Mokelumne Glen Vineyards: Looking Beyond Zinfandel in Lodi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

A bit of background

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

09rioja_regions map

Rioja Region map from

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

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

Let’s taste the wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do these wines pair with food?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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A Corsican Rosé and Summer Veggie Pizza for #winePW

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

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



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



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

How Rosé is Made

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

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

The Food

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

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pairing

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David from Cooking Chat pairs Grilled Arctic Char with Pineapple Salsa

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

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

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

Gwendolyn from Wine Predator travels Around the World With Rose

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

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


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


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

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

As usual, we have an interesting list of pairings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David from Cooking Chat pairs Grilled Arctic Char with Pineapple Salsa

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

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

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

Gwendolyn from Art Predator travels Around the World With Rose

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

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



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The Lucas Winery: It All Begins in the Vineyard

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

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

How They Got Here from There

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Someone Say Wine?

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

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

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

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

Now, Go Visit

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

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

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


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Gulfi: Wine and Food Bliss in Southeastern Sicily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gulfi Map from

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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


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June Wine Pairing Weekend Invitation: Rosé Pairings #winePW


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how to join us:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

The Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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



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

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

The Pairing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Silver Trident Winery: Wine Tasting at Home

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

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

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

The Idea

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

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

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

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

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

The Pairings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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Pink Wines from Bonny Doon Vineyard: Deliberately Different Rosé

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

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


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

The Wine & Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Cycles Gladiator: More Than an Eye-Catching Label

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

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

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

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

Re-focusing the Brand

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

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

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

The Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Scallops, Spring Veggies + a White CDP for #winePW

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

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

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

The Food

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh and elegant, a perfect description of this wine.

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

The Pairing

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

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

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


Jeff from Food Wine Click: Rabbit and Rhône

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Location, Dirt & Farming Practices


Map from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winemaking & Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Last Point

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

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


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Scilio Winery: Making Wine on Mt. Etna Since 1815

The Scilio family has been making wine at the foot of Mt. Etna since 1815, the same date that is carved on the date-stone near the current entrance to the family home. Vineyards surround the home and stretch in the direction of the volcano. The winery is just a few steps away, fully renovated and equipped with modern winemaking technology.

Scilio Winery (pronounced SHE-leo) was the second stop in our day spent wine tasting in the Etna region of Sicily. We chose to visit Scilio because the property is so historic. We were interested to see the estate and hear the family’s story. And, because the family also operates an agriturismo (farm stay) on the property, and prepares meals using local ingredients, we were able to enjoy lunch along with a tasting of Scilio wines. Sicilian food and wine sounded like the perfect pairing to us.

Table-with-a-viewWe found our way through the courtyard into the dining area where we were greeted by Luisa Scilio, who manages the agriturismo.  She seated us at a table with the most spectacular view of Mt. Etna, naturally. I had communicated with Luisa via email prior to our visit, so I was delighted to meet her.

Luisa’s parents, Giovanni and Elizabeth, are the current caretakers of the family estate and it is Giovanni’s family that has lived on and tended the estate since 1815. We had the opportunity to meet them both during lunch.

Elizabeth greeted us and introduced herself, her English unmistakably British-accented but not with a Sicilian inflection. When we asked about her accent, she laughed and told us her story. As a young woman she lived in Malta with her parents, her father was in the British diplomatic service, and this is where she met Giovanni. He had come to Malta on vacation. Over time they decided to marry and she moved to Sicily with Giovanni. Elizabeth is as comfortable speaking English as Sicilian.

Before long we had plates of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, local cheeses and salami in front of us and Luisa was reaching for the wine. The green olives were firm and bursting with flavor. Both cheeses were mild and a bit salty. I had to restrain myself with the salami, it was just so delicious. To accompany the antipasti Luisa poured a white wine.

Scilio Valle Galfina Etna Biancopale yellow in the glass with aromas and flavors of melons and stone fruit. An interesting minerality lingers on the finish along with bright acidity. This 100% Carricante provides a delicious taste of the white variety that is so closely associated with Etna DOC. 13% abv.

