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Yes Way, Lodi Rosé!

If you think all Rosé is White Zinfandel, I have two things to say to you. (1) You’re not alone, and (2) you need to get out and explore Rosé!

I’ve actually been in conversation with people who say, “I don’t like Zinfandel; it’s too sweet.” When they see the quizzical look on my face, they say, “You know, Zinfandel? The pink wine.”  (Spoiler alert: Zinfandel is actually a red wine grape.) While it’s true that many of us got our start with White Zinfandel, myself included, Rosé wines have come a long way in the past 40 years! (A nod to all you purists who will argue that Rosé from Provence has always been good.) But the popularity of dry Rosé, as I opine all Rosé should be, has taken off in recent years, and thankfully, there’s no end in sight!

Many people think of Rosé as a spring and summer wine, and for good reason. A well-chilled, crisp, dry Rosé is quite refreshing when lounging by the pool, or dining al fresco. I am a believer that there is no Rosé season, and drink it all year round, but I will concede that it is best when the weather is warmer.

When you think of Rosé, what grape varieties do you think of? Other than Zinfandel, of course. What? You mean Rosé isn’t a varietal? Nope. Rosé can be made from virtually any red wine grape. Yet it seems that most domestic (U.S.) Rosé wines, and many Old World examples, are made from Pinot Noir, Grenache, or other Rhône varietals. However, Lodi winemakers are pushing the envelope with some stellar Rosé wines made from grapes you may have never considered.

The Lodi AVA is home to more than 125 different grape varieties. The temperate climate; warm temperatures and dry summers; is conducive to Mediterranean grapes, which thrive here. Lodi winemakers produce Rosé wines from Carignan, Grenache, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and many others. The characteristics that make each of these varieties great red wines, also serve to produce Rosé wines with distinct profiles themselves.

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. I received no other compensation, and all opinions and tasting notes are my own.

 LangeTwins Sangiovese Rosé 2017

I’ve written about LangeTwins Winery before, when Robyn and I had the good fortune to meet some friends for a personal tour, with winemaker David Akiyoshi as our guide. It was a memorable experience, to be sure! So I was excited when I opened the box that the nice FedEx courier delivered, and found a bottle of the LangeTwins Sangiovese Rosé 2017. (Click the link to read about the day, and some of the LangeTwins story.)

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From the winery:

With an alluring vibrant pink color, our 2017 Sangiovese Rosé is delightfully refreshing. Opening with juicy aromas of watermelon and strawberry, the same fruit notes carry over to the palate and are balanced by bright acidity. These smooth flavors and a lasting finish will leave you wanting another sip.

Here are my tasting notes:

Crisp, dry, and refreshing. Medium pink color. Aromas and flavors of strawberry and raspberry, with a pop of watermelon jolly rancher on the finish. This’ll be great all summer long!

This wine retails at the winery for just $15!

St. Amant Barbera Rosé 2017

​Well, now. I’ve actually never had a Barbera Rosé before. Barbera is one of my favorite varietals. I’ve enjoyed many red Barbera wines, and even a White Barbera (fermented with no skin contact.) But never pink!

St. Amant Winery was born in the early 1980’s in Amador County, growing their own grapes, and making wine in borrowed facilities. The name comes from the founder’s wife’s maiden name., Their first emphasis was on port-style wines, with some success. In the late 1980’s, the White Zinfandel craze exploded, and St. Amant jumped on board. The success of their White Zin sales allowed the family to purchase their own winery, in French Camp, California, just outside Lodi. In 1996, they moved to their current location in Lodi. The history of St. Amant is quite fascinating, and I encourage you to read the whole story on their website.

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I think the cat is angry because it can’t drink Rosé.

About the wine, from the winery website:

This delicious dry rosé of Barbera is the perfect refreshing wine for a hot summer day. Barbera’s natural acidity and Lodi’s decadent fruit flavors come together to create a lively wine that is sure to please. Yes, it may be a pink wine, but then again, it’s a delicious pink wine. The 2016 Rosé was such a hit that we couldn’t resist doing another one. If for no other reason, it’s a wine I like to drink during the summer. It’s a dry, lighter-styled version of our Barbera, with a zesty refreshing quality that lends itself well to warm summer days. Barbera’s natural acidity and luscious fruit lend itself perfectly to this unpretentious and quaffable wine. It has a deep pink color with a bright fuchsia edge. Strawberry and cranberry aromas follow through on the palate capturing the essence of spring in the glass. Drink Pink!

