Maison l'Envoyé Pinot Noir

A President’s Day Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon, that would make our Founding Fathers proud.

Producer: Maison l'Envoyé

Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon

Grape(s): Pinot Noir

Tasting Notes: Cherry, fresh raspberry, pomegranate, subtle spices

Pairings: Furikake salmon, Cantonese roast duck, sautéed Japanese mushroom medley, chocolate, medium-firm cheeses

Price (approximately): $27 (stay tuned for a review of Maison l'Envoyé’s less expensive label!)

Buy: Fujioka’s Wine Times


My Musings:

Happy President’s Day! I had the special privilege of being invited to chat about wine this morning for National Drink Wine Day on KHON’s Living 808 with host Tannya Joaquin. What a treat! On this special occasion, I thought it fitting to pay tribute to my favorite President/Oenophile, Thomas Jefferson, by recounting a few of his nerdy, vinous tendencies and breaking out a bottle of American Pinot Noir that would truly make him proud. I couldn’t say nearly enough about Jefferson or this fabulous wine on air, so here is a special post that gets a little geeky!

I double the doctor’s recommendation of a glass and a half of wine each day and even treble it with a friend.
— Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson was a wine wonk through and through. During his time in Europe, he maintained a travel log that contained detailed notations on numerous aspects of viniculture and viticulture. Wherever Jefferson went, he tasted, investigated, and documented. Jefferson’s wine manifesto illustrated (sometimes literally) his scientific process related to wine. And apparently it was good. Although he spent a mere four days in Bordeaux, his evaluations of the region are still referenced as authoritative work on the Bordeaux wine trade circa 1787.

Jefferson deeply desired that the young nation be one of winemakers and wine drinkers. He firmly believed that wine had important health benefits and was a way to connect people and effectively disseminate knowledge. Of course, it was also fun, too!

My measure is a perfectly sober 3 or 4 glasses at dinner.
— Thomas Jefferson

Although it was not realized in his lifetime, Jefferson’s early vision for the country has finally borne much fruit. Wine is commercially grown in all 50 states, and Jefferson’s favorite wines from Rhône, Bordeaux and Burgundy have their vinous second homes in Napa Valley, Columbia Valley, Sonoma, and Willamette Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, all varietals Jefferson wanted to produce in Monticello, are the most popular grapes in the United States.

Most of western Oregon’s present-day wine country was once submerged in an ocean basin with active subsurface volcanoes. The remnants of Willamette Valley’s ancient beginnings can still be found amongst the soils. Ocean basalt, siliceous lava and other volcanic deposits, combined with sedimentary wash from the ice age, produce well-drained, mineral-rich terroir.  

Today, the region is a focal point for world-class Pinot Noir. Clouds and humidity from the Pacific sweep east across the Valley through breaks in the Coastal Range, resulting in cool summers and wet autumns. As a result of the climate and terroir, Pinot Noir produced here is softer, more fruit forward, and matures earlier than its European counterparts.

This wine showcases the potential of Oregon Pint Noir. The first impressions are in the expressive, alluring bouquet of ripe raspberry, cherry, and pomegranate with a touch of floral elements. On the palate, the wine is lighter in body, soft and elegant with flavors of red fruit, minerals, and spices. An eminently drinkable wine that pairs beautifully with a variety of cheeses, chocolates, duck, salmon, or a relaxing pizza-and-movie night.


Obsidian Ridge Estate-Grown Cabernet Sauvignon

Tasting Notes: Blackberry jam, black cherry, plum, and chocolate, cedar, vanilla and cinnamon.

Pairings: Dark chocolate, The Grill

Price (approximately): $30

Producer: Obsidian Ridge

Region: Red Hill, Lake County, California

Grape(s): Cabernet Sauvignon

Buy: Fujioka’s Wine Times


My Musings:

As the mainland U.S. is trapped in an impenetrable cold chill, finding a strategy to stay warm is paramount. For me, that recipe often includes a bottle (or two) of Cabernet Sauvignon. When I don’t want to drain the bank account to procure it, Obsidian Ridge tops the list.

