Bubbles bring me Joy!

It’s a terrible thing, be able to enjoy sparkling wines whenever I want to.  I personally love bubbles with potato chips, hamburgers, and at the ballpark, but that’s just me.  I’m a firm believe that wine (especailly sparkling wine) is made to celebrate life, and not just life’s special occasions!

In celebration of my life and my friends, Iwas invited crashed dinner with friends, including the venerable Chuck Hayward of JJ Buckley Wine, his Girl Friday Paige (also of JJ Buckley) and my sistah from anotha motha, as well as Joy Sterling, CEO of Iron Horse Vineyards, the far western Sonoma County bubble house.

Iron Horse was founded by Audrey and Barry Sterling in 1976, in a quiet corner of Green Valley, in the lush rolling hills of Green Valley.  This western Sonoma area is in the rainy side of town, and it’s a perfect place to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  So off they went, to grow grapes for still wine.

But why would a vineyard, known for creating delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, make the leap to sparkling?  It’s not exactly easy.  The answer is easy – necessity is the mother of invention.  In 1980, the first vintage of sparkling wine was made when there was an excess of still wine.  Since 1985, Iron Horse sparkling wine has been served in the White House continuously.  Not too shabby for a creative solution to a common problem.

Audrey and Barry passed on the Iron Horse legacy to their children, Joy and Laurence.  Joy, educated in paris and at Yale (yeah, she’s a smart cookie that one), is the face of Iron Horse and the CEO.  Her brother Laurence and his wife Terry live on property and he is the Director of Operations.

I was lucky enough to meet Joy through Paige several years ago, and it’s so much fun to drink with her!  But that’s enough about that.  Never one to say no to a glass of stars, we ran through all (oh yes all) of the  current releases at dinner.

2006 Ocean Reserve is a special bottling that was created in partnership with National Geogrraphic to help raise funds to protect marine areas.  This 100% Chardonnay is aged for 4+ years and has a briny flavor that actually does taste like the ocean.  There is a seaweed taste in there, with a creamy limestone and bitter lemon note that tastes of oysters and burnt toast.  So very interesting!

2006 Classic Vintage Brut is fresh and bright, and has a classic (no pun intended) flavor of freshly baked bread.  There is a ton of fresh lemon and bright crisp citrus as well.  With 68% Pinot Noir, it’s a great example of a Green Valley wine.

The 2007 Wedding Cuvee  has a lot more color than in most years.  The gorgeous strawberry and raspberry notes had a fresh floral feeling, with rose petals and cream.  Delicious!  This is probably my favorite Iron Horse sparkling wine.

The 2006 Brut Rose is a gorgeous deep salmon blush color.  With Blood orange and oom on the nose and almost a bit of tomato, this purpose made rose has a rich flavor that brings some thing different to the table.

The 2006 Russian Cuvee is another classic, with buttered popcorn flavors springled with fresh yeast.  It is slightly sweeter than the others and has delcious stonefruit falvors .  This is my other favorite!  Starting it’s life as the same base wine as the Classic Vintage Brut, the Russian is given a richer dosage (more sugar).  This makes the Russian more opulent, and fitting for any Czar.  It’s got a touch of sweetness, and was created for the Reagan-Gorbachev summit at the end of the Cold War.  Pretty cool!


Iron Horse Vineyards is located on Ross Station Road, just outside of Sebastopol in western Sonoma County.  If you go, make sure you you bring your four wheel drive and mud boots in the winter, and a hat int he summer!  Sitting on the top of a hill above the vineyards in the valley, you will be able to sip wine among the apple trees, in the outdoor tasting bar.  There is no table serviec here, just pure fun!

Rockaway baby on the hilltop, take 2~

Here we are, several years later, and the Rockaway blogger scandal of past years is – I hope – a distant memory.

2007 Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley*The fog has come in, fall is rearing it’s ugly head after a teaser week of Indian Summer, and I wanted a big red wine.

The 2007 Rodney Strong Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon is from the vineyard of the same name in Alexander Valley, somewhere between 225 and 700 feet in elevation.  This 100% Cab is a huge monster right out of the bottle, with bitter chocolate, espresso, chicory and blackberry notes followed by cedar & menthol.

When I run this through an aerator, it immediately softens up to show more of the blackberry, but the black licorice is also coming forward.  Underlying the leather and subtle black pepper there is a tinge of cherry fruit.

One hour, three aerators and some other wine later, it was luscious and rich with mellow tannins.  A touch of chewy leather remained but mostly what was left was dark blue and black fruit covered in dark chocolate.

I can see this wine being an excellent match with a big piece of steak, after some time in the decanter.  If you want to splurge and impress yoru friends by not buying Napa, TRY IT!


Thanks to Rodney Strong for sending me another tasty winter treat!

I'm Hopping along…


To Hopland!  I’ve never actually been to Hopland, and while I”ve had some of the wnies that are produced there, next weekend will be the first time I’e been able to spend time focusing on the area.  The 20th Annual Hopland Passport kicks off Saturday, and runs through Sunday, showcasing 16 wineries, as well as food pairings and live music.

Hopland has gone to great lenghts to make this festival enjyable, including a shuttle that will whisk you from winery to wienry in air conditioned (err heated?) comfort.  I’m going to be pretty spoiled since they will even pick me up at my hotel!  Shuttle tickets are $20, but tha’ts a small price to pay to be able to drink in relaxed ease all day.

