United States > California > Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon

Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon

Country: United States
Region: California (Mendocino and Lake Counties)
Producer: Bonterra
Grape variety: 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Sirah, 7% Syrah, and 3% Carignane
Vintage: 2009
Found at: Costco, Co-op Wines and Spirits, Real Canadian Liquorstore, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $16.49 – $21.09

About the region: We’re back in California. Last time we enjoyed what’s considered California’s “own” grape variety, Zinfandel. However, the grape variety that put California on the map and that forms the basis for some of California’s most famous (and expensive) wines is the Cabernet Sauvignon: it was the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that beat all of the French wines at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, building credibility for California’s red wines.

California is far from a homogeneous wine growing region: climate and soils vary greatly across the state. Close to the coast, the weather can be too cool to grow grapes while inland the weather can be unsuitable for grape growing due to the heat. In between lie many different micro-climates, each different and each better suited for certain grape varieties than for others.

The general rule that applies here, as well as for wine growing regions elsewhere in the world, is that the more specific the indication of the wine’s origin, the higher the presumed quality of the wine. For example, the “Napa Valley” indication on a wine label denotes a much more specific (and prestigious) designation of origin than the more generic “California”. In turn, the “Rutherford” indication denotes an even more specific designation of origin, which indicates that the wine comes from one of Napa Valley’s most famous sub-regions. There are exceptions to this rule (e.g., Penfold’s Grange), but as a general rule of thumb it can prove to be quite helpful.

This particular Cabernet Sauvignon hails mostly from Mendocino County, which is the north-eastern most region in California’s wine country. It can be divided into two parts: the areas East and West of the coastal mountain range, whereby the West is quite cool due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean, while the East is shielded from the ocean’s influence by the mountain range and as such is much warmer. The fruit for this wine is clearly sourced from the Eastern part of Mendocino county, since Cabernet Sauvignon needs warm conditions to ripen.

About the wine: Bonterra is best known for its organic vineyard practices. This entails that they avoid the use of synthetic pesticides in their vineyards, which are under constant attack of many different pests and diseases. Instead, they rely on integrated pest management strategies to stave off these attacks. These strategies include attracting bluebirds and swallows which consume unwanted insects, free-roaming chickens which thrive on cutworms and insect pests, and keeping a colony of honeybees which pollinates flowers in the vineyard and helps attract beneficial insects.

To clarify, organic vineyard practices does not mean that no additives are used in the winery. Sulfites in particular are still used at organic wineries to preserve the wine’s freshness and to prevent it from oxidizing and turning into vinegar prematurely. Most organic producers will try to minimize their use of sulphites, but this can be said for most high-quality wine producers.

Do organically grown grapes produce better wine? Opinions are divided. My two cents is that organic vineyard practices don’t produce better wines per sé, but that organic practices (and biodynamic practices for that matter) require a substantial amount of extra diligence in the vineyard to monitor the condition of the vines and deal with any signs of pests or diseases right away. Vineyard managers simply don’t have the luxury of noticing an issue a few days late and then resolving it by spraying it with synthetic pesticides. This diligence to guard the vineyard’s health often translates into higher quality fruit, which in turn translates into higher quality wine.

So how does this Cabernet Sauvignon stack up? It’s showing the hallmark characteristics of a California Cab: ripe, dark fruit (blackcurrant, plum, and cherry), white pepper, hints of oak, soft tannins, and medium acidity.

Note as well that, as discussed in last week’s article (“To blend or not to blend“), even though the wine is labelled as a Cabernet Sauvignon, it contains  9% Petite Sirah, 7% Syrah, and 3% Carignane, which you won’t find being mentioned on either the front or the back label, but adds some balance and character to the wine.

In Susanne’s words: It was good.

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United States > Oregon > Rosé of Pinot Noir

Sokol Blosser Rosé of Pinot Noir

Country: United States
Region: Oregon
Producer: Sokol Blosser
Grape variety: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2011
Found at: Co-op Wines and Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $16.99 – 18.39

About the region: The first time we visited the United States, we had some Zinfandel from California: a wine marked by dark fruit flavours. Most California Zinfandel is actually made into inexpensive, simple, generally off-dry rosé, known as White Zinfandel though. For a rosé with somewhat more character than the average White Zinfandel, we make our way North, up the Pacific coast, to Oregon, specifically the Willamette Valley, and even more specifically, the Dundee Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area, similar to the Canadian VQA designation).

