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Life By The Glass

Carefully Curated. Completely Engaging.

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Introducing: Sauvignon Blanc

Introducing: Sauvignon Blanc

We all know that Sonoma-Cutrer is famous for its Chardonnay, but … Sauvignon Blanc? How did Chardonnay’s little sister find its way into the winery’s award winning portfolio? The answer lies in Sonoma-Cutrer’s innovative Winemaker’s Release series.

This limited-release, small production series gives the winemakers a unique opportunity to experiment, be it with process or, in this case, a new varietal. The third wine to be introduced in the Winemaker’s Release series, Sonoma-Cutrer’s classic California Sauvignon Blanc is distinctly Russian River Valley.

Winemaking Director Mick Schroeter is no stranger to Sauvignon Blanc. With years of experience at a winery that specialized in the varietal under his belt, Mick recognized that the Russian River Valley’s cool climate would provide excellent conditions for producing Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Fruit was selected from four distinct vineyards chosen for their terroir.

Shone Farm’s volcanic soils lend the wine citrus flavors and minerality, while Mirabelle Vineyard contributes lime and lychee characters and a tightly framed palate. From Wood Vineyard come guava, tropical notes and a creamy palate. Finally, fruit from the cool, foggy Bevill Family Vineyard enhances the wine with the distinct flavors and aromas of passion fruit while providing the blend with an elegant balance.

The goal was to bring together the unique characteristics of each of the four vineyards in a complementary way. The result? A bright and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc that took home a gold medal at the first competition it entered: The Critics Challenge International.

Featuring exotic tropical flavors and a bright, crisp acidity, the elegant wine is well suited as an aperitif before dinner or, better yet, with a plate of freshly shucked oysters. It also makes an excellent pairing for summer salads made with fruits and vegetables featuring a bit of acidity, such as tomatoes or mandarins.

Will Sonoma-Cutrer’s first foray into Sauvignon Blanc be its last? While there are no plans to produce another Sauvignon Blanc, only time will tell. For now, don’t miss the opportunity to uncork a bottle of this unique offering that’s perfectly suited for summertime.

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Behind the Scenes at Harvest

It’s crunch time at Sonoma-Cutrer, and a buzz of anticipation is in the air as another harvest is well under way. Excitement and adrenaline take the place of sleep during this magical time as crews work around the clock to ensure grapes are picked at their peak.

Harvest kicked off this year with a pair of Sonoma-Cutrer family traditions. The season was christened with an ice cream social followed by a company wide breakfast the first morning eager crews took to the vineyards with their picking knives.

Spring’s dry, mild weather pushed harvest slightly early this year, while the moderate summer that followed blessed the vines with ideal ripening weather thanks to foggy mornings and warm afternoons.

Throughout harvest, grapes are analyzed daily for chemistry and flavor development. “Sugar meetings” are held every afternoon to determine which blocks of Sonoma-Cutrer’s six distinct vineyards will be picked the following day. The goal is to pick every block of grapes when the perfect balance of flavor, texture and sweetness is achieved.

Ensuring the finest possible fruit is a process that begins well before harvest. Vines are monitored and thinned throughout the year so the grapes that remain will bathe in the morning sun while being shielded from the harsh afternoon rays.

The choice clusters left on the vines at harvest time feature small uniform grapes with concentrated flavor. The fruit is harvested gently by hand in the middle of the night, when cooler temperatures ensure the highest possible flavor concentration.

After being sorted by hand and placed in shallow bins (so the grapes aren’t crushed), the fruit makes its way to Sonoma-Cutrer’s proprietary cooling tunnel, which helps preserve optimal acidity and flavor. Once they’re sorted by hand again, only the highest quality grapes are gently pressed and transferred to fine French oak barrels for fermentation.

The ultimate goal of this meticulous process is to produce wines with a sense of place that reflect the unique terroir of the Russian River Valley. With the help of Mother Nature and a tireless crew, this year’s vintage is expected to meet—and likely exceed—Sonoma-Cutrer’s lofty expectations.

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In the Books: 2015 Harvest Recap

Every harvest brings its own challenges and victories, and no two years are ever alike. There’s only one rule that winemakers can count on year after year: Mother Nature calls the shots. And this year was no exception.

Now that the picking knives have been put away and the staff has caught its collective breath, it’s time to take a look back at the 2015 harvest.

The drought in California, now in its fourth year, remained a factor. Fortunately, Sonoma-Cutrer made it through the growing season without any water shortages thanks to a deficit irrigation strategy and meticulous moisture analysis.

