It’s a dry dry summer

Happy August!  Yesterday, I woke up to a sun soaked downtown San Francisco view, and today the fog is blowing in like a mist off Captain Jack Sparrow’s Black Pearl, scourge of the seven seas.  Ah that is the life of a Bay Area wine drinker.

These week, I’m pleased to remind my readers of a an old tradition here at Luscious Lushes.  Wine Blogging Wednesday, which has been on life support in a coma, is officially welcomed back with a summer sipper’s favorite:  Dry rose.  From pale pink or barely blush, to deep and brooding, rose comes in all colors and hues.  Yes, it can be sweet, much to my chagrin, but more often it is dry, crisp, and refreshing.

Here are some of my perennial favorites!

2012 Rose of Pinot noir – $21  On my list for the second time, this beauty is always in my fridge.   The palest salmon pink, this rose has bright red fruit, cherry, and floral notes.  Finish of crushed raspberries and watermelon.  It’s way to easy to drink a bottle of this on a warm day!

Mounts Family Winery – 2012 Rose of Grenache – $16 – How can you beat an affordable, light, beautiful rose?  Get some, get some today!

  2012 Corralina Napa Valley Syrah Rose – $20

he delicate strawberry notes are surprising in a Syrah rose, and if I didn’t know better I might have mistaken this for a Tavel or Bandol wine from the south of France.  This bone dry wine also has hints of lemon, nutmeg and rose petals, which carry over to the long watermelon filled finish.


Ellipsis Wine Company

 Ellipsis 2011 Rose of Pinot Noir – $22 –  This rose shows the love they have for the region.  Darker in color but not in flavor, this lovely summer sipper is full of red berry, pomegranate, and a touch of vanilla cream.  I could sip this every day this summer and not get sick of it!  Perfect for an afternoon, or perhaps with some salmon, it’s great on it’s own or also with food.


Go check out some of these winners!




Sparkling Stars on a budget

It’s that time of the month again!  Time for Wine Blogging Wednesday, when a particular theme is used to inspire bloggers to post on a single subject all over the blogging world.

This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day (hurl), Tim Elliot of WineCast asks us to think about sparkling wines on a budget.  In this case, budget means anything under US$25.  Well I can do that!  There are literally dozens of sparkling wines from all over the world that match this price point.  I am spoiled living here int he Bay Area, as I have access to many local wineries – at least 10 sparkling houses among them, as well as excellent retail locations that offer wines of all types and cost levels.

Sparkling wine is used to celebrate all around the world.  Sparkling wine is known for toasting at weddings, or romantic dinners.  Well, I’m having none of it I tell you!  Sparkling wine is for every day!  It’s for potato chips and picnics.  Why save something so delightful for a few times a year?  With a few budget selections, you can make it an everyday wine.

I have been hard at work … um…researching this for you.  What did I discover?  There are so many to choose from, it’s difficult to walk down the wine isle at the grocery store and not find an excellent wine under US$25.  For my picks, I am going to go for three

specific wines:


1.  A house “genertic” from Trader Joes.  TJ’s has realy upped the game from Two Buck Chuck.  Trader Joe’s North Coast NV Sparkling Wine.  For $10, you really can’t go wrong.  TJ’s has been consistantly improving thier house labels over the years; this wine is no exception.  It was very well balanced, and had a roundness of body that I particularly enjoy.  Lots of pear, Asian pear, and apple flaors, with a touch of brioche.  This north coast fruit is 60% Chard, 40% Pinot Noir, from somewhere in the vast North Coast catch all AVA.  It’s hard to tell where it’s really from,but given the cooler growing climate up there, it’s prime for bubby.

This will make a frequent appearance at my house!

2.  A favorite of mine, is the Roederer Estate NV.  Typically under $20, and often much lower (like at Safeway, when it’s on sale for $16.99) this is an outstanding example of a domestic sparkler, and one I never get tired of.  Roederer Estate, located in the cooler climate of Anderson Valley, is the US arm of the French house Louis Roederer.   Surprisingly, the NV is a low alcohol wine, so yes, at 12% ABV by all means!  Drink more!  I love the bright green apple, pear, and creamy flavors in this wine.  Bight with citrus, it tastes like it cost a lot more than it does.

For a splurge, try the L’hermitage!

