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Go Underground for Valentine’s Day! **Giveaway**

It’s’ almost Valentine’s Day.  You don’t have any thing special planned.  Maybe you don’t have someONE special.  Maybe you don’t care.  But, if you’re like me, you at least want a good bottle of wine and a trashy movie to celebrate the non-event with!  Luckily for you, I’m giving away one $50 gift card so you can check out UndergroundCellar.com!

Underground Cellar offers curated, limited edition wines with a twist – you can buy some great wines at great prices, get more bottles for free, and store them offsite with Underground Cellar until you’re ready to drink them.  Pretty sweet right?

Some of the current deals highlight some great wines by my friend Jon Phillips at Inspiration Vineyards, where you can get 6-14 bottles, starting at $25 a bottle.  Given the retail value of these babies, that’s a sweet deal.  The twist on these deals are the sweet “Upgrades”.  If you purchase wine, you unlock upgrades.  There might be 2 upgrades, or there might be 6.  These are limited quantity wines that Underground Cellars has specifically curated for you based on your buying patterns, and when you buy bottles from a collection, the bottles you purchased, which are selected from the offering pool, are upgraded to the special wines – for free.  Surprise!  Looking for some international flair?  Check out the Premium Whites selection, where if you purchase some yummy Sangiaciamo chardonnay, you just might take home a rare Chateauneuf blanc or a Kistler, highly coveted and very rare, chardonnay.

Underground Cellar offers everyone the option of storing their wine purchases in CloudCellar, a state of the art Napa wine cellar. Instead of choosing a shipping address at checkout, a customer can select CloudCellar and hold their wine there for as long as they’d like. When your CloudCellar has 6 bottles, you can ship your wine for only $5… and when you’re up to 12 bottles, the box ships for free. That’s great if you live in an extreme temperature zone and you don’t want to ship in the dead of winter or height of summer.

Want a chance to try it out for free? Answer the trivia question in Rafflecopter below and enter to win a $50 gift card!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Baconlicous is St. Supery!

When you tIMG_8383hink of wine tasting, I am going to guess that you don’t typically think of line up like this.  Think of your comparative literature class from college, toss in some bacon, and you have St. Supery’s Bacon and Bordeaux tasting experience summed up.

Having tasted the wines at this Napa Valley stalwart several times, I knew that at the very least, I was going to enjoy my tasting experience, but this special tasting brings it to a new level.  Conducted upstairs, in the newly remodeled private tasting lounge, these special tastings are a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the normal rush in the tasting room.

For our tasting, we paired each of the Bordeaux style wines with a bacon-licious dish, each specifically made by the winery chef to play off of the wines.

IMG_83892012 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a Quesedilla with smoked mozzarella and…bacon with green salsa verde.  Both the Rutherford estate fruit as well as my favorite Dollarhide go in to this blend which has fresh loganberry, pink peppercorn, ripe plums and ginger notes.  The quesedilla brought out dark spices and blue fruit, as well a ground black pepper.

Next, the 2010 Napa Vallely Estate Elu, which is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec, and 1% Bacon (well, really 1% Cabernet Franc.  This is St. Supery’s signature red wine, and has a beautiful Bergemot nose with savory herbal qualities.  Dark cherries, dried lavender, and blackberries in cassis syrup were paired with a classic BLT.
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Next, the 2010 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and a touch of Cab Franc and Petite Verdot, all from Rutherford.  This unctuous red wine was full of coffee and chocolate, with cracked black pepper.  Paired with a Toma Grilled Cheese with applewood Smoked Bacon, the earthy and herbal notes really sang out.

FiIMG_8391nally, the 2010 Dollarhide Elevation is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7%  Malbec.  Dense and deep blackberry notes emerge from this “accidental” blend.  While it is always a blend, it’s typically over 90% Cab to soften the punch.  The Malbec adds in a dense blue fruit, with young & lively notes of dark chocolate and espresso.  As this was our dessert course, it was paired with the “Happy Childhood” – An almond butter & estate fig jam sandwich, with cassis candied bacon.

Yum!While this special tasting experience isn’t always on the menu, be sure to call ahead and make reservations for any of St. Supery’s special tastings.  Experiences start at only $35 per person (group of 4 minimum) and are an event to remember.  I can’t wait to go back and experience another version of this event as the estate garden grows through the seasons!

A special thank you to St. Supery and Scott Tracy, Guest Experience Manager for a truly spectacular tasting experience.

 

The wine and bacon were provided by St. Supery, but all of the sound effects and accolades are purely mine!