Mild, dry weather caused harvest to start a solid week early—the second earliest harvest in the history of Sonoma-Cutrer—and the picking officially commenced at Les Pierres on August 17. The very next day, cool weather returned along with the area’s signature fog, slowing down the pace of harvest and creating ideal ripening conditions for the next two and a half weeks.

The fruit continued to ripen slowly throughout the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast until a hot spell just after Labor Day. Suddenly, all of the fruit seemed to ripen at once leading to a picking frenzy that continued for the next two weeks, during which a staggering two-thirds of the harvest was processed.

Similar to the Chardonnay patterns, Vine Hill’s Pinot grapes came in slow and steady over the course of two and a half weeks while Owsley’s fruit ripened all at once during the week of the warm spell.

And just like that, another harvest was over, with yields just slightly lower than average. So what does this mean for the wine that will end up in your glass? The news is very good.

The long hang time allowed the fruit to develop rich, complex flavors with bright natural acidity. As for the Pinot, Vine Hill’s grapes appear to be representing the classic elegance of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, while Owsley is showing its signature power and depth.

It will be up to two years before the results become official, but all indications point to another stellar vintage at Sonoma-Cutrer.

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Serving Wine

There is no mystery to this but it’s amazing how some of the old rituals have intimidated us all. Here are a few pointers that will help you serve wine:

Temperature: Truth is that we often serve red wine too warm and white wine too cold. First reds – the old adage is to serve at room temperature.That’s all well and good but depending on where you live and the time of year, room temperatures can vary widely. When reds get too warm above 76 degrees or so the alcohol begins to volatilize or evaporate. This can do funny things to the flavor and aromas of wine and cause the wine to be unbalanced. Ideal serving temperature is in the 66 to 72 degree range. It’s perfectly acceptable to stick a red wine in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or so to get it to this temperature. For whites we often take them right out of the refrigerator which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 38 degrees. At this temperature the wine is completely “closed” and you can’t taste or smell very much at all. Unscrupulous restaurants will sometimes take advantage of this in their wines by the glass. If they’ve got a white that isn’t very good, they’ll serve it to you very cold so that you can’t taste how poor it is! Best to serve most whites in the 45 to 55-degree range so they flavors and aromas can emerge. This means take them out of the fridge at least 20 minutes or so before serving.

Letting Red Wines “Breathe”: One of the oldest myths that still hangs on is that wine, reds especially should be opened ahead of time to let them “breathe” (it always conjured up for me little lungs in the bottle!). The reason given for this is that airing will help the wine to open up and develop flavor. If you think about it very little air is going to get to the wine through the narrow opening of the bottle neck. If you want the wine to “breathe”, the best way is to splash it into a glass and swirl it around vigorously as you enjoy it. The only exception is with old, fragile wines where opening too early can actually diminish the flavor.

In recent years we’ve seen the development of a whole host of wine aerators built into pourers, spouts and more. The idea is that wine (either white or red) is improved by vigorous swirling, even more than you can do when poured in a glass. Turns out that this is in fact, true. Next time you open a bottle of wine, pour a glass and take the rest and actively splash it back and forth between a couple of decanters for at least a couple of minutes. Pour a glass of the “agitated” wine and compare it to the one straight from the bottle. I’ll bet you’ll prefer that which has been actively aerated.

Decanting Red Wines: It’s a charming practice but unless you have some old trophy wines it’s not necessary. Most red wines made today have been filtered to remove sediments and, although there is a school that believes that this diminishes the flavor, most of us will rarely encounter a wine that needs decanting.

If you do have a wine that is labeled “unfiltered” my advice is to stand the bottle upright and undisturbed for a day or two and then open it carefully making sure not to disturb the sediment on the bottom. You can then slowly and carefully pour it into a decanter or pitcher in one pouring until you begin to see sediment in the neck of the bottle. If the bottle is dark glass, do it over a lit candle or flashlight so that you can see the liquid. Stop at that point and if you’ve done it properly you should only have an ounce of so of cloudy wine left in the bottle.

Choice of a wine glass: Most people know that it is traditional to serve different wines in different glasses – at least to the extent of having different styles of glasses for red wine, white wine, and champagne or other sparkling wines. But did you know that there are particular styles of glasses for Chardonnay or Cabernet?

