Rescued by Rachis

Work until 5, then scramble to make it to my daughter’s swim lessons at 5:30. A half-hour drive home, and I realize I forgot to thaw meat for dinner. Somewhere around 7:30, we finally have hamburgers and watermelon on the dinner table, and I am on the floor of my kitchen grasping for anything made of grapes, preferably the fermented variety. Image

I had a bottle of Rachis Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge, a white I gambled on in my last NakedWines.com order. I have no idea what to expect, but at this point in the evening, anything will do. As they say, any port in a storm.

The wine is already chilled, and it gets bonus points for the screw cap, which required absolutely no effort from me. Yes, at this moment, I would have cried if I messed up a cork with a corkscrew. This night is why screw caps were invented. 

Just a recap of what NakedWines.com is about – It’s a wine club of sorts. Members pay a minimum amount of $40 per month, which goes into their account. Technically the money goes to funding new winemakers, but to the end user, we just get to spend that money on the wine. So after three months, I had enough in my account to order a case of a variety of wines. 

I’m not ordinarily a fan of sauvignon blancs, but I couldn’t resist the $9.49 price tag on a bottle that costs $28 to non-members. For a 66 percent discount, I can take another stab at liking sauvignon blanc.

This wine is by veteran winemaker Randy Hester under his label Rachis. It’s a nearly clear, thin white with just the slightest hint of lemon yellow. The aroma is full of sweet florals, honey and lemon. 

The flavor mimics the aroma – floral citrusy sweet. There’s grapefruit mingled with honeysuckle, a delightful mix of sweet and tart. Much to my surprise, it paired perfectly with the smoky char of the hamburgers. To my even greater surprise, I found I really like this wine! It lacks the melon quality that pervades most of the sauvignon blancs in my experience. If this had just a bit more fruit to it, I’d almost swear it’s a pinot grigio. 

This is a wine best served very cold. And beware, the glass somehow empties quickly and you will likely find yourself refilling without thinking. It’s the darndest thing. Like the cookie jar that is always empty even though you just filled it yesterday. Where DO those cookies go? (ignore the crumbs on my shirt, please)

Randy Hester is a winemaker to watch, and this is a wine to keep in the fridge for those nights when you MUST have a refreshing wine chilled and ready to go. 

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Jimmy, Hawaii, Terra Andina

I have Jimmy Buffett on the iPod, Hawaiian chicken on the dinner table, and Terra Andina Sauvignon Blanc in my glass. Welcome to spring!

It’s a rare, warm evening that makes me crave a crisp sauvignon blanc. I’m more of a buttery chardonnay fan or even a fruity pinot grigio if I’m really feeling whimsical. But what the hell, it’s the first truly warm evening of spring, and Jimmy Buffett’s duet with Zac Brown is driving me to something crazy… like pair a sauvignon blanc with Hawaiian chicken.

The Terra Andina pours crystal-clear with just a tinge of yellow. It’s nearly colorless. The aroma is full of pear and apple and a friendly layer of moss. Hmmm, this doesn’t sound like a sauvignon blanc to me! Or perhaps I’ve misjudged other sauvignon blancs!

The flavors of apple, grapefruit and mild vanilla are the perfect complement to the smoky/sweet Hawaiian marinade on my chicken.

terra andinaThe wine is light and bright, but not overly tart. The citrus is refreshing, and the earthy spice is just evident enough to reflect the heat of the marinade but not weighty.

Terra Andina is a South American label, designed to reflect the ethos of the region: free spirited, spontaneous, friendly, energetic, and laid-back. Its Argentinian and Chilean wines are not to be cellared, but to be enjoyed on any occasion where you need a dose of South American fun.

Who knew that a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, Hawaiian chicken, and islander music could transport me from my kitchen and into my Happy Place… at least until the kids get home?

(Terra Andina is available in select stores in California and across the U.S. The Sauvignon Blanc retails for around $10.)

Martinborough Vineyard and Wairarapa region

A recent trip to New Zealand led me to the tiny wine town of Martinborough. Let’s not confuse this with Marlborough, the more famous wine region on the north end of the South Island. No, Martinborough is a tiny, picturesque town in the Wairarapa wine region – on the southeast corner of the North Island –  and it accounts for only 1 percent of New Zealand’s wine, producing primarily pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. For comparison, consider that the more famous Marlborough region comprises 146 wineries while Wairarapa comprises only 62 (re: www.nzwine.com).

