Fire Roaring

I don’t normally associate Riesling with a wine I would drink while sitting in front of the fireplace, but that is exactly what we did. At least I get a little credit for serving a hearty cheese fondue in front of said fire, which is why we needed a white wine!

Riesling is what started my love affair with wine, but I haven’t seen a lot of it coming out of California. I gather the growing conditions aren’t exactly ideal and it works better in colder climates. But there are some wineries who dabble with it in CA, and Nelson Family Vineyards is one.

We purchased this bottle of 2005 Nelson Family Vineyards Riesling for around $17 when we were visiting Sonoma in 2006. It started to occur to me the other night that I probably want to clear out the remaining few older white wines that are hanging around in my cellar. It had a real cork closure and clocked in at 12.1% alcohol, with only 184 cases made.

On the nose the wine displayed honey, lemon, and orange blossoms. It smelled sweet. In the mouth I found honey with a bit of a citrus twinge, lemon, and orange blossoms. The wine was quite smooth and I’m glad we decided to haul it out of the basement, I’m not sure how much longer it would have been okay down there. This was a very different Riesling, probably, in my opinion, due to the fact that it was grown in CA. It did have the floral and citrus that I expect from a Riesling, but it wasn’t the dry wine that I’ve come to expect from this grape.

Barn Blend

We finally drank our bottle of the 2006 Nelson Family Vineyards Barn Blend! This came in a club shipment in April, but I somehow neglected it. Matt and I were lucky enough to attend the barn blending party this year, you can see me playing mad winemaker in the picture below, but we unfortunately did not win. My love of Zinfandel led me to encourage my table to concoct a Zin heavy blend, while the two finalists were Cabernet Sauvignon heavy. As was the previous year’s winner.

The 2006 was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel, in order from greatest to least, though I either didn’t record the exact percentages or they weren’t available. It had a real cork closure, clocked in at 14.8% alcohol by volume and cost us $18.40.

On the nose I found currants, earth, leather, saddle room, spice, and cloves. And interesting mix and a complex nose that kept showing more as it aired. In the mouth the wine has mellowed from our tasting at the Barn Blend Party, but it still has it tannins. I found leather, berries, currants, cloves, and a hint of red raspberries. Overall the wine was very dark and I enjoyed it a lot now, it seems to have settled a bit and is coming into its own. A good value for a red blend!

Tasting and Reporting Again!

The wine of the evening, after we came home from dinner was a 2006 Nelson Pinot Grigio. A great bottle of wine for a hot summer evening’s sipping. I can’t find a picture that I took of this one, but that might be because I cleaned my camera out in order to take many photos of a wedding we attended last weekend.

On the nose of this bottle I found lemon, honeysuckle, figs, and wet stones. In the mouth I would describe the wine as minerally, with figs and some citrus. Overall the wine was smooth and had excellent structure. As they sometimes do, my notes say “yum.”

The wine came in a club shipment and cost us $12. At regular cost you can buy it for $15 from the vineyards. I thought this was an excellent value for the money. I am not normally a Pinot Grigio fan, but this one surprised me and I really enjoyed it.

Cat House Cabernet

As I mentioned before, we happened to be sitting at the wine blending table with two men who own a vineyard. They are the only custom crush client of Nelson Family Vineyards at the moment and they are currently awaiting the bottling of their second custom crush, a 2006. They were kind enough to break out a bottle of their 2005 Trixie’s Cat House Cabernet, and while I’m not usually one for cutesy labels, I must admit, the play on words in this one makes me chuckle. The grapes are sourced from their vineyards, the vineyards at Miralago and are completely Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the glass the wine was a dark garnet color. Now, I know I don’t normally note color, but I do when it stands out, and this one struck me as a really pretty color. On the nose there were raisins with a little toasty oak and dark dried chaerries. Later, as the glass sat out, I could get hints of strawberries and bitter chocolate.

In the mouth it was fruity and smooth with raisins and red currents. The wine had an excellent balance to it, with tannins that seemed to suggest to me it could age for a while. I certainly enjoyed my glass (or two) as it aired over the course of an hour. This was the first custom crush wine I have had and I wish I could get a bottle or two, as I really liked it!

Winemaker, Winemaker Make Me a Wine!


