Wine Rating: 92
A few months back I wrote about some of the unique terms used in the wine world. Included was a small glossary of words that speak the devotion of an Oenophile. One of my favorite words in the lexicon, that I use often and without pretension, is ‘quaffable’.
If you look up quaffable, it has many meanings, all of which basically come back around to the same definition; a wine that is low-priced, simple, and goes down easily. If you watch the film Sideways, for which the consensus seems to be that people either love the movie or hate it, the main character, Miles (who is played superbly by Paul Giamatti) uses it during a conversation and it goes like this… “Quaffable, but uh… far from transcendent.” His use of it is so natural and relaxed, that you almost miss it and to date, it’s certainly one of my favorite uses for it. And so, I use it often and as I see fit.
I actually preferred the book, but the film was a fun ride. As an amusing side note; I met Rex Pickett, the author of Sideways and its sequel, Vertical, and we drank wine while bashing low priced Pinot Noir. It was a fun afternoon to say the least.
I’m not ashamed that I picked up the word from Miles, nor that it found its way into my vocabulary. I find I use it most often when referring to what I call my ‘daily wine’. Monday through Friday, I have dinner with my wife at 7pm. We sit down at the table in our Freda Kahlo style kitchen, we talk about our day, we eat our meal and we drink a glass of wine… or maybe two, maybe three. It’s a routine I try to stick with and I enjoy doing. Since I don’t have the luxury of opening a top shelf wine every night, I’ll open one that is moderately priced and palatable for my evening meal.
Finding a quaffable wine that I actually find tolerable is not easy. I adore really good wines and I’m not shy about saying so. So the task of finding a wine for our evening meal that comes with a price point of $20 – $30 a bottle is not an easy one. The research I do to find these wines takes longer than deciding which wine I’m going to review for each month’s column. The research I undertake looks something like this – I read dozens of reviews from top critics, go to wine blogs to check out their weekly picks, search wine auctions for lower priced wines that they deem worthy enough to bid on, and finally, I write notes on different varietals, which unfortunately excludes Pinot Noir. The reason being is that it’s my favorite wine and I have yet to find one, in that price range, that I can drink every night.
After I’ve compiled a solid list of what I think may be some quaffable wines, I purchase several of them and get to work. I sit down with my wife over dinner, open a bottle, toast and then ask her what she thinks of it. Shawn Marie’s palate is better than many people I drink with, so her opinion matters to me. She finds hidden details that at times I’ve overlooked. I never tell her the price of the wine, as I just want her honest and unbiased thoughts. If we both agree that the wine is decent, then I’ll hunt down a case or two and that will be our nightly wine for a spell.
Many evenings when I’m skulking about the wine cellar, looking for a particular bottle that will suit the mood, I usually end up in the Sparkling Wine area. I love bubbly wines and I don’t need a special occasion, a boat christening or New Year’s Eve celebration to enjoy one. Sparkling Wines, which are often referred to as *Champagne, go quite well with many different food pairings. Personally, I find a nice California sparkling brut goes well with roasted chicken, salads and chocolaty desserts. (*Champagne is a region in France and only wine from that region should be called as such.)
I like pairing my food with wine, but sometimes I just want to enjoy the company I’m with and I’m not particularly concerned with what it goes with. Knowing that everyone is having a great time and enjoying some great wine, is all that matters. The truth is there are hard and fast rules to this wine game. It really comes down to what you like and being patient enough to take the time to ask yourself if the wine you’re drinking complements the meal. If the answer is “yes”, excellent. It’s great when the pairing works and really, that’s all there is to it. If I was to say what’s ‘most important’, it would have to be this… Drink what you like. Eat what works for you. Pay attention to the nuances and tastes. Experiment. Share the experience with others.
During my college years, when I worked at Morry’s of Naples (which I’ve written extensively about in past articles) I learned vast amounts of wine knowledge by smelling, tasting and discussing with fellow co-workers. Of al the wines we sampled, I would often comment about one particular California sparkling wine, which not only had great balance, but was also very, very affordable, and for a broke college kid, even with my employee discount, this was right up my alley. The wine was Schramsberg and for under $40.00, I’d challenge anyone to find a better sparkler. Back then the only other sparkling wine worth mentioning would have been Veuve Clicquot. It was excellent Champagne near the same price. That of course was before they sold out to Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy group. Sorry, I’m digressing for a moment, but I think it’s worth pointing out that Veuve made an appearance in Casablanca and these days it just feels like they’re living on the name and the emphasis on quality is sadly no longer there on their lower priced selections.
But for this review, let’s get back to the Schramsberg. It comes from a Napa Valley winery that was purchased in 1862 by Jacob Schram. He farmed it, built wine cellars and grew the grapes that produced over many different varietals, until his death in 1905. By that time, the winery had grown to over 50 acres and they were producing over 12,000 cases of wine each year. Robert Louis Stevens mentions the winery in his book The Silverado Squatters.
When good old Jacob died, his son Herman tried carrying on, but just could not make a go of it. He sold the property to an investment group in 1916 and for the next 50 years no wines were made on the estate. The property was sold and resold many times over until 1965, when it was purchased by Jack and Jamie Davies, who took the abandoned land and lucky for us, have built a legend. Their goal was to produce sparkling wines, but not in the regional style. Instead, they wanted to produce wine in the Champagne style. Today their son, Hugh Davies, is the CEO of the winery and they produce over 10 different varietals of sparkling wine, in varying degrees of style and price points, that include; J. Schram Brut Rosé, J. Schram, Reserve, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, Brut Rosé, Crémant, Mirabelle, Mirabelle Brut Rosé, Querencia.
In the last few years the winery has expanded their offering to include still wines. Their Pinot Noir is made from the same vines they use to source their sparkling wine, under the label ‘Davies’ and a Cabernet Sauvignon under the label ‘J. Davies’. I’ve order a few bottles and in a few years, after they have rested in darkness, I will review them.
Schramsberg’s Blanc de Noir (translated means “white from black”) has never let me down in over 20+ years. Made mostly from Pinot Noir grapes, this is a multifaceted, medium-bodied, brut sparkler. The balance to this wine is the touch of Chardonnay grapes they blend with it. The process of making a white wine from a near black grape is not an easy one. This style was first released in 1967. I always have bottles on hand and for right around $35.00, they make for a wonderful wine to bring to someone’s home for dinner; host gifts as my wife says. They are truly one of California wine country’s sparkling greats and deservedly so.
Blanc de Noirs, 2009
Produced by: Schramsberg
Winemakers: Keith Hock and Hugh Davies
Label: Blanc de Noirs
Region: Napa Valley
Varietal: Sparkling Wine, 87% Pinot Noir, 13% Chardonnay
Appearance (Color): Golden tones with a mention of sunlit pink
Aroma (Complexity): Savory yeast and lemon grass
Body (Texture and Weight): Medium
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Apple, apricot, jam, lemon, ginger
Finish (What lingers): Lemon and jam
Food Paring: Pork, roasted chicken, sharp cheese, chocolate
Serving Temperature: 48°
Drink now through 2016