Broadside Wine: Elegance in a Glass

We recently had the opportunity to taste a range of wines produced by Brian and Stephy Terrizzi under their Broadside label. The couple participated in an online tasting during which they answered our questions and tasted four of their wines with us. The wine was provided to us as tasting samples. The tasting, among other things, highlighted the variety of wine styles being produced in the Paso Robles AVA.

The couple is producing wine they describe as reflecting purity of the variety, the vintage and the vineyard. Their style in both the vineyard, Stephy manages the vineyards, and in the cellar, Brian is the winemaker, is hands-off and low-intervention. Translation: native yeast fermentation, use of neutral oak aging, with early harvesting to preserve acidity in the fruit.

Brian learned winemaking at CSU, Fresno where the couple met. There he learned standard winemaking techniques including the use of commercial yeast with nutrient additions during fermentation, adjustments as necessary and new wood aging. He jokes that his style of winemaking is actually less costly than the standard methods, but that’s not the real reason for the hands-off approach. It’s because his approach produces the style of wine the couple prefers to drink.

They are not above watching costs, however, but prefer to cut costs “outside the bottle,” as Brian puts it. For example, their unique bottle labels are designed as one wraparound label, rather than a front and back label. One label costs less than two.

That one wraparound label also fits nicely with the literary origin of the name of their winery:

A broadside (also known as a broadsheet) is a single sheet of inexpensive paper printed on one side, often with a ballad, rhyme, news and sometimes with woodcut illustrations. They were one of the most common forms of printed material between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly in Britain, Ireland and North America and are often associated with one of the most important forms of traditional music from these countries, the ballad.

This thoughtful couple began making wine in Paso Robles with the 2006 vintage. Cabernet Sauvignon was, and remains, their focus. In addition they make Chardonnay, Merlot and a red blend.

These are the Broadside wines we tasted:

2014-Broadside-Wild-Ferment-Chardonnay2014 Broadside Wild Ferment Chardonnaystraw yellow in the glass with tropical fruit aromas. Complex flavors of pear, pineapple and citrus pith combine with a nice weight in the mouth and bright acidity. Mineral flavors come in on the finish which is fairly long. 13.5% abv. $20

The flavors shout Chardonnay and the wine is nicely balanced with a bit of weight in the mouth. Very nice acidity, but it won’t remove your tooth enamel. I prefer this wine with a bit of a chill, but it is delicious as it warms in the glass. It is made for creamy pasta dishes, fish, appetizers or a warm summer afternoon.

Cooler sites in the Edna Valley and San Luis Obispo county are the source of the Chardonnay for this wine. Wild Ferment in the name gives you a hint that native yeast fermentation was used. No additions or adjustments were made in the cellar, so the acidity and balance you taste is what came from the vineyard. This wine sees only a bit of neutral wood aging so that the pure flavors of the fruit can shine through.

2013-Broadside-Paso-Robles-Cabernet-Sauvignon2013 Broadside Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignonmedium ruby in the glass with red fruit and cedar aromas. Raspberries, blackberries and earthy flavors are supported by nice tannins with just a bit of grip. The wine has a medium body and the finish is moderate in length. 13.9% abv. $18

This is a lovely Cabernet with obvious varietal character and very nice balance. Fruit is sourced from vineyards in the Paso Robles Santa Margarita Ranch and Estrella District AVAs. Native fermentation with aging in neutral French and American oak for 14 months followed.


2013-Broadside-Margarita-Vineyard-Merlot2013 Broadside Margarita Vineyard Merlotmedium ruby in the glass with delicate fruit and dried hay aromas. The combination of blackberry, plum and dried alfalfa flavors combine in the most interesting way. Smooth tannins and nice acidity support the flavors. Delicious. 14.4% abv. $22

Much more interesting than many Merlots I’ve tasted. That combination of slightly savory and fruity flavors is delicious and interesting. Lovely food wine. Once again, native yeast fermentation, no additions or adjustments and neutral French oak only. Merlot at its best.


2013-Broadside-Margarita-Vineyard-Cabernet-Sauvignon2013 Broadside Margarita Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignonmedium ruby in the glass with berry and dried herb aromas. Blackberry and raspberry flavors are seasoned with a pinch of black tea and supported with slightly grippy tannins. The finish is juicy and a bit savory. 14.2% abv. $25

This wine has the most evident tannins of the red wines in this group along with a nice combination of fruit and savory flavors. This Cabernet is made is the same manner as the prior wines, with French oak aging — 3% new. This is the wine that started it all for the Terrizzis in 2006.


It was the soil that originally attracted Brian and Stephy to Paso Robles, and the rolling hills. It didn’t take long for the pair to discover the Margarita Vineyard, which was originally planted by Robert Mondavi in the late-1990s. When the vineyard changed hands Stephy and Brian were in the right place at the right time and since 2006 have been making Cabernet Sauvignon from the site.

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Image from

The vineyard, which is the source for their Merlot as well, has calcareous soil that contains intact seashells. Its location close the the ocean means a cool climate. Merlot, which ripens about a month before the Cabernet, is very happy growing here. Cabernet struggles to ripen in this location and constant tasting and monitoring in the vineyard by Stephy are required to insure optimal harvest.

The quality of the grapes produced in the Margarita Vineyard is excellent, according to  Stephy and Brian, although the yield is low. The grapes have thick skins and high acidity. In short, Bordeaux varieties are very happy growing here.

Elegant is the best description I can use to characterize these wine from Broadside. They all have plenty of flavor and complexity with moderate alcohol levels. They are food-friendly wines and all very fairly priced, surprisingly so. These wines challenged my perception of Paso Robles AVA wine which I generally think of as big, bold and very ripe.

Brian and Stephy have a second wine project as well. Under their label Giornata they produce blended and varietal wines using Italian grape varieties. More surprises from the Central Coast of California.

Thank you, Brian and Stephy for sharing your story with us — and, of course, your wine. Thanks, also to Charles Communications Associates for organizing and hosting the Brandlive® tasting. Very instructive and lots of fun.


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Sicily: Beauty Under Foot

Do you look down when you travel? Sounds like a silly question on the face of it, of course you do, you’re probably even more deliberate about doing so when you travel than when you’re at home on familiar territory. Aside from making sure you don’t trip or step in doggie doo doo, the colors, textures and patterns you will see beneath you feet can be quite beautiful. That was our experience during a recent trip to Sicily.

CataniaOver the 18 days we spent on the island we completed a circumnavigation of the roughly triangular island located at the toe of Italy’s boot. We began our trip in Palermo, but remained there just overnight before boarding the train to Catania. After spending seven nights in Catania we drove to the enchanting hilltop town of Ragusa Ibla. The five days we spent in Ragusa Ibla flew by and we were sad to leave. Waiting for us in Agrigento, however, was a delightful stay in a monastery where the nuns prepared the most delectable breakfast pastries. We spent only two nights in Agrigento before moving on to Palermo for the remainder of our stay in Sicily.

Our visit mostly felt unhurried, though there are many things we did not see. We often feel that way after returning from vacation and tell ourselves we’ve left something to see on our next visit. What we did see of Sicily we thoroughly enjoyed. We even had time to sit in public gardens and enjoy the view.

