Domaine du Théron Cahors: Malbec From Its Origins

If you are a casual wine drinker, or new to wine, you may associate Malbec with Argentina – and with good reason. More Malbec is produced in Argentina than anywhere else in the world today. Argentinian Malbec is fruity, easy to like and relatively inexpensive. And it’s widely available. But, dating back at least to the Middle Ages wine has been made from Malbec along the Lot River in southwest France near the village of Cahors. This Malbec is not so well known, and that’s a shame.

Malbec is, according to Jancis Robinson et al. in Wine Grapes, an old variety that likely developed around the area of southwest France near Cahors. Others suppose it developed elsewhere in France based on the many names by which the variety is known. No matter, Malbec flourished around Cahors and produced wines that were highly regarded.


Cahors AOC map from

This region of southwest France along the Lot River west of Cahors is blessed with cold winters and relatively warm, dry summers thanks to the influence of both the Atlantic and Mediterranean Oceans. This allows Malbec, which doesn’t thrive in cooler, rainy growing regions, to fully ripen. Malbec grown in this region is capable of producing very dark, concentrated wines with structure – wines that were referred to as the black wines of Cahors.

The Lot River joins the Garonne River which passes by Bordeaux and into the Gironde. Rivers meant relatively easy and fast transport (much faster than overland) centuries ago. That’s a plus unless the merchants in Bordeaux decide to levy a tax on your wine, which of course they did with the wines of Cahors. If the river eventually fills with silt and becomes unnavigable your transportation advantage is lost. This happened as well. What else could befall the region? Phylloxera. Beginning in the 1860s vineyards in the region were devastated by the pest. At least Cahors wasn’t the only region struck by the infestation. Just as the area was recovering it was hit by a severe frost in 1956 and only a fraction of vineyards survived.

If ever there was a case to be made for rooting for the underdog, surely it is for Cahors and its wine. You will definitely feel so once you’ve tasted the wine. At least that has been our experience.

We first tripped across a wine from Cahors in a wine shop back in 2010. We were unfamiliar with the region, so naturally we bought a bottle. That experience led us to collect several more. We quickly became fans of Malbec from this region in France.

Fast forward to June when we received an invitation to taste Domaine du Théron Cahors. I enthusiastically responded to the affirmative and soon a tasting sample arrived at our door.

DomaineDuTheronCahors2011 Domaine du Théron Cuvée Prestige Cahorsdense ruby in the glass with generous dark fruit aromas, hints of earth and smoke. Dark fruit flavors follow along with leather, earth and a bit of smoke. Hints of black tea float in the background. The tannins are significant and a bit grippy but well integrated into the complex flavors of the wine. The body is medium and the finish is moderate to long. This is a satisfying and complex red wine. 13% abv. SRP approximately $18. Natural cork closure.

Cahors AOC-designated wines must be at least 70% Malbec with the balance coming from Merlot or Tannat. Standards are set for yield in the vineyard as well. Domaine du Théron owner and winemaker, Didier Pelvillain, chooses to produce his Cuvée Prestige Cahors from 100% Malbec because he believes in the quality of his Malbec. The Malbec comes from the Domaine’s best parcels grown on a variety of soil types in the Lot valley.

Primary fermentation and malolactic fermentation take place in stainless steel. Oak aging, from a variety of coopers in one-third new oak, follows for 13 months. Bottle aging for an additional two years before release produces a wine with still ample, but settled tannins. It’s ready to drink now, but will be delicious for some time.

CahorsDinnerA bottle of Cahors calls for a braised dish to accompany it. I prepared boneless beef short ribs with mashed potatoes and glazed carrots. It was a welcome change from the lighter fare of summer and it paired perfectly with the 2011 Domaine du Théron Cuvée Prestige Cahors.

If you’ve not yet discovered the wines of Cahors put it on your list of things to do. Soon. It will be worth your while.

Thanks to the folks at Creative Palate Communications for reminding us just how delicious wine from Cahors can be. We appreciate receiving the tasting sample.


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Chateau Montelena Winery: Famous for Chardonnay, but Don’t Overlook the Cabernet Sauvignon

On May 24, 1976 Chateau Montelena’s fortunes changed for the better — and in a big way. Jim Barrett’s 1973 Chardonnay won the Judgement of Paris white wine competition. It wasn’t just any competition. The Judgement of Paris was organized as a blind tasting of California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon against France’s best Burgundy and Bordeaux. Not insignificantly the competition was in France and the judges were French.

Not only did Barrett’s Chardonnay win the Chardonnay competition, but the Cabernet Sauvignon competition was won by Warren Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. The wins put the individual wineries on the map and put Napa Valley on the wine map too. With an exclamation point.

That was 40 years ago. Today, Jim Barrett’s son Bo is CEO and Master Winemaker at Chateau Montelena. According to Bo the winemaking style at Chateau Montelena hasn’t changed over the years. The goal is still to make classically-styled wines that reflect Napa Valley. Chateau Montelena produces Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Riesling.

We recently received a tasting sample of Chateau Montelena’s 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It was our first taste of the winery’s Cabernet and although it wasn’t as historic a tasting as the Judgement of Paris it certainly made our day.

ChateauMontelenaCabernet2013 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignonmedium ruby in the glass. Generous plum and black cherry aromas become more complex over time with added scents of dried alfalfa. Dark fruit flavors of blackberries and black cherries combine with dusty earth and hints of leather. The tannins are a bit grippy initially, but quickly become smooth with time in the glass. The body is medium, the wine has bright acidity and the tannins are very well integrated with the flavors. 14.1% abv. $58. Natural cork closure.

This is a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon made in a restrained style, but certainly not lacking in flavor. It was a delicious dinner companion and would pair well with a variety of dishes. Braised pork or beef short ribs come to mind. Roasted chicken and vegetables would also be a delicious pairing.

The history of Chateau Montelena Winery reaches much further back than the Judgement of Paris. Alfred L. Tubbs, a successful businessman and state senator, purchased 254 acres north of Calistoga in 1882 and set about planting vineyards. The stone winery building was built into the hillside at the foot of Mount Saint Helena in 1888. The winery, then known as A. L. Tubbs Winery, was unique for several reasons. It was built of stone, rather than wood as was more common at the time, and it had an extensive cellar built into the hillside. Even in the early years of the winery there was a French connection — the first winemaker Tubbs hired was French.

Prohibition meant a discontinuation of wine production, but after Prohibition was repealed Tubbs’ grandson, Chapin Tubbs, began winemaking again for a few years. It was at this time the winery was renamed Chateau Montelena. After Chapin’s death in 1947 winemaking ceased.

The winery and overgrown grounds were purchased by Yort and Jeanie Frank in 1958 and they set about restoring the property. Inspired by their native Hong Kong the Franks created a lake and landscaped the grounds in a Chinese style. The lake, named Jade Lake, remains today.

In the early 1970s Jim Barrett purchased the winery and vineyards. The vineyards were cleared and replanted and the winery equipment was brought up to date. The first vintage under Barrett’s direction was 1972. He hired a winemaking team that included Miljenko “Mike” Grgich (he went on to found Grgich Hills Estate Winery in Rutherford) who made the award-winning 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. An interesting history.

Wine tasting as well as estate and vineyard tours are available at Chateau Montelena in Calistoga. Details are on the winery website.

We thank Calhoun & Company Communications and Chateau Montelena Winery for sending this tasting sample our way. We enjoyed the opportunity to discover the history of Chateau Montelena for ourselves.


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The Prosecco Lunch – It Should be ‘A Thing’

Few things make me as happy as a glass of bubbly. Bubbles are beautiful in the glass and I love that explosive sensation once I take a sip. Often we think of bubbles as a celebratory beverage, and certainly bubbles can make any occasion a celebration, but it isn’t necessary to wait for a celebration to enjoy a glass of bubbly. An enjoyable Prosecco we recently received as a tasting sample proved just that point.

Prosecco DOC – just the basics


Prosecco DOC Production Area map from Consorzio di Tutela del Prosecco DOC

Prosecco DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) is a sparkling wine that is made only in nine provinces in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions of northeastern Italy. The indigenous white grape, Glera, must comprise at least 85% of the blend with the balance coming only from other allowed indigenous and international varieties.

