Wine Road Barrel Tasting – A taste of the future of the North Coast

The first two weekends in March witnessed the 35th Annual Barrel Tasting  Wine Road – Northern Sonoma County take place in the sun-splashed hills and valleys of the three Wine Road American Viticulture Areas (AVAs – Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley).  Thousands of wine aficionados from around the country circulated among the approximately 120 participating wineries over the 6 afternoons (many wineries included the two Fridays) that the event encompassed.

A. Rafanelli a must stop for barrel tasting

A. Rafanelli a must stop for barrel tasting

The Wine Road – Northern Sonoma County has ~200 members including 150 wineries and 50 lodging establishments.   The organization sponsors and organizes three events each year beginning with Winter WINEland in January and ending with A Wine and Food Affair in early November.  Although A Wine and Food Affair is considered their premier event, the Barrel Tasting weekends are the longest running and the most popular in terms of attendance over the 6 days.  No single event in the north county can compete for fun, adventure and great wine deals.  It also offers the most likely contact with the winemakers as they are typically offering the barrel samples.

Smiling Dave Rafanelli and guest (Linda C.)

Smiling Dave Rafanelli and guest (Linda C.)

Barrel tasting weekends are not overwhelmed with themes and music and food (although many wineries do offer palate treats) as the focus is truly on the wine.  Most wineries offer the chance to taste and purchase futures (wine in barrel from previous harvests but not yet bottled) at a discount.  Purchasers may have to wait 6-18 months to actually get their wine.   Because so many of the participating wineries are small and have limited production this is often the only opportunity for non-wine club members to actual acquire these special wines.

Flowers and Barrels create a welcoming environment (Linda C.)

Flowers and Barrels create a welcoming environment (Linda C.)

The  Wine Road’s 3 AVAs are spread out over a large segment of SonmaCounty so it helps to use the Wine Road map to do a route plan that avoids running back and forth between the 3 AVAs or back tracking.  Additionally, planning should include lunch as the event extends from 11AM – 4PM each day.  Many wineries offer some food, as reported above, it is mostly lighter fare.  Picnics are possible at many of the wineries and there is always the Oakville Grocery Co., or Dry Creek General Store to purchase picnic supplies.  Alternatively Barndiva, Willi’s Seafood and Raw BarAgave Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar, or Bear Republic Brewing Company in Healdsburg are available for a casual quick bite.  Costeaux French Bakery was the restaurant of choice this year with its French bakery and café ambiance and very welcoming staff.  Food is fresh, beautifully presented and priced right.

Meanwhile, the Top Five Reasons to participate in The Wine Road Barrel Tasting weekend are :

A. Rafanelli Winery is located in the Dry Creek Valley and is a fourth generation family operation begun by great grandfather Alberto Rafanelli, an Italian emigrant, in the early 1900s and passed through his son Americo, and then to current owners Dave and Patty Rafanelli.  Daughter Shelly is the winemaker and responsible for all production at the winery and her husband Craig Fehlman handles vineyard management.  Younger daughter Stacy is in charge of daily operations at the winery continuing this family tradition.  A.Rafanelli specializes in Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Tasting and visits are by appointment only and the 11,000 case production is in allocation for non-wine club members.  These wines are rich, exceptionally well balanced and full of fruit.  This winery has the longest lines during barrel tasting due to the high quality and limited availability of the wines produced from their 85 planted acres.  A must visit.  Call 707-433-1385.

Hillside at A.Rafanelli (Linda C.)

Hillside at A.Rafanelli (Linda C.)

Another family operation is located just down Dry Creek Road at Everett Ridge Winery.  The Sterling family, lead by father Murio and mom Doris, has been growing grapes and making wine for several generations.  Besides Everett Ridge the family owns Esterlina Winery, (spanish for sterling) in the Anderson Valley and 253 acre Cole Ranch (Mendocino County),  America’s smallest AVA, where they grow Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.  Besides Cole Ranch the family owns vineyards in the Alexander Valley, the Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley.  Everett Ridge specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  They have a second label called Diablita Wines.  Four Sterling brothers (a Physician and an Attorney included) are actively involved.  Eric is lead winemaker, Stephen heads up sales & marketing, Chris – vineyard management and assistant winemaker and Craig handles legal affairs and assists in sales.   The best of the barrel samples were the Esterlina 2012 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and the Everett Ridge 2012 Dry Creek Valley Estate Petite Sirah.  The best in bottle was the Esterlina 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir!  The wines are all very approachable and reflect the warmth of this remarkable and down to earth family.

Barrel Room at Everitt Ridge (Linda C.)

Barrel Room at Everitt Ridge (Linda C.)

