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…)

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.

The Spanish Wine Region of Rioja

Interested in learning about Spanish wine? Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares his knowledge of the Spanish wine region of Rioja:

Having the good fortune to touring the vineyards of Italy, France, California and stopping for a quick beer in Germany, my next European stop almost assuredly will be Spain. Currently Spanish wines are hot! For the big rich mouthful of red wine think, Catalonia’s Priorato blended from Garnacha, Carinena and other grapes. When thinking of a refreshing high quality white wine to go with shellfish, the delicious Albarino from the Rias Baxias area of Galicia comes immediately to mind. These are but a few of the newer wines that have entered the market over the last decade.

About Rioja

But when you think of the classic wine of Spain you must think of Rioja. The first high quality table wine from Spain and the first Spanish wine I can remember trying is the venerable red Rioja (Ree-OH-ha). Rioja is one of Spain’s finest red wines. I say red Rioja because it can come in two additional colors, a white and rose. Although it is the red Rioja that conjures up full flavored terrific bottle of fine wine with a multiplicity of flavor placing it as one of the world’s classics red wines. White Rioja is made typically from a blend of Viura, Malvasia De Rioja & Garnacha Blanca. Some white Rioja styles are rich, full bodied and aged in oak but others are fresh, bright, zesty wines that are excellent as apertif. Rose wines are dry with the flavor of fresh berry fruit and made from mostly the same grapes as the red Rioja.
The Region

The Rioja region is located in North East Spain and is named after the River Rio Oja. Rioja is divided into three sub regions: Rioja Alta, in the northwest and as the name suggests is the region with the highest elevation up 2000 feet, Rioja Alavesa, which is the Northern most area and lastly Rioja Baja which is in the lowlands of the Southeast.

The History

Rioja’s gain was France’s lost when in the mid to late 1800’s France experienced a major decrease in its viticulture areas, especially in the region of Bordeaux. This decrease was due to a plague of mildew and a root louses called phylloxera. This duo devastated and nearly completely destroyed the vineyards of France, leaving the French without wine and the French wine makers without wine to make. Therefore winemakers came to Rioja, the closest quality wine region of the time, and influenced the Spanish winemakers helping them to supply wine to there new market. By the time the French recovered, Rioja was already popular in other countries supplying wine around the wine drinking world.Cork versus screw top

The Wine

The primary grape of red Rioja is the Tempranillo. Tempranillo is the most important quality wine grape in Spain and usually makes up the majority of the Rioja blend! It also makes great wine in other regions such as Ribero Del Duero. It typically has the flavors of strawberry, raspberry and oak barrel ageing. The secondary grapes are Garnacha (Gernache), Graciano & Mazuelo (Carignan).

Unlike American wines labeled reserve or grand reserve the Terms Crianza, Reserva and Grand Reserva are defined by law. Crianza must be aged 2 years one in oak barrel and one in the bottle, Reserva must be aged three years with a minimum of one year in oak and one year in bottle. Gran Reserva which is dedicated to the wineries very best wine must have fruit that can stand 5 years of ageing with 2 years in oak and 3 years in the bottle. This ageing takes place in 225-litre oak cask, ether in the traditional (believe or not) American oak, which the Spaniards love for its flavor of vanilla, coconut and dill, or the less assertive French barrels and even a combination of the two. To drink mature wine from most wine regions, you must age the wine yourself, but the long ageing of Rioja Reserva and Rioja Gran Reserva allows the consumer to purchase mature ready to drink Rioja. A very interesting tasting to do is getting a bottle of each of the ageing levels, preferably from the same producer, and taste side by side a Crianza, a Reserva and a Gran Reserva. This is a brilliant way to see the influence of oak barrel and bottle ageing of 3 wines from the same region, same grapes and in the case of the Reserve and Gran Reserve you can even get the same vintage. The oak ageing adds complexity of flavors such as, vanilla, smoke, oak, toast, spice, cocoa and dill among others. Oak barrel ageing can also change the texture making a wine suppler.

The Spanish government elevated Rioja to the highest classification of quality wine called (DOCa) Denominacion De Orgine Calificada meaning from a controlled, described, quality wine region in 1991. Rioja sat alone at the top of this wine hierarchy for 11 years before one other wine was added in 2002, Priorato. No other wine has been added since!

Hungarian wines

Two Mature examples of Fine Rioja:

Rioja Marquese De Caceres Reserva 1994
A medium red with an amber orange rim gives an indication of these wines 12 years. Flavors of dried roses, earth, strawberries, red cherries, vanilla, anise, cinnamon and oak enhance the supple texture and integrated tannins in this medium-bodied deliciously mature wine. Try it with roasted rack of lamb.

