Part 1 of the Masthead Project: The Invitation, The Idea and Getting Acquainted

Wine makes our life more fun. It says so right at the top of our blog. It’s what we believe. But, it’s not just wine that makes our lives more fun –it’s wine people too.

The Invitation

In early May of this year Pete and I received an unexpected and exciting invitation. It came in the form of a phone call from Bradley Gray, Public and Media Relations Manager for Scotto Cellars. We first met Bradley at last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference — and now he had a question for us. Would we participate in a wine blending project with Scotto Cellars’ winemakers and two other wine bloggers? I was speechless. As I collected my thoughts Bradley kept talking, thankfully, and filled in some of the details for us.

The Idea

A wine blended by wine bloggers. What a unique idea!

Guiding our blending effort would be well-known winemaker Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto, lead winemaker for Scotto Cellars. Whew, we would have a safety net!

Two well-known wine bloggers would be participating in the blending project with us: Cindy Rynning, whose blog is Grape Experiences, and Melanie Ofenloch who blogs at DallasWineChick. Two wine bloggers known for their professionalism and wine knowledge!

We would create the blend in Lodi at a time and place to be determined. The wine would be bottled and labeled in time for the Wine Bloggers Conference happening in Lodi, August 11 – 14, 2016, where it would be released. We would have to move quickly to get this done!

Masthead was to be the name of the label, playing off the fact that we are all writers. The wine bottle label would be designed to look like the front page of a newspaper. Very clever!

So, what did we think? Did we want to participate? Pete and I looked at each other, smiled. Yes, we’re in!

Bradley along with his associate Robert Walker, Marketing Manager at Scotto Cellars, hatched the Masthead idea and pitched it to Anthony Scotto III, CEO of Scotto Cellars. Anthony told them to run with it.  Scotto Cellars is well acquainted with the wine blogging community and is familiar with bloggers’ ability to reach a wide variety of consumers. And, in addition to creating a delicious Lodi wine (from varieties other than Zinfandel) they wanted to make the Lodi Wine Bloggers Conference a memorable and distinctive event.

Getting Acquainted

On June 6 we all came together in Lodi to begin the Masthead blending project. Day 1 was an opportunity for our group to get to know each other better, learn a bit about Scotto Cellars and tour downtown Lodi. In addition to Pete and I, our group for the day included Cindy, Melanie, Bradley, Robert and Natalie Scotto-Woods, Director of Operations for Scotto Cellars. Bradley took the photo of us below.


Melanie, Pete, Bob, Nancy, Cindy and Natalie

We all met in the afternoon at the Scotto Cellars’ tasting room located on School Street in downtown Lodi. The large open space was under construction at the time. Plans include on-tap red and white wines from the Scotto Cellars’ stable of wine brands and craft cider from Paul and brother Michael Scotto’s Cider Brothers venture. Pallet-wood will face the quartz-topped bar. Large folding glass doors will open the front of the tasting room to the outdoor seating area. The space will be comfortable and inviting; a place to meet friends, linger a while and relax.

We moved on to wine tasting in downtown Lodi. Monday is a quiet day in downtown Lodi and some tasting rooms are closed, but we discovered two tasting rooms that offered a wide range of wines to enjoy and a cheese shop that is to die for.

Jeremy Wine Co. features an mid-1800s wooden bar, indoor seating at the window and an outdoor patio in the back. The wine list is interesting — beginning with Albariño and ending with Zinfandel. Among the offerings is Jeremiah’s Jug — a wine growler refillable in the tasting room with a variety of red blends on tap.


Beginning with Albariño at Jeremy Wine Co.


Jeff and Laura


Only a couple of blocks away is Toasted Toad Cellars, a father-daughter operation. Jeff and Laura Werter do everything from making the wine to staffing the tasting room to pouring their wine at tasting events — themselves. Jeff entertained us with stories about their wines on the afternoon we visited as he poured from their extensive list of wines. You can tell by the winery name and motto, Wine that won’t make you croak, that they have a sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously.




No visit to downtown Lodi would be complete without a stop at Cheese Central, Cindy Della Monica’s wonderful cheese shop. She stocks a dizzying variety of cheeses and accompaniments. She and her staff will offer you samples, explain where and how each cheese is made and help you discover what kind of cheese you like best (just in case you don’t already know!)

We closed the evening with dinner at Rosewood Bar & Grill located in the same block as the Scotto Cellars’ tasting room. Over dinner we had an opportunity to discuss the Masthead project and tasted a few of the many wines produced by Scotto Cellars. Among the wines we tasted: Scotto Family Cellars Malbec and 50 Harvests Meritage.


Dinner and Wine!

Excitement was building for Day 2 of the Masthead project when we would tour Scotto Cellars’ winemaking facilities in Lodi and then the vineyards at Mohr-Fry Ranches — the source of the major blending components we would use in creating our Masthead blend. After lunch we would sit down to begin the blending project. We could hardly wait to get started.

Part 2 of the Masthead Blending Project: The Winery and Vineyard will post here   tomorrow. Join us!


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Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé: Roussillon Rosé at Its Best

Rosé. I’m happy to drink it year round, and when I find one I really like I’m happy to drink it vintage after vintage; returning to it like a long-time friend. Such is the case for me with Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé. The 2015 vintage is the third I’ve enjoyed and received as a tasting sample. I feel we are now well acquainted.

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé is one of several wines produced by Michel Chapoutier under his Domaine de Bila-Haut label. Domaine Bila-Haut is located in the commune of Latour de France in the Agly Valley within the Roussillon region of the Languedoc. The Roussillon is very close to France’s border with Spain. In spite of the fact that the blend of this rosé varies from vintage to vintage the flavors are consistently delicious.

BilaHautRose2015 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosésalmon-pink in the glass with generous aromas of perfume and ripe boysenberries. The flavors are bright and crisp, leading with raspberries and blackberries then finishing with stony minerality and a sprinkling of citrus zest. So refreshing and flavorful. 13% abv. About $15.

The blend of the 2015 vintage is 55% Grenache and 45% Syrah with just enough maceration time to develop that lovely color. Each variety was fermented separately in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks before blending.

We enjoyed the 2015 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé on a warm evening and found it paired well with a summer salad of grilled corn, avocado, tomatoes, red onion, basil with a drizzle of olive oil. It would make a beautiful partner to grilled fish, chicken or pork. Fancy food is not required; fresh, well-seasoned dishes will do nicely. Food is, however, optional. This delightful rosé would be perfect to sip on a warm afternoon, too.

Thanks to our friends at Creative Palate Communications for sending this delightful rosé our way. Another great choice!


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Smith-Madrone: Mountain Winemaking Above Napa Valley

When Stuart Smith began looking for vineyard property in Napa he didn’t look on the valley floor; he looked toward the mountains. He began coming to Spring Mountain in 1968. By the fall of 1970 he found a 200-acre parcel that in an earlier time had been home to vineyards. The property had been cleared and planted to vineyards by George Cook in the early 1880s. In return for the improvements he made to the land Cook was granted a deed to the property on December 5, 1884. By the end of the 19th century he was forced to abandon the vineyards due to damage caused by phylloxera.

When Stuart first walked the property in 1970 it had been completely reclaimed by the forest. The only remaining evidence of Cook’s prior farming effort were two rows of olive trees that had somehow managed to survive among the 100-foot-tall Douglas fir trees. Stuart didn’t discover the olive trees until after he had walked the site several times. Logging permits were obtained, part of the land was cleared and the two rows of now very tall olive trees were saved from the forest.

Stuart told us the history of the property and those two rows of olive trees as we drove between them during a recent visit to Smith-Madrone winery. During our visit we gained an appreciation for mountain winemaking and the elegant wines made at Smith-Madrone — which, notably, includes Riesling.

Vineyards in the Mountains


Smith-Madrone winery is located about 1800 feet up Spring Mountain on the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley. The view across Napa Valley to Howell Mountain and the Vaca Range is spectacular. About 36 acres are planted to vineyards. The balance of the acreage includes open space, the winery building and forested land. Stuart and his brother Charles have been making wine here for more than 40 years. The focus of their winemaking is Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling — all estate grown.


Stuart and Charles Smith

Mountain soils lack sufficient fertility for general agriculture, according to Stuart, but are perfect for vineyards because of that very reason — they provide just enough fertility to grow healthy vines and produce quality fruit but not enough to overstimulate vine growth. That’s why Stuart looked for vineyard property in the mountains of Napa Valley and not on the valley floor. He firmly believes quality wine begins with the proper soil.

Growing grapes on the slopes of a mountain is not without its challenges; namely preventing soil erosion. As Stuart put it, “The first obligation is to keep your soil in place.” A vigorous cover crop is an efficient defense against erosion, and for that reason the vineyard rows are not tilled. Instead, a variety of grasses, clovers and filaree (all selected because they grow well during winter and have quick root development) are planted between the rows. Only the area between the vines is kept clear of vegetation.

Over time, phylloxera damage in the vineyards has required replanting (an old problem). When no change in variety, spacing or row orientation is required, interplanting is considered. Otherwise, the entire vineyard block must be replanted. Because their management of soil erosion is so efficient row orientation does not need to follow the contour of the mountainside. Rather, row orientation is decided upon based on experience with each grape variety. Over 40 years of tending vines in these mountains the Smiths have learned exactly where they want each variety planted and at exactly what orientation.

In addition to row direction, trellising is an important consideration. The Smiths have developed a trellising system that works in this location and they modify it by variety. Fruiting wires are located at an ergonomically-correct 38 inches off the ground with two cross-arms above that. The size of the cross-arms varies by variety and creates what Stuart described as an umbrella shape to protect the fruit from mid-day sun. The fruit must receive enough sunlight to ripen, but not so much that it sunburns.

All varieties are essentially dry-farmed. Drip irrigation is in place, but is only used during the first few years after vines are planted. Over time the vines are weaned from irrigation. Merlot, they have discovered, can be difficult to dry-farm so if the vines look like they need water they are irrigated.

When I asked Stuart his thoughts on organic viticulture, he told us he believes in farming sustainably rather than organically. He believes it’s more responsible to follow best management practices to insure economic viability and to continually look for new, more efficient ways to farm. Organic farming has a different focus and is not inclusive of new ideas and practices in his view. Anyway, he hasn’t used pesticides in the vineyards for 40 years and believes there is a healthy balance of beneficial insects in the vineyards that keep the not-so-beneficial ones in check. Possibly this is a result of having never “nuked all the insects,” as Stuart put it referring to the non-selective use of pesticides in the vineyards. He went on to observe that the relative isolation of the vineyards may be another factor.

The Smith Brothers’ Wines

We met Stuart’s brother Charles in the wine cellar where he took us through a tasting of Smith-Madrone’s wines. It’s clear Stuart is not the only Smith brother having fun making wine. Only half-joking Charles characterized their current winemaking operation as a hobby that got out of control.

When you taste Smith-Madrone wines you are tasting the style of wines the Smith brothers like to drink themselves, according to Charles. In describing their marketing strategy he joked, “If we like it maybe we’ll get lucky and somebody else will like it too!” Skill, more than luck, accounts for the fine quality of their wines. They pay attention to every detail, beginning in the vineyard. They eagerly await the opportunity to begin tasting each vintage as fermentation proceeds; making observations, taking notes, planning changes for the next vintage. And while there is a overall consistency of style in the Smith-Madrone wines we tasted, there is definitely vintage variation, which is exactly as the Smiths would have it.

While the pair is open to adjusting their winemaking techniques, there are a few things they feel strongly about. Neither is a fan of cold soaking or native yeast fermentation, though they did use native yeast in the 1970s and ’80s when they made Pinot Noir.


Smith-MadroneChardonnayThe two vintages of Chardonnay we tasted were very different wines. The 2013 Chardonnay shows stony minerality, delicate pear aromas and flavors. Hints of spice and cedar season the fruit flavors, but delicately, and the wine is relatively light-bodied with great acidity. The 2014 Chardonnay is lusher, rounder, more weighty with toasty and cedar flavors. Once again the wine has brilliant acidity. Both are delicious; siblings but not identical twins.

Chardonnay fermentation begins in tank with inoculation and then moves to oak barrels where it also goes through 100% malolactic fermentation. When I expressed surprise that the oak influence was not more evident in these Chardonnays Charles told us that hillside Chardonnay grown in the area tends to resist wood influence.  These are not fat, buttery California-style Chardonnays. They exhibit elegance, body and style. Above all they have brilliant acidity, an essential quality in Chardonnay for the Smiths, and plenty of fruit flavor.

Stuart and Charles love to experiment with things like the frequency of lees stirring in their Chardonnay and are already looking toward the 2016 vintage when they will take a portion of that production “in a completely different direction,” according to Charles. Of their Chardonnay production in particular Charles noted, “We have a lot of fun with Chardonnay. We’ve been making wine for 40 years and we’re still screwing around with it!”

Cabernet Sauvignon

If the Smith brothers’ Chardonnay reflects the fun side of winemaking then their Cabernet Sauvignon occupies the serious side. In part because their Cook’s Flat Reserve retails for $200 a bottle; their Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon retails in the more modest $45 range.

Charles admitted to being a bit uncomfortable making a wine that costs $200 a bottle. He told us that the wine must be perfect on release and must have an immediate impact. With that in mind, they decided to release the 2010 Cook’s Flat Reserve early because it tasted perfect at the time. “Now, it tastes better than ever. We really nailed 2010.” Charles observed. He would love to be pouring that wine now, but it’s gone.

Smith-MadroneCooksFlatWe tasted the 2009 Cook’s Flat Reserve and found it to be an elegant, complex and evolved wine that is still bright and youthful. Complex dark fruit and cedar aromas are followed with dark plum and red fruit flavors. Hints of cedar and pencil shavings add complexity. Tannins are silky smooth and the finish is very long. Delicious.




Smith-MadroneCabernetSauvignonThe 2012 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits ample blackberry and plum flavors with interesting herbaceous backnotes and damp earth. The tannins are drying with a bit of grip. The finish is juicy and very long lasting. I love this wine. I look forward to tasting this wine over time as it evolves in the bottle.

Cabernet Franc and Merlot are potential blending partners with Cabernet Sauvignon in these wines. The blend varies with every vintage.