Papa Mario Sterling with happy guest (John C.)

Papa Mario Sterling with happy guest (John C.)

The ‘newest find’ during this year’s barrel tasting was J.Rickards Vineyards and Winery located on Chianti Road just south of Cloverdale (northern Sonoma County) and visible from Highway 101.  The original Zinfandel vines on this 60 acre estate were planted in 1908 and have been augmented over the past 30 years with fresh plantings. Jim has owned the ranch since 1976 and since 2005 he and wife Eliza have been making wine commercially.  They have typically sold most of their grapes ( Cabernet Sauvignon to Silver Oak – next door, Shiraz to GeyserPeak – just a bit south, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah to Dry Creek Vineyards and Winery – just west and a bit south).   Barrel samples of the 2011 & 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel were both delectable and foreshadowed good things when bottled.  The bottled 2009 and 2010 validated that forecast.  The newly released 2012 Muscat Blanc and 2012 Rosé were perfect spring and summer wines. The tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment. Call 707-758-3441.

Owner Winemaker Jim Rickards (Linda C.)

Owner Winemaker Jim Rickards (Linda C.)

Brothers Jack and William Salerno founded Manzanita Creek Winery in an industrial facility in Healdsburg in 2001.  They source their grapes, the “best grapes, grown in the best vineyards” from Sonoma County including Dry Creek, Russian River, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Coast.  They also source grapes from Lodi and Paso Robles.  The Salernos produce about 3,000 cases of varietal wine including Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir. The barrel samples of 2012 Russian River Zinfandel, Chalk Hill Zinfandel and Russian River Syrah were all well structured and hinting at rich robust flavors when bottled. Their 2nd label, 3 Vines, is available at Costco.   The tasting room is open Wednesday through Saturday 10 – 4:00 pm. Sunday through Tuesday by appointment only.  These wines and this winery are ‘never boring’!

Manzanita Creek in Healdsburg (Linda C.)

Manzanita Creek in Healdsburg (Linda C.)

Animated Jack Salerno of Manzanita Creek (Linda C.)

Animated Jack Salerno of Manzanita Creek (Linda C.)

Winemaker John Pepe has been the artistic interpreter of Bruce and Cheryl Lawton’s romantic vision of all things wine at their Pech Merle Winery.  Named after a cave in France where their vision began taking shape, the Lawton’s continue their passion through all aspects of their winery, their wine club and their wines using terms like devoted, flirtatious and smitten.  Their wines were awarded three Silver medals at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  Recognized were the 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($39), the 2010 Russian River Pinot Noir ($33) and the 2010 Russian River Chardonnay ($27).  The barrel sample offered during the Barrel Tasting weekend: the 2012 Alexander Valley Cabernet Franc,  the 2012 Russian River (Oehlman) Pinot Noir and the 2012 Dry Creek Valley (Alioto’s Bench) Zinfandel all showed huge potential.  Pech Merle’s tasting room is located at J.Rickards in Cloverdale, Friday and Saturday 11 – 4:30 or by appointment 707-891-3015.

Pech Merle Offerings (Linda C.)

Pech Merle Offerings (Linda C.)

Pech Merle owners Bruce and Cheryl Lawton (provided by B.Lawton)

Pech Merle owners Bruce and Cheryl Lawton (provided by B.Lawton)

Make it a point to enjoy Wine Road’s 2014 barrel tasting weekends.  Remember, the first two weekends in March!

Posted in Barrel Tasting, Restaurants, Sonoma, Uncategorized, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wine Road, Wineries | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wine and Food Affair offers best of season for Sonoma County.

The 14th Annual Wine Road Wine and Food Affair offered the best of all worlds:  two days of sunny skies, warm temperatures, glorious fall vineyard colors, the smells of harvest and, of course, great wines paired with delightful foods.  Why would anyone be anywhere else if they could be here?

Colorful Welcome at Kendall Jackson Wine Center

Colorful Welcome at Kendall Jackson Wine Center (Linda C.)

Kendall Jackson Entrance  (Linda C.)

Kendall Jackson Entrance (Linda C.)

The Wine Road, formed in 1976 as the Russian River Wine Road and updated in 2008 to Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County, is a winery association which represents 190 wineries and 56 associate lodging members within the three North County AVA, the Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and the Dry Creek Valley.

This event, A Wine and Food Affair is the third major event sponsored by the Wine Road and is considered the annual capstone event.  (The other two events are Winter Wineland held in January and Barrel Tasting in March.)   Over 100 wineries participated this year and each one selected a favorite food and the perfect wine to pair it with.  Each ticket holder receives a cookbook, prepared specially each year, with all the recipes selected by the participating wineries.  In some cases the winery employs a caterer or a local restaurant chef to prepare the food pairing while others employ their own Estate Chef to prepare the food.

