Last Minute Wine Gifts

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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 – 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 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 […]

Kickin’ it with Kitchit!

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

Celebrate with Franciacorta!

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During the holidays, more often than not, we celebrate with something sparkling.  For some it might be the old classic Champagne; others, California Sparkling.  But have you tried Franciacorta? Franciacorta, the DOCG region in Lombardy, Italy, is known for it’s excellent sparkling wines made in the traditionally method – meaning, the secondary fermentation occurs int bottle and not by, shall we say, the soda stream for wine or a bulk method.  Lombardy is perfect for sparkling wine, where the Alps meet the Lago d’Iseo, moderating temperatures and making the traditional grapes for sparkling wines grow so well.  Since Franciacorta was the first Italian sparkling wine to have the secondary fermentation int he bottle, and since the producing region is the first traditional method sparkling wine in Italy to reach DOCG status, they really are a treat. Since becoming a DOCG (the highest level of regional wine designations in Italy) in 1995, Franciacorta has set strict rules governing the production of it’s sparkling wines.  Using the same Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (Bianco) and Pinot Noir grapes that are traditionally used in France, Franciacorta requires lengthy aging and hand harvesting, to maintain in increase quality. With five distinct styles, there is something for everyone! Some of my favorite products that I have been enjoing this season are reviewed below.  So this holiday, go out and say Cin Cin to Franciacorta! Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut – 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir).  Yeasty, buttered toast, crisp lemon curd.  Beautiful bright acidity with the richness of cream and ripe pears.  This would be fantastic with oysters or brunch, and at $30, an affortable alternative to Champagne.  With only 12.9% ABV, this is a sipper you can enjoy all day! Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut – 80% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir), 10% Pinot Bianco (Blanc) –  a field of flowers, with rich  yellow and green hues, Tuscan melon and lime jump out of the glass along with stone fruit and a slight green herbal note.  $23 for this beauty rivals some of the better Proseccos and would be lovely in a Spritz or other cocktail. If you would like to check out some of the other styles of Franciacorta, they range from dry to sweet, and have a host of other style elements such as the typically 100% Chardonnay Saten.  A Millesimato is vintage sparkler that is aged at least 30 months. So, the next time you are having a party, consider stocking up on some Franciacorta, and wow your party guests with Italy’s fastest growing sparkling wine category!   These bottles of deliciousness were provided as PR samples, but all sips and tips are mine!        

Quinticentually Quintessa

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Earlier this year, before I embarked on a somewhat fool-hearty mission of getting my CSW credential, I visited the Napa Valley estate of Quintessa.  Tucked away, hidden from the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, the unique gravity flow moistly underground winery pokes out from the hillside.  When the Huneeus family took ownership of the land in 1990, the land was wild and pristine – and had never been used, or abused by other vines or crops.  Having never been planted to vine, the land had none of the after effects of the post-phylloxera recovery efforts, and mandatory replanting that some older, established Napa vineyards did.  It was virgin territory, and this prime real estate was ready to plant some amazing Bordeaux varietals.  With further research done on what naturally defended against the root louse that destroyed the industry in the past, new rootstock and innovative techniques were put in to place to create an amazing site. In 2002, the estate winery opened, it was built with a vision of a building that blended in to the natural elements.  In addition to the aesthetic beauty, careful consideration was given to the environmental impact as well as functional design for a working winery.  The result is a stunning gravity-flow winery that beginnings on the top of the hill where the crushpad is located, and continues through chutes in the floor of the crushpad that transport the juice directly to the fermentation tanks with a minimal of intervention.  With all the modern, yet mostly non-intervention techniques, you can bet there will be some great juice coming out of there! When you visit Quintessa, you have a wealth of tasting experiences to choose from.  The Estate Tasting Experience gives guests a comprehensive visit to the facility as well as the vineyard, and a seated tasting paired with local artisan products.  But the penultimate experience is what we enjoyed, the Quintessential Quintessa.  Here, you start at the winery where you see the operation, and then take a meandering walk up the hill to the ridge where tasting pavillions have been built.  These glass gazebos offer the ability to have a fully indoor / outdoor experience, while overlooking the vineyard property below. Up on the ridgeline, you leave the winery and the hustle bustle of the busy Napa Valley behind.  You are truly alone, and have the time to relax, and enjoy the details of the geology of the soils, a full tasting, and a great conversation about what makes teh property so special.  And oh, the cheese!  The cheese… With a tasting comparison of the current releases as well as library wine, this experience is a rare and special treat in the valley.  Trying to impress out of town guests?  This is the way to do it.  I especially enjoyed comparing the fresh, young current release, with the vibrancy and fruit forward notes of blackberry and earth, as compared to the library wine, showing dense and chewy notes of tobacco, baking spice and black pepper.  Having the […]

