August 2002 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 222
Rejected: 206 Approved: 16 Selected: 2
FROM THE GROUND UP
Both of our selections this month are about the same thing; soil. We tend to think that winemakers make the wine, but in fact, it is the soil that makes the wine.
While Monterey is praised for its cool climate, which allows the grapes to slowly mature on the vine and retain their natural fruit acids, it is the soil which gives the grapes the nourishment they need to succeed. Some grape varietals reflect the soil in which they are grown better than others. Pinot Blanc is such a grape.
This one is a rare beauty. Lots of flavor and a steely richness that goes with the name, Steel Creek.
I still find it amazing that Californians haven't discovered what the Australians have known for years; Cabernet and Shiraz make a great duo. Our Banrock Station is a luscious whopper of a wine with the best of both worlds.
In only one glass, we get the mouthfilling, jammy flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon and the sensuous earthy hints of Shiraz. Like our Pinot Blanc, this wine is also all about soil. The calcium rich rolling hills of South Australia is just what these grapes love. We think you'll love them, too.
Steel Creek Vineyards is owned by ASV Wines. The company was established by Marko Zaninovich in 1982 to provide California affordable wine, juice, bottled products and custom services to the wine marketers of the world.
They currently operate two California wineries, one located in the Central Valley and one in the Central Coast. They typically source winegrapes primarily from California's Central Valley, Central Coast and North Coast regions. The best grapes go into Steel Creek and come from the Central Coast. In the case of our Steel Creek Pinot Blanc, the grapes came from Monterey. The winery and vineyards are part of an international agribusiness enterprise that include a grapevine nursery, laboratory services, package manufacturing, fresh table grapes, and other fresh fruits.
Winemaker, Phil Franchonie, likes wines with character and verve; wines that stand out from the norm because of their focused flavors and acidity. Steel Creek is aptly named because of the steely character of his wines.
Monterey is the coolest grape-growing region in California. That cool climate keeps the natural grape acids higher than most. While almost all of his colleagues in other areas have to add acid to balance the wine's alcohol, Phil's wines generally don't need any additional acid and their alcohol is lower. This is what makes for the more subtle and graceful nuances in the offerings from Steel Creek.
For years, Pinot Blanc was mislabeled as Chardonnay. Its leaf and grape characteristics are similar. Even the French have confused the two, but not any longer. Pinot Blanc stands on its own as a profoundly flavored original and is garnering a respectable following. Unfortunately, many producers over oak it and try to make it taste like Chardonnay. Fortunately, Steel Creek went the other route and kept the integrity of this grape in tact.
Medium golden hug forward aroma of pineapple, banana and rose petals. Light and lively in the mouth with an assertive finish. Perfect with the swordfish recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Serve
about 2 hours in the
Banrock Station is an historical 4,200 acre property at the junction of Banrock Creek and the Murray River in South Australia's Riverland region. 600 acres are devoted to the premium grape varieties Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Semillon. The remaining land has been returned to its natural state, including 7.5 miles of river frontage and adjoining wetland and floodplain of over 1,000 acres.
Before they produced great tasting wines, the soils had been used extensively for grazing sheep and cattle and for vegetable production. But now, following some passionate environmental work in conjunction with major Australian conservation group Wetland Care Australia, Banrock's soil and nearby wetlands have been lovingly restored.
In addition to the environmental work at the property, part of the proceeds from the sales of Banrock Station wines are donated to the high profile environmental group - Landcare Australia for conservation projects in Australia.
The vision at Banrock Station is for a fully sustainable ecosystem where the natural environment can co-exist alongside a vineyard enterprise that produces outstanding full flavored
In the Riverland region of South Australia abundant sunshine dominates, giving the grapes the opportunity to achieve maximum ripeness. These wines are easy-drinking, rich Australian-style wines that can be enjoyed when still relatively young.
This traditional blend marries the unique characteristics of two classic varieties. The spicy pepper, raspberry and cherry fruit flavors of the Shiraz complements the capsicum, mint and black currant characters of the Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is lightly oaked to allow the fruit and generous rich flavors of these two varieties to dominate. This selection is one of the best wines Australia has to offer.
Lush aroma of ripe plum and cranberry balanced with earth and a touch of vanilla Assertive flavors to match the lamb recipe on page 6.
Perfect now, but can complex with another year or two in the bottle. Serve cool, about 30 min. in the fridge.
Paul, I was wondering what the sugar content of the wine is on these selections. Could you include it?
B.R., Las Vegas, NV
Almost all of our selection are considered dry, which means less than one half of one percent sugar.
Once the fermentation process has metabolized all of the sugar available to them and have converted the sugar into carbon dioxide (CO2) and alcohol the wine is considered "dry." Such a wine, red or white, will taste clean and crisp in the mouth because of its lack of sugar and presence of acidity.
Terms associated with wines that are not quite dry, sometimes called "off-dry," contain residual sugar. Residual sugar (RS) refers to a percentage of sugar left in a wine by arresting the fermentation prior to a wine becoming dry. For example, a Riesling may show some degree of sweetness, but Riesling is often high in total acid and has a low pH. Therefore, to attain the desired sweetness, sufficient to override the acid, a higher amount of sugar might be needed, perhaps 3% or more. The winemaker must determine how much residual sugar is desired prior to the end of fermentation in order to assure the proper sugar/acid balance.
In order for a wine to contain residual sugar, fermentation must be stopped before all the sugar has been converted by the yeast. This decision is difficult to make if the winemaker has not worked with the same source of grapes over a long period of time. With a vineyard history of knowing how the wine can come out after fermentation, the winemaker can be more sure of when to pick the grapes.
Chardonnay is normally a dry wine. It is also expected to be full-flavored and possess some "vanilla" components which are derived from oak aging. If a winemaker is dealing with a Chardonnay of rather low pH (and the resultant higher acid), he can stop fermentation between .4% and .7% residual sugar to give the wine roundness or fatness. This procedure could result in the acid level overriding the tiny amount of residual sugar and thus the wine will taste totally dry even though it is not.
Intricacies of this type, determined entirely by taste, demonstrate the great skill required by a winemaker. Assuming fine quality in the fruit and skillful winemaking techniques, "balance" is perhaps the most important aspect of a wine today.
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