We finished the tasting with two Smith-Madrone Rieslings. I thought it was interesting that Charles chose to follow the Cabernets with white wines. He said he though it would become clear why he did so after we tasted the wine. He was right.

Riesling is the first varietal wine the Smiths made. Charles told us that in the early 1970s Riesling was as important in terms of volume and quality as Chardonnay. Then the 1976 Judgement of Paris wine tasting happened and Riesling was eclipsed by Chardonnay in the U.S. In spite of not being loved by the masses, Charles and Stuart have continued to make the wine they love. If the Smith brothers make Chardonnay for fun, and Cabernet is the serious wine then Riesling is the wine the make out of love.

We tasted the 2013 and 2014 Riesling. Both are weightless in the mouth, but the flavor profiles are very different. The 2013 Riesling is fruity with generous melon, pineapple and diesel flavors. The 2014 Riesling is more mineral driven and very fresh. Charles described it as edgier, racier and more austere than the 2013. He expects it to develop more slowly than the 2013. He put it this way, “At the 20-year mark the 2013 will be insanely delicious. The 2014 will have 10 years to go.”

Finishing the tasting with the Rieslings demonstrated to me just how lively and flavorful these light-bodied wines really are. It can be a challenging for the flavors of a white wine to show well after tasting red wines, but that wasn’t the case with these Rieslings. Charles likened it to finishing a meal with sorbet for dessert. The comparison works for me.

The Smiths had critical success with their Riesling from the very first vintage. That 1977 vintage won the Riesling Competition of the 1979 Wine Olympics, a tasting organized in Paris by the food and wine magazine Gault & Millau. This was the Smith’s personal Judgement of Paris moment. They were thunderstruck. Only 5 bottles of that precious 1977 Riesling remain and it has been several years since they last tasted it. “You can never have too much of a vintage you really love.” Charles observed.

More recently Stuart Piggot, British-born author and Riesling expert, listed Smith-Madrone Riesling among the world’s top 20 dry Rieslings (and the only one from North America) in his 2014 book The Best White Wine on Earth: The Riesling Story.  “It’s humbling to be on the list,” Charles told us.  “It’s the single nicest thing that’s ever been written about us.”

Wine tasting at the winery requires a reservation, but you will be rewarded for planning ahead. The drive up Spring Mountain takes you away from the crowds of Napa Valley, the air is fresh and the mountain vineyards are beautiful. Wine tastings take place in the barrel room where the aromas of wine production accompany your tasting. If you are lucky Curly the winery dog will be there.  Taste these beautiful wines for yourself, I’m certain you will not be disappointed.

Many thanks to Stuart and Charles for the time you spent with us. It is a winery visit we will not soon forget. And those wines!


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Wines for Summer Grilling: Concha y Toro Has You Covered

Summertime means warm weather, time spent outdoors and food cooked on the grill. Oh, and wine. You will need wine to accompany your outdoor gatherings with friends and family. Whether its vegetables, beef, chicken, pork or fish you cook on an outdoor grill, or in a smoker, the flavors will be bigger and bolder than oven roasting or braising. And that’s without even adding a spicy barbecue sauce. There are many summer food pairings that call for red wine — even when the weather is warm.

Thanks to the generosity of Concha y Toro we have five wines to share with you that we received as tasting samples; all would be perfect matches for many meals prepared on the grill this summer. In addition to being well made these wines are reasonably priced — in the $17 to $26 range. Perfect to share with friends or for weeknight dining.

The first three wines are part of the Gran Reserva Serie Riberas group of wines produced by Concha y Toro. Each is a single vineyard, varietal wine produced from grapes grown close to one of Chile’s major rivers. The Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from the Ucúquer Vineyard in the Colchagua Valley about 10 miles from the mouth of the Rapel River. The Cabernet Sauvignon and the Malbec are sourced from the Palo Santo Vineyard in Marchigüe in the Colchagua Valley near the Tinguiririca River.

ConchaYToroSBlanc2014 Gran Reserva  Serie Riberas Sauvignon Blanc — medium yellow in the glass with generous herbaceous, green flower stem and gooseberry aromas. Tart lime flavors follow along with assorted herbs and gooseberries. The wine has a very long finish with flavor and juicy acidity. 13% abv. About $17.

There is no mistaking this lively Sauvignon Blanc for any other variety — the flavors are true to a grassy style rather than a tropical one. It would match beautifully with grilled vegetables mixed with avocados and tomatoes, or grilled scallops, shrimp or chicken. Very refreshing.

ConchaYToroCabernetSauv2013 Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Cabernet Sauvignon — medium ruby in the glass. Spice and blackberry aromas are followed by blackberry, plum and earthy flavors. There is a suggestion of herbs in the background along with leather. The tannins are firm and combine with the complex flavors for a relatively long finish.  14% abv. About $17.

Tri-tip seasoned with a dry rub and grilled along with potato salad and corn on the cob with basil butter would be a divine pairing. This wine has plenty of flavor and tannins to match with grilled meat.

ConcyaYToroMalbec2013 Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Malbec — dense ruby-violet in the glass with generous plum and blackberry aromas. Big flavors of ripe blackberries, earth and leather combine with ripe plums, smoke and hints of asphalt. The tannins are ample and linger through the long finish. 14% abv. About $17.

Pair this wine with grilled ribs and your best barbecue sauce. Or smoked pulled pork and coleslaw. This Malbec has plenty of flavor to accompany grilled or smoked meat.



The Marques de Casa Concha range of wines are made by Marcelo Papa who is one of five lead winemakers at Concha y Toro. He is also responsible for the Casillero del Diablo range from the winery. Varietal wines in this group include Carmenere, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Puente Alto vineyard in Maipo, also the source of the winery’s ultra-premium wine Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon.


2014 Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignondark fruit aromas combine with a bit of dried herbs. Earthy flavors support ripe blackberry flavors and hints of green pepper. There  is an interesting dash of savory salt in the mix. Tannins are smooth and a bit drying. 14.2% abv. About $26.

Pair this wine with grilled pork chops, orzo salad and fresh tomatoes. Grilled chicken with barbecue sauce would do nicely as well.



Finally, we skip over the Andes to Argentina’s Luján de Cuyo region of Mendoza for the final wine in the group. In the mid-1990s Concha y Toro purchased vineyards and built a winery in the Mendoza region of Argentina and christened the venture Trivento. The main vineyards are located in the Uco Valley, Maipu, Lujan de Cuyo, San Martin and Rivadavia districts of Mendoza. A number of varietal wines and blends are produced under the Trivento and Amado Sur ranges.

TriventoMalbec2013 Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec Luján de Cuyodense ruby in the glass with tart berry aromas. Raspberry and blackberry flavors combine with earth and a subtle herbaceous note. Tannins are drying and the finish is moderate in length. 14.5% abv. About $21.

Grilled hotdogs, sausages or hamburgers would match this fruity Malbec nicely. Oven roasted sweet potatoes would be a delicious addition, or baked beans.

Well, now I’ve made myself hungry and thirsty. Time to fire up the grill and pull that cork! Thanks to Concha y Toro for the wine sampler and to Creative Palate Communications for organizing our receipt of the wine samples.


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Oloroso Pairings for #winePW: What Worked and What Didn’t

Sherry. We rarely drink it, and when we do it is after dinner – not with a meal. So, this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend challenge to pair food with Sherry was truly a challenge for us.

Wine Pairing Weekend, #winePW on Twitter, is a group of food and wine-loving bloggers that gather together on the second Saturday of every month to share food and wine pairings centered on a common theme. A different blogger hosts every month and chooses the theme. Jeff, who blogs at foodwineclick, is the host for July. Thanks, Jeff, for pushing us outside our comfort zone this month!

Where to start with Sherry? I chose to open my 2nd edition of Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible. Karen dedicates 18 pages to the fortified wine made in Spain’s Jerez region. Sherry is complex; in terms of how it is made and in terms of the final style. This is the passage that guided my choice of Sherry styles for this pairing:

“…it’s important to know that Sherry is not a single entity, but rather seven distinct styles of wine, each of which is extremely individual. At one end of the spectrum are the manzanillas and finos, with their tangy, crisp, green earthiness; in the middle are the amontillados, palo cortados, and olorosos, with their lusty, roasted, nutty flavors; and finally come the creams with their sweet, lush toffee, and fig flavors.”

Sherry is a fortified wine with alcohol levels that range between 15 and 22 % abv. Some styles of Sherry last longer after the bottle has been opened than others. I took this into account as I was fairly certain we would not finish a bottle in one or even two sittings. For this reason I excluded Manzanilla and Fino even though a lighter style of Sherry would have been a better match for the warm weather. I also excluded Cream Sherry and Pedro Ximénez because they are sweet. That left Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso. Oloroso was my final choice, even though alcohol levels range between between 18 and 22% abv. It was this description that influenced my choice, “ The word oloroso means ‘intensely aromatic’ in Spanish, and this style is indeed that.”

The Sherry

LustauOlorosoSherryLustau Almacenista Oloroso “Pata de Gallina”dark, transparent amber in the glass with intense toasted hazel nut and sharp, earthy aromas. Toasted hazel nut  flavors predominate along with dried fruit, but without the sweetness. Savory and smoky notes work their way into the flavor profile. Juicy acidity and an interesting saltiness combine on the finish. The wine has weight in the mouth but is not round and thick. The finish is very long lasting with a bit of heat. 20% abv

This Oloroso Sherry is a very complex and interesting glass of wine. The predominant flavors are oxidative and nutty due to the wine’s extended aging in a solera — a series of old barrels used for aging Sherry. If you like those flavors this wine will make you very happy.

The Food

I consulted the excellent Sherry Wines website for guidance on food pairings with Oloroso Sherry. It wasn’t long before I zeroed in on a recipe that included sautéed mushrooms and spinach paired with roasted lamb. The original recipe called for a leg of lamb which, unfortunately, is way too big for two people. I scaled back the recipe by using two leg of lamb steaks instead.

I prepared a paste of salt, rosemary and garlic then spread it on the lamb steaks before oven roasting them. For the mushroom sauté I chopped an onion and sautéed it in olive oil with garlic before adding roughly chopped oyster and shiitake mushrooms, a few tablespoons of Sherry, Soy sauce and fresh spinach. To round out the plating I oven-roasted Yukon Gold potatoes that had been thinly sliced and drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme.

The hit of this meal was the mushroom sauté. It was delicious on its own, with such depth of flavor, and it paired very nicely with the garlicky lamb. Oven-roasted Yukon Gold potatoes are always a hit. The meal was rich and satisfying. One change I might have made is to cook it on the grill or brown the lamb before finishing it in the oven. It needed that extra flavor that browning contributes.

The Pairing



The Oloroso Sherry was delicious with the mushroom sauté. The earthy flavors of both tasted even better together. The lamb and the Sherry pairing was less successful. If the lamb was smothered in the mushroom sauté it worked just fine; otherwise the two fought with each other. I think it was the lack of char on the meat that made the pairing less than ideal.



AnotherSherryPairingSeveral nights later we gave our Oloroso Sherry paring a second effort. It was a “grazing evening” — we were eating light. We paired manchego cheese marinaded in olive oil and fresh marjoram (a recipe we first enjoyed at Jordan Vineyard & Winery prepared with estate olive oil, of course), smoked Alaskan sockeye salmon and an assortment of roasted nuts. All winners. The manchego cheese in olive oil and marjoram was outstanding and the sockeye salmon was surprisingly good. I roasted the pecans in olive oil, salt and thyme. The walnuts I roasted in olive oil, salt and brown sugar — even the sweetness worked well with the Oloroso.

What We Learned

The Lustau Almacenista Oloroso Sherry “Pata de Gallina”, is deliciously complex and rich. The flavors are satisfying. Here comes the qualifier: on a hot summer day it is not what I want to reach for. The big flavors and high alcohol content are a more appropriate pairing for a chilly winter’s evening in front our fireplace — for me. I resolve to give this pairing a second try during winter!

The best food pairing with this Oloroso Sherry has plenty of umami flavors and fat (the mushroom sauté, the manchego cheese and the smoked Alaskan sockeye). Fresh herbs are a nice pairing as well. We found our grazing meal more enjoyable with the Oloroso Sherry than our first pairing.

Even though our initial Sherry pairing was less than stellar I’m not discouraged. There are many Sherry styles left to investigate and perhaps next time paired with a Spanish meal. Maybe an immersion course would be helpful. I’ve been wanting to visit Jerez anyway!

In the meantime, I look forward to reading about the pairings the rest of the Wine Pairing Weekend bloggers created. I know I will learn a thing or two about Sherry.

We will be chatting about our Sherry and food pairings on Saturday, July 9 at 8 a.m. Pacific Time. You can join the conversation by following #winePW on Twitter. It’s always a good time.


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Mokelumne Glen Vineyards: Looking Beyond Zinfandel in Lodi

Only a single, short row of Zinfandel remains on the property that follows a bend in the Mokelumne River. The 26-acre vineyard is located in the Mokelumne River sub-AVA of the Lodi appellation on Lodi’s East Side. Bob Koth doesn’t have the heart to remove the  few vines that stand between more recent plantings and the family home. They’ve been there for years and make fine Zinfandel. It’s just that the focus of Bob and Mary Lou Koth’s viticultural efforts has changed to German and Austrian varieties exclusively — over 40 of them. In Lodi.

Bob and MaryLou Koth
For 11 vintages the Koths made wine under their Mokelumne Glen Vineyards label. Their production included Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Kerner, Dornfelder and Riesling, among others, made in a variety of styles from dry to sweet. Winemaking ceased with the 2009 vintage and since then the family’s focus has been on the vineyards which are now managed by the Koth’s son Brett. Over the years the Koths have removed some varieties to make room for new ones and have increased plantings of others. Demand from winemakers for varieties such as Reisling, Bacchus, Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Dorfelder has been steady. Finally, it seems, others have discovered these uncommon varieties the Koths have enjoyed for years.

We recently participated in a wine tasting that highlighted the diversity of grape varieties planted at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. The tasting included four wines each made by a different winemaker. The event was hosted by LoCA, the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and we received the wines as tasting samples. Charles Communications Associates kept all of us organized. Here’s what we tasted.