Obsidian Ridge is perennially one of my favorite full-bodied Cabernets under $40. Full-bodied and densely concentrated with plenty of youthful tannins that could benefit from decanting (or, ideally, time in the cellar). Nonetheless, any Cab fanatic would do well do pick up a bottle or two at a value price (relative to the Napa Valley prices that often start in excess of $80).

Lake County is a little-known American Viticultural Area (AVA) located amongst the dormant volcanic hills of Northern California. The region’s climate and terroir demonstrated to its early residents an efficacious agricultural haven. By the 1850s, immigrants whose hope had faded in the gold rush disavowed a laborious life in the coal mines to focus on agriculture in the fertile, volcanic soils of Mendocino and Lake County. Soon thereafter, vineyards were established. Where there is a way, there is a wine.

Traversing Mount Konocti, a dormant volcano overlooking the famous Clear Lake, one will find Red Hill Lake County, one of the newest appellations in California, recognized in 2004. Vineyards here are the highest in California, and scattered with remnants of black volcanic glass, called obsidian, and red, iron-rich volcanic soils. Elevation permits breezy air currents from the Pacific Ocean to reach the inland appellation. This moderating influence, combined with diurnal temperature variation, low humidity and the varied topography, yield small, concentrated berries with thick skins. The result is an intense wine with tremendous tannic structure and complex phenolic composition. These wines are robust, fruit-driven, and built to age.

2014 Testa Vineyards Black Sette Blend

Year: 2014

Producer: Testa Vineyards

Region: Redwood Valley and Mendocino AVAs, Mendocino, California

Grape(s): Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Charbono

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Medium+

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Blackberry jam, raspberry, blueberry, spice, damp earth, vanilla

Pairings: Barbecue! [burgers with bacon, barbecue chicken], lasagna, braised oxtail

Price (approximately): $25


My Musings:

This “black wine”, so nicknamed for the dark-colored grapes that comprise the blend, is fruit-forward, presenting a bright and expressive bouquet of baked red and dark fruit, including blackberry, strawberry rhubarb and blueberry. The palate is greeted with jammy fruit of raspberry, boysenberry and blackberry, balanced splendidly with spice, damp earth and vanilla. Bright acidity and smooth tannins balance the palate and provide finesse and structure. The finish possesses strong acidity when first uncorked, but pleasantly mellows with time, so decanting prior to serving makes for the best tasting experience.

Mendocino County - the Northern Limits of California Winemaking

Driving north from San Francisco through Sonoma County, one will eventually come across Mendocino and Lake County, the northernmost vinous regions in California. Although Mendocino was established relatively recently (in 1984), its viticultural origins extend back nearly 160 years. In the 1850s, down-on-their-luck prospectors whose hopes had faded in the gold rush disavowed a laborious life in the coal mines and traversed north to the beautiful, untamed wilderness of northern California. Although the rugged, picturesque Pacific coastline and altitudinous redwood forests brought fame to the region, it was Mendocino’s climate and terroir, demonstrating an efficacious agricultural haven, that interested its early residents. Soon thereafter, vineyards were established. Although the County is blanketed in redwood forest, farmers and vintners made good use of the rest. Where there is a way, there is a wine.

The majority of wineries in Mendocino are family owned, and many can trace their origins back to the founding prospector families of the 1850s and Italian immigrants that arrived in the years thereafter. Indeed, it was Italian families that planted the earliest vineyards in Mendocino County in what is now designated as the sub-appellation of Redwood Valley. One can always rely upon the Europeans for vinous inspiration.

The climate of this upland Redwood Valley is cooler than surrounding appellations of Mendocino due to higher elevation and a penetrating Pacific breeze that navigates through a gap in the coastal ridge. Italian heritage is still well-represented in the varietals that thrive here, such as Barbera, Carignane, Charbono and Dolcetto, which grow alongside California mainstays Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. The climate affords a long, consistent growing season and its unique red, volcanic soils combine to produce a wine with character, complexity and elegance.

The family-driven, inter-generational stewardship of the land has emphasized ethical farming practices that strive to preserve and protect the natural landscape. As we say in Hawaii, keep the country country. This has resulted in a regional commitment to organic and sustainable farming systems. Mendocino County is the largest aggregation of organic-certified vineyards in the country.

