Please pass the Claret Carson!

If you’re a fan of the period piece Downtown Abbey as I am, you are no doubt experiencing withdrawal symptoms now that they are on hiatus for the rest of the year.  Yet, I am always enthralled at the ritual involved when the wine is selected by Carson and Lord Grantham, and the elaborate pouring rituals begin.

This ritual is, of course, part and parcel for the Bordeaux wine trade in years past.  British “Claret” increased in popularity in Britain when Eleanor of Aquitaine married in to the royal family, paving the way for Bordeaux exports.  At that time, most wine was from Graves, and was called “clariet”, which is why the name still sticks today.  Until relatively recently, the English would buy barrels of wine, import them across the channel, and bottle them themselves, translating the somewhat confusing French labeling system in to a more English friendly naming convention.

Today, we don’t have to go to such great lengths to get the delicious wines from the Bordeaux region.  We are able to purchase, and taste, wines of wide variety and price point; In fact, we don’t have to go through quite the elaborate decanting rituals that Carson the Butler does in Downton Abbey, in thanks to modern bottling techniques and cleaner process.

This month, as I study for my CSW, we are meandering through France.  I’ve already talked a bit about the Loire Valley region, but now we are delving in to serious, hard core, confusing, amazing, enthralling, Bordeaux.  Bordeaux is located roughly halfway down the western coast of France, where the Girdone river meets the Atlantic Ocean, and moves inland to the southeast where there Gironde and the Dordogne meet to form the Garrone River.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons


Bordeaux is a challenge for me, with over 30 distinct subregions, Left Bank, Right Bank, middle bank (Entre-deux-Mars) and the uniqueness that comes with each of these.  After tasting a beautiful array of Bordeaux a the Union des Grand Crus last month, I have come to discover that my heart lies on the Right Bank, with the silken elegance of the Merlot based wines, but there are several areas of the Cabernet driven Left Bank that call to me as well.  The myth of Bordeaux as an old man’s luxury has been dispelled, and today, it is an accessible option to even the most budget friendly wine drinker.

First, some 411 on the basics.  Yes, I know this is overly simplifying the details quite a bit, but going in to detail on the 37 distinct regions is just too overwhelming for most wine lovers, unless you are a Francophile.  For a long time, I didn’t like the tannic, seemingly thin, overly astringent flavors in the Bordeaux that I had experienced.  Fortunately, there is such a wide array of wine available, that there really is a wine for everyone, at every budget.

The primary regions of the Left Bank are Graves, Medoc, and Pauillac, and are Cabernet based blends.  The Right Bank includes my favorite Saint Emilion and Pomerol, which are Merlot based.  Smack dab in the middle of them both is the no man’s land of Entre Deux Mers, the No Man’s Land of Bordeaux.  Thanks to the good folks at Planet Bordeaux, I have some great examples to share with you.

2005 Barons de Rothschild Reserve Special – Pauillac – A Left Bank powerhouse (this beauty was hiding in my cellar.  At the time of purchase, it was $18, current vintage is about $30).  This middle aged gentleman deserves some decanting, as he is a bit rough around the edges.

2010 Chateau de Landiras – Graves another Left Bank powerhouse, Graves.  So named due tot he intensely gravelly soil, this cabernet based wine is minerally with a graphite nose, rose petals, dried flowers, and a kiss of Brett.  This is a wine that needs a steak, and an hour int he decanter but a lovely example of how complex Bordeaux can be, even at the $20 price point.

2010 Chateau La Grangere – Saint Emilion Grand Cru – this plush and velvety Right Bank beauty oozes dark chocolate and espresso, with ripe black plums and tobacco leaf and dried fig.  This blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Cab Sav, and 5% Cab Franc speaks to all those Merlot haters and calls out, drink me!  Love me!  $25

Laffittte de Laujac – Medoc – the Medoc is at the very northern tip of the Left Bank, inching closer to the Atlantic Ocean.  Full of savory herbal notes and stewed fruit, this elegant olive toned wine is bursting with blackberries, currents, and fig.  Reminiscant of a class Napa Cab from teh 70s, there is great potential here for duck, Cassoulet, and other hearty dishes.  $30

I could go on for days at the variety of Bordeaux available, but these are just some value priced examples of what you can find.  There are so many options out there, from so many smaller regions in the Bordeaux area, at all price points.  So what are you waiting for?  Go out and experiment!  And remember, Lefty Loosy (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc), Righty Tighty (Merlot).  I love the velvety softness of the Right Bank, but if you let the Left sit and stew for a while in a decanter, it is the perfect accompaniment for heartier meals.Enjoy!

Special thanks to Planet Bordeaux for sending me these wines to experiement with.

Viva Vouvray!

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

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

1.  South Africa

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

This ain’t your Mama’s Chenin Blanc!

loire wines



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

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

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


Chinon: The Lady of the Lake

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


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

2012 Domaine de noiré soif de tendresse chinon – $16.00

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



2011 Les pensees de Pallus – $20

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


School Daze – Further Adventures in Wine

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



Exploring the wines of Santa Barbara County

#QPB members BrixChicks LIza & Dallas Wine Chick Melanie, with BrixChicks Xandria hiding in the center

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.

