Aaldering Vineyards and Wines: Three South African Red Wines

It’s amazing how the world can, at the same time, seem so large and then amazingly small. As we looked at the duration of our flights between California and South Africa prior to our trip last year (20 hours 45 minutes, not including layover time) the world seemed very large to me. Then, a Twitter exchange followed by an email connected us with a wine farm in South Africa. Suddenly the world seemed much smaller.

Aaldering Vineyards and Wines is an Estate winery located in Devon Valley, a ward within the Stellenbosch district is South Africa. It’s history is relatively recent compared to some wine farms in South Africa, having been established in 2004 with the purchase of 24 hectares. Aaldering’s first vintage was 2007, which they released in 2010.

As of June 2014 Aaldering has attained Estate Wine registration status – meaning the estate’s vineyards are registered as a unit for the production of estate wine the South African wine industry’s Wine and Spirits Board and all production and bottling takes place on the estate.

The Wine and Spirits Board established South Africa’s Wine of Origin certification requirements in 1973 to assure quality, the origin of grapes and the grape variety. Every bottle of wine certified under the Wine of Origin (or W.O.) requirements will bear a W.O. seal which guarantees the origin, variety and vintage.

Because place matters, Areas of Origin or production units are defined by single vineyard, estate, ward, district and region. All Areas of Origin are, of course, defined by law with attention to soil, climate and ecological factors likely to influence the production of wine.

In 1998 a voluntary environmental sustainability initiative was begun within the South African wine industry. The Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) complies with international environmental sustainability guidelines, and audits participating farms or wine cellars.

WO IPW sealWith the 2010 vintage harvest, a new seal indicating compliance with both WO and IPW was introduced. You will see the Integrity and Sustainability Certified seal on wines produced in accordance with both certification programs.

Aaldering Vineyard and Wine’s production is certified by both WO and IPW. In addition, according the Aaldering website:

“We’re proud to be part of the elite ‘Enviro Wines’ group. This puts us amongst the top-class of IPW (Integrated Production of Wine) accredited wine producers. The cellar that scores exceptionally high on sustainability on both Farm and Winery practices are invited to join the elite group, to date only 10 wineries in South Africa are awarded this status.”

Devon Valley is known largely, though not exclusively, for red wine production. Aaldering vineyard soils consist of Hutton and Clovelly soil types which are derived from granite. The 24 hectare estate is planted to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and of course Pinotage.

With that background on Aaldering Vineyards and Wines,  let’s explore their wine.  Thanks to the magic of Twitter and email, the wine delivery guy arrived on our doorstep with three bottles as tasting samples.

2009 Aaldering Shiraz2009 Aaldering Shirazdark ruby in the glass with smoky aromas. Dark fruit flavors of blackberries, currents and ripe blueberries are supported by moderate, fairly smooth tannins. This wine has plenty of texture, nice acidity and a moderately long finish. It has abundant ripe fruit flavor without being over ripe. ABV 13.5%

This wine makes me want to light the grill, cook a rib-eye steak medium-rare, add a baked potato with butter and sour cream and pour myself another glass of this Shiraz. My mouth is watering.

2009 Aaldering Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot2009 Aaldering Cabernet Sauvignon Merlotdark ruby in the glass with delicate aromas of jalapeño and black pepper. The flavors are vaguely vegetal along with red raspberries, plums and blackberries. Black pepper and cedar spices are present in the background along with slightly grippy tannins. There is plenty of structure, great acidity and depth of flavor. ABV 14.5%

Cabernet and Merlot play well together, and this 65% Cabernet Sauvignon 35% Merlot blend is a perfect example of that cooperation. This delicious wine would be perfect for a braised beef roast with potatoes, carrots and parsnips. I would add red wine to the braise, but not this red wine because I would rather drink it than cook with it!

2009 Aaldering Pinotage2009 Aaldering Pinotagedark ruby in the glass with generous aromas of ripe plums and caramel. Ripe dark fruit flavors of plums and black cherries combine with juicy acidity and moderate tannins. In spite of the structure and rich flavors this wine is not heavy bodied. Flavors continue to develop with time in the glass. Take your time this wine. ABV 15%

Dark. Ripe. Generous. This wine would be delicious with lamb stew, herbed spätzle and wilted greens. We tasted Pinotage several times during our trip to South Africa and found it is made in a range of styles from lighter to more robust. This wine leans toward the robust style we enjoyed.  We will definitely continue our exploration of South African Pinotage.

All of these wines aged for  24 months in 30% to 40% new French oak, so oak flavors compliment rather than over power the fruit flavors in the wine.

Aaldering Vineyard and Wines is a South African winery to watch. This family-owned wine farm has chosen to produce estate wines in an environmentally responsible manner, with delicious result. Since their first release in 2010 of the 2007 vintage, volume has grown from 40,000 bottles to their maximum capacity of 120,000 bottles with the 2014 vintage.

Aaldering Vineyards & Wines

Also located on the wine farm are three luxury lodges. We noticed many South African wine farms also offer lodging. Just imagine a glass of Pinotage, views of the vineyards and the mountains beyond.  I can’t imagine anything more relaxing than spending a few nights among the vines on a working wine farm in South Africa!

Happily, Aaldering Vineyard and Wines has distribution in the U.S., so you can taste their wines without the 20-hour flight. We thank them for the tasting samples. Tasting notes are our own.


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Decopas Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec: Time for Happy Hour!

We recently tasted two Argentinian wines that are new to the U.S. market. We received them as samples and were impressed with their freshness, delicious flavors and affordability.

“At the end of each work day in Argentina, colleagues, family and friends will typically turn to “¿Decopas?” — Buenos Aires slang for “By the glass?” It’s also a joyous invitation that signals the start of Happy Hour. This is the inspiration behind Decopas, a festive new range of wines making its U.S. debut this fall.”

With that introduction from Creative Palate Communications, and after enjoying the detail of the artwork on the wine labels from Decopas, we were excited to taste these two new wines from the Mendoza region of Argentina

2013 Decopas Sauvignon Blanc2013 Decopas Sauvignon Blanclight yellow in the glass with generous aromas and flavors of lime, crisp apple and dried hay. It’s light in the mouth with fresh, juicy acidity making it easy to like. ABV 12%

If you blind-tasted this wine you would know it was Sauvignon Blanc. It has plenty of flavor without being overly herbaceous. It’s well-balanced with ample acidity and will pair with a variety of foods — think salads, creamy pasta dishes or spicy food. This wine will shine at a party due to it’s versatility and due to its fresh flavors and light body.


2013 Decopas Malbec2013 Decopas Malbecinky violet-purple in the glass. Flavors and aromas of ripe blackberries and plums along with a seasoning of black pepper are easy to enjoy and are supported by smooth tannins. A hint of smoke adds nice complexity. ABV 13.5%

This wine makes me hungry for pizza, a lamb burger or pasta in tomato sauce. It would be a great choice for a weekend lunch, it has lots of flavor but at only 13.5% ABV, you won’t need a siesta after lunch. It will work just as well with dinner and be a great partner for grilled pork or beef.


As we tasted and talked about the Decopas Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec, and their detailed labels, we were transported back to Buenos Aires and the wonderful time we spent on vacation there several years ago. We stayed in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires. The neighborhood was easy to navigate on foot, and there seemed to be a wonderful family-owned restaurant on every street corner. Everyone we met was so welcoming.

One day we spent the afternoon walking the San Telmo neighborhood, one of the oldest in Buenos Aires. The cobblestone streets were filled with street performers, artists and dancers. We watched tango dancers in the street. There seemed to be as many or more Porteños (those living in Buenos Aires) enjoying the day as there were tourists.

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The artwork on the label of these wines is playful, lively and fun. Either or both of these wines would be perfect for a get-together with friends after work, or perhaps a tango-themed party, or even a we survived the holidays party. And one more note: the screw top closure on these wines means they’re perfect for a picnic.

Use your imagination and have fun with these delicious wines to create your own memories. They will pair nicely with a variety of food, and at around $12 per bottle, they won’t break the bank.  Anytime is a good time for happy hour with Decopas!

We received these wines as tasting samples, but all opinions are our own.


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Saké and Cheese — A Natural Pairing

We recently sat in on a saké and cheese pairing hosted by Charles Communications Associates. The online tasting featured saké made in Forest Grove, Oregon by SakéOne as well as saké imported from Japan by SakéOne. Each of the four sakés was paired with a different cheese provided by Marin French Cheese Company, Laura Chenel and Rogue Creamery. As we discovered during the tasting, saké makes a great partner for cheese.

Sake tasting lineup

Jesse Pugach, Advanced Saké Professional & Saké Specialist at Southern Wines & Spirits, and Liza Kaplansky of Laura Chenel/Marin French Cheese Company in Northern California hosted the discussion. With saké samples from SakéOne received and chilled, and cheese samples plated, we were ready to taste and talk saké and cheese. Here are the combinations we tasted with a description of each and then what we thought of the pairing.

Momokawa Organic Junmai GinjoMomokawa Organic Junmai Ginjonearly colorless in the glass with delicate aromas of ripe, sweet pears and white flowers. Vanilla and floral flavors follow with a bit of lemon zest and medium weight in the mouth. The finish is clean and crisp. ABV 14.5%. SRP: $14. Serve chilled.

This saké is produced from organic rice grown in California that has been milled to 60%, producing a saké with increased aromatics. It is produced by SakéOne in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Marin French Petite Breakfast Brie —  the texture is a bit spongy, as opposed to creamy and almost liquid like an aged brie. It has a sweet aroma with tart and creamy flavors along with a bit of sweetness and saltiness on the finish. This cheese just melts in your mouth. Delicious. I would enjoy eating this cheese for breakfast or any time of the day.

Marin French Petite Breakfast Brie is the first cheese made by Marin French Cheese after it was established in 1865. At the time there was an egg shortage in San Francisco and this cheese was produced to fill that void on breakfast menus. That’s how the cheese got its name.

It’s a fresh brie, meaning that unlike most brie it is not aged. You will not find the usual skin on this cow’s milk cheese because it is fresh. The small wheels simply undergo brining and drying before distribution. It is produced in small 4 oz wheels, hence petite in its name.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo and cheese


The pairing: delicate saké flavors combine with delicate cheese flavors and neither overpowers the other. The floral flavors of the saké are enhanced with the pairing as is the salty finish of the cheese.

This combination would be best for those who don’t appreciate strong cheese flavors or those with little experience tasting saké. Both are delicate.



Momokawa Organic Nigori Momokawa Organic Nigorimilky white in the glass with clean, tart fermented aromas. The flavors are very neutral, just a bit of pear but with more texture, weight and sweetness. The finish lingers. ABV 16%. SRP: $14. Serve chilled and shake well before pouring.

The cloudy, milky color and granular texture of the saké is unique to Nigori saké (Nigori translates to cloudy). As part of the brewing process after fermentation, saké is pressed to remove rice solids from the liquid. With Nigori saké, a coarser mesh is used which allows more of the rice particles to remain with the liquid. That accounts for the tiny particles that adhere to the glass and for the increased sweetness of this saké produced by SakéOne.

The color and texture were a bit off-putting at first. This sake showed much better to our taste when paired with cheese than it did on its own. It may be a bit of an acquired taste.

Laura Chenel’s Chévrethis white, creamy, tart goat cheese is only slightly crumbly and has the delicate earthy flavors I associate with goat cheese. This cheese has a fair amount of moisture in it, giving it a richer, rounder mouthfeel and flavor than some goat cheeses. It is creamy and firm at the same time. It has all of the flavors I love in goat cheese. Once again, this is a fresh cheese, so no rind has developed on the cheese.

This is the cheese that started it all for Laura Chenel. In 1979 she was the first to sell artisanal goat cheese in the US. It was Alice Waters, who first served Laura Chenel’s goat cheese (sliced and breaded before being baked) on a salad at her restaurant, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and introduced the food world to this delicious domestic goat cheese. Now we take it for granted, but back in the 1970s it was something of a rarity.

Momokawa Organic Nigori and cheeseThe pairing: textures are highlighted in this pairing. The firm texture of the goat cheese minimizes the textural uniqueness of the saké in this pairing. The wonderful earthy flavor and creaminess of the Chévre lends complexity to the flavors of the saké and contrasts nicely with its sweetness.

Hint: Liza suggested adding a dusting of grated lime zest over the Chévre to heighten the flavors of both the cheese and the saké.



Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra DryKasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Drycolorless in the glass with delicate aromas of toasted almonds. Flavors are a bit earthy and mushroomy with a mouth filling roundness. As this saké warms in the glass the mushroom aromas and flavors develop fully. The finish is very clean and crisp with bracing acidity that is tongue tingling. This saké grabs your attention. ABV 16%. SRP: $27. Can be served cold, warm, or hot.

Kimoto saké has more richness, more umami and more depth of flavor due to the  lengthy production process. Kimoto is an ancient style of brewing saké. Most modern brewers add lactic acid to the fermenting rice. Kimoto is produced without the addition of lactic acid, by manually breaking up the rice to produce lactic acid naturally. Only a handful of breweries still use this ancient method which produces the distinctive aromas and complex flavors in this saké which is produced in Hyogo prefecture in Japan.

Laura Chenel’s Ash-rinded Buchettethis cheese ages from the outside and the texture of the cheese changes accordingly. It is soft and gooey toward the outside and firmer in the center. This cheese has strong earthy and stinky aromas (but in the best way possible). The flavors are pungent, tart and complex but also a bit sweet. It is a much more flavorful version of fresh goat cheese. It may not be the best choice for the goat cheese novice, but it is really delicious. I love the textural differences between the center and the outside of this cheese. This was my favorite cheese of the group.

With this cheese we move from the first cheese produced by Laura Chenel to her most recent production. Laura Chenel began producing this cheese in June of this year and it is an aged goat cheese. The exterior of the cheese is coated with vegetable ash (and edible, it’s delicious) which is a traditional coating for aged goat cheeses in France. The vegetable ash helps to balance the acidity and rich flavors that develop as a goat cheese ages.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry and cheese


The pairing: brilliant. The earthy flavors of the saké and the aged flavors of the goat cheese play off each other nicely. Both have bold flavors. The acidity of the saké is great with the creamy texture of the cheese. This was my favorite pairing of the group.

Your cheese-loving friends will go crazy for this pairing.



Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai GinjoYoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjocolorless in the glass and very aromatic. Ripe melon and tart pineapple aromas are followed by anise, melon and pineapple flavors. This saké is a bit lighter in the mouth, has just a hint of sweetness and great acidity. ABV 14%.  SRP: $27. Serve chilled.

Yoshinogawa is one of the oldest saké breweries in the world, it’s history reaches back nearly 500 years. This saké was produced in Japan as a collaboration between SakéOne and Yoshinogawa with American food and palates in mind, so that it would pair with bigger flavors. It is completely different than the dry, tight style of saké Yoshinogawa usually produces in Niigata prefecture.

Rogue Oregon Bluethis creamy blue veined cheese has pungent, earthy aromas. The flavors are bold, earthy and creamy with sharp blue cheese flavors. The texture of this cheese is smooth and is very typical of quality blue cheese. Delicious.

Produced in southern Oregon by Rogue Creamery, this creamery was established by Tom Vella who also established Vella Cheese Company in Sonoma. Rogue Creamery is know for its production of blue cheese and is producing very highly regarded blue cheese according to Liza.

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjo and cheese


The pairing: highlights the contrast of sweet to salty/earthy, a classic pairing. Think blue cheese with honey comb or blue cheese with Sauternes. Did I already pick a favorite? Well, I loved this combo too.

Anyone who enjoys blue cheese and dessert wines will appreciate this combination.



The takeaways:

This tasting highlighted the potential for pairing food and saké. Cheese, because of the earthy flavors developed as a result of aging are natural partners for saké. The acidity of saké cuts through the creaminess of soft cheeses. Jesse and Liza suggest that saké pairs best with soft cheeses which tend to be creamier and have less acidity than hard, longer-aged cheeses. This sets up a nice contrast between the acidity of the saké and the fatty creaminess of the cheese.

In terms of pairings consider pairing similarly delicate flavors or contrasting sweet and salty/earthy flavors. The saké should be sweeter than the cheese or the saké will taste bitter. Apply the same considerations you would in pairing sweet wine with cheese.

This holiday season provides the perfect opportunity to introduce your friends to the delightful combination of saké and cheese. If you’re having a party, you can organize the saké and the cheese pairings. If you are going to a party take a saké and cheese pairing you enjoy. It’s simple, easy and your friends will thank you.

Thanks to Charles Communications Associates for organizing and inviting us to this online tasting. Thanks also to SakéOne for providing the saké samples and to Marin French Cheese Company and Rogue River Blue Cheese for providing the cheese samples. I know it can be a challenge to package cheese for shipping. All of the samples we received arrived in good condition.

Finally, thanks to Jesse and Liza for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm of saké and cheese with us. What a great combination.


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Wine Tasting in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, South Africa

Being the wine lovers that we are, we wouldn’t consider visiting South Africa without spending a few days wine tasting. We took advantage of two days touring Cape Town and the Cape peninsula on the Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) itinerary that was part of the Post-trip extension to the Ultimate Africa trip, and then decided to plan the remaining three days on our own.