3.  A surprise guest appearance of a NEw Zealand sparkling wine, Quartz Reef Method Traditionalle NV, from Central Otago.  Quartz Reef is known as “The House of Pinot Noir”, and this bubbly kicked off our #nzwineday celebration wonderfully.  A slightly fuller bodied bubbly, there was wonderful stone fruit and lemon curd.  At $22 (JJ Buckley) this is another one to seek out if you can find it locally.  I haven’t had much sparkling wine from New Zealand and was really pleased with this.  I plan to harass my friends at JJ Buckley to ensure I can get some of this!

Other honorable mentions:

  • Mumm – the value tier of wine is generally ~$15 at retail and there are several good picks.
  • Gruett – an oddball hailing from New Mexico, actually offers a great Rose and Brut.
  • Gloria Ferrer – The Brut and Carneros Cuvee are personal faves, and are best enjoyed from tehir terrace in Carneros!

Happy Sparking Wine Blogging Wednesday!  And remember, bubbles are for every day, a celebration, a consolation, or just because.  Why hide them away when they are so affordable?

There were many more wines that I tried, and some of them are still in my fridge.  Never fear, I will post about them all, just over time as I continue my…research!  I have tasted sparklers from South Africa, Burgundy, and Spain and I vow to continue my quest as long as my champagne stopper keeps working!

Happy drinking!


The spark within – WBW 73

Ahh, Wine Blogging Wednesday.  Once upon a time, WBW was a monthly spark for wine bloggers to collective think about a particular topic, and form the gestalt of the blog.

The sum of the many is the one.

Sadly, WBW all but disappeared over the past few years.  Formed in 2004, WBW is having a resurgence thanks to a new committee and new life behind it. I for one, am grateful to have a guided post every month, as I struggle to be inspired and write posts that are both thoughtful, but also interesting to my readers.  This month, as we kick off a new year, January’s theme reminds us to think about what make us start blogging int he first place.  The Corkdork asks us what sparked our interest in wine, but more why we decided we needed to write about it.

For me, I actually have to thank my wine loving friend, and fellow blogger Liza Swift of the Brix Chicks for challenging me to put my money where my mouth was.  There was never one wine, or a specific experience that made me put pen to paper.  I had always been involved int he wine community one way or another.  But Liza, whom I encouraged to blog before I even started my own, asked me why I wasn’t writing when she was.

Good point!  Wine fascinates me.  the fact that it is alive, and forever changing, inspires me.  I have been drinking wine since before I was 21, and I have been entrenched in wine, while maintaining a techie career, for the better part of (*gasp*) 17 years.  I felt compelled to share my favorite wine discoveries with friends via word of mouth, but then in a newsletter.  That newsletter, which was filled with wines that I had consumed and fallen in love with, as well as tips on events that were up and coming in the Bay Area, and stories of my adventures in wine, are what sparked this blog.

Why do I write?  To write puts thoughts on paper – or on the internet – and shares them with your audience, however selective that might be.  To share the joy that I have experienced drives me.  My tastes have changed from zinfandel to pinot, and further more to the complex wines of the Rhone.  Starting out with my so called newsletter, I had the overwhelming feeling that to keep such knowledge to myself would be indulgent and selfish.  Beyond that, writing is cathartic, regardless of whether it’s in a personal journal or in a public format.  This blog, Facebook, and Twitter act as a life coach, therapist and best friend.

Wine is alive.  Wine changes.  Both time and place can turn the same wine in to very different beasts.  What happens when you taste a wine 5 years after the initial release?  Is it better?  Is ti worse?  Is my taste just different?  All of these are true, all of these are not.  Wine also changes in the glass.  What other tangible and consumable object has this much life to it.  It sound like I am quoting Maya from Sideways, but it’s true.  Wine lives, and wine is alive.

What sparked me?   My gateway wine was definitely zin.  Having worked for and with ZAP for over 10 years, I was exposed to over 200 wineries that had a wide variety of zinfandel to offer.  Is it the brambly jammy blackberry from Dry Creek?  Or perhpas the spicy mincemeat raisin from Sierra Foothills?  Dig a little deeper and try the rose petals and somewhat lighter style from Russian River.  I still love zin, and while my everyday tastes have changed somewhat, there is nothing better on a cold rainy night.

