Rosé Colored Glasses: Sidebar Cellars

When I first tasted the Sidebar Cellars Kerner, from the Mokelumne Glen vineyard in Lodi, I thought to myself, “wow this is a fun little white”, as I sat in the heat of Lodi in April.  At that time, we were exploring the Mokelumne River AVA, and I didn’t make the connection to David Ramey of Ramey Cellars.

Fast forward to 2016, and as I get my rosés ready to rumble, a little birdie told me that Sidebar Cellars did a rosé.  Knowing how much I love pink wine around this time of year, I made sure I got my hands on one and I was glad I did!

Sidebar Cellars was born out of Ramey’s desire to play around a bit, and presents a departure from the Ramey Wine Cellars more austere lineup of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon; hence, Sidebar.

The 2016 Sidebar Cellars Russian River Valley Rosé comes from an old-vine Syrah vineyard, and represents a refreshing change of pace from the more common place saignée (bleed off) Pinot Noir rosés, which while delicious, can get a little boring.

Bursting with strawberry and peach on the nose, herbal rose hips and hibiscus came through on the palate.  Tart plum skins and tannin give this wine some oomph, while ruby red grapefruit hides at the back f the palate, offering a refreshing finish.  The zesty green apple and lime lingers on your palate with a hint of pickled watermelon rind, and keeps you going back for another sip.

This is a great summer sipper and pairs surprisingly well with sriracha potato chips!  It would also be an excellent match to your Easter Ham or a roast chicken.

Special thanks to Alexandra O’Gorman, Communications Director at Ramey Wine  Cellars for this delightful sample!

 

Rosé Colored Glasses – Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir

There is something about this time of year that is magical; cool foggy mornings and evenings are tempered with the mild warmth of daylight.  The days are a touch longer, and we can be languid in the sunshine of the late afternoon.

This is rosé season.  Frankly, it’s always rosé season, but right now, in the promising first days of Spring, the wide rainbow of pale salmon, vibrant raspberry, and deep rose deliver a transitional beverage that is simply divine.

Rose can be made from any varietal, but perhaps the most common is Pinot Noir.  In 2016, Sonoma County’s Rodney Strnog Vineyards, which has been going strong for over 25 yeras, released their first rosé, expressly made from Pinot Noir grapes (no saignée here!).

While Russian River Valley can produce Pinot Nori that is a bit too bold for my liking, this rosé is, simply said, perfect.  Harvested at ~20 brix, the grapes kissed the skins for a mere nine hours as the whle clusters were pressed gently.  Slowly fermented in a temperature controlled cellar, the pale salmon pink has hints of orange hues and golden rays of sunlight.

Unlike many rosés of Pinot Noir, the first note is not strawberry or raspberry, but rather a savory one.  Fresh green herbs meet jasmine and grilled peaches, while wild mountain strawberry dances on the tongue at the finish.

An excellent late afternoon tipple on a warm day, especially sweet for the price of $25.

Thanks to the cru at Rodney Strong for making this lovely wine, and sending me a sample!

Winesense, nonsense, Riesling sense!

When I was studying for my Certified Specialist of Wine credential, one of the most challenging regions for me was Germany.  Not because of the wines specifically, as while there are some unusual varietals, most German wines are fairly well known, but for the simple reason that deciphering a German wine labels is an exercise in linguistics, frustration, and a pyramid that  would make Giza look simple.

The Rise of Riesling

One of the most classic German wines is Riesling.  Riesling is one of the most complex, diverse, and wondrous wines in the world, and I often want to say “taste the rainbow” when I think of Riesling.

 

From bone dry, to sticky sweet, oily and petrol driven, to chalk and shale, Riesling is produced in a wide variety of styles.  Understanding how to find the specific style you are looking for is part of the mystery and fascination of German wine.

 

Cracking the Code


Varietal

The grape variety is clearly marked, so that’s easy.  We have Riesling

Must Weight

Next, to determine the level of ripeness – or more technically the must weight of the harvested grapes (which really does not have any impact no sweetness of the finished wine), we look at the Prädikat level.  For example, a Riesling picked at it’s fullest potential ripeness, or just a hare’s breath past late harvest, is known as Spätlese.  If you’re looking for something that is picked below full ripeness, go for a Kabinett.  For the sweet sticky beauty of a dessert wine, you want a wine that is at least Auslese, which is late harvest, but true stickies are Beerenauslese or Trokenbeerenauslese.  Confusingly, Troken is also the word for “dry”.

For this wine, it’s marked Spätlese, next to Riesling.

Are you with me?

How Sweet It Is

Here we get to the tricky part.  Since you need to determine the level of sweetness separately from the must weight, you need to classify the taste of the sugar content, using Troken (dry) or Feinherb (off-dry).