Vineyards on the Wine Road (Linda C.)

Vineyards on the Wine Road (Linda C.)

Vineyards on the Wine Road (Linda C.)

Vineyards on the Wine Road (Linda C.)

This years highlights, and their were so many, will be narrowed down to just four for the benefit of both the writer and the reader of this article.  Make no mistake, the adjectives employed to describe these 4 are adjectives that could and likely are being used to describe dozens of other participating wineries.  After all, reasonably, the typical ticket holder might only experience 10-12 wineries over the two days unless they are being chauffeured on a well planned route and spend less than 20-25 minutes at each winery.  Remember, despite there being only one wine and food pairing at each winery, they are typically pouring 3-5 other wines.  So onward considering these are the ramblings of one person’s experience!

The Most Fun:  Founded in 1981 by Tom and Diana Manning, Chateau Diana, located on Dry Creek Road in Dry Creek Valley has quickly become a favorite.  High energy and youthful in perception,  they must have had  their tasting room experience in mind from the moment they began the design in 2005.  It has been open less than 2 years however they have definitely created a buzz.  A wonderfully well-appointed tasting room with balcony overlooking the brilliantly colored vineyards of the Dry Creek Valley.  It also sports a tranquil picnic/outdoor event area with brilliant fountains.  All of this is topped with an array of at least 5 labels each targeting a different price point and level of sophistication.  Always approachable and always priced right, the wines at Chateau Diana clearly achieve their goal.  The constant flow of people reflected that with a clientele envied by many in Dry Creek Valley.  The pairing was the 2010 Three Sisters Zinfandel and a family recipe (Diana’s) for Sausage and meatballs in tomato sauce over polenta. Traditional Italian comfort food.  This was skillfully catered by a la heart catering, inc.

Chateau Diana's Terri Manning at Check in (Linda C.)

Chateau Diana Picnic Area (Linda C.)

Chateau Diana Picnic Area (Linda C.)

The Most Fascinating:  Paradise Ridge is located within the original 2,000 acres of the Fountain Grove estate established and owned by Thomas Lake Harris, the leader of a mid-19th century utopian cult which moved to Santa Rosa from New York in 1875.  The setting is stupendous and offers unmatchable sunset views from the eastern ridge across the Russian River Valley (RRV) toward the coastal hills and ultimately the Pacific Ocean.  Paradise Ridge was pairing their 2007 Estate Zinfandel (Hoenselaars Vineyard) with a wonderful Wild Mushroom & Brie Soup with white truffle oil.  Perfect!  They were also pouring their 2011 Chardonnay (Bazzano Vineyard), 2007 Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon (Rockpile Vineyard) and 2006 Syrah (Hoenselaars Vineyard).  This is a do no miss winery set in a virtual residential area of southeast Santa Rosa.

View from Paradise Ridge (Linda C.)

View from Paradise Ridge (Linda C.)

The Most Idyllic:  Lynmar Estate, located in the Russian River Valley, is the love child of Lynn and Anisya Fritz.  Lynn bought the property in 1980 and began planting a variety of Pinot and Chardonnay clones under the watchful eye of Merry Edwards and Tony Soter who bought the grapes for their very successful wine making endeavors.  In the 90′s, Lynn embarked on small production quantities of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on his own.  Only in 2008 did Lynn and Anisya make the estate their permanent home and fully commit to making premium wines in greater volumes.   Lynmar is an idyllic and exquisite 100-acre property fronting on the Laguna de Santa Rosa water shed.  It is a wonder of rolling vineyards and organic vegetable gardens. Approximately 70 acres of the estate is vineyards of Pinot, Chardonnay and Syrah.  Winemaker Shane Finley earned his chops from 2001 at Copain Wines,  2002 in Australia’s Barossa Valley, a year in the Rhône Valley, Cellar Master at Copain in 2003, Paul Hobbs Winery in 2005 and then six years at Kosta Browne Winery. Lynmar Estate’s Winemaker since 2012, Shane’s touch will soon be seen in the next vintages. Lynmar’s Estate Chef, David Frakes, paired the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir with a delightful Turkey Chili with goat cheese and onions.  Warm and inviting.  Seconds were definitely in order.

Lynmar Estates outside tasting area (Linda C.)

Lynmar Estates outside tasting area (Linda C.)

Idyllic Gardens at Lynmar Estates (Linda C.)

Idyllic Gardens at Lynmar Estates (Linda C.)