The view from Star Lane in to Happy Canyon

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 fruit and cool climate “zing”.  In the Santa Maria Bench, which is a pending sub AVA, the most famous vineyard would be Bien Nacido, producing world class Pinot and Chardonnay.
David Glancy

SF Wine School’s David Glancy

Next up, the Sta. Rita Hills AVA has 2300 acres planted, with over 40 wineries.  Part of the explosion here was the Sideways effect, however, the wines speak for themselves.  Only 12 miles from the ocean, Sta. Rita Hills gets cold, foggy mornings and evenings, with hot days and large diurnal swings.  With packed limestone and ancient seabed soils, the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills has a characteristic minerality and brightness that would make any ABC Card Carrying member quit on the spot.

Two of my favorite regions in Santa Barbara County are Ballard Canyon, and the pending Los Olivos District AVA.  Ballard Canyon, which became an AVA in 2013, is the only AVA dedicated to Syrah, and is located between Solvang and Los Olivos.  While there is some fog in the lower areas of the canyon, it is warmer and has a bigger temperature swing than Sta. Rita, which makes it perfect for Rhone varieties and – syrah.  I’ll get more in to the wines later, since we had a comparative tasting at the conference, but let’s just say YUM!
Finally, Los Olivos.  The pending Los Olivos AVA includes the town of Los Olivos, Ballard, Santa Ynez, and Solvag.  Even warmer than Ballard Canyon, it has a distinctly alluvial soil where both Tuscan and Rhone varieties thrive.
Suffice it to say, you could spend a week in Santa Barbara County and never taste the same thing twice.  It’s well worth investigating, and a very special thanks to Fred Swan, David Glancy, SF Wine School, and all the wineries that participated in this great educational experience!
 This class was offered gratis to attendees of the Wine Bloggers Conference by invitation only.  All opinions and edumacation are my own.

Wine School: San Francisco Wine School’s CWAS

I admit it, I generally liked school.  Not the horrible teenage years of angst of course, but the education part; the learning.  The reading.  The opening of doors in my  mind.  Part of the reason I started this blog was for my own education, as well as the education of my readers, about wine, food, and travel.  I long to explore regions I don’t know, I want to find out more about varietals that are obscure.  I drink for charity, I drink for education.


To that end, I was thrilled when I was invited to participate in the San Francisco Wine School‘s inaugural California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) 3-day intensive program on a blogger scholarship.  A whole class about California Appellation?  I got this!  Or so I thought.
The three rainy days I spent in the Hyatt in Santa Rosa were the most intense I’ve had since I took Statistical Analysis for Research over the summer in college.  Yes, I know, I enjoy torture.  This three day intensive delves into the intricacies of California’s wine and wine regions, and examines their impact on the world of wine.
When I walked in to the room of wine professionals, somms, and other industry members, I knew I had a good baseline knowledge of California wine.  At least I thought I did.  As we moved through the state, starting each morning with a taste of sparkling wine from the focal region of that day, SF Wine School’s founder, David Glancy MS, CWE, took us through his cutting edge program.

The packed agenda condenses a 9 week course in to a three day weekend, providing total immersion and slamming our brains full of little known AVAs and factoids that are important for those seeing a CWE credential.  Included in our education was a guided tasting of 60 wines, review of detailed wine laws related to California, the importance of the state in the wine world, and so much more.

Specifically, as we looked through Mendocino County, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Santa Cruz, San Francisco Bay, the Delta, Lake County, the Sierra Foothills, Monterey and San Benito, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and beyond, we learned about the smallest AVA, the largest AVA, the largest undivided AVA, and what wines are produced where.

Phew!  That’s a weekend full!  I’m proud to say, that after a month of studying things that i never thought I’d want to know (hey, how many AVAs are there in LA county people?) I earned my California Wine Appellation Specialist credential with honors – missing only three pesky questions on the 100 question exam.

I highly recommend this class to any blogger, educator, or wine industry professional who wants to further their career and knowledge of California.  The instructors are experts in their field, as well as instructional material, as well as entertaining and personable.  This is an excellent first stop to the CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) credential, which I intend to pursue, and on to the CWE (Certified Wine Educator) credential.  This 3 day class is returning April 26-28, and I suggest you run, don’t walk to sign up.

The school itself has provided world class wine education and professional development since 2011 and offers a wide variety of courses to suit your wine education needs.  With a unique online model in conjunction with in person classes, there is something for everyone.

Where can wine take YOU?

I’m sitting here in the lobby of the Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa, at the 2nd annual Wine Tourism Conference, in Santa Rosa, with fond memories of the Wine Bloggers Conferences of 2008 and 2009. The buzz is certainly different, with industry reps. tour operators, writers, and print media outlets, but the buss is here.

Spending a brief morning at the trade show, I saw many faces I knew, but I also saw many faces I didn’t.  Up and coming wine regions that you would not think of were represented, and I was looking forward to learning more about them.

All sorts of industry professionals were represented, including tour operators, wineries, tourism associations, PR firms, and of course – those pesky bloggers!  I was looking forward to both getting to know these great group of people ,but also learning what the challenges in the industry are, and how we, as new media representatives can help.