Uncharted-Bacchus2015 Holman Cellars Uncharted Lodi Bacchuslight yellow in the glass with generous floral, tropical and mineral aromas. Mineral flavors dominate the flavor profile along with citrusy notes and tart pineapple. Brilliant acidity carries into the finish which is relatively long and juicy. 14% abv. SRP $25

To insure maximum color and flavor extraction winemaking began with 3 days of skin contact prior to fermentation in stainless steel. Only 45 cases produced. Small-lot production is the focus of winemaking at Holman Cellars. Jason and his partners are constantly looking for unusual varieties to reward the curious wine drinker. Bacchus definitely falls in the uncharted category.

MarkusWineCo-Nimmo2014 Marcus Wine Co. Nimmolight yellow in the glass with toasty, baking spice aromas. Complex flavors follow and include dried hay, citrus, hints of coconut and nutmeg. This wine is a bit round and has a long finish. 13.8% abv. $22

Surely this blend is among the most interesting you will find: 71% Kerner, 13% Gewürztraminer, 11% Riesling, 5% Bacchus. And the wine is oak fermented and aged. It is unique in so many ways. We have tasted this wine on several occasions and every time the flavors are a bit different. I love that about this wine — it’s always an adventure.

Markus Niggli was inspired to make this wine after tasting a similar wine during a visit to Switzerland, where he was born. The flavors of the oak-aged Kerner blend stuck in his memory and he committed to making a similar wine himself. As luck would have it the Koths had Kerner growing in their Mokelumne Glen Vineyards just across town. Markus produces interesting white wines under his Marcus Wine Co. label as a sub-venture of Borra Vineyards.

HattonDaniels-Zweigelt2015 Hatton Daniels Mokelumne Glen Zweigeltdense ruby-violet color in the glass with generous dark berry and plumy aromas. Blackberry and plum flavors predominate, but with savory back notes and a pop of cedar. Tannins are grippy and the body of the wine is light to medium with a moderate length finish and nice acidity. 11.9% abv. SRP $24

The combination of dark fruit flavors, savory notes and cedar spice make this wine irresistible. Throw in the grippy tannins and lighter body, and it is a winning combination. The perfect summer red wine.

Hatton Daniels strives to make wines that reflect the vintage not a winemaking style. Their approach in the winery is hands off. The Zweigelt was harvested early to preserve natural acidity and the grapes were not destemmed — allowing for partial carbonic maceration. Fermentation proceeded without any additions and malolactic fermentation took place in old oak barrels. No sulphur was added. Just grapes –that’s the goal.

m2-BelleEtoileBlanche2014 m2 Wines Belle Étoile Blanche straw color in the glass with generous aromas of pineapple, apricot and minerals. The flavors follow the aromas closely with pineapple and apricot predominating along with a hint of vanilla. The wine has at least a medium weight, nice acidity and a bit of citrus pith on the finish. The acidity nicely balances the sweetness. 13.3% abv. $24

This is another everybody-in-the-pool blend. The 35% Reislaner, 25% Weissburgunder, 20% Riesling, 20% Gewürztraminer blend is a late harvest wine made without fortification. Brix at harvest ranged from 28º to 47º. Fermentation took over 3 months to complete in equal parts neutral French oak and stainless steel. The name of this wine, Belle Étoile Blanche, means beautiful white star. It is a star in my view. This is the first wine made by m2 winemaker Layne Montgomery using Mokelumne Glen Vineyards grapes.

The thing that binds this diverse group of winemakers is their curiosity and interest in working with varieties that are a bit off the beaten path. How nice for those of us who enjoy the hunt for that next new variety. The tasting also serves as a reminder that there is a lot happening in the Lodi wine world in addition to Zinfandel. Thanks for the lovely tasting.


Not long after we participated in the online tasting we attended a winemaker’s tasting at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards which included a few additional winemakers and their wines. We listened to the winemakers talk about their wines as we sipped the wines over lunch. We finished the afternoon with a walk through the vineyards. A few pictures from that event follow. Thanks to the Koth family for inviting us.

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Summertime Sippers from Compaña Vinicola del Norte de España (CVNE)

It’s official, summer has arrived. That means warm temperatures, backyard grilling and warm afternoons and evenings spent sipping chilled wine. We recently received three wines from Compaña Vinicola del Norte de España (CVNE) as tasting samples that will fit any of the above summertime settings. All offer excellent quality and general deliciousness for not very much money. It was an illuminating tasting.

A bit of background

Before we jump into the wines, and our food pairing with them, a bit of background is in order. Compaña Vinicola del Norte de España has been making wine in the Rioja region of northern Spain since 1879. The company was founded in Haro, in the northwest corner of Rioja Alta, by brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asúa. The company is still family owned and managed by descendants of the brothers.

09rioja_regions map

Rioja Region map from

This next bit made me smile, only because it hits so close to home. The first wine produced by Compaña Vinicola del Norte de España was named using the company’s initials CVNE. An “orthographic mistake” changed the name to CUNE which became Cune (pronounced Coo-nay). As the queen of typographical errors I sympathize with whomever made that typo back in the late 1800s.

Compaña Vinicola del Norte de España now includes three wineries in Rioja. CVNE remains in the original Haro location and in addition to producing the Cune label wines  also produces the respected Imperial label. Maria Larrea is the winemaker. At Viña Real Winery the focus is innovation and new technology under the guidance of winemaker Eva de Benito. Contino Winery produces single-estate wines.

Let’s taste the wine

2015Monopole2015 Monopolepale yellow-green in the glass with initial aromas of crushed rocks and over time white flowers and honeysuckle. Bright flavors of melons and white flowers combine with nice acidity for a long finish. 13% abv. SRP $13.

This wine is a lesson in patience, don’t be in a hurry to drink it down. The longer it remained in the glass the more complex the aromas and flavors became. On day two this wine was stellar. You will be rewarded for leaving some of this wine for the next day.

CVNE has been producing Monopole since 1915. It is 100% Viura, also known as Macabeo in Spain, and is the most widely planted white variety in Rioja. This fresh, fruity version of Viura is gently pressed before being fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks.

2015VinaRealRosado2015 Viña Real Rosadotransparent copper in the glass with intense mineral, blueberry, damp earth and herbaceous aromas. Ripe blueberries, minerals and a grating of lemon zest combine for a complex flavor profile and a finish with bright, zesty acidity. This wine is the most complex of the group. 13% abv. SRP $15

You will be transfixed by the color of this wine; it’s beautiful in the glass. When you move on to tasting this wine, it will make you think. The aromas are fruity and earthy at the same time with a mineral component thrown in for good measure. It is a blend of 85% Viura and 15% Tempranillo fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks after a six-hour maceration. A lovely wine.

2015CuneRosado2015 Cune Rosadobright raspberry color in the glass with generous aromas of ripe raspberry, strawberry and watermelon. Flavors include a berry medley of strawberry and blueberry along with ripe watermelon. The wine has bright, juicy acidity and a very long finish. 13.5% abv. $13

It’s impossible not to smile when you see this wine. The color is lively and the aromas will draw you in immediately. This is fun in a glass and perfect for summertime. It is produced from 100% Tempranillo. After 24 – 48 hours of maceration, just enough time to achieve that bright color, a relatively short fermentation begins in temperature-controlled tanks. The goal is to preserve the fruit flavors of the Tempranillo grape. Mission accomplished.

How do these wines pair with food?

The day before we tasted through these three wines, we smoked boneless pork spare ribs. We put a dry rub on the pork and smoked it for six hours. They were juicy and fall-apart tender. We shredded the pork and used it to make tacos which included shredded cabbage, tomatoes, avocado and Cotija cheese. We warmed corn tortillas and built ourselves delicious tacos.

The 2015 Monopole was the most refreshing with our tacos. The flavors of the Viura came through, were clean and a nice counterbalance to the richness of the smoked meat.

The 2015 Viña Real Rosado tasted more fruity with our tacos, it was a delicious pairing. Honestly, though, I really just wanted to sip this wine on its own. It has so many layers of flavors to contemplate. Food is optional.

The 2015 Cune Rosado didn’t lose any of its lively flavors or bright acidity with our tacos and was really delicious with the juicy pork and the veggies.

All three wines are lovely. The Monopole clearly displays the beautiful floral aromas and flavors of the variety. The Viña Real Rosado is a wine for contemplation. The Cune Rosado is just plain fun. Any or all of these wines will make a summertime gathering loads of fun and won’t break the bank. They are widely distributed. Look for them.

Thanks to Compaña Vinicola del Norte de España and Donna White Communications for sending these interesting wines our way.


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Scotto Cellars: Two Red Blends Demonstrate the Range of Winemaking by this Family-Owned Winery

Wine, of course, cannot literally run through your veins, but the phrase certainly applies in a figurative sense to the current generations of the Scotto family. They trace winemaking back to the 1880s when Salvatore Dominic Scotto made wine for his family in Ischia, Italy. When, at the turn of the 20th Century, the family came to the United States and settled in Brooklyn they continued making wine. Similarly, when the family’s final move brought them to California in the 1960s, winemaking continued. Scotto Cellars was established in 2004.

Today, this ambitions family has winemaking facilities in the Napa Valley, Amador County and Lodi. Each winery produces a unique portfolio of wines from their own vineyard sources. The range of wines stretches from value brands priced at about $10 to their high-end offering at $50. Something to match everyone’s taste and pocketbook.

FoodandWineScotto Cellars recently sent us two red blends as tasting samples that fit exactly at either end of their production spectrum, one priced at $9.99 and the other $50. When we received the samples Pete and I discussed whether we should taste them together or separately. Maybe it wouldn’t be fair to the $9.99 wine to taste it with the $50 wine. We decided to prepare a meal and taste the two wines together, resolving to judge each wine independently. In addition to the difference in price, the two wines are made from grapes sourced from different regions in California and are blends of different varieties from two vintages.

2012 Extremely Rare Black Blendmedium ruby color in the glass with generous blackberry, blueberry and plum aromas. The flavors echo the dark fruit aromas with backnotes of dried alfalfa. Tannins are smooth and well-integrated. The finish is medium in length. 13.5% abv. $9.99

Fruit flavors shine through in the Extremely Rare Black Blend, which still shows a very youthful color. The wine is a blend of Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi along with Petite Sirah and Syrah from Lake and Amador Counties. Each variety was fermented separately in stainless steel and aged for 9 to 12 months in a combination of new and second-use French oak.

Suggested food pairings from the Scottos include pasta, grilled foods, lamb and wild game. They even suggest dark chocolate desserts. The Black Blend certainly paired nicely with our meal of smoked country-style pork ribs, roasted potatoes and asparagus. It is a pleasant, fruit-forward red wine that will appeal to wine drinkers who are not fond of tannic red wines. A good choice for weeknight dining.

50 Harvests 2013 Meritage, Napa Valleymedium ruby-garnet color in the glass. Complex aromas of damp earth support dark fruit aromas and a suggestion of mint. Flavors of plums, blackberries and black cherries are supported by delicate cedar spice and nice acidity. Firm, drying tannins give this medium-bodied wine structure and provide a long finish. 14.7% abv. $50

The tannin structure defines this wine but does not overpower the earthy dark fruit flavors. The 50 Harvests is a beautiful food wine. It paired well with our smoked country-style pork ribs, standing toe-to-toe with the rich flavors of the pork. Our pairing was perhaps a bit low-brow for this elegant wine, but the pairing was really delicious. The price puts this wine in the special occasion category for most wine drinkers, but the flavors will not disappoint.

The  50 Harvests 2013 Napa Valley Meritage is composed of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc all sourced from Napa’s Oak Knoll District. Each variety was fermented and aged separately. 20 months of French Oak aging was followed by 4 months of bottle aging prior to release.

The 2013 50 Harvests was made by winemakers Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto at the family’s Steele Canyon Cellars facility in Napa. The 50 Harvests label commemorates the 50th harvest since the family moved to California in 1963.

Whether at the $10 price point or $50 price point, blending is the name of the game for the winemaking team at Scotto Cellars. Thanks to the Scotto family for sending us this interesting comparison of your winemaking styles.


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A Corsican Rosé and Summer Veggie Pizza for #winePW

Almost every month we participate in Wine Pairing Weekend, also known as #winePW on Twitter. Wine Pairing Weekend is a group of bloggers who gather together to create food and wine pairings centered on a common theme. This month the theme is Rosé Pairings and we at Pull That Cork are the hosts.

We chose Rosé Pairings as the theme because we love drinking rosé so much. In fact, we drink pink wine year round. Every spring we begin checking local wine shops for the new rosé vintage. We look for our old favorites, but are always willing to consider a new vintner, country of origin or new grape variety. We continue to look for rosé all summer and our stash of rosé always lasts into the holidays, when we drink more sparkling rosé.



For our rosé and food pairing this month I took inspiration from our local Farmers Market and our own garden. Torpedo onions, zucchini and tomatoes have made their appearance in the last few weeks in the market and we have ripe tomatoes in our garden. So, we put together a zucchini, torpedo onion and tomato pizza.



The rosé pairing came next. We reached for a rosé that represents a new wine region for us — Corsica. We recently attended a rosé tasting locally where we tasted the wine. We liked it, ordered it and it arrived just in time for Wine Pairing Weekend.

How Rosé is Made

There are three main ways to produce a rosé wine and we enjoy rosé made using all of these methods. In all but the last method, rosé is produced from red grapes. It is made in essentially every wine region that grows red wine grapes. The color varies from barely blush to nearly neon pink. The flavors are just as varied.

  • Saignée describes the process of bleeding off, or draining, juice early in the winemaking process. The bleed off serves two purposes: it concentrates the juice left behind (which can then be made into a more flavorful red wine) and produces a lightly colored juice that is fermented as a rosé. It’s kind of a two-for-the-price-of-one method of winemaking.
  • Short maceration: red grapes are left for a relatively short time on the skins, just enough time to impart the desired color and flavor to the juice. In the case of the maceration method, the grapes are harvested with the production of rosé in mind. The grapes may be whole cluster pressed, de-stemmed, or not, before crushing.
  • The final method is the blending of a two base wines, one red and one white, as in the production of  Champagne and other sparkling wines made using the traditional method where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle.

