Windrun Pinot Noir: An Accidental Wine Tasting

It was a beautiful fall morning in San Francisco, warm enough to enjoy an iced coffee at an outdoor table in Union Square. I was taking in the sights and sipping my coffee when I heard a woman ask, “Do you mind if we share this table?” I looked up and replied, “Not at all, please do!”

The couple sat down and unfolded a San Francisco map. As they began studying it I couldn’t resist asking where they were visiting from. “Santa Barbara.” came the reply. They had come to the city for a wine tasting, as had I. Even though we were attending different events, we couldn’t believe the coincidence and had a delightful conversation about wine.

Come to find out the couple are partners with others in Windrun Vintners & Négociants in Santa Barbara. The company was founded in 2010 by Lance Mason, working with winemaker Ken Brown. In addition to Mason, the partnership now also includes Mark Oliver and Scott Burns. All have been part of the local wine scene for years. It was Scott and his wife who shared that table with me in Union Square.

A negociant, in the context of wine, is a merchant who purchases grapes, bulk juice or finished wine from other vineyards. They can bottle the wine under their own name either as is or after blending with other wines.
This practice first began in the French region of Burgundy. The term itself is derived from the French word for merchant.

Windrun specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Together with their winemaker Ken Brown, who is well known in Santa Barbara County and has been making wine there since 1977, they select wines to be blended and finished in a style reflective of the variety. After nearly 40 years of winemaking in Santa Barbara County, you can bet Brown has made many connections with growers and vintners in the region.

Scott described their style of Pinot Noir as elegant and more old world than new world in style. That sounded appealing to me, and before they left the table we exchanged business cards and Scott extended an offer of tasting samples, which I happily accepted.

Chicken-CacciatoreThat warm fall weather has now transitioned to the cool of autumn, in fact the days are now positively brisk. With the change in weather I began to think about what I might want to pair with the trio of Pinot Noirs Scott sent us. Two of the wines we received were described as lighter than the third. I wanted to prepare a dish that might match with all three, and decided on chicken cacciatore which I served with gemelli pasta.

2012-Windrun-SLO-Pinot2012 Windrun San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noirlight ruby-garnet color in the glass. Give this wine some time to open up and you will be rewarded with earthy, berry bramble aromas that clearly identify it as Pinot Noir. Cherry and cranberry flavors combine with smooth tannins and a light body to produce a wine that is elegant and well balanced. 13.6% abv. $23.

This wine was sourced from cool-climate Edna Valley and was lovely to sip. It is the most elegant and delicate of the group.

2013-Windrun-SBC-Pinot2013 Windrun Santa Barbara County Pinot Noirlight ruby in the glass with dusty, earthy and berry bramble aromas. Flavors of riper cherries and brighter, red fruit combine with earthy, mushroomy flavors and even a bit of spice. All of these flavors are supported by smooth tannins. 14.1% abv. $23.

This wine has an interesting combination of flavors. It isn’t the biggest of the group but, to us, it has the most complex flavors of the three. According to the technical sheet, this wine is a blend of five Pinot Noir clones. Fermentation took place in stainless steel with aging in new and used French and American oak for 6 months.

2013-Windrun-SRH-Pinot2013 Windrun Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noirmedium ruby in the glass with dark berry and earthy aromas. The flavors follow the aromas with dark berry fruit, damp earth, mushrooms and berry bramble. The flavors finish with tart fruit and tannins that have a bit more grip and texture. 14.3% abv. $33.

This wine is the darkest and biggest of the group but still made in a restrained style. It’s really juicy and delicious. Sourced from the Lafond Vineyard, and also a blend of five Pinot Noir clones, the wine was fermented in open top tanks with wood aging for 10 months in neutral oak puncheons (500-liter barrels.)

The Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and the Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir paired best with our chicken cacciatore. They were a perfect match for the hearty flavors of the chicken stew. The elegance of the San Luis Obispo Pinot Noir was lost in the flavors of the chicken cacciatore. A better pairing might have been pork medallions in a creamy mushroom sauce. But, all was not lost. We found it paired nicely with the warmth of a fire in the fireplace after dinner.

Relationships in winemaking must be especially important when making wine as a négociant. Establishing the provenance of wine you purchase, blend and bottle as your own is essential. Surely, that depends upon relationships with other winemakers and are established over time. I would think a highly-regarded winemaker working nearly forty years in a region would be in just such a position. Add a group of owners with many years of experience in the same wine region and I think you have the recipe for successful winemaking. That certainly seems to be the case with the wines we tasted from Windrun Vintners & Négociants.

Delicious wine, made in a restrained style and at a good value. That’s what these three Pinot Noirs from Windrun Vintners & Négociants demonstrate to me. I’m so glad Scott and his wife asked to share a table with me on that brilliant morning in San Francisco’s Union Square. Thank you for the interesting conversation and the delicious samples of your wine.

Their wines are distributed nationally and available on their website. Assuming you are of legal drinking age, and live in a state that allows wine to be shipped your door, their wines can come to you. One way or the other, I hope you find these wines from Windrun Vintners & Négociants.



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Three Expressions of Carmenere from Concha y Toro

These days, Carmenere is a varietal wine most closely associated with Chile. But that is a relatively recent development — within the last 20 years. Lucky for those of us who enjoy Carmenere, viticulturists brought cuttings to Chile from France before the phylloxera epidemic of the 1860s all but destroyed the variety in its native Bordeaux. Because Carmenere can be difficult to grow and fully ripen in Bordeaux, after the phylloxera epidemic it was not widely replanted. As a result, Chile is home to the vast majority of Carmenere plantings worldwide.

Many of the plantings in Chile were originally thought to be Merlot. It was not until 1994 that French ampelographer, Jean-Michel Boursiquot discovered they were actually Carmenere. The leaf pattern didn’t look quite right for Merlot, the grapes ripened much later than expected for Merlot and the foliage turned bright red at harvest. All are more characteristic of Carmenere, and the identity was confirmed by DNA analysis in 1997 according to Jancis Robinson in Wine Grapes.

Carmenere has found a happy home in Chile where it thrives in a warmer and drier climate. According to Amanda Barnes for Wines of Chile, “The heartland for Chile’s best Carmenere is the central valley – from Aconcagua through Maipo and down to Cachapoal and Colchagua.”

As luck would have it, we recently received three Carmeneres from Chilean producer Concha y Toro as tasting samples — and just in time for World Carmenere Day, November 24. We decided to plan a meal with friends to enjoy these three expressions of Carmenere.

Lamb-stewBecause of Carmenere’s French origin, I reached for one of my favorite French cookbooks, around my french table by Dorie Greenspan. I decided to prepare Navarin Printanier, a lamb stew which includes sautéed carrots, turnips and small white onions along with red-skinned potatoes and peas. We just added sweet French bread and butter for a simple, warming and hearty meal.

Casillero-del-Diablo-Carmenere2013 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Carmeneredeep ruby in the glass with generous aromas of chocolate, crushed flower stems and red fruit. Blackberry flavors, peppery spice and dried hay in the background combine with smooth tannins for a lively glass of wine. 13.5% abv. SRP $11.

Ample fruit flavors and smooth tannins are a winning combination in this wine. It will appeal to a wide variety of wine drinkers and its relatively low alcohol means it is food friendly as well.


Gran-Reserva-Carmenere2013 Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Carmeneredark ruby-violet color in the glass. Perfumed, dark fruit aromas are followed by dark, rich fruit flavors combined with tart red fruit, hints of smoke, earth and tobacco. Tannins are a bit drying and smooth. Interesting and complex. 13.5% abv. SRP $17.

The Serie Riberas (Riverbank Series) of wines are single-vineyard wines grown along one of Chile’s major rivers — the Rapel, Cachapoal and Tinguirica. There are five wines in the series. This wine is sourced from the Peumo Vineyard which is D.O. Peumo designated, and located along the banks of the Cachapoal River in the Cachapoal Valley. The wine is aged for 11 months in 60% French and 40% American oak.

Marques-de-Casa-Concha-Carmenere2012 Concha y Toro Marqués de Casa Concha Carmeneredense violet in the glass with aromas of red fruit, black tea and hints of smoke. Red fruit flavors, along with plums, tobacco, black tea and smoke combine with drying tannins and juicy acidity. Lots of lovely flavor with delicate tannins. 14% abv. SRP 25.

Also sourced from the Peumo Vineyard, this wine is aged a bit longer, 18 months, entirely in French oak.

These three Carmeneres show an interesting progression of density, flavor and complexity and with prices between $11 and $25, they are perfect for everything to a weeknight dinner to an evening spent with friends— as we discovered. All three wines paired beautifully with the lamb stew.

If you’re feeling devilish, pair the Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Carmenere with sausage pizza. Both the Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Carmenere and  Concha y Toro Marqués de Casa Concha Carmenere would be delicious with braised short ribs or a variety of stews. Come to think of it,  a roaring fire after dinner would do nicely as well.

Thanks to Creative Palate Communications and Concha y Toro for the wine samples and the inspiration for this delicious food and wine pairing. It was an excellent reminder of just how delicious and versatile Carmenere is. Perfect for this time of year, whether for an everyday meal or a holiday celebration. Thanksgiving is, after all, just a few days away.



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Delightful Dinner Partners from Portugal’s Tejo Wine Region

Wines from Portugal? Yes, please! With more than 200 indigenous grape varieties and a wide variety of growing conditions, Portugal has plenty to offer the adventurous wine drinker. We recently had the opportunity to sample four wines from the Tejo (pronounced te-zhoo) wine region of Portugal. Until 2009 this region was know as Ribatejo.

Tejo Wine Region

The region follows along both banks of the Tejo River (also known as the Tagus River) upriver from Lisboa, nearly to Portugal’s border with Spain. The river originates well into Spain, east of Madrid. As you might imagine, the river acted as an ancient highway bringing commerce and, importantly, winemaking to the region. Since Roman times, winemaking has taken place in the Tejo region.


Map courtesy of Wines of Tejo

The river directly affects the climate and soil of the region, and three distinct zones have been identified. The Campo zone, which runs along the riverbank on both sides of the river, is fertile and has alluvial soil that provides good drainage. Because of the fertile soil, grapevines tend toward overproduction, and both the canopy and crop yield must be controlled to produce quality fruit. The weather here is a bit cooler, thanks to the river. North of the river, in the Barrio zone, the landscape is characterized by rolling hills with limestone and clay soils. In northern portions of the Barrio deposits of schist are present. In the Charneca zone, south of the river, temperatures are warmer and the soil is poor in quality — always a good thing for winemaking.

Indigenous grape varieties are the stars of the Tejo wine region. White varieties include Arinto, Fernão Pires, Alvarinho and Verdelho. Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Castelão, Aragonês, make up the red varieties. International varieties are allowed as well, and comprise a blending component of one of the wines we tasted.

We prepared two meals, one to pair with the white wines and the other to pair with the red wines. For the white wines, I reached for a recipe I clipped from Bon Appétit magazine back in 1995. I have prepared the dish several times during the years in between, though not for quite some time. To pair with the red wines, I consulted one of my Portuguese cookbooks and prepared a dish we had not tried before. The results were delicious.

White Wine Pairings

2014 Casal Branco Falconaria Fernão Pires2014 Casal Branco Falcoaria Brancogenerous aromas of stone fruit are delicately floral as well. Flavors of white peaches, citrus zest combine with the predominantly stony minerality. The finish is moderate in length and juicy. This wine is fresh and lively with a clean finish. 13% abv.

The family-owned Casal Branco estate is located in Almeirim, in the Charneca zone of Tejo, and is planted to mostly indigenous Portuguese varieties. Among those varieties is Fernão Pires, which composes 100% of the Falcoaria Branco. Fernão Pires is the most widely planted white grape is Portugal and is known as Maria Gomes in the north of the country.

The winery’s technical notes indicate winemaking techniques are a combination of  modern and traditional. Among the traditional practices is foot-treading the grapes in open tanks. This method is said be more gentle pressing method, and would certainly make a unique talking point of the winery should you serve this wine to your friends or family!

2014 Caves Velhas Cavaleiro Reserva Branco2014 Caves Velhas Casaleiro Reserva Brancodusty, dried oat hay aromas predominate and are followed by delicate floral and interesting baking spice notes. Acidity is more perceivable in this wine, and the finish is juicy but with a bit of roundness as well. 13% abv.

This wine is a 50/50 blend of Fernão Pires and Arinto, another indigenous white variety that thrives in the warm Tejo region. Arinto maintains very good acidity even when ripe and is used to make varietal wines as well as a blending grape.

Caves Velhas was established in 1881, its history in Tejo dates to 1939, and is now part of Group Enoport United Wines. Grapes are harvested from vineyards located in the Barrio and Campo zones of the Tejo.

We chose to pair these wines with halibut wrapped in Swiss chard alongside a ginger cream sauce, oven roasted asparagus and roasted red potatoes. The recipe requires a bit of preparation, but the results were very worth the effort.

Chard wrapped halibut

Steaming the chard-wrapped halibut, which had been pre-seasoned with sautéed ginger and shallots, kept the little packages moist. The ginger cream sauce added complexity and richness to not only the halibut but to the vegetables as well, which we used to sop up the sauce! I often resist preparing sauces because of the fat and butter they contain, but the sauce for this dish is really delicious with the halibut and somehow made the dish seem so elegant.

We found both white wines paired extremely well with our meal. The richness of the halibut and the ginger cream sauce were perfect with the bright acidity of both wines. The difference we noticed is in how the flavors of the wine changed with our meal. The minerality of the Casal Branco Falcoaria Branco developed considerably with the pairing, as did the floral flavors of the Caves Velhas Casaleiro Reserva Branco.

Red Wine Pairings

Quinta-do-Alqueve-Traditional-Tinto2012 Pinhal da Torre Quinta do Alqueive Tradicional Tintoruby in the glass with aromas of red fruit, dried hay and earth. Cherry and red berry flavors combine with dark fruit and leather flavors. Tannins are drying, with a bit of grip, and add nice texture to this medium-bodied wine. 13.5% abv.

With time in the glass this wine develops darker fruit flavors and it becomes more aromatic. The complex combination of fruit flavors, earth and leather makes for a very interesting glass of wine.

This wine is a blend of indigenous varieties Touriga Nacional, Aragonês, Trincadeira and Castelão. Touriga Nacional is best known for Port production in Portugal, but the variety is also used as a blending grape for dry red wines as well as varietal wines. The variety lends tannins and dark fruit flavors to a blend. Aragonês is also known as Tinto Roriz elsewhere in Portugal and Tempranillo in Spain, where it likely originated in Ribera del Duero.

Trincadiera is also known as Tinta Amarela in Portugal – it has other unofficial names as well. The variety is said to be difficult to grow, but is able to fully ripen in the long, warm growing season of the Tejo region. Castelão, another variety with many names, is the most widely-planted variety in Portugal. It thrives in varied conditions and as you might expect, is used to produce wine in many different styles.

Pinhal da Torre winemaking facilities are located in Alpiarça (south of the Tejo River), on Quinta del São João, one of two estates owned by the winery. Pinhal da Torre uses only estate-grown fruit in the production of their wines. The second estate, Quinta do Alqueve is the source of the grapes for this bottling.

The winery building, completed in 1947, is now fully modern, but includes the traditional winemaking technique of foot treading in wine production.

In case you are curious, the cat on the label is a Lince Ibérico — an Iberian lynx. One more detail, the rear label includes information in braille.

Falua-Conde-De-Vimioso-Tinto2013 Falua Conde De Vimioso Tintodark ruby violet in the glass with generous ripe red raspberry aromas. Spicy red fruit and black tea flavors combine with dark fruit, leather and gauzy, drying tannins. The finish is moderately long. 13.5% abv.

Grape varieties in this blend include Aragonês, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Cabernet Sauviginon. Alicante Bouschet has the distinction of being one of very few red-fleshed grape varieties known as a teinturier grape (here’s the pronunciation.) This wine was vivacious right out of the bottle and the spicy red fruit flavors are deliciously complex. This wine has more obvious tannins than the prior wine.

João Portugal Ramos built his reputation first as a consulting enologist and now produces wines at his own wineries throughout Portugal. In 2004, Ramos established Falua in Almeirim, south of the Tejo River. Five vineyard sites within the region are listed on the Falua vineyard map and indigenous as well as international varieties are used in winemaking there.

Both red wines are delicious, not too ripe and without heavy-handed oak aging. Both have complex fruit flavors, nice acidity and modest alcohol levels, all of which make them excellent food wines.

We paired these red wines with a Portuguese dish called Bife à Cebolada (onion smothered steak). The cookbook I used, Savoring Spain & Portugal, explains that this dish can be used to prepare a variety of cuts of beef. If a more tender cut is used, the steak can be quickly pan fried and the onion mixture prepared separately. If you use a less tender cut, simmer the meat together with the onion mixture until the steak is tender.

Regardless of the cut of meat that is used, a marinade of vinegar, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper is used prior to cooking. I was able to purchase grass-fed beef tenderloin steaks for this recipe. They were tender and only required quick pan frying, which I read is the preferred method of preparing this dish.

