Life flows downstream at Upstream Wines

Friend or foe, guests at the Watts’ home in Lodi were guaranteed a good time.

At least, that was the family’s hope.

Their tradition of hospitality lives today, though an invitation to drop by isn’t necessary.

The home where third generation grower Craig Watts grew up has been transformed into an art gallery and tasting room, providing a true feast for the senses.

At Upstream Wines at Watts Winery at 17036 North Locust Tree Road just south of Highway 12, visitors can stroll the grounds or gaze at the work of resident artist Joe Lee and other artists. What once was the Watts’ living room and kitchen now is the tasting room, accented by a black baby grand piano, the very one Watts learned to play on, and one of six in his collection.

Craig and his wife, Sheri Watts, owners of the winery, operated a tasting room at Vino Piazza from 1999-2011, then converted their home into a hospitality hub, and moved to Walnut Grove. Now, visitors can feel at home in their former home.

“We needed more space, so we moved over here,” Sheri Watts said. “This is the family property. My husband grew up in this house. When you came into this house, you always had a good time.”

Voices and laughter faintly could be heard as Lee gave us a tour of the garage turned art gallery. He and bottler Mike Tarnowski resurfaced the garage floor and installed ceiling fans, lighting, French doors, and retractable floor-to-ceiling windows that allow the cooling breeze to blow inside.

Lee couldn’t have been more gracious as he showed off his paintings, some commissioned by professional athletes and coaches, including Joe Montana and Bill Walsh, as well as portraits depicting old Lodi, jazz musicians, and scenes from rural San Joaquin Valley.

“I try to get more agriculture in here,” said Lee, who grew up in Linden, but has called Lodi home the past 35 years. “I’m trying to get San Joaquin agriculture and farm life because there is so much of it.”

The voices and laughter grew louder as we walked past the tasting room, and entered another room, where other artists’ work is displayed. Then, we moved to the tasting room with its raised center island, where Sheri and staffers Shannon Clarke and Kenny Martin offered samples of Watts’ eclectic collection of fine wines, all from estate fruit grown in Lodi and Clements Hills.

Particularly pleasing was the Watts Chardonnay made in stainless steel with scant creaminess from malolactic fermentation, and bright acidity.

It isn’t every day you can try Montepulciano in Lodi, but the Italian varietal in all of its cherry, blackberry and black olive splendor is available at Watts, as well as Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, dessert wines made from late harvest Zinfandel and the Portuguese varietal, Souzao, and of course, Zinfandel.

“We jumped in with two feet, not knowing what we were doing,” Sheri Watts said. “We’ve drowned a few times, but we’ve survived.”

Go to Upstream Wines at Watts Winery and see what all the fun is about.

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Variety spices life at Mokelumne Glen

LODI —  Brett Koth stands in his family’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyard and tells the story of how it all started.

How his dad, Bob, got hooked on German wines some 25 years ago while visiting his daughter, Ann-Marie, who was studying in Mainz, Germany, on a Fulbright scholarship. How Bob came home, pulled his tokay vines and started planting Riesling, Dornfelder, Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt and dozens of other German and Austrian varietals on his property near the Mokelumne River.

What the Koths have wrought is perhaps the most eclectic collection of German grapes growing anywhere outside the Rhineland.

“It’s been said Bob was crazy to start doing this,” said family matriarch Mary Lou Koth after spending a warm summer morning trimming Gewurtztramier vines with Ann-Marie and her boyfriend. “Maybe he was.”

Crazy successful.

More than 50 varietals, including eight grown in commercial quantities, ranging from big, red Dornfelder to light-bodied, mineral-driven Kerner, call the Koths’ rolling 28 acres, of which 14 are planted, home. And there’s solid demand for their bounty. Borra and M2 in Lodi, Hatton Daniels in Santa Rosa, Ramey in Healdsburg, Holman Cellars and POE in Napa, and Forlorn Hope in Murphy’s are doing cool stuff with the Koth’s fruit.

And to think the madness started when a curious father had dinner with his ambitious daughter thousands of miles from home.

