Summer is the time of the year that I come alive.  Having grown up in India, on a beach in Goa no less, I am still accustomed to sunny days and warm ocean breezes.  Right now, I feel like a bear emerging from hibernation, as the crocuses finally pop up and the forsythia celebrate the changing season with bright yellow sprays of color.

And speaking of celebrating, what better way to cheer on the warmth, the long, lazy days and heat of the sun on your bare skin than to chill down a beautiful bottle of rosé and throw the windows open for the fresh air.  That is exactly what I have been doing with a dry, refreshing bottle of Castello di Bossi Rosato.  Just saying the name of the wine makes me happy.  
The Castello di Bossi Rosato, made from 70% Sangiovese grapes and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, uses the maceration method to gain some color from the red grapes.  That means that it spends approximately 3 hours in contact with the red skins of the grape before the juice is pressed off and fermented separately.  There are two other methods for making rosé wines.  One is just to blend in some red wine to add color.  This is generally not allowed in most wines that want to be labeled as quality wines.  The second is to use a technique called “Saignée”, which means to bleed off.  In this method, some of the wine in a red wine fermentation is bled off after a short period of time to be fermented separately as rosé, which leaves less juice and more skins in the main vat to concentrate the flavors of the red wine.  This technique is used in places like Bandol in Southern France where the grapes may not have ripened enough or in places like Napa Valley, where vintners want to make richer, more extracted wines.  
This Rosato is a dry, dusty, wonderfully aromatic wine full of bright cherries and cranberries and hints of fresh, wild herbs.  On the mouth, it has a bright acidity on the open with a fruity, yeasty lingering finish.  One of the secrets to enjoying a good wine is to appreciate what comes before and after as much as the actual taste.  You should smell it, swirl it, smell again.  As the volatile compounds are released, they tease you with elusive scents that change from second to second.  When you finally taste it, you are invariably surprised because the nose did not reveal all of its treasures.  And then, for a really good wine, you can just enjoy the lingering aromas after you have swallowed it.  Sometimes that is even the best part of the whole experience.  This wine gives you a similar experience.  Each part of the tasting gives you a different impression and a different experience.  And you realize after each sip that the process was so enjoyable that you want to experience the whole thing again.  
Serve this wine well chilled – in an ice bucket – with a plate of caprese salad and prosciutto, a light pasta with fresh vegetables and herbs, grilled chicken sausages and sage-scented butternut squash soup (like we did!) or a creamy mushroom risotto…you will be in heaven.
Thanks for reading, Seema


Bird Big Barrel Pinot Noir Tasting Notes:  There is not much one can say about this wine without gushing.  It is delicious. From the remarkable color to the nose full of delicately scented cherries and roses and baking spice and the taste of a very carefully and lovingly vinified Pinot Noir, it is to be savored. If handled improperly, Pinot Noir grapes will still yield a juicy wine, but it will lose all the uplifting aromatics.  Therefore, this wine is made in the eponymous big barrels to keep the oak from overpowering the essence of the grape.  The winemaker also uses an unusual “Vernou roll” technique that allows the wine to come into contact with the skins very gently and with limited exposure to oxygen, thereby preserving much of the flavor and intensity without extracting harsh tannins.


Pork or Veal Loin Glazed with Pomegranate and Oranges

  • One 3-pound roast of pork or veal, or two 1 1/2 pound tenderloins
  • Marinade
    • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
    • Grated zest of one orange
    • 2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
    • 2 tbsp pomegranate syrup or pomegranate molasses
    • 2 tbsp hot mustard
    • 2 tsp freshly minced garlic
  • Basting sauce
    • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
    • 3 tbsp honey
    • 3 tbsp pomegranate syrup or pomegranate molasses
    • 2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp reserved marinade
  • To Make:
    • In a large bowl, combine the ingredients for the marinade. Reserve 2 tablespoons. Then marinade the roast in a dish, covered by plastic wrap or a lid. Marinade for at least 6 hours, overnight if possible.
    • Combine the ingredients for the basting sauce. Reserve 1/4 cup for spoon on at the very end.
    • Broil or grill the roast or tenderloins not too close to the heat source, turning the meat and basting with the sauce at least 4 times. Cook until a meat thermometer registers 140 degrees Fahrenheit, 20 to 30 minutes for a large loin, 5 to 7 minutes per side for tenderloins.
    • Or, in an oven, place in a roasting pan at 400 degrees.  Baste every 5 minutes, until meat thermometer reads 140 degrees, about 40 minutes.
    • Transfer meats to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly. Simmer reserved basting sauce until slightly thickened. Spoon over meat to glaze.
While everyone has heard of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas (pronounced ghee-gohn-dass) is a bit more in the background.  First of all, why is the last “s” pronounced?  I am told it is a dialect difference in the south to pronounce more of the last letters.  Second of all, what is Gigondas and why should we be drinking it?  The short answer is, it is delicious and it has a great quality to price ratio (QPR).