While out in the Sonoma area we had the chance to play winemaker for a day at Nelson Family Vineyards. We are members of the Nelson Wine Club and several months ago, winemaker Chris Nelson had told me that this event was coming up. I knew we were planning to head to CA to visit my in-laws this spring, but wasn’t sure of the dates yet, so I tucked the information into the back of my head. Fast forward, and we start thinking more about going to visit the in-laws. I mention the event to Matt, as we had now received the official date and information and after a little haggling, convinced him we could combine the in-law visit with a trip up to Northern CA. And thus we arrived on Saturday at Nelson to make our own wine blend and enter in their Barn Blend competition, the idea being that they will then bottle the blend and sell it.

We were the first to arrive as I am not all that familiar with the area and wasn’t sure how long it would take us to get to Nelson, which is in Ukiah. Shortly after getting there, a dog bounded up to greet us and soon some of the Nelson family appeared, bearing wine and appetizers. While waiting for the event to begin, we were able to sample many of the current Nelson releases and chat with other club members. We discovered that we came from the furthest distance of anyone to be there this year. Standing outside the barn I tasted the 2006 Viognier, which in my quick notes is described as having pear, lemon and orange zest flavors, light and would make a nice apertif wine. I also tried the 2006 Orange Muscat, the 2005 was one of my favorites from Nelson last year, and as always, I found it to be very aromatic with honey and orange blossoms, but good structure to hold the sweet flavors in check.

On moving into the barn, we had lunch, which consisted of 6 or 7 different kinds of sausage, salad, curried rice…lots of good food. Mr. Nelson, father of Chris the winemaker, joined us at our table and I pestered him with a few questions about the vineyard. He told me that his father had moved the family to the farm in 1951. They have been growing grapes for 56 years, but only started selling their own wine in 2003.
After lunch, we got to play winemaker! The Nelsons had set out 4 small barrels of wine for us to draw from, a Zinfandel, a Merlot and 2 Cabernets. You were paired with your table to create a blend, the rules being that it had to have at least 3 of the varietals in it. My favorites from the barrels were the Zinfandel and the Merlot. I didn’t much take to the Cabernet 2, it had a sour barnyard note that just didn’t appeal to me. Our group made 5 or 6 different blends before settling on what we thought was a sure winner: 60% Zinfandel, 20% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. My notes on our blend say that I really liked the nose, it was fruit forward with berries and violets.

Sadly, we did not win. The blends that were the final contenders were very Cabernet heavy, and looking back, I guess the fact that there were 2 barrels of Cabernet out should have clued me into the fact that they were looking for a Cabernet heavy blend. Oh well, we had a lot of fun trying and talking with our tablemates. One of the sets of people we were sitting with turned out to be the only custom crush client of the winery and they opened a bottle of their wine, Trixie’s Cat House Cabernet, for us to try. Look for a post on that soon! Not to mention the man on the left was an alum of the college both Matt and I attended!

We were also given vanilla ice cream for dessert with their Ice Wine-style dessert wine poured all over it. I was full and only had a few bites, but Matt gladly ate my portion! We spent a few more minutes walking around the vineyards attempting to get a close-up of the interesting Guinea Fowl that inhabit the winery, but alas, they were camera-shy (or maybe it was the fact that Matt kept chasing them….). All in all a really fun event and I’m glad we attended.

We Didn’t Win…


but we sure had fun trying! Just one quick picture of me playing mad scientist at the Nelson blending party yesterday. We are on our way back to DC and don’t expect to arrive (barring delays, though I hear tales of a Nor ‘easter running amok out there….) until after midnight East Coast time. Look for regular updates beginning tomorrow as I gloomily return to work after a lovely time in sunny beautiful California.

Knocking another one out of the park!

Now, if you are an incredibly avid reader of my ramblings, you might be thinking, hum, didn’t she review the 2004 Nelson Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon back in November? And the answer is, yes, I reviewed the regular garden variety, but tonight I am reviewing the 2004 Nelson Family Vineyards Top Row Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and I am blown away!

The wine clocks in at 14.3% alcohol by volume, had a real cork closure and cost us around $19 in a club shipment. The wines from Nelson are very reasonably priced and represent great values for our wine budget. I actually need to get in touch with Chris Nelson as several months ago I asked him to answer some questions about his vineyard for the blog and he agreed, then things got crazy for me (read: we found, bid on and bought a house) and I haven’t had a chance to sit down and draw up the questions. I promise I will do so soon readers!

