A Trio of Argentinian Wines Perfect for Summer Sipping

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

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

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

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

Pairing 1

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Pairing 2

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amêijoas na Cataplana and 2014 Soalheiro Alvarinho

The Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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

A bit about the region and its wines.

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

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

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

Subregions of Vinho Verde DOC

Vinho Verde subregion map from

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

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

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

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

The Pairing

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


Map from Finger Lakes Wine Alliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what we tasted:

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

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

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

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

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

What a great story!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut and Cobb Salad

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

The Food

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


The original Brown Derby restaurant.
Photo by Chalmers Butterfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pairing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Lodi Native Project 2013 Vintage: Letting the Vineyards Shine Through

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

Lodi Native Project 2013

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

<a href="http://pullthatcork.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2013-Lodi-Native-Stampede-Vineyard-Zinfandel-Fields-Family-Wines.jpg"><img class="alignleft size-large wp-image-10498" src="http://pullthatcork.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2013-Lodi-Native-Stampede-Vineyard-Zinfandel-Fields-Family-Wines-261x400.jpg" alt="2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel Fields Family Wines" width="261" height="400" /></a>

Lodi AVA map from lodiwine.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Mokelumne Glen Vineyards: What’s New in Winemaking

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

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

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

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

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

White Wine

Markus Niggli :: Markus Wine Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Rorick :: Forlorn Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cameron Frey :: Sidebar Wine Cellar

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

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

2014 Sidebar Kerner


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

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

Red Wine

Jason Holman :: Holman Cellars

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

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

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

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

Daniel Fishman :: Hatton Daniels Wine Cellar

Daniel Fishman


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



2014 Hatton Daniels MGV Blaufankisch


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

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

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

Emily Vergil and Drew Huffine :: Trail Marker Wine Co

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

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

2014 Trail Marker MG Zweigelt


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



Trail Marker Zweigelt in the glass

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

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


Sweet Wine

Layne Montgomery :: m2 Wines

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

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

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

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

The Take Aways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Food

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

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

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

The Pairing

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

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

Pea puree pasta

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

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

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


Wine Pairing Weekend July: Join us next month! 

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

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Kudos Wine: An excellent value in the Willamette Valley

The Willamette Valley in Oregon has earned a reputation for producing outstanding pinot noir and we are big fans of the region and the variety. In addition to pinot noir from the Willamette Valley, we have recently tasted some very fine chardonnay and pinot gris from the region.

So, when we were recently contacted regarding our interest in tasting a selection of wine from Oregon’s Willamette Valley we could not have been more pleased. It was a happy day when the wine shipment arrived and we discovered that Kudos Wine had sent us a selection that included not only pinot noir, but chardonnay and pinot gris as well.

2014 Kudos WV Chardonnay2014 Kudos Willamette Valley Chardonnay very pale yellow in the glass with generous melon aromas and flavors along with a bit of citrus zest and hints of tropical fruit. The finish is clean, medium in length and very flavorful. Nice acidity. 700 cases produced. 13.2% abv. $15.99

This 100% chardonnay is made using a combination of neutral oak and stainless steel aging for 8 months. The kiss of oak allows the flavors of the chardonnay to shine through. Sip this wine on a warm afternoon, pair it with creamy pasta, chicken salad or vegetable lasagne. It has plenty of acid for a creamy dish, and will taste as good with food as it does on its own.

2012 Kudos WV Pinot Gris2014 Kudos Willamette Valley Pinot Grisvery pale yellow in the glass with aromas of dry stones. Very delicate melon flavors combine with stony minerality and delicate peach flavors. Summery flavors are balanced with bright acidity and the finish is surprisingly long. 5500 cases produced. 13.1% abv. $12.99

All stainless steel production of this 100% Pinot Gris preserves the stony minerality and the delicate fruit flavors of the grape. This pinot gris is so enjoyable to sip on its own because of the lingering finish. It would be a good choice to pair with small plates, summer salads or soft cheeses.

2013 Kudos WV Pinot Noir2013 Kudos Willamette Valley Pinot Noirtranslucent ruby in the glass with raspberry and woodsy aromas. Earthy flavors combine with berry brambles and slightly tart cherry and berry flavors, nice acidity and a bit more grip from tannins than expected. The body is fairly light with plenty of texture and flavor. 9000 cases produced. 13.1% abv. $12.99

This is a delightful, lighter-bodied pinot noir perfect for summertime and received only six months of neutral oak aging before bottling. It is a tremendous value. You can’t go wrong just sipping this pinot noir on a warm afternoon, but it will pair nicely with a variety of food. Pair this lighter-bodied wine with charcuterie, hummus dip or fish. Keep reading to find out about the little experiment we did with this wine!

2012 Kudos Reserve Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir2012 Kudos Reserve Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noirmedium ruby in the glass with generous aromas of ripe blackberries and earth. Ripe blackberry flavors with woodsy, earthy notes combine with nice acidity and drying tannins. Overall, darker and more abundant fruit flavors with a medium body and nice tannin structure. 1000 cases produced. 14.3% abv. $21.99

This wine is such a lovely color in the glass. With 10 months of neutral oak aging (just 11% new oak was used), there is plenty of beautiful dark fruit flavor to enjoy along with great tannins. I would be happy to begin any evening with a glass of this pinot noir, and then gladly pair it with grilled pork chops, roasted chicken or lamb for dinner.

As is often the case when we receive sample wines for evaluation, we share them with our wine friends. We, along with our friends, were surprised by the complexity of the pinot gris and the tannin structure and depth of flavor exhibited by the pinot noir. The chardonnay was just downright enjoyable. These wines offer very good value for the price. They may not deliver the complexity you would expect from $40 to $50 wines, but are an excellent choice for everyday drinking. After all, most of us cannot afford to (nor should we need to) spend that much for a good bottle of wine on a regular basis.

We did a little experiment with the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the Reserve Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir…we chilled them. After initially tasting both wines at cellar temperature, we lightly chilled both. We were inspired to do so by a recent tasting we attended during which we tasted a selection of summer wines, all of which were lightly chilled. Among the white wines was one pinot noir, and we were both very surprised how much we enjoyed that chilled pinot noir.

Just as with that prior tasting, we found we enjoyed the lightly chilled Kudos Willamette Valley Pinot Noir very much. The lighter body and bright fruit flavors are complimented by chilling.

While we found the darker fruit and earthy flavors of the Kudos Reserve Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir very nice chilled, we preferred to enjoy it at cellar temperature. Somehow it seems to formal a wine for chilling.

Kudos Wine is produced at NW Wine Company, a custom crush facility located in Dundee, Oregon, in the heart of the Willamette Valley. The winemaker, Laurent Montalieu, is Bordeaux born and educated. He has been making wine in Oregon for more than 25 years. Grapes are harvested selectively from Willamette Valley vineyards.

kudos: ku·dos / noun / praise or respect that you get because of something you have done or achieved

Kudos Wine certainly deserves praise for this selection of Willamette Valley wines. Each is delicious, well balance and as noted earlier, delivers excellent value for the price. We are happy to have sampled these wines. Look for them.


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Spicy Chicken Salad with Guacamole and a South African Rosé for #winePW

With Cinco de Mayo in mind, the May wine pairing weekend (#winePW) topic was South of the Border. The choice of topics by Christy Majors, this month’s host of #winePW, couldn’t have been any better. You will find an introductory post about this month’s paring on Cindy’s blog, Confessions of a Culinary Diva.

We love preparing and eating Mexican food and have several favorite Mexican food cookbooks. Diana Kennedy’s Mexican Regional Cooking was my first Mexican cookbook, and always the cookbook I consult first when thinking about cooking Mexican food.

Mexican cookbooks
We also have two cookbooks by Rick Bayless, Authentic Mexican and Mexican Everyday. Both are excellent and we cook from them often.

Because our weekends have been busy in the past month, we needed to find a recipe that didn’t require lots of time. As much as I was hungry for cochinita pibil, there was just not time for it this month. Another factor is the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having, which has already put us into summer mode in terms of eating lighter.

We chose Grilled Chicken Salad with Rustic Guacamole, Romaine and Queso Añejo from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. The salad was delicious, very spicy and didn’t take too long to prepare. Perfect for our South of the Border wine pairing weekend.

The introduction of this recipe in the cookbook perfectly describes it:

“Here’s an offering to entice folks out of the “grilled chicken Caesar” rut. True, it starts with grilled chicken, but chicken that is redolent of roasted garlic, green chile, cilantro and lime, chicken that dances the cumbia with guacamole, crisp romaine and nutty aged cheese.”

Now for a wine to pair with this spicy chicken salad. We considered a white wine initially, figuring a dry white wine would be a good match. Ultimately though, we decided to pour a rosé…we just love dry rosé so much and drink it very often during the summer months (though I am not opposed to drinking rosé during cooler months as well!) We chose our last bottle of 2013 Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coral.

The Food

The recipe calls for a spicy dressing that is prepared from chilis and garlic cooked in oil and then pureed along with cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. The dressing is used to marinate the chicken breasts before grilling them, to spice up a chunky guacamole and grilled onion mixture as well as a dressing for the lettuce.

The ingredients
I used two serrano chilis and one jalapeño. The jalapeño was not hot at all, tasting more like a green bell pepper than a chili. The two serrano chilis were spicy however, and in spite of their spiciness, I did not remove the ribs or seeds from the halved chilis before sautéing them along with the garlic and jalapeño. As a result, the dressing was very spicy, just how we like it. To make a dressing that is less spicy, simply remove the ribs and seeds before you sauté them.

Next, I combined the softened chiles, garlic and the oil with cilantro, lime juice and salt and pepper in the bowl of a small food processor. I processed the mixture until it was smooth. It was delicious.

We marinated the three skinless, boneless chicken breasts (Mary’s Free Range Chicken is the only chicken I buy) in a bit of the dressing for the length of time it took to prepare the grill and for the fire to burn down.

The recipe called for a white onion to be grilled, but because there were beautiful, red spring onions in the Farmer’s Market I used them instead.

While Pete grilled the onions and the chicken breasts, I prepared the lettuce. In addition to the chopped romaine, I used a bit of baby arugula — just for interest.

Once the onions were grilled, I chopped them and added them to the diced avocados along with a few teaspoons of the spicy dressing. This makes the rustic guacamole, which you can leave chunky or smash if you like the texture a bit more creamy.

Spicy chicken salad with guacamole
We let the chicken breasts rest a few minutes before dicing them, and assembling the salad. I added a few tablespoons of the dressing along with a bit more olive oil to lightly dress the greens. Then each plate got a dollop of guacamole, some diced chicken on a bed of greens and a dusting of grated Mexican queso añejo cheese.

The Wine

We dug into our wine cellar and pulled out one of our very favorite rosés — one made in South Africa. Waterkloof Wine Estate is a biodynamically-certified wine farm located in Somerset West, in the southeastern portion of Stellenbosch. We first tasted this rosé during a winery visit last July. At that time, we fell in love with the beautiful setting of the winery and their commitment to biodynamic farming principles, which we wrote about in a prior post. We will post shortly about our wine tasting with Waterkloof winemaker Nadia Barnard and the delicious lunch we enjoyed at their spectacular restaurant. It seems like we always have that food and wine thing going on!

Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coral2013 Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coralpale coppery-salmon color in the glass with generous aromas of ripe berries, spice and earth. Similar berry flavors combine with delicate earthy flavors and just a grating of citrus zest. The finish is fairly long lasting with flavor and bright  acidity. ABV 13.5%.

To Pete, this wine sings with the flavors he associates with Mourvèdre. Aromas are evident as soon as the wine is poured into the glass and the flavors exhibit a level of complexity that mostly comes only from a rosé made using several varieties. It really is a special wine.

The grapes were hand harvested and gently whole bunch pressed. Fermentation, using natural yeast, was long and slow in large wooden fermenters which allows the complex flavors you taste in the glass to develop. We loved the wine the first time we tasted it last July, and still do today.

The Pairing

Wow! The Grilled Chicken Salad with Rustic Guacamole, Romaine and Queso Añejo was deliciously spicy, peppery and creamy thanks to the guacamole. The chicken had nice smoky, charred flavors and a zestiness thanks to the marinade. The combination of romaine and baby arugula made for an interesting contrast of flavor and texture.

Spicy chicken salad and Waterkloof rosé
I was a bit concerned that the heat of the dish would overwhelm the rosé, but that was not the case. The spicy flavors of the chicken salad actually brought out even more berry flavors in the rosé — truly an amazing combination. Even though the rosé is completely dry, it did seem to cool down the heat from the salad just a bit.

Really a delicious combination and a good choice for any evening when time is short. We grilled three chicken breasts, which means we had two left over which we sliced and used to make sandwiches for lunches  the following few days. I love to cook once and eat several times!

Benefit number two from this recipe was left over spicy salad dressing. We used the spicy dressing the next evening to marinate halibut before grilling it. Oh my gosh, it was so good — worth a post on its own.

And finally, benefit number three is that we have now enjoyed our last bottle of 2013 Waterkloof Cape Coral and one of our favorite wine purveyors now has the 2014 in stock  so our cellar has been replenished. We will be enjoying the 2014 Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coral rosé all summer long!

For more South of the Border recipe and wine pairing ideas, check out the posts of the rest of our wine pairing weekend bloggers. The list looks delicious!

We will be chatting about all of these great combinations, and more, on Saturday morning (May 9) at 8am PST. I know it’s early, but grab a cup of coffee and join the conversation by following #winePW on Twitter.


Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Cam has prepared “Dry-Rubbed Tri Tip Roast with Halter Ranch ‘s 2011 Cotes de Paso”
Cindy from Grape Experiences “Wine and Dine for #winePW: Matanegra Vendimia Seleccionada 2010 and Queso Fundido”
David from Cooking Chat is pairing “Spanish Wine for Pork Tacos”
Jennifer from Vino Travels mixes it up with “Mexican meets Italian: Fish Tacos with Stemmari Sparkling Grillo”
Lori from Dracaena Wines “Mexican Musings on #WinePW”
Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog “Chicken Pipian Verde, Mexican Quinoa and the Devil’s Collection White”
Michelle from Rockin Red Blog “Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with #WinePW”
Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere presents “Carnitas and the Basics of Mexican Food & Wine Pairing”
Wendy from A Day in the Life on a Farm is bring us Veggie Quesadillas with and old vine Nisia from Spain
Confessions of a Culinary Diva is pairing wines from Baja California

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Montes: Dry Farming in the Colchagua Valley, Chile

Montes winery was founded with the goal of producing truly premium quality Chilean wine for export. At a time when Chilean winemakers were producing wines mostly for local consumption, the two original founders, Aurelio Montes, Sr. and Douglas Murray, had bigger plans. The year was 1987 and by the following year Montes and Murray were joined by Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand and the winery was founded.

Montes vineyard map

Image from monteswines.com

Montes was among the first to plant grapes in foothills of the Apalta Mountains in the western Colchagua Valley. They planted the granite soils to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot vines grown from French clones. The wines were aged in new French oak.

Syrah soon followed, the first to be planted in the Colchagua Valley. Others were skeptical that Syrah could succeed here. As a nod to that skepticism, the Montes bottling from their steepest vineyards is called Folly.

The 1987 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine that started it all for the winery. Over the past 25 years the reputation of Montes has increased as has the reputation of Chilean wine in general. Today, Montes’ wines are exported to more than 100 countries around the world.

Farming sustainably has been a priority at Montes since its beginning. According to owner and winemaker Aurelio Montes, Sr., “80% of good wine comes from the vineyards and only 20% from the cellar.” By using integrated management programs to monitor diseases and pests, natural predators can be used when possible to minimize the use of pesticides.

Erosion and compaction in the vineyards are controlled with the use of ground cover. Grazing animals, sheep and llamas, help keep weeds under control and reduce the need to use herbicides. Water use is closely monitored and studies have been undertaken to determine the effects of limited water application on fruit development. As a result of these studies, Montes has determined the optimal water needs for their vineyards based on soil type, location and variety. According to the winery, “Findings have been dramatic, illustrating that less irrigation results in lower yields of higher quality grapes.”

So, most vineyards are sparingly irrigated using drip irrigation. Some vineyards are dry-farmed, meaning they are watered only when Mother Nature does not provide enough moisture to sustain the grapevines. The result: better quality fruit and a significant amount of water is being saved in the vineyard. During the 2013-2014 season, the winery was able to decrease water usage in the vineyards by 65%.

Certified Sustainable Wine of Chili seal

Seal from sustentavid.org

Montes first earned National Wine Industry Sustainability Code Certification in 2011. Today they are in the process of completing certification for all three areas of the code: vineyards, winery, and social development.

We recently had the opportunity to taste three wines produced by Montes and to chat with winemaker Aurelio Montes, Sr. via Twitter during #SommChat. The virtual tasting was organized by Feast PR, who sent us the samples for tasting. All three wines are produced from vineyards following Montes’ dry farming practices.

Montes Alpha 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignondark ruby in the glass with aromas of dark fruit, spice and a hint of bell pepper. Flavors are similar with dark fruit dominating with just back notes of green pepper for interest. Tannins are smooth an well integrated. ABV 14%.

This is a wine that should appeal to a wide spectrum of wine lovers. It has nice fruit flavors and ample tannins without being overly tannic. The flavorful dark fruit component is not at all over ripe and the subtle herbaceous notes of bell pepper make for an interesting glass of wine. It is easily recognizable as Cabernet Sauvignon.

This Cabernet would be delicious with a pot roast, beef stroganoff or even pizza or a hamburger. It will be easy to enjoy after your meal is complete as well.

The fruit is harvested from the Montes’ Marchigüe and Apalta estates in the Colchagua Valley. Most of the fruit is grown on the Apalta estate; there Cabernet Sauvignon thrives on the flatland and lower slopes of the hills where soils are deepest. Marchigüe is flatter with lower hills and shallow soils.

The final blend includes 10% of Cabernet’s favorite blending partner, Merlot. 50% of the wine is aged for 12 months in first, second and third-use French oak barrels. Decanting for 30 minutes is recommended.

Montes Alpha 2012 Syrah2012 Montes Alpha Syrah inky dark ruby in the glass with generous aromas of dark fruit, a bit of smoke and a hint of licorice. Dark complex fruit flavors of ripe blackberries and plums combine with grippy tannins for a wine with lots of body and texture. Smoky flavors add to the complexity in this delicious, extroverted wine. 14.8%

Fire up the grill and give the red meat of your choice a spicy dry rub and you’ll have a match for this bold, flavorful Syrah. It would be delicious with smoked ribs too.

The fruit for this wine also comes from the from Montes’ Marchigüe and Apalta estates in the Colchagua Valley. The final blend of 90 % Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Viognier is aged in 55% French oak aging for 12 months in first, second and third-use barrels. Decant for at least 30 minutes prior to serving.

Montes Alpha 2012 Carmenere2012 Montes Alpha Carmenèrevery dark ruby in the glass with complex aromas of dark fruit, black pepper and herbaceous green peppers. Dark berry fruit flavors combine with hints of green peppers and black pepper spice. Ample tannins provide texture and interest. This medium-bodied wine has a finish that is very long with both flavor and tannins. ABV 14.5%

I love Carmenère because it can exhibit that interesting combination of complex dark fruit flavors and spice with herbaceous green pepper flavors in the background. My favorite examples of this variety exhibit only back notes of green pepper flavors, which is the case with this Montes Alpha Carmenère. It was my favorite wine of the group.

The Carmenère for this bottling is grown on Montes’ El Arcángel estate in the Marchigüe sector of the Colchagua Valley. The estate is characterized by diverse, shallow granitic soils and relatively flat topography including low hills. Yield is a modest 2.8 ton/acre and leaf thinning is used to ensure even ripening and reduced pyrazines which are responsible for Carmenère’s characteristic herbaceous flavors.

The final blend includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon with 55% French oak aging for 12 months in first, second and third-use barrels. Decanting for one hour is recommended.

This group of wines from Montes provides plenty of flavor for a reasonable price. I found prices online ranging from $15 to $23, making these wines a serious consideration for weekday dining.

One final note. Angels figure prominently in the winery, in the form of statues, and on the bottle labels for a very good reason. Original partner, Douglas Murray, survived two near-fatal automobile accidents and as a result his faith in angels is very strong. Angels have become, according to the winery, ” a symbol of the winery’s philosophy – a commitment to be a positive force and influence.”

Thanks to Aurelio Montes, Sr. for so ably and enthusiastically answering our questions during #SommChat. We enjoyed the conversation as much as we enjoyed the wine!

Nice job of organizing by Feast PR, we appreciate the opportunity to participate in this tasting of Montes Alpha wines.


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Lodi Wines for Earth Day and Everyday

We celebrated Earth Day this year by participating in a online tasting of wine and cheese— naturally. The Earth Day tasting featured four wines produced in accordance with Lodi RulesTM for Sustainable Winegrowing and provided a great opportunity to learn about Lodi RulesTM .

The lineup
Lodi RulesTM is the first third-party-certified sustainable winegrowing program in California. That’s a mouthful. The effort started in 1991 when the Lodi Winegrape Commission was established. Informal meetings of growers resulted in integrated pest management practices in the vineyards — that is efforts to control vineyard pests using their natural predators. Ideas as simple as introducing owl nesting boxes in the vineyards to draw owls into the vineyards and thereby control the numbers of grapevine root-munching gophers. Those early efforts also became the basis for the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program.

In 2005 the original set of standards were published and endorsed by Protected HarvestTM , a non-profit organization that certifies sustainable farming standards. That same year 1455 acres were certified by six Lodi farming families. It was the first such certification for the use of sustainable farming practices to grow wine grapes in California.

Lodi Rules Certified GreenThe first wines using the Lodi RulesTM Certified Green seal were bottled with the 2007 vintage. In 2013 the Lodi RulesTM standards underwent significant revision resulting in the current comprehensive approach to farming that includes the goals of improving water and air quality, soil health and employee training and safety initiatives.

According to Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker at St. Amant Winery and Program Manager at Lodi Winegrape Commission, as Lodi RulesTM celebrates its 10th anniversary, over 100 growers have certified 30,000 acres in California (21,000 acres are located within the Lodi AVA). It requires a significant commitment in terms of time and financial resources to earn Lodi RulesTM certification. Hats off to those viticulturists who have done so.

The Earth Day wine tasting was hosted by LoCA and each wine was paired with a cheese selected by Cindy Della Monica, cheesemonger and owner of Cheese Central in Downtown Lodi. We were invited to join the live video tasting, led by Stuart and Cindy, and received the wine and cheese as tasting samples.

Pairing 1

Acquiesce Picpoul Blanc and cheese2014 Acquiesce Picopul Blanclight yellow in the glass, but with delicate floral and melon aromas. Flavors of summer melons combine with a dusty minerality and citrus pith for great complexity and a clean, fresh finish. Delicate background flavors of white flowers contribute to the bouquet of flavors. ABV 12.5%. $24.

Acquiesce Winery owner and winemaker Susan Tipton has only 100 vines of Picpoul Blanc planted in her vineyard. Her original plan was to use the Picpoul as a blending grape. That quickly changed once she tasted the finished wine; it was simply too delicious not to be bottled as a varietal wine.

With the exception of a Grenache rosé, Susan makes exclusively white wines. She recently had 6.5 acres of Zinfandel removed to make way for additional Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Grenache Noir.

Also coming in the spring of 2016, Susan will be planting two varieties new not only to California, but the US — Clairette Blanc and Bourboulenc. There is much more to look forward to from this adventurous winemaker!

You will need to look carefully on the back label to see the Lodi RulesTM Certified Green seal; the artful bottle and label designs make it a challenge to include the seal on the label.

Cypress Grove Midnight Moonivory in color and with a very firm texture, this mild goat cheese is tangy with nutty with hints of herbs. The rind on this cheese is waxed, so peel it off before you eat the cheese.

The combination of Acquiesce Picopul Blanc and the Midnight Moon cheese really popped, concentrating the flavors of both. The melon flavors in the wine developed nicely as did the nutty quality of the cheese.

Pairing 2

Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Bland and cheese2014 Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc nearly colorless in the glass with delicate tropical fruit aromas and flavors that finish with lingering citrus and a hint of dried hay. This wine is flavorful, light and crisp. Perfect for a warm afternoon. ABV 13.55%. $19.

The Sauvignon Blanc for this wine comes from the Mohr Fry Ranch located within Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. The ranch is farmed by Jerry Fry and his son Bruce, fourth and fifth-generation Lodi farmers who were among the first farmers to earn Lodi RulesTM certification for their vineyards.

Oak Farm Vineyards has an interesting history of its own. The ranch was originally purchased by William DeVries in 1860. He was known for his love of trees, and the property is home to many beautiful old oak trees, in addition to the grand home he built in 1876.

A beautiful old redwood barn graces the property, standing proudly beside the new wine production and wine tasting facility built by the Panella family, current owners and caretakers. If you’ve not visited the property, you should. The wines, which are elegantly crafted by winemaker Chad Joseph, are delicious and the setting among the vines is beautiful and peaceful.

Cypress Grove Humbolt Fog Grandewhite and crumbly in texture with a vegetable-ash rind and layer, this tart, flavorful cheese is also a bit herbaceous and citrusy. The flavors are very complex and long lasting. This cheese just melts in your mouth. The rind is edible and delicious.

I think of Humbolt Fog as birthday cake cheese, because that’s what a wedge of this cheese reminds me of. The vegetable ash “icing” and “filling” create a layer cake look that reminds me of a slice of birthday cake.

When paired with the wine, once again the flavors of the wine just pop. Tropical fruit flavors in the wine are elaborated and herbaceous notes in the cheese develop. Really delicious.

Pairing 3

St. Amant Barbera and cheese2013 St. Amant Barberatranslucent ruby in the glass with generous aromas and flavors of blackberries, tobacco and earth. A bit of cherry fruit flavor adds complexity along with well-integrated tannins in this medium-bodied wine with a fairly long finish. This wine manages to be very flavorful without being too ripe. ABV 14.5%. $18.

This wine receives just a bit of oak aging, ten months in 20% new American oak, to produce an extremely food-friendly wine. Stuart told us among his favorite food pairings is Bagna Cauda. Now there’s a pairing worth exploring.

The Spencer family “saved” this vineyard from being used entirely to produce Gallo Hearty Burgundy. They were convinced in 1998 by winegrower Ted Levantini to at least make a few barrels to see how it came out. Well, according to St. Amant Winery, “The 2013 marks our 16th vintage from this 42-year-old vineyard NE of Lodi.” I guess you could say the Spencers are happy with the result (as are their customers).

Fiscalini Farms San Joaquin Golda firm yellow cheese with a mild nuttiness and toasty flavors. I love the crunchy texture of the protein crystals this cheese. As this cow’s milk cheese warms, the flavors really develop.

The pairing of St. Amant Barbera and the San Joaquin Gold is spot on. The fruity flavors of the Barbera and the nutty flavors of the San Joaquin Gold compliment each other nicely. The grip of the cheese stands up to the nicely-integrated tannins in the Barbera.

Pairing 4

Michael David Inkblot and cheese2012 Michael David Winery Inkblot Tannatinky-dark ruby with violet edges in the glass. Generous aromas of coconut, toast and ripe dark fruit aromas are followed by very ripe dark fruit flavors and grippy tannins. This wine is a bit sweet and a bit hot on the finish which is long lasting. ABV 15.3%. $35.

There is nothing light weight about this 100% Tannat, starting with the heft of the bottle. I think lifting the bottle could count as weight training! This is a bold, ripe wine that will be enjoyed by those looking for a big wine with lots of texture. This wine needs food to stand up to the bold flavors and ample, grippy tannins. But that’s why you drink Tannat, right — for the tannins?

We were asked during the BrandLive tasting what we saw on the Inkblot label. Well, I see two sea horses clinking their mugs of Tannat together with the wine splashing up out of the mugs. It is a very clever label design. What do you see?

Central Coast Creamery Seascapevery firm white cheese with delicate herbal, earthy and minerally flavors. This cheese is produced from a combination of cow’s and goat’s milk, giving it mild but complex flavors. Don’t eat the rind.

Cindy told us she struggled with this wine and cheese pairing because of the bold flavors of the Tannat. The wine is so full flavored and so tannic that it overpowers the cheese. To my taste, this Tannat needs a grilled Tri-Tip with a spicy dry rub. Save the cheese pairing for one of the other wines in the group.

Thanks to LoCA for sponsoring the wine and cheese tasting and for providing the tasting samples. Charles Communications Associates organized the Brandlive tasting, and did a great job as always. Stuart and Cindy provided an hour of engaging conversation highlighting the variety of interesting and delicious wines being produced in Lodi as well as all of the cheese details.

Cindy’s cheese shop, Cheese Central, is located in Downtown Lodi among the other shops and tasting rooms along N. School Street. She stocks between 80 and 100 cheeses and will assist you in choosing the perfect cheese for you – by tasting them, of course. This is a perfect time of year for a walking tour of Downtown Lodi.


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New White Wines from Markus Wine Co. and Borra Vineyards: Ready for summer sipping

When Markus Niggli talks about his wines, you need to be prepared to pay close attention. He will recite harvest dates, º Brix, pH and TA levels so quickly it will make your head spin. He loves making wine and taking about wine.

Markus is making some wonderfully complex, unique and always-changing white wines for his Markus Wine Co., a subventure of Borra Vineyards, while continuing to make all of the delicious white and red wines for Borra Vineyards.

His winemaking point of view is informed by his European heritage. Markus grew up in Switzerland. He travels to Europe regularly, tasting wine as he goes; always curious, always thinking about how he can translate the flavors he tastes in the wines that he makes.

One such wine tasting experience years ago in Switzerland inspired his first Markus Wine Co. bottling last year. The wine was a Kerner, aged in oak. At the time Markus thought if he could ever find Kerner grapes, he would love to make a similar wine.

As luck would have it, Lodi is home to Kerner, and many other German and Austrian varieties — at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. Markus has been working with Bob and Mary Lou Koth for several years now and last year Markus debuted his 2013 Nimmo, a Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Bacchus blend aged in oak. A very unique wine made to bottle age.

Markus recently released three white wines under his Markus Wine Co. label and one under the Borra Vineyards label — all of which we were fortunate to taste.

Before we dive into the wines, just a bit about the Markus Wine Co. labels. They all tell a story of place…hometown, inspiration, collaboration. The label designs represent a collaboration between Markus and the artists. The front labels are designd by University of the Pacific Visual Arts students, Sheng Moua and Anneka Weinert, along with Michael E. Leonard, Visiting Lecturer at Pacific. The artists have translated Markus’ inspiration for making these wines into the images you see on the bottles.

The back labels document all of the wine production details and specifications. No detail escapes Markus’ notice, and so all of those details are there on the back label for the interested wine lover to devour. Markus puts considerable thought into what goes on the bottle as well as what goes into the bottle.

New release white wines:

2014 markus nativo2014 Marcus Wine Co. Nativopale yellow in the glass with aromas and flavors of melon and tropical fruit. You’ll notice a bit of sweetness, and some weight in the mouth that is balanced with nice acidity for a clean finish. ABV 13.1%. 120 cases produced. $18.99

markus nativo back labelThis 75% Kerner, 19% Riesling, 6% Bacchus blend is stainless steel fermented using native yeast. The label, referred to as the zip code label, includes the postal code for Markus’ hometown of Weesen, Switzerland as well as the first initial of Markus’ name and both of his brothers. Label design by student Sheng Moua.


2014 markus nuvola2014 Markus Wine Co. Nuvolalight yellow in the glass with aromas and flavors of ripe peaches combined with allspice and white pepper. The finish is zesty and juicy with a lingering minerality. The combination of flavors in this 100% Gewürztraminer are completely unique and will keep you savoring this wine, thinking about the combination of flavors. ABV13.2%. 75 cases produced. $18.99

markus nuvola back label

Once again, native yeast fermentation using stainless steel vessels transforms this 100% Gewürztraminer with minimal intervention in the winery.

Nuvola translates to cloud and represents the inspiration for this wine that Markus drew from viewing modern artwork in Rome. The label was created by student Anneka Weinert who translated Markus’ inspiration into this beautiful design.


2014 markus joey insieme2014 Markus Joey Insiemevery light yellow in the glass with generous aromas of white flowers and tropical fruit. Floral and tropical fruit flavors are similar to the aromas and very long lasting. The wine has a bit of weight to it and a clean citrus-pith finish. ABV 12.8%. 65 cases produced. $18.99

markus joey back labelThis blend of 95% Torrontes and 5% Riesling is a collaboration between friends and winemakers. The Torrontes is local, from the Silvaspoons Vineyard in the Alta Mesa AVA of Lodi, the Riesling is harvested from the Cain Vineyards in North Carolina.

This wine represents the first Markus Wine Co. collaboration between the winemakers. Insieme translates to together and represents the blending of two grape varieties and the efforts of both winemakers.

If you study the wine’s front label you will see Markus looking westward and Joey Medaloni of Lewisville, North Carolina looking eastward.  The label was created by Michael E. Leonard.

2014 Borra Vineyards Vermentino2014 Borra Vineyards Vermentinolight yellow in the glass with delicate aromatics. The flavors are a bit tropical with lean minerality and juicy acidity. Delicate and refreshing at the same time. ABV 12.8%. 65 cases produced. $22.

This bottling is a first for Borra Vineyards, resulting from the first harvest of Vermentino from Borra’s Gill Creek Ranch located in the Clements Hills AVA southeast of Lodi.

This 100% Vermentino bottling was fermented in stainless steel, but to mix things up a bit, it was aged in American oak for 4 months. If it’s a hit with customers, you will see it in future vintages.

Once again a nice group of wines from Markus Wine Co. and Borra Vineyards … and just in time for summer. These wines are perfect for a warm afternoon and will take you into the evening, pairing well with salads, creamy pasta dishes or mild cheese and charcuterie. We are happy to have sampled them.

From the Borra Vineyards website:

1301 E. Armstrong Road
Lodi, California 95242

Phone: 209-368-2446
Fax: 209-369-5116

Tasting Room
Open Friday-Monday
Noon to 5:00 p.m.
And by Appointment
(Click here for directions)

Tasting Fee is $5 per person and includes a souvenir wine glass. For groups of 8 or more please call ahead for reservations.


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Creamy Mushroom Pasta with Spring Peas and Westrey Pinot Noir for #winePW 11

Our homework for the April Wine Pairing Weekend (#winePW) was to choose our favorite springtime flavor, then pair a wine with it. What a delicious assignment, courtesy of Wendy Klik. You can find the details on Wendy’s blog, A Day in the Life on the Farm.

I chose my inspiration for this food and wine pairing from a stroll through our Farmer’s Market. During the winter, I don’t visit the Farmer’s Market as regularly as I do during the rest of the year. Our market is open only on Sundays during the winter and the number of vendors is somewhat reduced, so I took this opportunity to return to the Farmer’s Market to see what was available.

Winter greens were everywhere, along with cruciferous vegetables, beets and other root vegetables. All of these vegetables looked delicious, but didn’t cry out spring time to me. What did shout spring time to me was my favorite spring delicacy … peas. I was so happy to spot several farmers selling those fat, green pea pods. I knew immediately that was my spring flavor. I found the best looking selection of peas then sorted through a large pile of the green lovelies, choosing the fattest pods, all the while thinking about how I might prepare them.

Mushrooms, I thought, would make a nice pairing with spring peas. Usually there is a farmer who sells a wonderful assortment of mushrooms along with his fruits and vegetables, but unfortunately he was not at the market. Instead, I looked to one of our locally-owned grocery stores and found a very nice selection of fresh shiitake and oyster mushrooms.

Remembering a recipe for creamy pasta with morels and peas that I have, I also picked-up a package of dried morels, some shallots, dried pasta and heavy cream. I knew something delicious would be the result.

So, what wine to pair with a creamy pasta dish including sautéed mushrooms, cream and fresh peas? The rich, fattiness of the cream suggests a crisp white wine would be a natural pairing. In fact, a blog post I read over a year ago suggesting just that pairing was the inspiration for this pasta dish.

We decided to go in a different direction with our choice of wine, however. Mushrooms and Pinot Noir are always a natural pairing for us, and as we were having a friend over for dinner that prefers red wine to white wine, we decided to go with a Pinot Noir.

The Food

This pasta dish is a snap to prepare. (Insert snap pea joke here!) The most tedious part was shelling the peas, always a labor of love that results in green thumbnails. Next, I started heating water to cook the pasta.

In the mean time I soaked several of the dried morels in hot water (I later filtered and reserved the water to add to the sauce), rough chopped the fresh mushrooms and diced the shallots.

I quickly blanched the shelled peas, then cooled them in an ice bath to stop them cooking. I love spring peas just barely cooked so the flavors are still fresh and the texture a bit firm.

Next I sautéed the shallots in butter just until they were translucent. Finally, I added the chopped fresh shiitake and oyster mushrooms along with the morels which had been drained and chopped. After a quick sauté and a bit of salt and pepper, I added heavy cream and the reserved morel soaking liquid stirring well to combine all of the ingredients.

The last few ingredients included the drained pasta and a generous grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano. I just heated the mixture through, checked the seasoning again and then at the very end stirred in the peas.

This satisfying, rich dish has the earthy flavors of mushrooms punctuated with little explosions of pea flavor. The sautéed shallot flavors in the background and the richness of the heavy cream complete the dish. It’s comfort food at its very best.

Mushroom and spring pea pasta
The Wine

Recently, we purchased several Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, from Westrey Wine Company in McMinnville, Oregon. We had been introduced to Westrey wines via an online wine tasting that included Westrey’s Willamette Valley Reserve Chardonnay, which we subsequently wrote about. We were so impressed with that brilliant Chardonnay that we were curious to try some of Amy Wesselman and David Autrey’s other wines.

We ordered three Pinot Noirs from Westrey, and decided to open the oldest one of the three to accompany our mushroom and spring pea pasta. We decanted the bottle an hour prior to dinner.

2010 Westrey Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir2010 Westrey Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noirtranslucent ruby-garnet in the glass with earthy, cedar, berry-bramble aromas. Very complex flavors of cherries and cranberries combine with earthy brambles. Spice flavors include black pepper, cedar and cigar box. The tannins are very smooth, accompanied by nice acidity for a moderately long finish with both flavor and tannins. The combination of complex flavors and a relatively light body is a combination I find irresistible in a red wine. ABV 13.4%

This Reserve wine is a blend of Pinot Noir from three vineyards; 40% La Cantera, 20% Buckhaven and 40% Oracle (from four separate lots). Each lot was fermented separately with both indigenous and commercial yeast from Burgundy. After fermenting to dryness, then pressing, the wine was moved to barrels where malolactic fermentation was completed. Aging in 30% new wood and 10% one-year old, with 60% coming from neutral wood insures the fruit character of this wine shines through.

Amy and David own the Oracle vineyard, which is located in the Dundee Hills AVA. The vineyard has an interesting history that you should definitely read about.

The Pairing

The relatively light body and complex flavors of the Westrey Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir paired beautifully with the mushroomy, creamy goodness of the pasta and the bright acidity balanced the richness of the cream very nicely. The little explosions of green pea goodness were sweet and flavorful. If I were going to modify this recipe at all, it would be to add more peas. They are so delicious, I don’t think it would be possible to have too many. No modification to the Pinot Noir necessary!

Pasta and Pinot Noir
The left-over pasta made a yummy lunch the next day and the Westrey Reserve Pinot Noir held over beautifully until that evening, even gaining in complexity. We look forward to opening the two remaining bottles of Westrey Pinot Noir. Even though David told us they will age well for several years, it is unlikely we will have the discipline to age them.

Just take a look at what this wonderful group came up with to meet Wendy’s challenge to them.  We may never find ourselves in this dilemma again!!

Spring Pea Risotto with Picpoul de Pinet by Curious Cuisiniere

Spring-Kissed Seafood Chowder with Pelerin 2011 Les Tournesols by Cooking Adventures with Camilla

Wine and Dine: Las Lilas Vinho Verde 2013 and Chilled Cucumber with Mint Soup by Grape Experiences.

Red Wine with Asparagus and Mushrooms by Cooking Chat

Spring Hopes: Asparagus and Rosé by Food Wine Click

Leap into Spring with Pasta Primavera by Vino Travels

Spring Fling with Greek Pizza and Wine by Confessions of a Culinary Diva

Spring Flavors with Hungarian Pinot Grigio by A Day in the Life on the Farm

Welcoming Spring with #WinePW by Rockin Red Blog

Winter’s Hill Pinot Blanc and Warm Arugula, Bacon and Asparagus Salad by Tasting Pour

Roasted Halibut with Potatoes and Lemon and a Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas by Enofylz Wine Blog

Beets and Wine Pairing by Girls Gotta Drink

Grab a cup of coffee and join us for a Twitter chat on Saturday morning April 11 at 8 PST when we will be talking spring time flavors. Follow #winePW and join the conversation.

Thanks for joining us for the 11th edition of #winePW. Please join us again next month when our host is Christy from Confessions of a Culinary Diva. Christy is challenging us to come up with Wine Pairings with Mexican Cuisine. Should be fun.


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Waterkloof Wine Estate: a spectacular biodynamic South African wine farm

It was quite by chance that we came to visit Waterkloof Wine Estate located above Somerset West, an hour’s drive east of Cape Town. I had not heard of the wine farm until several years ago when we received a comment on one of our blog posts about South African wines. Louis Boutinot, Waterkloof Export Manager and son of the farm’s owner Paul, commented on the post and suggested we consider visiting Waterkloof Wine Estate should we ever visit South Africa.

Waterkloof Restaurant and Winery
I did a bit of research and discovered that not only are the vineyards farmed biodynamically, they even use horses in the vineyard. Aside from the spectacular natural beauty and the beauty of the winery building, the biodynamic farming practices were a serious draw for me. I knew immediately I wanted to visit the wine farm during our visit to Cape Town.

Our tour of Waterkloof Wine Estate began in earnest as farm manager Christiaan Loots led us on a short walk up the Schapenberg — sheep mountain. A stiff wind blew in from False Bay, one strong enough to knock you off balance if you didn’t keep your feet firmly planted on the granitic soil.

As we stood in the midst of native fynbos vegetation, a collection of surprisingly diverse, shrubby plants whose species on the farm number in the hundreds, Christiaan explained this diverse fynbos vegetation is typical native vegetation of the Cape. “This is what the Cape should look like.” Christiaan told us. There is an effort underway to connect pockets of natural fynbos to each other all around the cape in order to preserve its diversity and the animal life it supports. Though I could’t see them, I heard many birds singing from within the fynbos.

Fynbos diversity on the farm is a result of an early project clearing the land of invasive tree species, followed by burning. This harsh treatment brought the native fynbos back to into balance, taking advantage of the massive natural seed bank it harbors.

Some of the cleared land became vineyards, but a large portion is now covered in native fynbos vegetation and will remain so. Clearly Christiaan feels a sense of responsibility and pride in preserving this native vegetation. This beautiful, natural area is now used to host hikes and horseback rides of the area — a natural pairing with Waterkloof wines!

View of False Bay
From this vantage point at 315 meters above sea level we were able to enjoy the spectacular view of False Bay, only 5 km in the distance. Christiaan pointed out several crosses carved into granite rocks in the area. The crosses identify the locations used by early Dutch East India Company cartographers as they made the original maps of the area. Clearly we were not the first to appreciate the view from this vantage point.

As we stood admiring the Waterkloof vineyards and the ocean views, Christiaan told us that winery owner Paul Boutinot searched for 10 years, world wide, before finding this location for his winery. The Brit had a very specific site in mind, one that would lend itself to biodynamic farming practices and hold the potential to produce world-class wines. In 2004 Boutinot purchased the 120 hectare estate.

The Site

The road we followed earlier to reach the winery building traces a ravine with hills on either side and took us past farm buildings and rows of mulch and compost. At one point we were even behind a flock of sheep, our first indication of just how unique this farm visit would be. The ravine eventually opened into a wide bowl and the road curved to the left following the contour of the hills, delivering us to the spectacular Waterkloof Wine Estate building. This modern glass and concrete building houses the offices, wine cellar, cellar door (tasting room) and Waterkloof’s award-winning restaurant.

The almost constant wind figures prominently in what makes this site so perfect. The cool sea breezes keep temperatures significantly cooler than other regions of Stellenbosch, extending the growing season and preserving natural acidity in the grapes. The wind also deters pests and keeps vine shoot growth in check. There is little need for shoot thinning and care must be taken to trellis the vines early in the growing season to avoid shoot damage.

When talking about trellising, Christiaan was quick to mention some of the older plantings of Chenin Blanc and Mourvèdre on the farm are bush vines, which he much prefers. The circular growth pattern, with even exposure to sunlight, even ripening and uptake of soil nutrients are all benefits of bush vines. Not all grape varieties can be successfully trained in this manner, so some must be trellised. In addition, the hillside vineyards have a southern exposure, which in the Southern Hemisphere is cooler than a northern exposure.

The fynbos restoration project has served to insulate Waterkloof’s vineyards from those nearby. The fynbos diversity brings with it a large number of predator insects that in turn keep vineyard pests under control naturally. Since the fynbos restoration, Christiaan has seen a significant decrease in mealy bug infestations in the vineyard.

The rocky, granitic soils that characterize the vineyards provide good drainage and are highly prized. The 20 hectares of vineyards that were planted prior to the 2004 purchase had been farmed conventionally. Christiaan found a vineyard with seriously compacted soils, containing little or no organic matter, and significant pest infestations.

The biodynamic practices that Christiaan has used at Waterkloof for the past 10 years have completely transformed the vineyards, which he demonstrated as we walked into a vineyard block of Sauvignon Blanc. What we saw was a vineyard filled with a wide variety of ground cover that included clover (a Nitrogen binder) and dandelions which accumulate silica. The soil was very soft to walk on. Christiaan was easily able to grab a hand full of dirt; it was light and almost fluffy. And the soil was full of tiny roots from the diverse ground cover.

Farming Practices

When we asked Christiaan about his experience with biodynamic farming practices, he said he knew nothing about it when he joined Waterkloof. At the very beginning he and Paul traveled to biodynamic vineyards in France so he could see the process in action. He read many books and talked to other biodynamic farmers. Jean Malberbe, a local biodynamics pioneer became his mentor.

Christiaan admits to being skeptical of the biodynamic process initially, but the results have made him a believer. Most recently the area was hit by a massive storm in November 2013. Other farms in the area had significant mildew issues and as a result, decreased production in 2014. For the 2014 vintage, Waterkloof increased production as much as one ton per block. Christiaan attributes this increase in production to the improved immunity of the vines, which is directly derived from soil immunity.

So, how are soil and vine immunity improved? It’s a process, and every step in the process is connected to the next. Christiaan uses only compost and compost teas (an extract of compost steeped in water) prepared on the farm to fertilize the vines. No synthetic fertilizer is used. Christiaan described biodynamics as “sustainable cost-effective farming”, indicating he uses every resource the farm provides him.

When Waterkloof began it’s biodynamic practices, Christiaan had four tractors on the farm and a big diesel fuel bill. Now, to farm the vineyard, the vineyard workers use horses. Seven Percheron horses are used to farm the vineyards by block, each horse and worker team is responsible for 8 hectares. The teams plow and mow the vineyards, spread compost, spray compost tea and harvest the grapes.

He still has two farm tractors and one is used in the cellar. The tractors are only used in the vineyard when it’s too windy for the horses to spray the vineyards. Yes, this is a seriously windy site.

Cows and sheep on the farm provide essential resources. The herd of sheep we saw as we were driving up to Waterkloof was heading out to graze in the vineyards. The herd is moved around the various vineyard blocks to graze the ground cover. Their droppings fertilize the vineyard and their hooves break up the soil.

Woody plant material is collected from all over the farm. Several times a week the farm receives milk whey from the cheese-making process at Healey’s Cheese, which is also owned by Paul Boutinot. This liquid is rich in lactobacilli, not to mention phosphorous and potassium, and is sprayed on the woody material.

Over time this partially decomposed mulch is used as bedding for the cows and sheep. The woody material binds the nutrients in the animal’s urine. As the bedding becomes soiled it is removed from the barn. The mixture is turned and layered with compostable material and ash from the restaurant. Even pigeon droppings cleaned from the gutters of the winery building go into the mix along with droppings from the rabbit cages. “That’s the thing about biodynamics, you just use whatever you have.” said Christiaan. No resource on the farm goes to waste. All of this material is added together and turned regularly.

We saw and smelled the cow and sheep barns. Stinky, as you would expect, thanks to the manure and the anaerobic environment. Next, Christiaan showed us a pile of bedding that had been removed from the stable the week before. It contained the additional compostable materials and had already been turned, and though we didn’t dig through it, it had a distinctly mushroomy aroma.

The final compost, which included no soil, smelled just like dirt. There was absolutely no ammonia odor, and the dark, aerobic mixture was alive with earthworms – an indication of superior compost according to Christiaan. In addition to having a high nutrient content, the compost is alive with beneficial bacteria and fungi. Quite a transformation, one that can take from 22 to 50 days to complete.

Earthworm casts, in addition to creating a superior composting product, are used to make a tea which aids in the transformation of the anaerobic manure mixture into an aerobic high-nutrient fertilizer.

Bio-fertilizerBio-fertilizer is also made using cow and rabbit manure, milk whey, molasses, rumen and basalt rock added to water. “Whatever I can put my hands on, basically.” is how Christiaan described the ingredients. The mixture is then fermented anaerobically in a barrel for several months. At the end of the process the anaerobic mixture is combined with the aerobic earthworm tea which transforms the mixture to an aerobic, high nutrient fertilizer.

Using all of these methods, Christiaan is able to make all of the compost and compost teas needed to enrich the soil and vines on the farm. Biodynamic preparations amplify the benefits of these organic farming methods.

Biodynamic Practices

Christian maintains a cow pat pit along with a myriad of biodynamic preparations, all of which have specific uses. This is the part that doubters of the biodynamic process sometimes make light of. Admittedly filling a cow horn with the manure of a lactating cow, burying it over winter, then harvesting the preparation is a bit out there. But this preparation, called preparation 500, has a very high microbial count and adds vitality and life forces wherever it is used.

In addition to being used to aid in compost production, a very dilute mixture of these preparations sprayed on a biodynamically managed vineyard will break down any organic material in the vineyard.

The concepts of vitality and life forces are also a part of biodynamic principles. Christiaan explained the importance of the energy that can be harnessed from flowing water. Biodynamic preparations when added to water can be enlivened by manually stirring the liquid to create a vortex, then breaking the vortex and creating chaos in the water. In addition to oxygenating the water, life forces and energy are added from the flowing water.

Large scale flow form
Therefore,  biodynamic practices use the energy created by running water and harness that energy to enliven every liquid biodynamic preparation that is made before spraying it on crops. Rather than do this by hand, Christiaan has set up a flow form which allows him to enliven a large volume of liquid biodynamic preparation at one time.

Fortunately, there is a natural spring on the farm, which is the source of the water used to make the biodynamic preparations and teas. Christiaan told us the farm’s name, Waterkloof, means water valley describing both the spring and the ravine that runs through the farm.

Christiaan always applies biodynamic preparation 500 to the vineyards according to the phase of the moon and the moon’s relationship to the constellations. We are all familiar with the effects of the lunar cycle on tides, for instance. The lunar cycle has a similar effect on plants too. Sprays are always applied on a descending moon when the forces pull toward the center of the earth. This helps pull the microorganisms into the earth so they can facilitate the release of nutrients to the vines’ roots.

Other vineyard tasks are completed according to the moon and constellations as well. Christiaan always sows cover crops during a descending moon to aid in germination. The timing is similar for vineyard pruning in order to minimize sap loss from the vines.

The optimal time for harvesting is during an ascending moon when the pull is away from the earth; this concentrates flavors, sugar and tannins in the grape berries. Christiaan told us there is rarely a conflict between physiologic ripeness and proper moon phase for harvest but also indicated the timing is not absolute.

Compost tea is spayed between the vineyard rows to facilitate decomposition of the vineyard cuttings during winter. A few months later, in September, the green compost (ground cover) may be plowed into the soil along with all of the microbes from the compost teas. After the vines leaf out the canopy is sprayed with compost tea, covering the leaves with microorganisms that will prevent mildew landing on the leaves from taking hold.

Vineyard blocks are not plowed every year. Christiaan uses a combination of plowing, mowing and grazing to manage the cover crops. He has found that every other to every two years is the optimal interval for plowing. This allows the cover crop to produce sufficient roots to facilitate nitrogen uptake by the vines, but does not allow roots to grow too long and tenacious.

Farming practices are rarely repeated in exactly the same way every year. Introducing variety in tilling and grazing routines changes the composition of cover crops, which in turn can disrupt pests. It’s best to keep pests off balance so they do not get a foothold.

Above all, following biodynamic farming principles requires attention to your surroundings: the vineyard, the animals, the phases of the moon and the constellations. As Christiaan puts it, “By looking so closely at your surroundings, you become part of it.”

The Take Aways

The principles of biodynamic farming were first outlined by Austrian writer and social activist Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. Since that time many others from around the world have contributed to the knowledge and understanding of biodynamic practices; Eugenio Gras, Maria Thun and Peter Proctor are just a few of the names Christiaan mentioned as he explained biodynamic practices to us.

After 10 years of following biodynamic practices in the vineyard, Christiaan is very close to repairing the effects conventional farming — he has achieved perhaps 70% of his goal. Even the soil in the vineyard blocks that were formerly covered with fynbos and invasive tree species needed rehabilitation.

Over time, Chardonnay has been pulled out and Chenin Blanc, Mourvèdre and Syrah have been planted. Vineyard plantings have increased from 20 hectares to 56.

Christiaan told us it is normal for vineyard yields to decrease initially with a conversion from conventional to organic farming practices. After about 3 years yields begin to increase. Though yields won’t reach pre-organic levels, the quality of the fruit is immaculate and may bring a higher price per ton, both of which more than make up for the reduced yield.

As Waterkloof Wine Estate celebrates their 10th anniversary with the 2015 vintage, they are also able to celebrate the significant achievement of Demeter Biodynamic Certification.

Waterkloof cratesLouis has told us the 2015 harvest shaped up quite nicely. The Waterkloof vineyards experienced very early flowering and a cool growing season. Harvest began early and resulted in “quite an intense harvest with everything ripening one after the other and no time for us to breathe.” as Louis put it. Merlot and Cabernet Franc were the first to be harvested, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and the Rhone varieties. He anticipates “wines with lots of complexity, lovely acidity and quite low alcohol (12.5 – 13.5 ABV).” I can hardly wait.

A huge thanks to Louis for that original comment on our blog post. Without that, we would never have had the opportunity to meet Christiaan and learn about the biodynamic farming practices at Waterkloof. Many thanks to Christiaan for his time and enthusiasm; surely there is no better ambassador for biodynamic farming principles. Talking to a biodynamic farmer is the absolute best way to learn about the practices. If you ever have the opportunity, take it.

Waterkloof vineyards and winery building
Following our farm tour, we sat down with Waterkloof Cellar Master Nadia Barnard to taste and talk Waterkloof wines. That discussion, and our delightful lunch at the Waterkloof restaurant, in our next post.

It really could not have been a more perfect day.


P.S. For an interesting and comprehensive discussion of biodynamic and organic farming and what they mean for wine drinkers, take a look at Tim Edison’s post on Wine Turtle.

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Crozes Hermitage and Braised Lamb with Puréed Root Vegetables for #winePW 10

I can’t believe another month has flown by and that it is time once again for Wine Pairing Weekend. Our March pairing is co-joined with Open That Bottle Night, which happens every year on the last Saturday in February. Basically OTBN is an “excuse” to open that special bottle of wine you’ve been holding, or to try a wine you’ve been curious about. It’s up to you to make your own fun. You can read about the origin of OTBN in this article by Dorothy Gaiter one of the founders of the celebration.

Our assignment for Wine Pairing Weekend was to choose a wine for OTBN and then plan a meal to pair with that wine.  Sounded like a fun idea, and it was.

We looked through our wine cellar to see what looked interesting. We’ve been enjoying Napa Cabernet and wines from Bordeaux recently, but we haven’t had a wine from the Rhône Valley recently, so that was our focus. We chose a 2006 Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage. Yes, it’s a mouthful, and a delicious mouthful at that.

Next we moved on to the menu. We wanted to do a braise, something that would fill the house with wonderful aromas but not require standing at the cooktop all afternoon. We chose to modify a delicious-sounding recipe for Braised Lamb Shanks and Root Vegetable Puree. It took a bit of preparation, but then braised in the oven for several hours.

The Food

Lamb shanks are problematic for me. I don’t like the way they look in the butcher counter or on my plate when they’ve finished cooking. I do however love lamb, so I always substitute another cut of lamb in any recipe for lamb shanks I’ve made. It has always worked out well. My favorite cuts are a round bone chop or shoulder chop. They generally don’t have too much fat, and I cube the meat then follow the recipe with that substitution.

This recipe for lamb shanks was new for me, but is very similar to a recipe I have from my mother that is one of my favorites. Because I chose not to use lamb shanks in this recipe, my version of this dish was a bit more rustic. The recipe calls for removing the lamb shanks from the braising liquid after they are cooked then straining the liquid. Because I had cubes of lamb, it was not possible to strain the braising liquid. I left all of the sautéed vegetables in the liquid and it worked out just perfectly.

For some reason I rarely think to puree a mixture of root vegetables, usually its just sweet potatoes or white potatoes on their own. It was the combination of vegetables that drew me to this recipe and I’m glad I tried it. I used a hand blender rather than a food processor as the recipe suggested. This method involved much less clean up and produced a silky consistency.

Dinner is served

To add color and textural contrast I also prepared broccolini, just lightly steamed. It was simple and delicious.

The Wine

Jaboulet family’s winemaking history reaches back to 1834 in the Rhône Valley. For 30 years Philippe was director of production for the family’s Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aîné.  After the sale of the family business in 2006, Philippe and and his son Vincent struck out on their own establishing Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet.

In addition to retaining a portion of the family vineyards in Crozes Hermitage and Hermitage, they purchased a cellar and surrounding vineyards in the village of Mercurol and a vineyard in Cornas. Grape varieties include Syrah, Marsanne and Roussanne.

2006 Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage2006 Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet Crozes Hermitagetranslucent ruby-garnet in the glass with aromas of leather and earth. Mature dark fruit flavors mingle with leather, cedar and a bit of red fruit. Tannins are fine and smooth in a light to medium bodied wine with nice acidity. The flavors reflect time in the bottle, and are well worth waiting for. ABV 13%.

translucent ruby-garnet colorThis wine is a perfect example of the rewards of bottle-aging wine. Fruit flavors have changed, becoming darker and are complimented by leather and wonderful cedar flavors. The tannins have become silky yet provide structure along with the juicy acidity. I love these aged flavors in a red wine, and the color has taken on a garnet hue. This lovely Syrah was worth waiting for.


The Pairing

Divine. After braising for over two hours, the lamb was tender and the braising liquid had concentrated and thickened. The flavors were rich, meaty and earthy thanks to the combination of sautéed bacon, onions, leeks, celery, carrots and red wine.

The puréed root vegetables were silky, smooth and sweet. The recipe called for both butter and heavy cream which were partially responsible for the silky texture. Both the carrots and ruby yams provided sweetness and the parsnips added a hint of greenness. If parsnips are not your favorite root vegetable (that would be me), adding them to others can make them more enjoyable.

Braised lamb and Crozes Hermitage
The silky texture and sweetness of the puréed root vegetables added richness and creaminess to the braising liquid and the lamb. I was very surprised this combination worked so well. My usual inclination would be to prepare spaetzle or mashed potatoes with a braised dish. I know that combination is delicious, but so was this and the flavor combination was much more complex.

2006 Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage decanted

We were happy to have chosen a wine with smooth tannins to accompany the silky texture of the root vegetables. In the end, this pairing was all about texture – the smooth texture of the vegetables and the silky tannins in the wine.

Be sure to check out these special pairings from my fellow #winePW bloggers!

Culinary Adventures with Camilla paired Roasted Flank Steak with Goat Cheese and Caperberries + La Marea 2012 Mourvèdre

Tasting Pour is sharing Chenin to Sheepie? Brava Cava! #Winewpw #OTBN

Curious Cuisiniere paired Entrecote Bordelaise (Steak: Bordeaux Style) with Red Oak Vineyard Meritage

A Day in the Life on the Farm served up Michigan Red with City Chicken

Girls Gotta Drink is sharing A Priorat Wine Masterpiece: 1974 Scala Dei

Vino Travels paired Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello and Pappardelle with Bolognese

Grape Experiences is sharing Wine and Dine: 2012 Van Duzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Chicken Breasts and Zucchini with Marjoram

Wild 4 Washington Wine paired A Special Oregon Pinot Noir with Eastern North Carolina Inspired Ribs

Rockin Red Blog is sharing Celebrating #OTBN on #WinePW

Cooking Chat paired Avocado Chimichurri Beef Tenderloin with a Reininger Carmenere

ENOFYLZ Wine Blog is sharing Friends, Food and Wine; An #OTBN To Remember #winePW.

If you are catching this post early enough, you can join our live Twitter Chat on Saturday, March 14, at 8 a.m. PT, via the Twitter hashtag #winePW. If you’ve come to us after March 14, consider joining us for #winePW 11 focused on wine pairings for early spring vegetables hosted by A Day in the Life on the Farm on Saturday, April 11.

Thanks to David for hosting this month’s #winePW and for the pairing idea. It was a fun pairing for us.


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Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem: no longer a hidden gem to us

The Chapoutier name has been associated with winemaking in the Rhône Valley for over two hundred years, beginning in Tain l’Hermitage in the north of the valley. Over time Maison M. Chapoutier acquired vineyards in the highly-regarded Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Chateauneuf du Pape, among others in the valley.

In 1990 Michel Chapoutier took over winemaking and management responsibilities. Gradually he has increased the quality of wine production by decreasing yields in the vineyards, discontinuing the use of sprays and chemicals and moving to organic and biodynamic farming practices.

In 1999 Michel Chapoutier turned his interest to Roussillon with the purchase of Domaine de Bila-Haut in Latour de France. The Roussillon portion of the enormous south of France Languedoc-Roussillon region is the portion closest to Spain. The climate here is truly Mediterranean with cold winters and very warm summers that provide a long, sunny growing season.

Map of Roussillon

Map from winesofroussillon.com

Latour de France is a hilly region above the Agly River. Soils are a winemaker’s dream; a combination of limestone, gneiss, decomposed granite and shist. Translation for those of us who are not winemakers: complex, well-draining soil that retains heat and is not very fertile. Vines must struggle to put down roots in this arid region, but these complex soils result in concentrated flavors and minerality in the wines.

The 79-acre vineyard which is the source for the Occultum Lapidem bottling is about 60 years old and is planted to Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. These old vines have put down deep roots, allowing them to withstand very strong winds known as the Mistral. These drying winds can be beneficial however, creating a cooler climate and extending the growing season.

The Mistral also acts to reduce pests within the vineyard allowing Chapoutier to manage the vineyards at Domaine de Bila-Haut just as he does in the Rhône — by following biodynamic practices, though the vineyards are not certified biodynamic.

All of these details are lovely to know, but really the burning question is, “What does the wine taste like?” Happily, we can answer that question because we were fortunate to receive a bottle as a tasting sample.

2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidemmedium ruby-violet colored in the glass with earthy, black pepper and fruit aromas. Savory herbal flavors of black tea and dried, crushed marjoram combine with earthy, dark fruit flavors for a flavor profile that is constantly changing. Add hints of smokiness, nice acidity, great tannin structure to the lingering fruit and herbal flavors of this wine and you have a finish that is medium long. ABV 14%. $30 for a 750ml bottle, $65 for a magnum.

The savory quality of this wine is its distinguishing characteristic for us. The combination of dried, crushed herbs combined with dark fruit flavors is quite unique and delicious. This wine is medium bodied with lots of flavor and great tannin structure.

In case you are wondering, yes the pattern of raised dots on the label is Braille. All M. Chapoutier wine labels have included Braille since 1996. They were the first to use this labeling method and the wine bottle is similarly labeled at its base.

This wine is delicious on its own. We opened the bottle as we began preparing our dinner to accompany this wine. The Occultum Lapidem gained complexity with time in the glass, as we did not decant this wine.

We prepared a pizza with olive oil, fresh mozzarella, grilled red onions and pancetta. It was simple, yet flavorful and delicious. It paired perfectly with this savory wine.

2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem and food


We managed to achieve the perfect food and wine pairing — one that enhanced both the flavor of the wine and the food. This Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem is so versatile it would pair with lots of dishes. Braised pork or beef would be delicious. Grilled lamb or pasta with meat sauce or pasta primavera would be wonderful pairings.


Occultum Lapidem translates to “hidden gem” in Latin. The name is acknowledgement of this vineyard of the same name, the best and oldest vineyard on the Bila-Haut estate. Happily this gem of a wine is no longer hidden to us. It deserves to be discovered and enjoyed.

Thank you to Creative Palate Communications for connecting us with this delicious wine.


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2012 Borra Vineyards Old Vine Barbera: remembering their beginning

Borra Vineyards does not bottle Barbera as a varietal wine every year, but clearly the variety is special to Steve Borra. It was the first wine Borra bottled when he established his winery in 1975. Back then Borra was the first boutique winery established in Lodi.

The Home Ranch Carrú Vineyard is now over forty years old and surrounds Borra’s Lodi tasting room. Winemaker Markus Niggli uses only free-run juice in the production of this 100% Barbera and fermentation takes place using native yeast. The wine spent 22 months in the cellar and was bottled in August 2014. We were fortunate to receive a bottle as a tasting sample.

2012 Borra Vineyards Old Vine Barbera2012 Borra Vineyards Old Vine Barbera translucent ruby in the glass with hints of black pepper and vanilla aromas. The flavors are a bit salty with cherry and  bright red fruit, black pepper and a hint of smoke. The combination of tongue-tingling acidity, silky tannins and juicy fruit flavors produces a light to medium bodied red wine that is long on flavor. ABV 14.4%. $25. Only 285 cases produced.

The translucent ruby color of this wine might lead you to expect a wine with subtle flavors. We did not find that to be the case. This wine has depth of flavor and a lighter body to boot. The flavors in this Barbera make you want to smack you lips. It’s impossible to drink this wine quietly, it’s so juicy and delicious.

The combination of lighter body, great acidity and bright fruit flavors make it easy to sip on its own, but we found it also makes a great companion to a meal.

2012 Borra Vineyards Old Vine Barbera with dinnerUnseasonably warm weather coupled with the opportunity to taste this Barbera inspired us to fire up the grill for the first time this year. We thought grilled steaks might be too heavy a choice for this pairing, so we opted for grilling pork chops. I lightly seasoned the pork chops with salt, pepper and marjoram, then Pete grilled them to perfection.

Along with grilled chops we enjoyed a potato-fennel gratin and green beans with butter and slivered almonds. Delicious.

The bright fruit flavors and brilliant acidity of the Borra Vineyards Old Vine Barbera complimented the smoky, rich, fatty goodness of the grilled meat and the potato gratin perfectly. Everyone played well together and we thoroughly enjoyed the pairing.

This taut Barbera is yet another example of the well-made wines being crafted by Markus Niggli at Borra Vineyards. Expect the unexpected in Markus’s wines. Producing a Barbera from free-run juice using native yeast fermentation is just one example of his measured winemaking approach.

He also uses varieties like Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Rieslaner, and Riesling. Under his label Markus Wine Co. you will find Nimmo — a Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Bacchus blend that is aged in oak. It will challenge your taste buds with unfamiliar and delicious flavors.

Thanks to Borra Vineyards for the opportunity to taste this juicy, delicious Barbera. It reminded me of why I love the variety so much.


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Six Wines from the Snake River Valley, Idaho: an introduction to the wines of Idaho

We recently had the opportunity to taste six wines from four wineries located in the Boise area. One of the regular tasters at the Thursday night wine tastings we attend at a local wineshop regularly visits the Boise area; her brother and sister-in-law live there. During a recent trip they did a bit of wine tasting and brought back the selection of wines we tasted. It was a great introduction to the wines of the area.

In spite of the fact that wine grapes were planted in Idaho well before either of Idaho’s better-known winemaking neighbors, Washington and Oregon, winemaking in Idaho is just beginning to hit its stride. Idaho appears to have all the necessary prerequisites for quality winemaking: good dirt, good climate and talented winemakers. On top of that, Idaho has lots of land with plenty of room for growth.

According to the Idaho Wine Commission, wine grapes were first planted in the state in 1864 in Lewiston, Idaho. In 1872 grapes were planted in the Clearwater Valley east of Lewiston where German and French immigrant winemakers produced wines that received recognition at expositions around the country.

But Prohibition came early to Idaho, in 1916. By 1920, Prohibition was the law of the land with ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution and implementation of the Volstead Act. Both brought wine production in Idaho to a screeching halt.

Even though Prohibition was repealed in 1933, it wasn’t until 1970 that vineyards were again being planted for winemaking. The focus of plantings in this second wave of viticulture was the southwest portion of Idaho, in the Snake River Valley.

This concentration of vineyards in the western portion of the Snake River Valley led to the authorization of the Snake River Valley AVA in 2007. The AVA is comprised of over 8,000 square miles and follows the Snake River from Twin Falls to Hells Canyon. Portions of the AVA reach into southeastern Oregon.

Snake River Valley AVA Map

Image courtesy of www.everyvine.com

Vineyards are planted at elevations from just over 1500 to 3000 feet above sea level within the AVA, but the valley is surrounded by mountains, some as tall as 7000 feet above sea level. Higher elevation means freeing-cold winters and a shorter, but intense, growing season with very warm, even hot, summer temperatures. Along with the summer heat comes significant diurnal temperature variations of 30 – 40ºF. Winemakers love big temperature swings from day to night; it allows grapes to fully ripen, yet maintain good acidity.

Idaho’s growing wine industry is evidenced by petitions for two additional AVAs  which are pending with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The Lewis-Clark Valley AVA would include the cities of Lewiston and Clarkson in the area that was Idaho’s first home to viticulture. The second petition is for Eagle Foothills AVA in the foothills north of Eagle, Idaho. If approved, the Eagle Foothills AVA would be a sub-AVA of the Snake River Valley AVA.

Well, good dirt also makes winemakers very happy and Idaho has plenty of that too. Four million years ago the area designated as the Snake River Valley AVA was covered by Lake Idaho. Volcanic activity and massive flooding have also occurred in the area. Left behind in the dry lake bed is a collection of diverse soil types including, “predominantly sand, mud silts, loess, and volcanic detritus on top of sedimentary bedrock” according to Appellation America.