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Viva Vouvray!

Vouvray.  Just the name elicits a curling of the tongue and imaginary French wine drinkings, enjoy a glass at a sidewalk cafe.  Located in the Central Loire region of Touraine, Vouvray comes in many styles:  From fully sweet to dry; from still to brightly sparkling (Crémant de Loire).  But one thing is true of all of these wine:  they are all 100% Chenin Blanc.

If you’re like me, when you hear Chenin Blanc you think of one of two things:

1.  South Africa

2.  Old School California jug wine, sister to “Chablis”, in the handy gallon contains, now served on the bottom shelf of the grocery store wine aisle.

This ain’t your Mama’s Chenin Blanc!

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With just over half of the production being sparkling, the chalmy soils of the region lend themselves to crisp and fresh white wines.  Vovray is lively, and vibrant, with floral aromas, and flavors of stone fruit, candied orange and honeycomb.

The next time you are looking for an interesting white or a sparkler to celebrate Tuesday with, check these out:
2012 Les Chancelieres Vouvray – Clean and dry, with bright citrus and spice drops.  Overripe apricots and Golden Delicious apples covered in nutmeg and white flowers.  Fantastic with Thai curry!  $12

2013 Guy Saget “Marie de Beauregard” Vouvray – Ginger ale and toasted brioche with fig jam, nutty finish with a buttery edge.  A great bubbly with rich, creamy cheeses.  $20

 

Chinon: The Lady of the Lake

Chinon might well be best known for it’s Chateau, and it’s central role in Joan of Arc’s story.  But in this case, Chinon is known for it’s Cabernet Franc, and it’s other wines.

 

Chinon is located in the region of Touraine, which is located in the central Loire Valley, in northwestern France.  Chinon is especially known for it’s Cabernet Franc, although up to 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon can be blended in.  There is also some Chenin Blanc planted in the region.  Cabernet Franc from Chinon is quite varied and can be bold and grippy, or light and minerally, but both aqre quite affordable and great alternatves to some of the more expensvie regions in France.

2012 Domaine de noiré soif de tendresse chinon – $16.00

When I first opened this, it was very dusty, closed and full force potpourri.  But now, after an hour, it’s coming around to lusciousness.  On the nose, violets, rosepetals and grassy notes.  The palate opens up to reveal a medium bodied grippy red with prune, cherry, wild strawberry, coffee, and smoke notes.

 

 

2011 Les pensees de Pallus – $20

Smokey with perfume notes, pencil lead, and bright raspberreis, the peppery notes open up to sour cherry, blackberry, and chewy stewed meat

 

Truchard Vineyards – a step back in time

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When you step out of your car, in the small makeshift parking lot that is really the vineyard, you are immediately transported to a rural setting a scant 10 minutes from downtown Napa.  The iconic redwood barn and farmhouse stand proudly as sirens to Truchard Vineyards, straddling the Carneros region close to San Pablo Bay.

Arriving in California in the late 1960s, Jo Ann and Tony Truchard were Texas transplants that were enchanted by wine country as they went on a road trip exploring their newly adopted state.  Ever the adventurer, Tony thought it would be fun to plant a vineyard in the then relatively unknown Napa Valley, paying homage to his family roots from Lyon, France.  There had always been wine in Tony’s blood, including a pre-Prohibition winery in South Texas.  On one of these meandering road trips through Northern California, the Truchards came across the abandoned orchard in Carneros that would become Truchard Vineyards.

Today, Truchard is known for it’s pioneering creativity, fighting back the brackish waters in Carneros to produce some delicious wines, but it started out as a labor of love.  Serving as a doctor in the army, Tony soon started practicing in nearby Reno.  But every weekend, they would drive down to Carneros to work the vineyard and camp out in the orchards.  Slowly, the estate was expanded to include 400 adjacent acres, with plenty of open space and unplanted hillsides to maintain the bucolic feel of southern Napa.  The estate also prides itself on being environmentally responsible, with approximately 80% sustainably grown and  20% organically grown grapes.

While we were there, the memory of the Napa earthquake of 2014 was still fresh.  With the epicenter being less than 5 miles away, one might expect cracks in the caves, broken bottles, and ore of a mess.  But aside from some cracks in the dried earth of the vineyards on top of the cave, and a few cracks that were structurally insignificant, Truchard was amazingly lucky; the farmhouse where the Truchards live was not as lucky as most of the contents were smashed, but the house itself?  Looks like a Queen sitting in state.  Nature really is amazing.

