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Review: Ardente Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009

Do you believe in miracles? How about angels? Or mythical creatures? I do. I believe in all three. You see, not long ago, I met a Unicorn…

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Not my actual Unicorn

She told me about a wondrous land populated with angels, cherubs, and cheerful leprechauns. But no trolls. There are no trolls in this land, which, as my fellow bloggers and anyone who participates in social media will agree, is the second best part about this marvelous place. The best part is that spectacular, world class wines are available for miraculous prices. Pennies on the dollar in some instances! Intrigued?

No, this is not fantasy. I have not delved into the realm of fictional novels. This place is real. The name of this land should be “Winevana.” Perhaps it is, but only to “The Chosen.” To the rest of the world, this place is known as: Grocery Outlet.

Grocery Outlet

Okay, okay, I know. Until about six months ago I had never thought of Grocery Outlet as being a reliable source of quality wines. However, I wisely trusted my Unicorn, and ventured in. There, I was introduced to the local wine genie, Jerry. Jerry is the wine buyer for our local Grocery Outlet. Jerry is quite a character, and Jerry knows his wine! He has some amazing connections with distributors and producers, and has an uncanny ability to score some amazing deals on some amazing wines. I don’t know how he does it, but he knows his stuff. He’s tasted almost every wine in the store, so when you ask him for a recommendation, he can provide you solid choices.

A couple of weeks ago, Jerry sent out his weekly e-mail, touting his latest screaming finds. Angelic wines at fantastic prices! I scurried in to fill my cart. Jerry handed me a bottle, and told me I just had to try it. Who am I do argue with a mythical wine genie?

The wine? Ardente Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009. Not just Napa Valley, though. Atlas Peak Napa Valley! Online sources price this bottle at as much as $55.00. Jerry’s Winevana price? $11.99. Score!

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Ardente Estate Winery was established in 1996, on 20 acres in the hills of Atlas Peak. Their website proclaims: “ardente [ar’ dεnte]From the latin for pyre; a burning desire, passionate, flaming. This is the word that Carlo Di Ruocco felt best described his relationship to the land and the wine that is his “Ardente”.”

Information about the 2009 vintage is scarce; that was the last year the webpage was updated; but sometimes all you need to know about a wine is how it tastes. Euphoric. Heavenly. Otherworldly. Spectacular! If you enjoy a solid, rich, full-bodied Napa Cabernet, seek out this angelic being. Here are my notes:

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This is a spectacular Napa Cab. Deep purple color with slight ruby rim. On the nose, enticing aromas of creme de cassis, blackberry, and soft oak. After a quick 30 minute decant, the flavors exploded on the palate: ripe blackberry, black cherry, plum, cassis, and chocolate melding with vanilla, oak, and hints of ripe raspberry. The tannins are velvety smooth, and the acidity medium and balanced. The rich, full mouthfeel complemented our grilled NY strip steak to perfection. The long finish of blackberry, cassis, and black pepper. Outstanding!

If you have a Winevana…I mean Grocery Outlet…store in your town, I encourage you to stop in. Your wine genie may not be named Jerry, but I’ll bet he or she is just as miraculous!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
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A Weekend to Remember…OGP ’18

Once in a while, amid the post-holiday, mid-winter blues, an event comes along that sparks the imagination, warms the heart, and…well…quenches the thirst. One such event is the annual Original Grandpère Vineyard Weekend. Held at three wineries in Amador County, California, the OGP Weekend celebrates the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in the United States, and the phenomenal wines produced from its grapes. These vines can be traced back to 1869, and were likely planted several years before then! Those are some seriously Old Vines!

This was my second time attending the OGP Weekend, and Robyn’s first. There is some fascinating history around this vineyard, which adds to the allure and mystique of the event. The fact that only a handful of wineries have rights to the grapes creates a buzz and demand for the rare wines. More shocking is the fact that during the (gasp) White Zinfandel craze in the 1970’s and 80’s, these historic grapes were relegated to a fate I just can’t bring myself to write about again. I documented my trip to the 2017 event in a collaborative project with Bri of Bri’s Glass of Wine, so I won’t go into any more historical detail here. Please check out my post on Bri’s blog, here, for more detailed background and history. I think you’ll enjoy it!