Today, my passion is for learning about and discovering pinot.  Why are pinots so fickle?  What are they so different?  How can I possibly love a pinot from Willamette Valley but also love one from the vast and strange Sonoma Coast?  While keeping my love affair with pinot alive, I am ever the explorer.  My latest quest.  Grenache!  Where fort art thou!  One of the essentially Rhone grapes, you can get Grenache for days in the Rhone Valley and also in somewhat rougher, inexpensive Spanish Garnacha.  But what about in the New World?  Where can I find that meaty, spicy, unique in a way that only Grenache can produce, flavor here int he new world?  Apart from a few favorites that I can’t seem to keep in my cellar, I am always on a quest to meet the winemaker who has taken on the bold new world of the Rhone, Spanish, interesting varietal.  Beyond the Grenache, what of the misunderstood, misplaced, lost and lonely Mouvedre/Monastrell/Mataro?

It’s a bold new world out there, and wine is waiting.

I've been Vintaed!

Remember Wine Blogging Wednesday?

The one day a month where we all gathered our collective consciousness and blogged about the same topic?  Well the same theme anyway.  Well it’s BACK!  And I’m pleased to be participating because it’s a really great way to give me a shove in the right direction in my blogging efforts.  With my day job, life, travels, and wine stuff taking over and an alarming rate, it’s nice to have a topic that I don’t have to come up with.

Gabriella Opaz of Catavino, who was with me in Porto

This month, Catavino’s Ryan & Gabriella encourage us to blog about Spanish wines.  Fresh off the big ole jet airline from a trip to Iberia, where I spent some wonderful time with Gabriella, I am able to supply oodles of info on this topic!  Specifically, Catavino is asking us to look at Spanish wines we’ve never tried before, or something unusual for the area.  Since I recently blogged about Miguel Merino, my new favorite place in Rioja, I thought I’d use this opportunity to write about my new friends at Vintae.

is mixing it up in Spain, and starting a wine revolution of sorts.  They are a young company which focuses on 6 specific regions in Spain, but in a different way.  Vintae represents innovation and change in a wine region that has been very rigid in its ways, much like France, for years.  The avant-garde marketing and approach have shaken up the industry in Spain, and spawned the Spanish Guerrilla wine movement!

In Spain, wine suffers from a bit of a bad reputation.  There is some of a connotation that is is an old man’s drink, or an object ot mix with 7-up or other such items.  Although, when we were out in Logroño doing a tapas bar crawl, plenty of young folks were drinking wine – but it appears that might be a bit of the exception.  Since I have no real experience with the Spanish wine industry, you will need to take this with a grain of salt.

The company started with 5 wines, made in La Rioja, from grapes that are non-traditional to the region. Given that the wine laws in Europe are much stricter and somewhat archaic by western standards, they had a bit of a time introducing these wines to the market. They were, in fact, the first winery that was allowed to produce these varietals in La Rioja, and are guerrillas in the wine business here – stirring up the old ways of thinking, and trying to make wine fun. This is why their new brand is called "Spanish Guerilla". Kinda catchy don’t you think?

On this day, we visited the two different Vintae production facilities, starting wtih the white wine facility, Castillo de Maetierra, where the illustrious Spanish White Guerrilla wines are made.  Castillo de Maetierra is the only winery in La Rioja which specializes in making white wines.  The Castillo has been an upstart, focuses on unusual (for Rioja) wines such as Muscat and Malvasia, and introducing Spain to foreign varieties such as Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer.  Currently, Castillo de Maetierra works with eight different white varietals, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Viognier.  Because these are so unusual in the area, the branding became the “Spanish White Guerrilla”.  Each of the fun labels makes a play on a character from the region – so the Gewertz has beer wench, the Sav Blanc looks a Little bit like Fidel Castro, etc.

Carmelo, our smiling host!

Because there really is a sense of terroir and micro climates in Rioja, the production facilities are separate and distinct to maintain this.  The white wines produced here are so delicate and fickle, that anything more than 30 minutes from field to crushpad would destroy some of the characteristics that make them unique, which is what the winemakers want to avoid.  This is somewhat difficult to grasp as a New World wino since we so often see grapes trucked long distances to production facilities. That said, it makes total sense – treat the wine like your first born child, and she will treat you like the king of the world.