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Well known for Pinot Noir, given the ideal grown area in Carneros, Truchard also produces some lovely Chardonnay, but my personal favorite is the Syrah.  The smokey funk on the end of this medium bodied Syrah, made as an homage to Cote Rotie and the Truchard family legacy, compliments the dark blackberry and plum notes perfectly.  The finish of cracked pepper and spices leaves you wanting another sip, and while funky, it’s funk in the best possible way.

Truchard is open by appointment only, and a visit includes a tour as well as a tasting.  This is a must do for any visit to Napa Valley!  For another take on Truchard, please visit my blogging buddy Tom Riley’s post on American Winery Guide.

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A special thank you to Toby at Fineman PR for arranging this visit, and to Anthony Truchard, II for leading us on the tour & tasting.  We were lucky enough to have Jo Ann visit with us after the tour, and if you want a day full of stories, see if she’s around! 

School Daze – Further Adventures in Wine

Society of Wine educators logoAs you may have read, here on le blog, last fall I was studying for my CSW certification (Certified Specialist of Wine) through SF Wine School.  Recently, I learned that I didn’t make the cut; unsurprisingly, with only 65% of first time test takers passing, I narrowly missed my pass rate.  After my initial fury at myself for missing 9 itty questions for the required 75% passing rate, I realized that this was a great learning experience, and an opportunity for me to share what I learned here.

Studying your passion isn’t always easy.  It can turn in to a job, which, in my personal opinion, makes passion die.  A little of my passion did indeed die, as I was struggling to understand some regions that I was ill equipped to understand properly, along with work obligations, and family life.  Yep, didn’t I say it was my own fault?  I lost focus.  But I’m back!  And I’m going to share my week by week re-examination of the material as I follow along with the official Certified Wine Educators online prep course.10580071_10152495237266482_5417861720379461881_n

My downfall?  By far, Germany.  Perhaps if I put some Falco on in the background, along with Nena and The Scorpions, the Pradikat levels will soak in to my brain more thoroughly.  Rock me Amadeus in the Rhine with the Riesling!

While some weeks (namely the chemistry portion) aren’t as fascinating, there is a wine tasting component that is going to not only be really interesting and eye opening, but also help me drill in my head where each region is and what it’s terroir is.  I will be the first one to admit, 5 years ago, I was not convinced that French wine was going to be my new love; but here I am, enthralled with Burgundy and the Rhone, and enamored of Languedoc and the Loire.

So here goes:  Week 1:  Wine Composition & Wine Faults

 

I won’t bore you with the details of the winemaking process (unless you really want to know…) but the pairing is Chinon, red Chinon.  This Cabernet Franc based wine from the Touraine region of the Central Loire Valley (France) is one that I am less than familiar with, so I look forward to exploring it more, both on my own and with my study buddies.

Stay tuned on January 26th for my Chinon tasting exploration!

And in February, winemaking, sparkling wine, and then…yes, France!

 

 

Holman Ranch: A step back in time

     

Holman RanchHolman Ranch was established in 1928, well before the rush of wineries started to populate the rural and bucolic Carmel Valley.  When one thinks of Carmel Valley, you might well think Carmel (by-the-Sea), but in teh short 10 miles up the narrow valley, Carmel by the Sea dissolves away in to Carmel Valley, where horse ranches and vineyards dot the rugged hillsides that once housed cattle and horse ranches.

The family owned Holman Ranch is at the northeastern end of the valley, and while only a few miles from the ocean, is a world – and a century away.  The Ranch itself sits above a small subdivision on a hillside in Carmel Valley Village, but once you enter the gates – you are transported a world away.

IMG_8404Of the original 6500 acre Spanish Land Grant, the 600 acre property that would eventually become Holman Ranch was purchased by a wealth businessman from San Francisco for use as a “gentleman’s retreat”.  With an historic Spanish Hacienda style main house built from local stone, the guest rooms were added later when the property changed hands in the mid 1940s.  The addition of the guest quarters made it an ideal retreat for Hollywood luminaries, and it quickly became the hot spot for stars from Joan Crawford to Charlie Chaplin to escape to.

Fast forward to the late 1980s, and the property was converted back to a private estate to preserve the history and tranquility. This is when the original vineyards were planted, and the stables were added.  In 2006, the Lowder family purchased the Ranch and began a restoration project that included adding 17 acres of vineyards as well as wine IMG_8412caves and event spaces.

Waking up in the peaceful mountains above the valley, it’s easy to see why the stars would want to retreat here.  The early morning hours are silent and golden, and a walk through the property reveals the rugged hillsides and steep slops of vineyard that undulate down the hillsides.  You can certainly see why the Hollywood elite escaped here.

