Thursday, December 25, 2008

WOW - pinot vertical

Some terrific pinots are coming from Zepaltas and they made a great Christmas Eve pairing with truffled mac n' cheese. Zepaltas holds back a tad on the oak with the vineyard driving the wine's profile. This makes for especially good vertical tasting [that's different years from the same winery and vineyard source]. 05, 06, and 07 from Suacci vineyard were all good with the 07 showing well what a great vintage that is. Get some soon!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

W.O.W. - It's Bohemian

I hope you got to enjoy a great pinot noir with your roast turkey - I know I did. If there is more roasted turkey, duck, lamb or even a juicy, lean filet mignon in your remaining holiday plans, then you really should consider popping a bottle of our very own 2007 Bohemian Vineyard pinot from Russian River California. Just released, this wine is already showing beautiful lush fruit and great acid balance, and is the ideal partner for food with some heft. Turkey leg anyone?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Austin ferments

Our co-operative wines for 2008 are fermenting along nicely and the sangiovese and zinfandel (pictured here foaming like mad during punchdown) will be ready to press within a week or so. Barrel fermented Carneros chard is just now completely dry and gets a stir daily to move it along the way to smoothing out and gaining complexity. All to say that if you want to see your wine at this early stage of its life you better do it soon!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

WOW-Franc-ly tasty

Some interesting (if a tad funky) cab francs lined up at Uncorked in East Austin. Volante from Sonoma was big and bold while Bernard Baudry, from Loire Valley in France where they lead with cab franc, was earthy and complex. Try a cab franc when you get a chance - it's not just for blending anymore.

Monday, November 10, 2008

WOW - Malbec Tasting

Hard to say there was a clear favorite as we gathered for a malbec tasting. Most of the wines were from Argentina with a couple of French Cahors thrown in for variety. All wines were dense, dark and pretty tannic and benefitted from pairing with food: good with flavorful chorizo or an empanada. Flavors ranged from simple bold fruit to vegetal and herbal with fennel, mint, asparagus, and even spinach. In some wines the most pleasant aromas came from the oak. Overall verdict: blend this stuff! It adds interesting depth, color and tannin structure to a blend but on it's own can be a bit chunky and one-dimensional. Having said that, if grilled meat is on the menu these wines can be a great value as most are under $25 retail. Makes one wonder if the rockroom co-op should try our hand at a malbec or malbec-driven blend!? Maybe in 2009...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

WOW - Old world Chianti

We all fall for great labels sometimes and this 2005 Fattoria Monsanto Chianti Classico really pulled me in. Looks like a postcard someone sent from Italy 40 years ago. Nice wine too - big dose of sangiovese like a good Chianti should have with 7% Canaiolo and 3% Colorino for those of you keeping score at home. Here in Austin pick it up for $24 at Tony Mandola's (along with some great Italian groceries or takeout).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

wine with gravitas

Here we go draining free run wine by gravity from a bin of Anderson Valley pinot noir. By separating free run from press wine we can later bring together the mix that makes the best wine after seeing how the flavors, acidity and tannin levels settle out.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

it was a dark and chilly morning...

Starting at 6am (and 40 degrees - brrr) we are picking Russian River pinot noir today. Well, the pros are picking it and I am taking pictures and driving the truck. Dijon clones 115 and 667 today, more next week. More pictures later of the truck assuming I survive the Friday rush hour ride to the custom crush through downtown San Francisco in a 13+ ton 24' diesel rig. Gulp!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Hey, syrah syrah

White Hawk Vineyard down in Santa Barbara County picked yesterday and we destemmed the fruit today. Well most of it - as we did last year we will do some whole clusters of grapes still on the stems. A little nod to France's Rhone valley approach to syrah. And see those brown patches in the bin? Another French touch is to include a couple percent viognier grapes in the mix, so we will do likewise. Did it last year and the results (still in barrel) are promising.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

vineyard news and views

For you serious wine geeks here is some great information direct from the vineyard manager about La Encantada pinot noir vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills near Santa Barbara. We should be getting grapes next week for our second rockroom vineyard-designated wine from this organically farmed vineyard.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It takes a lot of beer to make good wine

