Bristol Bar & Grille’s Master Sommelier

Scott Harper, MS, CWE

Meet Bristol Bar & Grille’s Master Sommelier Scott Harper.

To say he is a wine aficionado would be an understatement. The man lives and breathes wine.  Harper’s love of wine go way back to before he was legally old enough to enjoy a glass. He worked in a restaurant as a teenager with a wine list written entirely in Italian. Growing curious about what the foreign words meant, he bought his first book on wine. Around that time he bought his first book on wine. He quickly became immersed. Harper studied everything from history and geography of wine, to the science behind making it. Most importantly he studied the language. (more…)

Napa Valley’s Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Have you ever been to Napa Valley? Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares the secrets of the Robert Sinskey Vineyards:

It has been about 10 years since I first visited the Robert Sinskey Winery. I had briefly met Robert Sinskey (son) in Louisville a few months earlier and squeezed in an unannounced visit to his winery on a very busy trip to Napa Valley. For my second visit in March of 2007 there would be no hurry! On this occasion we learned much more about the winery and its wines. Unfortunately we were unable to see Robert on this trip, but the very knowledgeable Eric Sothern showed my friend Brett Davis and I around and told us all about the winery.

The History

Located in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley Bob Sinskey, MD (father) planted his first 15 acres in Carneros in 1982. Selling the grapes to Acacia winery was part of his retirement plans. In 1985, Acacia sold to Chalone and as a result in 1986 Robert Sinskey crushed his first grapes for his own wine. He made plans to build his own winery off the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. Bob Sinskey, MD (father) created the “Sinskey modified J loop intra-ocular lens.” This new invention for an artificial human lens, transformed cataract eye surgery and kept the good Doctor very busy. Dr. Sinskey talked to his son Rob about helping him with the winery; Rob was to spend six months helping his father, creating a marketing and distribution plan for Robert Sinskey Vineyards (RSV). He fell in love with the vineyards and wine and is still there running the winery for the last 20 years.

The Winery

In 1988 the winery and caves were opened and Sinskeys vineyards were in excess of 100 acres. Today the winery makes about 25,000 cases of organic wine from about 150 acres of vineyards most of which are in the moderately cool growing region of Carneros, and in Stags Leap District, California. They do not buy grapes all their wines are grown, produced and bottled by RSV.

The Organic Farming

Organic farming is a natural way of farming, growing grapes without the use of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, fighting the same problems that you would use chemicals for naturally. Two examples would be birds and free-range chicken that will eat the natural vineyard pest. And on our trip we saw the natural lawn mower, sheep, munching away between the vines managing the cover crops between the rows of vines, these are just small examples of how organic wine growing works. Organic wine growing is about high quality naturally farmed grapes that reflect a sense of were they are made, this is what the French call Terroir. RSV is the second largest farmer of Organic grapes in Napa Valley. After all you can only make great wine with great grapes. RSV is working its way to becoming Biodynamic.  Biodynamic is an enhanced method of organic farming that looks at the interrelation of all the organism of an individual vineyard in relation to rhythms of nature. Less than 1% of the world’s vineyards are Biodynamic with France leading the way with the most. It suffices to say that, this kind of intensive care of the vineyard and the land makes great wine!

The Wine

Wine for RSV is a natural accompaniment for food and what better way to show your wines than with food. Go to the tasting room of RSV, and you will see what I believe is the only tasting room in Napa with a kitchen. Sure lots of wineries have kitchens but this one is in the tasting room. An open kitchen right next to the tasting bar. What an absolute treat to be able to try their wine with food. The winery chef makes an assortment of delicious dishes to accompany the RSV wines. This surely is a result of Rob Sinskey marring an accomplished chef Maria Helm Sinskey who is the Culinary Director for the estate.

 

Some California wine is about being big, rich, ultra extracted, and low in acidity these are built for big scores from wine critics. RSV wines are the antithesis of this. They are wines that are balanced, elegant with ample natural acidity. Their wine strikes a balance between old world elegance and new world freshness of fruit. These are balanced wines.

 

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Pinot Blanc, Los Carneros 2005

This is a medium-bodied dry wine that is quite balanced, crisp and is brimming with fresh juicy, melon, pear, apple and citrus flavors. Citrus blossom and minerals pervade the palate and nose. An excellent companion to fresh fish on the grill possibly seasoned with fennel!

Abraxas Vin de Terroir , Los Carneros 2005 “Scintilla Vineyard”

Delicious Alsatian-style blend of 37% Pinot Blanc, 26% Riesling 19% Pinot Gris & 18% Gewurztraminer.