I prepared the refogado (the combination of onions, garlic, tomatoes and vinegar) separately and topped each steak with a portion before serving. Fried potatoes are the usual accompaniment to this dish. I chose to oven-roast quartered Yukon gold potatoes and added steamed broccolini for color.

The result? Lots of flavor – thanks to the refogado and the flavorful marinade used on the steaks before searing them. The steaks were juicy and tender, and the refogado savory and buttery smooth. The roasted potatoes were delicious on their own, but divine when combined with the steak and onions.

Both the Pinhal da Torre Quinta do Alqueive Tradicional Tinto and the Falua Conde De Vimioso Tinto paired beautifully with this dish. Both wines have plenty of flavor and structure to stand up to the caramelized flavors of this dish. Both would be delicious with lamb or pork as well.

I prepared this meal on a recent Monday night, which is the evening we have our friend Dave over for dinner. Dave is an adventurous wine drinker and always willing to try my food experiments. Dave enthusiastically asked that I “keep this in the rotation.” This high praise from Dave referred to both the food and the wine.

Tejo-regional-graphicLook for wines from the Tejo region of Portugal. If you don’t find the region identified on the front label, check the back label. There you will also find the regional seal.  Tejo is home to some 80 wineries, about 19 of which are now exporting to the U.S. All of the wines in this group are delicious food-friendly wines perfect for everyday dining or special occasions — I’m thinking Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. If you are a curious wine drinker who likes to try new varieties, the Tejo wine region of Portugal has a wine (or two) for you.

Thanks to Joan from The Dilenschneider Group who reached out to us, and to Wines of Tejo for providing the wine samples. I, too, will now keep my eyes peeled for wines from the Tejo region of Portugal.



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A #winePW Thanksgiving for Two: Storm Pinot Noir and Seared Duck Breast

The monthly call for bloggers to participate in Wine Pairing Weekend for November came from David, who blogs at Cooking Chat. David is the founder and major organizer of the monthly food and wine pairing event. This month, our task was to come up with Creative Thanksgiving Wine Pairings.

I started this month’s pairing with the food and I set several goals for the pairing. First, incorporate the familiar flavors of Thanksgiving without using turkey, mashed potatoes or candied yams. Those are the three flavors I most associate with Thanksgiving from my childhood. This is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I do enjoy cooked yams blended with baking spices and butter, then topped with miniature marshmallows and browned in the oven. It’s a dish that was always part of my family’s Thanksgiving celebration.

My second goal was to keep it simple, the exact opposite of my usual Thanksgiving preparations. No cooking two turkeys. There would be no stuffing and/or dressing. I would not prepare multiple green vegetables and a salad or two. No mashed potatoes. I was, however, undecided about dessert.

Third, this would be dinner for two. In past years, Thanksgiving dinner at our house might  include up to 14 family members, and the dreaded “kids table”. This celebration would be just Pete and myself.

Finally, no leftovers. Thanksgiving has always been as much about the leftovers as it is the main meal. Turkey sandwiches for breakfast is a tradition I really love after Thanksgiving. So, for this meal I wanted to challenge myself to make small portions.

These are the ingredients for our Creative Thanksgiving Wine Pairing. My usual cutting board looks a bit empty when compared with ingredients for prior #winePW meals.

Our menu: pan-seared duck breast with a blackberry reduction, oven roasted butternut squash and peas with sautéed pearl onions. It’s simple alright, but with the proper seasoning, and the addition of ample butter, I hoped our meal would be something to be truly thankful for!

The wine we chose figured prominently into how thankful we ultimately felt for this meal. The 2012 Storm Pinot Noir Moya’s was very special indeed. We were glad to have a simple meal to accompany this not-so-simple, but very elegant Pinot Noir.

The Food

I started by preparing the blackberry reduction. I added a basket of blackberries and a bit of organic beef stock to a small pan. I simmered the combination for about 30 minutes, then added some aged balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of Huckleberry jam, then continued to cook it for another 30 minutes or so. When the berries were completely cooked down, and the liquid had started to thicken, I strained the reduction through a sieve, which required a bit of pressure with the back of a spoon.

While the blackberries were simmering, I prepared the butternut squash. I started by peeling and dicing one small butternut squash. Then I added a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg before tossing it all together and roasting it in the oven. Before plating, I mashed the roasted butternut squash with a fork and added a knob of butter.

Next I sautéed pearl onions in butter and olive oil and set them aside. I cooked the peas at the last minute and stirred in the buttery pearl onions.

Finally, the duck breast. This part made me a bit nervous, as I had never cooked one before. I scored the skin without cutting into the flesh of the breast, then seasoned it liberally with salt and pepper. I seared it skin side down, then repeated on the other side before popping it into a 400º F oven for a couple of minutes. We let the duck breast rest for 10 minutes before slicing it thinly.

To plate each portion, I started with the peas and onions, then the roasted butternut squash. I finished with a puddle of the blackberry reduction and then several slices of the duck breast. Simple, yet delicious.

The Wine

2012-Storm-Pinot-Noir-Moyas2012 Storm Pinot Noir Moya’smedium ruby-garnet color in the glass. Damp earth and berry bramble aromas are generous. Tart cherry, blackberry and earthy flavors combine with smooth tannins for a medium-long finish. This wine has restrained fruit flavors along with earthy and even savory flavors. It is one of the most complex examples of Pinot Noir I have tasted in some time. 13% abv.

I knew almost nothing about this wine before tasting it aside from a general impression of the region, Hemel-en-Aarde — that it is relatively cool, coastal and known to produce quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in South Africa. Hemel-en-Aarde translated from Afrikaans means heaven on earth. I have been very curious about this region since first learning the meaning of the translation several years ago. Hemel-en-Aarde is a 90 minute drive southeast from Cape Town, and we hope to visit the region next October when we return to South Africa.

This lovely Pinot Noir was made by South African winemaker Hannes Storm. Working with Pinot Noir grown on a northern slope in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the fruit was hand harvested, de-stemmed then fermentation took place with indigenous yeast. The vineyard is relatively young, and the soil contains small rocks and decomposed granite.

Before starting his own label, Hannes Storm was winemaker for 12 vintages at Hamilton Russel Vineyards also located in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Hamilton Russel Vineyards is known for quality, terroir-driven Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

This 2012 Storm Pinot Noir Moya’s, along with Storm’s 2012 Pinot Noir Vrede are his first releases. He is working with two vineyards, Moya’s as described above, and Vrede which he describes as being planted in “low-vigour, stony, clay-rich shale soil in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley”. Both are distributed in the U.S., I am happy to say.

Hannes’ brother Ernst is making wine in Santa Barbara County, having found many similarities with Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, under his own label — Storm.

One more note: Pete poured me a glass of the Storm Pinot Noir Moya’s as I was preparing our meal. He poured the wine in a Riedel Heart to Heart Pinot Noir glass. At the same time he poured himself a glass in his favorite Zalto Denk’Art Universal glass.

Storm-Pinot-in-the-glassI didn’t taste the wine immediately after Pete poured it. When I did pick up the wine, I did so without swirling it. The first thing I did was take in the aromas in the wine glass. I couldn’t believe what I detected — cumin. In fact, even though I knew I wasn’t using cumin to season anything I was cooking, I stepped out of the kitchen to take a second whiff of the wine. Same result.

I handed my wine glass to Pete and asked him what aromas he noticed and at the same time reached for his wine to give it a sniff. While it was distinctly earthy, brambly and fruity, there was no hint of cumin. We found it so interesting that the Zalto brought out the fruit aromas and character of the Pinot Noir, and the Riedel the earthy qualities of the wine. We noticed the difference whether we swirled the wine in the glass or not. What a fabulous tasting experience!

The Pairing

As a nod to the wine’s origins and to the simply delicious pairing, I’d say the pairing was heavenly! The flavors of peas and onions together is always one of my favorites. The roasted butternut squash reminded me of those candied yams that I’m so fond of. The seared duck breast was reminiscent of dark meat turkey with plenty of texture and flavor. Even the blackberry reduction, which I added as an afterthought, was a delicious stand-in for cranberry sauce. The Storm Pinot Noir Moya’s supported all of those flavors and lent some of its own — fruit, earth and spice.

Pete and I enjoyed this simple, but elegant meal so much that neither of us missed dessert, which I decided not to prepare. Honestly, we just reveled in the flavors of the meal and the elegant complexity of the Storm Pinot Noir, taking our time to enjoy all of the flavors. Instead of dessert, we enjoyed a second glass of Pinot Noir. I think not making dessert was a brilliant decision!

With regard to leftovers, we had only a few slices of duck breast left, just enough to prepare a sandwich for lunch the next day.

To see what our fellow bloggers cooked up for their Creative Thanksgiving Wine Pairings, read their blog posts below.

Be sure to check out all these Creative Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving!

Culinary Adventures with Camilla will share Simple Elegance: Beurre Noisette-Braised Radishes + Sips from Languedoc

Rockin’ Red Blog will Celebrate Thanksgiving Lodi Style

Cooking Chat will share Garrigue Roasted Turkey Breast with Wine from Languedoc #winePW

A Day in the Life on the Farm will pair Turkey Tetrazzini with a Michigan Wine

Curious Cuisiniere will share French Herb Roasted Turkey with Languedoc Wine

Confessions of a Culinary Diva is planning A Sud Ouest Thanksgiving

Tasting Pour will Pick Picpoul, Choose Corbieres: Languedoc Wines and Thanksgiving

ENOFYLZ Wine Blog shared Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake Paired With An Aussie Sticky

Grape Experiences posted Wine and Dine: Chateau Paul Mas Belluguette and Mediterranean Fish Stew

Dracaena Wines discusses How to Be Creative with Your Thanksgiving Table

Join our live Twitter chat on Saturday, November 14, at 8 a.m. Pacific Time. Just tune into the hashtag #winePW. This will be a great chance to ask your Thanksgiving wine pairing questions, and share what you know!

If you’ve come to us after November 14, consider joining us for #winePW on December 12, focused on “Sparkling Wine and Festive Holiday Dishes”, hosted by Cindy at Grape Experiences. You can get a full listing of past and upcoming Wine Pairing Weekend events here.



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A Lodi Thanksgiving with Unexpected Food and Wine Pairings

Lodi “Outside the Box” Thanksgiving is the title of a recent online tasting hosted by LoCA, the Lodi Winegrape Commission. We were invited to participate in the tasting and, in addition to sending us four wines as tasting samples, LoCA also sent along recipes to accompany each wine. The recipes were created by Chef Tony Lawrence, who is a sommelier and certified wine and food pairing specialist (among many other talents.)

Lodi Wine Tasting Lineup
The tasting and discussion was moderated by Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker at St. Amant winery and program director at the Lodi Winegrape Commission. Joining Stuart were Layne Montgomery, winemaker at m2 Wines, Susan Tipton, owner and winemaker at Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards and Adam Mettler, winemaker at Mettler Family Vineyards and general manager and lead winemaker at Michael David Winery.

Individual staff members of the Lodi Winegrape Commission worked hard to prepared Chef Tony’s dishes to accompany each Lodi wine for the tasting. We know how much work it was, because we too prepared the dishes for the tasting.  There was no turkey, no dressing and no candied yams among the pairings, but they were all delicious nonetheless.

Below is a description of our food and wine pairings along with suggestions as to how you might pair each Lodi wine with your traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Pairing 1

2014 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyard Viognier and Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque

2014 Acquiesce Viognier2014 Acquiesce Viognier pale yellow in the glass with generous aromas of honeysuckle and ripe melon. Flavors follow the aromas with delicate white flowers,  melon, pear and a squeeze of citrus. The length is moderately long and very clean with nice acidity. 13.5% abv. $23

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyard owner and winemaker, Susan Tipton, loves white wine and in particular white varieties from the Rhône Valley in France. That’s why, with the exception of a Grenache Rosé, she makes only white wine. Varieties like Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and of course Viognier are Susan’s passion.

And, there is more to look forward to from Acquiesce Winery. Susan recently planted the southern Rhône variety Clairette Blanc and Bourboulenc should go in this spring; the first plantings in California. The source for Acquiesce’s plantings is the esteemed Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape, in the southern Rhône.

2014 Acquiesce Viognier with soupRoasted Butternut Squash Bisque — oven-roasting the butternut squash before simmering it with sautéed onions, carrots, celery and pears gives the soup a rich roasted flavor. Cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and bay leaf add to the complexity of the roasted squash and the addition of butter and heavy cream after the mixture is puréed makes this bisque thick, silky and rich. We garnished our bisque with roasted pumpkin seeds to add a bit of texture.

The Acquiesce Viognier paired beautifully with the butternut squash bisque, providing a clean, fresh contrast to the rich, buttery, creamy bisque. A piece or two of sweet French bread could turn this combination into a light evening meal or delicious lunch.

Acquiesce Viognier would be the perfect partner for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as well. It would pair nicely with white meat turkey and gravy, and dressing made with sourdough bread, bacon, chopped nuts and apples. The richness of gravy-covered mashed potatoes would be delicious with the Acquiesce Viognier.

Pairing 2

2013 m2 Wines Alicante Bouschet Paired with Marinated & Smoked Paprika Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Pancetta Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Fennel Ragu

m2-Winery-2013-Alicante-Bouschet2013 m2 Wines Alicante Bouschetdark ruby-violet in the glass with smoky, cedar and red fruit aromas. Complex flavors of tart red fruit, cedar, nutmeg and black pepper combine with relatively smooth tannins for a moderate length finish. This wine still tastes young, but those complex spice flavors and delicious fruit make it very interesting. 13.7% abv. $26

This wine was m2 Wines winemaker Layne Montgomery’s first experience with Alicante Bouschet. The grapes were sourced locally from a vineyard that is 6-8 years old. He harvested about 5 tons and produced 250 cases. Wood aging for about 14 months took place in neutral oak.

There isn’t much Alicante Bouschet planted in the Lodi AVA, and the variety is mostly used as a blending grape to lend color, fruit flavor and tannin structure to a wine. Alicante Bouschet is a teinturier grape, which means it produces red-flesh berries in addition to dark skin. It is a Grenache cross created in southern France in the 1850s and 60s.

Pork-Tenderloin-and-raguMarinated & Smoked Paprika Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Pancetta Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Fennel Ragu — this recipe took a bit of time to prepare, but the flavors blended together magically. The marinade for the pork tenderloins included olive oil, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and balsamic vinegar. After marinading them, I browned the tenderloins before finishing them in the oven.

Sautéed onions and olives are added to tomatoes, red peppers, fennel and tossed with olive oil then oven roasted. The mixture is then simmered in chicken stock with the addition of sautéed pancetta. This mixture cooks down to a delicious vegetable and tomato ragu which I served over gemelli pasta alongside slices of pork tenderloin.

The fruity wine paired deliciously with the ragu and the smoky flavors of the pork tenderloin. The flavors of the ragu were intensified by oven roasting the mixture before simmering it in the broth. Oven-roasting vegetables to create extra flavor must be one of those simple techniques for boosting flavors that chefs are taught. It was very effective in this pairing.

m2 Alicante Bouschet would be delicious with dark meat turkey, sausage stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy. Add spiced sweet potatoes into the mix and the Alicante Bouschet will make a perfect addition to your traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Unsure about a wine pairing? You could always take Layne’s advice. When asked by customers what to pair with a particular wine, his response often is “How about a second bottle?”

Pairing 3

2013 Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah Paired with Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs on Creamy Yukon gold Parsnip Potatoes

2013 Mettle Petite Sirah2013 Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirahinky dark ruby violet in the glass with sweet, dark fruit aromas and smoke. Dark, rich and ripe fruit flavors combine with vanilla, good acidity and significant, grippy tannins. This is a big, bold wine with ample tannins. 14.9% abv. $24.99

Mettler Family Vineyards winemaker Adam Mettler selects the best lots of Petite Sirah from five vineyards for this bottling. He uses the most tannic lots as blending components for other Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon varietal bottlings (he is also lead winemaker for Michael David Winery), then chooses the lots that are “big and bad”, but that have less aggressive tannins for this bottling. This is a big, ripe wine which is the exact style he is trying to achieve. He told us the grapes are deliberately picked very ripe.

Petite Sirah is another grape variety that is often used as a blending grape to lend color, flavor and structure to a wine. According to Stuart Spencer, Lodi produces the most Petite Sirah of any California wine region.

Short ribs w chard and potatoesSlow Braised Beef Short Ribs on Creamy Yukon Gold Parsnip Potatoes — the flavors of a complex rub used on the short ribs (composed of cocoa powder, flour, thyme, brown sugar and allspice) is intensified by browning them before braising the ribs for over 4 hours at 300º F. The Yukon gold potatoes that accompany the ribs gain complexity and depth of flavor with the addition of parsnips. Sautéed spinach and onions complete the plating.

This pairing was so flavorful. The cocoa rub gave the ribs an earthy, sweet complexity in addition to the tender, juiciness that a slow braise adds. I used the pan juices to make a gravy that reflected all of the dark cocoa flavors that were present in the rub. It was really delicious with the ribs, Yukon gold parsnip potatoes and the sautéed spinach.

As you might expect, this flavorful food is begging for a big wine to accompany it. The Mettler Petite Sirah was just the ticket. It had plenty of ripe fruit flavor and tannins to stand up to the complexity of the ribs as well as the astringency of the sautéed spinach.