This wine is dry, or Trocken.

The relatively new Riesling Scale can help us Americans with these things.  While some people disparage the International Riesling Foundation’s dumbing down of Riesling, at a simple level, it’s helpful.

That said, remember that Riesling is a high acid grape.  Acid balances sweetness, so that even a Medium Sweet Riesling may not play that tune when you are drinking it with maple smoked salmon.

Are You A Good Witch, or a Bad Witch?

Now that we understand what the flavor profile might be in the glass, we need to look at where it is from.  The Qualitätswein (QbA) and Prädikatswein (QmP) designations denote quality wine and quality wine from a specific region, and table wine (Taflewein) and bulk wine (Landwein) are the lower brow everyday wines.

This wine is Prädikatswein, a quality wine from a specific region

The Mosel

Right.  So really, there are many layers of classification but once you understand the basis for categorization, you can generally interpret what to expect from the wine.  So, for January’s Wine Studio Project, we embarked on a tour of the Mosel with Massanois Imports.

The Mosel River winds it’s way through Germany, Luxombourg and France, and the water moderate the frigid temperatures of the region making the steep banks of the river a prime growing region.

The Wines

I won’t bore you with the tasting notes here, but suffice it to say these are some pretty splendid wines.  They serve to show you that the variety of Riesling is wide, and there is something for everyone.

Don’t be afraid of a sweet Riesling!  The searing acidity balances the sweetness out and while it may be shocking when looking at the residual sugar, the balance is magical.  Paired with creamy Indian curries, spicy Thai noodles, and even Ethiopan food, Riesling is an adaptive, changing, developing wine.

 

AA Badenhorst – Swartland history in a glass

If you ask the average person about South Africa, typically you will hear Nelson Mandela, Apartheid, and Pinotage.  If you ask a wine persona about South Africa, you are likely to hear Pinotage and Chenin Blanc.

Chenin Blanc is a unique white wine, with origins in teh Loire Valley of France and is made is a wide variety of styles.  In the South African wine growing regions, Chenin is king.

With 60ish official appellations, and nearly 100,000 hectares plated to vine, wines range from average to exceptional.

The Swartland region of the Western Cape winelands in South Africa, is one of the youngest wine regions in the country, and rapidly growing.  The decomposing granite soils tumble off the low mountains in to a fertile valley that is prime for grapes.

Planted in the 1950s and 1960s with Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, and Grenache, the Badenhorst is located in the  Swartland region of the Western Cape, which is a younger wine region but growing.  The decomposing granite and shale soils tumble off the low mountains in to a fertile valley that is prime for grapes.

Co-owner Adi Badenhorst is a bit of rebel, taking the time to make even the smallest decision such as picking for peak freshness and blending choices.  Raised in a farming community with his cousin Hein, they purchased the Kalmoesfontein farm in 2007 and set about restoring the badly neglected property.

Modeling it on the farms they grew up on with an eye towards making natural wines, the Badenhorts maintain the old techniques of dry farming and hand foot crushing whole clusters.  Using concrete tanks and large wooden vats for fermentation, these wines have a taste of yesterday, with earthy back to the earth flavors and mouthfeel.

With his blends co-fermenting in a bit of a mish mash, Adi doesn’t using rules or classic winemaking by numbers to make his wine.  Instead he relies on what nature has done n the field.


2012 AA Badenhorst Red Blend

This complex blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Shriaz, Mouvedre and Tinta Barocca is a lovely representation of how Rhône varietals do well in many climates.  You might know that Cinsault is one of the parent grapes of Pinotage, but here, it is an earthy backbone to this lush red wine and I love the flavors it imparts.  Cinsault here, is an old school country grape, and was often used to make bulk or table wine.  Today, is once again a premium grape.

Aging in 4000 liter casks for 16 months, the oak is a very subtle note and not at all influential in this easy to drink red.

The savory, smoke meat mingles with old leather and black tea while ripe blackberries layer with dried herbs for a pleasing, masculine blend.  There is fruit here, but the key notes are savory and herbal which is a nice departure from a bold and bombastic Shiraz or Southern Rhone blend.  The silky tannins finish with a minty fresh dusting of black pepper.

The $30 price tag shouldn’t deter you from this wine, and it should be enjoyed with a juicy burger, a steak, or any BBQ.

Special thanks to Colangelo & Partners and Wines of South Africa for providing samples and images!

 




How Green was my Valley

Driving along highway 116 in western Sonoma County, you may have driven by the former River Road Vineyards, now the Rubin Family Wines complex – a sprawling, aging wood complex including a restaurant and bar patio, as you head towards Forestville.