Prosecco DOC wines are produced with varying amounts of fizz: spumante is the most effervescent, frizzante a little less so and tranquillo is a still white wine bottled prior to the bubble-producing second fermentation.

One of the reasons Prosecco is so affordable is that the second fermentation generally takes place in pressurized tanks rather than individual bottles. The process is quicker, it doesn’t involve aging in individual bottles that must be handled multiple times over an extended period of time, and produces a more fruity sparkling wine that is meant to be enjoyed young. The result is an affordable sparkling wine that is appropriate before a meal or with a light meal. You will find Prosecco in a variety of styles from dry to sweet: brut, extra dry, dry or demi-sec (from driest to sweetest).

ProseccoLunchRiondo Prosecco Spago Neropale yellow in the glass and lightly effervescent. Aromas of dried hay and yellow apples are followed by mineral, apple and earthy flavors. The effervescence is lively, but soft. The wine finished with adequate acidity and little if any sweetness. It’s refreshing and enjoyable. 10.5% abv. SRP $14. Screw cap closure.

Prosecco Spago Nero is produced in the Veneto region from 100% Glera grapes. The vino frizzante is relatively dry and produced using the Charmat method described above. After a short, one-month bottle aging the Prosecco is released.

Lunch with Riondo Prosecco Spago Nero

An abundance of tomatoes in our garden inspired my Prosecco lunchtime pairing. It was simple and delicious. Toasted whole-wheat bread, smashed avocado spiced with salt, pepper and sriracha, yellow cherry tomatoes. That’s it. The toasted wheat bread provided texture, the avocado was rich and creamy and the yellow cherry tomatoes added a touch of sweetness and brilliant vine-ripened tomato flavors. For me, the key to the deliciousness of this sandwich is the perfectly ripe avocado and flavorful tomatoes. The spiciness of the sriracha was nicely balanced by the freshness of the Prosecco. The Riondo Prosecco Spago Nero provided just enough sparkle and flavor and not very much alcohol — an important consideration especially for a lunchtime meal.

Prosecco DOC wines are a reflection of northeastern Italy where they are enjoyed as an aperitivo (before dinner), with a meal or as an ingredient in a cocktail. If you haven’t tried Prosecco you definitely should. When you look for a Prosecco DOC wine read the label carefully where you will find Prosecco Denominazione di Origine Controllata declared with pride.

Thanks to Donna White Communications for sending this delicious Prosecco our way.


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Wines for Any Season from Ferraton Père et Fils

Ever have one of those evenings when you just don’t feel very decisive about the type of wine you want to drink? When the weather is very warm my choice is easy: white wine or rosé. As the weather cools I’m all in for red wines. It is during the in-between seasons that I feel most indecisive. I’m not ready to give up on white wine and rosé, but it may be too warm for a heavy red wine.

We recently received three wines as tasting samples made by long-time Rhône producer Ferraton Pére et Fils. It was as we tasted these wines over several evenings with a variety of food that I realized how versatile these wines are and how enjoyable they would be through several seasons.

The three wines we received are from the négociant range of wines produced by Ferraton Pére et Fils. The winery was founded in 1946 in Hermitage located in the northern Rhône Valley by Jean Orëns Ferraton. Jean’s son Michel expanded vineyard holdings and production through the 1960s and 70s. In the late-1990s, under the guidance of family friend Michel Chapoutier, family-owned vineyards were converted to organic and biodynamic viticultural practices. Today, Damien Brisset is in charge of winemaking which includes three ranges of wine: selection parcellaire (parcel selection), lieu-dit (named place) and tradition (blended, négociant wines). Ferraton Père et Fils Samorëns Côtes du Rhône wines are part of the négociant range of wines.

FerratonPereetFilsSamorensBlanc2015 Ferraton Père et Fils Samorëns Côtes du Rhône Blancpale yellow in the glass with earthy, delicate floral aromas. Stone fruit flavors mingle with dry-gravel minerality and a hint of dried hay. The wine has a nice weight in the mouth and a clean, crisp finish. 13.5% abv. $14. Cork closure.

This bright wine is a blend of 60% Grenache Blanc and 40% Clairette. If these grape varieties are unfamiliar to you here is the opportunity to introduce yourself. We enjoyed this wine with a mozzarella, dried fig, proscuitto, goat cheese and arugula pizza. Perfect for a warm weeknight dinner, but don’t overlook this wine’s potential to pair with roasted chicken or creamy pasta dishes as the weather cools.

FerratonPereetFilsSamorensRose2015 Ferraton Père et Fils Samorëns Côtes du Rhône Rosésalmon-pink in the glass with generous floral and mixed-berry aromas. Blackberry and strawberry flavors are seasoned with herbal backnotes and just a hint of nutmeg. A juicy, citrusy acidity keeps the wine bright and lively. 13.5% abv. $14. Cork closure.

75% Grenache is blended with Syrah and Cinsault to produce this flavorful wine. It is a taste of summer in the glass and was the perfect partner for a light salad that included grilled chicken, tomatoes and feta cheese. Enjoy this wine now on a warm evening.

FerratonPereetFilsSamorensRouge2014 Ferraton Père et Fils Samorëns Côtes du Rhône Rougemedium ruby in the glass with complex aromas of blueberries, blackberries, black pepper and savory notes. Equally complex flavors follow with a combination of dark and red fruit, that same savory flavor that appeared in the aroma along with black tea. Tannins are smooth and the finish is quite long in this light to medium-bodied red wine. 13.5% abv. $14. Cork closure.

This wine has such lovely aromas I was reminded of a friend who would describe such a wine as “tasting optional” meaning the aromas were so wonderful he didn’t want to stop enjoying them long enough to taste the wine. Sometimes when a wine delivers beautiful aromas the flavors don’t compare favorably; that’s not the case with this wine. Surprising quality and complexity for $14.

The blend of 85% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 5% Cinsault hits the mark. The wine was just as delicious on the third night as it was on the evening we opened it.

We enjoyed this red blend with Italian sausage and tomato pasta. It was perfectly enjoyable on a warm evening because in spite of the amazing aromas and flavors it is not at all heavy or alcoholic tasting. But, those amazing aromas and flavors that would make this red wine just as enjoyable on a cold winter evening. A truly versatile red wine.

These delightful wines from Ferraton Père et Fils are distributed in the U.S. and offer fantastic quality for the price. Additional wines in this range to look for incluede: Côtes du Rhône-Villages Plan de Dieu, Crozes-Hermitage “La Matinière” and Chateauneuf du Pape “Le Parvis” Ferraton.

Thanks to Creative Palate Communications for sharing these wines with us.


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Grüner Veltliner: A Pair of Pear(ings) for #winePW

We don’t drink very much Grüner Veltliner. When we do it is usually at a wine tasting, a wine bar or in a restaurant with a diverse wine list. We always make a point of drinking adventurously when we dine out, as we do when at home, but on a daily basis we just don’t think of Grüner Veltliner. That’s a shame.

Thanks to Martin Redmond, who blogs at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog we were recently prompted to consider Grüner Veltliner. In case you’re wondering how to correctly pronounce Grüner Veltliner here is a fun video that will show you. Martin is hosting the September Wine Pairing Weekend (#winePW on Twitter) virtual get-together and he chose Grüner Veltliner as the topic. It took a bit more work than usual to obtain the wine for our food pairing this month, but the extra work was worth the effort.

After an unsuccessful search of local wine shops we turned to Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, one of our favorite places to drink wine when we visit Santa Barbara. Their wine list at the wine bar is always interesting and broad; their stock of retail wines even more so. Just as we hoped they had several Grüner Veltliners to choose from. We wanted to taste at least two Grüner Veltliners to give us an idea of the range of flavors the variety has to offer. We decided to open two of the three bottles we ordered for Wine Pairing Weekend.

When considering food pairings for the wines I looked to our local Farmers Market to see what was new. I was happy to find local pears in the market and decided they would be the inspiration for our food pairings. The thing I love about shopping at the Farmers Market is that I can usually find produce that is closer to being ripened on the vine, or in this case on the tree. That was the case with these pears which were so fragrant, but not too ripe. I wanted pear flavor but not too much sweetness for the pairing I had in mind.

The fragrance of the pears inspired me to prepare pear and Gorgonzola pizza. We’ve had it once or twice in restaurants, but never prepared it ourselves, so we decided to experiment. In order to use up most of the pears we decided to create another pizza using pears. So, we enjoyed pizza two nights in a row and were able to taste both Grüner Veltliners with both pizzas…you might say a pair of pear pairings for our pair of Grüner Veltliners. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Grüner Veltliner and Its Home

Grüner Veltliner originated in Austria as a natural cross of Traminer and what is called St. Georgen, named after the location where the only vine of its kind survives. Grüner Veltliner is the most widely-planted grape variety in Austria, comprising nearly 30% of vineyard plantings in the country. It is practically synonymous with Austrian winemaking. Most of the world’s plantings of the variety are in Austria with smaller plantings in Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary. Only a sprinkling of vineyard acreage is planted in other wine regions of the world.

Austria lies to the south and east of Germany at about the same latitude as central France. Austria shares borders with Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south.  The climate is considered continental and a bit warmer than Germany. The major winemaking regions lie in the northeast, east and southeast portion of Austria.


Austria Wine Region Map from

The earliest evidence of winemaking in what is now Austria dates back to 700 BCE. Between the 10th and 12th centuries Burgundian winemaking techniques were introduced by Cistercian monks. Over the centuries the volume of winemaking in the region has increased and decreased along with regional political changes. For a time quality was sacrificed in favor of quantity.  Styles have changed and wine laws have been formalized since a scandal in 1985 exposed a small amount of tainted wine. The quality of winemaking in Austria is now considered to be very high.

The Wine

StiftGottweigGrunerVeltliner2013 Stift Göttweig Messwein Grüner Veltlinerpale yellow-green in the glass with citrus, mineral and toasty aromas. Melon flavors combine with delicate apricot flavors, minerals and citrusy acidity. Interesting hints of white pepper add to the complex flavors. The finish is at least medium in length and finishes with considerable, juicy acidity. 12% abv. $23.

Stift Göttweig (Göttweig Abbey) was founded in 1083 and has a long history of winemaking. The abbey is situated on a hill, with 26 hectares of vineyards below, and views of the Danube River. It is located in the Kremstal wine region.

The wine bottle’s front label reflects the abbey’s history in its statement Das Weingut der Benediktiner. You will also find the date of the abby’s founding along with messwein (altar wine) and the statement Ut in omnibus glorificicetur deus. The back label documents the wine as a Quality Wine with the regional designation of Niederösterreich which you will find on the map above.

Weingut Stift Göttweig also makes a delightful rosé of Pinot Noir, which we enjoyed last time we were at Les Marchands Wine Bar in Santa Barbara.

WeingutJagerGrunerVeltliner2014 Weingut Jäger Federspiel Klaus Grüner Veltlinerpale yellow in the glass with delicate toasted almond aromas. Flavors reflect primarily stony, dusty minerality combined with hints of smoke and toast. Interesting herbal backnotes develop with time and the finish is moderate in length with nice acidity. The minerality defines the flavors in this wine, but it is by no means simple. 11.5% abv. $27.

Weingut Jäger is a family-owned winery located in the Wachau wine region with vineyards in multiple sites. This wine is sourced from their Klaus vineyard, hence the name on the bottle.  Wineries in the Wachau wine region who are members of the organization Vinea Wachau may use their own unique wine classification system on their wine bottle label. In addition to agreeing to the organization’s requirements for growing area and production methods, the members may use one of three quality designations (Steinfeder, Federspiel, Smaragd) on the wine bottle label.

The quality indicator is based on must weight and alcohol level of the finished wine. Steinfeder indicates the earliest-picked grapes with the lowest alcohol level in the finished wine. These wines are light and inexpensive. This style is mostly consumed in Austria. Federspiel indicates a riper style of wine with finished alcohol between 11.5 and 12.5% abv and have more concentrated flavors but still relatively low alcohol. Smaragd-classified wines are produced from the ripest grapes and have at least 12.5% abv in the finished wine. These wines are the most concentrated and age-worth wines of the Wachau.



If you take a close look at the Weingut Jäger wine bottle label you will see the Vinea Wachau organization seal along with the quality designation, Federspiel, and the vineyard name, Klaus. There is a lot of information on a bottle of Austrian wine.




The Food

The first evening we prepared a pear and Gorgonzola Pizza. I used Martha Stewart’s Quick Basic Pizza Dough recipe. It really is quick and easy and comes with video instructions which I found reassuring the first time I made the recipe. This recipe makes enough for two 14-inch round pizzas. I cut the recipe in half if I want to make just one pizza.

Instructions for making the pear and Gorgonzola pizza are simple. Place a pizza stone in the lower rack of your oven and preheat to 475 ºF for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 450 ºF.  Form the pizza dough into a 14-inch round on parchment paper. Slice 8-oz of fresh mozzarella and spread over the pizza dough. Quarter, core and slice two small, ripe pears and spread over the mozzarella. Dot the pizza with a few ounces of Gorgonzola (to taste, really). Brush the pizza crust with a bit of olive oil. Bake until the crust is golden brown. Allow the pizza to cool for 5 minutes before slicing into wedges and devouring.

This was my favorite pizza. Cheesy and a bit sweet but with nice earthy, salty contrast from the Gorgonzola. It paired beautifully with both Grüners!

The second night we prepared a mozzarella, pear and proscuitto pizza which was almost as delicious as the pear and Gorgonzola pizza. I topped the pizza dough with mozzarella and sliced pears then added a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and followed with 5 ozs of thinly sliced proscuitto. Same baking instructions.

This pizza was less cheesy, more meaty, savory and salty. It was a delicious pairing with both Gruëners as well, but the mineral character of the Jäger Grüner Veltliner paired slightly  better.

So, our pair of pear pairings was a complete success. Thanks, Martin, for encouraging us to explore Grüner Veltliner. We learned that we really enjoy the flavor s of Grüner Veltliner and that the variety is very food friendly.

We hope you’ll join us for our exploration of Grüner Veltliner in the glass and at the table.   Our posts will all go live in the wee hours of Saturday morning, September 10th. Read up and join our chat on Twitter at #WinePW starting at 8 am Pacific Time.

Click here for a list of past and future Wine Pairing Weekend events!


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Urban Riesling: A White Wine to Take You Beyond Summer

The Labor Day has come and gone signaling the end of summertime. Some will have their white clothes safely stored for next summer. Many more of us will continue to wear our white clothing year-round flaunting the rules just like Coco Chanel. Happily there is no such rule prohibiting the enjoyment of white wine year-round. If that were the case I would ignore that rule as well.

Riesling is a variety I most often enjoy during the summer months. But just as white clothing can be appropriate year-round so too can Riesling be enjoyed without regard for the season. We recently received a bottle of Riesling as a tasting sample that proved just that point. Although we received the 2015 Urban Riesling when summer was just coming into full swing we just now had the opportunity to taste the wine. This wine would have been delightful paired with a summer salad, but it also worked beautifully with a dish more appropriate for cooler weather.

UrbanRiesling2015 Weingut St. Urbans-Hof  ‘Urban Riesling’light yellow in the glass with delicate aromas of melons and white flowers. A juicy assortment of apple, tart pineapple and mineral flavors combine for a pleasing sweet-tart flavor. The finish is off-dry and medium in length with a light body and ample acidity. 9.5% abv. SRP approximately $15.

Urban Riesling is produced by Nik Weis, the 3rd generation owner and winemaker, of Weingut St. Urbans-Hof. The winery was established in 1947 by Nik’s grandfather and named after St. Urban the patron saint of German winemakers (Hof means estate in German and Weingut means winery.) Weingut St. Urbans-Hof owns 85 acres of vineyards in the Mosel making them the largest winery in the region. The Urban Riesling is produced from non-estate Riesling grown near Mehring not far from the winery.

UrbanRieslingandDinnerWe took advantage of the fresh crop of apples in our local Farmers Market in preparing a meal to accompany the Urban Riesling— Sautéed German Sausages with Bacon and Apple Sauerkraut. It was a delicious meal that filled the house with pleasing aromas. Sautéed onion, bacon and apples along with the flavors of bay leaf and juniper berries added depth and complexity to the flavors of the sauerkraut. We used chicken and apple sausages which matched the flavors of the sauerkraut perfectly. The juicy acidity of the Urban Riesling was perfect with with the meal.

So, as the weather turns from warm to cool, put your white clothing away if you choose, but please don’t stop enjoying delicious white wine! Thanks to the folk at Creative Palate Communications for sending us this taste of Germany. Delicious.


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COS: Sicilian Wine for the Curious Wine Drinker

I am always drawn to a wine with an interesting backstory. And while every wine has a story my personal bias is going to take me in the direction of family winemaking and organic or biodynamic viticultural practices. Or in the direction of a winemaker resurrecting a forgotten style of wine. Winemaking in Old World wine regions using indigenous varieties will catch my eye every time. If the region is off the beaten path, or at least new to me, I’m certain to be interested.

So, an interesting backstory was what I looked for as we planned the wine tasting portion of our trip to Sicily last year. Azienda Agricola COS near Vittoria in the provence of Ragusa looked interesting on paper. The winery was founded by three young friends, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino Strano, before leaving for university and takes its name from the surnames of each of the founders. Current winemaking includes the use of amphorae. Once I read that fact I knew I wanted to visit.

In the Vineyard

Our tour at COS (pronounced Koss)  began in my favorite place — the vineyards. I love the smell of the earth and the vines and the feel of the wind blowing through my hair. We were guided by Joanna Dubrowska, whose official title I neglected to establish (cellar mistress perhaps), but who is familiar with every detail of viticulture and winemaking at COS. When, near the end of our tour, I asked if she was a winemaker she said no but that she had learned winemaking by drinking wine and being endlessly curious. She also told us that there is no “designated winemaker” at COS indicating to me that both owners are actively involved in winemaking at COS.

About 35 hectares (nearly 90 acres) are planted to vines on original rootstock. Mother-daughter propagation (layering) is used to fill in plants in the vineyard and annual pruning is not aggressive. Because of the strong sun, and warm summer temperatures, an ample canopy is needed to protect the fruit from sunburn. Vineyards are planted at between 220 and 240 meters (720 to 790 feet) above sea level.

The vineyards are dry farmed unless extremely dry weather requires irrigation.  Limestone in the soil absorbs water like a sponge, according to Joanna, so a close eye is kept on the vines’ needs. “It’s like a first date, a little bit nervous but OK,” was how Joanna described dry farming the vineyards. Hot winds, called scirocco in Sicily, periodically blow up from North Africa and can substantially heat the soil and vineyards. Generally, though, salty, ocean breezes that are neither too humid or too dry blow across the area resulting in cooling temperatures at night.

The soil is relatively shallow, about 30 cm deep, but complex with clay, iron, limestone and calcareous rock. I noticed many white stones in the powdery, fragile-looking, red soil. And vineyard rows are covered with a diverse weedy ground cover, which does not need tilling generally. Sheep are used in the vineyards to control the ground cover.

When we toured the vineyard near the end of September harvest was complete. The vines looked spent, but the vineyard was green — thanks to recent rain I suppose. It was just the kind of vineyard I love to visit, messy looking with abundant ground cover between the rows and vines, not manicured to within an inch of its life.

ThreeFrogsViticulture follows organic and biodynamic principles, reflecting a “biodynamic mindset,” as Joanna put it. To the extent it is possible work in the vineyards and wine cellar follows lunar and cosmic cycles.

Within just a few years of converting to organic and biodynamic farming the diversity of birds, insects (and frogs) in the vineyards increased significantly.


In the Wine Cellar

Since its founding in 1980 the goal of winemaking at COS has always been for the wines to reflect an expression of the land. In order to accomplish this goal the team needed to learn about the the land, but they also learned a lot about winemaking. Winemaking began in a more traditional way using Burgundy barrels from a number of coopers for aging. Over time they have been replaced with Slavonian oak botti — 500 to 1000-gallon oak casks. As Joanna put it, “not much wood and lots of wine,” so the flavors of oak do not get in the way of the flavors of the fruit, but the wine benefits from the exchange of oxygen wood aging provides. Also, concrete vats and clay amphorae are used all of which allow for full fruit expression.

In 2000 when remaining partners Giambattista Cilia and Giusto Occhipinti (Cirino Strano left winemaking early on to practice medicine) began researching clay amphora they traveled to Georgia to learn about the winemaking technique at its historic origin. They explored clay from Sicily, Tunisia and Spain. Through experimentation they discovered Spanish clay gives the purest expression of fruit from their vineyards.

Today over 100 amphorae are used to produce both a red and white wine. The 400-liter containers are partially buried in the soil which is covered by 10 cm of gravel and sand. Winemaking for both white wine and red wine made in amphorae is essentially the same. Fruit is destemmed and lightly crushed and placed into the amphorae with multiple punchdowns per day. When fermentation is completed the amphorae are closed. In about April the wine is pumped into concrete vats, the lees and skins are pressed and the juice added to the concrete vats. Wine spends a bit more time in concrete before bottling. The balance of winemaking at COS uses concrete vats and large-format Slavonian oak casks for aging. Annual production is about 200,000 bottles.

After wandering the vineyards and seeing the amphorae we sat down to taste wine. Other parts of the winery were too busy for visitors.

In the Glass

The first thing I noticed about COS wines was the shape of the wine bottle. The bottle shape is designed after a old bottle that was unearthed during excavation at the winery. It’s unique to COS.

2013COSPithosBianco2013 COS Pithos Biancodark yellow-orange in the glass with generous stone fruit aromas. Medium-bodied with concentrated flavors of pineapple, peaches and almonds with nice acidity. Mineral backnotes add even more complexity. This wine has nice weight and, not surprisingly, some tannins. 11.5% abv.

Made from 100% Grecanico, a common white variety in Sicily that is genetically identical to Garganega in Soave, and surely one of the most interesting white wines I’ve tasted in some time thanks to indigenous yeast fermentation and 8 months of skin contact in amphorae. It is a white wine for more than just fish dishes.

2014COSFrappato2014 COS Frappatolight ruby in the glass with generous fruit flavors reminiscent of Gamay to me. Berry and cranberry flavors combine with smooth tannins and bright acidity. A lovely, fruity wine for warm weather that would be perfect slightly chilled. 12.5% abv.

The lively and lovely fruit flavors of Frappato shine through beautifully. Fermentation with indigenous yeast, aging in cement vat and bottle. Just fruit. Just delicious.

Frappato is, according to Joanna, always a problem to grow. As she put it so colorfully, “like an aristocratic old lady when she sees blood.” The variety produces tight clusters with delicate-skinned berries and is not particularly high yielding. I thrives in the red soils of the area, however.

2014COSNerodiLupo2014 COS Nero Di Lupo medium ruby in the glass with generous berry and herbal aromas. Juicy mixed blackberry flavors combine with interesting backnotes of black tea and dried hay. Firm tannins provide structure and the finish is very long with flavor and tannins. Love the combination of fruit flavors, bright acidity and tannins in this wine. 12.5% abv.

100% Nero d’Avola, indigenous yeast fermentation, aging in cement vat and bottle. It’s simple. It’s enough. A beautiful fruit expression of this variety. Love it!

Nero d’Avola is the most widely planted red grape variety in Sicily. The name means black grape of Avola, which is a port town in southeast Sicily where the variety is thought to have originated. It was referred to as Calavrisi in a local dialect, meaning grape from Avola, and that name was Italianized to Calabrese which is how the Italian National Registry of Vine Varieties identifies the variety. Because Calabrese is easily confused with Calabria, a region is southern Italy, Sicilian wine producers prefer then name Nero d’Avola to identify the grape variety.

2013COSCdVC2013 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classicomedium ruby in the glass with red and black fruit aromas. Complex, bright berry and earthy, dark fruit flavors and a bit of spice. Smooth tannins linger on the finish with fruit and bright acidity. 13% abv.

Once again, indigenous yeast fermentation with aging in both cement vat and large Slavonian oak casks before 6 months of bottle aging. A blend of 60% Nero d’Avola, 40% Frappato.

It’s complex, delicious and satisfying. We ordered a bottle at a restaurant one evening in Ragusa Ibla and it paired beautifully our the wild mushroom pizza.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only DOCG in Sicily and only red wines produced from at least 50% Nero d’Avola and a minimum of 30% Frappato are allowed. First established as a DOC in 1973, the classification was elevated to DOCG status in 2005 and surrounds the town of Vittoria and reaches to the ocean. A Classico zone encompasses the original (smaller) area included in the DOC classification and requires a minimum of 18 months of  aging.

The blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato is a common proportion for the blend for Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Nero d’Avola provides structure and Frappato provides the fruit flavor – they complete each other. Joanna described why she thinks this 60/40 blend works so well, “Nero d’Avola is like a Sicilian guy — he makes the decisions. With a 50/50 blend nobody makes a decision and that’s not good.” That’s a description everyone can understand.

Sicily, in Joanna’s view, is more like a continent than an island in terms of wine because of the many indigenous varieties and distinct growing regions. The east coast of Sicily is characterized by volcanic soil and red wine making. The middle of the island includes soils derived from ancient sea beds and produces fine red wines. The west coast of Sicily is known for its white wine production and of course for Marsala.

In her view, drink Sicilian white wines young. Nerello Mascalese and Nero d’ Avola are the red varieties that have the best aging potential. Drink Frappato with in 3 years of release and enjoy the fruit flavors.

I came to COS for the amphorae and fell in love with the wines. I even came away with some excellent guidelines for drinking Sicilian wines. Can’t ask for more than that. Many thanks to Joanna for making our tour so personal and memorable.

COS wines are distributed in the U.S. Look for them. Below is a slideshow of our visit. Please enjoy.


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Murrieta’s Well: History and Wine in the Livermore Valley

The best way to learn about a wine region is to visit the region, see the lay of the land, talk to the winemakers and taste the wines. When travel to a region isn’t possible virtual travel along with wine tasting can be an effective way to learn about a winery and by extension the wine region. We recently participated in a virtual tasting which included four wines provided to us as tasting samples. The virtual tasting was hosted by Snooth and we had the opportunity to taste the wines made by winemaker Robbie Meyer at Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard in the Livermore Valley as he told us about his winemaking and answered our questions. It was the next best thing to visiting the winery.


A Bit of History

The winery known today as Murrieta’s Well has a long history in California’s Livermore Valley. The property was originally purchased by French-born  winemaker Louis Mel in 1884. He was attracted to the site by the gravelly soils and planted his vineyards from cuttings that originated from Château Margaux and Château d’Yquem in France. According to one account I read it was through a friendship between Louis Mel’s wife and the owner of Chateau d’Yquem that Charles A. Wetmore, who founded Cresta Blanca Winery in Livermore, was able to obtain cuttings from the château. It was Wetmore who returned from France with cuttings from both châteaux and shared them with his fellow winemakers in the Livermore Valley.

Mel eventually built a gravity-flow winery on the hillside property which is the site of Murrieta’s Well tasting room today. In 1933 Mr. Mel sold the property to friend and fellow winemaker Ernest Wente. The estate remains part of Wente Family Estates and was named Murrieta’s Well in 1990 as a nod to the colorful and controversial early-California figure Joaquin Murrieta.

Current Winemaking

Wine production at Murrieta’s Well is sourced entirely from estate vineyards planted to 21 grape varieties over 500 acres in variable soil types. Particular attention is paid to that soil type, elevation, slope and aspect when choosing grape varieties and rootstock for each vineyard location. And, although all soil types on the estate are well-drained gravel, each of the three soil types is composed of different type rock which affects vine growth. Vineyards are planted at between 560 and 860 feet above sea level over rolling hills.

Winemaker Robbie Meyer is very hands-on in the vineyard. He explained he takes an acre by acre approach to irrigation, pruning and canopy management. Every variety is vinified separately, reflecting the small lot perspective at Murrieta’s Well, then blended and aged to produce wines that reflect each vintage. The varietal composition of the blends varies with each vintage.

While Robbie enjoys blending — particularly with aromatic white varieties and Bordeaux varieties — he does prefer 100% Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Current production is sourced from just the very best blocks across the 500 acres of estate vineyards.

The Wines

MurrietasWellSmallLotChardonnay2014 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Chardonnaymedium yellow-green in the glass. Sweet, toasty oak aromas are the first to appear followed by a bit of  citrus. Complex flavors include stone fruit, citrus, cedar and toast. The combination of bright acidity
and round feel in the mouth is very pleasing. The finish is very long with lingering caramel and toasty flavors
. 13.9% abv. 11 barrels produced. Cork closure. $44.

The complex flavors along with roundness in the mouth and brilliant acidity in this wine make it a perfect match for rich, buttery or cheesy dishes. Or fatty fish. The winemaker’s notes suggest it will be good through 2020 — and interesting to taste over time as well.

Own-rooted Chardonnay was harvested from the Ernest Wente vineyard on the estate. The Chardonnay was barrel fermented in new and neutral French oak barrels using both indigenous and commercial yeast. Sur lie aging with battonage followed. Robbie uses a variety of French oak coopers for added flavor complexity.

It was Louis Mel that originally brought Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier and propagated them at the Wente Estate. Amazingly 80% of Chardonnay grown in the U.S. today is derived from these original Wente cuttings. That’s history in your glass.

MurrietasWellTheWhipWhiteBlend2014 Murrieta’s Well The Whip White Blend light-straw color in the glass with delicate white flower aromas. The flavors are a combination of ripe melons and peaches with delicate additions of white flowers, nutmeg and dusty minerality. The flavors last a very long time and the wine finishes clean with nice acidity. 13.5% abv. 260 barrels produced. Screw cap closure. $24.

Give me a glass of this wine on a warm afternoon — food optional. I love the floral characteristics of this wine and I can imagine having a glass of this wine on a rainy December evening would be a vivid reminder of summertime.

This wine blend is what I call an “everybody in the pool” blend which includes Semillion, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Orange Muscat, Muscat Canelli and Viognier. Every variety is grown on the estate with the idea of producing the best varietal characteristics on its own. With blending the perfect aromatics, mouth feel and acidity results with consistency from vintage-to-vintage. As Robbie put it their blends provide, “a survey of the entire estate.” Fermentation in stainless steel was followed by aging on the lees for 12 months and 30% aging in neutral French oak.

MurrietasWellSmallLotCabSav2013 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon medium ruby-garnet color in the glass with predominantly earthy aromas. Dark fruit flavors shine through with backnotes of leather and damp earth. Tannins are a bit grippy and drying and last through the finish along with the complex flavors. 14.4% abv. 14 barrels produced. Cork closure. $58.

Robbie described this as a 10-year wine — enjoy it within 10 years for maximum fruit expression. It will be lovely as the weather cools and your food preparation turns to braised meats and stews or grilled rib-eye steak before the weather turns.

75% Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Petit Verdot and 4% Merlot with aging for 20 months in 70% new French oak from a variety of coopers.  The wine was just released in May 2016. Give it some time in the bottle and I bet it will become even more interesting.

MurrietasWellTheSpurRedBlend2013 Murrieta’s Well The Spur Red Blenddark ruby color in the glass with plumy, herbaceous aromas. Ripe blackberry and ripe plum flavors combine with a hint of cedar spice and drying tannins. The finish is medium to long with both flavor and tannins. The balance of fruit, tannins and acidity is beautiful. 14.5% abv. 345 barrels produced. Screw cap closure. $30.

Giddy up! The combination of fruit flavors and spice make this wine very appealing. It is easy to like and would pair beautifully with grilled chicken or pork. Homemade pizza topped with tomatoes, zucchini and pancetta would also be delicious.

The complex fruit flavors in this wine are an expression of the blend which includes Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The Petite Sirah base in this blend makes it a uniquely California wine according to Robbie. Each variety was vinified separately, then blended before aging for 24 months in new and used French oak barrels.

Murrieta’s Well is located in the center of the Livermore Valley which has the distinction of running in an east-west direction rather than a north-south orientation which is more usual in California. The east-west orientation allows for cool breezes to blow into the valley from the San Francisco Bay creating a relatively cool climate. Average rainfall is 15-20 inches per year, about half of normal for Napa Valley, according to Robbie.

Murrieta’s Well tasting room has recently undergone an eight-month renovation. Improvements include added outdoor tasting and patio areas and a full-service kitchen that will make seasonal food and wine pairings an option for guests. We have yet to visit Murrieta’s Well tasting room, but after reading about the history of the winery, tasting the wines and reading about the renovations I’m ready to pencil in a visit. How about you?

Many thanks to Snooth and Murrieta’s Well for organizing and sponsoring the tasting. A video of the virtual tasting with winemaker Robbie Meyer is available for viewing on the Snooth website. It is filled with details about Robbie’s approach to viticulture and winemaking that you will find very interesting. Thank you, Robbie.


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Champagne Forget-Brimont NV Brut Premier Cru: A Delightful Dinner Companion

For the longest time I thought of Champagne as a strictly celebratory libation. What is more festive than a glass of bubbly to celebrate a marriage, a birthday, or a new job? A still wine just doesn’t have the same impact.

Over time, though, I have discovered how versatile Champagne really is. Looking beyond the bubbles to the bright acidity (that wine made from cool-climate grapes often possesses) and complex flavors (that come from extended lees aging) you will discover Champagne pairs with a wide variety of food — and not just appetizers. Champagne is just as delicious with a meal as a still wine.

We recently put my belief to the test as we prepared a meal to accompany a bottle of  Champagne Forget-Brimont NV Brut Premier Cru which we received as a tasting sample. The occasion? Summertime. Sunday dinner. Just the two of us. Pick one.

The Wine

ChampagneForgetBrimontChampagne Forget-Brimont NV Brut Premier Crumedium yellow in the glass with plentiful, small to medium bubbles. Generous aromas of toasted almonds and yeast are followed by mouth-filling bubbles, complex and long-lasting flavors of toasted bread, yeast and interesting cedar spice. The body is medium and the finish clean and fresh. 12% abv. SRP $45.

Generous aromas in the glass were our first hint that this Champagne might deliver complex flavors. Each glass left me thinking about the combination of flavors I was tasting. It was delightful to sip as I prepared dinner.

Maison Forget-Brimont is a family-owned and operated Champagne house. In 2000 ownership passed from founder Michel Forget (pronounced forJHEY) to Frédéric Jorez  who continues to operate independently. Michel Forget remains as Director and is involved in wine production. The blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay for the Forget-Brimont NV Brut Premier Cru is sourced from the domaine’s 18 hectares of vineyards. All are located in Grand Cru or Premier Cru-classified villages.

Of particular interest to me is the use of organic fertilizers and soil conditioners in the vineyards and the absence of insecticide and anti-rot treatments. Herbicide use is minimal.

Only juice obtained from the first press, or cuvée, is used in the production of Champagne at Forget-Brimont; it is the best quality juice. The Brut Premier Cru ages on the lees for at least 30 months and rests a further two months after dosage before shipping. That’s a lot of time and work for $45 per bottle.

The Food

HalibutandChampagneI had halibut on my mind as a pairing for the Forget-Brimont Brut and wanted a preparation method that would lend flavor and moisture to the fish but that wasn’t too complicated. Halibut baked in parchment was just what I was looking for. I seasoned the halibut with salt and pepper before adding fresh tarragon. A julienne of organic carrots, leeks and zucchini followed with just a splash of Forget-Brimont Brut Premier Cru and some butter. To accompany the fish and vegetables I steamed baby Yukon Gold potatoes, then sautéed them in butter and parsley allowing the butter to brown a bit.

The halibut was moist and delicately tarragon-infused. The veggies were perfectly done and the sautéed Yukon Gold potatoes added richness and flavor. Pete, who is not as big a fan of halibut as I am, declared this preparation of halibut to be his all-time favorite.

The Pairing

Delicious and elegant, but not too fussy.  The halibut, vegetables and potatoes were all perfectly cooked and seasoned with just enough buttery goodness. The Forget-Brimont NV Brut Premier Cru paired beautifully with the delicate flavors of the halibut and had just the right balance of flavor and acidity. It was the perfect meal for a warm summer evening; not too rich or heavy but very flavorful. The Forget-Brimont Brut Premier Cru kept the entire meal light and at only 12% abv I could enjoy a glass while preparing dinner and still have a glass with dinner. I like that!

We are happy to have had the opportunity to sample the delightful Champagne Forget-Brimont NV Brut Premier Cru. I hope this pairing will inspire you to look for this delicious Champagne. Enjoy it as a toast to any special occasion but be sure to remember Forget-Brimont is the perfect partner for a meal as well; any time of year and no special occasion needed. In fact the Champagne Forget-Brimont NV Brut Premier Cru becomes the special occasion!


Posted in Reviews, Tasting Notes, Wines of the Weekend | Tagged | 2 Comments

Waterkloof Cape Coral Rosé and BLT for #winePW

Wine from South Africa is the theme for our August Wine Pairing Weekend group of food and wine bloggers. The challenge was posed by Sarah of Curious Cuisiniere. Sarah and Tim Ozimek recently returned from a trip to South Africa which was the inspiration for their choice of themes.

We reached into our wine cellar to make a choice for this month’s challenge and found a familiar friend. A delightful rosé we look for every year and one we first discovered during a trip of our own to South Africa.

For the food pairing we chose to prepare a sandwich. Stay with me. It’s summer and the weather has been warm, making me a rather lazy cook at times. This was one of those times. We prepared a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich) from a recipe we found in Food & Wine magazine, but in our own defense it was not a standard BLT. I hope that counts for something.

The Wine

CapeCoralRose2015 Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdredelicate salmon color in the glass with light berry aromas. Flavors follow the aromas with blackberries along with dry earth and delicate savory notes. Dusty minerality and citrusy acidity combine for a bright, lively and juicy finish. 12.5% abv.

Mourvédre is hand harvested and gently pressed using a basket press without destemming. After settling, the wine is racked into neutral oak fermenters for an unhurried fermentation using indigenous yeast. The wine is allowed to remain on the lees to add complexity.

In addition to the thought and care that is taken in the winery, the Waterkloof story is framed by its spectacular location and the biodynamic farming practices they follow in the vineyard.

The 100-hectare wine farm is located on the slopes of Schapenberg, sheep mountain in Afrikaans. The vineyards cover south-facing slopes above Somerset West about 45 kilometers east of Cape Town. The view of False Bay below is spectacular.

Only about 50 hectares of the property is planted to vineyards and much of the rest is covered by native vegetation called fynbos. The fynbos was filled with bird life when we visited in July 2014. The vineyards are farmed according to biodynamic principles and are certified by Demeter. Biodynamic farming is based on organic principles, but involves additional preparations to build soil health through microbe diversity. It’s a lot of work and very hands-on.

Cattle, sheep and chickens are kept on the farm. The sheep help with weed control in the vineyards. Horses are used to do much of the work in the vineyards largely replacing tractors. It is truly a working farm.

The biodynamic farming principles are what first caught my attention and, after learning the details of Waterkloof’s commitment to the environment, seriously drew me in. But it was the quality of the wine made by Waterkloof that made me a true believer. In addition to the Cape Coral Rosé Waterkloof makes stellar Syrah, Chenin Blanc and my absolute favorite Cabernet Franc. The wines are pure and balanced.

The Food

This is the first sandwich pairing we’ve done for Wine Pairing Weekend. An overabundance of tomatoes in our garden this summer and a recipe we saw in Food & Wine magazine for a Garlic Aioli BLT were the inspirations for our choice.

The only standard ingredients in this BLT are bacon and tomatoes, all of the other ingredients are variations. We stopped by our local Boudin bakery and restaurant expecting to purchase a sourdough round, but were distracted by a Boudin Kalamata Olive round. It looked delicious and we thought the salty flavors of the olives would be an interesting addition to our BLT.

AioliBLTAs the recipe suggested, we used arugula in place of lettuce and garlic aioli to replace the mayonnaise. We used red and yellow tomatoes in addition to our favorite Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon. We added avocado too, because avocados are so good in the market right now.

Assembly was easy. Toasted, sliced Kalamata Olive bread, garlic aioli, tomatoes, arugula, bacon and sliced avocado more garlic aioli.

The Kalamata Olive bread was a great choice the olives added a welcome savory saltiness. Fresh-from-our-garden tomatoes added tons of flavor, the garlic aioli added, well, loads of garlicky flavor, the bacon was smoky and delicious.

The Pairing

RoseandBLTRight on. The Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre had ample flavor and nice acidity to match the richness of the bacon and garlic aioli. Both of us were surprised how delicious the pairing was. Why hadn’t we thought of this combination before?

Thanks to Sarah for hosting Wine Pairing Weekend this month and for choosing South African wine as the theme. It provided a welcome opportunity to remember the fun wine times we enjoyed on our trip to South Africa.
Here is a look at the wines and pairings the Wine Pairing Weekend group explored this month!

Our September #winePW theme will be “Grüner Veltliner Pairings,” on September 10th, 2016. The event will be hosted by Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog, so keep an eye out for details!

For a list of past and upcoming #winePW event, visit the Wine Pairing Weekend calendar. We’d love to have you online with us!

Because many of us are at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California this weekend we will not be meeting Saturday morning for our usual Twitter chat. We will be back next month when we will talk food and Grüner Veltliner.


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Peter Zemmer: Pinot Grigio from the Italian Alps

On a recent Saturday afternoon, with yard work complete, it was time to sit on the patio and relax. As shade moved over the patio we also realized it was wine o’clock. Time for a glass of wine and something to eat.

Earlier we put a bottle of Peter Zemmer 2015 Pinot Grigio, which we received as a tasting sample, in the refrigerator to chill, so we knew what we would drink. What to pair with the Pinot Grigio? We had an abundance of cherry tomatoes in our garden, burrata in the refrigerator and a fresh baguette on the kitchen counter. Wine o’clock was coming together nicely.

I went to work in the kitchen as Pete opened the wine and poured us each a glass. I tossed cherry tomatoes with olive oil, fresh marjoram, salt and pepper before putting them in the oven to roast. It didn’t take long, just 25 minutes at 375º F, and they were perfectly roasted. In the meantime we sliced the baguette.

PeterZemmerPinotGrigioNext we turned our attention to the 2015 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigiopale yellow-green in the glass with delicate white flower aromas that became more distinct as the wine warmed. Delicate melon flavors followed with hints of dried oat hay and stony minerality on the finish along with juicy acidity. Flavors are long lasting. 13.5% abv. SRP about $16.

Peter Zemmer is a family winery with three generations of winemaking experience. The winery is located in Cortina s.s.d.v., a small commune in Alto Adige near the border with Trentino. Trentino-Alto Adige is Italy’s most northern region and borders both Switzerland and Austria. Trentino comprises the southern portion of the region and is Italian-speaking. The Alto Adige (high Adige) occupies the northern portion of the region and is largely German-speaking. Alto Adige, also know as Südtirol, was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until after the end of the First World War.

The Alto Adige is dominated by the Italian Alps (the Dolomites) and the Adige River and its tributaries. Summers are warm, with cool nights, and winters snowy. Grapes are grown in the valleys as well as the surrounding mountainsides.

To build complexity Peter Zemmer includes Pinot Grigio from valley and steep mountain vineyards. Slow fermentation takes place with indigenous yeast and the wine is finished in stainless steel with lees aging.

PeterZemmerPGBy the time we tasted and talked about the wine, it was time to assemble our roasted tomato and burrata crostini. Crostini, a spread of burrata topped with roasted tomatoes. Couldn’t have been easier.

The combination was delicious. The burrata was creamy, milky and buttery, but not too much so. Roasting concentrated the fresh flavors of vine-ripened tomatoes. The marjoram added nice complexity.

The bright acidity of the Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio matched the creamy richness of the burrata perfectly and supported the flavors of the roasted tomatoes. This Pinot Grigio would pair nicely with a variety of soft cheeses, salads, chicken or fish. It was delicious on its own and paired beautifully with a warm summer evening.

Thanks to Creative Palate Communications for sending us a taste of Alto Adige.


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Part 3 of The Masthead Project: Blending Wine from a Wine Blogger’s Point of View

In Part 1 of the Masthead Project we shared with our readers the invitation we received to participate in a unique wine blending project, expanded on the idea and took them along as our group of wine bloggers got to know each other while touring downtown Lodi. Part 2 of our post provided background on Scotto Cellars, the winery sponsoring the blending project, took our readers along on a cider-making tour and a visit to Mohr-Fry Ranch in the Mokelumne River sub-AVA of the Lodi appellation. In this, our final post, we take you along as we sit down with winemaker Mitch Cosentino to create a blended wine.

Sitting Down to Blend a Wine

We all gathered at Suite C , located above the Scotto Cellars’ tasting room in downtown Lodi after a satisfying lunch at the School Street Bistro. Mitch Cosentino sat at the head of the table. The four of us (wine bloggers Cindy Rynning, Melanie Ofenloch, Pete and I) gathered around the table. Set before us was an array of wine glasses, graduated cylinders and pipettes. Mitch bought his own crackers, as he always does when he’s judging wine, and encouraged us to use them throughout the blending process to clear our palates.

Along with all of the glassware and laboratory equipment was an overwhelming 11 potential blending samples. We would need to taste every wine while still reserving enough for multiple blends and tastings. And we would need to keep track of it all. It was a bit hectic at times, but we powered through.


The four most important bottles were labeled 2014 Sangiovese F, H, A and V respectively. The blend would be based on Sangiovese, probably, unless we liked one of the other potential blending partners better (we didn’t). The first task Mitch gave us was to taste each Sangiovese and determine our favorites. We tasted, took notes and discussed. There was no early consensus. We continued to sniff, taste, talk.  A blend of our two favorite samples was a possibility. Ultimately we decided to use F as a base, but H and A had possibilities too. We decided not to include V in the blend.

The four bottles of Sangiovese represent samples from four barrels of 2014 Sangiovese from Mohr-Fry Ranch, the vineyard we visited earlier in the day. All were aged in mostly neutral oak: F = French oak, H= Hungarian oak, A = American oak. The sample labeled V was included because it contained significant volatile acidity. We tasted and made our decisions without knowing what each letter meant on the samples so we could be as objective as possible.

WinemakerMitchCosentinoNext, Mitch moved our attention to the other varieties that were potential blending partners; there were seven in all. We tasted them one-by-one, made notes, discussed each wine’s potential as a blending partner to the Sangiovese. Among our choices: Syrah, Barbera, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah from three locations. We decided the Zinfandel, Barbera, Petit Verdot and one Petite Sirah had the most potential.

Mitch was delighted (and I think entertained) that Zinfandel was among the varieties we considered as a potential blending partner. It was the first variety we tasted with the Sangiovese to determine if it passed the compatibility test. It was unanimous. No! The Zinfandel trampled all over the Sangiovese and the flavors just didn’t taste good together. Mitch, of course, knew this would be the case. I felt very relieved we came to the correct conclusion. Mitch probably did as well!

We moved on to Barbera blended with Sangiovese and decided unanimously that the blend was too sweet. With two potential blending varieties excluded, we circled back to confirm our choice of the base blend before tasting the two final potential blending partners. After re-tasting, we confirmed our favorite base combination was a blend of equal parts Sangiovese aged in French oak and Hungarian oak.

Next, we moved on to tasting two blends of the French/Hungarian Sangiovese base wine — one with 5% Petite Sirah and the other 5% Petit Verdot. The consensus: neither added significantly to the base blend which we all liked very much.

Because we all liked the 50/50 blend of French and Hungarian oak-aged Sangiovese so much we went back to re-taste it. We all loved it for its perfumed aromas and depth of flavor. Did we really need to add anything to this blend? Ultimately we decided no. Our Masthead Sangiovese would be a blend of equal parts Sangiovese aged in French oak and Hungarian oak. The Sangiovese would stand alone! Once we came to this conclusion, Mitch confirmed that this was his choice as well.


I took us nearly three hours to arrive at our decision, but in the end we were all pleased and certain of our choice. Early in the blending process Paul Scotto joined us. He listened to our comments and opinions, tasted the blends, but did not try to influence our decisions.

It was interesting to taste the Sangiovese over an extended period of time as it gained complexity in the glass and the flavors changed. Also of interest to me was that between the Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah I preferred the Petite Sirah when I tasted on its own. But, when blended with our favorite base Sangiovese blend I preferred the Petit Verdot. At first I was certain I had the two blends reversed, but that was not the case. It was a good reminder for me to always taste the wine in front of you without trying to second-guess what is in the glass.