Rioja Marques Del Puerto Gran Reserva 1994
The color speaks of a mature wine; it has a medium dark red with a rim that is orange- amber- red. Flavors of vanilla, cocoa, strawberry, raspberry liqueur, saddle leather, dried violets and copious oak are enveloped by a very soft texture. It is medium-full-bodied, dry and complex. Try with pan seared beef filet.

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Wine 101

Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper gives us a few lessons in Wine 101:

When asked to write an article about wine, it seemed rather intuitive to begin with a wine tasting primer. Undoubtedly, a large number of you reading this publication drink wine regularly, but you may still have numerous questions, while there are others who are just getting into wine and are thirsty for some basic wine tasting knowledge. Wine, I believe, is meant to enhance our life. It should bring us pleasure in many different ways. Wine aids in digestion; it can improve our health; and, it encourages friendships around the table. Understanding wine a bit more can enhance your enjoyment of it. It is from this premise where we will begin.

For discussion purposes we will use a specific wine so, if you wish, you may do this tasting primer as you read.  Please use a quality wine glass of eight or more ounces to fully appreciate this primer. Our wine will be the 2009 Honig Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley, California, with an approximate retail price of $20.00.  I actually helped pick (with an emphasis on helped) grapes one morning during harvest for this wine.

Three major points of emphasis in wine tasting are Sight, Smell and Taste.

Sight- Usually a full color will suggest a full wine and a light color will suggest a light wine. Our wine is pale yellow, clear and bright.

Smell- I use the acronym FEW to help remember this part of the tasting.  F stands for fruit and floral, E for earth and W for wood or oak. Fruit can cover the entire world of fruits, but think about fruits that are in the range of the color of wine.  For example, white wine may have flavors of citrus and apples; red wine may have flavors of red cherries and black berries. Earth can encompass everything from the smell of fresh tilled soil to mushrooms, minerals and beets. And lastly, wood or oak is used to age a good deal of wine, but not all. It can give a wine the smell of cinnamon, toast, vanilla and certainly the smell of oak. To better smell your wine, try swirling it in your glass to release the aromas and make it easier to describe its flavors. Our Sauvignon Blanc smells of lemon, grapefruit and fresh herbs, no oak and light wet stone minerals.

Taste – Our taste buds are equipped to sense four things: Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Salt.  Sweet is the presence of sugar in wine.  Dry is the absence of sugar in wine.  Medium-dry falls in somewhere between the two.  You usually detect sweetness on the tip of your tongue. To better understand dryness in wine, try this simple demonstration:  Place three glasses of water in front of you.  Into the first glass of water, pour an entire packet of sugar – this equals sweet.  Put a half packet of sugar into the second glass – this equals medium-dry.  No sugar will be put into the third glass of water – this equals dry.

Sour refers to the acidity in wine, and while it carries a negative connotation, it really refers to the zippy-crisp component in wine. It typically can be sensed on the sides of your tongue. Let’s take our three glasses of water again. Into the first glass of water squeeze an entire lemon – this would be very crisp. Into the second glass of water squeeze half of a lemon – this would be crisp.  Put only a few drops of lemon juice into the third glass of water – this would be low acid or not very crisp.

Bitter refers to the tannin in wine.  Like sour it carries a negative connotation, but it refers to the mouth puckering quality of wine. It may be sensed all over your palate. A heavily tannic wine can make any part of your tongue, gums, etc. contract and dry out. You can say a wine can be light, medium or heavy in tannin. Tannin can be sensed in grape skins, long steeped tea and espresso. Tannin is typically found in red wine because of the extended skin contact with the unfermented and fermenting wine during red wine production.

When you taste wine, allow the wine to stay on your palate for a minute, letting all parts of your palate touch the wine. This will allow you to more accurately use the various areas where you sense the flavors of the wine. The 2009 Honing Sauvignon Blanc is dry and very crisp.  Also, through taste you can establish the body or weight of a wine. The body of a wine is described as light, medium or full bodied; like a glass of water, milk and heavy cream respectably. Our Sauvignon Blanc is light bodied.

Hungarian vineyard

Your olfactory system senses smell in your palate as well as through your nose, so you will also be able to use your smelling technique again when the wine is in your palate. This helps you to connect the wine’s smell and taste. The aftertaste is the lingering flavor you get after swallowing the wine; an aftertaste is only bad when it tastes bad!  A good aftertaste is pleasant and persistent. Our Sauvignon Blanc has the flavors of lemon, grapefruit and fresh herbs and a very pleasant aftertaste.

So, we would characterize the 2009 Honig Sauvignon Blanc as pale-yellow with a nose and palate of lemon, grapefruit, fresh herbs, no oak oak and wet stone minerals. It is dry, very crisp, and light-bodied with a pleasant aftertaste. And don’t forget the easy descriptors like: this deliciously tasty little Sauvignon Blanc is superb.