The Food

Several months ago I made pizza dough from scratch for the first time. It was both a wonderful and distressing experience. Wonderful because the dough was surprisingly easy to make and the result was so delicious. Distressing because the result was so delicious that we are inclined to eat too much of it!

The Martha Stewart recipe has a very short list of ingredients: flour, yeast, water, salt, sugar and olive oil. It goes together in nothing flat and takes less than two hours to rise. I cut the recipe in half which makes just enough dough for one pizza.

VeggiePizzaWe generally use fresh mozzarella on our pizza and do not use tomato sauce. In this case we sliced the green and yellow zucchini into thin ribbons using our mandoline then tossed them with olive oil, black pepper, sliced torpedo onions and basil. I layered this mixture over the fresh mozzarella and added sliced red and yellow cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes and basil came from our garden.

Simple, fresh and very flavorful. The dough was yeasty and the vegetables were bursting with flavor. The basil added nice background notes and the tomatoes were sweet and fruity. There is nothing like vine-ripened tomatoes.

The Wine

2015YvesLecciaDomained’ECroceRose2015 Yves Leccia Domaine d’E Croce Rosépale salmon in the glass with generous berry and white flower aromas. Raspberry and blackberry flavors combine with a squeeze of citrus zest and bright acidity that will engage your salivary glands. There are hints of dusty stone and mineral flavors in the background. The finish is very long and refreshing. 13.5% abv.

I like this wine as much on this second tasting as I did when I first tasted it over a month ago. It is one of the most flavorful rosés I’ve tasted in some time. It is lovely on its own and because it is so flavorful and well-balanced it’s a great food wine too. Consider roasted chicken or fish; charcuterie and cheese would pair nicely.

This rosé is a saignée of 60% Niellucciu, 40% Grenache. Fermentation and aging takes place in stainless steel and the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation. Niellucciu is the Corsican spelling (you will also see it spelled Nielluccio) and the variety is known elsewhere as Sangiovese. A familiar friend.

This rosé is made by Yves Leccia in the Patrimonio AOP in the north of Corsica. Corsica lies in the western Mediterranean less than 100 miles south of France and about 80 miles west of Tuscany. The island of Sardinia lies not far off the southern coast of Corsica.

The climate is mostly sunny and dry, but the island is very mountainous which allows for varied mesoclimates. The wine’s importer, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, offers a succinct description of Leccia’s winemaking philosophy:

Originally working alongside his sister, he decided to branch off on his own in 2004 and focus on the single terroir he felt was the top in Patrimonio. This terroir, “E Croce,” sits on a thin chalk soil above a thick bedrock of pure schist, facing the gulf of St. Florent. Yves is a firm believer in the idea that if you want something done right you need to do it yourself, and thus he tends to his vines alone and works the cellar by himself as well. He keeps his yields low, knows when to harvest, and knows how to let E Croce express itself in the wines. Not a single bottle comes out of the domaine that isn’t meticulously looked after from start to finish.

And, as a bonus for me because organic viticulture is so important to me, the vineyards have been in certified organic conversion since 2013 with full certification by Ecocert expected in 2016.

The Pairing

Fresh. Delicious. Satisfying. I should add simple to that list of descriptions, it is perhaps this pairing’s most important quality. When I am able to open a lovely bottle of wine, gather fresh ingredients and put them together in an uncomplicated way with such a delicious result I am a happy person.




The rest of the Wine Pairing Weekend bloggers have created some delicious pairings of their own. Happy reading!

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla pairs Rose Petal-Strawberry Granita with Luc Belaire Rare Rosé

Cindy from Grape Experiences will share Wine and Dine: Galil Mountain Rose and Mixed Olive Tapenade

Jill from L’occasion is contemplating Provençal Rosé and a Summer Supper

Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog pairs Chicken and Sausage Paella Paired with a Unicorn Rosé

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm prepares a Seafood Boil featuring Domaine Houchart Cotes de Provence Rose 2015 #WinePW

Jade from Tasting Pour shares Labneh (Kefir) Cheescake with Strawberries & Del Rio Rose Jolee

Michelle from Rockin Red Blog will be Celebrating National Rosé Day with #WinePW

David from Cooking Chat pairs Grilled Arctic Char with Pineapple Salsa

Lori from Dracaena Wines discusses Are You Impatient? You Could Have Created Rosé

Lauren from The Swirling Dervish considers Where Sicily and Mendoza Meet: Stuffed Roasted Calamari and 2015 Perlita Rosado. June’s #winePW Adventure

Meaghan from Un Assaggio shares Cheeky Pairings: Cod Burger + Rosé #WinePW

Gwendolyn from Wine Predator travels Around the World With Rose

We will gather at 8 a.m. Pacific Time, Saturday, July 11 on Twitter to chat about the food and wine pairings we prepared. Please consider joining the conversation by following #winePW.

Our July event will be hosted by Jeff at foodwineclick, who has chosen Pairings with Sherry as the theme.


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June Wine Pairing Weekend: A Preview of Rosé Pairings #winePW


Wine Pairing Weekend is a group of food and wine bloggers that gather together every month to share food and wine pairings. The theme varies every month and is chosen by that month’s host. The theme for June is Rosé Pairings.

Our posts will publish early on Saturday, June 11, then we will gather at 11 am Eastern Time (8 am Pacific) on Twitter to chat about the food and wine pairings we prepared. It’s loads of fun and you will meet all kinds of interesting people — in addition to gathering wickedly delicious food and wine pairing ideas. Please join the conversation by following #winePW on Twitter.

As usual, we have an interesting list of pairings.

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla pairs Rose Petal-Strawberry Granita with Luc Belaire Rare Rosé

Cindy from Grape Experiences will share Wine and Dine: Galil Mountain Rose and Mixed Olive Tapenade

Jill from L’occasion is contemplating Provençal Rosé and a Summer Supper

Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog pairs Chicken and Sausage Paella Paired with a Unicorn Rosé

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm prepares a Seafood Boil featuring Domaine Houchart Cotes de Provence Rose 2015 #WinePW

Jade from Tasting Pour shares Labneh (Kefir) Cheescake with Strawberries & Del Rio Rose Jolee

Michelle from Rockin Red Blog will be Kicking Off Summer with National Rosé Day

David from Cooking Chat pairs Grilled Arctic Char with Pineapple Salsa

Lori from Dracaena Wines discusses Are You Impatient? You Could Have Created Rosé

Lauren from The Swirling Dervish considers Where Sicily and Mendoza Meet: Stuffed Roasted Calamari and 2015 Perlita Rosado. June’s #winePW Adventure

Meaghan from Un Assaggio shares Cheeky Pairings: Cod Burger + Rosé #WinePW

Gwendolyn from Art Predator travels Around the World With Rose

Pete and I from Pull That Cork pair A Corsican Rosé and Summer Veggie Pizza for #winePW

Our July event will be hosted by Jeff at foodwineclick, who has chosen Pairings with Sherry as the theme.



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The Lucas Winery: It All Begins in the Vineyard

The Lodi AVA is practically in our backyard, so being the winelovers that we are you might think we have tasted pretty much everything Lodi has to offer. We’ve tasted quite a few Lodi wines, but until recently The Lucas Winery was not among them. I’m happy to say we have corrected that omission.

My interest in organic viticulture is what drew us to The Lucas Winery. I learned through the Lodi Winegrape Commission (LoCA) that only a handful of vineyards in Lodi are being farmed organically and that The Lucas Winery is among them. Recently, we sat down with David Lucas and Heather Pyle-Lucas at their winery to talk viticulture, winemaking, and lots of other interesting topics – like surfing and wine tasting in Sicily. Over the years I’d heard words like restrained and elegant used to describe the wines from The Lucas Winery. Now I understand why.

How They Got Here from There

Winemaking at Lucas has covered a wide arc since David began making wine as a home winemaker in 1978. He, like many other early Lodi winemakers, learned to make wine by doing. Fermentation started without the use of commercial yeast. If he was lucky, fermentation proceeded. If instead he was left with a stuck fermentation (or just plain awful wine), he would dump the grape juice in the vineyard. As David put it, “The wine went back to the vineyard.” The wine that made it to barrel was finished in used brandy barrels – because that’s what he could get.

HeatherAndDavidToday, winemaking at The Lucas Winery is very different. It is the culmination of what David and Heather have learned independently and together. Both credit the Mondavi family with an invaluable influence on not only their winemaking, but winemaking in the Lodi region and California as a whole. And, it was through their employment with the Mondavi family that the two met.

David’s responsibilities in grower relations for Mondavi’s Woodbridge Winery in the early 1980s introduced him to vineyard practices like weak shoot removal and verasion thinning. The Mondavis learned these vineyard techniques from European winemakers during their travels to European wine regions. They recognized the importance of these techniques in producing quality fruit and then implemented them in the vineyards in California. The Mondavis were the first to pay growers a premium for following these practices.

Heather’s winemaking experience with the Mondavi family began a few years later at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. In addition to her winemaking responsibilities at the Mondavi winery, she was involved in the Opus One project (Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe Rothschild’s joint venture in Napa). This is where she and David met.

For a time, Heather tended a couple of acres of Cabernet Sauvignon she owned in the Napa Valley. This was her first hands-on experience farming organically, and she discovered that grapes are a very resilient crop that could be farmed organically without too much additional expense.

Both Heather and David traveled to Europe with the Mondavis to visit vineyards and taste wine. In addition to what they learned from the Mondavis, their winemaking today is influenced by the great wines they tasted in Bordeaux and Burgundy and what they learned in the vineyards and wine cellars of those regions.

In The Vineyard

TheLucasWineryLodiRulesVineyardA total of 18 acres of Zinfandel comprise the Lucas vineyards today. 15 acres are farmed according to Lodi Rules for Sustainable farming and are certified as such. Some of the fruit is sold, and the rest is the source for their C’T’Z’N Zinfandel. The vineyard is beautifully tended.

The real star of the show is the appropriately named ZinStar vineyard, planted in 1933. The 3-acre Zinfandel vineyard is located directly behind the Lucas’s home and winery and is the vineyard that is farmed organically. It is also CCOF-certified.

Heather and David literally live with this beautiful, head-trained, own-rooted vineyard. They are aware of every change that takes place in the vineyard and this, I learned, is possibly the most important aspect of organic farming — constant monitoring followed by rapid intervention if a potential problem is identified.

David and Heather don’t farm organically because they have any illusion of saving the world. As Heather put it, “We thought it would be good fun and informative and decided to take the journey to see what we could learn.”

Turns out they have learned quite a lot. With the assistance of a Pest Control Advisor they identify and monitor mites and mealy bugs, both pests in the vineyard. They have learned through experience early intervention is essential to successfully control these pests through the use of predator mites and six spotted thrips. Predator mites are grown by a CCOF-certified insectary on bean plants. A mite-laden bean plant is placed in every grape vine and the bug battles begin.

Cover crops are an important part of soil enrichment and are routinely planted between the rows of vines. Beans, vetch, oats and triticale have been effective. Cover crops are either mowed or disked into the ground in spring and weeds between the vines are controlled using a string trimmer. Organic certification prohibits the use of the herbicide Roundup (Glyphosate) in the vineyard, so it looks a little messy, but there is an upside to the messiness. The vineyard has developed a healthy population of the predatory six spotted thrips … naturally.

Aside from organic practices, the vineyard practices they learned from their European travels with the Mondavis are implemented to produce fruit with uniform ripeness. In April or May weak shoot removal begins, to remove fruit that is behind in development and will never catch up. This also opens the vine to sunlight which enhances flavor development in the grapes as they grow.

When the grapes begin to change color from green to black, verasion thinning takes place. Any cluster that is 50% green or more is removed. This insures uniform ripeness at harvest. “When you get done doing that, you do not want to look in the vineyard,” David observed referring to the fruit lying on the ground. As much as 30 to 40% of the crop may be thinned. He believes verasion thinning is more important than anything they do in the winery to produce quality wine.

Verasion thinning is a practice they follow with their Chardonnay as well, which is sourced from two local growers David describe as, “passionate growers willing to do what it takes to showcase Lodi Chardonnay.” It is a bit of a challenge to train the crew to manage verasion thinning with all green grapes. The thinning must be done by feel rather than color difference, but the results have been successful in these Chardonnay vineyards according to David.


TastingRoomBy the early 2000s both Heather and David had left the Mondavi fold to focus their attention on the Lodi vineyard where David originally began making wine. The tasting room is now located in a restored tractor barn that was, according to David, once in such bad shape that, “A bird could go in one side and out the other without knowing it was in a barn.” Wood from a 60,000-gallon redwood wine tank built before prohibition was used to reconstruct the inside of the tasting room.

Adjacent to the tasting room is the Grand Chai (pronounced shay), the barrel room. All barrels are organized on one level, lying on their sides on a bed of gravel. The arrangement is a result of Heather’s experience at both the Robert Mondavi Winery and Opus One, as well as their travels to Bordeaux. David is proud to say theirs is the only Grand Chai used to produce Zinfandel.

Barrel aging is an important aspect of winemaking that not only clarifies the wine, but develops flavor, texture and character in the wine. It’s important for ageability too. The wine is racked once or twice per year. Racking involves pumping the wine from barrel to tank and rinsing each barrel before returning the wine back to barrel.

The choice of oak used for aging is a crucial one, and it is one that is made with the vineyard in mind at The Lucas Winery. Over the years David and Heather have experimented with American and Hungarian oak. They believe French oak is more supple and less aggressive than American oak and a better choice for their ZinStar vineyard and their style of winemaking, which is less ripe.

Because the Zinfandel made at The Lucas Vineyard is a single vineyard wine, the choice of wood is even more crucial according to David, who noted they never use Mega Purple or blend their Zinfandel with Petite Sirah or Syrah to augment color and flavor. Heather and David are always looking to reflect what David called, “the footprint of the vineyard” in their wines.

Wood aging takes place in a combination of new and used French oak. New French oak barrels are first used to ferment The Lucas Winery Chardonnay. That barrel fermentation is generally complete by the time the Zinfandel is ready to be moved from the fermenters to barrel, at which time a portion of the Zinfandel goes into the new barrels, first, second, third, fourth and sometimes fifth-use barrels.