This particular tour I was on included Martinborough’s first winery, the aptly named Martinborough Vineyard. Only 31 years old, the vineyard claimed international attention when it won the Bouchard Finlayson Trophy for best pinot noir in the world at the International Wine and Spirit Challenge in 1997. Winemaker Paul Mason explains that the climate in Martinborough is remarkably similar to Burgundy, France, which also specializes in pinot noir. Martinborough Vineyard only grows 120 acres of grapes, 75 percent of which are pinot noir. (while not certified organic, bonus points to the winery for its organic practices!)

My tour was fortunate to taste two pinot noirs at Martinborough, produced from its youngest and oldest vines. The 2010 Te Tera vintage, from the winery’s newest vines, tasted of sharp tannins and evident alcohol while the 2009 (from the vineyard’s oldest vines) was noticeably more mellow. The 2009 was aged in oak for 12 months which lent a honey scent and savory, mineral flavor to the wine. The 2009 was by far my favorite… and of course costs about twice as much as the 2010 ($70 NZD vs. $32 NZD).

Another winner for me during this tasting was the 2009 chardonnay, from some of the original vines planted at the winery. This chardonnay has a slight butter aroma that belied the heavy buttery taste. But don’t be scared off by the butter; the wine was richly balanced with toast and honey.

Martinborough Vineyards exports about 50 percent of its wine and is distributed nearly worldwide. Don’t worry, my American and Canadian readers, you can find in North America, but it may take some searching.

Bicycles outside Martinborough Vineyard

If you happen to be fortunate enough to travel to New Zealand, take time to stroll through the tiny town of Martinborough. Note the layout of the town square – designed after the Union Jack! (check it out) You can take the train – the Tranz Metro – from Wellington to Martinborough, and get off at Featherston (about an hour-long ride).  The all-day excursion ticket to Wairarapa is only $20 NZD and can be purchased at the Wellington station, and there is bus service from the Featherston train station to the town center of Martinborough. I saw several wine-tasters bicycling to wineries, and that would be my top recommendation for hitting the various wineries in town.

Another option is a private tour.  Zest Food Tours led the group I was with, and in full disclosure, the tour was built into the price of the conference I attended, so this was a hosted excursion. However, they did a fantastic job! If you want to see the region like a local but with the expertise of a professional, book a tour. They can pick you up from the train station or from your hotel if you’re staying locally, and the tours are for two to four people (if you hate big group tours like I do, this is a huge bonus point!).

Martinborough may not have the name recognition of Marlborough, but it produces some seriously great wine and has earned a solid reputation for its boutique wineries and hand-crafted wines. The countryside is positively idyllic, and is an unexpectedly wonderful way to get away from the bustle of Wellington for a day and explore one of the world’s up-and-coming wine regions.

NOTE: This trip was part of the Society of American Travel Writers National Convention, so many activities such as this wine-tasting tour were included in the registration fee for the convention. I consider it a hosted trip, and I hope my readers do too.

Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc

On this hot summer night, I needed a cool, refreshing white wine. So I reached for the white that turned me onto whites: Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc. I first tried this at a steakhouse at Lake Tahoe (the owners of Ferrari-Carano also own a couple of Reno-area casino-resorts) and loved it. Then again, I loved all of the three or four wines I tried that night! So when I saw it on sale at our local liquor bonanza, Ben’s Liquor, for only $9.99, I had to try it again.

Thank goodness I can still count on my judgment even after a couple of glasses of wine, because this wine was just as good as I remembered!

The Fume Blance is bubbly on the pour with a refreshing fizz on the tongue. It has a palate-cleansing freshness and a heat-quashing bite. It’s 100 percent sauvignon blanc, a varietal I’m not especially fond of. But don’t write this off as a simple fruity white wine. The undertones of honey and moss bring the melon and grapefruit back to ground level and make it a wine that you can drink all night long — a pre-dinner drink or a fish-dish complement.

Speaking of dishes, I rather inexpertly decided to drink this with ratatouille pot pie. I didn’t even begin to think about a proper pairing, I just knew what was on the menu for dinner and what I wanted to drink. But ya know what? It worked! I’ve made this dish before and paired it with a delicious tempranillo. Yes, a red. And tonight I paired it with a white. And they were both delicious. The ratatouille is basically an Italian-influenced veggie stirfry, so I figured that the veggies would go well with this slightly earthy yet brisk white. And it did.