Abraxas is the Egyptian god of 365 days.

Honey suckle and lemon blossom support the peach, apricot, tangerine and lemon zest flavors in this dry, crisp medium-bodied white wine. Try with seared sea scallops with saffron rice.

Pinot Noir, Los Carneros 2005

Supple, silky texture envelops roses, strawberries and red cherries, hints of earth, oak and baking spice. Dry medium-bodied with a satiny texture and low tannins. Splendid with grilled yellow fin tuna with shitake mushroom and Pinot Noir sauce.

Merlot Los Carneros 2003

A Merlot with purpose, this is one of the best Merlot from California. Dry and full-bodied with flavors of plums, raspberries, vanilla, oak and fresh cut herbs. It has a velvety texture and is drinking very well at 4 years of age. Try with roasted pork loin with fine herbs and Merlot jus.

Vineyard Reserve, Napa Valley 2002 “RSV Proprietary Red”

Flavorful Saint Emilion-style blend of 46% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc.

This wine is dry and full-bodied with the flavors of plum, black currant, cherries, smoke, vanilla, cocoa and oak all in a supple texture. Steaks on the grill or slow roasted meats would make a delicious food and wine pairing with this wine.

Walla Walla: Washington State’s Wine Region

Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares his knowledge of the Walla Walla wine region:

The Region

Walla Walla is the humorous name for a serious Washington State wine region. The name is Native American and literally means many rivers. Walla Walla is a quaint little town and valley of around 30,000 people, located in Southeastern Washington that extends into the Northern tip of Oregon. It is a scenic half day drive from Portland, Oregon or Seattle, Washington.

Beside wheat and the delicious Walla Walla sweet onions, grape vines thrive in this area. Grapevines are particularly suited in this

area for a several important reasons. The Cascade mountain range limits the amount of rain fall to about 12.5 inches a year, hence allowing the growers to control the amount of water which aids in producing a finer vintage. The Northern latitude of Washington allows for an extended growing season, long sunshine days, cool nights, and the higher elevation of 650 to 1500 feet, all combined to allow the grapes to ripen but keep fresh acidity. The soil is varied but with a lot of a unique soil called loess, which is windblown silt. I had firsthand experience with the loess soil as every day I walked in a vineyard it was necessary to clean an inch of the heavy dust like loess from my shoes.

The Vineyards

The vineyards are mostly own rooted, meaning the fruiting vine is not actually on root stock, hence considered to be the true expression of the fruit. Very few vineyards in the world are own rooted as they are very susceptible to a root louses called phylloxera. Another interesting aspect you will notice as you are walking through the vineyards are buried vines. Part of the grape vines known as canes are buried under the soil, this is in case the all too often frost destroys the part of the vine not buried and the buried cane  can then be pulled out of the protective soil and used for the following years harvest, more work but smart thinking, that can save vineyards. Windmill are almost ubiquitous in the hilltop vineyards of Walla Walla, they are there to capture the natural energy this great region provides. Combine all this with the natural beauty of the Blue Mountains available at almost every angle and you have a world class grape growing region. It is also an American Viticulture (AVA) area located in the larger AVA of Columbia Valley. Walla Walla is a truly an emerging wine region so much so that in 1984 when it was recognized as an AVA there was only four wineries and 60 acres of vines planted. Today there is over 27 times that amount totaling 110 wineries. Additionally the acreage planted has risen to 1600 acres.

The Wine

Grape growing began in Walla Walla in 1850’s mostly from Italian immigrants’ who started home winemaking and realized the quality which help lead to commercial production. The most famous wineries of Walla Walla where the first to really start after prohibition, Leonetti Cellars was the first present day winery founded in 1977 with Woodward Canyon following in 1981 and L’ Ecole N0 41 in 1983. The region is dominated by small family wineries. These small artisanal wineries of Walla Walla are noted primarily for its outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon (41%), Merlot (26%), Syrah (16%) and far less white wines but Chardonnay takes the lead. Single vineyards labeling is seen throughout Walla Walla but the one vineyard you see over and over again is Seven Hills Vineyard. Many producers use the fruit from this superior vineyard to produce their wines, there is a Seven Hills Winery that is financially separate from the vineyard but does use the vineyard as a fruit source.

Esprit de corps does seem to be pervasive in Walla Walla. Many of the wineries are in partnership in their vineyards and second wineries. While I am sure there is some sense of competition you really get the firm impression that they are all in it together. They are really trying to get there region both more widely known and help each other produce great wine.