Gigondas is an appellation in the Southern Rhone region of France that is nestled in the valleys and foothills of the romantic sounding mountains, Dentelles de Montmirail.  This area has a warm, mediterranean climate that ripens the constituent grapes in Gigondas to perfection.  Grenache is a lovely, fruity grape whose vines are resistant to both heat and drought.  They are often not trellised but rather “head trained” – allowed so stand on their own and are pruned to be close to the ground and provide shade to the bunches of grapes it produces.  It ripens relatively late, but can develop enough sugars to push the alcohol levels it can produce to over 15%.  And because it has thin skin, it can be relatively low in acids and tannins which makes it an ideal partner for the more forceful Syrah and Mourvedre varieties.

Wine made from Syrah is powerful – with dark berry flavors offset by notes of white and black pepper and relatively high tannins.  It is more famous for its massive wines from Hermitage, Cote Rotie and under its alias, Shiraz, from Australia.  But it is one of the most important parts of Southern Rhone blends – from Chateauneuf-du-Pape to Vacqueyras – as well as in Languedoc and Roussillon.

Mourvedre is made less as a single varietal because it can be very tannic and overwhelming – but in blends, it can be sublime. It is also known under the names Monastrell in Spain and as Mataro in Australia where it has thrived.  It is also a heat loving, late ripening variety that brings a meaty, herby and potent character to wines.

Together, in a 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre blend, the 2013 Lavau Gigondas is a wonderful example of how these very different grapes work harmoniously together to create a big, rich, fruity, spicy wine that can stand up to anything you throw on the grill or any spices you might add.  This wine has had 5 years in the bottle to meld its various parts, mellow out its rough edges and become downright luscious.  It is filled with blackberry, black currant, peppery notes and licorice on the nose and is almost chocolate-like on the tongue.  Having already finished one bottle, I am already anxiously planning when I can have more!

Cheers, Seema
Photo of Gigondas by Slow Tours

Wine tasting is an endeavor of sheer endurance.  That is a lesson I have learned through sheer, hard work.