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

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A few years ago, at my first Craft Cocktail Carnival here in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to meet Tim Obert and Clint Potter of Seven Stills Vodka.  Masters of the craft cocktail movement, I was fortunately enough to taste through some of the unique creations that Tim had lurking in his cabinets.  One of those creations was the recently released Meyer Lemon Bitters, a zippy little number just waiting for a cocktail to show it’s beauty.    Now, that first bitter moment has given rise to the new line of bitters.  To fund this project, they have turned to both a new Bitters Club (which, I clearly  need to join given my bitters obsession), and a Kickstarter Campaign for the ages.   When Seven Stills started making bitters, they set out to be both unique, and to use fresh, seasona, ingredients nad herbs that aid in digestion and overall health.  After all, that is what bitters were created for. Each one of these unique creations is crafted with a base of non-GMO grain spirits (well there’s a new thing to watch for GMOs in!  Do you know if Monsanto sponsors your vodka?), and the secret recipe of over 30 herbs and spices, plus the primary flavor of the bitter. This year, they are starting out with Prickly Pear, Cranberry, and classic Cocktail Bitters, to go along with the aforementioned Meyer Lemon Bitters.   Remember, bitters is for more than just cocktails!  Add a few drops to your water to add some interesting elements.  Water does get boring after all..  Suffering a hangover?  Add some bitters to tonic water and drink up.  The digestive effect of the bitters and the quinine in the tonic (if it’s real tonic) will soothe you in no time Want to know more?  Check out the videos and recipies on the Kickstarter Page! Happy drinking!  

Uncommonly good gifts from Uncommon Goods

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  It’s that time of year again – when people scramble to find just the right gift for their wine friends.  I like to find unique items that you won’t always find at the big box stores, and my friends at Uncommon Goods came up with some terrific ideas to fit the bill. Uncommon Goods was founded in 1999, and features unique gifts and handcrafted items that are particularly kind to the environment, people, and animals.  While they are not local to me, I step outside of my “shop local” zone for the holidays because Uncommon Goods is, quite frankly, pretty cool.  Going above and beyond what most retailers do, they run their operations from an historic building in Brooklyn, where they give back to the local community by paying their local seasonal workers a minimum of 50% more than the average wage in the area.  Their mission is to support artists and designers, particularly those that make their wares by hand.  This is the kind of company I encourage all of you to support, whether they are local, or not.  Going above and beyond, Uncommon Goods also offers design challenges, tours and classes to further empower the inner artist in you.  I know that the next time I am in Brooklyn, I will make it a mission to book a tour and check this place out.  I also know, that given their large selection of wine gifts and glassware, decanters and accessories, I will be doing some shopping there for the holidays!  Not in to wine?  No problem!  Then have gifts for everyone. Here are some of the wine themed items that I think will make excellent gifts this year: Soiree Home Self Chilling Wine Glasses – Now, I own several Soiree Tilt Chilling Spheres, and they are the best invention ever.  If you don’t own any, you need to buy some right now!  But the self chilling wine glasses take this a step further.  With an insert that you freeze, and place in the bottom of your glass, your white wine, soda, or other beverage will stay cool through the entire glass – for as long as you are sipping it.  As someone who shudders when people put ice in their wine (egads!) these are a fantastic innovation, and much like the Tilt Spheres, these glasses are the next generation and a must have.  $50 for 2           Twist Decanter – this pretty table top decanters aerate your wine and also is a nice center piece.  The curves allow up to half a bottle of wine to breathe and open up, and full of red wine it is simply gorgeous. If you’re looking for a statement piece, look no further.  They are compact enough to fit in even the smallest cabinet, and easily refilled without making a mess.  $29.99           ZinZag  – the Wine Game – Half trivial pursuit, half wine tasting challenge, this game takes your wine party to a new level.  With 3 bottles of […]

Hello stranger!