This year we attended the celebration on Sunday, by visiting the wineries in order of approach. Coming from the Sacramento area, that meant Scott Harvey Wines first, then Vino Noceto, and ending with Andis Wines. The weather cooperated perfectly! Despite the fog that shrouded the valley below, the foothills were clear and bright, with temperatures in the upper 50’s to low 60’s. Consequently, Scott Harvey Wines and Vino Noceto hosted their festivities outside. It was spectacular!

Scott Harvey Wines

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Held in the open air entryway of their barrel room, the tasting at Scott Harvey Wines featured generous samples of their 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2015 Zinfandel. Scott Harvey refers to his wines, made from this historic vineyard, his Vineyard 1869 series. (Read last year’s post for more on why this is significant.) Our friendly and knowledgeable host, Muffin, poured tastes and explained the pairings. With the 2008, we enjoyed a Caprese salad of sorts…skewered onto a pipette filled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, we pulled the basil leaf, mozzarella cheese ball, and cherry tomato off with our teeth, while squeezing the EVOO into our mouths. Unique, and delightful! A special way to eat a salad! The 2010 paired exquisitely with lamb and mint meatballs in an Indian curry sauce (hidden inside the black dish in the photo below.) I popped the whole meatball in my mouth, but Robyn was smarter, taking smaller bites so she could re-dip and enjoy all the curry sauce. The final food pairing was the 2011 with a cheddar biscuit slider. The slider contained grilled forest mushrooms, smoked Gouda cheese, and white truffle aioli. You had me at white truffle!

Each of the wines was spectacular. The Old Vines produce age-worthy Zinfandels that are soft and restrained, but still maintain juicy fruit and soft spice notes. In addition to the pairings, we sampled the newest vintage, the 2015. This one was much brighter and livelier, with fresh fruit flavors and more spice, but still restrained compared to other Zin’s of the same vintage. The recommended pairing is Balsamic Quick-Braised Pork Chop.

After these tastes, Muffin directed us into the barrel room where we were met by Dominic. At the time we were the only ones there so we had the opportunity to enjoy some pleasant conversation with him as he thieved samples of their 2016 “1869” Zinfandel. (Volume up!)

Dominic explained that this wine has nearly another year in barrel before they will bottle and release it to club members, then the public. As a special bonus, we also had a taste of their 2012 “1869”. Once again, this was a spectacular wine that is drinking well now, but could age another half-dozen years.

Vino Noceto

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This year, Vino Noceto went with more of a backyard barbecue theme, serving their three samples of Original Grandpère Vineyard wines with a variety of grilled sausages, paired with several tasty sauces. Here, we tasted the 2006, 2011, and 2013 OGP Zinfandel. There were several tasting hosts pouring, and I wasn’t able to get their names so I can’t properly recognize them here. Nevertheless, they were generous with samples, re-tastes, and service. We sat at a picnic table in the sun and enjoyed the wine, the sausages and sauces, and the vineyard views. The 2013 Zin was a surprisingly good match for the Jalapeno sausage and pepper sauce. As we sat, one of the hosts brought over a bottle of their 2005 OGP Zin to try. We were amazed at how well this wine is holding up. Zin, as you may know, is not known for being very age worthy.

After the official tasting, I escorted Robyn into the Vino Noceto tasting room. She had never been, and we need to try some more of their delicious wines, including the Sangiovese for which they are best known. Directory of Hospitality, Bret Burdick, served us. (By coincidence, he was my table host at last year’s event.) As we chatted and tasted, Bret gave us the full rundown of Vino Noceto’s lineup, as well as a geography lesson on Chianti and Brunello, complete with visual aids (maps). Most of the vines on the estate are direct cuttings from some of the most famous Sangiovese vineyards in Italy.

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Andis Wines

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Andis Wines hosted their portion of the OGP Weekend indoors, in their wine education room. Another group was finishing up, so we bellied up to the tasting room bar so we could enjoy some of Andis’ fine wines. There, Assistant Hospitality Director Lindsey Miller guided us through the flight on the tasting menu. Always delicious and balanced, we enjoyed these wines until the room was ready for us.

