Rosés of Summer: 2013 Stepping Stone Corallina

2013 Corallina Napa Valley Syrah RoséToday is the day before Summer officially starts.  Here in the Bay Area, summer has a tenancy to be a bit confused, and we’ve had some amazing weather, then cold weather, then amazing weather, then fog, then…

As confused as it can be, Summer to me is the time to drink Rose and think pink.  There is a lot of pink wine out there, but not every pink is the same.  Rose wines can vary from just barely pink, almost clear, to deep, rich, translucent ruby.  Every grape under the sun has been made in to a rose wine, but the most common are Piont Noir, Grenache, Syrah, and a smattering of other grapes such as Cab Franc and Mourvedre.

Typically, my personal favorites are Grenache and Pinot Noir rose, but there is a very special crop of pink Syrah out there that makes my heart go pitter patter!

Each year, Cornerstone Napa creates the Stepping Stone Corallina is a beautiful women of distinction, created from the Syrah fruit from Napa Valley.  And each year, General Manager Craig Camp, promises me that it is the best year ever.  Last year, I didn’t think that the team at Cornerstone could possible top the 2012.  But, it seems that they have done it with the 2013!

The 2013 Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé is made as Cornerstone processes their white wines, where the Syrah is kept in whole clusters and gently pressed to maintain complexity and the nuances of a purpose made rose.  A bone dry rosé , this beauty bears no relation to the sweet, sticky White Zinfandels that are still (unfortunately) mostly closely associated with rose wine.

The light, fresh, and crisp Corallina has bright watermelon, Tuscan melon, and blood orange notes with an interesting fresh tomato note that was at once, unexpected and delicious.  The refreshing crispness of the Syrah has bright cherry notes, floral aromas, and an edge of herbaciousness that keep you guessing.

At only $25, I can drink this all summer.  Bright and juicy, it is perfect for summer sipping with everything from barbecued chicken to burgers, and can stand up to salted watermelon salad, and rich cheeses as well.

Corallina was given to me by the winery as a press sample, but clearly I love this beautiful women.  For more Rosés of Summer, keep watching every Friday!

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Advice from a Veteran Blogger: WBC do’s and don’t

Wine Bloggers Conference

It’s hard to believe that in 35 days, the 8th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference will be here.  Eight years?  Eight locations?  Eight conferences?  Almost eight years of blogging?  It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.  My blog, much like life in general, has gone through many changes in those 8 years, and so has the WBC.  As one of a very small handful of bloggers that have been in attendance at every conference since 2008, I’ve learned a lot, been a speaker, and helped to influence the shape and content of the conference as an advisory board member.

What does this mean to you?  As newbies and experienced conference attenders alike, there are always some rules of engagement that you should remember, and some advice that us veterans have learned about how to approach the conference.

Some of my key observations and advice on how to best enjoy the conference are outlined below.  Obviously, to each their own but if you want to earn the respect of your fellow bloggers and industry attendees, these tips are essential – and common sense.

  • Wear comfortable shoes.  you never know when we’ll be hiking up a hill in a vineyard
  • Wear comfortable business casual / wine country casual clothes with layers.  This is not a lawyers convention!  It can get chilly at night with fog coming in, so bring a sweater.  Wear layers.
  • Be professional.  While we’re there to have fun and learn, no one likes a party animal that gives bloggers a bad name.  We all remember some years where people were not responsible and made the local community dislike bloggers in general.  Please don’t’ be that person.
  • Get to know your sponsors.  We have a few hours on Thursday at the Registration, Expo, Gift Suite, and Opening Wine Reception to to say hi and learn who made this conference possible.
  • Mix and mingle – the first mingling event is the after hours tasting sponsored by the Santa Ynez Winery Association, right after the Expo hours.  This is your chance to walk up and say hi to someone you don’t know, meet new wineries, and meet other attendees.
  • Don’t be shy – reach out and touch someone.  Ok maybe not literally, but turn to the person sitting next to yourself and introduce yourself.  We don’t bite and we want to get to know you!
  • Attend the keynotes.  These sessions are great kick starters and will get you in to the groove.
  • Go with the flow, don’t get overwhelmed.  While content is king, if there is a session that isn’t’ interesting to you, use the time to blog, hang out with your fellow attendees, or just chill.
  • Be prepared to want to do more than one thing at once – at the same time, there are often two sessions running at the same time that you might want to go to.  There is no wrong choice, and you can’t do it all so don’t try to.
  • Spit spit spit.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Yes, there are moments (dinner, after hours parties) where I don’t spit and enjoy myself, but you are representing bloggers as a whole, and should have some decorum.  It’s a business conference at the core, disguised as a party.  Present yourself accordingly.
  • Don’t forget to sleep!  There are always many after hours events and parties.  While going to these is fun and a great way to meet people, don’t overdo it.  Sleep is critical during this busy weekend of events.
  • Don’t have any party invites?  Don’t worry!  Stay tuned to the #WBC14 twitter stream, talk to people, and mingle.  You’ll get plenty!
  • Have an open mind.  You never know if there are wines you wouldn’t normally try, that you will love!
  • Bring something from home that represents your region, style, and / or personality.  This could be wine, but it could also be food, a book, or a t-shirt.
  • Bring business cards.  Yes it may seem archaic, but it’s the best way to quickly introduce yourself with a memorable item.  The stacks of cards collected are reminders when we get home to follow, tweet, and read other peoples information.
  • Don’t worry about blogging DURING the conference.  Time is precious and you will stress yourself out and miss content if you try to blog during the event.  Write your thoughts down and save the blogging for when you get home.
  • Attend the break outs.  Too many people don’t attend the core of the conference and they miss out.  While You Need to choose which bits are important to you as a blogger, just to pull the meat out.
  • Find a WBC Scholarship committee member, and get your free Hello Vino GoVino souvenir glass!  If you’re super cool, donate to the Scholarship or buy a Rodney Strong souvenir stemless glass ($5 to buy one, 2 free with a $50 donation)!   It will serve you well for the event and beyond!
  • Get some Blogger Bling (namebadge ribbons) at the WBC Scholarship table on Thursday evening!  They are great icebreakers and support the Scholarship.
  • Say hi to the donors & Scholarship winners!