This area of the Russian River Valley has been home to some of the world’s best pint Nor producers for decades, and while River Road Vineyards had been experiencing somewhat of an identify crisis in the mid 2000s,  in 2011, the Rubin Family of Wines tok over the property.

A particularly ideal place to grow Pinot Noir, the fog often lingers here beyond other area of Russian River, cooling down the vineyards and adding an earthy, acid driven profile to the wines.

The Rubin Family of Wines is committed to producing exceptional wines. Sourced from both the River Road estate and other local sources, the Ron Rubin brand includes a Pinot Blanc and two Pinot Noirs, as well as a Chardonnay and Syrah.

With specific attention paid to the vineyards and resulting wine, the dedicated winemaking team focuses on passion and precision.

2015 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Pinot Blanc

Stainless steel fermented with a touch of neutral barrel blended in, this is a classic Pinot Blanc in style and weight.  Ripe pear, juicy peach, crisp golden apples bathing in honeysuckle fields.  Finishes with tart lime and bright acidity.  A refreshingly low alcohol wine, it comes in at only 13.5% abv.  The early harvest of 2015 came from Dutton Ranch’s Shop Block a mere 1.5 miles from the Rubin Estate, and since Pinot Blanc is unusual for Sonoma County, this was a rare treat (only 3.5 acres are planted in Green Valley).

$30
2013 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

A bold Russian River Pinot Noir with brown sugar, black cherry, and Dr. Pepper notes layering on top of chocolate mocha.  Rich but still fresh with earth and wet leaves.  I really wanted this wine to have more acid, but this is a crowd pleaser to be sure and would be popular at any gathering.  Also low in alcohol, and unusually so given the region and the flavors, this clocks in at 13.7%.  With a long and slow ripening season in Green Valley, the estate Pinot Noir is a mix of hand harvested clone 667, 115, 777 and Pommard.  The Pommard adds a richness to the wine, with a soft and round body with the 9 months of French Oak give it the spice and vanilla backbone.

$40

Special thanks to Jo Diaz of Diaz Communications for the hookup!




Annual Alsace Festival Draws an International Crowd

Print The annual International Alsace Varietals Festival in Anderson Valley draws an international crowd of wine lovers.

This year, an especially enticing educational seminars start with a feature tasting of the sparkling wines of the region, Cremant d’Alsace.  Master Sommelier, Catherine Fallis will lead a panel of my wine friends, Fred Swan (who has a fancy new WSET Diploma!), Deborah Parker Wong, also a DipWSET, and Master of Wine Dr. Liz Thach in a deep dive breakfast session on this delightful fizz.

Immediately following the tour of Cremants, David Strada, representing the Wines of New Zealand, will walk us though some beautiful food pairings with Alsatian varietals from the Kiwis.

Finally, before the Grand Tasting in the afternoon, a unique look at Michigan’s Dry Rieslings will explore this up and coming wine region.  I have only tasted a few wines from Michigan, and admittedly I am somewhat dubious, but this will be a great opportunity to learn more and step out of my comfort zone.

Image courtesy of Anderson Valley Winegrowers

Seminar tickets sell out fast!  Get yours today for $60

After a break to hydrate, the Grand Tasting begins at 1pm.  This extravaganza features wines from around the world, including California, France, and more!  Some of my favorite wineries that wll be pouring are Cartograph, Greenwood Ridge, Navarro, Toulouse, and of course, the Wines of Alsace and New Zealand Winegrowers.

Don’t worry, you won’t go hungry – pairing tastes include seven unique tasting stations featuring pork belly B-B-BACON, duck, handmade pizzas, assorted artisanal cheeses, and so much more.

Grand Tasting tickets are $90, and can be combined with the educational seminars for $135, which is a great deal! Designated drivers can eat all the food at the tasting stations for $60.

If you aren’t too full, I highly reccomend one of the very small Winemaker Dinners, at the Apple Farm, featuring Long Meadow Ranch and Balo Cellars, or the Scharffenberger Cellars Dinner, featuring six wineries including Scharffenberger, Navarro, and more.  Participating wineries include Scharffenberger Cellars, Navarro Vineyards, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Winegrowers of New Zealand, Lichen Estate, and  Husch Vineyards.

These very intimate dinners sell out early so be sure to book on ASAP!  Dinners are $150 and area almost sold out so hurry!

If you are planning a full weekend, be sure to book a room in nearby Cloverdale or Ukiah and enjoy the Open Houses on Sunday.  This is a very special opportunity to get up close and personal with the winemakers, pouring special selections and many offering food pairings and no additional tasting fees.

This annual event is not to be missed and always sells out so get your tickets early and head on up to the Anderson Valley!