We did a bit of research to determine which wine districts we wanted to visit and what we had time for. In addition to pestering wine friends who had visited the region, I found Wines of the New South Africa Tradition and Revolution by Tim James to be a great resource. I also began saving articles on South African wine as I found them, well in advance of our planning the trip.

Stellenbosch is the epicenter of winemaking in South Africa, so that district was definitely on our list. We had read about the stunning beauty of Franschhoek, so really wanted to visit there as well. Then, we wanted to mix things up a bit. Visit a more remote winemaking area or maybe some organic or biodynamic farms.

Winegrowing Areas South Africa

We decided on visiting the Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Swartland districts. Then to get our biodynamic fix we planned a trip out to Waterkloof, a stunning farm in Somerset West. In all, we spent three days wine tasting is South Africa. Every wine region was just drop-dead gorgeous and the wines were amazing.

Craig, one of the members of our travel group, originally found Luhambo Tours using an internet search. Online reviews were consistently excellent, so we contacted them about organizing our wine tasting tours. It turned out to be a great choice.

Luhambo Tours has a number of wine tasting tours to offer or will organize a personalized tour for you, complete with pick-up and drop-off at your hotel door in Cape Town. In case you were wondering, Luhambo means journey in the Xhosa language.

Wine tasting with Luhambo Tours
Graham was our driver for the first day of touring to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. He’s the one who took our picture in front of the Luhambo Tours van before our departure. We were all proudly wearing our United We Sip t-shirts (courtesy of Leslie, she’s the one in the middle-left. Thank you, Leslie.) and joined by Sanction, our OAT safari guide. Although Sanction did not accompany us on our wine tasting trip, he was with us in spirit. We met up with Sanction again that evening for our final dinner together.

We had a wonderful day touring and wine tasting with Graham. He was friendly and so knowledgeable about the history and winemaking of South Africa. Graham came to South Africa from Scotland with his family at the age of 3 and can’t imagine being anywhere else. Having worked a harvest or two in the region, he has lots of first-hand knowledge of winemaking in the Cape.


Our first stop was Kanonkop, home to outstanding red wines. The name of the farm is an interesting one. From the Kanonkop website:

“The name Kanonkop was derived from a kopje (hillock), from which a cannon was fired in the 17th Century to alert farmers in outlying areas that sailing ships plying the waters between Europe and the Far East had entered Table Bay for a stopover at Cape Town.”

Farmers could then haul their goods to the harbor for sale to the ships.

Kanonkop remains family owned, being handed down from father to son for four generations. The estate totals 125 hectares, with 100 hectares planted, and is located at the foot of Simonsberg Mountain (Simonsberg means Simon’s mountain in Afrikaans) in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape. Both Simonsberg and Stellenbosch are named for Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape (more about that later in this post).

Pinotage comprises 40% of plantings on the farm, with Cabernet Sauvignon adding 35%, Merlot 7.5% and a bit of Cabernet Franc. The Pinotage is some of the oldest in the Cape at about 50 years of age. They are bush vines that are largely dry-farmed. We passed large plantings of these lovely old bush vines as we drove through the farm to the tasting room.

Winemaking begins in open top concrete fermenters that are wider than they are deep allowing for maximum skin to juice contact. Only French oak (Nevers) barrels are used for aging.

Kanonkop Tasting Room (Cellar Door)
From the exterior the caller door (tasting room to us), and barrel room beyond, is very ordinary looking. The interior is is quite spectacular however. The tasting room is modern, beautifully lit with a rich wood ceiling. The barrel room extends beyond a glass wall in the tasting room. It was a really pleasant space in which to taste through the Kanonkop wines.

Kanonkop Wine Tasting Lineup
We tasted 5 wines, all delicious. The Kadette Pinotage Dry Rosé and the Kadette Cape Blend are the only non-estate wines in the group. In addition we tasted the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2011 Paul Sauer, Kanonkop’s flagship wine, which is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot that is aged 24 months in new French oak.

The 2012 Pinotage, made from fruit harvested from Kanonkop’s 58 year old bush vines, showed ample dark fruit, a bit of smoke and nice tannins. Great depth of flavor and well balanced. If all Pinotage tasted this good, no one would ever make a face as you pour them a glass of Pinotage.

Our next stop took us to the Franschhoek Valley with dramatic views of Simonsberg Mountain along the way and the Drakenstein Mountains which encircle the valley on three sides. The combination of green farmland and spectacular mountain vistas was stunning.

The Franschhoek Valley was settled under the direction of Simon van der Stel. At the time he and his scouts explored the area, shortly after his arrival in 1679, San and Khoi people inhabited the area. The picturesque valley was also home to herds of elephants, and its early name was Oliphantshoek, elephant’s corner.

One of van der Stel’s major tasks was to develop the Cape as a refueling station for Dutch East India Company ships passing between Europe and India. That meant developing farming in the region so that ships could be provided with meat, vegetables and wine.

With the revocation of the Edict of Nants by King Louis XIV in 1685, French protestants known as Huguenots suffered increased religious persecution in France. They began fleeing the country in increasing numbers.

Van der Stel saw the Huguenots, who were farmers and winemakers in addition to having similar religious beliefs, as a potential source of families to help settle and develop the Cape region. He requested that the Dutch East India Company provide passage for any suitably-skilled Huguenots to the Cape. So, between 1688 and 1689 about 175 Huguenots re-settled in the Cape region.

The Huguenots were given land to settle in what is today called Somerset West and Stellenbosch, but the majority settled in the beautiful valley that was at the time called Oliphantshoek. After settlement by the French it was re-named Franschhoek or French corner.

Huguenot Monument in Franschhoek
Today Franschhoek is a charming, but touristy, little town. At one end, with the mountains as a dramatic backdrop, is a beautiful monument to the Huguenot settlers.

A beautiful Dutch Reformed Church built in 1846 still stands on Huguenot Street and the Franschhoek City Hall built in 1935 in the Cape Dutch revival style is equally charming.

Mixed among these landmarks are countless shops, art galleries and restaurants. Many restaurants and wineries in the valley have French names as you would expect. The French language was eventually forbidden, however, in any communication with Dutch authorities.

We had just an hour to grab lunch and quickly walk through Franschhoek. Not nearly enough time to adequately explore the museum or the churchyard or wander the back streets, but we did have a delicious lunch, were able to find some beautiful gifts and enjoyed some decadent chocolates.

Grand Provence

This spectacular winery is located along the Main Road (that’s what it’s called before the name changes to Huguenot Street in the city) just before reaching Franschhoek. We stopped and tasted here before continuing on to Franschhoek for lunch and that quick tour.

Grand Provence Cellar Door
The drive up to the collection of Cape Dutch style buildings took us through the vineyards, some still wild prior to winter pruning and others neatly pruned. This winery oozes luxury at first glance. Immaculate white buildings stand surrounded by well manicured gardens, precisely trimmed hedges and spectacular outdoor sculptures. When’s the last time you noted a sign directing you to parking and the helipad outside a winery?

The modern cellar door was staffed by Andre the day we visited and he guided us through a tasting of Grand Provence’s red wines. Three of the four wines we tasted carry the Franschhoek Wine of Origin designation, meaning 100% of the fruit is grown within the boundaries of the Franschhoek production area.  For a detailed explanation of the Wine of Origin designation visit Wines of South Africa.

2011 Grand Provence Red is a limited release wine that is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. It shown nice Merlot fruit flavors with the great structure of Cabernet Sauvignon. A hint of bell pepper and spice flavors add nice complexity.

Rounding out the tasting were the 2013 Pinot Noir and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (both Franschhoek Wine of Origin) and the 2009 Shiraz which is produced from Stellenbosch-grown fruit. Grand Provence is one of only three wineries in the Franschhoek area producing Pinot Noir.

With our tasting complete (oh yes, there were chocolates too!) Graham politely encouraged us to move along. It would have been easy to linger, walking through the gardens, the art gallery, the restaurant or the gift shop, but we had more wine to taste, and more of the beautiful landscape to see.

On the way to our next wine tasting stop we made a detour through the town of Stellenbosch. Graham ably navigated the narrow streets of the picturesque town which is home to Stellenbosch University and its Department of Viticulture and Oenology. Education in viticulture and winemaking has been ongoing since the 1880s.

Dutch Reformed Church, Stellenbosch
During Simon van der Stel’s early exploration of the area surrounding Cape Town in 1679, he made camp on an island along the banks of the Eerste River. Van der Stel named the area Simon van der Stel se Bos (Simon van der Stel’s bush).

He was impressed by the broad valley and recognized its abundant water supply from the Eerste River made it the perfect area for farming. By 1683 farmers began settling the area which became known as Stellenbosch, Stel’s bush. The town was established in 1685.

Rust en Vrede

Rest and Peace is the translation of the winery name, and the setting could not have been more peaceful. The cellar door and winery are surrounded by the vineyards and framed by Helderberg Mountain. We were seated outdoors for the tasting with the beauty of the vineyards and the mountains providing a visual feast to accompany these substantial wines.

Rust en Vrede
This area just outside of Stellenbosch is a bit warmer, the surrounding mountains provide a bit of protection from cooling winds. As a result, the Rust en Vrede vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot with production limited to red wines only.

The farm was established in 1694, but wine has not been made continuously since that time. Winemaking began in the 1970s after many decades of not producing wine.

We tasted four red wines, all extroverted, powerful, flavorful wines with great tannin structure and ABV in the range of 14.9% to 15.7%. The first three wines we tasted were the 2013 Estate Merlot, 2012 Estate Syrah and 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

2011 Estate Blend is the biggest of the bunch. The blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah and 10% Merlot is complex with riper fruit flavors along with licorice, caramel and vanilla. Tannins are substantial.

All of these wines are aged in French oak, with the length of aging increasing from 12 months for the Merlot to 18 months for the Estate Blend. The Estate blend also spends 18 months bottle-aging before release.

In 1998 Rust en Vrede was the first South African winery to have a wine included in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines, and have been included several time since, most recently in 2012.

Unbelievably, we had time for one final winery visit on our way back to Cape Town. We were in for yet another unique winery visit.


The drive into the winery is lined with palm trees, making the entrance very unique. I could hardly wait to see what we would find at the end of the drive. Along the way we saw horses grazing the pastures, a beautiful white barn and a family cemetery. The private residence in front of the tasting room and winery was so beautiful; yet another lovely example of Cape Dutch architecture which is at the same time elegant and unadorned.

Meerlust manor house
I had no idea at the time of our visit that Meerlust, which means “pleasure from the sea”, has been designated a National Monument. The farm was originally settled by German immigrants in 1693. The name is derived from the estate’s close proximity to the sea, it’s only 5 kilometers from False Bay, and the cooling breezes that blow in from the ocean.

We were greeted by two friendly winery dogs, who seemed very glad to see us. The cellar door contains an eclectic mix of poster art and furnishings. Yet another treat for the eyes as well as the tastebuds.

All of the wines at Meerlust are produced from estate fruit.

We began the tasting with the 2012 Chardonnay, 2012 Pinot Noir, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 RED, an “everyone in the pool” blend of 52% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot.

2010 Merlot has 7% Cabernet Franc added and I love that. This wine has green pepper on the nose with nice red and dark fruit flavors and great tannins. Love this combination of Merlot and Cab Franc. They definitely play well together.

2009 Rubicon is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. It’s inky dark in the glass with deep, rich, dark fruit flavors, leather and green pepper vegetal notes. Tannins are significant and a bit grippy. Well put together with great structure.

All of these wines have a relatively modest ABV ranging from 13.08% to 14.5%, plenty of flavor and nice complexity from oak aging. Really delicious wines.

What a perfect day of wine tasting. I have certainly never visited a wine region more beautiful than Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The views are just stunning, as were the wineries themselves. And there was something for every wine palate. Some of the wines showed cooler climate influences, others warmer climate characteristics. It was a brilliant choice of wineries. All of these wineries export their wines to the US. Look for them, you will not be disappointed.

Thank you Graham for the great introduction to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

Day two of our wine tasting adventure took us to Tulbagh and Swartland. Two new regions in the Cape to explore and learn about in our next post. In the meantime, please enjoy our slideshow of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.


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Westrey Wine Company — Brilliant Winemaking from a Saved Vineyard

We spent Tuesday evenings during November learning about and tasting Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The tastings were organized by Protocol Wine Studio and took place via Twitter. Each evening during the #WineStudio program we tasted and tweeted Chardonnay with the winemakers. In all, we tasted eight Chardonnays, all provided as tasting samples, and came away with a new appreciation for the variety and the region.

The final evening of the November #WineStudio program featured Westrey Wine Company’s 2012 Reserve Willamette Valley Chardonnay, and we were joined by Amy Wesselman who together with her husband, David Autrey, shares winemaking duties at their winery.
2012 Westrey Reserve WV Chardonnay
The story of the evening was the Oracle Vineyard located in the Dundee Hills AVA. Early in Amy and David’s winemaking career they purchased fruit from the own-rooted vineyard planted in 1977 which included Draper selection Chardonnay (cuttings from the Lett vineyard), Pommard clone Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. This was during the mid 1990s and they loved the fruit this vineyard produced.

Then, the vineyard’s owner failed to maintain the vineyard for a period of time. David and Amy were offered the property, but couldn’t make the purchase happen. It was eventually sold to a non-vineyardist who was advised to remove the vines because the own-rooted vines were susceptible to phylloxera. Sadly, that’s what happened.

After several years Amy and David had the opportunity once again to purchase the property. Knowing the site was a proven one, but also that the vines had been removed, they decided to purchase the 50-acre parcel in 2000. Much to their surprise in the spring the vineyard showed some green growth. With meticulous care and pruning they succeeded in bringing the vineyard back to life.

So, now David and Amy appear to have the best of both worlds. A new vineyard, if you will, pruned and trellised as they prefer but growing on an old, deeply anchored root system. According to them, “The original planting benefits from their massive 40-year-old root structure and yield grapes of truly exceptional balance and length.”

In addition to the original 7-acre planting, David and Amy have increased plantings to 23 acres, with an additional 3-acres planned for this spring.

2012 Westrey Reserve WV Chardonnay2012 Westrey Reserve Willamette Valley Chardonnay —  medium yellow in the glass with delicate crisp pear aromas. This wine is deceptively complex. Flavors are dominated by a dry, stony minerality and balanced with subtle apple flavors and bracing acidity. A pop of cedar flavor add to the complexity and the wine is mouth filling but light at the same time. 13.5 % ABV. Only 142 cases and 4 cases of magnums produced. $32.

If I had to use only one word to describe this wine it would be addictive. The combination of dry, dusty minerality, subtle fruit flavors and bracing acidity kept me sipping this wine. Flavors change over time as the wine warms in the glass. It’s a wine I want to spend time just sipping and thinking about…how to describe what I’m tasting?

Westrey Chardonnay and cheese
Food really is not necessary with this wine, but it was a brilliant partner with everything we tasted along with it. Creamy Fromager d’Affinois (a French double-creme soft cheese made from cow’s milk) with crispy shallots on a baguette provided a nice savory creaminess to match the acidity of the Chardonnay.



Westrey Chardonnay and Thai chicken


The creamy coconut milk, peanut, ginger and garlic flavors of Thai peanut chicken salad in endive leaves tasted even more complex along with the Westrey Chardonnay, yet the minerality and fruit flavors of the wine were not overwhelmed by the bold flavors of the chicken salad. Somehow, both tasted better and more lively together.




Thanksgiving and Westrey ChardonnayWe opened the Westrey Reserve Willamette Valley Chardonnay on Tuesday evening for the tasting. It held up nicely on Wednesday and Thursday evenings as well. Friday evening we enjoyed it with our second Thanksgiving dinner (grilled turkey, andouille sausage and corn bread dressing). This delicate but flavorful Chardonnay stood toe-to-toe with these bold flavors. I loved the combination of flavors and felt sad as I savored the last of the wine in my glass, but at the same time thankful for the opportunity to taste this special wine. Once again, an outstanding example of Chardonnay made in the Willamette Valley.

So, next time we are visiting the Willamette Valley, we will be focusing not only on Pinot Noir, which is what usually draws us to this wine region, but on Chardonnay as well. This series of tastings has opened our eyes and our palates to just how good Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley can be. This group of winemakers have shown a deft hand with wood aging and created wines of elegance with great fruit flavor and refreshing acidity.

Willamette Valley Chardonnays
Thank you to Protocol Wine Studio for finding these amazing winemakers and wines. It was truly and educational wine experience.

Thanks also to Amy Wesselman for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm of winemaking with us. Brilliant Chardonnay. Thank you for sharing your wine with us.

December means bubbles for Protocol Wine Studio and #WineStudio on Tuesday evenings. Join in the fun by following the #WineStudio hashtag Tuesday evenings on Twitter and learn about sparkling wine from Italy, Spain and Hungary through out the month. Here are the details.


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Omero Cellars — Willamette Valley Chardonnay Joins the Wine List

If it’s week three of Protocol Wine Studio’s November #WineStudio discussion, The Importance of Being a Willamette Valley Chardonnay, then it must be Omero Cellars. We enjoyed two Willamette Valley Chardonnays from Omero Cellars during last Tuesday evening’s online chat with current winemaker Chad Stock.

