Sunday, November 28, 2010

From Good Earth

Like many people, lots of wines I try are recommended by people I know. When I mentioned to a friend in California a bit back that I was doing a post on organic wines, she mentioned Bonterra wines. I made a note of the name but with quite a few wines already tried for my post, I put them on the back burner. Once I tried them, I really wished I hadn’t!

Bonterra means “good earth.” And the folks at Bterra Vineyards take that pretty seriously. Located on 378 acres in Mendocino County, CA, Bonterra’s McNab Ranch has been raising organic grapes since 1987. According to their web site, they “let the land and the fruit tell them what to do.” When they started in 1987, they were just experimenting with wine and food pairings. Once they tasted how wonderful the bounty was, they committed themselves to growing organically. They claim they are one of the first major vineyards in CA to commit to organic and sustainable practices. Today, a natural balance is created between the soil, animals and plants. They are regulated by the government and independently certified to ensure they remain organic.

They also use Biodynamic™ practices such as cow horns filled with manure that are buried to ripen over the winter. They dig them up in the spring and use the manure to fertilize the vineyard. They have found that only natural horn products produce the correct results.

OK, as fascinating as all this might be, let’s get to what you all really want to know about…the wines. Bonterra has quite a few, both red and white as well as a rosé. I would have loved to try them all but then this article would have gotten long and probably sloppy. I did try four of them and I will have to save the rest for another time.

Their 2008 Rosé was the first one I tried. I had bought it for $9.99 at our local ABC Wine Country. I opened it with my husband and a friend of ours. We drank it alone while simply hanging out. It was a beautiful deep pink color with the aroma of berries. It was dry with a crisp acidity. I detected hints of strawberries and melon with a small hint of spice. Our friend proclaimed it “Delish”and I had to agree. I have already bought another bottle and I can’t wait to open it.

I then moved on to the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon that I had purchased at Total Wine for $11.99. 81% of the grapes in this wine come from Mendocino County while the other 19% come from Lake County. The wine is aged in both American and French Oak barrels. When I poured it, the aroma of cherries and dark berries were the first things I noticed. These also carried over to the taste and were joined by cranberry and a hint of vanilla. There was a bit of spice with soft tannins and a nice lingering finish. I drank it alone but Bonterra suggests pairing it with osso bucco or grilled meats such as hanger steak. They suggest several other pairings as well and I can’t wait to buy more and try them out.

Next came my favorite variety, Sauvignon Blanc. It was a 2009 vintage which also came from ABC and cost $9.99. Like the Cabernet, the grapes for this wine come from two different counties with 60% coming from Lake County and 40% from Mendocino. The aroma of citrus was quite noticeable. It was mixed with a tropical aroma as well that was reminiscent of kiwi. I detected grapefruit in the taste as well as a bit of melon and green apple. It was light-bodied with a crisp acidity. Bonterra recommends pairing it with sautéed chicken, grilled shrimp and steamed clams. I drank it with a simple grilled chicken breast, a salad and roasted vegetables. It went well together so I plan to try some of their suggested pairings.

We moved back to the reds for the last wine, the 2007 Merlot. This wine is also barrel aged and light oak comes through in the taste. It had delightful aromas of cranberry and chocolate. My husband noted right away that it was “fruity” and I agreed with him. We both really liked it. In fact, my husband is already on his second bottle. We drank it with grilled flank steak. Bonterra recommends pairing it with a roasted meat ragout, grilled pork tenderloin as well as several other grilled meats. Given the fact that my husband is on his second bottle in only about a week, I think this will go onto our list of wines that we buy regularly.

These 4 wines are just a sample of the wines Bonterra offers. It seems they have something for everyone and I, for one, can’t wait to try the rest of their wines from the “good earth.”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Who Doesn’t Love A Cupcake

I first heard about Cupcake Vineyard wines when a friend of mine brought one over as a hostess’ gift. The variety escapes me at the moment but my husband and I both liked it. Then, it kind of went off our radar for a bit. Once I started blogging about bargain wines, it went on my lists to try again and then blog about.

First, a little background on Cupcake Vineyards. According to their web site, the winery itself is located in Monterey County, CA. The grapes for their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot come from California’s Central Coast. The grapes for their Sauvignon Blanc come from the Marlborough Valley of New Zealand. The wines are fermented in stainless steel and then aged in American oak barrels.

Now, whenever I see an advertisement for Cupcake Chardonnay, it always has this little blurb attributed to James Laube of Wine Spectator who gave it 88 points, “You’ll be hard pressed to find a better $13 Chardonnay than this Central Coast bottling.” Well, I have NEVER seen it selling for $13. I think the most I have ever seen it priced is around $10. I bought it on sale at our local ABC Wine Country for $5.99. Our local Total Wine & More sells it for $7.97 all the time. Either of those prices is fine with me!

OK, enough about the price. Let’s talk about the Chardonnay itself, which was a 2009 vintage. When I first poured it, I instantly detected the aroma of apples with a hint of tropical fruit. Both of these carried over to the taste. I also tasted a hint of lemon. It had a bit of spice and a touch of oak with a smooth finish. The bottle recommended serving it chilled with crab cakes, seared Ahi tuna or French Bread and Cheese. I drank it alone but made careful note of these suggestions and I plan on trying the pairing with tuna soon. You really can’t beat the price of the wine and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was.

