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Kickin’ it with Kitchit!

How is it possible that there are only 4 days left until Christmas?  For those of you celebrating other holidays around this time of year, like Festivus, or the 8 days of Chanukah, or any other celebration – you are, no doubt, in the thick of things.
This time of year, we often realize that we have forgotten to shop, whether it be for one specific person or for several hard to buy for family members.  Or perhaps you are throwing together a last minute dinner party to celebrate with the family and friends.  Nothing says stress like a party for 6!
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Instead of running out to Whole Foods and fighting for the last organic ham, check out this new service from Kitchit.  Kitchet brings talented local chefs to you, in your house, to cook up a storm . It’s like having a private chef on demand!  Cooking a wide variety of special menus for up to 6 people, you can whip up the feast in no time.
Kitchet chefs each have their own style, and menus to choose from.  Customers can select a chef and menu that meets their needs.  From only $39 per person, you can build a gorgeous dinner party and sit back and relax!  The chef preps, cooks, serves and — here is the amazing part – cleans up!  Yep.  That’s worth $40 right there.
But wait!  Like a Ginzu Knife commercial, there’s more!  It all starts with the menu; with an ever changing collection of Kitchit Tonight menus in collaboration with chefs and local specialty vendors, focusing on high-quality seasonal ingredients.  Why not try the “Leaf Strewn Streets of Lyon” for your holiday dinner?  Roasted Beets, Duck Confit, Paris Breast for dessert.  Viva la France!  Or perhaps you’d rather have a “Roman Holiday”, with stuffed squash, Saltimbocca, and Crostata de Ricotta.  Yum!  Have little ones at your house?  Don’t worry, you can add on kids meals for $9 each.
But, if you something specific in mind, check out the chef matching tool.  Chef Tiffany Friedman is cooking up a Sonoma inspired dinner party with poached pear & prosciutto crostini, scallops, duck, beef loin, and lemon pudding cake.
I know I’ll be checking some of these great deals out.  Need a great gift?  Kitchet also has gift cards to help your friends and family survive the holidays.
Happy eating!
Kitchet is available in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Celebrate with Franciacorta!

During the holidays, more often than not, we celebrate with something sparkling.  For some it might be the old classic Champagne; others, California Sparkling.  But have you tried Franciacorta?

Franciacorta, the DOCG region in Lombardy, Italy, is known for it’s excellent sparkling wines made in the traditionally method – meaning, the secondary fermentation occurs int bottle and not by, shall we say, the soda stream for wine or a bulk method.  Lombardy is perfect for sparkling wine, where the Alps meet the Lago d’Iseo, moderating temperatures and making the traditional grapes for sparkling wines grow so well.  Since Franciacorta was the first Italian sparkling wine to have the secondary fermentation int he bottle, and since the producing region is the first traditional method sparkling wine in Italy to reach DOCG status, they really are a treat.

Since becoming a DOCG (the highest level of regional wine designations in Italy) in 1995, Franciacorta has set strict rules governing the production of it’s sparkling wines.  Using the same Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (Bianco) and Pinot Noir grapes that are traditionally used in France, Franciacorta requires lengthy aging and hand harvesting, to maintain in increase quality.

With five distinct styles, there is something for everyone!

Some of my favorite products that I have been enjoing this season are reviewed below.  So this holiday, go out and say Cin Cin to Franciacorta!

Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut – 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir).  Yeasty, buttered toast, crisp lemon curd.  Beautiful bright acidity with the richness of cream and ripe pears.  This would be fantastic with oysters or brunch, and at $30, an affortable alternative to Champagne.  With only 12.9% ABV, this is a sipper you can enjoy all day!

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut – 80% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir), 10% Pinot Bianco (Blanc) –  a field of flowers, with rich  yellow and green hues, Tuscan melon and lime jump out of the glass along with stone fruit and a slight green herbal note.  $23 for this beauty rivals some of the better Proseccos and would be lovely in a Spritz or other cocktail.

