Members Corner

President’s Message – Gearing Up for Fair Fun!

With the Commercial and Home Wine Competitions quickly almost having been and gone, the 2022 OC Fair is fast approaching, and the OCWS is geared up to run our most important fundraising effort of the year—The Courtyard at the OC Fair. This year’s Fair theme is “Feel the Sunshine,” and runs Wednesdays through Sundays, beginning on Friday, July 15 and concluding on Sunday, August 14.

The Fair is attended by over 1,000,000 people a year, so The Courtyard clearly provides us with a perfect venue for reaching lots of people. In exchange for running the OC Fair’s wine competitions, the Orange County Fair & Events Center affords us the opportunity to run The Courtyard and realize the income therefrom. In addition to the income received from The Courtyard funding the wine competitions, it also provides funds for our year-round overhead and, by way of donations, for our Scholarship Program. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to the organization that The Courtyard be a huge success!

It takes over 300 OCWS volunteers to man The Courtyard during the Fair. Whether you are a new volunteer or a seasoned veteran at The Courtyard, this is your opportunity to support the fundraising efforts of the Orange County Wine Society. In addition to hosting The Courtyard during the OC Fair, some of our most knowledgeable and experienced OCWS members will be conducting wine seminars on Saturdays and Sundays. Check out the seminar schedule on the OCWS website and come learn something new about wines, and wine and food pairings that you may not know you don’t already know. So, if you seek fun, don’t miss coming out and feeling the sunshine with wine fun at the Fair!

I look forward to seeing you there.

– Fran Gitsham, President

An American Picnic—Wrap Up!

On Saturday, May 7, 121 OCWS members and guests enjoyed a beautiful spring day at The Courtyard for “An American Picnic.”  The red, white and blue was everywhere to be seen. Everyone danced to the music of the Three 2 Sevens, OCWS’s favorite band. The dance floor was full to the very end.

A special thank you to BettyJo and Jay Newell for the fabulous decorations. The Courtyard looked like a 4th of July Parade. And special thanks to Alice and Glenn Polser for directing the set up. It was Alice’s first time directing part of a major event and she totally stepped up to the plate. People were working on the set up as early as 9 am.

And, of course, to the Cooks’ Caucus led by Lynda Edwards for a great dinner (and a special mention to George Cravens’ sous vide tri tip, Craig Rowe’s special marinated grilled chicken, Rich Skoczylas for a Great American desert, Cheryl Heineke for homemade beans, Pamela Clauss’ Caesar salad, and Bonnie Gausewitz’ homemade potato salad).

And to all those who volunteered to work short shifts pouring wine, doing check in, serving food, etc. This organization only works because of our wonderful volunteers.

And thanks to the generosity of our members who donated wines, we raised $1,220 at the Wine Wall which will go directly into the OCWS scholarship fund. Thank you Rochelle for all your work.

We had a lot of new members who came to their first OCWS event. They were on the dance floor until the last song. I hope this event shows what a fun-loving group we are and that we will see them back for future events.

– Brian McDonald, Event Chair

May 2022 Rhône Wine Mini-Tasting Wrap Up

The May Mini-Tasting featured four varietals and one blend. There were four host sites throughout the county.

The first flight was a pair of Grenache Blancs, one from California and one from Rhône France. This was followed by three flights featuring the primary varietals of a classic Rhone blend, the GSM. Each of these flights featured a California wine against an “old world” wine. The GSM flight had a California GSM against one from Chateaneuf du Pape, and the California wine was preferred by most of the attendees. The four favorite wines across the four host sites:

Place Wine & Winery YR PRICE DESCRIPTION
1st Morcha Garnacha

Bodegas Morca

Campo de Borja,

Aragon, Spain

2018 $39.98 VINOUS 94 POINTS—”Deep, lurid violet. Ripe dark berries, cherry cola, vanilla and pungent flowers on the deeply perfumed nose. Smooth, broad and sweet on entry, then tighter in the midpalate, offering impressively concentrated cherry and blackberry flavors and hints of vanilla, licorice and spicecake. A smoky nuance builds with air and carries through a very long, gently tannic finish that repeats the floral and
licorice notes.”
2nd Mourvèdre

(Monastrell)

Bodegas Sierra

Salinas

Mira Salinas

Allicante, Spain

2017 $17.99 Deep ruby/plum color is followed by a Bandol-like bouquet of smoked black fruits, earth, meat, and spice. It’s rich, medium to full-bodied, has beautiful fruit, good acidity, and plenty of tannins, and it’s a classic, balanced Monastrell that more than over-delivers at the price. These are custom cuvées for Jorge Ordóñez that are only brought into the US.
3rd GSM