“I didn’t realize this one trip to this one restaurant was going to change everything,” said Ann-Marie, who’s a teacher, just like her parents were. “He had a stereotype of the very schlocky, very sweet Rieslings — California Kool-Aid. And he sipped it and it had a very different taste.

“So, that changed everything. I didn’t realze what I was doing.”

Lodi’s Mediterranean climate — warm days giving to mild nights with breezes off the San Joaquin Delta — and sandy loam soil are good conditions for growing all sorts of grapes, including varieties from one of the world’s coldest wine regions. Where some German varietals struggle to ripen in their homeland and other places where they’re grown, Lodi has the warmth to get the job done. And the loamy soil over crushed granite in the Mokelumne sub-AVA provides pleasing mineral components to their flavors.

Much of what is planted at Mokelumne Glen is experimental. Right now, rows and rows of this and that are growing in an area Brett, who oversees much of the operation, calls the German collection: Affenhelter, Blauer Portugieser, Fruhburgunder, Regent, Rothberger, Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir), Albalonga, Bacchus, Faber, Forta, and many others.

Brett said his dad always has been a tinkerer.

“He started out with, ‘OK, I want to get as many as I can and put in small amounts and then start experimenting,’ ” said Brett, paraphrasing his dad, who was busy working in the vineyard on his riding mower during my visit. “OK, these work. Let’s start planting more of these.”

Here are the characteristic qualities of some German varietals, should they cross your path:

• Zweigelt: A higher-acid red wine that has a bright cherry and red fruit quality.

• Blaufrankisch: The result of pairing Zweigelt with St. Laurent. Similar body and flavor profile as Zweigelt.

• Dornfelder: Big red wine with blackberry, plum and dark fruit flavors.

• Kerner: White wine whose parents are Riesling, a white grape, and Trollinger, a red grape. It’s an approachable, everyday Riesling.

The Koths had their own wine label, Mokelumne Glen, from 1998-2010, but have been concentrating solely on growing and supplying grapes of a different stripe to winemakers who are thinking outside the box.

“Probably I started a little on the slower side. Wasn’t sure about it,” Brett said about the transition to German varietals. “Now, I wouldn’t want to do any of the other ones.”

 

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High school students cause Bottle Shock

The makers of the Best of Show Red at the Bottle Shock Open last month in Lodi have not had the pleasure of tasting their work.

Why?

They aren’t old enough yet.

But when each member of the 2014-15 Future Farmers of America viticulture class at Pitman High in Turlock turns 21, legal drinking age, he or she will have a bottle of their award-winning 2014 syrah waiting with their name on it.

With fruit sourced from Charlie and Mamie Starr and advice from the Lodi Amateur Vintners Association, the students crafted a wine that topped hundreds of entrants in the second rendition of a competition celebrating the home wine maker. The judging took place last month at the Lodi Grape Festival grounds. Some of the winning wines were available for tasting at the awards party on July 13 at Wine and Roses in Lodi.

Krista Vannest, who teaches the Future Farmers of America viticulture class at Pitman High, said her principal had heard of a winemaking program at St. Helena High in the Napa Valley and decided he wanted Pitman to offer a similar class. So, the students created a vineyard about three years ago behind the baseball field on campus and planted cabernet sauvignon.

In a couple years, if all goes well, their cabernet might be ready for harvest and they can make wine with it. The class has used fruit that has been donated to them, while their cabernet vineyard matures. Last year, the students made one barrel of wine and didn’t enter the Bottle Shock Open. This year, the students made two barrels with syrah grapes donated by the Starrs, who have been growing grapes in Acampo for years. The students harvested the grapes with Charlie driving his tractor alongside, showing them which bunches to pick.

“The students do all of the harvest, they do all of the primary fermentation, the punch downs, the testing for sugar,” Vannest said. “We graph out the brix as they change and convert, and as soon as we are out of sugars, we do our press and it’s driven off campus that exact day.”

