Book Review: Sipping Away – 30 Years of Unique Wine Experiences

We all have our own, individual wine stories. Stories of how we got on this wild journey into wine. That first, really memorable taste, the evolution of our palates, and other influential moments along the way. These stories are often fun to share and compare, when socializing with fellow wine lovers. David Klein compiled his story into a book: Sipping Away: 30 Years of Unique Wine Experiences.

The following book was provided by the author as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

img_0961

Sipping Away is David Klein’s 30+ year wine story. His story starts out like many others of the day; memories of gallon jugs of Carlo Rossi wine on the table, alongside lovingly home-cooked meals, and surrounded by family eager to enjoy the meal.

The son of an Italian mother and Jewish father, David grew up in Queens, New York. He shares early memories of those food oriented holidays, filled with delicious dishes prepared from family recipes handed down from generation to generation. 

David’s father, Howard, worked on Wall Street as a stockbroker. That is, until the firm’s funds were embezzled, and Howard was out of work. He learned about a neighborhood liquor store that was for sale. Howard knew nothing about liquor stores, but was willing to give it a try. Soon, David began working in the store while attending Chiropractic College. It was there that David’s wine journey began in earnest. 

Sipping Away is a tale of discovery, blossoming passion, friendship, and sophistocation. David shares his tales of wine groups and tasting parties. Some members of his group have been with David for more than 30 years. He also shares tips for finding relative bargains from top growth producers, and what to do in a restaurant if you receive a faulty bottle. David presents all this information in an entertaining, engaging style, though stories of his own experiences. 

Want to learn more about David’s wine journey? At just 132 pages, Sipping Away is a great read for a quiet weekend, or on a cross-country flight. Sipping Away is available on Amazon.com. Check it out. I bet you’ll learn a thing or two. I know I did! 

Cheers!  

  • By Kent Reynolds

Winning Big at Casino Mine Ranch

We have been big fans of Amador County wines for a long time. Awhile back, we connected on Instagram (@appetite_for_wine) with @casinomineranch, a relative newcomer in the wine landscape of the Sierra Foothills. During our early online chatter, we expressed an interest in visiting. We learned that visits to Casino Mine Ranch are by appointment only. Alas, our frequent trips to the area are often spontaneous, so, embarrassingly, we went several months without scheduling a visit. 

Thankfully, that negligence came to an end earlier this month. We were planning a trip to Amador County wine country, and Kent remembered Casino Mine Ranch. After a quick DM on Instagram, Chief of Staff Mackenzie Cecchi confirmed our reservation. 

It was a lovely November day when we arrived at Casino Mine Ranch. Rather spring-like weather, in fact. (Sorry, not sorry to our East Coast family and friends.) Up a winding, nondescript driveway (even with GPS, we missed it and had to turn around), past Lola’s vineyard, until we saw Casey’s tree fort, and we knew we had arrived.  

Mackenzie greeted us as we entered the house. Yes, house. Casino Mine Ranch’s current location is the owners’ second home. Mackenzie said they are in the planning stages of a tasting room down the road near some other tasting rooms, but for now, welcome to this beautiful home! 

Mackenzie poured us our first taste. There would be eight total during the hour-long tour and tasting. The 2017 Vermentino. Simply stellar! Plenty of pineapple and citrus, with bracing acidity. Just the way we like it. If the Vermentino was any indication, we were in for a very special, and tasty hour. (Spoiler alert: the Vermentino was definitely an indication!) 

All of the wines in Casino Mine Ranch’s portfolio are 100% estate fruit. The ranch is 60 acres, but currently there are only 14 acres under vine. However, they are planning to plant more vineyards so they can increase production.