Here are my tasting notes:

Great color! Deep rose petal in the glass. Aromas of wild strawberry and red cherry burst from the glass. On the palate, a variety of red fruit rolls across the tongue, including strawberry, cherry, and raspberry, with hints of kiwi and watermelon. Rich texture and mouthfeel, with bright acidity. The finish is medium with sour cherry (almost like the Lifesaver flavor!), strawberry, and raspberry. A delicious summer sipper, and great wine to pair with light food dishes.

This wine retails at the winery for just $15! (Noticing a trend?)

If you’re not convinced to get out and try some delicious Lodi Rosé wines, well, I guess I’ve failed. Lodi winemakers and producing some stunning Rosé wines, that are delicious, unique, satisfying, and affordable. So, get up, head to your local wine shop…or better yet, come out to Lodi…and try some Rosé!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo credit (unless otherwise noted) and inspiration by Robyn Raphael
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El Dorado Passport Weekend 2018

Off again on another exciting wine tasting weekend! This time we were headed to El Dorado County, for the El Dorado Passport Weekend. El Dorado County is right in our back yard, just about an hour from home. As guests of the El Dorado Winery Association, who provided us with complimentary VIP passes to the event, we were looking forward to a deeper exploration of the region. While we’ve lived nearby for many years, quite honestly, our ventures to the land of gold discovery had been few.

 

El Dorado Winery Association represents nearly 50 wineries. About half were participating in the annual Passport Weekend. With so many wineries to choose from, we had to map out our strategy. Compounding the mathematical quandary was the fact that we had only Saturday to attend. We had other commitments on Sunday! Clearly, we needed a plan.

El Dorado County is located east of Sacramento, and runs from the valley floor all the way to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In fact, the town of South Lake Tahoe is in El Dorado County. The highway that one travels from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe is U.S. Highway 50, part of the historic Lincoln Highway. As it happens, Highway 50 bisects El Dorado wine country, with the Apple Hill area wineries on the north side, and Pleasant Valley, Mount Aukum, and Fair Play regions to the south. Of these regions, Fair Play is perhaps the most well-known, at least in the area, and is the part of El Dorado County we’ve explored the most. With that realization, our plan was established. We would delve into the Apple Hill area, on the north side of Highway 50, and visit wineries that were completely new to us! Well, mostly, as you will read.

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Image Credit: El Dorado Winery Association

The El Dorado Passport Weekend actually spans two weekends. We attended the second. The first weekend was met with sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures. The second weekend was, well, more seasonable. It was overcast and chilly, with an often biting wind at outdoor venues. Nevertheless, even cold weather would not prevent us from enjoying the day and sampling some fantastic El Dorado County wines.

High elevation wines are what sets El Dorado Wine Country apart from other California regions. The growing region varies from 1,200 to more than 3,500 feet above sea level! That’s some serious altitude! Some 50 grape varieties thrive here, from Gewürztraminer to Cabernet Sauvignon, to Barbera, to Chardonnay, to Zinfandel, and many others. Rhône and Bordeaux varietals do especially well here. There are many soil types, including volcanic rock, decomposed granite, and fine shale, each providing its own influence to the terroir.

El Dorado Grape Varieties

Image Credit: El Dorado Winery Association

From here, please enjoy the photo montage along with brief descriptions of each winery we visited. We quickly learned that El Dorado Winery Association knows how to host a party, as each winery had food pairings for almost all of their wines. We did not go hungry!

Our first stop was Fenton Herriot Vineyards. Perched atop a hillside with spectacular views, Fenton Herriot is located just outside Placerville, a quaint Gold Rush era town. The wines were as amazing as the views, and we enjoyed the catered food pairings as well. As part of the VIP experience we were invited to a three-vintage vertical tasting of their Sangiovese.