Even though Carmel Valley is only 12 miles from the Paciifc Ocean, the temperature is much warmer; the early morning fog cools down the vineyards, and for this reason, is ideal for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonay.  Holman Ranch specializes in Estate Pinot Noir, and offers four versions, plus 2 Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.  I loved the Pinot Gris, and the Hunter’s Hill Pinot Noir really hit the spot while admiring the rustic cowboy theme in the tasting room.

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While the Ranch itslef isn’t open to the public, it does host special events for the wine club as well as weddings, meetings and corporate retreats.  I think I might start planning my 25th birthday party!  Ok well maybe 40th.  (shush you.).

If you find yourself in the Monterey Bay region, be sure to take the detour to the narrow little valley that time forgot.  Knowing that Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel by the Sea, I would expect to see him riding the range above Holman Ranch from time to time.  Stop your horse at the hitching post outside the tasting room, pull up a cowhide and sip a while.  Or have dinnner at the newly acquired historical diner Will Fargo across the street.  You won’t be sorry!

A special thanks to Holman Ranch for hosting us at the Ranch and allowing me to go back to summer camp for one night!  I’ll be back…

Experience America’s Heritage Grape!


It’s that time of year again, time for the annual Zinfandel Experience!  Attracting Zin lovers from around the world, Zinfandel Experience is celebrating its 24th anniversary with three days of wine tasting events with zins from all over California, as well as unique corners of the world!

A classically American wine, Zinfandel is one of the oldest grapes grown in California.  From the old school Italian field blends of the Central Valley to the bold expressions of Dry Creek, there is a zin for everyone!

January 29-31st the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers association presents 4 days of spectacular events showcasing zinfandel.

Epicuria – formerly known as Good Eats and Zin, you get the idea.  Each producers selected wine is paired with a fabulous restaurant for this information walk around wine & food pairing.  VIPs can sip in the special lounge where you can relax and chat about the delicious tidbits.
Some of the pairings you can look forward to:
  • Bella Vineyards and Presideo Social Club
  • Ravenswood with Central Market
  • Saddleback Cellars with Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Flights! Forums of Flavors – Friday, January 30th
Flights features a professional tasting seminar with a focus on highly allocated, limited production Zinfandels. Learn insights from the experts and experience the range, depth and character of the wines. ZAP will once again partner with the Historic Vineyard Society to present wines from exceptional old Zinfandel vineyards.

Presentaion of 3 Historic Regions, moderated by Joel Peterson, featuring Contra Costa County, Amador County, and Dry Creek Valley

 

 

Winemakers Reception, Dinner & Auction – Zin State of Mind – A Benefit with Taste, Friday January 30th

Go glamorous! Mad Men, the popular TV show, is our inspiration for this year’s dinner and auction. The stylish, sleek, and jazzy atmosphere will captivate you as the city lights of San Francisco dazzle. Our reception will feature winemakers ‘pouring it big’ with magnums and reserve offerings. You’ll experience an intimate dinner hosted by celebrities of the wine world and a customized menu that boasts the best in farm-to-table cuisine. The live and silent auctions will feature one-of-a-kind lots, rare bottles, winery experiences and so much more, with proceeds benefiting ZAP’s programming, education and Heritage Projects. It will be an evening full of personality—fashionable, yet slightly provocative—what else—a Zin state of mind!

The Tasting – Saturday, January 31st

The centerpiece of the 2015 Zinfandel Experience is The Tasting, where wine lovers engage in personal conversations with winemakers while exploring the flavors of Zinfandel blends, single vineyards and old vine Zinfandels or discover the distinctive dialects of Zinfandel growing regions. Experience Zinfandel from the perspective of sommeliers, with all due respect to terroir, at the complimentary Sommelier & Winemaker Terroir Workshops located at the Golden Gate Club.

Reserve and Barrel Tasting with VIP and All Day Ticket Purchase

Winemakers and principals will pour samples at their tables during this exclusive tasting for VIPs and all-day ticket holders. From 11am to 1pm, you will enjoy a “sneak peek” tasting of upcoming vintages and special Zinfandels that have earned the title of “Reserve.” This walk-around experience offers an special foray into the wineries most prized Zinfandel treasures.

Tickets are available HERE and be sure to get them early!  Events sell out!

Now back to life as we know it…

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2015 is finally here!  I think I join a large contingent of people that agree, good riddance to 2014 and it’s bumps, bruises, pitfalls and elated highs.  Personal challenges were a common theme in my circles, and for me personally – a major career shift, family health issues, focus on personal relationships and a very intense and yet rewarding wine class pushed me a touch over the edge.