Of particular interest to me were the challenges that individual regions have attracting visitors to their wine destinations.  Both on a personal and semi professional level, the topic fascinates me.  Additionally, the age old question of how ot engage with social media and how to utilize new media.  I am a social media freak, and if you have known me since the first Wine Bloggers Conference, you know that I am also a twitterholic.  While some of this has waned in recent years due to professional and personal obligations, it is still a fiery passion.

In addition to my social meida addiction, I am passionate about finding out how I can help bring the wine business in to the 21st century uses the tgools of the trade.  These tools include CRM but also include business practices and methodologies that are universal across businesses.

So, where can wine take you?  Stay tuned this week and I give you some of my insights, ideas, eye opening moments, and observations from the Wine Tourism Conference.



The View from the Top

Sasha Kadey

Christopher Watkins

Ed Thralls

I’ve often said that relationships will get you farther than anything in this world.  Whether that is a romantic relationship, a business relationship or a platonic relationship, it is that connection and interaction that forms the road to future endeavors.

Recently, at the Wine Bloggers Conference, three winery representatives formed a panel to discuss the winery view of bloggers.  Hot on the heels of How Bloggers Influence the Wine World, this session was a lively conversation between the established media, digital media, and three winery employees.

Ed Thralls is a wine blogger who is now working at the Windsor family of wineries in social media marketing.  Christopher Watkins is the manager of retails sales & hospitality at the Monte Bello tasting room for Ridge Vineyards, and also the author of 4488:  A Ridge Blog.  Finally, Sasha Kadey is the Director of Marketing for King Estate Winery in Eugene, Oregon and is active in social media.

Here, with three very different examples of winery views, as well as bloggers, we discussed how winery work with bloggers, how bloggers can make themselves more visible to wineries, and what they look for in a partnership.  These three are some of the biggest fans of social media and bloggers, and work hard to ensure that they are engaged with the blogging community and that bloggers are engaged with them.

Bloggers, and digital media in general, has the unique ability to be agile and fast.  There are very few mediums as flexible as the online writer has access to.  Gone are the days of paper galleys that go for approval, and are they print in large batches.  Today, we have the ability to not only write on the fly, but also edit that on the fly.  Change your thoughts on a topic, and it is a simple process to edit and add a note to a post after the fact, and call attention to that.  Digital media, according to Watkins, affords the writer flexibility and leverage that cannot be accomplished in other environments.  Digital writers can maximize, and should maximize the tools they have access to, since they cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Thralls, who began his wine career and social media campaign as a blogger himself, now runs the social media marketing efforts or a large winery family of brands.  He goes on to state that the relationship with bloggers and writers is different today than it has been with traditional PR and writers.  Because of this, it’s necessary to pitch them differently.  Gone are the the days of email blasts to the bloggers on his list; bloggers and online media require a different approach and different engagement.

Conversely, bloggers who are pitching wineries also need a different tactic.  Bloggers should not be intimidated about approaching wineries.  As we discussed in the Are Bloggers Influential session, as an online writer, we need to go out and make it happen.  But that doesn’t mean that the thousands of wine bloggers should all pitch the same winery or brand in the same way.  How are you unique?  How do you stand out?  The opportunities are endless as wineries are flattered any time a blogger reaches out and expresses interest in covering your brand in any way.

As a blogger, it’s important to build relationships with wineries and wine tourism, but you need to have a pitch in mind.  It’s far easier to write about a wine that you are having for dinner, but what can you do to stand out?  It’s harvest season right now; that means wineries are a hive of activity, and a wealth of information.  Have you approached your local winery or region about staying in a guest house so you can be the first one up at the early light of dawn, to watch the grapes come in?  We have the unique ability to dig around behind the scenes and learn details about an operation.

As a blogger, we are one of the many.  There are literally thousands of “wine blogs” in the US today, and many thousands moire around the world.  How can we stand out at a winery and make them take notice of us?  This actually isn’t very complicated – it’s all about expressing interest.  We can do that by being active, writing regularly, being passionate, and engaging with the blogging and wine business community.  This is more important, according to the panel, than maintaining a narrow focus of content on our blogs.

One method that wineries use to measure this interaction and passion is the relative activity level in social media.  with Klout being a hallmark (more on that later) of social engagement these days, it is one method to gauge how active a writer is in the greater online community.  Unfortunately, Klout has changed some measurements of social influence and is no longer the best method for measuring these things.  Smart winery markets know this and also look at engagement on tools such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and blog commentary.  It’s all about engagement.  All three of the panelists agree that the full cycle of engaging with the community is much more important than someone who blogs frequently.

Another factor that wineries are looking for is a clear and individual voice.  When developing your blog style, it’s critical to use your own voice and maintain that clearly and consistently.  your voice is your key.  That said, each brand is looking for different people.  While you might be appropriate for Big Label with an Animal, you might not be appropriate for Small Winery on a Mountain Top.

In the end, i’ts about being authentic and staying true to who you are.  There is an attraction to your uniqueness that wineries will flock to.  Doin’t blog, just for the sake of blogging; make sure you have something to say, and even better, something to say that is unique.  quality is better than quantity.  Engagement is better than one directional conversation.