The second tasting on the tour was the 2017 Grenache Blanc. Mackenzie said the 2016 wasn’t quite what they’d hoped for, and asked our opinion of the 2017. Ironically, Kent had taken a wine survey just the day before, and had to respond in the negative to the question: have you tasted a Grenache Blanc in the past six months. Timing, people. Timing is everything! And so is this Grenache Blanc. Straw color, aged in 30% new French oak, with flavors of apricot and peach, with hints of butter and caramel. Exquisite. 

img_0857

As we moved outside, and prepared to enter the mine, Mackenzie provided a history lesson. Casino Ranch Mine was founded in 1936 by Simone Shaw. Simone was born in Belgium, and with her family escaped the 1914 German invasion. Her father had a mining operation in Alaska, where Simone spent time in her younger days. Always stylish and worldly, Simone caught the eye of many a suitor. The family eventually moved to New York City, where Simone met Sam Shaw, Jr., hotelier and art patron. It was a match made in heaven, and the two were soon married. 

As socialites, the Shaws spent time in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Paris. Somehow, they found their way to what was then the middle of nowhere…Amador County. (Let’s be real, Amador County may not be the middle of nowhere today, but it’s only just outside the border! We love it that way.) Simone bought the property, with the intention of mining for gold. Always the realist, she felt that striking it rich in gold mining was a gamble, hence the name: Casino Mine Ranch. 

Simone’s instincts were right. Nothing more than a modicum of gold was discovered in their mine. However, what they did find was as precious as gold in the remote Sierra Foothills: water. Under the lava caps on the property were reserves of water. The Shaw’s excavated and dammed the springs, and even today they are used for irrigation on the ranch. 

Into the mine we went. The water was located only a few yards beyond the entrance, so the tour does not go deep into the mine. Here, we tasted the 2018 Rosé, a blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre. Another exquisite wine. Three-for-three! Pale pink color, with flavors of strawberry and raspberry. Bone dry and zesty. 

From the mine, we went back through the house, and downstairs to a beautiful cellar room. Here we tasted the 2017 Grenache Noir; 100% Grenache, aged in 30% new French oak. This wine recently received a score of 90 points from Wine Spectator magazine. A luscious, spicy wine, with bold red fruit and licorice notes. There was an ashtray on the counter, crafted from a bear claw. (Not the pastry, but an actual claw from an actual bear!) Mackenzie said legend has it, that Simone herself shot that bear! 

Venturing outside through the back of the house, we made our way to the pool house. Pool house? Pool house. Not too many wineries have a pool and a pool house! But this was just the beginning. The two-story pool house is a home unto itself, complete with kitchen and entertainment. Upstairs there is a full-scale shuffleboard table, and down the spiral staircase to the lower level, you will find a pinball machine, video arcade game, and an air hockey table. In case you were wondering, as we were, the answer is yes. At wine club events, members have the opportunity to use these games! 

Back outside and down a grassy hill, Mackenzie continued the family tale. Shortly after World War II, Sam passed away. Sam’s brother, Hollis Shaw, came to stay on the property to help the widow with the ranch. Hollis initially lived in one of the small mining shacks on the property. However, after some time, he moved into the main house. Not long after, Simone and Hollis were married. 

During the 1960’s and 70’s, Simone’s grand-nephews, Rich, Jim, and Steve Marryman, would come to the ranch for visits. They were intrigued by their aunt, living in such a remote area but still being so glamorous, serving the children their meals off fine china, and dressing for dinner. In 1999, Rich Merryman bought Casino MIne Ranch. 

In 2011, Rich called brother Jim to tell him he is going to plant a vineyard on the property and wanted to make wine. Jim thought Rich was crazy, though he eventually joined the venture. They hired winemaker Andy Erickson, and in 2015, produced their first vintage. 

Mackenzie escorted us to a large, metal building at the bottom of the hill. She referred to it as the “midlife crisis building.” This, she said, was to be the Casino Mine Ranch winery production facility. However, their winemaking team is in Napa, and they didn’t want to have to come all the way out, almost to the border of nowhere, to produce the wine. With construction started, what is one to do with a massive building that now has no purpose? Turn it into an NBA regulation basketball court, of course! 