The Scilio family take their stewardship of the land very seriously, in fact they farm organically, without the use of pesticides or herbicides. Both the vineyards and wine cellar are certified organic. It makes so much sense when you see the property. The family lives among the vines, as is traditional. Of the 30 hectare estate, which is located near Linguaglossa northeast of Mt. Etna, approximately 24 hectares are planted. Plantings are diverse and include vineyards, olive trees, chestnut trees and vegetable gardens. What a paradise. I’m convinced more farming would be done organically if owners lived where they farmed.

We drained our wine glasses as the pasta course arrived. It was a dish familiar to me, one I had prepared at home: pasta in a cream sauce with ground pistachios. I was thrilled to be able to taste an authentic version of the dish! Sicily is famous for high-quality pistachios (pronounced pis-TAK-e-oh in Sicily), which have a characteristic green color. The pasta was delicious and very similar to the one I prepared. Elizabeth poured a rosé to accompany the pasta.

Scilio Valle Galfina Etna Rosatotransparent raspberry color in the glass with generous aromas and flavors of berries and cherries. Nice acidity underpins the fruit flavors and the finish is quite long lasting. 13% abv.

This dry style of rosé is just as delicious on a warm afternoon as it is with a meal, and it paired beautifully with the pasta. The 100% Nerello Mascalese has only 4 – 6 hours of skin contact to obtain this beautiful color. Elizabeth described this style of rosé as an old tradition in Sicily. She noted it also sells well in France, a true compliment for a rosé.

I could have happily made a meal of that creamy pasta with pistachios, but there was a main course to come and it was very special. Pork sausage Linguaglossa, beef sausage cooked in a lemon leaf and sautéed local greens. Fabulous! The pork sausage was seasoned with fennel and tasted savory and juicy. The beef sausage was smoky and infused with citrus oil from the lemon leaf. The greens, which grow wild in the vineyards, had been boiled then sautéed in olive oil, garlic and tomato. They were tender and flavorful. I could have eaten an entire plate of the sautéed greens. To accompany our main course Luisa poured two red wines.

Scilio Valle Galfina Etna Rosso light ruby in the glass with aromas and rich flavors of dark fruit, a light to medium body and well-integrated tannins. Earthy flavors in the background add delicious complexity. A perfect food wine. 14% abv.

Nerello Mascalese is fermented using indigenous yeast followed by maturation in stainless steel. The fruit flavors sing in this wine.

Scilio Orphéusmedium ruby in the glass with generous bright and dark fruit aromas and flavors. Earthy flavors are more prominent along with nice tannin structure and a medium-long finish. This wine has a bit more structure and complexity. 14.5% abv.

Serve this blend of 80% Nerello Mascalese, 20% Nerello Mantellato (the traditional name for Nerello Cappuccio) with heavier dishes. Once again, indigenous yeast fermentation, but with about 12 months oak aging and two years in the bottle before release.

The average age of the Nerello vines is about 50 years of age and the yield is relatively low. Elizabeth told us that as these older vines die out, new vines are not planted so that the quality of the older vines is not diluted with younger fruit. It’s a compromise they make for quality.

We were already stuffed nearly to bursting by the time these delightful Sicilian almond cookies arrived. They are my absolute favorite discovery from our trip to Sicily. We had them several times during our trip, all were delicious. Some are a little larger than others, but all were light, soft, sweet and intensely almond flavored. I have tried twice to make them since returning home, with disappointing results.

To accompany the almond cookies, Luisa poured us a taste of Scilio Sikélios, a passito or straw wine, made using grapes that have been dried in the sun, then added to the must of fermenting grapes for a couple of days before being pressed. The dessert wine is intensely flavored with dried fruit and a slight nuttiness that is sweet and rich. It was a nice pairing with the almond cookies.

A walk was in order after lunch, and we took advantage of the offer to tour the winemaking facility. Guido, who is a staff member of Scilio’s Valle Galfina Agriturismo, took us on a walking tour across the estate to the family home and wine cellar. We walked by the swimming pool, which looks like a recent addition, past the vegetable gardens and olive trees. The olives are harvested in November for both curing and to press for olive oil. The olives are transported to nearby Linguaglossa where they are pressed in a facility used by local farmers.