When you are fully engaged in social media, you are active on multiple platforms, and engaging on multiple levels.  Evidence of this engagement, whether it’s using Alexa, Kred, or Klout as a baseline, is more important than large amounts of followers or frequent posts.  To engage your audience is to build your audience and build your credibility.

While there have been a few examples of bad blogger politics, whereas the offenders are clearly digging for free tastings, samples, or experiences, the vast majority of bloggers are honest and integrous people who are looking to learn and share their experiences.  Relationships with bloggers build the long tail consumer business that a winery thrives on.  If you build a relationship you build a customer for life; conversely, if you sell a bottle of wine, you sell a bottle of wine.

So, where will you go from here?


We interrupt this train of thought…

Wine Tourism ConferenceI’m still catching up and formulating my thoughts about the Wine Bloggers Conference, but as I do so, I thought I’d share with you another conference that I’m excited about.  Ok actually two conferences!

First, in November, I will be attending the Second Annual Wine Tourism Conference, here on my home turf of Santa Rosa.  Last year, 200+ wine tourism professionals, bloggers, and media attended the first conference in Napa.    Due to popular demand the conference is now an annual event, run by our friends at Zephyr Adventures (the folks that brought us the WBC).

The Wine Tourism Conference (WineTC) was created, inspired (at least in my opinion and observation) by the International Wine Tourism Conference, to provide hard information about the important and growing industry of wine tourism in your region, as well as the region that conference is held in.  Spawned by the International Wine Tourism Conference (more on that below), the WineTC attracts wineries, wine tourism professionals, wine associations, tour operators, travel agencies, hotels, PR professionals and media who writes about wine and tourism.

Please follow on twitter using the hashtag #winetourismconference for all the lastest news!

The second upcoming conference that i will be participating in is the 2013 International Wine 

Tourism Conference.  This time,

the event will take me to Zagreb, Croatia!  I can’t tell you how excited I am to learn about the area and some of the wines of the region.  I look forward to spending a few extra days exploring the region; after all, Croatia is the birthplace of zinfandel.

You may remember that in 2011 I travelled to Porto, Portugal to speak at the IWINETC on topics of engaging bloggers (view my slides).  This time, I will be teaming up with my friend and fellow blogger Liza Swift of Brix Chicks to discuss new ways of attracting wine tourists to your hidden gem of a region.

The 2013 IWINETC will bring together wine and travel lovers and professionals from around the world to discuss, reflect on and develop their ideas on wine and culinary tourism.  With two days of interactive presentations, demonstartions, and talks, it will also give attendees the opportunity to taste wines fro all over the world, and foucs on the host region of Croatia.  With so many attendees from so many areas, there will be the opportunity to taste many different wines and foods.
Much like the WBC, the IWINETC has grown over the last 4 yeras.  In 2011, there wre 175 attendees; 2013 will bring 300+ attendees from over 30 countries.   It will be a unique experience to share, network, and discuss wine tourism and I look forward to sharing more as we get closer to the date!
Please follow along on twitter using the hashtag #iwinetc during the events!
Both events promise to provide an overview of local wine tourism s well as wine tourism as a while, while providing specific information that you can use, networking opportunities, and a sampling of local wine and food.
Stay tuned on more about Croatia and wine tourism in the coming weeks (and months)!

The missing link

When I first saw that Marcy Gordon had tagged me in her 7 links project, I was a bit trepedatious.  How would I ever live up to this lofty goal?  how would i pick posts that were meaningful, amusing, and that you wanted to read?  Acccck!
As you may or may not have noticed, this year my blogging has fallen off a cliff and I struggle with both inspiration and motivation to keep on the wagon.  some days are better than others.  So actually, now that I reflect on it more, I’m really fortunate that Marcy tagged me – because it gives me a built in blog post!  Beyond that, I do believe it’s time to pull out my Creative Whack Pack for some new ideas.

Now, back to my 7 Links.  This project asks bloggers to select seven lnks (posts) from blog posts past that exemplify certain categories.  Once i pick my 7 posts, then I get to take 5 bloggers.  Though personally I think I am going to tag 7 bloggers since, well, it’s 7 Links!

And the nominees are —

Most beautiful post:  

How does one define beauty?  It is beautiful writing, or is is beautiful pictures?  That’s an interesting one to choose.  

When I think about it, this post is my most beautiful meal, with the wine and food pairings at Artisan, Paso Robles.


Most popular post:  

According to Google Analytics, in my blog’s nearly five year history, my most popular post was about my local wine bar, Barrique.


Most controversial post:  

Are you certifiable?  Why wine bloggers should (or should not) be “certified”.


Most helpful post:  

Google+ through a wine bloggers eyes


Post whose success was most surprising:

One bad experience a firestorm does create:  Hospitalit-eed Off


Post that maybe didn’t get the attention it deserved:

Why are RSS feeds such a pain?


Post most proud of:

There are actually two that are really in a tie for me, and they both cover a similar topic.  I am passionate on how blogging matters and what it means in the larger scope of things so, feast your ears on this:

It just DOES matter!

Where is the ever blurring line between bloggers and traditional media?