Several NBA stars have visited the ranch to play on the court. In addition, college flags adorned the back wall. These are the alma mater of wine club members. Joining the club earns one the right to display their school’s flag. Guests on tour are invited to go downstairs onto the court to shoot some hoops, but we decided to stay topside and just watch. 

Back up the hill to the house, and onto the patio with breathtaking views, where we enjoyed the rest of the wines. Next on the list was the 2017 Mourvèdre. Another 100% varietal wine, this medium bodied red has spicy red fruit, raspberry, cherry, and cranberry, with baking spice and a long finish. 

The 2016 Simone, obviously named in honor Great Aunt Simone, is a blend of 52% Grenache and 48% Mourvèdre. This is a big, powerhouse of a wine, with red fruit and spice on the nose, and flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, baking spice, and mineral notes. Big, chewy tannins and bright acidity lead to a very long finish. 

Next was the 2016 Tempranillo, one of only two non-Rhône style wines in the portfolio. This wine pours inky purple, and has flavors of blueberry, spice, and a bit of raspberry. The tannins are very soft and smooth, balanced with medium acidity. 

The final wine on the tour was the 2016 Marcel. Wait, we sense another story here. Marcel Tiquet moved to Casino Mine Ranch after World War II. He was just 19 years old at the time. Marcel and his wife didn’t intend on staying long, but raised their family there and they loved the place so much, they just never moved away. Making a life here, Marcel became the heart and soul of Casino Mine Ranch. Sadly, Marcel passed away in September 2018, at the age of 93. 

The wine in his honor is 80% Tempranillo and 20% Teroldego. Here is another big, bold red wine, worthy of such a man as Marcel. Inky purple color, with aromas and flavors of blueberry, raspberry, baking spice, and white pepper on the finish. Big, firm, chewy tannins mingle with medium acidity, leading to a long finish. This is a wine that wants a rib-eye or grilled lamb. 

Alas, the tour was over. Nevertheless, we were so impressed with the wines, the story, and the property, that we decided to join the wine club. So, as they say…we’ll be back! 

If you’d like to visit Casino Mine Ranch, and you know you do, you’ll need to make a reservation. You can do this on their website. They are open for guests Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with appointment times at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. When you go, tell them Robyn and Kent sent you! 

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Review: Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé

The holidays are once again upon us, and just like last year, we have a tasty and festive sparkling wine for you. Last year we reviewed the Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut, and gave it our hearty recommendation. This year, we received a media sample of the Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. 

Lucien Albrecht_NV_Brute Rose_Bottle Shot

Photo credit Lucien Albrecht Grand Vin d’Alsace

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

As you may recall from our previous review, Crémant refers to a sparkling wine, made in France in the méthode tranditionalle (the way Champagne is made), that is not made in the Champagne region. Crémant sparkling wines are often of comparable quality, but much more affordable than their more famous cousin. 

Lucien Albrecht is a name synonymous with Alsace wine. The Lucien Albrecht story dates back hundreds of years. Over the generations, the Albrecht family has been among the pioneers of innovation and advancement in Alsace winemaking. Albrecht believes in respecting nature and the grapes to produce wines of distinction, showcasing the unique terroir.  

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. The whole clusters are crushed, and the free run juice is fermented and bottled. After the second fermentation in the bottle, the wine is aged on the lees for 14-16 months. The result is a wine that is dry and crisp, with a creamy texture and long finish. At just $23 SRP, this is a terrific value and worthy of any holiday table. 

img_0683

 

We have been big fans of Lucien Albrecht wines, both still and sparkling, for a long time. Confident of a satisfying experience, we popped our bottle and were immediately impressed with the quality. We were definitely not disappointed! Here’s what we thought of it. 

img_0686

Pale salmon color. Bountiful, vigorous bubbles that fade in a few minutes, though still ample throughout. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, strawberry, rose petal, hints of orange blossom.  Dry with bright acidity. Long finish. Great with fish and shrimp tacos, and will complement a variety of traditional holiday favorites. 