The vineyards were very natural looking, with a cover crop around the vines and between rows. After harvest sheep graze the vineyard to reduce the overgrowth naturally and fertilize the soil. In exchange for grazing the sheep, the Scilio family receives cheese made from the sheep’s milk.

Much of the vineyard work is done by nearby village residents, many of whom work in the vineyard year-round moving from pruning to leaf-pulling to picking and sorting during harvest. Several generations of some families have worked in the Scilio vineyards. Women are the main workers in the vineyard, doing much of the picking and sorting.

Elizabeth met us at their home and continued the tour with us into the wine cellar. The stone exterior of the buildings is beautiful and blends in with the natural setting. While the wine cellar is old, it is completely modernized inside, a project completed by Elizabeth’s husband Giovanni.

On our way to the tank room, which contained multiple temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, we passed carved stone canals and barrel foundations that were part of the original winery. The lava canals were used to move wine through the old winery entirely by gravity flow.

In addition to 5,000 and 6,500-liter casks made of Sicilian chestnut, French oak is used for aging. Scilio’s annual production of 90,000 bottles is bottled and labeled at the winery using their own modern bottling equipment.

We are so happy we chose to visit Scilio Winery and Valle Galfina Agriturismo.  The Scilios are gracious hosts and we thank them for their hospitality. The food and wine were delicious and the farm setting is so beautiful and peaceful. We were enchanted by the visit and may well consider a farm stay on our next visit to Sicily.

As we stood thanking Eizabeth for the interesting tour of her winery, I looked over my shoulder. Mt. Etna once again caught my eye…one more spectacular view of the mountain before heading back to Catania for the evening.

Below is a slideshow of our visit. Please enjoy.


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Vinkara Vineyards: Modern Wine from an Ancient History

When it comes to wine, I love variety. I have my favorites of course, but am always interested in trying wine from a new producer, a new country or one made from a variety with which I am unfamiliar. Sometimes I have the opportunity to taste a wine that is all three. Invariably, such an opportunity provides a learning experience.

Thanks to an inquiry from Donna White Communications regarding sample wines produced by Vinkara Vineyards, we recently had the opportunity to sample two wines made in Turkey from indigenous grape varieties. I knew very little about winemaking in Turkey, so a bit of reading was in order. I learned quite a lot.


Winemaking in the region of Anatolia, the Asian portion of modern Turkey, has an ancient history — going back thousands of years. Nearby regions are the likely origin of grapevine cultivation, as long ago as 6000 to 8000 BCE. Winemaking, accidental or otherwise, could not have been far behind. Viticulture and winemaking spread from here around the Mediterranean and beyond and the rest, as they say, is history. If Europe is considered Old World in terms of winemaking, then Turkey certainly qualifies as Ancient World.

Though winemaking has an ancient history in Turkey, wine consumption in the Islamic country is at present is very low and government regulations impose very high taxes on wine. The export market will be important for winemaking in Turkey to succeed financially.


Map from

Vinkara Vineyards is situated near the town of Kalecik (Kah-le-djic), about an hour’s drive northeast of the city of Ankara in Turkey. The winery was established in 2003 and has about 135 acres of vineyards, half planted to Kalecik Karasi (named for the nearby town) and the rest to other indigenous red varieties (Okuzgozu, Bogazkere), white indigenous varieties (Hasandede and Narince) as well as international varieties.

The climate in this Central Anatolia region of Turkey is warm and dry in summer and very cold in winter. The elevation, which is 2000 feet above sea level, means summer nights are cool, helping to preserve acidity as grapes ripen.

A lack of humidity results in reduced disease pressure on the grape vines. Soil is enriched with the use of cover crops that are tilled into the soil in spring and weeds are controlled without the use of herbicides. All of this translates to an essentially organic method of viticulture, though the vineyard is not certified as such. Add variable soil types, slope and aspect into the mix and you have all of the necessary natural ingredients to produce quality wine.

The Wine

We received two wines produced by Vinkara Vineyards as tasting samples, one white and one red. We paired each wine with a meal, because that’s how we enjoy wine — with food.