Tickets for the Passport are $45 for both days, and can be purchased in advance online or at any of the wineries listed below.  They include all wine tastings and activities, as well as a keepsake logo glass.  The 16 participating wineries are:

  • Jeriko Estate – serving roasted pig and tri tip paired with Estate wines
  • Saracina Vineyards – Truffled Cannellini bean puree and grilled flank steak (YUM!
  • Weibel Family Winery – Shitake mushroom bruschetta
  • Cesar Toxqui Cellars – Garden fresh pumpkin soup paired with new release 2010 Chardonnay.
  • My hosts at McFadden Vineyard are serving organic steak, and new releases.
  • Parducci Wine Cellars will be serving fresh oysters at their new tasting room
  • Campovida is pouring sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines paired with Mexican street food
  • Milano Family Winery will be releasing their ’09 Sangiovese and ’06 Lolonis Zinfandel!  Now I know this zin, and it’s not like any zin you might be expecting.  A great wine!
  • Jaxon Keys Winery has live music by the Felt Tips and artisan pizza
  • McNab Ridge Winery is pouring pinotage
  • Nelson Family Vineyards is also serving pizza, this time int he redwood grove.  Ahh relaxing!


Wait, did I just see PORK AND PINOT?  I might never leave Jeriko!  But then again, there are oysters are Parducci!

Hopeland is approixmately 2 hours north of San Francisco, just past Ukiah, in Mendocino County.  THe cooler climate products some great wines!  Hope to see you there!


Hopland is the center of a thriving wine community and gateway to beautiful Mendocino County – America’s Greenest Wine Region. Explore the pages in our site for information on wine tasting, arts & culinary events, health & wellness and other fun activities offered in our area, then get on the road  and make the trip to visit us here in the beautiful upper Russian River Valley.


Thank you to McFadden Vineyard and the Hopland Passport for inviting mne to this wondeful event!


A Lake of wine

Ahh Lake County.  Home of Indian Casinos and the Konacti Harbor Resort, where you can see the best of 70s and 80s has been bands.  Ok just kidding.  Not really.  But really.

Did you know that Lake County is also home to dozens of wineries?  Some of the areas oldest wineries include the Langtree Estate Winery (formerly Guenoc), which sits on the grounds where Lily Langtree, minor British royalty and silent film star, once lived.

For over a hundred years, visitors would escape the city life and crawl over Howell Mountain to get to the Guenoc Valley, gateway to Lake County.  Lake County is so named for the largest freshwater lake in California (Lake Tahoe is the largest that shares area with Nevada), which is believed to be one of the oldest lakes in North America.  Clear Lake used to be even larger than it is now, once joined with the smaller Blue Lake, and has only one outlet – Cache Creek.  The Volcanic soil deposit from nearby Mt Konacti creates a perfect climate for wines.

The Lake County Winery Association is happy to show off some of these wines by bringing them to San Francisco (yay!) on August 20th, with a tasting event of some of the local wares.  Wines With Altitude will showcase how Lake County, it’s own AVA and vasty different from neighboring Napa Valley, has a uniuqe terroir and flavor.

**News Flash** I have discount tickets for you!  Use code “winebratsf” at checkout, and save 50%! TICKETS HERE

This event will feature some of Lake County’s best, and is being hosted at Winery SF – a new venue on Treasure Island where some of my favorite local, VERY local, wines are made (VIE and Sol Rouge).  Featured wineries will include Beaver Creek Winery, Cache Creek Winery, Gregory Graham Wines, Langtry Estate & Vineyards, Rosa d’Oro Winery, Shannon Ridge Winery, Shed Horn Cellars, Six Sigma Ranch & Winery, Sol Rouge, Steele Wines, and Vigilance Winery.

Tickets for the tasting on Treasure Island are $35 if you buy them now – $50 after August 4th.  You can also get a VIP ticket which includes a special tasting, logo class, and olive oil tasting.

A few weeks later, the Lake County Wine Auction will take place on September 17th in Nice.  No, we’re not going to France.  Nice is really very…nice!  About 2.5 hours north of San Francisco, Nice is the center of Lake Country wine industry.  This auction celebrates the bounty of Laek County, and tickets are $75 ($150 for a Reserve ticket with food & wine tasting, as well as dinner & dancing).

Over 3.0 wineries will be offering samples of 100 different wines, and 25 chefs will show off the bounty of Lake County at Ceago Vineyards, Jim Fetzer’s biodynamic showpiece.

The Live Auction is the gem of this event.  Lots of  getaways, fine art, winery tours and tastings to reserved wines and winemaker dinners will be offered, and there will certainly be some great deals!

And once again, all proceeds go to local charities, so you really are eating and rinking for charity.  HOw can you resist/


Hope to see you out and about enjoying the tastes of Lake County!

Happy 4th of July!

Normally, I refrain from posting anything that is particular patriotic, political, or US centric because hey – you never know who is reading my blog these days.  Today however, I feel like I have a lot to celebrate:

  1. It’s over 60 degrees in San Francisco and there is no fog on the 4th, which has happened maybe 3 times in the 36 years that I have lived here
  2. I don’t have to work today horray!  Any time I get an extra day off to drink, eat, and play is fine by me!
  3. There are great tunes playing on KFOG, my local passion radio station.  You can listen online too – and I highly recommend it!

So, here I am, making cookies for home made Its Its (if you don’t know what an Its It is, I feel sorry for you!  A Bay Area institution, this ice cream sandwich concoction is heaven in a freezer) and I popped open the Domaine Carneros Brut Rose.  Domaine Carneros makes some of my favorite domestic bubbly, and I never say no when there is some in the fridge



A pale salmon copper color, this bubbly is 58% pinot noir and 42% chardonnay, where traditionally blanc de noir is all pinot.   Crisp and  refreshing, there are dry wild strawberries and white peaches.  A touch of shale and mineral gives this a nice refreshing body with hints of orange juice (no i did NOT make a mimosa first!) and spicy back notes on the finish.  It really is the perfect brunch beverage and I am enjoying it on my lazy summer day.