The white wines are made here at Castillo de Maetierra, where approximately 500,000 bottles are produced. YOW!  Just a little bit of wine there folks.  Our hosts, Ana of Vintae and Carmelo Santos, the winemaker, showed us around and gave us a peek at the 2010 barrel samples as well as the current 2009 releases.  The Castillo is located in southern Rioja, where it is a high desert – think Reno folks, and it can get up to 35c in the summer. That’s about 110! Phew. Hot. Because of this, they harvest in August at night. This is crucial for the whites because the whites can begin fermentation spontaneously in that heat.

I must admit, I did a poor job at taking notes of what I was tasting, but you really want to know more about the story right?  Suffice it to say, they were surprising and delicious, and even though it was FREEZING cold outsidede, they were highly enjoyable.  The Guerrilla wines, coming in at about 5 Euro, are an absolute STEAL for budget minded quaffers.

Happy reading, and you should be able to find these wines near you soon!

Inspirational inspiration – WBW #57

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Oh my!  Are we here again?  Wine Blogging Wednesday already?  Oh my.  Hard to believe that a year has gone by since Robert Mondavi passed away, and a great icon – however controversial – was lost.  This month, Jeff LeFevre, of Good Grape, has asked us to find our own California Inspiration.

What is my California Inspiration?  Wow.  To be honest, I had a really hard time thinking of what to write about for this post, because I am a California native who grew up in the city closest to one of the world’s greatest wine regions.  Wine has always been a part of my life.  Growing up in San Francisco, my parents would have dinner parties and let me taste their wine.  At the time it was Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy, but hey.  It was the 70s and 80s.  Back then, these jug wines were not only all the rage, they were actually of decent quality.  As my parents moved on to more palatable pursuits, they still let me sip their libations.  Not only did this prevent me from going completely wild, it made me appreciate the local fruit.  Yes yes ok, so I’m still completely wild, but I never snuck out of the house to drink.  Or stole my parent’s liquor, or really went on a bender.  Much.

When I finally left my community college for greener pastures, I chose Sonoma State University.  Not so much for its proximity to wine country, since I really didn’t drink, but because of the psychology programs I was looking at.  Working nearly full time and going to school more than full time takes a toll on a girl however, and I quickly discovered that there were many opportunities in the Sonoma area for tasting and talking, and that *SHOCK* they were free!  A poor college student who spends $800 on books a semester does not a rich woman make, so off we went on weekday excursions to local tasting rooms.  It was during this time that I discovered the big, powerful Zinfandels of Dry Creek Valley.

During my senior year, I was lucky enough to graduation from the retail sector and strange college student jobs, to a receptionist job at a local winery sales office.  It was here where my love of the grape really took flight.  The company took a keen interest in educating their employees, and held Friday wine tastings, of their own wines as well as local wines that might be in competition.  When I left the summer job to move back to San Francisco and begin a misguided career in the employment arts, they sent me off with a case of wine and an open invitation to come back to taste.

What really inspires me is the small, family run winery, many of which are in Sonoma County.  Particular favorites of mine are Mounts Familiy Vineyards, Manzanita Creek, and the collectives at Front Street as well as Hudson Street Wineries.  As I’ve written about in the past, these small, family owned wineries exclude hospitality and know that the hey to their success is their customers.  Here, I get personal attention and am greeted like a member of the family.  No amount of overpriced cult Cabernet can ever make up for that.  For these wines, I seek out the lesser known, I travel to new regions, I spend more than I would normally spend.  This to me, is the true meaning of inspiration.

Speaking of Inspiration, I’ll close with a story of a small winery on Olivet Lane in Santa Rosa.  Inspiration Vineyards.  The little yellow house sits just off the road, surrounded by vineyards, and some larger operations like DeLoach, Hook & Ladder, Sunce, and Harvest Moon, but is a spot of calm in a sea of wine travelers.  Jon & Barbara have been making wine  on their small 4.5 acre estate in the Russian River Valley appellation.  They produce Chardonnay and Zinfandel on the property, as well as Pinot Noir and Syrah from other vineyards.  At Inspiration, they strive to produce high quality, food friendly wines at reasonable prices.  I’d say they manage that and more!