 

 

Next was Lava Cap Winery. This is the one I intimated above; we’ve been familiar with Lava Cap for years, because their production is such that they can be found in Sacramento area restaurants and even grocery stores. Don’t let this dissuade you, however, their wines are first-class! As part of our VIP experience, we tasted a flight of library wines, including a 12 year old, oak aged Viognier. Yes, you read that right – a 12 year old Viognier! It was spectacular!

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Moving on, we stopped at Madroña. Established in 1973, Madroña is one of the oldest El Dorado County wineries. I even remember them being there when I visited Apple Hill as a child! Here was tasted a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon including a 1985. That’s the year my daughter was born! The wine has aged and mellowed as much as my daughter has. Amazing! They also have a red blend, El Tinto, composed of 25 different grape varieties. Delicious!

 

 

Next we stopped at Via Romano Vineyards. Via Romano specializes in Italian varietals, and they do them exceptionally well. Check out the Pinot Grigio paired with mango, peach, and apple bruschetta! Simply ethereal!

From there, we stopped at Bumgarner Winery. Any San Francisco Giants fans in the audience? Owner Brian Bumgarner did some genealogical research, and found at least a distant relation to starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer, Madison Bumgarner. Even if baseball is not your thing, stop on by their rustic tasting room for some rich, full-bodied red wines.

At the recommendation of one of the staff at Bumgarner, we next ventured just south of Highway 50 to Chateau Davell. There we were reunited with owner and winemaker, Eric Hayes, who we had met at the Wine Bloggers Conference a few months earlier. Eric is a skilled winemaker, and also an accomplished painter. Each label is adorned with a portrait of a family member, lovingly painted by Eric himself.

As you can imagine if you’re keeping score, by now we were getting palate fatigued. Nevertheless, we had some time to kill before we would be meeting friends in Placerville. So we forged on to one last winery, Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery. Another early pioneer in El Dorado Wine Country, established in 1979, Sierra Vista was also on the forefront of the Rhône movement in the area. Their dedication to the craft is evident in each sip.

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With a renewed fascination and enthusiasm for our backyard wine region, we are determined to return soon and continue our adventure of discovery. If you are planning a trip to Northern California, perhaps to the more famous wine regions like Napa, Sonoma, or Lodi, you owe it to yourself to plan a little detour to the east, and come discover the fantastic wines of El Dorado County.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Unless otherwise credited, all photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 and RANGE Kitchen & Tap

When you live in suburbia, surrounded by big-box chain eateries, you get rather excited when a quality, independent restaurant opens up. And you do all you can to support them, hoping to ensure their success and longevity. So it was a couple of weeks ago, when bored with all the same old, same old places for a Friday evening happy hour, that I checked Yelp (love it or hate it, it still serves a purpose) and spotted a “Hot and New” listing for RANGE Kitchen & Tap.

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We headed there directly, excited about the prospect of a new place that might suit our needs. We were not disappointed. Our first time in, we really only wanted a glass of wine and some small plates. When we scanned the menu, and saw the plethora of delicious-sounding salads and entrees, we decided to go all in. We were sitting at the bar, which overlooks the prep-kitchen, so we could see everything coming out of the back, and we were amazed at what we saw. We also got to talk with the prep cooks, and Chef Kevin for a few minutes when he emerged from the main kitchen. We learned that RANGE Kitchen & Tap specializes in farm fresh, local ingredients, prepared on site, to create comfort food with a twist. Everything is made there, from fresh ground beef all the way down to the homemade salad dressings and even mayonnaise. That night we split a Ceasar salad (homemade dressing, yum!) and Mom’s Meatloaf. Sliced, then seared on the flat-top for a crispy crust, it was amazing!

Determined to share the wealth, we invited friends Jason and Heather Thomson, to join us for the full meal deal. And although RANGE Kitchen & Tap has put together a very impressive wine list, we decided to bring our own, and open a bottle we’ve been holding onto for a while: Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015, made by friends and fellow wine bloggers, Mike and Lori Budd.

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If you haven’t tried bringing your own wine to a restaurant, give it a go. Just make sure it’s not something that’s already on their wine list. Most places charge a nominal corkage fee (the charge for the server/somm/owner to pull the cork) although some restaurants don’t charge for corkage at all. I’ve often wondered, and have yet to get a straight answer, but with the increasing popularity of screwcap wines, when you bring your own wine closed by screwcap, do they charge you a “screwage fee”? Anyway, not only does BYOW save money, but it’s a great way to share a special bottle with friends.