Here’s what I think I’ll be doing:

  • Keynotes, of course!  I cannot underestimate the importance of these opening sessions, as they set the tone for the day and really give you a peek in to how other professionals, wine writers, and tech luminaries view blogging.
  • Panel of Santa Barbara County Winemakers
  • Live Wine Blogging: Red and White – Also known as Speed Tasting, Speed Dating, or Insanity, I get a kick of out fast first impression tastes and the twitter storm that occurs.  You can tweet or blog, or take notes to blog later.  I suggest tweeting, as it’s the fastest way to keep up with the tasting.
  • Friday evening excursions to wine country – this is one of the best experiences at WBC.  Small groups are sent on mystery buses to various area wineries, where you get a deep dive in to the wine, winemaking philosophy, styles, and terroir of several area wineries.  The fun is that you don’t know where you’re going tile you get there!  No cheating now 😉
  • Saturday Breakout sessions:
    • Wine Discovery Breakout Sessions or maybe the Veteran Wine Bloggers Panel since I am one
  • Santa Barbara Vintners Association Lunch
  • Wine Discovery Breakout sessions – these are great, since they are opportunities for you to do a focal tasting for a specific region.
  • And more!  Details are still being sorted out, so I will update my plans as we find out more information about the schedule.

As you can see, there are some sessions not on my personal agenda. It’s not that I don’t find them valuable; it’s just that I don’t think I will be personally interested in them.  In leaving them off my “must do” list, I create some free flow, where I can catch up with my blogger friends, experience some of the local restaurants, join an off the grid get together, or just chill.

I will see you in 35 days and can’t wait to report this year’s news!

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Rhône Road Trip

Ahhh only 2 short weeks to the fabulous long weekend that is the gateway to summer:  We call it, Memorial Day.  It’s been a long stretch since President’s Day, and I think most of us could use an extra day off.

I am looking forward to a short road trip, exploring some of the Sierra Foothills wine country.  Specifially, I will be travelling to El Dorado County, where there are several AVAs that are perfect for the delicious Rhone style wines of Grenache, Syrah, Viognier and more.

On May 24h & 25th, the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail is hosting the Rocks and Rhône festival and 5 area wineries.  Each of these wineries is known for their Rhône sytle wines, and will rolling out the stops with food pairings, music, and fun along the trail.

Here are some more tid bits to whet your appetite!  For $40 at the door (each day) you are sure to have a rocking good time.  I’m going to hang out in Placerville, and check out the history, and learn more about El Dorado wines.  Additionally, I plan to check out nearby Fair Play which also boasts some great wineries.

In historic Placerville, you can meander haunted hotels, check out old mining sites, and just wader down main street.  I’ll be touring the old town with Gold Rush Tales & Ghost Tours of Placerville, who was recently featured in AAA’s VIA Magazine!

There is plenty to do for a long weekend, and I can’t wait to explore nature, wines, history, and some old…very old…residents!

Event tickets for Rocks and Rhônes were provided by Pleasant Valley Wineries (not the one in NY either!) .   Thanks for keeping me from being thirsty!
Sleeping quarters provided by El Dorado Tourism, somewhere with ghosts I hope!  
Super cool ghost touring sponsored by Gold Rush Tales & Ghost Tours.  With any luck, I’ll meet a nice Miner Forty-Niner.  Wonder if he’s single?

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Change is in the air – Stepping Stone by Cornerstone

When Cornerstone Cellars burst on the scene with their sister label, Stepping Stone, it was an existing time for wine lovers.  The quiet powerhouse of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon had the opportunity to move in to some fun and interesting varietals, such as Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and a beautiful rose of Syrah.