If you would like to check out some of the other styles of Franciacorta, they range from dry to sweet, and have a host of other style elements such as the typically 100% Chardonnay Saten.  A Millesimato is vintage sparkler that is aged at least 30 months.

So, the next time you are having a party, consider stocking up on some Franciacorta, and wow your party guests with Italy’s fastest growing sparkling wine category!

 

These bottles of deliciousness were provided as PR samples, but all sips and tips are mine!

 

 

 

 

Quinticentually Quintessa

_MG_0049Earlier this year, before I embarked on a somewhat fool-hearty mission of getting my CSW credential, I visited the Napa Valley estate of Quintessa.  Tucked away, hidden from the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, the unique gravity flow moistly underground winery pokes out from the hillside.  When the Huneeus family took ownership of the land in 1990, the land was wild and pristine – and had never been used, or abused by other vines or crops.  Having never been planted to vine, the land had none of the after effects of the post-phylloxera recovery efforts, and mandatory replanting that some older, established Napa vineyards did.  It was virgin territory, and this prime real estate was ready to plant some amazing Bordeaux varietals.  With further research done on what naturally defended against the root louse that destroyed the industry in the past, new rootstock and innovative techniques were put in to place to create an amazing site.

In 2002, the estate winery opened, it was built with a vision of a building that blended in to the natural elements.  In addition to the aesthetic beauty, careful consideration was given to the environmental impact as well as functional design for a working winery.  The result is a stunning gravity-flow winery that beginnings on the top of the hill where the crushpad is located, and continues through chutes in the floor of the crushpad that transport the juice directly to the fermentation tanks with a minimal of intervention.  With all the modern, yet mostly non-intervention techniques, you can bet there will be some great juice coming out of there!

When you visit Quintessa, you have a wealth of tasting experiences to choose from.  The Estate Tasting Experience gives guests a comprehensive visit to the facility as well as the vineyard, and a seated tasting paired with local artisan products.  But the penultimate experience is what we enjoyed, the Quintessential Quintessa.  Here, you start at the winery where you see the operation, and then take a meandering walk up the hill to the ridge where tasting pavillions have been built.  These glass gazebos offer the ability to have a fully indoor / outdoor experience, while overlooking the vineyard property below.

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Up on the ridgeline, you leave the winery and the hustle bustle of the busy Napa Valley behind.  You are truly alone, and have the time to relax, and enjoy the details of the geology of the soils, a full tasting, and a great conversation about what makes teh property so special.  And oh, the cheese!  The cheese…

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With a tasting comparison of the current releases as well as library wine, this experience is a rare and special treat in the valley.  Trying to impress out of town guests?  This is the way to do it.  I especially enjoyed comparing the fresh, young current release, with the vibrancy and fruit forward notes of blackberry and earth, as compared to the library wine, showing dense and chewy notes of tobacco, baking spice and black pepper.  Having the luxury to taste the different blends and different vintages really shows a wine lover how wines can develop over time, but also how particular vineyard sites, soil, and blending decisions impact the final result — which make no mistake — was yummy.

The Quintessential Quintessa is $125 per person, and advanced reservations are required.  I promise, it’s worth every penny!  I look forward to going back and experiencing it again soon!  Alternately, you can book an Estate Tasting, which will also be delicious and informative.

**There are no tasting notes on this post on purpose, because I encourage you to form your own opinions about the wine.  However, if I was forced to choose, I’d highly recommend the unctuous and delicious Cabernet based blends, particularly the 2010 and the older vintages that have surpassed their awkward teenage years.  The discussion of the different vineyard blocks and types of soil ties directly in to each vintage, blending decisions and final results, which is part of the fascinating study of wine.  Go forth and taste them for yourself!**

Special thanks to Fineman PR for arranging this visit.

 

Seven Stills for 7 Cocktails: Don’t be bitter!