Our Work Continued After Blending

Throughout the rest of June and through mid-July there was much to accomplish. We were all asked to contribute to the design and content of the Masthead wine bottle label. We assisted in writing the brochure that will accompany our Masthead Sangiovese.

We chewed our fingernails along with Brad and Robert at Scotto Cellars as we waited for the wine bottle label approval from the TTB. We felt nervous and dejected when the first submission was rejected over details regarding the Lodi Rules™ certificate. Everyone was concerned we might not be able to complete the project before the Wine Bloggers Conference in August. We were elated when the label was approved just a few days later.

The wine bottle label went to the printer. The brochure to accompany our Masthead Sangiovese underwent the final edit and was sent to the printer. This was really happening! And just in time!


The Masthead Label


Final Thoughts and Thanks

This blending experience was amazing for both of us. We learned so much about the compatibility of grape varieties in blending wine and just how much work blending wine really is (at least it is from a novice’s point of view). And there is all of the work involved with label design and approval for which we had no prior appreciation.

To Bradley and Robert we say thanks for coming up with the Masthead idea and thanks to Anthony Scotto III for approving the project. I know this project has been a lot of work on your end and we are both happy to have been included. I’m pretty sure this is the first wine bottled by Scotto Cellars that bears the Lodi Rules™ designation and that’s great. It is a reflection of  the ideas of trying new things and keeping an open mind about wine that Anthony expressed to us.

We thank Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto for sharing their wine blending knowledge with us. And for your patience.


Mitch, Melanie, Nancy, Pete, Cindy and Paul

Cindy and Melanie, you were wonderful to work with. I started this blending experience feeling somewhat tentative, but our group worked so well together that I quickly felt at ease. We managed to have a good time while still focusing on the task at hand. Then there was the constant dry wit of my amusing husband. What a group.

Below are links to the posts written by Melanie and Cindy about the Masthead project. We hope you will take time to read them.

Operation Masthead: Four Bloggers Quest to Secretly Make A Wine (and Wait to Tell the Tale) by Melanie on

Scotto Cellars Masthead: A Lodi Wine Blended by Wine Bloggers by Cindy on Grape Experiences

Now, on to the Wine Bloggers Conference!

Photo Credits: Some photos were taken by Bradley Gray, some by PullThatCork.


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Part 2 of the Masthead Blending Project: The Winery and Vineyard

Day 2 of the Masthead blending project promised to be busy. We gathered in front of the Scotto Cellars’ tasting room in downtown Lodi early that morning. Our first stop would be Scotto Cellars’ winemaking facilities. Then we would visit Mohr-Fry Ranch to see the block of Sangiovese that was the source of the major blending components for the Masthead project. After lunch we would sit down with winemaker Mitch Cosentino to begin the process of blending our wine.

The Winery

“Scotto Cellars is,” as Bradley Gray put it to us, “the largest winery you’ve probably never heard of.” He went on to explain that in large part that is because Scotto Cellars bottles wine under so many labels. They also make hard cider under several labels and sangria in cans.

The Scotto family has been making wine for five generations, beginning in 1880s when Salvatore Dominic Scotto made wine for his family in Italy. Family winemaking continued after immigrating to Brooklyn in the early 20th Century and again when the family moved to California in the 1960s.

Anthony Scotto III continued the tradition when he started Scotto Cellars in 2004. He learned the wine business by marketing his grandfather’s value brand, Villa Armando. The Brownstone label quickly followed.

As distribution of Scotto wines increased and crossed state lines compliance with various state regulations became essential. Anthony’s sister Natalie Scotto-Woods joined Scotto Cellars as Director of Operations in 2006 to accomplish that task.

By 2009 the third Scotto sibling, Paul, was ready to step into the Scotto wine world and founded Sera Fina Cellars in Amador County. Paul was ready to put his formal winemaking education to work and became lead winemaker for Scotto Cellars at that time.

Michael Scotto joined Scotto Cellars in 2012 as Production Manager. He keeps bottling, labeling and shipping organized for the company.


Anthony Scotto III pouring 2104 Masthead Block 433 Sangiovese

As Scotto Cellars’ production volume has increased so has the range of wines they produce. Beginning with jug wines, Scotto Cellars now includes varietal wines from the Lodi region and Central Coast at a variety of price points. At the higher end of the price-spectrum is the family’s Steele Canyon Cellars in Napa where Paul works with winemaker Mitch Cosentino.

Anthony recently told us he keeps an open mind with regard to wine and strives to produce wines that appeal to all kinds of wine drinkers. That open-mindedness extends to the variety of ciders the family produces, and to mead as well. Anthony never loses sight of the wine in wine business, neither does he take his eye off the business portion.


Paul took us on a tour of the cider and white wine making facility in Lodi and then next door to the wine storage warehouse.

This was our first cider-production tour and we learned several interesting facts about the process:

  • only fresh, cold-pressed juice is used in the production of their ciders. Paul places the order for juice, the apples are pressed and the juice arrives a couple of days later from Washington state. This allows cider to be crafted on demand.
  • 5 varieties of apples are used to produce the desired flavor and acidity.
  • a variety of yeasts are used to ferment the apple juice.
  • it takes about 9 -14 days to complete fermentation. Cold settling, filtration, blending and canning/bottling follow. The process can be completed in less than 21 days.
  • pressurized tanks are required to make sparkling cider, though at a lower pressure than sparkling wine.
  • look for William Tell ciders on the West Coast and Pacific Coast in the Midwest.
  • sparkling wine production by Scotto Cellars is on the horizon.

Across the street we toured the wine storage facility that includes multiple tanks with a 350,000-gallon storage facility, about 300 oak barrels, glass bottles and bottles waiting to be labelled. Paul estimated the annual Scotto Cellars wine production at about 300,000 cases. Cider production varies by month and is more difficult to estimate.


Every winery tour is different, and this one ranks right at the top of the list. We welcomed the unexpected opportunity to learn first-hand how craft cider is made.

The Vineyard

When we learned that one of the blending components for the Masthead project came from the Mohr-Fry Ranch we were thrilled. The Mohr-Fry Ranch name is well-known in the Lodi appellation and beyond as producers of quality winegrapes. One indicator of that quality is that, even though the Fry family does not make wine of their own, the Mohr-Fry Ranch name appears on many wines made by others.

Jerry Fry and his son Bruce farm about 600 acres of winegrapes in the Lodi appellation. Farming is in their blood. The Mohr and Fry families have been farming in California since the 1850s.

All of the winegrapes are farmed according to Lodi Rules™ for Sustainable Winegrowing. The third-party certified program was the first of its kind established in California and implements viticultural practices that aim to balance environmental, social and economic objectives. Both Jerry and Bruce worked on the committee to establish Lodi Rules™ and they were among the first six growers to earn certification.

The Mohr-Fry Ranch Sangiovese vineyard is located in the Mokelumne River sub-AVA of the Lodi appellation on Lodi’s West Side where Sandy Loam is the predominant soil type. The 6-acre vineyard was planted in 1999 and 2002. Jerry obtained the vines from another grower in Lodi because he was impressed with the quality of the fruit the vines produced. The Sangiovese is planted on Freedom rootstock, which Jerry told me, is good for sandy soils and is nematode resistant.

The Sangiovese is trained on quadrilateral trellising with spur pruning; a trellising system favored by the Frys and one that works particularly well with their Sangiovese. This block is described by Jerry as a good producer that yields fruit with good color and complex flavors.

Mitch Cosentino has been purchasing grapes from the Frys since 1998, when he was first able to purchase a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon that was missed during harvest. When the Scotto family was looking for a source of quality Sangiovese Mitch had this vineyard in mind.

So, unknown to everyone now involved in the Masthead project, that decision to purchase Mohr-Fry Ranch Block 433 Sangiovese from the 2014 vintage set the stage for the decision two years later to use it as a blending component in the project. Pretty amazing, I’d say!

Part 3 of The Masthead Project: Blending Wine from a Wine Blogger’s Point of View will post tomorrow when we will share our wine blending experience with you. Please join us!

Photo Credits: Some photos were taken by Bradley Gray, some by PullThatCork.


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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!

Photo Credits: Some photos were taken by Bradley Gray, some by PullThatCork.


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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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