Chardonnay of the Russian River Valley

Are you a Chardonnay lover? Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper discusses California’s Russian River Valley known for their chardonnay:

The History

Sonoma County is comprised of luxury resorts, fine restaurants, major highways, small towns, pastures, country inns, back roads as well as the ubiquitous vineyards; all of this is about 30 miles from San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge. The county itself is over a million acres with over 60,000 acres planted to vineyards, with 450 wineries and 1,800 grape growers. The number one grape planted in Sonoma County is Chardonnay. Within the Sonoma County is the Russian River Valley. What in the world can Russians have to do with California wine country you ask? Well the Russians were the first non-natives to settle in Sonoma County at Fort Ross from 1812 to 1841. Where they planted vineyards and what type of grapes they planted is not known, but what we do know is that they are credited for the first vineyard plantings in Sonoma County. The Russian River Valley is planted to approximately 15, 800 acres of vines within its 125,000 acres of land with over 200 grape growers and 94 wineries this is a fraction of Sonoma County, but is generally considered one of the finest areas in California to grow grapes. Lou Foppiano of the Foppiano Winery was the first to use the Russian River on a wine label in 1970, previous to that wines hailing from the area where simply labeled Sonoma County. Official status as an American Viticulture Area came in 1983.

The WineWillamette Valley Wineries

Among wine aficionados Russian River is one of the Holy Grails of Pinot Noirs, making seductively rich and flavorful world class Pinot Noir. While Pinot Noir may garner the most attention the number one planted grape by over a thousand acres is Chardonnay, the next grape variety planted by acres after Pinot Noir drops by more than 2,800 acres. So at the end of the day one could say Russian River Valley is all about Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Why does the The Russian River Valley grow great chardonnay? One of the reasons it has a fog that is drawn in from the Pacific Ocean every day, this fog can decrease the temperature by as much as 40 degrees creating a cooler growing temperature that high quality chardonnay grapes require, giving the wines that touch more natural acidity for balance and complexity.

A drive down Westside Road is obligatory when visiting the Russian River; the twisting two lane road goes through the heart of the wine country, over rolling hills, across the Russian River, through redwood forests and by many of the iconic wineries such as Williams Selyem Winery and Rochioli Estate

Suggested wines

Chardonnay Selby ‘08 (Russian River Valley, California)

Susie Selby is the winemaker and owner of her eponymous winery. Selby is one of the most genuinely sweet winemakers and people I have had the privilege to meet. The quality of her wines is exceptional and vastly underrated by the media, but taste the wine and you can see why Ms. Selby is one of the hottest winemakers in Sonoma. Founded in 1993 and with a quaint tasting room just off the square in Healdsburg in Sonoma it makes for a perfect stop in. Selby makes a wide range of wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Many of the wines are made from Russian River vineyards but Selby also sources fruit from the other areas of Sonoma County.

The sight is a yellow gold wine with green highlights. Full-bodied and dry this Chardonnay has the flavors of ripe yellow apple, pear, fig, honey dew melon, vanilla, light oak, clove and butterscotch all in a seductively seamless texture.

 

Chardonnay Sonoma Cutrer “The Cutrer” ’05 (Russian River Valley, California)

Founded in 1973 Sonoma-Cutrer was initially a Chardonnay only winery, they now make a small amount of Pinot Noir. The focus solely on chardonnay was unusual for California but this focus brought about a state of the art winery and a diligence to make great wine that is still paying off today. Now owned by Brown Forman with winemaker Terry Adams at the helm, Adams makes 5 Chardonnays and 2 Pinot Noirs not all from the Russian River Valley but all from Sonoma County. Sonoma-Cutrer calls their methodology and philosophy Gran Cru, which is the classification used in Burgundy, France for arguably the greatest Chardonnay wine of the world.

Rich yellow-gold color suggest the 5 years age of this wine, a lesser wine would not show as well. The flavors of meyer lemon, apple, and pear, are delicious. The bodied is full and enhanced by all spice and toasty oak; it is a mature and flavorful Chardonnay.

 

 

The Story of a 1966 Bordeaux

Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares a personal story of his dog and a 1966 Bordeaux:

Today is a beautiful spring day, a day in which I wish I had a laptop. I could sit out on my deck and watch the dog’s play, while working on my article. But I am in my home office at the computer asking my self what I should write about? As I am a horrific typist it takes longer then most writers to type out an article so, it is important for me to have a good topic in mind before I proceed. Therefore, I reviewed my previous articles to think about subjects to write about, I realize this is my 26th article, and I needed a topic to celebrate the 25 previous articles on wine. And then it made sense to write about a 1966 Bordeaux..