A few years ago, at my first Craft Cocktail Carnival here in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to meet Tim Obert and Clint Potter of Seven Stills Vodka.  Masters of the craft cocktail movement, I was fortunately enough to taste through some of the unique creations that Tim had lurking in his cabinets.  One of those creations was the recently released Meyer Lemon Bitters, a zippy little number just waiting for a cocktail to show it’s beauty.

 

 Now, that first bitter moment has given rise to the new line of bitters.  To fund this project, they have turned to both a new Bitters Club (which, I clearly  need to join given my bitters obsession), and a Kickstarter Campaign for the ages.

 

When Seven Stills started making bitters, they set out to be both unique, and to use fresh, seasona, ingredients nad herbs that aid in digestion and overall health.  After all, that is what bitters were created for.

Each one of these unique creations is crafted with a base of non-GMO grain spirits (well there’s a new thing to watch for GMOs in!  Do you know if Monsanto sponsors your vodka?), and the secret recipe of over 30 herbs and spices, plus the primary flavor of the bitter.

This year, they are starting out with Prickly Pear, Cranberry, and classic Cocktail Bitters, to go along with the aforementioned Meyer Lemon Bitters.

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Remember, bitters is for more than just cocktails!  Add a few drops to your water to add some interesting elements.  Water does get boring after all..  Suffering a hangover?  Add some bitters to tonic water and drink up.  The digestive effect of the bitters and the quinine in the tonic (if it’s real tonic) will soothe you in no time

Want to know more?  Check out the videos and recipies on the Kickstarter Page!

Happy drinking!

 

Uncommonly good gifts from Uncommon Goods

 

It’s that time of year again – when people scramble to find just the right gift for their wine friends.  I like to find unique items that you won’t always find at the big box stores, and my friends at Uncommon Goods came up with some terrific ideas to fit the bill.

Uncommon Goods was founded in 1999, and features unique gifts and handcrafted items that are particularly kind to the environment, people, and animals.  While they are not local to me, I step outside of my “shop local” zone for the holidays because Uncommon Goods is, quite frankly, pretty cool.  Going above and beyond what most retailers do, they run their operations from an historic building in Brooklyn, where they give back to the local community by paying their local seasonal workers a minimum of 50% more than the average wage in the area.  Their mission is to support artists and designers, particularly those that make their wares by hand.  This is the kind of company I encourage all of you to support, whether they are local, or not.  Going above and beyond, Uncommon Goods also offers design challenges, tours and classes to further empower the inner artist in you.  I know that the next time I am in Brooklyn, I will make it a mission to book a tour and check this place out.  I also know, that given their large selection of wine gifts and glassware, decanters and accessories, I will be doing some shopping there for the holidays!  Not in to wine?  No problem!  Then have gifts for everyone.

Here are some of the wine themed items that I think will make excellent gifts this year:

Soiree Home Self Chilling Wine GlassesScreen Shot 2014-11-09 at 10.45.20 AM – Now, I own several Soiree Tilt Chilling Spheres, and they are the best invention ever.  If you don’t own any, you need to buy some right now!  But the self chilling wine glasses take this a step further.  With an insert that you freeze, and place in the bottom of your glass, your white wine, soda, or other beverage will stay cool through the entire glass – for as long as you are sipping it.  As someone who shudders when people put ice in their wine (egads!) these are a fantastic innovation, and much like the Tilt Spheres, these glasses are the next generation and a must have.  $50 for 2

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 10.48.54 AMTwist Decanter – this pretty table top decanters aerate your wine and also is a nice center piece.  The curves allow up to half a bottle of wine to breathe and open up, and full of red wine it is simply gorgeous. If you’re looking for a statement piece, look no further.  They are compact enough to fit in even the smallest cabinet, and easily refilled without making a mess.  $29.99

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 10.38.27 AMZinZag  – the Wine Game – Half trivial pursuit, half wine tasting challenge, this game takes your wine party to a new level.  With 3 bottles of wine and up to 6 friends, you work your way around the board, with brainteasers, blind tastings, and a lot of fun!  $35

These are only a few examples of the wine themed gifts but there are endless selections of other handcrafted and creative items on the Uncommon Goods site.  Go check it out and see for yourself.  When you purchase from a company like Uncommon Goods that is uncommonly good to it’s employees, it’s community, and the world at large, you are doing your part to make the world a better place.  Go ahead, I dare you!