The Most Family Oriented/Unpretentious/Low Key:  Graton Ridge Cellars in Sebastopol is truly a small family operation.  The Paul family began in 1945 as apple and fruit growers but as times changed they ‘evolved’ into grapes and wine making.  The tasting room is quaint and the staff is both knowledgeable and personable.  Proprietors Art and Barbara Paul are on site and fully engaged.  The wines are very approachable beginning with the 2010 RRV Chardonnay and proceeding through 2 Zinfandel and a 2010 RRV Pinot Noir.  The pairing was a Lamb Meatball in tomato sauce, offered by Sally Tomatoes Catering, paired with the 2010 Bacigalupi Vineyards Zinfandel.  Fall is the time for comfort food and this really hit the mark.

Graton Ridge (Linda C.)

Graton Ridge – Owner Barbara Paul on right (Linda C.)

Honorable mention to perennial winners:  The Kobe Tri-tip sliders at Kendall Jackson Wine Center paired with their 2005 Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.  The cabernet braised red cabbage and blue cheese and buttermilk dressing were mouth-watering.  Pedroncelli Winery, on Canyon Road, has been an icon in the Dry Creek Valley since 1927.  The wines are always good and the family remains visible and dedicated to excellence.  On this date Jim and Phyllis Pedroncelli greeted guests on arrival.

Kendall Jackson wines (Linda C.)

Kendall Jackson wines (Linda C.)

Jim and Phyllis Pedroncelli greet guests on arrival (Linda C.)

Jim and Phyllis Pedroncelli greet guests on arrival (Linda C.)

The Northern Sonoma County Wine Road, Wine and Food Affair is an exceptional event that should not be missed.  Mark your calendars, make a reservation at one of the 56 member lodging establishments and spend a glorious weekend in Sonoma Wine Country.

Posted in Sonoma, Uncategorized, Wine, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wine Road | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mangiare, bere vino e essere felici! Eat, drink wine and be merry!!

A recent trip to Puglia, (the Italians call Apulia), and an even more recent wine event in San Francisco highlighted the advances being made in quality and marketing of these complex and interesting wines.  Puglia is bounded on the east by the Adriatic Sea, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south.  The soils are exceptionally fertile – mostly volcanic and limestone, clay and sandstone predominate.  Geographically, the Province of Puglia is long (985 KM – about 600 miles) and narrow with no point being more than about 65 KM (about 40 miles) from the sea.  It is this maritime influence that make this baking summer weather able to produce quality grapes.

The amazing trulli of Alberobello in Puglia (Linda C)

The amazing trulli of Alberobello in Puglia (Linda C)

Historically an agrarian culture, Puglia remains highly cultivated and accounts for at least 35% of all olives produced in Italy (70% if combined with Calabria – the toe of the boot).  Additionally, Puglia, one of Italy’s 20 wine growing regions, produces more wine than any other Italian Province.  But quantity does not necessarily translate to quality.  There is a distinct difference between the northern part of Puglia, more hilly than the south,  where the wine making is more reflective of the practices employed in Umbria and Tuscany while in the southern Salento Peninsula they are more aligned with the practices employed by earlier Greeks and Romans.

Daniele Cirsone presents overview of Puglia (Linda C)

Daniele Cirsone presents overview of Puglia (Linda C)

Twenty-five years ago most of the wines grown in Puglia were shipped to northern Italy or France to supplement lower harvests or to provide structure to wines from poor harvests.  That has been changing, partially because of the European Union economic advances and the need to produce higher revenues.  This is being accomplished by reducing tons per acre thereby increasing the intensity and flavor profiles of the grapes harvested.

Fabio Cascione of Vigne & Vini (Linda C)

Fabio Cascione of Vigne & Vini (Linda C)

There are twenty-nine Denominazione di Orogine Controllata (DOC), four Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita  (DOCG) and six Indicazione Geografica Tipica  (IGT – table wines) wines produced in Puglia.  Unlike an AVA in the US that designates a geographic grape growing area, in Italy, a DOC designates which grapes can be grown in a geographic area.  The most prominent white grape varietals of Puglia include Bombino Bianco, Bianco d’Alessano and Verdeca although in the past 15-20 years international varietals like Chardonnay and Sauvignon have been increasing in the percentage of overall production.  The main red grapes are Aglianico, Negroamaro (the principal grape in Salice Salentino wine), Malvasia Nera and Primitivo di Manduria (the genetic predecessor of California’s Zinfandel grape).

