Saturday, October 9, 2010

Birds I'm Watching: Shollenberger Park (October 9, 2010)

In three hours I saw 41 species at Shollenberger Park, in Petaluma, this morning. The highlights were a Sora and two Virginia Rails. The rails came right out into the open, which is unusual. They like to hide in the reeds. There was a pair of Blue-winged Teals, as well. Also got to see a Peregrine Falcon spook a flock of about 250 Long-billed Dowitchers. Other raptors present were: American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Cooper's Hawk, and White-tailed Kite. Many Song Sparrows.

The full list of birds I saw: Red-winged Blackbird, Killdeer, Western Gull, Northern Shoveler, Anna's Hummingbird, Mallard, Cooper's Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, White-tailed Kite, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, American Goldfinch (50), Turkey Vulture, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow (11), Savannah Sparrow, Great Blue Heron, European Starling, American Crow, Avocet, Western Sandpiper, Mute Swan, Marsh Wren, Say's Phoebe (the first I've seen this season), Long-billed Dowitcher (250), Black-necked Stilt, Eared Grebe, Greater Scaup, American Coot (in the photo), Black-bellied Plover, White Pelican, Canada Goose, Sora, Virginia Rail (2), Ring-billed gull, Greater Yellowlegs, Scrub Jay, Peregrine Falcon, Blue-winged Teal, Black Phoebe.

For more information about bird watching in Sonoma County, see my Website Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wines I'm Making: Harvest Still About a Week Away (2010)

I tested the grapes again yesterday (October 7). We seem to have made some progress in the past week. The Cabernet grapes are now at 22 Brix with a pH of 3.35. The Sangiovese grapes are at 17 Brix (in this case I deliberately excluded pinkish or greenish, obviously unripe grapes on the assumption that those will be eliminated when we de-stem) and a pH of 3.29. Both are still lower than I'd like sugar-wise. The weather is supposed to be good in the coming week. I think a little more patience is is order. I'd like to see the Cabernet at at least 23 and the Sangiovese at 19, if possible, but that may be wishful thinking this year. In other wine-related news, I've been preparing bottles over the past few days, getting ready to bottle last year's wine.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wines I'm Drinking: Six Inexpensive White Wines

Tonight I blind tasted six inexpensive white wines from my local Grocery Outlet, ranging in price from $3.99 to $6.99--hoping to find the sort of bargain that was commonplace in France during my stay there over the summer. I was disappointed. Only two or three of the wines were very interesting, and only one of those was good enough that I'd consider buying it again, but every wine is a lesson, blind tasting is always interesting and instructive. Brief tasting notes follow.

2007 Genesis Columbia Valley Chardonnay: Very pale in color, quite thin at the edge, but has a pretty, greenish tint. Scents of apricots, butter, toasted grain, lemon rind. Attractive nose. Seems rich and more full-bodied on the palate than the color suggests it will. Vanilla creme on the mid-palate. Good acid. Tart/sweet effect is interesting. Moderate to good length. Feels a bit heavy (quite alcoholic, at 14.2%). Not exciting wine, but tasty and recommended for everyday drinking. A good value at $6.99 at Grocery Outlet. Genesis is a label associated with Hogue Cellars in Washington, which has always been a reliable producer in my experience. This was the most interesting of the six wines.

2006 Tempus Two Melange from South East Australia: A blend of Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne. A clear, medium-gold. The deepest in color of the six wines. Scents of wood, oak, vanilla, fresh vegetables, oatmeal biscuits. Not typical of wines with much Viognier in them. None of the usual peachy/spicy Viognier nose. Rather sweet on the palate--in this case, tasting like residual sugar rather than fruit sweetness. Flavors seem to fall off rather quickly. A bit hollow in the middle, but then comes back for a fairly long, sweet, not very nuanced finish suggestive mostly of pineapples. This is not the sort of wine I normally drink, but I can see it as a crisply chilled summer aperitif wine. Well enough made to be of some interest, if not my style. Good value at $3.99 at Grocery Outlet.

2006 R. H. Phillips California Sauvignon Blanc: Very pale and thin-looking. Fairly closed nose. Distant suggestions of lemons. Later hints of passion fruit, gooseberries. A bit nutty perhaps. Light on the palate. My tasting notes say "tastes like a thin Sauvignon Blanc," and that's what this is. Light, delicate, thinnish. Moderate to short. Seems thin on the finish as well. Perfumey aftertaste. Bland. Not very interesting. At $3.99 at Grocery Outlet this is cheap, but there are much better wines available at this price.