Some items were provided by Uncommon Goods for review, but all opinions and shopping habits are my own!

Hello stranger!

wineschoolI’m here, hanging on, muddling through what is theoretically Fall.  Given that it’s in the high 70s/low 80s, it’s tough to stay inside and stare and the computer, but I’m trying.

You might be wondering why I’ve been so silent recently:  well I’ll tell you.  Earlier this year, I took the California Wine Appelation Specialilst (CWAS) class offered by San Francisco Wine School  The three day intensive class was probably the highlight of my year, and I earned y credential with flying colors.  I still kick myself for missing 3 questions on the 100 point test, but there is always the next time.

As a result of that, I decided I really wanted to pursue my Certified Specialist of Wine credential, on the way to being a Certified Wine Educator.  Yes, I know, lofty goals for this blogger!  So, in September, I embarked on the 11 week course for the CSW.  Wow!  When you sit down to examine the entire world in 3 months, you realize what you really don’t know.  So, my free time has been spent working, studying, and reading – mostly about the wines of countries that I really don’t know anything about.

Given that I already spend 8-11 hours in front of the computer for my day job, it’s been a challenge to push myself to maintain the blog in the standards to which I was once accustomed.  After working a full day, and then pulling out the study guide and flashcards, my brain is full of obscure knowledge that has little to do with what I blog about.   What is the German name for adding sugar to a wine that is still fermenting?  The classifications for Austrian wine that are not in Germany?  What about the communes in Chianti?  Sangiovese, Garnacha, Riesling oh my!  Step away from the computer before you do something rash!  So, that is how the blog got lost in the shuffle.  But I’m determined to get it back, and I’m going to start with some fun ideas for your holiday gift giving.

Stay tuned for good things to come, and with some luck, more studying, and a bit of wine – I’ll be a Certified Wine Expert (and not even in my own mind) in no time!

Cheers!

Writerz Block…I haz it!

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It’s funny how life can take a turn sometimes.  This year has been one of major change, a crazy work schedule, a bit of life’s most unhappy moments thrown in for good measure, and pure mayhem.

Somewhere on the way, I lost my focus and my passion for this blog.  I am not sure where it went, or if it is just crushed beneath the weight of life, but I’m struggling to find my voice again.

What do YOU do when you just can’t seem to get inspired?

Refugio Ranch – a hideway for the stars

Refugio Ranch

After the mayhem of the Wine Bloggers Conference had subsided a bit, the #QBP (and token Joe) decided to stick around a bit longer an enjoy the relative peace of Los Olivos on a Sunday afternoon.

As luck would have it, fearless leader Melanie had arranged for a visit to Refugio Ranch Winery for some tasting and tweeting.  As we gathered in Los Olivos to relax in the Montana style hunting lodge tasting room, I could tell it was going to be a great visit.  But the tasting room was only the beginning…

In 2005, owner Kevin and Niki Gleason found the 415 estate property, which they planted to 26 acres of vines.  Intending to maintain the property, tucked behind the town and well hidden form any view or civilization, the estate ranch is a piece of history that is truly stunning to enjoy.  Our group was whisked away from the tasting room and taken through the winding roads of the Santa Ynez hills, stepping back in time as we drove farther out of time.