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé is widely available at your favorite retailer. Next time you’re in, grab a bottle, put it on ice, and impress your holiday guests with your exquisite taste. 

Cheers!

  • Except where noted, all text, photos, and video by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Greek Wine Tasting: GAI’A Wines

If you haven’t tried Greek wine, or have only tried what is available in many stores in the U.S., you owe it to yourself, your palate, and the Greek wine industry to stop what you are doing, get on a plane, and visit Greece! Greece is producing some spectacular, world-class wines. They just don’t often find their way out of the country. 

If you didn’t catch our previous Greek Wine Tasting blog, you can read it here to catch up. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

Our next stop on our day of Greek wine exploration was GAI’A Wines. GAI’A is the greek word for “earth.” The name is derived from Greek mythology, in which the primordial mother-goddess, GAI’A, brought the earth into existence out of chaos. In Greek, the letter G is pronounced almost like a “Y”, so the pronunciation here is “yay-yah.” 

GAI’A Wines graciously provided us with a complimentary tasting. All opinions and notes are our own. We received no other compensation. All the wines we bought were purchased ourselves. 

GAI’A Wines has two winery locations, one in Nemea, on the Greek mainland, and one on Santorini, which is the one we visited. Our taxi dropped us off at the winery, which is literally adjacent to the beach on the eastern side of Santorini. The winery complex was, at one time, a tomato paste processing plant. We were greeted by the friendly staff, and escorted to a table overlooking the beach and Aegean sea. Our host for the day, Vassilina Tzagkaraki, brought us a plate of breadsticks, capers, olives, and of course, a dollop of tomato paste, to enjoy while we tasted the wines and enjoyed the stunning view. 

GAI’A Wines started in 1994 by Yiannis Paraskevopoulos and Leon Karatsalos, with the introduction of a Santorini wine. If you recall from the earlier post, to bear the name Santorini, the wine must be made from at least 75% Assyrtiko. This wine was released with the name Thalassitis. Over the years, GAI’A has led innovation and challenged convention in their production and quality.

All of the wines we sampled were sensational. It would be hard to say which was our favorite, and we would have liked to take some of each home with us. Alas, luggage limitations required us to make hard decisions!

img_0645

img_0500

We started with two white wines from their Monograph line. The first, Multi, is a blend, primarily of Assyrtiko, with Moschofilero, and Roditis. Multi spent two months in stainless steel, for a clean, crisp wine with lemon and citrus notes. The second was 100% Assyrtiko. This wine also fermented in stainless steel, but spend four months on the lees, resulting in a softer, slightly creamier wine with notes of lemon, orange peel, and citrus.

img_0646

The third wine we sampled was the Assyrtiko by GAI’A, Wild Ferment. This amazing wine is made with various fermentations: 50% in stainless steel, 40% in oak, and 10% in cement tanks. The result is a striking wine, with an almost Chardonnay-like profile. But don’t let this scare you if you don’t like Chardonnay. This is a delicious wine with flavors of pear, citrus, and grapefruit, with notes of butter and toast. 

Next up, Rosé! GAI’A produces two Rosé wines, 14-18h, and 4-6h. Both are made from Agiorgitiko grapes, and are named for the amount of time they spent in contact with the skins. We sampled the 14-18h, which, as the name suggests, spent between 14 to 18 hours in skin contact. This gave the wine a deep pink hue, and enticing flavors of cherry, strawberry, watermelon Jolly Rancher, and a hint of cranberry on the finish. This is a bone dry Rosé, with brisk acidity, just the way we like it. (We liked it so much, this is one of the wines we brought home with us!) 