But I digress…we met Jason and Heather and set about perusing the menu. We decided to start with the Charcuterie Board. The meat selection changes frequently, and each day the offerings are listed on a chalkboard near the kitchen. Tonight’s board was delicious, though I can’t remember all of the meats that our server described.

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Onto the mains, where were delighted with the selections. The catch of the day, which Robyn ordered, was fresh halibut over asparagus and peas. Heather got the fried chicken over garlic mashed potatoes, Jason The Range pizza, featuring daily market fresh ingredients, and I ordered The Shorty flatbread, made with short rib meat that had been cooked sous vide for 36 hours. As you can see, the food looked amazing, and I can assure you it tasted even better! But how would this wide variety of foods stand up to our big, bold red wine?

 

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The Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 paired magnificently with each and every dish. A well-crafted and food friendly wine, Dracaena is definitely a crowd pleaser. Bold enough to stand up to short ribs or steak, yet restrained and elegant so it complements lighter dishes like grilled halibut just as well.

 

Mike and Lori Budd have a passion for Cabernet Franc. So much so, that they were the driving force behind the annual Cabernet Franc Day, celebrated on December 4th each year. As one would expect, when someone has a passion, their product is going to be sensational. Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 definitely is that. Here’s my review:

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A truly spectacular gem! Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, black cherry, and vanilla. On the palate, there are big, both flavors of blackberry pie, black currant, and chocolate covered cherries, mingled with soft oak and vanilla notes. With a rich, full mouthfeel, velvety smooth tannins, balanced acidity, and a long, juicy finish of black fruit and spice, this is an exquisite wine that pairs well with a wide range of foods, from grilled halibut to a thick steak.

You really should give Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 a try. It’s available direct from the winery on their website. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, I almost left out dessert. Silly me. We love crème brûlée. Do you know what’s better than crème brûlée? Espresso crème brûlée! Oh, yes! This stuff is rich, decadent, and delicious. We’d come back in just for dessert!

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If you happen to be in the Sacramento area, I encourage you to make the trek out to the ‘burbs of Roseville and check out RANGE Kitchen & Tap. But before you do, make sure you order a bottle or three of Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc, and bring it with you.

Cheers!

  • Content and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo 2014

On a recent business trip, Robyn met a fellow conference attendee who gave her a recommendation for a new wine. Frank said this wine is one of he and his girlfriend’s favorites, and suggested Robyn and I give it a try. The wine is Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo, from Toscana, Italy. Robyn texted me a picture of the bottle, and I went on the hunt. I didn’t have to look far. Our local Total Wine & More store just happens to carry this wine.

When Robyn arrived home from her trip, she had a little surprise waiting for her on the counter. We adore Italian wines, and some of our favorites are the Sangiovese-based wines out of Tuscany. So naturally, I had stopped at Total Wine on my way home from work the day after her text, and bought a bottle to try.

Tommasi Family Estates has been producing wine grapes since 1902. The family got their start in Valpolicella Classica, Verona, and has since expanded to other regions in Italy. They launched the Poggio al Tufo line of wines in 1997 with the acquisition of the Pitigliano Estate, 66 hectares of vineyards planted in volcanic soil, in the rolling Tuscan hills. The addition of two more vineyards, the 24 hectare Doganella Estate and the Scansano Estate, 80 hectares in the DOC Morellino zone, expanded the operation. The Doganella Estate is an organic production, producing high quality grapes due to the hot, dry Tuscan summers and cooling breezes from the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo is a blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Several vintages of this wine have won numerous awards and accolades, including 93 points from Vinous Media (2012), No. 31 in the Wine Spectator Top 100, with a 92 point score (2011), and 87 points from both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast (2010).

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The current release, at least what is available in our local store, is the 2014. We opened it to enjoy with our meal of grilled filet mignon steaks, baked potato, and spinach salad with warm bacon dressing. Exquisite is the best word to describe it! Here’s my review posted on Vivino:

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Delicious Toscana blend. Dark purple and ruby colors. Aromas of bing cherry and soft cedar. On the palate, juicy cherry and blackberry flavors meld with notes of cola, vanilla, and oak. Soft, silky tannins and medium acidity balance the wine and make for great dipping or food pairing. Long, black fruit and spice finish. We had this with grilled filet steaks and it was outstanding!

