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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bill Frick: The One Man Band

After the bare requisites to living and reproducing, man wants most to leave some record of himself, a proof, perhaps, that he has really existed. ~ John Steinbeck

Just driving around the Dry Creek Valley, you'd most likely miss a casual stop to see Bill Frick and visit his tasting room, found at the bottom of a small hillside in Sonoma County. For most visitors you really have to know, that you'd like go there, because it's far off the the well beaten path in the Dry Creek Valley. But it's a stop well worth your time and attention, these wines are only available at the wineries tasting room or via direct ship. 

It was quite the warm day in the Dry Creek Valley, as you can see, the harvest was still nigh, the vines groaning silently with their heavy load, anxiously waiting to be picked. We strolled through the vineyards, picking a berry here and there, Frick shaking his head after tasting, "no not quite ready yet", and me looking at the brown seeds in my hand thinking, "really" but what do I know, I'm just a wine writer, definitely not a winemaker, vineyard manager and not even the garden variety cellar-rat by any stretch of the imagination. Thus I'll trust the timing of grape picking and other related activities to professionals like Bill Frick. 

Amazing and wonderful is the diversity which can be found in the Dry Creek Valley, if you know where to look. It's here in this beautiful spot, a quiet tucked away hillside in the Dry Creek Valley that exists one of my newly found favorite Rhone Zone locations. Here you'll will find all things Rhone, from the grapes growing on the roller coaster slopes of this property to the flavors of the wines themselves that transport to the Southern Rhone Valley of France.

I've been in positions where I've run, nearly an entire operation on my own, from processing film, calibrating printing equipment, mixing chemicals, drawing silver from exhausted chemistry, then running across a busy sales floor to close another sale, so I could bonus that month, stay on payroll goals and keep my boss happy with my performance. But that is a young man's game, I doubt, and I'm being honest here, that I could do all of that over again, at my current age. 

That is why I was surprised to find out, that Frick was a one man band. Yes, he does it all, from deciding when to pick to running the basket press during the harvest. Everything you normally see a good sized crew doing, Frick takes it on himself, and the results are pretty amazing. Speaking of his basket press, Frick likened it to an Alfa Romero sports car, which has a good feel for the road, the smell, sound, and flavor all clicking in one harmonious sound. When it comes to the being in crush mode, there's no music, he wants to hear what the wine is telling him, he only turns on the tunes when it's time to clean up. I of coursed asked him about the picking and the bottling aspects of his operation, he said outside of those two activities, it's just me, myself and I. 

All the grapes are picked by hand, no machine harvesting at all and the bottling truck pulls right up on his property, where Frick connects the hoses and man's the pumps, he takes little to chance with his art work and who can blame. It's often said, if you want anything done right, you're better off doing it yourself and I'd have to conclude sometimes that is the best course of action. All wines are bottled unfiltered, with no fining and zero fooling around. It's just seriously good juice, that is made ready to drink, but I believe a few will age gracefully and reward the patient. 

Now before it seems I've gotten carried away, here's a bit of perspective. The truth is the property is only a little over 7 acres and Frick only bottles 1400 cases a year. While on the surface of those stats, that may not seem like much, but folks I'm here to tell you, that is some ass-kicking work to do on all your own, don't try this at home. 

I was saddened to hear, that he had lost his partner Judith Gannon, who with Bill and the sale of a premium 57 Chevy embarked on this amazing journey, on a very nice slice of Sonoma County back in 1976. Now he didn't tell me this, but from my perspective, she was a fabulous artist, whose paintings you will see here and there. If you do decide to take the full nickel tour, you can see some of larger than life canvases in the barrel/crush-pad. I asked [ I was encouraging him really] Frick if had thought about show casing some her paintings at a gallery or other exhibit. I also asked if he thought about talking to the folks at the Hess Collection, to inquire whether or not they'd be interested in showcasing some of her larger works at their museum. 

I explained that it would be a great way to celebrate her life [my opinion, one I'm fond of sharing] and share those images with the rest of the wine world. Perhaps, he's thinking about it, I hope so. He also lost his dog, and now it's just him, and his amazing winery. I asked, who will take the reins when he is gone, he replied "it will pass, when I do". Honestly, my heart winced a bit hearing his answer. I thought to myself, "no, that can't be true, it would be a terrible loss". For anyone who watched the movie "My Dog Skip" you know the anguish I experienced in that moment. 

