Have you ever purchased a white wine and noticed crystals in the bottom of the bottle or a red wine that has crystals on the bottom of the cork? Many consumers look at this as sediment, but it is not wine sediment. It is potassium bitartrate. A natural grape acid found in wines. These crystals form when wine is chilled, and the acid molecules crystalize and fall out of solution. If you have ever used cream of tartar in your kitchen, then you are familiar with these crystals.
These crystals are completely harmless and a generally a sign that the wine has not been over manipulated in the winery. Most wines go through a process called cold stabilization that promotes this bitartrate crystallization in the winery in stainless steel tanks. In order to do this the wine is chilled to 30 degrees F and left there for several weeks. Once the crystals have formed, the wine is filtered off the crystals and prepared for bottling. Another method to prevent crystallization involves using a blend of cellulose polymers added to the wine to prevent the crystallization. These polymers disrupt the surface of the crystals preventing crystallization.
Many winemakers, including ours, skip this step, feeling that the process takes away from the delicate nuances and flavors. In addition, there are some concerns on the environmental impact of chilling large tanks and volumes of wine for such a long period of time. The chillers are energy hogs and pull a lot of power from the grid to keep tanks at 30 degrees. Many of these wine tanks are outside and the chillers must work hard to combat the elements.
Winemakers are also generally against using too many additives in their wine. Using the cellulose polymers is an acceptable way to stabilize white wine, but our winemaker just does not like adding outside products to our natural wines. Our philosophy is to keep our wines as natural as possible.
So, if you get a bottle of wine with crystals in it, consider yourself lucky. We like to call those wine diamonds. This is generally a sign of a high-quality, low production wine that is sure to please. The crystals are totally harmless.
Swordfish in a fresh tomato sauce is a great dish when you can find extremely fresh, high quality swordfish. The bright acidity of the tomato highlights the rich flavors of the swordfish. This is a dish that surprises many people as you do not generally think of fish cooked with a “red” sauce. However the combination is fantastic.
Start by selecting a great piece of swordfish. The flesh should be firm and the steak should smell like sea water. I like to get a steak that is at least 1 inch thick. Cut the skin away from the flesh and dice the fish into 3/4inch cubes. Toss the cubes in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Saute over medium high heat in a non stick skillet until just barely cooked through. Remove the fish from the pan and place on a plate to rest.
Add you pasta (use what ever shape of pasta you like) to a large pot of salted water that is boiling and give it a stir. While your pasta is cooking you can easily prepare the Pomodoro sauce. In a non-reactive saute pan, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil and add finely diced onion. Saute the onion over medium high heat for 4-5 minutes. Once the onion is soft, add fresh chopped garlic, salt pepper and a littler crushed red pepper flakes. At this point I like to add a ladle full of the starchy pasta water. Once that reduces, add crushed fresh plum tomatoes (I peel the tomatoes prior to use and crush them by hand. You can peel the tomatoes by scoring the top and dropping them into boiling water for a few seconds. Remove them from the boiling water and drop them in an ice water bath) Of course you can use high quality canned tomatoes if it is not tomato season.
Re-season the sauce and toss in a little fresh basil. Add the cubes of swordfish and bring the sauce up to temperature over medium heat. Drain your pasta when it is still al dente and add it to the sauce. Cook the pasta and sauce together for 2-3 minutes to bring the dish together. Serve in a deep bowl and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve the dish with a white wine that has generous acidity.
I like to pair this with our Croze Viognier, as the bright acidity on the finish really compliments the dish.
With the holiday season in full swing, it is time to start thinking about three of my favorite things: food, family, & wine (not necessarily in the correct priority order). Over the years I have read so many opinions on serving wine with holiday meals and they generally make me laugh. Some people think you should serve less valued wines, some recommend top shelf, others swear by specific regions or varietals. I tend to approach the holidays like any special time and serve wines that, quite frankly, I love to drink. I do not believe this is a time to go out of your comfort zone. Choose wines that you love and share them with family and friends. “Wine people” tend to over-complicate and overthink special occasions.
As a winemaker, I love to showcase our CROZE Viognier and Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc with the traditional holiday meals. I believe that these wines pair well with the traditional fare, but more importantly, I love to drink and share them with family and friends. I typically host Thanksgiving and prepare most of the classic dishes associated with the holiday. However, we do add Oysters and Dungeness Crab to the line-up as every good Californian should.
As a varietal, Viognier is a great holiday wine. It bridges the gap between high acidity white wines and rich, heavy wines like Chardonnay. It has a richness in flavor and aroma, yet still finishes with great acidity.
Likewise, Cabernet Franc is a very versatile red wine. A well made, balanced Cabernet Franc can be a great match to roast poultry as well as rib roast. It has a beautiful elegance and finesse that compliments a wide range of foods. There is just enough tannin to take on beef yet enough elegance and acidity to compliment poultry.
The only real rule of the holiday table is that there has to be wine on it and people you love around it! Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Croze and Smith Wooton Wines.
The French word Mélange translates to the English word blend. We chose this as the name of our new Smith Wooton Wine for several reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that this wine is a blend of two grape varietals. In addition, we wanted to pay homage to the Old World wine making techniques we use in the cellar to produce our wines. Finally, we wanted to give a nod to one of our influences, Louis De Coninck, who grew the Merlot for this blend.
