Spanish Wine
    November 1st, 2009

 

By: John St. Mark

Spanish wines have established a strong reputation for unique character and a remarkably favorable quality-to-price ratio.


(Click for a Larger View of Spanish Wine Regions)

There are various traditional styles (including sweet, fortified and sparkling wines) that deserve attention, but for now let’s talk about those dry, still wines being produced primarily in northern Spain that are attracting so much interest.

Spain has more acreage dedicated to vineyards than any other nation (although it falls third, behind Italy and France, in total production of finished wine due to lower yields.)
With so much to choose from, it might be useful to go over some of the ways wines are categorized in Spain; familiarity with some of the regions and grape varieties, and how the wines are classified, should help you make informed choices.

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The Robert Mondavi Winery
    October 1st, 2009

By: John St. Mark

Robert Mondavi MemoramYou may have heard about Robert Mondavi’s passing last year, just as his 95th birthday was approaching; he was much celebrated for his many accomplishments, including a prominent role as ambassador for wine to the American public, and ambassador to the world for American wine. His legacy extends far beyond his namesake winery in the Napa Valley, but that is a great place to visit if you would like to learn about his contributions to the wine industry, and about winemaking generally.

The Robert Mondavi Winery is located in the heart of the Napa Valley, right off Highway 29 in the Oakville district. The property was first planted to grapevines in 1868 by a man named H. W. Crabbe, who is believed to be the first to plant cabernet sauvignon in the Valley (this area is still considered prime country for cabernet.) Mondavi purchased his first eleven acres and built the winery in 1966, after a falling out with his brother Peter, with whom he had been running the Charles Krug winery up the road in Saint Helena (their father, Cesare Mondavi, had purchased Krug back in 1943. Peter and his family still own Charles Krug.) Like his father before him, Robert was able to forge strong relationships with local growers; although the winery now owns about 500 acres of vineyard, it continues to purchase fruit from a number of highly sought after growers.

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Wine Tasting In The Napa Valley
    September 1st, 2009

By: John St. Mark

There are literally hundreds of wineries in the Napa Valley, and although I will be mentioning a few landmark wineries as points of reference, my goal here is not to make specific recommendations (we’ll leave that for future columns) but rather to offer some general information that should be helpful wherever you choose to go.

Napa Valley Sterling Vineyards

If you’re starting from San Francisco, driving to Napa should take roughly an hour and a half to two hours, assuming traffic isn’t too bad (allow more time if you have a scheduled appointment; it may take longer to get further up the Valley, and traffic delays are not uncommon.) The more scenic route would be to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take Highway 101 north to Highway 37 east, and then Highway 121 through the Carneros District (where a number of notable wineries, such as Artesa and Domaine Carneros, are located) to Highway 29 north and the town of Napa.

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The Napa Valley
    August 3rd, 2009

By: John St. Mark

The Napa Valley has a big reputation, but if you’ve been there you know that it is not such a big place. In fact, of all the wine grapes cultivated in California, less than five percent are grown in the Napa Valley.

So, what’s the big deal with Napa Valley wine? How did the Valley become known as one of the world’s premier wine producing regions?

There is some conjecture that indigenous people in the area may have used the native vitis californicus grapes to make some form of wine, but winemaking in the European tradition began in California with the Spanish missionaries, who needed sacramental wine for religious services, and also valued wine for nutritional, social, medicinal and eventually commercial purposes. The northernmost mission was established in Sonoma, just over the hills from the Napa Valley, in 1823.

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Wine & Cheese
    July 14th, 2009

By: John St. Mark

Wine and cheese. The combination is ubiquitous, so they must go together … right?

Wine and cheese do have a great deal in common. Both are fermented, complex, and very ancient foods. Just as wine can be made from different grape varieties, cheese can be made from the milk of different animals. Where the grapes are grown and how they are cultivated will affect the wine and similarly, where the animals live and what they eat will affect the cheese. In both cases, the methods and materials used by the producer will determine many features of the finished product.

When tasted together, each can influence our perceptions of the other significantly; for that reason, professionals in both industries normally do not like to see wine and cheese together in an analytic tasting. Their goal is to evaluate the wine or the cheese based on its own merits.

Tasting for enjoyment is another matter. If we have wine and cheese together, we want the interactions between them to be interesting and pleasant, so let’s consider some of the factors that influence those interactions. For now, let’s look at the following six attributes of wine:

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Wine Aromas and Flavors
    June 22nd, 2009

 

By: John St. Mark

Wine Aromas

Wine Flavors

The label mentions "blackberry, cassis, mocha and clove." … You take a sip … it tastes like wine …

Wine Aromas

 

You have a good bottle of cabernet sauvignon. The label mentions "blackberry, cassis, mocha and clove." Your pinot noir is said to be reminiscent of "strawberry, rose and autumn forest earth." The chardonnay: "pear and melon, with a hint of butter." That sauvignon blanc contains "essences of citrus, passion fruit, and wild herbs."

You open a bottle, pour a glass, enjoy the beautiful color and aroma, and take a sip. It smells and tastes like… wine. Are you missing something? Where are all those flavors and aromas supposed to come from?

The descriptions may seem fanciful, but they are (or should be) based on characteristics the wine actually possesses. An ability to identify component aromas and flavors in wine is largely acquired through practice; don’t worry if they are not immediately obvious to you. If you want to, you can learn to recognize them.

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Wine Tasting Basics
    June 7th, 2009

 

By: John St. Mark

What’s the right way to taste wine?

Here’s the first thing you should remember: If you’re enjoying it, then whatever you’re doing works. You’re doing it right.

Analytic tasting techniques (like swirling and sniffing) are helpful if your goal is to maximize the amount of objective information you obtain from the wine. Not everyone is interested in that sort of information, but if you like to talk meaningfully about your wine, or to compare it with wines you have tasted on other occasions, it can be very useful. Here are some of the basics:

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