As we sat around the large, comfortable table, Chef Shannon served our food, while Brand Ambassador/Sales Manager, Lorenzo Muslija poured our tastes of the Andis lineup of 2012, 2014, and 2013 Original Grandpère Vineyards Zinfandel. No, that isn’t a typo. We tasted out of chronological order. Lorenzo, in his suave Italian accent, explained that he wanted to serve the wines in order of depth and complexity, rather than simply by vintage.

The 2012 was paired with Indian Spiced Mushroom Ragou on naan bread. Everything about this screamed comfort food! The yet-to-be-released 2014 (available at the event only, for now) was paired with Albondigas…Spanish meatballs with smoked paprika, garlic, oregano, and tomato sauce. It was very Mediterranean, and reminded me of the curried lamb meatball at Scott Harvey. (Note to self: This Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean/Curry Sauce pairing with Zinfandel is worthy of more exploration!) The final wine, the 2013 was a bit more tannic than the others because of the growing conditions that drought year. The pairing of Seahive Beehive cheese was designed to soften the tannins and create a smooth, rich mouthfeel. It was a masterful success!

After a wonderful afternoon, surrounded by passionate, wine-loving people, gorgeous scenery, and abundant sunshine, it was time to head back down into the fogged-in valley. It was a perfect day. I can’t wait to go back!

Cheers!

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

Holiday Bubbles for January Birthdays

Oh, those pesky January birthdays. They are always overshadowed by the holiday season that precedes them. Family and friends are partied out from New Year’s Eve, Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and other holidays that span from November through the first of January. The earlier in the month, the worse it is.

Robyn and I are both January babies. My birthday falls mid-month, while Robyn’s is at the beginning, just days after New Year’s Day. When I was a kid, my birthday was always disappointing. Sure, my parents tried to make it special. I had parties, outings to pizza parlors, and all the usual kid-birthday adventures. Nevertheless, the general rule was, toys and cool stuff on Christmas; socks, pants, and shirts on my birthday. What self-respecting 8 year old kid looks forward to a new pair of jeans?

As Robyn recounts, family birthday dinners were the norm, but parties not so much. With an early January birthday, school was still out for the winter holiday, so she missed out on the schoolroom buzz and excitement. So often her friends were out of town or otherwise spending the post-holiday season with their families.

So, what do you do when you have a January birthday? How do you compensate for living in the shadow of such major, resource-depleting holidays? You celebrate your birthday for six to eight weeks, starting with Thanksgiving! When fortune shone on us, and we were offered samples of four sparkling wines this past fall, we knew exactly what to do. As we popped the corks throughout the season, we toasted and celebrated our upcoming birthdays.

As you can see from the photos, we didn’t just limit ourselves to birthday celebrations on the high holidays. Some of the nights, we were more spontaneous and busted out the birthday bubbles with a mid-week meal.

We hope you enjoy sharing our birthday celebrations in the images below. The wines were samples. We received no other compensation. All opinions and review notes are our own.

For our first birthday celebration, we opened a Paul Cheneau Cava Reserva Blanc de Blancs Brut, and paired it with sautéed cilantro-lime shrimp and a spinach salad for a mid-week meal.

 

 

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Paul Cheneau Cava Reserva Blanc de Blancs Brut

Golden color in the flute. Vigorous tiny bubbles tickle the nose. Aromas of apricot, yeast, and nutty notes. Flavors of pear, yellow apple, almond, and hints of tangerine and pineapple with soft vanilla notes on the finish. Super dry and crisp; a very refreshing Cava that paired very well with sautéed cilantro-lime shrimp and a spinach salad with bacon-vinegar dressing.

When we opened the second bottle, a Valdo Prosecco Brut, Christmas season was in full swing. The halls were decked, the Christmas music playing, and it was finally cold enough in NorCal to light a fire in the fireplace. Time for wrapping gifts, and popping some bubbles!