Encouraged by how much I liked the Chardonnay, I moved on to my favorite variety, Sauvignon Blanc, also a 2009 vintage. I had bought it at Total Wine for $7.97. As I mentioned above, the grapes for this variety come from Marlborough Valley, New Zealand. The bottle said that due to the cool weather, the grapes mature slowly which gives them a “complexity and a vibrant zing reminiscent of a lemon chiffon cupcake.” Hmmm, now who could resist THAT? As I poured the wine, I immediately detected the hints of citrus, mainly lemon and lime. When I took the first sip, I noted how bright and crisp it was. It seemed perfect for a warm Florida fall evening although I have to say, I didn’t find it reminiscent of a lemon chiffon cupcake. The citrus hints carried over to the flavor with lime jumping out at me more than lemon. I was even more pleased with this variety though the fact that it is my favorite may have had something to do with that. It immediately went onto my keepers list. The bottles suggested serving it with oysters on the half shell or with a creamy lobster risotto. So, for the sake of further research, I plan on pairing it with BOTH in the future!

The last variety I tried was the Cabernet Sauvignon, my favorite red variety. I purchased this one at Total Wine as well. All their Cupcake wines were priced at $7.97. This wine was 2007 vintage. Aromas of berries and currants were the first things I noticed but I also detected floral hint after a few seconds. As for taste, the tannins were a bit strong and it was a bit too acidic. My husband noted the same thing since he tends to be sensitive to that. The berries and currants came through in the flavor along with a musty hint…tobacco, maybe? Overall, I have to say it’s unlikely I’ll buy this one again.

I will definitely be buying the white varietals again. I may give the reds one more chance and try the Merlot. After all, who can resist a cupcake?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Drinking Green Without Spending A Lot Of Green – Part Two

Welcome to part two of my series on affordable organic wines. I learned a lot of interesting things about organic wines and green practices while doing this article and I am so glad to be passing them on since so many people find these traits to be important in the products they buy.

Out of all the wines I tried, there was one lone French wine. The full name was Chateau de Nages Costieres de Nimes Rouge from the South of France. In other words, it’s a French Red Rhone wine...”an unoaked classic Rhone blend” to be specific. A 2008 vintage, this wine is a blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah. I bought it for $9.99, a great value!

This wine is not only made from organic grapes but it is also sustainably farmed. The bottle boasts, “…we believe in an ‘Earth Friendly’ approach. Natural fertilization and grass seeding in the vineyard have greatly reduced our need for disease control and given out wines a unique ‘terroir’ signature.” The wine was medium-bodied with hints of dark berries and cherry and I detected a hint of herbs, possibly rosemary? It had ripe tannins and a slightly spicy finish. Serving recommendations on the bottle were Mediterranean cuisine, grilled meats and roasted chicken. My husband and I enjoyed ours with grilled sirloin steaks which made a wonderful combination. My husband really enjoyed this wine so it will definitely go on our list of regular buys.

All of the other wines I tried came from Sobon Estates located in Amador County, CA. The Sobon web site was a wealth of information on these wines and the sustainable practices of this family owned vineyard. The decision to grow sustainably came in 1989. The family spent a winter researching and then began using as few chemicals as possible. The site states, “Our growing practices have evolved over the years, and today we employ complimentary plantings, beneficial bugs, and other natural growing techniques that we believe encourage healthier grapes and better tasting wines.” On their bottles, they say they are proud of their sustainable practices which include solar power generation, composting of winery and paper waste, as well as maintaining wildlife habitat and natural pest control, cover cropping and erosion control, recycling and social responsibility. In 2007, the vineyard installed a solar power system which supplies 100% of the electrical needs of the vineyard and its operation. Since its installation, their carbon footprint has reduced to the point to where they are more than carbon neutral which means they are eliminating more carbon dioxide from the environment than they use. They even sell carbon credits to other industries. This vineyard seems to be the definition of “green!”

And their wines are wonderful. The first one I tried was the 2008 Sangiovese which I bought for $9.99. Technically, it’s a blend of 91% Sangiovese, 7% Zinfandel and 2% Petite Syrah. The wine had the aroma of fresh berries which carried over to the taste. I also detected a hint of eucalyptus and spice. It’s a medium bodied wine that Sobon recommended pairing with Italian dishes, antipasto and pizza. My husband and I drank it alone but we plan on buying it again to try with some of the suggested pairings.

The second Sobon wine I tried was the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc which also retailed for $9.99. Now, Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite variety so I was VERY excited to try an organic one that was such a reasonable price. And I wasn’t disappointed. The aromas of crisp citrus were very inviting. I tasted hints of citrus as well, specifically grapefruit with maybe a hint of melon. It was bright and crisp and would probably go wonderfully with seafood. This will probably become my “go to” Sauvignon Blanc.

The last Sobon wine I tried came from their Vicious line which Sobon calls their “recession fighters” although I bought the 2008 Vicious Red for the same price I bought their other wines…$9.99. This red was a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Zinfandel, 19% Petite Syrah and 5% Malbec. The wine starts out fruity and has a spicy finish. Sobon suggests enjoying it with chicken, beef or pork. Hubby and I enjoyed a glass with grilled NY strip steak, a wonderful pairing.

And with that, I end my venture into organic wines but I have to say, with so many of them out there, they will likely pop up in future articles. The idea of being able to drink wine from vineyards that are determined to reduce their environmental impact is very appealing to me and I am delighted I can do it within my budget!