Recently, with the leadership of General Manager Craig Camp and winemaker Jeff Keene, the Stepping Stone label has grown up:  Now, Stepping Stone by Cornerstone (Cornerstone Black Label) represents the best in class of the support cast of characters that make Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux, so sexy.

Cornerstone Stepping Stone Cabernet FrancWith the new labels, Stepping Stone by Cornerstone slides seamlessly in to the Cornerstone lineup.  The elegant white on black label mirrors the black on white labels of the Cornerstone Cabernet lineup and makes a bold statement about where these wines lie on the quality and flavor spectrum.

My favorites (well ok they really are ALL favorites but…) is the 2011 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc.  When I stopped by the see the gang at Cornerstone earlier this year, I tasted through the lineup and once again, the Cab Franc stand out.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Cab Franc in general, and Cornerstone’s in particular.  The 2011 has all of the savory herbaciouness that makes Cab Franc so unique, with a pop of raspberry and plum.  Hiding in the back of the mouth, I get dried herbs, French lavelddar, and tobacco along with some dark chocolate dancing on my tounge.

This is a silky, rich, unctuous wine, but it’s also bright.  With the herbal backbone it’s a great pairing for herbed chicken, pepper steak or pretty much anything.  For $45 this is an affordable luxury that you can share with your friends to warm up on a chilly late spring evening.

Here in Northern California, we aren’t sure what season it is yet.  We had about 3 days of high summer, followed by a day of winter.  It’s now calmed back in to Spring, so I say open a bottle of Cornerstone tonight and make it choose your season for you!

Corenrstone Cellars is located in yountville, just north of the town of Napa.  If you’re making a trip to Napa, make sure you stop in.  You won’t be sorry!

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Mumm’s the word

Mother’s Day is coming up, and hopefully you are able to spend some time with your mom to celebrate her.  What better way to celebrate mom putting up with your crazy than some bubbly?

Recently, I visited Mumm Napawith Vindulge’s Mary Cressler, my partner in crime and bubble buddy who was visiting the Bay Area.  While there, we took the tour through the production facility, which includes a taste of the still wines that will become the magical sparkling wonder – made in the traditional way, Méthode Traditionnelle.

On the way to the winery, we stopped by the demonstration vineyard and heard more about the varietals Mumm uses in their sparkling program.  While many producers focus only on the classic chardonnay and pinot noir grapes for their bubbles, Mumm adds in Pinot Muenier (“Little Miller”), a grape that I think is underused in both still wine and sparkling wines in the US.

pinot meunierPinot Meunier tends to have less sugar and a higher acidity, and is harvested earlier ,which lends a brightness and cleaness to the wines made from it.  Mumm has between 40-60 unique growers that they work with, including their own vineyards, which allows them to select from the best grapes to make the best sparkling wine.  

As we toured through the facility, we stopped to taste the still component wine, and play wit the blends.  This has to be the best part of being a sparkling winemaker.  As we had two glasses of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (white juice, no skin contact), we played with the blends that make up the largest percentage of Mumm’s production.  using the component wine, which is not at all like a finished still wine, we created our own blends and began to see how the flavor profiles develop in the sparkling.
After our blending fun, we walked through the now famous permanent collection of Ansel Adams works.  This is the largest single collection and is truly breathtaking.  In addition to the permanent collection, currently Mumm is showcasing The Golden Decade Photography at the California School of Fine Art, 1945-1955.  These works capture the post war boom and growth in California and is a wonderful way to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine.
As we emerged in to the bright sun, we were escorted to the Oak Terrace by our wonderful guide Charles.  Waiting for us was a beautiful table, ready to taste through the sparkling lineup.  We also had the artisan cheese plate to pair with our wines ($25) which I highly recommend.  Tastings on the Oak Terrace are $40 per person, and include two glasses of your favorite library wine – which is a wonderful value.  With some library selections going back several years, this is a great opportunity to taste older sparkling wines, magnums, and rare production wines which aren’t generally available.Mumm Oak Terrace
As there were three of us, we were able to taste and share just about everything.  This is also a great way to do Mumm – bring a few friends, and order something different.  The generous tasting pours make it easy to share your favorites.  There are so many options to taste, I am going to highly my favorites:
  • 2001 DVX – this library selection of the flagship tête de cuvée honors the work of Guy Devaux, who founded Mumm Napa in 1979.  This rich golden oldie is full of brioche, yellow peaches, vanilla custard and baking spice.  Made with only 11 select lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this special selection had 15% barrel fermented to add richness and depth.  Sitting quietly for 13 years, this was a special treat.  $85
  • 2007 Santana – yes, it’s that Santana.  Carlos Santana and Mumm Napa have had a partnership going back several years, and every year the legendary local musician creates a new blend.  The 2007 was soft and lush, with deep red fruit and figs.  With a hint of Syrah added to the mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this is a fun wine that benefits the Milagro Foundation.  $56
  • Brut Reserve Rose Magnum – there is something special about wines in large format bottles.  This non vintage bottling of a classic Pinot Noir & Chardonnay blend was my favorite, with bright cranberry, raspberry, and cherry flavors.  It was completely different than the 750 bottling, which we also tasted and was a great way to show off how wine ages differently in different size bottles.  $68
  • Sparking Pinot Noir – a rare sparkling red, this dry red wine created in the traditionally champagne style is something totally different and fun.  Ripe plums, baking spice, blackberry pie and chocolate all in one, this unique wine leaves you thinking and wanting more.  $34