Phew.  Good bye, and good night!

With the new year, thoughts of new goals, new ideas, and new inspirations run through my brain.  While I’m certain that I cannot attain all of them at least I know that the challenges faced last year won’t repeat themselves.  Yes, there will be new challenges, perhaps even more difficult to manage, but we’ll take those as they come.

As i sit here on this cold (finally!) First Friday of 2015, I look forward with excitement as I push myself to make sure that I blog more regularly, manage my time more effectively, and find some new experiences to pique my interest.

Trips to Portland, Seattle, and some unknown international destination are in the works.  More education in wine and other pursuits is on my mind.  While I still don’t know if I passed my CSW exam (yes – it feels exactly like the SATs all over again, something I am NOT happy about), I do know that there are areas of the world that I long to explore more – both in person and on my palate.  Other educational pursuits might follow, getting back to my love of photography, those lost seven years of French class, cooking school.

The new year always brings optimism and a fresh light, and here’s hoping that we can all maintain that for the next 11 months and 28 days!

So, for 2015, I give you a welcome – and a hearty Cheers to health, happiness, and great wine!

Last Minute Wine Gifts

It’s the 5th day of Hanukkah, and Christmas is only 4 days away.  Whatever you might be celebrating at this time of year, if you’re like me – you are scrambling for some last minute gift ideas for the wine lover on your list!

Soiree - in bottle aerator.  This is my go to wine aerator, and the pretty bottle topper makes any bottle festive.  Available in several optional gift configurations, this pretty glass topper allows wine to flow around the glass bulb, giving it time to breathe and encouraging the aeration process for any bottle of wine.

 

 

CapaBunga Capabunga - these innovative bottle toppers are handy little buggers when you want to recork something for ready access.   A reusable silicone cap that reseals a bottle of wine, the concept was inspired by the bung caps that are used to reseal wine barrels.  Once you pop a Capabunga on your wine bottle, it’s air – and wine – tight.  No more spills if you knock the bottle over!  I am impressed by the usefulness of these gems, and at $7.95 for a pair, they are also great for resealing beer or champagne bottles.  I have had a bottle of bubbles still fizzy after a day in the fridge.

Indigo Root Drink Dotz are fun and creative wine glass identification stickers, which are a great alternative to those annoying wine charms.  Do you remember Colorforms?  You know, those sticky plastic things that you could affix to anything, and reuse, stick again, etc…well these are colorforms for drinkware!    For $10, you get a set of Drink Dotz and Wine Wrapps, which wrap the bottom of a wine stem.  What a fun party gift!  With creative designs and holiday themes, these are great for your next party and last forever.  Indigo Root also sells fun temporary fabric wall squares, called Tilez, which are perfect for apartment or dorm room decorating.  In fact, I’m going to decorate my apartment with some!

The Exes in my iPodThe Exes in my iPod:  A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me To Wine Country – a raucously good read by my wine buddy Lisa Mattson, exploring the iidiosyncrasiesof love, life, and laughter amongst great music and wine is a must read for anyone navigating wine country, dating, or just wants a good laugh with a happy ending.

 

The Essence of Wine - while the first run of the print book is sold out, the ebook of this wonderful pictorial and educational meandering through the discovery of wine.  Pre-order a copy or order an ebook today, for enjoyment all year long.

 

Corkscrew – the ultimate in luxury corkscrews, the Legnoart or Laguiole corkscrews are weighty, balanced, and have teflon coated screws for easy manipulation in the cork.  The right corkscrew is worth $1000 for any wine lover, so they can easily and quickly open that special bottle.  While you’re at it – add in a good foil cutter to ensure that the capsules are cleanly severed at the lip, and that there are no raw edges.

For the Cards Against Humanity lovers on your list, how about a game of wine discover? Zin Zag is a fun game, complete with an excuse to open 3 bottles of wine, which challenges your knowledge and your palates.  Play with the brainteasers and blind tasting challenges and sip away!

St. Supery Red Wine & Bacon Pairing - more on this in another post, but if you’re heading up to Napa for your holiday fun, be sure to stop by St. Supery Winery in Rutherford.  Tucked away upstairs, the special experiences such as the bacon & red wine tasting.  Explore St. Supery’s specialty with five Bourdeaux blends, each paired with a tasty morsel of pure delight.  Advanced reservations required.

Happy holidays!  Want more unique wine ideas?  Let me know!