Fundamental

Central Coast, CA

2019 $17.96 JEB DUNNUCK 91 POINTS—”The 2019 Red Wine checks in as 50% Syrah, 35% Grenache, 12% Mourvèdre, and the balance Viognier, all of which was 85% destemmed, and it spent 10 months in neutral oak. Lots of red, blue, and black fruits as well as peppery and spice dominate the nose, and it’s medium to full-bodied, with plenty of fruit, surprising complexity, and good overall freshness. It’s a smoking good red as well as a value.”
4th Grenache Blanc

LAFAGE 2019 CUVEE CENTENAIRE

Rhône, France

 

 

2019 $13.95 JEB DUNNUCK 93 POINTS—Based on 60% Grenache Blanc and 20% each Grenache Gris and Roussanne, from very old vines, the 2019 Côtes Catalanes Cuvée Centenaire is another thrilling white from Jean-Marc Lafage. Caramelized grapefruit, crushed citrus, mint, white flowers, and lots of salty minerality emerge from this medium-bodied white that has both richness and freshness.

NOTE: The Garnacha, GSM, and Grenache Blanc are all available at Hi-Times Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa.

In addition, attendees brought a delicious dish to share and then voted on a Chef of the Evening. The results of the Chef of the Evening at each Host site are:

  • Hosts Mike and Cathy MacKenzie: Katie Leary – Mushroom Appetizer
  • Host Kathy Nalty: Linda Shepard – Strawberry Dream Cake
  • Hosts Greg and Cathy Risling: Denise Casad/Dan Weddell – Charcuterie Board
  • Hosts Wendy and Stacey Taylor: Kevin Donnelly – Key Lime Pie

The detail scores by site will be posted on the OCWS website.

Congratulations to all the winners!  A big Thank You to the Hosts!

Please send your recipes to me at George@ocws.org for possible publication on the website.

– George Cravens, Director

NOTE:  The Gold Medal Mini-Tasting will be held in August after the OC Fair (like last year). Many of the wines entered in the Commercial Wine Competition are not released in time for a July Mini-Tasting, and we’d like to feature as many Double Gold winners as possible. Look for more details in the July Wine Press.

A Trip Around the World Must Always Include Wine!

Part 3—Greece and Israel

As Manuela and I continue our wonderful exploration of the world, this is Part 3 of my article exploring the world of wines. In my last article, I left off with visiting Corfu, Greece. I continue now with a look at wines in the eastern Mediterranean that include Greece, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey.

That’s correct! Jordan, Egypt and Turkey.

We visited Jordan stopping in Aqaba – which is a Jordanian port within sight of both Israel and Egypt and only 20 kilometers from Saudi Arabia – and on to the historical sites of Petra. There, I rode a camel right in front of the famous Petra Treasury (see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). But what you really want to know is that around the archaeological digs of Petra, several recovered antiquities were determined to be wine presses – eighty-two in fact – dating back more than two thousand years, proving that wine was not a happenstance, but a product of ancient societies. And, according to our tour guide, the wine served to Jesus, most likely came from Jordan.

I did taste some Jordanian wine. I found it to very good, but also different from our Southern Californian tastes!

Egypt also has a long history of winemaking going back as far as 3rd century BC. You might think of Egypt as a desert, but the areas along the Nile are quite lush with agriculture. As we have personally seen on this trip, many products are grown in Egypt: Egyptian cotton we all know of, but also bananas. Go figure. And historians say that two thousand years ago, the Nile was much grander than today. Now, with the Aswan Dam, the Nile is more controlled. While over 90% of the Egyptian population lives in only 4% of the total land area of Egypt, efforts are in place to expand further into the deserts with more irrigation and, thus, more agriculture, essentially terraforming the desert.

As for the wines, I was impressed with what I could taste. The reds were not what we know, but the whites were clearly up there with any of the whites we all know from home and other parts of the world.

In Istanbul, Turkey, one of my very favorite cities for its polite and hospitable people, we attended a very special performance of a choir comprising extremely talented performers. These performers were Muslim, Christian and Jewish. They performed and sang songs from all three religions. It was something I won’t soon forget. What was also special was the Turkish wine that was served. Excellent and worthy of note. The photo is of a bottle of the red we were served.

A specific wine tasting tour of Jordanian, Egyptian or Turkish wines was not provided on our cruise, but such was the case in southern Greece and in Israel. So let me tell you about the wines and wineries that I had the good fortune to visit.