For $35, this is a MUST BUY if you love bubbly!

Happy drinking!

Thank you Tattinger (parent of Domaine Carneros) for providing me this yummy treat for today!





Crushing it in Dogpatch

Oh no you say!  Not another “do it yourself” urban winery!  Ok, I’d have to agree – that was my first reaction when I got the press release about Dogpatch Wine Works.  Since Crushpad abandoned their urban winery projects and effectively dumped its consumer based wine program after its move to Napa (and subsequent move to Sonoma Valley), I’ve had a bit of a bad taste in my mouth for community crush projects.

But, Dave Gifford’s email intrigued me.  A Crushpad alum, Dave knows first hand how to (and frankly, how NOT to) do an urban custom crush operation.  Moving in a scant block down from Crushpad’s former headquarters on 3rd Street in San Francisco, Dogpatch now operates a 15,000 square foot urban winery with a missing “to enable wine enthusiasts to realize their passion for all things wine”.  I’m hoping that this enthusiasm is somewhat more friendly than Crushpad’s seeming lackadaisical consumer program.  As a former Crushpad customer, I got to know them well as I wandered through three winemaking projects with a group of wineaux.  If you’re super nice I might let you come over for a tasting of the zin, cab blend, and freshly minted BeezleBubblez!  I got to know the team well, and in fact, and pleased to see former head winemaker Mike Zitzlaff joining the Dogpatch crew.

While I fully understand the economics of operating a micro winery and custom crush, a good business plan requires you to commit and focus on your core audience.  A business bill yourself as a “community based winery”, then you need to be…well, community based. Crushpad’s failing was that they lost focus and weren’t interested in pursing the consumer base.  The primary goal was to be a custom crush and attract premier winery partners.  That’s fine, but please don’t tell me you care about me and send me an email halfway through the full winemaking cycle that says “oh hey yeah we moved to Napa”.   Please note these opinons are NOT AT ALL reflective of any experience with DPWW, simply my observatoins as a disgruntled Crushpad customer.

Anyway…back to Dogpatch Wine Works.  Taking a note from Crushpad’s premium vineyard plans, DPWW allows you to choose from terrific grapes including – I’m very happy to report – Windsor Oaks Pinot Noir. Hey Julie, you ROCK!  As a big fan of Windsor Oaks fruit, this could yield some interesting stuff.  Add in the requisite equipment, a bonded winery, and expertise (yeah well ok so I didn’t go to Davis and chemistry isn’t my strong suit so Mike, i NEED you!), you hopefully have – a winery in a box, in a fun urban environment.  Some additional vineyard offerings are Sonoma Coast Pinot, Atlas Peak Cab, and Anderson Valley Pinot.  Ohh AV pinot?  Count me in!

All of these seems familiar, and I get a buzz of excitement that the beast is alive.  The goal of community based wineries is to allow you, for a fee (well yeah they need to make money) to participate from head to toe in the winemaking process.  Theoretically, you will learn a lot, have fun, and get purple with it.  Oh, and you get wine when you’re done!~  Yay!

One feature that Crushpad was missing whilst in the city was a tasting room, where we could actually TASTE some examples of wine they produced.  While in Napa, they did indeed have a microwinery tasting room, but well, it was in Napa.  This alone will add a unique feature which will be a draw; while there is a wine bar in Dogpatch (Yield) a tasting room is going to add interest and attract visitors.

Giving Crushpad it’s due, some of my favorite brands were launched there.  I just wish they had been clear about their goals from the start.

I salute you Dave, for being willing to revisit a space that Crushpad  screwed up abandoned, and taking on the challenge with a renewed focus.  This a huge space and one that I see a lot of potential in; avid wine lovers want to learn and experience the full lifecycle.  This is how we can do it.  Please check out Dogpatch Wine Works if you’re in the city – I know I will be!  I am starting to think I might need to make some more wine…Pinot anyone?



**Wordpress ate my homework**  I’m sorry to say that 2 of my best paragraphs ran away.  arrrgh!  I will repost if I remember them.  Yes, yes, I know.  Write in Word, archive, paste.  Bugger.



Oh those Fetzer boys!


Yep, the pioneering family of the Sonoma Coast is at it again, this time with Masut Winery & Vineyards.  Ben & Jake Fetzer grew up on the vineyard, amongst the vines of Mendocino County.  After the family winery was sold in 1992, their father Bobby bought a new property in Redwood Valley and started over.  Here, Bobby, Ben & Jake focused on high quality organically grown Pinot Noir, naming it Masut – after the local Pomo Indian name for rich dark earth.

Sadly, Bobby left this world too early.  Frankly, I would want to go out like he did – living large, rafting the whitewater.  Ben & Jake were determined to carry on the family name, and started the Masut winery label in 2009, using only estate grown grapes.

The 2009 Estate Pinot Noir was aged in 55% new French oak.  It is a dark ruby, and tons of earthy goodness on the palate.  This is the opposite of a huge meaty Pinot Noir, and is a great example of how the cool climate of Redwood Valley produces subtle, different pinot noirs.  Dark berries and forest floor with a bit of coffee and bacon fat show through the medium body.  It has a touch more wood than I usually like but the earthiness is a welcome change from a puddle of pinot fruit bombs.  There is a sprinkling of nutmeg on top of the black cherry pie that really interested me.  After opening up a bit, I liked it more; there is something I just don’t like about Mendocino Pinot Noir though.  While there are many examples from Mendocino Ridge’s “Islands in the Sky” AVA that I adore, Redwood Valley is just not pinot country to me.  I’ve had some mind blowing cabs from that way, but this is just not my fave.