Location, Location, Location

Winemaker Dave Phinney has a 20 year history in the wine industry, when he was first inspired by a semester abroad in Italy.  Introduced to wine culture on this trip, he started working for Robert Mondavi in 1997.  Being an industrious young wine enthusiast, he began making his own wine n 1998, with a few tons of California’s heritage grape:  Zinfandel.

Over the next 10 years, Phinney continued to make his own wine, as well as developing several wine brands.  Today, his international travels and wine knowledge led him to create Locations Wine, which represents his in creating wines that best represent the regions, while making wine less complicated, and aren’t restricted by local appellation rules and regulatio.  This allows freedom of expression that can sometimes be stymied by the local laws.

Locations Wines come from Spain, France, Argentina, Portugal and Italy, as well as a diverse American portfolio that are all unique.  Free to completely express the wines of these regions, Phinney’s wines break all the rules but yield delicious results that are simple, yet complex, and fun.

 locafrFirst up, Locations Wine F4 – France .  With an $18 price point, this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Bordeaux varietals is soft and supple with leather notes, tobacco leave and Herbs de Provence while ending with a savory herbal finish.

 

 

 

 

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Next, E4 – Spanish Red Wine is a blend of Grenache/Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Carignan/Cariñena.  This grippy Spanish beast evokes the classic tables wines of Spain, with dried figs, cracked pepper and espresso.  Dark and silky, the dark purple fruit surrounds you like a warm blanket.

 

 

 

Locations_AR.PR_-2My favorite of these three was by far the Locations Wine AR5 – Argentinian Red Wine.  This supple belnd of the classic Argentine Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is deeply concentrated.  Hailing from the Uco Valley, southwest of Mendoza, the 3,000 foot elevation adds a gritty yet pleasing mineralality and complexity to this wine.  The now commonplace blending grape of Cab, adds dimension and complexity to the sometimes overpowering boldness of the Malbec.  Inky and unctuous, boysenberries and chocolate leap out  the glass and make me smile.

All Locations Wines are priced ~$18, making them an easy sell for Tuesday night, as well as a backyard barbeque.  With the freedom to experiment, Phinney takes his Orin Swift baseline and explodes on the scene with these new and inventive wines.

Stay tuned for more from Locations Wine, including wines from CA, OR and WA.

Special thanks to Balzac Communications for introducing me to these interesting wines!

 

 

 

Make the Holidays Sparkle with Franciacorta

logo-franciacortaNothing says festive like a bottle of sparkling wine.  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus, or any other holiday, we all love to ring in the new year with a sparkling libation.

Sparking wines are made all over the world.  From the world famous Champagne region in France, to surprising sparkling Shiraz from Australia, there are delicious options everywhere.  But none of my favorite classic sparklers comes from Italy.  No, it’s not Prosecco, or even Asti Spumante, but rather something that is made in the Methode Classico (or champagnoise), from the Lombardy region in the north:  Franciacorta.

I have been fortunate to experience the many colors and flavors of Franaciacorta with Franciacorta USA’s partnership with Balzac Communications.  We have been treated to an annual tasting of several different examples of this iconic Italian bubbly; recently, I was able to attend an informal and delicious tasting of three very special wines at A16 in San Francisco.

contadicastaldi_roseFrst up, one of my favorite producers from previous tastings, the Contadi Castalidi Franciacorta Brut Rosé NV, which is a blend of 35% Pinot Noir and 65% Chardonnay.  This budget friendly pink is a great example of why you should pay attention to this region.  With light fruity flavors, brioche notes, and velvety plum notes, you will love the holiday wallet friend price point of under $25.

 

 

 

 

 

img_2207The next selection was a gorgeous 2012 Le Marchesine Saten, which in the DOGCG of Franciacorta, must be a Blanc de Blanc from Chardonnay and or Pinot Bianco (Blanc). Slightly more expensive than the the other two at $30, it’s still a very friendly price point for sparkling of this quality.  With spicy white flowers and bright notes of citrus layered over fresh cream, this is the perfect mid point in this lovely trio of wines.

 

img_2204Finally, the all-star of the evening was the Biondelli Franciacorta Brut, an elegant 100% Chardonnay start hat is bottled aged no less than 2 years.  Officially certified organic since 2014, the 8 hectare vineyard is hand harvested and gently pressed and fermented in stainless steel barrels.  The gorgeous floral notes of this sexy sipper give way to peach blossom, toasted almonds, hazelnuts, and just a hint of citrus.  This is my top pick and even at an average price of $20 (if you can find it) you should be buying it by the case.

Franciacorta is not the poor man’s Champange.  Despite the user friendly price points on many of these fine wines, the quality and flavor profiles are world class.  Franciacorta wines are widely available at better wine shops as well as online.  Experiment, try a few, and enjoy this holiday season!

Special thanks to Franciacorta USA for sharing these delights!

