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Chicken Soup, Lemon Rosemary Roasted Chicken, red and white Quinoa, and 2008 Don Ernesto Crescendo!

This past weekend saw us under the weather and so we cooked up a lovely and helpful pot of chicken soup, along with our standby dinner of lemon rosemary roasted chicken, some really nice white and red quinoa, along with some fresh green salad. The chicken soup was really great and truly hit the spot. The weather out here in Northern California has been acting really strange and is starting to feel a lot like last year, cold and wet. There are is some solar heat and some sunny days, but a lot more cold days and wet days ahead, is what it feels like.

The chicken soup was what we all needed and because we threw it together last-minute we improvised slightly to make the pot. We added red wine to the soup and we threw in some chicken soup powder. Yeah, it was a shortcut, but in the end chicken is what counts and when it comes to the fowl department, we handled that just fine by throwing in a bunch of winged and neck material, along with most of the recipe’s vegetables.

For a wine we chose a lovely bottle of red wine, yes red wine! I know red wine is sometimes considered a faux pax in many people’s eyes when pairing with chicken soup and roasted chicken, but I liked it just fine. The rich and lemony flavors of the roasted chicken went fine with the medium to full-bodied wine and I really did not drink that much with the chicken soup, as all I wanted then was warm liquid. Once we finished the two rounds of soup we moved on to the dish of lemon rosemary roasted chicken, white and red quinoa, and fresh green salad.

The wine started off so closed it almost tasted flat and hollow. However, with more air the wine opened and showed its true colors. To be honest it takes a real pro to be able to realize the difference between a poor wine, a closed wine, and a dud. Folks who go to wine tastings, wineries, etc. where they pop open a bottle and pour a glass and expect to perceive all that a wine has to give, are fooling themselves. That is why I love wine tastings to pick out the wines I want to try again in a more controlled setting where I can open the bottle and watch it change in the glass. Also, this wine is a blended wine of two or three varietals, of which I do not actually know. It tasted a fair bit like Cabernet Sauvignon but then added in a fair bit of tar, vanilla, and spice, making me wonder if there is some Syrah in there as well. The wine is mevushal and is another very solid hit from the ever consistent winery in Napa Valley.

The wine note follows below:

2008 Hagafen Crescendo Don Ernesto – Score: B++ to A-
The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine is closed as tight as a tin can to start, but with time the wine shows its special characteristics that bob and weave in the same rhythm as the varietals open and show their stuff. The wine is a blend of two or more red varietals, one that I think is Cabernet and one that felt like Syrah or Petite Verdot, but I could not be for sure. The nose starts with a very Cabernet style, including blackberry, blackcurrant, chocolate, rich oak, black cherry, raspberry, plum, licorice, pencil shavings, and spice. Over time the nose starts to show off more tar and vanilla. The mouth on this wine starts off very closed end the finish is very short and surprising. Once again, this one shows what my dear friend and wine maker – Craig Winchell told me many times, the only fact that a wine cannot lie about is its weight. Everything else can either be sleeping or closed or hiding away until the wine awakes or comes out of hiding. This wine is no different, it starts off very closed with a nice medium to full weight, but with about everything else fully hidden. Over time it opens with a rich and velvety almost plush mouth with tannins that start off closed and open slowly more and more, along with rich oak, blackcurrant, blackberry, black cherry, plum, raspberry, and lovely tannin. With even more time the wine shifts to show tar and more plum. The mid palate is balanced with nice acid, chocolate, tannin, and rich oak. The finish starts off short, but over time it becomes long and rich with rich oak, nice tannin, acid, blackberry, chocolate, tobacco, plum, and a dollop of spice and vanilla. This is quite a lovely wine that needs time to open and one that demands your attention as it evolves and changes in the glass and the day.

Hagafen Winery Visit

The day started out as a lovely and sunny Sunday, the last one of 2009.  We took a long and enjoyable last look at massive Clear Lake, which our hotel wrapped around, and headed south on CA-20.  As we closed into Lower Lake, we were supposed to continue south on CA-29, but plans are just that – plans!  Instead, we took the road less traveled, the Knoxville-Berryessa Road (lovely pictures of the road linked here from a motorcycle rider).  It is so called because, it is a road that runs through government-owned land, counted some 5 or so structures from Lower Lake until Berryessa Lake.  For some 30 or more miles, at a rate of maybe 35 mph, we saw no one – period.  Truly a road less traveled.  Finally, and blessedly, right before Lake Berryessa, we came upon a truck, and two folks fishing (actually, I think that was not public knowledge :-), and they told us where we were.  I guess this teaches us, that if we do not want a GPS or expensive phone contract (with GPS on it), and instead want to go retro, we should act retro, and carry around a map or two!

Well after a fair amount of driving, we came to the Hagafen Winery, a bit late, at a not so warm time of day.  It was some 40 degrees outside, and we went inside to meet Josh Stein, Hagafen Winery’s Brand Manager.  I stated the temperature, because Josh started the winery tour outside where every vintage starts – in the vineyard of course!  I asked about the way the vines are managed, and Josh quickly replied that the vines have been managed using CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) rules for many years now, but they are now in the second year of their CCOF certification, and hope to be certified within a year.  Of course, as we have spoken about this topic many times, the wine will NOT be organic, but the vineyard will be.  There are three full time employees, Ernie Weir, the owner and founder of Hagafen Winery, who is also the manager of the winery.  The other two full time employees, manage the winery’s most important other asset, the vineyards.  The winery started some 32 years ago, after Weir had made wine, at a custom crush site in Napa, CA, for a couple of years.  He decided to start making kosher wine.  He started his production with 25 cases and a single SKU.  Today, Hagafen makes some 8000 cases of wine, under three labels, and 30 or more SKU.  Hagafen started with no vineyards, and then in 1986 they bought the land that the winery sits on presently.  The vineyard in those days was planted with Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc, but it was replanted in 1997 with what stands there today, 12 acres of clone 7 and clone 337 Cabernet Sauvignon, named the Weir Family Vineyard II.  The Weir Family Vineyard III came online later with 9 acres, 3 acres of Cabernet Franc, 3 acres of Syrah, and 3 acres of White Riesling.  Many of Hagafen’s wines are labeled as Estate Bottled, though they are not actually on their estate at all, as seen here on Hagafen’s vineyard map.  They source grapes from vineyards as far south as Fagan Creek, and as far north as Soleil and Moskowite vineyards.  So, how are they allowed to use the term “Estate Bottled” on their labels?  Well, the rules are a bit more simplistic, though not well known.  As described here on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Estate Bottled tag line has three requirements to be added to your label.

  1. The vineyard must either be owned by the winery or under the winery’s 100% control
  2. The vineyard to be in the same viticultural area
  3. The grapes are crushed, fermented, aged, and bottled in the winery or on the winery grounds

Hagafen has continued to expand its own vineyards, while perfecting their relationship and processes with its many vineyard partners.  They have long term contracts with the vineyards, and have recently taken control of many of the coveted blocks within the upper echelon of Napa Valley vineyards. Read the rest of this entry

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