There’s gold in that furrow!

Driving up a dusty dirt road, at the edge of a vineyard in Lodi, you could see the history in the vines.  These gnarled old beasts were baking in the late spring heat, and you could just feel the struggle as they worked to survive the turbulent weather.

This was Rauser Vineyard, planted with old vine Carignane and Zinfandel.  Our guide, Mike Mike McCay, was enthusiastically giving us an oral history of the last 20 years, while digging in the dry, crumbling dirt of the vineyard.  Mike is an innovator, something that is more common in Lodi than you would expect.  Not satisfied to go with the status quo, he is always looking for new ways to survive the ever persistent drought, and to produce some amazing wines.

His winemaking style centers around the terroir of Lodi, and specifically this patch of land.  Using Native yeasts while concentrating on Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, he has brought out the true expression of htis small AVA in the region.

Tiptoeing through the high furrows of dusty red soil, Mike poured us his ClIMG_0653ements Hills Viognier.  This mineral driven white enjoyed a long, warm growing season, which resulting in ripe pears and stone fruit, followed by rich floral aromas.  It was just the thing to whet our palates on the hot and dusty day.

After learning a bit of history of this piece of land, we met up with Mike’s family at his house for a down home Lodi style BBQ.  Quite the chef, Mike McCay fired up the vine driven barrel barbeque and quickly got to work making a feast – perfectly designed to showcase his wines.

 

Mike pulled out all the stops, retrieving some beautiful examples of Lodi’s Rhône style wines from his cellar, plus, by special request Cabernet Franc.  One might not expect either Cab Sav or Cab Franc to be successful in what amounts to a high desert climate, however, with the varied terrain and terroir of the larger Lodi growing region, it did beautifully.IMG_0655

 

 

McCay Cellars specializes in Rhône varietals, and also has a beautiful Cabernet Franc and is working with old vine Zin.  Growing slowly and steadily, Mike has witness major changes in Lodi over the last 20 years.  Industrial grape production has made way for artisan, small lot producers, and the wine tourism business has seen growth in Lodi tourism and the affiliated business.
The careful attention McCay pays to his vineyards and his winemaking are evident in the beautiful wines he produces.  But don’t take my word for it!  Stop by and visit when you’re in town.  McCay Cellars has a tasting room in Lodi, open no weekends (Thursday-Sunday) from 11-5.
The next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to experience the Rhône varetals from McCay Cellars!  If Mike’s int he tasting room, you’re sure to get a history lesson along with your Grenache.

Dot…dot…dot

It’s hard to tell my looking out the window these days, but it’s high summer.  Generally speaking, high summer means warm weather, sunny days, and relaxing weekend BBQs with cold, refreshing pink wine.

Ellipsis Wine Company was founded in 2008 by Jonathan Neisingh, who, after growing up in the heart of Sonoma wine country (in Healdsburg) moved to San Luis Obispo to pursue his education in agribusiness (and wine!).  Completing his education and moving back to Sonoma County,  I met Ellipsis several years ago, at one of the large tastings here in SF.  At that time, I knew I loved their wine, and am thrilled to see them grow and develop over the last 8 years.  Growing up in Healdsburg, Jonathan saw first hand the industry grow and change over the last twenty years, which drives his passion to make world class wine (with the help of their consulting winemaker) that expresses each region’s unique terroir in every sip.

Ignoring the seemingly endless mist outside, summer can come in a glass!  Particular this glass of Ellipsis Wine Company Rosé of Pinot Meunier.  The first thing you notice about this beautiful pink wine is the depth of color:  a pure purple toned pink, it looks gorgeous in the glass, and the first whiff gives off a lovely savory dried herb character.   The first sip reveals savory watermelon salad with lavender, juicy wild strawberries, and tropical notes.  I love the mineralality that plays off of the juicy citrus, and the medium body makes it a great wine for grilled chicken, burgers and other summer fare.  I can’t wait to visit and get more of this fantastic summer sipper!  $25

Thank you to #winestudio and Ellipsis for another great Tuesday Tasting!

 

Rosé , Rosé , Rosé , Rosé

IMG_1065 (1)Will they ever be as sweet?

The answer is, no!  because rose has made a revolution, and there are new kids on the block.  Gone are the days of bygone all there was to rosé was a sweet, cloying white zinfnadel.  Today’s American pink wine is diverse, exciting, and runs from off dry to bone dry, from juicy strawberries to salted watermelon.

To focus on these diverse styles of rosé, this month’s #winestudio is focusing on the various style of rosé from Sonoma County.

The first up is Passaggio Wines, who’s winemaker Cindy Cosco loves to play with different fruit sources.  I’ve known Cindy for a while now, from her humble beginnings at Crushpad in San Francisco after a career in law enforcement, to her thriving tasting room on the Sonoma Plaza.

Starting with the Barbera, on through the Mourvedre, pushing through Rosé Colored Glasses (a Tempranillo) and on to her latest pink project from Merlot, there is always something new to taste form this eclectic winery.

2014 Mourvedré Rose (sold out) – quite possibly my favorite of the three, the Mourvedré Rose comes from Clarksburg, a warm climate in the Central Valley.  With juicy red fruit, strawberries and raspberries as expected, but with an herbal and floral finish, this is a perfect rose with grilled wild salmon or grilled chicken.

2015 Rose Colored Glasses – Sourced from Sonoma County, this starts out similarly to the Mourvedré, with bright red berries, it quickly reveals itself to be a stronger rose with deeper red fruit, watermelon, and a hint of spice.  A classic rosato style, it stands up well to burgers and other grilling meats.

