Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Visit to Ceja Winery, Carneros (April 08)
A recommendation from a good friend, and the close proximity to another winery at which I’d scheduled a visit, brought me to one of my favorite wine tasting experiences. Meeting Amelia Ceja, gracious hostess and passionate wine maker of Ceja Vineyards, was the main reason this was a fun and informational visit. Amelia and Pedro Ceja are a wonderful wine and success story. Their story begins in the mid-60’s, much like other pioneers in Napa’s dynamic history. They staked all they had on a belief in their wine making skill and more, making it their way. I know, sounds like a song, but in this case it rings true.
My wife and I were treated to a fascinating story of their quest for the good life – translated as farming the land, growing grapes and a family, and then making a style of wine that reflects both the value of traditions and lessons learned since. Their philosophy puts them squarely among the believers in the effect of terroir on a wine. That includes the choices of grapes, how and when to use oak, quality oak, and when to let the grapes speak for themselves. Always a good balancing act, one I have to say, they have done with every one of their wines. In case you didn’t realize it, that doesn’t happen often.
Terroir has many meanings for many people, some believe only a particular area will produce wines of a distinctive nature, and that the qualities of the soil, sandy, loam, clay-like will influence the flavors found in the wine. Others believe that other regions with similar, if not exact qualities including the weather, longitude will produce similar wines of a high quality. At its most basic, a particular terroir will dictate what grapes will grow best and show their best qualities.
Partly, this goes back to the adage, “great wine is made in the vineyard”, which also has its interpreters. Very little in the wine world is as simple as it seems. The Carneros viticultural region receives its maritime influence from being at the top of San Francisco Bay, and spreads on either side of Highway 37, which skirts the upper bay. Pinot Noir does extremely well here, as do Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
We started with the Sauvignon Blanc, which is a very popular and awarded wine. It was easy to tell that from the nose even before tasting. Lots of fruit, neutral oak for the aging, wonderful acidity, mouth feel from creamy notes – not buttery. In short you have the kind of body often provided by Semillon, but with citrus notes common to the Sauvignon Blanc grape.
We put the wine to the test at dinner that evening at Celadon restaurant in the town of Napa, also suggested by our friend, Judy Diaz. Considering Judy’s hit ratio I was willing to take stock tips from her. I had the Sea Bass, something rare in New Mexico, resting on a bed of forbidden rice, which is even rarer. I later learned the rice came from one spot in Japan and received its black color from the squid that populated that coastal enclave. True or not, it made a great story. The fish did better than melt in my mouth with rich flavors bursting through. The Ceja wine tracked every bite and every flavor. I couldn’t have chosen better. What I loved was that when I had the crème brulee with caramelized banana, the wine paired like it was made for desserts. How’d they do that? Oops, should I have given you a food-alert warning on this?
Their Chardonnay was one of the few non-French version I knew would be a good food wine, something most buttery, malolactic fermentation, heavily-oaked chardonnays cannot be. There is nothing wrong with the style as long as you aren’t trying to pair them with a wide range of foods.
It just got better with the reds. Since you should check this out on your own, I’ll only mention one, the 2005 Ceja Vino de Casa Red, a blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah. This is their gateway wine into the Ceja reds, and priced very well. If you don’t have any food to pair with this wine, not to worry, this wine is food. Both grapes in this wine are also offered separately, and both excel, which is why the blend works so well. How many times do you get a smile on your face after sampling the wine’s nose? Well, get ready. I only wish I could have had a separate meal to test drive this red, but definitely, next time.
Check out their website at it is very well done with lots of information on their wines and wine philosophy. And if you don’t think they’re a winemaking family, check out the family photos. Their traditions should be copied by many of the other wineries in Napa. Salut!
Wines of Enchantment: My New Wine Guide
In case you wondered where I’ve been the last few months it was busy completing my first wine book and setting up my new Wine Maestro package of wine talks/wine dinners. I apologize for leaving you in the lurch. Now that I’m back I have much ground to cover, many fascinating wines to discuss, and what wine and food pairing is all about.
My new wine book is called Wines of Enchantment: A Guide to Finding and Enjoying the Wines of New Mexico. Yes, I know, long title. It is available as an E-book at my literary website, Look under Hammond on Wine for the link and payment button. I also plan to blanket the New Mexico wineries with autographed copies.
This all began as a wine pamphlet for the first Corrales Quilt & Wine Fair (you read that right), which was held Mother’s Day weekend. I gave a series of wine talks Saturday and Sunday, which were quite enjoyable. This was nothing like teaching engineers about computer networks and architectures, which I did in a previous life. At the fair, I had attentive attendees who even wore smiles.
The only problem was that this was the first time I’d talked about wine without having a glass of same in my hand. A whole new discipline, because the more I talk about wine the more I want to drink it, and I was so ready for a glass after the last session each day. Fortunately, my many winemaker friends helped out with generous pours of the wines brought for tasting. I left each day sated and happy that the attendees had learned something about wine appreciation that would, hopefully, enrich their wine life.
The wine pamphlet had meanwhile grown in size and coverage until it became a New Mexico wine guide. Pamphlet, indeed! It includes almost 20 pages on how-to-taste wines, information on the care and feeding of wines, wine and food pairing, and summaries of every winery in New Mexico. The table of contents is reprised below for those interested in the wine guide.
The Wine Maestro idea, cooked up between my wife and I, involves my giving wine talks, recommending wines for a wine dinner, or creating a wine dinner for clients that included my providing the catering, serving, tasting notes, wine selection, and also discussing each wine. I’ve done several of these so far with great success, so my involvement in wine has quadrupled since I began my wine blog.

Still, I don’t want to leave my readers out in the cold – is ether-space chilly? I’m re-dedicating myself to keeping it going, as you will begin to see starting this week. Salut!

Wines of Enchantment
Introduction 1
History of New Mexico Wine 3
Wine Tasting Guide 9
The Why of Wine Tasting 9
The Taste Test: Discovering Your Wines 11
Wine Dos and Don’ts 31
Laying Down Wine 31
Selecting a Wine Cellar 35
Wine Preparation 37
Wine Equipment Essentials 38
Wine and Food 41
White Wines 43
Red Wines 45
Food and Wine Pairing Basics 49
Wine Tasting in the Land of Enchantment 51
New Mexico Wine Map 52
Santa Fe/Taos Region 53
Albuquerque Region 61
Alamogordo Region 68
Las Cruces/Deming Region 72
Appendix A: New Mexico Grapes 77
White Wines 77
Rosé Wines 79
Red Wines 79
Sparkling Wines 80
Dessert Wines 80
Fortified Wines 80
Appendix B: Wine Events 83
Northern Region 83
Southern Region 84