Kari Moore Chateau Ste Michelle and Tormaresca (Linda C)

Kari Moore Chateau Ste Michelle and Tormaresca (Linda C)

The aforementioned wine event in San Francisco was sponsored by Wines of Puglia II, a temporary association of five wine companies that represent the entire region.  Two of these five companies were represented at the event: Tormaresca and Vigne &Vini.  Tormaresca, owned by the Antinori family of Tuscany and Chianti fame, was established in Puglia in 1998 and clearly fits the category of mega-producer with annual production of 2.8 million bottles.  Vigne & Vini, owned and operated by Cosimo Varvaglione and his wife Maria Teresa, is small by comparison but still represents a large market position with about 700,000 bottles annually.  Both producers have distribution in the United States. Tomaresca is partnered with Ste Michelle Wine Estates for distribution in the USA (they also partner on wine production).

Wines of Puglia wines (Linda C)

Wines of Puglia wines (Linda C)

A brief overview of Puglian wines and the terroir was presented by Daniele Cirsone, representing Wines of Puglia.  Each producer brought a wide selection of their wines both whites (Bianco), rosé (Rosato) and reds (Rosso).

Tormaresca wines (Linda C)

Tormaresca wines (Linda C)

To start, Vigne & Vini, who specializes in native red Puglian varietals of Primitivo, Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera, offered their 2011 Salento IGP Moi Verdeca. It was well balanced, crisp and very fresh flavored.  The reds offered quickly upped the flavor scale!  In rapid order the 2010 Primitivo Del Salento (IGP), 2008 Papale Primitivo di Manduria and 2008 Chicca Primitivo Dolce stood out for ruby red color and full fruit flavors. Very approachable and full bodied enough to stand up to Italian food.

Actual plate of hardy pasta from recent trip to Puglia (Linda C)

Actual plate of hardy pasta from recent trip to Puglia (Linda C)

Tormaresca was not to be outdone.  The 2011 IGT Chardonnay (100%) was floral in bouquet while fresh and intense.  Would be a good companion to fish or a summer salad. The most enjoyable reds of the several offered were the 2010 Neprica a medium bodied blend of Negroamaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Soft tannins and drinkability best describes this red.  Next, the 2010 Torcicoda Primitivo (100%) Salento IGT offered hints of plums, cherries and figs.  Very intense with strong flavors and a good balance.  Finally the 100% Aglianico 2006 Bocca di Lupo DOC.  It was intense and dark ruby in color with licorice and fig notes.

More trulli in Alberobello (Linda C)

More trulli in Alberobello (Linda C)

Events of this nature are winning over American wine lovers. The reasonable prices and ever improving quality of Italian wines distributed to the United States from regions like Puglia and Sicily makes them very attractive to a broad range of Americans from entry level through well schooled regular wine drinkers.  Italian wines are and have always been made to enjoy with food and although these Puglian wines have not achieved the stature of the killer B’s (Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello) they can add a special cosmopolitan touch to any American meal.      “Mangiate, bevete e siate felici!”

Posted in Italian Wines, Italy, Uncategorized, Wine | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The wines of the Rhône Valley can rock your world.

Rhône wines are not especially recognizable to many Californians.  Of the French varietals, clearly Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are the most recognized,  consumed and understood in the United States. There are California wine makers (Cline Cellars) who do specialize in these varietals but until and unless one makes a study of them French wines will be an enigma and remain unapproachable for too many Americans.  A recent event in San Francisco, with financial aid from the European Union, was intended to help address this gap.

The Nine was appropriately appointed (Linda C.)

The Nine was appropriately appointed (Linda C.)

Notes du Rhône was held recently at The Nine in San Francisco and included a highly informative presentation on the Rhône Valley, the terroir, the grape varietals and their marketing successes over the past few years.

Oriane Beloud's presentation was informative (Linda C)

Oriane Beloud’s presentation was informative (Linda C)

The RhôneValley is located in the southeast of France and is bounded on the top by Vienne in the north and by Avignon (Home of the Catholic Papacy from 1309 to 1376) in the south.  It is one of over 300 French Appellation d’Origine Controllee (AOC), similar to an AVA in the USA.  France has 12 distinct wine growing regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône.  Although French appellation law allows the use of 22 different grape varietals in Rhône wines, there are 9 that are the most frequently used and best known varietals from the region:  Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc for the whites and Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre.

Four flights were offered for appreciation (Linda C)

Four flights were offered for appreciation (Linda C)

Rhône Valley Wines include 1. Côtes du Rhône, 2. Côtes du Rhône Villages, 3. Côtes du Rhône Villages (named village),  and 4. Côtes du Rhône Crus.  The Côtes du Rhône AOC is the generic for the entire region and as such has the broadest range of quality and consistency.  Each subsequent AOC, above,  is more and more tightly controlled and portends higher and higher quality and consistency.  That distinction, however, is in the mouth and nose of the consumer. (A separate AOC designation has been established for Chateauneuf du Pape although it is located within the RhôneValley.)

