Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Say Hey To The 2011 Wines: It Was A Pretty Damn Good Year After All!

The Blue-Merle label features
a photo of the Cellar Master.
Blue-Merle Winery, a San Diego County ultra-boutique winery with production of 200 cases per year, has released three 2011 estate wines: a Tempranillo; a Petite Sirah, and a "Four Friends" blend of Grenache (50%), Tempranillo, Petite Sirah and a bit of Carignan. "They are all my favorite," said Craig Justice, Blue-Merle Winery's winemaker. "It's a good thing we produced a barrel of each wine - it would take me almost 3 years to drink them all at the rate of a bottle a day. This means there will be wine available for the public."

We featured the 2011 wines Saturday at the annual "San Diego County Wine Festival" a wine tasting event where over 20 San Diego wineries poured. Judging by the number of people who came back for 2nds and 3rds who said "Your wines are my favorite!" and "May I have a double?" and "May I hug you?" I would say the initial reaction has been favorable. (Attendees were limited to 12 tastes of the 50 or so wines available.)

The Cellar Master keeps watch over
Tempranillo grapes during veraison.
"I'm amazed they taste this good," said Jim K., wine manager of Escondido's Holiday Wine Center, referring to the young age of the wine.  His favorite (and that of his staff) is the "Four Friends" Grenache-blend which was aged in a new, hybrid American-French oak barrel, giving it stronger oak finish than the other wines, with hints of caramel and smoke.  The other two wines were aged in French oak barrels, so the oak flavors are lighter and more subtle (a style preferred by the winemaker).

Kelly Jones, the New York parfumista and the Scent Sommelier of Kelly & Jones fragrances said after trying a bottle of the 2011 Tempranillo, "This wine has changed my life." Tweeted Whitney Bond, author of the Little Leopard Book, "My new favorite wine @bluemerlewinery Tempranillo!  Minorly obsessed!"

"The 2011 Tempranillo is the best Tempranillo we've made so far," Justice said. "These wines represent everything we hoped for when we planted our vines in 2007," he said. "The good news is the 2012 wines aging in the barrels are tasting as good as the 2011 vintage."

What made the 2011 edition of Blue-Merle's wines better than previous years? "New barrels and battonage," said Justice, referring to a French term for stirring up the sediment at the bottom of a wine barrel to improve flavor and mouth-feel. "And, after 10 years of winemaking, we've finally figured it out," he said. "One other thing: it's the first year Stephanie and Sadie, two of our grape pickers, jumped into the pick bin and stomped the grapes."

Key steps used in the Blue-Merle's winemaking process include:

* Inspecting every grape cluster before harvest.
* Harvest at a minimum of 24 brix (and not much higher to keep alcohol at or below 14%).
* Foot stomping (very therapeutic for the winemakers and grape pickers)
* Cold soaking for three days after harvest and crush to extract wonderful fruit flavors and color from the must (without hard tannin extraction).
* During cold soak remove every stem (which contains harsh, astringent tannin) from the grape juice.
* Press gently by hand using a ratchet press, so as not to extract too many harsh tannins.
* Malolactic fermentation is induced after pressing.
* One to two months after the wine has settled, the gross lees (sediment) at the bottom of the tanks is stirred up to improve flavor.
* After the wine has settled, racked into new oak barrels (using softer French oak or hybrid French-American oak barrels).
* Not filtering the wines.
* Bottling using a small, gentle Enolmatic bottle filler.

The end result: "Our best wines yet."  So much so, the Blue-Merle Winery has entered them into the Sommelier Challenge, a prestigious wine competition organized by the Wine Guru Robert Whitley.

Editor's note from April 27th, 2014. These wines have been aging and getting better!

Here are the winemaker's notes about each of the new wines:

2011 Estate Petite-Sirah
Yummy purple! The 2011 Petite-Sirah is a delightful balance between fruit, acid and tannins with beginning, middle and end.  A big wine yet at only 13% alcohol still easy to drink, enjoyable with or without food.  Deep purple, opaque color, tastes of currants, plumbs. Bulk aged sur lees with battonage for 20 months in new French oak barrel. Unfiltered, only 24 cases produced.  One of the winemaker’s favorites.  If you’re a Petit-Sirah fan, this wine is for you. 

2011 Estate Tempranillo
Cherries!  This is the best Tempranillo we’ve produced and everything the winemakers dreamed about. Classic Tempranillo nose with a bite of cherry fruit, balanced acid and tannins, an enjoyable, lingering finish. Bulk aged 19 months sur lees with battonage in new French oak barrel.  Unfiltered, only 24 cases produced.

2011 "Four Friends" – A Grenache Blend
A delicious, delightful Rhone-style blend, 50% Grenache, blended with Tempranillo, Petite-Sirah and Carignan.  All of the grapes estate grown, except for the Carignan which came from the next valley over. Aged in a new hybrid French – American oak barrel 14 months, notes of caramel, smoke, cherries.  Another terrific wine from the 2011 vintage!  May be enjoyed with or without food.
The retail price of each wine is $35 and may be purchased direct from the winery (online, via email or over the phone) or if you live in San Diego they are available at Major Market (Escondido) and the Holiday Wine Center (Escondido). 

For additional information, Blue-Merle Winery's website is www.bluemerlewinery.com and the winemakers may be contacted on Twitter @bluemerlewinery or Instagram @bluemerlewinery .  You may email the winery at bluemerlewiner at gmail.com  If you're interested in trying wines grown and made in San Diego Country and supporting your local winemaker, be sure and try Blue-Merle Winery.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Question of Life or Death

The "Squirrelinator"
Is it ethical to shoot a ground squirrel who eats your grapes? When you're driving down the road alongside your property and you see that same grape-eating squirrel in the road is it ethical to run him over with your car? Who decides what lives and what dies? Who decides who lives and who dies? Isn't this a question for God? By taking the life of a squirrel is there a slippery slope to a hell where giants 100 feet tall are constantly trying to stomp me?