As I looked back on my blog posts, I see a clear theme; the things that matter to me, that inspire me to spout poetic, are the things that you are talking about.  What is a blogger?  Why do you blog?  What is the most controversial wine right now?  And then, there is always bacon.  I think I might need to bring back my Bacon Fridays theme – where I make one recipe with bacon and pair it with wine – on Fridays (or perhaps Sundays).
What do YOU want to hear from me?   Inquiring minds want to know!

So I now nominate 7 bloggers (and yes, they are all women, because I think we need to support each other more) who I admire and enjoy reading:

Liza Swift – Brix Chicks
Michelle Lentz – Wine-Girl
Megan Kenney – Wannabe Wino
Gwendolyn Alley – Wine Predator
Mary Cressler – Vindulge
Melanie Ofenrich – Dallas Wine Chick
Gretchen Neuman – Maman des Filles

Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…

And i’m here to teach you a little bit about Spanish wine.
Today we’ll be looking at La Rioja.

Rioja is both a state, and a DOC in Spain. Part of Navarre and the Basque province of Alava are included in the DOC, which is split in to three sub regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Balja and Rioja Alavesa. The total area is about 75 miles, which is about the size of Napa. There is a total of 123,000 planted acres, which is not a small feet in an area of high plains desert, with a rough looking iron soil which is mined for brick making.

Typically, in Rioja, you find Tempranillo, Viura, Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo – which is Carignane.

It seems that wine has been made here since ancient times, and archaeologists have found evidence tha the Phoenicians and the Celtiberians made wine here. OF course, the monestaries aslo kept a brist business in wine making, creating it as a cash business.

In 1926, a regulatory council was created to control the zones and quality of La Rioja, and who can produce wine in the DOC. In 1991, it was “Qualified”, and became Spain’s first Denominación de Origen Calificada, which was quite a feet. Rioja still suffers from the problem of being seen as an old person’s drink, but that is rapidly changing.

Located south of the Cantabrian Mountains along the Ebro river, Rioja has a continental climate. It feels a lot more like the desert, but is very reminiscant of Calavaras – hot in the summer (up to 35 degrees C, or 110 F) and cold in the winter (it was about 2.5-4 degrees C when we were there, which is the low to mid 30s. brrr). The mountains and mesedas (mesas in Latin Spanish) moderate the temperatures in the valley below, and protect it from the winds. I couldn’t really say that about one of the wineries we went to however, which felt very much like Wuthering Heights with the windswept escarpment on a hilltop.

There are three distinct areas in La Rioja: Rioja Alavesa; Rioja Alta; and Rioja Baja. Each area has it’s own expression of the wines, and is very much like Dry Creek vs Russian River.

Rioja wines are typically red, but there are some white varieties as well. Tinto, or red, can be a blend of varietals but it’s most commonly tempranillo, but also include Garnacha (my favorite) and a touch of Mazuelo (Carignane to you and me) as well as For Rioja Blanca, it is mostly Macabea (or Viura), with a touch of Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca. There is also a lot of Rose made here, and is primarily made from Garnacha.

The soil in Rioja has a lot of iron, giving it a charachteristic red color – possibly the reason it’s called Rioja? It also has a lot of chalk in the limestone and sandstone soil, which presents a minerality in the whites wines produced here.

Most of the red wines in Rioja are aged in Oak, weith a large influence of American Oak, as well as French oak barrels used for aging. Since American oak tends to be stronger and provides a bigger influence, it’s great for these bold red wines. The tintos (reds) can be aged for up to 15 years in some cases!

Tintas are classified in to four categories. The most basic is just called “Rioja” which is aged less than 2 years. Next, the “crianza” is aged at LEAST 2 years, with 1 of those in oak. Getting better, you have “Rioja Reserva” is aged at least 3 years, 2 in oak and one in the bottle. Finally, the best of the best “Rioja Gran Reserva” is aged at least 2 years in oak, and three more years in the bottle. Phew!

Wineries are known as bodegas, but you might also call a cellar or a warehouse a bodgega just to confuse you.

So now, that you know a little about La Rioja, you can follow along as I taste my way through!

Stay tuned…

It’s Bloggership Time!

Happy New Year!  Boy am I glad 2009 is over.  While there were some fabulous times last year, the last few months were pretty wretched for me.  Today is 1/02/2010 however, and as a palindrome, I’m thinking it’s good luck.

To kick this year off with a bang, I’m here to announce the 2010 Wine Bloggers Scholarship applications and donations are open!  This year, we are headed to Walla Walla in June to talk about wine, blogging and social media.  As with the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference, this 3 day symposium brings together professionals, bloggers, winemakers and more to discuss the impact of industry and citizens bloggers, social media, and the adult beverage industry.

We will spend 3 days in Walla Walla drinking great wine, learning the basics of wine blogging, blogging live while tasting, touring the Walla Walla wine scene, and also doing a whole lot of networking.  After the 2009 Conference in Sonoma, many connections were made, many bloggers blossomed, and several people got some killer careers going in wine.  What could YOU accomplish?

In an effort to support bloggers that wish to attend to learn more, perfect their craft, or see what it’s all about, the WBC Scholarship sets out to raise funds to assist citizen bloggers (those unaffiliated with a  winery or other professional organization) get to Walla Walla and participate in the event of the decade.  Ok well the first year of the decade anyway.