Omero Cellars Chardonnay
Omero Cellars’ 26-acre vineyard is located in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, which is tucked into the northwest corner of the Chehalem Mountains AVA. This map to give you an idea where the AVAs are located.

The family-owned winery was founded in 2009 and is committed to farming using minimal intervention without irrigation. Encouraging biodiversity on their land is important goal. They even use their growing flock of sheep to keep the cover crops under control in some of the steeper vineyard blocks.

Vineyard expression, rather than a consistent flavor profile year-to-year is the goal of the winemaking at Omero Cellars. Chad is looking to develop the flavors each vineyard gives him with every vintage.

2012 was the first Chardonnay vintage produced by Omero Cellars. We received both wines as tasting samples. Let’s see what the vintage produced.

2012 Omero Cellars WV Chardonnay2012 Omero Cellars Willamette Valley Chardonnaypale yellow in the glass with only delicate stony aromas. Green apples, crisp pears and citrus flavors combine with underlying flavors of slate and minerals, providing complexity. Just a hint of cedar peeks out over time. The finish is crisp and flavors linger. ABV 13.1%. $38. Total case production: 275.

This subtle wine is deceptively flavorful. Give it time in the glass and enjoy its evolution. It is a joy to experience. It will leave you smacking your lips.

Omero Cellars WV Chard detailThe Chardonnay is sourced 80% from Durant vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA and 20% from the Hyland Estate in the McMinnville AVA.

This wine underwent partial (60%) malolactic fermentation and spent 10 months in French oak. Both treatments add complexity without trampling the Chardonnay fruit flavors.

For those with inquiring minds (and  for wine geeks everywhere), the back label of both these Chardonnays list all of the technical data for the wine. What a good idea.


2012 Omero Cellars EE Chardonnay2012 Omero Cellars Extended Elevage Willamette Valley Chardonnaymedium yellow in the glass with rich aromas of wood spice and apples. Flavors of grapefruit, toast and a pop of cedar explode in your mouth and are followed by a crisp, long finish. This wine is a bit round in the mouth, but maintains crisp acidity. ABV 12.5%. $58. Only 75 cases produced.


Omero Cellars EE Chard detail


The Extended Elevage is 100% Hyland Estate from the McMinnville AVA. Chad is a fan of clone 108, which is included in both of these Chardonnays.

As Extended Elevage would indicate, this wine spent 16 months aging in barrel with only 20% malolactic fermentation completion. This is a bigger, richer wine that is begging to be paired with food.

Speaking of food, we paired both of these Chardonnays with chicken diable, glazed carrots and smashed red potatoes. The chicken diable (from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table) is prepared with a cream sauce flavored with sautéed shallots, white wine, garlic, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce. The acidity in both of these Chardonnays was just perfect with the richness of the sauce and we found all of the flavors to be complimentary.

Chardonnay and chicken
While we thought both of these Chardonnays tasted great now, Chad believes both will age well. He suggested holding them between two and ten years for optimal flavor development. Now there’s an experiment begging to be undertaken.

In addition to Chardonnay, Omero Cellars produces Pinot Noir from their own estate vineyard as well as vineyards located in several AVAs within the Willamette Valley; they produce a Pinot Noir that is a blend of the same Pinot Noir clone planted on 4 vineyard sites; they also make Pinot Gris and a rosé of Pinot Noir. Many of these wines are produced in very limited quantities.

With the 2014 vintage, Omero Cellars moved into a new production facility, a facility all their own, located in Carlton, Oregon. It includes two enormous cement tanks which will be used in the production of their Pinot Noir.

But that’s not all that is new at Omero Cellars. They’ve been making Pétillant Natural, a sparkling wine they fondly call “Pet Nat”. Then there is Gamay, which Chad believes can be even better than Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley.

So, you get the idea. The folks at Omero Cellars are coloring outside the lines and having fun doing so. They are making wines that interest and excite them, and that will also appeal to the adventurous wine drinker. Aren’t we lucky?

Omero Cellars 2012 Chardonnays
Thanks to Omero Cellars for sending the wine samples and to Chad for spending time chatting with us. The conversation left me ready to organize a visit to Carlton to check out their new facility and taste the rest of their wines.

As usual, the folks at Protocol Wine Studio have done an amazing job putting together a great tasting. Thank you.

This week we conclude the series of Willamette Valley Chardonnay tastings. Once again we will gather on Tuesday evening at 6 PST. You can join the conversation by following #WineStudio on Twitter. Here are the details from the Protocol Wine Studio website:

Week 4: 25 November – Anatomy of a Vineyard: Oracle and the Chablis-like Westrey Chardonnay

Westrey Wine Company Amy Wesselman, David Autrey (@WestreyWineCo) and special guest Elaine Brown (@Hawk_Wakawaka)
2012 Reserve


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Cape Town, South Africa — A Natural Beauty

Cape Town, South Africa is stunningly beautiful. It sits perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in the southern portion of South Africa. The city and its suburbs are located at the northern end of a peninsula which terminates at Cape Point. Sweeping beaches stretch along the Atlantic and are interrupted by a rocky shoreline. The ocean is blue-green and wild along the Atlantic. Along the eastern coast of the peninsula False Bay is calmer. The skies are crystal clear.

As if the ocean wasn’t beautiful enough on its own, Cape Town is surrounded to the south and west by spectacular mountains. The city and its suburbs have grown around Table Mountain, which sits to the south of the city, and rises over 3500 feet above sea level. Devil’s Peak punctuates the eastern end of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head the western end. Just north of Lion’s Head is Signal Hill. South of Table mountain a chain of smaller peaks, Twelve Apostles, parallels the ocean.

Maiden's Cove with Twelve Apostles in the background

Maiden’s Cove and Twelve Apostles Mountains

It seems that no matter which way you look you are presented with a stunning view. The ocean in one direction and a variety of spectacular mountains in every other!

After spending 15 delightful days in the interior of Africa, visiting Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe on safari, where winter weather is characterized by warm days, cold nights and no rain, Cape Town was quite a contrast. No more dusty dirt roads. Cape Town is a modern city of nearly 4 million with a busy port and a modern skyline.

We were in Cape Town toward the end of July, winter in the southern hemisphere. Weather in July is typically cool (lows in the 40s, highs in the 60s) and rainy. We experienced both rainy weather and spectacularly clear days. Perfect really.

Six of us continued on to Cape Town along with Sanction, our Overseas Adventure Travel trip leader for the safari portion of our trip. We stayed at Inn on the Square which is located on Green Market Square. The square is filled every day with individual vendors who bring their local handicrafts in for sale. Every morning the vendors bring in their stalls and goods and set them up. Every evening they take everything down, and haul it all away. Every day is the same routine, rain or shine.

Green Market Square has been many things since it was built in 1696 including a vegetable market, slave market, site of a city well and even a parking lot.

We spent two days on driving tours of the city and beyond. Our driver, Khotsa, was equal parts historian and guide. He constantly directed our attention to points of interest all the while telling us the history of Cape Town, South Africa and its people.

The first day of our tour in Cape Town started with a tour of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, a spectacular 528-hectare garden on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Relics from the Stone Age have been found in the area. Khoikhoi and San tribes lived in the area when the Portuguese first arrived. After that the Dutch East India Company used the forests in the area for timber beginning in the 1650s.

The area was farmed by a series of Dutch owners and eventually purchased by Cecil John Rhodes in 1895. When Rhodes died in 1902, the property was left to the nation’s people. It was Rhodes’ desire to protect the eastern slopes of Table Mountain from urban development and in 1913 the acreage became a botanical garden.

It was overcast and a bit drizzly when we visited Kirstenbosch, but the gardens were absolutely beautiful, even in winter. I can only imagine how spectacular they are in the spring and summer.

Our tour continued with a drive around the center of the city. Cape Town is a blend of old and new. There are many very old buildings remaining from the city’s founding and dating back to the 1660s.  The Castle of Good Hope (originally build to protect Cape Town from invasion via the sea), City Hall, cathedrals, and Parliament buildings are all beautiful. Built in a variety of styles, they give the city a very European feel.

At this point our tour continued to Table Mountain for a cable car ride to the top and on to Victoria & Alfred Waterfront for lunch and shopping. It was a whirlwind tour, by no means a comprehensive visit. A good portion of Cape Town’s city center is walkable. “Hop on Hop off” bus sightseeing tours of all of the city sights are available. Something for us to consider for our next visit to Cape Town.

Day 2 of our stay proved to be a sunny and spectacularly clear day. With Khotsa once again behind the wheel, we spent the day driving south from Cape Town down the Cape Peninsula.

Cape Town map and booksWe followed the Atlantic Ocean side of the peninsula before turning inland and down to Cape Point. The drive inland took us through large areas of native vegetation called fynbos. It’s a diverse combination of over 9000 species of plants unique to the Cape Floral Kingdom, which stretches from Vanrhynsdorp, north of Cape Town, along the southern portion of South Africa and as far eastward as Grahamstown. This unique vegetation occurs in a narrow band along the coast within 200km of the ocean.

You will notice the vegetation in our photos on this day and in the photos of Kirstenbosch Gardens extending up Table Mountain. It is a combination of blooming shrubs and scrubby plants.

The landscape of the Cape Peninsula is very rocky and rugged in areas. We did manage to spot some wild game; an ostrich, white faced antelope and very scary-looking long-haired baboons.

Khotsa remarked that the weather on this day was unusually calm. Often the wind is so strong down at the Cape of Good Hope it can literally blow you over. It was still very windy by my standard, definitely a bad hair day but so worth it!

Cape of Good Hope
We took photos at the Cape of Good Hope then continued on to Cape Point where we boarded a funicular up to the lighthouse. The lighthouse was completed in 1860, but as it turned out was located too high on the cliffs to be effective. The lighthouse’s warning light was often lost in the clouds. A second lighthouse was built closer to the sea.

From Cape Point we drove northward along the False Bay side of the peninsula. We enjoyed lunch at The Black Marlin, near Miller’s Point, with a beautiful view of the bay. The ocean was relatively calm on this side of the peninsula.

Our next stop was The Boulders, just south of Simon’s Town, where we viewed a colony of African penguins. This colony of endangered African penguins, formerly known as Jackass penguins, started with two individuals in 1982. The pair discovered the sheltered beach at Boulders and since then the colony has grown to over 2000 individuals.

We continued northward back to Cape Town and through many picturesque villages. The coastline beautiful all along the way. How fortunate the residents of Cape Town are to be so close to this very large and protected wild area. There are many hiking trails and tented camps throughout Table Mountain National Park.

We enjoyed dinner at Fork, a tapas-style restaurant within walking distance of our hotel. Along with a variety of small plates we enjoyed several delicious South African wines, just as we had the prior two evenings. Pinotage, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. All were delicious. Our wine selections every evening punctuate the end of each day of our slideshow.

Two full days of touring Cape Town and the surrounding areas meant we just scratched the surface of what the area has to offer. We still had three days remaining in Cape Town. The usual tourist would probably have spent those days diving into the museums and walking the city. We are not usual in that sense. We spent the next three days wine tasting instead, and feel we spent our time wisely!

Up next, wine tasting in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. In the meantime, please enjoy our slideshow of Cape Town and points south.


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#WineStudio — Three Expressive Willamette Valley Chardonnays

Week two of our #WineStudio exploration of Willamette Valley Chardonnay brought with it three delightful wines. We continue to be impressed with the quality of Oregon’s Willamette Valley Chardonnay.

#WineStudio Willamette Valley Chardonnay
Chardonnay represents only a small portion of the total acres planted to wine grapes in Oregon. Total Chardonnay acreage stands at about 1200. Pinot Noir, by comparison, is planted to over 15,000 acres in Oregon.

Although the trend for acreage planted to Chardonnay is increasing, it is still far behind the 25% of total Oregon plantings it reached some years back. This we learned is due to several factors. Some original plantings were made with clones that were not suitable or in locations that were not optimal. Unsuccessful vineyards were removed over time. As viticulturists have learned how and where to farm Chardonnay successfully in Oregon it has been replanted.

Interestingly, the price paid for Chardonnay grapes is increasing sharply, up 28% from 2012 to 2013 according to the folks at Protocol Wine Studio. In fact they told us that the best quality Chardonnay fruit can cost more than Pinot Noir in Oregon. That’s surprising to me, given that Oregon is Pinot Noir country. Something special is going on here. Clearly, viticulturists and winemakers have discovered Chardonnay’s secrets in the Willamette Valley.

We tasted three Willamette Valley Chardonnays during this tasting, which were provided to us by the wineries as tasting samples. Jim Prosser, winemaker and owner of J.K. Carriere Wines, and Marcus Goodfellow, winemaker and owner of Goodfellow Family Cellars and Matello Wines, joined the Twitter conversation to tell us about their wines.

As with last week, we prepared food to accompany the wine. I prepared a dried fruit compote which we enjoyed on bread with a smear of ricotta, charcuterie along with St. André triple creme soft-ripened cheese and bread topped with shredded Brussel sprouts, Sriracha crème fraîche and bacon. We found last week that both Chardonnays were extremely food friendly; the same applied this week.

2012 J.K. Carriere Wines Lucidité Chardonnay2012 J.K. Carriere Wines Luciditétoasty aromas combine with citrusy flavors of grapefruit with clove spice in the background. Bright acidity and a bit of roundness combine with the complex flavors for a moderate-length finish. This wine is lively, flavorful and has great acidity. ABV 13.5%. $32.

Winemaker and owner Jim Prosser (@JKCarriereWines) uses native yeast fermentation in this barrel-fermented Chardonnay. I was surprised to learn that this wine goes through 100% malolactic fermentation. Though it is a bit round, it still exhibits bracing acidity. The wine is aged for 18 months in older French barrels.

We found this wine was the perfect companion to the St. André cheese and the milder salami. The acidity of the wine and its clean flavors were great with the fattiness of these two dishes.

2012 Goodfellow Family Cellars Whistling Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay2012 Goodfellow Family Cellars Whistling Ridge Vineyard Chardonnayvanilla aromas combine with baked apple and tart citrus flavors. Subtle cedar spice flavors combine with the fruit flavors and bright acidity for a moderately long finish. ABV 14.1%. $36. Only 80 cases produced.

Marcus Goodfellow (@GFCwines), who makes this wine as well as the Matello which follows, is a firm believer in low impact farming. That means using cover crops, minimal spraying and no pesticides – ever. In addition he works with family-owned vineyards that adhere to dry-farming practices; that means no irrigation. Marcus believes these practices produce “grapes with identity”. That’s his goal – to produce wine reflective of the vineyard site.

This wine exhibits a brilliant combination of Chardonnay fruit flavors with a light seasoning of oak. It has nice weight in the mouth and a very clean finish. We found it was the most complimentary to all of our dishes, actually producing that wonderful combination that accentuates the flavor of both food and wine. Very nice.

2012 Matello Wines Durant Vineyard Chardonnay2012 Matello Wines Durant Vineyard Chardonnaygrapefruit aromas combine with citrus flavors, sweet barrel toast flavors and minerality. It is very round in the mouth and has a long flavorful finish with both fruit flavors and spice. ABV 13.9% $27. Only 145 cases produced.

The Durant family have been farming grapes in the Willamette Valley since 1973, and the Durant Vineyard is located in the Dundee Hills sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley. Marcus chooses fruit from the Raven Block which was planted in 1993.

In the wine cellar, Marcus presses whole clusters, then after settling, racks the juice to barrels for fermentation, 30% with native yeast, the balance with selected yeast. Sur-lie aging without stirring continues until bottling.

This wine paired beautifully with the St. André cheese and with the spicier salami as well as the Sriracha-spiced Brussel sprouts and bacon combination. This wine seems to love spicy food.

Willamette Valley Chardonnay

All three of these Willamette Valley Chardonnays exhibit nice fruit flavors, great acidity and wood-influenced flavors that compliment rather than trample the Chardonnay fruit flavors.  It requires a nuanced approach to develop aromatics, fruit flavors and flavors from wood aging, all in the proper balance and these winemakers have succeeded in doing just that.

Thanks to Protocol Wine Studio for another fun and educational #WineStudio evening. It’s great to talk to the winemakers, even if it’s only 140 characters at a time! Thank you to Jim and Marcus for providing the wine and spending time sharing your stories. Delicious wines all.

Join the conversation tomorrow evening by following the hashtag #WineStudio on Twitter. It should be very interesting:

Week 3: 18 November, 6 pm Pacific time – Beaune of Oregon: Chardonnay as the New (Ore)Gold

Omero Cellars Erin Butler, David Moore, Chad Stock (@OmeroCellars) and special guest Elaine Brown (@Hawk_Wakawaka)
2012 Willamette Valley
2012 Extended Elevage


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Lodi Tempranillo for #TempranilloDay — Five Delicious Choices

Today is International Tempranillo Day. An entire day dedicated to the enjoyment of Tempranillo wine. If you’ve never enjoyed the variety, it’s a good time to do so. If you’re already a fan of the variety, it’s the perfect time to enjoy your favorite Tempranillo or maybe find a new favorite.