Turkey cooked on the grill or smoked, accompanied by an andouille cornbread dressing would be a brilliant pairing with the Mettler Petite Sirah. Dark-meat turkey and dressing with a generous amount of gravy would also make a the lover of this big style of wine very happy at your Thanksgiving table.

Pairing 4

2014 Michael David Winery Symphony Paired with Individual Peach Cobblers and French Vanilla Ice Cream

Michael David Symphony2014 Michael David Winery Symphonypale yellow in the glass with generous orange blossom aromas. Sweet pineapple and white flowers combine for an explosion of flavor in a light-bodied wine. The flavors and finish are sweet and very long lasting. 11% abv. $15

Symphony is a “California thing”, literally. It is a cross between Garnacha Rioja and Muscat of Alexandria produced at U.C. Davis by Harold P. Olmo. Symphony’s lineage explains the intense aromatics of this wine.

This wine is 100% Symphony. As Adam explained, there is no blending with this wine. Fruit is harvested at about 21º Brix, whole cluster pressed and then fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. The challenge comes with the timing of the decision to stop fermentation in order to achieve the desired balance of sugar and alcohol.

Michael David Symphony w panna cottaAfter tasting the Michael David Winery Symphony, Chef Tony thought the fruit flavors of the wine would match nicely with the stone fruit flavors of peaches. We deviated from the “program” at this point, and prepared an alternate dessert to pair with the Symphony — Mascarpone Panna Cotta. Our preference was for a dessert that was not very sweet, and panna cotta fits that description perfectly. I always reduce the amount of sugar in whatever recipe I use which puts the focus on the naturally sweet flavors of the cream, or in this instance the mascarpone.

The key to pairing any dessert with wine is to be certain that the wine is sweeter than the dessert, otherwise the wine will taste bitter. The Michael David Symphony provided the needed sweetness and tasted delicious with the creamy flavors of the mascarpone.

If you have any Moscato-loving family members, this Michael David Symphony will make them very happy. The flavors are very similar. It would be delicious served before Thanksgiving dinner, as well as a bright addition to dessert.

Chef-Tony-RecipesThese wine and food pairings were truly delicious and, even if you do not deviate from your traditional Thanksgiving meal, this tasting gives you some great suggestions for wines to pair with Thanksgiving. All four wines, and the accompanying recipes, are available on the recently re-designed LoCA website.

Each wine in this tasting highlight the variety and quality of wines being produced in the Lodi AVA. As you might already know, Lodi was recently named Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Congratulations!

Thanks to LoCA for hosting the tasting and shipping the tasting samples. Thanks also to Stuart, Layne, Susan and Adam for an hour of educational and entertaining conversation.  Charles Communications Associates organized the tasting for us, thanks so much.

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!


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Scotto Family Cellars — A Family Winemaking Tradition Continues

As with many Italian families, wine is an important part of Scotto family life. For at least five generations, Scotto family members have been making and selling wine, first in their native Italy, then in New York after the first family members came to the U.S. in 1903.

Even before leaving Brooklyn for California, the family purchased grapes from Lodi, California growers to make their table wine. That connection between the Scotto family and Lodi growers continued after their move to California in 1963.

The current generation of the Scotto family operates Scotto Family Cellars in Lodi where they make small-lot wines sourced from Lodi AVA grapes. That’s not all this busy winemaking family is up to though, as you will note from a quick look at their website.

Thanks to a connection we made with Bradley Gray during the recent Wine Bloggers Conference (he was pouring hard cider made by two Scotto siblings at an after party), we received two bottles of Scotto Family Cellars wine as tasting samples. We decided to plan and evening menu around the two wines to see how they paired with food.

With the weather taking a definite turn toward fall, I decided to prepare a hearty beef and vegetable stew. I braised the meat for several hours and then added the vegetables during the last hour. Cooking the stew low and slow resulted in a tender dish, rich in flavor, which we found paired quite nicely with both wines.

2011-Scotto-Family-Cellars-OVZ2011 Scotto Family Cellars Old Vine Zinfandelruby with garnet tones in the glass and generous red fruit aromas. Hints of vanilla and wood spice combine with ripe raspberries and blackberries. Tannins are smooth, but provide nice structure along with lingering fruit flavors and good acidity. 13% abv.

50-year old vines from the Mokelumne River AVA are the source for this Old Vine Zinfandel. It is easy to like and even easier to drink. This Zin has plenty of flavor without being overripe or jammy. It’s not too hot, not too ripe, just right. This is a red wine you could easily drink on its own (like while you’re preparing dinner), then take to the dinner table with you.


2012-Scotto-Family-Cellars-Malbec2012 Scotto Family Cellars Malbecruby-garnet colored in the glass with dark fruit and dusty straw aromas. Flavors are complex and dark, a combination of blackberries and currents with cedar spice. Tannins are a bit grippy and drying. A lovely, interesting combination of flavors and texture. 13% abv.

Once again, lots of flavor, but not too ripe, nice complexity and structure. 3% Cabernet Franc is added to the Malbec, which is sourced from the Borden Ranch and Clements Hills AVAs. Both AVAs are located in the foothills east of Lodi where the climate is a bit warmer.

At around $14.99 per bottle, both wines offer very good quality for the price and make an excellent choice for dinner any day of the week. We found both wines paired equally well with our beef and vegetable stew, and if I had to choose a favorite it would be the Malbec. Love those tannins and the dark, complex flavors.

Thanks, Bradley for sending Scotto Family Cellars wine our way.



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Hyland Estates: Two Oregon White Wines Perfect for Any Season

Pair white wine with fish and chicken, red wine with red meat. Sound advice, even if it is a bit general. Some would add: drink white wine when the weather is hot, red wine when the weather is cool. This statement I too mostly agree with, except that I really enjoy drinking white wine any time of year. So, as the weather begins to cool, I’m not yet ready to make the switch to mostly red wines.

Hyland Estates Riesling and Gewurztraminer

Lucky for me, we’ve been holding two bottles of white wine from Oregon producer, Hyland Estates. We received the wines, 2013 Hyland Estates Riesling and 2013 Hyland Estates Gewürztraminer, as tasting samples.

At an “after party” during the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Corning, N.Y., we tasted a range of wines produced by both Hyland Estates and Soléna Estate. Both of these wines were among those we sampled during that tasting.

We opened both wines on a recent Sunday evening, after the drive home from a weekend spent in Point Reyes Station. The day before we discovered the Saturday morning Farmers Market at Toby’s in the same town.

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The Market included a wide variety of seasonal lettuces, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, coffee and cheese. Many of the vendors greeted their customers by name, giving the Market a real sense of community to us. We took advantage of the selection to purchase several kinds of cheese and salami to bring home with us.

When we returned home Sunday afternoon, we quickly popped the two white wines in the refrigerator to chill and decided to pair them with the cheese and salami we purchased the day before. We had suitcases to unpack and laundry to do, therefore, a simple evening meal was in order. Turns out, this pairing worked perfectly.

The Wine

2013 Hyland Estates Riesling2013 Hyland Estates Rieslinggolden yellow in the glass with delicate aromas characteristic of Riesling, aromas often described as petrol, along with caramel and pineapple. Stony minerality blends with tart pineapple and a hint of Meyer lemon. The finish is clean, juicy and very long with nice acidity and lingering fruit flavors. 12.3% abv. $25

This wine leaves you smacking your lips and is just the glass of wine you would think of reaching for on a warm afternoon to quench your thirst. Turns out, its just what I want to reach for on a cool autumn afternoon too. It is refreshing, well balanced and has plenty of flavor.

2013 Hyland Estates Gewurztraminer2013 Hyland Estates Gewürztraminermedium yellow in the glass with generous melon aromas. Ripe melon flavors combine with a hints of spice, herbal notes and a bit of citrus pith. Once again, brilliant acidity and a clean, dry finish. 12.5% abv. $28

As this wine warms, it becomes very aromatic and flavors just continue to develop. I love the combination of flavor and tongue-tingling acidity in this wine. It is delicious with food, but I love the flavors of the wine on its own too.

Both wines are sourced from the historic Hyland Estates Vineyard, located in the McMinnville AVA in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Hyland was one of the very earliest vineyards to be planted in the area. The first vines, Pinot Noir of course, were planted in 1971.

Until 2007, when the vineyard was purchased by NW Wine Company’s owners – Laurent Montalieu, Danielle Andrus Montalieu and John Niemeyer, the original owners never made wine of their own. Instead, the fruit was sold to many well-known (and award winning) Willamette Valley wineries.

Since 2007, Hyland Vineyard has been expanded, to just over 200 acres, with the most recent plantings completed in 2009. Hyland Estates began producing estate Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürztraminer under its own label in 2011.

The Cheese and Salami

Cheese n salamiPoint Reyes Original Bluecreamy and soft with deep blue-green veins. The flavor is salty, pungent and creamy. The flavors are strong, but not overly so. It has all of the classic flavors I associate with delicious blue cheese, along with a creamy texture.

Point Reyes Bay Bluea firmer, crumbly cheese with deep blue-green veins and a darker rind. While the blue flavor is relatively mild, this cheese has a strong earthy flavor that makes it very distinct from the Original Blue. A bit more of an acquired taste.

Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawka slightly soft, triple cream cheese with a distinctive rose-orange colored rind. The aromas and flavors are pungent (stinky is a fair description) and very distinctive. Our experience with this cheese is that it is milder and firmer when young and becomes gooey and very pungent as it ages. This piece of Red Hawk was young, thus relatively mild in flavor, but you must like stinky cheese to enjoy it. We do and we did.

Zoe’s Meats Uncured Salamiblack pepper and garlic flavors combine with the fatty goodness of pork. Pretty straight forward, no preservatives. Very tasty.

The Pairing

Spot on. Both the Hyland Estates Riesling and Hyland Estates Gewürztraminer were delicious with the cheeses. I’m a fan of pairing white wines with strong flavored cheeses. There are no grippy tannins or heavy fruit flavors to compete with the strong, sometimes earthy, flavors of the cheese. Nice acidity in a white wine, as is present in both of these Hyland Estates wines, also cuts through the fat in the cheese leaving your palate clean and ready to taste another bite of cheese.

Either of these wines would be lovely partners for hors d’oeuvres, salads, creamy pasta dishes, pesto pizza, chicken or fish. In addition to interesting, complex flavors and great acidity, versatility is another quality I appreciate in well-made white wine. Both of these wines have all of those qualities.

Pinot Noir may be the undisputed star of the Willamette Valley, but these two white wines are excellent examples of why you should not discount Riesling and Gewürztraminer from the Willamette Valley. Hyland Estates, in addition to producing several delicious Pinot Noirs, makes a lively Chardonnay as well, demonstrating that there is much to like from this historic McMinnville AVA vineyard.

Thank you, April, for sending these two wines our way. We were favorably impressed with the range of Pinot Noir we tasted from both Hyland Estates and Soléna Estate (in addition to flavorful Pinot Gris and Chardonnay) during that tasting in Corning, N.Y. We were happy to have a second taste of the 2013 Hyland Estates Riesling and 2013 Hyland Estates Gewürztraminer.



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Harvest Lunch at Jordan Vineyard: A delicious tradition

For six weeks in September and October of every year, Jordan Vineyard & Winery celebrates the year’s harvest and the bounty of their gardens by preparing delicious Harvest Lunches. Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon accompany the buffet, which changes depending on what is fresh in their gardens.

Jordan’s Harvest Lunches are a nod to the French tradition of wineries preparing lunch for the workers that harvest their grapes. Typically, picking begins early every morning, with harvesting completed by lunchtime. By this time pickers have worked up an appetite and the winery provides lunch for the crew. The home-cooked lunches are a way to reward pickers for a job well done, and perhaps to build loyalty to the winery.

Harvest Lunch table

These typical harvest lunches likely do not include white tablecloths and fresh flowers on the tables, as was our experience recently when we enjoyed a Harvest Lunch at Jordan Vineyard. The Lunch, held on October 9th, was the final Lunch of the 2015 harvest and was arranged for wine and food bloggers. We were pleased to be included in the celebration.

The Chateau

This was our first visit to the Alexander Valley winery. The winding road from Alexander Valley Road to the winery takes you through hills mostly covered with shrubs and oak trees. The winery is framed with trees and large lawns. Jordan’s spectacular, tile-roofed building is described by the winery as a chateau. That description is apt. The enormous building houses not only wine production facilities, but a kitchen, dining areas and guest suites as well.

John Jordan talks about Jordan VineyardJohn Jordan told us that his parents fell in love with the food of France before they fell in love with the wine. Their vision for the winery, which was influenced by their travel in France, was to combine the wine and food experience at Jordan Vineyard under one roof. So, with that in mind, they began construction of the chateau in 1974 on what was 1200 acres of “wild property”, according to John.

The focus at Jordan Vineyard is on quality not quantity — quality wine production and a quality wine and food experience. Jordan Vineyard produces only Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Only two wines every vintage. As John put it, “This is the size the winery will always be.” The chateau is complete with no plans for expansion.

Our Harvest Lunch

The beautiful buffet included a variety of vegetables, salads and cheese along with roasted pork, beef and quail. Jordan’s chef Todd Knoll and his staff  prepared dessert as well, which included chocolate mousse and ripe local peaches. Three Jordan Vineyard wines were poured for us to enjoy with our meal.

2013 Jordan Chardonnaymedium yellow in the glass with stony, citrusy aromas. Yellow apple, citrus and pear flavors are bright and crisp, supported by great acidity and a bit of weight in the mouth. ABV 13.7 % 

2011 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon dark ruby in the glass with generous dark fruit aromas with interesting herbal notes in the background. Dark berry and plum fruit flavors are complimented by a bit of earthiness, lovely tannins and a lingering finish. ABV 13.8%

2008 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignongarnet-ruby in the glass with cedar and tobacco aromas. Cedar spice flavor combines with red and dark fruit, leather and earth. These complex flavors, developed with time in the bottle, are supported by still firm tannins. A lovely, elegant glass of Cabernet. ABV 13.5%

With the 2015 harvest, Jordan Vineyard & Winery celebrates its 40th vintage. Interestingly, winemaker Rob Davis also celebrates his 40th vintage with Jordan Vineyards with the 2015 harvest, having joined the legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff for the very first vintage at Jordan.

After lunch, Lisa Mattson, Jordan’s Director of Marketing & Communications, took us on a tour of the chateau, including the winemaking facility. Just beautiful.

Jordan offers a variety of tours and tastings, all by appointment, because the tasting experience at Jordan includes both food and wine. It is intended to be unhurried and focused on the experience and the pairings.

The Jordan Estate Rewards program, developed in lieu of a wine club, enables you at attend a variety of culinary events (including the Harvest Lunches), private tastings and overnight stays at the chateau. The best way to learn about what’s going on at Jordan is to  sign up for their newsletter.

If you are looking for a wine experience removed from the crowds that sometimes accompany wine tasting, Jordan Vineyard & Winery offers you just that. And, if you are in search of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon made is a restrained and elegant style then you will not be disappointed by the wines produced by Jordan Vineyard & Winery. Your visit will require some planning, but you will be rewarded for doing so.

Cheers to Jordan Vineyard & Winery



Thank you, Lisa, for the invitation to enjoy a Harvest Lunch at Jordan Vineyard. The afternoon was warm and sunny on the terrace in the shade of the oak trees. We enjoyed visiting with fellow bloggers and talking food and wine with them— but mostly we enjoyed the food and wine of Jordan Vineyard. It was a memorable afternoon.



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Celebrating With Bubbly From Brazil

There is nothing like a glass of sparkling wine to make any occasion a bit more special, even (or maybe especially) a weeknight evening. On a recent weekday evening we enjoyed a bottle of Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut that we received as a tasting sample.

I was particularly pleased to receive a wine produced in Brazil (Brasil), not only because that’s my last name, but also because I’ve tasted very few produced in the country. Our first introduction to the Salton Intenso Sparkling, along with Vinicola Salton’s Cabernet Franc, Tannat and Talento, came at the recent Wine Bloggers’ Conference held in Corning, N.Y. and we were happy to have a second taste of the Intenso.

Salton Intenso Sparkling BrutSalton Intenso Sparkling Brutpale yellow in the glass with abundant bubbles. Nutty and fruity aromas are followed by ripe yellow apple and melon flavors combined with a squeeze of lemon zest. The finish is short to moderate in length. ABV 12.5%

This sparkling blend of Chardonnay and Riesling is made using the Charmat Method, meaning the second fermentation (that’s what produces the bubbles) takes place in a pressurized tank prior to bottling, rather than in the bottle. This method, in addition to being less expensive than the Traditional Method,  tends to maintain the aromas and fruit flavors of the grapes.

Suggested food pairings by Salton for this light sparkling wine include canapés, mild cheese white meat, light pasta and seafood. All of these dishes would be delicious partners for this bottle of bubbly, but we decided to go in another direction with our pairing…pizza.

Salton Intenso and pizzaBecause we wanted to keep the pairing simple for this weekday meal, I purchased pizza dough at a local market. I started by allowing the pizza dough to come to room temperature on a floured board. In the mean time I sliced red onion and mushrooms, then diced  linguiça and sautéed the mixture. Linguiça is a smoked pork sausage seasoned with paprika and garlic. I grew up eating this delicious Portuguese sausage and whenever I cook linguiça today it takes me back to my childhood.