To find out more about the WBC Scholarship, please visit our site at  If you’re a citizen blogger and would like to apply for assistance, please see the Application page.

If you would like to donate, or you know someone who would be a good resource, you may do so directly at our Paypal page here:

If you prefer to send a check, or if you have any questions, please email us for details at wbcscholarship at gmail dot com.


Don’t cry for me Argentina!

vineconnectionsThe truth is, your wine is AMAZING!  I have been drinking this or that from Argentina for several years, since it’s a great value, but I must admit, I didn’t love it.  That is, until the good folks at Benson Marketing and VineConnections put together a blogger tasting to introduce us to their selections from the Mendoza and surrounding areas.  yum!

First, a bit about Argentina in general.  Argentina is the world’s 5th largest wine producing country.  When you compare that to France, Italy, Australia, and the U.S., considering the size of the country, that’s a lot of juice!  There are many varieties that are produced, but the most well known is probably Malbec.  The primary growing region of Mendoza has four sub-appellations:  Lujan du Cuyo; Maipu; Uco Valley; and Eastern Mendoza.  While there is very little natural rainfall, most of the vineyards are between 2000 and 4700′ in elevation, and there is natural drainage from the snows off the Andes above.  I was excited to taste some Argentinian wine that I wasn’t guessing blind at, since most of my prior experiences had been mediocre mass market options form Cost Plus and Costco.

The first wine we tasted was the Celestina Rose of Malbec, a sparkler that was a surprising treat.  I have tasting Sparkling Shiraz before, and was happily surprised at the interesting flavors, but the Malbec was amazing.  This was 100% Malbec, and the low 12.8% ABV was a nice reminder that not all wine needs to be over the top and  punchy.  Since Argentinians in general drink a lot of bubbles, something like 35 liters per person per year.  This wine was a blood rose color, with a yeasty nose and flavors of hibiscus, pink grapefruit and wild strawberry.  It is bottle fermented and aged for 14 months in the bottle, and retails for a low low price of $20.  Buy
Next, we moved on to the Crios Torrontes.  I found jasmine, honeysuckle, honey and wildflowers in this white which reminded me of Muscat.  It was interesting as it was the only wine that wasn’t from Mendoza, but I loved it.  It had a ton of tropical fruit, musk melon, and a lovely perfumey nose.  At $15, it’s a great white for any occasion,especially seafood and salads.  I would love to have this with a nice fruit salad, or even a green salad with a citrus dressing.  Strong Buy

From the whites, we moved in to the red wines of Mendoza. Malbec is Argentina’s signature red wine grape and one of the Bordeaux grape varieties.  Malbec was brought to Argentina by the French in the mid 186s, where it found a new home in Mendoza and thrived in the long growing seasons.  Since Mendoza gets over 300 sunshine days a year, the grape took off.  An interesting point about Argentinian Malbec is that there are now 22 distinct clones, which they plant on their own rootstock.  Most wine in Argentina was produced  for domestic consumption but as the 90 liter per capita consumption decreased, exports increased.  Now, it’s trendy to have your second or third houses in Argentina.  The passion for winemaking has continued to grtow with teh native winemakers, and these wines are terriffic examnples.  In Argentina, large hailstones destroy up to 13% of the grape harvest every year.  Because of this, and small plots of land, grower designated wines are newly developed here.  It is a risky adventure with such hailstorms, since 15% of your crop could be wiped out.  That said, high risk, high reward.  There are now more and more grower labeled wines (we would call them vineyard designate) appearing.
The 2007 Cocina Blend is literally “The Kitchen Blend”, almost everything but the kitchen sink in theory.  This was my favorite of the reds, and with 60% malbec, 20$ Bondara, and 20% Syrah, there was a little bit for everyone.  Bonarda what Argentina calls Charbano, and it add a nice dark back bone.  Run out and buy this wine right now!  It was dark and inky, with lots of pepper and spice, with a fig and plum finish touched with smoke.  There were lots of blackberries, vanilla, and a chewy structure.  It had a kiss of oak and vanilla, after being aged in 20% new Oak (70% French, 30% American) for 10 months.  This wine also retails for $15, or less.  Seriously, run out and buy it right now!  This is a steal.
Next up we have the Pizzella Family Malbec.  This is from the same winery as the Cocina Blend, is was also a favorite.  I found smoked meat and pepper, with cherrires and bittersweet chocolate followed by blueberry.  It was a juicy 100% Malbec, aged for 10 months in 100% French Oak (20% new, 80% old).  The Pizzella family Vineyard is located at 3050 feet, and is closer to the mountains where it is generally cooler. This wine retails at $18, and is also a buy.


The last of my favorites of this tasting was the Mendel Unus.  This is a premier belnd of 70% Malbec and 30% Cab Sav.  This blend had dark cherry, plums, blackberry and dark blue fruit with a slightly vegetal note showing through.  I tasted rich earth, chocolate, bright berry, and vanilla in this sikly blend.  at $50 it was not an everyday treat like the others, but it was worth splurging on.