A variety of events have been organized in celebration of International Tempranillo Day. TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society), who organized the day in celebration of this Spanish wine grape, has a comprehensive list on their website.
Maybe there is a fun Tempranillo event happening near you.

In anticipation of International Tempranillo Day, LoCA (Lodi Winegrape Commission) organized an online tasting of Tempranillo produced in Lodi. We participated in the online tasting and received five sample wines to enjoy during the tasting.

Lodi Tempranillo for #TempranilloDay
Stuart Spencer, Program Manager at the Lodi Winegrape Commission, Owner and Winemaker of St. Amant Winery, and President of the Board of Directors for TAPAS, hosted the online tasting along with Rick Taylor owner and winemaker of Riaza Wines. We talked and tasted Tempranillo as Stuart and Rick told us all about Tempranillo in the Lodi AVA, and beyond.

Tempranillo is the 4th most widely planted wine grape variety in the world. It is indigenous to Spain where over 500,000 acres are planted to the variety.

Tempranillo has been planted in California for about 100 years where it was called Valdepenas. It was planted in the Central Valley and prized for its high yield. Mainly it was used as a blending grape. Only recently has Tempranillo in California been used to produce quality varietal wines.

Although Lodi is known mostly for Zinfandel any number of grape varieties thrive in the appellation; over 100 varieties are planted. Tempranillo represents just a fraction of the total acreage planted in Lodi. But Tempranillo, along with several other Iberian varieties, are thriving in the warm days and cool nights of Lodi’s growing season.

In Stuart’s experience Tempranillo is a mid to late budding and early ripening variety that produces reliably; “a grower’s grape.” That’s how it got its name, from the Spanish word temprano which means early.  Tempranillo is known for producing wine with significant tannins that can be lower in acid, so it takes some management in the cellar.

With that background, let’s move on to the tasting.

2012 Riaza Wines Hunter’s Oak Vineyard Tempranillo2012 Riaza Wines Hunter’s Oak Vineyard Tempranillolight ruby in the glass with smoky bacon aromas. Blueberry and raspberry flavors combine with leather and earthy back notes. Tannins are very smooth and the finish is moderate in length. ABV 14.6% $26. Only 97 cases produced.

This delicate Tempranillo has plenty of flavor and very smooth well integrated tannins. This wine is easy to like and a good food wine. We enjoyed it with lamb stew, but it would do well with pork or even turkey (think turkey cooked on the grill).

Riaza Wines focuses their winemaking entirely on Spanish varieties. This 100% Tempranillo is one of three they make every year and is the softest of the group. That, according to winery owner Rick Taylor, is a characteristic of the Hunter’s Oak Vineyard and one reason he likes this wine, and the vineyard, so much.

Hunter’s Oak Vineyard is located in the Clements Hills sub-AVA of the Lodi AVA. The 12 year old vineyard located on the east side of Lodi, “in the rolling hills before the rolling foothills”, according to Rick. It’s situated at a bit of an elevation, near a small riverbed. The vineyard is only 12 years old, Rick expects more good things to come from it.

2012 Bokisch Vineyards Tempranillo2012 Bokisch Vineyards Tempranillomedium ruby in the glass with delicate smoky aromas. Blueberry and raspberry flavors combine with a bit of leather, nice acidity and grippy tannins. The finish is medium to long with both fruit flavors and tannins. Complex and delicious. ABV13.5%. $23. Case production: 685.

This Tempranillo has similar flavors to the Riaza Tempranillo, but the Bokisch Tempranillo is like the big brother to the little sister. Basic flavors are similar, but tannins are much more substantial and it has a bit more body.

Lodi Rules Certified Green Sustainable Winegrowing seal


Bokisch Vineyards blends 10% Graciano with the Tempranillo. Grapes are sourced from the Liberty Oaks and Las Cerezas Vineyards in Lodi’s Jahant and Mokelumne River sub-AVAs. This wine carries the Lodi Rules Certified Green seal on the back label, indicating farming practices in the vineyards are compliant with the sustainable practices outlined by Lodi Rules.

Markus and Liz Bokisch were among the first to bring Tempranillo to Lodi. In fact they’re champions of a number of Spanish varieties which they have planted in Lodi – Graciano, Albariño, Garnacha, Verdejo and Verdelho – to name just a few.

Both the Riaza Wines and Bokisch Vineyards Tempranillo are produced from the Ribero del Duero clone. Both are relatively light bodied examples of Tempranillo. Both delicious.

2010 Harney Lane Tempranillo2010 Harney Lane Winery Tempranillodark ruby in the glass with earthy, dark fruit aromas. Ripe blackberry and blueberry flavors combine with vanilla and cedar. Tannins are substantial and very grippy. The finish long and dominated by tannins, wood spice flavors and ripe fruit flavors. ABV 15%. $25. Case production: 719.

This wine is made in a riper, more wood-influence style. The underlying flavors are similar, but much riper. It provides an interesting comparison of winemaking styles.



2012 McCay Cellars Lot 13 Vineyard Tempranillo2012 McCay Cellars Lot 13 Vineyard Tempranillomedium ruby in the glass with savory aromas of crushed marjoram and thyme along with ripe berries. Earthy, dark fruit flavors and minerality combine with significant but well integrated tannins. The body is on the light side of medium with great acidity. A pleasing combination of lighter body and lots of flavor. ABV 14.3%. $28. Case production: 179

Winemaker and owner, Michael McCay, is a firm believer in native yeast fermentation which he uses to produce his Lot 13 Tempranillo.

Grapes are sourced from specific blocks of the Kirschenmann Vineyards which McCay now owns, having purchased it from the Kirschenman family. (The Kirschenmann Vineyard owned by Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wines is a different vineyard, but located right next door.) The vineyard is located on the east side of Lodi in sandy loam along the Mokelumne River.

2012 m2 Wines [Tormenta] Kirschenmann Vineyards Tempranillo2012 m2 Wines [Tormenta] Kirschenmann Vineyards Tempranillodark ruby in the glass with aromas of blueberries and vanilla. Darker fruit flavors of plums and blackberries combine with leather, a bit of smoke and significant, grippy tannins. This wine is medium bodied with lots of flavor. ABV 14.5%. $22. Case production: 295.

This wine is rich, opulent and chewy. It has significant wood flavors adding to the complexity. The Tempranillo was sourced from the same vineyard as McCay’s Lot 13.

These last two wines, sourced from the same vineyard and harvested just days apart, provide two distinct interpretations of the same vineyard. One lighter bodied, more herbal the other richer, denser and more opulent. Choose your preferred style.

A bit about wood aging and Tempranillo. Stuart believes wood aging is essential to produce a smoother, more pulled together Tempranillo. Up to 18 months of aging in French and American oak is the usual with this group of Tempranillos. Many other red varieties are aged for only a year but, according to Stuart, the additional time in oak helps smooth tannins with this variety.

With regard to bottle aging, Stuart believes Tempranillo ages very well. In his opinion after about 5 years of bottle aging Tempranillo begins to really express itself. Rick agrees. He recently opened a bottle of his first vintage, 2008, and it was soft and luscious.

We enjoyed all of these Tempranillos with lamb stew and they paired very well. The Riaza and Bokisch wines were the lightest and would pair nicely with pork or even turkey cooked on the grill. The smokey flavors produced on the grill area a natural pairing with Tempranillo. Grilled lamb chops would be a divine pairing for any of these wines.

Thanks to LoCA for the presentation and discussion of these delicious wines. Stuart and Rick gave us a personal and detailed account of Tempranillo in the Lodi AVA.

Thank you to Riaza wines, Bokisch Vineyards, Harney Lane Winery, McCay Cellars and m2 Wines for providing the sample wines. The best way to learn about the character of a varietal wine is to taste several interpretations against each other. Very nice representation of Lodi Tempranillo by all wineries. All of these wines are available directly from the wineries.

And finally, thanks to Charles Communications Associates. Once again, a well organized and informative presentation.

Now all there is to do is open your favorite bottle of Tempranillo and enjoy a glass in celebration of Tempranillo Day!


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Creative Thanksgiving Pairings for #winePW 6: Can we skip to dessert?

We have been having a lot of fun with these monthly Wine Pairing Weekend (#winePW) events. Every month I look forward to the topic and working on the combination of food and wine.

Thanksgiving decorationsThis month’s topic, Creative Thanksgiving Pairings, was a bit of a challenge. I resisted doing anything with turkey, because Thanksgiving is coming up and I’m saving my turkey overload for then. We usually spend Thanksgiving Day with family and friends and eat loads of turkey.

But I also like to have a small turkey for just us. So, I order the smallest turkey I can and we cook it outside on the grill. It’s our favorite way to cook turkey. I make our favorite dressing, or sometimes two of our favorite dressings, and the side dishes. We eat turkey for a few days, sometimes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I love nothing more than having a turkey sandwich for breakfast.

After about 4 days, we freeze the leftovers and the turkey carcass (carcass is such an indelicate word, I apologize). Then, in a week or two we make soup. The soup is always rich and smoky tasting because we cooked the turkey on the grill. This has become our ritual and I really don’t want to mess with it. OK?

So, wanting not to be left out of the fun, we are taking a bit of a different tack. We are focusing on just a portion of the Thanksgiving celebration, rather on the entire meal. We have chosen a dessert and wine pairing.

As is often the case, we started with the wine and then decided on the food pairing. We recently prepared dinner for a group of friends and this dessert and wine pairing comes from that dinner.

The Wine

We have been holding a bottle of Madeira we brought home with us from our trip to the island in 2002. We enjoyed the other bottle several years ago, and finally decided it’s time to open this bottle. After attending a Madeira Master Class recently we learned Madeira doesn’t change much once it’s bottled; so there is no reason to hold it waiting for it to evolve. Sentiment, then, was the only thing holding us back from opening the bottle. We decided to get over it!

Blandys 1964 Bual Madeira1964 Blandy’s Bual Madeirabrownish amber in the glass with obvious nutty aromas. Flavors are rich with an initial pop of cedar spice followed by nutty and dried fig flavors, a bit of sweetness and ample acidity. The finish is long and clean thanks to the great acidity. ABV 20.5%.

Bual (which is also spelled Boal) is the white grape variety used to produce this Madeira also describes the style of the wine. Bual is always made in a medium-sweet style.


Madeira certificate


This Bual from the 1964 vintage was bottled in 1986. It spent 22 years aging in American oak casks. So, although Madeira does not change substantially after it is bottled, it does gain complexity during the time it spends aging in wood. For this reason it is important to know how many years a vintage Madeira spends in cask prior to bottling. In our case, we were presented with a certificate indicating the aging time. The second date on the certificate, 2001, indicates the bottle was re-corked in that year.


The Dessert

A small glass of Madeira is usually dessert in itself for us. But, because we were serving the Madeira after dinner for a group of friends we wanted to serve a dessert along with it. We wanted something simple that would be delicious, but that would allow the flavors of the Madeira to shine through.

We did some research online and I consulted one of my favorite references, The Wine Lover’s Dessert Cookbook, for guidance. Suggested dessert flavors included:

  • butter, cream & custard
  • caramel, honey & butterscotch
  • spice
  • toasted nuts
  • chocolate.

Two additional guidelines:

  • the wine should be sweeter than the dessert
  • match the weight of the wine to the richness of the dessert

Panna cotta with dried apricot compoteWe narrowed the choices to panna cotta and pumpkin pots de crème. In the end the panna cotta won out. It is a simple dessert to prepare and the flavors, only cream and vanilla with a touch of sweetness, are too delicious for words. We added a compote of dried apricots for garnish. Simple but amazing.


The Pairing

Blandy's Bual and panna cottaThe panna cotta was rich, creamy and mouth filling, but only slightly sweet. The Madeira by contrast was much sweeter, with nutty flavors and nice acidity which cut the fatty richness of the panna cotta. Just as we hoped, the panna cotta provided rich but subtle flavors to contrast with the complex, sweet flavors of the Madeira. A pretty amazing combination.

Just a note regarding the labels on this wine bottle. It has a paper label on one side and a painted label on the other — in case you were wondering. Pretty cool.

Madeira may be an acquired taste for some, as the oxidative flavors are quite distinctive and because they are a fortified wine with high alcohol levels. But once you become familiar with Madeira you will love them, maybe not for every day but, certainly for special occasions. Perfect for the Holidays.

Slowly sipping a glass of Madeira after a meal is so conducive to conversation. We lingered over the panna cotta and Madeira, talking flavors, winemaking and travel. I couldn’t help but reflect that we have much to be thankful for and that wine really does make our life more fun!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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Thanks to Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere for the challenging topic this month and for hosting the event.

Here is what our fellow bloggers have come up with for Creative Thanksgiving-Inspired Dishes and Wine Pairings. Check it out!

Creative Thanksgiving-Inspired Dishes and Wine Pairings

Turkey, Tempranillo and Sweet Potatoes by Cooking Chat
Thanksgiving from the Veneto: Turkey, Pomegranate Sauce & Valpolicella by foodwineclick
Norwegian Meatballs by Confessions of a Culinary Diva
Shepherds Pie Casserole with Barnard Griffin Syrah Port by Wild 4 Washington Wine
Butternut Squash and Cheddar Bread Pudding and Donkey & Goat Stone Crusher by ENOFYLZ Wine Blog

Purple Sweet Potato Soup with Roasted Lobster + Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
Arugula Pear Salad paired with Torrontes from Argentina by A Day in the Life on the Farm
Layered Sweet Potato and Apple Bake with Cranberry Blush by Curious Cuisiniere

Walnut Tart with Sparkling Brachetto d’Acqui by Vino Travels — An Italian Wine Blog
Can we skip to dessert? by Pull That Cork

Don’t Forget Leftovers!
Day After Turkey and Seafood Gumbo by It’s Ok To Eat The Cupcake
Turkey Pot Pie and Boedecker Cellars Chardonnay by Tasting Pour

You can also visit our group Pinterest board to pin some great pairing ideas for later!

Don’t forget to our Twitter chat today, November 8th at 11 a.m. Eastern Time! We’ll be talking about our tips and tricks for the best Thanksgiving wine pairings. We’d love to have you join us!

And, be sure to mark your calendars for December’s Wine Pairing Weekend, hosted by Jeff of foodwineclick. Just in time for Holiday parties, we’ll be sharing sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvre pairings. Join in the #WinePW 7 conversation on Saturday Dec. 13!



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November #WineStudio – It’s All About Willamette Valley Chardonnay

We will be spending Tuesday evenings in November getting the lowdown on Willamette Valley Chardonnay with #WineStudio, an online Twitter-based wine education program. The discussions, organized by Protocol Wine Studio (@ProtocolWine), begin at 6 pm Pacific time.

You can join the conversation by following the hashtag #WineStudio. We will post a summary each week to keep you up to date.

Willamette Valley Chardonnays
There is no denying that the Willamette Valley is well known for Pinot Noir, almost synonymous is a way. But as delicious as Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is, it’s not the only wine star from this large Oregon appellation. In addition to Pinot Noir we have enjoyed delicious Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris from around the Willamette Valley, but our experience with Oregon Chardonnay is limited.

Eyrie Vineyards and Cooper Mtn. Vinyards Chardonnay
Happily, this deficiency is about to be corrected. Tuesday evening we began the discussion, and tasting, with samples from The Eyrie Vineyards and Cooper Mountain Vineyards. The online discussion was lively as usual — actually “like drinking from a fire hose” according to Jason Lett (@JasonLett) who joined us from The Eyre Vineyards. From Cooper Mountain Vineyards (@CooperMtnWines) Barbara Gross, who is responsible for sales and marketing (and I suspect a lot more) and Gilles de Domingo, the winemaker, joined us.

We prepared several small plates to enjoy along with these the two Chardonnays because wine and food are just a natural combination and when you get the combination right, each enhances the other. We’ll see what paired best.

The Eyre Vineyards

Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay2012 The Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve Original Vineslight yellow in the glass with generous aromas of gravel, melons and citrus. Flavors are bright, mineral driven and citrusy with a clean, lingering finish. ABV 12.5%. SRP $45 – $50.

This wine is aged for 9 months or more, on unstirred lees, in new and used French and Oregon oak. Yes, you read that correctly, Oregon oak. It “is tight grained like French but very strong, a little goes a long way.” according to Jason, who is responsible for all winemaking since the passing of his father David Lett in 2008. Oak aging is mostly in barrels that have been used for many years, some since the 1980s and 1990s. Jason purchases very few new barrels every year.

The Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve Original Vines bottling comes from their original Chardonnay plantings made in 1966 by David Lett. At nearly 50 years of age, these vines are producing less than 2.3 tons per acre. But what amazing flavor.

This reserve wine is produced from select vineyard sections and select barrels to maximize flavor and complexity — essentially the best of the best. It’s evident in the glass.

Work in the vineyard is always moving ahead, changing, according to Jason. At Eyrie Vineyards, which is located in the Dundee Hills sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley AVA, new vines are being planted. And with a warming climate (yes, climate change is real Jason assured us) picking dates will come earlier to maintain balance.

Jason is continuing to make “pure” Chardonnay reflective of the site, just as his father did. It’s a style that is hard to argue with, as Jason observed, their library wines dating back to the 1970s are still “scarily fresh.”