PeteAgrigentoWe found the people of Sicily warm and welcoming. The food was both delicious and, in a way, familiar. And the wine, which is what first drew us to Sicily, was off-the-charts delicious. We tasted wine and enjoyed memorable food and wine pairings at six wineries as we toured the island. And every restaurant wine list included many excellent choices from Sicily.

As we started researching Sicily we discovered its interesting ancient history, the impressive number of ancient ruins still remaining and its many beautiful churches. We were even more impressed by the sights in person than we were when we first read about them.

RagusaIblaThese were the expected portions of our visit to Sicily, the buildings, statues, paintings, opera houses, fountains and gardens. What truly surprised us was the beauty of many city sidewalks and stairways — even the narrow streets of some of the towns we visited were just beautiful. My attention was drawn to the variety of stone and rock, texture and color. Many of the stone stairways and streets were worn smooth by many years of use.

Our first Sicily post begins with a look a some of our favorite photos of the beauty we discovered at our feet.

Please enjoy!

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2012 Heavyweight Cabernet Sauvignon — the Perfect Match for a Weeknight Meal

On a recent weeknight I came home to the most delightful surprise. The aromas were the first thing I noticed — sautéed onion and Italian sausage along with the spiciness of andouille. Our large dutch oven sitting on the cooktop was the only other clue dinner was imminent. The kitchen was completely clean otherwise. There was no evidence of the preparation that had taken place. Clearly, Pete had been busy while I was out.

The second thing I noticed was a glass of red wine on the kitchen counter. I looked at Pete and asked, “Is that for me?” “Yes,” he replied, “what is it?” He loves to test me, so I played along.  My description:

medium ruby garnet in the glass with dark fruit and vanilla aromas. The first sip was a bit sweet. The second less so, with berry fruit, red fruit, a bit of tobacco and smooth well-integrated tannins. The flavor lasted fairly long and finished with dark fruit flavors. Easy to drink and enjoy.

My guess: new world style, maybe a blend. The answer: 2012 Heavyweight Cabernet Sauvignon. 13% ABV. Retail $12.99 or there about — we received this wine as a tasting sample.

Heavyweight Cabernet SauvignonHow did it pair with Pete’s sausage cassoulet? Really well! The dish was hearty and meaty and included white beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and zucchini. It was spicy thanks to the addition of andouille. The Heavyweight stood toe-to-toe with the complex flavors and spiciness of the cassoulet. A great match — pun intended. Thank you, Pete. Great pairing.

The 2012 Heavyweight Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera and Petit Verdot sourced from Lodi, Calaveras and Lake counties. The wine is barrel aged in a combination of American and French oak. It’s ready to drink now and will pair nicely with stews, burgers or a meaty pizza.

The Heavyweight Cabernet Sauvignon is produced by Scotto Cellars. This busy family of winemakers produces wine in their Napa Valley, Lodi and Amador County wineries — so they’ve got you covered. We wrote about wine from Scotto Family Cellars in a prior post and their website is full of information about the many labels they produce. We thank them for this taste of their Heavyweight Cabernet Sauvignon.


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Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio: A PG That Won’t Disappoint

I pulled the bottle of Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio from the refrigerator and grabbed my favorite wine glass, a Zalto Denk’Art Universal glass. It required a firm grip and a bit of muscle to remove the screw cap from the bottle of wine. I poured an ounce or so into my glass, put the screw cap back on the wine bottle and placed it in the refrigerator.

As I turned my attention to the glass of Pinot Grigio, the most amazing aromas greeted me — even before I lifted the glass to my nose. This was my first hint that this Pinot Grigio, grown in Alto Adige (and sent to us as a tasting sample), was no ordinary Pinot Grigio.

The Grape

Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for the French grape Pinot Gris, which developed as a color mutation of Pinot Noir — seemingly wherever Pinot Noir was planted — in Burgundy, Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg. Gris in the name indicates the color of the berries (gray), but they’re also highly variable in color ranging from greyish-blue to brownish-pink.

Italy’s first introduction to Pinot Grigio likely came in the Piemonte region but the variety is now most extensively planted in Veneto, which wine production at  large cooperatives. Nearby Friuli is known for quality Pinot Grigio production and the variety is grown in the far north of Italy in Alto Adige as well. Lombardi and Emilia-Romagna are also home to significant plantings of the variety.

In the vineyard, Pinot Gris is early to bud and ripen. It’s a vigorous grower but does not produce large amounts of fruit. Bunches and berries are smallish. The grapes may develop high sugar levels along with moderate to low acidity.

The Region

SudtirolTrentino-Alto Adige is Italy’s most northerly wine region and is nestled up against Austria. The region follows the Adige River and its tributaries through narrow alpine valleys. Trentino occupies the southern portion of the region and is largely Italian speaking. Alto Adige (upper Adige) occupies the northern area where many residents speak German and refer to the province to as Südtirol (South Tyrol).

The Dolomites, a mountain range within the northern Italian Alps, protects the growing region from cold winds. They also provide a dramatic backdrop for the region’s alpine vineyards which, in Alto-Adige, are planted at elevations between 750 and 3250 feet above sea level.

The region enjoys over 300 days of sunshine annually and a large swing in temperature from day to night. Soil types are diverse and include moraine debris, volcanic deposits, dolomitic rock, fluvial deposits and slate in the various alpine valleys.

White wine production out paces red wine production in Alto Adige, in spite of the fact that the most widely planted grape is the indigenous red variety Schiava. Pinot Grigio is the next most widely planted, followed by Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Another indigenous red variety, Lagrien, is next followed by Pinot Noir.

The region covers only 13,000 acres or so, making Alto Adige one of Italy’s smallest wine regions. But, as we know, good things come in small packages.

The Wine

Pinot Grigio, rather than Pinot Gris, is the name most wine drinkers will recognize because in the early 2000s the Italian varietal wine became very popular worldwide. The wine was made is large volume, in a very light style — one you will either enjoy or view as flavorless. Not all Pinot Grigio is the same, however, and the grape is capable of producing wine in a variety of styles. Everything from light bodied and light in flavor, to wines with intense minerally, to highly aromatic wines with stone fruit flavors.

Peter-Zemmer-Pinot-Grigio2014 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio — straw yellow in the glass with generous, ripe melon and stone fruit aromas. The flavors are dominated by a complex minerality, strongly supported by melon and ripe peach flavors. All of the brilliant acidity you would expect in a cool-climate wine is present in the form of citrus zest, but it also has a bit of weight in the mouth – which is not expected. The finish is very long, dry and clean. ABV 13.5%

This is a lovely white wine you will want to spend time sipping and thinking about. It is no simple Pinot Grigio lacking in flavor and acidity. It is well balanced, has layers of flavor that are delightful on their own and with all that flavor and structure it’s the perfect food wine. And that clean, bright finish will leave you smacking your lips.

Peter Zemmer was established in 1928 and the third generation of the family is now making wine at their cellar in Cortina. The village is located on the Adige Valley floor in the southern portion of Alto Adige, just near the provincial border with Trentino.

Pinot Grigio for this wine is grown in estate vineyards located both on the valley floor and in mountainside vineyards. Crop yields are kept low and native yeast is used for a slow fermentation in stainless steel. The wine ages on the lees for several months.