Mumm Napa is open 7 days a week, and is located on the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, just north of the city of Napa.  Treat your mom to a special Mother’s Day and stop by next Sunday!  Mumm is also widely available in your favorite wine shop or retail outlet and offers excellent value in sparkling wines.

A special thank you to Charles, our tour host and conversationalist, and Kate Regan at Folsom & Associates for arranging this visit!

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From Blogger to wine maker – Thralls scores a home run

Thralls Family Wine - Luscious LushesIt’s enough to make a make for TV movie, or at least – a great article in the Sunday food section.  You know the story, small town boy, goes to the big city to live a dream and makes it big.

In this case, this is the story of a little blogger who could.  When I first met Ed Thralls, he was part of the first handfull of bloggers that were a group, around wine country, figuring out what this social media thing was all about.  Ed was also one of the finalists for the now infamous Murphy-Goode lifestyle (which is another story – for another blogger – who also makes wine.  But more on that later).

Interning at Holdredge Wine (who, as it happens, is someone I have known for over 10 years, and also makes world class Pinot Noir) as cellar rat, Ed sucked up as much knowledge about winemaking as he could.  Realizing that he couldn’t possibly leave this wonderful world of delicious Pinot Noir and juice, he made the leap and moved to wine country full time.  While working a full time job in the wine business, he tested, crafted, experimented, and made wine.  Thus, the Thralls Family Wine label was born.

These days, Ed has created a line of four distinct, terroir driven Pinot Noirs from around Sonoma and Mendocino counties.  Each wine expresses a different piece of personality that makes Pinot Noir such an amazing wine.

Thralls Wine

Ed Thralls – Photo by Thea Dwelle

First up, the so called entry level 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir.  This juicy, balanced, and bold example is everything I love about Russian River Valley.  Not overblown like so many Russian River Pinots can be these days, the bright cherry, cranberry adn red fruit sing out with bold flavor and juicy fruit.  Using 1/3 new French oak gives this wine those beautiful hints of baking spice, without overwhelming it.  This is a fantastic everyday drinker for $32.

Next, moving in to a single vineyard showcase, the 2012 Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir is one of my favorites.   With a deeper cherry flavor base, Bucher shows more black cherry, dark raspberry, and forest floor than the brighter Russian River.  The nuances of cedar and white pepper on the finish leave you guessing for more after the first sip.  This is a wine that gets better with time, so try it over a couple of days, and see what develops!  $40

Moving further west, the 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir takes a step away from the bolder 667 and 777 clones of the Russian River bottlings.  Bringing in some bright 115 and 114 froim the cool, foggy Sonoma Coast, this Pinot Noir has alpine strawberries, cranberry, bergamot smokiness and amazing acid.  This wine goes native, using all wild yeast with 10% whole cluster fermentation to give it a bit of a wild thing note.  Yum!  $36

Finally, for the Pinot Noir geeks in the group, the 2012 Roma’s Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley is one for the ages.  100% Pommard clone goes in to this unfined and unfiltered gem, which looks a bit like cloudy cherry Kool-Aid but tastes like a dream.  Roma’s Vineyard sits at about 1800 feet in elevation, high above the valley floor, which creates a sunbelt in a cool climate.  This beauty is popping with mushroom, pine needles, bright cherry cider and rhubarb pie.  It’s bright and has brilliant acidity, and will pop with any mushroom dish or creamy cheese.  $42  (Editor’s Note:  Another fabulous Roma’s Pinot, make in an entirely different style, can be found in Cartograph’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.)

The 2012’s are Thralls’ third time out of the gate, with the 2008 Syrah being his first attempt at going it on his own.  Beginning with the 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Ed fed a passion for pinot, and intends on continuing this tradition of small lot, hand crafted premium pinot noirs while also sourcing chardonnay for his next release.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for the Navy Brat from Atlanta, who came to  Sonoma County to pursue a dream!

Hats off to you Wine Tonight, and cheers!