It’s against the law for alcoholic beverages to be on a high school campus. So John Bischoff, a home winemaker and co-founder of LAVA, stored the students’ wine at his cellar and tested it along with his wine. (By the way, Bischoff took home gold for his meritage blend of Bordeaux varietals, three silvers and one bronze award at this year’s Bottle Shock).

Bischoff mentored the students and encouraged them to enter their syrah in this year’s contest. Pitman FFA not only took home Best of Show Red, but also Best First Time Winemaker. The winners in every category received a beautiful mosaic made by area artists.

“They did very well,” Bischoff said. “They have some good students in that group.”

The Bottle Shock Open began two years ago when other home winemaking competitions funded by city governments were axed by budget cuts. The Bottle Shock Open gives amateur wine makers the opportunity to learn from LAVA members and have their wines evaluated by experts who provide them with feedback.

“It was a fun competition,” said Todd Hafner, a geologist and wine enthusiast, who judged the Bottle Shock Open this year. “You get all kinds of wines. It’s really interesting because you get to experience flaws you don’t normally get when you buy commercial wine. But on the other hand, there were some fantastic wines that were commercial quality.”

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Zwei, Zwei again

It can be a quandary.

It’s hot outside. You’re standing by the grill, ready to throw a big piece of red meat on the grate, and a nice glass of red wine would go perfectly with the meal. The classic pairing might be Syrah or Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon. Nothing against any of them, but those varietals, though great with steaks and roasts, tend to be tannic and “hot,” meaning higher in alcohol — not always great when the mercury is registering 90-plus degrees.

What to do?

Reach for a bottle of Zweigelt.

Never heard of it? Zweigelt is an Austrian grape variety noted for its light tannin, light body, low alcohol, medium acidity and medium flavor intensity of cherries in varying stages of ripeness. It has enough heft to stand up to red meat with enough restraint to take on a slight chill, which makes it delightful on a hot summer day. If you know someone who doesn’t like reds because they’re “too big,” pour them a glass of Zweigelt. They might be surprised.

What is Zweigelt?

Zweigelt is the most widespread red wine grape planted in Austria and was developed in 1922 by Dr. Fritz Zweigelt, who crossed St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch. That’s the wine geeks’ definition. For the rest of us, the definition of Zweigelt is: it’s delicious.

Where to find Zweigelt?

It’s not an easy variety to find at your neighborhood mega mart, but if a cookout is in your immediate future, ask the manager of your favorite wine store.

Which Zweigelt is worth finding?

Zantho from Burgenland — Austria’s warmest wine growing region. Light ruby core with a rose-colored rim, aromas of cherries, cocoa, dried herbs and raspberries. Clean on the palate with medium acidity, spicy notes, blackberries and black licorice. Low alcohol and low tannin with a medium finish.

Besides it being so easy to drink, Zweigelt generally is not expensive. Zantho Zweigelt, for instance, averages about $15 a bottle, according to Snooth.com.

Don’t let the hard-to-pronounce name intimidate you. Zweigelt (TSVYE-gelt) is immensely approachable. Give it a try this summer.

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Pinot Days a must for pinot lovers

For pinot noir enthusiasts, it doesn’t get much better than Pinot Days San Francisco.

The 11th annual fest took place on June 20 at the Metreon’s City View Room, where 95 wineries, most from California, offered their recently released vintages for members of the trade and everyday pinot lovers to taste.

Winemakers, proprietors, and marketing and sales reps were behind the tables pouring, which made for great opportunities to speak with those intimately familiar with their wine.

Pinot’s wide range of styles, from fruit-forward to earthy, was on full display.

Among the highlights:

2013 Sojourn Cellars Gap’s Crown, Sonoma Coast ($59)

Gap’s Crown Vineyard sits high along a steep hillside on rocky soil where the vines are stressed, making for a dense, concentrated, sturdy pinot with earthy flavors, like forest floor and mushrooms. Rated 96 points by Pinot Report, 95 points by Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, and 94 points by Wine Enthusiast.