I rolled the pizza dough into a thin round, topped it with sliced, fresh mozzarella and the sautéed toppings. Because we had ripe tomatoes from our garden, I added those as well. We baked the pizza until just brown…delicious.

Not only was the pizza itself delicious, the red onions were sweet, the mushrooms earthy and the linguica juicy and garlicky, but the pairing with the Intenso Sparking Brut was delicious as well. The clean flavors of the wine supported the garlicky pizza flavors and made what was a very simple meal feel elegant. It really jazzed-up our Friday night dinner.

Thanks to Amanda with The Thomas Collective, who reached out to us. We enjoyed sampling the Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut, and at a SRP of $14.99 to $16.99 this bottle of bubbly is as perfect for a party as it is a dinner at home. It made our evening.


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Two Interpretations of Santorini Assyrtiko

It’s always a happy day when we are fortunate enough to receive wine samples for tasting. It presents so many new possibilities. Most times the wines are ones we have not tasted before. We may or may not be familiar with the grape varieties, but even if we are, every winemaker’s interpretation of a variety is unique.

We recently received two wines from Santorini island, produced from the island’s indigenous variety Assyrtiko; one a dry, still wine and the other a sparkling wine produced in the Methode Traditionelle. This provided us with the opportunity to learn a bit about the island and its viticulture.

In addition to learning about Santorini and its wines, we took the opportunity to prepare some of our favorite Greek dishes to enjoy with the wines. We shared all of it with friends, because food and wine are always best shared with others.

Ancient History

Santorini island is part of the Cyclades island group (about 120 miles south of the Greek mainland) in the South Aegean Sea.  The present-day municipality of Santorini includes the island of Santorini and five others situated in a crescent shape. Originally one island, the present shape is the result of a large volcanic eruption that created a caldera and a ring of islands.

Santorini 3D version 1

The volcanic island has an ancient viticultural history. Based on archeological evidence, viticulture on Santorini dates back to the 17th century BC. An immense volcanic eruption destroyed the region in about 1620 BC. By about 1200 BC viticulture was again established on the island and has continued to this day.

Soil and Climate

The sandy, volcanic soil saved Santorini’s grapevines from the dreaded Phylloxera infestation: the dry porous soil is just inhospitable to the pest. The soil is also very low in organic matter. Pumice and volcanic ash mix with rocks in the extremely deep sandy soil. Magnesium, ferrous iron and calcium are abundant in the volcanic soils.

Winters are described as mild and summers are warm, thanks to cooling sea breezes during the summer. Nighttime temperatures during summer are kept cool by a fog that develops during the summer months. This fog also provides moisture to the vines in what is otherwise a very dry climate. Warm summer days and cool nights mean grapes can fully ripen while still maintaining good acidity.


Approximately 3400 acres are planted to vineyards on Santorini island. Because the climate is very dry and windy, pest and disease pressure on the vines is very low. This means most vineyard cultivation is nearly pesticide-free. That’s really great news if what goes into your wine is important to you.

The windy conditions on Santorini means the vines must be protected from the wind. Vines are grown very close to the ground and often trained in a circle parallel to the earth. It is an extremely labor-intensive technique that after about 75 years results in the entire vine being cut off near the rootstock. A new shoot eventually develops and the process begins again.

The major white grape varieties include Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani. Mavrotragano and Mandilaria are the major red varieties.

The Wine

Santo BrutSanto Sparkling Wine Brutpale yellow in the glass with many small and bubbles. Very distinctive and delicately floral aromas are followed by melon, tart pineapple and light citrus flavors that are clean, crisp and tropical. Thanks to all of those bubbles, the wine has a pleasing roundness in the mouth that contrasts nicely with bright acidity. The finish is medium to long.

This 100% Assyrtiko sparkling wine is made using the Methode Traditionelle, meaning the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. It spends only a few months on the lees, leaving the flavors fresh and lively.

Assyrtiko is a disease-resistant variety and has been widely planted throughout Greece. On Santorini it comprises 70% of the plantings and is said to be at its most expressive on the island, producing a citrusy full-bodied white wine exhibiting minerality many attribute to the volcanic soil.

Santo Brut and food


The flavors of this sparkler are clean and refreshing making it extremely versatile. We chose to enjoy it before dinner with Greek olives, pita bread and tzatziki. We also added salami and cheese; also delicious with the bubbly. It paired nicely with the saltiness of the olives, the creaminess of the tzatziki and the spicy salami.

This wine was a hit with everyone. It would have paired nicely with our dinner, had we had any left. The empty bottle said it all.




2014 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko2014 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiripale yellow in the glass with delicate melon aromas. Citrusy minerality and melon flavors combine with an interesting dusty flavor. The wine has a bit of weight to it and finishes clean with nice acidity.

This blend is 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athiri. Athiri, also indigenous to Santorini, is a common blending partner with Assyrtiko. In general Athiri contributes delicate aromas and low alcohol to a blend.



Our dinner included grilled chicken skewers, Greek salad, pita bread and spanakopita. The chicken skewers were prepared simply in a seasoned vinegar and oil marinade and grilled. The Greek salad included garbanzo beans, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions in a vinegar and oil dressing.

The star of the meal was the spanakopita. The crispy phyllo dough was buttery and the filling of sautéed onion, spinach, dill and feta cheese was soft and moist. These little triangular beauties are a bit of work to make, but so worth the effort.

The bright acidity and delicate flavors of the Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri blend tasted best with the chicken and the spanakopita, especially the spanakopita. The buttery flavors of the phyllo dough was just delicious with the wine.

Both the Santo Sparkling Wine Brut and the Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri blend are relatively light flavored wines and would be especially enjoyable on a warm afternoon. Both would be excellent partners to a variety of fish dishes. Steamed mussels or clams would be delicious, as would filet of sole or halibut.

We lingered over dinner on the patio. The evening was warm and we found the wine refreshing as we enjoyed the changing colors of the evening sky. It was a very relaxing evening. We are happy to have had the opportunity to sample these wines, and thank New Wines of Greece for sharing them with us.



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Arancini Paired with Etna Rosso for #winePW

I was so happy to see the following post on the Wine Pairing Weekend Facebook page: “Invitation: Let’s Talk Scorched Terroir — and Volcanic Wines — for #winePW ”. The invitation for the September Wine Pairing Weekend came from Camilla Mann, who blogs at Culinary Adventures with Camilla. As host for the month’s pairing, she chose the theme for the pairing.

Two wine regions immediately spring to mind when I think of volcanic terroir: Etna DOC and Aglianico del Vulture DOCG. Both are Italian. The first is located in Sicily, in the volcanic soils of Mount Etna. Etna DOC, and Sicilian wines in general, are much in the press these days, because of the increasing quality of wines produced there.

Aglianico del Vulture is located near Mount Vulture in Basilicata (think the ankle of Italy’s boot). The Aglianico del Vulture DOC, situated in the volcanic soils of Mount Vulture, earned DOC designation in 1971. DOCG status followed in 2011 and it remains the only DOCG designated in Basilicata. The wines from this DOCG are tannic and flavorful. I am a big fan of the style and the variety, Aglianico.

It was a difficult choice, but ultimately, we chose a wine from Sicily: 2012 Terre di Giurfo Nardalici Etna Rosso.

With our wine choice made, we moved on to the food. I have been curious for some time about arancini — most often described as stuffed rice balls. Arancini are very popular in Sicily, but are also served in other regions of Italy. The name, arancini, derives from arancina, which means “little orange” in Italian. Little oranges are what they look like after they have been deep fried.

The pairing

During my research I found a recipe for Inspector Montalbano’s Arancini. I was curious about the name and soon realized the name comes from a series of books written by Andrea Camilleri. Inspector Montalbano is Camilleri’s fictional Sicilian police detective and the recipe comes from one of the books. The story behind the recipe made it too good to pass up. Inspector Montalbano’s Arancini was our food choice.

The Wine

2012 Terre di Giurfo Nardalici Etna Rosso2012 Terre di Giurfo Nardalici Etna Rossotranslucent ruby in the glass with aromas of red fruit and dust. Dark fruit flavors are in the background with earthy flavors predominating along with leather and minerals. The wine had a medium body and nice acidity. Tannins are very grippy and the wine finishes with both lingering flavor and tannins. ABV 14%

This wine is a blend of 85% Nerello Mascalese and 15% Nerello Cappuccio. By law an Etna Rosso DOC wine must be composed of at least 80% Nerello Mascalese, not more than 20% Nerello Cappuccio and up to 10% other non-aromatic grapes, including white.

Mount Etna is situated along the eastern coast of Sicily and the Etna DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata) wraps around the volcano’s base to the south, east and north.


Map by Benanti Winery via Wikimedia Commons

The climate within the DOC is variable, depending on elevation and orientation; elevation varies between just over 1400 feet above sea level to just over 3600 feet. Winters are generally cold. Weather is mostly warm and dry during summer, with cool nights thanks to the elevation.

The volcanic soils of the Etna DOC are rich in minerals including copper, magnesium, iron and phosphorous.

The Food

The recipe for Inspector Montalbano’s Arancini, from the blog Culinaria Italia – Italian Food and Cooking, required a bit of math before we could even make our shopping list; we needed to convert all measurements from metric.

The recipe was fairly time consuming so Pete and I divided the preparation and it worked out very well.

We started by preparing the ragù which required sautéed onion, celery, pork and beef all seasoned with salt and pepper. The recipe then called for passata and tomato purée. Instead, we substituted diced tomatoes. The mixture simmered on low for several hours and I added fresh parsley and basil toward the end. Once the mixture was cool, we removed the meat, chopped it and set it aside. We then puréed the sauce until the texture was smooth.

While the ragù was cooking, I diced the spicy salami, then began making the risotto. When the risotto was cooked I added a bit of the sauce from the ragù and put the mixture in the refrigerator to cool. The recipe called for two eggs to be added to the risotto mixture but, we we decided to omit this step because we were not certain the mixture would be completely cooked during deep frying.

Pete cooked the peas and prepared a béchamel sauce during the time I cooked the risotto and when the risotto was cooled we were ready to assemble the arancini.

I added enough of the ragù cooking sauce and the béchamel sauce to the meat mixture to allow the peas to be blended into the meat. I then placed enough risotto in the palm of my hand to cover it, added a teaspoon of the filling and enough risotto to cover the filling. I then formed the mixture into a ball. Then, because I read that Adelina, Inspector Montalbano’s housekeeper, always made her arancini in a cone shape, I reshaped them into little cones (well, maybe little is the wrong word). The arancini then went into the refrigerator for an hour or so.

Making arancini
The final step in the preparation required quick dip in egg and then bread crumbs before deep frying in olive oil.

These delightful little arancini were a lot of work, but so worth it! The outside was crunchy, the risotto was moist and soft and the ragù filling was full of flavor. The meaty goodness of the filling contrasted with the peas and the spiciness of the diced salami. The creamy béchamel aded a buttery richness to the filling.

Inspector Montalbano's Arancini
We put a little bit of the sauce beside each arancini, just in case they were too dry on their own. They weren’t, but the sauce was just another layer of flavor that was a delicious addition.

The Pairing

These two played very well together. The earthy, leathery, dark fruit flavors of the Nardalici Etna Rosso paired beautifully with meaty, creamy, spicy flavors of the arancini. The grip of the tannins was somewhat reduced and the flavors of both matched well with each other. The combination brought out the dark fruit flavors of the wine somewhat.

Arancini and Etna Rosso

We served the arancini and Etna Rosso pairing as the secondo (second course) of an Italian dinner with friends. Our other friends prepared the courses before and after it — everything was delicious!

A few nights later we prepared the remainder of the arancini and served them with a green salad and another Sicilian red wine. The combination worked just fine as a main course too.

Airplane readingI have read that arancini are made with a variety of fillings and cheese around Sicily. We are leaving for Sicily very shortly and after my first taste of arancini, I am looking forward to sampling them throughout the island. I am also looking forward to a little airplane reading and getting to know Inspector Montalbano and his housekeeper, Adelina. Maybe I will even discover some new recipes!

Thanks to Camilla for hosting and choosing such a fun and interesting theme for this month’s wine pairing weekend. To see what the rest of the Wine Pairing Weekend crowd cooked up this month, read their blog posts listed below.

#winePW Twitter Chat September 12, 8 a.m. PT:  Connect with us on twitter, using hashtag #winePW. We’ll chat for an hour about volcanic wines, food pairings, and #scorchedterroir.



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#WBC15 Pre-Conference Excursion: Discoveries Along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail

One of the best ways to learn is by doing, especially something as sensory as wine appreciation. The only way to learn what kind of wine you like is by tasting lots of  varieties and  styles. Over time you will begin to recognize familiar flavors and learn what you like and what you do not.

Before long you will want to know why wine tastes the way it does, how it is made and where it comes from. You will want to visit the vineyards, learn about the soils and climate of a region … and talk to the winemakers.

At least that how it’s gone for us.

We recently had the opportunity to spend a day and a half visiting wineries along Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes wine region of New York State.

Vineyards and Seneca Lake
The 2015 Wine Bloggers’ Conference (#WBC15) is what brought us to the Finger Lakes wine region. Every year the conference, which is organized by Zephyr Adventures, is held in a different wine region and provides attendees the opportunity to dive into the details of the region.

Our experience began with the Pre-Conference Excursion on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. The excursion was limited to only 50 bloggers, so early registration was a must. The Seneca Lake Wine Trail, and its over 30 winery, distillery, meadery and hard cider producer-members sponsored the excursion.

In exchange for a very nominal registration fee and the cost of our lodging, we had the opportunity to visit a number of wineries, to walk the vineyards, talk to the winemakers and enjoy outstanding food and wine pairings. Additionally, we agreed to write about our experience.

Here are a few of the highlights of our tour along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.

Bus Travel

One of the benefits of traveling by bus, aside from the obvious advantage of leaving the driving to someone else – who isn’t drinking, is the ability to listen to a winemaker talk about his wines as he pours them for you. It wasn’t long after we had settled into our comfy seats that Paul Thomas, executive director of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, introduced himself and welcomed us. Shortly after that the wine talk began and the wine started flowing.

I have to give it to Mark Karasz of Rock Stream Vineyard and David DeMarco of Seneca Shore Wine Cellars. They told us their stories, talked about their wines and walked up and down the aisle of a moving bus while pouring their wine. Of particular interest was Mark’s Dry Cayuga White wine. This American hybrid variety, was developed at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y.

The winemakers were ably assisted by Beth Peluse of Zephyr Adventures. Almost all of the wine ended up in our glasses!

Villa Bellangelo

Villa BellangeloThe tone for our visit to Villa Bellangelo was set by winery owner Christopher Missick who greeted us at the door with a big smile and a glass of Villa Bellangelo Rosé — not a bad combination. Soon we all had a glass of that delicious rosé in hand as Christopher told us about Villa Bellangelo.

Located around the tasting room was an assortment of small bites, a variety of goat cheeses (locally produced of course), Bellangelo olive oil and an abundance of Villa Bellangelo wines. Highlights of the tasting included a broad selection Riesling produced from a variety of vineyard sites in a dry to semi-dry style demonstrating just how deliciously adaptable Riesling can be.

Villa Bellangelo’s red wines were on show as well, the 2013 Bellangelo Cabernet Franc was particularly memorable for me. Also represented was a vertical tasting of King Garden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. King Garden Vineyards is located across Seneca Lake in Lodi, N.Y. King Garden Vineyards is situated in Seneca Lake’s “banana belt”, the warmest growing region on the lake. With very low alcohol levels (12.5% ABV) some of the older vintages in particular were just spectacular, demonstrating how successful Finger Lakes Cabernet Sauvignon can be when planted in the proper location.

Goat at Villa BellangeloAs if all of this was not memorable enough, we also had the opportunity to milk a goat! I certainly did not see that one coming.

We left Villa Bellangelo with a copy of Christopher Missick’s book, A Sense of Place Discovering the Finger Lakes & Bellangelo Winery. The book covers the geologic history that makes wine grape growing in the Finger Lakes region possible and then goes on to detail the history of winemaking around Seneca Lake and in the region. An interesting read. Thank you, Christopher.

Ventosa Vineyards

The #FLXWineWomen rocked the afternoon and evening at Ventosa Vineyards.




With a glass of cider in hand, we listened to these fearless ladies tell us their stories. Each has followed her own path to a similar destination.


Martha Macinski, Heather Tompkins, Liz Leidenfrost, Erica Paolicelli, Jenna Lavita

Martha Macinski — attorney turned owner/winemaker of Standing Stone Vineyards has found something she’s truly passionate about and loves doing.

Jenna Lavita — winemaker at Ventosa Vineyards decided against law school, instead she’s conquering her fears and making outstanding wine.

Erica Paolicelli — partner in Three Brothers Wineries & Estates set out to become a dietitian, but ended up in marketing which is what brought her to Three Brothers.

Liz Leidenfrost — by her own description “the diva”, she’s the energetic, extroverted third-generation owner/winemaker of Leidenfrost Vineyards. Did she mention something about performing burlesque?