 

 

 

Ready, Set, Lunch!

Hidden in the depths of a cozy bar in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, a secret lurks:  A delicious, inventive pop up called Lunchpad SF.  The Lunchpad has been serving lunch and brunch for the last three years, transforming this hip evening hangout in to a great day time destination.

Featured in 7X7 Magazine’s list of San Francisco’s “5 Best Spots for Coffee or Lunch Meetings”, The Lunchpad was created by Adam & Mark Hubbell, and Chris Snowden.  Combining unexpected ingredients with original flavors, this unique hot spot can even be delivered to your door via Postmates, one of the hottest new delivery apps.

During the week, the lunch menu includes a wide range of sandwiches, salads, and…wait for it…habanero candied bacon.  Yes, I said bacon.img_2388

This bacon is tangy, sweet, and spicy, and while it serves as the centerpiece for a few of the sandwiches, it really is best just alone.

Other favorites that I enjoyed were the Chicken Run, served only on Wednesdays when chef Chris comes in to make this special.  How could you go wrong with fried chicken?

Another favorite, and one that spawned a pickle craze at our table of media guests, was the Turkey Drizzle.  A classic turkey sando with so many twists you could be in the Winchester Mystery House, the candied bacon is layered on with cheese, giardiniera, tomatoes, and house

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made pickles.  These pickles were of divine creation, and take the classic bread and butter pickle and elevate it up three notches.  We were enjoying them so much that we actually ordered a plate of pickles to nibble on – as if we were going hungry.

 

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We thought we were nearing the end, but then came the Brunch menu!  savory Huevos Rancheros made my mouth water, but the cherry on the cake was the ginormous breakfast biscuit.  Based on a huge fluffy cheddar biscuit, more cheese is melted on top of  a perfectly fried egg, and garlic aioli is added as the finishing touch.  Yum!  Did I forget to mention that the bacon is also hiding in there?

To wash all of these tasty treats down, the Brunchpad Bloody is served only on weekends.  With bacon used as the finishing touch of flavoring, this fresh tomato juice cocktail is savory with just the right touch of sweetness.  Normally I’m not a huge fan of the Bloody anything, however, this was refreshing and delicious.  Other cocktails are available.

If you find yourself hungry while strolling Hayes Valley midweek, or are looking for a fun new brunch spot, check out The Lunchpad at Noir Lounge.  They are open Monday through Friday, 9am – 2:30pm, and weekends 11am-2:30.

On a rainy night you don’t want to go out, order directly from Postmates and enjoy Lunchpad from the comfort of your own home!  Lunchpad also offers pickling classes and other fun events. 
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Special thanks to Lunchpad for this amazing media preview!  Be sure to stop by and grab a bite when you are doing your last minute holiday shopping on Hayes Street.  

Two Hands #winestudio

Image resultAustralia.  The birthplace of Shiraz.  The wild frontier.  All of these things conjure up images of the pioneering spirit of the Aussie wine industry.  With Two Hands Wines, this story continues with quality, not compromise, from some of South Australia’s best known wine regions.

The idea for Two Hands was born in September 1999, when founders Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz set out to make their own mark on the wine industry with the goal of making the best possible representation of Australian wine:  Shiraz.

With so much Australian wine being exported around the world, the duo knew that best in class wines were not always being represented globally.  With an eye on the prize of making spectacular iwnes that representaed each of the regions and blends, as well as representing the all encompassing terroir, they set out ot highlight the trademark grape of Australia.

The first vintage was produced in 2000, and today, they have three distinct product lines and over 10 wines in production.

 

Quality without compromise is central to the Two Hands philosophy, driving all the decisions from fruit and oak selection to packaging and promotion.

 

Throughout the month of October, we were able to taste six spectacular wines from Two Hands, from the Garden Series, the Picture Series, and the penultimate Ares.  Sharing our conversations with winemaker Ben Perkins, as he walked us through his inspiration and style choices.

 

Image result for two hands gnarly dudes2014 Gnarly Dudes Barossa Valley Shiraz

Bawdy, brawly, bold and inky dark purple..  This is what I think of when I think of Barossa Shiraz.  Full bodied and bursting with blackberries, espresso, old leather and cracked pepper, this is a bruiser.  The bitter espresso tannins mellow out after a bit of air, and I enjoyed it more at the last sip versus the first.  Using only 15% new French oak gives this wine lovely structure without overwhelming it.  Crafted from several parcels, each was crushed and fermented in small open top containers.  Each batch was vinified separately, and blended just before bottling.  ~$22

 