 

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Valdo Prosecco Brut

Bright golden color. A steady stream on tiny bubbles rises to the rim. Aromas of ripe apricot and tangerine. On the palate there are flavors of apricot, pear, apple, and hints of citrus, along with notes of yeast and almond. Lively acidity makes this quite refreshing and light. A perfect pairing with gift wrapping, whether Christmas or January birthday gifts.

On Christmas day, it was time for something French. My parents were visiting, and loved the idea of combining Christmas and birthday, and celebrating with a lovely Rosé sparkler. (Wait, maybe they just thought it would get them out of buying me a birthday present.) To honor the day, and to get the celebration started, we popped the cork on a Côte Mas Cremant De Limoux Brut Rosé St. Hilaire.

 

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Côte Mas Cremant De Limoux Brut Rosé St. Hilaire

Salmon color in the glass. An abundance of tiny bubbles flow from the bottle and carry on in the glass. Aromas of strawberry and rose petals. On the palate there are flavors of raspberry, strawberry, red currant, and cotton candy. Creamy mouthfeel and bright acidity lead to a crisp, bright, red-fruit finish. Perfect with Christmas toasts, or birthday celebrations.

With Christmas behind us, our sights now turned to New Year’s Eve. International Champagne Day. Naturally, we’d want to ring in 2018 with genuine champagne, right? Wrong! Robyn’s birthday was just days away, and we decided to save the bubbles from the most famous sparkling region in the world for her special day. Instead, we headed over to our local wine shop and picked up a domestic brut to toast the New Year.

Finally, the time came to celebrate a January birthday on its actual day. Dinner reservations at a local, romantic restaurant made, we chilled a bottle of Barons de Rothschild Champagne Brut to bring with us and toast to another year of life. The hostess was kind enough hold our champagne we stopped in the bar for a pre-birthday-dinner cocktail.

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When we took our seats at our dining table, our bottle was waiting for us in an ice bucket. Our server expertly released the cork, and also did double-duty as birthday photographer!

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Barons de Rothschild Champagne Brut

Golden straw color. Soft fruit aromas of floral, apricot and pear. On the palate there are flavors of yellow apple, Bartlett pear, apricot, and cream. Bright acidity and vigorous bubbles liven the tongue. The finish is stone fruit with hints of elderflower, almond, and cream. The perfect sparkler to celebrate a January birthday!

The champagne was the perfect accompaniment to our evening, and it was excellent with my seared-scallop risotto. To end the evening, the pastry chef even wrote “Happy Birthday” in chocolate on the plate with our crème brulee.

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Do you have a January birthday? Let us know in the comments how you like to celebrate to ensure your day isn’t lost in the holiday fervor.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael

 

Christmas Miracle! A Review of InZINerator 2003

The office Holiday Party gift exchange. You know the drill. Everyone who wants to participate brings a wrapped gift to the conference room. Each person draws a number, and the festivities begin. In numerical sequence, gifts are selected. Gifts can be stolen, but a limited number of times before they are “dead,” and the final possessor is the owner.

Recently, the trend has been “white elephant” gift exchanges. No, you can’t go out and buy something. You have to bring something you already own, but is no longer useful to you. So it was at my office Holiday Party this year. With the all-important rule established: two steals and the third person in possession is the owner, we were ready to get the party started.

I never do well at these events, usually coming home with a gawdy picture frame or some “As Seen on TV” gadget that never works as advertised. Compounding the anxiety was the fact that I was the new guy in the office, having just started this job three weeks earlier. Still, these gift exchanges are always fun, and a great way to get to know my new coworkers, and superiors, in a more relaxed setting.

Numbers were drawn. The tension mounted as Number 1 scanned the table for some hidden gem. They say one person’s junk is another’s treasure. Would he score? Would his new prize possession be snatched from his fingers by Number 2, or some other “come-lately?” Selection made, Number 1 tore into the bag. A tacky vase. Delightful. Cue hilarity and excitement!

As so it went. Bags and boxes opened. Gifts stolen, then stolen again and deemed dead; the proud, final owner beaming with joy. Finally it came to me. I had drawn Number 13. Would 13 be lucky for me this time? Alas, this was a “white elephant” exchange. What were the chances that someone would deem wine “no longer useful?” With a sigh in my heart, but eager anticipation on my face, I reached in for the slender, rectangular box. Sure, it was the right size, but what are the odds? Besides, this was an office party and I didn’t yet know if this company had the dreaded “no alcohol on the premises” policy.