Both the pot pie and the wine are my answer to a busy work night that is screaming for a taste of sophistication. I needed something on my plate and in my glass that made me feel like I’m consuming something of substance. Here’s to the best $10 you’ll spend on wine this week!

Clif Climber hits a home run… again

I’ve been saving my 2009 Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc for a special occasion. With two kids and a full-time job, special occasions are hard to come by. So when my husband brought home some fresh Ahi tuna that a custpomer gave him, I decided that was special enough. (Hey, fresh sushi-grade tuna IS a  big deal!) He took care of the cooking and I took care of chilling the wine.

Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc with seared Ahi

Clif (yes, as in the health bars) has become one of my favorite wineries for its green practices (read about that here, in last year’s review) and reasonable price tag. The sauvignon blanc retails for about $14 and is worth every penny.

The wine is nearly clear, which is a good hint at the taste. It’s fresh and light and a little tart in a palate-cleansing way (as opposed to the lemon-sucking way). There’s a nice presence of pear, but what makes this wine great is that no single flavor jumps forward; it’s just mellow and tasty. Not overly intrusive with any fruit. And that’s why it was perfect with tonight’s “special occasion” meal.

Tonight my husband marinated the Ahi in soy sauce, wasabi, green onion, cilantro, lime juice and sesame oil, then lightly crusted in sesame seeds. He seared it perfectly and paired it with stir-fried veggies (sauteed with a little Hoisin sauce) and teriyaki Rice-a-Roni (hey, we had to make something our kids would eat!). The tuna was so light and fresh, the veggies were so light and fresh, so it made sense that the wine be light and fresh too. The meal would have been destroyed with a heavy, dominant wine; it needed something to brighten up the sesame but not be so tart and fruity that it overpowered the tuna.

Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc is one of those wines that will be your best friend at dinner time because it will complement just about anything. However, it’s also drinkable on its own (as I’m finding out at this very second!) because it won’t make you pucker after two sips. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of white wines, so I have a bias against sauvignon blancs. This one makes me look forward to my next bottle (and next Ahi filet!), and that’s big in my book.

Twitter tasting

I have become a bit of a nerd. I am dying to get a netbook so I can blog and tweet on the road and I’m addicted to my BlackBerry. I love reading about new technology and have jumped into the online social network with both feet (and legs and torse and am pretty much up to my neck now).

So when I heard about a Twitter wine-tasting, I thought it might be fun. The topic of the tasting (organized by @RickBakas — see how I referred to him by his Twitter name? Yeah, that’s right. I’m hardcore.) was California cabernets. People from all over the world tasted any California cabernet they wanted and tweeted about it during a three-hour span. Some people met at wineries and tweeted from there. Others, like me, juggled kids and dinner while trying to decipher the flavors in the wine from home. Everyone labeled their posts with the #calicabs hashtag so we could all follow the conversations. Wineries joined the fun and tweeted about their own cabs. Hundreds of people joined in… and it was fun.

Yes, I am a total geek, and I’ll state it proudly. It was fun!

Tonight was another tasting, this time focused on sauvignon blancs. I admit I’m not a big fan of white wines. They’re usually too sweet, and I just don’t like the burst of fruit and sugar I associate with white wines. But I’m trying to keep my mind open, and an online tasting like tonight’s helped open my eyes to the differences in wine, not just the varietals, but in the regions too.

I learned that New Zealand dominates in sauvignon blanc… at least in tonight’s Twitter community. But I also learned that France and Napa are notable sauv blanc regions too. And that the sweetness I’m not sure I liked in tonight’s sauv blanc is perhaps more about the region than the grape. Now I’m dying to try sauvignon blancs from other regions and compare them. I’m dying to learn more about the grape and figure out exactly what distinguishes it from, say, a chardonnay or pinot grigio.

The next Twitter tasting is April 1, and it’s about blended wines. I want to plan better for that one and tweet from a wine bar, tasting several different wines. Or maybe plan a dinner to complement the wine. (I learned tonight that the split pea soup I made for dinner is a horrendous complement to sauvignon blanc and I should have made a spicy Thai-inspired dish.)

So here I am, on my laptop feverishly typing away while the hubby bathes the baby. I’m checking my Twitter feed between paragraphs and thinking about checking Facebook before I log off for the night (except I don’t actually log off because I check e-mail, Facebook and Twitter on my BlackBerry throughout the night).

I have a feeling I’ll need Internet rehab before any sort of wino-treatment program!