This flavorful, bright wine paired nicely with our Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam triple cream cheese topped with fig preserves. There was plenty of acidity to cut through the creamy, soft cheese and the minerally flavors were complimentary to the fig flavors. This was our favorite pairing. This wine would also be lovely with a creamy pasta dish or fish sautéed in butter.

Speaking of fish, the Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve Original Vines was amazing with our smoked Alaska sockeye salmon and ricotta cheese on sliced baguette. It kind of proved the brilliant pairing of this wine with something creamy. The flavors of the wine stood toe-to-toe with the peppery smoked salmon flavors as well. A very delicious and versatile wine.

Cooper Mountain Vineyards

Cooper Mtn Chardonnay2012 Cooper Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay Old Vineslight yellow in the glass with delicate aromas of vanilla, baking spice and citrus. Spice and tart lemony flavors combine with crisp acidity for a finish that is clean and long lasting. Along with crisp acidity, this wine had a bit of roundness too. ABV 13%. SRP $30 (2011 vintage)

Native yeast fermentation was completed in the barrel, with malolactic fermentation at 25%. Oak aging took place in 38% new French oak for 7 months with lees stirring. No fining. I love knowing all of these details!

Cooper Mountain Vineyards follows organic and Biodynamic® farming practices. Not only that, they are certified for both. Certification is no small hurdle to clear. Cooper Mountain Vineyards was the first Biodynamic® vineyard in Oregon to earn certification by Demeter and the fourth in the US. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with Biodynamic® principles if you are unfamiliar with them. It’s a farming practice I hope we will hear is more widely used in the future.

Why pursue these two costly certifications? It’s for the health of the soil, the vines and the environment. Biodynamic® practices are all about soil health and essentially training the vines to become resistant to disease pressures according to Barbara and Gilles. Vineyard yield can be quite variable from year to year, so maybe that’s part of the cost of Biodynamic® farming. It’s an involved farming practice, but it’s a commitment started by Dr. Gross with his first plantings in 1978.

In the wine cellar Biodynamic® practices are followed with native yeast fermentation, minimal addition of SO2 and no acidification. According to winemaker, Gilles de Domingo, following Biodynamic® practices in the wine cellar has come naturally (no pun intended I’m sure).

To my palate the Cooper Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay Old Vines is a lovely food wine. Interesting spice flavors combine with Chardonnay fruit flavors make this wine a good partner for food with lots of flavor. The bold flavors of our deviled eggs dominated by horseradish and candied bacon were not too big for this wine.

It made a nice match with our smoked Alaska sockeye salmon as well and it was difficult to choose a favorite pairing between the two dishes. We declared a tie! This is not a timid Chardonnay, but it’s by no means overbearing. Just delicious.

There was some discussion about the ABC crowd — the anything but Chardonnay group of wine drinkers. They would miss out on these two delicious wines, and that would be a shame. It would however leave more for those of us with an open mind to appreciate.

Next week the Importance of being Willamette Valley Chardonnay conversation continues. From the Protocol Wine Studio website:

Week 2: 11 November – How and Why the Chardonnay Grape Shines

Imbuing an Adventurous, Philosophical Spirit into the Grape
6:00pm – 6:30pm – J.K. Carriere Jim Prosser (@JKCarriereWines)
2012 Lucidité

Non-Irrigation and Preserving Fruit Quality
6:30pm – 7:00pm – Matello Wines Marcus Goodfellow (@GFCwines)
Goodfellow Family Cellars 2012 Whistling Ridge Vineyard
Matello Wines 2012 Durant Vineyard”

If you’re on Twitter join the conversation Tuesday, November 11 at 6 pm PST by following the hashtag #WineStudio. We will post our summary next week.

You can find the the schedule for the rest of the month on the Protocol Wine Studio website.

Thanks to Protocol Wine Studio for organizing the tasting. Thank you as well to Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards and Barbara Gross and Gilles de Domingo from Cooper Mountain Vineyards for your time, expertise and the delicious sample wines. Both the discussion and the wines were thoroughly enjoyable.


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Two Red Wines, One Pasta Dinner

The birch tree in our backyard has turned bright yellow, and its leaves are dropping rapidly, creating a brilliant carpet. The weather is cooling and my taste is turning once again to red wine. I do love fall.

Just ahead of the change of seasons, we received two red wines as tasting samples from our Twitter friend Mark Aselstine (@wineclubguy). Yes, as you might guess from Mark’s Twitter handle he has established a wine club, along with brother-in-law Matt Krause. It’s cleverly called Uncorked Ventures. They offer more than a wine club. You can find the details on their website.

Two red wines, one pasta dish
Two bottles of red wine call for a hearty, meaty dish to pair with them. Coincidently, I had recently marked just such a recipe in Food & Wine magazine and was just waiting for an occasion (and cooler weather) to prepare it. The recipe, simply titled Sunday Sauce, calls for slow-cooked beef short ribs. 4 hours of slow-cooking created a rich and flavorful sauce which I served over pasta. We enjoyed both wines with our meal, and even invited a wine-loving friend to join us. Here’s what we thought of the wines.

2011 Cinque Insieme Reserve Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon


2011 Cinque Insieme Reserve Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignonmedium ruby in the glass with generous aromas of dark fruit and black tea. Dark plum, ripe raspberry and black tea flavors combine with smooth, well-integrated tannins and juicy acidity. Lighter bodied. ABV 13.1%. Only 35 cases produced.

This is a light to medium-bodied Cabernet with complex flavors and juicy acidity. A delicious example of Cabernet Sauvignon from the cooler 2011 vintage. The word elegant comes to mind.



2009 Troll Bridge Password


2009 Troll Bridge Passwordruby in the glass with obvious dark fruit aromas and just a hint of jalapeño. Flavors of dark plums and tobacco combine with subtle jalapeño flavors. Tannins are ample and chewy. This outgoing red wine has a medium body, is well-balanced and has a long finish. ABV 14.5%. 75 cases produced.

Password is a blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.5% Merlot, 7.5% Syrah, 2% Petit Verdot – all Napa Valley fruit. This wine would easily pair with grilled steak. It has plenty of flavor and texture and continues to evolve in the glass. Not overly alcoholic.



Both wines were delicious with our meaty pasta dinner (and held up nicely overnight as well). Thanks Mark for sending these two delicious wines for us to sample.  Two very flavorful wines, not overly extracted, not overly alcoholic, very well balanced. Nice choices both.

We ate, we sipped, we talked wine. Do I have to choose a favorite? Oh, I hope not.


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Victoria Falls: The Smoke That Thunders

Mosi-oa-Tunya is the traditional name for Victoria Falls, which straddles the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. It translates to “the smoke that thunders.” The tremendous volume of water plunging over the falls produces not only a loud roar (the thunder) but a large cloud of spray which from a distance looks like billowing smoke.

Victoria Falls - "the smoke"We spotted the “smoke” from the falls several times as we transited through Victoria Falls and Livingstone between safari camps. Once from the air as we were flying into Vic Falls and once from our bus upstream of the the falls. Both sightings impressed the “smoke” portion of the local name on us. When we visited the falls we heard the “thunder”, completing the picture.

Victoria Falls is the name given the falls by Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone. He was the first European to view the falls and was so in awe of the falls he named them for Queen Victoria. Makes sense from his point of view, but I still prefer the name used by local tribes, especially after visiting the falls. Smoke that thunders so accurately describes the falls.

The falls are created as the Zambezi River, which at this point spreads out to about a mile in width, plunges some 350 feet over the edge of a plateau. A series of zig-zag gorges beyond the falls contain the river. It is quite an amazing sight from the ground and in this satellite image, which gives you some sense of how large the falls are.

Our trip leader, Sanction, told us that during the high water flow months of May and June the falls are almost completely hidden by the tremendous spray they produce. As it was in July, when we visited, there were portions of the walk along the falls that were too wet from the spray to dare take a photo. Neither of us carried a waterproof camera.

The Zambezi River forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia for a good distance above and below Victoria Falls. Livingstone is located on the Zambia side of the river and Victoria Falls is located in Zimbabwe. We stayed two nights in Victoria Falls at the Sprayview Hotel.

Victoria Falls Panorama
After the quiet of safari camps for two weeks, Victoria Falls seemed very busy and touristy – which of course it is. Many tourists visit the falls every year from around the world and there are open markets, souvenir shops, tour companies, restaurants and hotels to accommodate them.

The afternoon we arrived we visited Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe. We began our visit with lunch – always a good thing- and then walked along the series of falls that comprise Victoria Falls. The area around the falls is quite lush, and even in the dry season is kept cool and damp by the spray from the falls. The area is described as a rain forest, which is just what it looks like.

We ended our day with drinks around the pool at our hotel, yes I enjoyed a gin & tonic or two, and then dinner. The evening was warm enough for us to enjoy dinner in an open-air dining room beside the pool. We felt very relaxed and completely on vacation.

Our rooms at the Sprayview Hotel were very nice and the hotel is just a short walk into Victoria Falls. We appreciated a hot morning shower, rather than mid-day showers that were  necessary in the safari camps (because that’s when we had time and hot water). The one thing missing at the Sprayview though, was the hot water bottle in my bed every evening.

Day two of our visit to Victoria Falls was open so that we could choose from a number of tourist outings. Among the choices were helicopter viewing of the falls, a walk with lions, an elephant safari, bungee jumping and zip line adventures. It was difficult to choose, but we opted for the zip line adventure. It seemed like a safer choice than the bungee jump from the Victoria Falls bridge (when a friend and Optometrist joked about the possibility of a detached retina I chickened out), plus it is combined with a walk under the bridge which sounded exciting and interesting to us.

Our zip line and bridge tour adventure was just a short bus ride and another border crossing or two away. We crossed into Zambia where our adventure started with a historical presentation about the building of the bridge, originally only a railway bridge, completed in 1905.

It was Cecil Rhodes’ grand vision to complete what he called the Cape to Cairo railway, in order to open-up the African continent to plunder, I mean colonization. The railway was completed nearly to Victoria Falls in his lifetime, but Rhodes’ death in 1902 came just three years before completion of the Victoria Falls bridge. The engineering and construction of the bridge is a fascinating story and is detailed in this excellent history.

Today the bridge contains one railway track and a tar road wide enough for one vehicle. Train traffic is infrequent, except for the historical tourist service, and only one vehicle may pass across the bridge at a time. It is also open to foot traffic.

There were six of us in the zip line and bridge tour group, all from our Overseas Adventure Travel Ultimate Africa trip. With each of us weighed, and our weight and tour choice written on our forearm (our Vic Falls tattoo!), we were helped into a climbing harness and given a safety orientation. Then we walked out to the zip line departure point. Standing on the Zambian side of Batoka Gorge, just below Victoria Falls, we would zip line across the gorge to the opposite side of the bridge and into Zimbabwe.

The procedure was the same for each of us. We stepped forward, had photos taken (I told you it was touristy) and were attached to the zip line pulley. The operator then tapped several times on the cable with a large rock, and waited for a similar tapping response from the operator at the bridge end of the cable. When the tap came, we were told to lift our feet, keep them out in front of us and given a firm push!

Wow, just wow. The height was terrifying and the view of Batoka Gorge was breathtaking. All I could do was laugh out loud and keep looking all around me. It was an absolute blast.

Pete wore his GoPro camera during the zip line and bridge tour. The video includes a bit of our safety orientation and gives you a good sense of the heights, the sights and the sounds of our adventure.

At the other end an operator came out to pull each of us in to the bridge, where we climbed onto a catwalk. From this point on we had at least one of our two safety lines attached to the bridge line at all times. We watched those after us zip across the gorge and climb on to the catwalk. There were big smiles all around.

Us on the catwalk below the Victoria Falls Bridge
Next we proceeded as a group along with our guide for a tour of the underside of the bridge. We crossed over to the other side of the bridge and walked along a catwalk back to the Zambian side of the bridge. The views were amazing and the heights dizzying. I admit though, that the sound and vibration of trucks moving over me on the bridge was the most unnerving.

Victoria Falls has lots to offer the tourist. Others in our group enjoyed the helicopter viewing of the falls and the walk with the lions. No one opted for the bungee jump, but we all had a good time. There were shopping opportunities in both shops and the open markets. The open air market was filled with many interesting handmade items.  Shopping there was not to my liking though, as I do not enjoy negotiating the cost of an item I want to purchase. Sellers were very aggressive and we made only a quick pass through the market.

The one thing we did not have time to do is enjoy high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel. The hotel, which was built in 1904, serves high tea every afternoon on an outdoor terrace. We only had time to drive by the beautiful old hotel, so we had to leave that for another visit.

We spent our last evening in Victoria Falls, and our final evening together as a group, on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River upstream from the falls. We made some final animal sightings, enjoyed a toast to fellow travelers and a delicious dinner all while watching the sunset. It was a fun and relaxing evening.

The next morning we flew back to Johannesburg, where we began our trip over two weeks prior. From Joburg six of our group flew home. The rest of us flew on to Cape Town where we spent several days sightseeing and wine tasting. It doesn’t seem possible, but even more amazing experiences lay ahead for us in Cape Town. We will be posting on our Cape Town adventures next. In the meantime, please enjoy our slideshow of Victoria Falls.


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Madeira: My Love Affair Continues

I fell in love with Madeira over 15 years ago. First the wine, then the island. It began with a bottle of Rainwater Madeira, selected for me by a local wine shop owner. Rainwater is a lighter style of Madeira and he suggested it would be a good wine to introduce me to the flavors of  Madeira. He was right. The wine piqued my interest in Madeira and I have enjoyed a bottle now and then ever since.

Madeira countrysideSame goes for the island of Madeira. We visited Madeira in 2002. Our visit seemed too brief, only 4 days, but provided us with an intriguing introduction to the beautifully rugged island. The volcanic island heads steeply uphill from the ocean. Cities, homes and farms are perched on terraced land. Roads are carved into the rocks with little shoulder and often a precipitous drop to the ocean below. If you have a fear of heights, driving on the island would be challenging.

Road on the edge of the island of Madeira
We visited during the month of August. The temperature was in the mid-70s, with high humidity and constant wind. We did lots of walking, always uphill it seemed, which made the temperature feel even warmer and the humidity higher. I still remember the smell of the damp earth and the ocean, and the feel of the humid wind on my face. I long to return.


My exploration of Madeira wine has been unfocused and intermittent since that original bottle of Rainwater. Mostly limited to an occasional purchase for a special occasion. I have read a bit about how Madeira is made and know that some Madeira wine is sweeter than others. We tasted Madeira when we visited the island, at Blandy’s in Funchal. It was delicious.

Blandy's Madeira tasting
We recently had the opportunity to attend a Madeira wine tasting and Master Class sponsored by the Madeira Wine Institute – Madeira Wine Embroidery and Handicraft Institute (IVBAM), the organization that regulates the production of Madeira wine. When I read about the tasting, memories of our trip to Madeira came flooding back. We quickly registered for the tasting.

Rui Falcão - wine educatorIn addition to a walk around tasting of the Madeiras made by six producers, we attended a Master Class conducted by wine expert and educator Rui Falcão. It was the highlight of the evening. Mr. Falcão explained the challenges of making wine on Madeira island, explained how Madeira is made and how to read a Madeira wine label (so that you know what you are buying!) Then he guided us through a tasting of 5 Madeira wines. It was very educational.



Madeira the Island

The Portuguese island lies 400 miles off the coast of Morocco. The tiny volcanic island is rugged and mountainous. Only a small portion of the land is suitable for growing crops, and then the land must be terraced to do so. The volcanic soil is acidic, a good thing for growing wine grapes according to Mr. Falcão, accentuating the natural acidity of the grapes.

The weather is temperate, pretty close to 70º F summer and winter, but with lots of wind, rain, fog and humidity. With such damp conditions, growing wine grapes is a challenge. Powdery mildew is a problem and producing grapes that are physiologically ripe is practically impossible. Any wine made from underripe grapes will have little flavor, be very acidic and produce very low alcohol.

So, what is a winemaker on the island of Madeira to do? Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative! Great acidity is the one thing winemakers on Madeira have going for them. Beyond that, in order to produce Madeira, winemakers must do the opposite of what almost every other winemaker in the world does. First they fortify the base wine with grape spirits and then harness the enemies of wine, heat and oxidation, to develop complex flavors.

The techniques of fortification and heat-induced oxidation were discovered accidentally in the early 1400s by Madeira winemakers. The Madeira islands were a stopping point for Portuguese explorers as they sailed to and from the Indies. Winemakers discovered that fortifying their wine helped preserve it for the long voyages. They also noticed that after making  the round trip between Maderia and the Indies, rocking in the hull of a sailing ship, the wine often tasted better than it did when it started the voyage.

Over time winemakers began regularly fortifying and aging Madeira with the aid of heat in the wine cellar.

How Madeira Wine is Made

Only about 900 acres are planted to wine grapes on Madeira and an even more surprising fact is that there are 1150 growers on the island. Many have only a few vines, most less than an acre. Even the wineries themselves have very little acreage, one owns 10 acres the other only 4. So the wineries must purchase essentially all of their grapes, mostly from individuals they have been purchasing from for generations. Maintaining tradition is very important on Madeira.