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I’m here, hanging on, muddling through what is theoretically Fall.  Given that it’s in the high 70s/low 80s, it’s tough to stay inside and stare and the computer, but I’m trying. You might be wondering why I’ve been so silent recently:  well I’ll tell you.  Earlier this year, I took the California Wine Appelation Specialilst (CWAS) class offered by San Francisco Wine School  The three day intensive class was probably the highlight of my year, and I earned y credential with flying colors.  I still kick myself for missing 3 questions on the 100 point test, but there is always the next time. As a result of that, I decided I really wanted to pursue my Certified Specialist of Wine credential, on the way to being a Certified Wine Educator.  Yes, I know, lofty goals for this blogger!  So, in September, I embarked on the 11 week course for the CSW.  Wow!  When you sit down to examine the entire world in 3 months, you realize what you really don’t know.  So, my free time has been spent working, studying, and reading – mostly about the wines of countries that I really don’t know anything about. Given that I already spend 8-11 hours in front of the computer for my day job, it’s been a challenge to push myself to maintain the blog in the standards to which I was once accustomed.  After working a full day, and then pulling out the study guide and flashcards, my brain is full of obscure knowledge that has little to do with what I blog about.   What is the German name for adding sugar to a wine that is still fermenting?  The classifications for Austrian wine that are not in Germany?  What about the communes in Chianti?  Sangiovese, Garnacha, Riesling oh my!  Step away from the computer before you do something rash!  So, that is how the blog got lost in the shuffle.  But I’m determined to get it back, and I’m going to start with some fun ideas for your holiday gift giving. Stay tuned for good things to come, and with some luck, more studying, and a bit of wine – I’ll be a Certified Wine Expert (and not even in my own mind) in no time! Cheers!

Writerz Block…I haz it!

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  It’s funny how life can take a turn sometimes.  This year has been one of major change, a crazy work schedule, a bit of life’s most unhappy moments thrown in for good measure, and pure mayhem. Somewhere on the way, I lost my focus and my passion for this blog.  I am not sure where it went, or if it is just crushed beneath the weight of life, but I’m struggling to find my voice again. What do YOU do when you just can’t seem to get inspired?

Refugio Ranch – a hideway for the stars

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After the mayhem of the Wine Bloggers Conference had subsided a bit, the #QBP (and token Joe) decided to stick around a bit longer an enjoy the relative peace of Los Olivos on a Sunday afternoon. As luck would have it, fearless leader Melanie had arranged for a visit to Refugio Ranch Winery for some tasting and tweeting.  As we gathered in Los Olivos to relax in the Montana style hunting lodge tasting room, I could tell it was going to be a great visit.  But the tasting room was only the beginning… In 2005, owner Kevin and Niki Gleason found the 415 estate property, which they planted to 26 acres of vines.  Intending to maintain the property, tucked behind the town and well hidden form any view or civilization, the estate ranch is a piece of history that is truly stunning to enjoy.  Our group was whisked away from the tasting room and taken through the winding roads of the Santa Ynez hills, stepping back in time as we drove farther out of time. Approaching the retreat house, you can see the prime acreage planted to Rhone grapes, and the careful maintenance of the land is evident by the sprawling gardens, oak trees, and agriculture use.  There is no monoculture here. The Grape Whisperer, aka vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano, carefully selected blocks and varieties that he thought would best suit the property.  Winemaker Ryan Deovlet began producing these amazing wines in 2011, and together with the Gleasons, they have created a small slice of heaven. Tucked away on the ranch, the guest house is a rustic reminder that this is still a weekend retreat for the family.  Sitting on the porch, overlooking the ranch, you might think you were an extra in Little House on the Prairie – except the wine in your hand will make you forget about everything modern, sit back, and relax.  It’s no coincidence that you feel your inner cowgirl / cowboy coming out on this property, much like a back lot at Universal Studios, as Refugio Ranch was an untouched cattle ranch that had been in operation for centuries.  The transition to vineyards was a natural one, but the owners are carefully maintaining the native habitats and ecosystems, while using the best pieces for vineyards – maintaining a clear balance between past, present, nature, and man. Refugio Ranch is the only vineyard on this side of the Santa Ynez River, and gently rolls up from teh river to the ridge.  With only 26 acres planted, it’s hard to spot the vines, but easy to taste the terroir that makes this property unique.  The prime area is only 6 miles from the ocean, and is planted in salty, ancient sandy loam – the result of ancient sea beds, and long term drought.  This area of Santa Ynez gets very little fog in the morning, but a lot in the evening, lending a cooling influence perfect for those Rhones. Keeping in tune with the cowboy theme, […]