2013Vinkara-Narince2013 Vinkara Vineyards Narincemedium yellow in the glass with delicate white flower and melon aromas. Dusty gravel, juicy, ripe lemon and lime flavors combine with hints of the same white flowers reflected in the aromas. The wine has nice acidity and a medium weight in the mouth. An interesting, lingering dusty minerality on the finish completely drew me in. The flavors keep you thinking, looking for the perfect description of what you are tasting. 13% abv. SRP $15.

Narince, pronounced Nah-rin-djeh, comes from the Tokat region near the Black Sea in Turkey. The name translates to delicate, which aptly describes the aroma of this wine. Quite a lot of Narince is planted in Turkey, and it is grown for table grapes as well as winemaking. I wonder how many grape varieties make good table grapes and delicious wine?



We paired the Vinkara Narince with pan-sautéed Petrale sole and zucchini ribbons sautéed in butter and garlic and finished with fresh tarragon and citrus zest. The delicate flavors of the Petrale sole were the perfect complement to complex flavors of the wine and the wine’s bright acidity perfectly balanced the richness of both the fish and the zucchini.




2012Vinkara-Kalecik-Karasi-Reserve2012 Vinkara Vineyards Kalecik Karasi Reserve medium ruby in the glass with generous earthy, red fruit and cedar aromas. Complex berry and cherry flavors combine with leather, cocoa and roasted coffee bean flavors. The body is light to medium and the tannins a bit drying and gauzy. The finish is very long with flavor and lingering delicate tannins. 13.5% abv. SRP $27.

What a surprise of flavors! The combination of earthy, fruit and cocoa flavors was so delicious and flavors continued to evolve with time in the glass. We enjoyed every drop of this wine, and the flavors remained remarkably unchanged for several days (we stored the wine in the refrigerator, corked.)



We chose to pair this wine with a simple pasta dish that included tomatoes, onions, just a bit of garlic and spinach. A dusting of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano added a zesty saltiness. It was quick to put together and very enjoyable with the Kalecik Karasi. Easy to prepare and delicious, my favorite pairing!

In addition to enjoying the wine, I found the bottle labels very informative. Both clearly identify the grape variety, which is very helpful to those of us unfamiliar with varieties indigenous to Turkey.

Both Vinkara wines are distributed nationally. Look for them. You will be pleased by the quality and versatility of the wines and surprised by the complex flavors of both.

Thanks to Donna White Communications and Vinkara Winery for providing us with the opportunity to taste these delicious wines…and the opportunity to learn a bit about Vinkara and their winemaking in Turkey.


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Wine, Friends and Food: Our OTBN and #winePW Evening

OTBN, otherwise known as Open That Bottle Night, is always celebrated on the last Saturday in February; at least it has been since 1999. That’s when Wall Street Journal columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher came up with the idea of dedicating one night to opening that very special bottle of wine in your wine cellar. One you’ve been holding, waiting for just the right occasion to open.

We are relative newcomers to the OTBN celebration. This year’s celebration was only our third, and the second celebrated with our Wine Pairing Weekend friends. David, who blogs at Cooking Chat and is also the originator of #winePW, sent out this month’s invitation to create food pairings to complement our OTBN wine.

Of course, we decided immediately to participate in the OTBN food and wine pairing. We put our heads together with friends whom we wanted to include in the evening and hatched a plan. They would host the evening, and do all of the cooking, and we would all bring wine and our appetites. What great friends, right?

So, this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend was a bit different. No cooking or cleaning up for us, just a wonderful evening filled with delicious food and wine and great friends. Here is how our evening unfolded.

The wine

MonteDelFraCustozaSuperiore2012 Monte del Frá Cà Del Magro Custoza Superioremedium yellow in the glass with delicate dried hay and floral aromas along with delicate apple aromas. Citrusy flavors combine with intense minerality for a long finish. Nice acidity makes this wine very food friendly. This wine is a pleasant combination of both familiar and new flavors and will keep you thinking, reaching for descriptions of the flavors you are tasting. 13 % abv.

Bianco di Custoza/Custoza DOC is located in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. The small region is named for Custoza, a small village near Sommacampagna between Lake Garda and Verona, and to the south of all three. Still white wines, spumante (sparkling) and passito (dessert) are authorized by the DOC.