Image result for two hands angels share2014 Angels Share McLaren Vale Shiraz

Rounder, softer, less masculine than Gnarly Dudes, the Angels Share reminds of why I love McLaren Vale.  The savory, herbal notes show bacon, tomato leaf and eucalyptus flavors, with dark cherries and chocolate at the finish.  The silky tannins work well with this unfined and unfiltered wine, which also uses minimal oak aging to maintain the fresh and fruity flavors.  ~$22

 

 

Image result2014 Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Dark and chewy, this earthy Cabernet was quite herbal with firm tannins.  Espresso and lavender pop out and play.  As with many cabs, this wine spent more time in oak, with 15% new French balancing out a combination of one to five year old barrels.  The result is a fresh but firm minty, earthy, McLaren Vale cab, that is a great example of what Australia has to offer beyond Shiraz.  ~$22

 

The Picture Series demonstrates outstanding value in Australian Shiraz (and Cabernet), while showing the key differences between Barossa and McLaren Vale.  With the Garden Series, Ben delves deeper in to the versatility of Australian Shiraz. U unfortunately, one of my bottles was damaged in transit so I only have the delightful 2014 Lily’s Garden McLaren Vale Shiraz to review but it was, indeed. delightful.

 

Two Hands Wines Lilys Garden Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia labelRich blue fruit, ripe plums and wild blueberries.  Round and plus, with generous spice notes and lingering vanilla.  While this wine spends a long time in oak, with only 6% new French oak, the plushness of the ripe and lush fruit remains and the luscious palate leaves your mouth watering.  ~$45

 

 

12ARE750DOM_01Finally, the masterpiece and flagship wine, the 2012 Ares Shiraz.

This deep, dark, dense and unctuous wine was res pendant with dark berries, rich chocolate, ciagar box spice and graphite as well as undertones of smoked meat.

With Shiraz being the cultural and literal heart of the the Two Hands story, this wine is carefully selected every year from the very best of the 1,500 barrels.  The Ares is a cuvée of these hand selected barrels, and is the pinnacle of the line.  Aged for 2 years in mostly new French oak, this big boy can take it, and the oak is well interested and smooth, holding up this grand dame of Two Hands.

 

~$150

 

 

A very special thank you to Two Hands Wines and #winestudio for bringing these wines to us.  #winestudio is an interactive beverage education program organized via Twitter, where each month, a different these is selected to build an online conversation connecting winemakers, producers, bloggers and consumers.

 




Materra Cunat Family Vineyards – blendng culturees and family history in Napa

Tucked away in a corner of Napa Valley known as Oak Knoll, the Materra Cunat estate sneaks up on you out of the bucolic vineyards of the eastside.  This 50 acre property was purchased by the family in 2007, and through the use of modern technology and an expert wine making team, has developed in to a world class winery.

The farming roots of the Cunat family are deep.  Brian Cunat was raised on a farm in Indiana, and his 17 lifelong pursuit of travel, wine, and vineyard explanation with his wife Miki have instilled a passion in him to create his own world class wine.  His first visit to Napa had him enthralled with it’s natural beauty, and the rest is history.

 

 

On a particularly splendid spring day, I met with the Cunat’s youngest daughter Neena to taste through the Bordeaux inspired wines.

“Each Materra wine is a perfect expression of the land, the grapes, the passion the Cunat family has invested in each bottle and the unyielding quality delivered consistently by the growing conditions and terroir of the Napa Valley.”

With a special focus on Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux blends, Materra is able to showcase the expression of both the estate fruit, as well some additional sources in nearby AVAs within Napa Valley.

The stand out wines for me were the Right Bank Reserve and the Howell Mountain Cabernet, which offer a special look at what Napa Valley can offer.  While not estate, these are wines to pay attention to.

2011 Materra Right Bank Reserve





An homage to the Right Bank of Bordeaux, which is typically based on Merlot, with it’s silky tannins and grippy dark blue and black fruit.  This is a wine for the ages, and should be tucked away for a while as the sharp edges blur and become calmer, as any age worthy Bordeaux would.

2011 Materra Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

Howell Mountain is one of my favorite areas for Cabernet because of the cooler, acid driven growing climate.  High above the hot valley floor, the inversion layer adds an intensity and brightness to Cabernet that is often lost on wines from lower in the valley.  A classic blackberry note with leather, tobacco and a pinch of black pepper round out this lush winter warmer.

Materra Cunat is located on Big Ranch Road in Napa, and is available by appointment seven days a week.  The peaceful patio is a wonderful way to enjoy your afternoon so be sure to stop by next time you are in Napa.
Special thanks to Neena Cunat Heitz and Fineman PR for setting up this visit at this unique piece of modern history.