Total wine production at The Lucas Winery varies by vintage. In vintages like 2015, when the vineyards were struck by a hail storm that damaged one-third of the crop, production is down significantly. 1500 to 3000 cases per year is the average production, which includes Estate Chardonnay, C’T’Z’N Zinfandel, ZinStar Zinfandel, C’T’Z’N Rosé and Late Harvest Zinfandel.

Did Someone Say Wine?

We tasted several vintages of the Chardonnay and ZinStar Zinfandel, along with the C’T’Z’N Rosé and Late Harvest Zinfandel. Several things impressed us about The Lucas Winery wines. Balance. Restraint. Ageability.

The Lucas Winery 2013 Estate Chardonnay is the current release. To David and Heather this wine still tastes very young. They would prefer to be pouring their 2012 vintage, but it’s gone. To us the 2013 is acid-driven, bright, fresh and fruity with wonderful weight and texture. We had the opportunity to taste the 2000 Chardonnay which is moving toward gold in color and exhibits concentrated flavors including nuts, spice and cedar flavors that I described as extraordinary in my notebook. This wine is not at all tired. A lovely wine.

We tasted three vintages of the ZinStar Zinfandel and the wines demonstrated vintage variation as well as its potential to age. The 2012 ZinStar Zinfandel is lighter in color, elegant in flavor with bright acidity and smooth tannins. This Zinfandel a wine that would be lovely to sip on a warm afternoon. It is restrained but not simple. In contrast, the 2013 ZinStar Zinfandel is darker in color and exhibits a combination of red and dark fruit flavors, along with earth and spice. Once again, bright acidity makes this a juicy, enjoyable wine that would pair with all kinds of food. This is the kind of vintage variation that can be demonstrated when the winemaker doesn’t fiddle with the wine. It is exactly the point of winemaking at The Lucas Winery.

Who ages Zinfandel? Not many folks, I’m guessing. Heather and David do. Their 2003 ZinStar Zinfandel is ruby-garnet in the glass with concentrated dark fruit flavors, leather, earth and smooth tannins. Nice acidity remains and the evolution of flavor was a pleasure to taste. The color is still surprisingly youthful. David is convinced this wine has another 20 years to go. I wouldn’t bet against it.

Now, Go Visit

David proudly told us the story of his first wine taster at the winery … a man who was out collecting aluminum cans along Davis Road. With equal pride David noted that he was the first to charge a tasting fee in Lodi, a decision he says some still criticize, and he was the first to bottle a vineyard-designated wine in Lodi.  Heather and David both believe the Lodi appellation has great potential to produce world-class wine and are happy that it is becoming known for more than commodity wines. They are proud to be part of that movement.

Above all, they are having fun doing what they do. Both loved the busy time they spent working for the Mondavis and recognize what a great learning experience it was. But as Heather put it, “We are where we want to be now.” How many of us can say that?

You will find tasting room hours on The Lucas Winery website along with information about their wine and educational events at the winery.


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Gulfi: Wine and Food Bliss in Southeastern Sicily

Although we didn’t know it at the time of our winery tour, Gulfi is an Arab word that translates to a pleasurable place. Gulfi Winery takes its name from the nearby town of Chiaramonte Gulfi which was established in the 6th century B.C. by Greeks who left Syracuse. Akrillay was the original name of the settlement, but its name has changed over the centuries as it was overrun by the Arabs and then the French. In 1693 the city was destroyed, along with much of eastern Sicily, by a severe earthquake. Not so pleasurable. The views from the city are described as stunning, hence the reference to a pleasurable place.

Gulfi  was a visual pleasure even before we stepped out of the car. The hills of the southeastern corner of Sicily are crisscrossed with striking dry-stone walls. The light colors of the walls stand in contrast to the variable color of the earth. These beautiful dry-stone walls define the entrance and outline the driveway to the winery. A few ancient olive trees dot the property and the entrance is graced by an enormous old olive press.

Gulfi’s history begins in 1996 when, after his father’s death, Vito Catania inherited his father’s property. The younger Catania returned to Sicily from northern Italy where he built a successful career in manufacturing. He purchased additional vineyards, hired consulting winemaker Salvo Foti for his expertise in the winery and in the vineyard and built a winery.

The first vintage was 1999 and production started in 2006 at the facility we toured. The winery utilizes temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, has about 600 French oak barrels and some large-format casks made of  Slovenian oak. The length of oak aging varies by the style of wine, from 6 months to 2 years in duration.

We visited Gulfi near the end of September. Harvest had already begun and would continue through October. Vineyards are located in three areas of eastern Sicily. About 30 hectares are located near the winery at an elevation of 600 meters above sea level. Several vineyard blocks are visible from the back of winery which provides a panorama of buildings, vineyards and olive groves. Nero d’Avola produced here was described by our guide and hospitality manager, Giorgio, as a fruity style meant to be drunk young.

Pachino, located near the ocean almost at the southernmost point of Sicily, comprises another 30 hectares of vines. This is the focus of winemaking at Gulfi. The Pachino vineyards produce Nero d’Avola with strength and structure. Four distinct vineyards are vinified and bottled separately.

About 7 hectares of vineyards near Randazzo, north of Mt. Etna where Nerello Mascalese is king, comprise the remainder of Gulfi’s vineyards. All grapes are taken to the winery at Chiaramonte Gulfi for vinification.


Gulfi Map from

Importantly, to me at least, Gulfi farms all of their vineyards organically and all wines are certified organic. In addition, the vineyards are dry-farmed, meaning the vines are not irrigated. They must survive on rainfall alone.

Current production is in the 300,000-bottle range, which is just the size Gulfi wants to remain. About 70% of production is exported; the U.S., Japan and Germany are the largest markets.

Along with the winemaking facility, Gulfi has accommodations for overnight stays (like an agriturismo) and a restaurant, together called Locanda Gulfi. It’s perfect, really, winery tours are available to guests (you needn’t stay overnight to tour the winery or dine in the restaurant) and the restaurant makes food and wine tastings possible.


Our winery tour was followed by lunch and wine. It was one of the highlights of our trip to Sicily. We began lunch with estate olive oil and fresh-baked bread. Giorgio poured 2014 Gulfi Valcanzjria, a Chardonnay-Carricante blend to accompany the olive oil and bread. The wine was crisp, fruity and refreshing. A nice accompaniment to the fruity, bright olive oil.

2011GulfiCarjcantiandparmigianaThe next wine, 2011 Gulfi Carjcanti, is a blend of Carricante and Albanello, two white varieties indigenous to eastern Sicily. A portion of the wine is aged in French oak which gives the wine a bit of weight and adds a hint of spice. It is only vaguely floral, exhibiting mostly an interesting stoney minerality. It was a delightful pairing with our first course.

Reimagined eggplant parmigiana is the only way I know how to describe our first course. An inventive dish, prepared by chef Antonio Colombo, each component of the dish was prepared separately and presented together. Parts of the dish were crunchy (freeze-dried tomato, egg and bread) and others were light and airy (parmesan and eggplant). The dish was weightless unlike the traditional version.

2014GulfiCerasuolodiVittoriaMidway through our eggplant parmigiana, Giorgio poured the 2014 Gulfi Cerasuolo di Vittoria. The blend of 50% Nero d’Avola and 50% Frappato was light, fruity and smooth thanks in part to carbonic maceration and the all stainless steel vinification. The Frappato in the blend also contributes significantly to the fruity flavors of the wine so characteristic of good Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Drink this wine slightly chilled any time of year, but it would be especially enjoyable on a warm summer day.

2010GulfiNerojbleoOnce again, right on cue, Giorgio presented the 2010 Gulfi Nerojbleo. This wine is a blend of 20% younger (about 10 yrs old) Nero d’Avola grown near the winery and 80% older vines from Pachino. This wine gives a hint of the complexity of the Nero d’Avola grape. The flavors include dark fruit, spice, earth and smoke. Tannins are significant along with bright acidity. It is a beautiful wine with only 13.5% abv.

PeteandpastaOur next course was described to us as pumpkin dumplings in a light butter and parmesan sauce. It made us both very happy. Pete’s smile says it all! The pasta was tender, the pumpkin filling rich and the sauce not too heavy, but very flavorful.




The final wine, 2007 Gulfi Nerosanloré, is 100% Nero d’Avola from the San Lorenzo vineyard in Pachino. The 2.5-hectare vineyard is only 700 meters from the ocean. The vines are trained in the alberello style (head trained or bush vine) and are over 40 years old. Flavors are richer and more evolved in this wine with aged dark fruit flavors, earth, licorice and grippy tannins. A delightful, flavorful wine without being too heavy. It was beautiful with the pumpkin dumplings and, surprisingly, the dessert which followed.

CannoloWe were full nearly to bursting by the time the dessert course arrived. We were even more stuffed at the end, because neither of us left one morsel on our plates. Cannolo filled with fluffy ricotta along with a creamy pistachio sauce and lemon granita was our final dish. Chef Colombo added the creamy pistachio sauce to each of our dishes at the table. The cannolo was crispy, the filling light and creamy and the pistachio cream was rich with the flavor of pistachios. The bright lemony granita was the perfect contrast to the cannolo. It was a perfect version of Sicily’s famous dessert.

Every winery visit is unique. Always a reflection of the region, the grape varieties, style of wine and, of course, the proprietors. On display in the dining room where we enjoyed our lunch is a tribute to Raffaele Catania, Vito Catania’s father. During a particularly difficult financial time for the family, Raffaele made the difficult decision to leave Sicily for Paris to seek financial opportunity. In order to pay for transportation, it was necessary for him to sell his beloved Agusta motorcycle. Raffaele built a successful career as an architect in Paris which enabled him to return to the land, the vines and olive trees he loved.

After Raffaele’s death and Vito’s subsequent establishment of Gulfi, Vito was able to find and buy his father’s Agusta. It stands, fully restored, beneath a portrait of Raffaele. Carved into the picture frame is the Eiffel tower, his architect’s tools along with the grapevines and dry-stone walls characteristic of the region. The picture frame tells the story of the family and indirectly the winery.

Gulfi: a pleasurable place. Certainly that was our experience at Gulfi. We came for the organic viticulture, but discovered so much more about Gulfi. The setting and winery are stunningly beautiful, the wines are thoughtful and the food was delicious and elegantly presented. It is a magical place of great pleasures and is not to be missed.

Below is a slide show of our visit to Gulfi. Please enjoy.


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June Wine Pairing Weekend Invitation: Rosé Pairings #winePW


You are cordially invited to participate in the June 2016 Wine Pairing Weekend. The challenge for the month is Rosé Pairings.

Wine Pairing Weekend, also known by its Twitter handle #winePW, is a group of food and wine bloggers who gather together every month to share food and wine pairings. The theme varies every month and is chosen by that month’s host.

We publish our posts on the second Friday evening of the month (or early Saturday morning depending on your time zone), then on Saturday morning we gather on Twitter to chat about our food and wine pairings. It’s loads of fun and you will meet all kinds of interesting people — in addition to gathering wickedly delicious food and wine pairing ideas. The June event is scheduled for Saturday, June 11.

The pairing challenge for June is very straight forward. Pair the rosé of your choice with the food of your choice. It’s all up to you. Begin with a rosé (or two or three) and choose your recipe(s) accordingly, or start with the food and choose the wine.

If you are a rosé lover, like I am, then you already know how food friendly rosé can be. If you’re not much of a rosé drinker, then this is your opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Either way, please consider joining us for the June Wine Pairing Weekend.

For a list of past and upcoming #winePW events, please visit the Wine Pairing Weekend Calendar on David’s blog Cooking Chat. David started Wine Pairing Weekend in June 2014, and we’re still going strong.

Here’s how to join us:

  • Send me an email to tell me you’re in. Include your blog URL, Twitter handle, link to your Pinterest profile and any other social media detail. As soon as you know the title of your blog post, email it to me. I’d like to get a sense of who’s participating and give some shoutouts and links as we get closer to the event. My email is: Nancy's email address
  • Prepare your rosé and food pairing. The pairing is entirely up to you. Any rosé paired with the food of your choice will work. Whatever strikes your fancy.
  • Send me the title of your post by Tuesday, June 7 to be included in the preview post. I will publish a preview post shortly after getting the titles, linking  your blogs. Your title should include #winePW. If you want to get involved after Tuesday, June 7, just drop me an email with the title of your post and I will add you to the list of links.
  • Publish your post between 12:01 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. EDT on Saturday, June 11, 2016.
  • Include a link to the other #winePW participants in your post, and a description of what the event is about. I will provide the html code you can easily put in your initial post — which will link to people’s general blog URL — then updated code for the permanent links to everyone’s #winePW posts.
  • Get social! After the posts go live, please visit your fellow bloggers’ posts to comment and share on social media. We have a Facebook group for participating bloggers to connect and share too.
  • Sponsored posts are OK if clearly disclosed. Please be sure to disclose if your post is sponsored or if you are describing wine or other products for which you have received a free sample.

Any questions, leave a comment or drop me an email. I hope you will join us!


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Mom’s Enchiladas and Casillero del Diablo Wines for #winePW

May’s Wine Pairing Weekend theme came to us from Lori at Dracaena Wines. As I recall, Lori came up with the idea during one of our prior Wine Pairing Weekend Twitter chats. The pairing idea turned out to be loads of fun for us. And it provided a walk down memory lane for me.

When someone says enchiladas to me I automatically think of my mother’s enchiladas. Somehow, enchiladas and Portuguese beans became our regular Easter meal. It’s a weird combination, I know. My dad was Portuguese, so the beans make sense (sort of) and Mom was German. She wasn’t particularly in to preparing ethnic food and I don’t quite remember how the tradition began, but we all looked forward to those enchiladas. Mom had two large restaurant pans that barely slid into her oven and she always filled both with enchiladas for our Easter meal. It was the only time of year she made them.

TheRecipesSo, you probably know what’s coming next. Yes, I’m going to attempt to make Mom’s enchiladas and beans. I have Mom’s Portuguese bean recipe, so that’s no problem. The enchilada recipe she apparently did not write down, so I’m going to prepare them from memory. I remember helping her with the preparation and the cooking aromas are still firmly set in my mind. I will use my aroma memories as a recipe. Fingers crossed.