The Food

Soup and Peter ZemmerWe prepared two food pairings to enjoy with this delightful Pinot Grigio. The first night we enjoyed a Scallop and Mushroom Soup with Ginger and Leeks. The pairing was divine. The day before I made chicken stock from scratch, this was the key to this lovely soup. The stock provided a perfectly balanced base for the sautéed mushrooms, ginger and leeks. After slicing the scallops I baked them in butter. The scallops lent a rich, salty, buttery flavor and richness to the soup. The wine paired perfectly with the soup and neither overwhelmed the other in terms of flavor.

Bucatini-and-scallopsAlthough I purchased the amount of scallops called for in the soup recipe, I found I needed only one-half that amount. I saved the extra for our meal the following evening. The second evening I prepared Bucatini with Seared Scallops. I cooked bucatini according to the directions and in the meantime, sautéed the scallops in butter and set them aside. When the pasta was cooked and drained, I added it to the pan I use to sauté the scallops. I added a bit of olive oil and red pepper flakes. Each portion was topped with scallops. Yum!

The bucatini picked up the rich flavors of the pan juices and the red pepper flakes provided just a bit of heat in the background. The scallops were buttery, toasty and sweet. The Pinot Grigio was cooling and palate-cleansing. Once again, a delicious pairing.

The Take Aways

Do not judge a book by its cover or a Pinot Grigio by its name. Clearly, not every Pinot Grigio is light and lacking in flavor. Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio is made in the alpine vineyards of Alto Adige, has a beautiful straw color, amazingly complex aromas and flavors and brilliant acidity. It has everything you could want in a white wine and is so much more than simply quaffable.

This wine has left me curious not only about other wines made by Peter Zemmer (Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Müller Thurgau, Schiava, Lagrein and Pinot Noir to name just a few) but about other wines made in Alto Adige. I have enjoyed several wines from the region recently and not been disappointed by a single one. The region absolutely merits further exploration.

At around $16 per bottle,  Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio offers excellent value. We thank  Creative Palate Communications for the opportunity to sample this interesting Pinot Grigio. It is delicious on its own and makes a perfect partner for food. Look for it.



The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th edition. Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding

Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz

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Food, Wine and Music: Paul Cullen and Tune Your Palate

Paul Cullen, former Bad Company bassist, has turned his attention from rock music to Italian food and wine with music to accompany both. Through his enterprise, Tune Your Palate, he will arrange to cook delicious authentic Italian dishes for you and your friends in your own kitchen. He creates wine pairings to match and then plays music while you enjoy both. Sounds like a delicious idea doesn’t it?

Paul was recently a guest on one of Protocol Wine Studio’s #WineStudio online sessions. We followed the discussion on Twitter as he told us a bit about his music, his cooking and the wine he serves with his family recipes. We had the opportunity to taste two of those wines, which we received as tasting samples.

I was inspired by Paul’s story to do some research into the two wines we received as well as regional Italian dishes that might accompany them. The pairings took us to two regions in Italy.


LambruscoDenny Bini Podere Cipolla Lambrusco NVmedium ruby in the glass abundant, frothy bubbles. Aromas of red fruit and dried hay are followed by flavors of black tea, berries, celery and dried hay. Tannins are noticeable, the wine is dry and the finish is short to moderate in length. ABV 11%.

From start to finish this wine is an adventure. The label is playful, the bottle is closed with a crown cap and the color and fizz are just plain fun. And I’ll bet you are not often served a chilled red wine, much less a red wine with bubbles. It’s not a serious or contemplative wine. Just drink it and enjoy it. It was perfect on a wintery evening, but I would imagine it would be very refreshing on a warm summer afternoon as well.

As I noted, we enjoyed this Lambrusco chilled but some prefer them to be served at closer to room temperature. It was nice to taste the wine chilled and then notice the change in flavors as it warmed. As you would expect, the fruity flavors of the wine are more appreciable as the wine warms in the glass.

Lambrusco describes both the wine and the grape variety used to produce the wine in the Emilia-Romagna and Lombardi regions of Italy. Lambrusco is produced in a variety of styles from dry (secco), to sweet (amabile) to very sweet (dolce).

Denny Bini Podere Cipolla Lambrusco is produced from grapes grown organically (though not certified) and are hand picked. Native yeasts were used for the alcoholic fermentation, and the second fermentation took place in tank under pressure – the charmat method – and bottled without the addition of sulfur. The chamat method of sparkling wine production is less expensive than méthode traditionnelle, and produces a sparkling wine that preserves the fruity character of the grapes.

As is common with Lambrusco, the wine consists of a blend of Lambrusco varieties: 30% Lambrusco Marani, 30% Lambrusco Salamino, 20% Lambrusco Maestri, 10% Lambrusco Grasparossa and 10% Ancellotta, a non-Lambrusco variety that lends tannins and acidity.

Lambrusco-pastaOur food pairing for this wine was Strichetti Pasta with Asparagus and Prosciutto — a pasta dish prepared with bow-tie pasta, prosciutto, asparagus, mascarpone, grated Parmigiano Reggiano and onions. I found the recipe on a website called Mange Bene Pasta. The sub-heading of the website is “Chi manga bene, vive bene. Who eats well, lives well.” It’s hard to argue with that.

The pasta was lovely. The saltiness of the proscuitto and Parmigiano Reggiano, mixed beautifully with the creaminess of the mascarpone. I like being able to have my vegetables too, and enjoyed the addition of the asparagus. The dish was a snap to put together and made a perfect weeknight meal.

This food and wine pairing was surprisingly delicious. We found the Lambrusco light enough in flavor so that it did not overpower the pasta. The bubbles were nice with the creaminess of the dish and the herbal flavors in the wine matched well with the asparagus.


Vallarom-Marzemino2013 Vallarom Trentino Marzeminobright ruby in the glass with tart cherry aromas. Tart red fruit flavors follow with a hint of green tea in the background, bright acidity and smooth tannins. This wine is lively and energetic thanks to the acidity, the tart fruit flavors and a light to medium body. Right up my alley. 12.5% ABV.

This wine shouts cool climate with the tart fruit flavors and bright acidity. It was a bit too tart for Pete’s liking, but I thought it was just delicious. After drinking the wine at room temperature the first day, we recorked the bottle and refrigerated the wine. The next evening I enjoyed a glass, chilled, and it occurred to me that this wine would be a perfect choice in warm-weather months as well.

Trentino DOC is located in northeastern Italy within the Trentino-Alto Adige region. The climate is cool, the elevation alpine and hillside vineyards are planted in soils composed of chalk, limestone and sand.

Marzemino is a variety indigenous to northern Italy and the oldest vines used for this bottling are over 30 years old. The vineyards are certified organic and the fruit is hand picked. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel with native yeast only. Large neutral wood barrels are used in the aging of this wine. Production is small, only 250 cases.

I love the internet. Once again, after a brief search, I found a website with recipes for many regional Italian dishes.  Italian Notes  had a dish from the Trentino region that looked like it would pair nicely with the Vallarom Trentino Marzemino.

Vallarom-Marzemino-and-chickenPetto di Pollo Ripieno (stuffed chicken breasts) required a bit more preparation than the pasta dish, but the result was well worth the effort. The stuffing included grated parmesan, speck (I used pancetta), bread crumbs, toasted pine nuts, salt, pepper and rosemary. After browning the stuffed chicken breasts, I braised them in white wine. The chicken was tender, the filling savory and the pan juices made a delicious gravy.