Martha MacinskiNext we were treated to a walking tour of Ventosa’s vineyards, and another spectacular view of Seneca Lake. Martha Macinski guided our group through a row of ripening Pinot Noir where we learned not only how to randomly sample grapes for testing, but just how much Martha loves what she’s doing.


With tables beautifully set on the balcony overlooking the vineyards and lake beyond, we sat down for a delicious four-course meal prepared by chef Heather Tompkins featuring local Finger Lakes farms and products. As you might expect each course was paired with wine. It was a delightfully delicious meal. Heather is executive chef and co-owner of Opus Espresso and Wine Bar as well as Char Burrito Bar in Geneva, New York.

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More wine followed as we had a chance to taste a variety of wine from each of the wineries represented by this intrepid group of women. Among the wines we tasted was the 2011 Ventosa Vineyards  Lemberger, which was recently awarded the 2015 Governor’s Cup. It was a lovely evening.

Sunset at Ventosa

We spent the night in Geneva, New York located right on the shore of Seneca Lake. We enjoyed an early morning walk along the lakeshore before climbing back on board our bus and heading out for the first winery of the day.

Anthony Road Wine Company

John MartiniJohn Martini welcomed us to his winery, which he and his wife Ann established in 1973. Anthony Road Wine Company a family-run winery, that is dry farmed using a sustainable approach. Because of disease pressures, organic farming is not practical according to John.

Over the years he has learned which wine grape varieties thrive and which do not. Last year their Merlot produced a total of 750 pounds of fruit. Both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have been removed, as have most of the hybrid varieties. As John put it, “We follow what Mother Nature tells us.”

After touring one of Anthony Road’s experimental vineyards managed by a local Community College, we were treated to a glass of 2014 Anthony Road Rosé of Cabernet Franc  and a tour of the winery facility. Workers were busy bottling and boxing wine as we walked through the winery.

Anthony Road RieslingWines to look for from Anthony Road Wine Company include their Skin Fermented Riesling and Chardonnay. In addition to Riesling made several ways (from dry to dessert) Anthony Road is making a dry, skin fermented Riesling that is very interesting. It shows incredible depth of flavor and complexity.

According to John, the artistic new labels on the Anthony Road wines have been well received by customers of the winery, even if he was not a fan of the new design initially. John’s daughters Sarah and Liz just smiled as he made the observation. Both daughters work at the winery and so does their brother, Peter. Truly a family-run winery.

Fox Run Vineyards

Fox Run Vineyards ViniferaAt Fox Run Vineyards it’s all vinifera, all the time. The native American varieties (labrusca) do not produce the flavor profile the owners want in their wines.

As we were welcomed by co-owner Scott Osborn, we enjoyed a glass of 2014 Fox Run Vineyards  Traminette. Technically an American hybrid, this Traminette was vaguely reminiscent of its parent Gewürztraminer, but different. Nice glass of wine.

Touring Fox Run Vineyards


As we sipped our wine, sales manager Dan Mitchell took us on a walking tour of the vineyards on the way to the Fox Run Vineyards production facility where we met winemaker Peter Bell.



Among the fun facts Dan and Peter shared with us:

  • from 1865 until the 1980s the property was home to a dairy. The first vines, Chardonnay, were planted in the mid-1980s
  • turkeys and deer love grapes, except Lemberger — the deer don’t like Lemberger
  • until 1981 the nearby Benton was dry
  • winters are harsh. In spite of techniques like “hilling up” (covering grapevine trunks with soil) and the use of propane propellers to protect the vines, vine loss in some years can be significant

An extraordinary food and wine experience followed in the original barrel room, a renovated portion of the original dairy barn. The pairing, orchestrated by Fox Run Vineyards chef Brud Holland, included local cheeses, jams, honey, salami and house-made smoked sausage.

Food and wine at Fox Run Vineyards
Each of the five pairings demonstrated just how versatile and food-friendly the wines of Fox Run Vineyards are. For me the outstanding wines of the group include the 2013 Fox Run Vineyards Silvan Riesling (it’s barrel fermented) and the 2012 Fox Run Vineyards Lemberger.

Because no meal is complete without dessert, and because the folks at Fox Run Vineyards are so darn generous, the final pairing was a shortbread cookie with a glass of Fox Run Vineyards Hedonia.

Hedonia is Fox Run Vineyards’ Traminette fermented to 9% residual sugar and then fortified, bringing the ABV to 20%. The flavors are sweet, tropical and floral with the clean taste of alcohol supporting the flavors. The pairing with the buttery shortbread cookie was spot on. I loved the buttery flavors of the cookie and the fact that the wine was sweeter than the cookie. Marvelous exclamation point at the end of a delightful meal.

In what was a true test of my ability to pay attention (and enjoy more wine) we were next treated to a tasting which Fox Run Vineyards calls Geology Series: An expression of place, method and time.

This final part of our winery experience was when we got the dirt on the dirt as I like to think of it. Ancient seabeds, advancing glaciers, retreating glaciers followed by lake formation and eventually retreat, all conspired to create complex and variable soil within the Finger Lakes wine region.

The ancient shoreline of Lake Dana, which preceded Seneca Lake, runs along the western boundary of Fox Run Vineyards. Sandy loam deposits over shale and stone mean very good drainage.

Fox Run Vineyard MapAlso left behind at Fox Run Vineyards is an ancient geological formation known as a hanging delta (sediment and gravel left on a hillside as a lake retreats), which lies closer to the present shoreline of Seneca Lake. Vineyards in both areas are identified on the map at the left.

The wine produced in the Geology Series takes advantage of these two sites and, in addition, it compares two methods of fermentation.

Riesling harvested from the two vineyard sites, Hanging Delta Vineyard and Lake Dana Vineyard. Riesling from both vineyards is hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. The Riesling 12 juice is then inoculated with commercial yeast and fermentation proceeds in the usual manner.

The Riesling 11 juice is inoculated from a fermentation that is already in process. As winemaker Peter Bell explained, his version of the classic pied de cuve method uses, “a very low inoculum of fermenting juice” to start the fermentation. The result is a slower, longer fermentation that allows, in his words, “certain textural and aroma things that develop which help the wine become unique.” Peter’s method uses commercial yeast, rather than yeast native to the vineyard, because native yeast fermentation can, as he puts it, result in “defects that interfere with the pure expression of Riesling fruit.”

Geology Series

To my palate,  the Riesling 11 wines had more individual and complex flavors including minerality, dried hay and hints of spice. The two Riesling 12 wines showed delicate fruit flavors and minerality with more perceivable sweetness.

An interesting experiment, and one that would be fun to share with your friends. These wines are available from Fox Run Vineyards, and if you are fortunate enough to live in a state that allows shipping direct to consumer, you too could enjoy a taste of the Geology Series.



Seneca Lake

Along with the beautifully green vineyards, wooded hillsides, farms and dairies, beautiful Seneca Lake constantly competed for my attention. The Seneca Lake Wine Trail has to be one of the most beautiful wine trails I’ve visited. At times I felt as if I was on sensory overload — but in a good way!

Road to Seneca Lake

Regardless of the vineyard site, a view of Seneca Lake was always right there. It is this large, deep body of water and the sloping aspect of the farmland that makes wine grape growing possible in this very cool climate.

Agriculture in the Finger Lakes region takes place mostly around the lakes of the region. The lakes moderate the temperature, protecting crops in the springtime and extending the growing season in the fall. The sloping aspect of the land allows cold air to sink toward the lakes, further protecting crops.

As you can see, it was quite an experience. We came away with a great appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the families operating these wineries.  We witnessed the camaraderie that exists among owners and winemakers, and discovered first hand that they are making some very fine wine!

Because the Finger Lakes wine region is a cool climate wine region, it is naturally compared to other cool climate regions such as Germany and Austria. Many of the same grape varieties thrive in both regions. But the wines of the Finger Lakes region are their own. Don’t taste them looking for the same aromas and flavor profiles you find from other regions. Riesling is wonderfully variable in the region. Other white varieties that you may not be familiar with are also delicious, look for them.

You will find red wines from varieties you are familiar with, like Cabernet Sauvignon and  Cabernet Franc, but look for those that you might not recognize. We tasted several versions of Lemberger that were delicious. Wine discoveries in the Finger Lakes and along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail are countless. It’s the perfect  region for  an adventurous wine drinker.

Many Thanks

Thank you to the members of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail for this interesting and entertaining introduction to your wine region. The tote, wine glass, t-shirt and information on the area are much appreciated. Thanks to Paul Thomas for thinking of everything. Your detailed email prior to the excursion meant we were all well prepared for our outing.

There are lots of wineries to visit and many events planned year round on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. If you find yourself in the area during 2016, be sure to take advantage of them.


One more thank you goes to Beth, for gently nudging us forward when I, for one, was inclined to linger just one more minute to take another picture of the lake, or a grapevine or just stand taking it all in. It was a pleasure traveling you.

Below is our slideshow of the entire #WBC15 Pre-Conference Excursion along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.



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A Trio of Argentinian Wines Perfect for Summer Sipping

Summertime for us often means simpler meals, but not simpler wines. Rather than preparing an oven roasted or braised dish, we might grill chicken or pork in our backyard. Sometimes we simply prepare a charcuterie board, add cheese, bread and a variety of accompaniments. Then, we sit in the quiet of our backyard and enjoy the evening.

During the summer months we often find ourselves looking for lighter-bodied wines to pair with our meals. We drink white wines much more often when the weather is warm. Even though we prefer to pull that cork (for obvious reasons), we are not opposed to screw-cap wines. The closure is not important, it’s the flavor of the wine that matters to us.

We recently enjoyed a trio of wines from Argentinian producer Bodega Trivento y Viñedos. The wines were new to us and we were eager to see how they would pair with summer fare. We received the wines as tasting samples.

Bodega Trivento was founded in 1996. With over 3100 acres of vines in eight vineyard locations within the Mendoza wine region, Trivento takes full advantage of the varying contour, soil types and microclimates the region has to offer.

Pairing 1

2013 Trivento Reserve Torrontés2013 Trivento Reserve Torrontéslight yellow in the glass with generous aromas of white flowers. Citrusy flavors combine with white flowers and tropical fruit flavors. The finish is juicy thanks to nice acidity and a bit of citrus pith flavor. The aromas and flavors in this wine remind me of the scent in our yard when our citrus trees are in bloom.  SRP $11. Screw-cap closure.

This 100% Torrontés is the epitome of a summer sipper: floral, refreshing, and flavorful when chilled. It’s exactly what I want to reach for on a warm afternoon. Food is optional.


2013 Trivento Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon2013 Trivento Reserve Cabernet Sauvignonmedium ruby in the glass with blackberry and blueberry aromas. Blackberry flavors predominate with just a hint of earthiness and medium weight in the mouth. Tannins are relatively smooth and the finish medium in length.  SRP $11. Cork closure.

In a word, this Cabernet is fruity. The flavors of wood aging play only a supporting role in the flavor profile of this wine. (The wine received only 6 months wood aging in French oak.) It is this dark fruit flavor and the smooth tannins that make this Cab a good choice for a warm evening.

Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo vineyards are the source for this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard locations, at over 2800 feet above sea level, mean that warm days are complimented by cool nights during the growing season. This diurnal temperature variation tends to produce ripe grapes with naturally high acidity. That can translate to a very well-balanced wine in the glass.

Grilled lamb, orzo salad, tomatoes and avocadosWe paired this duo of Trivento wines with a simple summer supper of orzo salad, sliced tomatoes and avocados and grilled lamb burgers. What a flavorful combination.

I admit to sipping the Trivento Torrontés while preparing the salad and the lamb burgers. The flavors of this wine were as enjoyable on their own as they were with our dinner.

We opened the Trivento Cabernet Sauvignon to enjoy with dinner. The dark fruit flavors paired perfectly with the grilled flavors of the lamb. We continued sipping this delightful Cabernet as the evening cooled.

Pairing 2

2014 Trivento Amado Sur2014 Trivento Amado Surlight yellow in the glass with grapefruit aromas characteristic of many Chardonnays. Citrus, green apple and delicate floral flavors combine with subtle minerality. The finish is crisp, clean and moderately long.  SRP $15. Screw-cap closure.

Bright, flavorful, complex. The fruit for this Chardonnay blend (70% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Gris, 10%Viognier) was hand harvested and each variety vinified separately. Skillful blending produced a food-friendly wine with complexity and balance.

Trivento Amado Sur and charcuterieOn another evening we paired the Trivento Amado Sur Chardonnay with a salami and cheese board, all of which we enjoyed in the shade of our back yard. We chose Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk cheese which is creamy in texture and has a pungent flavor. We added two kinds of salami: Finochiono, which is fatty, salty and anise flavored, along with Soppressata which we love for its spiciness. Walnuts and dried apricots from the farmers market along with sweet french bread completed our pairing.

So, how did the Trivento Amado Sur Chardonnay pair with our cheese board? Deliciously! The Chardonnay stood toe-to-toe with the pungent flavors of the cheese and the spiciness of the salami, with plenty of acidity to cut through the fatty goodness of both.

We sipped, nibbled and enjoyed the evening as the temperature dropped. It was one of those lovely summer evenings when the neighborhood was quiet, hummingbirds chattered in the trees and blue jays hopped through the flower beds looking for their evening meal. Simple pleasures.

We thank Creative Palate Communications for sending us the tasting samples and for introducing us to these delicious wines. Look for them. They are reasonably priced, flavorful, well-balanced wines that are distributed nationally. Perfect, really, for any number of summer occasions – including a quiet evening at home.



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Celebrating Portugal: Amêijoas na Cataplana paired with Soalheiro Alvarinho for #winePW

Our August Wine Pairing Weekend took us to Portugal, thanks to this month’s host, Christy Majors, who chose the topic. The theme instantly reminded me of the trips we have taken to the Açores and Madeira Islands along with memories of the delicious food and wine we enjoyed while there.

Then there is my family heritage. Both of my father’s parents were born on the Açorean Island of São Jorge. In spite of the island’s small size, just over 33 miles long and only 4 miles wide, the two didn’t meet until immigrating to California. As you might imagine, this family connection is what prompted our visits to the Islands.

The Açores Islands are a string of volcanic islands that comprise an autonomous region of Portugal. The beautiful archipelago is located in the Atlantic Ocean about 900 miles west of Lisbon and 3600 miles off the East Coast of the US.

It was during our first trip to the Açores that we tasted Vinho Verde for the first time. We drank very little wine at the time (can you imagine?), but we enjoyed Vinho Verde very much and ordered it often. It was a light white wine, low in alcohol with just a bit of spritz and we found paired well with the many seafood dishes we ordered. It seemed to be on every restaurant menu.

The only time we had red wine during that first visit was at a street festival in the town of Angra do Heroísmo (which everyone calls Angra) on the island of Terceira. One afternoon we noticed some of the streets had been blocked off and lined with barbecues and tables for serving food. By evening the barbecues were lit and sardines were being grilled. Homemade beans and bread were served. Among the tables were barrels of red wine, made is home cellars.

That evening we ate sardines, beans and bread. We sampled the red wine. The combination is not one that I would probably have enjoyed anywhere else, but on that evening, in that lovely Açorean town the combination was delightful – except for those sardines, I didn’t enjoy them very much. But, the beans, the bread and the wine were delicious and the evening was magical.

So, as you might expect, I was happy to dust off my Portuguese cookbooks to find a recipe for this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend. I found several dishes that included clams, prepared either with pork or sausage. We have prepared pork and clams on at least one occasion, and it was delicious, so we decided this time to choose a dish with clams and sausage. The dish we chose to prepare is Amêijoas na Cataplana, a recipe from mainland Portugal.

Next we moved on to the wine. Given our affinity for Vinho Verde and the fun memories we associate with it we decided to look for one to pair with this dish. After a bit of research we decided on 2014 Soalheiro Alvarinho. I discovered that Soalheiro is a producer who specializes in Alvarinho and the first to plant the variety in the Vinho Verde region.

Amêijoas na Cataplana and 2014 Soalheiro Alvarinho

The Food

After consulting both of our Portuguese cook books, we decided on a recipe from the William-Sonoma cookbook Savoring Spain & Portugal. The dish, Amêijoas na Cataplana — clams with sausage and tomatoes, is from the Algarve which is located in the southernmost region of mainland Portugal. The coastal region is known for sunny, sandy beaches, and of course for its seafood.

The dish is traditionally cooked in a cataplana, a hinged cooking vessel made of copper on the outside. They are quite beautiful, and make a spectacular presentation at the table. We enjoyed fish stew several times in the Açores cooked in a cataplana.

Lacking a cataplana of my own, I simple used my trusty Dutch oven which has a tight-fitting lid. The presentation wasn’t as spectacular, but the results certainly were.

Clams and sausage ingredients with Alvarinho
The ingredients included sliced onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, proscuitto, linguiça, dry white wine, diced tomatoes, clams and chopped Italian parsley for garnish.

The preparation was simple. I sliced the onions and sautéed them is olive oil, adding the chopped garlic and red pepper flakes at the end. After removing the mixture from the pan I browned the linguiça and proscuitto. Next I added a bay leaf along with the sautéed onion, garlic and red pepper mixture to the sautéed sausage and ham.