On to the reds we went. In contrast to the light, crisp Rosé, the 2017 Agiorgitiko by GAI’A is big and bold. Rather than mere hours on the skins, this wine underwent a 2-3 week extraction, followed by 12 months in French oak. The result is a refined wine with soft, smooth tannins and flavors of raspberry and bing cherry. 

img_0804

Nobody knows what happened to the picture of the bottle at the winery, but fortunately, this also came home with us, so we do have a bottle shot!

img_0502

The final red wine was a spectacular, monster of a red wine. This beauty has aging potential of 15-20 years! Behold, the 2016 GAI’A Estate. Made from Agiorgitiko grapes, this wine spent 15-18 months in French oak. It is a wine of distinction, with a rich, full body, and big, firm tannins, with intense flavors of cherry, blackberry, plum, baking spice, and a bit of bell pepper. This is a wine that wants some meat! Pair it with a juicy rib-eye, or some grilled lamb.

The final treat was the Vinsanto dessert wine. Made from Assyrtiko, with small amounts of Athiri and Aidani, Vinsanto is made by allowing some of the grapes to dry in the summer sun, and some in the shade. Drying results in more concentrated sugars and flavors. Once pressed, the wine then ages for 10 years in French oak. Best served slightly chilled, Vinsanto is rich and creamy, with flavors of fig, dates, caramel, vanilla, and Crème brûlée. The perfect way to end a delightful day of Greek wine tasting! 

As much as we wanted to stay awhile longer, we had to get back into town. We had dinner reservations on the waterfront in Oia, and a date with Roger, the Gilt head bream (yes, we named our dinner), and the spectacular Santorini sunset. More great reasons to come to Greece! 

Yammas!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Greek Wine Tasting: Domaine Sigalas

On the plains of Santorini, just outside the historic town of Oia (pronounced “ee-ya”), sits Domaine Sigalas winery. Founded in 1991 by Paris Sigalas, Domaine Sigalas produces some world class wines from indigenous Greek grapes. Considering we would be visiting Santorini during our honeymoon, we contacted the winery to arrange a tasting.

sigalaslogo

Domaine Sigalas graciously provided us with a complimentary tasting. All opinions and notes are our own. We received no other compensation. All food featured, and wines we bought, were purchased ourselves. 

Domaine Sigalas organically farms 37 hectares of vineyards, and also work with other Santorini farmers to source grapes for their production. Their average production is about 300,000 bottles per year. 

When we arrived for our tasting, we were greeted by our host, Pavlos. Pavlos guided us through an amazing experience of seven whites, a rosé, a red, and two dessert wines. The normal tasting flight is 12 wines, but three of their wines were sold out, so Pavlos subbed in two additional whites (the Aa blends, described below), and also treated us to something special: a sample of their distillate, known as Tsipoyro. 

 

We selected our table on the patio, shaded from the hot Santorini sun by a vine covered pergola, looking out into the adjacent vineyard. We were immediately surprised to see trellis-trained vines. Santorini is known for its unique grape growing method, known as kouloura, in which the vines are trained into a round, basket shape to protect them from the high winds common on the island. Pavlos explained that this is an experimental vineyard, planted to Mavrotragano grapes. Mavrotragano is a red grape that was nearly extinct just a few years ago. Paris Sigalas planted this vineyard to bring it back, and opted to use a trellis system. The vines are thriving and producing fantastic wines. So fantastic, in fact, that the 100% Mavrotragano was one of the ones sold out during our tasting. However, their other red is a blend that includes Mavrotragano, so we can still attest to the quality! 

 

Roughly 75% of Domaine Sigalas vineyards are planted to what is the most well known Greek grape, Assyrtiko. Assyrtiko is a white grape, producing wonderfully dry, crisp wines. Among the other varieties grown on the estate are Aidani and Mandilaria. They source Monemvasia from the nearby island of Paros, for use in “Am”, their 50/50 blend of Assyrtiko and Monemvasia, the first wine we tasted. 

img_0483

The 2018 Am is considered their entry level wine, but that only speaks to their high standards and quality! This is a delightful dry wine, with notes of citrus, grapefruit, and hints of banana. 

img_0478

Aidani was originally made into a dessert wine. For the past eight years, Domaine Sigalas has crafted a dry wine with it. The 2018 spent six months on the lees, resulting in a wine with medium body and acidity, with tropical fruit and citrus notes.