 

 

Lopez Haro – an instant classic from Rioja

Hacienda López de HaroI love Spain.  In fact, I have had the good fortune to have visited five times in five years.  In the heart of Spain’s most well known wine region, Rioja, Bodegas Classica brings you Hacienda Lopez de Haro, a Vintae project.  Focusing on revolutionizing the world of wine while still focusing on the small family feel, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Vintae on my first visit to Rioja in 2011.
With Lopez De Haro, the region of the Rioja Sonsierra is the focus.  Located within Rioja Alta, it is nestled at the foot of the Toloño Mountains.  This moderate climate is perfect for making Rioja wine.
 Hacienda Lopez de Haro map
From a youthful red blend, to the age worthy La Reserva, these wines are a great example of how Rioja can be affordable but luxurious at the same time.
2015 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Tempranillo – made from fruit from 50-70 year old vines, this weeknight treat is earthy with dried cherries, tobacco and herbal notes.  Simple but not boring, there is a kiss of oak to finish this is a delicious $8 wine for your pizza or hamburger.
2013 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza – the youngest of the classified Rioja wines, this luscius blend of Tempranillo, Garnaca and Graciano is a mouthwatering treat.  Soft and pleasing to the palate but firm in structure, dried orange peel, mulling spices and fresh strawberries jump out while Herbs de Provence and cracked pepper layer of subtle vanilla.  At $12, this is a steal.




2009 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva – surprisingly elegant at this price point, this wine is full of chocolate and chili spice, with lush dark fruit and balsamic notes.  The finish is is full of smoked meat, and it just gets better with time.  At $13, the selection of low yield Tempranillo and Graciano is elegant and silky.  With 20 months in oak, this wine will just get better and at this price point is an excellent introduction to the higher escalations of Rioja.

With wines of this quality for less than $20, make sure some Lopez de Haro is on your Thanksgiving table, or wherever you are celebrating this season!  I can’t wait to go back to Spain to visit this special place.

 
Special thanks to Rebekah Polster of 401 West Communications for introducing me to these excellent wines will killer QPR.  Yet again, Spain is proving that wines of exceptional quality do not have to be exceptionally expensive.

Stolen Fruit – from the minds of Sonoma’s best winegrowers

Stolen Fruit Cocktail Mixers Luscious Lushes I love to create; specifically, I love to create cocktails from amazing ingredients.  Being a Bay Area native and a Sonoma County resident (well, mostly), when I found out about Stolen Fruit Cocktail Mixers, I was excited to get my hands on them.

Created by wine country chef Peter Brown, and Healdsburg grapegrowing royalty Doug & Susan Provisor, these fascinating blends of ver jus (freshly pressed juice) are the perfect base from everything to amped up water, to mock-tails, to elegant cocktails for every season.

Beginning with some pretty spectacular grapes, much of which are used to create some delicious wines, these fresh juice mixers come in exotic flavor combinations like:

  • Lemongrass-Ginger-Sav Blanc
  • Jasmine-Juniper-Viognier
  • Blood Orange-Muscat
  • Fig-Grains of Paradise-Zinfandel
  • Hibiscus-Grenache (not reviewed)

The freshness of these components and creative blends make them perfect for playing in your cocktail bar, or just jazzing up the every day.

img_2705Lemongrass – Ginger – Sauvignon Blanc – I love the lively spice of the lemongrass and ginger, and this would make a perfect addition to your favorite sparkling wine on Sunday morning.  Gin-Mosa anyone?  I also love this with sparkling water.  Just a splash wake up the benign and helps you get those 8 glasses in.  It is also a natural base for any vodka or gin drink, such as the amped up Moscow Mule!

7 Mules for Sister Sara

  • Mix 2 ounces of Stolen Fruit with sparkling water to make a light soda.
  • Add 3 ounces of gin (or vodka)
  • Add 2 ounces of ruby red grapefruit juice
  • Stir over ice

img_2721Jasmine – Juniper – Viognier

The surprisingly piquant flavors of lychee and kiwi, with a floral finish pair perfectly with cucumber.

Juniper Martini

  • Pour 3 ounces of your favorite gin (Hendricks would work well here) over ice in mixing glass.
  • Add 2 ounces of Stolen Fruit.
  • Squeeze 1/4 fresh lemon on top and shake well
  • Strain in to a martini glass with 3-4 slices of fresh cucumber.

img_2720Blood Orange – Muscat

Brilliant fresh orange flavors and bright citrus jump out of the glass with a hint of nutmeg and tropical vanilla.  This reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean, and screams for rum.

But, What About the Rum?

  • 2 ounces of Stolen Fruit
  • 3 ounces of dark rum
  • 3 ounces of light rum
  • A few shakes of tropical or Angostora bitters
  • Serve over ice in a coconut.

 

img_2707Fig-Grains of Paradise-Zinfandel

This dark and brooding baby is perfect for the fall.  Nutty with the fig notes, and a winter warmer, this is perfect for a fruity hot toddy.

