Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Winetasting Overlooking The Vineyards

Bouchaine Vineyards in the Carneros Region of Napa County provides a lovely spot to taste some quality wine. On a sunny day, sitting on Bouchaine's deck overlooking the vineyards and tasting excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other varietals provides the perfect wine country experience. If the weather isn't cooperating, the friendly staff will make sure you still have an enjoyable time at the counter in the tasting room.

If you plan ahead, Bouchaine can provide you with a picnic lunch on the deck. Their "Table for Two" provides a picnic basked with lunch for two adults and a bottle of wine. You may order as many baskets as you need for your group, but must call (800) 654-9463) at least 24 hours in advance to arrange your wine country lunch.

Bouchaine is located a little off the beaten track in Carneros at 1075 Buchli Station Road. Be sure to take a map with you (available on Bouchaine's website) as Buchli Station Road is not well marked and Bouchaine's sign at the intersection of Las Amigas and Buchli Station is easy to miss. Bouchaine is open daily from 10:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. During the winter, their hours are reduced so check before you visit if traveling between November and April.

Better yet, let Blue Heron Custom Tours take you a private tour of Carneros that includes a visit to Bouchaine and other great wineries. To book your custom tour, call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Corks or Screwcaps

One of the regular debates in today's world of wine is the type of closure used for a wine bottle. Air and oxygen are wine's enemy until the time comes to open the bottle.

For centuries closures made from the bark of cork oak trees have been used to seal bottles of wine. These corks do a pretty good job of keeping the air out. Unfortunately, they can carry a chemical called TCA for short (trichloroanisole) which can impart an rather unpleasant odor to the wine that masks the flavor. This is commonly called cork taint. Estimates are that between 3 and 10% of all bottles of wine are corked.

In small doses, only the most discerning noses will identify the TCA. However, when present in larger amounts the wine will have an odor of wet cardboard or wet dog. Neither is a characteristic most drinkers look for in their wine.

Synthetic corks have been used for many years, but many find them problematic. They may not fit tightly enough against the glass to prevent small amounts of oxygen from entering the bottles. Some find them hard to remove. However, they are cheaper than natural corks. For inexpensive wines that are not meant to be aged, there should not be problems when synthetic corks are used.

More recently, screwcaps have been used to seal wines at all prices. Nearly all Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand and Gruner Veltliners from Austria are sealed with screwcaps. They do a great job of keeping the oxygen out of the bottle -- better than corks -- and carry no risk of transmitting TCA. However, they do carry the stigma of being associated with cheap, jug wines. Some critics feel they impart an unpleasant sulfur odor to some wines. Others contend they seal out the oxygen so completely that aging is inhibited.

If you want to test out the aging theory, Plumpjack Winery sells its excellent Cabernet Sauvignon in a two-pack. One bottle is sealed with cork and the other with a screwcap. You can then cellar both bottles and come back a few years later to see if there is any difference.

One final note on corks. When you are at a restaurant and the waiter lays down the cork, you may wonder what to do with it. You may smell it to see if your wine is corked, but this is no guarantee. There may be TCA in the cork, but not in the wine. So when the waiter has you taste the wine check for the taint of TCA. If you think the wine is corked, politely ask the waiter for his opinion. Restaurants get refunds from their distributors on corked bottles, so there should be no problem in sending back a bad bottle. Just remember that a bottle of wine that is not to your taste is not a bad bottle of wine. We all have different palates.

If you want to take a private, wine country tour that includes visits to Plumpjack and other fine wineries that use screwcaps, make a reservation by calling (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mailing by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Small Winery in the Napa Valley

While many visitors to the Napa Valley head to the big, well-known wineries, there are many hidden gems. One of them is Bell Wine Cellars. This small winery is located just south of the center of Yountville on Washington Street.

Anthony Bell established the winery in 1991 after leaving Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) where he worked with the great Andre Tchelistcheff in making the famed George La Tour series of wines. Today Anthony makes great Cabernet Sauvignons and other wines using the experience he gained doing clonal research at BV.

In addition to a number of great Cabs, Anthony makes Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Port, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay. This is a lot of variety for a winery that makes less than 10,000 cases each year, with half devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bell's tasting room is located amongst the fermentation tanks. Upon arrival, you will be greeted warmly by Don or Kelly. Both are friendly, outgoing, and knowledgeable about wine. You will be sure to have a great time while you taste your way through Bell's list of impressive wines.

Bell is open for tasting only by appointment. You can arrange a tasting by calling (707) 944-1673. Better yet, take a private tour of the Napa Valley with Blue Heron Custom Tours and we will arrange for you to taste at Bell and other boutique wineries. To book a tour, call (866) 326-42237 (toll free) or e-mail us by clicking here.