We got to compare the newly released 2017 Aa, with the aged 2011. Both are blends of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athiri. Both are vinted in stainless steel with no time on lees. The 2017 was bright and dry, with sea/saline on the nose, and citrus/lemon flavors. The 2011 was slightly oxidized, as one might expect from an 8-year-old white, but was still very pleasant with solid structure and acidity, with flavors of banana and grilled lemon. 

 

2016 Santorini Assyrtiko – Similar to rules in other wine regions, the Greek Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) specifies that for a wine to be called “Santorini” it must be made of at least 75% Assyrtiko. This one is 100%, and is amazing. Lemon, Kumquat, and citrus, with notes of herbs, saline, and mineral. It is vinted in stainless steel and spends six months on the lees. (A bottle of this one made its way into our suitcase!) 

 

2015 7-Villages – dialling down even more, much like the AVA system in the US, the Greek PGI identifies large regions, smaller sub-regions, and single vineyards. The 7-Villages line represents wines from grapes in a single village. As the name suggests, Domaine Sigalas makes individual wines from seven different villages. This one spend one year on the lees, and has mineral/earthy notes of decomposed granite, along with creamy lemon curd flavors. 

img_0483-1

 2017 Kavalieros Single Vineyard – 100% Assyrtiko from 70 year old vines. This wine is the most place-specific in the PGI. Kavalieros loosely translates to “the one that climbs on other things,” a reference to the tendrils on grapevines that grasp anything they can to allow the vine to climb higher and higher. After spending 18 months aging on the lees, it is very smooth with noticeably more body, yet still crisp with brisk acidity and flavors of lemon and citrus.

img_0483-2

Next up was the Rosé – the 2018 Ean. Made from 100% Mandilaria grapes grown on Rhodes, this wine spent less than one hour on the skins. This is surprising given the bold, deep pink color. Pavlos said that Ean means “if.” As in, “if” not Rosé, this would be a red wine. Delightfully crisp, Ean has flavors of strawberry, cherry, and cranberry. (This one to, came home with us.)

 

And now, onto red! The 2017 Mm, named for the two grapes in the blend: Mandalaria and Mavrotragano. This medium-bodied red spent 18 months in French oak. It boasts rich flavors of blackberry, black cherry, clove, baking spice, and a bit of earth. With big, bold tannins, this is a dinner wine to be sure. 

img_0484

The only other red on the menu, the 100% Movrotragano, was sold out, so we moved on to dessert wines. 

An interesting bit of Santorini history, including the story of how the island got its name. In times of antiquity, the island was known as Thera. For mariners crossing the Mediterranean, Thera was a famous stop to pick up supplies, including wine. Even in modern times, it is not recommended to drink the water on Santorini, so in ancient days, wine was considered the preferred beverage. During Medieval times, the chapel of Saint Erini was built, and was visible from the sea. Chrisian crusaders renamed the island in honor of Saint Erini, thus the name became Santorini. 

The name Vinsanto comes from the Venetians, who referred to is as the wine of the saint, Vino Santo. The 2013 Vinsanto is a naturally sweet wine, with no added sugar or fortification. This wine is made by allowing the grapes to sun dry, thereby concentrating the sugar content. It takes seven times the grapes per bottle, since the grapes lose juice during the drying process. Though tawny-port-like in appearance and taste, the alcohol content is only 9%, so you can sip it all night! Vinsanto must contain a minimum of 75% Assyrtiko, and this one had 25% Aidani blended in. After five years in French oak, the wine spends an additional two years in barrels before bottling. 

img_0487

The final wine of the tasting was a red dessert wine. The 2011 Apiliotis is 100% Mandilaria, and is made in the same manner as the Vinsanto; using sun dried grapes. Again, a naturally sweet wine with no added sugar. Spending a minimum of 24 months in oak, the wine is deep, rich, and complex, with black cherry and boysenberry flavors. 