The grapes are sorted, crushed and fermentation begins. Depending upon the style of Madeira being produced (the level of sweetness) fermentation is interrupted or proceeds to dry before being fortified with grape spirits.

Aging is a very important part of the winemaking process and generally takes place in large wooden, though not necessarily oak, barrels of varying sizes. Chestnut and exotic wood from Brazil is also used. Absolutely no new wood, and no barrel toast, is allowed.

One winery purchases new barrels, then “loans” them out to whiskey distilleries in the US. Then, after a number of years the barrels are sent to Madeira where they are used to age Madeira wine. Barrels are used for 100 years or more.

Aging takes place through two methods, one faster than the other.

Canteiro is the more lengthy process whereby aging begins in barrels placed high in the wine cellar where the daily temperature variation is the greatest. After a number of years the barrels are moved to middle levels of the wine cellar with less temperature variation, and finally to the lowest level where temperatures are the most constant. This aging process may last for 5, 10, 20 years or more.

Madeiras aged by this method develop concentrated and complex flavors over the many years they spend in barrel. The wine may not be released until January 1st, three years after harvest. Keep in mind this is a minimum aging time, many spend much more time aging than three years.

Estufagem aging begins in stainless steel tanks containing coils of circulating warm water. The heating coils warm the wine to 122-130º F, where it is held for several months before being moved to barrel to finish aging. This method speeds the warming and aging process and is not used for the highest quality Madeira wines.

Wines made using this aging method may not be released prior to October 31, two years after harvest. This method of aging is used mostly for 3 and 5 year old blended Madeiras.

How to Read a Madeira Wine Label

The wine label on a bottle of Madeira wine will give you all the information you need to tell you what kind of Madeira is in the bottle. Here’s what to look for.

Madeira wine labels

D’Oliveiras Maderia 1912 to 1989 vintages.
All bottled in 2012 or 2013.


The style of Madeira produced is determined by the grape variety. This we were told is “written in stone.” Madeira wine production follows well-established traditions and rules are not often changed. Though, oddly enough on the very day we tasted these Madeira wines (October 10), new Madeira wine regulations came into effect.

Previously four grape varieties had been designated as “noble varieties” and determined the major styles of Madeira wine. Their designation as noble varieties has been eliminated, but the same grape varieties still determine the style of wine. The grape variety will appear on the label and tell you what style of wine the bottle contains.

  • Sercial = dry
  • Verdelho = medium dry
  • Boal (Bual) = medium sweet
  • Malvasia (Malmsey) = sweet

With the change in regulations, you may now see the name of a fifth and very important variety on the label, Tinta Negra. The name of the grape means “black ink”, and is a dark-skinned grape that is used to produce a white wine. It comprises the majority of plantings on the island, 82%, and may be made into any style of Madeira wine. So, when you see Tinta Negra on the label, you will need to look for the style as well (dry to sweet), because the grape variety will not help you in determining the style.

Mr. Falcão introduced us to two additional varieties used in the production of Madeira wine: Terrantez and Bastardo. The production from both of these varieties is very low and the wines are not widely distributed. Production of Terrantez on Madeira can be as low as one bunch per vine per year (can you imagine?) and Bastardo is very susceptible to mildew. Both, according to Mr. Falcão, produce stunning wines that generally fall between Verdelho and Boal in terms of sweetness.


Frasqueira — at least 85% of the grapes must be from the same vintage. Aging in barrel is required for a minimum of 20 years before bottling. Barrel aging is often longer.

The bottle will indicate the vintage date as well as the bottling date. These two dates are important, because it will tell you how long the Madeira was aged in the barrel. Additional barrel aging increases the complexity of flavors and aromas and this process essentially stops with bottling.

Blends — will have 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40+ years on the label. This is not the age, or even the average age, of the wine in the bottle. Rather, it designates a standardized flavor profile to which the Madeira is blended by the master blender. Prior to release, each wine must be tasted and certified by a tasting panel from the IVBAM.

If the wine does not pass both taste and chemical analysis testing, it may not be bottled. (This tasting and analytical testing is applied to every Madeira wine before it may be bottled.) Becoming a master blender is a lengthy and difficult process requiring great skill.

Colheita — 85% of the grapes must come from a single vintage, but barrel aging is required for a minimum of only 5 years. The word Colheita (Single Harvest) will appear on the bottle along with the vintage date and bottling date.

Colheita Madeira falls between fresqueira, which are the best quality and are the longest-lived Madeiras, and the Blended Madeiras. Colheita Madeira “gives you a glimpse of the vintage,” according to Mr. Falcão, and is less expensive than fresqueira Madeiras.

Speaking of long-lived Madeira wine, Mr. Falcão recounted his recent tasting of a Madeira dating back to 1780. It was magnificent. The oldest Madeira he has tasted is 1718. He asked us did we think it was good, then responded to his own question by saying, “No, it was damn good!”

The Producers

Only 6 wineries currently produce Madeira for export. One additional winery is moving toward production for export and yet another produces just a small amount of Madeira for local consumption. That’s it, the total production for the entire world is produced by essentially 6 wineries from grapes planted over 900 acres on the island of Madeira. That’s not much total volume.

Some Madeira wineries do produce Madeira for multiple brands or labels, so it may appear by what’s on the shelf in a wine shop that there are more than 6 wineries in total. The current Madeira wineries producing for export are: Blandy’s Madeira Wine Company, Henriques & Henriques, H. M. Borges, Justino’s – Madeira Wines, Pereira D’Oliveira and Vinhos Barbeito.

How to Arrange a Madeira Tasting

By sweetness. Begin with driest wine and end with the sweetest wine. You don’t need to consider whether the wine is a blend or vintage dated. That’s simple enough. Now, on to the Madeira wine tasting.

Madeira wine tasting

Broadbent Verdelho 10 Anos — Verdelho on the label tells us this is a medium-dry style of Madeira. 10 Anos tells us it is a blended wine. The color in the glass is light yellow-amber. The aromas and flavors are nutty, think almonds and hazelnuts. The finish is long with just a bit of sweetness, nice acidity and slight bitterness. Pleasing flavors that are not overwhelmingly sweet.

This Maderia is made by Justino’s and blended for the Broadbent label specifically for the US and UK market.

Barbeito Single Harvest 2003 —  because there is no grape variety on the label we know this colheita is made from Tinta Negra. The label tell us it is a medium-dry style (as Tinta Negra may be made into a Madeira of any degree of sweetness). The color in the glass is amber. Aromas and flavors are not as nutty but has more vegetal flavors, like green tea, but in a subtle way. The acidity is very evident, almost tongue-tingling. The finish is clean with just a hint of bitterness. Though this wine is sweeter than the prior wine, it does not taste sweeter due to the increased acidity.

Barbeito is known for the marked acidity achieved in their Madeira wines and makes “some of the most extreme wines on Madeira.” according to Mr. Falcão.

H & H Single Harvest Boal 2000 — this colheita is produced in a medium sweet style (we know this from the variety, Boal, on the label). The color is a bit darker amber than the prior two wines. Nutty flavors, with more weight in the mouth and bright acidity. I tasted a bit more sweetness, but the wine still had a clean finish.

Mr. Falcão described aromas and flavors of curry, which are a characteristic of Boal Madieras, but I was unable to detect them.

D’Oliveiras Boal 1983 — this is a fresqueira  made in the medium-sweet style (Boal). The color in the glass was the darkest of the group, medium-dark amber. I detected very little aroma, just a bit of iron. Flavors of dried figs and raisins combine with bright acidity and a bit more weight in the mouth. The flavors are very long lasting. Delicious.

This winery, which began production in 1850, has the smallest production on the island.

According to Mr. Falcão. “This winery does not speak by aromas, but by when you drink them. This is like bottled electricity.” So true.

Blandy’s Colheita Malmsey 1996 — we know from the label this is a colheita and is produced in the sweet style (Malmsey or Malvasia). The color is a bit lighter than the previous wine, light-medium amber. Generous aromas of spice, honey and mint are followed by flavors of figs, nuts and iron. Very complex flavors.  The wine is perceivably sweet but has great acidity as well for a long, clean finish.

Mr. Falcão told us 1996 was one of the best vintages for colheita, for Malmsey and for Blandy’s as a producer. It certainly was a delicious wine. One you want to just want to continue to sip and savor.

Now what remains to be done is to continue to sample Madeira in order to build my vocabulary of flavors and aromas. I felt very limited in my ability to describe these wines, except in the most superficial way. I know from my experience with other wines, what is required is more tasting.

We have one bottle of Blandy’s Bual 1964 remaining of the two we purchased during our trip to Madeira in 2002. We plan to open it soon and intend to savor the flavors and the memories.

Thanks to the Madeira Wine Institute – Madeira Wine Embroidery and Handicraft Institute (IVBAM) for sponsoring the tasting and Master Class. Thanks also to Rui Falcão for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm for Maderia wine with us. It was a great wine tasting experience.

This final thought from the IVBAM Madeira Wine Tasting booklet:

“Madeira is uniquely a wine of history: not only because of its historic production process and its association with famous historic events, but also, and more importantly, because it is the longest-lived wine in the world, that can remain vibrant, complex and exciting after a century or more. Which explains why, when you drink Madeira, you are drinking history.”


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Kashawe Camp: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

The fourth safari destination on our Overseas Adventure Travel Ultimate Africa safari was Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. At this point in our trip we had spent nine nights in three tented camps in Botswana and Zambia. We had only three nights left in Hwange National Park before we headed back to the city (Victoria Falls and then on to Cape Town.) I tried not to think about the fact that our safari was coming to an end, but tried to remain in the moment and enjoy everything Hwange had to offer. And no, we were not tired of watching and photographing the animals!

Drums at Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
It was early afternoon by the time we reached Kashawe Camp. Once again multiple transfers were required. We road in a safari vehicle, an airplane and two busses before reaching the safari vehicles that took us to Kashawe Camp.

Fried mopani wormsAlong the way we stopped at an open-air market to purchase two local delicacies: fried mopani worms and the local beer called Chibuku. We would enjoy both one afternoon at Kashawe Camp. The mopani worms had a tough, leathery consistency and were a bit salty tasting. I ate one, but can’t honestly say I enjoyed it very much (but I wanted to)!


ChibukuThe Chibuku beer, which is fermented sorghum, tasted tart, a bit yeasty and was slightly granular in texture. The color was a cloudy beige. It’s also referred to as “shake shake” for its tendency to separate as it sits. Giving the Chibuku a quick shake re-suspends the solids into the liquid.

Speaking of beer, when we finally reached the safari vehicles that would take us to Kashawe Camp it was early afternoon and quite warm. Our guides, Mafuka and Tendai, offered us refreshments and almost everyone chose a cold beer. We so enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon and sipping on that cold beer during our drive to camp.

I also noticed that neatly folded on each seat, along with the usual fleece-lined poncho, was a lap blanket. Assuming we would need both, I wondered just how cold the mornings and evenings would be. Turns out, not colder than any of our previous safari locations, we were just more comfortable.

As had been true of the three prior camps, Kashawe Camp provided us with many unique experiences. This camp had been in operation less than a year at the time of our stay and its location high on a bluff overlooking a riverbed and expansive plain beyond provided spectacular viewing right from camp. One afternoon we saw an enormous herd of Cape Buffalo trekking to the river for a drink. It was quite a sight, and they were a noisy crowd grunting among themselves.

Cape buffalo from Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
We wandered out for coffee early each morning and enjoyed our first cup of the day standing around the camp fire. Our guides jokingly called the fire their “African TV.” The warmth of the fire felt so good in the chilly mornings and I found myself alternating between absorbing the warmth of the fire and watching the changing colors on the horizon.

At night the stars just lit-up the sky, in spite of a very bright moon. We all found the night sky in the southern hemisphere unfamiliar and a bit disorienting, but awesome.

Every evening we were escorted to our tents by Mafuka who carried a loaded hunting rifle. By law, at least one guide must carry such a loaded hunting rifle while accompanying guests in Hwange National Park. He carried it with him in the safari vehicle and when in camp it rested in a gun rack.

Nights were very chilly and the warmth of the hot water bottles placed in our beds for us every evening was most welcome. It was during the nights in Kashawe Camp that I first heard lions calling. I heard them calling almost every night, though they eluded us every day on the game drives. This was the only camp where I heard them, and it’s a sound I will never forget.

The scenery in Hwange National Park was mostly golden with tall dry grass and mopani trees with green, gold and rusty-colored leaves. Some areas of the park had many more green trees, so the vegetation was varied as we drove. I didn’t notice as many palm trees as in the Okavango Delta.

Dirt track through Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
In addition there were rolling hills and bluffs along with varied and interesting rock formations. There are many soil types according to our guides including basalt, sandstone and granite.

My recollection was that game was not as numerous as in previous camps, but when I look back at our photos that seems not to be the case. We saw fewer animals during the early mornings of our game drives and the animals did seem more wary of our presence. Many were very well camouflaged. I recall one sighting when we were watching wildebeest without initially noticing the group of giraffes in the background (who were watching us)!

Wildebeest in front, giraffes watching from the brush
We did make many sightings and saw animals that were new to us. We spotted rock hyraxes, (whose closest relative is the elephant), red mongooses and a striped sand snake. We saw both steenbok and klipspringer. Both are small African antelopes with large eyes and ears and small pointed horns. In our slideshow that follows this post, photos of the steenbok show him standing among mopani bushes, and the klipspringer is standing on a large rock. Klipspringer means “rock jumper” in Afrikaans.

We spotted an African hoopoe (a beautifully crested cinnamon-colored bird), a white backed vulture in its nest and enormous hammerkop nest.

We witnessed a very moving display of elephant maternal protection on one of the afternoon game drives. As we were driving along a dirt track Mafuka spotted a group of elephants quite some distance away, across a ravine. He stopped the vehicle so we could watch them and take pictures.

There were several large female elephants and several younger elephants along with a calf in the group. The calf was at the edge of the ravine when its mother sensed our presence and trumpeted an alarm. The calf immediately hightailed it toward her and several aunties along with the mother formed a protective barrier around the youngster.

Group of elephant moms protecting a calf
The calf didn’t hesitate, nor did the aunties, in reacting to the trumpet call of the mother elephant. It all happened in a flash and took some time before the larger elephants let the calf out of their protective “embrace,” all the while their trunks raised trying to catch our scent. I still get goosebumps when recalling the sighting. I managed to catch just the end of the elephant’s reaction in a very shaky video included in the slideshow.

On our second day at Kashawe Camp we went on an all day game drive. We drove out to Masuma Dam, a large man-made watering hole, where we had lunch with a large pod of hippos. We enjoyed the lunch our guides packed for us from the comfort of a large stone and thatch hide. In addition to hippos there were crocodiles and far off in the distance a pair of secretary birds.

There were several families from South Africa in self-drive vehicles camping at the dam. The drive from South Africa takes several days and a stay at the dam requires a reservation well in advance. The viewing at Masuma Dam can be spectacular, with many species using the large water source as the dry season proceeds.

One of the trees at the Masuma Dam campsite was filled with weaver birds and their nests. We have included a brief video of them chattering away at each other in the slideshow.

One final, lasting impression of Hwange National Park involves an enormous, ugly, noisy, dusty open-pit coal mine just adjacent to the park. On our way into and out of the park we drove right by this open sore on the otherwise beautiful landscape. The roads and surrounding buildings and vegetation were covered with coal dust. Large trucks carrying uncovered loads of coal lumbered down the dirt roads spilling coal dust as they went. I worry for the safety of the workers.

Lone baobab tree stands over an open-pit coal mine near Hwange, ZimbabweAs disturbing at this mining operation was to me, I’m glad to have seen it. It is an important part of the total Hwange experience, and a good life experience as well. Up to this time, I had only seen pictures of this kind of mining practice. All of us need to witness first-hand the appalling impact this kind of mining has on the environment, which we share with animals. I will always remember the sights, sounds and smell of the operation.

That said, I wouldn’t trade my experience at Hwange National Park for any other on this trip. The guides and camp staff at Kashawe were particularly engaging, friendly and helpful. Our meals were delicious and the table was always beautifully set, with cloth napkins folded into animal shapes and the table decorated with their artwork.

Kashawe Camp has a gift shop filled with the handicraft of its camp staff. We were very impressed with the carvings, jewelry, wooden bowls and table linens — all made by the camp staff.

As we said good bye to Hwange National Park and our safari experience came to a close I couldn’t help but reflect on our total safari experience. It was amazing. Worth every dollar it cost us. If you have the opportunity and inclination to go on photo safari, do it. The sights, sounds and smells will enrich your life and increase your awareness of the fragility of the wilderness and the importance of preserving it for the animals that inhabit it. With pressure coming from every direction on the decreasing wilderness areas in the world, tourism can be an important means of preservation.

We still had Victoria Falls to look forward to before leaving Zimbabwe. Our stay in Victoria Falls would take us back to the “city” from the wilderness. As it turns out, our stay in Victoria Falls was filled with great memories too…that in our next installment.

In the meantime, please enjoy the slideshow.


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Butternut Squash Risotto: White Wine or Rosé for #winePW 5?