Summers here are warm and dry, but because the Valley lies rather close to the Pacific, this then provides a cooling effect. Due to the moderating effect of the ocean, the Willamette Valley, and Dundee Hills specifically, are ideally suited for the world’s best known cool-climate black grape variety: the Pinot Noir. In fact, the valley has developed such a reputation for growing high quality Pinot Noir that several wine producers from Burgundy (Pinot Noir’s homeland) have now setup shop in the Valley. Most prominently among them: Domaine Drouhin.

About the wine: Most rosés are made by limiting the amount of contact that the red grape juice has with the red grape skins. So whereas for red wine, the skins stay in contact with the juice for the entirety of the fermentation process, for rosé the juice is separated from the skins anywhere from immediately after pressing up to 48 hours after fermentation getting underway. The less contact with the skins, the paler the rosé will be. Note that for some inexpensive rosé (I refer to the aforementioned White Zinfandel as a frequent example), a small quantity of red wine is added to a white wine to create the wine.

As of 2008, Sokol Blosser is run by brother and sister Alex and Alison Sokol Blosser. Their parents were at the forefront of Oregon’s wine industry, planting their first vines in 1971, following pioneers David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards) and Dick Erath (Erath Winery). One of the hallmarks of their winery is their dedication to sustainable farming: they adhere to certified organic farming, sustainable business practices, and low impact packaging.

Their rosé shows classic strawberry and melon aromas and flavours, as well as green apple, lemon peel, and a hint of white pepper, which gives this quite a bit more complexity and character than you would expect from a rosé. It’s showing above-average acidity, which makes it a perfect wine to sip on the wam summer days we’re currently experiencing. At below $20, this is great value and Susanne and I reached the bottom of the bottle rather quickly last night.

In Susanne’s words: pretty but sour.

United States > California > Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel

Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel


Country: United States
Region: California
Producer: Bogle
Grape variety: Zinfandel
Vintage: 2009
Found at: Superstore, Co-op Wines and Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits
Price: $16.69 – $19.99

About the region
: For those of us (like myself) who have only been drinking wine for the past 15 to 20 years, it is difficult to imagine the extend to which the production of quality wine has increased in California over the past several decades. Up until the mid 1960’s, California mostly produced high-volume, low-quality jug wines. Much has changed since then and today California produces some of the most sought-after wines in the world. Once several pioneers started producing higher quality wine, it took some time for California to overcome its less-than-stellar reputation though. The turning point came in 1976, when California’s red and white wines beat France’s top wines in a blind tasting conducted by 10 French judges, now known as the “Judgement of Paris”.

Today, high-quality wines are produced all along the Californian coast from a wide range of grape varieties. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find good value, as producers are prone to increase prices once their wines catch on. As an example, Screaming Eagle was first released in 1992 for $50 per bottle. After years of rave reviews from Robert Parker and Wine Spectator, the wine has steadily increased in cost and now sells for $1,500 per bottle.

About the wine: The Bogle family started out as corn and sugar beet farmers in 1850’s. In the 1970’s they started planting grape vines, initially selling their grapes to other winemakers before launching the Bogle brand in 1979. The brand has grown tremendously since then under the leadership of husband-and-wife-team Chris and Patty Bogle. Since their passing, the winery has been run and continues to grow under their children’s leadership. Although Bogle produces wines at high volumes, quality is consistently high.

Zinfandel has long been regarded as California’s “own” grape variety. DNA research has shown it to be identical to Primitivo though, which is traditionally grown in Southern Italy. The challenge with Zinfandel is that it ripens unevenly, so as a bunch of Zinfandel grapes approaches ripeness, some grapes will be ready for picking while others will still be green. This is mitigated as the vines get older, which explains the prevalence of “old vine” zinfandel. There is no legal definition of what constitutes an “old vine” though, so buyer beware.

Bogle’s Zinfandel shows ripe berry flavors: savory blackberry, plum, and raisin, combined with black pepper and smoky cedar. There’s a hint of black tea as well. It’s medium-bodied with smooth tannins and medium acidity to balance it out.

In Susanne’s words: Fruity and not upsetting.