img_0488

Our final treat was a taste of the distillate, Tsipoyro. Similar to Grappa (only better, in our opinion), Tsipoyro is a distilled spirit made from Assyrtiko and Mavrotragano grapes. This stuff is 40% ABV, so proceed with caution! You’ll be tempted to shoot it, but please slow down and savor it! Clear color, with herbal and floral flavors, it is quite smooth and easy to drink.

img_0489

We had the opportunity to sample some sparkling wines from a related winery, too, but after such an extensive tasting thus far, and with another winery stop on our agenda for the day, we decided to just have some lunch and let our palates savor the wines of Domaine Sigalas. 

img_0486

img_0613

House made Dolmades – stuffed grape leaves. Pavlos said the tzatziki is made with ginger instead of garlic, because “garlic is a wine killer.” It was delicious!

img_0614

Taramosalata with fresh pita. The dip is similar in appearance to hummus, but is made with fish roe, with onion, lemon juice, and olive oil. Quite tasty and surprisingly filling!

img_0620

We heartily recommend visiting Santorini, and Greece in general. The wines here are outstanding, the food is spectacular, and the people are amazing. Sadly, not many good Greek wines are available outside the country, due to economic and political factors. So to enjoy the best, you have to come here. When you do, be sure to book a tasting at Domaine Sigalas. You’ll be glad you did! 

Yammas! 

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

100 Zinfandels, and Counting!

When I first heard about Vivino, way back on Thanksgiving Day, 2014, I thought it was a pretty good idea. The concept is simple: users upload pictures of wine labels, give the wine a rating from 1 – 5 stars, and write up a brief review. The label recognition technology is pretty good, so if a wine is already in the database, the user doesn’t have to manually enter it. With a global crowd-sourcing base, the database is extensive and I rarely have to manually enter a new wine. With this database of wine ratings, users can look up a wine and check scores and ratings and reviews before they buy it. If a wine has a low rating, and the reviews don’t sound promising, you might want to pass on it.

Within Vivino, users themselves are ranked. Using a complex algorithm I’ve yet to fully comprehend, but generally based on number of wines rated, quality of reviews, and participation in the social platform (liking other users’ reviews), users are assigned a ranking within their country; Number 3,421 in the U.S, for example. Also, users can earn distinctions based on how many of a given wine style they have rated. These ranks start with Explorer after your first rating, to Enthusiast after rating six wines, to Expert after 26, to the pinnacle, after rating 100 wines of a regional style: Ambassador. 

After using the app for awhile, I noticed my ranking was getting higher and higher. Suddenly my normally docile competitive spirit kicked in. I wanted to see how high I could get in numerical and regional ranking. I started trying more and different wines from around the world. I was obnoxiously diligent in taking pictures of every label of every wine I tasted, be it at the wine shop, a restaurant, a friend’s house, or anywhere else. Eventually, I made it as high as 124 in the U.S.! As of today, I’ve slipped down to 143, largely because I’ve been a little busy getting married. According to data from October 2018, there are 32.8 million Vivino users worldwide. The U.S. has the highest number of users, followed by Brazil. It’s hard to find information on number of users per country, but by my estimation, there are more than 5 million in the U.S. So 143 is still respectable, and I’m working my way back up!

Due to the wide variety of wines I was rating, however, my regional-wine ranking was slower to evolve. California Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel were always my top two, but I was enjoying other varietals and regions as well. Then one day, earlier this month, I rated a California Zinfandel, and saw that it was my 99th review. I was about to become an Ambassador!  

 As I was getting ready to write this post, I went back to the beginning to recall which wine was my first rating. To my amusement, it was a Zinfandel! Back then I was a member of NakedWines.com, and a big fan of winemaker Leigh Meyering. Her “ElegantLeigh” Zinfandel 2013 was my very first Vivino entry. 

img_0113

My reviews have gotten more descriptive since then!