All in all, I will definitely be exploring Argentina more.  There are plenty of affordable and delicious options out there.  If you are seeking out these wines in the Bay Area, look for them at the Jug Shop, K&L, and the Wine Club.  Try to find wines that are not mass produced.  The cost of producing these gems in Argentina is much less than in the States, or even France, so don’t be afraid to experiment.  At $15 average, you can try many different wines.  Find a producer you like and go have fun!  Another tip that the Vine Connections people taught me is know your importers.  If you find an importer you like and trust, the odds are that you can purchase another wine from them and be reasonable happy.

Go forth adn wine-ducate!



Video Killed the Blogging Star! Or did it make it…

It’s Sunday, the last day of the Wine Bloggers Conference.  I’m exhausted, but I knew that this was a meaningful day since the breakout sessions were happening.  Why the meat of the conference was on Sunday morning after 3 days of wine events seems like poor planning to me, but I’ll address that in my wrap up post.

So up I got, and my savior, the tea fairy, brought me a cuppa to help steel my body for the mornings events.  There were six sessions to choose from.  I’ve included a few links as well, since the presenters were generous enough to post video / Powerpoint content around the web, for those of us who wanted to be everywhere.

  • Legalities of Blogging *special thanks to Mike Wangbickler for the video
  • Monetizing your Blog
  • Creating Social Networks for Wineries *special thanks to Mike Wangbickler for the video
  • Facebook, Twitter, and other Social Media for Wine Businesses
  • Beyond Words: How Video Content is Changing the Wine World *special thanks to Mike Wangbickler for the video, shown below
  • Search Engine Optimization

I choose to attend the Beyond Words session and was really glad I did.  This session focused on the current state of video content in the world of wine blogs, for both business and peers.  Lisa deBruin (@winedivergirl) from Hahn Family Winery and the California Wine Life blog, as well as Hardy Wallace (@dirtysouthwine) now the new voice of Murphy Goode (@goodetobefirst), but also author of Dirty South Wine, were joined by Drink This TV founder Bob Asher to talk about these topics.

Is video important?  Why is it important if this is true?  What I learned from Hardy is that video reaches and audience you might not expect it to.  It is still fresh and new int he wine blogging world, and while more and more people are starting to enhance their blogs with video (particularly after the WBC), it is still not widely accepted practice in the wine blogging world.  One notifiable exception to this is Gary Vaynerchcuk, who’s Wine Library TV has been the flag bearer of video blogging for a while now.  Gary V, who was a keynote speaker at last year’s WBC, is a different beast however, in that he specifically review wines for sale in his store, while citizen bloggers such as Hardy and Rick Bakas are reaching their audience with the addition of wine and food pairings, and video tasting.

Video can and will change the way that we blog.  As a person who blogs my passion of wine, and uses the internet to express this passion, Hardy inspires me to get out the webcam and go to town.  Every blogger, and v-logger, has something to say, that’s why we blog.  Video can give us some additional tools to help guide our lofty readers through the murky swamp that is social media.  From a bloggers perspective, it’s easy to create video.  It may not be pretty, but all it takes is a flip cam, a web cam, a phone cam, and some software to edit that video.  Practice makes perfect.

Lisa de Bruin of Hahn Family Wines, who uses video to enhance the Hahn image, suggests that we research our subject matter before we take that leap.  The last thing we want to do is tip toe through the tulips…er…winegrapes, since it’s been done to death.  That would bore our viewers to death and isn’t really adding anything to our blogs.  Brands have a story to tell, and can effectively do this trhoguh engaging video.  Hahn TV is engaging us with interesting facts, engaging conversation, and interesting stories.

Practice makes perfect!  To that end, check out my video debut, teaching you how to say Tempranillo (thanks to Bryan Kane from teh Winery Collective for this embarrassing tidbit).  Now, this was done off the cuff and was not at all expected to end up on Facebook, but it’s fun anyway.

Check it out!  Sorry, just a link …

Furthermore, I will be embarking on a joint project that uses video to taste wine with several peeopl, and engage in discussion about that wine.  More on that to come in the near future.

If you want to see the report for yoru self, check out the videocast that Michael Wangbickler of Caveman Wines generously posted on his blog for us.

[viddler id=21aeecd7&w=437&h=370]

For some other great video bloggers that I follow, check out:

  • 1WineDude – Dude vlogs!
  • Dirty South Wine – bringing the CRUNK to NorCal!
  • Drink This TV – an irreverent, fun, serious but no take on wine tasting
  • Stark Silver Creek – an online reporting tool that reports on “all things West Coast” has a lot of great content from the WBC
  • A Good Time with Wine – Matt has been doing his videos since I met him last year, and is great at it!

Forgive me, for I have zinned! A WBW Post

For this month’s adventure in the themed blogging topic known as Wine Blogging Wednesday, our hostess @sonadora from Wannabe Wino, is hosting us for the 5th Anniversary.  This time, Megan goes back to her love of Zinfandel, and encourages us to taste our favorite zins paired with some yummy BBQ.