Waves, Wilderness and Wine

This strategy has also facilitated the promotion of the region as a tourist destination. Mendocino entices nature enthusiasts with the spectacular scenic coastal drive, a host of outdoor activities (camping, hiking, etc.), fresh seafood, national parks and, of course, wine. Rugged, remote, adventurous. There is much to love in Mendocino.

Testa Vineyards finds itself in the middle of it all. Farmed by six generations for over 100 years, Testa Vineyards has a long and proud heritage in Mendocino County. Committed to ethical and sustainable farming techniques, Testa Vineyards ensures that its indelible legacy in the region is maintained and expanded. Staying true to its Italian heritage, Testa Vineyards grows Carignane, Barbera and Charbono, in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.

Testa Vineyards throws in a bonus - a wonderfully charming 3-bedroom farmhouse, built in 1927, for your next vacation getaway. The Testa family, both human and canine (English Springer Spaniels Patsy and John - named after Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash - are eager to welcome you) invite guests to unplug and relax, meander the gorgeous property or grab a pole and head to the fishing pond. Utilize the vineyard as your home base while you peruse the Pacific coast, visit the redwood forests and enjoy delicious farm-to-table cuisine from the local restaurants. At the end of a long day, a beautiful, rustic farmhouse and abundance of hand-crafted wines await you. Inebriated outdoor adventures and vinous relaxation are inevitable.


Maui Wine Hula o Maui Pineapple Sparkling Wine

Year: Non-Vintage

Producer: ‘Ulupalakua Vineyards and Maui Wine

Region: ‘Ulupalakua AVA, Maui, Hawaii

Grape(s): Pineapple

Alcohol: 12.5%

Body: Medium

Dry/Sweet: Brut

Tasting Notes: Pineapple, cream, tropical citrus

Pairings: Spicy Asian Cuisine, Mimosas, New Years Eve

Price (approximately): $20


My Musings:

Special New Years Edition! Want to try something a bit different this New Year's Eve?  Yes, toasting with Champagne is the gold standard, as it should be, and Cava is the bubbly bargain man's best friend. The tropical shores of Maui, however, present an intriguing sparkling intoxicant that should not be overlooked. Want the best? Go with Champagne this New Year, and the $50 plus price to tag to match. Want to try something a bit more unique with a fun story? Read on...

‘Ulupalakua Vineyards and Maui Wine, the only large commercial winemaker in Hawaii, was established in 1974 on the high slopes of the dormant volcano Haleakalā on the island of Maui. The vinous mastermind, Emil Tedeschi, procured equipment for the new winery that would be necessary in the winemaking process and decided to conduct a few tests to ensure that it functioned properly. Unfortunately, Hawaii had no indigenous vines, which can take years to mature. With grapes still maturing on the vine, Tedeschi turned his sights to a fruit with abundant supply on Maui: pineapple. Although pineapple wine was only intended as a testing method for the equipment, it soon became a favorite amongst tourists for its sweet characteristics and authentically-Hawaiian appeal. The King of Fruit was initially utilized for two wines: a crisp white wine called Maui Blanc and a pineapple sparkling wine. Although the Maui Blanc went on to become the winery's best selling wine, the sparkling line was quickly phased out due to difficulties in production.

The bubbles made a reappearance in 1994, initially as a friendly challenge in conjunction with the twentieth anniversary of the winery. One hundred cases were produced for the occasion, which sold out almost instantly. The winery couldn’t ignore the popularity and demand. The sparkling machine was reignited; pineapple bubbly was on the menu again. Along with Maui Blanc, the sparkling wine, named Hula o Maui, is one of the vineyard’s best sellers, and is a unique representation of Maui’s geographical location and agricultural history.

Hula o Maui is produced in the traditional methode champenois, famously and meticulously developed by the seventeenth-century Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, in Champagne, France. The wine undergoes secondary fermentation in bottle, and is then aged on the lees for 6 to 8 months to develop a creamy texture without sacrificing the bright, fresh tropical fruit characteristics.

The wine’s first impression is unsurprising, with strong pineapple and tropical aromatics. The palate is brut (semi-dry) with pleasant effervescence, balanced acidity and strong flavors of pineapple with subtle accents of tropical citrus. Not a complex wine like its sparkling counterparts in Champagne, but an enjoyable and unique wine that is accompanied by a great narrative to recount at your New Year's Eve party.