Approaching the retreat house, you can see the prime acreage planted to Rhone grapes, and the careful maintenance of the land is evident by the sprawling gardens, oak trees, and agriculture use.  There is no monoculture here.Refugio Ranch

The Grape Whisperer, aka vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano, carefully selected blocks and varieties that he thought would best suit the property.  Winemaker Ryan Deovlet began producing these amazing wines in 2011, and together with the Gleasons, they have created a small slice of heaven.

Tucked away on the ranch, the guest house is a rustic reminder that this is still a weekend retreat for the family.  Sitting on the porch, overlooking the ranch, you might think you were an extra in Little House on the Prairie – except the wine in your hand will make you forget about everything modern, sit back, and relax.  It’s no coincidence that you feel your inner cowgirl / cowboy coming out on this property, much like a back lot at Universal Studios, as Refugio Ranch was an untouched cattle ranch that had been in operation for centuries.  The transition to vineyards was a natural one, but the owners are carefully maintaining the native habitats and ecosystems, while using the best pieces for vineyards – maintaining a clear balance between past, present, nature, and man.

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Next time we’ll sit out there!

Refugio Ranch is the only vineyard on this side of the Santa Ynez River, and gently rolls up from teh river to the ridge.  With only 26 acres planted, it’s hard to spot the vines, but easy to taste the terroir that makes this property unique.  The prime area is only 6 miles from the ocean, and is planted in salty, ancient sandy loam – the result of ancient sea beds, and long term drought.  This area of Santa Ynez gets very little fog in the morning, but a lot in the evening, lending a cooling influence perfect for those Rhones.

Keeping in tune with the cowboy theme, with a Spanish influence, the labels are a throwback to the cattle ranch days.  I couldn’t pick a favorite since our host, Director of Sales & Marketing Jeff Butler kept pouring delicious wines, but here are some thoughts for your tasting pleasure:

2012 Viognier – 100% Viognier, fermented partially in stainless, as well as French oak.  Fresh and lively, with stone fruit and lychee, folllowed by fresh wildflower honey.  This was a beautiful example of what viognier should be, with rich fruit but bright, lively personality.

2011 Ineseño 57% Roussane / 43% Viognier.  Fermented in stainless and concrete eggs, with 29% new oak, and 10% neutral oak, another Rhone style gem.  Brilliant gold peaches, spice box, and fruit compote.  A perfect glass with Thai food, or sitting on your porch enjoying life.

2012 Escondrijo – a rich blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Petite Sirah, this “hideaway” is a winter warmer, with cigar box, rose petals, saddle leather, and tobacco, along with blackberry cobbler and cherry pie.  This is something I wanted more of in my glass, even on a hot day and would be amazing with Pumpkin Pie on your holiday table.

Refugio Ranch

Herb garden & insectary

Refugio Ranch

Refugio Ranch

The view from our tasting porch

All images by Thea Dwelle, all rights reserved.  But if you ask nice, I might share.  The experience was courtesty of the winery, but we all left with several bottles in our hot little hands – which should encourage you to visit.  While the ranch is closed to the public, and we felt like movie stars, the Los Olivos tasting room is open and waiting for you.
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VinEdge – a life preserver for your favorite bottles

 

It’s that time of year again – when gadgets and gifting items hit the shelves, and all sorts of new technology is released for the holiday gifting season.  One of these gadgets is a new preservation device called the VinEdge, which is new tool to help you save that leftover wine.  Yes, I know, generally speaking leftover wine is an hilarious joke in this house, but occasionally, especially when I am doing multiple bottle tastings, there will be a half bottle here or there.

So, to save that half bottle for the next night in the best possible way, there a few tricks.  First, you could just cork it back and put it in the fridge.  For a day or two, even for red wines, this works fine.  However, if you want to save the bottle for later in the week, you will need to block the oxygen from reaching the wine.  Remember, oxygen is only wine’s friend in the first 24-48 hours. After that, air can do nasty things to that bottle of Syrah you’ve been sipping on.