I diced three large tomatoes, garden fresh thanks to our friend Yolanda, and added them to the mixture along with 1 cup of dry white wine. The mixture simmered for about 10 minutes. I tasted the mixture for seasoning, which thanks to the linguiça and proscuitto had plenty of salt, and made no adjustment.

Next, all the clams, which had been thoroughly scrubbed, were added hinge down to the mixture. I continued cooking on medium heat, covered, just until all of the clams had fully opened.

Amêijoas na Cataplana
Serving suggestions for the clams with sausage and tomatoes included coarse country bread and boiled potatoes. Because it reminded me of the meals served in the Açores, I chose to serve the dish over wedges of boiled potatoes.

The tomatoey broth was full of flavor and texture thanks to the proscuitto, linguiça and the clams. It was salty from the clams and the proscuitto. The linguiça, which is garlicky, smoky and seasoned with paprika added layers of flavor. The tomatoes tasted fresh and savory. In the background the crushed red peppers added bit of heat making the dish very warming. The clams were salty and tender, and the potatoes soaked in all of these wonderful flavors.

The Wine

2014 Soalheiro Alvarinho2014 Soalheiro Alvarinhopale yellow in the glass with complex dried hay and melon aromas. Flavors are delicately floral with minerals, citrus and melons. The wine has a bit of weight in the mouth, the finish is clean with nice acidity and the finish is medium to long. 12.5% ABV.

This wine is not at all the very light wine with a bit of effervescence that I remember drinking, it is a much better structured wine with very complex flavors.

This Soalheiro Alvarinho is produced from 100% Alvarinho harvested from several of the small vineyards of Quinta de Soalheiro. As is usual, the grapes were harvested in early September to preserve the fresh flavors of the variety. This was particularly important for the 2014 vintage as rains came in late September and October.

Quinta de Soalheiro is located in the district of Melgaço. In 1974, owner João Antonio Cerdeira was the first to plant Alvarinho in the region. It wasn’t until 1982 that the first vintage was released and the Soalheiro brand created. Soalheiro specializes in varietal Alvarinho and produces a range of wines in varying styles. Soalheiro translates to a sunny place, which describes the sunny weather of the district.

A bit about the region and its wines.

Vinho Verde, pronounced veeng-yo vaird describes both the wine region and the wine produced there. The region, Vinho Verde DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada), is located in the northwestern corner of Portugal along its border with Spain. The region is bound by the Minho River to the north and the Douro River to the south. The Atlantic Ocean is the western boundary and the mountains of Peneda, Gerês, Cabreira and Marão form the eastern boundary. The Vinho Verde DOC is the largest in Portugal and was designated in 1908.

Vinho Verde translates to green wine, which describes the green countryside as well as the young, fresh flavors of the wine. The region rises from the ocean toward the inland mountains with many east-west oriented valleys allowing the Atlantic influence to reach inland. The climate is generally mild with significant rainfall and mostly granitic soils.

The variable terrain and proximity to the ocean, along with varied soil types creates unique microclimates. This variation has led to the delineation of nine subregions within the Vinho Verde DOC: Amarante, Ave, Baião, Basto, Basto, Lima, Monção and Melgaço, Paiva, Sousa,

Subregions of Vinho Verde DOC

Vinho Verde subregion map from

The main white grape varieties grown in the Vinho Verde DOC are: Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Loureiro, Trajadura. Red grape varieties include: Espadeiro, Padeiro and Vinhão. Many of these varieties are indigenous to the region and as you might expect, thrive in various subregions of the DOC depending growing requirements of the variety.

Vinho Verde white wines, Vinho Verde rosé, Vinho Verde red and Vinho Verde sparkling wine in addition to Bagaceira Brandy are produced in the region. Quite a variety of wines from this large area.

Vinho Verde sealThe 2014 Soalheiro Alvarinho is produced in the subregion of Monção e Melgaço. This subregion, located on the hillsides along the south bank of the Minho River, receives limited Atlantic influence and is therefore warm. Winters are cold with intermediate rainfall and summers are hot and dry. Granite soils prevail with bands of gravel.

The main varieties of the Monção e Melgaço subregion are Alvarinho, Pedral and Alvarelhão. All three ripen early and thrive in the region. If you step across the Minho River into the Rías Baixas region of Spain, Alvarinho will be called Albariño.

The Pairing

2014 Soalheiro Alvarinho with clams and sausageIn a word, stellar. The 2014 Soalheiro Alvarinho made the perfect partner for the spicy, salty dish bringing a cooling contrast to the spicy flavors of the dish. The flavors of the Alvarinho complimented the flavors of the clams and sausage without being lost itself. The mineral flavors of the wine were accentuated when paired with the complex flavors of the dish.  It was a delicious pairing with the garlicky flavors of the food combining with the lingering flavors of the wine.

We quickly polished off the clams and a good deal of the meaty broth, but did have some leftovers. The meaty broth and potatoes made a delicious warm lunch the next day. I love to cook once and eat twice!

Thanks to Christy for choosing Portuguese food and wine as this month’s Wine Pairing theme. We had loads of fun preparing the dish, researching the wine and reminiscing about our trips to the Açores Islands. Really, it amounted to a staycation for us.

To see what the rest of the Wine Pairing Weekend crowd cooked up this month, check their blog posts listed below.

If you have time, join us on Saturday morning at 8am PDT to talk Portuguese food and wine on Twitter. Follow #winePW and join in the conversation.



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Riesling: Right At Home in New York’s Finger Lakes Region

Situated just south of Lake Ontario in New York state, the Finger Lakes American Viticultural Area (AVA) is named for the long, slender lakes created over successive waves of glacial activity beginning over one hundred-thousand years ago. Glaciers carved out the lakes as they moved south and filled them with water as they retreated.


Map from Finger Lakes Wine Alliance

Eleven lakes fall within the Finger Lakes wine region. Seneca Lake is located in the center of the AVA, and with a depth of 632 feet is the deepest of the lakes. Cayuga Lake lies to the east and is the next deepest. To the west of Seneca Lake is Keuka Lake, which is roughly wishbone shaped, and beyond is Canandaigua Lake. The majority of vineyards are planted around these central Finger Lakes.

Two sub-AVAs have been designated within the larger Finger Lakes AVA and surround the lakes after which they are named. Cayuga Lake AVA was designated in 1988 and Seneca Lake AVA in 2003.

Not only are the lakes a dominant natural feature of the area, they moderate the climate around them. According to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance:

The massive bodies of water, visible from our vineyards, have a profound effect on the grapes. During the winter, cold air drains naturally from the sloping vineyards to the lakes. In spring, cool air bathes the vines, delaying the start of the growing season so that the tender shoots are not injured by late frosts. In the fall, the sun-warmed lakes prevent early frosts and extend the growing season.

Winters are snowy and can be harsh. The growing season is relatively short with considerable humidity. Cool-weather varieties do the best in the Finger Lakes AVA. The most-planted vinifera grapes of the region are Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Merlot and Pinot Gris. French-American hybrid varieties and native varieties are planted as well.

We recently participated in a virtual tasting of six Finger Lakes Rieslings (#FLXWineVT on Twitter). We, along with others, had the opportunity to taste and chat about the wines. The tasting samples were provided by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. Here is what we tasted.

Hector Wine Company Riesling2013 Hector Wine Company Dry Rieslinglight yellow in the glass with delicate aromas of citrus and petrol. Juicy citrus flavors combine with a hint of melon and tart pineapple. This wine is refreshing, juicy and finishes with a squeeze of citrus pith. ABV 12.1%

A lovely combination of fresh juicy flavors with a clean finish and very moderate ABV. The fermentation was cool and slow, in stainless steel, with 5 months of lees contact prior to bottling. This wine has summer written all over it. Sip it on the patio then have a glass with a watermelon and feta cheese salad for dinner.


Billsboro Winery Riesling2013 Billsboro Winery Dry Rieslingvery pale yellow in the glass with delicate floral aromas. Pineapple flavors combine with interesting minerality resulting in a pleasing tropical flavor. Clean, lingering finish. ABV 11.5%

Think of practically any hors d’oeuvre and this wine would be a good match. Grilled shrimp, soft white cheese or jalapeño poppers would pair nicely with this clean, flavorful wine.

Interestingly both the Hector Wine Company Dry Riesling and the Billsboro Winery Dry Riesling are sourced from Sawmill Creek Vineyards. The two were harvested just a day apart but are unique expressions of the same vineyard.

Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling2014 Boundary Breaks #239 Dry Riesling light yellow in the glass. Lovely white flower and pear aromas are followed by a combination of ripe melon and pineapple resulting in tropical flavors with hints of white flowers. Juicy acidity combines with these complex flavors to produce a clean finish that leaves you salivating for more. ABV 12.8%

This wine showed amazing complexity on the first night we tasted it, but became even more complex over the next two evenings. A remarkable wine, my favorite of the group.

Boundary Breaks does only Riesling. They have planted four Riesling clones, Geisenheim clones 110, 98 and 239 and clone 90 from Neustadt. This Riesling is a single clone wine produced from clone #239.

Chateau Lafayette Reneau Riesling2014 Chateau LaFayette Reneau Dry Rieslingvery light yellow in the glass with delicate floral and pear aromas. Complex tropical fruit flavors combine with stone fruit flavors that finish with tart acidity and citrus pith. ABV 12.5%

Very complex flavors, and Pete’s favorite wine of the group. This wine makes me long for filet of sole cooked in butter and capers; just about any white fish in a buttery sauce would probably be amazing.



Fathom 107 Riesling Gewurztraminer2013 Wagner Vineyards Fathom 107 light yellow in the glass with aromas that are a bit tropical with a hint of petrol. Tropical fruit flavors combine with a bit of woodsy earth, nice acidity and a citrus pith finish. ABV 12%

The flavors of this wine seemed to integrate more fully over the couple of days we had this bottle open. I liked it more on the third day than on the first. This wine is a blend of 65% Riesling and 35% Gewürztraminer. Coincidently it was produced to celebrate the winery’s  35th anniversary.

Fathom 107 refers to the depth of Seneca Lake as measured in fathoms. Seems fitting given that the depth of the lake so influences the climate around it.

Red Newt Cellars Riesling2013 Red Newt Cellars Circle Rieslinglight yellow in the glass with petrol aromas follow by sweet stone fruit, honeysuckle and minerals. Distinctly sweet, but with a clean finish, this wine has loads of flavor and a bit more weight in the mouth. Just delicious. ABV 10.2%

With residual sugar of 3.3%, it is discernibly sweet but not overly so, and properly balanced with acidity. Any spicy dish would be amazing with this wine, but it is so easy to enjoy that food is really not necessary. This wine was the favorite of our wine friend who also tasted these wines with us.

And then there’s that wonderful label…love the newt.


All six of these wines are produced from vineyards located along the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, as noted above, the deepest of the Finger Lakes. The climate along this shore of the lake is the warmest in the region. The lake influence combines with warm afternoon sunshine to produce what locals call the banana belt. Riesling is clearly very happy growing here.

We thoroughly enjoyed this group of Finger Lakes Rieslings. Thanks to the winemakers for taking time to discuss your wines and to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance for organizing the tasting and wine samples.

In August we will be attending the 2015 Wine Bloggers’ Conference (#WBC15) in Corning, New York where we will have the opportunity to visit several Finger Lakes wineries and taste wines from many more area wineries. I expect it to be a wonderful compliment to reading about the region and its wineries. There is nothing like seeing the sights, walking the vineyards and smelling the soil to help you understand a wine region.


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A Sampling of Okanagan Valley Wines — Just In Time For Summer.

Thanks to the generosity of one of our wine friends, we recently tasted a group of wines from Canada’s Okanagan Valley. Our friend Stephanie travels to the British Columbia wine region regularly to visit friends and of course taste the wine. She recently made such a trip and returned with wine, some of which she generously shared with a group of her wine friends. We were happy to be included in that group.

The Okanagan Valley wine region in British Columbia, Canada begins at the border with Washington state, near Osoyoos, and reaches over 150 miles in a northerly direction to the area around Kelowna. The valley is bound to the west by the Cascade Mountains and to the east by the Monashee Mountains.

A string of lakes run through the center of the valley, beginning with Okanagan Lake in the north, followed by Skaha Lake, Vaseux Lake and Osoyoos Lake in the south. Okanagan is the largest and deepest of these lakes, large enough to moderate temperatures during winter.

The valley lies in the rain shadow of the Cascade range and is therefore relatively dry. One area of the southern portion of the valley is extremely dry, receiving only 8 inches of rain per year, which allows a patch of Sonoran desert to reach into Canada near Osoyoos.

Temperatures are cooler in the northern portion of the Okanagan Valley where white grape varieties predominate. Red varieties thrive in the warmth of the southern portion of the valley. The most-planted varieties in the valley are Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. According to Wines of British Columbia, Colona Vineyards was the first winery to open in 1931 and there are now 131 licensed wineries in the Okanagan Valley.

Here’s what we tasted:

2013 Blasted Church Hatfield's Fuse2013 Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse almost colorless in the glass with pleasant melon and floral aromas. On the palate melon flavors are echoed along with minerality and a squeeze of citrus. Lots of flavor, nice acidity and very refreshing. 13%ABV.

This delightful white wine is a blend of nine varieties: 29% Pinot Gris, 24% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Pinot Blanc, 10% Chardonnay, 8% Viognier 5% Gewurztraminer, 5% Riesling, 5% Optima, 4% Ehrenfelser. Both Optima and Ehrenfelser are crosses produced in Germany, but that have found a home in the Okanagan Valley.

Winemaker’s notes: “Each parcel of fruit was vinted separately. Various strains of yeast were incorporated to achieve maximum flavour layering for each of the varieties in this blend. All wines were fermented cool to retain flavour intensity.”

In case you were wondering about the name of the winery, Blasted Church, here’s the story from the winery’s website.

On a cool spring morning in 1929, a small crew from Okanagan Falls set off to a deserted mining camp some 16 miles away from home. Their mission: to dismantle an old wooden church and bring it back to Okanagan Falls.
The plan called for a controlled blast of four dynamite sticks inside the church in order to “loosen the nails”. Odd as it may seem, the explosion spared the wood from damage during dismantling.
Save for losing the steeple, the plan succeeded. Now, the 120 year old wooden church stands proudly in its second home of Okanagan Falls.
In naming our VQA wines “Blasted Church”, we celebrate the ingenuity of this initiative, and honour these pioneers for their vision, steadfastness and craftsmanship.

What a great story!

Blasted Church is a member of the Okanagan Falls Winery Association, along with 12 other wineries in the area around Okanagan Falls, reaching up to Penticton and down to Vaseux Lake.

2012 Dirty Laundry Secret Affair2014 Dirty Laundry Secret Affairpale yellow in the glass with floral aromas. On the palate melon flavors combine with minerals and juicy acidity. The finish is very long with a bit of citrus pith at the end. 13.1% ABV.

Dirty Laundry Vineyards is located in Summerland, north of Penticton along the western shore of Okanagan Lake. The Dirty Laundry name and theme of the winery reaches back to the late 1800s when a local establishment took in laundry downstairs while serving drinks and providing other “entertainment” upstairs. Local Summerland residents referred to the establishment as Dirty Laundry — the dirty upstairs and the laundry downstairs.

Though the Dirty Laundry website is long on history, other than stating that Secret Affair is a white blend the varieties are not named. Wines from Dirty Laundry Vineyards have names like Bordello, Dangerous Liaisons and A Girl in Every Port. I think you get the idea.

2013 Lake Breeze Ehrenfelser2013 Lake Breeze Ehrenfelserlight yellow in the glass with dry stone aromas predominating. On the palate stony minerality combine with a bit of sweet melon and earth for unique flavor profile. It’s a very distinctive flavor that you will recognize again once you’ve tasted it. Interesting wine. 13% ABV.

Lake Breeze is located along the Naramata Bench on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake, just north of Penticton. The Bench is comprised of sand bluffs that rise above the lake creating a shelf that gently rises to the mountains beyond.

The wine farm is named for the breezes that blow in from the lake. The 12-acre vineyard, originally called Rock Oven Vineyards, was planted in 1985. It is among the oldest on the Naramata Bench.

Lake Breeze call themselves a wine farm rather than a vineyard as a nod to winemaker Garron Elmes who comes from Cape Town, South Africa. In South Africa vineyards are referred to as wine farms.

2014 Hidden Chapel Blushing Bride2014 Hidden Chapel Blushing Bridetranslucent ruby in the glass with sweet berry aromas. On the palate sweet berry and cherry flavors combine with nice acidity to produce a fairly long finish. For those enjoying an off-dry finish in a rosé, you will find this wine very enjoyable. 13.2% ABV.

Hidden Chapel Winery is located in the southern portion of the Okanagan Valley near Oliver. The boutique winery has a 3-acre vineyard that was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in 2009. They purchase grapes from nearby vineyards for the rest of their production.