2015 Merlot Rose – is the newest kid on the block, hailing from Carneros.  Low in alcohol and deep in color, it has classic Merlot flavors of cherry, plum and blackberry, but finishes with a beautiful green herbal note and savory dried herbs.  This is a fun addition to the club, and I can taste the salted watermelon salad, pork chops or turkey burgers.

Three cheers to Cindy and her rose project, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

While the Merlot rosé was a sample sent to me for the purposes of particiapting in #winestudio, all other Passaggio wines were purchased by…me!

Next up in #winestudio, Ellipses Wine Compnay Rose of Pinot Meunier!

 

Say it ain’t Cinsault

IMG_0631Cruising along on a breezy but warm spring morning in Lodi, we were off on Day 2 of our adventures of “Anything but Zin”.  Today, our first stop was Lodi’s oldest vineyard, the some
120+ year old Bechthold Vineyard.

Bechthold Vineyard was planted over a century ago by Joseph Spenker.  Back in 1886, Cinsault was more commonly referred to as Black Malvoisie.  Today, many people might know that Cinsault is one of the parents of Pinotage, the other being Pinot Noir.  It is also a workhorse grape in the south of France, and is also widely planted in northern Africa.

So why is Bechthold Vineyard so special?  First, having a piece of land that is planted, on the original rootstock, with the original varietals, and has been essentially untouched for over 100 years is and impressive feat.  For 130 years is damned year unheard of.  But perhaps more importantly, the Bechthold property is also family owned, and continuously operated by that family for those 130 years.

These twenty-five acres of genius is still highly sought after and productive, and has pulled itself out of obscurity with a renewed interested in ancient vines and historical varietals.   As part of the larger Spenker Vineyard property, the vineyard is currently managed by Phillips Farms (part of the Michael-David Winery) and is steadfastly guarded by a strong family tradition and history.  Today, this vineyard provides fruit for Bonny Doon, Turley, and Michael-David, not to mention Onesta, and has a long waiting list.

Cinsault is a special thing.  A thick skinned, ornery beast, it can form the backbone of some strong red blends.  On it’s own however, it is sneaky, and has a ridge of acid that will wake you up.  Create a rose from that wake up call, and you’ll be drinking wine at 10:30am withIMG_0292 the best of us.

As we traipsed through the soft, tall furrrows of soil on this sunny and breezy morning, we were joined by Jillian Johnson, owner and winemaker of Onesta Winery, and David Phillips of Michael-David Winery.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_06332014 Onesta Cinsault Rosè

Released with a year of bottle age, and fermented on 20% neutral and stainless steel, the juice is 50% saignee from the red Cinsault and 50% purpose pressed.  The 80% that was aged in wood had a lot of contact with the lees resulting in a rich ruby red grapefruit flavor with hints of blood orange, coriander, lavender and dried herbs.  This wine will wake you up and make you say hello!  $22

2012 Onesta Cinsault

With extended maceration and 9 months in neutral oak, this beauty is a berry pie with a topper of pomegranate juice.  A lighter style of Cinsault, the delicate wine is luscious and fruit forward, yet full of baking spice and acid.  This is the perfect wine to please both a Pinot and a Zin lover.   $29
IMG_0635In contrast, the 2014 Michael-David Ancient Vine Cinsault is denser and more lush than the Onesta.  Baked blue and black fruit, black pepper and savory herbs dance on my tongue with the silky elegance of an Hermes scarf.  Bing cherries and ripe strawberries come out on the finish, and this would be perfect with roasted pork.  $25
Other producers to try from this vineyard:  Turley Wine Cellars, Estate Crush.

Thank you Jillian and David for the great history lesson and tour of one of the best vineyards in the country!  I am looking forward to the Wine Bloggers Conference and more delicious Lodi Wine in August!

Carpano Diem!

bianco_traspAt long last, the foggy days of “summer” have parted, and the weekend arrives, full of promise and sunshine.  Summer begs for refreshing cocktails, and lighter, brighter beverages.  But what does a girl who loves her Manhattans do with this?

Enter Carpano Bianco, the dry, white vermouth entry from the folks that make my lifeline, Carpano Antica Formula.  These vermouths have been around for centuries, and were in fact, some of the founding fathers of the vermouth craze.

Carpano Bianco is the latest kid on the block here in the U.S., granted permanent immigration status in 2013.  As I am somewhat of a stickler for craft vermouth to use in both my ockctails as well as on the rocks, I was curious to try the latest iteration.

Created from a base wine of Trebbiano, Cortese, and Chardonnay, you can taste the spice rack that it is infused with.  Cloves, ginger, hyssop, and a secret ingredient that may be wormwood, sagebrush and / or mugwort all lend to the beautiful citrus driven floral aperitif.  I really enjoy the candied tangerine and ginger notes, and simply pouring a splash over ice is a lovely after work drink.  Add in your favorite sparkling wine, and a thing of beauty is born.

I tried it in several cocktails with various results, and here are my favorites:

IMG_1046Bianco Negroni – it’s Negroni week, so drink for a cause and donate to charity!

Carpano Bianco lends itself perfectly to a Negroni.  While I do not use Campari as a matter of personal taste, I love Cynar or Cappelletti in my Negronis.  I also find a floral and strongly flavored gin also works better with Bianco

Serve over ice.  You can adjust your proportions to personal taste but this intensely floral and spicy drink is a wonderful way to end the workday and get ready for dinner.