Trebbiano and Garganega are the predominant white grape varieties allowed, with lesser amounts of Friulano, Cortese, Chardonnay, Malvasia, Manzoni Bianco, Pinot Bianco, and/or Welschriesling. Minimum alcohol level is 11% for Bianco di Custoza, but for Superiore it is 12.5% minimum.

We recently tasted a collection of wines from Custoza DOC ranging from the 2015 vintage back to 2007. It was very illuminating and all of the wines still tasted very fresh. That tasting is the reason Pete recognized this wine on the shelf at a local wine shop. Quite a find.

We enjoyed this wine before dinner with cheese, olives and charcuterie, but you could just as easily enjoy it with dinner. It would pair beautifully with fish or chicken or creamy pasta dishes.

1997BV-GDL1974 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latourtranslucent garnet in the glass. Complex aromas and flavors include cedar, earth and leather. Fruit flavors are not primary. Tannins are very smooth and the body is light to medium. The finish is lingering with salty, leather and earthy flavors. This wine is the soft-spoken gentleman in the room who has the most interesting stories to tell. You will want to listen intently. 13.5% abv.

This delightful wine required a bit of work before we were able to enjoy its lovely flavors. Our friend pulled the bottle gently from his wine suitcase upon arriving. Everyone’s eyebrows lifted as we noticed the label and the vintage. “Well, this wine could be great, or it could be shit,” our friend very eloquently declared as he presented the wine. “It will need to be decanted.” he continued. One more cautionary note: care should be taken with the cork, as it would likely be fragile.

The guys went to work on the wine. It took two of them, in turn, to extract the cork (in pieces), and double-decant the wine — there was significant sediment. It was pretty hilarious, actually. Who has more fun than wine lovers?

We were all astonished at the transformation this wine made after being decanted. Initially the flavors tasted very oxidized, almost Sherry like. We sipped and looked at each other doubtfully. But, over time this wine showed us it had quite a lot left to offer. The color was more like Pinot Noir than Cabernet. The flavors were very evolved, with fruit flavors much in the background, but it was a delight to taste — and so educational.

Beaulieu Vineyard (BV to most) has a long history in the Napa Valley. From the BV website:

In 1900, when Georges de Latour’s wife, Fernande, first laid eyes on the land that would become their original Rutherford vineyard, she named it “beau lieu,” or “beautiful place.” Shortly thereafter, de Latour sold his thriving cream of tartar business, bought the four-acre ranch and founded Beaulieu Vineyard with the vision of making Napa Valley wines that would rival those of his native France.

The list of BV winemakers over the years includes some pretty impressive names: André Tchelistcheff, Mike Grgich, Joel Aiken, and now Jeffrey Stambor. BV is synonymous with Rutherford Cabernet at its best.

01RMondavi-Cab2001 Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignonmedium ruby in the glass with generous minty, eucalyptus aromas along with bright red fruit. Red and dark fruit flavors combine earth, tobacco, leather and a bit of mint on the finish. Tannins are smooth and well integrated and the finish is very long. 14.5% abv.

Yet another delicious interpretation of Cabernet Sauvignon. This Cabernet had those lovely minty flavors that are so memorable in the variety. It has aged gracefully and has plenty of flavor remaining. What a pleasure to drink.

I found remarkably detailed notes on the vintage, vineyards and vinification for this wine. It is very worthwhile to read them. Winemakers seem to document every detail of a harvest, I’m so happy the winery shared that detail with us online.

07LeClarenceDeHaut-Brion2007 Le Clarence de Haut-Brionbright, dense ruby in the glass. Dark-fruit flavors predominate along with earth, leather and cedar. Tannins are firm and the finish is at least moderate in length. This wine is still very youthful and flavorful. Easily identifiable as Cabernet, if not Bordeaux. 13% abv.

There was no challenge in removing the cork and decanting this wine. It was easy to drink as well. Flavors are evolved, but fruit is still very evident in the flavors. By comparison, this wine is the baby of the group.

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion is the second-label wine of Bordeaux First Growth Château Haut-Brion. The wine is sourced from the same vineyards as the First Growth, but is made to be drunk younger. Also very important…it’s much more affordable than the Château Haut-Brion.

The Food

Our friend prepared what I think of as his signature dish: braised short ribs. But before we get to the main dish, there was soup. Creamy Artichoke Soup to be exact. It had unmistakable artichoke flavors and included potatoes and leeks in a rich and creamy texture. He garnished the soup with mascarpone and chives. It was like eating the creamy heart of an artichoke — my favorite part of the vegetable.

Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine Demi-glace, Mushroom Risotto and Creamed Spinach Gratin followed. The short ribs were juicy and tender, they fell apart at the touch of my fork. The red wine demi-glace was silky, rich and flavorful. I had to restrain myself from licking my plate (just kidding – well kind of!) The mushroom risotto was creamy and earthy. The creamy spinach was perfectly smooth with delicious savory flavors contributed by the Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Dessert followed with brownies and lemon tartlets, both homemade of course! A delicious ending to a fabulous meal.

The Pairings

My favorite wine pairing with the Creamy Artichoke soup was the 1974 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour. Both flavors were delicate, and so they were well matched. To be fair, I was so involved in the delicate flavors of the BV, I hardly got to the other wines until the main course. My bad.

We struck gold with the main course and wine pairings. Every wine was divine with the short ribs, mushroom risotto and spinach gratin. I drained the last of the BV Georges de Latour, and refilled my glass with the Le Clarence de Haut-Brion. My second wine glass already contained the 2001 Robert Mondavi Cabernet. I ate, I sipped, moving back a forth between the two Cabs. Both were delicious. The Robert Mondavi Cabernet was more distinctive than the Le Carence de Haute-Brion, but it’s very difficult to say which was better.

Our meal was leisurely. We talked wine, food, travel and even politics without a food fight. It was a wonderful evening spent with great friends enjoying fabulous food and wine. On nights like this I feel very fortunate.

Be sure to read about the pairings the rest of the #winePW group created for their OTBN  celebrations:

Culinary Adventure with Camilla posted “Dracaena’s Cabernet Franc with Steak au Poivre et Thé

Curious Cuisiniere is pairing “Teriyaki Salmon and Pinot Noir

Dracaena Wines shared “When Will Some Day Be? Open That Bottle Now

Tasting Pour is posting “Steak Diane and Bell Cab Sauvignon

Rockin Red Blog is sharing “Open That Bottle Night with a Beautiful Italian

L’Occasion is sharing “Wines of Les Baux-de-Provence to Enjoy with Steak Frites

foodwineclick posted “Are You Kidding Me? Rosé for OTBN?”

The Armchair Sommelier shared “OTBN: A Pipe, a Port, and a Pudding

ENOFYLZ Wine Blog brings us An Italian-Themed #OTBN

Cooking Chat posted “Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms and a Burgundy

We will be chatting about our OTBN food and wine pairings on Twitter, Saturday morning, March 12 at 8am PST. Follow #winePW to join the conversation. You can also plan to join us next month’s event. In April we will be talking about Spring Meal Pairings for Southern Rhone Wines, hosted by Jill at L’Occasion. You can get the full list of past and upcoming #winePW event here.


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Terrazze dell’Etna: Three Shades of Nerello Mascalese from Sicily’s Etna DOC

Our driver was unfamiliar with the location of the winery. He relied upon his GPS which sent us, not to the recently constructed wine cellar but, to the vineyards and home located further uphill toward Mt. Etna. We were happy for the detour, it allowed us a brief glimpse of the terraced vineyards after which the winery is named.

Vincenzo wasn’t as thrilled, but was very gracious as he negotiated a road more intended for tractors than passenger vehicles. When the road became impassable he reached for his phone. A lyrical conversation, which we could not understand, ensued. His attention was drawn toward the house and a blond woman motioned for him to turn around and drive back toward the paved road. She met us at the road, her arm extended and waving from behind the wheel of her white Fiat 500. Vincenzo had to step on it in order to keep up as we buzzed downhill toward the winery. We could not have had a more delightful introduction to wine tasting in Sicily.

In nothing flat, Alessia Bevilacqua had everything arranged for our wine tasting. A collection of local cheese, olives and sausage were arranged along with the three wines we would taste. Before the tasting however, we talked vineyards, winemaking and enjoyed a tour of the winery.

Terrazze dell’Etna, a relative newcomer to Etna DOC, is located northwest of Mt. Etna. Palermo native Nino Bevilacqua, Alessia’s father, purchased vineyards there in 2007 and built a new winemaking facility. Consulting enologist Riccardo Cotarella was hired to work with winemaker Pier Giuseppe Carucci.

The 36-hectares of vineyards are a combination of old and new. Alessia told us the oldest Nerello Mascalese vines are 150 years of age and vineyard locations range from 650 to 900 meters above sea level in various locations. Albarello trellising is used (head trained or goblet to us) and the yield in these vineyards is quite low, but the quality is very high.

Vineyards are planted to Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Pinot Nero, Petit Verdot and Chardonnay. Much of the vineyard work is done by hand, including all harvesting. Though the vineyard is not certified organic, Alessia told us chemical sprays are not used in the vineyards.

Because of the variety of vineyard elevations and the number of grape varieties planted, harvesting is done in essentially three phases. The first to be harvested is Pinot Nero and Chardonnay, and that harvest had been completed two weeks prior to our visit on the 19th of September. Nerello Mascalese for rosé production was in progress at the time of our visit and the last harvest would be Nerello for red wine production — as late as the last part of October.

One of the charms of wine tasting abroad is tasting wine made with indigenous varieties — as we were about to discover. Alessia had organized a tasting of Nerello Mascalese, the red variety for which Etna DOC is best known. The variety originated on the eastern slopes of Mt. Etna and is named after Mascali, a coastal city in the area. We were treated to three interpretations of Nerello Mascalese, a white, a rosé and a red. Clearly, Nerello Mascalese is the star of the show at Terrazze dell’Etna.

The tasting area in the winery is specifically designed to focus the taster’s attention on the wine: the lights are low and classical music plays in the background. Food is served with the wine, because that is how wine is mostly enjoyed. The tasting area is lovely, though the photographer in me would have liked a bit more light.

2013-Terrazze-dellEtna-Ciuri2013 Terrazze dell’Etna Ciurivery light yellow in the glass with delicate floral aromas and flavors combined with minerals and earth. Bright and refreshing. 12.5% abv.

Ciuri means flower in Sicilian and Alessia told us the wine is named for flowers found in a natural area, similar to the natural areas of Mt. Etna where the vineyards are located. The red Nerello Mascalese grape is pressed off and the nearly colorless juice is vinified without any skin contact.

This wine is the product of the innovative thinking at Terrazze dell’Etna —their thinking outside the box. They are thinking outside the Etna DOC regulations as well, which require Etna Bianco to be made from a minimum of 60% Carricante, up to 40% Catarratto and a maximum of 15% Trebbiano, white Minnella or other white varieties suitable to the area. Nerello Mascalese is not allowed in the production of Etna Bianco and for that reason you see Vino Bianco on the label.

2013-Terrazze-dellEtna-Rosato2013 Terrazze dell’Etna Rosatotransparent salmon color in the glass with fragrant cherry aromas and flavors, bright acidity and once again lovely minerality. 12.5% abv.

Only 8 hours of skin contact prior to fermentation produces the lovely salmon color of this wine along with the bright and lively fruit and cherry flavors. This wine will be delightful on a warm afternoon and will easily move to dinner as well. We plan to test this theory soon — we brought a bottle home with us!


2012-Terrazze-dellEtna- Carusu2012 Terrazze dell’Etna Carusutransparent ruby in the glass with generous dark fruit, dry earth and smoky aromas and flavors. Firm tannins give this wine great structure and the finish is juicy. A lovely wine that is easy to drink, but by no means simple. 14.5% abv.

The color of this wine in the glass made me think of Pinot Noir, however the flavor is quite different as are the firm tannins. I particularly enjoyed the earthy, dark fruit flavors in this wine.

This blend of 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio is aged 6 months in wood and one year in the bottle before release. The two Nerellos are frequently blended together in Etna DOC with Mascalese described as firmer and Cappuccio as softer.