The Vallarom Marzemino paired perfectly with the savory, rich flavors of the chicken. The tart fruit flavors and the crisp acidity were palate cleansing and stood toe-to-toe with the savory, salty flavors of the chicken. This combination is a keeper!

Both of these wines are among those imported by PortoVino. From their website:

Our goal is the same as when we started: not to be a sip-and-spit importer, but to be intimately connected to and searching within Italy’s culture, language, geography, people, and cucina for exceptional terroir-driven wines that transmit tradizione, a bit of anarchia, and lots of convivialitá.

PortoVino looks for wines made by small producers, often using organic farming practices and in a hands-off winemaking style. Or, as they put it on their website: “Groovy Italian wines.”

This installment of #WineStudio was a great learning experience for us. Thanks to Protocol Wine Studio for organizing the tasting and to Paul Cullen for spending time telling his story and the story of these interesting wines.


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Something New for #winePW: Faire la Fête + Dinner to Go

Our first Wine Pairing Weekend for 2016 has us “Celebrating Something New in the New Year.” This month’s host, Camilla Mann, who blogs at Culinary Adventures with Camilla, extended the challenge to all of us. It’s the perfect theme for the first month of a new year.

After tasting many wonderful sparkling wines during 2015, I have been inspired to integrate sparkling wines into our everyday dinners (not a resolution, but a a goal for the new year.) Why should sparkling wine be reserved just for appetizers or for a toast? Plus, I love sparkling wine. It’s delicious, generally crisp, often dry with generous palate-cleansing bubbles. I love all of those characteristics in a wine. And, the list of grape varieties used to produce sparkling wines is as varied as the regions that produce them.

Through the generosity of the folks at Banner Media Group, we recently received a bottle of Faire la Fête NV Brut Crémant de Limoux as a tasting sample. This is our first taste of Faire la Fête, though not our first Crémant de Limoux, and so we decided to create a pairing with it for Wine Pairing Weekend.

So, the challenge we set for ourselves was to go in a completely NEW direction with a food pairing for our NEW wine. First, no cooking allowed. That’s new for Wine Pairing Weekend. We decided to order takeout and eat at home. Second, try a restaurant that is new to us. Ok, I admit that wasn’t too hard for us. We don’t eat in restaurants very often, and order takeout even less often.

Next, what to order? A quick glance at the Faire la Fête tech sheet gave us some basic information to help us decide. The wine is a brut sparkling wine made in the méthode traditionnelle, and is composed of a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir. Translation: the wine should taste dry (not sweet), should be clean with good acidity and have lots of small bubbles. Possible food pairings: something creamy, something fried, something cheesy, fish, chicken or pork. Hmm… our decision: Japanese food.

The Wine

Faire-la-Fete-CrementFaire la Fête NV Brut Crémant de Limouxpale yellow in the glass with many small bubbles. Citrusy aromas are followed by crisp, tart apple flavors with a squeeze of citrus. As the wine warms in the glass the apple flavors tend toward riper, yellow apples but remains citrusy. It finishes with nice acidity. 12% ABV.

This Crémant de Limoux is made in the méthode traditionnelle. That is, still base wines are produced, then blended and bottled along with a bit of yeast and sugar to induce the bubble-producing second fermentation. It’s the same method used to produce Champagne, but cannot by European Union law be called méthode champenoise – that is reserved for Champagne only. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, the Crémant classification was established in the late 1980s to acknowledge dry sparkling wine made elsewhere in France, but in the same manner as in Champagne.

French wine regulations are in place for Crémant production that require specific winemaking processes, but a variety of grapes may be used and vary by location, so that Crémant represents quality sparkling winemaking reflective of the region. There are quite a few French regions, in addition to Limoux, that produce AOC Crémant: Alsace, Bourgogne, Loire, Jura, Die, Bordeaux and the most recent addition, Savoie.

Limoux is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains and is relatively cool with less Mediterranean influence (and more Atlantic influence) than many areas of the southern Languedoc. These hillside vineyards at elevation are perfect locations for the Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac and Pinot Noir that may comprise the blend of a Crémant de Limoux.

Interestingly, the production of sparkling wine was documented by the Benedictine monks of Abbey Saint-Hilaire near Limoux in 1531. They may have been the first to produce sparkling wine, and this date is about 150 years prior to the contributions made by Dom Pérignon in Champagne.

The Food

So, what to choose from the delicious-sounding menu of CoCoro To Go? We decided on three dishes: spicy sesame chicken, asparagus roll and fried squid. Great choices, all.

Spicy sesame chicken: dipped in tempura, deep fried and served with sesame seeds and a spicy ginger teriyaki sauce. The tempura batter was a bit crunchy and the chicken tender and moist. The sesame seeds provided a bit of crunch as well, and the ginger teriyaki sauce was spicy and just a bit sweet.

Asparagus roll: sliced into rounds and presented on a mixture of baby greens that included house dressing and wasabi. Each round held snow crab, avocado and asparagus wrapped with seaweed and rice.

Fried squid: sliced and deep fried then tossed with a cilantro pesto and ponzu.

The Pairing

Faire-la-fete-dinnerI especially enjoyed the spicy aspect of the spicy sesame chicken with the Faire la Fête Brut. The sparkling wine provided a cooling contrast to the heat of the spicy ginger teriyaki sauce. The nuttiness and crunch of the sesame seeds was accentuated by the cleansing bubbles of the Faire la Fête.

The sweet, salty snow crab and creaminess of the avocado paired beautifully with the bright acidity of the sparkling wine. Even the asparagus fit right in. When I added a dab of wasabi, wow! What a great combination.

Fried food and dry sparkling wine is a match made in culinary heaven, and this pairing of fried squid was no exception. The squid was firm, a bit salty and the savory cilantro pesto flavors paired beautifully with the citrusy flavors of the wine.

The crisp effervescence of the Faire la Fête makes it an extremely versatile wine. It paired very well with each dish in our takeout selection. If I had to choose a favorite pairing from this menu, it would be either the asparagus roll or the fried squid. I can’t decide which I liked better.

The Take Aways

This was a remarkably easy and satisfying meal, though it’s unlikely we will make a habit of eating takeout, when time is short it can be a good choice. Choose the restaurant with as much care as you do your wine, and the combination is very likely to be a hit.

Use the information on the wine bottle (or ask your friendly, local wine merchant) to help you determine what the wine is likely going to taste like. That will help you make your food decisions.

Consider integrating sparkling wine more regularly into your everyday dinner menu planning. They often represent a very good value, this Faire la Fête comes in at under $20. Start with dry sparkling wines, Crémant would be an excellent starting point, and branch out from there. Think cool climate wine regions.

The-next-dayUnless you have friends over for dinner, you will have sparkling wine left after your meal. Invest in a sparkling wine bottle stopper similar to either of these. They will preserve the bubbles in the wine left in the bottle until the next day if refrigerated (be careful when removing the stopper though.) I have had mixed results using them for longer.

It is actually really nice to sip a glass of bubbly the next night while cooking your evening meal and setting the table. If you don’t finish the sparkling wine that evening, use it to cook with.

I hope our Faire la Fête NV Brut Crémant de Limoux and Japanese dinner-to-go pairing has inspired you to drink more sparkling wine and to be creative with your food and wine pairings. We certainly had fun with it.

Thanks to Banner Media Group for introducing us to this recent addition to the fine sparkling wines being produced in Limoux. This tasting sample was a great reminder just how delicious Crémant de Limoux can be.