When I first started learning about wine I was fascinated by the multifaceted aspects of wine. There was geography, topography, culture, language, art, science, history and so on. Learning the basics came slowly but once that was obtained I started to devour as much wine minutia as possible, making flash cards, taking wine test and having a wine library of over a 100 books, reading magazines, and certainly the past few years surfing the internet. The more I got into wine the more I enjoyed it. In the middle of learning about wine I started to meet like minded people. The sharing of wine is convivial. I have met a wide variety of people both locally and in my travels to many wineries and wine regions that were fascinating, creative, rich, and not so rich, down to earth and not so down to earth, very smart, and into certain aspects of wine and not into other aspects of wine. I enjoy sharing my knowledge of wine and enjoy learning from others. Teach me and I am as happy as teaching, of course over a glass of wine. This is why I love wine. The ability to share a bottle and a great conversation about the wine, its sense of place, its creator and everything about it, to agree or disagree with your drin

Willamette Valley Wineriesking partner on its attributes or just enjoy the bottle and talk about a completely unrelated topic. I love that you can remember smells and taste and flavors in your sensory memory, memories of past bottles and past conversations and about stories about particular bottles.

 

Opening a good friend’s birthday gift a 1966 Chateau Gruaud-Larose from Bordeaux, France, had me recalling the night it was given to me. My wife and I returned home from a wonderful birthday celebration filled with great wine, food and friendship.  I sat the precious bottle wrapped in a red velvet gift bag on our kitchen counter. My wife and I went upstairs to get ready for bed, after a few moments we heard a thump! My wife and I are dog lovers and at this time we have 2 dogs, but the one in question is lamentable no longer with us, Caymus. Caymus was a 75 pound high energy, very athletic, hunter of a Black Labrador Retriever. He could lick your face leap over the cocktail table and met a guest at the door in 2 seconds. We spoil our dogs by allowing them to have large bones in the house. When they would drop the large bones we would hear a large thump! So, the large thump we heard that night was not that unusual, but in the back of my head I said, “what if”. Just after the thump I heard Caymus, named for the Mayacaymus mountain range that divides Napa and Sonoma Valleys, sprinting up the stairs. I was only mildly concerned for the bottles safety, but what if this valuable and very thoughtful gift was left smashed on the kitchen floor? What would I tell my dear friend of his thoughtful gift? As Caymus reached the top of the stairs my worst fears were realized. In the Black Labs mouth was my prized birthday gift. I was stifled with shock. Caymus jumped on the bed sat down looking directly at me as if to say look what I have for you. I screamed drop it, praying that the bottle was intake. He obediently dropped the second growth St. Julien. I immediately grabbed the bottle and tore off the red velvet bag, the bottle was indeed unharmed. With a sigh of relief my wife and I looked over the bottle for any damages and sat the bottle out of the reach of our beloved dog. I placed the red velvet bag on our chest of drawers. Caymus immediately went to the chest of drawers and stared at the red velvet bag. Come to find out was memorized that red velvet bag by it.Spanish reserve wines to try

Some dogs bring their masters newspapers my dog brings me priceless Bordeaux. The bottle and a few others were enthusiastically drunk with some close friends. The wine was absolutely exceptional, a perfect example of world class wine at perfect maturity. While we drank the wine the story of Caymus fetching the wine certainly added to the great pleasure of the evening!

Recommended Wine

Chateau Gruaud-Larose 1966

Second Growth St. Julien Bordeaux

Other vintages to currently buy 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2005

The Chateau produces approximately 40,000 cases of wine per year including its second wine Sarget de Gruaud-Larose which can represent about half of the production. While the quantities of the grapes vary from each vintage the vineyard is made up of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec

The French Wine Region of Alsace

Love French wine? Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares some facts about the Northern France wine region of Alsace:

Alsace is one of the most northerly regions in France and perhaps that is why it reminds me of spring. It is a continental climate and hence has all four seasons, including cold winters unlike the Mediterranean climate of Southern France or Italy. Spring is appreciated most by those who go through a cold winter. And the wines and the regions itself seem to celebrate by having a fresh vibrant feel, not unlike spring itself.  The wines are crisp, fresh and vivacious lending themselves to the lighter fare of spring and summer. While the picturesque half timbered houses with flower boxes of multicolored flowers are more prevalent than one would think, along with the breathtaking views of vineyards from the Vosges Mountains makes a mind’s eye picture of a perfect spring day.