Now I'm going to tell you why, this could one of the worst things to happen to the wine world, because it would mean that these wines with true soul and substance would no longer be around for future generations of vinosapiens to enjoy. The first wine I want to introduce to you is the Frick 2008 Syrah, which I almost don't want to tell you about, seeing I'd like to grab a few more before they disappear. Why the hesitation? Because, it's an epic wine, that subtly blows your mind, yep it just creeps up on you and before you know, your mind is officially blown. I was so impressed with this wine, I wanted to bring a couple home to just make sure it wasn't just that one time impression, so I purchased the Syrah and a couple others and asked if I could kindly have the shipping box on the counter, so I could check the box, filled mostly with Frick wines back to San Diego. This was the only place I purchased wine to take home.  

After opening that second bottle here at Chez Vino, Mrs. Cuvee brow-beat me into having the last pour splashing into glass. In the glass, a garnet-brick rim and solid garnet core, the perfume of ripe plum, dried brush, and licorice. On the palate, dry cracked pepper corns, vanilla, acacia, dry orange rinds, ripe cherry and plum skins.This wine is elegantly textured, the acid to fruit ratio is flawless, it has depth, balance and the finish sails on and on. My score for this wine is 96 points. Barrel aged in small American oak barriques. This wine is only $24, making the QPR through the roof. 

The Syrah was not the first wine I tasted that day, but it was the first wine I tasted that left a huge impression with me, not that the other wines were slackers, but this Syrah really stood out for its overall balance and complexity. I also sampled the 2009 and I believe in couple more years it too could be a blockbuster. But wow, talk about vintage variation. We all know 2008 was a year of more restraint and the 2009 in general was a bit of hot year, making way for more opulent wines, sporting far less restraint. I scored the 2009, 90 points, it's a solidly built wine, but lacks the focus of the 2008. It had a funky wet earth nose, and smashed dark plum aromas. In the glass, more ruby and less garnet, the palate is round and reasonable, the tannins are still a bit taught, a sweet tobacco spot, black pepper, dark ripe plum, cherry and the finish is reasonably long.  I'll be finishing this article tomorrow, with the rest of the wines I encountered that day, and you'd be wise to stick around to see what I have share in part two, until next time folks remember life is short, sip long and prosper cheers!

Friday, September 26, 2014

10 Impromptu Wine Encounters

Smoked lemon rinds, citrus, minerality and blazing acidity! Not bad, but not my favorite style! Score: 86 points. 

"Appreciating old wine is like making love to a very old lady. It is possible. It can even be enjoyable. But it requires a bit of imagination." ~ Andre Tchelistcheff  Okay so diving into this wine, you;ll find loads of old leather, dried cherries and plum skins, dry, lean and rustic, mellowed tannins, and a medium to short finish. Score: 85 Points Purchase

Hello Bordeaux In a word, stunning. But if you want to see its stunning side, patience is required. It needs an hour in the decanter to fully develop and unwind. Aromas of dark plum, dried earth and licorice. The tannins meld into the background, plenty of structure and acid. This wine is very polished, dry red and dark fruits, mocha and floral underbrush, delightfully tickle each taste bud. While drinking marvelously now, further aging will reward the patient! #drinkcru Classic #SaintEmilion Score: 94 points. 

It's said, that Jazz is like wine. When it is new, it is only for the experts, but when it gets older, everybody wants it. What is true in Jazz music is true for this wine: It's old cigar box, dried cracked leather, dried plums and the crackle of dry underbrush under a winemakers boot! Not easily approached or understood, study it for the best result. Score: 91 Points

Champagne Uncorked: A tiny bit of oxidization nearly spoiled the party, still tightly tuned bubbles, vivid minerality and acid frame the abundant apples, brioche and citrus. A very enjoyable wine to pair with sushi! Disgorged 2/2013 Score: 89 points Purchase

Drink me all summer! Fine ground minerality, apples, pears, and just a sweet touch of 3rd use French oak. Very crisp! Score: 90 points. Purchased a few after the impromptu encounter. You'd be wise to do the same. 

So many Gewürztraminer [IMO] miss the the mark badly, but if you want the perfect example of it, being done correctly this wine from @HylandEstates is it or as I'm fond of saying is the real deal. Fresh summer ripe peaches, orange peel zest and spice, vibrant minerality and plumbed w/ acid providing great balance!  Score: 91 points. Media Sample. 

"You may or may not notice but from this point forward I will be using the word 'sublime' in almost every sentence." - C. Cowherd #extrabrut #champagne Having just come back from Champagne, where I tasted of the very best Champagne in the world, I'd have to say this one of the best I've ever had. I was blown away by its creamy texture, robust bubbles, crispness, a very round, mouth filling Champagne that will confirm the reason you spend so much coin to obtain it. Score: 96 points Media Sample. 