Here is what the rest of our Wine Pairing Weekend blogging friends came up with. Looks like some delicious pairings!

We will be chatting about our food and wine pairings on Twitter, Saturday morning January 9 at 8 PST. Join the conversation by following #winePW.



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Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Vineyard: An Elegant Addition to your Dinner Table

The bottle came wrapped in tissue paper. A little package to unwrap, adding to the anticipation of finally tasting the wine. Pete pulled the cork and we gave it a quick sniff. We looked at each other and smiled. He poured a small glass for us to taste before pouring the remainder of the bottle into a decanter. It would be an hour before our friends arrived for dinner.

We swirled, and sniffed. Lovely aromas wafted from the glass. A quick sip demonstrated ample fruit, earth, black tea and smooth tannins. “This is really nice,” Pete observed. We busied ourselves with final dinner preparations. It would be almost two hours before we turned our attention back to the 2011 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Vineyard in the decanter.

When we received the 2011 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon as a tasting sample through Creative Palate Communications, we knew immediately we wanted to prepare a meal to accompany the wine and that we wanted to share both with friends. We thought about possible pairings with Cabernet Sauvignon and decided on a simple menu of beef tenderloin, oven-roasted potatoes and carrots — to keep the focus on the wine.

Concha y Toro and Puente Alto: The Winery and a Vineyard


“MelchorConchayToro” by Unknown – family collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – MelchorConchayToro.jpg#/media/File: MelchorConchayToro.jpg


Don Melchor Concha y Toro founded Viña Concha y Toro in 1883. He brought grapevines from Bordeaux to plant his vineyards at Pirque in the Maipo Valley. At the time, Chilean viticulturists looked to France, then the center of the wine world, for winemaking advice as well as modern winemaking equipment.

Fast forward to 1986. That’s when the idea to produce a world-class Chilean Cabernet originated and Concha y Toro naturally looked to France once again. An original consultation with famed enologist Professor Émile Peynaud resulted in an ongoing consulting relationship between Peynaud’s successor Jacques Boissenot and Concha y Toro. The Boissenot family continues to consult on Don Melchor today. The 2011 vintage of the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Vineyard marks the wine’s 25th anniversary.

The story of Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon centers on the 127-acre Puente Alto Vineyard. Puente Alto is situated at the foot of the Andes near Santiago, Chile in the Alto Maipo Valley. The 30 year-old vineyard sits at 650 meters above sea level. Its situation at the foot of the mountains means cool breezes that sweep down over the vineyard delay budding, flowering and the eventual ripening of the Cabernet vineyard. There is a significant shift in temperature from day to night during the growing season. Vineyard soil is alluvial with significant amounts of gravel and stones along with clay, all of which result in lower yields and concentrated flavors. In short, this is prime Cabernet Sauvignon territory in Chile.

The Wine and Food Pairing

2011-Don-Melchor-Cabernet2011 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Vineyardmedium ruby in the glass with generous aromas of tobacco, earth and red fruit. Ripe raspberry flavors combine with tobacco, hints of smoke, leather, black tea and dry earth. Over time subtle notes of herbs and asphalt join the flavors. Tannins are smooth and well integrated into the wine. The finish is very long with both fruit and tannins. ABV 14.5% SRP $125.

You will immediately recognize the aromas and flavors of this wine as Cabernet Sauvignon from a cooler climate – complex red fruit flavors along with herbal notes are the major clues. Developing leather and tobacco flavors are also present that I associate with bottle aging. It is a very well balanced and very complex wine with no noticeable heat from alcohol.

The 2011 growing season was relatively cool and harvest was delayed to allow for full fruit flavors to develop. 1% Cabernet Franc is blended with the Cabernet Sauvignon and the wine was aged 15 months in French oak barrels – 70% new, 30% second use.

Don-Melchor-and-food-pairingThe elegant flavors of the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon paired beautifully with the juicy, beef tenderloin and mushroom gravy. The Yukon gold potatoes had been simply roasted in the oven with olive oil and a light seasoning of salt, pepper and thyme. The spiced butter-glazed carrots were prepared from a Dorie Greenspan recipe that includes shallots, ginger, garlic, cardamom seeds and chicken broth. We succeeded in preparing a delicious, flavorful meal that matched perfectly with the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon.

Concha y Toro is Chile’s #1 wine producer and exporter, producing 35%  of Chilean wine exports in 2014. With vineyards in Chile, Argentina and the United States, it has the largest vineyard holdings of any winery worldwide and is the largest winery worldwide by sales volume. Impressive statistics, but even more impressive is the quality of the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon. Clearly the quality of this wine has not been compromised by the growth of the company.

Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Vineyard is absolutely a special occasion wine, perfect for a celebration with family or friends who truly appreciate well-made Cabernet Sauvignon. We are very happy to have had the opportunity to sample this wine and share it with our friends. Thank you to Concha y Toro and Creative Palate Communications for the delicious opportunity.


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Ferrari: Sparkling Wine From the Mountains of Northeastern Italy

November was the most enjoyable month of wine tastings I have experienced in some time. I spent Tuesday evenings participating in Protocol Wine Studio’s #winestudio Twitter chats and sampling extraordinary sparkling wine made in the mountains of northeastern Italy. In all, we received four sparkling wines as tasting samples produced by Cantine Ferrari. Each Tuesday evening special guests joined the conversation to explain Ferrari’s history, farming practices, production methods and we sipped a different Ferrari wine as we learned about Ferrari. It’s a genius way to learn about wine.

In addition to the Twitter chat, I listened to interviews of two Lunelli family members: Elizabeth Schneider’s interview of Ferrari’s Chief Winemaker, Marcello Lunelli and True Wine Culture’s interview of Matteo Lunelli, President and CEO of Ferrari. Both are very interesting and communicate the passion both Lunelli family members have for Ferrari sparkling wine, and for life.

Giulio Ferrari and His Dream

The story of Ferrari begins with Giulio Ferrari in Trentino, a region located at the foot of the Dolomites in Northeastern Italy. Ferrari’s dream was to make sparkling wine in his home region of Trentino that would rival Champagne. After studying winemaking in Trentino and then in Champagne, he was convinced it was possible.

So, he set about planting the first Chardonnay grapes in Trentino and established Ferrari in 1902. He used the same production method to produce his sparkling wine as in Champagne — with a second fermentation in the bottle to produce the bubbles — called método classico in Italy. International recognition quickly followed and over the years Ferrari continued to concentrate on quality.

This is the first part of the story of Ferrari, the story of the man and the realization of his dream.

The Lunelli Family

The second part of the story is about family. Giulio Ferrari was a man without heirs. So, what was to become of Ferrari after him? A succession plan, as we would call it today, was needed. Bruno Lunelli owned a wine shop in Trento and was a friend of Giulio Ferrari. Ferrari must have seen in Lunelli a familiar passion for wine and attention to detail which led him to choose Bruno Lunelli as his successor.

Lunelli learned winemaking from Giulio Ferrari. From 1952 onward, when he purchased the winery from Ferrari, Lunelli used those skills along with his experience as a merchant to increase the production volume of Ferrari sparkling wines.  Giulio Ferrari remained with Ferrari winery until his death in 1965, all the time sharing his knowledge with Lunelli family members. The second generation of Lunellis introduced new sparkling wines to the Ferrari label while continuing the tradition of excellence in Italian sparkling wine.