Here are my suggestions. It’s really not so terribly important which glass you use unless you’re a serious traditionalist. The single exception is the glass you choose for sparkling wines like Cavas or Champagne. For these you want a tall, narrow, flute-shaped glass, which encourages and shows off the bubbles. Never, never use the flat, round, saucer-shaped glass. For still wines choose a glass that allows you to perform the three S’s easily: that is, Swirl, Sniff, and Sip. You want a good-sized bowl on the glass so that when you swirl you won’t spill wine all over you, and swirling helps develop the aroma. Finally, the bowl needs to be big enough for even the largest nose to fit in, to enjoy the liberated aromas while you sip which means that you shouldn’t fill it more than half full. Also choose glasses that are perfectly clear, so you can enjoy the color of the wine. Finally for sweet wines like ports, sherries and late harvest varietals, don’t use those little dessert wine glasses. Sweet, rich dessert wines have lots of amazing aromatics so pour them into a glass that allows your nose plenty of room to enjoy them

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Hosting a Wine Tasting

Sonoma-Cutrer Lifestyle

A great way to learn about wine is to stage a wine tasting party next time you and friends get together. I recommend concentrating on one varietal or type such as Chardonnay or Merlot so as not to confuse your palette. Have everyone bring a favorite bottle then put them in brown paper bags to cover the label and identify them only with a number or letter. It’s a good idea to limit the tasting to no more than 6 wines.

Pour them out (you can usually rent extra wineglasses locally at a party supply store at a decent price). Use a grease pencil or small stick-on label to mark each glass with the corresponding letter or number so that you minimize any chance of confusion. Be sure to pour each glass no more than 1/3 full to allow each taster plenty of room to swirl and swish the wine to develop its aroma. Provide each taster with a simple score sheet so that they can individually note what they like about each wine then have them rank the wines in order of preference. Do this part quietly and individually and after everyone has finished their own ranking, have one of the group total them up. Once the group ranking is known, individually reveal each wine from the bottom to the top of the ranking, discussing them as you go along (be sure to have some plain French bread and maybe a simple cheese on hand to help clear the palette as you taste thru each wine).

You’ll find it’s a lot of fun and a great way to discover new wines that you might not have tried before. Like food, preferences in wine are very individual so there really is no right or wrong answer (if you have a “wine geek” or “cork dork” or wine “expert” in your group, be sure to remind them of that before starting!).

The one additional thing you can do to make the experience even more instructive is to have someone do a little research on the varietal that you’re tasting to briefly report on its history, geographic location, etc. Two of the very best resource books for this purpose are the Oxford Companion to Wine edited by Jancis Robinson and Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible. Both are available thru bookstores and of course on-line.They are wonderful references to have at home if you think you want to know more about wine.

 

About the Author

Many refer to Chef John Ash as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine”. In 1980 he opened his namesake restaurant, John Ash & Company, in Santa Rosa, CA. It was the first restaurant in Northern California wine country to focus on local, seasonal ingredients in the quest to create dishes that complemented the wines being made in the region.

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Perfect Pairings for Cozy Comfort Foods

Recipes

Crisp air and crackling fireplaces turn food cravings toward warm, cozy dishes that can chase away the chill of fall’s arrival. Comfort foods like soups and stews are staples of the season, but they can be tricky to pair with wine.

Learn which wines go best with your favorite family recipes and find a few new favorites with this handy guide to warm dishes that will carry you through the cool months.

‘Tis the season for soup, and the best versions take full advantage of fresh cool-weather crops. Sonoma-Cutrer consulting chef John Ash has several soup recipes perfectly suited for the season, starting with a creamy Pumpkin Soup with Wild Mushrooms. Showcasing a pair of favorite fall flavors, this soup scores extra points when served in small, individual hollowed-out pumpkins.

Ash’s easy to prepare Winter Squash Soup is another great option if you’re short on time, and you can experiment with different types of squash. Got a fall garden bursting with radicchio? Try this simple Radicchio Soup with Smoked Goat Cheese, which tastes complex thanks to the inspired flavor contrast of smoky cheese and bitter radicchio.

All three soups are ideal pairings for a crisp glass of Russian River Ranches Chardonnay, with its elegant fruit accents and bright acidity.

If you prefer to sip red when temperatures get crisp, Sonoma-Cutrer’s Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is a fine accompaniment to many traditional fall favorites. Chili and cornbread is about as comforting as it gets, perhaps rivaled only by a warm bowl of hearty gumbo.

Both are perfect companions for the pinot, thanks to the wine’s juicy dark fruit notes and silky tannins that complement the rich, complex flavors and meatiness found in both dishes.

Finally, it’s unfathomable to talk about warming cold weather comfort foods without mentioning an all-time favorite: chicken pot pie. This savory, soul-warming dish is elevated to the next level when accompanied by a rich and creamy white like The Cutrer Chardonnay.

Whatever dishes you warm up to this season, there’s a perfect bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer wine just waiting to be uncorked.

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