The theme for the October Wine Pairing Weekend (#winePW) is Fall Fruits and Wine Pairings. Fall fruits…hmm that title made me think of dessert initially. But, then I got to thinking about what a fall fruit is. I pretty quickly determined that squash is a fruit, and not a vegetable as I had assumed, so that opened-up the possibility of cooking a savory dish instead of a dessert. Since butternut squash is my favorite fall squash, I set about finding a recipe using butternut squash.

The Food

With just a bit of searching online I found a recipe from Ina Garten using roasted butternut squash that sounded very good: Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash.  I love risotto and enjoy the challenge of cooking it to perfection. And this recipe includes pancetta, which always makes everything taste better.

This recipe took a fair amount of preparation. Peeling and dicing the butternut squash before roasting it was the most time consuming portion. I did that first and got the squash roasting while I diced the pancetta and shallots.

Next I put the stock in a large pot to heat on a back burner of the stove top and then sautéed the pancetta and shallots. With that complete I added the carnaroli rice (which I substituted for arborio rice), then the wine. With most of the wine absorbed by the rice, I began adding the chicken stock two ladles at a time as instructed, then the saffron.

When the stock is absorbed as the rice cooks, I continued to add more stock two ladles at a time. Generally as the risotto cooks I clean the kitchen and keep an ear out for the sound of the risotto cooking in the pot. When the sound changes from a bubble to almost a sizzle, the risotto requires more liquid.

With the risotto cooked through, but still with a bit of texture, I added the cheese and stirred in the roasted butternut squash. It took about 30 minutes to cook the risotto to the desired tenderness.

Saffron Butternut Squash Risotto


The risotto thickens considerably after the cheese is added, so make sure it isn’t too thick when you add the cheese.

We served ourselves, added a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese to our risotto and sat down to enjoy our meal.

The Wine

Since the recipe includes white wine in its preparation, that pairing was a natural. Pete suggested possibly pairing a red wine, maybe something lighter bodied and not too ripe, just to see how that might work.

After rummaging around in the wine cellar we decide on a white wine, but had difficulty selecting a red wine we thought might work. Eventually we decided it might be interesting to try a rosé instead of a red wine, so we chose a white wine and a rosé to pair with the butternut squash risotto.

2013 Punta Crena Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vigneto Ca da Rena2013 Punta Crena Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vigneto Ca da Renalight yellow in the glass with delicate melon aromas. Flavors of citrus, melon, stone fruit and a bit of spice finish with a lingering minerality and crisp acidity. ABV 12.5%

This wine is produced by a small, family-owned winery in northern Italy near the village of Varigotti in the Liguria region. The family grows primarily indigenous grape varieties, Pigato being among them. Pigato is the Ligurian name for the white grape called Vermentino elsewhere in Italy.


2013 Chateau les Valentines Le Caprice de Clémentine Les Valentines  Côtes de Provence Rosé2013 Chateau les Valentines Le Caprice de Clémentine Les Valentines Côtes de Provence Rosélight salmon color in the glass with obvious aromas of raspberries and blackberries. Berry flavors combine with lemon zest and crisp acidity for plenty of flavor. ABV 12.5%

The 35-hectare Provence estate of Château les Valentines is located in La-Londe-les-Maures overlooking the Mediterranean. Made from a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Cinsault, this rosé exhibits the bright, complex, berry flavors I associate and love in a rosé produced from blended grape varieties. We much prefer blended rosé to single variety rosés for this reason.

The Pairing

This Saffron Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash is one of the most flavorful risottos I have tasted. The background flavors from the combination of shallots and pancetta combined nicely with the roasted, caramelized flavors of the butternut squash. The pancetta flavors predominated along with the roasted butternut squash. The parmesan cheese added a creamy saltiness.

Saffron Butternut Squash Risotto and our wine pairing
I’m not convinced the saffron added any identifiable flavors, possibly it’s just part of the background flavors. Next time I prepare this risotto dish I’m going to omit the saffron and see if I can detect a difference in the flavors.

Pete is not a huge fan of butternut squash on its own, but when used to make soup or when it’s combined with other flavors, as is it in this risotto recipe, he enjoys is very much. We found this recipe is a great way for both of us to enjoy roasted butternut squash.

2013 Punta Crena Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vigneto Ca da Rena

This white wine is so delicious, I’m glad we did not start drinking it while I was cooking, we might not have had much left for our meal. The combination of delicate melon and stone fruit flavors and the interesting minerality proved to be a delicious combination.

Speaking of a delicious combination, that perfectly describes the pairing of this wine with the butternut risotto. The flavors of the wine stood up to the flavors of the risotto, but did not interfere with them. Same of the risotto with regard to the wine. The flavors of both were maintained and they went perfectly together. This was my favorite pairing of the two wines with the risotto.

2013 Chateau les Valentines Le Caprice de Clémentine Les Valentines Côtes de Provence Rosé

This delightfully flavorful rosé is one I just want to sip on a warm afternoon. No food necessary, however it paired very well with this risotto dish. The berry flavors of the wine were accentuated by the caramelized flavors of the risotto. This wine was Pete’s favorite pairing with the risotto because the wine was so flavorful.

If you have the time and patience to prepare risotto, this is a recipe I would recommend. Roasting the butternut squash adds so much flavor as do the sautéed pancetta and shallots. It is a dish that is rich, flavorful and satisfying. It’s worth the time it takes to prepare. As you can see, we both enjoyed this meal very much.

It's all gone!


Wine Pairing Weekend #5 Bloggers: here’s what all of the other bloggers have created for the October Wine Pairing Weekend!

On the Menu…


Pumpkin Lasagna with Halter Ranch’s Côtes de Paso by Culinary Adventures with Camilla

Squash and Sausage Soup with Pumpkin Cornbread and McKinley Springs 2010 Bombing Range Red by Tasting Pour

Linguine with Roasted Carnival Squash and a Garnacha by Cooking Chat

Pinot Vs. Syrah – Pork Tenderloin with Fig & Apple Sauce by Confessions of a Culinary Diva


Caramelized Almond Apple Upside Down Cake with a Late Harvest Riesling by A Day in the Life on the Farm


Wines for a Sweet & Savory Fall Harvest Meal by foodwineclick

Fall Fruit and Wine Pairing by Rockin Red Blog

Autumn Pumpkin Food Flair by Vino Travels — An Italian Wine Blog

Autumn Puff Pastry Tart and La Crema Chardonnay by It’s Okay to Eat the Cupcake

Join the #winePW conversation: Follow the #winePW conversation on Twitter throughout the weekend and beyond. If you’re reading this early enough, you can join us for a live Twitter chat on our theme “Fall Fruits + Wine” on Saturday, October 11, from 11 a.m. to noon Eastern Time. You can also visit our group Pinterest board to pin some great pairing ideas for later!

Stay tuned for the November Wine Pairing Weekend, which will be on Saturday, November 8. Sarah of Curious Cuisiniere (http://www.curiouscuisiniere.com/) will be hosting November’s ‪#‎winePW‬ with the theme of Creative Thanksgiving Pairings. Join the fun!

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Oak Farm Vineyards: State of the Art Winemaking on a Historic Property

The Oak Farm Vineyards sign stands along a meticulously whitewashed fence in the shade of an oak tree. How appropriate. This beautiful 70-acre property is located on DeVries Road in Lodi and is dotted with historic buildings dating back to 1864. Many of the oak trees date back even further.

Oak Farm Vineyards sign
The stars of the historic buildings are the impressive two-story home, reminiscent of a stately plantation home, and a beautiful old barn. Both have been lovingly restored. Between the two is the current tasting room and gardens. Behind all of this is a beautiful pond surrounded by well-manicured lawns. The setting is so peaceful. You would hardly guess you were in Lodi.

Oak Farm Vineyard homeOak Farm Vineyards barn

Oak Farm VineyardsOak Farm Vineyards pond











Standing in contrast to the historic buildings and towering oak trees is a beautiful new wine production facility than includes a spacious wine tasting area. We recently attended a media tour of the new production facility hosted by the Panella family. Managing partner, Dan Panella and winemaker Chad Joseph led the tour along with Dorothy Panella, Dan’s mother.

Oak Farm Vineyards winery and tasting room

Oak Farm Vineyards Tasting Room — Grand Opening October 25 & 26, 2014

The new facility sits right among the vines. It has a production capacity of 7000 cases and includes a large crush pad, tank room, barrel room, offices and a laboratory on the east side of the building. This is the the portion of the facility that Chad is most excited about. At 2000 square feet each, there is plenty of room for expansion in both the tank and barrel rooms.

Crush pad equipment at Oak Farm VineyardsTank room at Oak Farm Vineyards

Barrel room at Oak Farm Vineyards
New laboratory at Oak Farm Vineyards












After several years of “cooking out of someone else’s kitchen,” as Dan puts it, he is happy to have winemaking move to the farm. He and Chad will have complete control of the winemaking process in their own facility. Dan lives just beyond the vineyard, so he can pop into the winery at any time.

Adjacent to the “working” portion of the facility is an open area with a double-sided fireplace and seating on both sides. At the other end of the courtyard is a water feature. The building is positioned such that from the courtyard it is possible to look straight beyond the vineyard and see the restored mansion. A lovely contrast between old and new.

Fireplace in the courtyard Oak Farm VineyardsFireplace Oak Farm Vineyards

Fireplace and tasting room Oak Farm VineyardsMansion at Oak Farm Vineyards













This courtyard area connects the production side of the facility with the beautiful tasting room. The rectangular tasting bar is covered in natural stone. An imposing fireplace stands at one end of the tasting room and is surrounded by large, comfortable leather chairs. Behind the fireplace is an area that can be used for a conference room or for private tastings.

Oak Farm Vineyards tasting roomFireside seating at Oak Farm Vineyards







Yet another outdoor seating area is located along the front of the facility. This eastern exposure will be enjoyable in the early morning and even on a warm afternoon when it will be shaded by the building.

The building has been designed to create a grand entrance with a long walk to the building, the water feature, outdoor seating and fireplace. The tasting room is certainly grand on its own. In addition, the design has created a series of “vignettes,” or intimate seating areas for small groups throughout the tasting areas of the facility. At about 3400 square feet, the tasting and conference room areas will provide plenty of space and a variety of settings to enjoy Oak Farm Vineyards’ wine.

So what about their wine? We had the opportunity to sit down with Dan and Chad to talk and taste Oak Farm Vineyards’ wine during a prior visit along with our friend and blogger Peter Nowack (thank you Peter.)

As a winemaker, Chad’s goal is to gain an understanding of the wine vision of his client, then implement that vision. Together, Chad and Dan have produced a selection of white wines that is as diverse as any in Lodi and a range of interesting red wines. These wines reflect Dan’s interest is in making small lot wines with a very hands-on approach.

White wines from Oak Farm Vineyards
2012 Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc — produced in the New Zealand style according to Chad. That means active vineyard management with leaf thinning and harvesting relatively early with particular attention to pH and ºBrix. In the cellar, the choice of yeast for fermentation in stainless steel produces the desired flavor profile. This Sauvignon Blanc is fresh, citrusy and crisp. Herbaceous flavors are well in the background.

2013 Oak Farm Vineyards Verdelho — sourced from Ron Silva’s Silvaspoons Vineyard in the Alta Mesa AVA, a sub-appellation of the Lodi AVA, has a bit more body, with floral flavors and great acidity. This Verdelho would be especially enjoyable on a warm afternoon.

2012 Oak Farm Vineyards Chardonnay — is made in both an oaked and unoaked style, because Dan finds a demand for both. The unoaked Chardonnay is bright and lively with citrus flavors and a touch of minerality. This production is picked at a lower ºBrix to preserve the natural acidity of the Chardonnay grape. Just a bit of Viognier is added to the blend as well.

The oaked Chardonnay is a nice combination of riper citrus flavors with oak spice in the background. This wine has more body, due to malolactic fermentation and about 7 months of aging in 25% new French oak.

The oak does not trample the flavor of the Chardonnay fruit and the style of this Chardonnay is distinct from the unoaked version. Both are delicious. The unoaked Chardonnay is easily enjoyed on its own and the oaked Chardonnay will pair nicely with a variety of food.
Red wines from Oak Farm Vineyards
Tievoli — this non-vintage red blend is intended to be an easy-drinking wine to enjoy with a variety of food. This blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah is medium bodied with generous, ripe fruit flavors and a bit of spice.

This first release of Tievoli was aged about 9 months in oak. Future releases will be identified by Lot numbers with blends and oak aging varying for each lot.

The story behind the name of this wine is fun. Tievoli is “I love it” spelled backward. Also, according to Dan, Tievoli is a slang word meaning essentially “you want this.” That works too.

2012 Oak Farm Vineyards Barbera — ripe dark fruit flavors, very dry, not too much oak influence. It’s medium bodied and has nice acidity.

2011 Oak Farm Vineyards Zinfandel — very dark in the glass with ripe dark fruit flavors, peppery spice, nice tannin structure and a medium body. The Zinfandel for this wine was grown on the west side of Lodi.

Oak Farm Vineyards will release two Zinfandels from the 2012 vintage. One will be a vineyard-designate.

To achieve Dan’s goal of becoming an Estate winery the vineyards are being re-planted. Vines that have not produced fruit to Dan and Chad’s liking have been removed. The remaining Primitivo and recently acquired Zinfandel vineyards are being actively managed to produce the best quality fruit possible.

Three acres of Verdelho have been planted as have 3 acres of Sauvignon Blanc. Dan chose Clone 1 Sauvignon Blanc because he and Chad believe that clone will produce the flavors they prefer for their Sauvignon Blanc. About 5 acres of Chardonnay have been planted.

Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Sangiovese and Malbec round out the red variety plantings.

While Dan and Chad continue to produce wine from established vineyards in Lodi and possibly beyond, the foundation for Dan’s goal of becoming an Estate winery has clearly been laid. As Chad puts it, “It will be interesting to see where we will be in 10 years.” Indeed.

Oak Farm Vineyards logo


Wine production in the new facility began with the 2014 vintage. Oak Farm Vineyards will celebrate their new facility with a Grand Opening on October 25 & 26 when the tasting room opens to the public. Fall is a perfect time to enjoy wine tasting among the vines. The new wine tasting areas will provide you with many areas to relax and enjoy the view and the wines from Oak Farm Vineyards. A feast for your eyes as well as your palate.


From the Oak Farm Vineyards website:

Wine Tasting
Open 5 days a week, Thursday-Monday 11am-5pm (Closed Tues, Wed)

*For groups of 8 or more, please call in advance to pre-arrange an appointment.  A $5 tasting fee per person will be charged to a single credit card upon arrival.
For more information: tastingroom@oakfarmvineyards.com  or call our Tasting Room at (209) 365-6565

23627 DeVries Road
Lodi, CA 95242


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Bechthold Vineyard: Ancient Vine Cinsault in Lodi

The Bechthold Vineyard is 25 acres of Cinsault planted on the west side of Lodi — in the Mokelumne River sub-appellation of the Lodi AVA. This own-rooted vineyard was planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker. Fortunately the soil on the west side of Lodi is particularly sandy (sandy loam to be exact), and too well drained to allow phylloxera a toehold. That good fortune, along with the family’s desire to preserve this part of their farming history has allowed this gem of a vineyard to remain productive at 128 years of age.

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault – Photo Provided by Michael David Winery

For most of its life, the Bechthold Vineyard was thought to be Black Malvoisie, and of very little interest to California winemakers. Mostly the crop was sold to home winemakers elsewhere at a price that barely made farming the vineyard worthwhile. In about 2004 the vineyard was identified by UC Davis as Cinsault and that changed everything. The line of winemakers seeking Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard formed almost immediately. Today as many as 17 wineries share the crop from this grand old vineyard.

Since 2008 Kevin Phillips of Michael David Winery has been responsible for farming Bechthold Vineyard. Recently, Kevin joined Camron King of LoCA (Lodi Winegrape Commission) and Adam Mettler, also from Michael David Winery, for an online discussion and tasting of wine from Bechthold Vineyard. We were invited to join the conversation and provided with the four wines for this special tasting.

Kevin was full of information about the farming practices and harvest preferences of the wineries whose wine we tasted. Bechthold Vineyard is dry-farmed following sustainable and organic practices. He takes very good care of these old vines and always with an eye to keeping the vineyard healthy.

Bechthold Vineyard Buyers Map Acreage Courtesy Michael-David Winery

Bechthold Vineyard Buyers Map – Provided by Michael David Winery

A portion of the vineyard, which lies in close proximity to an irrigation canal, is used for rosé production by a number of wineries. The roots of this ancient vineyard are able to tap into water seepage from the canal which produces fruit distinct from the rest of the vineyard.

You can see this area identified on the lower portion of the vineyard map, as well as the vineyard blocks designated to the lucky few who are making wine from this lovely old Cinsault vineyard. The character of the fruit does vary within the vineyard, and winemakers have staked-out their rows accordingly.

As long as we are on the topic of irrigation, Kevin did admit to flood irrigating Bechthold Vineyard after harvest every year, just once, to make sure the old vines are maintained in the best possible health. Other than that one soaking, no water is applied to the vineyard.

On to the four wines we enjoyed during this tasting.