I think it’s a touch over priced at $40 but if you can find it for $25 I’d definitely try it just to get an example of what the cool, damn climate in California can yield.  I was lucky enough to get two bottles, so I think I’ll lay the other one day and see how it develops over the next few months.

Thanks for sending me this great example of Mendocino fruit!

Are you single?

Are you looking for adventure?  Want some one on one time with some really great wine?

Then look no further!  SingleVineyard.com is a new dating site.


ok well not really.  BUT – it IS almost time for the 2nd Annual Russian River Single Vineyard night!  (And no, it’s NOT just for singles!)  What is this wild adventure you ask?  Single Vineyard Night is a celebration of single vineyard wines in the caves, where you can sip, eat and tweet some of the best that the area has to offer.

On June 4th, from 6:30-10, join single minded wineaux at Thomas George Estates in Russian River where you can wander the caves and meet more than 30 winemakers woh specialize in single vineyard wines.  Roving “Cellar Teams” will be promoting auction lots, and in a new twist, group bidding is encouraged to raise funds for Russian River Valley Winegrowers to continue their work to preserve the region’s agriculture legacy through marketing and education.  Targeted at millennials, the 20-30 somethings who are the biggest new group of wine drinkers since GenX grew up and became post boomer yuppies (oh hell, that’s ME!) young vintners and growers will be pouring their wares.

After the tasting, move on over to the  Thomas George Estates’ picnic grounds for the auction!   A no-host bar featuring wines that normally retail for under $25 (offered by the taste and glass) and “sliders” fresh off the grill for a small price will be available as well as other food items.  This year, one lot – hosted by Thomas George, will benefit a project sponsored by Coddingtown Mall, who donates gift cards to children from homeless shelters, Boys & Girls Clubs and other children’s groups to shop for school clothes.

Here are some of the kids pouring Single Vineyard wines:

  • Ancient Oaks, Siebert Ranch
  • Arrowood-Saralee’s Vineyard
  • Balletto Vineyards , selection of single vineyards
  • Benovia, Bella Una Vineyard
  • Desmond Wines, Estate
  • Dutton Estate Winery, Dutton Palms Vineyard
  • Dutton Goldfield, Freestone Hill Vineyard
  • Ferrari-Carano, Fiorella
  • Gary Farrell, Westside Farms
  • George Wine Company, Leras Family Vineyard
  • Graton Ridge Cellars, Bacigalupi Vineyard
  • Hop Kiln Winery, HKG Bridge Selection
  • Inman Family, Olivet Grange Vineyard
  • Iron Horse Vineyards, Rued Clone
  • John Tyler Wines, Bacigalupi Vineyard
  • Joseph Swan, Trenton View Vineyard
  • Korbel
  • LaFollette, DuNah Vineyard
  • Lauterbach Cellars, Estate
  • Longboard, Dakine Vineyard
  • Martinelli Winery, Lolita Ranch
  • Matrix Winery, Nunes Vineyard
  • Merriam, Willowside Vineyard
  • Merry Edwards, Klopp Ranch
  • Moshin Vineyards, Bacigalupi Vineyard
  • Mueller Winery, Vino Farms
  • Nalle Winery, Hopkins Ranch
  • Old World Winery, Estate
  • Papapietro Perry, Leras Family Vineyard
  • Russian River Vineyards, Estate Vineyards
  • Sandole Wines, Oehlman Ranch
  • Siduri Wines, Ewald Vineyards
  • Sonoma Cutrer, Owsley
  • Thumbprint Cellars, Saralee’s Vineyard
  • William Selyem, Flax Vineyard

Since I am unable to attend this year, both because I’m not longer single (don’t tell me you didn’t read my Facebook today!) and because I am booked, I am giving away two tickets to this event.  Yes!  TWO TICKETS!  Tickets are $45 each so that’s some moola right there. Please leave a comment here on this post telling me what you like most about Single Vineyard Wines to be eligible to wine!  Er win.  Winners will be announced on Wednesday, May 25th Thursday May 26th FRIDAY MAY 27TH (yeah you have to be 21 to attend youngsters).

Tickets to this event are $45 (presale, $55 at the door), or $80 for a VIP session that starts at 5:30.   I think it will be a blast!  Go forth and buy tickets.  It’s only $45! And you do not need a date, and you do not need to be single, you just need to love wine!



Extra extra! Weekend fun in SlowNoma

Hey check it out!

A new and different kind of wine event is hitting the airwaves this weekend in Sonoma Valley.

Saturday, May 14 and Sunday, May 15, 2011 Sonoma Valley Reserve will host the newly coined Reserve (which replaced Passport to Sonoma Valley) with a series of themed daytrips that will showcase rare offerings and hidden gems of Sonoma Valley wine destinations, many of which are seldom open to the public.

“Our vintners have teamed up to create an upscale event that provides a passport to Sonoma Valley,” said Maureen Cottingham, Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance Executive Director, “It would otherwise be impossible for people to visit many of the stops on the daytrips.” The motor coaches seat only thirteen to twenty-four people per vehicle, so the groups are small. Sixty-one wineries are participating in the event featuring the twenty-three unique tours. Examples of some of the tours include:

  • Meet the Winery Rock Star Tour – Behind every benchmark Sonoma Valley winery, there’s a leader whose vision helped create its worldwide reputation. On this tour, participants will meet some of Sonoma Valley’s most charismatic and creative personalities, and taste the wines for which they’ve gained global acclaim.
  • Bridal Tour – Seeking the perfect Sonoma Valley spot for your wedding day? From panoramic views to vineyard vistas, this tour will help find the wedding location of a lifetime.
  • All Access Tour – An exclusive opportunity to gain access to wine destinations rarely open to the public and others that are accessible by appointment only. This tour provides the chance to find those wineries known only by the most experienced Sonoma alley isitors.
  • Food and Wine Pairing Tour – Embark upon a tasting tour unlike any other. Wineries will reveal the complex and magical art of pairing wine with food. Palates will be thrilled with perfect pairings created from the fresh and abundant local foods of Sonoma Valley.