The attendees appreciated the wine and food (Linda C)

The attendees appreciated the wine and food (Linda C)

French wines, like Italian wines, are made and, traditionally, consumed with food.  That being the case, it is no surprise that this event had excellent food.  The offering was so well prepared and presented that the caterer, Work of Art catering and events deserves special note in this posting.  The hors d’oeuvres style foods, including fare like ‘Prosciutto Wrapped Grilled Figs’ and ‘Pears and Zucchini Involtini’, were fresh, flavorful, hot and perfectly suited for the wine and food experience.  In addition, the server, Jeremy, was an informative, interested and passionate delivery agent!  A terrific front man.

Work of Art catering was exceptional (Linda C)

Work of Art catering was exceptional (Linda C)

More great food (Linda C)

More great food (Linda C)

The wines offered at Notes du Rhône included four tiers to help educate those in attendance and to offer a variety of flavor profiles that might meet the differing palates represented.  There were entry level wines from the Côtes du Rhône, wines from the Côtes du Rhône Villages, the Crus and finally the Costières de Nîmes (formerly in the Languedoc region), Luberon, Ventoux, lesser known and more recent AOC additions to the Rhone Valley Wines.  Each of these were approachable and achieved the flavor profiles of the varietals represented.  The whites were minerally with stone fruit flavors and crisp.  The Rosés were fruity and fun and excellent for summer’s hot days in Northern California.  The reds had structure, complexity and depth.

The Nine was a great venue! (Linda C)

The Nine was a great venue! (Linda C)

Like many European and California winemakers, there is clearly an effort to make Rhône wines more exciting and approachable to wine aficionados (new or experienced) to broaden appreciation and increase sales.  Notes du Rhône was a great opportunity to taste these wines and build appreciation for the Region and open the door for many American consumers.  Don’t hesitate to enjoy these reasonably priced and newly available wines.

Posted in Day Trips, French Wines, Uncategorized, Wine, Wine Events | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Lancaster Estate releases 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

Last month, Lancaster Estate released their  2009 Lancaster Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  Proprietors, Ted and Nicole Simpkins, and their staff,  lived up to the standard they had previously set  for first class food, wine and fun at a vintage release party.   This 53 acre rolling estate is truly in the heart of Sonoma County wine country.  Its vineyards are in the Alexander Valley American Viticulture Area (AVA) very close to both the Chalk Hill and Knights Valley AVAs.

Emery Checks us in (Linda C.)

Emery Checks us in (Linda C.)

Upon arrival for this later afternoon event, wine club members and guests were greeted by a professional and very energetic valet service.  Exuding an attitude of fun and confidence one had no qualms about handing your keys to one of these young drivers.   The check in process was seamless with Emery checking off your name, handing you a Reidel Bordeaux style glass and slipping a stretchable wrist band color coded to your status of wine club member or guest.

Damon Ainsworth is always happy to see you. (Linda C)

Damon Ainsworth is always happy to see you. (Linda C)

While the live music provided by a classic rock band offered dancing or listening pleasure, the newly opened picnic grove was the site for Hog Island Oysters accompanied by the 2011 Estate Samantha’s Sauvignon Blanc.   This is a perfect late summer pairing and with temperatures rising into the 90s and the grove offering tables, chairs and shade, it was the most popular venue among the 4 offered for the event.  The aromatic Samantha’s offered a melon and citrus bouquet and flavors of ripe pear and grapefruit.  Chilled and crisp, this was  a perfect beverage for most of the afternoon.

Ted Simpkins and Jesse Katz (winemaker) greet guests (Linda C)

Ted Simpkins and Jesse Katz (winemaker) greet guests (Linda C)

The featured wine and the raison d’être for this gathering was the 2009 Estate Cabernet.   This flagship wine consistently meets Ted’s vision of a world class Cabernet made in the image of the great Chateau houses of Bordeaux.  Always blended with the 4 other classic Bordeaux grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, this vintage is both rich and flavor filled.  Deep color and textured tannins it reminds one of fine velvet and kid leather.  Only time can make this wine better than it is right now but it is not necessary to wait.  The food paring was beef and cheese sliders on the softest small buns.  Elaine Bell Catering cannot be out done for events of this type.  Elaine trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has been offering gourmet catering in wine country for over 30 years.  They lived up to this event and stood proudly next to this great Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Cave at Lancaster (Linda C)

The Cave at Lancaster (Linda C)

The wine cave and the area just outside offered the last two venues.  The cave was beautiful lit with candles (battery of course) and the standard cool lights used in normal operations.  The small tasting room inside the cave was arranged as a photography studio and guests were having their pictures taken.  The pictures were printed and framed almost before you walked out the door.  Exceptionally well done!   The wines being poured were the 2009 Sophie’s Hillside Cuvee and the 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Cuvee was paired with a Fried Chicken and Waffles dish with Maple Syrup.  Beautiful!!  The savory chicken just melted in the mouth and the Cuvee was a real compliment.   Sophie’s Cuvee is both fun and serious and is principally Cabernet Sauvignon.  Sometimes it is blended with Merlot and or Cabernet Franc.  Very pleasant on the palate and great with food.