Tearing into the wrapping paper, I was stunned! What’s this I see? Johnnie Walker Blue Label? Really?? Had I just scored a nice bottle of Scotch? Naw, who would “white elephant” Scotch? Well, there are always a few who don’t get the memo and actually bring nice, new gifts. Fingers crossed, I lifted the lid.

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No Scotch, but…wine!! Score!! As to the donor? Who knows, maybe someone who gave up the drink. Or didn’t know what they had. Kind of like an Antiques Roadshow for wine. Regardless, I was now the proud owner of a bottle of 2003 InZINerator Zinfandel.
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For now.

With nearly 30 people participating, the chances of a steal were real and serious. Lots of my new coworkers were eyeballing my prize. They clearly didn’t know that they were staring down Kent-the-wine-blogger. We don’t call this “Appetite for Wine” for nothing!

Remember Number 1, the guy with the tacky vase? Well, Number 14 apparently has a thing for tacky vases, and right after my turn, stole it from Number 1. So immediately after the thrill of my victory, I suffered the agony of defeat as Number 1 deftly lifted my beloved InZINerator from my clutches. Curses! Foiled again.

Now faced with stealing or drawing, I selected another wrapped box. Nothing left remotely resembling the shape of a wine bottle, so I went for an unassuming square box. Ah, there it is…the “As Seen on TV” Chop Magic!

img_0625Now I love to cook, but I prefer slicing and dicing with my kitchen knives. I actually find it relaxing and cathartic. So this is how it’s going to be. Stuck with yet another gadget that I’ll never use. Seriously, who would steal this from me?

Around the room it went. With each new number, the dissatisfied masses held their gifts high, hoping to entice a steal. Nobody even took a second look at my Chop Magic. Until…wait…what? Number 23 took a liking and stole my chopper!

It was a Christmas miracle! The fates smiled on me that glorious day! Yes, the HR rep moderating the event confirmed that it is permissible to steal back a gift. Number 1, my wine if you please. And so it was over. I was the third and final owner of this cherished bottle.

Part of the Super Hero Wines line, InZINerator is produced by Scott Harvey Wines. Zinfandel is not known for age-worthiness, so honestly I was a little apprehensive about a 14 year old bottle. Fear not!

img_0626Ruby color with brick rim. Aromas of raspberry and plum with smoky notes. Flavors of ripe blackberry, stewed plum, raspberry, and baking spice, with notes of milk chocolate, white pepper, and vanilla. Tannins, as expected, are velvety soft and smooth, and the acidity is surprisingly bright. The finish lingers with blackberry, plum, and spice. Excellent!!

May the Spirit of Christmas shine bright on each of you.

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds
  • Holiday wishes by both Kent and Robyn

Review: Miriam Alexandra Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa County, 2015

By now you probably know that I am a long-time customer of NakedWines.com. One of the things I like about the NakedWines.com business model is that the company encourages employees, who have an interest in winemaking, to pursue their dream. A number of wines available through NakedWines.com are made by winemakers who also hold staff positions within the company. One such winemaker is Alexandra (Alex) Farber, who produces her wines under the Miriam Alexandra label. Alex’s first wine was a 2014 California Chenin Blanc. Prior to tasting that wine, my only knowledge of Chenin Blanc was my memory of the jugs of cheap wine my folks would drink when I was little. My first taste of Alex’s Chenin opened my eyes to the wonder of  today’s Chenin Blanc, and sparked an appreciation for this amazingly delicious wine! I’ve enjoyed three successive vintages of Alex’s Chenin Blanc, each one better than the last. This year, Alex released her first red wine, a 2015 Napa County Cabernet Sauvignon. When I saw it, I knew I had to try it.

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I have had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with Alex on several occasions. Recently I had the opportunity to ask her about her story, and her journey into winemaking. My first question was about the label name, Miriam Alexandra. The “Alexandra” is pretty obvious, but where does the “Miriam” name come from? Her response is interesting, and sheds some insight into her entry into the wine business.