My personal favorite from Inspiration is the Pinot Noir.  Every year it is slightly different, giving me a little thrill every time I go by to taste.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get to do a side by side of vintages.  The 2005 Los Carneros Pinot Noir was a memorable experience, with a light body, which was aged in new & old French oak for 10 months. The grapes for this wine come from a small vineyard in the Los Carneros area of southern Sonoma, and they were hand tended.  This alone is inspiring to me, as it is a rare and expensive commodity in the grape market today.  I found it light and earthy, with mushroom, bright cherry and slight tobacco flavors.  It was a surprising wine with some spritz, proving that sometimes forgotten rocks can produce amazing gems.
The following vintage was a completely different wine.The 2006 was a fruit forward, intense and bold Pinot Noir.  Jon attributes this change to a stylistic shift he made in the wine making process.  The fermentation was extended, and the wine shows big rich flavors and a dark cherry red color.  I found lavender, strawberries, dark cherries, and smoke.  Yum!

Inspiration is is open by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead.  They are however, often open on days when there are events in the area, such as Barrel Tasting and Winter Wineland,  so you might just get lucky.


Wine! It’s what’s for breakfast!

This month, for Wine Blogging Wednesday,   El Jefe, of Twisted Oak Winery and El Bloggo Torcido asked us to to tell him what wines we’d eat with breakfast.  OK, so more specifically, breakfast foods.  The difficult part was he ix-nayed the use of anything sweet or bubbly, the traditionally breakfast or brunch pairing.

My favorite drinking buddy and fellow wine blogger, Liza of the Brix Chicks (@brixchick_liza), graciously decided to host us at her house for a smorgasbord of breakfast items!  Also in attendance were Marshall (@wineq) of WineQ, Lisa de Bruin (@winedivergirl) of California Wine Life and Hahn Estates, and a friend of Liza’s.

First off, we started with a sparkling red. OK OK so we weren’t suppose to go there, but Lisa brought this Chandon Sparkling Red, which is made of Zin and Pinot, and I thought it was interesting.  It seemed a little bit like Welch’s grape juice, and also had flavors of black cherries and plums.  We paired this with the Amuse a la BrixChick, which was a date, stuffed with creme fraiche and a reduction syrup made with Hahn Meritage.

Next up, we had a silky egg custard with mushrooms.  We tried to pair this a forest floor style pinot, but ended up withe a fruitier Savannah Chanelle pinot instead.  The pairing didn’t quite work, so we kep drinking the Chandon Sparkling Red instead.

Then, we moved on to delicious savory waffles, topped with a smoked salmon ceviche style, which was truly amazing.  We paired this with the Hahn SLH Pinot Gris, and the citrus zing of the wine really complimented the salmon.  This was a huge winner in my book.  I have previously reviewed the Pinot Gris in our Hahn Twitter Taste Live, and I found tons of citrus which really balances the smoked salmon, combined with a nice round mouthfeel.

Now, we had the bacon course of course!  This was no ordinary bacon course, and Liza put together fresh baked croissants, bacon, a tomato coulis,  and greens.  We slathered fresh brie on the croissants and went to town building our bacon towers.  This was paired with El Jefe’s own The Spainard, a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano.  I really love this wine.  I mean really, really love this wine.  The smokiness of the bacon brought out the earthly goodness of The Spainard, and this was the first bottle we wrung out hoping to get a few more drops.  The Spaniard gives off a powerful aroma of smoky blackberries sprinkled with baking spices, and a whiff of your leather jacket.  It tasted like crushed blue fruit, and those same baking spices, with an earthy note to the finish.  This is a huge wine and held up well to the rich BBLT.

Next, we had Brioche French Toast with more of that amazing Meritage syrup, whipped cream and a poached pear.  We paired this with the Hahn Meritage, again reviewd at the Hahn Twitter Taste Live.   While this still isn’t my favorite wine, the pairing with the richness of the french toast and the reduction was lovely. The fruity flavor of the wine played off of the creamy brioche, and I had a very happy taste bud that day.

For dessert, we had some delicious cheeses paired with Penfolds Grandfathers Port which sealed the deal for pickling our merry crew.  I’d review it but well, I was lost in the heaven of it’s deliciosuness!

This was a fun event, and I look forward to more breakfast foods with wine!  Mushrooms in particular go quite well with earthly pinot noirs, and I”d love to pair some more syrahs with bacon.  Additionally, Bagels & Lox are calling my name with osme more lovely whites!  Wine can definately be paired, and paired well, with breakfast foods.

Happy eating, and I hope you try your own pairings soon!