Brooklyn 9-1-1

A simple variation on a Manhattan (my drink of choice), a Brooklyn calls for dry vermouth instead of sweet, while the Perfect Martini calls for both.

  • 1 part Carpano Bianco
  • 2 parts rye whiskey (or bourbon if you prefer).  I am a fan of Redemption Rye
  • Shake or stir over ice and serve up with a cherry or lemon twist

5150

This simple recipe calls for 50% sweet vermouth, and 50% dry.  My variation adds in some bitters, like orange or rhubarb, and add a slice of lemon.  Served over ice, it’s a delicious treat.

Shaken, Not Stirred

Is there anything better than a gin martini?  Perhaps a vodka martini if you’re that kind of girl (or guy) but the gin martini is a thing of beauty.  As I mentioned, Bianco works the best with a floral, citrus driven vermouth, so in this case I used Spirit Works gin.

In a martini glass or coupe, add 1/2 oz of Carpano Bianco.  Most purists suggest only kissing the glass with the vermouth, but I say give it a healthy swirl so it coats the inside.  Then, if you like toss the rest in your shaker.

  • Add 3 oz Spirit Works gin over ice. I really like the citrus and floral flavors in this clean gin, and find they work very well with Carpano Bianco.
  • 1 dash of aged citrus bitters
  • shake shake shake Sonora shake it over ice (yes, I am a shaken not stirred gal)

Serve up in your previously prepared Martini glass.

Carpano Bianca is inexpensive at ~$22 for a one liter bottle, and is best enjoyed in under a month.  Storing it in the refrigerator prolongs the life, but for god’s sake — warm it to room temp before using it!

Thank you to the Baddish Group and Carpano for supplying the hooch; all creativity is inspired by the ingredients within!

Everything’s Coming up Roses! (Wine & Roses)

After a full day of exploring some of Lodi’s diverse wines and terroir, we settled in at our host hotel, Wine & Roses.  This resort style hotel has a beautifully relaxing interior courtyard, and situated on one side is the hotel’s restaurant, the Towne House.

Chef John Hitchcock, a Lark Creek Group alumnus, masterfully prepared a 7 course menu to go with the intriguing wines that Sue Tipton, owner of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards had brought to share with us.

I had personally become acquainted with the wines of Acquiesce several years ago, and had always enjoyed the light, elegant style of Rhône style wines that owner and winemaker Sue Tipton produces.  As we were meandering through Lodi exploring “everything but Zin” I was excited to get the opportunity to taste these wines again.

IMG_0612The deck of the restaurant overlooks the interior courtyard of the hotel, and as the sun went down, the temperature had cooled off enough to be comfortable outside in the relaxing environment.  Chef John was about to amaze us with the beautiful pairings, and while I wan’t quite hungry yet due to the amazing and large lunch at Pietro’s earlier, the menu looked amazing.

IMG_0614First up, we kicked things off with these gorgeous Blue Point Oysters, served with Yuzu pearls.  Blue Points are particularly large and meaty oysters, so I wasn’t sure how they would pair with the delicate Picpoul Blanc, but they were perfect.  The salinity and minerality of the shuckers  played delightfully off the wet river rocks, crushed shells, and freshly zested citrus in the wine.  With just a hint of floral notes on the edge of this wine, it was a natural and delicious pairing.  The true test of an oyster pairing to me is if I can actually use the wine as a mignonette – pour a touch of the
wine in to the oyster and slurp it down.  In this case, it was a palate sensation, and just confirmed my earlier delight.

 

 

IMG_0618Next, Pan Seared Foie Gras (thank you California for bringing back the Foie!  Feel free to judge me now) with poached pears, pear geleè, and house made brioche – paired with the 2014 Roussanne.  With juicy pears and apricots, drenched in fresh cream dancing across my tongue, the richness of the Roussanne worked well with the creamy richness of foie.  One of my favorite things about Roussanne in particular is the acidity that sneaks up behind the juicy and rich mouthfeel.  This is no exception, and the Acquiesce was perfect with the classic foie pairing.

 

IMG_0620

 

The third course was intended to be tuna tartare, but Chef John was able to sub out salmon on the fly due to an allergy.  This was no little ask, as the pairings were tested and created well in advance, but he did a masterful job at thinking of a pairing and creating it on the fly with perfect timing.  Paired with the 2015 Grenache Blanc, and served with avocado, wakame, wasabi vinaigrette, wasabi foam and a lotus chip, one would never know that the brilliant copper of the salmon was not intended for this dish.  The Grenache Blanc is a fresh and playful white wine with bright green apple notes and the minerality of a beach that has been freshly washed with shells and stones.  The coolness of the wine cut through the wasabi and creaminess of the salmon brilliantly.

 

IMG_0622As an intermezzo, Blli Bi, a saffron infused cream soup brimming with muscles was paired with the 2015 Viognier.  While we were starting to get full, we couldn’t pass up on the savory richness of this cream soup that had more mussels than a gym on New Year’s.  The Viognier has a richness of honey soaked apricot, ripe satsumas and summer peaches with classic floral notes that played off of the saffron.

 

 

Finally, as we tried to find even a tiny spare slot IMG_0626in our very full stomachs, grilled quail with King Trumpet risotto, and porcini mushroom broth was paired with Grenache Rosé.  While you would think the richness of the game animal and mushrooms would overpower the rosé, the pairing was elegant and restrained.