2013 Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault2013 Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsaultbright ruby in the glass with generous bright red fruit aromas. Flavors of tart cherries and ripe raspberries combine with smooth tannins and nice acidity. Lovely bright fruit, not too much oak influence. ABV 14.5%, SRP $25.

This wine is a departure from some of the more lusciously ripe and wood-influenced wines made by Michael David, but this Cinsault is juicy and flavorful. It spends 12 months aging in neutral French oak. Pair it with charcuterie or grilled pork chops.

2013 Turley Wine Cellars Bechtoldt Vineyard Cinsault2013 Turley Wine Cellars Bechtoldt Vineyard Cinsaultlight ruby in the glass with aromas of tart raspberries. Flavors follow the aromas with tart raspberries plus some minerality and a lingering spiciness. The body is so light and the tannins very delicate.  ABV 13%, SRP $17. Turley Wine Cellars uses the above spelling for the vineyard on their label and their winery web site.

Winemaker Tegan Passalacqua prefers to harvest Cinsault from this vineyard early, on August 19 for this 2013 vintage. He uses 100% whole cluster fermentation and only native yeast for primary and malolactic fermentation. What you taste in the glass is just what the vineyard provided.

This wine is delicately elegant and would pair nicely with salads, roasted chicken or even just chilled by itself on a warm afternoon. And in case you were wondering about the $17 price, it is not a typo. It could be magic though.

2012 Estate Crush Bechthold Cinsault2012 Estate Crush Bechthold Cinsaultlight to medium ruby in the glass with aromas of dark berries. Raspberry and blackberry flavors with hints of earth combine with smooth tannins. Fruit flavors linger along with tannins. ABV 13.8%, SRP $26.

Darker berry flavors characterize this wine, but it still has a relatively light body and smooth tannins. Very nice. Estate Crush is a custom crush facility located in downtown Lodi. Only 100 cases of this 2012 Bechthold Cinsault were produced.


2011 Onesta Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault2011 Onesta Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaultdarker ruby in the glass with cedar spice and black tea aromas. Flavors of black raspberries along with an amazing pop of cedar combine with smooth tannins and juicy acidity. ABV 14.5%, SRP $29.

370 cases were produced by winemaker Jillian Johnson who chooses to harvest her Cinsault relatively late. This vintage spent only 9 months aging in neutral oak and has spent the most time in the bottle of any in this group of wines. Flavors are developed and nicely integrated. This wine would be delicious with grilled meat.

Cinsault is most often used as a blending grape, to add layers of berry fruit flavors and smooth tannins. It is used for that purpose in the southern Rhone and Languedoc regions in France and by others producing Rhone style wines. In addition to its use in red wine production, Cinsault is a part of many blended rosé wines as well. It plays well with others.

But Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard does nicely on its own too, as these four wines demonstrate. Produced by four winemakers with distinct styles, over three vintages, these wines gave us a good sense of the berry fruit and spice flavors Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard is capable of producing. Happily, flavors from wood aging are well in the background of the flavors produced by the fruit.

The Bechthold Vineyard has so many special qualities. 128 years old. Own-rooted. Dry farmed. Farmed organically and sustainably. All of these things make for an interesting and unique story, but in the end its all about the flavor. Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard delivers on that note as well, no doubt a result of all of those qualities that make its story so interesting.

So, if you are looking for a wine for fall, or for Thanksgiving, or you want to challenge your perception of the kind of wine produced in Lodi, consider Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard. You will likely not be disappointed.

Great tasting, so instructive to taste these wines together. Thank you to LoCA and Charles Communications Associates. Thanks also to Camron, Kevin and Adam. You guys possess a wealth of knowledge about Lodi wine production. Thanks for sharing it with us.


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Rinascimento Wine Company: Building Relationships, Selling Italian Wine

Relationships are a big part of wine appreciation. Just think about how you have found some of your favorite wines. It’s likely been through your local wine merchant with whom you have developed a relationship, learning how your tastes compare to his or her tastes and recommendations. Or maybe a friend recommended a wine or winery to you. Maybe the relationship is a bit less personal, maybe you read a review in a wine magazine or an online publication.

However your appreciation for wine has developed, at some point we all rely on the knowledge and experience of others. With really good wines being made all over the world, it’s not possible to visit everywhere or become an expert on everything — well at least that’s the case for most of us.

Through our Twitter community of friends we have become acquainted with Guy and Tina at Protocol Wine Studio and their #WineStudio Twitter-based wine education program where they encourage us to “engage our brains and palates.” They choose the topic and the guests who provide the wine*. Then we all meet via Twitter on Tuesday evenings to taste and Tweet. It’s fun and informative.

We have spent Tuesday evenings during September learning about Rinascimento Wine Company and its founder Justin Gallen. Justin has combined his love of wine and Italian literature into an Italian wine import and distribution business in California. He is busy building relationships with producers and clients alike.

Justin sat down with Guy from Protocol Wine Studio for a conversation about how he got into the wine import business and what drives him. You can head over to SoundCloud and give a listen if you like.

Justin imports Italian wine produced primarily by small, family-owned wineries making wine using organic, biodynamic or sustainable farming practices. All of these farming practices are really good for for the environment, and presumably what’s good for the environment is reflected in the quality of grapes. These things are important to me, however for most consumers of wine they are not so important. Taste, according to Justin is the bottom line. That of course makes perfect sense, but if you can have both, why not?

Justin sent us samples of four wines from three producers. We tasted them during two tastings that followed the initial evening of conversation. The first tasting included two wines from southern Italian regions of Abruzzo and Basilicata. For the second tasting we moved North to Piedmont.

2013 Francesco Cirelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo2013 Francesco Cirelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzolight, translucent ruby color in the glass. Aromas of strawberries and cherries are followed by lime zest and tart cherry flavors. The wine finishes with clean acidity, a hint of tannin and lingering cherry flavors. ABV 12.5%

This lovely wine is so flavorful with a nice weight in the mouth thanks to the hint of tannin it possesses. We sipped this wine with a creamy pasta and it was just delicious. We served it chilled as we would a rosé and it released even more aromas and flavors as it warmed in the glass. We will certainly be looking for more examples of Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo in the future.

This wine challenged me in several respects. First, the color and shape of the bottle (dead leaf green Burgundy style) lead me to expect a red wine, not a rosé. But, when I held the bottle up to the light the wine was not opaque, but translucent.

We learned during the Twitter chat that Francesco Cirelli could not afford different bottles for the Cerasuolo when he first began wine production, so used the same green bottles he had for his red wine production. I guess the bottle choice just became a matter of routine after that.

Second, the color of this wine is lovely, but much darker than many rosés and lighter than a red wine. Its color is achieved by relatively short juice contact with the darkly pigmented skins of the Montepulciano grapes as fermentation begins, only 10 to 12 hours. Cerasuolo in the name refers to both a cherry-like color of the wine and the fact that the wine has aromas and flavors of cherries.

Then finally, there is the grape variety Montepulciano, which by regulation must comprise at least 85% of DOC classified Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo.

This grape variety is indigenous to the Abruzzo region, but the name may be most familiar as part of the Tuscan DOCG named Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is made primarily from Sangiovese and not Montepulciano. Perhaps the memory of this delicious Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo will help me remember the distinction.

If you would like to hear the proper pronunciation of Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, you can hear Francesco Cirelli himself pronounce it in a post on the excellent Do Bianchi blog site.

Francesco Cirelli label

This wine is part of a portfolio of organic products produced by Francesco Cirelli. Visit their website for an overview of their wines and to get “the lay of the land.” You will know what I mean by that when you visit their site. They even have bed & breakfast accommodations.



Musto Carmelitano 2010 Serra del Prete Aglianico del Vulture2010 Musto Carmelitano Serra del Prete Aglianico del Vulturemedium ruby in the glass. Spice and dark fruit aromas are followed by dark fruit, black tea and spicy flavors. Tannins are ample and grippy. The body is light to medium with excellent acidity. ABV 14%

When we received these samples from Justin I was very exited that an Aglianico del Vulture was among them. I have tried only one other, and enjoyed it very much. This Aglianico did not disappoint. The combination of fruit, spice, ample tannins and a lighter body is just what I enjoy in a red wine.

Monte Vulture is an extinct volcano and gives the Aglianico del Vulture DOC within the Basilicata region its name.

One of the things I find so interesting about this wine is that it is fermented and aged in only stainless steel and cement vats, no wood aging at all. This wine has so much flavor, spice and depth and it is wonderful to taste all of the complex flavors of this 100% Aglianico without the influence of wood aging. Once again, this wine is produced from organically grown grapes. It is not fined or filtered. What’s not to love about this wine?

If you are uncertain as to the correct pronunciation of Aglianico del Vulture refer once again to Do Bianchi. Thank you @truewinecultur for the link.

Our second Tuesday of wine tasting took us to Piedmont in northern Italy and the wines of G.D. Vajra.

G.D. Vajra wine estate was founded in 1972 on family property located in the village of Vergne in Barolo. The vineyards, at about 400 meters elevation, have a variety of soil types and sun exposures. They are farmed organically, sustainably and without irrigation.

2011 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba2011 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Albainky dark ruby-violet color in the glass. Generous dark, ripe fruit aromas combine with similar dark fruit flavors, leather and earth. This medium-bodied wine has ample tannins and is lushly ripe but maintains great acidity. ABV 14.5%

This 100% Barbera is all about the flavor of the fruit. It is produced from six distinct vineyard terrors within Barolo, Novello and Sinio communes. Aging is in a combination of stainless steel and oak, but with little new oak. It would pair nicely with grilled steak.


2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albetranslucent garnet-tinged ruby color in the glass with aromas of celery and dark fruit. Dark fruit flavors, spicy cedar and tobacco blend with significant, drying tannins for a mouthful of flavor. Love the lighter body and great acidity of this wine. ABV 14.5%

The translucent color of this wine belies the abundance of flavor and tannins it delivers, but hints at its lighter body. I love a lighter hued wine that packs a powerful punch of flavor and tannins. That is just what this wine delivers. Delicious.

Nebbiolo for this wine is grown in three vineyards in Barolo with distinct soil types located at altitudes between 400 and 440 meters. The wine is aged in used Slovenian oak barrels for 36 months.

When G.D. Vajra was established in the 1970s by Aldo Vaira, a professor turned winemaker, it was named for his father Giuseppe Domenico, who owned the vineyards. At that time they took back the traditional spelling of their family name for the wine estate. The family name had been changed to Vaira in the 1930s, upon order of Benito Mussolini according to Justin, which is how you will see the surnames of the family spelled. There is always a connection to the people behind the wine for Justin.

Rinascimento Wine Company import label

Next time you purchase a bottle of Italian wine be sure to look at the back of the bottle for an import label. Maybe you will find the beautiful Rinascimento Wine Company label and you will know it is a bottle carefully chosen by Justin.


Hats off to Protocol Wine Studio for another great #WineStudio event. Thanks to Justin Gallen for sharing not only your passion for Italian wine, but your delicious wine with us. It was an enjoyable and illuminating experience.

*Wine is most often the topic of conversation on #WineStudio, but during October it will be all about Virginia hard cider.



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Lafupa Camp in Kafue National Park, Zambia: A Beautiful River Camp

It was a long travel day to Lafupa Camp from the Okavango Delta in Botswana, but the folks at Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) took care of every detail. We rose early, had a quick breakfast before driving to the landing strip where we flew back to the Kasane airport, then drove to the Kazungula Ferry crossing which took us across the Zambezi River into Zambia. From the ferry crossing we drove to Livingstone and then flew from Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport, in small single-engine airplanes, to a dirt landing strip not far from Lafupa Camp which we reached by safari vehicle. Whew!

Not only were we greeted at Lafupa Camp by the beautiful singing of the camp staff (and damp washcloths to wipe the dust from our faces) but by warmer weather as well. And our schedule felt a bit more relaxed at Lafupa, which was a welcome change after what seemed like a very hectic, fast-paced few days in the Okavango Delta.

Lafupa Camp, Zambia

The camp is located at the confluence of the Lafupa River with the Kafue River and has a lovely deck at the river’s edge. There were no raised walkways at Lafupa camp and our tented cabins were built on low platforms just at the edge of the Kafue River.

Lafupa River Camp, Zambia
Our days and nights in camp were dominated by the grunting and squabbling of hippos and with the beautiful calls of the many kingfisher species that live along the river. Once again, elephants were a regular part of camp life. We often heard elephants just outside our tent at night and I watched one come down to the river for a drink just next to our tent one afternoon. Fascinating and frightening at the same time.

The first day we enjoyed morning and afternoon game drives through Kafue National Park, but at a more leisurely pace. We were able to sleep in a bit later in the morning and with warmer weather the drives were very enjoyable.

Elephant dung which deters tsetse flies when lit
We had the usual “tea and pee” stops during the game drives to enjoy a cup of bush tea and a biscuit or two. We noticed cans filled with elephant dung attached to the corners of the game vehicles. It didn’t take long for someone to ask why.  Tsetse flies are a potential problem in Kafue National Park, their bite is very painful, and burning elephant dung acts as a repellant. So, whenever a tsetse flies were around, the elephant dung was lit. The smell of burning elephant dung reminded me of incense.

Unique to this park is the seasonal burning of grasslands within the park. Sections of the park are intentionally burned to prevent a large wildfire from taking hold and moving across wide portions of the park. Thankfully the burning had taken place before our arrival, as visibility is poor during the burns. We noticed much of the burned grasses had already begun to sprout again, bringing game back into the burned areas.

Animal sightings during daytime game drives were not as numerous as in Botswana, but nighttime game drives were unique for us to Kafue National Park. We enjoyed two nighttime drives during which our driver used a large spotlight to sight game. Both drivers were careful not to keep the light on the animals for too long, so as to minimize stress to the animals. Needless to say photography at night was a challenge. We spotted a blue duiker, black civet, spotted genet (absolutely gorgeous), scrub hare, hyenas, hippos and bush babies (well, actually I only saw their eyes shining back at me.) With warmer evenings and slower driving speeds at night, these nighttime drives were really enjoyable.

Gin and Tonic and a beer on safari in ZambiaI enjoyed my first gin and tonic of the trip one afternoon on the deck at Lafupa Camp. Having a gin and tonic a must for any visit to Africa, in my book. It tasted delicious and made me think of the safari stories of the past I have read.

On our second day at Lafupa Camp we toured via the rivers. We enjoyed morning and afternoon “floats” on both rivers. In the morning we ladies boarded one boat for game viewing and the guys boarded a fishing boat and tried their luck fishing along the Lafupa River.

We had great luck sighting many birds from the comfort of our “party boat”.  It was a flat boat with rows of seats and railings all around. Our guide, Milos, captained the boat from the rear of the vessel. It was so relaxing to float along the slow moving Lafupa River taking pictures and watching the scenery.

Pete with a fish on the Lafupa River, ZambiaIn the meantime the guys were fishing for anything that would bite under the guidance of Boyd, who knew all of the good fishing holes. They caught silver barbel and African pike. Everyone caught fish and they all had a merry old time. Pete was so happy to have the opportunity to fish in Africa. It was something he was hoping to have the opportunity to do. He even caught fish with large teeth which pleased him even more!

In the afternoon we headed up the Kafue River to sightsee, and the guys motored back to the Lafupa River for more fishing. Milos guided our boat near the shore so that we could see and take pictures of the many birds, plants and animals along the the riverbank.

Elephant in the Kafue River, ZambiaAs we were floating along Milos spotted something very exciting off in the distance. He directed our attention up river to what through our inexperienced eyes we thought was a large rock in the river. Turned out it was moving — it was an elephant crossing the river. Even Milos was excited to discover the elephant and took out his own camera to take pictures.

While keeping a safe and non-threatening distance between us and the elephant, we slowly circled as he proceeded to cross the river. We all just wanted to keep watching, not wanting to return to camp. Needless to say the sighting really made our afternoon.

Soon after, Milos broke open the drinks cooler and poured wine or beer all around. We had the most relaxing float back to camp and to top off our elephant sighting we came upon a baby hippo along the riverbank. What a perfect afternoon.

One more memory of Lafupa Camp that will forever remain with me is the nursery rhyme I learned from Jeanne, one of our fellow travelers. We ladies practiced singing the rhyme as we returned to camp and offered our rendition, complete with acting from Kathy and Leslie, to the “cultural exchange” that evening. Let’s just say we received mix reviews. Here are the lyrics, maybe it is familiar to you.

I went to the animal fair
The birds and the beasts were there
The big baboon by the light of the moon was combing his auburn hair
The monkey he got drunk and fell on the elephant’s trunk
The elephant sneezed and fell to his knees
And that was the end of the monk
The monk, the monk, the monk.

Learning from your fellow travelers is one of the fun aspects of group travel. Thanks Jeanne.

Here are a few of the highlights from our time spent at Lafupa River Camp in Kafue National Park, Zambia. The slideshow begins with our travel to the park from the Okavango Delta. You will be able to see the colorfully painted houses along the road, and even a car wash. Also included are several videos. Watch carefully, and you will see one picture of two kingfishers later in the slideshow. One of the kingfishers has a fish in its mouth, the other is thinking about taking the fish away. Please enjoy.


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