Let me start at the beginning.  Sonoma County, 90 minutes north of San Francisco, is gorgeous wine country.  Picture rolling, lush green hillsides, covered in orderly and beautifully staked and grown grape vines interspersed with aspens, sycamores, wild grasses, flowers of all colors and herbs of all fragrances.  Driving through the winding roads, you roll down the windows and smell the fresh air as if it is something that reaches into your lungs and blows wonder into your every pore.
The morning temperatures are cool and breezy and perhaps a bit foggy.  The perfect temperatures to put on a sweater, drink some hot coffee and set off on a day of exploration for the senses.  The afternoon warms you up just enough to sun your face and make you feel like you should find the closest hammock for a nice little nap.  And the evenings… are slow as molasses.  Breathtaking shades of peach and lilac drift through the sky as the sun sinks lazily past the horizon, bringing that hint of chill, making you want to reach for your favorite bottle of pinot noir – or is it zinfandel tonight?
My particular adventure has been in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma Valley.  I have never felt more whole as a person than I feel here.  Life is relatively simple here.  People work hard, they grow the grapes, they make the wines and they sell those beautifully labelled bottles full of dark magic.
Sonoma Valley is best know for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Russian River Valley areas and for their juicy, scrumptious Zinfandels along with world class Sauvignon Blanc (often called “Fume Blanc”) and Cabernets in the distinctive Dry Creek Valley style.
Ferrari-Carano is one of those vineyards that changes one’s life.  You wander up to the Italianate facade and filled with wonder, continue through the magical gardens filled with spring blossoms of cherry and apricot, azaleas and tulips to the fountains and statues, wondering, why can’t I just live here?  Can’t I just move here and leave everything else behind?
And all of this before you even taste the wines!
Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disease that slowly moves from tremors to stiffness to cramping, eventually leaving its sufferers entirely disabled – in a wheel chair or even bedridden.  It is painful and horrifying, knowing that it will only bring more and worse suffering.  The most famous face of Parkinson’s in our lifetime has been Michael J. Fox, who has been tireless in raising funds, awareness and supporting research to fight this blight.  And one of his signature efforts has been the production and sale of 4 Foxes Chardonnay.
blog post
This wine was released by the President of Jackson Family Wines, Rick Tigner, whose wife also suffers from Parkinson’s. It is a wine typical of the storied Russian River Valley of Sonoma County.  On the nose, you get delicious smells of lemon, pear, apricot, perhaps a hint of tropical fruits like mango.  On the palate, you get a buttery mouthfeel with the oaky taste of vanilla and caramel.  It has a soft finish that would pair well with everything from a simple white pizza to chicken with mushrooms.
A good wine for a great cause – cheers!
Seema 🙂
Wine makers and wine drinkers love to talk about oak.  And given that oak-use is incredibly complicated, it is not surprising.  Oak barrel fermentation, aging in oak, the flavors that oak imparts, the amount of oxidation you get through the porous oak barrels, the type of oak that is used – American, French, Slavonian – and the size of the barrels not to mention the discussions of how the barrels are made and who makes them.
Oak barrels are made in “cooperages,” and each cooperage imparts its own unique character to its barrels.  The staves are the raw materials of oak.  American oak is less dense and can be cut to size.  French oak, with a tighter grain, must be split.  In the most traditional (aka, “best”) cooperages, the staves are left out in the weather for a few years to “condition.”  A lesser cooperage will kiln dry the wood.  Then the staves must be heated to bend the staves into the characteristic shape for a barrel and then roasted for the desired length of time the right amount of “toast”.  The toasting of oak is very important because it determines the flavors that are imparted to the wine.  More butterscotch?  Less smoke?  That is all a function which type of oak and of how the barrel is toasted.
  • White wines tend to show more oak because the wine itself tends to have more delicate flavors and fewer tannins.  The oak  itself has tannins that bind with the proteins in the wine, so whites do not become more tannic with oak fermentation or aging.
  • Red wines on the other hand, already have tannins that have bound with the proteins in the wine. That means that non-neutral oak generally imparts more tannins to red wines than they have naturally.  So, in addition to the vanilla / caramel / butterscotch types of flavors in American oak and the more coconut / hazelnut / smoky flavors in French oak, red wines tend to become more structured in oak barrels.
Two wines that display some oak character:
The Four Foxes Chardonnay is a moderately oaky chardonnay that has had a few years in the bottle.  It is a mellow wine that has notes of apple, pear and apricot with a medium amount of oak.  In contrast, the Treana Chardonnay has a bolder oak character – more rounded in the mouth with riper flavors of peach, apricot and honey.  The dominant flavor of “creme brûlée” is a result of the distinct character of the fairly heavily toasted oak in the wine.
The Lopez de Haro Rioja Reserva is a wonderful example of a red wine whose flavors intertwine seemlessly with oak.  The Temperanillo grape loves oak and as a “reserva,” this wine spends 20 months in a combination of French and American oak, smoothing out its rough edges, aging gently and becoming absolutely delicious.  The Roots Run Deep Winery’s Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon is the equivalent of a big, bold wine in exclusively American oak that Napa is famous for.  It is a burst of black currant and black berries with a deep, caramel, vanilla and leather set of flavors that lingers on the palate.
We hope to see you at Mystic Wine Shoppe soon,
Thanks for reading – Seema