 

Eguren Ugarte – getting lost in history

Before we finish my tour of Rioja with the ultimate wine experience in Haro, I have one last (and favorite) stops was Bodegas Eguren Ugarte, in the Paganos area.  Situated high in the hills, with the mountains looming behind it and the stunning expanse of Rioja below, the Ugarte property combines old world charm and new world hospitality with a luxury hotel, winery, and restaurants.
IMG_2491
Three generations of the family have made wine here since 1870, in the Basque countryside or northern Spain.  With over 120,000 hectares of grapes, it’s easy to see the influence that they have had in the region.
Eguren Ugarte is known for it’s 2 kilometers of underground caves, hand dug and sloping downwards farther in to the stone hillside.  Each side tunnel has private cages that can be purchased by wine lovers, and walking through the tunnels is walking back in time.  While my pictures didn’t come out, there nooks and crannies with private dining areas are a particularly unique experience that must be enjoyed on any visit to Rioja.
Eguren Ugarte
After a tour of the caves and the hotel, we tasted through the wines before enjoying a traditional lunch in their cozy restaurant.
2010 Crianza  – a young, fresh and lively blend of 92% tempranillo and 8% garnacha.  The goal was to create a fresh experience without as much oak influence, and the big, dark red fruit comes through with a touch of coffee.  A crowd pleasing friendly wine with a touch of anise and oak influence.
2008 Reserva – classic style, 90% tempranillo and 10 graciano, with bright acidity and firm tannins.  With 14 months in new oak, and another 2 years of bottle aging ,this is Rioja at it’s best, full of smok and lavendear notes.
2004 Grand Reserva – the Queen of the dance, with 90% tempranillo and 10% mazuelo (carignane).  I love the bright red fruit, currant, raspberry and tomato notes.  The darker black fruit and firm tannins will age for years, and are especially tasty with grilled meats and cheese.
Eguren Ugarte and Jean-Charles Boisset
Eguren Ugarte
Eguren Ugarte is full of character and is as diverse in it’s wine as it is in it’s offerings.  Step back in time in the caves; enjoy a luxurious getaway at the hotel and it’s spa; dine in one of the two restaurants.  This is a must stop in the mountains of Basque Spain, even on the shortest of trips.

Running up that hill – Cardiac Hill

Kramer VineyardsWe interrupt this armchair travel series on Rioja with a short trip to the Willamette Valley for two different Oregon Pinot Noirs, brought to you by Kramer Vineyards.

First up, the 2010 Cardiac Hill Pinot Noir, which is from the steepest part of the estate vineyards that Kramer sources fruit from.  Planted in 1995, with rich red soils and ribbons of clay running through the slopes.

Hand harvested blocks due to the steep slopes were treated to a 25% new French oak treatment, and slept for 18 months, where it was then bottled unfined and unfiltered.  The resulting wine is bright and slightly cloudy, with tangering, cranberry, wild strawberry and brilliant acid.  I love the woodsy note on the nose, and the earthy violets in the glass that opens up to tart cherries and cinnamon spice on the finish.  I loved having the comparison to the next wine, but the Cardiac Hill can go on for days, and belies the more traditionally bolder, bigger style of many 2010 wines from the region.  $40

In contract, the 2010 Rebecca’s Reserve comes from just over the field from the Cardiac Hill, but was planted with a higher density.  The grape clusters here are smaller, and tighter, creating wines with more depth and complexity.

Also harvested by hand, the fruit is given the same oak treatment as Cardiac Hill but had an extra month on oak before bottling.  The result is bright red fruit on the nose, with strawberry, crushed raspberry, berry jam, and rich brown sugar.  It is more lush and rounded, with a burst of lemon zest and blood orange on the finish.  I love the baking spice on the palate along with vanilla and cola, with a long lingering finish.  $35

Check out Kramer’s Wines for great examples of Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton region.  Small and mighty, winemaker Kimberly Kramer continue to impress with each passing vintage, be it still or sparkling.

Cheers!

These wines were provided by the winery for a live twitter tasting, always a raucous good time.  Check out #drinkkramerwine and #tastekramerwine for off the cuff commentary!

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Bodegas Bilbainas – Classic Rioja

IMG_2283Meandering through the country side of Rioja, Bodegas (wine cellars) are dotted along the back roads like farmhouses in Iowa.  Bodegas Bilbaninas is in the heart of Rioja, in the Haro district of Rioja Alta.

Luscious Lushes Vina Zaco

Vina Zaco

With 250 hectares (615 acres more or less ) of vineyards, they have been known for excellent wines since 1859.   Never content to sit back and let change pass them by, Bilbanianas recently added the modern and upstart Vina Zaco to it’s line up.   Currently owned by a French company, the family of brands also produces cognac and champagne.Bodegas Bilbainas has the oldest bottling registration in Rioja, which is unique among such an old wine tradition.  

IMG_2277As we toured the winery, we were greeted by a visual history of the bodega, which is a living piece of history.  When wine first became the economic center of the region, as today, there were many attempts to counterfeit true Rioja.  To combat this, Bodegas Bilbaninas and others, began the process of adding the net over the bottle that we can still see today (though now it’s decorative in nature).  Why you might ask?  As our host explained to us, if you put a net over the bottle after the label is affixed, you can’t slap another label on top.  Genius I say!