Is it Champagne or even Cava? Of course not. Pineapple is vastly inferior to the grape in terms of biochemical complexity, phenolic variation and diversity of flavor profiles. But that doesn't mean that Hula o Maui cannot be an enjoyable bubbly for a festive occasion.

As a bonus, its brut dryness, refreshing effervescence and tropical fruit characteristics make it a brilliant food pairing partner, particularly with spicy Asian cuisine (Thai food!), and as a companion for mimosas and other sparkling cocktails.

Cheers and Happy New Year!


2015 Dry Creek Heritage Vines Zinfandel

Year: 2015

Producer: Dry Creek Vineyard

Region: Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California

Grape(s): Zinfandel (79%), Petite Sirah (20%), Carignane (1%)

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Medium+

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cherry, Spice, Pepper, Vanilla

Pairings: Christmas dinner!

Price (approximately): $17


My Musings:

Christmas dinner is approaching and you need a bargain wine for the holiday table. Food friendly and fruit-forward with some spice reminiscent of the season, Zinfandel plays the role extraordinarily well.

This wine, from Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma County, has a bright bouquet of baked red and dark fruit, including blackberry, strawberry rhubarb and cherry. The palate is greeted with jammy fruit of raspberry, boysenberry and blackberry, balanced splendidly with spice, black pepper, vanilla and licorice. Well balanced with bright acidity, this wine would be an excellent addition to the holiday table.

In Dry Creek Valley AVA, Zinfandel is king. Although the appellation was established relatively recently in 1983, its viticultural origins extend back nearly 150 years. After the California Gold Rush, European immigrants, in search of farmland, were lured to Dry Creek for its rich and fertile soils. Well-drained alluvial gravel and sandy loam soils on the valley floor were also a good match for vineyards, and consequently there were nearly a thousand acres planted and nine wineries by the 1880s. Today, the remnants from this vinous tradition are still visible, with vineyards proudly touting gnarled Zinfandel vines that are over 100 years old. Want to find terrific value, old vine Zinfandel? Look no further than Dry Creek.

Happy holidays!

2015 Michael David Petite Petit

Year: 2015

Producer: Michael David Winery

Region: Lodi, California

Grape(s): Petite Sirah (85%), Petit Verdot (15%)

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Full

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Blackberry, black cherry, plum, vanilla, clove, smokiness, spice

Pairings: Red meat over an open flame (steak, lamb, hamburgers)! Braised short ribs, smoked and cured meats, aged and strong cheeses

Price (approximately): $15


My Musings:

Winter is here, and you need a wine to match and keep warm during the cold months ahead. A big, bold red wine is just the thing, and this wine delivers. The wine was dense, full-bodied and fruit-forward, with black fruit aromas of flavors of blackberry, black cherry and plum leading the way. There was plenty more than just ripe fruit, however. The oak aging shines through with cedar, vanilla and spices (clove). The tannins were textured and firm, coupled with medium acidity. Pleasant hints of licorice, pepper and smoke linger in a long, dry finish. The wine was definitely fruit-forward, in the typical Michael David fashion, but there was plenty more on the palate to maintain intrigue. At around $15 a bottle, it won’t break the bank, either.

The wine is not terribly difficult to find, available locally at Costco and Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors. 

Lodi is a little-known American Viticultural Area (AVA) with a lot of wine history, at least by American standards. Located between the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east, and the wetlands of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta to the west, the region’s climate and terroir demonstrated to its early residents an efficacious agricultural haven. By the 1880s, European immigrants had settled in and planted Zinfandel and other varietals along the banks of the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers. Old-vine Zinfandel is well-established as Lodi’s traditional strength. However, grape varietals are plentiful in this region, and the regional winemakers are always in search for the most ideal varietals to match Lodi's terroir and climate.

The rivers running through Lodi are responsible for granitic alluvial soils that are washed down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Cool maritime breezes from San Francisco Bay, most often cut off from inland appellations, reach Lodi and cool its vineyards through a gap in the Coast Ranges. These two characteristics set Lodi apart in the region as an AVA with significant potential.

If you find yourself Stuck in Lodi again, drop by Michael David Winery and drink the time away. You won’t be disappointed.