I highly recommend this outstanding Toscana wine. And at $15.99 retail, it’s a bottle you can enjoy often!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with inspiration by Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds (unless otherwise credited)

 

Venturing Out to Wise Villa Winery & Bistro

The weather forecast was daunting. A “Pineapple Express” was about to bear down on Northern California, bringing biblical rains, winds, and flooding. For those of you who don’t live in California, a “Pineapple Express” is a tropical storm system that originates near Hawaii, and barrels eastward carrying heavy rains and warm temperatures. The resulting deluge has been known to melt Sierra snow packs and cause widespread flooding in the Sacramento Valley from the combination of rainfall and snow melt. That was the prediction for the weekend.

Meanwhile, a week-long business trip was on the horizon. Having completed packing, Robyn suggested that, regardless of perilous weather forecasts, we head out to the nearby Placer Wine Trail, and do some wine tasting. There are about 20 wineries to choose from, but I knew right away where I wanted to go. We’ve enjoyed the wines of Wise Villa many times. In fact, on our first date, Robyn and I had a bottle of Wise Villa Tempranillo. So clearly, this winery holds a place near and dear to my heart. Yet, despite its location a just 20 or so minutes from home, I’d never been. This potentially stormy day, that injustice would be corrected.

Wise Villa Winery & Bistro is a family owned estate, situated atop a hillside in rural Placer county, with stunning views of the surrounding valley. They farm over 20 different varietals, producing more than 30 wines. From Albarino to Zinfandel, Wise Villa’s wines are expertly crafted to capture the essence of the variety, and the unique terroir of the Placer County Wine region.

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Our original intention was to visit a few wineries that day, but when we arrived at Wise Villa, and took in the beauty of their Tuscan-style building and breathtaking views, we decided to make an afternoon of it. That Wise Villa is the only Placer County winery with a full-service bistro, complete with gourmet chef, combined with the fact that we hadn’t had lunch, made our decision to stay an easy one.

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With the combination of beautiful views, excellent wines, and exceptional service, it’s no surprise that Wise Villa is the favored destination of local large group outings; work-related team building, bridal showers, etcetera. Sure, the winery and bistro were buzzing with activity when we arrived, but we found a quiet table on the covered patio that overlooked the vineyards and valley, and ordered a bottle of wine to enjoy with our small plates. Service was outstanding, and soon our glasses were full of the 2015 Sangiovese, and our Artisan Plate of cheeses, charcuterie, nuts, and fruit, and a platter of chicken skewers were presented for our enjoyment. And enjoy we did!

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Here are my thoughts on the Wise Villa Sangiovese 2015. (Shhhh. It’s a wine club member exclusive.)

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Rich, ruby color in the glass. On the nose, aromas of ripe raspberry and fresh cherry. The wine coats the tongue with a smooth, rich mouthfeel, and flavors of Rainer cherry, kirsch, and raspberry. Tannins are ultra-soft and smooth, balanced by medium acidity and a long, smooth finish of red fruit and spice. Paired perfectly with the Artisan Plate; especially the blue cheese.

As it turned out, the dreaded “Pineapple Express” failed to make an appearance. Instead, we were treated to cotton-ball clouds, warm weather, and absolutely unbelievable views. We relished in our appetizers and wine, and enjoyed a relaxing Saturday afternoon, and each other’s company.

As the larger groups departed, the tasting room became more tranquil, and our bottle now empty, we ventured inside to explore the rest of the Wise Villa menu. All of the wines were exquisite. From soft, supple whites with perfectly balanced fruit and acidity, to big, bold reds with unique aromas and full, rich flavors.

While tasting, and capturing a few photos for the blog, I happened into owner and winemaker, Dr. Grover Lee. A personable and friendly man, Grover shared his passion for winemaking and pairing good food with good wine. He also informed me he offers guided tours of the winery, and assured me they are like no other winery tour I’ve ever been on. Intrigued, I vowed to return to experience the full journey. In the meantime, there was an early morning flight to catch, so we had to say our goodbyes, with an intention to return soon.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with inspiration from Robyn Raphael
  • Photo credits: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend, Day 2 – Sunday

Though Saturday was overcast, cool, and even a little drizzly, Sunday was a new day. We awoke to glorious sunshine, crystal clear skies, and warmer temperatures. This was going to be a great day for some Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting!

