Just off of Highway 121, in Carneros’ rolling hills, Cuvaison sits, hidden away from traffic on top of a hill. Here, the team at Cuvaison uses green methods and old farming techniques to produce world class wines for over 30 years. The first time I visited Cuvaison was in the early 2000s, and I had always enjoyed the experience. Things have changed a bit, and on my return at the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference, we learned how sustainable practices were being employed and new techniques were being developed to have a minimal impact on the nature around them. Today, the vineyards are certified sustainable, and they are dedicated to a philosophy of producing vineyard-driven wines, that express the unique terroir of Carneros. With the cooling influence of the fog blowing off of San Pablo Bay, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are right at home here. Selecting fruit block by block, and vinified these separately, winemaker Steven Rogstad can maintain the vineyard’s terroir, and express the uniqueness of this region. On this visit, we explored the newest addition to the tasting room hospitality: the Wine & Cheese Experience. This experience explores three classic Cuvaison wines, each paired with cheeses specifically selected for their own terroir, set to match the wines. First, the whole cluster fermented 2012 Estate Chardonnay was paired with Redwood Hill Farm Bucharet. The wine, which underwent partial malolactic fermentation, had rich lemon curd and vanilla notes, bright citrus and a flinty undertone. Paired with the goat’s milk Bucheret, which ripens from tthe outside in, it was a gorgeous creamy wonder! Next, the 2013 Estate Pinot Noir. Carneros is known for it’s Pinot Noir, and there is a distinct terroir in this wine. With hibiscus, bright red fruit, fresh cherries, baking spices and an herbaceous finish, this wine did not disappoint. A hint of green peppercorn and cured meats played off of the Matos Cheese Factory St. George, a personal favorite. This savory, nearly cream cheese like wonder also went very well with the Chardonnay. Finally, the 2012 Brandlin Mouunt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, which was paired with Vella Cheese Comapny’s Dry Jack. The pungency of the Dry Jack was perfect with the rich plum notes of the Cab, which was a rich cup of coffee, full of cocoa, black berries and dried spices. If you are in the region, the Wine & Cheese Experience is by reservation, and is $35. That’ sa pretty great deal considering that many tastings alone can run that much in the Napa valley. With a total case production of just under 50,000 cases, this mid size winery is still a hidden gem, just slightly off the beaten path. With two estates and 20 wines to choose from, it’s an expereicne not to be missed!
Cheese – aromatic, beautiful, pungent, stinky, delicious cheese; there is more to wine tourism than just wine! While I could spend hours a day exploring the micro regions of Friuli, I was excited to experience more of the food aspects of the diverse region. Azienda Agricola Zoff is a small, local dairy that specializes in regional products from traditional sources. The Pezzata Rossa cows deliver milk that is rich in butter fat, that helps the family do their job. The Zoffs have been making cheese for 15 years, but have been raising cows here for generations, drawing on the cultural history that brings in the German, Swiss and Austrian cultures of northern Italy. After we had a brief tour of the dairy, where we learned that happy cows do indeed make happy cheese, we sat down to taste the cheese. One of the more unique offerings was the Caciotta, which is a fresh cheese that can be enhanced with flavorings. IN this case, the flavored version had rose petals and thyme. The creamy fresh cheese is rubbed with the flavorings after about 10 days, when the new rind is perfectly ready to bind to the flower petals and herbs. The fresh creamy cheese is a wonderful palate cleanser and snack. Next, we tried the Latteria. This time, we could taste both the fresh version, only 4 days old, and an aged version, which had been resting for 2 months. As expected, the aged version was nutty and rich. We also were able to sample a famous offering: the yogurt! Those of us who are used to the tangy, tart, and thick American style yogurt might be confused by the creamy fluff that was served in a small dish. but if you’ve traveled to France, and many other parts of Europe, the style of yogurt is younger and fresher, and much thinner. Even commercial yogurts here are different than our palates are used to. Here at Agricola Zoff, they make yogurt in the tradition methods; here, fermentation is stopped earlier in the process, allowing some of the natural sweetness of milk to remain. The result, is a rich, naturally slightly sweet, slice of heaven. As health nuts are aware of, yogurt is full of amazing health benefits, and this is no exception. Beppino, the patriarch of the Zoff family, even touted that this is paradiso, heaven! I’d be inclined to agree. He also let us in on his secret for long life: A spoonful of dulce de leche in a bowl of his yogurt, and you will live forever! I’m ok with that. Here in the Bay Area, we are blessed with several micro dairies and creameries. I have found that the closet product to the Zoff yogurt – which I had to replicate because it left me craving more – is the Saint Benoit natural yogurt. Available at Whole Foods and other small markets, this French-style creamy yogurt is the closest approximation to heaven I can muster without making the […]