View from the new picnic grove (Linda C)

View from the new picnic grove (Linda C)

The 2005 Estate Cab was being poured in a side by side comparison.  Some was decanted from a large format (1.5 liter) bottle and the other was poured from a 375 ml bottle.  Some participants commented that the decanted large format had lost some of its fruit while the half bottle remained bright and flavorful.  Each person’s palate is different and it is not surprising to have this difference of opinion but it is more typical that a large format maintains acidity and fruit flavors longer than even a 750 ml bottling.

Outside the cave, Elaine Bell had arranged a beautiful set of serving tables with the fried chicken, savory beef and cheese sliders, several savory doughnuts  with special sauces and a separate area with wonderful house made cookies.  Just plain yum!!   Bar height tables with umbrellas were scattered around to facilitate the enjoyment of the food.  Jesse Katz (since early 2010) and Dave Drake (over 10 years), Wine maker and Assistant, were very accessible for questions and answers about the wine and this years harvest.  Equally engaged and always accessible to their guests were Ted, Nicole and for the first time, perhaps, twin daughters Sophie and Samantha were present and adorable.

Sophie (r) sells lemonade for a cause. (Linda C)

Sophie (r) sells lemonade for a cause. (Linda C)

As this perfectly executed 3 hour event was winding down, it was important to compliment Ted Simpkins and Nicole on this first class  event made infinitely better by their team of tasting room, event, winemaking and hospitality staff.   Damon, Emery and Andrew (among many others) continually impress with the knowledge, friendliness, personality and just plain personal engagement.  At the risk of leaving others out,  these three people truly stand out and deserve to be singled out.  Thanks to to them and, of course Ted and Nicole, for hosting this wonderful cannot miss, annual wine country event!!

Proprietor's house at Lancaster (Linda C)

Proprietor’s house at Lancaster (Linda C)

At the time of this posting it was reported that the Simpkins were closing or have closed a deal to sell the estate to the Foley Wine Group, adding this gem to their collection of premium wineries which includes Chalk Hill, just down the road from Lancaster, Altvs, (Napa Valley), Firestone Vineyard (Los Olivos) and EOS Estate (Paso Robles) among several others.  We wish Ted, Nicole and the children all the best in their new adventures.

Lancaster Estate is located at 15001 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448.  They  offer private tours and tasting by reservation only.  Contact 707-433-8178 ext 209.   It must be pointed out that Nicole and the Proprietors Home, a 6000 square foot former residence, were featured on recent episodes of the Housewives of New Jersey.

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Its October in Healdsburg! Time for the Pinot Noir World Series!!

While the SF Giants and the Oakland A’s battle back to maintain their chances for another Bay Area World Series, the Pinot Noir World Series is only 11 days away.  Healdsburg, California is set to host the 9th Annual “Pinot on the River” on Sunday October 21st from 12 to 4PM in the idyllic Healdsburg Plaza.  The river, of course, is the Russian River which runs through town and it is fabulous this time of year.  The event benefits the The Central Sonoma County Boys and Girls Clubs and is truly a Fall Classic for over 100 Pinot Noir producers from up and down the west coast!

Crowds on Plaza Street - Pinot Festival (Linda C)
Crowds on Plaza Street – Pinot on the River 2011 (Linda C)
Papapietro Perry Team (Linda C)

Papapietro Perry Team 2011 (Linda C)

Artisanal wineries from around California, including vintners from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Lucia Highlands, Sonoma Coast, Russian River, Anderson Valley as well as other American Viticultural Areas will participate.  Some favorites this year include: Black Kite, Breggo, Laetitia, Landmark, Landy, Frati Horn, Papapietro Perry, Littorai, Patz & Hall, Sidori and Valdez, as well as  the very large Terlato Family Vineyards  and the very small and non-profit Bruliam Wines.

There is probably no better venue than the Plaza in Healdsburg.  Plaza Street was blocked off in 2011 for the vintners to set up their tasting tables while the Plaza itself was filled with a special VIP tasting area, artisanal cheese makers, a gourmet food stand and a very large silent auction.