In case you missed it, this is the second of two installments on our first-ever visit to Livermore Valley wine country, to attend the annual Barrel Tasting weekend. We were guests of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association. You can read about our Saturday experience here. Suffice it to say, we were very impressed with the Valley, the wines, and the people.

The question of the morning on Sunday was, would it continue? Would the people on Day 2 be as hospitable? Would we spend hours on end at each winery? Would we get to visit more than three? Read on, to find out.

On Sunday, we were on a mission. We were determined to visit as many wineries as possible. With 35 of them participating, we had to be selective, and took some recommendations from the ever hospitable hotel clerk. We plotted our route on the map, and started the car. But wait. The Barrel Tasting event opened up each day at noon. Our first destination was a mere 10-15 minute drive away. We checked out of our hotel at around 10 a.m. What to do? BRUNCH!

We headed down to central Livermore to check it out in the daylight. Wandering around, we spotted some people on what appeared to be a rooftop bar or restaurant. Now on a quest, we entered what turned out to be an office building. Discouraged, we spotted a sandwich-board sign outside the elevator that confirmed we were on the right track, the Aviation Rooftop Bar & Kitchen was just upstairs. The elevator opened into the bar and small dining room, and just beyond was the spectacular rooftop. Brunch was delicious, the server…well, amazingly friendly and hospitable…and just check out this view!

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Sufficiently nourished, we got back in the car and drove to our first stop, the renowned estate, Concannon Vineyards. This was one of what would be eight wineries we visited that day! Like I said, we were on a mission!

I’d like to pause here to assure you that there was much swishing, spitting, and dumping this weekend. Please drink responsibly, and do not drive while impaired!

We were some of the first guests at Concannon on Sunday, so it was not as crowded as we had feared it might. Here, the friendly hosts poured us several tastes of Concannon’s signature wine, Petite Sirah. From the barrel, and from finished and aged bottles, the wines were delicious. Show of hands here: How many of you had your first taste of Petite Sirah from a Concannon bottle? Concannon has a long history of winemaking in California, and even continued during Prohibition by making Sacramental wine for the church.

Our next stop was Murietta’s Well. I’ve read a lot about Murietta’s Well from many of my fellow bloggers, so I wanted to be sure an stop in. Here we enjoyed samples of several wines, including barrel samples of their 2016 Spur; a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. As good as this was out of the barrel, it will be spectacular in a few years when it is released!

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Next up was Steven Kent Winery. Here we tasted some spectacular Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and met winemaker Craig Ploof. Though the tasting room was busy, Craig took the time to talk with us one-on-one, and share a bit of his story and passion. Craig told us how the unique east-west alignment of the Livermore Valley and the varied micro-climates help create wines of character and distinction. He isn’t wrong.

Next, we went to Wente. (See what I did there?) Wente Vineyards is perhaps more well-known than Concannon; their claim to fame being the development of many Chardonnay clones that are now planted around the world. In their barrel room, we sampled Graciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, and their red blend, Artisan Red. Once again, the hosts amazed us with their easy-going, friendly demeanor, and genuine hospitality.

Moving on, we ended up at something of a strip mall for wine. A beautiful stucco building housing at least five winery tasting rooms! First we stopped in at Nottingham Cellars. I’d had a glass of their Cabernet Sauvignon with dinner the night before, and wanted to sample their other wines. Their simplistic but artistic tasting room is charming, and their wines are just as impressive. (By this point , several hours into the day, my note-taking was becoming, well, sketchy, so I don’t recall the barrel samples we had.)