VinEdge – a life preserver for your favorite bottles

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  It’s that time of year again – when gadgets and gifting items hit the shelves, and all sorts of new technology is released for the holiday gifting season.  One of these gadgets is a new preservation device called the VinEdge, which is new tool to help you save that leftover wine.  Yes, I know, generally speaking leftover wine is an hilarious joke in this house, but occasionally, especially when I am doing multiple bottle tastings, there will be a half bottle here or there. So, to save that half bottle for the next night in the best possible way, there a few tricks.  First, you could just cork it back and put it in the fridge.  For a day or two, even for red wines, this works fine.  However, if you want to save the bottle for later in the week, you will need to block the oxygen from reaching the wine.  Remember, oxygen is only wine’s friend in the first 24-48 hours. After that, air can do nasty things to that bottle of Syrah you’ve been sipping on. I’ve written about other preservation systems here before, from inert gas to vacuums to covers; some with more successful testing that others.  The VinEdge is similar to another system that physically covers the wine, and blocks the oxygen from reaching that precious juice.  However, there is a twist. The VinEdge uses disposable inserts, similar to the Wine Shield, to cover your wine.  But, you also get a pour spout and delivery system that makes it unique.  This system incorporates a straw like delivery tube that delivers wine from under the cover, eliminating the oxidation that would normally occur over time.  Admittedly, i was skeptical at first given my history with preservation systems, but for $29.99 MSRP, including 10 disposable inserts (you can buy refills) it’s a pretty handy tool to have in the house if you don’t typically finish a bottle every night.  When you insert the VinEdge, a small tube with the cover is placed in the bottle.  The cover opens up and spreads out like a parachute, coveing the surface area of the wine.  As the wine is poured, the tube inflates, creating a vacuum and reducing the amount of air that touches the wine. Once bottle is empty, the spout is removed, leaving the detachable tube and cover n the bottle for easy cleanup.  Not bad!  Wine enthusiasts have long argued that the vacuum systems deplete wine of flavor and aromas, so this is a great alternative. Grade:  B+  A great gift for the wine lover in your life!  Check it out – you can buy direct from VinEdge, Amazon, or  your favorite retailer.   This product was provided by the PR firm for consideration, but all messy experiments and taste testing were my own.   Google

Ballard Canyon – Syrah Incubator

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Wrapping up my week in Buellton at the Wine Bloggers Conference, the focal tasting seminar on Ballard Canyon and its Syrah was the highlight of the conference for me.  One of the newest AVAs, Ballard Canyon was established within the Santa Ynez Valley in 2013.  Long known as an excellent source for Grenache and Syrah, the area is a long, thin canyon running north to south in a curving line.  This orientation shelters it from much of the wind and cooling breezes that the rest of Santa Ynez experiences making it an excellent location for the richer, bolder Rhone red grapes. Ballard Canyon has come in to it’s own, now with a brand identity as “The Syrah AVA”.  The panel discussion that we attended at WBC included a tasting of 6 Syrahs from the area, as well as an in depth look at the AVA and those wines.  We were able to taste along with some rock star winemakers and growers from Beckmen, Harrison-Clarke, Jonata, Kimsey, Larner, Rusack, Saarloos & Sons, and Stolpman. Syrah is coming of age today, and has been called one of the most electrifying wines in the US.  With an AVA that hsa ideal conditions to grow it, Ballard Canyon has become the Syrah AVA.   Syrah can be vastly different depending on cool vs warmer climate growing regions, and Ballard Canyon creates some of the best cool climate Syrah in California.  With approximately half of the AVAs vines planted to Syrah, vintners are able to focus of the microclimates within the canyon, and create excellence in style. The wines coming out of this region are cool climate wines, which are moderated by the warmer climates surrounding it;  with the wind, weather, and sandy soils dominating Ballard Canyon, Syrahs from this area are broad and distinctive, with a mix of characteristics that you can only find here. Some quick notes of the wines we tasted: Rusack Wines – Lighter and fresh, with wonderful acid and deep red and blue fruit. Kimsey – Rocking in the glass with chocolate dried fig, and espresso Harrison-Clarke Wine  – Bursting with ripe bosenberry, blueberry and espresso notes, followed by a black raspberry finish  Jonata – co-fermented with 5% of Viognier, blackberry, dark chewy beef jerky, tobacco lead, aromatic and dense.   The over whelming these of these wines are that you have deep complexity, richness, as well as acid which balances the wine.  The large diurnal shift in temperatures allows for both ripe bold flavors, as well as maintaining the acidity levels, which produces wines with more structure and interest than a warmer climate Syrah. Ballard Canyon is the place to be, and I can’t wait to taste more wines from this region!      