As the largest vineyard owner in the Haro area, Bodegas Bilbaninas believes in the importance of the estate vineyard.  With 250 hectares of contiguous land, this is unusual and unique in Rioja and sets them apart from the competition.

Having experienced the smaller bodegas and the larger bodegas, Bodegas Bilbaninas runs regular tours and tastings to educate the enotourist on the special aspects of Rioja Alta.

Make sure you taste the young, fresh and fun Vina Zaco.  Make of 100% Tempranillo, the Vina Zaco is a fruitier expression of Rioja that is indicative of the newer wine movement in the region.

For a more traditional approach to winemaking, Bodegas Bilbaninas also produces Vina Pomal, and La Vicalanda wines.

Be sure to include Bodegas Bilbaninas on your trip through the region!  You won’t be sorry.

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Risky business at the Marques de Riscal hotel

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After spending a leisurely morning horseback riding in the high tableau above La Rioja and her vineyards, the intrepid travelers were treated to a luxurious after noon at the Marques de Rical Spa.

Opened in 2006, this stunning art piece stands high on a hill, well hidden from the prying eyes of road warriors, in the town of Elciego, Spain.  Master architect Frank Gehry, who is well known for his work on the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, designed the building in a similar style – with a waving metallic roofline, and soft, unctuous features.

Since the opening, the Marques de Riscal has become a famous retreat for the elite, as well asIMG_2334 the masses, with a focus on design, art, gastronomy and of course – wine.  For our group, we spent the afternoon relaxing in the spa, massaging away the horseback – behind, travelers aches, and other stresses.  The Spa Vinothérapie Caudalie Marqués de Riscal is tucked away in the lower levels of the hotel, with a peaceful outdoor sitting area overlooking vineyards and the hillside.  With an indoor pool and hottub, as well as a variety of luxury treatments, I could have stayed with my book all afternoon.

IMG_2361Special treatments at the spa were designed to highlight the benefits of essence of the grapes, from the surrounding wine culture, to sooth and invigorate the skin.  I had a massage with grape oil, and there is an option for a barrel bath, soaking in the grape pomace.  Ahhhh!

After our spa treatments, and exploring the hotel grounds, we headed to the restaurant for an epic feast.  Awarded with a Michelin Star in 2012, the traditional Spainsih fare is turned on it’s head with a modern twist.

From wine “caviar” to beer “soup”, our evening progressed in to a classic, and long, Spanish dinner, full of wine and laughter.  The dishes were magical a retelling of simple and classic traditional Spanish items, and we enjoyed them to the very last crumb of dessert.

Spa treatments start at 60 Euro for a 20 minute massage, with a Barrel Bath treatment at 110 Euro.  The pool area is open to hotel and spa guests, and is a fantastic way to relax on your trip to Rioja.  A full day of touring in the region and and access to the spa is a very affordable 80 Euro for you day trippers out there!

For those who are points collectors, the Marques de Riscal is a Starwood Preferred Guest program property, and I can envision myself saving up some points to stay here!  I highly recommend a visit to the Hotel Marques de Riscal, in the “City of Wine”, in the heart of Rioja.  You won’t be sorry!

This visit was provided by the good folks at:

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It’s so good – Elyse Vineyards

Elyse Winery Logo

Elyse Winery started in 1987, with a classic California varietal – Zinfandel.  Over the last 25 years, they have grown, but have remained focused on creating vineyard driven wines that pair with food.  While you may think that a Napa winery can’t make quality Rhone varietals, but with the help of some great fruit from the Sierra Foothills, Elyse is making it’s mark with two red blends and a white blend.

The 2009 C’est si Bon is a red blend with 5 Rhone reds and a touch of Viognier.  The powerful Grenache and Mourvedre bases give it a rich and bold foundation, peppered with black pepper, spice, and blue fruit.  I love the addition of the Viognier, since it adds a brightness and aromatic tone that you wouldn’t otherwise get.  Chewy leather and meat combine with cloves, gingerbread and earthy notes with plums, cherries and a bright burst of citrus.  The C’est si Bon is a great example of the power of Chateaunuef de Pape and how it can be transformed in the Sierra Foothills.

On the white side, the 2011 L’Ingeneue – Naggiar Vineyard would have you believe she is an innocent or unsophisticated young woman (the definition of inginue).  However, there is nothing innocent or unsophisticated about this white Rhone blend!  Comprised of 52% Roussanne, 32% Marsanne, 11% Viognier, and 5% Grenache Blanc, this elegant white blend evokes grilled pineapple, ruby red grapefruit, nectarines, and sweet cream.  The dominant Roussanne gives it a bold body and rich creamy each base, with honey suckle, honey, and juicy pear following.  The long, silky finish is a nightclub act in 1932 Paris.

Elyse is a winery to watch!

These wines were provided by the winery for consideration.  All options are my own.

 

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Bubble, bubble, toil and Trouble-maker!