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Miriam Farber was my great-grandmother. She was an Art institute of Chicago graduate, and an incredible artist. She did lots of watercolor, and that is where the inspiration of my label comes from. Alexandra, was my mom’s first choice of first names for me, but didn’t like the way Alexandra Miriam sounded, and liked the idea that on a resume my name could be written as M. Alex Farber (gender neutral!), so I could go under the radar and be a successful female in business. Times have changed a little bit since then, so showcasing my full name was very important to me. Hence, Miriam Alexandra on my label.

How long have you been in the wine business, and how did you get your start?

I went to Davis for college and entered straight from high school into the V & E program. I worked my way through every quarter getting further away from all the pre-med pre-rec. classes and closer and closer to the wine classes. They were so interesting, challenging, and fun. So, I just kept going. Eventually graduating and getting an internship in Napa.

Do you have a family history in wine?

There is no family history in wine, other than lots of drinkers! I come from a family full of insurance brokers, bankers, lawyers, and accountants.

When did you bottle your first wine, and what varietal or style was it?

My first wine was bottled with NakedWines.com, my Chenin Blanc! I learned to make Chenin Blanc during my three year stint with Pine Ridge Vineyards as their Enologist. I spent those years in the Clarksburg Chenin Blanc vineyards and it is the wine I really wanted to make on my own with my own twist.

Have you worked at any wineries other than NakedWines.com?

Yes, I started as a harvest intern the summer/fall after I graduated from Davis at Trefethen Family Vineyards, I then went down to Chile and worked for Veramonte Wines, came back and was harvest enologist for Trefethen (for a year!), then did a very short time over the summer with Round Pond Estate, and finally took a full time job as Enologist for Pine Ridge Vineyards. Ultimately, I wanted to do something more than just be in the lab, I wanted to be in the vineyards, work with winemakers to learn more, and contribute more to the wine industry, that is when I found NakedWines.com, and I have been working here since then. Both as a winemaker and now as our Head of Planning.

What is your favorite grape varietal? Why?

This is such a tough question for me to answer. If you are asking me what I like to make the most, it’s probably Cabernet Sauvignon. It is so expressive of place, it tells its own story through the winemaking process, and I love the age-ability. If you’re asking me what I like to drink the most? It’s Grenache, Syrah, Rhone Varietals, Pinot Noir, Champagne – a variety of its own :).

When Alex isn’t busy making wine and fulfilling her staff duties at NakedWines.com, she is committed to giving back to the community. Two projects she is passionate about are Service Dogs, and empowering young girls to become strong, independent women. To further the first passion, Alex is raising Maui, an energetic and adorable Black Lab puppy. She told me how she got involved in this project:

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Isn’t he cute?

I have been involved with puppy-raising for Guide Dogs for the Blind out of San Rafael for quite a few years now. I took a break after having shoulder surgery, and recently wanted to get back into it. An opportunity came up with a fellow guide dog raiser, who is now training diabetic alert dogs, to take Maui for a few months as a puppy. He is now about 8 months old, and is well on his way to becoming a canine diabetic alert dog for a type 1 diabetic child.

In Alex’s other project, she serves on the board of directors of the Napa and Solano County chapter of Girls on the Run. Alex said that she wanted to get involved in the non-profit world so she could give back to the community in a way that would provide life-changing impact on young peoples’ lives. She found Girls on the Run, an after school program for girls in grades 3 through 8, that teaches life skills and promotes individual identity. Through exercise, discussion, and teaching, the 10-week program empowers the girls, develops an appreciation for health and fitness, and provides important skill they will carry throughout their lives. Alex started as a volunteer Life Coach, meeting with girls twice per week. Once she started her job with NakedWines.com, she had fewer hours available to volunteer, so she became a board member. She’s been on the board for about three years now, and says the organization will impact more than 1,000 girls in 2017.