Glimmerglass California Proprietary Cuvée (non-vintage): Very pale gold. Unusual nose. Dough is the closest thing I can think of. Not unpleasant, but not the sort of scent that whets the appetite either. Rather closed. With a little time, the nose opened up a little to reveal mostly scents of wood and perhaps a little mint. Rather soft on the palate. A bit flat even. Little acid. Little fruit. Some attractive Semillon-like waxiness, but ultimately not very interesting. Inexpensive, but that's about its most appealing attribute. $3.99 at Grocery Outlet, but, again, there are much better wines available at this price point. I didn't read the label until after tasting the wine. This is 50% Chardonnay, 50% Semillon, which explains the waxiness--a fairly common trait in Semillon wines.

2006 Umamu Estate Margaret River Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc: I had high hopes for this, as Margaret River can make such good wine. I wasn't entirely disappointed. This was among the better wines of the group, along with  the Genesis Chardonnay and the Tempus Two Melange, but I'm afraid I had the likes of Leeuwin Estate in the back of my mind....

The Umamu Estate wine was a very pale straw color, thin at the edge and with a hint of green. Nice fresh nose. More powerfully scented than most of the rest of the group, but I found it hard to put my finger on exactly what was coming up out of the glass. Citrus hints. Wet paper (but not in a bad way). Not floral, but perfumed. Seemed somewhat thin on the palate. Tart. Light in body. Not especially interesting, but at least fresh and refreshing, and this seemed much more appealing after it had been open for a while. Good value for everyday drinking at $3.99 at Grocery Outlet. I'd look for this in more recent vintages.

2009 "Gaucho" Torrontes, from Mendoza, Argentina: The palest in color of the six wines. Very thin at the rim again. Distinctive nose. Odd and interesting, but not very appetizing. Something exotic, floral. Vanilla. Oranges. Incense--names like ylang ylang, patchouli, and frangipani came to mind, but I had none of these at hand to compare the wine against. Ultimately, I decided it was a soapy scent. Reminded me of certain hand soaps provided in airplane bathrooms. Tasted a bit like it smelled, too. Moderately sweet, medium body. Decent length. Interesting, but strange. Not like any Torrontes wine I've tasted before. With a little time the wine seemed drier, toastier, and a bit peachy. Pineapple guavas might be close. If you like oddities, you might find this interesting, but I can't imagine it with food, and I think tasting it once is probably enough. Inexpensive at $3.99 at Grocery Outlet.

For more reviews, use the "Wines I'm Drinking" label at the upper right.

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Camellia Sasanqua "Chansonette" (2010)

The first blooms of 2010 opened yesterday on the low-growing camellia (Camellia sasanqua) under the flowering plum tree. This is a variety called "Chansonette." It's been extremely trouble-free and a reliable bloomer. It's done very well even in the hot, dry summers in Santa Rosa with only a small irrigation dripper and no water beyond that. It grows in full shade, but gets some sun at midday in the summer months. It's spread to about four feet across but stayed no more than about two feet high. It usually blooms into January. After ten years living in California again, it still surprises me to see flowers in the middle of winter. Impressions of Ohio winters remain hard to eradicate. Impossible really.

Plants I'm Growing: Evidence of this Summer's Odd Weather (2010)

I doubt anyone living in northern California needs evidence of how strange the weather has been this year, but I was startled a couple of days ago to see what looked like buds on my apple tree. That was at the end of September. Now, in the first week of October, the tree isn't exactly in full bloom, but it is blooming (this is the variety called Pink Lady). In the photo you can see the buds and new flowers and apples in the background--this year's apples (although there were very few and none suitable for eating). Very strange.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wines I'm Drinking: 2003 Château d'Arcins Haut Medoc

I recently tasted the 2003 Château d'Arcins. This is a Cru Bourgeois from the Haut Medoc appellation--in other words, a "little" wine as the wines of Bordeaux go--and it is from what is generally considered to have been a difficult vintage, but I would judge this a success.

The Château d'Arcins is a deep blackish purple--with a hint of garnet  suggesting its age. The wine is already throwing a light, buoyant deposit. I'd recommend decanting this one. Brief tasting notes follow.

The nose was suggestive of blueberries and leather, but there was a distinct hint of anise as well. Later I got suggestions of rose water. On the palate, the wine at first seemed quite delicate, but with good tannic grip on the mid-palate. Lively acidity. Good length. With some time in the decanter, the wine began to fill out a little, and some suggestions of plums and cocoa began to develop. Nicely balanced between crispness and a sweet, fruity, almost buttery element. Overall, it's a bit lightweight, but the wine has enough nuance to be interesting. I suspect that this won't be a long keeper, but it's delicious right now. I bought six of these a few years back. I imagine I'll be drinking my remaining four bottles over the next 3-5 years--although it may be hard to resist opening another sooner rather than later. Recommended.
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