I’m personally looking forward to the awesome food that will be paired with the Cannihan 06 & 07 Pinot Noir and Syrah, by gelato fiend and sometimes chef Jason Mancebo.

Sip now and sip often!

Participating wineries include  Sonoma faves Loxton, Kaz, and Gundlach Bundschu to name a few.

Each winery tour takes you to 4 uniquely themed destinations, including lunch.  You could tour some of the small family wineries, or perhaps focus on zin.  You decide!

Tickets for Sonoma Valley Reserve are extremely limited and on sale now at $85 for one day or $135 for two days. Sonoma Valley Reserve ticketholders can opt for the $30 round trip transportaiton from SonomaMill Valley orSan Francisco. which frees you up to do the drinking.

I’ll see you up there at Cannihan!



High on a Ridge (again)

It’s another day on top of the mountain here, and the sun is shining at last.  It’s clear, and we can see San Jose and even a bit of San Francisco in the distance.  It’s time for a visit to Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino!

We start our tasting with the  2009 Estate Chardonnay, which is aged in a mish mash of barrels from new to 4 year old American and French oak.  I found creamy vanilla custard, spicy oak, and lemon flavors with a healthy dose of tropical fruit.  This blend is harvested and vinified separately, and then finalized after a blind tasting of each component is done to determine the possible blends that could be made.  Most of the contents of this blend come from the Jimson Ranch vineyard which is at about 1500 feet elevation, giving the wine a lot of minerality and acidity.

Next up, the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.  I loved this cab because it was racy and had some nice acidity.  The wild yeast fermentation shows a ton of mineral flavors with dusty sandlewood finish.  There were big black and blue fruit flavors, with plum and rich figs with juicy cherries on the palate.  It was rich without being overblown, a total winner in my book.

The 2009 Geyserville Zinfandel is the 44th vintage of this wine, which makes it the longest continuously produced Zinfandel in the state, which, quite frankly with the ever changing wine industry – is quite a feat. Given that our state is known for it’s Italian immigrants and the traditions of Italian field belnds (mostly zin) that they brought over, the Ridge style of zin is a dying art.  The grapes come from properties that are interplanted and dry farmed with wild yeast fermentation and I tasted tradiitonally big blackberry jam, with some black pepper and cherries on top.  I also found some hibiscus zing which gives this 74% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouchet, 1% Mataro (Mouvedre, or if you prefer Monastrell) mutt some life and body.

Compared to the 1999 Geyserville, the 09 was tapdancing on American Idol.  The 99 was chewy, dark and earthy witha healthy dose of cigar box to round out the rusticity (this is my new favorite word, and since Christopher loves $20 words….) The 99 is 68% zin, 16% Carignane, 16% Petite Sirah and was chewy and dense.  The fruit is still there after 12 years, but it’s brooding and not bright and zingy – which, is amazing and delicious in an entirely differently way.

The 1985 Monte Belle Cab was a rare treat.  The color is an astounding browning bronze and the nose is rich and caramelized touch of white pepper.  It had quite meaty characteristics, with some floral notes on the palate and a bit of wood on the back end.  THe companion 1995 Monte Bello, a blend of 69% Cab, 18% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot and 3% Cab Franc was a darkly chewy and big wine with black fruit, murky ink, notes of slightly rotten fruit and blueberries.  Lots of twigs and sticks in this one!  The 2005 Monte Bello was big rich fruit on the nose, with chewy leather and tobacco, dusty plum, and cherries jubilee.  It had a nice subtle acidity and I really enjoyed this blend of 70% Cab Sav, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot and 2% Cab Franc.  It was very restrained and well balanced and worked quite well with the cheese we were nibbling on.

And now, for something completely different!  Ridges Rhones require a resounding sense of preposterousicity, or so said our host with the most (wine that is) Christopher Watkins.

The 2004 Lytton Estate Syrah is totally sold out, and totally delicious.  It’s 82% Syrah and is a very small batch wine that is cofermented with 10% Viognier and 8% Grenache blended in for good measure.  It has a flavor or a rich baked fruit pie, and is teeth coatingly purple.  Lots of acid on this one.  The 2006 Lytton Estate was funky cigar box with its 92% syrah and 8% Viognier.  The viognier balanced out the syrah nicely and lit up the dark and brooding beast.  The additional aromatics of the viognier gave some juicy white floral notes to the syrah as well.

As you can see, it was another marathon Ridge tasting, which we all enjoyed very much.

Thanks Chris for the great table settings and words of ponderment!

I look forward to our next quarterly tasting soon.

On the table top…

It’s Thursday, and I”m back in Paso Robles for Hospice du Rhone, the annual extravaganza showcasing the 22 Rhone Varietals from around the world.  Since the first event didn’t kick off until that evening, we had some free time to visit a few favorite wineries – starting with Tablas Creek.

Tablas Creek Vineyard was founded in 1989, as a partnership between the Perrin family of Chatau de Beaucastel and Rover Hass, who founded Vineyard Brands.  Having a shared vision of creating Rhone wines in California,they set about creating a New World Rhone house.

Today, Robert’s son Jason showed us around he property which boasts a spanking new tasting room, complete with cork floors (can I have some in MY house?  Seriously noise cancelling comfort at its best) and several tasting areas that are easiy divdied up for differnet groups, or opened up for a community feeling.