For my 100th California ZInfandel, I selected the Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2016. I’ve only had Seghesio a few times, but have always enjoyed it, and it’s widely known and recognized for its quality. 

img_0085

Seghesio Family Vineyards has been in operation for more than 120 years, across five generations. In 1895, Edoardo Seghesio planted a Zinfandel vineyard in Alexander Valley. In 1902, Edoardo and his wife, Angela, built a winery and began making wine. Seghesio Winery was born. The winery flourished and gained a reputation for quality, and even managed to survive during Prohibition. Once Prohibition ended, Edoardo re-opened the doors for commercial winemaking. Fourth generation brothers, Ted and Pete Seghesio now run the operation, and are committed to quality over quantity. Ted’s nephew, Ned Neumiller, is now working in the family business; the fifth generation to do so. 

With over 300 estate vineyards planted to Zinfandel and Italian varieties, Seghesio continues to produce high-quality wines and expand their reputation in the wine world. I know I was impressed when I opened my 100th Zinfandel! 

img_0084

Deep purple color, with ruby rim. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, and baking spice. On the palate, ripe blackberry, cassis, blueberry, cherry, baking spice, black pepper, and vanilla. There’s a lot going on here. Definitely one of the more complex Zinfandels I’ve had in awhile. Big, bold, and full bodied with bright acidity and medium tannins. The finish is spicy with black fruit notes, and goes on for days. Perfect with baby back ribs!

img_0087

The aforementioned Baby Back ribs, with a twice-baked potato and corn on the cob! I do love summer eats.

img_0090

If you haven’t tried Seghesio Zinfandel yet, you really ought to. Pop a bottle, download the Vivino app, and rate and review it! Your California Zinfandel Ambassador recommends it. 🙂

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Review: Three Finger Jack East Side Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

We do love Cabernet Sauvignon. Though we don’t know too many people who don’t. It’s the King of Grapes for a reason. So popular, so food friendly, so ageworthy and collectable, and so…expensive! 

Not necessarily. If you’re shopping for Napa Cabernet, maybe. But what if we told you about a high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, from a California appellation, that you could enjoy for a mere $22 per bottle?

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Recently, we received a bottle of Three Finger Jack East Side Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. Where is the East Side RIdge? We wondered the same thing. It is located on the East Side (obviously) of Lodi! Now, we don’t normally think of Lodi when we are craving a Cabernet, and we bet you don’t either. This bottle has surely changed our way of thinking! 

img_3585

Yes, that is an interesting, rather squat bottle.

Most of the Lodi region has deep, loamy soil, good for Rhone varieties. However, up on the East Side, the soil is more rocky, with cobblestones and soil low in nutrients. You know how Cabernet shines brightest when it struggles! 

Next you may be asking, who is this “Three Finger Jack?” The name comes from a legendary outlaw from the Gold Rush era, who sought his fortune in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Little is known about the mysterious man; nobody really knows how he lost his fingers, but his legend lives on in the Lodi area.

As for the wine that bears his name, the Three Finger Jack East Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is rugged and structured, as a famed outlaw should be. 

img_3586

We actually held onto this for awhile, waiting for suitable weather for a big, bold red. The summers in NorCal can be hot; calling more for crisp whites and rosés. Finally, an unseasonably cool (well, not hot) weekend arrived when we felt we could best enjoy this wine. Certainly a BBQ wine, which would pair well with steak, ribs, or brats, we opted to pair this with marinated lamb chops. The pairing did not disappoint.

img_3587

Inky purple with ruby rim. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, and vanilla. In the palate, boysenberry, blackberry, and cassis, with vanilla and caramel notes. Tannins are very soft with mild acidity. Smooth, full bodied, with a medium finish of dark berry and spice. 

Honestly, we don’t typically think of Lodi for Cabernet. This one is nicely balanced with good flavor and soft tannins.

Though summer is waning, it’s not too late to track down some Three Finger Jack and pair it with your favorite grilled beast. A fantastic value from a region not often considered for Cabernet Sauvignon; lesson learned – think outside the box and you will be rewarded. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds