Pink Wines from Bonny Doon Vineyard: Deliberately Different Rosé

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

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


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

The Wine & Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Cycles Gladiator: More Than an Eye-Catching Label

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

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

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

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

Re-focusing the Brand

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

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

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

The Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Scallops, Spring Veggies + a White CDP for #winePW

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

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

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

The Food

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh and elegant, a perfect description of this wine.

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

The Pairing

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

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

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


Jeff from Food Wine Click: Rabbit and Rhône

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Location, Dirt & Farming Practices


Map from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winemaking & Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Last Point

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

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


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Scilio Winery: Making Wine on Mt. Etna Since 1815

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is a slideshow of our visit. Please enjoy.


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Vinkara Vineyards: Modern Wine from an Ancient History

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

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


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

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


Map from

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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



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




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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Food

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

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

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

The Pairings

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

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

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

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

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

Curious Cuisiniere is pairing “Teriyaki Salmon and Pinot Noir

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

Tasting Pour is posting “Steak Diane and Bell Cab Sauvignon

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

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

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

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

ENOFYLZ Wine Blog brings us An Italian-Themed #OTBN

Cooking Chat posted “Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms and a Burgundy

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Posted in Sicily, Tasting Notes, Vacations and Trips, Winery Profiles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

The Food

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

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

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

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


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Rombauer Vineyards: Beyond Chardonnay

If someone says Rombauer Vineyards to you, what is the first thought that comes to mind? I’d be willing to bet it’s Chardonnay. Even Rombauer Vineyards’ winemaker, Richie Allen, jokes that some people think Chardonnay is all that Rombauer produces.

There are any number of reasons Rombauer Vineyards is so closely associated with Chardonnay. It could be because the winery produces over 100,000 cases of the varietal wine annually. Maybe it’s because Rombauer’s Carneros Chardonnay has made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines four times over the years and is consistently very highly rated by Wine & Spirits Magazine. Possibly it’s the generously-oaked style of Rombauer’s Chardonnay, one you either love or hate.

I admit my answer to the above word-association game would also have been Chardonnay — up until just a few weeks ago that is. We recently visited Rombauer Vineyards’ St. Helena winery as part of a group invited to attend a Media Lunch. Following the winery tour, wine tasting and lunch, my response to the above question is not just Chardonnay.

The first wines released by Rombauer Vineyards in 1984 were their 1980 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1982 Chardonnay. By that time the Rombauers had built their own winery in St. Helena and while their production was still small it also operated as a custom-crush facility to several now well-known Napa Valley vintners.

In The Winery

Rombauer-Sauvignon-BlancOur tour began with a glass of 2015 Rombauer Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, surprisingly, not their Carneros Chardonnay. We would have to wait until later in the day to sample the Chardonnay.

Rombauer winemaker, Richie Allen, is very proud of this Sauvignon Blanc, which was bottled just before Christmas. The style is tropical and citrusy, not at all grassy, thanks to the cool locations and alluvial soils that comprise the four vineyard sites.

He told us he had to lobby Koerner Rombauer, Sr. long and hard to produce the variety. 2014 was the first vintage and those 1,000 cases flew off the shelves. Production for the 2015 vintage was increased to 6,000 cases and skepticism on the part of the Rombauer family has turned to cries for increased production.

As we sipped the Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc, Koerner “KR” Rombauer III joined our group and along with Richie guided us on a tour of the winery beginning on the crush pad and then moving to the barrel room.  It would soon become apparent that investment in technology and technique has been ongoing and significant.

  • NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) – this aerial infrared photo technology is used to identify specific sections within blocks that are ready to be picked. Multiple picking passes are made which insures no grapes are picked before optimal ripeness. This technology has been used for 10 years by Rombauer across all varieties.

According to Richie, the picking decision is the most critical decision in the winemaking process. From his point of view, he cannot make better wine than the fruit allows.

After picking grapes only at optimal ripeness, rigorous hand sorting takes place in the vineyard with unsuitable fruit returned to the vineyard to compost naturally.

  • A high-frequency berry separator is used to gently de-stem grape bunches to produce single, intact berries. All red varieties are de-stemmed in this manner.
  • Optical sorting follows to select the exact size, shape and color berry desired. Damaged berries, stems and MOG (material other than grapes) are removed. Selection criteria can be adjusted by grape variety.
  • Barrel fermentation: all Rombauer Cabernet (as well a increasing amounts of Merlot) goes through both alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in oak barrels. Richie has trained winery staff to remove and replace the barrel heads from each 60-gallon barrel. From the sorter, 400 pounds of grapes go into each barrel before being moved to the fermentation room where the barrels rest on their sides in racks with rollers that allow the barrels to be rotated. The rotation method replaces the more usual in-barrel punch-down method.

This technique has evolved since 2005 when the experimentation with in-barrel alcoholic fermentation began. Time, temperature and movement must be managed to optimize extraction, according to Richie. The barrel room is temperature controlled as is the number of rotations per barrel daily. Too high a temperature and too many rotations will result in too much tannin extraction.

To say this fermentation process is a labor of love is an understatement. As fermentation proceeds to dryness, each barrel is tasted and when extraction and tannin levels are optimal barrels are emptied and the skins pressed in a barrel press. This pressing is kept separate. Each barrel is then pressure washed before the wine that came from that barrel is replaced in the same barrel. Of course barrel heads must be removed and replaced to accomplish this transfer.

  • Malolactic fermentation is completed in the wine caves, which were built in 1995. The unique roller-barrel racks and a custom attachment on their forklift allows Rombauer cellar workers to remove barrels with minimal physical exertion.
  • Wild fermentation…it is part of Richie’s repertoire!

Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are whole-cluster fermented after being hand-picked and meticulously sorted. Richie believes strongly that the finest flavors come from free-run juice only. He doesn’t want any hint of bitterness he believes can come from skin contact. The juice is allowed to settle for about 24 hours before moving to stainless steel (for the Sauvignon Blanc) or to barrel for the Chardonnay.

As KR put it to the group, “We are willing to spend money on machinery and technology to make better wine.” With every vintage the goal is to make wine that is better than the previous vintage.

Once we reached the wine caves Richie and KR poured each of us a taste of the 2012 Rombauer Carneros Merlot which showed spice, cedar, dark fruit, great acidity and nice tannin structure. Merlot for this wine is grown in cool vineyard sites, where the variety thrives.

Going back to Richie’s statement about the quality of the grapes being a limited factor in making top quality wine, Rombauer has made significant investments in vineyard acreage as well over the years. Estate vineyards now total 350 acres and are located in Carneros, Atlas Peak and St. Helena in Napa Valley as well as El Dorado in the Sierra Foothills. Purchased fruit comes from select vineyard sites farmed by families well known to the Rombauer winemaking team.

Wine and Lunch

After touring the wine caves our group sat down to a beautifully set table in the tank room. Before us was an arc of ten Rombauer wines — five Chardonnays and five Cabernet Sauvignons. Richie and KR told us about the vineyards and production of each wine before we moved on to lunch.


Soil type, vineyard location, clone type, block location, oak aging regimen and meticulous tasting and barrel selection define the individual Rombauer Chardonnay bottlings. All Chardonnay is aged in oak, either a combination of American and French, or all French. Each is distinct and tasting them together was so interesting. We tasted: 2014 Carneros ($36), 2014 Buchli Station Vineyard ($70), 2014 Home Ranch Vineyard ($70) and 2014 Proprietor Selection ($65). My favorite of the group: 2014 Buchli Station Vineyard Chardonnay, it’s lean and fleshy at the same time.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings include a Napa Valley (a blend of Napa Valley appellations), Diamond Selection (a Reserve), two single-vineyard designates (Atlas Peak and Stice Lane) and the best-of-the-best blend of the best barrels of Cabernet. Varying amounts of new French oak is used in  fermentation and aging. We tasted: 2013 Napa Valley ($55), 2012 Diamond Selection ($80), 2012 Atlas Peak Vineyard ($90), 2012 Stice Lane Vineyard ($90), 2012 Le Meilleur du Chai “Best of the Cellar” Blend ($100) Each Cabernet is distinctive, we loved the tannin structure and flavors of the 2012 Rombauer Vineyards Atlas Peak Vineyard best. Total production for these Cabernets is just over 14,ooo cases.


Vineyard sites in Amador, El Dorado, Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties are the sources for Rombauer Zinfandel. Two single-vineyard designates are included in the group and all Zinfandels are aged in a combination of French and American oak. We tasted: 2013 Rombauer ($30), 2013 El Dorado ($34), 2013 Middletown ($43).

Lunch was prepared by the Calistoga Inn and to accompany the delicious food we enjoyed the three Zinfandels produced by Rombauer Vineyards. Our favorite of the group: 2013 Rombauer Vineyards El Dorado Zinfandel, it paired beautifully with the duck leg confit and roasted baby carrots.

Our wining and dining experience wasn’t complete until dessert had been served. Tiramisu and Rombauer Vineyards 2011 “Vintage Port”. A sweet ending to a delightful afternoon.

We sampled an amazing 15 wines produced by Rombauer Vineyards. Only one of those was the Carneros Chardonnay, the wine Rombauer Vineyards is so well known for. Clearly, there is a lot more to explore from Rombauer Vineyards than Carneros Chardonnay. The best way to get a feel for the wines produced by Rombauer Vineyards is by paying them a visit. There is no substitute for a guided tasting of a range of wines to gain an understanding of them.

Rombauer’s “pokey” tasting room (that’s Richie’s Australian description of the small tasting room that is now being renovated) is open for tasting by appointment. Check the Rombauer Vineyards’ website for details and consider booking a tasting. I’m certain you will come away with a new and expanded impression of Rombauer Vineyards, just as we did.

Thank you to Julie Ann Kodmur for the invitation to attend the event and to Richie Allen and KR Rombauer III for the detailed tour and description of the winemaking process at Rombauer Vineyards. Thanks, also to Brandye Alexander, director of marketing and consumer relations, for keeping us on schedule. Everyone’s enthusiasm for winemaking and dedication to quality came through very clearly.


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Shepherd’s Pie and Burgundy: a Cozy Valentine’s Day Pairing

It’s February so, of course, the Wine Pairing Weekend group has collected some sweet, romantic and otherwise interesting food and wine pairings to share with you for your Valentine’s Day celebration. Christy, who blogs at Confessions of a Culinary Diva, sent out this month’s invitation.

My goal for our Valentine’s Day pairing was to create a pairing that was special, but one that would leave me time to spend with my valentine. We started our pairing this month by choosing the wine, one that I expected would be very memorable. I’ve had my eye on a bottle of Burgundy at a local wine shop for some time. I watched the number of bottles on the shelf dwindle to one and decided it was finally time to act. I snagged the last bottle.

In my mind I had an idea of what to expect from this wine but, because I wanted to get the food pairing right, I asked the wine shop owner about his impression of the wine. He told me to expect delicate aromas and elegant flavors. “It’s not a California Pinot Noir,” he cautioned. “It has the kind of nose a Burgundy should have.” With one final admonition from him not to serve the wine with something too spicy, I was off to create my pairing.

I had a dish in mind as we discussed the 2012 Domaine Jean Tardy & Fils Nuit-Saint-Georges “Au Bas de Combe Vieilles Vignes”, one I had found a few days earlier. Something comforting, warm and creamy. A dish that is not fancy on its own, but one that could be elevated with the best ingredients, proper seasoning and by pairing it with this elegant Burgundy. I took inspiration for the dish, Shepherd’s Chicken Pot Pie, from two recipes and the result was every bit as delicious as I hoped it would be.

The Wine

Jean-Tardy-Nuits-Saint-Georges2012 Domaine Jean Tardy & Fils Nuit-Saint-Georges “Au Bas de Combe Vieilles Vignes”light to medium ruby-garnet color in the glass. Berry bramble and earthy aromas are delicate but distinct. Blackberry flavors combine with delicious woodsy and earthy flavors. The tannins are smooth and well integrated. Bright acidity and smooth tannins combine for a lighter weight in the mouth and the finish is at least medium in length. The aromas drew me in and the flavors made me want to stay. What a lovely wine. 13% abv.

Winemaking at Domaine Jean Tardy & Fils is described as traditional with 100% destemming, cold soak prior to fermentation and oak aging for about 18 months in a variety of neutral and new oak. The current winemaker, Guillaume, took over from his father with the 2001 vintage, but Jean Tardy still has a hand in the daily operation of the Domaine. The family produces only about 25,000 bottles per year with the majority of the wine sold for export (lucky for us.)

The Food

The thing I like best about chicken pot pie is the filling. Somehow, I am always disappointed by the crust. Either the flavor or texture is not as expected, or there just isn’t enough of it. So, when I saw a recipe that was essentially a chicken pot pie except that the crust was replaced with mashed potatoes, I thought the combination of creamy filling and smooth mashed potatoes might be more satisfying.

By the time this Chicken Shepherd’s Pot Pie is assembled everything is completely cooked and the pie just needs a few minutes to brown in the oven and heat through completely. It is a great dish to make ahead of time and warm just before serving.

The first task was to bake the chicken breasts, which I lightly seasoned with salt and white pepper. Next, I peeled the baking potatoes and boiled them until tender. I whipped them with heavy cream and butter and set them aside.

In the meantime I peeled and diced the carrots and cooked them just until tender. In a large sauce pan I sautéed onions until translucent, then garlic, parsley and tarragon. I added flour and cooked it for a minute or so before adding butter and homemade chicken stock to create a white gravy. When the gravy was at the desired consistency, I added diced chicken, carrots and frozen, thawed peas. With everything warmed through, I poured the mixture into a baking dish and topped it with whipped potatoes. It took only 15 minutes at 500º for the potatoes to brown and the filling to begin to bubble.
The filling was rich, creamy and perfectly flavored by the chicken and tarragon. Both the carrots and peas were flavorful and sweet. The fluffy mashed potatoes were perfect with the rich filling and the quantity was just right. To our taste, much better than a crust could be. Pete declared the recipe a keeper.


The Pairing

This pairing was one of the most delicious we have enjoyed for our Wine Pairing Weekends. The key to the success of the pairing is balance. I was careful not to over season the chicken breasts and to not add too much tarragon or garlic.

The creaminess of the filling was perfectly balanced by the bright acidity of the Burgundy. Tarragon as a background flavor was an excellent match with the woodsy flavors of the wine. Neither the food or wine trampled over the other.

Take Aways

A humble dish prepared with the best ingredients and properly seasoned can really shine. Truthfully, extra butter and cream can also contribute to the success of a dish.

Just a bit of planning in terms of food and wine pairing can have magical results. When in doubt about a wine, ask someone who knows. I find choosing a Burgundy very challenging, but because I love Pinot Noir I persevere and almost always ask for advice before making a purchase.

Make this dish ahead of time so you have time to clean the kitchen before dinner. Then, all you need do after dinner is the dishes, which leaves you time to enjoy the evening.

Valentine-movieAfter dinner, we poured another glass of 2012 Domaine Jean Tardy & Fils Nuit-Saint-Georges “Au Bas de Combe Vieilles Vignes”, put our feet up and watched one of our favorite movies. Mission accomplished: a delicious dinner followed by time to enjoy a relaxing evening with my sweetie. Perfect for Valentine’s Day.


We will be discussing our Valentine’s Day pairings on Saturday morning, February 13, at 8am Pacific time. You can join the conversation by following #winePW on Twitter. We will have lots to talk about!

Below is a list of our Wine Pairing Weekend friends’ pairings for their Valentine’s Day celebrations.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Jade from Tasting Pour:

– Love Letter Pastries and Brandborg Winery Pinot Noir

-Cherry Hazelnut Scones

Jeff from Food Wine Click Perfect Wine for a Sparkling Valentine’s Day Celebration

Martin of Enofylz Wine Blog Valentine’s Surf and Turf with a Twist and Champagne Pairing

Kirsten of The Armchair SommelierMy Squashy Valentine

Jennifer from Vino Travels Sparkle Your Valentine’s Day with Brachetto from the Roero with Demarie

David of Cooking Chat

Cauliflower Kale Soup paired with Pinot

-Sweet Strawberry Cream with Chocolate and Wine Pairing

Michelle from Rockin Red BlogValentine’s Day in the South of France with #WinePW

Sarah from Curious CuisiniereGougeres (French Cheese Puffs) and Blanquette de Limoux

Cindy from Grape Experiences:

A Valentine’s Gift: Elegant Anaba Wines

Cava and Crave Worthy Chocolate Cookies for Valentine’s Day

Lori from Draceana WinesNeed a Valentine’s Wine? As You Wish.

Diana from Wine Pass sharesValentine Risotto and Rich Chocolate Beet Cake with Brachetto d’Acqui

Valerie of Girls Gotta Drink A Moscato Food Pairing: Moscato for Breakfast Anyone?

Wendy from A Day in the Life on A Farm Asian Tuna and Noodles with Rodney Strong Pinot Noir

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla :

-Cherry-Glazed Chicken with Hahn’s Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

-Barley Stuffed Acorn Squash & Zesty Crayfish with Landmark Vineyards’ Overlook Chardonnay

-Wild Boar Mushroom Pot Pies with Landmark Vineyards’ Overlook Pinot Noir

-Seared Venison Medallions with Justin’s Cabernet Sauvignon

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Broadside Wine: Elegance in a Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the Broadside wines we tasted:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

paso_TTBsubavas_100914B (1)

Image from

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

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

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

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

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


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Sicily: Beauty Under Foot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please enjoy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Grape

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

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

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

The Region

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

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

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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

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

The Food

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

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

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

The Take Aways

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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

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

The Food

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

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

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

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

The Pairing

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

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

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

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

The Take Aways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

The Wine and Food Pairing

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Ferrari: Sparkling Wine From the Mountains of Northeastern Italy

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

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

Giulio Ferrari and His Dream

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

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

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

The Lunelli Family

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

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

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

Quality Production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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



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




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

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



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



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

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


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

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

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

The Take Aways

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

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

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

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

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


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