The first wines of Tablas Creek were created in 1997 when the Estate Winery was completed.  On this day, we toured the property, examined the new tasting room, and…well, drank some wine.  With a wet wet wet 2010-11 growing season under way, Tablas – and most of Paso Robles- has seen a lot of rain.  In a place where a typical year sees 28 inches of rain, so far (and this was in April) they have seen 36 inches.  Tablas Creek is dry farmed, and with this kind of rain and whacky snow, sleet and frost, there has been some damage to the vines recently.  Fortunately, most of the crop was saved, and there will be wine to show for it.  What will this year’s weather do?  Who knows.  Stay tuned, I’ll take up the cause and go taste the wines every season.  I’m a giver that way.

Each parcel on the property is hand picked to ripeness, meanng that there might be several passes on a row before all the bunches are harvested.  Another highlight of Tablas is that they use 100% Native Yeast, and do not innocolate with commerical yeastes.  It’s my personal belief that this gives much more character to a wine, and lets the fruit develop the beauty of the juice without overmanipulating it and turning it in to a Frankenwine.

Our first taste on the warm spring day was the 2010 Verminto.  It was bright and crisp, with lot fo honey and stone fruit.  The minerals clung to the glass with a burst of tangerine that I just love.

A new line for Tablas Creek is the Patelin de Tables.  Launcehd in 2010, the white is based on Grenache Blanc, (see my passion ofr this wine HERE), and the red is based on Syrah.  This is a ncie counterpart to the Esprit de Beaucastel line, which are based on Roussanne and Mouvedre.  The Patelin de Tables Blanc had crisp pears, and green apple and was fresh and bright.  I loved this wine, and could easily sip this on the patio for days.

Next up the 2010 Côtes de Tablas Blanc, which is viognier based.  It was smooth and rich, with low acid and tons of floral notes.  There is a touch of rousanne and marsanne blended in as well,  I have to say, it was a nice white, but my money is on the Patelin de Tables.

The 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc had a lot of nutty notes, as well as baked fruti.  This is a roussane blend, and is showing a touch of oxidation in it’s 5 year old life, but in an enjoyable way.

A favorite of mine, and one I enjoyed at the Pink Out as well, is the 2010 Rose.  With 48 hours of skin contact, it has a rosy glow, and is a blend of 50% saignée (juice bled off from red wine production) and 50% purpose made rose.  The majority of this wine is mourvedre, which gives it a backbone and some structure, even for a light rose.  Great choice!

Ahh now on to the reds!  Starting with the 2009 Côtes de Tablas, a grenache based big boy with huge spicy blackberry notes, cinnamon spice and plum.  I absolutely adored this wine.  The additions of syrah, counoise and mourvedre to the blend liven up the wine and give it a dark and brooding character with a kick of pepper at the end.

A treat from Jason was the 2009 100% Grenache, with its delicious spicy plum notes.  I am a grenache FREAK and the high acid balances out the big fruit.

At this point, I have no idea what we were tasting, just that I had a great afternoon tasting some fantastic Rhone wines from Paso.  There was not a bad wine in the bunch, and I could easily have taken a seat on the new terrace and sipped an entire bottle of any of them.  You can find Tablas Creek wines fairly easily in the market, and if you are even in Paso Robles – I suggest looking them up.  A smorgasbord for your senses awaits!

Thanks Jason for taking the time to show us around and open up so many treats.  Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing you again soon!



I'm drawing a blanc

Blanc did you say?  Yes Blanc.  As in white.  Wine.  White wine!  I am not the biggest wine wine drinker in general, instead preferring the heartier meat of a red wine, but there are a few white that really rope me in.  Specifically, Greanache Blanc.  I particularly enjoy GB because it is NOT your average white, it’s nothing like the overblown California chardonnay that I run screaming from, and it’s just plain good.

Grenache Blanc the counterpart to Grenache, or Garnacha, which is classically found in Chateau Neuf de Pape wines from the Rhone.  It is unusual to find Grenache Blanc on it’s own outsidede of the US, but particularly in Paso Robles, this single varietal flourishes.

During my recent trip to Paso Robles, when were were visiting some Zinfandel vineyards, we were treated to dinner at Artisan, a local hot spot for dining.  Since we were exploring the area’s wines, we thought we’d explore the area’s foods as well!  Michael Kobayashi, the owner and general manager, welcomed us like old friends.  We sat down to a well varied menu and wine list, which included a particularly good wines by the glass program.

First up, the Paso Robles Wine Commission selected our appetizers – Cayucos Red Abalone – The green apple and tropical fruits in the Halter Ranch, Roussanne/Picpoul/Gren Blanc/Marsanne “Côtes de Paso Blanc” really brought out the flavors of the abalone, and we enjoyed that along with the Ranchero Cellars Grenache Blanc.  The Halter Ranch white (and red for that matter) were my faves of the evening, and the white
with the honeysuckle, stone fruit and richness topped by a light but noticeable wet river rock flavor were my winning combo.  In the Halter Ranch, I tasted white and had tons of nectarine and grapefruit flavors, with a touch of cotton candy and a hint of light caramel, or brown sugar as well as some lovely floral and honeysuckle notes.  I probably could have had this wine all night and it was a gorgeous match with the abalone, but didn’t work quite as well with the Pork Belly we also had for an appetzer.

We also ordered the Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso red, which is a blend of  Grenache, Syrah, Mouvdre, Couioise, and Cinsault = basically a Rhone mutt.  This went beautifully with the pork belly.  Before we moved on to mains, I just HAD to order the KILLER gouda and porter fondue. This dish was so amazing that I really wanted to lick the scalding hot cauldron clean.  For mains, I had organic chicken, peas and carrots, aligot potatoes, hen of the woods gravy  which was simply luscious.  With that we continued sipping on several by the glass selections, including another glass of Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso because I loved it so much.