Carusu means little brother in Sicilian, and this wine is considered the little brother of Terrazze dell’Etna’s Cirneco, which is sourced from the oldest Nerello Mascalese vines (from 60 to 150 years old.) Alessia described Cirneco as a wine for meditation.

Sparkling-wine-productionAt this point you may be wondering why Chardonnay and Pinot Nero are being grown by Terrazze dell’Etna. Sparkling wine, of course. Terrazze dell’Etna produces a Cuveé Brut from 100% Chardonnay and Rosé Brut which is 90% Pinot Nero and 10% Nerello Mascalese. Both are produced using metodo classico with the second fermentation in bottle and all riddling is done by hand. Both spend 36 months on the lees. A labor of love.

If you are at all curious about these fine wines produced on the slopes of Mt. Etna, you are in luck. A portion of the 180,000-bottle production  is available in the U.S. (except for the Rosato, which is why we snagged a bottle while we were there. We just couldn’t resist.) We found the combination of fruit flavors and earthiness in these wines really interesting. It’s almost as if we could taste the volcanic soil that defines Etna DOC reflected in the wine.

We could not have chosen a better first wine tasting experience in Etna DOC. The opportunity to taste Nerello Mascalese made in three distinct wine styles successfully demonstrates just how versatile and delicious the variety is. Thank you, Alessia, for sharing you enthusiasm for Nerello Mascalese with us.


As we stepped outside the winery after the tasting, there was the mountain rising above us belching smoke and looking majestic. Mt. Etna of course dominates the landscape in the region, and I was constantly torn between keeping an eye on the ever-changing plume of smoke being expressed by Europe’s tallest and most active volcano and the grapevines through which we drove. What a lovely dilemma.

Below is a slideshow of our visit to Terrazze dell’Etna. Please enjoy.


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Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge: Everyday Wine Needn’t Be Ordinary

What’s the best way to make a weeknight meal special? I say, prepare a deliciously simple meal and pair it with an interesting wine that won’t break the bank. We recently received just such a wine as a tasting sample. Read on for the food and wine pairing that made for such an enjoyable weeknight meal.

The Wine

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge is a delightful blend produced by well known Rhône Valley producer Michel Chapoutier from his Roussillon estate. This wine is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan and is an example of the fine quality wines being produced in Roussillon’s Mediterranean climate.

Bila-Haut-Rouge2014 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge Côtes du Roussillon Villagesmedium ruby-violet color in the glass with generous fruity, plum aromas. Red and dark fruit flavors combine with savory notes in the background, moderate drying tannins and bright acidity. The body is medium and the finish moderate in length. 14% abv.

The combination of Syrah and Grenache fruit flavors provides an interesting combination of dark and red fruit flavors, but it’s those savory background notes make this wine so memorable. Is it dried marjoram or hints of thyme? Hard to say, but easy to drink. This wine is perfectly balanced with bright acidity and nice tannins. It is delicious on its own, and it paired beautifully our simple meal.

The Food

Oven roasting is one of my favorite cooking methods during the cooler months. Quality ingredients, in this case a Mary’s Free Range chicken, simply seasoned along with a medley of vegetables made a perfect weeknight meal. No sauce or gravy necessary, that saves calories. The chicken was juicy and perfectly browned. The vegetables, a combination of Yukon gold potatoes, carrots, onions and Brussels sprouts were sweet and caramelized. Simply delicious.

Bila-Haut-Roasted-Chicken-VegetablesThe fruit and savory flavors of the wine paired beautifully with the roasted flavors of the chicken and vegetables. The Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge would also pair beautifully with roasted pork or salmon. We enjoyed a prior vintage of this wine with chicken cooked outdoors on the grill.

With a price of about $15 per 750ml bottle, the Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge Côtes du Roussillon Villages is affordable for a weeknight dinner. It is just as well suited to accompany a special dinner or as a gift for friends. Michel Chapoutier also produces a white blend and rosé under the Domaine de Bila-Haut label. We have tasted both, and they are delicious as well. Look for them.

Thank you to Creative Palate Communications for this, and prior tastes of  Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge Côtes du Roussillon Villages.


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