Wine was not a big part of our meals at home. Mom and Dad sometimes served wine with dinner and when they did it usually came from a jug. Sometimes it was white, sometimes red. There was no discussion about food and wine pairing. Because we didn’t have a particularly strong wine tradition, I feel no need to purchase a jug wine to accompany our enchilada dinner (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)


Fortunately we have two wines to pair with our enchilada dinner, which we received as tasting samples. Both wines, a Shiraz rosé and a Sauvignon Blanc, are produced in Chile by Casillero del Diablo, a Concha y Toro label. I’m thinking either or both will be a good match for our enchilada and Portuguese bean dinner.

The Food

Ground beef seasoned with taco seasoning was the base for Mom’s enchiladas. I didn’t eat any beef back then, so Mom would always make a row of enchiladas without meat (and onions) for me. Aren’t Moms wonderful? Anyway, I still can’t bring myself to buy ground beef, but do use ground lamb as a substitute which is what I used for these enchiladas.

Mom’s enchilada sauce included tomato juice, cumin, garlic and chili powder. She kept the mixture warm in a pot on the stove. She quickly cooked each corn tortilla in oil, then dipped it in the enchilada sauce before filling it with ground beef, shredded lettuce (iceberg of course), sliced olives, onions (which I omitted) and cheese. She then folded each tortilla in half so that it looked more like a taco than a rolled up enchilada.

When the pans were full, she poured the remainder of the enchilada sauce over all of the enchiladas, added a bit of shredded cheese and baked them until they were just crunchy. We used to fight over those crunch bits!

The Portuguese beans, which we always ladled over the top of the enchiladas, are seasoned with sautéed onions and bacon, cumin and cinnamon. The flavors of the beans combine so well with the enchiladas. It’s a classic example of two items tasting better together than they do apart.

My version of Mom’s enchiladas turned out pretty darn well. They smelled right as they were cooking, and when I took my first bite I was transported back to our dining room table at home. That wonderful combination of cooked corn tortillas and light tomato flavors blend beautifully. The savory, spicy ground lamb combined nicely with the richness of the cheese, though the meatless enchiladas were still my favorite. The sliced black olives provided a salty punch and the iceberg lettuce completed that familiar flavor profile.

As we sat down to our enchilada and bean meal, Pete and I were both very quiet — our mouths were full. I was reveling in the familiar flavors and the memories. Pete was on another journey. He does not remember ever having Mom’s enchiladas and beans, so he had no frame of reference for the flavors he was tasting. He enjoyed the savory flavors of the ground lamb in the enchiladas, loved the corn tortillas and the combination of flavors from the Portuguese beans. The odd thing for him was the iceberg lettuce. In fact, that’s the word he used to describe the flavor and texture of the lettuce in the enchiladas: odd. Then, in the next breath he asked if he could have another enchilada. I had to laugh.

The Wine

Casillero del Diablo…the Devil’s cellar. Sounds scary. The name comes from a story started by Don Melchor Concha y Toro who founded Viña Concha y Toro in 1883. After having wine stolen from his cellar at Pirque in the Maipo Valley, the Don started a story that the cellar was haunted by the devil to prevent further loss. Pretty clever.

Casillero del Diablo is one of several labels made by the large Chilean producer Concha y Toro and twelve varietal wines are produced under the Casillero del Diablo label. In 2015 five million cases of Casillero del Diablo were exported world-wide.  The artistic bottle design is new for the 2015 bottling of the Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz rosé. I like it.

CasillerodelDiabloSauvBlanc2015 Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blancpale yellow in the glass with citrusy, gooseberry aromas and flavors along with a bit of dried hay and a salty, juicy finish. The aromas immediately identify this wine as Sauvignon Blanc. If you enjoy a more grassy style of the variety, then this wine is right up your alley. Very refreshing. 13% abv.

The Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from the Casablanca, Rapel and Limari wine regions. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel before bottling.



2015 Casillero del Diablo Rosélight salmon-pink in the glass with generous mixed berry aromas. Flavors of blackberries and strawberries combine with a subtle earthiness, bright acidity and a citrusy finish. Flavors are fairly long lasting. 13% abv.

The Shiraz is grown in the Central Valley wine region of Chile and fermentation in stainless steel produces a bright, fruit forward wine.

The Pairing

Both wines paired surprisingly well with our enchiladas and beans. The grassiness of the Sauvignon Blanc was reduced significantly with the food pairing which was a good thing for me, as that style of Sauvignon Blanc is not my favorite. It paired well with both versions of the enchiladas (with and without meat) but it really shined with the meatless version. It was my favorite pairing.

The Shiraz rosé was my favorite wine to sip by itself. When paired with the enchiladas, it was stellar with the meat enchiladas. The earthy, savory lamb flavors played nicely with the subtle earthiness of the rosé. Really, a lovely pairing. It was Pete’s favorite wine with our meal.

Thanks to Lori for the great pairing idea and for the nudge I needed to give Mom’s enchiladas a try. Next time through the recipe, I think they will be perfect. They might even meet with Mom’s approval.

Thanks to the folks at Creative Palate Communications and to Casillero del Diablo for sending two delicious wines our way. At about $11 per bottle, they are an affordable, delicious everyday drinking wine. And, as we discovered, they are versatile dining partners.

Here is what our fellow bloggers devised for their enchilada pairings for Wine Pairing Weekend. Happy reading.

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla will post about Prickly Pear-Pulled Pork Enchiladas with Prosecco

Cindy of Grape Experiences will post Wine and Dine: Condes de Albarei 2014 and Goat Cheese Enchiladas

David of Cooking Chat will be debating Wine for Enchiladas — Red or White?

Jeff of FoodWineClick will be running a Taste Test: Wines for Spicy Food.

Jill of L’occasion will feature Cooking with Wine: Chipotle Pinot Noir Enchiladas.

Meaghan of Un Assaggio of Wine, Wine & Marriage will be making Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas #winePW

Michelle of RockinRedBlog will be Exploring Enchiladas and Wine Pairings with WinePW

Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere will post Chicken and Cheese Entomatadas: Pairing Tomatoes with Wine

Wendy of A Day in the Life on a Farm will be talking about Elderberry Sangria

and Lori’s for Dracaena Wines will be Enchiladas and Trousseau Gris; Could It Be?

Please join us Saturday, May 14 at 8 am Pacific Time on Twitter (search for #winePW)  when we will be discussing our enchilada and wine pairings.  Even if you don’t have a blog, we’d be more than happy to have you join the conversation.

Next month our Wine Pairing Weekend group will be creating Rosé Pairings. Our food options are wide open for the June event.


Posted in #winePW, Reviews, Tasting Notes, Wine Pairing | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Silver Trident Winery: Wine Tasting at Home

Let me set the scene for you. White roses frame the Silver Trident Winery sign which hangs at the lattice-shaded entrance to the home. Your tasting experience begins with a warm welcome and a glass of chilled Silver Trident Apollo’s Folly Rosé of Pinot Noir as you are shown into the elegantly furnished living room. You sink into the Jamaica Salon Sofa and notice the Pall Mall Cocktail Table is set with three wine glasses.

As you contemplate the pleasing combination of delicate berry flavors, stony minerality and juicy finish of the Silver Trident Rosé, a plate of small bites is presented to you. Each of the four small bites has been created to pair with a specific Silver Trident wine which, over the next half-hour or so, will be poured for you.

If this doesn’t sound like your usual wine tasting experience, you are not alone. It was quite a unique experience for us as well. We were recently treated to a tasting of five Silver Trident wines along with four food pairings at the Silver Trident Tasting Home in Yountville. With Beth as our guide, we learned about the Silver Trident Winery and how the Tasting Home idea developed. She explained the details of each wine as she poured it and described the accompanying food pairing. All in the comfort of a living room setting.

The Idea

Bob Binder and Walter Jost are the founders of Silver Trident Winery in the Napa Valley. Together with winemaker Kari Auringer they produce small-lot wines sourced from Napa and Sonoma fruit in a style that is food friendly and capable of aging gracefully. The current 1800-case production is made at the Laird Custom Crush facility in Napa. 2009 was their first vintage.

The idea for the Silver Trident Winery Tasting Home came about as a result of Bob Binder’s business association with Ralph Lauren Home. Bob is also co-owner of Oceana Cruises. While working with Ralph Lauren Home on the redecoration of the staterooms aboard the cruise ships he learned Ralph Lauren Home was looking for an opportunity to open a northern California showroom. That got him to thinking about the possibility of offering wine tasting in a home setting.

Wine tasting in the town of Yountville is a unique experience because the Yountville Town Council requires wine tasting rooms in town to use at least 25% of their floor space for retail sales of items other than wine. You will find wine tasting rooms in town that also include wine accessories, artwork, antiques and even cookware.

Yountville seemed the perfect place to combine Bob and Walter’s Silver Trident wines with Ralph Lauren Home furnishings. You won’t find a wine bar in the Silver Trident Winery Tasting Home. All tasting areas are seated. There are three tasting areas in the downstairs portion of the home: a living room, dining room and library which can accommodate larger groups. Tasters are free to visit each room of the home, wine glass in hand, to taste and shop. Essentially everything in the fully furnished rooms may be purchased.

In a home setting wine is always enjoyed with food, so to complete the idea Silver Trident collaborated with chef Sarah Scott to create food pairings for each of their wines. Sarah has been cooking in the Napa Valley since the early 1980s and has developed a talent for food and wine pairings. She is the co-author of a cookbook with Connie Green titled The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food.

The Pairings

SilverTridentSauvBlanc2014 Symphony No. 9 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc paired with labdah. The Sauvignon Blanc tends toward mineral and tropical fruit flavors, with bright acidity and a nice weight in the mouth thanks to partial aging in French oak and time spent on the lees. 14.2% abv. $28.

The labdah, a blend of preserved lemon, chèvre, Greek yogurt, herbs, sea salt and black pepper, was a delightful pairing with the Sauvignon Blanc. The citrusy, creamy flavors of the labdah accentuated the tropical fruit and stony minerality of the Sauvignon Blanc.

SilverTridentPinotNoir2013 Benevolent Dictator Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir paired with cremini mushroom duxelle. The Pinot Noir has generous earthy, berry bramble and dark fruit aromas are followed by flavors of red berries, earth and a bit of spice. The tannins are smooth and the wine finishes with lively acidity. The aromas led me to expect a riper style of Pinot, but this was a lovely bright version of the variety. 14.1% abv. $55.

The duxelle, a combination of chopped cremini mushrooms sautéed with red wine braised onion, truffle salt, garlic, onion, olive oil and lemon juice, was rich and earthy. The flavors reflected the earthiness of the Pinot Noir and the nice acidity of the wine was a pleasing contrast to the richness of the duxelle.

SilverTridentRedBlend2012 Playing With Fire Napa Valley Red Blend paired with a cheese spread on crostini. The name for this wine comes from the non-traditional blend: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Malbec and 20% Syrah. The color is inky dark ruby-violet in the glass. Generous dark fruit and spice combine with herbal aromas and hints of asphalt. Flavors are extremely complex with lingering savory notes and significant tannins. The finish is quite long. 14.5% abv. $45.

The cheese spread is the chef’s version of that Southern invention, pimento cheese — only better. It is made with aged gouda, cream cheese,  piquillo peppers and (of course) mayo. The creamy flavors pair perfectly with the rich fruit flavors of the wine and soften the tannins in the wine. The piquillo pepper flavors echo the savory notes in the wine and pair nicely.

SilverTridentCabernet2012 Twenty Seven Fathoms Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a savory shortbread. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the Beckstoffer Vineyard as well as from Bob and Walter’s own Cabernet vineyard in St. Helena. Medium to dark ruby in the glass with generous dark fruit, red fruit and earthy aromas. The flavors follow the aromas with the addition of spice, leather and herbal notes. The tannins are smooth and well-integrated with a long finish. Lovely, complex flavors without being too ripe. 14.1% abv. $85.

The aged gouda and thyme shortbread cookie is rich, buttery, a bit nutty, salty and delicately herbed. The richness of the cookie pairs beautifully with the rich flavors of the Cabernet and the clean acidity of the wine. I wanted to ask for a second cookie in the worst way.

I used to feel that tasting wine without food was the only way to gain a true understanding of a wine’s flavor and complexity. Recently, though, I have had several wine tasting experiences that included food and am having to rethink my point of view. This was one of those experiences. Savory food pairings with wine work very well for me as long as I taste the wine first, concentrating on those flavors before tasting the food and wine together. It is always good to keep an open mind.


The Silver Trident Winery team has succeeded in creating a relaxing, fun environment in which to taste their wines. As we tasted through the wine and food pairings, we heard laughter coming from the other tasting rooms. Occasionally another taster would stroll into the living room. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones enjoying our tasting experience. Retail therapy along with food and wine pairings appears to be a winning combination.

Thanks to the folks at Silver Trident Winery for the great wine tasting experience. You will find the necessary details to plan a visit on the Silver Trident Winery website.


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Pink Wines from Bonny Doon Vineyard: Deliberately Different Rosé

If a winemaker’s production includes rosé, it’s often just one. Many winemakers don’t even make rosé. Bonny Doon Vineyard is a bit of an overachiever in this regard. The winery’s current list includes six wines under their clever heading Pink Wines of the Earth.

Being huge fans of pink wines ourselves, Pete and I were thrilled to receive four wines recently from Bonny Doon Vineyard as tasting samples. We unpacked the wines, lined them up and took a look. Distinctly different. We approached this tasting without doing any reading beyond the wine bottle labels, which admittedly contain quite a bit of information. We wanted just enough information to guide our menu choices in preparing food to accompany the wines.


We tend to be grazers, and are just as happy eating a variety of small dishes as we are a complete meal. We prepared four small plates to pair with the wines. As luck would have it, each wine paired particularly well with a different dish.

The Wine & Food

2015VinGrisdeCigare2015 Vin Gris de Cigarelightly copper in color, with delicate peach aromas and hints of spice. Citrusy flavors combine with peaches and berries and a stony minerality which lingers through the finish. This wine is light in the mouth, juicy and refreshing. 13.5% abv. $18.