Toward the end of March, we docked in the southern Peloponnesian region of Greece, about two hours’ drive west from Athens. We took a tour of one of the 33 protected Greek wine regions (PDO) known as Nemea, which included a visit to the Skouras Winery.

Over the past twenty years, Skouras Winery has produced Peloponnesian-grown wines and has done so quite successfully. I am showing you only one photo that includes some of awards and accomplishments of the winery, but there was so much more to be seen.

As for the wines, they were excellent. We tasted two red and two white wines produced from locally grown varietals. The first was a dry white varietal known as Moscofilero. This was an excellent light wine from grapes grown in the nearby mountains at an elevation of over 2,400 feet. It had a good acidity and was refreshing. Next was Armyra (meaning salty), comprising 95% Chardonnay and 5% of a varietal called Malagousia. The story on this wine is that it was grown very near the shoreline; thus, as our host Elena Tsaka told us, there was a “salty” element that gets to the grapes. I did not find that, but the wine did not taste like a typical California Chardonnay. It was definitely a bit acidic giving it a complex aftertaste that was enjoyable.

The two reds we tried caught my attention. We started with Saint George, 100% Agiorghitiko from Nemea (yes I had to take very good notes). It also comes from the mountain vineyards. While the bottle we tasted was from 2019, according to Elena, Hercules supposedly drank this wine to enhance his strength!  Perhaps he only felt strong after drinking this wine, for It was excellent. It had a peppery finish and solid black fruit aromas. I could not get enough. This was followed by Megas Oenos meaning the grand or great wine. Elena told us it was their “big wine.” At 14% ABV, this 2018 vintage comprises 80% Agiorghitiko and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was described as silky yet powerful. I thought it was right up there with the Saint George.

In the end, I purchased a few bottles of the reds that I shared with some fellow passengers and crew. They were very well received. After further research, I have learned that Domain Skouras, as it is formally known, distributes to JVS Wines Import in Commerce, close to where I live. I will have to check that out when I do return to the US.

Over the next three weeks of travel is when we discovered the Jordanian and Egyptian wines. By mid-March, however, we spent a few days in Israel. And side note, I will have so many more stories to share with you about our northern African and Middle Eastern journey, just not here.

From Haifa, Israel, Manuela and I, of course, ventured out on another wine tasting opportunity. This time we went south along the incredibly green and fertile Israeli coast to a small town called Zichron Yaakov. There, we arrived at Somek Winery. Totally different from the very modern, well established Greek wine production facility of Skouras Winery, Somek Winery was created in the backyard of the home of the owners, Barak Dahan and his wife, Hila. Notice the coffee pot placed among the various equipment items! It couldn’t have been a better experience.

Allow me to give you some background. For five generations, going back to 1882, the Dahan family has produced grapes in their family vineyard, all naturally irrigated by the way, selling the grapes to other local Israeli wineries. In 2003, Barak and Hila decided to produce their own wine under the name Somek, which means “blush” in Hebrew. Barak told me that of the 200 tons harvested, he keeps 35 tons for his wines. And each varietal that he uses for his wine production is harvested by hand in a single day. Needless to say, they keep the best for themselves! Sediment and lees are allowed to settle out naturally over a two- to three-month period. Barak said “it’s very hard to wait.” Reds are aged for one to three years in French oak, but he checks the quality personally as he does not want “carpenter wine,” that is over-oaked wine.

Of the twelve varietals that they grow, Barak uses nine in his production. Somek currently produces 30,000 bottles annually. Barak only produces bone dry wines “because this is what I like.” And they were excellent.

As for the wine that we tasted, there were four offered. First up was a Rosé made from Grenache. It was extremely light in color but had a great aroma and taste. Though I am not a
Rosé fan normally, this wine was exceptional. I had to get a bottle.

Next was a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Chenin Blanc. To me it was unique with a light but mineral taste. Our first red was a 2017 Syrah. It was amazing and much like our California Syrahs. Our fourth tasting was a 2017 Carignan that I absolutely loved. Once again, I found myself buying several bottles that I could share with fellow passengers and crew.

I cannot say enough about these two very special wineries. We were treated like good friends and we were treated to some phenomenal wines as well.

Our voyage continues…

– W. Scott Harral, Contributing Writer

A Trip Around the World Must Always Include Wine!

Our world cruise adventure continues. Since the beginning of March, our travels on the Viking Star have had us in or near the Mediterranean with only three stops on the European continent but mostly island hopping. Three notable islands were Sardinia of Italy, Malta and Corfu of Greece. Notable because these three islands, in the Med, produce some excellent wines.