When I began studying wine several years ago, I really just wanted to know the difference between a Rhone and a Burgundy, a Napa Cabernet and a Bordeaux. I did not have any grand ambitions. However, as I progressed through the classes, I realized that wine brings so many subjects together – you have to pore over detailed maps to memorize appellations, you have to know the different character imparted by schist or slate or loam or limestone, you have to study how many hours of sun each zone averages to know which grapes are likely to ripen well or over cook in which areas. You have to smell your way through the world – what is the difference between black berry and black currant? What does acacia or hawthorn smell like? is there a difference between lemon, lime and grapefruit smells? Or apples, pears and quince? You also have to study the various ways that wines are made – when are they harvested and by machine or hand? How are they crushed? How is the juice handled before fermentation? What temperature do you ferment at and which strains of yeast do you use? Then there are complicated processes for filtering, fining, additional malolactic fermentation, blending, aging, bottling…

It is astounding how complicated the process is and how much of a bargain wine is at almost any price that we pay these days.

Wine is a second career for me – in the my previous life, I worked in international development and traveled the world. I have been to Mali and Malawi, Albania and Macedonia, India and Indonesia, Nepal and Mongolia. After having children, this sort of travel became impossible and it took me years to find something that was as absorbing and challenging, not to mention something that would give me enough of a reason to take time off from spending all my time with my children.

Who knew wine could be that thing? The more I learn about the wine world, the more I realize there are depths and nuances that I would never have guessed. Something relatively new to me has been the world of Wine-as-fundraising. The wonderful thing for me is that it brings my previous life – working with the poor and vulnerable – together with my new life – learning and teaching about wine. Therefore, the wine I am discussing and we will taste in the shop this week is a wine for a cause.

Thanks for reading, Seema

I love it when I speak with people and they have strong opinions on wine. Sometimes the opinions are wrong (ahem), but nonetheless, it makes for a lively exchange. For years now, Pinot Noir has had a certain cache, it is the wine grape that has been made into some of the most legendary cuvees of Burgundy, the wellspring of ethereal, elusive, coveted and as a result, unimaginably expensive wines. But in the past few decades, it’s magic has been captured and vinified in the new world. There are purists who would recoil from the idea that one would drink Pinot Noir from anywhere but the golden slopes of Burgundy, but (ahem), they would be wrong.

It turns out that there are valleys in California and Oregon that make just beautiful, scented, delicate, poignant Pinot Noirs. And more recently, the art of Pinot Noir has come to New Zealand.

So what is it about Pinot Noir that is so magical and mysterious? Why do people wax poetic about it? The first thing is that it is a notoriously difficult grape to grow. As the Oxford Companion to Wine states, “Pinot Noir demands more of both the vine-grower and the winemaker…It is a tribute to the unparalleled level of physical excitement generated by tasting one of Burgundy’s better reds that such a high proportion of the world’s most ambitious wine producers want to try their hand with this capricious and extremely variable vine.”

Steve Bird is one such intrepid winemaker. He has dedicated his life to winemaking, coming to it as a high-schooler working at the local winery, studying it in college and then working in wineries his entire life. And his skill is well rewarded in his signature wine, the 2013 Bird Big Barrel Pinot Noir from the Marlborough wine region of the south island of New Zealand.

This wine has some magic in it. When you pour it, it has this amazing gem-like ruby brightness with hints of orange, which indicate it is 5 years old and ready for drinking. Then you smell it. The first impression is of cherry with a light herbal note – maybe mint? But patience is required. This wine has been sitting in this bottle for 5 years now. Swirl it some more – let is open up and relax a bit. Then take another deep breath of it. Now you start of find that elusive quality. It is now full of cherries, a hint of strawberry, some roses and violets and wonderful baking spices, some cloves, some licorice. And yet it remains delicate, there is nothing overt in this wine. It is coy and draws you in. On the palate it is fruity and mouthwatering with just the right amount of silky tannins to make it linger on the finish, again just the right amount.

And voila, one sees that Pinot Noir is indeed able to thrive and prosper outside Burgundy. There are many ways it can express itself. It can put forward its floral character, it can put forward its herbal character; it can be fruity but it can also be savory. But when it is well made, it is always wonderful.

Cheers, Seema (Our local wine expert)


Steve Bird Winery