All of Sue’s wines are priced at under $25, which makes them even more enjoyable, and affordable.  The next time you are looking for a refreshing white for summer, look over to Lodi’s Rhône renegade!

Thank you to Wine & Roses, Towne Hall and Chef John for creating these wonderful dishes that paired so well with the wines of Acquiesce.  Fresh seafood, fruit, and vegetables are perfect for these light and fresh wines.

 

IMG_0617 IMG_0615

A trip to Iberia within reach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Markus Bokisch was raised in California, but has a long history of ties to Spain.  As a child, Markus spent his summers there, and as is the norm in European tradition, water & wine were served at meals.

With this pre-disposition to love the rich wines of Spain, Markus moved to Spain with his wife Lisa and worked his way up in the Spanish wine industry.  With endeavors in Raimat and Penedes, he became and expert at the cultivation of these special varietals.  When he moved back to California, he knew that Lodi had something special – hidden behind 100 years of old Italian field blends and Zinfandel, and that it was the perfect location to begin his endeavor with Iberian varietals.

The Terra Alta Vineyard in Clements Hills was the first property they purchased, whereCapturethey imported Spanish budwood to firmly root Bokisch as the go to resource for these plantings.  In 1999, they planted Las Cerezas Vineyard, which is the motherblock, planted to Tempranillo, Albarino, and Graciano – classic Spanish grapes.  Two years later, the first vintage of Bokisch Vineyards wine was released.

Today, Bokisch grows over 2500 acres under vine, and works with wineries all over California in addition to producing their own wine.  With a careful consideration for the environment and sustainability, they are making a mark on how viticulture can be beneficial for the land as well as the economy.

I first tasted Bokisch wine shortly after that initial release, when I was part of the now (sadly) defunct Wine Q wine service.  I knew immediately, even though my palate was still developing in those early years of my wine career, that I would love what was to come.

Here we are, 8 years later, and I am lucky enough to taste the current releases of Bokisch frequently through a variety of tastings.  On this day, we enjoyed two different Albarinios – the first being from the Terra Alta Vineyard, where the tasting room is located, and the second from Las Cerezas, that motherblock planted in 1999.  While they were both welcome refreshers on this warm day, the Las Cerezas edged out the Terra Alta, with intensely tropical notes, and juicy fruit with lime zest and firm minerality on the finish.

Next, the Garnacha Blanca – a personal passion of mine – was a clear expression of how terroir impacts the finished product.  The medium body was full of fresh stone fruit, oranges, and pungent green herbs.  The creamy finish is perfect for cheese, hearty fish dishes, and just plain summer sipping.  Stylistically, Garnacha Blanca tends to be bolder than it’s cousin Grenache Blanc, and I appreciate the weight and texture.

The last of the whites, the age old question of Verdelho vs. Verdejo.  Often confused as the same grape, Verdelho has roots in Portugal and is used widely in Madeira.   In contrast, Verdejo is a Spanish white grape, which has been traced back to North Africa, and is now widely grown in Rueda.  Confused?  Well, taste them side by side and you can see the differences.

 Moving on to the reds, Garnacha (once again) holds a special place in my heart.  Whether it’s Grenache, Garnacha, or GSM, the varsity of styles it can be made in – let alone Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, and Grenache Noir (or Tinto), the diversity is delicious.  Tracing its origigans to the Aragon region of Spain, the Bokisch Garnacha fils your mouth with blackberries, boysenberries, and dark red fruit.  A finishing touch of blood orange and forest spices tease the palate as vanilla vapors envelop your senses.  I love to serve Garnacha with a slight chill, and of course, anything is better with fresh Manchego cheese.
IMG_0267A bolder red wine, Graciano is one of the grapes commonly used as a blending component in parts of Rioja.  It’s also thought to be the oldest variety commercially grown in Spain.  A deeply purple black wine in the glass, bittersweet chocolate, Mission figs and cherries, with a hint of fresh violets tempt you, while tobacco and old saddle leather round out the palate.  Graciano is a meaty grape, and this is a fantastic wine for steak and a classic Rioja cookout.
And now:  Mourvedre.  Mataro.  Monastrell!  Depending on where you are in the world, this blue hued grape is called different things.  In France, Mourvedre.  In Spain, it can be either Mataro, particularly in the Catalan dialect, or Monastrell.  The 2013 Belle Collne Vineyard Monastrell is classically blueberry, bergamot, and baking spices.
The passion and dedication of Markus and Liz are infectious.  His single focus of making Lodi a top wine destination of distinction, and their dedication to sustainability is second to none.  Keeping these wines affordable is also of critical importance, and with prices between $18-32, the QPR on these wines is outstanding.
If you are in Lodi, a stop at Bokisch is a must do ! The sweeping view from the picnic tables to the seven oak tress in the gently rolling hills is bliss, and it is less than two hours from the Bay Area.
Cheers!

 

bokish

 

Cy-a-nar-a!

Ah amaro, how I love thee!  With hundreds of unique amari to choose from, Cynar is unusual in that it’s make from artichokes.  While it might seem odd that a beverage would be made from what is basically the flower of a thistle, there are so many uses for this!

From sipping straight, “like an Italian mama”, my friend would say, to using it as a bittering agent in cocktails, it was originally intended to be a digestif.  The unique bitterness combined with the sweetness of the chemical cynarin, as well as thirteen different botanical, it is quite versatile.