What’s better on a dark and storm haunted Halloween than a bold red wine with a name like The Troublemaker?  With all of the goofy holiday wines out there, the Troublemaker brings you a solid wine at a great price.  And it’s fun!

The Troublemaker, a zesty little blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel from Hope Family Wines should do just the trick.  Or is that a treat?

The non vintage blend is mostly from 2011, with the bulk of the blend being the workhorse syrah.  The fun of this budget friendly $20 bottle is that the rest of the blend is from multiple varietals from the 2010 vintage.

I love the easy drinking style of this wine, with bold spicy notes, and dark blackberry powering through the dark chocolate.  I can imagine this being a fantastic base for those witches brews you might be concocting for your Halloween hauntings!

 Thank you to the kind PR folk for providing me the yummy – I am going to go make some bubble bubble toil and trouble now!  Happy haunting!

 

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Naramata Bench adventures

IMG_2004 On the first full day of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference, while I was doing some last minute rehearsal and logistical planning for my discussion on Saturday about positioning your blog(more on that later however), the rest of the attendees were enjoying some interesting insights on podcasting, the use of photography, and other digital media in their blogging efforts.

After a morning and afternoon filled with Google Plus, Compelling Content, Wines of Ontario, and a rather wonderful speech from author James Conway, we were off on our chosen buses to our evening excursions to local wineries.

Unlike past WBCs, we were able to chose our buses based on an activity, or theme.  I chose the Paddleboarding adventure, since I hadn’t been to the Naramata Bench area of the Okanagan and was curious.

Off we went in our two mini buses, darting in and out of wineries for a quick dry by tour before stopping to hear more about the unique terroir of the area.  The Naramata Bench Wineries Association is a group of 24 wineries that stretch along 24 kilomenters of lakeshore, both high and low, on the east side of Lake Okanagan.

With sandy cliffs and gently sloping lakeside land, these vineyards have a unique climate that is perfect for some of the areas Bordeaux styel reds.  The views aren’t bad either!IMG_1942

Our adventure took us through a vineyard, and culminated at Sandy Beach Lodge, where the Naramata Bench wineries were hosting a walk around tasting and dinner, showcasing the best of the area.

In addition to the tasting, here at the sandy beach, we had the option of partaking in the paddleboarding.  Now, I wasn’t dressed for the occasion (hey it was my birthday!) but several of my blogging brethren certainly did!

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If you go, be sure to stop by these wineries:

  • Black Widow Winery – specializing in single vineyard wines, I especially liked the Merlot.
  • Elephant Island Orchard Wines – I was not expecting to enjoy these fruit wines, but boy was I wrong.  Some were more like a hybrid between wine and cider, others were refreshing and unexpected.
  • Howling Bluff – I love Pinot Gris, and the Okanagan makes some stunning examples.  This is one of my favorites.
  • Popular Grove – the view from the terrace is simply stunning and second to none.  The home of Vanilla Pod restaurant, this was my favorite stop on my first visit to the region.  The red wines are world class and I wish I could take home a case!

With four seasons and a festival for each one, now is the time to visit the area!

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Tinhorn Creek

TinhornOn another gorgeous early Summer day in the Okanagan, in the general direction of Covert Farms, I made a beeline for Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.  Founded in 1993, Tinhorn Creek has been growing grapes and making wine for 20 years in the south Okanagan.  A driving force behind the beauty of the Okanagan, Sandra Oldfield, has been an active member of the social media community of wine writers for several years and wasn’t exaggerating when she said it was one of the greatest places on earth.  Built on a strong friendship, the winery has become a destination.

Tinhorn Creek tasting room

A refugee defector from the Sonoma County wine industry, Sandra headed north in 1995 and landed in Oliver after studying winemaking and Canadian history at UC Davis (ok well that’s an interesting combination!).  Slogging away at producer Rodney Strong in Sonoma County, she is now part owner at Tinhorn Creek.  While we miss her talent and energy here in California, Sandra is part of an exciting future for the Okanagan wine industry and I can’t wait to go back and visit more.

Tinhorn Creek sits on a unique hillside, rising steeply above the river valley, where you have rock, gravel, sandy loam an alluvial fan soil beds all mixing together to create a fantastic terroir for wine.  Tinhorn Creek owns two distinct tracts of land, in an area of the south Okanagan called the Golden Mile; with 50 acres of estate vineyards and 100 acres of additional land on the Black Sage Bench, Tinhorn Creek has the perfect growing climate for some amazing Bordeaux style wines as well as aromatic whites.

In addition to expressing the best of the region, Tinhorn Creek focuses on sustainability and being ecologically responsible.  With programs that includes recycling, composting, and making smarter

View from Tinhorn Creek terrace

choices, they maintain stewardship of the land and local people to maintain their livlihood and safety while reducing carbon production and water use, keeping the area clean and pristine for generations to come.