Exploring the wines of Santa Barbara County

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After our #QPB left Los Olivos and settled back in to WBC mode, we had one more adventure to see too before the official conference began.  Earlier this year, I was thrilled to be a guest of the San Francisco Wine School’s inaugural 3-day intensive California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) program, for which I know hold the credential (97 baby!). With the NorCal Wine luminary Fred Swan leading the way, SF Wine School and several illustrious Santa Barbara County wineries converged on Dierberg Star Lane Vineyard in Happy Canyon to present a special deep dive class in to the terroir, viticulture, and wines of Santa Barbara County.  This was an amazing way to kick off the weekend in Buellton, and firmly planted Santa Barbara’s diverse growing regions as one of my favorite California wine regions in my personal wine bible. In the county, there are many well known areas – Sideways made Los Olivos, Buellton, and Solvang famous, along with Santa Ynez.  But there are also many lesser known areas, such as the tiny Happy Canyon or newly AVA’d Ballard Canyon, that produce amazing wines as well. As with many areas that are now firmly rooted in wine culture, Santa Barbara’s first plantings were by the missionaries; in this case Junipero Serra arrived in 1782, prior to establishing the mission in 1786.  Santa Barbara became the center of the mission winemaking culture, with 45 vineyards, 260 acres and 17 winemakers, but of cousre all of that died when Prohibition came in to place.  Wine stayed dead in Santa Barbara until well in to the 1960s, when the Amerine Winkler Scale identified the region as perfect for viticulture.  Growing slowly but steadily, by the 1980s, there were 13 wineries, and by the 1990s, that number tripled.  Today, there are over 100 wineries, 21,000 planted acres, and 5 AVAs (with more pending).  Today, with so many microclimates, there are diverse varieties, styles, adn philosphies in the region.  There is so much more here than just Pinot Noir Miles! With it’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara County has a unique terroir, in part due to the transverse range that suddenly hangs a left at Albequerque and heads east, away from the ocean.  With foggy, cool breezes, and coastal influences, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrives on the west end, while Rhone varieties and Cabernet Sauvignon seek sun and warmth on the east end, away from the coastal influence. While there are too many AVAs within the county to talk about in detail in this post, I will give you more detail on a few.  First, Pinot Powerhouses Santa Maria and Sta. Rita Hills.  Santa Maria Valley is one of the few AVAs that straddles counties.  With it’s cooling breezes and foggy days, Santa Maria is one of the rare AVAs that has dry farmed vineyards, thanks to 14 inches of rain a year (ok not this year but…).    I love the Pinot Noirs from this area because of the high acidity, bright red […]

Kaena & Beckmen: One winemaker, two stories

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 After #GoingRogue with Tercero, it was time to meander down the road a bit to Beckmen Vineyards, were the #QBP had a barrel tasting arranged with Keana and Beckman winemaker, Mikel Sigouin.  I first met Mikel last year at Rhone Rangers in San Francisco, and when I mentioned that some wine bloggers were going to be in his neighborhood, he eagerly invited us to taste through his wines. Mikael, a native of Hawaii, makes wines for Beckmen Vineyards by day, and Kaena Wines by night, so I knew this would be a golden opportunity to taste some world class Grenache. Little did I know that we would taste through more wines than I thought possible, each one more unique and delicious than the last! But before we started this barrel adventure, we had to make our way out of Los Olivos, and down the road to Beckmen.  As I attempted to corral the #QPB out of the door of Tercero, what would appear to our wandering eyes but Frank Morgan – the erstwhile Drink What You Like Virginian.  If you are not familiar with this breed of wine blogger, it is a unique one; this breed mysteriously appears when least expected and is amiable to almost any activity. Since we were a posse of all girls, Melanie and I shouted out the car window for Frank to get in the car.  A few hollers later, some coming from the mobile command center of Brix Chicks Liza, the unwitting Frank hopped in the car.  It was clear from the look on his face that he was wondering how the wine mafia had tracked him to tiny Los Olivos.  Was it an ex-girlfriend?  Someone who didn’t appreciate his reviews?  No, it was just the #QBP, wine-napping him for an afternoon of delights. A few miles later, we met back up at the winery and began tasting our way through the barrels.  Here in the expansive barrel room, it’s hard to tell where Beckmen ends and Keana starts, a clear marker of how there is little separation in this extended family. When the Kaena brand was launched in 2001, it was to express Mikael’s passion for Grenache.  The name itself, Kaena, shows his spirit, with it’s meaning of “potential for greatness” and brings back Mikael’s Hawaiian culture.  Honing in on his obsession with Grenache, he has made a name for himself as the Grenache King, but hasn’t limited his style and influence on the other wines of Keana. While Grenache is certainly one of my favorites, I cannot slight the other wines that he had his hand in.  As we meandered the barrel room, tasting a bit of this and a bit of that, it was difficult to tell any favorites since they were all so good.  As they age in the barrels for the next year or two, I look forward to a return visit to see how they are developing. On this trip, I was intoxicated at the vastness of the selection, and focused on the nuances of barrel […]