Now, Cynar comes in two versions:  Original Cynar,and the new Cynar 70 Proof.  Cynar 70 Proof is really just a more intense version of the original, and stands up to more complex cocktails.

This week, try out a couple of fun cocktails using Cynar!

 

The Cy-Groni

In a twist on the classic Negroni, substituent original Cynar to add the bitter complainant that Campari would normally occupy.  I am not the biggest fan of Campari as I find it almost too bitter, so I often use Cappalletti Aperitivo.  Here, the best of both worlds comes in to play.

In a cocktail shaker, add over ice:

  • 1/2 oz Cynar
  • 1/2 sweet vermouth
  • 3 oz gin (I love Ransom Old Tom)
  • 3 dashes orange bitters (try the Fee Bros Gin Barrel Aged)
  • 1 dash 5 by 5 Aged Citrus Bitters

Shake, and pour over ice, with an orange twist.  For fun, I used a blood orange rind.

A variation on the Negroni with bourbon, is the classic Boulevardier.   My friend Emma actually introduced me to this cocktail (I know, I should have know about this ages ago!).  The Cynar 70 Proof is perfect in this recipe because it is a bolder flavor and holds up to the whiskey.

Boulevard of Dreams

In a cocktail shaker, add over ice:

  • 1/2 oz Cynar 70 Proof
  • 1/2 sweet vermouth
  • 3 oz bourbon (Knob Creek Single Barrel knocked my socks off here!)
  • 3 dashes bitters (Fee Bros whiskey barrel aged cocktail bitters are the bomb)
  • 1 dash cherry bitters (check out Carlton Cocktail Company’s woodland cherry)
  • 1 dash fig bitters (for a bit of depth, again try Carlton Cocktail Company)
  • Shake, and pour over ice, with an orange twist and a good marachino cherry.

 

Being a bourbon lovin’ gal, I was really interested to try the Game, Set, Match

Courtesy of Basil Hayden’s recipe page, (more on that next week!) this delicious variation of the classic Manhattan, it packs a punch with the bittersweet addition of Cynar.  Bourbon on it’s own can have the perception of being sweet, and sweet vermouth is also sweet.  The Cynar adds a delicious bitter note that tones down the classically sweet Manhattan and makes a refreshing afternoon pick me up!

In a cocktail shaker, over ice add:

  • 3 oz bourbon
  • 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz (I used a bit less)
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • Shakes, and strain.  Add a cherry or lemon garnish.

Thank you to Gruppo Campari, who owns Cynar, and MBooth for sharing these interesting sippers!  All recipes are my own, except the Game, Set, Match, originally sourced from Basil Hayden Bourbon.

 

Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again

   Just about a year ago
I set out on the road
Seekin’ my fame and fortune
Lookin’ for a pot of gold
Thing got bad and things got worse
I guess you know the tune
Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again

Credence Clearwater Revival made the song, and the town, famous in 1969.  At the time, the small town of Lodi was a bit of backwater, located somewhere between Stockton and Sacramento, and was a thriving farming community.

Fast forward 50 years, and it is still a thriving farming community, but today, most of the agricultural pursuits center around wine.  In the 70s and 80s, and to some extent today, large production facilitates that focused on both bulk wine and zinfandel made the wine of the region famous.  Lodi is still the self-proclaimed capital of Zinfandel, and over 40% of premium Zin from California is produced here.

In addition to a strong heritage of Zinfandel, Lodi has also been home to many other varietals. With the 4th and 5th generation wine families, you can find Iberian, Rhone, Austrian and German grape varietals all thriving.

This year, the annual Wine Bloggers Conference is headed to Lodi in August.  Ahead of the storm, I was invited by the Lodi Wine Commission to a whirlwind tour of Lodi – focusing on “anything but zin” – my specific request to showcase the lesser known grapes that thrive in this region.

A short 90 minute (just don’t leave at rush hour!) drive from the Bay Area, Lodi is a hidden IMG_0238goldmine of delicious and living history.  One such vineyard is Mokelumne Glen Vineyard, which specializes in German and Austrian varietals.

With strong ties to Germany, the Koth family has over 40 varietals of both obscure and more common grapes planted here, in a hidden spot where the river dips and a natural “glen” is formed.

Originally planted to Zinfandel vines, as so much of Lodi was, Bob Koth (right) had a natural curiosity about viticulture and started researching what other grapes would do well there.  Today, that has culminated in the German Collection Vineyard, an experimental block next to their house, where 35 of the 41 varietals are planted.  With just a row or two of most, it is a true experimental vineyard.  If you’re lucky enough to get a bit of this fruit, it is true gold.

After touring the property, we went in to town and sat down for lunch at Pietro’s, where we tasted some lovely wines from Bob’s fruit.