2014 Hester Creek Rosé Cab Franc2014 Hester Creek Rosé of Cabernet Francpale ruby in the glass with generous bright berry aromas. Blackberry flavors combine with a bit of earthiness and juicy acidity. This wine is complex and well balanced with just a hint of tannins. It would be lovely on a warm afternoon or with a light meal. 13.5%

Hester Creek Estate Winery is situated on a 95-acre vineyard named for the creek that runs along the south edge of the property. Located within the Golden Mile Bench, the only sub-geographical indication (sub-appellation) designated within British Columbia, the area is sunny and warm. The Golden Mile Bench is a prominent terrace escarpment located southwest of Oliver.

We visited the Okanagan Valley in June 2013 when we attended the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Penticton, BC. The valley scenery is varied and dominated by the beautiful lakes, bluffs and rocky mountains surrounding them. Orchards and vineyards dot the shoreline of the lakes and the contrast is spectacular. There are plenty of hiking opportunities around the valley, not to mention lake activities. It is a wonderful vacation destination, with delicious wine thrown in. If you wish to read our posts about our visit just search our blog for “Okanagan”.

In addition to producing outstanding wine, many wineries have excellent restaurants which take advantage of the abundance of local produce.  The menus are fresh, creative and delicious.

This tasting of wines from the Okanagan Valley was a real treat for us and the flavors of these wines brought back fun memories of our trip. Thanks Stephanie for sharing your wine bounty with us.


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Les Vignes de Bila-Haut and Cobb Salad for #winePW

The topic for our July Wine Pairing Weekend, aka #winePW, cleverly takes advantage of both American and French celebrations during the month. Michelle Williams, of Rockin Red Blog, posed the challenge to us of pairing food and wine from either or both America and France in honor of July 4th, our Independence Day, and July 14, Bastille Day. We had a great time with the pairing this month.

We decided on the wine first, this time. The decision was an easy one for us, as we had recently received two wines as tasting samples courtesy of Creative Palate Communications that just happen to be French. They are 2014 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc and Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé both produced by Michel Chapoutier.

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut and Cobb Salad

We thought it would be fun to pair an American dish with our French wines. Given that we were pairing a rosé and white wine, and that the weather had been particularly toasty, we wanted something easy and light that was also delicious. I’m not sure we entirely succeeded on the easy and light part of our challenge, but it certainly was delicious! To accompany the 2014 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc and Rosé we prepared Cobb Salad.

The Food

I was fairly certain that the Cobb Salad is an American “invention”, and a quick online search verified that it is. The salad was the creation of Robert (Bob) H. Cobb, manager and eventual owner of the Brown Derby restaurants. The first Los Angeles restaurant opened in 1926 on Wilshire Blvd. It’s the one shaped like a hat. The second location, in Hollywood, opened in 1929 near the corner of Hollywood and Vine and the Beverly Hills restaurant opened in 1931. The last restaurant opened in Los Feliz in 1941.


The original Brown Derby restaurant.
Photo by Chalmers Butterfield

I read several explanations as to why the restaurant was so named and why the original was built in the shape of a derby. It had to do with either the fashion of the day for a gentleman’s hat, or a comment made by Wilson Mizner  to co-owner Herb Somborn. Either way, the restaurants became famous and were frequented by Hollywood actors, producers and directors.

Bob Cobb was hired by the original owners (writer Wilson Mizner, movie producer Herb Somborn and theater owner Sid Grauman) to manage the restaurants. It was late one evening that Bob threw together a quick dinner for himself. He combined chopped lettuce, chopped chicken, bacon, hard-boiled egg, chives, avocado, cheese and French dressing.

The story continues that Sid Grauman, who was there at the time, asked for a taste and liked it so much he ordered “Cobb Salad” on a subsequent visit to the restaurant. Cobb Salad eventually became an item on the menu.  Mr. Cobb became owner of the restaurants after Herb Somborn’s death and managed the restaurants until his death in 1970.

I found and prepared the original Cobb Salad recipe. Though the ingredients are simple, they are numerous and involve lots of chopping. The recipe calls for four kinds of lettuce alone: romaine, iceberg, watercress and frisée (called chickory in one recipe). Additional ingredients that also required chopping: chives, tomatoes, chicken breasts, bacon, Roquefort cheese, hard-boiled eggs and avocados.

Cobb Salad fixins
I also made the French dressing following the original recipe which contains red wine vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, salt & pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, garlic and olive oil. Water is optional, which I omitted. Whew!

With everything neatly chopped and the French dressing mixed I placed the chopped lettuces on a platter. Then I added each chopped item one next to the other over the bed of lettuce. I have to say, it was a lot of work, but looked very pretty.

Our Cobb Salad
After admiring our creation, and taking pictures of course, I mixed half of the lettuce and chopped toppings with a bit of the French dressing and we dug in.

The mixture of lettuces provided great textural contrast and the watercress a peppery flavor. The process of tossing the salad ingredients with the dressing caused the cheese, avocado and chopped hard-boiled eggs to mix with the dressing to make it almost creamy.

Every bite tasted different. The crumbled Roquefort cheese provided a creamy, pungent, salty flavor. The bacon was smoky and salty (I used Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon. It is delicious and worth the extra cost.) I seasoned the chicken breasts liberally with salt & pepper and Terragon before oven roasting them. That pop of Terragon was the perfect addition.

We were fortunate to find perfectly ripe avocados which were so flavorful and firm yet creamy in texture. The tomatoes came from our garden and were juicy and flavorful. Even the the little bursts of chive flavor didn’t get lost among all of the other flavors.

The Wine

Michel Chapoutier is a name any lover of Rhône wine will recognize. Maison M. Chapoutier is a family-owned winery located in Tain-l’Hermitage in the northern Rhône. The family’s winemaking history there dates back to 1808 and is closely linked with Hermitage.

Though the family’s winemaking roots are in the northern Rhône, current winemaking interests also include vineyards in Alsace, Portugal, Australia and the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France.

Domaine de Bila-Haut is a 190-acre property in the Agly Valley near Latour-de-France in the Roussillon wine region not far from the border with Spain. The vineyards are planted to Syrah, Grenache and Carignan in varied soil types. This region of France is very warm during summer with little rain during the growing season.

We previously sampled a wine produced from these Domaine de Bila-Haut vineyards, and it was truly a special wine. The two wines we enjoyed for this pairing are wines made by Michel Chapoutier for everyday drinking. One is produced under the Côtes du Roussillon designation, the other is Pays d’Oc IGP classified. We found both of these wines offered excellent quality for the price.

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc2014 Les Vignes de Bila Haut Blanc Côtes du Roussillonpale yellow in the glass with tart pineapple and melon aromas. On the palate minerals, citrus zest and delicate melon flavors combine with bright acidity and citrus pith on the finish. 13% ABV.

This white wine is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Vermentino (also known as Rolle) and Macabeo. These varieties play well together to produce a flavorful, bright and crisp wine.

Although white, red and rosé wines may be made under the Côtes du Roussillon classification, only a small fraction of total production is white wine. According to Wines of Roussillon website:

Roussillon produces dry still wines and Vins Doux Naturels (fortified sweet wines). With 14 AOP certified wines, stemming from 23 different grape varieties, and with its characteristic patchwork of terrains, Roussillon offers a diverse range of wines with distinctive qualities.

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé2014 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Pays d’Oc Rosérosy pink in the glass with strawberry and citrus aromas. On the palate strawberry and ripe blackberry flavors combine with dusty earth and a squeeze of citrus for a clean finish. 13% ABV.

The growing region included in the Pays d’Oc IGP classification is large, beginning at the Spanish border and continuing along the Mediterranean to the Rhône River delta. As you might expect, this very large growing region means varied soil types and climates. 56 grape varieties may be used in the production of Pays d’Oc IGP wines, giving winemakers lots of choices in the production of unique wines.

The Pairing

With so many flavors combined in the Cobb Salad I wondered if the wines might not be overshadowed by the combination. That turned out not to be the case. Both of these wines held up nicely and complimented the salad. The flavors of the salad came through nicely without changing with either wine.

Plated Cobb Salad
We found the flavors and bright acidity of the Les Vignes de Bila Haut Blanc Côtes du Roussillon supported the flavors of the Cobb Salad without trampling the flavors of the salad, but didn’t disappear itself. Because it was such a good partner for the Cobb Salad, we awarded the Les Vignes de Bila Haut Blanc the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for the evening.

The combination of flavors in the Cobb Salad really brought out the berry flavors of the Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Pays d’Oc Rosé. The combination was very surprising, and delicious. The Rosé won our award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Pete’s comment as we finished dinner completely summed up how well we liked both Bila-Haut wines, “It is so nice to have two sample wines that it is a pleasure to finish.” So true. Over the next several evenings we finished them both and they held up very well, tasting just as delicious on the third evening as they did on the first. Thanks to Creative Palate Communications for sending these delicious wines our way. They certainly are food-friendly wines, just as winemaker Michel Chapoutier intends.

Whenever I see Cobb Salad on a restaurant menu from now on I will always think of 1930s Hollywood and hard-working restaurant manager Bob Cobb.

You can read about the other wine and food pairings the rest of our #winePW group prepared on their blog posts listed below. And, thanks Michelle for the fun challenge!

We will all be chatting about our food and wine pairings Saturday morning at 8am PST on Twitter. Follow #winePW to join the conversation. Also, join us Saturday, August 15 as we explore Portugal, a land of delicious food and outstanding wines!



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Lodi Native Project 2013 Vintage: Letting the Vineyards Shine Through

We recently had the opportunity to taste the second vintage of the Lodi Native Project. This collaborative project is designed to showcase Lodi’s heritage Zinfandel vineyards by producing single-vineyard wines following a standardized protocol involving minimal intervention in the wine cellar. The idea is to show what the vineyard itself has to offer by taking the winemaker’s individual style out of the wine making process. The first vintage, 2012, was released in March 2014 and we tasted that first vintage as well.

Lodi Native Project 2013

Minimal intervention in this context means native yeast fermentation only, no inoculation for malolactic fermentation, no acidification or de-alcoholization, no color additions, no new oak aging. The Zinfandel vineyards must be located within the Lodi AVA. Old vine plantings, prior to 1962, are preferred as are vineyards farmed according to Lodi RulesTM for Sustainable Winegrowing or Certified Organic (COOF).

<a href=""><img class="alignleft size-large wp-image-10498" src="" alt="2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel Fields Family Wines" width="261" height="400" /></a>

Lodi AVA map from

The idea for the Lodi Native Project was presented to 20 Lodi winemakers prior to that first vintage. Only six winemakers were brave enough to take up the challenge. Many had serious doubts about the project’s success, given the restrictions in the wine cellar. That first vintage proved to be a success. Those original six winemakers have now released the second vintage and there are no longer any doubts about the project’s success.

We tasted these six 2013 Lodi Native Zinfandels as part of an online tasting promoted by LoCA (the Lodi Winegrape Commission) and organized by Charles Communications Associates. We received the wine as tasting samples.

2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel Fields Family Wines2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel Fields Family Wineslight ruby color with a hint of garnet in the glass. The earthy and ripe blackberry fruit aromas are echoed in the flavors along with tobacco and a bit of peppery spice. Tannins are fine and smooth, the body on the lighter side of medium and the finish is juicy and medium in length. In short, lots of flavor in a lighter-bodied style. Lovely to look at, even better to sip. 13.9% ABV.

The Stampede Vineyard is located in the Clements Hills AVA, on the southeastern boundary of the Lodi AVA. (It is the only 2013 Lodi Native vineyard not planted in the Mokelumne River AVA.) The temperatures tend to be a bit warmer on this side of the Lodi AVA because it’s farther from the cooling breezes of the San Joaquin Delta. The own-rooted vineyard was originally planted in the 1920s with additional plantings in the 1940s. The soil is sandy loam, both Tokay and Kingdon fine sandy loam.

As was common at the time, this vineyard is a “field planting”, with scattered Mourvèdre and Mission vines planted among the Zinfandel. All are harvested and contribute to the complex flavor profile of this wine.

2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Zinfandel Macchia Wines2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Zinfandel Macchia Winesdark ruby in the glass with generous ripe, red fruit aromas and sweet wood aromas. Rich, ripe, red fruit flavors combine with peppery spice and earthy flavors. Subtle vegetal flavors in the background are interesting. Tannins are smooth, but this is still a big, extroverted wine. 15.9% ABV.

The Schmiedt Ranch vineyard is an east side Lodi vineyard (that means east of Hwy 99) planted close to the Mokelumne River in the Mokelumne River AVA. The vineyard was planted in 1918 on its own roots in the deep sandy loam. Typically dry farmed, the 8-acre vineyard yields only one ton per acre. The Schmiedt Ranch vineyard is also referred to as the Dairy Vineyard as a nod to the Ranch’s history which included dairy farming.

2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel Maley Brothers2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel Maley Brothersmedium ruby in the glass with delicate berry aromas. Blueberry and cherry flavors along with dried alfalfa combine with juicy acidity and smooth tannins. This wine exhibits pure fruit flavors, is quite unique and delicious. 14.5% ABV.

The Wegat Vineyard, named for the original owner, is the oldest vineyard block farmed by Todd Maley whose family have been farming in the Lodi area since 1863. This west side Lodi vineyard was field budded on St. George rootstock in 1958 by Todd’s dad and uncle. The head-trained vines yields about 3 tons per acre.

2013 Lodi Native TruLux Vineyard Zinfandel McCay Cellars2013 Lodi Native TruLux Vineyard Zinfandel McCay Cellarsmedium ruby in the glass with generous earthy, spicy, leathery dark fruit aromas. Ripe blackberry flavors, peppery spice, berry bramble and earthy flavors are supported by tannins with just a bit of grip. This wine finishes very long with juicy acidity and lingering fruit flavors. 14.5% ABV.

This wine has an extraordinary aroma that will draw you in, almost what some of our wine friends call “tasting optional”, only the aromas make you even more curious to taste this wine. An amazing combination of aromas and flavors.

The TruLux Vineyard is a giant, literally. Some of the head-trained vines stand as tall as six feet. The 30-acre block is planted on St. George rootstock in west side Lodi sandy loam and produces unusual elongated, loose clusters. Not pretty to look at, but certainly makes delicious wine to sip. The vineyard’s west side location means cooling Delta breezes keep the vineyard cool at night, preserving natural acidity in the grapes.

2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel St. Amant Winery2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel St. Amant Winerymedium ruby in the glass with berry fruit and spicy aromas. Dark berry fruit flavors in the up front are supported by leather and earthy flavors in the background. The tannins are smooth, the wine has juicy acidity and a medium body with a medium-long, flavorful finish. 14.5% ABV.

Marian’s Vineyard is another historic Lodi Zinfandel vineyard. This 8.3-acre vineyard was planted in 1901 and is farmed by Jerry and Bruce Fry, as part of their Mohr-Fry Ranch. The own-rooted vineyard is planted in deep sandy loam and still yields nearly 4 tons per acre in some years.

2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel m2 Wines2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel m2 Winesmedium to dark ruby in the glass with dark fruit, black tea and earthy aromas. Ripe boysenberries, cedar spice, black tea flavors combine with smooth tannins and juicy acidity. The finish is medium in length and juicy. Lots of flavor in a medium-bodied wine. 15% ABV.

The Soucie Vineyard is the western most of the Zinfandel vineyards represented among the 2013 Lodi Native wines. That means it benefits from those cooling Delta breezes in the evenings keeping the nighttime temperatures cool. The vineyard was planted on its own roots, in 1916 and the Lodi Native bottling comes from the oldest block in the vineyard. The vineyard is farmed by fifth-generation Lodi farmer, Kevin Soucie. The soil type is a variation of Devries sandy loam, characteristic of west side Lodi near Interstate 5, which in this vineyard is very fine and powdery and contains quartz.

So there you have it. Six unique wines from six heritage Zinfandel vineyards located within the Lodi AVA. All produced using minimal intervention in the wine cellar and all delicious. The flavors can indeed stand on their own without using commercial yeast to initiate fermentation, without color additions, tannin additions and heavy oak aging. These wines have plenty of flavor, and in a range of alcohol levels.

The Lodi Native Project may have started with doubts on the part of the winemakers as to whether the project would succeed, but that certainly is not the case now. As the winemakers themselves stated… what started as a hope the project would succeed has turned to faith in the process. And as Stuart Spencer added, one of the hidden benefits of the project has been the elevation of the region as a whole. Exciting things are happening in the Lodi wine world!

As with the 2012 vintage, the 2013 Lodi Native Project wines are available for purchase in a six pack for $180. If you are at all curious about how Lodi Zinfandel can be expressed in the bottle, tasting this group of wines is an excellent way to resolve your curiosity. We found these wines to be very food friendly. We enjoyed them with a selection of charcuterie and soft cheeses.

Gather a group of friends together, add some food and let the tasting fun begin. You will have a great time tasting these wines and comparing what you taste with other Lodi Zinfandels you have tasted. I’m certain you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks to this group of intrepid winemakers, to LoCA and Charles Communications Associates. We are happy to have been included in this online tasting and to sample these interesting Lodi Zinfandels.