The third, and current, generation of the Lunelli family have continued to increase production, but never at the expense of quality. When Bruno Lunelli purchased Ferrri in 1952, production stood at 9000 bottles per year. Marcello Lunelli noted that today Ferrari  produces 9000 bottles per hour. The Lunellis have taken the Ferrari brand worldwide. They are, in their own words, “ambassadors of the Italian Art of Living.” That is to say, living life to the fullest and enjoying every moment of every day. Good food and a glass of Ferrari sparkling wine will crystalize this point for you!

Quality Production

A common thread throughout the history of Ferrari has been attention to detail and complete insistence on quality. All Ferrari wines are classified as Trento DOC. Trento DOC is a designated production zone in Trentino established exclusively for sparkling wine made using método classico. Only Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero (Noir) and Pinot Meunier grape varieties are allowed and must be hand harvested. DOC regulations require specified aging time on the lees for non vintage, vintage and riserve wines. Most producers, including Ferrari exceed the aging requirements.

Ferrari sparkling wines are produced from Chardonnay and Pinot Nero only. The grapes are harvested from a combination of estate vineyards and family-owned vineyards in the production zone. Ferrari estate vineyards, which have been farmed organically since 2009, produce only about 20% of the grapes needed for their total production. Estate vineyards are the source for vintage dated Ferrari sparkling wine.

The balance of the vineyards are owned and farmed by some 500 families in Trento DOC. Ferrari has established a protocol of sustainable viticulture that is applied to all vineyards with the assistance of its 6 agronomists who work with the vineyard owners.

According to Marcello Lunelli one of the benefits of organic and sustainable farming practices, which concentrates on improving soil health, is healthier vines that are less susceptible to unfavorable weather conditions. He goes on to observe that making excellent wine in a good weather season can be done my most competent winemakers, but what is essential to Ferrari is to make high quality sparkling wines even in a difficult weather year. These farming practices also result in reduced chemical applications to the vineyards — good for the environment and the people who work the vineyards and live nearby. Farming organically does result in reduced yields in the vineyard, but Ferrari is willing to accept a smaller crop of exceptional quality.

The Adige Valley runs essentially north-south. The vineyards are planted on either side of the valley, reaching up the mountainsides. The valley’s orientation results in both east-facing vineyards and west-facing vineyards. As you might expect, depending on whether the vineyard receives morning or afternoon sun, the grapes are quite distinct.

Vineyards are high altitude, in the range of 250 to 650 meters above sea level (Ferrari has one vineyard at an elevation of 800 meters) and of varying slope. Such high altitudes at the foot of the Dolomites means an extreme shift in temperatures from day to night. The northern latitudes means a long, cool growing season. These two conditions translate to brilliant acidity in the finished wine.

Then, finally there is the soil. The Dolomites were at one time under the ocean, and sea fossils can be found in the vineyards. Soil types are highly variable in the area.

All of this variation in aspect, elevation and slope combined with rigorous farming practices produces remarkably unique lots of grapes. Marcello Lunelli describes in detail the unique qualities of these many vineyards. Distinct vineyard lots are vinified separately, and then blended to produce the best wine possible. He describes using specific lots much as a chef would use seasonings and ingredients to create spectacular dishes.

The Wine

Certainly the story of Giulio Ferrari’s dream and his success in achieving that dream is an engaging one. He certainly made the right decision when he chose Bruno Lunelli to continue his dream, and, subsequent generations have kept that dream alive and built upon it. Add in organic and sustainable farming practices in what surely is one of the most beautiful wine regions of the world and you have perhaps the most perfect wine story imaginable.

Whenever I pick up a bottle of wine I’m always interested in the story of the wine and the winemaker, and I think many other serious wine drinkers are too. But no matter how interesting the story of the wine might be the wine must still be delicious. In the case of Ferrari, the story is certainly interesting, now let’s find out about the wine.

Ferrari-BrutFerrari Brut NVpale yellow in the glass with persistent, small bubbles. Aromas of toasted almonds and citrus predominate and are followed by flavors of red apples, wet rocks, citrus and toasted bread. The bubbles are precise and mouth filling. The finish is clean and the acidity is remarkable. Just as remarkable as the flavors of this wine, is the aroma that is left in the glass after it is empty…toasted almonds and oats. So fragrant. 12.5% ABV. SRP $25

The Ferrari Brut is a blanc de blanc, produced from 100% Chardonnay. Multiple lots are blended to produce a wine that must be excellent every year.

Ferrari-roseFerrari Brut Rosé NVcoppery, salmon color in the glass with persistent, small bubbles. Berry aromas and flavors are supported by toasty, citrus flavors and bracing acidity. Once again, pinpoint bubbles are persistent and the finish is very long with flavor. 12.5% ABV. SRP $36.

This rosé is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero made as a rosé. It has so much flavor and once again brilliant acidity. While this wine is lovely to sip on its own, it makes a wonderful accompaniment to a meal.



We  paired this wine with bucatini carbonara after a pairing I found from Eataly that was recommended specifically to pair with this wine. I highly recommend this combination. It is delicious!




2007-Ferrari-PerleFerrari 2007 Perlémedium yellow in the glass with fine, persistent bubbles. This wine is so filled with tiny bubbles that you can hear them bursting in your mouth. Flavors are fresh, bright and citrusy with apple and toasted almond flavors in the background along with crushed rock. Very long finish. Delicious. 12.5% ABV. SRP $38.

Extraordinary. The combination of fresh flavor along with the toast is remarkable. This wine is so fresh and lively, but with the added complexity of aging on the lees. Lovely. This bottle was disgorged in 2015.



We paired the 2007 Perlé with seared scallops and linguini with pesto. I lightly seasoned the scallops with salt and pepper before searing them. The pesto was a milder version than I usually make, I used very little garlic and substituted ground toasted almonds for pine nuts. This simple meal was divine with the Perlé.



2001Giulio-Ferrari2001 Ferrari Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatoregolden yellow in the glass with fine, persistent bubbles. Toasted almond aromas and hints of roasting coffee bean aromas are echoed in the flavors along with melon, pear and minerals. Super complex, lively and youthful with an extremely long finish. 12.5% ABV. SRP $125.

This extraordinary wine is a tribute to Giulio Ferrari. It is bottled only in the very best vintages and is sourced from a single estate vineyard, Maso Pianizza. It ages for over 10 years on the lees, yet remains remarkably fresh and crisp. This is a wine you just want to sip and think about. The flavors are so complex and ever changing. I will always remember this tasting of Giulio Ferrari — it is the first time I have ever experienced the aromas and flavors of roasting coffee beans in a sparkling wine.


We paired the Giulio Ferrari with an assortment of mild blue cheese, brie and cheddar cheeses. We added deviled eggs topped with candied bacon, Castelvetrano olives and cornichons. The key to this pairing was the mild versions of blue cheese. We sought advice at a local cheese shop, Cheese Central, and the choices were perfect.

Even though I describe this as a contemplative wine, don’t hesitate to add food. Seafood would also make a delicious pairing.

Ferrari sparkling wine really does have it all…an engaging story and delicious wine. Can’t get better than that.

The Take Aways

The Lunelli family have been the best-possible stewards of Giulio Ferrari’s legacy. The quality of Ferrari sparkling wine and their commitment to the environment and the farmers they work with is just as commendable.