Back to the wine. I get blackberries on the nose to begin with. They jumped out of the bottle when I opened it. My glass has been out for a few hours now and I am getting a touch of earth and something almost slightly minty (can’t say I’ve seen that before!). Under those aromas comes some cedar and a little oak.

In the mouth I am finding plums, black currants and blackberries. The mouth is full of dark fruit. Following the fruit is a cedar taste. The fruit lingers in the mouth.

Overall, this wine is drinking really well right now. (Again, woo hoo, I’m back with wines I’m loving!) In the mouth it is smooth and silky and I don’t get any tannins or alcohol heat. I served this with bruschetta and pork chops that I cooked in the crockpot in pasta sauce all day. I liked the match of the pasta sauce flavors with the dark fruit in this bottle. I would drink this one anytime you are ready if you have it around, it’s drinking beautifully.

Another Excellent Value

My spreadsheet of wines was missing an entry in the price column for the wine I picked as our after dinner bottle. What can I say, the spreadsheet isn’t perfect (sorry Huevos Con Vino, I know how much you love spreadsheets) especially when I found some of our receipts had gotten tossed as we worked our way down the west coast this summer. So I was a little afraid I might be choosing a pricey bottle, but I was wrong!

Anyway, the second bottle we drank last night was Nelson Family Vineyards 2005 Viognier. At only $16.80, this was quite a value. It was 14.8% alcohol by volume and had a real cork closure. Sorry, no picture, I forgot to take one!

The nose on this bottle was incredibly aromatic and I could smell it easily without even bringing my nose into my glass. Many flowers jumping out with a touch of honey, it made for a pleasant aroma. It actually reminded me of when honeysuckle was in bloom in my yard as a kid.

In the mouth, there were spiced peaches and a bit of honey, following through on the nose, but surprising me with the peaches and the spice! Overall, I thought the structure and acidity were very well done, holding in what could have been very sweet flavors, but turned out to be an enjoyable, balanced and surprising mouthful of flavors.

This is our only bottle of this one and unfortunately, it appears to be sold out. Oh well, there’s always next year’s release, which I’m sure we’ll get in a club shipment. Great value, keep an eye out for next year’s.

2004 Nelson Family Cabernet Sauvignon

Paired with tonight’s dinner was this 2004 Nelson Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. It is at 14.7% alcohol by volume with a cork closure. Cost: $18. We picked this bottle up when we visited Nelson Family Vineyards while on our honeymoon.

For dinner I made a parmesean, bread crumb, herb and honey dijon encrusted rack of lamb and a butternut squash soup topped with parmesean and rosemary. I figured a red would be my best bet for the lamb, but was a little unsure of what kind of a red. I didn’t want to go too light on the flavor because I think of lamb as a heartier meat, but not so much so that I would go with a zinfandel. So I chose this cabernet sauvignon. I wasn’t pleased with the match, so I am on the hunt for a different red for next time.

The wine itself had a lot of potential, but the food combo just didn’t do anything for either the meal or the wine. When I first sniffed this wine, I got a lot of berry flavor, mostly blackberry. The first sip showed me that I probably should have decanted this wine, it had a lot of alcohol flavor. I let it sit for a while and the next taste didn’t show any of the alcohol. Instead, I got the berry flavor, plus a little wood, some currant and later on, a hint of cherry. It’s a very full wine for a cabernet sauvignon, but now that I’m into the second glass and it’s aired out some more, I’m really enjoying the fruit flavors. They aren’t overwhelming and seem well balanced with the wood and now a bit of chocolate that I’m getting. I think this would have gone well with the eye of the round roast I made the other night.

If you get a bottle of this, I would keep it around for a few years. I have written down that it would be good now until 2009 and I wish I had kept it around for a while longer.

Oh, and if you get out to Sonoma, stop by Nelson. We were the only visitors at the time and serving us wine was Chris Nelson. It was great, we stayed for quite a while, played with the vineyard dogs and tasted some really great wines, especially the Orange Muscat which is sadly sold out (we have one bottle left!). Great small family operation.