Side note, we also experienced some wonderful Madeira, from the Portuguese Island of that name, as well as Sherry from the Spanish island of Mallorca. But you don’t want to hear about that, do you? Well, maybe another time. For now, let me tell you of these wonderful island-grown wines.

Now of course, we of OCWS are very familiar with mainland Italian varietals and blends, but I cannot recall any Italian wines found in California coming from Sardinia. We docked on the southern port of Cagliari and travelled inland a bit where our tour/tasting group pulled into a winery known simply as Argiolas. This is a very large family-run winery that has its origins in the early 1900s. Antonio Argiolas, the patriarch, built it up over the years and ran it with his two sons until his passing at the age of 102. There must be truth to the belief that drinking red wine protects you from diseases and will extend your life. Today, it is run by the third generation of Argiolas, three grandchildren!

After a tour of the winery by our very friendly guide, Giulia, we were hosted by the winery to enjoy their wines along with an assortment of cheeses and breads. It was not only a great experience, but the wines were fantastic. We were offered two whites and two reds, all DOC and all made from grapes grown in the family vineyards on Sardinia.

The two whites were labelled as S’Elegas made from a local varietal known as Nuragus di Cagliari (it’s a good thing I took a brochure or I would never have spelled this correctly)! Of the whites, this was my personal favorite. Manuela, on the other hand, preferred Costamolino, made from the local variety of Vermentino, a varietal that I am sure you are familiar with.

The two reds were Pedera and Cosera. Pedera was made from the Monica di Sardegna, a popular grape on the island and had a unique but excellent flavor. The Costera came from the Cannonau di Sardegna, which I learned later is the Italian name for Grenache and tasted very much like a California Grenache. It is also the most widely grown in Sardinia. Both of these were excellent, though I favored the Cannonau. These wines are available in the United States!

Our next stop was Malta. Malta has a long political history changing hands in ownership from England to Turkey. Malta gained its independence from England in 1964, but they still drive their vehicles on the wrong side, I mean the left side, of the road. Malta is located south of Sicily, the lights of which can be seen on a clear night, and it has two official languages – Maltese and English. And before I get into the winemaking, Malta is a beautiful island country that should be on your bucket list. The incredible vast limestone block structures that fortify the small cities and dominate the Old Town areas are unlike anywhere else.

Perhaps you know all this, but what was surprising to me is that Malta has a thriving local wine production.

Once again, our tour group took to the road, making a trip to the Marsovin Wine Cellars in the port city of Valletta. This winery was established in 1919 and, surprisingly, was created out of a vessel storage and repair facility located within an easy reach of the Mediterranean Sea. For over a hundred years, this winery has been owned and operated by the same family starting with the brothers Cassar. But when one of the brothers dropped out, the business stayed with Anthony Cassar, then later his son, and then on to the grandchildren. Our tour was conducted by one of those grandchildren, Stephan Cassar, who clearly knew well the history and operation of the Marsovin Wine Cellars. We were shown the sparkling winemaking process in particular. Of note, 2019 was the 100th anniversary of Marsovin and had been celebrated in style with a special vintage that was hand prepared and bottled.

After the tour of the cellars, we were than treated to a taste of some of the wines, all made from Maltese-grown grapes, coming from either the island of Malta or Gozo, largest of the other Maltese islands. There were two white varietals by names I could not repeat. But one of the reds we tried that stood out was the Ulysses Shiraz.

In the local stores and restaurants, you could find Marsovin. In fact, later, we enjoyed a glass of Marsovin’s local reds while observing a traditional 4 pm canon salute from the nearby military batteries. Excellent!

A third Mediterranean island that makes very good wine is the Greek island of Corfu. Unlike Sardinia and Malta, which are quite some distance from the continental mainland, this island is right up against mainland Greece. In fact, it was within sight of the snow-covered Albanian mountain range to the east. We did not have a formal wine tour here, but the locally produced wine was everywhere. We tried a few at local cafés and found the wines to be excellent, particularly the whites. The photo above shows a store display in Corfu that presented only Corfu-grown varietals, with a few from mainland Greece. I could list some of the varietal names, but instead, I encourage you to come here – or to any of these wonderful Mediterranean locations – and discover some of remarkable regional wines on your own. Our trip continues for eight more weeks.

– W. Scott Harral, Contributing Writer

 

A Trip Around the World Must Always Include Wine!

Retirement is GREAT!!! If I had known retirement would be this great, I’d have done it sooner. OK, probably not, as there is a reason that we do work.

But I am enjoying it now. And so far I have shared with you, through my submissions to The Wine Press, a few of my experiences traveling that, most importantly, have included the delight of wine from many parts of the world. Allow me to do so again.