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Mokelumne Glen Vineyards: What’s New in Winemaking

If you are at all familiar with what is happening in the Lodi wine world, you have probably heard of Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. If you are a fan of German and Austrian wine varieties, then you most certainly know that Mokelumne Glen Vineyards is home to plantings of Kerner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Bacchus, Dornfelder and Blaufränkisch, to name just a few. In addition, there is the “German Collection”, a block of over 30 German and Austrian varieties.
Bob and Mary Lou talk wine

Bob and Mary Lou Koth, along with their daughter and son Ann-Marie and Brett, have been building this unique collection of vines since the 1990s. And although the family is no longer making wine commercially, many other forward-thinking winemakers have discovered this oasis of unusual plantings.

Increasing demand from winemakers for their grapes has prompted the Koths to plant additional Blaufränkisch, Gewürztraminer and Dornfelder. The last of the Zinfandel has been removed (except for a few vines near the house) and more Kerner will go in soon.

Bob just smiles modestly and shakes his head, somewhat in disbelief, when asked about the current demand for his grapes. Disbelief, at least in part I think, that it has taken this long for others to discover what he has known for years – that these varieties make delicious wine.
MGV audience
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Koths invited these intrepid winemakers to meet and share their 2014 Mokelumne Glen Vineyards wines. We were happy to be invited to the gathering, along with others interested in the Lodi wine scene. We convened under the shade of several ancient oak trees, with a view of the vineyards beyond.

Two of the winemakers are local to Lodi, all others have cellars in the Bay Area, Napa Valley or Sonoma County. Each winemaker introduced their wine and told us a bit about their winemaking process. All are joined by a curiosity for and appreciation of these varieties as well as a winemaking style using minimal intervention in the cellar.

White Wine

Markus Niggli :: Markus Wine Co.

Markus Niggli talks wineTo Markus Niggli, winemaker at Borra Vineyards in Lodi and Markus Wine Co., these varieties reflect the flavor of the wines he enjoyed in Europe and his native Switzerland. They are completely familiar to him and so it was a natural fit for him to begin making wine for Borra Vineyards from these German and Austrian varieties.

The only question was whether or not his customers would buy the wine. Markus used modern artful labels to attract wine drinkers to these unfamiliar varieties. He began several years ago making white blends of Kerner, Riesling and Rieslaner as well as a Gewürztraminer under the Borra Vineyards label.

With the 2013 vintage, Markus and Borra Vineyards began a subventure called Markus Wine Co. These are the wines Markus brought to share with the group.
Markus Wine Co wines
2014 Markus Wine Co. Nativopredominantly Kerner with a bit of Riesling and Bacchus. Fermentation with native yeast took place in all stainless steel. This wine is light with plenty of melon flavors, minerality and bright acidity. Aromas waft from the glass as it is poured.

2014 Markus Wine Co. Nuvola100% Gewürztraminer made in the same manner as the Nativo. This wine is bone dry, which Markus feels makes it much more interesting than a sweeter version. Ripe melon flavors combine with interesting baking spice flavors and once again, brilliant acidity.

We tasted both of these wines in April when they were released. We both thought these wines exhibited more complexity in both aroma and flavor on this second tasting.

2014 Markus Wine Co. NimmoKerner predominates in this blend which is 100% oak aged. 60% new oak adds spice and woodsy aromas and flavors which predominate at this point. Fruit flavors are in the background.

We have tasted two vintages of this wine and have found it to be most interesting. With time in the bottle, the wood flavors integrate into the wine to create a complex food-friendly wine. The flavors are completely unexpected and delicious.

This Kerner, Riesling and Gewürztraminer blend is indeed a special wine. Markus was inspired to make this wine after tasting a Kerner aged in oak while in Switzerland. He loved the wine so much, he decided if ever given the opportunity to make some he would.

The Nimmo was bottled just 10 days prior to our tasting it, and is scheduled for release in July or August.

The artistic labels may be what originally attracted some wine drinkers to these wines, but I’m certain it’s the flavors in the bottle that have kept wine lovers coming back. At this point, Markus told us, these unusual varieties have been well accepted by the public. If you haven’t tasted them, you should. Consult the Borra website for tasting room details.

Matthew Rorick :: Forlorn Hope

Matthew RorickAnother Rare Creature. That’s the statement at the top of every label on Matthew’s Forlorn Hope wines. It describes the wine he makes from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards as well.

Matthew’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyards bottling comes from the German Collection, that block of German and Austrian varieties numbering over 30. Four clones of Riesling are included in the count.

All of the varieties are harvested at the same time. Fermentation in neutral oak takes place without inoculation, and the wine did go through malolactic fermentation. Bottling takes place without filtering. Once again, fairly hands-off winemaking with no additions.

2014 Forlorn Hope Gemischter Satz2014 Forlorn Hope Gemischter Satzpale yellow in the glass with amazing spicy aromas. I was at a loss as to how to describe this wine, except to say that the flavors are completely unfamiliar – and delicious. The wine has nice acidity, nice weight in the mouth, mineral flavors and an almost cedar spiciness with an extremely long finish.

In talking briefly with Matthew, I learned that these unfamiliar flavors are exactly what he is hoping to showcase with this wine. It is intended to be a reflection of the site and this unique blend of varieties, and indeed as he put it, “a celebration of the Koth’s collection.” And so it is.

2013 was Matthew’s first vintage from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards grapes. You can read that story on the Forlorn Hope blog.

Cameron Frey :: Sidebar Wine Cellar

Cameron FreySidebar Cellars is a new project of Ramey Wine Cellars, the well-regarded Healdsburg winery making Napa Valley Cabernet along with Sonoma County Chardonnay and Syrah. Sidebar will produce more lower-priced wines from varieties not made under the Ramey label. The target wine drinker is youthful and adventuresome.

Though the 2014 vintage represents the inaugural launch of the Sidebar label, Cameron Frey, vice president of winemaking for Ramey Wine Cellars, has enjoyed 23 harvests in his winemaking career and joined Ramey in 2002. He described this new project as loads of fun and welcomed the opportunity to work with the Koths. Cameron has known Brett since their school days together.

2014 Sidebar Kerner


2014 Sidebar Mokelumne River Kernerpale yellow in the glass with delicate, Riesling-like diesel aromas that are mirrored in the flavor along with slight melon flavors, minerality and brilliant acidity providing a clean finish. 

The goal was to harvest the Kerner early, at about 22º Brix to preserve natural acidity, and the fruit was perfect according to Cameron. They used natural yeast fermentation in stainless steel drums, without malolactic fermentation and only light fining and filtration. With bottling in February and release several months later, the inaugural production of 98 cases has dwindled to only 15 cases remaining. They seem to have found their adventuresome wine drinkers.

Red Wine

Jason Holman :: Holman Cellars

Jason HolmanJason was happy to discover the Koth’s planting of German varieties to quench his thirst for and fascination with German white wines. He is very pleased with this first bottling of Bacchus, having produced 46 cases from one ton of grapes, and hopes to secure more tonnage in the future.

Jason calls this wine a “somm stumper” for its unique flavor profile and rarity. It is a variety most wine consumers have never heard of, and even if they have can rarely identify – even some somms apparently.

2014 Uncharted Bacchus2014 Uncharted Bacchusmedium yellow in the glass with lots of minerally flavors, and a bit of stone fruit combined with a citrusy acidity and citrus pith in the finish. This wine has an unexpected bit of texture as well.

The Bacchus was harvested at 22.5 ºBrix. The grapes were left on the skins for 3 to 4 days and fermentation with native yeast took place in stainless steel but did not go through malolactic fermentation. The wine was bottled in February.

Daniel Fishman :: Hatton Daniels Wine Cellar

Daniel Fishman


Another “hands off” winery with the goal of producing great wine with no additions except for sulfur to prevent oxidation in the bottle. Hatton Daniels harvests grapes and make wine from a variety of vineyard sites and their production includes Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and a Rousanne/Marsanne blend.



2014 Hatton Daniels MGV Blaufankisch


2014 Hatton Daniels MGV Blaufränkischdeep ruby color in the glass with bright fruit aromas and flavors backed up by subtle vegetal notes and nice acidity. Moderately grippy tannins and a medium body make for an interesting red wine that is delicious on its own, and would be easy to pair with food. ABV is about 12%.

Hatton Daniels Blaufränkisch in the glassThis wine is just lovely to look at and delicious to sip. It is a red wine I could enjoy during the summer months when the weather is very warm.

The grapes were destemmed prior to fermentation, which was accomplished with only native yeast. The fermentation was “gentle” with only one pump over. Once again, the fruit was handed very minimally in the cellar to produce a wine that lets the flavor of the variety and vineyard shine through.

Emily Vergil and Drew Huffine :: Trail Marker Wine Co

Emily and Drew - Trail Marker Wine Co.From the Trail Marker Wine Co website:

“Trail Marker Wine Company is a husband & wife winemaking team focused on making outstanding wines that reflect the place they are grown and the care of age-old, traditional winemaking practices that go into every lot, from grape to bottle.”

2014 Trail Marker MG Zweigelt


2014 Trail Marker Zweigeltbrilliant ruby in the glass with opulent berry aromas followed by bright, ripe berry flavors, nice acidity and moderate tannins. This wine has plenty of flavor and is practically weightless in the mouth, which is a combination (along with nice tannin structure) I find irresistible in a red wine.



Trail Marker Zweigelt in the glass

Once again, this is a red wine I could easily sip on its own on a warm summer afternoon, then bring with me to the dinner table. I would love this wine with grilled chicken and a pasta salad.

Emily and Drew also make a Blaufränkisch from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, and it too is available on their website.


Sweet Wine

Layne Montgomery :: m2 Wines

Layne MontgomeryLayne is a Lodi winemaker not afraid to step outside his comfort zone, and this sweet wine certainly is a contrast to the Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Cabernet that comprise the m2 wine production. Montgomery is one of the winemakers brave enough to participate in the Lodi Native Project, which has now released a second successful vintage.

m2 unlabeled MGV dessert wineStraw colored in the glass with generous aromas and flavors of apricots and a bit of spice. It is round in the mouth and perceivably sweet with a long finish. Dessert in a glass.

Layne told us that 2014 was the first year he had the time, and the space in his winery, to make a wine from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. I got the impression he has been itching to get in on the fun. This sweet wine is a blend of Rieslaner, Weissburgunder (don’t call it Pinot Blanc at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards!) and Riesling. The grapes were picked in late October, some at as much as 42 ºBrix.

All lots were fermented (whole cluster) separately. The Rieslaner was barrel fermented in French oak, and the rest in “blue barrels”. Acidification was necessary to balance the residual sugar in the blended wine (about 90 g/L), though by the tone in Layne’s voice it sounded like he hated to have to make the addition. Stay tuned for the release date and name of the wine.

The Take Aways

We were impressed by the aromas, complex flavors and brilliant acidity in these wines, and all with modest ABV. These are wines that are easy to enjoy on their own and will pair well with a variety of food.

Thanks to these adventurous winemakers for taking a chance on these lesser-know grape varieties and producing wonderful wines that educate our palates. Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel (this is Lodi, after all) are all delicious, and enjoying these classic varieties is a wonderful way to learn about wine and develop your palate. But, be curious in your wine tasting, try something new whenever you have the opportunity. Chances are you will like it, you might even love it.

We are happy to see the foresight, hard work and perseverance the Koth family has put into their vineyard pay off with such delicious result. We are also very happy to be included in this interesting tasting. Thank you.

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Arneis Paired with Dungeness Crab and Pea Purée Crostini for #winePW

Our challenge for the June wine pairing weekend (#winePW on Twitter) came to us from Italy, literally. This month’s #winePW host is Valerie Quintanilla, you can read all of the details of the challenge in her blog post. She is an American living in Italy, so her challenge to us of pairing a summer dish with Arneis, a delightful northern Italian white wine, was spot on.

Also spot on was the timing of the arrival of a delicious Arneis at a local wine shop, making our choice of Arneis for this pairing almost too easy. It is one we tasted during an earlier wine tasting at the shop and enjoyed very much. With our choice of wine compete, a bottle of 2013 Damilano Langhe Arneis, all we needed to do was decide on a recipe to pair with the wine.

The inspirationAs it turns out, that was also pretty easy for us this month. Having recently returned from a trip to Santa Barbara where we enjoyed excellent food and wine, we took inspiration from a dish we had during that trip — a dish we are calling Dungeness Crab and Pea Purée Crostini. We enjoyed this small plate one afternoon at Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, a wonderful wine bar serving delicious food prepared by The Lark Santa Barbara, a great restaurant next door. Both are located in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone which has all kinds of interesting places to eat and drink, not to mention enjoy artwork. We always visit the area when in Santa Barbara.  All I needed to do was find a recipe to use as a guide in preparing the pea purée. A quick internet search took care of that part. I love having so many recipes at my fingertips!

The Food

After I casually called our dish Dungeness Crab and Pea Purée Crostini, I got to thinking about the actual difference between crostini and bruschetta hoping I had correctly named our delicious little bites. Crostini which means little toasts in Italian are generally thin slices of bread (think sliced baguette) that have been toasted and topped with savory goodies. Bruschetta comes from the Italian bruscare which means to roast over coals. Generally these slices of bread are larger (like slices of ciabatta) and rubbed with garlic cloves and drizzled with olive oil. Bruschetta may be topped with tomatoes or other savory items. So, not a big difference, but I think our crostini are properly named. Whew!

Since I missed fresh pea season at our Farmer’s Market by a week or so, I used frozen peas to make the pea purée, following a recipe I found online. I began by sautéing an onion in butter, then added the peas, a few shakes of cayenne pepper, salt and enough wine to barely cover the peas. When the peas were cooked I allowed them to cool before carefully spooning the warm mixture into a blender, adding the cooking liquid as needed, and blended until the texture was smooth. Pretty straightforward.

A couple of thoughts on the pea purée: since I wanted just the sweet pea flavor to shine through, I didn’t add herbs. Several recipes I saw called for mint to be added, which could be delicious. I did add just a bit of cayenne pepper to balance the sweetness of the peas with a bit of heat. I cooked the peas a bit longer than the recipe indicated, until all of the alcohol flavor from the wine had cooked off. I just kept tasting the mixture until it had the flavor I wanted.

When the pea purée was finished, I chilled it while we prepared the bread, the Dungeness crab and washed the greens for the topping. Pete sliced and toasted the bread while I prepared the Dungeness crab and the greens. Because we love the clean, sweet flavors of Dungeness crab so much, we did not make any addition to the crab. All that was left to do was assemble our crostini — each little toast was topped with pea purée, Dungeness crab and a bit of field greens. Pretty simple…and delicious.

Dungeness crab and pea puree crostini
The sweet flavors of the peas and the Dungeness crab were wonderful together along with the savory notes provided by the sautéd onions and spice from the cayenne pepper. The pea purée was smooth and creamy and the Dungeness crab rich and luxurious. The field greens on top provided texture as did the crunchy crostini.

The Wine

Valerie’s post provides all of the background information you need to know about Arneis and Roero. The Arneis we chose for this pairing comes from the Langhe region, south of Roero, the other region of Piemonte along with Terre Alfieri growing significant amounts of Arneis.

2013 Damilano Langhe Arneis2013 Damilano Langhe Arneisgolden straw color in the glass with with delicate pear and white flower aromas. Pear flavors combine with delicate flavors of citrus zest, white flowers and minerals. Over time a hint of spiciness adds to these complex flavors. The wine has nice acidity, is a bit round in the mouth and finishes long with flavor. 13.5% abv.

This wine has a nice weight in the mouth, more than you might expect from a white wine. The combination of delicate fruit and mineral flavors along with a bit of weight is a pleasant combination and makes this wine a summer sipper you can easily bring to the dinner table.

The Pairing

Interesting. The flavors of the Dungeness Crab and Pea Purée Crostini were sweet and savory which accentuated the pear and floral flavors of the Damilano Arneis. This was one of those wonderful pairings where the combination of food and wine exceeded either one on its own. The roundness of the Arneis was very nice along with the creamy texture of the pea purée.
Crab and pea puree and Damilano Arneis

I’m embarrassed to say how many of these delicious little toasts we enjoyed. After we polished off the pretty plating we prepared for picture taking we prepared several more! Needless to say, sufficient to count as dinner that evening.

Pea puree pasta

We had more pea purée than we needed for this recipe, but I was determined not to let it go to waste (though it may have gone to waist). It made a really delicious lunch when combined with pasta that I cooked and tossed with garlic sautéd in olive oil. The combination of the creamy peas, olive oil and garlic was perfect with pasta. If I usually enjoyed a glass of wine with lunch, I would have reached for a glass of the Damilano Langhe Arneis. But I don’t, so I didn’t.

You can see what the rest of our wine pairing weekend friends cooked up for their Arneis pairings by reading their blog posts below.

Also, you can join our Twitter chat Saturday at 8am PST to talk food and Arneis. Just follow #winePW, pour yourself a cup of coffee and join the conversation.


Wine Pairing Weekend July: Join us next month! 

In July Americans celebrate Independence Day and the French celebrate Bastille Day. July’s Wine Pairing Weekend will take place on Saturday, July 11, led by Michelle Williams of Rockin Red Blog. The group will explore food and wine pairings from the United States and France. From Michelle, Get creative and make your favorite all American food and wine meal, your favorite all French food and wine meal, one of each or a combination of both! With these two regions the sky is the limit!

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