I’ve written about other preservation systems here before, from inert gas to vacuums to covers; some with more successful testing that others.  The VinEdge is similar to another system that physically covers the wine, and blocks the oxygen from reaching that precious juice.  However, there is a twist.

The VinEdge uses disposable inserts, similar to the Wine Shield, to cover your wine.  But, you also get a pour spout and delivery system that makes it unique.  This system incorporates a straw like delivery tube that delivers wine from under the cover, eliminating the oxidation that would normally occur over time.  Admittedly, i was skeptical at first given my history with preservation systems, but for $29.99 MSRP, including 10 disposable inserts (you can buy refills) it’s a pretty handy tool to have in the house if you don’t typically finish a bottle every night.  When you insert the VinEdge, a small tube with the cover is placed in the bottle.  The cover opens up and spreads out like a parachute, coveing the surface area of the wine.  As the wine is poured, the tube inflates, creating a vacuum and reducing the amount of air that touches the wine. Once bottle is empty, the spout is removed, leaving the detachable tube and cover n the bottle for easy cleanup.  Not bad!  Wine enthusiasts have long argued that the vacuum systems deplete wine of flavor and aromas, so this is a great alternative.

Grade:  B+  A great gift for the wine lover in your life!  Check it out – you can buy direct from VinEdge, Amazon, or  your favorite retailer.

 

This product was provided by the PR firm for consideration, but all messy experiments and taste testing were my own.

 

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Ballard Canyon – Syrah Incubator

Wrapping up my week in Buellton at the Wine Bloggers Conference, the focal tasting seminar on Ballard Canyon and its Syrah was the highlight of the conference for me.  One of the newest AVAs, Ballard Canyon was established within the Santa Ynez Valley in 2013.  Long known as an excellent source for Grenache and Syrah, the area is a long, thin canyon running north to south in a curving line.  This orientation shelters it from much of the wind and cooling breezes that the rest of Santa Ynez experiences making it an excellent location for the richer, bolder Rhone red grapes.

Ballard Canyon has come in to it’s own, now with a brand identity as “The Syrah AVA”.  The panel discussion that we attended at WBC included a tasting of 6 Syrahs from the area, as well as an in depth look at the AVA and those wines.  We were able to taste along with some rock star winemakers and growers from Beckmen, Harrison-Clarke, Jonata, Kimsey, Larner, Rusack, Saarloos & Sons, and Stolpman.

Syrah is coming of age today, and has been called one of the most electrifying wines in the US.  With an AVA that hsa ideal conditions to grow it, Ballard Canyon has become the Syrah AVA.   Syrah can be vastly different depending on cool vs warmer climate growing regions, and Ballard Canyon creates some of the best cool climate Syrah in California.  With approximately half of the AVAs vines planted to Syrah, vintners are able to focus of the microclimates within the canyon, and create excellence in style.

The wines coming out of this region are cool climate wines, which are moderated by the warmer climates surrounding it;  with the wind, weather, and sandy soils dominating Ballard Canyon, Syrahs from this area are broad and distinctive, with a mix of characteristics that you can only find here.

Some quick notes of the wines we tasted:

Rusack Wines - Lighter and fresh, with wonderful acid and deep red and blue fruit.

Kimsey – Rocking in the glass with chocolate dried fig, and espresso

Harrison-Clarke Wine  – Bursting with ripe bosenberry, blueberry and espresso notes, followed by a black raspberry finish 

Jonata – co-fermented with 5% of Viognier, blackberry, dark chewy beef jerky, tobacco lead, aromatic and dense.

 

The over whelming these of these wines are that you have deep complexity, richness, as well as acid which balances the wine.  The large diurnal shift in temperatures allows for both ripe bold flavors, as well as maintaining the acidity levels, which produces wines with more structure and interest than a warmer climate Syrah.

Ballard Canyon is the place to be, and I can’t wait to taste more wines from this region!

syrah territory