On Christmas Eve, now two months ago as I write this, Manuela and I embarked on a venture of a lifetime, to cruise around the world. We left from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, heading south to the Panama Canal, with planned stops in Mexico, Nicaragua, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica and then to Los Angeles, before heading west to Hawaii and southern Asia. Well, thanks to COVID, we never made it to Nicaragua nor Columbia. And when we got to LA, guess what? We could not leave the ship the three days we were there. More importantly, we were no longer going to go west to Asia. Instead, we were to go back south to sail along the western coast of South America, around Cape Horn, up to Uruguay – sadly, no stops in Argentina – and then over to the Mediterranean where we resumed our original itinerary in Saudi Arabia. We had just spent the day in Cape Verde, a country of ten islands off the coast of Senegal and we were about halfway through the trip.

Enough about our trip though. The good news about the changes and what I want to share with you is the incredible wineries and wines that we experienced in Chile and Uruguay. Plus, there is another little wine adventure I will tell you about.

I am sure most of you know and enjoy Chilean wines. They are extraordinary and becoming very popular in California restaurants and wine circles. On this trip, we got to go more in depth and learn about Chilean winemaking history and what it means to their wines. For one, did you know that Chilean wine is organically grown and processed? There are strict laws in place that require the vineyards to be managed without chemical treatment. And in further support of this condition, Chile also imposes restrictions on any food or plant materials coming into the country. They enjoy a very healthy grape growing environment in Chile, and they strive to keep it that way.

Our first stop in Chile was in the port city of Valparaiso. From here, some of us took an excursion to a winery in the region known as Casablanca. Know that this region is in central Chile and is in the same latitudes south as the wine-growing regions of California, France, Italy and other wine regions of Europe are to the north, between the 30th the 38th parallels. Thus, this is an ideal growing region for wine grapes. The winery we visited was called Viñamar. While Chile grows and makes the usual vitis vinifera (old world) reds and whites, Chile is known for its Carmenere. Like Argentina’s Malbec, Carmenere originated in France, transferred to Chile and flourished there. Some of the great wines we had in Chile included Carmenere from Viña Tarapacà (my top pick) and San Pedro Castillo de Molina Pinot Noir Reserva. There were so many more.

After several more days of visiting Chile and sailing around Cape Horn, we stopped in Uruguay. Have you heard of Uruguayan wine? Well, I hadn’t either, but it was fantastic.

From our port stop in Montevideo on the mouth of the Plate River that separates Uruguay and Argentina, we visited a winery inland near a town called Canelones. Some more background, the wine region of Uruguay is between the 30th and 35th parallels. It is in the same latitudes as Mendoza, Argentina, and of the Chilean wine region we had just visited a few weeks earlier. That should tell you something!

Once there we were given the grand tour of Familia Deicas Winery. Because we were in the southern hemisphere, it was approaching harvest time, so we observed the field labor teams organizing to hand pick the grapes. In Uruguay, the grape of choice is Tannat, but the usual varietals were grown there as well. One unusual grape was called Lacryma Christi or the Tears of Christ. The fruit was sweet and had a bright red juice. See the picture.

Back in the cellar we enjoyed seven of their wines that included the Tannat, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and another popular white, Albariño. Some were sold under the name Don Pascual. It was a great day and memorable experience!

If you should ever get the opportunity to travel to South America in search of great wine (or otherwise), you will find it in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, for sure.

After departing Uruguay, we headed for the African coast. Along the nine-day voyage I was given a wonderful opportunity. Some background, while we were in the Port of Los Angeles, though we could not leave the ship, I did arrange for several bottles of my homemade Nebbiolo to be brought onboard.

The day after we departed LA was my birthday. So, we celebrated in style sharing my wine with some of the passengers and crew. Well, somehow, I was asked to make a presentation on home winemaking. “I would love to!”  Not knowing exactly what to do though, I reached out to Kevin Donnelly. Wow, he was great! He provided me with his 110-page PowerPoint presentation on home winemaking!  After a few modifications and including a few photos of my own winemaking experience both at home and in Italy, I made the presentation. Wine was provided by the Viking Bar Manager Andrej and Sommelier Dejan while I made the presentation to a packed theater of about 45 people. It was a great success. I have even been made an honorary sommelier on board the Viking Star, and I have the badge to prove it.

We still have 2½ months to go, and we will be hitting many Mediterranean ports which will include more visits to wineries such as in Malta.

So a follow up to this story just might be in order.

– W. Scott Harral,
Contributing Writer