (on which they remain, thanks to sandy soils and a deep root system preventing the vine-killer phylloxera from picking them off) by German immigrant Joseph Spenker; the place has been continuously dry-farmed – and family-owned – ever since.

And the place is nothing short of magical, if you’re a real wine geek. Because older souls you are not likely to encounter in California, unless your house is haunted or you live among the redwoods. And when you’re done reading this, you hopefully won’t wonder why I went ga-ga over the Single Vineyard concept for WBW75 (and be thirsting for some Cinsault, or Lodi wine, at least)…

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