IMG_0579 Sidecar Kerner – This aromatic white is a cross between Trollinger and Riesling, and is common in Germany, but unsual outside oft hat region.  This was a nice refreshing white, with a medium body and delicious saline and mineral finish, with rich apricot notes.
IMG_0582 Markus Wine Co Nativo white blend – The Markus Wine Company is a coop between winemaker Markus Niggli and Borra vineyards, where Swiss born Niggli can play a bit with styles and structure.  The Nativo is a fresh and fun light white, that is 53% Kerner and 28% Riesling, with a 15% dollop of Bacchus.  Bacchus, as it turns out, is another blended grape – developed as a cross between Silvaner and Riesling, and then that result crossed with Muller-Thurgau.  Does everyone have their family tree ready to fill out?  The intensity of the grapefruit note was brilliant, with bright acid and fresh cut herbs, floating in a field of flowers.  This was the perfect white wine for a warm lunch al fresco!
IMG_0589 Forlorn Hope’s Gemischter Satz is a true chorus of voices, which is a clear representation of Mokelumne Glen‘s Germany Block project.  With 5-7 vines of each varietal (final blend is a well kept secret), it dances with white jasmine and spring flowers, and refreshing citrus on a foggy day.
IMG_0593 One of my favorites of the afternoon was the Borra Vineyards Vermentino, a delightfully light, crisp, and citrus driven white.  I have loved Vermentino since my first trip to Italy, where the fruit forward dry white is an easy sipper, as the mineral core keeps the sweetness of the ripe citrus at bay.
IMG_0594 Who doesn’t love a rose?  On a warm day, I would drink rose…all day.  The Borra Vineyards Rosé Members Reserve is no exception, and is a classic Provencale recipe for happiness:  63% Syrah, 37% Carignane, and 100% love.  Bright wild strawberries, watermelon, and earthy hints of Tuscan melon and dried figs.  I could, and did, drink this glass, and another, and another.

 

One key point to note about all of these wines is the absolutely stunning QPR.  With an average price of $20 or under, these are luxuries you can afford every day!

 Thank you to the Koth’s for their generous hospitality and pioneering spirit!  There is so much more to come from this vineyard and these winemakers.  Head to Lodi and find out what!

There is so much more to say about Borra and Markus wines, such as the intriguingly acid driven Petite Sirah, and the blends.  But that, is for another day of discovery.

 

They are so charming!

You know the scene:  You’re at a party, enjoying a lovely glass of wine, when you set your glass down and walk away.  Five minutes later you come back to find that your glass has magically dissipated!

How do you prevent glass thievery from occurring?  Well, there are pens.  There are charms.  There are stickers.  Personally, I’ve always been a fan of wine charms, as they can be handmade, or come in unique configurations.

I have made my own from both beads, baubles, and Shirnky Dinks.  So when Shannon from the Bohemian Trading Post contacted me about her products, I was excited to have the chance to check them out.

These are not your average wine charm!  The heavy weight and quarter sized charms are easy to read, and hard to miss, and come in a variety of silly, sexy, retro, or snarky pictures and slogans.  For $17.99, you get four charms, and there are several sets to choose from.  "Wine a Little" Wine Glass Charms - Set of 4:

Having a girls night in?  Check out the Snarky Women!  I Drink Because You’re Boring, I’m too sober for this, and Dinner is poured are perfect for any coffee klatch.  Scary movie night?  Get the Retro Creep Show set!

I love these, and recommend these hand made, quirky, fun charms for your Mother’s Day, Graduation (college, please!) and other Spring gifting.

There are seasonal specializes as well, so check back from fun holiday items like 4th of July and Holiday!

With dozen of other products, from hair barrettes to rings and other jewelry, Bohemian Trading Post was founded on creative and quality.  I’d say they hit the mark with these charms, and I look forward to collecting more.  I love accessories that are functional, pretty, and  unique, and BTP fits the bill. Check out their website!

Thank you Sharon for creating a special set just for me!   

 

Rocking the Rhônes!

mineralAs a wine writer, one of the most exciting things is to taste wines from producers that  am unfamiliar with, and that I have no bias or previous information for.  Coming to a wine with a fresh perspective gives me to ability to focus on what I taste, and feel, vs what I remember or think I should expect.

Enter Domaine Montirius.  This small, family run vineyard is a relatively recent entry in to the Rhône; founded 26 years ago by Eric and Christine Saurel, it is now a true family business.  Certified bio-dynamic since 1999, the Saurels are dedicated to pursuing balance in the vineyard, and in the wines, and to find the perfect expression of the land in those wines.

In the practice of biodynamics, it’s important to “observe, feel, listen to and taste, repeatedly, and to act on different clues in the environment.  The idiosyncrasies of Mother Nature create a natural rhythm to the winemaking process.

The 2011 Montirius Mineral Vacqueyras is an unusual blend of 50% Bouboulenc, 25% Grenache Blanc, and 25% Roussane.  You might be wondering about Bouboulenc, as its one of the more obscure white Rhône varietals.  It’s a hearty grape, and tends to resist weather and pests, but s a forgotten variety for the most part until the Surels re-planted it in 1994.  A late ripener, it requires patience and tenderness, but yields a minerality and brightness.

The grapes were hand harvested and fermented whole cluster.  Aged without oak, there is a texturally intense fresh white wine. Strong notes of ginger and grapefruit peel, with tropical mango and green apple to follow. The palate is reminiscent of a baked apple, with the spice cabinet making a bold appearance. This wine is perfect for meatier fish, chicken, and even pork.

When I first tasted this wine, I anticipated the retail at $35+.  Even at that price, I think there is excellent QPR.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn it is only $22!  This is a wine to run out and stock up on, as it will certainly be my summer sipper as we slip in to warmer weather.

Thank you to the Teuwen Communications team for helpng me find the undiscovered and unusual Rhône Valley wines!

 

Once Upon a Time in Texas

welcome2
There was a time, not so long ago, that when someone mentioned Texas, I would cringe and shrink back in horror.  While it is true that I have some very good friends that live there, I had not experienced the best parts of the state in my travels, and wasn’t inclined to jump at the chance.