Winter is Coming

  • 3 ounces Stolen Fruit
  • 1 ounces hot water 
  • 3 ounces bourbon (or, you can use a strong red wine)
  • cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise (to taste) or 1 tsbp mulling spices

 

And for yet another use, the Stolen Fruit mixers are fantastic for culinary sauces, dressings, and glazes!  Thank you to Verdant PR and Stolen Fruit for sharing these great bar items.  Pick some up today for $18 each, or the handy gift set!




The Perfect Pairing: Potato Chips & Bubbles

We’ve all heard it before:  There is no better wine pairing than potato chips and sparkling.  Could this be true?  Was it the holy grail?  Quite possibly.  But what happens when you take some amped up Neal Brothers’ kettle chips, in flavors like Pink Himalayan Salt and Spicy Sriracha, and pair them with Iron Horse Vineyards fizz?  Pure magic.

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With the pure, sweet, spicy and just plain tasty flavors, we found a perfect pairing for each of the Iron Horse sparkling wines, as well as each of the four chip varieties.

2012 Iron Horse Ocean Blanc de Blanc – this limited edition wine supports National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative, and is bursting with crisp apple notes and salinity that makes your mouth water.  Notes of citrus and chalky minerality make this a natural pairing for bright, clean flavors for the Pink Himalayan Salt was the perfect match.

2012 Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee – with a hint of raspberry, strawberry and blood orange, the sweet hints coming from the 78% Pinot Noir paired perfectly with the Spicy Sriracha.  The sweet and spicy Sriracha brings forward the blood orange and ruby red grapefruit in the wine.  The Wedding Cuvee also matched the intensity of the Montreal Steak Spice, with strong pepper and herbal notes.

2012 Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut – the classic, clean flavors of this wine, with grapefruit, brioche, and stone fruit play off of the Pink Salt, as well as the Sraiacha.  Often, Classic Brut can feel dryer than dry, but the special quality of the Pink Himalyayan Salt chips tone this day and create a savory explosion.

2012 Russian Cuvee was originally made for the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings, Iron Horse Vineyardswhich helped to end the Cold War.  This wine is a richer style, with bold flavors of strawberry, blood orange, and dried tropical fruit.  Surprisingly, the crazy Maple Bacon flavor of the Neal Brothers chips was the perfect match for this wine, which can be perceived as sweet and fruity.  The sweet maple and savory bacon really played off of the Russian perfectly.

What is your favorite potato chip pairing?  We tasted several more sparklers from Iron Horse that are sold out, so I won’t tease you, but go out, and have fun.  Pick up a few bags of Neal Brothers kettle chips and experiment!

 




In the Navy, I’ll sail to Spirit Works

spiritworks_logo_distressedI’ve long been a fan of Spirit Works, a small craft distillery in Sebastapol’s Barlow. Since their initial launch of vodka and gin in 2012, Tim & Ashby Marshall have been distilling grain to glass spirits that truly have a terroir of their own

Continuing their grain to glass philosophy, Spirit Works recently launched their new Navy Strength Gin.  Navy Strength Gin differs from traditional gin in that it tends to be both higher in alcohol, but also has a brighter expression of botanicals, and juniper.

Originally distilled for the British Navy, to help ease the physical and mental aches of a long voyage at sea, the Spirit Works’ iteration is a delicious departure from their traditional Gin.

Distilled from a red winter wheat base, this gin is much spicier than the more citrus driven Spirit Works gin.  Smooth and sturdy, this is a fine sipping gin with a prominent spice note, and firm backbone.

My picks for cocktails that shine a light on the gin are:

Classic G&T

  • Fill a highball or cocktail glass with ice.
  • Pour 3 oz of Spirit Works Navy Strength gin over the ice.
  • Add 3-4 cracked cardamon seeds.  I love how the cardamon plays with this gin, but you can also infuse with Star Anise to create a more earthy fall flavored cocktail.
  • Top with Fever Tree tonic water, or your favorite tonic (anything that isnt’ make with corn syrup!)

Gin Gimlet

  • juice of 1 lime (please don’t use sweetened lime juice!)
  • simple syrup to taste
  • 3 oz Spirit Works Navy Strength Gin
  • Pour all ingredients in to a cocktail shaker over ice.  Shake.
  • Strain in to a cocktail glass or coupe
Spirit Works is open daily, from 11am – 5pm for tastings, tours, and sales.  Stop by and see them some time in The Barlow, you won’t be sorry!  While you are there, visit some of our local wineries and stop in Zazu for a bacon tasting, and a specialty cocktail made with Spirit Works.
While this sample was provided by my friends at Verdant PR, I buy plenty of hooch from Spirit Works.  Support your local distiller! 
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