Just looking at the color of this wine makes me think of the south of France and brings to mind the stories told by our friends who have visited the region. A warm afternoon, a light lunch in the shade of a tree and a bottle of vin gris. Sign me up!

This vin gris is a blend of Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Carignane, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Roussanne. The juice of the red varieties in this blend were allowed only minimal skin contact, resulting the delicate color. This wine is not a by-product of red wine production. The grapes were harvested and vinified to produce this style of wine.

The delicate flavors of this wine paired nicely with our Morel Crostini. The morel and leek mixture was sautéed in butter along with fresh thyme. Each crostini was smeared with goat cheese before adding the sautéed morel mixture. Sweet, buttery and only a bit earthy, the fresh morels are much more mild in flavor than their dried counterparts. The goat cheese was a bit tart and creamy. Delicious with the bright acidity of the Vin Gris de Cigare.

2015AProperPink2015 A Proper Pinklight raspberry in color with distinctly herbaceous and earthy aromas. Floral elements sneak into the aromas as well. Earthy and delicately herbaceous flavors combine with dark fruit flavors and a suggestion of leather. Nice acidity and a hint of tannins linger on the finish which is medium in length. Almost like a red wine masquerading as a rosé. 13% abv. $16.

Tannat and Cabernet Franc play well together in this rosé. Limited skin contact produces the lovely color and I’m guessing that hint of tannin comes from the Tannat. I love Cabernet Franc, and definitely taste the flavors of the variety in this wine. I would drink this wine any day of the week.

We discovered a very proper pairing of this wine with Afghan Dumplings. Each little dumpling contained scallions sautéed in butter. A dollop of garlicky, minty yogurt topped each dumpling. Ground lamb, seasoned with onions, paprika and coriander then simmered with tomato sauce, completed the dish. The Proper Pink had plenty of flavor to match the dumplings. Really delicious pairing.

2015IlCiliegioloRosato2015 Il Ciliegiolo Rosatotranslucent ruby in the glass. Cranberry and cherry aromas combine with a bit of earth to produce an intoxicating nose. Black cherry and raspberry flavors are out front, but there is an intriguing savory note just behind them. I’m a sucker for savory every time. The finish is medium in length, juicy and flavorful. 12.4% abv. $24.

Initially I thought Ciliegiolo was a proprietary name for the blend, but no, it is the name of the grape variety. I had never heard of it, and had no idea how to pronounce it (here’s the pronunciation.) A quick look at Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al. provided this concise characterization of the variety:

Cherry-flavoured Italian red with untapped potential, especially in Toscana. Parent of Sangiovese.

This is the darkest of the rosés in this tasting, and the most intriguing. The savory notes in this wine made me think of some of the savory red wines I’ve enjoyed from the south of France, more than any Italian wine I’ve tasted. No matter, it is an interesting and delicious wine.

I have often read that asparagus and wine is a difficult pairing. I find this not to be the case, if you are clever enough to include a salty, cured pork product in the preparation. In this case I wrapped each asparagus spear with a slice of dry coppa (also called capocollo) before oven roasting them. Not too fatty, but very flavorful and the flavor of the roasted asparagus is much less herbaceous than the steamed version. A delicious pairing with the Il Ciliegiolo Rosato.

2013VinGrisTuile2013 Vin Gris Tuiléslightly cloudy, pale yellow to apricot color in the glass with generous oxidative and curry aromas. Flavors follow the aromas with a sherry-like nuttiness, curry and earth. The flavors are bold and the finish a bit salty. This wine makes me salivate and then contemplate. Don’t bother me when I’m drinking this wine. 13% abv. $26.

The most unique wine of the group, this Vin Gris Tuilé won’t be to everyone’s liking, but I found it really interesting. It would be very nice after a meal, though it paired nicely with the hummus we made. Mild garlic, cumin and cinnamon flavors in the hummus were perfect with the oxidative flavors of the Vin Gris Tuilé.

The unique flavors of this Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Cinsault, Carignane, Grenache Blanc blend are not accidental. The wine is aged for 9 months outside, yes out of doors, in glass carboys. The sun and the elements produce the oxidative flavors in the wine. It is one of the most unique and interesting wines I’ve tried in some time.

Wow. Interesting and delicious. Four wines, four distinct styles and flavor profiles. Surely, there is a rosé for everyone in this group of thoughtfully made wines. Check the winery website, and beyond, for these wines.

Many thanks to the folks at Bonny Doon Vineyards for sending the tasting samples our way.


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Getting to Know Jordan Vineyard & Winery: A Hike Among the Vines

Jordan Vineyard & Winery, located in the Alexander Valley just north of Healdsburg, has always done things a bit differently. It started with the design and construction of their 58,000 square foot winery inspired by the great chateaux that Tom and Sally Jordan visited during their travels in France. It has taken 40 years to grow into the enormous building, described by the Jordans as a winery chateau. The chateau includes wine production, tasting and dining areas, a kitchen, guest suites and offices. Everything is under one roof. The footprint is established and will not be enlarged.

The wine tasting experience at Jordan is as unique as the winery chateau. It is uncrowded and unhurried.  Wine tastings are always paired with food, because that is how wine is meant to be enjoyed. Winery tours are available along with tastings, as are estate tours which take full advantage of the bucolic setting. Reservations are required and groups are small, both of which assure a quality experience at Jordan.

A new addition to the tasting experiences at Jordan Winery is a series of vineyard hikes beginning on April 30. I was among a group of writers invited to preview the vineyard hike on a recent Saturday morning. The weather was warm and sunny and the vineyards were green with spring growth. The hike provided an opportunity to learn about Jordan’s history and farming practices and to enjoy the beauty of the wide open spaces surrounding the vineyards.

Our hike began at Jordan’s Vista Point, the highest point on the 1200-acre property. Homemade yogurt, fruit, granola bars and fresh-squeezed orange juice were waiting for us. Served alongside the continental breakfast were expansive views of the rolling hills, vineyards, olive orchard and the valley beyond.

Only 112 acres of the property are planted to vineyards, with the first plantings beginning in the 1990s. The vineyards are farmed sustainably and will be certified as such very soon.  As we walked between vineyard blocks we learned about the importance of cover crops, about grafting and sucker removal which was being done by a crew as we walked through one vineyard. The work in a vineyard is constant and ever-changing, following the development of the grapevines through the seasons.

Beyond the sound of our own voices, there were only the sounds of nature — the occasional cry of a hawk overhead or the sound of wild turkeys calling to each other. The olive orchard, which totals 18 acres, was alive with sound. At first I heard only the cicadas, but as I stood and listened I noticed the constant chatter of birds competing with the cicadas.

The hike, around 3 miles in length, moved at a comfortable pace with several breaks for water. Our final stop, before returning to the chateau via the vegetable gardens, was at Seven Oaks, a lovely shady area beside one of the lakes on the property. Yep, you guessed it, seven oak trees shade the area.

Jordan’s kitchen garden includes a variety of fruit trees, several kinds of berries and many  seasonal plantings. Chef Todd Knoll designed the garden and it is the inspiration for his fresh, seasonal dishes which are paired the Jordan wines. Bee hives are a recent addition to the garden area which also includes chickens and a pair of adorable miniature donkeys.

A delicious buffet lunch was waiting for us on the shaded terrace of the chateau. Charcuterie, assorted cheeses, pâté, fruit, assorted bread and Jordan olive oil were but a few of the delicacies we enjoyed along with 2014 Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay and 2012 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lunch was a perfect ending to an enjoyable morning spent hiking among the vines and rolling hills of the Jordan estate. It was a pleasure to walk among the vines that produce Jordan’s Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and have a peek behind the scenes at Jordan Vineyard & Winery.

Details for upcoming vineyard hikes are on the Jordan Vineyard & Winery website. The hikes will provide yet another way to get to know Jordan. The vineyards and surrounding hillsides will change with the season, providing different hiking experiences. Food pairings will change with the season as well, creating unique and delicious pairings with the Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. One constant will remain, however. Unparalleled hospitality. You will always be able to count on that at Jordan Vineyard & Winery, regardless of the season.


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Cycles Gladiator: More Than an Eye-Catching Label

The label on a wine bottle is a consumer’s first introduction to a wine. Some wineries take a conservative approach, others not so much. I think by anyone’s standard the wine bottle label for Cycles Gladiator falls squarely in the not so much category. The name and image, seen below, come from a Belle Époque-era ad for a bicycle of the same name.

She is described as a nude nymph, floating alongside a bicycle with wings. The poster was created in Paris in 1895. This style of bicycle ad, featuring women, was common at the time and the ads were aimed at women. The bicycle was seen as liberating for women, allowing them to travel independently and conveniently. In 1895 these advertisements must have been shocking. Provocative, I think, applies to the image today. Certainly the label gets the bottle noticed, which is the whole idea.

In 2009 the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board was not so impressed when the label was submitted to the state for approval. No dice, the board declared, it was rejected in the state on the grounds that it violated regulations that prohibit wine advertisement featuring “any person(s) posed in an immodest or sensuous manner.” Well, OK, I guess the Alabama folks weren’t swayed by the fact that the label had been approved by the TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), they weren’t having it in their state. Fine, that’s their prerogative, but it’s too bad for wine lovers in the state, because the wine is delicious and the price, like the label, is very attractive.

We recently joined a discussion with Cycles Gladiator winemaker Adam LaZarre during which Adam talked about his wines and the winemaking process. We received four Cycles Gladiator wines as tasting samples.

Re-focusing the Brand

The Cycles Gladiator wine brand was developed in 2005, when Adam was winemaker at Hahn Estates, as a value brand for Central Coast fruit. The brand grew, and after Adam left Hahn Estates the label went in another direction, focusing on Central Valley fruit, eventually changing the original label design.

Several years ago Adam was approached by Dennis Carroll, who through his company Wine Hooligans had purchased Cycles Gladiator with the intention of restoring the brand to its original focus. Adam was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the brand he was instrumental in founding. In addition to making the Cycles Gladiator wines again, Adam is making other Wine Hooligan labels.

As a resident of Paso Robles, Adam feels a special connection to Central Coast fruit and is happy to be working with some of the same vineyard properties as he did when he first developed Cycles Gladiator. The current focus is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Merlot.

The Wines

Cycles-Gladiator-Chard2014 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Chardonnaymedium yellow in the glass with generous tropical fruit aromas. The flavors are tropical along with notes of grapefruit, stone fruit and spice. The wine has nice acidity and a bit of weight in the mouth with a medium-long finish. 13.5% abv. $10.99

This 100% Chardonnay exhibits plenty of fruit flavor with just enough oak influence to add interest. Adam uses three vineyard sources for the Chardonnay, two of which he described as bookends to Wente vineyards in the Livermore Valley. The 2014 vintage produced large crop of high quality fruit — a winemaker’s dream.

In the wine cellar, a long cold fermentation took place largely in tank, with just 15% moved to one-year-old barrels. About 50% of the wine was allowed to go through malolactic fermentation to add flavor and texture. A small amount of new French and American oak was used for aging.

Cycles-Gladiator-PinotNoir2014 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Pinot Noirmedium ruby-garnet in the glass with earthy, blackberry bramble aromas. The flavors follow with ripe blackberries, cranberries, a bit of earth and berry bramble. Tannins are smooth and well-integrated with the flavors. The finish is medium in length. 13.5% abv. $10.99

The wine is 100% Pinot Noir and unmistakably Pinot Noir in terms of both aroma and flavor. Two vineyard sites are blended for flavor and balance. The Chualar (pronounced choo-lar) Canyon Vineyard is located in northern Monterey County. Pinot Noir from this site is light in color, perfumed and acid driven. As a counter balance to the delicacy of this fruit, the Los Alamos Vineyard near Santa Barbara yields fruit with intense flavor and color.

When it came time to blend the Pinot Noir, Adam reached out to Facebook friends to determine the style of the final wine. Overwhelmingly, the vote tended toward a lighter, more delicate style over a heavier, riper Pinot Noir.

Cycles-Gladiator-CabSavignon2014 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon medium ruby-violet color in the glass with dark fruit and earthy aromas. Red and dark fruit flavors combine with an earthy component, subtle herbal notes and smooth tannins. It took this wine a bit of time to come alive in the glass, gaining complexity as it did. 13.5% abv. $10.99

Most of the grapes were sourced from Collier Canyon Vineyard located on a hillside above the Livermore Valley. Yield in the vineyard is only 2-3 tons per acre. Because of the steep incline, the vineyard must be hand harvested and picking took place over a one-month period, beginning with less ripe fruit to lend and acidity and ending with riper, plummy fruit.

This Cabernet is versatile and food friendly. It’s not too ripe and the wood influence is restrained which should make this wine a crowd pleaser. Once again, the fruit is sourced from multiple vineyard sites to gain complexity, balance and flavor. The final blend is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot to broaden flavor in the mid-palate and 8% Syrah to add red fruit flavors.

Fun fact: coming soon to a Michigan Starbucks near you…Cycles Gladiator Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cycles-Gladiator-PetiteSirah2014 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Petite Sirahinky dark-ruby color in the glass with ripe red berry aromas. Very ripe blackberry, raspberry and blueberry fruit flavors combine very grippy tannins. There is nothing shy about this wine. It screams for grilled meat. 15% abv. $10.99

By Adam’s description Petite Sirah can be intense, aggressive and one dimensional, no matter where it is grown. (He described it as blueberry motor oil that will stain your soul!) For that reason, he believes blending PS with a cool-weather Syrah is essential to produce a balanced wine. To that end, this Petite Sirah is blended with 18% Syrah from the Rancho Arroyo Grande Vineyard which lends cracked pepper and raspberry components to the wine according to LaZarre. The Petite Sirah is sourced from two Livermore Valley sites and one site from Paso Robles.

This wine sees a bit more oak aging with 15 months spent in 50% new American and French oak, with the balance in neutral oak. Go big or go home is my description of this Petite Sirah. Those who love a riper more oaky style of red wine will love this one.

The 2014 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Merlot was too recently bottled to be included with these tasting samples. My favorites in this group of wines are the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir, but all will appeal to many wine drinkers. At $10.99 these wines are a real bargain. And then there’s the whole “nude nymph” thing, which will be a conversation starter at any gathering.