2013 Sojourn Sangiacomo, Sonoma Coast ($54)

Sojourn’s ninth vintage from the Sangiacomo Vineyard on the western base of Sonoma Mountain has sweet, red cherry flavors with medium acidity and a silky mouthfeel with a tart finish. Rated 96 points by Pinot Report, 91 points by Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, and 91 points by Wine Enthusiast.

2012 Pali Wine Company Riviera, Sonoma Coast ($21)

Raspberry, anise, minerality, medium acidity and a slightly tart finish. The Riviera has nice complexity at an attractive price point. Rated 93 points by Pinot Report.

Pali’s 2013 Huntington ($22.50) was ranked 86th on Wine Spectator’s 2014 top 100 list of best wines.

2010 Panthea Siren, Anderson Valley ($28)

Winemaker Kelly Boss and his wife, Jessa, won a silver medal in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine Competition and the 13th Pinot Noir Shootout. The Siren is a blend of four clones (Pommard, Swan, Dijon and R31) ranging from the warmer Boonville climate to the cooler deep end of the Anderson Valley. Classic cherry on the palate, caramel on the finish.

2012 Ram’s Gate, Carneros ($40)

Garnet color, silky mouthfeel from a pinot noir dominated (95 percent) blend from select sites, including their estate vineyard. Dried roses on the nose, fully ripe on the palate with a peppery finish.

2012 Foley JA Ranch, Santa Rita Hills ($55)

Clones 115 and 113 from Foley’s estate have produced a pinot with ripe cranberry, tart cherry, raspberry, floral notes, such as violets, and a cedar component from 100 percent new French oak. More up-front, rich, yet delicate.

2013 Erin E. Wines, Sonoma Coast ($37)

Erin Busch has three kids and a passion for winemaking. Busch worked for other wineries and has branched out, making cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc and 50 cases of pinot from the Sonoma State Vineyard in newly founded wine territory between Carneros and the Petaluma Gap. “I’m trying to keep the grassroots thing going,” she said.

2012 Comptche Ridge Vineyards, Mendocino County ($47)

John and Mike Weir have four clones, three of them Dijon, growing on eight acres of land 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean near Boonville. The fruit can hang a long time because of the cooling ocean influence, which also shows itself in the form of a whisp of salinity on the palate, along with earthy flavors.

Pinot Days promises to return next year, so keep it in mind if you love pinot. Information: pinotdays.com.

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Oak Yeah!

LODI — Dan Panella sighed and rolled his eyes.

One of the first efforts from his brand-new Oak Farm Vineyards Winery on DeVries Road, the 2014 Albarino, recently earned Double Gold, Best in Show White and Best in Region White at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition in Sacramento.

Garnering such a payload from the oldest wine competition in the country, where more than 2,800 entries from 743 wineries were evaluated by 72 judges on 18 panels, has elicited feelings of pride, validation and even pressure for Panella, whose family has farmed in Lodi since the early 1900s.

“It’s like a band who has a really good album,” said Panella, who plays guitar. “We don’t want to be one-hit wonders.”

That seems hardly possible with winemaker Chad Joseph at the controls. Joseph has crafted award-winning wines for years at several area wineries. His deft touch with fruit sourced from two young, postage stamp-sized vineyards in the Jahant and Alta Mesa sub-appellations in east Lodi — one a Spanish clone, the other a Portuguese clone — produced a lemon-colored Albarino with true varietal character: Damp sea stone minerality, white nectarine, peach, lime zest and crisp acidity. Cold fermented in stainless steel, the wine rested on its lees (dead yeast cells) for a short time before it was bottled in December.

Tasting along the way, Panella and Joseph believed they had something special, a synergy between the clones, working together like a rhythm and lead guitar.

“The style of winemaking is to capture the essence of the grape and the brightness and the fruitiness without losing it by having it age in oak or having it stay too long in the tank,” Joseph said. “We really try to capture that.”

Panella said the Albarino paired well with a mild blue cheese tart he had recently, and that it’s great on its own or with light dishes, such as mild cheeses, fish, chicken and salads.

Not only did the State Fair recognition help validate the significant investment the Panella family made in building its 7,000 square-foot, rustic-chic tasting room and adjoining state-of-the-art crush pad and barrel and tank rooms, it further proved Lodi’s diversity as a fine grape growing and winemaking region.

“We’re starting to evolve into what a lot of people didn’t believe was possible,” Joseph said. “We can do things like cool-climate whites here and when we spend the money on equipment and we spend the money to take our time and do high-end production of those grapes, which a lot of people don’t do, we actually have some of the best grapes in the state of California and the best wines.”

Count Oak Farm’s 2014 Albarino among them.

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Area wines fared well at State Fair competition

Oak Farm Vineyards in Lodi took home Best of Show White and Best of Show Lodi White for its albarino at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, which consisted of 2,881 wine entries from 743 winery brands. Lodi and area wineries fared well in the opinions of 72 judges on 18 panels, who awarded 57 Double Golds and 254 Golds. The winners showed the diversity of California wine, coming from around the state and from wineries of every size.

“California’s 78,000 farms and ranches produce roughly half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States, and our grape industry accounts for 90 percent of all wine consumed in America,” said Rick Pickering, CEO of the California State Fair. “As one of the oldest professional wine competitions in the nation, we are extremely pleased that for the second year in a row, the State Fair has seen increased participation in our prestigious wine competition.”

The first State Fair Wine Competition was held in 1855. The competition is the oldest and one of the most prestigious wine events in the country. Top wines including Best of Region and Best of California winners will be featured at the State Fair in the Save Mart Supermarkets Wine Garden for visitors to enjoy July 10-26.

2015 California State Fair

Commercial Wine Competition

Best of Show

Best of Show Red

DOUBLE Gold 98

Lewis Grace

2012 Tempranillo

El Dorado

Best of Show White

DOUBLE Gold 98

Oak Farm Vineyards

2014 Albarino

Lodi

Best of Show Sparkling

DOUBLE Gold 98

Korbel

NV Blanc de Noirs

California

Best of Show Pink

DOUBLE Gold 98

Gold Hill Vineyard

2014 Barbera Rosé

El Dorado

Best of Show Dessert

DOUBLE Gold 98

Sutter Home Family Vineyards

NV Moscato

California

Best Value

DOUBLE Gold 98

Torn Winery

2013 Zinfandel

Lodi

Best Microwinery Red

DOUBLE Gold 98

Bottle Jack Cellars

2012 Zinfandel

Santa Cruz Mountains

Best Microwinery Other

DOUBLE Gold 98

Red Bucket Wine

2012 Barbera Rosé

El Dorado County

Best of Region

BEST OF NORTH COAST RED

Gold 94

Vigilance Winery and Vineyards

2013 Red Hills

Cabernet Sauvignon

BEST OF NORTH COAST WHITE

Gold 95

Shooting Star

2013 Lake County

Riesling

BEST OF SONOMA RED

Gold 94

Hughes Family Vineyards

2011 Sonoma Valley

Syrah

Savannah Vineyard

BEST OF SONOMA WHITE

Gold 94

Larson Family Winery

2013 Carneros

Chardonnay

BEST OF NAPA RED

Gold 94

Bell Wine Cellars

2012 Napa Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon

BEST OF NAPA WHITE

Gold 94

Jamieson Ranch Vineyards

2014 Napa Valley

Sauvignon Blanc

Silver Spur

BEST OF GREATER BAY RED

Gold 94

Mitchell Katz Winery

2012 Alameda County – Livermore Valley

Sangiovese

Crackerbox Vineyard

BEST OF GREATER BAY WHITE

Double Gold 98

Murrieta’s Well Winery

2013 Alameda County – Livermore Valley

The Whip

BEST OF NORTH-CENTRAL COAST RED

Gold 95

Craftwork

2013 Monterey

Pinot Noir

BEST OF NORTH-CENTRAL COAST WHITE

Gold 94

Wente Vineyards

2013 Arroyo Seco

Chardonnay

Riva Ranch

BEST OF SOUTH-CENTRAL COAST RED

Gold 94

Cinquain Cellars

2011 Paso Robles

Malbec

Nagengast Estate Vineyard

BEST OF SOUTH-CENTRAL COAST WHITE

Gold 94

Robert Hall Winery

2014 Paso Robles

Orange Muscat

Margaret’s Vineyard

BEST OF SOUTH COAST RED

Gold 94

Oak Mountain Winery

2011 Temecula Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cave

BEST OF SOUTH COAST WHITE

Gold 94

South Coast Winery

2014 Temecula Valley

Muscat Canelli

Carter Estate Vineyards

BEST OF SIERRA FOOTHILLS RED

Double Gold 98

Lewis Grace

2012 El Dorado

Tempranillo

BEST OF SIERRA FOOTHILLS WHITE

Gold 95

Helwig Vineyards & Winery

2014 Shenandoah Valley, Amador County

Sauvignon Blanc

BEST OF LODI RED

Gold 95

Michael David Rapture

2012 Lodi

Cabernet Sauvignon

BEST OF LODI WHITE

Double Gold 98

Oak Farm Vineyards

2014 Lodi

Albarino

BEST OF OTHER CALIFORNIA RED

Gold 94

Heringer Estates Family Winery

2012 Clarksburg

Aglianico

BEST OF OTHER CALIFORNIA WHITE

Gold 94

McManis Family Vineyards

2013 River Junction

Viognier

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Last minute gift idea for Father’s Day

If your dad likes Pinot Noir and you need a last-minute gift idea for Father’s Day, treat him to an afternoon of sampling some of the finest Pinots in the world at the 11th annual Pinot Days in San Francisco.

Pinot Days is the largest gathering of Pinot Noir producers in the world. Pinot Noir is exceptionally diverse stylistically and there is no better way to learn about this varietal’s character and the role terroir can play in its flavor profile than by having more than 100 wineries from the Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Carneros, Sonoma, Oregon and the Santa Cruz mountains at your disposal at this one-day event from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 20 at City View at the Metreon in San Francisco. Tickets are $75 and available at pinotdays.com. If you hurry, tickets are $50 each at rush49.com/deals/pinot-days-sanfrancisco.

 

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Great year is taking shape

LODI — The vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley are teeming right now, creating in some spots an ocean-like, green expanse as far as the eye can see.

Just months ago, Kyle Lerner’s zinfandel vines at his Harney Lane Winery in Lodi were dormant just after winter pruning. Now, leafy shoots have burst from the cordons and developed towering, sheltering canopies protecting the tight clusters of tiny, green berries that soon will plump up and begin to take on their varietal color.

Superb growing conditions this year, with relatively mild temperatures and even a little rain last week and in May, have accelerated the growing process. Lerner’s chardonnay buds burst the third week of February. His zinfandel buds began to break the last week of February and into the first week of March. Zinfandel normally breaks in mid-March.

“It put us at least two weeks ahead starting and then we had all this wonderful, beautiful, warm weather and it just absolutely accelerated these vines,” said Lerner, who grows several varietals for outside concerns and his Harney Lane label. “We were wearing shorts in the winter and the vines felt it, too. So, they never really had that slow growth stage. They kind of had bud break and all of a sudden it was, boom, here we go. We’re ready.”

Last May, the temperature eclipsed 90 degrees on 15 days and reached triple-digits once. Last month, the mercury exceeded 90 only one day.

“Those vines love that upper-80s, low-90s and it’s been great for them,” Lerner said. “I’ve had a lot of our wineries come out with the fruit that we sell to them and look at the vines and their eyes are just popping out of their heads. They’re loving what they’re seeing and I’m loving what I’m seeing.”

In early July, some of the grapes that now are tiny and bright green, will take on their color during veraison. The acidity and sugars will continue to develop leading to harvest, which Lerner expects to occur a few weeks earlier than usual for early varietals, such as pinot grigio and chardonnay.

“I think we’re going to see some harvest in July,” Lerner said. “It’s pretty crazy.”