As luck would have it, this post coincided with the annual ZAP Summer Celebration, which is famous for it’s BBQ and plethora of zins.  To start out, we took a little tour of some of the ZAP producer vineyards, starting out with Pete Seghesio at Saini Vineyards.  Saini was planted in 1946, and is now run by the 4th generation of Sainis.  Prior to being farmed for grapes, it was planted with apples, pears, and prunes, as was much of the Dry Creek Valley where this vineyard is located.

    Saini zin undergoing verasion

Saini zin undergoing veraison

You may not have known this, but dry farmed zin can be one of the most difficult grapes to grow because it can rot from the inside out; the cool fog that drifts in to the valley over the western mountains cools down the fruit and can make it damp, and prone to botrytis.  Now, if you’re in to Sauternes, this is a good thing.  In red wine, not so much!  Dry farming also can have a 1pt increase in the over all brix (measurement of sugar) a day, in the summer heat.

From Saini Vineyard, we went over to Lytton Springs, where Ridge has 175 acres planted next to their straw bale winery.  One of the most interesting things we saw was a newly planted field on the drive in, which is a purpose ffield blending of Zinfandel, Charbono, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Mataro, Cinsualt, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Palomino and pretty much everything else in the kitchen sink.  This is an old school Italian field blend, and should be some interesting stuff.  Ridge will be harvesting this vineyard block by block, and while this will allow them to harvest depending on each varietals individual ripening, it will undoubtedly have some cross over.

The Lytton Springs Vineyard is planted on old river rock, and you can really see the red soil coming through.  This vineyard is on a small bench, that seperates the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, and is between 80-100 feet in elevation.  The red river rock holds those 100 year old Zin vines in the cool morning fog, with hot summer afternoons.  This will give it a district flavor profile from the Saini Vieyard, which is on the more fertile flood plain of the Russian River.

Ridge purchased fruit here since 1972, and bought he property in the early 1990s, making it part of their estate portfolio.  There has been zin planted here since the very early 1900s, when the old Captain Litton (spelling changed later) owned the land and had a large variety of grapes growing here.  That history of complementary varitals is show in that new field blend I mentioned above.

But enough about the grapes, what about the wine!  After the vineyard tours, we headed back to Seghesio in Healdsburg where we were treated to a smorgasbord of ZAP Producer zinfandels, including the delicious Rock Wall Sonoma County zin.

If you don’t know, the Rock Wall Wine Company is Kent Rosenblum of Rosenblum Cellars fame.  Rosenblum is now owned by Diageo, but Kent and his daughter Shauna started the next chapter up down the street and are producing some mighty tasting stuff.

The Sonoma County zin is a punchy one, at 15.6% ABV, but I found it well balanced and subtle, even in the 80 degree heat.  There were only 475 cases produced, so at $25 you better get out and buy some before it’s all gone.  I tasted the classic blackberry, but also some dark raspberry and bittersweet chocolate.  I was lucky enough to meet Shauna, as she was behind the table pouring, so I thank you and look forward to seeing you in September for the ZAP Volunteer Thank You party!

Rock Wall Wine Company tastes their wines by appointment only (hey, it’s a licensing thing kids!) and is located at 2301 Monarch Street, Suite 300, in Alameda.  For you locals, that’s part of the old Naval Air Station, and is spitting distance from Rosenblum.  It is part of the booming urban vintners trend, and is a member of the East Bay Vintners Alliance. I love the fact that I can taste at almost 20 wineries less than 20 minutes from my house!  Keep an eye out here for urban winery events soon.

I also had the chance to taste Duane Dappen’s zins, from D-Cubed Cellars, in Napa.   Duane is the new ZAP Board President, and I have been talking to him on Twitter, so it was fun to meet him in person.  Duane has been working in Napa Valley since the early 80s, and has worked with some of the biggest names in zin, like Grgich Hills, Storybook Mountain, and Rombauer.  Happily, he now has his own label, and was pouring both the Napa Valley and the St. Helena versions at our BBQ.

I loved the 2006 St. Helena Zinfandel, which is now in its second vintage.  It is made from the Korte Ranch Vineyard, which was planted back in 1910. Talk about some old vines!  OK, so they’re not 100+ years old, but they are old at the same.  This fruit creates a wonderfully bold and balanced zin, with raspberries, blackberries, notes of vanilla, and some herbal notes.  It’s also relatively low ABV for a zin, at 14.5%.

You can taste D-Cubed wines, along with a dozen others, at the Vintners Collective in Napa.  They are located at 1245 Main Street, and area a great destination in town!

With both of these wonderful zins, as well as a smattering of tastes of others, the BBQ boys were there serving up pulled pork sliders, ribs, and sausages.  This is classic zin food, where the richness of the BBQ sauce and its tang goes with the bold dark berry flavors of the fruit in the zin.

I have always enjoyed this event, because we not only get to stuff our faces with pork product, but we get to taste a lot of different zins in one place that is more restrained than the Grand Tasting in January.  On a final note, for dessert, I took my raspberry sno-cone, and poured some leftover zin of unknown origin in to it.  Let’s just say it was probably the best zin based dessert I’ve had since the Zinfandel ice cream at Rosenblum’s Open House Last year.

I hope you’ll go out and taste some zin for yourself, and be sure to try some tasty BBQ treats with it!

PS please stay tuned to Palate Press for some more news regarding zin soon!

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