Enter an opportunity for a girls weekend.  Instead of going to the dreaded humidity and heat of Houston, or the craziness of Dallas, we all decided that Austin would be a great place to visit.  Luckily for us, we had mutual friends that lived there, so we could make an adventure out of it.

As luck would have it, my friend and fellow writer Melanie was able to work with the Omni Barton Creek Resort in Austin to put together a showstopper preview of thier upcoming Wine & Food Event program.  This program, which will kick off this spring and run through the year, will showcase a wine region or winemaker, while also highlighting the unique foods and ingredients from Austin.

Upon arrival, we got a sneak peek at the opulence of the weekend with our in-room welcome:

welcome

At the Omni’s 8212 Wine Bar & Grill, Executive Chef André Natera developed a custom tasting menu to go with our wine tasting experience, which kicked off their Wine & Food Program for the year.  Focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients our taste buds were delighted.

First Course:  Potato & chive chowder, with steamed clams and smoked bacon.  Paired with the bright and interesting Zocker Gruner Veltliner, with creamy lemon and bright white floral notes, this medium body and bright acid wine cuts through the creaminess and delivers a pop to the senses.

Second Course: Seared Branzino fish, with braised artichokes.  Paired with an Oregon riesling, you can’t go wrong here.  The Lemelson Dry Riesling from the Yamhill-Carlton District is fresh, full of stone fruit and Asian pears, with lycgee notes.  A hint of tell tale petrol shows through with a beautiful finish of Keffir lime.Capture

Third Course:  Tortellini and mushrooms with smoked & pickled mushrooms and Parmesan truffle butter.  Oh la la!  A party for the palate, the Li Veli Susameniello was a delight.  One of the obscure grapes from teh heel of Italy’s boot, it is a close cousin to the more common Sangiovese.  The spicy, berry driven palate was ripe with dried flowers and old saddle leather, pipe tobacco and anise.  A delicious match!

Fourth Course:  Aged New York Strip soup vide with a truffled demi glace and potato butter puree, paired with the southern Rhone Perrin Vinsobres Les Comunds.  Classically Rhone, this tannic cherry cider was full of dried herbs and cracked pepper as well as dried rose petals.  The opulance was the perfect match for the richness of the beef.

beef

Our experience at the Omni Barton Creek was world class, and the dining experience was exceptional.  I highly recommend that you check out the Wine & Dine Program, which continues through the fall special pairing events. From Italy to Texas Smoke, there is something for everyone!  Wine & Dine events are approximately $99 per person, and include a special hotel rate if you chose to make a weekend out of it.

Special thanks to the Barton Creek staff for their gracious hospitality!

 

 

 

Lake County Rising

Last fall, a devastating fire ripped through one of the poorest counties in California.  It also happens to be one of the most interesting and up and coming wine regions in California.  Lake County, with it’s some 64,000 residents, was decimated.

I personally experienced this tragedy through my friends, many of whom were immediately impacted by the fire, which engulfed more than 25,000 acres, including much of the counties vineyard land.

 

The wine industry in neighboring Napa County has responded to the economic impact by holding a charity wine auction on March 20th, at the CIA’s Greystone facility.  Congressman Mike Thompson and grape grower Andy Beckstoffer are on hand to assist legendary auctioneer Fritz Hatton in #LakeCountyRising, to support the long-term rebuilding and economic recovery required in Lake County.

This ollaborative fundraising effort of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, Lake County Winery Association and Lake County Wine Alliance has assembled quite the collection of wine and experiences including dinnner at The Restaurant at Meadowood, Napa Valley, a Michelin starred spot that will dish up a stellar tasting menu.

  • Beckstoffer will auction a personal barrel lot which would be a great way to team build!  A half ton of prime Cab grapes from famed Rutherford vineyard Georges III Heritage and the winemaking team from Sinegal Estate will walk you through the winemaking experience.
  • A 2016 Polaris Ranger EV is being offered as the “green” live auction lot and comes fully loaded with 100 bottles of the finest Napa Valley wines. This environmentally-friendly electric off-road utility vehicle is known for its smooth ride and quiet operation. The wines are from Napa Green Certified vintners: Benessere, Charles Krug, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Clos Du Val, Davies Vineyards, Franciscan Estate, Frank Family Vineyards, Frog’s Leap, Gamble Family Vineyards, HALL, Heitz Wine Cellars, Jones Family Vineyards, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Keenan Winery, Laura Michael Wines, Merryvale Vineyards, PEJU, Raymond Vineyards, Robert Mondavi Winery, Saintsbury, Salvestrin, Signorello Estate, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, Starmont Winery & Vineyards, Swanson Vineyards, The Hess Collection Winery, Trefethen Family Vineyards, Truchard Vineyards, Vineyard 29 and ZD Wines.
  •  An ultimate San Francisco Giants game experience at AT&T Park has been created for another lucky live auction winner. With luxury transportation to the ball park, 12 guests will luxuriate in a private VIP Suite filled with gourmet food and Napa Valley wines, and will take home a signed baseball from Barry Bonds to remember the day.
  • The “Hillside Heaven” silent auction item features lunch for four at The Bistro & Bar at Aubérge du Soleil in Rutherford, and a mixed case of Napa Valley hillside wines including six bottles of 2013 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, and six bottles 2013 Viader Vineyards & Winery Tempranillo.
  •  “Northern Exposure” is a silent auction item of dinner for four at Sam’s Social Club in Calistoga and a mixed case of wine from the northern end Napa Valley, including: one bottle Arietta 2013 White Blend; one bottle Behrens Family Winery 2012 Homeland Cabernet Sauvignon; one bottle Behrens Family Winery 2011 The Collector Red Wine; one bottle Bridesmaid 2012 White Blend; one bottle Bridesmaid 2012 Red Blend; one bottle Clark-Claudon Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon; one bottle Markham Vineyards 2013 Merlot; one bottle Saint Helena Winery 2008 Red Blend; two bottles Ballentine Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel; and two bottles Castello di Amorosa 2012 Sangiovese.
  •  For the silent auction bidder who has an alternative mind-set, “Riveted by Reds,” includes a copy of the fine art photography book Perspectives Napa Valley, and a mixed case of Napa Valley alternative red varietals, including: two bottles Mira Winery 2011 Syrah; two bottles Castello di Amorosa 2012 Sangiovese; two bottles Viader Vineyards & Winery 2013 Tempranillo; two bottles Kenefick Ranch 2011 Cabernet Franc; one bottle Cornerstone Cellars 2012 Cabernet Franc; one bottle Madrigal Family Winery 2012 Petite Sirah; one bottle Humanitas Wines 2012 Cabernet Franc; and one bottle Joseph Carr Wine 2012 Merlot.