Ferrari sparkling wines are widely distributed in the U.S. Look for them. Consider enjoying these sparkling wines with a meal, not just before dinner or as part of a celebration. Your pairing doesn’t need to be fancy. Use quality ingredients, cook from scratch and you will be amazed. Both the bucatini carbonara and the scallop dish I prepared were simple and delicious yet paired beautifully with the wines. Ditto with the assortment of cheese we enjoyed with the Giulio Ferrari. Honestly, I can imagine any of these dishes would pair nicely with most Ferrari sparkling wines. As Marcello Lunelli observed, “Sparkling wine is for everybody and for every occasion.” Be inventive, share with your family and friends. Create your own version of the Italian Art of Living!

Ferrari recently received two more acknowledgements of the quality of their sparkling wine.

  • Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year 2015 for the Champagne and Sparkling Wine Championship held recently in London
  • European Winery of the Year at the Wine Star Awards of the magazine Wine Enthusiast

Thank you to Protocol Wine Studio for organizing this series of tastings. Really, this was one of the most amazing tasting experienced I have had in some time. Thanks to Ferrari for providing the tasting samples and to Gregory White PR for handling the distribution of the tasting samples.


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Celebrating in Style with Giulio Ferrari for #winePW

Sparkling Wine and Festive Holiday Dishes is the theme for our December Wine Pairing Weekend thanks to this month’s host Cindy Rynning whose blog is cleverly called Grape Experiences. What a delicious pairing idea!

Sparkling wines are among my very favorite wines. I love the variety of flavors, variable degree of sweetness and the large number of grape varieties that are used to make sparkling wine. And, they’re generally so food friendly.

Although most of us think of sparkling wines in terms of celebrating special occasions, such as the holidays or New Year’s Eve, we recently tasted a group of sparkling wines made at the foot of the Dolomites in northeastern Italy that has me thinking we should be drinking sparkling wine regularly. And with a meal, not just before a meal.

The four sparkling wines we tasted were made by Cantine Ferrari. The tasting was organized by Protocol Wine Studio and was part of their wine education program, #winestudio, that takes place on Twitter, Tuesday evenings. We received the wines as tasting samples.

A Brief Introduction to Ferrari and Trento DOC

The history of Ferrari sparkling wines reaches back to before the company was established by Giulio Ferrari in 1902. Ferrari was the first to produce sparkling wine from Chardonnay grapes, which he brought to Trentino from Champagne. He used what would come to be called método classico in Italy, with the second fermentation in the bottle just as in Champagne, to produce his sparkling wine.

The northern latitude of Trento DOC, as the growing region is now designated, means a long but cool growing season. The vineyards, which are located on mountainsides at altitudes between 250 and 800 meters above sea level are subject to extreme variation in  daytime and nighttime temperatures. The soils are very complex. All of this translates to wines with precision, brilliant acidity and pinpoint bubbles.

We prepared meals to accompany three of the four Ferrari sparkling wines we tasted. After tasting the first wine without food, we decided we needed to prepare meals to accompany all of the others.

Ferrari Sparkling Wine and Food Pairings

Ferrari-BrutFerrari Brut NVpale yellow in the glass with persistent, small bubbles. Aromas of toasted almonds and citrus predominate and are followed by flavors of red apples, wet rocks, citrus and toasted bread. The bubbles are precise and mouth filling. The finish is clean and the acidity is remarkable. Just as remarkable as the flavors of this wine, is the aroma that is left in the glass after it is empty…toasted almonds and oats. Delightful. 12.5% ABV. SRP $25

The Ferrari Brut is a blanc de blanc, produced from 100% Chardonnay. Multiple lots are blended to produce a wine that must be excellent every single year. This wine offers excellent quality for the price.

Ferrari-roseFerrari Brut Rosé NVcoppery, salmon color in the glass with persistent, small bubbles. Berry aromas and flavors are supported by toasty, citrus flavors and bracing acidity. Once again, pinpoint bubbles are persistent and the finish is very long with flavor. 12.5% ABV. SRP $36.

This rosé is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero made as a rosé. It has so much flavor and once again brilliant acidity. While this wine is lovely to sip on its own, it makes a wonderful accompaniment to a meal.



We paired this wine with bucatini carbonara from a pairing suggested by Eataly. The creamy carbonara includes mascarpone, guanciale (I had to substitute pancetta), pecorino romano cheese and eggs. Rather than slow cooking the eggs as the recipe recommends, I mixed the beaten eggs with the cheeses and allowed them to cook with the heat of the pasta. A dusting of roasted pecorino romano on top provided a nice toasty crunch. The creaminess of the pasta is perfectly balanced by the acidity of the Rosé.

2007-Ferrari-PerleFerrari 2007 Perlémedium yellow in the glass with fine, persistent bubbles. This wine is so filled with tiny bubbles that you can hear them bursting in your mouth. Flavors are fresh, bright and citrusy with apple and toasted almond flavors in the background along with crushed rock. Very long finish. 12.5% ABV. SRP $38.

Extraordinary. The combination of fresh fruit flavors along with the toast is remarkable. This wine is so fresh and lively, yet it has the complexity of aging on the lees. The bottle was disgorged in 2015.


Perle-food-pairingWe paired seared scallops, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper alongside a mild pesto linguine. The pesto included only a bit of garlic, finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, basil, olive oil and toasted almonds. Substituting toasted almonds for pine nuts and reducing the garlic makes a very well balanced and flavorful pesto. The salty, sweet scallops paired nicely with the pasta and both were perfectly matched with the Perlé.



2001Giulio-Ferrari2001 Ferrari Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatoregolden yellow in the glass with fine, persistent bubbles. Toasted almond aromas and hints of roasting coffee bean  aromas are echoed in the flavors along with melon, pear and minerals. Super complex, lively and youthful with an extremely long finish. 12.5% ABV. SRP $125.

This extraordinary wine is a tribute to Giulio Ferrari. It is bottled only in the very best vintages and is sourced from a single estate vineyard, Maso Pianizza. It ages for over 10 years on the lees, yet remains fresh and crisp. This is a wine you just want to sip and think about. The flavors are so complex and ever changing. I will always remember this tasting of Giulio Ferrari — it is the first time I have ever tasted and smelled roasting coffee beans in a sparkling wine!

We paired the Giulio Ferrari with an assortment of cheese that included mild blue-veined cheeses, a soft triple cream and a cheddar-style cheese. Just for good measure we added deviled eggs topped with candied bacon (oh, yes we did!). Castelvetrano olives and cornichons added a bit of green.

I grew up on a dairy, so let’s just say I can’t help but love cheese. Both blue-veined cheeses, the Grand Noir from Germany and St. Agur from France, were relatively mild, salty and very creamy. They literally just melt in your mouth. The third soft cheese, Domaine du Vallage, is also French and a mild, sweet, salty triple cream cheese. The Central Coast Creamery Seascape is a cheddar-style firmer cheese made from a combination of goat and cow’s milk. It had a bit of a tang, and a nice firm texture. This cheese is a good starter cheese for people who think them might not like goat’s milk cheeses. It is very mild.

Giulio-and-cheeseThe deviled eggs were prepared with horseradish, Dijon mustard, cayenne and mayonnaise. They have a bit of a tang and just a hint of heat from the cayenne pepper. The smoky sweet bacon is a perfect contrast.

