If you've seen or read Bottle Shock, you may be familiar with Chateau Montelena's Chardonnay: the 1973 varietal won the Paris Tasting in 1976, putting Napa Valley and California wineries on the map. But the winery makes another white worth investigating: the Potter Valley Riesling ($25).
After tremendous success with the Food Network, several restaurants, a baby food line, and a handful of cookbooks, Tyler Florence is focusing his attention on wine. At a party in New York celebrating the national distribution of his labels, I had an opportunity to talk to Tyler personally about his venture into the winemaking world.
Despite his interest in wine, Tyler had no prior experience with blending, so he partnered with the Mondavi family, who helped create his signature wines. The chef also used his perceptive palate to guide him: "After years of experience [working with food], I know what tastes good," he declared. This led to the creation of two wine lines: Tyler Florence Wines, a casual, everyday line, as well as TF, a limited-production line.
Tyler worked with a "less is more" philosophy when designing the wine labels, because he claims winemakers put too much on the label, and then "the essence of the wine becomes lost." For the limited-production line, everything is abbreviated; Tyler kept it bare bones to evoke a sense of nonfussy sophistication. A 1930s library card inspired his Tyler Florence wines, as a reminder that these were handcrafted, and features the chef's own handwritten wine notes. Learn more about the wines.
Throughout the course of our wine month, we've extolled our fair share of ripe, full-bodied Pinots and robust Veronese blends. But the latest red we've tried is quite the opposite: it shines through in a subtle, understated way.
The 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($46) is the latest appellation Pinot to come out of Twomey Cellars, the folks behind the renowned Silver Oak Cellars. We were lured by its intense aroma, a sweet scent of berries, black cherry, and smoke; "I just want to smell this all day and not drink it," one taster said.
But drink this we did, and without abandon. The wine, which was surprisingly light-bodied, had a nice amount of acidity and a silky-smooth finish. "Klassy with a K," another taster declared, in one of her finer moments. Classy indeed: we wish we had some dried fruit and a quality washed-rind cheese to wash down another bottle.
Photos: Anna Monette Roberts
We're suckers for a clever wine label and are occasionally swayed to try a new bottle purely based on its aesthetic appeal. Luckily, in this case, the packaging belies the contents within. The Pomelo 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($10) manages to achieve the rare feat of tasting just as advertised. Crisply acidic, with notes of — you guessed it! — pomelo (a close relative to the grapefruit) and pineapple, tasters agreed that it was "très drinkable" (almost dangerously so) and would be "fun for an outdoor adventure" thanks to its twist-off top.
We'll be cooling off with a bottle or two of this reasonably priced supermarket favorite (we found ours at Safeway) all Summer, and we suggest you follow suit. We enjoy sipping it solo, but its clean flavors make it versatile. We wager it'd play nicely with the delicate flavors of the sea (flaky sole or steamed mussels, anyone?), particularly when accented with zesty citrus.
Every so often, a wine article is so compelling that the reader simply must seek out a particular bottle, however obscure it may be. This recently happened while reading a piece by wine editor Ray Isle on a small but growing community of DIY winemakers who are challenging the traditional standards of wine production in America. I looked up from the pages of my Food & Wine magazine and vowed to run out and buy his recommendation, the 2008 Tatomer Vandenberg Riesling.
Isle described the bottle as "one of the best Rieslings I'd had all year" — a bold statement for someone who tries a lot of wine. Nonetheless, that wasn't the real reason why I was sold on sampling the Tatomer. My real motivation? The wine, a California Central Coast Riesling, was the epitome of unusual. The Golden State isn't known for Riesling, especially not the warmer, sunnier Central Coast appellation. To top it off, this wine is named after the nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base — an unlikely inspiration for a wine if I've ever heard one.
By day, Graham Tatomer makes chardonnay and pinot noir as an assistant winemaker at a local winery, but he's a Riesling fiend at night — one who was fanatical enough to start making his own version. He makes only 700 cases of wine a year, and his wines, like this $24 Riesling, are incredibly priced. (To put that production number in perspective, E & J Gallo Winery makes 70 million cases annually.)
It's easy to taste the care put into each bottle. The Vandenberg is made in the style of an Alsatian: full-bodied without any sweetness. Its floral, pear-like bouquet drew me in, but what kept me drinking was the flinty minerality that bordered on savory and a creamy texture with a bracing green apple finish.
Although there were hundreds of wineries at this year's SF Vintners Market, I spent a disproportionate amount of time tasting reds at Clos Saron, a tiny winery located in the Sierra Foothills AVA of Northern California. Owner Gideon Bienstock wouldn't share his favorite bottling with me ("That'd be like choosing a favorite child!" he exclaimed), but I found my top pick anyhow.
It was his 2010 Out of the Blue, a unique blend of Cinsault and Syrah, that won me over. Cinsault is rarely prominent, but Bienstock's Out of the Blue features his Cinsault vines, which are over 130 years old, in a blend with 11 percent Syrah. Although the wine had structure, its light-bodiedness was reminiscent of Cru Beaujolais — but more intensely floral and less fruity. As Bienstock put it, "It's a happy wine." I'm already kicking myself for not having bought a bottle! What are your favorite Sierra Foothill wines?