Aside from the challenges of preparing for an early harvest, the primary concern with early bud break is fending off mildew. Lerner believes this year’s crop will be average in yield but potentially one of the best in quality in recent memory.

“If the season goes the way it has started, it’s really going to be a magical year,” he said.

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Sherry baby

Sherry has long been a staple in Europe. But in this country, the fortified wine always seems to be the next big trend only never to establish a foothold. Sherry is not for everyone. The alcohol tends to be higher than table wine, and the aromas and flavors can be intense and off-putting to some, yet exhilarating to others.

Some regard sherry as nothing more than a cooking wine most have buried in the back of the cupboard or something so sweet, it could peel the enamel off your teeth. But it might surprise you to know sherry is made in a variety of styles — from bone dry to sticky sweet — and can be ideal before, during or after a meal, or as a star cocktail ingredient, depending on the style.

Sherry is made predominantly from white Palomino grapes and fortified with neutral grape spirits to boost the alcohol and stop the fermentation process. Sherries are aged in barrels using the solera system, where older wine is blended with newer wine. This method grew out of necessity when sailors needed a way to prevent their wine from spoiling during long oceanic voyages, thus sherry’s enduring popularity in European seafaring countries, such as Portgual, Spain, France and England.

Some of the more popular styles are Fino sherry, which is light in color and dry on the palate; Amontillado, which starts as a Fino but is darker due to exposure to oxygen; Oloroso, which has complex characteristics and is darker than Amontillado; and Pedro Ximenez, a sweet, dessert wine made from dried grapes.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I shared three samples of sherry from the esteemed Gonzalez Byass Familia de Vino in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, founded in 1835, with Paul Marsh’s Sommelier Bootcamp class at his wine bar and restaurant, Mile Wine Company in Stockton. Seven of us took part in the tasting, and those who hadn’t tried sherry seemed to gain an appreciation for one of the world’s classic styles of wine.

Here is what we tried:

• Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Sherry ($25): Pale gold color with pronounced aromas of green apple, caramel and felt-tip marker. The palate is dry with flavors of green apple peel, salted caramel, almonds and a hint of asparagus. The wine spends a minimum of four years in American oak barrels following traditional solera system. The acid (pH 3) is high and the alcohol (15 percent) is medium-high with pronounced flavor intensity, light body and medium finish. Finos are aged under a protective, yeast-like layer of flor, which inhibits exposure to oxygen, making for a lighter, drier style. Serve chilled (40-50 degrees) with olives, Spanish tapas, sushi or salty cheeses, such as manchego or parmigiano-reggiano. Finos also are great in cocktails. Try mixing orange juice, vodka and Fino for a refreshing, spring-summer or brunch time refresher.

• Gonzalez Byass “Leonor” Palo Cortado Sherry ($25): Beautiful amber color at the core with an orange rim. Spectacular, pronounced, complex nose of roasted pecans, toffee, hazelnuts, French toast, brown sugar, vanilla and butter. One taster said it smelled like “the inside of Tootsie Pop.” A lot going on with this wine, which is similar in its flavor profile to Oloroso. High acid (pH 3.1) and high alcohol (20 percent), medium body, long finish. Spent 12 years in oak barrels following traditional solera system. Serve lightly chilled (50 degrees) with game, red meats or pecan pie.

• Gonzales Byass Nectar Pedro Ximenez Sherry ($25): Made from 100 percent Pedro Ximenez grapes that are dried to evaporate the water and intensify the sugar. Deep-mahogany color with aromas of raisins, stewed prunes, Fig Newtons, hazelnuts, toffee, smoke and wood. The flavors match the aromas in intensity and complexity. The acid is medium (pH 4.6) and the alcohol is medium-high (15 percent). Aged nine years following the traditional solera system. Best served chilled as an after-dinner drink, or with dark chocolate or ice cream.

Sherry is one of the world’s most enduring styles of wine. It’s different than Port. It’s different than most table wines. And different can be good.

 

 

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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a wine enthusiast and has earned Level 3 certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of London through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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