To make Mélange we selected two of the most iconic vineyards in Napa for their respective varietals; the Flinn Vineyard for Cabernet Franc and the Long Meadow Ranch Vineyard for Merlot. Flinn Vineyard was formally known as Gallagher’s Vineyard and is located just south of Stags Leap on the Silverado Trail in Napa. This vineyard has been the source of our Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc for almost 15 years now. We have a long history with this gem and have developed farming techniques to showcase the characteristics of Cabernet Franc that we desire in our wines.
The Long Meadow Ranch Vineyard has a 30+ year history of producing world class Merlot. This vineyard is owned and farmed by a 9th generation Bordeaux winemaker. The wine is grown in a style that resembles the Right Bank wines of Bordeaux. There is an elegance and age worthy quality that immediately shines in the Merlot’s created from this estate. (Check out Beaucanon Estate)
Like all of our wines, we use small lot fermentation techniques to greater influence flavor extractions. This method is highly labor intensive, but the results are extraordinary. The varietals were fermented separately and blended after fermentation was complete. The wines are hand stirred three times a day to gently extract flavor components without increasing harsh tannins and astringency.
Finally, this was an opportunity to acknowledge the French influence that we have adapted from our time working with Louis De Coninck. Louis has been a great ally to Croze and Smith Wooton. We have sourced grapes from him over the years and have produced some of our most memorable wines from estate. Louis has shared his opinions and knowledge of wine making with us over the years and we know that he has influenced our processes.
So what is in a name? A lot more than most consumers realize. The 2013 Smith Wooton Mélange is representation of our family, as well as those families who work tirelessly to grow world class grapes. We have a strong connection to our growers and we feel it is important that our customers get to know the people behind our products.
Syrah is one of my favorite varietals. It is produced all over the wine making world and is a varietal that greatly shows characters that are directly influenced by where it is grown. In my opinion, that is the key to great wine; it represents its vineyard and growing region in the glass! For years we produced Syrah under our Smith Wooton brand. We sourced the fruit from what I believe is one of the best warm climate locales for Syrah. The vineyard is located outside of Murphys, CA on a steep and rugged hillside. The Tanner vineyard is magical for the style of Syrah we love to make. There are two important factors to this vineyard: one is the tough, rocky soil where the vines are planted and the second is the care in which the Tanner family farms it.
The vineyard is littered with stones that were uncovered when planting the vines. I have even been told that some of the vines had to be planted using crowbars in order to get the roots in the ground in between the stones. This abundance of rock material holds heat at night that radiates into the vineyard. The combination of site, location, and climate produce Syrah grapes that possess rich varietal character, yet an affinity for elegance.
Secondly, the Tanner Family puts as much love in the vineyard as we do in our winery. The entire family is involved in the farming process and it shows in the quality of the grapes. This is one of the main reasons we choose to work with the vineyards we do. I look for owners who are active in the field. I truly believe that the energy and passion of the family ends up in the finished product.
After years of customers asking why we stopped making our Syrah, I decided to bring it back into the Smith Wooton line-up. The 2013 Syrah is the first release sense 2006. This wine is another classic Smith Wooton, handcrafted gem. Rich, yet balanced with true varietal character, perfect for game and lamb. This wine is unfined and unfiltered and showcases both richness and complexity, while holding on to just the right amount of acidity.
No rest for the weary! It looks like we are going to have an early bud break this year. That is the point in the grapevines life when it begins to come out of winter dormancy and begin to grow shoots. These shoots will continue to grow and eventually produce the grapes that we all love.
As vineyard managers, we have been busy preparing the vineyards for the 2016 growing season. We pruned last years growth off the vines and set them up to grow in the manner we wish based on our trellis systems. This can be very different from vineyard to vineyard. The training and trellis system is chosen for each individual site and grape varietal to achieve the desired fruit characteristics for the site.
In additional the soils are being prepared to support the growth. For most of the Napa Valley, this means plowing and turning under the green fertilizer you planted in the winter. We use natural and organic means to replace vital nutrients to the soil. This green manure is called cover crop, and based on the needs of the individual site, it can contain a mix of legumes, grasses, and greens. When this cover crop turned into the soil, it supplies the nutrients necessary for the grape vines to grow.
Overall, this is a beautiful time of year in the Valley. There is an energy that radiates this time of year. New excitement for the upcoming season and a nervousness for the challenges that lie ahead. Cheers to 2016
At the winery we are always looking for new dishes to pair with our wines. Actually, one of the very best aspects of our profession is sharing great recipes and wine. It is hard to find a fine wine lover who is not also a self proclaimed “foodie.” Recently we paired our 2013 Croze Chardonnay with a poached lobster and saffron cream. It was an amazing pairing. The richness of both the lobster and cream highlighted the full bodied chardonnay. Yet the crisp acid on the finish of the wine cut the richness of the food and left your palate craving more. So here is our recipe for Lobster with Saffron Cream:
We poached a 2.5 lb lobster in salted water and then chilled it in an ice bath. Save a half cup of the lobster liquid.
To make the cream: chop a shallot and a garlic clove. Place them in a sauce pan with a tbs of olive oil and saute over medium heat. Add a pinch of salt and white pepper if you have it. Toss in a few sprigs of thyme and let it wilt. Then add a good pinch of saffron and let it heat gently. Add 2 tbl of white wine and a 1/2 cup of the lobster stock. Reduce this over medium heat until there is just a couple tablespoons of liquid left. Strain the mixture and return to the sauce pan. Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream and let it slowly heat and reduce until sauce consistency. Meanwhile gently warm the lobster meat in saute pan with melted butter.