But what abou tthe wine?  Not that I’m biased or anything, but Tinhorn Creek would be one of my favorite wineieres in the Okanagan.  I was told about the Cab Franc from my friend Marcy, who had previously travelled tot he region on a scounting mission while I was on the northern end in 2012.  Her depiction of the wine and the winery made me crave my own visit.  As kismet would have it, I walked in the door of the winery, and randomly walked straight in to Marcy – who was also in Penticton a day early for WBC13.  Well!  An expert guide to the wine was just what I needed.

Cab Franc vineyard at Tinhorn Creek

And now, the wine!  The Oldfield Series 2 Bench White blend is a unique wine, with a blend of a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion that were co-fermented  in addition to a co-fermented Semillion and Viognier that was blended in.  The result is a rich, barely off dry white with beautiful aromatics that are perfect for porch sipping.  I love the use of Semillion in Sauvignion Blanc, because it rounds out any rough edges that Sav Blanc can have, and while the acidity is maintained, the Semillion brings some firmness and body.  

A crowd favorite, the Oldfield Series 2 Bench Rose is a rose of Cabernet Franc, something that is hard to find as there is so little Cab Franc in general.  Typically Cab Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon blased roses are bolder, darker, deepr and sometimes cloying, but this rose is light as a feather, refreshing, full of red fruit and simply divine.  A purpose made rose, the grapes kiss the skins for just 4 hours, resulting in a deep salmon color, but just a beautiful touch of that Cab Franc flavor.  i drank my one and only bottle that customs let me come home with, so I hope to get back up to Oliver soon!  Or maybe Sandra can bring some to Santa Barbara (hint hint) for the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference.  I opened this recently with some friends in California, who were card carrying “I hate rose” people, and they were impressed at the delicate, refreshing wine without a hint of residual sugar.

Now in to the reds, the Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red Blend follows it’s white counterpart, and is a Bordeaux style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot.  It’s a big wine, but not over the top and it has some delicious black fruit and spice notes that make it perfect for a steak or a hamburger.

The Oldfield Series Syrah is a rich and dark syrah, full of dark blackberries and tobacco.  Beef jerkey covered with white pepper round out this cool climate example with juicy notes.

And now, the Cabernet Franc!  While the Oldfield Series Cab Franc was sold out, much to my chagrin, I was able to taste the Cabernet Franc and it was delicious.  Black raspberries, leather, tobacco, cigar box, and herbal notes blend together to create a pop of flavor in your mouth.  This is a party in a glass and should be enjoyed on it’s own or with a rich beef stew.  I loved this wine!

Tinhorn Creek is a must on any Okanagan itinerary, and it’s worth an afternoon over a leisurely lunch at their adjoining restaurant, Miradoro.  I look forward to a return visit, or many!

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Painting the story

IMG_1854The morning sun rises over the mountains, casting light on the lakes below.  The thin light of morning almost seems like moonlight, as it peeks through the thin curtains in my room.  It was 4:30am, and I groaned as I looked at my iPhone with disdain.  This was a summer morning in Penticton, British Columbia.

Knowing there was no possibility of going back to sleep with the light growing with every passing minute, I climbed out of bed to get dressed.  Poking my head outside, I remembered how far north I was, and ducked back inside for a warm sweater and my camera.

Capturing the early morning light is something I’ve always thought I would enjoy doing,

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save for my slight love hate relationship with early morning.  So up I get, and wander outside to the terraced grounds of God’s Mountain Estate Bed & Breakfast, where the dew was still glistening on the grapevines surrounding the house.

Sitting on a bluff high above Skaha Lake, God’s Mountain is a 115 acre property with a rambling neo classical Mediterranean villa, that in some ways, resembles Fawlty Towers.  The maze of rooms was both delightful and maddening to explore, with each doorway opening up a new view and experience.

IMG_1842A throwback to the B&Bs of my mind’s eye, the inviting living room and guest library offer you a peek in to the bohemian nature of the property, which is also a working vineyard.  The Wild Goose Vineyard has produced award winning wines, and the outdoor living space is inviting and relaxing.

After wandering around the property while it still slept, I was greeted by a breakfast spread fit for a king.  Reminding me of the meals I’ve had at pensions all over Europe, my request for some fruit and yogurt was granted beautifully, and summarily understood to be just the beginning:

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Fresh blueberry mufifns

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Fresh bread and crackers, to put the meat and cheese on of course!

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Fruit & yogurt with fresh berries

Well fed and with some local coffee fueling my adventures, I headed down the east side of the lake, in to Okanagan Falls to explore more of the beautiful country and backroads of the Okanagan.  There was no doubt that I would slept well on this night, with dreams of mountain sunrises and wine to remember.

With direct flights and easy transfers from the west coast, Penticton is closer than  you think.  For a unique expereince and a retreat you will not forget, visit God’s Mountain Estate and enjoy the views, the wines, and the hospitality!

Accomodations were provided by the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and God’s Mountain Estate

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