Just a quick word about water and then we will move on to the wines. The Snake River Valley receives very little in the form of rain, only about 12 inches per year. It sits very far inland from the West Coast and is separated from Pacific storms by several mountain ranges that act as barriers to precipitation. What little precipitation the area receives usually accumulates during the winter months. This means vines must struggle in a dry environment, always a good thing as it tends to produce a smaller crop with concentrated flavors; of course winemakers may control that struggle with irrigation.

Now, on to the wines.

2014 Coiled Rizza2014 Coiled Wines Rizzalight yellow in the glass with abundant small to medium-sized bubbles. Sweet red apple aromas are followed by similar flavors of juicy, sweet red apples. The finish is long on flavor and a bit sweet. ABV 13%. $28

Coiled Wines Riazza crown capBecause this wine does not spend time aging on the lees, the primary flavors are all fruit. It is fresh and lively and reminds me somewhat of Prosecco. It is closed with a crown cap which means it’s easy to open, making it a perfect choice for a picnic or brunch or to enjoy before dinner.

According to Coiled Wines winemaker, Leslie Preston, this is the first sparkling wine made in Idaho “in the method of Champagne.” The base wine, 100% Riesling, was fermented to dryness. Then the base wine was sweetened and put into bottles. Each bottle then received a dose of yeast and was capped.

With the addition of sugar and yeast, the magic of the second fermentation in the bottle begins. This fermentation produces alcohol and carbon dioxide which is trapped in the bottle and forced into the wine creating all of those lovely bubbles.

The second fermentation was complete in 7 weeks, the yeast sediment was settled and disgorged, then the bottles were capped. Each of the 4000 bottles was handled one by one. It’s a labor of love. As the winemaker puts it, “I have put it all out there on this wine. It is my personal love letter to Riesling. I hope you enjoy it in good company and good health!”

2013 Cinder Dry Viognier2013 Cinder Wines Dry Viognier light yellow in the glass with aromas of pears and dry stones. Similar pear flavors along with a hint of pineapple and stony minerality combine with a roundness in the mouth. Aromatic and flavorful with pleasant mineral qualities. ABV 14.1%. $18

Winemaker Melanie Krause admits to a “love affair with Snake River Valley Viognier.” In addition to using Viognier is white blends, she produces Viognier in both an off-dry and dry-style varietal wine. Krause harvests the Viognier for this dry Viognier a couple of weeks earlier than she does for her off-dry Viognier. Whole clusters were gently pressed followed by a cool 3-week fermentation. The wine was bottled in January for maximum retention of aromas.

2012 Cinder Tempranillo2012 Cinder Wines Tempranillomedium ruby in the glass with aromas of smoke and red fruit. Flavors of blueberries and black raspberries combine with hints of smoke and caramel along with smooth tannins. ABV 13.9%. $29

This Tempranillo is a lighter style than most, and not all tasters appreciated it. I liked it quite a lot however. It gained complexity in aroma and flavor with time in the glass.

A small portion of this wine was fermented using native yeast and the final blend includes 10% Mourvèdre. 21-month aging took place in second and third-fill French and American Oak.

2011 Split Rail Winery Petit Verdot2011 Split Rail Winery Petit Verdotvery dark ruby in the glass with dark fruit and smoky aromas. Flavors of very ripe, rich dark fruit, tar and vanilla combine with a bit of sweetness and ample tannins. ABV 14.2%. $28.

This wine has plenty of flavor from both fruit and wood aging. Pair it with a grilled rib-eye. It can stand up to the smoky flavors and fattiness of a grilled steak. Only 120 cases produced.

Petit Verdot is most often used as a blending grape. This early budding and late ripening variety lends color, flavor and structure and is often a component of Bordeaux blends. PV has an enthusiastic following as a varietal wine though, and its flavors are generally not described as petite (or petit).

2012 Syringa Primitivo2012 Syringa Winery Primitivo garnet color in the glass with dark fruit aromas. Tart red fruit and blackberry flavors, black tea, a bit of sweet vanilla combine with fairly smooth tannins. The finish is a bit sweet with dark fruit and is medium in length. ABV 14.2%. $25.

Whether you call it Zinfandel, Tribidrag or Primitivo this variety always produces generous fruit flavors and this wine is no exception.

The winery takes its name from the Idaho state flower, the Syringa, which appears on the bottle.



Image from Split Rail Winery website

2012 Split Rail Winery Claretmedium ruby in the glass with dark fruit aromas that are just a bit herbaceous. Rich, complex, ripe dark fruit flavors combine with smooth tannins and a touch of sweetness. A touch of earth comes out in the finish which is moderately long. $29. Only 65 cases produced.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are blended together to produce flavors you will find very familiar. There is a fair amount of wood influence in this wine and when we took a vote for favorite wine of the evening, this Claret took the prize. I may have been the only one who raised her hand for another wine. Variety is the spice of life!

Each one of these wineries has an interesting story to tell about how the families came to make wine in Idaho and how they chose the names of their wineries. They are all small, family owned and operated wineries. I encourage you to visit their websites. You will also learn more about the complex and interesting geology of the region as well. Yes, I’ll say it again, winemakers love dirt and this AVA seems to have more than its fair share of interesting dirt!

All four wineries have tasting rooms in Garden City not far from Boise. Located in what is coming to be called Garden City’s Wine District, Cinder and Coiled are in the 44th Street Wineries complex and Split Rail and Syringa are located just a short walk away at District 44 Wineries and Tasting Room.

Total production of these wineries is relatively small, and demand is growing. Some wines sell out quickly. There were other wines that Leslie, Paul and Robin wanted to share with us but were unable to purchase because they were unavailable. Current vineyard plantings in Idaho total about 1300 acres, with 51 wineries sharing that harvest. Total annual production is only about 200,000 cases.

We enjoyed this introduction to the wines of Idaho and thank Leslie, Paul and Robin for their time and “research”. It’s always fun to taste wine from lesser-know regions and then watch and continue to taste the wines as the region develops. This kind of tasting also presents interesting ideas for wine travel…just a thought.


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HALL Wines: Two Artistic Napa Valley Cabernets

We continued talking wine education with PROTOCOL wine studio, and several of their guests, while sipping two delicious HALL Wines on a recent Tuesday evening. PROTOCOL wine studio provides wine education via Twitter on Tuesday evenings (search #WineStudio on Twitter) and in their classroom in San Diego.

HALL Cabernets

HALL Wines’ Artistic Labels

Guests on this recent Tuesday evening included San Francisco Wine School instructor Fred Swan, and Thea Dwell who is a wine/travel blogger and student of the San Francisco Wine School.

After several evenings discussing wine education in general, this evening we talked about wine education that is a bit more focused by region. San Francisco Wine School offers classes specializing in California wine appellations (California Wine Appellation Specialist® CWAS). The curriculum is constantly updated to reflect changes to American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). This program is a natural for anyone working in the California wine market and offers an in depth look at all of California’s AVAs.

If your interest is in learning more about the wines of France, consider the French Wine Scholar (FWS) program. You will have a chance to dive into the better know regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. In addition, you will learn about other French regions like Provence and Alsace.

For serious fans of Italian wines there is the Italian Wine Professional (IWP) Program. It is possible with both of these programs to take individual classes, or complete the entire program, sit for the exam and become certified. Take your pick depending what your goals are.

Online versions of these classes are available as well. Because tasting the wines of a region is a large part of learning about that region the school also provides distance learners with a list of wines to reinforce your learning. Wine homework!

As we talked wine education, we were joined by Jeff Dreyfuss, Visitor Center Associate Manager with HALL Wines. Jeff provided us with background information on HALL Wines and the two Cabernets that were provided to us as tasting samples.

The focus of HALL Wines is the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. With wineries and tasting rooms in St. Helena and Rutherford, and vineyards located throughout the Napa Valley and beyond, winery owners Craig and Kathryn Hall are well situated to fulfill this goal. Not only that, vineyards are farmed organically (certified too)  and their St. Helena winery is the first in California to earn LEED Gold Certification™. Both are noteworthy accomplishments.

2011 HALL Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet2011 HALL Jack’s Masterpiece Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignondark ruby in the glass with aromas that are quintessentially Cabernet to me, a combination of red fruit, black tea and earth. Complex red and dark fruit flavors combine with leathery, earthy flavors. A bit of vanilla lingers with smooth tannins and fruit flavors. Tannins are well integrated into the flavors and the finish is medium to long. ABV 14.9%

2011 was a cooler vintage in Napa, and this very elegant Cabernet is a delicious example of the vintage. 4% Petit Verdot was blended with the Cabernet Sauvignon. I enjoyed sipping the Jack’s Masterpiece on its own, and it paired nicely with our dinner of spaghetti with meat sauce. The sauce was cooked slowly over four hours; such a nice combination.

The name of this wine, Jack’s Masterpiece, refers to the artwork that decorates the label. It was created by Jack, the son of former HALL winemaker and current winery President Mike Reynolds. Jack created the painting for his father when he was only 18 months of age. Every year Mike steps back into the cellar to create this signature blend and he chose this very special painting to appear on the label.

2012 HALL Eighteen Seventy-Three Cabernet2012 HALL Eighteen Seventy-Three Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon inky dark violet-ruby in the glass with aromas of dark fruit and hints of licorice. Generous dark fruit flavors, chocolate and earth combine with slightly grippy tannins. This wine is medium bodied and has a moderately long finish with both flavor and tannins. ABV 15.4%

This wine is big, chewy and complex with bigger aromas and flavors and more tannins. It is delicious now, and has great aging potential as well. The obvious pairing for me is a grilled ribeye. Fat. Meat. Smoke. Delicious. Just a splash of Merlot (3%) was blended with the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Eighteen Seventy-Three, is a nod to the historical significance of the St. Helena property. In that year, Captain William Peterson established one of the early Napa Valley wineries on the property.

Aging of HALL wines takes place in all French oak, from a variety of coopers and typically in at least 50% new oak. Barrel aging lasts from 16 to 22 months, with 6 to 12 months of bottle aging before release.

Talking wine while drinking wine — well, that really is a pairing that’s hard to beat. Thanks to PROTOCOL wine studio and especially to HALL Wines for the opportunity to taste these two special Cabs. After tasting them, I have to say the art is in the bottle as well as on the bottle. Well done.


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