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Walking next door, we entered Longevity Wines. We were immediately taken with the gitchy, eclectic décor; there’s a barn façade inside the tasting room! As we started our barrel tasting; Grenache and a Rhone-style blend called “Deb-Ru-Vee”, the live musical duet was setting up nearby. In addition, winemaker and founder Phil Long was there, and engaged with us and other attendees. Phil is a big guy, but he’s just as friendly, warm, and hospitable as anybody we met that weekend. Upon hearing we were bloggers, he told his staff to treat us well, and he set us up with a full library tasting. (If you read about Saturday’s adventures, you may be noticing a pattern.) The name of the wine, Deb-Ru-Vee, is homage to Phil’s wife, Debra. The quality of the wine is a reflection of Phil’s love and commitment. It’s truly spectacular! As you can imagine, we spent quite a lot of time here. It’s hard to walk away from that welcoming feeling of family and new friends. Yet, eventually, we had to move on. If for nothing else, to make room for other guests!

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Around the corner in an unassuming warehouse building…it looked like an auto body shop…was Wood Family Wines. Winemaker Rhonda Wood was on hand to host the tasting, which included pairing with locally handmade English Toffee. Oh, yum! Once again, we connected with Rhonda and were treated to a complimentary flight in the tasting room, after finishing the barrel tasting. A friendly and engaging staff made us feel welcome, and made sure we were well cared for.

With palate fatigue setting in, we made our way to our final stop: McGrail Vineyards and Winery. The good folks at McGrail had started following me on Instagram just that morning, so it only seemed right to pay them a visit in person to say thank you. In addition, on their Instagram post, they touted an Aroma Bar.

They doctored eight glasses of wine with aromas common in red wine. The challenge was to identify each of the elements in each glass. While I only got six right, it was enough to win a complementary tasting next time we’re in town!

And so it was time to go. We’d had an amazing weekend, meeting fantastic people, making new friends, and finding new favorite wines. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Livermore Valley, thank you. We’ll definitely be back!

  • By Kent Reynolds,
  • With creative content and inspiration by Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Luke Donald Collection LDC Red, Napa Valley, 2012

Robyn made a great find yesterday at the market! We were picking up some provisions at one of our favorite shops, where in addition to great prices on groceries, they have a wide selection of quality wines at blow-out prices. We refer to this establishment as “Winevana.” You may know it as Grocery Outlet.

At any rate, we wandered into the well-stocked wine department. Alas, our Wine Genie, Jerry, was not working, so we wandered the aisles reading Jerry’s shelf-talkers instead. Suddenly, Robyn stopped, and blurted out “Bordeaux Blend!” She had stumbled upon (not into, thankfully) a display of Luke Donald Collection LDC Red wine. I’d never heard of this label, but when I read Jerry’s description, I agreed with Robyn. We had to take one home with us. Robyn also made a brilliant suggestion: “Let’s open this tonight with our burgers. So we did.

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I’ve never been one to chase celebrity or athlete wines, and frankly, I didn’t know this was such a wine until I read the back label. Luke Donald is a British professional golfer, who partnered with  Bill Terlato of Teralto Wines to create wines of excellence, that reflect Luke’s personality and style.

Here’s my Vivino review, describing what I thought of the wine:

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This is a remarkable Bordeaux-style blend. Definitely New World, with a big, bold profile. Deep, inky purple color in the glass. Aromas explode from the glass on the nose, including blackberry, dark black cherry, ripe raspberry, and mocha. On the palate, flavors of Marionberry pie, ripe blackberry, black cherry, baking spice, vanilla, and toasty oak. A little hot at first but tamed with food. Tannins are firm and chewy, and acidity is medium and balanced. We had it with grilled cheeseburgers with tarragon-Russian dressing. Exquisite! The finish goes on for days, with dark berry and white pepper. 43% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot.

Oh, those cheeseburgers? They were no ordinary cheeseburgers. They were Cheddar BLT Burgers with Tarragon-Russian dressing. If you want to try them, you can find the recipe at Food & Wine. (Click the link!) OK, OK, the picture here is from the Food & Wine website. We’re eating low-carb, so we had these sans-bun in lettuce wraps. They really weren’t photo-worthy, but they still tasted amazing! If you close your eyes, you can almost taste the toasted brioche bun.

Cheddar BLT Burger with Tarragon-Russian Dressing

If you can find this wine, I encourage you to try it. Check your local Grocery Outlet, and maybe you’ll get lucky. This wine averages about $35 on the Internet. We got our bottle at Grocery Outlet for just $9.99!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with credit and inspiration to Robyn Raphael.