Many more lots are going to be presented at this limited seating event.  No bidder will be turned away, but tickets are are on sale now for $150.  If you can’t attend in person can donate directly.

 

 

Support your local winemaker and the Valley Fire victims with this amazing event!

 

Hospice du Rhone: A great line up is announced!

The 2016 Hospice du Rhône event schedule has been released, and it’s going to be another epic one!  This annual gathering of producers and aficionados of the many delicious Rhône grapes begins on Friday, April 15th, in Paso Robles CA.

This year there are some new events to add to the grand tastings.  The seminar series this year is sure to be a knock out.  Discovering the Intricacies of Châteauneuf du Pape, to an in depth look at Washington State Rhônes, guests will be treated to a wine education second to none.

Prefer to deep dive in to the whites?  Check out Costières de Nîmes – A Southern Rhône Exception for Whites.  Prefer to stay close to home?  A Tale of Two Treasures:  Paso Robles and Santa Barbara will take you through the various AVAs that specialize in Syrah and Grenache, visiting four produces and digging in to the soils.

Hospice du Rhône has become somewhat famous for it’s lunches, and this year, of course, includes the Rose Lunch, a fan favorite.  Sit back, relax, and drink pink from the attending producers.  It’s often quite warm this time of year, so a bit of chilled rose is the perfect refreshment before the afternoon seminars resume.

Ever been to a cowboy auction with wine?  Well you’ll love the Lunch and Live Auction on Saturday, April 16th.  This spirited affair will get everyone in the mood as rare lots are offered up in support of the 2018 HdR event.

The Farewell BBQ on Saturday night is always a bittersweet affair.  This year, the Hitching Post II is manning the pit, and the casino is open!

Of course, interspersed in all of this fun are the Tastings.  Sip wines from the 130+ producers of the 22 Rhône varietals in these interactive walk around tastings.

Have a hankering for an intimate dinner?  This year, the Rhône-Around Dinner Series takes guests to Paso Robles best dining hot spots, each with a different theme.  Saturday, you have 3 epic dinners to choose from:
CdP on Assignment, Rhône Valley Relocated, and the Rhône Exchange.

With such a selection to choose from, it will be difficult to manage which events to choose!  I can’t wait to make a return appearance, see some old friends, and make some new ones next month.

Tickets are available for each dinner, from $100-150.  Event tickets are available for the Opening & Closing Tastings, a la carte, or a full weekend pass, as well as the lunches and farewell BBQ.  But buy them early, this is sure to be a sell out!

Oregon Pinot: Stoller Family Estate

Stoller Family Estates sits on a piece of Dundee Hills history, founded in the 1940s as a working farm.  Growing a small family farm to a larger enterprise through 50 years, the Stoller Family passed on the land to Bill Stolller, who founded the vineyard in 1993.

Today, Stoller owns the largest single contiguous vineyard in the Dundee Hills region of the Willamette Valley.  With an eye towards sustainability, innovations include pest management, research, and modern techniques.  Planted almost entirely to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Stoller is also experimenting with Tempranillo, Syrah, and other Alsatian varietals.

Dundee Hills Chardonnay 2014 – this fresh and fun entry level Chardonnay was fermted entirely in stainless steel, resulting in a fruit forward, vibrant wine full of pineapple, tropical mango and peach, and bright citrus.  $25

Stoller 2013 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir – Bursting with rhubarb and rose petals on the nose, the palate reinforces this classic Oregon Pinot Noir with Bing cherry, hibiscus, cinnamon, leather and cola syrup, with a hint of bacon fat.  This elegant but approachable wine is a great introduction to the region.  $30

The beautiful all season tasting room opens on to majestic views of the Dundee Hills, and is also the source of 100% of it’s electrical needs, through the solar panels on the roof.  Driving your Tesla?  Feel free to charge up at the EV station

Stoller Family Estate is located in the Dundee Hills region of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  They are open daily, and invite you to sti down and stay a while as you taste through some of the reserve selections.  Want to experience the vineyard after visiting hours?  Stoller offers various guest house accommodation for an inside view.

Thank you to Stoller Estate and Trellis Growth Partners for sharing these lovely wines.

 

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