I also tried the Jacob Toft Sarah’s Cuvee, which si a GSM as well.  This was a lovely wine but there was just something missing for me.  For kicks, and because we were in experimentation mode, we tried the Calcareous, Grenache/Mourvedre as well to see what happens when you leave the syrah out.  I think that was it, but I stopped taking notes since iphyoning at the dinner table makes my partner a little testy, so I just enjoyed the lovely food and wine.

Hats off to the people at Artisan.  They made our meal an extremely enjoyable experience.  So much so, that, the next night after being given the shaft at a local brewery, we went back!  There we were, on a Saturday night, with no reservation in a very small town.  There was a festival, and we weren’t sure we’d get in.  But Mike worked his magic, and the hostess who greeted us remembered us and took care of us immediately.  There is something to be said for excellent customer service, on top of excellent food.   The second night, I had an off the menu burger (to DIE for) which the waitress from the night before stopped by to suggest to us.  I split this with my other half, after enjoying the butter leaf salad, beets, walnuts, Point Reyes Bluer cheesem  which was delicate and flavorful.  I started with beer, but quickly moved to wine so we could try those that we didn’t have the first night.  Of courses, by then we were a bit beat and weary of wine tasting, but it was still a blast.

I can’t wait to go back and see Artisan while down in Paso at Hospices du Rhone!  Please do stop by and see Mike and the gang!

The first meal was sponsored by the Paso Robles Wine Commission,  The second was on us, but both were worth 10 times as much as we paid!



Loosey goosey Dusi!

It’s raining cats and dogs, and we’re driving around in the mud, trying to find Dusi Vineyards.  As it happens, J Dusi Wines is tucked away in the family home in the middle of a vineyard just outside of Paso Robles, and is hidden in the 80 year vines of the vineyard.  This is like stepping back in time, to an era when there were more cows in Paso Robles than wine; to an era of farming, of family, and of community.

As we enter the house, Janell and her mom greet us with coffee, which was welcome at 9:30 on a chilly wet day.  Mom was in the kitchen cooking up a storm for the wine club party that night, and Janell sat down with us at the table to tell us the story of her wine, and the family tradition.  Janell Dusi is turning her family business on its head, becoming the first Dusi to make wine and not just grow it.  Her great grandparents, Sylvester and Caterina Dusi began farming this land in the early 1920s, and started  business after business, including vineyards, farms, restaurants, and the now defunct Dusi Winery.  She was born on this vineyard, and raised among the vines that her grandfather Dante planted with his two brothers, the sons of Sylvester.  In 1945, vineyards were few and far between in Paso, since it was a large rural farming community.  With the farm, came the Italians, and the rich tradition of Zinfandel and field blends.  Th brothers planted a classic field blend, and head trained the vines, with no irrigation.  65 years later, the traditions remain the same.

This fourth generation winemaker hand picks during harvest, and enlists the entire family to help – including her nieces and nephews, who are young sprouts in the field.  This family tradition is dying in California, and it’s refreshing to see a tried and true farm family, albeit farmign wine. Growing up int he vines, Janell learned all she could about grape farming, but she always wanted her Grandfather Dante to teach her how to make wine.  When she was 16, she made her first wine, and continued making an Italian style zinfandel every year after that.  Each vintage asked and answered a different question in winemaking, and Janell learned by doing, under the careful gaze of Grandpa..

Now, she’s in her 3rd vintage of J Dusi wines. The two original vineyards are about 1/4 mile away from the family house; the first is 40 acres, that was planted in 1943 with an Italian field blend of Carignane, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, and who knows what else.  in 1945 a second parcel was purchased nearby.  In the beginning, the family sold their grapes to surrounding wineries, but as the grape market fell in the 1950s, the Dusis ventured in to winemaking to make their way through the grape glut.  Their first foray in to finished wine was about 8-9 years under the label Dusi Winery, and when the grape prices came back up, they stopped making wine and started selling grapes again.

One of the unique properties of this area is the large diurnal temperature swing during the course of day.  This vineyard in particular can go from 99+ degrees on a hot summer day, to below  at night on that same day.  This gives the fruit some unique character.  That, combined with dry farming, give the vines some vigor as they are forced to struggle a bit – classically, this makes a lovely wine.  First up, the 2008 Dante Dusi Ranch Zinfandel.  This was bright raspberry with white pepper, bold blackberry juice and hints of other spice box flavors.  I found it to be viscous and lingering (in a good way).  Only 850 cases were made, and since 90% of the home ranch fruit is sold to other wineries, this is a rare gem.  Janelle really wants to showcase the whole ranch in one bottle and not segment the wine out.  These wines are Representative of the terroir of the property as a whole, and this zin in particular showed a lot of juicy red fruit, with just a hint of oak, followed by a lot of cherry cola.

The 900 cases of the 2009 Zinfandel was just released.  This was a totally different wine – and rather unexpected in the zone of big, jammy, raisiny Paso zins.  The herbaceousness really struck me, and while it might have been a bit closed, it was herbal with bay leaf , dusty black pepper, a hint of red raspberry coming out under tobacco and leather.  There were chewy bark lots of spice.  

Finally, the 2009 Fiorento which was recently bottled.  This blend of 50% Zin, 25% Carignane, and 25% Syrah showed dusty blue fruit, and was lean and racy but refined, with dusty blue fruit, and strong chewy notes from the Syrah.  With only 50-60 Carignane vines on the property, they are hand picked to ripeness to make sure that the perfect fruit is selected.