That is the saying anyway. For rockroom there is a time when both the beer and the wine come from California's Anderson Valley. This week we will harvest pinot noir just outside Philo CA and as we work with the grapes there just may be a few Boont amber ales floating around. It is good stuff. Or in the local Anderson Valley dialect known as Boontling, it is Bahl Hornin'!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

wow - Sonoma Coast pinot

Wine country's answer to Austin's Oasis restaurant has got to be River's End. Perched on a cliff in Jenner CA, you can watch the sun sink while sea lions frolic down below. This is where the Russian River spills into the Pacific ocean so the quaff of choice is a Sonoma Coast or Russian River pinot. Man I can almost taste our own 2007 Bohemian Vineyard pinot now! Oh well, while we wait for that there are some other good examples from this area. Siduri and Zepaltas are my faves but makers like Kosta Brown and Gary Farrell do some dandy wines as well. So pick up one of these Sonoma charmers soon and enjoy with a grilled slab of wild-caught salmon. You'll be glad ya did.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

start the presses

Today we pressed Napa cabernet sauvignon to barrel. Flavors were nice and full with an added bonus of good acidity given the somewhat early harvest. Tannins were relatively soft for this Howell Mountain vineyard as cab from 1000 ft. altitude can be a bit aggressive. We are using Sylvain and Taransaud barrels with tight grained French oak so will watch for subtle oak infusion over the next 18 months or so. This is our first pressing of the year so we are off to a great start!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

08 Napa cab is born!

Harvest is well underway with heat spikes in several spots pushing grapes to ripeness a week or two earlier than last year. This means our Napa cabernet is already happily fermenting away. These grapes came in very clean and the fermentation is going well so we will probably extend maceration (fancy word meaning sit there with the skins and juice all together) to get the full wow out of this super-premium Howell Mountain fruit. Then it's pressin' time into French oak barrels for that important 2 year nap!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

WOW - 2006 Hein pinot released

Official release of the first of the 2006 vintage - Anderson Valley, Hein Vineyard. Get some - yum.

Monday, September 08, 2008

WOW - 2006 is a wrap

With a bottling session Saturday we got the last of the 2006 co-op wines (our experimental not-for-sale stuff made right here in Austin) safely in bottles. 120 bottles give or take a few. Thanks to those who stopped by to help. Hopefully the takeaway bottles made it worthwhile. Some very promising stuff here. The really big news from Saturday is the barrel-aged bordeaux blend (BDX for short) that is a 60/25/15% blend of merlot/cab/cab franc. These grapes, from different Napa vineyards, were co-fermented so have lived together now for about 20 months. It is a happy partnership that is so far showing up as a really big wine. Finally, at the other end of the spectrum, is our simple blend, tagged simply Red #2. This is mostly a second wine made from pink "bleed juice", taken from our zinfandel and BDX grapes to concentrate them, fermented on merlot, cab, cab franc and zin press skin. The resulting wine was a light fruity red that was then blended with a little barrel-aged zinfandel to give it a little heft. Still an easy-drinking red that will be fun this fall. Finally, we bottled a small test batch of a new zinfandel vineyard blended with a bit of our standby zin (both Russian River AVA but very different grapes nonetheless). Early indications are that this best suited to being a blending zin as it displays some striking peppery and herbal aromas that might be too much all alone. We will watch to see how it develops but it is an interesting contrast to our fruit-driven standby vineyard.

Monday, September 01, 2008

W.o.w. - shiner anyone?

So in Texas when we talk "shiners" we usually mean beer and usually bock style Shiner Bock beer at that, but in the case of this week's wine of the week it is an unlabeled bottle of wine - a shiner - that happens to hold our own inaugural sparkling wine. The base wine for this was our 2006 Santa Lucia Highlands chardonnay and the wine is currently in champagne bottles becoming, we hope, our own tasty blanc-de-blancs. If you have wandered through the storage (or "elevage" as the French would say) caves/warehouses of a decent sparkling wine maker you have seen these shiners by the thousands laying humbly with their bottlecaps on waiting for a year or two or three to allow layers of flavor to develop in that bottle. This is methode champenoise and is the only way to laboriously make decent bubbly. How do you get a sparkler of your very own? Hang with us - we're willing to try making anything! And in this case it is going quite well I would say. Maybe we should pop one of these at the next co-op get together so you can see how good it is getting...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

rockroom's white debut - 07 chardonnay

Here it is folks, going into bottle after 9 months in barrel - our Alder Springs Vineyard chardonnay. This wine saw oak by way of previously used French oak to avoid an overdose of barrel influence to this wine as we get to know the vineyard and it's ability to handle oak. Remember these grapes had an extreme hang time going well into November before they were picked from their hillside vineyard way up in Mendocino County and we really want this premium fruit to lead the way on this wine. So far it has a very food-friendly crispness to it with nice citrus and pear aromas and flavors. A couple months to get itself together in the bottle and we should have a great seafood wine come spring 2009. Sorry to make you wait, but we will sell no wine before its time. Hey, that could be a good tagline. Let me check to see if anyone has used it before...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pinot bottling 2007 - graduation day!

Our 2007 pinot noirs developed beautifully in barrel over the last 9 months or so and were ready for their big day today to go into bottle. Sort of high school graduation for our babies - brings a tear to your eye, right? There's Pete in the photo making sure labels stay lined up as bottles get filled, topped with a blast of nitrogen to eliminate oxygen, corked (with our own custom rockroom corks of course) and topped with shortie capsules. Now for some bottle aging so that all those flavors can integrate and the wine can grow up a little more. Expect a spring debut for our 2007 pinot noirs if all proceeds quickly, fall of 2009 if maturity comes slowly. Hey, you can't rush greatness, it just has to come!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

WOW Austrian White

Dipping south from Germany we visit the land of edelweiss fame and find some stellar white wine. Greuner Veltliner, the name of the grape and the wine, is a terrific food wine with crisp acidity, some pleasant grassy meadow aromas and a soft mouthfeel with a finish that lingers nicely. Works great with Weiner schnitzel (around here pork is the only, not the other, white meat) and is just as nice with cheese or as pictured with mousse pate. You may have to search a bit to find one of these in the U.S. as Austria does not get its own section in many American wine shops. I would say it is worth the search for these moderately priced beauties if you have a hankering for an interesting white.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Not so Bad-en

Baden is the southwest corner of Germany and is home to the Black Forest and much of the country's production of red wine. It is a stretch to call these "rotwein"s red as most are more like rose'. Many are sweet and are consumed blended with water. The kind of things you do when the flavors are not that great. It is mostly just too dang chilly for red grapes to ripen enough such that wines like these Spatburgunders (pinot noir outside Germany) taste much like what you would expect from France or California. Still, they do seem to work just fine slightly chilled and served with mildly flavored weisswurst or bockwurst. Prost!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Wines of Wurttemburg

Several days in western Germany just east of the Black Forest provided enough time to try a few regional specialties. The reds were light and fruity, the whites very crisp. Lemburger red was fine and the surprise was a barrel aged chardonnay that was in all ways a white Burgundy proxy. Really outstanding with that whole cool weather chard profile of acidity and minerality but softened by the barrel treatment. Unfortunately, many reds in this region are not really made from fully ripened grapes so are more of a rose and are bottled with residual sugar, probably to cover what would otherwise be some unripe weirdness. The final travesty is that these semi-sweet wines are often mixed with water by the locals to make a thin beverage that is really no more than a thirst quenching alternative to beer. The key to finding the better wines is to look for the word "Trocken" on the label (that "dry" auf Deutch) and "barrique" indicating that it was actually in a small wooden barrel at some time in its life. Be ready to pay a whole 2 to 5 euros extra for this - well worth it. Prost!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

WOW - cool pinot

As expected we are fitting in a few stops for wine as we trek across France and into Germany. In Alsace near the eastern border of France we ran across the full pinot family: blanc, gris and noir. Here in Strasbourg we had a typical pinot noir for the region: light, crisp and served chilled. Almost like a full flavored rose. Great with veal and mushrooms.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

WOW - Just Merlot?

Now this is not a wine of the week you will find at HEB or anywhere else in Austin or Texas or the Ooh-S-Ahh for that matter. It's just that with lunch at the floating Cafe Seine just steps from the Eiffel Tower, Just Merlot was just fine. But then drinking any French wine in Paris is probably just fine. Watch for more totally useless wine picks as we wind our way across France and into Germany. Doing important research to keep rockroom at the forefront of winemaking!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

San Francisco Pinot Call-it-a-Day

Rockroom managed to pull off our first ever industry tasting today at San Francisco Pinot Days big finale tasting at Fort Mason and I must say it went well. Pouring the pre-release (as in so far only available to you co-op faithful) 2006 and the current release (as in almost sold out) 2005 Hein Vineyard pinots we got many cudos on the wine. Reactions ranged from "hey that's nice" to "wow, that's really good". So I would say our joint winemaking collaboration is working out well, which of course comes as no surprise to those of us that have been sipping and sampling along the way. So for now we will keep on pushing the boundaries of small production winemaking, OK?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

06 Napa cab bottles

The last of the 2006 rockroom custom wines goes to bottle today. Hurray! Pete made the bottling line hum and we knocked it out in an hour or so. And now, after waiting 20 months or so since harvest, we wait some more. After a few months settling down in the bottle the hard edges will ease up and we should have a very nice food-friendly Napa cab. The predominant character in this wine comes from Howell Mountain fruit selected from 2 vineyard blocks with about a 5% dash of lush fruit-forward merlot and a similar dash of deep dark malbec rounding it out.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

w.o.w. - gettin your vino bang for the buck

Next time you want something special but a $50 wine from a top boutique producer is a bit over the top, consider an appellation blend. Like this killer 2006 Sonoma Coast pinot from Siduri. Siduri makes wine from dozens of vineyards in California and Oregon and uses a small batch approach to experiment with different yeasts, fermentation approaches, barrel selections and press fractions. As bottling time approaches the best of the best barrels go to the vineyard designated wines with the next tier of barrels going to blends from multiple vineyards within the same appellation. So for example, while about 20 barrels of Sonatera Vineyard wine made it into the vineyard designated bottling, another 13 or so barrels (still really good juice!) went into this bottling, along with wine from two other Sonoma Coast vineyards. So you get solid regional character year after year and pay about 40% less than the vineyard wines that make up the blend. Making for a great Saturday wine to serve with wood-grilled salmon and walleye!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

w.o.w. - ya gotta start saving

As a fan of ripe bananas I figured out long ago that today's banana is edible but in a week it will sweeten and gain flavor. No added cost, just time. Same deal with wine, especially reds. Everyday wines are fine today but will often improve, sometimes dramatically, with even a year or two of aging. So if you are not already, you must start setting aside some wines to revisit at a later date. This 2000 Guigal Crozes Hermitage is a great example. A simple 20 dollar wine a few years ago, this French syrah has matured into a flavorful intense wine that went great with an order of County Line smoked brisket. Well worth the wait with flavors way beyond its unpretentious status and price tag. So how do you end up with a few humble gems like this? My suggestion is that each time you do a wine buy, get enough bottles to get the volume discount and include a couple picks for the cellar. Maybe grab an extra bottle of a red you like that has just a bit more tannic edge or acidic tang than the typical juicy jam-bomb. Even if your cellar is a dark corner of the coat closet, you will be rewarded over time with a couple cases of eclectic wines to be popped after a year or two of bottle aging. Can be fun to share these with friends over a special meal.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

wow - time to break out that chard!

One summer favorite that just screams for a full flavored chardonnay is grilled seafood and veggies. Toss some sliced squash, zucchini, onions and mushrooms in a ziplock with a splash of balsamic vinaigrette and grill along side a slab of fresh salmon (or in this case fresh steelhead trout). Either of the 2006 rockroom co-op chards we made goes great with this simple supper so if you ended up with some, pop that cork! Remember, the wine we made here in Austin is not cold stabilized so if you chill it for more than a few hours you might end up with a bit of tartrate crystalized in the bottom of the bottle - a natural grape byproduct, it is cream of tarter for your next lemon meringe pie!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Dry Creek Co-op

I spent the last few days meeting with grape sources and crush alternatives and did a healthy dose of field reseach bellied up to winery tasting bars around Sonoma County. Michelle Baker was our gracious hostess with the mostest at Family Wineries in Dry Creek Valley. With 8 wineries under one roof (including my personal favorite Collier Falls who recently got that best of show trophy you see on the bar) it really reminded me of our own little co-operative effort in Austin. As we chatted with her Michelle revealed that she is not only a friendly face behind the Family Wineries tasting bar but also writes about wine for Wine Country This Week, Spotlight’s Wine Country Guide and Jane magazine. It was a great stop and I highly recommend it as you work your way through Dry Creek on the way to the Dry Creek Grocery for picnic supplies, water to rehydrate and toothpaste to get scrub your zinfadeled teeth. Cheers!

Monday, May 26, 2008

wow - patience rewarded

I was reminded this Memorial Day weekend about the benefits of aging and breathing to a big red wine. Like this 2002 Napa syrah from Novy. A good fruit forward syrah in its youth, it has gained even more smoky, gamey complexity with a few cellar years. But it took being open a couple hours for the really great stuff to kick in. Glad I waited (well for part of the bottle anyway).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

wow - pinot of a different color

Related to pinot noir, little green pinot blanc grapes make a great refreshing white that is a tad more serious and complex than you average quaffer but still not as heavy as most chardonnays. Tart and tangy, these grapes thrive in Alsace France and into Germany (call it "weissburgunder") and also do quite well in the cool Willamette Valley in Oregon. Great seafood wine or a complement to creamy sauces or cheese. On the healthy side, it really brought out the lemon in a lemon-pepper roasted chicken. Or just sip it on a hot day - yum! I picked this 2006 Adelsheim up at Austin Wine Merchant - 17 bucks.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

wow - unAmerican white?

Pine Ridge makes this crisp delicious dry white using 80% chenin blanc and the rest viognier. Now do you ever see such a wine on a menu or at a tasting? You would in France and certainly would in South Africa where, sometimes called "steen", chenin blanc is one of the most widely consumed wines. Stateside, however, chenin blanc has a bad rap as something that should come in a big green jug. All because the grape was never raised carefully for flavor but was instead turned into a workhorse of Central Valley California bulk wine where it flourishes but becomes unremarkable. At probably its most lofty form, French Vouvray can be $100 a bottle chenin blanc that can age well for decades. This much more humble Pine Ridge ages just fine on the front seat of the car on the way home from Whole Foods where I picked it up for $9. As Texas winegrowers search for grapes to grow that fit our hot climate, they would do well to consider this high-acid grape that can produce great refreshing wines ranging from dry to sweet.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

wow - one swede pink

Here from Italian producer Letizia, another really good dry rose ("rosato" in Italian) from a pretty interesting Italian, well Sicilian actually, varietal: nero d'avola. This variety does well growing in the Sicilian heat (Texas grape growers should take note!) and can produce big barrel-aged reds, but in these grapes give heft to a very full flavored aromatic pink that is great with prosciutto and a sliver of sharp cheese. Yet another terrific summer quaffer! I was sipping this wine with lunch in Sweden (!) but don't go that far for a bottle - look for a nero d'avola rosato near you.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

w.o.w. think pink

As summer approaches you just gotta think pink. I know all the pushback: pink wine is sweet, pink wine is not "real" wine, and of course my favorite: real men don't drink pink....ANYTHING. Well, set aside those cliche's for a minute and consider, there is a LOT of dry rose out there that is not the least bit sweet - just as dry as a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc but with more heft and complexity. So while whites may do fine, something like, say, a good spaghetti carbonara with that bit of egg and pancetta (hmmm... Asti comes to mind), is a whole different dish with a dry rose. Like this UNTI 2007 Rose: 65% grenache 35% mourvedre, all farmed at UNTI's own vineyards in Dry Creek Sonoma. Now that is real wine. Can't find UNTI at the store? Order direct like I did - go to the link above and you are a few clicks and a credit card away from having some wine within a week. Hurry though - this is not a wine to have shipped in the heat of the summer. So now, should I address that real men drinking pink wine issue? Guess not, as coming from someone that likes pink wine it might sound defensive.

Monday, April 28, 2008

wow - unexpected bargains

Sure, Ken Brown pinot noirs are really good stuff and are a good pick when you run across them, but I call out this bottle of 2005 Santa Rita Hills for a specific reason. On a recent R&R trip to San Francisco we ran into a small grocery to pick up some wine, cheese, etc for a picnic lunch. Gorgeous spring day and it had to be done. Scanning the wine shelves it was easy to see they organized horizontal by varietal and vertically by price. Down there on the bottom shelf, not where I expected to find a wine I was willing to buy, sat a few Ken Brown pinots. No price. Asking a busy checkout clerk, she had someone run check and came back with $9.99 - bottom shelf, right? I went back and got the other two bottles, so ended up with $120 worth of great wine for 30 bucks. The point? When you know the wines you love (in this case pinot noir) always consider lower-priced bottles that have vineyard designations or special appellations (in this case Santa Rita Hills) that indicate limited production. The wine industry is complicated and mistakes often get made, so price is not always a good indicator. In fact, let me know sometime if you want to hear about a bottle of 1973 Stags Leap Cellars cab that was on a clearance shelf in the busiest wine shop in Houston on the busiest day of the year. . .

Sunday, April 20, 2008

07 barrel samples ready to taste

The 2007 wines are ready for tasting! I recently brought chardonnay, syrah and cabernet samples so we can monitor progress in our most recent barrels. Certainly not finished wine but fun to try as we watch the evolution. Hope to see you in the rockroom Austin headquarters this week for a sniff, swirl and sip.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

wow - big ol pinot

Yeah I know what you're thinkin. You're thinkin "why more hype about pinot?", right? I mean yeah it is heavenly stuff when done right, but there are so many more wines out there so why does it always have to come back around to pinot noir? Well keeping in mind that the rockroom approach is that wine is meant to be enjoyed with food and friends, you generally will not do better than a pinot noir. Take for example this 2003 Lucia pinot noir - their Santa Lucia Highlands(that's loo-see'-ya, not loosh-ee'-ya for those playing at home) appellation blend. Big, fruit forward and flavorful enough to drink like a wine cocktail, it is more at home with a really flavorful dish, like this braised lamb shank with cabbage. It works because the wine has enough acidity to act like a little sip of sorbet in between each bite. The oak influence is there but not overdone and the fruit is dark but not jammy so it doesn't compete with the food flavors. Got it? The concept I mean. Getting Lucia wine, made by Jeff Pisoni in Sonoma County, CA, is a little tougher. Google it or call 800.946.3130 - you'll be glad ya did.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

wow - messy is a good thing

Here is a beautiful and balanced white that has it all going on. Floral aromas, citrus and pear flavors, and a honeyed mouth coating quality. Yummy Soave from Verona Italy. $16 at Tony Mandola's on Lamar. Oh, and messy in that it is not cold stabilized so after a day in the chiller it will snow a little cream of tarter.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

blending fun

This week I got a chance to do some experiments with master blender Kian Tavakoli on our 2006 Napa cabernet sauvignon. Staying with 100% Napa wines it was amazing how small dabs of a different cab or malbec can punch it up. Our favorite by a long shot was a small addition of a Napa benchland cab (remember our base wine is Howell Mountain) and a tiny dab of Malbec from Coombsville (far southern Napa Valley). The blend will continue to barrel age and could even see more blending later.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

wow - good godello

Always good to have a few interesting whites on hand for the porch-sittin' warm spells we get every winter. Here is a charmer from cool northwest Spain: godello grapes turned wine by Abad Dom Bueno. About 20 bucks - delish.