A cool dry place – Avalon Bay Wine Cooler

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With summer finally arriving here in Northern California, it’s good to know that my wine is stored in a cool, dry place.  While it’s only ooccasionallyover 80 degrees in San Francisco proper, there are plenty of days outside of the city limits that can stretch well in to the 90s.  When  my Avalon Bay AB-WINE27DS Dual Zone Wine Cooler arrived from Air n Water, I was looking forward to being able to just pop a bottle open at the right temperature and not worry about it. This particular model is a dual zone version, which is great for making sure that both your reds and well as whites or roses are chilled just right.  For me, the top shelf, which has three racks, is perfecting for keeping all my roses just right.   The bottom section, which I keep at about 57 degrees, is just right for my red wines that I want to have ready to drink.  The sleek, tall design of this model makes it perfect for storing under my counter / bar top, and it fits right in next to my other furniture.   My favorite feature is that it is whisper quiet.  With no compressor, and thermoelectric cooling technology, it’s easy on the wallet and easy on the ears.  Another advantage to the thermoelectric cooling technology is that there is no danger of leakage, so you can put this on any carpeted surface without worry. Each zone has a separate light, so you can see your wine behind the glass door, and with removable shelves you can get creative with it.  Love! This model is $249 and is available online as well as your local Sears store.  Compared to another wine cooler I reviewed recently, I like the sleek design and dual zones on this very much!  The Avalon Bay has a slightly better QPR and would be better suited for narrower spaces and those that want dual zone options.   This product was provided for consideration by Air n Water, but all opinions and wine are my own!  

Sonoma Wine Country Weekened!

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The dust has mostly settled, and the clean up has begun.  If you have not yet heard, we had a fairly large earthquake in these parts on Saturday night / Sunday morning, and while there was no damage here in the city of San Francisco, there was significant building and property damage in Napa. While most of us who grew up in the area are somewhat used to (if you can really get used to this) these moments in time where the ground buckles and groans, it is certainly a challenge to see it in person, and look at the pictures of the damage. Many wineries have suffered significant losses, in both tanks falling over, bottles broken, and barrels tossed; so I write this post with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I wish all of my friends, wineries, and colleagues the best of luck, cleaning up and getting on with the business of harvest and life. Looking for something to do on Labor Day Weekend?  It’s an early one this year, but it is shaping up to be a lovely weekend.  The weather hasn’t been quite as hot as it can be, and it’s prime time for relaxing outside with some delicious Sonoma County wine! Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is the penultimate weekend of wine, food, and culinary adventures, showcasing the best that Sonoma County has to offer. This year, local Sommelier Stars are bringing their discriminating palates to bat, immersing themselves, and you, in an educational experience like no other. Supporting the future of Sonoma County through a partnership with Sonoma valley Vintners & Growers Foundation and Sonoma County Vintners, Sonoma Wine Country Weekend includes three days of events, from dining under the stars at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, to the raucous Taste of Sonoma at iconic MacMurray Ranch, and ending with the Harvest Auction.  Winemaker lunches, dinners, barbeques, and more will be featured throughout the county, with deep dives in to the wines and foods of each region. The highlight of the weekend for me is Saturday’s Taste of Sonoma, where guests can immerse themselves in wine & food with over 100 wineries and food purveyors.  This is the best opportunity to taste a bit of all of Sonoma County in one place, in the historic MacMurray Ranch property in the Russian River Valley.   Don’t miss the bubble lounge and the Steel Chef cooking challenge! Tickets are on sale now, with special benefits for Visa Signature Cardholders! I look forward to seeing you there!   Google