We could have stayed and talked to the Dusi family for hours – about dry farming, about old vine zin, about restrained California Zinfandels, about Paso Robles’ best changes at Rhone.  But alas, another appointment was calling.  I did however not leave empty handed!  I brought home some Zinfandel to share with my friends, and am looking forward to trying the 09 again after it settles down a bit.

Thanks for such a great visit Janell!

Clang clang clang went the…

Ding, ding, ding went the bell
Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington Dell.

The iconic sounds of Judy Garland in Meet Me In St. Louis.
Ah the images of a red trolly, rambling down the street.  we’re lucky here in San Francisco, we have vintage streetcars from around the world on parade.  We’re also lucky because we live so close to Red Car Winery.   Red Car Winery was founded by Carroll Kemp and Mark Estrin way back in 2000, with only 50 cases of syrah.  Now, 11 years later, there are four Red Car wines, and two other labels – Trolley and Reserve.

With a flair for the dramatic, Hollywood producer Carroll and screenwriter Mark bring us great grapes and great wine.  Today I opened the 2009 Trolly Pinot Noir.  2009 was an interesting year, and I was a little aprehensive when I opened the bottle.  That said, several of my

blogging friends (NorCal Wine) have been up to the winery or to a winemaker dinner (yes YOU Dallas Wine Chick Melly!) and they were all  h the wines.  i must say, I am really enjoying this pinot myself.

Bright and bold without being over extracted, this Pinot Noir is great on it’s own or with food.  Tons of bright cherry and cranberry, with a hint of raspberry, and strawberry on the back end, the spice box nutmeg and tannins also fill out the back of the palate.  There is a touch fo brown sugar with tons of spice as well.  This is my kind of Pinot Noir!  The grapes are sourced from the cool coastal vineyards, and they show the high acidity of the Sonoma Coast fruit.  That balances out nicely with huge black Cherry flavors, followed by floral notes of rose petals.  An hour after opening, it is really developing nicely in the glass and the earthy mushroom characteristics come otu to play.  This is clearly a Sonoma Pinot Noir, with rich cherry and dark red fruit, as well as plum flavors; it’s rich but not overblown, and I really like it!

At $48, it’s not exactly budget, but it’s a lovely wine and if you should see it on the market, you should BUY it.

Happy Tasting!


These wines were brought to be on a bus by Malm Communications.  I think we need to get Mia a trolley!


Kevin Hamel

Sorry, I just had to get that one in there.  you remember, when Mom FINALLY realizes that she left the kid at home halfway through Home Alone?  Yeah.

So that’s exactly how I feel about this wine.  My friend Kevin Hamel, who makes Hamel Wines and has had a rather illustrious career as a winemaker, make some spectacular syrah.  And pinot noir.  Recently, I was able to attend a private tasting where Kevin poured some damn fine wines.  A few months later, I headed up to Winemaker Wednesday at Scopa, hands down the BEST restaurant in Healdsburg.  Ok I’m biased, but…no wait, it’s true!

At Winemaker Wednesday, a monthly event that Scopa has in the Spring and Fall, Kevin poured some library wines which really blew my mind.  But alas, I didn’t have any in my cellar (not yet anyway.  Kevin, we need to talk about this little problem I have!) so I opted to enjoy the 2002 Sonoma County Syrah, Westside Hills that I did have in my cellar, in honor of Wine Blogging Wednesday #71.

Wine Blogging Wednesday, our monthly blog around a theme, was created by Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report (formerly LENNDEVOURS), and has a new theme every month.  This month, we were asked by Tim Elliot of Winecast.net to talk about wines that are in the style of, but not from, the Rhône.  Well, since I happen to adore Syrah and most other things Rhone, I hopped on this theme of  “Rhones Not From The Rhône.”

Tim asked us to choose a wine from a Rhône variety that we all know and love – but not made in France.  Since Syrah is one of the biggest (in production not style I hope) wines made in California, and since I really enjoyed Kevin’s wines, ba-da-bing, ba-de-boom.

At the private tasting, we enjoyed the 2001 and 2002 Sonoma County Syrah, Westside Hills.  These two wines were absolutely stellar, and yet so different.  The 2001 showed much older, and it was difficult to fathom that it was juts one year before the ssecond wine.  At the tasting event, we went back and forth over which one we liked the most.  Of course, I couldn’t decide because – they were both awesome.  The 2001 could certainly count counter any Rhône out there.  It was austere adn acidic (in a good way) and would be AMAZING with food.

The 2002, while bigger, was certainly no fruit bomb in my estimation.  It was elegant and silky, and had a lot of plum and red fruit.  This was the crowd favorite, but it took several tastes to confirm which one I liked the most.  I refuse to make a distinction because they were THAT good.

Moving on to the Winemaker Dinner at Scopa, Kevin pulled out all the stops with the 1998 Sonoma County “Vitis Allobrogica?” Syrah.  1998?  Yeah 1998.  This Syrah was off the hook with my pork pasta, and as much as I tried not to order a bottle, I pretty much did.  For myself.  It was THAT good.

The moral of this story?  There is some really really good wine out there; Syrah doesn’t have to be over extracted and syrupy.  It can be juicy, acidic, balanced, restrained, and blow your mid.  You just need to explore some new regions and new wineries.  There is a ton of Syrah on the market out there, from Australia, California, Washington, and of course France.  California Syrah can be big. bold and jammy.  However, if you hunt around, you can find these juicy gems.

Another personal fave?  2007 Olson Ogdon Stagecoach.

Want to try the wines?  YOu can go eat at Scopa, and I highly recommend it.  But you can also ask Kevin where the wines are, and if he’ll share.  Please reach out to kevin on TWITTER!

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