Pinot Palazzo, I’m Breathless Waiting for a Winner, A Full Half a Glass and More in This Edition of Woody’s Whine!

Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County

“It’s the first time I’ve ever done two of these kind of events in the same year so we sort of had a pinot palazzo part two and I then really wanted to showcase Chardonnay also as I like to think about soup in the fall and how well Chardonnay matches with soup”, so sums up Chris Sawyer, wine director.

“I was able to get some of the small serious Pinot Noir producers as well as some of the more famous and well-known ones, Porter Creek, Woodenhead, Martinelli, 27, 28 wineries”, offered Sawyer. “I thought it was a fantastic success and the best one I’ve done at Gravenstein Grill so far”.

I noted that there were a number of regions represented outside of just the Russian River which gave the tasting a length and breadth that was different than the previous Pinot events.

Sawyer says curating these events can be difficult with a limited number of spaces for each session and gets calls from vintners asking him why they weren’t invited, “Hey Sawyer why didn’t you get me involved?” he mocks as we both laughed and he wiped a comical tear from his eye.

His year ending event is a sparkling wine extravaganza that will be held on 15 November at the Grill. If you’re a local it will be the place to be and certainly would be worth flying into Santa Rosa to be there.


I’m Breathless to See Who Won

Breathless was born at the same time as custom sparkling wine producer Rack & Riddle in 2007. In fact it’s a family thing as Rebecca Faust is a Rack & Riddle co-founder along with her two sisters, Sharon (Cohen) and Cynthia Faust created their very public version of the now highly successful Breathless Sparkling wine brand at the same time. Note that all Breathless Sparkling wines are made in the same classic Méthode Champenoise  fashion as French Champagne, they just can’t call it that.

Sharon is best known as the face of Breathless and Cynthia Faust, who has been gracious enough to work with me on several occasions, is the manager of brand development for Rack & Riddle.

The Breathless ladies put it all on the line on a recent lovely Saturday afternoon when they choose to host a tasting event that judged their sparkling wines against true French champagnes in front of four wine professionals and a host of Breathless fans.

Just prior to his going on stage as one of four industry judges, I asked noted wine judge and connoisseur Chris Sawyer what he was anticipating.

“I think it’s going to be a surprise” he remarked, “And I doubt that we’re going to be right on all of these, I look forward to the guessing game and I hope we have fun.”

Well surprised we were, as the four professional judges, along with your tasting panel selected the Champagnes in three out of the four categories; the exception being that of a seventy-five dollar bottle of Breathless Late Harvest Sparkling, quite yummy.

The Breathless wines were over whelming chosen by the other Breathless fans in attendance, not that’s a bad thing but I do wonder about the depth of their palettes.

“We make great things here in Sonoma County”, Sawyer commented. “As judges we picked what we thought was the best of each category, it was hard, Breathless stood up to all of them”.

The Champagnes in the tasting were selected and presented by a certified Champagne expert from a Napa Champagne Bar.

Heather Irwin, the Dinning Editor of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper claimed to be “a bit out of her lane” as a wine judge but did a wonderful job of relating how she thought the wines complement food.

“I think it’s really important that you pair wine with food and Champagne is one of the classic wines to pair with”, she commented. “Its elements bring a sparkle to food. I encourage people not to save Champagne for special occasions, get it out and drink it!”

Her thoughts were echoed by fellow judge Sawyer, “I agree with Heather 100% as it’s quite possible to drink different Champagnes throughout an entire meal without any trouble at all”. He thought that the Breathless Blanc de Noir with would be perfect with a Thanksgiving meal.

And who’ been telling you about Blanc de Noir as the Thanksgiving wine of choice for a number of years?

The event was a really enjoyable learning experience but we all voted that the best taste of the day was the 2011 late disgorged Breathless Brut wine paired with a dark chocolate candy filled with caramel inside.

Smiles all around!

In a sort of a ‘TMZ” moment I must share that Sharon Cohen (Faust) is the former wife of Bruce Cohen, the original owner of BR Cohen Cellars in Kenwood and…the former longtime manager of the Doobie Brothers. We drink nice wine from and are friends of his cousin, David Cohen of Moon Dance cellars who is from Chicago, oh the stories go on – Happy to introduce you!


Half a Glass

Total Wines and More, Not so Much

I start Half a Glass with a caution regards Winery Direct, the Total Wine & More private wine label. I’ve had some experience with Total Wine over the years especially when we spent a lot of time in Florida. Big, well stocked stores with very good pricing, I think I have a membership card somewhere.

They just opened a store here in Santa Rosa which will cause a bit of a swirl at the Bottle Barn, “we’re not worried” and some other smaller stores.

My concern is with their private label, Winery Direct. In general this is bulk wine that wasn’t good enough to make it to a known label; wholesaled, purchased on the cheap and bottled under a name you’re never heard of and for good reason, it’s not very good wine.

Total Wine staffs are trained to direct you to these brands no matter what you ask for and it can be a bit intimidating.

Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.


It’s All You Need

Eric Ripert, renowned international haute-seafood chef and restaurateur commented in a recent WSJ Eating & Drinking section feature about how simplicity is his M.O.

