Monday, November 29, 2010

J.Lohr Makes a Cabernet Easy to Find, Afford

It can be hard to find a really good bottle of wine at the supermarket or local liquor store that delivers great quality for under $15. That’s why this column is about a single bottle of wine.

J. Lohr Vineyards is one of the iconic names in California wine, particularly the central coastal region. The chance to share comments from Steve Lohr, Jerry’s son and COO of the company, made it easy to focus one column on J. Lohr’s Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wine is a rich and well-structured bottle of Cabernet for its mid-teen price. The wine can be found online anywhere from $13-$17. It can be picked up at one of Indiana’s biggest grocery chains for $14.99.

The chance to share Lohr’s comments on the Cab adds a little education rather than a simple review.

“With over 20 years of experience in growing grapes in Paso Robles, we know what it takes to coax the best flavors from our vineyards,” Lohr said. “Our Paso vineyards receive only 12 to 14 inches of rainfall per year, with almost none of that occurring during the growing season. Thus, we are able to limit how much water each vine receives, encouraging the vine to put more energy into fruit maturation than cane and leaf growth. We work diligently to allow just enough sunlight to penetrate the grapevine canopy. If there is too much light, the clusters will suffer from sunburn and turn rosy or raisin – just like humans! If there is too little light, they will not develop their full berry flavors.”

A recent trip to Paso Robles, CA., provided the opportunity to talk with many of the area’s pioneers.

“We feel Paso Robles is ideally suited for Cabernet in part because of the large diurnal changes in temperature (the difference between the daytime high and nighttime low) that occur here,” Lohr explained. “Cabernet needs warm days to bake out the (chemicals) that can lead to green vegetable aromas and flavors, and cool nights to preserve the acidity and color in wine grapes. With a daily swing of 40 to 50 degrees during the summer, Paso has the largest diurnal shift of any winegrowing region in the country.”

The great thing about this inexpensive wine is it tastes like a $20 or $30 bottle. The mouth feel is comparable to a more costly wine.

“We don’t over crop our vines since that dilutes flavors; however, we don’t under crop our vines either since that leads to aggressive vegetal growth and a reduction in the length of time the cluster remains on the vine, leading to sugar accumulation before flavor development,” Lohr said.

“This attention to detail is carried through the winemaking process. We ferment in small to medium size tanks which allows us to closely monitor color, flavor and tannin extraction from the grape skins and seeds. Our focus on traditional winemaking techniques, such as the exclusive use of 225 liter oak barrels to age our Seven Oaks, is more akin to a boutique winery than a winery with good national distribution. Balance in blending occurs with the addition of other Bordeaux varieties to our Cabernet such as Merlot and Petit Verdot, as well as other red varieties which grow well in Paso such as Petite Sirah and Syrah. The finished Seven Oaks is a wine that expresses rich blackberry, black cherry and vanilla aromas and flavors with a plump, softly textured mouth feel and finish.”

J.Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet is easy to find. Try it with the next big beef dish you have planned.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner Pairs with Many Wines

What wine to serve with the Thanksgiving turkey? It’s the most frequently asked question of the season and one with plenty of answers.

Let’s talk some turkey about white and red wines which will really highlight your holiday meal.

Chardonnay is a really easy choice. But if it was that simple, who needs a wine columnist? The way food is seasoned, cooked, and side dishes should always figure into the equation of wine-food pairing for any meal.

Recently, I gathered four good friends to evaluate six wines to pair with turkey and the trimmings. It’s a great way to pick holiday wines and great fun.

We tasted three whites and three reds with some sliced turkey, bits of cheese with cranberry, pecans, and crackers. We started with a Michigan Riesling - a classic choice. The wine offers nice fruit and acidity and will pair well with nearly everything on the dining table. Riesling is widely available, just check out a few because the wine does come in sweet, semi-sweet, and dry versions. It’s also acidic (a good thing), but if that turns you off – just read on.

One of the most popular Thanksgiving wines in recent years has been Gewurztraminer. The French and German versions are widely popular for their strong floral and spicy nose and taste. In Indiana, you can buy a Traminette at your local Indiana winery and get essentially the same flavor profile. It is a great choice. But note, the Indiana versions tend to be on the sweeter to much-sweeter side.

Our final white was a very nice California Sauvignon Blanc. The group was pleasantly surprised how well the wine went with the turkey and trimmings. Ask your wine shop for a Sauv Blanc with mild acidity. Many California Sauvignon Blanc wines will go really well.

Still, there are those who want red wine with food regardless of the occasion and there are plenty of choices that won’t overpower the bird. My wine buddies first tried a nice Beaujolais Villages gamay-grape wine. The Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun wine, but for better taste pick up a Villages or Grand Cru Beaujolais. The difference is only a few dollars for much better wine.

The Georges Duboeuf Villages wine was beautifully crafted, light, and balanced nicely against food. It’s also a wine even your non-wine drinkers are going to really enjoy. You’ll look like the sophisticated host serving one of the beautifully-labeled Beaujolais wines.

The final two wines were both Pinot Noir, but from different regions. The first was a light and tasty California Central Coast Pinot at $14. Pinot Noir and Beaujolais are probably the most frequently recommended Thanksgiving red wines. The light Pinot not only pairs with turkey, but again is a good choice if you’re not regular wine consumers.

We also tasted an awesome $30 Oregon Pinot that might be a bit much for non-wine drinkers but will really impress regularly red wine fanatics. The Oregon Pinot is more Burgundian, or lighter in style, but earthy and aromatic wine that is made to impress.

The cook in the house invests a lot of time on Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends. So take a little time to get to a wine shop, ask some questions and pick a really great wine for the holiday.

Howard’s Pick:You can watch video on my blog as my four friends evaluate six Thanksgiving wine choices. A new video will be up each night the week of Nov. 8-13. If you miss it, just search through the blog to find the six entries! You’ll see the exact wines I’ve written about here and enjoy the comments.