This pairing was just divine. I’m embarrassed to admit that we made a meal of this assortment of cheeses, deviled eggs and olives. They all were amazing on their own, and when paired with the Giulio Ferrari both just sang. I think the key to this cheese and sparkling wine pairing is the creamy soft and relatively mild blue-veined cheeses. We made a trip to a local cheese shop, Cheese Central, to be certain we made the perfect choices for this pairing. They were not in any way overpowering of the Giulio Ferrari.

The Take Aways

So, this has been a different kind of Wine Pairing Weekend post for us. We have waived the preparation details of the food so we could concentrate on these extraordinary wines. We just had to share them all with you, they really are some of the most remarkable wines we have tasted this year.

Check back with Pull That Cork on Monday, December 14 for a detailed post about the history, the vineyards and importantly the Lunelli family who have kept Giulio Ferrari’s dream of making quality sparkling wine in Trentino alive. You will discover Ferrari has it all; an interesting history and brilliant sparkling wine to match.

Ferrari sparkling wines are widely distributed in the U.S. We have put our money where our mouth is, and ordered Ferrari wines to celebrate the New Year’s Eve (and beyond!) You can be certain we will not only toast 2016 with a Ferrari sparkling wine, but will be enjoying them into 2016 — with our meals. I encourage you to do the same, you will not be disappointed.

Cindy, great choice of topics, thanks for hosting this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend. A huge thanks goes to Protocol Wine Studio for organizing #winestudio and Ferrari for sharing your sparkling wines and your interesting history with us.

See what the rest of our fellow bloggers have paired with sparkling wine, their blogs are linked below.

Culinary Adventures with Camilla will be “Celebrating with Lemon-Poached Scallops with Caviar Limes and Champagne”

A Day in the Life on the Farm is excited to share “An Assortment of Appetizers with a California Champagne”

Curious Cuisiniere has paired “Italian Panettone and Sparkling Wine”

Confessions of a Culinary Diva is preparing to have “Champagne & Caviar Dreams”

ENOFYLZ Wine Blog is planning “A 3-Course Sparkling Wine Dinner with Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut”

Grape Experiences is excited for the holidays with “Le Medaillon Brut NV and Normandy Fondue”

Dracaena Wines is ready to talk about “Why We Love Sparkling (And You Should, Too!)”

WinePassItaly will be enjoying “Asti Spumante with Hazelnut and Torrone Semifreddo for #WinePW”

FoodWineClick is preparing “Easy Holiday Appetizers & a Sparkler from South Africa”

Cooking Chat is planning “Kale Pesto Crostini Wine Pairing That Sparkles”

Wines of Roero is sharing “Roero Arneis Spumanti DOCG and Lobster Risotto Arancini”

Austrian Wines USA is thrilled to present “Austria’s Sekt with Smoked Char Cucumber Canapes”

Rockin’ Red Blog will share “A Sparkling Good Wine and Food Pairing”

We will be chatting about our sparkling wine and food pairings on Twitter Saturday morning December 12 at 8am PST. Follow #winePW and join the conversation.

If you’ve come to us after December 12, consider joining us for #winePW on January 9, focused on “New Year — Try Something New”, hosted by Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog You can get a full listing of past and upcoming Wine Pairing Weekend events here.


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Cabernet Franc: It Finally Has a Day of Its Own!

Today’s the day. December 4, 2015. The first Cab Franc Day. The tasty variety finally has a day of its own.

Cabernet Franc is one of the first varietal wines I learned to love, thanks to weekly wine tasting at a local wine shop. My first wine memories from those tastings nearly 15 years ago are of Bordeaux. We began attending regular weekly tasting just about the time a series of Bordeaux tasting began. They were new releases, I believe from the 1999 vintage. The wines were young, tannic, barnyardy (OK, maybe that’s not a word, but I think you know what I mean) and difficult for the me as a novice wine drinker to love.

I kept at it, however, and now Bordeaux is one of my favorite wines. Especially a Bordeaux with some age on it. There’s nothing like those dark fruit, leather, spice and cedar flavors that develop with time. And those silky tannins.

Left bank Bordeaux is all about Cabernet Sauvignon, and to a lesser degree Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Right bank wines, where the weather is a bit cooler, are predominantly Merlot and Cabernet Franc based. It was during these tastings and discussions that I first became aware of Cabernet Franc – as a blending grape. Then came a Napa Valley Cabernet Franc that stole my heart.

For several vintages the wine shop sold Wm. Harrison Cabernet Franc. We likely tasted the wine at one of the weekly tasting. I remember loving the wine at first taste, and we purchased the wine often. We visited the Napa winery once. Over time the shop no longer carried the wine, but I am thankful for the introduction.

I have since tasted Cabernet Franc made around the world. I love the variety of expressions it is capable of producing. My preference is for cool-climate Cabernet Franc and elegantly made Cab Franc from warmer regions. In general I prefer wines that taste less alcoholic.

Which brings me to our selection to celebrate Cab Franc Day. We rummaged around in our cellar, the Wm. Harrison is long gone, and found a Cabernet Franc from one of our favorite Napa Valley producers, Clos du Val.

Clos du Val was established in 1972, with the purchase of 150 acres in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. The winery now also tends vineyards in Los Carneros, Napa and Yountville. From the start, Clos du Val has produced “some of Napa Valley’s most gracefully age-worthy wines.” This statement comes from their website, and we have found it to be true of the wines we have purchased.

Clos-du-Val-CabFranc2010 Clos Du Val Napa Valley Cabernet Francmedium ruby-garnet color in the glass with generous aromas of dark fruit. Generous blackberry fruit combines with leather, black tea and undertones of roasted peppers. Tannins are firm, but not too grippy and the finish is medium to long. Deliciously well balanced. 13.5% abv.

This wine exhibits many of the qualities I so love in Cab Franc — that perfect balance between fruit flavors and undertones of herbal notes with nice tannin structure. It’s juicy and delicious. A lovely wine that has aged nicely.

My go-to choice for Cabernet Franc is generally lamb and we chose to pair this Cab Franc with lamb chops and couscous. The couscous was flavored with sautéed green onions, toasted almonds and cranberries. I marinated the lamb chops in a mint chutney before pan frying them. To finish the pairing I added a Moroccan-inspired sauce.

Delicious. The lamb chops were juicy and savory thanks to the mint, garlic and curry flavored marinade. We enjoyed the savory couscous and could have done without the cranberries and the sauce. The additional flavor just wasn’t necessary with the juicy lamb chop. The Clos du Val Cabernet Franc had plenty of flavor and structure, and made a nice pairing with the lamb.

Cabernet Franc is the parent of some very famous offspring. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, refer to one of our prior posts that will introduce you the Cab Franc’s famous children.

I first became aware of the Cab Franc Day celebration when I read this post by Lori Budd, who along with her husband Michael, makes wine at Dracaena Wines. Lori gives a nice history of Cab Franc that I’m certain you will find interesting, and she makes a compelling argument in favor of celebrating Cab Franc Day. Thanks, Lori, for initiating the effort to give Cab Franc some much deserved love.

In the mean time, if you don’t already have a Cab Franc in your cellar to enjoy this evening, get out there and get one.

Happy Cab Franc Day!


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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 Russell Vineyards also located in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Hamilton Russell 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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