Chateau Paul Mas: Coteaux de Languedoc: Floral and dried underbrush aromatics, welcome you in, while crushed, ripe blackberry, licorice, fine ground minerality and black olives cater to every sip and slurp, abundant acid makes food pairing a snap! All of this for under $20 is a wine lovers dream! I have much more to share with you about Chateau Paul Mas, but suffice it to say for the moment, this wine is off the charts good, and for a relatively small price, it's a blockbuster with a matinee price. Score: 93 points. Media Sample

This Riesling is off the chart [a] good, a gem from my favorite region in Germany, hello #Rheingau. If you want to be impressed by Riesling, the Rheingau is great place to start. The nose is like the trailer for an upcoming summer blockbuster, that tantalizes you, while not giving away the plot. The nose explodes in your face with a bouquet of honey blossoms, fresh summer peaches and wet stone aromas. On the palate, tho finished #dry this #Charta there's plenty going on...stone fruits..acid wrapped around a drop of honey. I see Thai Food in my future, w/ this bottle in hand! Score: 93 points.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

About San Diego: Top 10 Wine and Dine Spots

You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. Andre Gid

Sometimes those discoveries have been under your feet all along, and that can make it all the more exciting to find them. As I was leaving one of my favorite places to dine in San Diego, known to many locals, and conveniently tucked away, just west of the airport, is Island Prime. Where I had nearly a four hour lunch and on my way back to Chez Vino, seeing the billowing clouds overhead, I stopped along the water front [one everyone arriving to San Diego drives by] where I stopped to snap this picture with my phone [and yes I have a iPhone]. 

This is San Diego, my hometown, where I grew up and where I live, work and play. I feel I know it better than most, especially when it comes to the wine and dine scene. Also when it comes to where you can find the very best fish tacos period, end of story. 

I was asked back in July, by the Grape Collective to come up with a top ten list of places I frequent and would recommend to thirsty vino-sapiens and hungry carnivores. So I did just that, and you can check out that list I came up with here. But I wanted to do a quick, down and dirty post, somewhat more elaborate article, so I decided to give that list a quick shake and add some and remove some, you know, some quick editing so I can continue to feed the voracious content monster. 

1. ENO Pizzeria & Wine Bar, Address: 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118 Grab a slice, grab a glass and breath in some fresh ocean breezes, because you're just steps away from the beach. As you can see I still manged to keep Pizza in the lineup, what is a great wine and dine list, without a little pizza? 

2. The 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro, Address: 897 South Coast Highway 101, (760) 942-2104 If you want to have a tasty, wine paired meal or just want to grab a bottle to go, this is one of my top choices. 

3. Splash Wine Bar, Address: 3043 University Avenue, (619) 296-0714 A great place with small bites, and wine on tap, in fact over 80 different selections to choose from, and you choose the pour size, not the server. Quick, quiet [relatively] and comfortable found in city central North Park, where the locals go, who know what's up. 

4. Island Prime, Address: 880 Harbor Island Drive, (619) 298-6802 Like I said, this is great place for the views, especially in the evening, the food is very good, the wine list is well thought out and diverse, the service is always very good. Located just moments west of the Airport. If you're leaving terminal two, just head straight through the light, and once you see the water, hang a left, it is just at the end of the jetty. 

5. TJ Oyster Bar, Address: 4246 Bonita Road, (619) 267-4577 Now if you the very best fish tacos in all of San Diego, this is the thee place to go. Don't be taken in by any pretenders to the throne, boys and gurls, because this place is the real deal!  Seating is very limited, each taco is prepared once it's order, seating is limited, the line is always out the door and yes you can suck down a cold cerveza to take a bite out the warm sunshine. 

6. The Wine Vault and Bistro, Address: 3731 India Street, (619) 295-3939 Another great wine and dine spot in San Diego, it's a very popular location for vino-sapiens. Because this place is a one stop shop, they really do it all. If you want to arrive early for your dinner reservations, ask Chris to make you his famous and favorite Martini, the 409. You can also buy bottles to take home, if you happened to like a bottle of wine you had with dinner. 

7. The Barrel Room Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro, Address: 16765 Bernardo Center Drive #1, (858) 673-7512 I really do love this place as well, if you just want to grab a glass of wine and relax with friends, they have a cozy area just to the side of the bar to hang out. If you want a bottle of wine with dinner, great, because unlike most places, the mark-up is just $5 above the retail prices of their attached wine shop. Great food and great service. 

8. Jaynes Gastropub, Address: 4677 30th Street, (619) 563-1011 Another North Park gem, not to be missed, the food is eclectic, the well-stocked bar is always buzzing and wine list is top notch. Do not miss an opportunity to dine here, and hang with the locals, guaranteed tourist free. Feeling a bit cramped inside, ask for a table in the seemingly secret back patio, a very comfortable spot to laugh loudly, pop some corks and raise some glasses.

9. Urban Solace, Address: 3823 30th Street, (619) 295-6464 This place is near a San Diego legend, again a favorite with the locals, a central city, North Park gem. Grab a bite, sip some wine, raise a glass to toast and enjoy a great evening dining out in one of San Diego's hot-to-trot dining destinations. 

10. The Smoking Goat, Address: 3408 30th Street, (619) 955-5295 And last but certainly not least, and as you can see from the address, this delicious dining location is found in North Park. A pretty good wine list, could use a bit more imagination, but the food is very good, the menu well thought out and the service will keep you coming back for more.  

That's all for today folks, there will be more Champagne in the next post, so keep that glass full, and remember to sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Grape Collective SpeakEasy Interview: Cuvée Corner Wine Blog

All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own”. ~Johann von Goethe

In case you missed my interview on the Grape Collective back in July, feel free to check it out, when you have a chance, let me know your thoughts, all the best cheers!
Our SpeakEasy series of blogger interviews takes us to San Diego, where Bill Eyer resides. I don't know at what Southern California intersection I'll find Bill, but I do know I can meet him (virtually) on the Cuvée Corner, his wine blog. We talk about wines from Lodi Zinfandel to Oregon Pinot Noir. Also, we find time to discuss quoting the great minds of history, like E.B. White and Van Halen.
Q: You recently went on a trip to Lodi to explore the wineries and wine country there. What were some surprising discoveries you made? And what can people expect when they visit there that’s different from better-known wine regions like Napa Valley? Read More

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On the Wine Road: A Visit to Dry Creek Vineyard

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Do you consider yourself an explorer? If so, do you sometimes wonder where the spirit of wine exploration has gone? It's a thought on my mind these days; as I now quietly sit behind this computer screen recalling the fond summer memories discovering a region I'm sure most of you are familiar with, but do you really know Dry Creek?  When is the last time you just drilled down deep into this very diverse sub-appellation known as the Dry Creek Valley? I think it's the best way to discover new and exciting wines, winemakers and places to hang out in these regions. Many of you locals may know [seen below] this already, but I found this great spot to enjoy lunch, a short drive away, with shade, where you can hear the not-so dry creek babbling and perhaps even get a look at few fish swimming by on a lazy afternoon. Dry Creek Vineyard fans, please don't take this suggestion the wrong way, I know DCV also has a very nice picnic area to enjoy as well, minus the creek. 

Many of you may know, that just a short five days separated me from one trip ending and another beginning. I wasn't back home any sooner than 5 days, before departing on my great adventure to Champagne. Which is why you'll see a bit of back and forth covering both regions. I also have more Oregon, Santa Barbara and Lodi coverage to share with you, it has been an exciting, action packed year on the wine trail.

I spent a few amazing [and they were breath taking] days discovering Dry Creek, thanks to an invitation extended to me by the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley.  I came away with some new impressions of the vine-scape there, and some exciting new discoveries. It really is quite the diverse region, I know many folks think of just one thing by and large, and that is Zinfandel. I think that is fair, but if that is your only impression of this region, you're sadly missing the boat. Because as I discovered, there is a lot more to the Dry Creek Valley, than meets the eye.

My visit to Dry Creek Vineyards was not part of the planned itinerary, but seeing they were having a library tasting, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to see how well the wines of the Dry Creek Valley age. Here comes the tasting note and scoring part of the article. If you're anti-score just imagine the numerical scores are words like good, very good and/or yummy. For everyone else who's not going to wince or get squeamish over seeing a 'score' associated with a wine review, then please take note. My general impressions of these library selections ranged from good to very good, with just one stinker. I recommend that you grab a few to fill your cellar. Although I do think the price of admission is a bit on the steep side of the equation, something which would temper my purchasing resolve. 

1988 Sauvignon Blanc Fume Blanc $50: Barrel aged, 5 months. Aromas of oxidation, nearly knocks you over and makes the anticipation for what is in the glass, less than a thrilling. This wine has gone over the hill, baked flowers,dried lemon peels, burnt sugar and vanilla flavoring. Skip this one, this is the stinker I eluded to earlier.  But if you want a delicious SB frome DCV, than I'd go with their current release 2013 SB, and sells for $15 at I sampled it recently and it's a sure bet. My Score: 75 points. 

1999 DCV Pinot Noir $60: Jumping in here, right away you see from the label, it says "California" meaning the grapes could be from anywhere in the state. But when I asked about where the fruit was sourced, they admitted it was mostly Carneros and Sta. Rita Hills fruit. So there won't be any aging indications gained from the review of this Pinot Noir. It spent a 11 months in French oak, it was lightly garnet colored in the glass, heading toward brick on the rim. On the nose, it was a bit oxidized, but it wasn't overwhelming. Looking past the oxidation,  dried cherries, baking spices, and a wet tea bag aromas linger quietly. 

The body has a very light and lean presence, I let this wine linger in the glass much longer than I would, a fresher wine to see what would jump out with a bit of air; taut cranberries, cherries, wet-earth, orange rinds, cedar and other floral flavors smoldered quietly. The body was a medium minus, and the tannin completely melded into the background. Still very tasty, but at $60, the price of admission is a bit steep. My score 88 points. 

1993 DCV "Old Vine" Zinfandel: It looks like I missed writing down the price for the wine, but this wine is at least a bit closer to home, the grapes are sourced from Sonoma County. Home to some pretty old vines, like 75-100 year old vines sourced to make this wine back in the go-go nineties. Possibly aiding this wine with a bit of color and backbone, this wine had 11% Petite Sirah blended into the back end of it. In the glass, again a very light, garnet color, heading toward transparent. On the nose, cherry brandy, floral, and brush trail aromas waft out of the glass easily, seducing you. On the palate, it's very light and lean, dusty baking spices, tea leaves, orange rinds, dried black berries. The tannins are completely melded into the background, and the finish is quite nice and lasting. My score for this wine is 89 points. 

1995 DRV Reserve Merlot Dry Creek Valley $65: This is where the rubber meets the road, the fruit sourced from the Dry Creek Valley. They moved away from the "reserve" model on the label, realizing there was no legal definition for the term, so it was meaningless.They instead opted to use Single Vineyard Designate, which signifies any wine wearing that tag, as being a step up from the other wines which are produced from many different blocks and sites. Back then it was Larry Levin, making the wines in the nineties and currently they have Tim Bell leading their wine-making ship. 

This wine was perhaps my favorite in the lineup that day, sporting a Bordeaux like blend, 75% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petite Sirah. A darker, ruby color in the glass, baked cherries, cedar and light plums tickle your nose. This wine coats the mouth sumptuously, dark, ripe plums, baked cherry theme continues, vanilla, toast, baking chocolate and a tightly wound Cuban Cigar, just pulled from its case. Still has a solid structure, elegant tannin and the finish goes on and on. I could almost talk myself into grabbing a few of these, very delightful, and drinking amazingly well at the moment. My score on this wine 93 points and worth the price of admission. Does this wine answer the questions about the aging potential of the Dry Creek Valley, perhaps, but it is a good start, seeing this wine turns 20 next year. 

1992 Cabernet Sauvignon DCV, Dry Creek Valley $75: A twenty plus year old wine, easily holding its own nicely. You'll want to uncork early and decant to unlock its myriad flavors and unwind the layers of time. In the glass, still a dense ruby core, and turning garnet color on the rim. The nose is a bit reticent, it was not ready to make its debut. But if hard pressed, I could come up with cracked, dry-earth, baked plums, dry-baking chocolate and white pepper. Again this wine is wound pretty tightly, medium minus mouth feel, and nice grip. The fruit is not too giving, dark plum skins, spices, tar, and finishes dry, and lean. I was not overly impressed with this wine, but I couldn't find any flaws either, it just was not a style I prefer. just too rustic and lean. It could improve with further decanting, but I'm not sure it's worth that much effort. My score for this wine 87 points. 

1998 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, DRV, Dry Creek Valley: Argh, again I failed to write the price down for this wine, but I'm sure if you call they'd be glad to find the price for you. I checked their website, but found no place which listed any of their library wines. In the glass, throwing lots of sediment a light ruby core and a brick like color of garnet. The nose is quite fragrant, sporting ripe plum, licorice and cedar aromas. Highly polished and well integrated tannins. I found this wine round and approachable right away, toasty oak, vanilla, candied orange zest, dried cherries and plums, aged premium cigar tobacco and dried earth. The finish is long and lasting. My score for this wine is 89.

From this quick experience, I'd have to conclude the wines of the Dry Creek Valley do have some pretty nice aging potential. I sampled all these wines at their tasting bar in the Dry Creek Valley, when I asked if there was a charge, they said because I was a guest of the WDCV, my tasting fee of $20 would be waived. Did you know that there is far more Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the Dry Creek Valley than any other grape varietal including Zinfandel. You can expect to see quite a bit more coverage on this region in the coming weeks. Until next time folks, remember life is short, so remember to sip long and prosper cheers!

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