"Don't you feel like trying something new…"

by Katie Pizzuto on February 18, 2009

in dessert wine,Uncategorized

fortressThe folks over at Fortress Vineyards flatter me, they really do. They recently sent samples of their 2 new releases for me to review side by side, which is flattery in my book because, since I make no bones about not caring what anyone thinks, I figured the feeling was mutual! Perhaps it was the fact that I waxed eloquent about their great sauvignon blanc, I dunno. But I gotta tell you…these people are on their game. I defy you to look into my long history of posts (yeah, all six months’ worth) and find me raving about ANYTHING coming out of California. And yet I can’t seem to shut up about Fortress. Folks, I’d like to introduce you to my new paramours, Fortress’ Novateur and Finale (technically being released end of the month).

The reason they wanted me to try these two babies side by side is because they represent, in essence, old world and new world perspectives—a winemaking-style throwdown if you will. On the one hand, you have Finale (old world), which is 100% semillon and made in a classic Sauternes style, except for the not-so-small fact that the grapes never see the likes of botrytis. They were actually able to leave the grapes on the vine to 38 Brix (sugar level) but still maintain natural acidity because of their high altitude and constant lake winds. Most wineries either spray botrytis on their grapes (artificially innoculating them à la Dolce by Far Niente), or in the case of Beringer’s Knightingale, they pick the grapes, put them on a tarp in a special room, spray them with botrytis, and leave them in the dark, damp room to go for the effect of the naturally infected Sauternes grapes. According to Barbara Snyder, “At 38 Brix, there definitely was not a lot of juice left in the grapes and we had to press very gently for a long time…it took months for the full fermentation!” Even its label screams out “old world” in a design very similar in style to those like Château d’Yquem.

On the other side of the coin you have a really intriguing Novateur. This wine is made from a blend of both semillon and sauvignon blanc (musque clone), and it’s labeled as being “off dry.” Had they stuck this in a typical 750ml bottle and called it off dry, I probably would’ve turned my nose up at it on a store shelf, figuring it was simply a table wine tailored to fit the Coca-Cola palates of today. I would’ve been a shithead for doing so, but that’s beside the point. Instead, they’ve positioned this wine as a cross-over between the table wine and sweet wine worlds— think Carry Underwood in a glass. It’s sold in half-bottles so that your brain immediately expects a sweet wine, but instead gets a fascinating wine that is both deceptively crisp and fruity, without being cloyingly sweet. Mind games, I tell you. So not only could this pair well with cheeses, foie gras and some desserts, but idealistically it could also pair really well with certain seafood dishes, especially oysters.

Both were tasted chilled and then allowed to come up to room temperature before I tasted again. I also tasted a few nibbles alongside them, to see what went better with what— unfortunately oysters and foie gras played no part in this tasting, much to my taste buds’ dismay. I ransacked the house and grabbed some stuff Joe Schmo might have in his house as opposed to Jacques Pepin.

Fortress Novateur – The more aromatic of the two, I’m guessing because of the musque clone of the SB grapes. Even chilled, I got plenty of pit fruits like apricots and peaches. It obviously also had much more minerality/acidity because it’s only an off-dry wine. As it warmed up I expected LESS minerality but oddly enough, I seemed to get MORE. No complaints, though. It was very cool!

Fortress Finale – Not as aromatic as the Novateur, but still had beautiful floral and honey notes. It was thick and unctuous, but not overly heavy, probably because it’s not high in alcohol. As it warmed up it became more aromatic, showing some tropical fruit but what smacked me upside the head was the scent of anise. A beautifully made and balanced “old world” style wine.

Food pairings:
Butter Cookie – Better with the Finale
Kettle Corn – Paired equally with both because of the sweet/salty aspect
Danish Blue Cheese – Also paired equally with both
Edible Underwear – What?! I was running out of food pairings! Not even moonshine would wash this stuff down.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linsey February 18, 2009

maybe i should start doing a chocolate review blog – lol – i like the idea of freebies!


2 Katie Pizzuto February 18, 2009

They’re few freebies and far between, Lin, and there’s always the risk that wineries are willing to take that you WON’T like the wine! But in this case, they’ve now gained a customer (me) and hopefully others! 90% of the wine I review is bought with my own greenbacks 🙂


3 Linsey February 18, 2009

Yeah I know … I did used to belong to a sort of chocolate tasting club – in other words i pay £15 they send me the freshest most delicious chocolate you can imagine and then i just rate them – not cheap but omg they were nice and i was able to say how many in a year i ordered

only stopped doing it due to horrendous vets bills for one of my late cats – needed to cut back on something

no freebies though … shame!


4 Linsey February 18, 2009

should really make a comment on the blog above – i did notice that the bottles themselves look very clean and crisp looking – well designed!


5 Dirk February 19, 2009

Your words will deffinitely turn readers onto the pleasures of these wines. I would just add that the texture of the food has almost as much to do with creating the perfect match as do flavors. Soft like Foie Gras melts perfectly wit the wine.


6 Katie Pizzuto February 19, 2009

Excellent point, Dirk! If only I had a slab of foie gras to experiment with…well, that and the fact that the wines are long gone now! Dolce, by the way, is not to be overlooked here…great stuff!


7 The Wine Commonsewer February 20, 2009

I thought only men could have paramours.



8 Katie Pizzuto February 20, 2009

Get the hell outta here, TWC! Have you read the statistics lately? Women are (unfortunately) taking over where illicit affairs are concerned. 😯


9 Coupe 60 February 23, 2009

Other than the fact that Fortress has obviously bought you off now that you are a big print Magazine columnist….another very well written piece Katie

… Where can a dopey blog reader easily influenced by positive reviews (particularly those that contain edible underwear as a food pairing) find these wonderful wines?


10 Coupe 60 February 23, 2009

and why don’t you come over to the dump that I moderate and get me anymore when I go too long without commenting on your wonderful blog…

…coupe gets a brief thought that maybe this is intentional, but then quickly shakes it off as he knows how much his wit and insight must be appreciated by the Gonzo Gastronomy staff….


11 Katie Pizzuto February 24, 2009

You can order the wines on their site, Coupe, although the Finale isn’t coming out for another week or so, I think. I’m also going to track down local distributors, though, so I’ll let you know where in Jersey you can get them. As for hunting you down, I figure you’re just too busy to remember me and I don’t wanna bother you or that buddy of yours, Mike, who hasn’t visited in like an eon! 🙁


12 Tish February 24, 2009

Katie, are these both Lake County? And are they available in half-bottles?
Last but not least, how much $$$?


13 Katie Pizzuto February 24, 2009

Yes, Fortress is in the Red Hills AVA in Lake County. Yes, both in the photo are half-bottles, which is how they’re sold. Novateur sells for $20/bottle. Not sure how much the Finale will go for yet. Their SB (which I also love) sells for $15 (a bargain).


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