Silent Auction at Pinot Festival (Linda C)

Silent Auction at Pinot Festival (Linda C)

A terrific event, with early admission available for an additional fee.  Additional activities include a ‘Morning with Ted Lemon, Littorai Winery” at 9am for those holding VIP tickets. Maybe the best part of this event is that you can taste and learn about very limited production vintners whose case production is as small as 400 cases per year in the beautiful Russian River Valley.

Laetitia Vineyards and Gary Farrell Winery Teams 2011 (Linda C)

Laetitia Vineyards and Gary Farrell Winery Teams 2011 (Linda C)

Get your tickets (you can do it online) and do not miss this Fall Classic!  With so many wineries participating and the grand tasting in downtown Healdsburg Plaza Square, this is a Sonoma County wine event you must experience to appreciate.

Posted in Sonoma, Wine, Wine Country, Wine Events | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Home in Umbria – Fondo le Teglie

Northern California is a Mecca for lovers of  great food and wine.  So much so, that there is little or no incentive to travel away.   Residents of Italy, however, can likely say the same.  Certainly France has a claim to a similar attitude but Italy is widely accepted as the most people friendly and accessible food and wine haven for the global traveler.  As the origin and home of the “slow food movement” is should not surprise that Italy remains a desirable and fulfilling destination.

One of the best ways to experience this well known life style and epicurean approach to food and wine is to head to a small farm house in the middle of Italy and hire a local home cook to come and prepare food for you to enjoy.  Fondo Le Teglie, in Umbria, is a perfect example of this approach to experiencing Italian wine and food.

The Villa Fondo le Teglie (Linda C)

The Villa Fondo le Teglie (Linda C)

Fondo Le Teglie is a restored 17th Century farmhouse in central Umbria within reach of  most Umbrian, Lazio and Tuscan locales (e.g. Florence, Rome, Siena, Montefalco, Assisi, Perugia, Orvieto, Spoleto and many others).   Surrounded by manicured farms with sheep and goats and grains, the Villa Fondo de Teglie is an excellent place to recuperate from the daily grind, to gather with friends or as a home base for day trips around Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria.

The pool at Fondo le Teglie (Linda C)

The pool at Fondo le Teglie (Linda C)

The Villa sleeps as many as 11 people with the 4 main bedrooms (most with private baths en suite) and the annex.  The gardens and pool are delightful.  The house has a wood fired outdoor pizza oven, wonderful outdoors tables to accommodate breakfast, lunch, or dinner and interior dining and living spaces appropriate to the bedrooms and a large kitchen which is perfect for Italian cooking classes or for an expert local chef/cook to prepare amazing local fare.  The host/owner can arrange either of these (classes or onsite chef) with a little notice.   An all-time favorite is Dina, a local cook who specializes in local pastas, meats and pizzas.

Perfect for morning coffee (Linda C)

Perfect for morning coffee (Linda C)

The wineries of Orvieto and Montefalco are an easy afternoon or morning drive.  Orvieto is well known for its underground city and its Duomo.  Built on top of an impregnable rock (read mountain) it has survived intact for centuries. Also in Orvieto, Palazzone Winery is most notable.  Giovanni Dubini is a great host, winemaker and story teller.  The Orvieto Classico is wonderful and the Grechetto is also worth taking home.

Local Chef Dina and deep fried zucchini flowers (Linda C)

Local Chef Dina and deep fried zucchini flowers (Linda C)

Montefalco, about 45 minutes north of the Villa, specializes in Sagrantino, a dry red wine which is quite tannic and inky black in color.  The annual Sagrantino festival is mid-September is a very classy event with parades and formal tasting.

Attractive comfortable living spaces (Linda C)

Attractive comfortable living spaces (Linda C)

Also fairly close to Fondo Le Teglie is the city of Deruta, very well known for its colorful and unique ceramics.  The owner is typically the welcoming party and the tour of the ceramic making process from clay, to paint, to kiln is excellent and helps explain why these ‘pieces of art’ are so expensive and special.

Fondo and farmland (Linda C)

Fondo and farmland (Linda C)

Fondo Le Teglie has so much more to recommend it but suffice it to say that Susan, the owner and host, is passionate about Umbria and goes well out of her way to make sure each and ever guest has a memorable experience that beckons one to return.

Fondo Le Teglie is located in the village of Sismano, town of Avigliano and is about 25 minutes from Todi, a charming medieval hilltop city.  To find via GPS enter Voc. Fondo Le Teglie 68, Fraz. Sismano, 05020 Avigliano Umbro (TR).  Or you can e-mail Susan at: info@ilgustodelpaese.com 

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