Thanks to Adam for the fun hour of wine talk and wine tasting. We learned a lot and Alex Fondren from Charles Communications Associates kept the conversation moving with grace and an ever-constant smile. Well done!


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Scallops, Spring Veggies + a White CDP for #winePW

The theme for this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend came from Jill Barth who’s beautiful blog, L’occasion, chronicles her interest in wine. The timing of Jill’s choice of themes, Spring Pairings for Southern Rhône Wines was perfect for us. March is about when I venture out to our local Farmers Market again after a winter pause. I look forward to this time of year at the Market because it is when peas make their brief appearance. I almost never come home from the Market without them when they are available.

The San Joaquin Delta region is home to many asparagus farms which begin to produce this time of year as well, not to mention spring onions and tender fennel. As I walked through the Farmers Market considering ingredients, I was inspired to create a salad for this month’s pairing. Pete suggested adding seared scallops to the dish, which was brilliant. That wrapped up our food choices, next we moved on to the wine.

When I think southern Rhône wine, my first thought turns to red blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Vacqueyras is one of my favorite appellations. But, for this spring pairing I wanted a white wine. The southern Rhône is home to many delicious white varieties like Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne, so I hoped finding one locally would be possible in spite of the fact that wine production in the region is overwhelmingly red. Pete checked our wine cellar, no white Rhône wines there. We made a quick call to a local wine merchant, and voilà — two white wines from the southern Rhône to choose from. We bought them both and decided to use the white Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) for this pairing.

The Food

Fresh peas, fennel, asparagus and celery were the main ingredients for our salad. Pete used our mandoline slicer to (carefully) slice the fennel and asparagus. I thinly chopped the tender, inner stalks and leaves of a head of celery and shelled the peas. I quickly blanched the peas, fennel and asparagus and set them aside. Using walnut oil, fresh lemon juice, diced spring onions and just a tiny dollop of Dijon mustard I whisked together a dressing for the salad. Next I sautéed the scallops, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, in a combination of butter and olive oil.

To assemble the salad I mixed the peas, fennel, asparagus and celery together and poured the dressing over them. I tossed the mixture gently and garnished it with lemon zest and a sprinkling of salt. All that was left to do was add the sautéed scallops.

Oh my gosh this was good. Neither of us said a word for the longest time as we dug into this beautiful and delicious meal. The various shades of green in the salad were beautiful. The peas were sweet, the asparagus herbaceous and the fennel delicately anise flavored. The nutty flavor of the walnut oil added richness and the citrus zest added a pop of freshness and so much flavor. The scallops were salty and rich, perfectly tender and browned.

The Wine

Clos-LaRoquete2014 Frédéric & Daniel Brunier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “Clos La Roquète” light yellow in the glass. Dry stone and mineral flavors dominate with just a hint of melon in the background. The wine has bright acidity with a nice weight in the mouth. The flavors are long lasting with a bit of spice on the finish. I wouldn’t describe this wine as fruity, but it is by no means lacking in flavor. It is an interesting and contemplative wine. 13.5% abv.

This lovely CDP blanc is a blend of 33% Roussanne, 33% Clairette, 34% Grenache Blanc. The grapes were hand harvested, pressed and fermented in barriques and demi-muids (600-liter barrels.) The wine was then aged on the lees and bottled after 10 months.

Frédéric & Daniel Brunier are the current caretakers of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, the family’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard and winery first established in 1891. Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe has become synonymous with quality wine production from  Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the U.S. importer has an interesting account if the family history on their website. Be certain to watch Kermit Lynch talk about Vieux Télégraph in the short video located on the same page.

La Roquète is produced from a 29-hectare vineyard the family purchased in 1986, known as La Roquette at the time. The importer’s description of the vineyard:

“In Châteauneuf, for many the greatest appellation of the southern Rhône, vineyard specificity plays a role almost as critical as it does in Burgundy. Geography here is as important as geology. La Roquète sits on prime real estate at the foot of the Piélong plateau, north of the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and adjacent to the western end of the famous Le Rayas vineyard. Galets roulés scatter the vineyard floor, but the primarily sandy soils impart great finesse to the wine. The Bruniers recommend drinking the white young for its freshness and elegance, but it can also evolve for several years if so desired.”

Fresh and elegant, a perfect description of this wine.

The idea for the AOC system in France (a designation of quality based on production standards and geographical designation that is applied to wine and other agricultural products) originated in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the region was one of the first so designated. For an excellent history of the region complete with maps and production details, visit the Côtes du Rhône and Rhône Valley AOC website.

The Pairing

One of our favorites! I think the key to this pairing is that none of the flavors were overpowering. The flavors of the salad were perfectly balanced. I debated whether or not I should blanch the asparagus and fennel. I tasted both ahead of time and decided a quick blanching would soften the texture slightly and develop the flavor of both. I think it was the right decision. Blanching the vegetables somehow allowed all of the flavors to blend easily but remain distinct. The walnut oil dressing added richness and flavor. I was careful not to use too much dressing, that might have overpowered the flavors of the salad. Pairing the salad with rich, buttery scallops was the perfect contrast to the vegetables.

The wine had sufficient flavor and body to match the flavors of the food without either overpowering the food or being overpowered by the food. I was a bit concerned that the asparagus might not pair well with the wine, but that was not the case. It was a very enjoyable meal.

Thanks, Jill, for the inspiration to create this beautiful pairing. You can read about the pairings the rest of our Wine Pairing Weekend group created in their blog posts listed below.


Jeff from Food Wine Click: Rabbit and Rhône

Michelle from Rockin Red Blog: Springtime in the Southern Rhône with #winePW

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Braised Boar Shanks With Bitter Herb Salad + Vacqueyras Beaumirail

David from Cooking Chat: Kale Pesto Tilapia with Wine from Southern Rhône

Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog: A Tavel Paired with Spring BBQ #WinePW

Meaghan from Un Assaggio: Grilled Rack of Lamb + Arnoux & Fils Vieux Clocher #winePW

Cindy from Grape Experiences : Wine and Dine: Rosé from Costières de Nîmes and Rack of Lamb with Rosemary

Sarah and Tim from Curious Cuisiniere: Escalivada (Spanish Roasted Vegetables) paired with South Rhône Rosé

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm: Wine Pairing Weekend Celebrates Spring

Kirsten from The Armchair Sommelier: The High Crime of Mushroom Substitution

Jill from L’occasion: (me, with my husband Jason as the chef): Welcome Spring with Fresh Food & Le Ferme Du Mont Côtes du Rhône

David of Cooking Chat started this event in June of 2014, and every month since then this group of wine and food lovers have had a great time! For more background, check out the original post announcing Wine Pairing Weekend. For a list of past and upcoming #winePW event, visit the Wine Pairing Weekend calendar here. We’d love to have you online with us!

Join us as we share blog posts and experience live Twitter chat at 8 a.m. Pacific Time on Saturday, April 9, 2016.

Anyone interested is encouraged to join in the chat: food-lovers, travel-nuts, winemakers, Rhône residents, wine-lovers…please join us with the hashtag #winePW.


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Ritual Wines: Connected to the Land in Casablanca Valley, Chile

The casual wine drinker may not give dirt much thought, but rest assured winemakers think a lot about it. Every winemaker I have asked about the soil types in their vineyards knows the exact composition and variation within specific vineyard blocks. Talk to a winemaker using grapes grown organically or biodynamically and the discussion moves to a higher level. Terms like soil fertility, composting, tilling and cover crops become part of the conversation. Building the soil naturally to promote self-sustained fertility replaces talk of the use commercial fertilizers.

We recently sat in on a discussion with winemaker Rodrigo Soto, who is directing the organic (and ultimately biodynamic) conversion of multiple Chilean estates owned by Huneeus Vintners. Ritual Wines, located in Chile’s Casablanca Valley, was the focus of this discussion which included a tasting of three wines produced by Ritual Wines which we received as tasting samples. The informative discussion included a bit of history as well as details of the vineyard practices and techniques used by Rodrigo in the wine cellar.

Location, Dirt & Farming Practices


Map from

Chile’s Casablanca Valley is a coastal region located west of Santiago. Summer days are warm and dry, evenings are very cool thanks to the cooling breezes blowing inland off the cold Humboldt current in the Pacific Ocean. A t-shirt will do nicely on a summer day, but you will need a sweater in the evening. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are very happy growing in this cooler region.

In the 1990s, when Agustin Huneeus purchased an 800-acre ranch in the remote coastal area, it was home primarily to sheep ranches and dairies. It was unknown which grape varieties would thrive in the area. Huneeus initiated plantings of a variety of grapes on his ranch to see what would succeed in this unmapped region. He built a winery and winemaking followed.

Decomposed granite is a major component of the variable soil types within the valley. Largely, these soil types are low in fertility. A farmer using conventional practices would enrich the soil with commercial fertilizers. Not so in the Ritual vineyards. Organic farming practices are followed which include composting, cover crop management and tilling. According to Rodrigo, conventional fertilizers cause rapid growth of the vines, which increases the vine’s demand for water, but does not promote the development of the vine’s root system. Hot weather and a lack of water can result in stress to the vines leaving them unable to respond accordingly.

Organic practices enrich the soil by recycling manure and pomace (from winemaking) into the soil to build soil fertility and encourage root development. That root development is the essence of the grape vine’s ability to not only respond to the stresses of changing weather, but to also reflect a sense of place in terms of flavor, according to Rodrigo.

He is quick to admit he has no hard science to back his claim, but he knows from experience that organically-farmed grape vines react better to the stresses of heat. As he puts it, “Organic vineyards age with grace,” resulting in vines that are naturally able to adapt to changing weather. And Rodrigo has noticed an increase in the number of hot days in the Casablanca Valley.

One more note on vine roots. With the exception of some experimental plantings made on various rootstocks, the vineyards at Ritual are own-rooted. Rodrigo feels that own-rooted vines have a greater capacity to produce fruit reflective of the site. This topic is an emerging science and one that has not escaped his attention.

The conversion to organic farming practices is complete in the Ritual vineyards. The certification process takes three years to complete and Rodrigo expects certification after the 2016 harvest.

Winemaking & Wine

The primary goal of winemaking at Ritual Wines is to produce wine that reflects the Casablanca Valley site. Rodrigo believes farming organically produces the best aromatics and preserves bright flavors in the grapes. Then, in the wine cellar he does his best to preserve the aromatics and build on the flavors. He utilizes only native yeast fermentations which tend to be longer and cooler than those initiated with a large dose of commercial yeast. The result, Rodrigo believes, is a softer wine (in the case of red wines less tannic) and wine more reflective of the site. Winemaking includes the use of stainless steel, concrete eggs and neutral oak for fermentation followed by judicious oak aging.

2015-Ritual-Sauvignon-Blanc2015 Ritual Sauvignon Blanclight yellow in the glass with complex aromas that are a blend of dried hay with delicate floral and tropical notes. The flavors follow the aromas and include pleasing minerality, dried hay and hints of white flowers. The finish is a bit salty, which is interesting, and flavors last a very long time with juicy acidity. 14% abv. SRP $17.99

Sauvignon Blanc thrives in the warmer areas of the Casablanca Valley. It is planted in three vineyard sites on the estate, each lending unique aromatic and flavor qualities. Fermentation takes place in 30% neutral oak barrels, 30% concrete eggs and 40% stainless steel. The combination of concrete and neutral oak builds texture in the wine and assures ageability in the bottle.

2015-Ritual-Chardonnay2015 Ritual Chardonnaystraw yellow in the glass with citrusy and toasty aromas. Mainly citrus flavors combine with a hint of ripe pear, nice body and weight in the mouth, bright acidity and a fairly long finish. 14% abv. SRP $19.99

Chardonnay is planted in the warmer locations within the Ritual vineyards – on north-facing slopes in the Southern Hemisphere. Soils are decomposed granite mixed with clay, so the roots can easily penetrate it. Warmer locations help develop flavors in the fruit, but the low fertility of the soil keeps the fruit from becoming too sweet.

Fermentation takes place in 20% concrete egg, the balance in neutral oak. Oak is used to augment flavor and develop texture, but without trampling the fruity character of the Chardonnay.

2015-Ritual-Pinot-Noir2015 Ritual Pinot Noirbright ruby in the glass with dark fruit and toasty aromas. Bright raspberry and blackberry flavors combine with nice acidity and a hint of vanilla. With time in the glass, this wine gains complexity with added flavors of dried alfalfa and subtle smoke. Tannins are smooth and well integrated into the flavors of the wine which is light to medium bodied. The finish is moderate, at least, in length. The longer this wine remained in the glass, the more I enjoyed the flavors. Give it time. 14% abv. $19.99

A variety of Pinot Noir clones are planted in the Ritual vineyards and Rodrigo seeks to produce a Pinot Noir with freshness and finesse. 20-25% whole clusters are used in open-top fermenters with careful attention to prevent over extraction. Less than 25% new oak is used in aging the Pinot Noir for 11 months. Over time, Rodrigo has decreased the length of oak aging, always tasting and learning in order to produce a Pinot Noir that is most expressive of the site.

Rodrigo returned to his native Chile four years ago after a number of years working in the California wine industry. During his time abroad he deepened his knowledge of the principles of organic and biodynamic farming, and learned a thing or two about soil. He is clearly very excited about the potential of organic and biodynamic farming, and thankful for the support of Mr. Huneeus in this venture. When the organic conversion is completed on all three of the Chilean properties Rodrigo currently directs, 1200 acres will be added to the total number of acres farmed organically in Chile. No small accomplishment.

One Last Point

It is not at all remarkable to me that Rodrigo succeeds in producing delicious wine in the Casablanca Valley of Chile, but I am very impressed he is able to do so at a price-point under $20 using organic and biodynamic practices. I admit a bias in favor of wines produced using these farming practices, but always the wine must be delicious as well – and affordable. When a winemaker succeeds on all three counts, it is noteworthy.

Many thanks to Rodrigo Soto for his time explaining the details of his farming practices and winemaking at Ritual Wines  and for the opportunity to sample the wines. As usual, the folks at Charles Communications Associates did an outstanding job distributing tasting samples and organizing the tasting.


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