“My pantry is always stocked with olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs de Provence, that’s all you need”, he states. “These products have so much flavor in them. The salt attracts that flavor and the pepper adds a little spice”, he notes.

His thoughts simply reinforce the importance of salt as a seasoning and go right along with last month’s salt thoughts I posted from a “KISS Keep it Simple – Salt” article.


St. Michelle Makes Big Cuts

Washington’s wine industry will need to shed about 15 percent of its grape acreage to adjust to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ decision to scale back production.

“I know it’s devastating,” said Shane Collins, winemaker at Fielding Hills Winery in Chelan and board chair of the Washington Winegrowers Association. “People are likely going to go out of business.”

The state’s grower’s organization has recommended removing about 10,000 acres as a result of the Northwest’s largest winery informing growers of plans to reduce its crush by 40 percent in the coming years, to better align with declining alcohol consumption and a persistent oversupply.

Ste. Michelle is the one of the largest wine companies in the country.

“These measures are about bringing our business into a sustainable balance and enabling us to focus on making the highest quality wines possible,” said Lynda Eller, director of communications for Ste. Michelle, in a written statement. “We are ultimately committing to the long-term health and vitality of both our business and Washington wine.”

The CEO of Rack & Riddle hinted in our interview last month that they may find a use for some of this fruit to expand their new product line.

Good Fruit Grower


Some Thoughts for Great Food and Wine Pairing

Pinot Noir with earthy flavors

Recipes made with earthy ingredients like mushrooms and lentils taste great with reds like Pinot Noir and Dolcetto, which are light-bodied but full of savory depth. Pinot is also often delicious alongside salmon, proving that red wine and fish can go together brilliantly.

Chardonnay with fatty fish or fish in a rich sauce

Chardonnays from California, Chile, or Australia are delicious with hearty fish like swordfish or any kind of seafood in a rich sauce.

Champagne likes anything salty

Dry sparkling wines, such as brut Champagne and Spanish cava, actually have a faint touch of fruity sweetness. This makes them extra-refreshing when served with salty foods. They also cut through the richness and oil of fried dishes: Bubbly and a bowl of potato chips is terrific.

Cabernet Sauvignon with juicy red meat

California Cabernet, Bordeaux, and Bordeaux-style blends are terrific with steaks and lamb dishes. The firm tannins in Cab cut through the fat and protein, which in turn smooth out the tannins. It’s a perfect symbiotic relationship in each bite.

Sauvignon Blanc with tart dressings and sauces

Scallops with a grapefruit-onion salad — won’t overwhelm zippy wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Vinho Verde from Portugal, and Verdejo from Spain. Sauvignon Blanc also works well alongside vinaigrette, roasted or sautéed fish, and goat cheese.

Zinfandel with pâtés, mousses, and terrines

Zinfandel, Italy’s Nero d’Avola and Spain’s Monastrell, work well with a creamy liver mousse. Spice- and fruit-driven Zinfandel also has a natural affinity for barbecued or sauce-slathered meats and pizza.

Food and Wine


Roger Nabedian, head of E. & J. Gallo’s Premium Wine Division on  The Future of the Wine Market

The generations that followed the Boomers interact with the category in a different way. Spirits makers have been more innovative and aggressive introducing products and marketing them in a way that provides more energy to the category. So there’s been a shift that you clearly see in the data where spirits have become a much bigger share of the usage occasions—at the expense of predominantly beer, but to some degree wine.

I’m still optimistic about the wine category. There are near-term challenges. The industry is in a moment where it’s having some struggles. It has to continue to become innovative and make wines that are compelling and interesting and have strong stories. But I still believe that the generations coming of age will continue to find pleasure in understanding and enjoying wine as part of their lifestyle. As an industry, we have to continue to find ways to make the products—in terms of their taste and the brands—relevant to them.

Nabedian will be retiring in January after a 37-year career with Gallo, the world’s largest wine marketer.


California in The Wine World

Today, California accounts for 80% of all U.S. wine production. It employs nearly half a million Californians. It generates $73 billion in annual economic activity. California supplies almost 3.6 million tons of wine grapes each year, 238 million cases in the U.S. market alone. If California was its own independent country, it would be very close to being the fourth-largest economy in the world and the fourth-largest winemaking nation in the world behind only Italy, France, and Spain.


A Napa Valley’s Culinary Pioneer has Passed

Michael Chiarello made his mark with the iconic Tra Vigne restaurant, which opened in 1987. He went on to write cookbooks, host and act as a judge on numerous culinary television shows and the Food Network, open more restaurants and launch Chiarello Family Vineyards and NapaStyle.

I was fortunate to have met him at a wine event in Chicago in 2006 and subsequently visited not his office but his home and vineyards.

My interview is still posted as a pod cast on the website at the bottom of my home page, you can hear the birds singing in the background.


That’s my Whine and I could be wrong…

My recipe for Patty Melt Burgers with Charred Scallion and Chipotle Mayo in fact right here. Enjoy!

Woody Mosgers, cooks, custom caters, writes, drinks, matches wine and food and offers wine country tour information and planning in Santa Rosa Sonoma, CA.