Alsace is located in the North Eastern border of France between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River of Germany, about 275 miles from Paris. The wine region is a thin strip of about 3 miles wide and 75 miles long. It is protected by the watershed of the Vosges Mountains which allows the region to be sunny and green, with a chance of drought but less worry of rain during important vineyard times such as harvest. Many vineyards are planted on the slopes of the Vosges Mountains to capture the sun.

Cork versus screw top

The History

The German heritage is strong in Alsace after all it has been back and forth with France and Germany for it ownership for hundreds of years. If you asked an Alsatian if they were French or German they are likely to tell you they are Alsatian, although it has been part of France since World War II.  The German heritage is reflective in the wine by a number of ways. The bottles are tall and flute shape as in Germany, there labels denote the grape variety, all though there are some blends, and where in most of France the wine is named for the region. Many of the grape varieties originally hail from Germany, and Alsace is the only area in France where Riesling and Gewurztraminer is legally grown. And as you can imagine many of the wine producers and language on the label has Germanic lineage.

The Wine

Alsace makes 90% white wine. Red wines grapes require a warmer longer growing season so the only red grape of note is the Pinot Noir. The most important and highest quality grapes start with Riesling. Riesling is one of the most misunderstood grapes. It is almost natural to think it is always sweet as it makes some of the best dessert wines in the world and some of the most mediocre sweet wines of limited character. But it also makes some of wine expert’s absolute favorite white wines on the planet, possessing an ethereal quality, tension, minerality and sense of place that many other grapes dream of. Other important grapes are Pinot Gris (same grape as Pinot Grigio), Muscat, and Gewurztraminer with the secondary grapes being Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc.

Alsace makes essentially three styles of wine: Dry, Sparkling and dessert

Hungarian winesDry, usually varietal labeled, although about 5% percentage of wines are blends and are typically labeled Edelzwicker, Gentil or a proprietary name. Occasionally these dry wines can be off dry.

Sparkling wine is called Cremant d’Alsace. These bubblies are lighter and less complex then French Champagne but delicious sparklers made by the Champagne Method, they are excellent, less expensive alternatives for everyday drinking.

Dessert wines are all picked by hand, a higher quality method over mechanical harvesting. There are two type of dessert wine: Vendanges Tardives which are late harvest wine that can only be made from Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat or Gewurztraminer. The wines are rich and sweet.

Sélections de Grains Nobles: which are late harvest wines that can only be made from Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat or Gewurztraminer. The wines are sweet and honeyed as the grapes are affected by noble rot which is a mold that dehydrates the grapes hence increasing the sugar to liquid ratio in the grape, dramatically decreasing the amount of wine you can make from a vine and hence produces what many consider to be some of the rarest and best dessert wines in the world.

Four percent of the vineyards or 51 vineyards are classified as Grand Cru. These Grand Cru vineyards are considered the very best wines of Alsace and therefore have an appropriate price to match. All grand Cru vineyards are harvested by hand. Only the grapes Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Gewurztraminer are classified as grand Cru with the exception of Sylvaner in the Grand Cru vineyard of Zotzenberg. Gran Cru wines may be the dessert style wines or the dry style wines but not sparkling.

For a taste of a vibrant spring day, a feel of refreshing renewing quality, elegance and complexity, for flavor without weight or oak, I look to Alsace and suggest you do as well.

Suggested Alsatian Wines

Cremant d’Alsace Domaine Bott-Geyl “Paul Edouard” NV

A delicious light, dry and refreshing sparkling wine, which is delicately flavored with baking spice, fresh baked bread and citrus.

Riesling Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés 2006

This wine is the perfect companion to the fantastic indigenous Alsatian dish of Choucroute Garni. The aromatic wine is medium-bodied, high toned with crisp acidity, wet stone minerality and apricot and citrus flavors.

Riesling Domaine Zind-Humbrecht “Gueberschwihr” 2006

Dry, rich and fruity with honey suckle, orange peel and pink grapefruit flavors, which is balanced by crisp acidity and minerals that are complex and long.

Crustaces Dopff & Irion 2008

Made from a blend of Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc, as the name suggest is the perfect pairing of shellfish and wine. Light, dry, crisp and citrusy, it is like squeezing fresh lemon on you seafood.