Finally, I asked Alex if she wanted to add anything else about her exciting journey into winemaking. Here’s what she had to say:

Because of NakedWines.com, I had the opportunity to become a winemaker much sooner than I had ever dreamed of, and it has been so incredible. I had four vintages of wine as a winemaker under 30! Without the support of Angels, and their trust in me as a winemaker, I wouldn’t have ever been able to make the wine I get to make today. It’s been such an honor and I can’t wait to continue making wine.

So now that you know a bit more about Alex, the winemaker, let’s explore Miriam Alexandra Cabernet Sauvignon Napa County 2015, the wine.

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The wine is a deep purple color with a brick colored rim. The nose is a delight of blackberry, cassis, and oak aromas. On the palate, I was greeted with flavors of fresh blackberry, cherry, cassis, oak, and vanilla, with some red currant and chocolate notes. As expected for such a big, yet young wine, the tannins are firm and edgy, providing a mouth-drying punch but offering a deep, pondering complexity. The tannins will soften with age, but if you can’t wait, I recommend at least an hour decant before tasting. With medium acidity and mouthfeel, the finish lingers long with black fruit, spice, and vanilla. With aging potential of 5-10 years, or longer, this is a spectacular value for a Napa Cab.

I brought this to a house party a few weekends ago, and we opened and tasted it sans food. Everybody enjoyed the wine, and commented on the solid fruit structure and compexity. Once we drained this bottle, the hosts opened a different Napa Cabernet, a 2012 from a small boutique winery in Napa. They boasted that their bottle set them back $80 (4x the Angel price for Alex’s offering.) While the 2012 was nice and had good fruit flavor, it lacked the oomph, complexity, and structure of the Miriam Alexandra. I can imagine that in a blind tasting, Miriam Alexandra would beat out the older boutique wine.

Though I didn’t get to taste this bottle with food, this is a wine that would pair exceptionally well with a marbled rib-eye or prime rib. The fat would help tame the tannins and the wine would enhance the deliciousness of the meat. Fortunately, I have a few more bottles, so I can experience the magic of the meal I just recommended.

If you would like to try one of Alex’s wines, click on this link, or the logo below, to receive a voucher worth $100 of a first-time order of $160 or more.

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Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Dinner in a Cave! #WBC17

Dinner in a wine cave. Check! One more thing off the bucket list!

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We had a lot of amazing experiences at this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Rosa, California. However, the unparalleled highlight was the Friday evening dinner at Thomas George Estates. When the list of dinner excursions was published several weeks earlier, we scanned the host wineries’ websites, and noticed that Thomas George Estates has a wine cave. A telephone call to the winery confirmed the WBC Dinner would be held in the cave. We made our reservation immediately!

With eager anticipation, we boarded the luxury wine-tour bus and settled into the plush leather seats. Under the soft mood lighting, we enjoyed the short ride to the winery. Upon arrival, we stepped off the bus and into the cavernous entryway of the cave.

There, we were warmly greeted by Thomas George Estates staff, who handed us each a glass of their 2014 Brut Blanc de Blancs. We sipped this delightful sparkler while visiting with our fellow diners, and nibbling on Hors D’Oeuvres including house-made cured meats, and roasted and marinated vegetables.

Soon enough, we were summoned to the dining table, located in a long corridor in the cave. The service was excellent, the wine free-flowing, and the food exquisitely prepared. We both agree this was among the top five meals we have ever experienced; and toward the top of that list, to boot! The first course was a roasted Brussels Sprouts salad with Black Pig Bacon, Asian pear, Marcona almonds, aged sherry vinegar, and Bohemian Creamery Capriago. This amazing salad was paired with the Thomas George Estates 2015 Chardonnay, Sons & Daughters Vineyard. It was during this course that we learned that all the pork served during the evening was hand-raised by our chef, Duskie Estes, of Zazu Kitchen & Farm in Sebastapol, California. Now that’s farm-to-fork, local food!

The main course was Cracklin’ Pork Belly (from our friendly neighborhood porker) with Star Anise Liberty Duck; a full leg quarter; served over black rice, with pomegranate and watercress. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the pork belly, but I was not disappointed! As much as I love duck, this crispy chunk of heaven was out of this world! Paired with the Thomas George Estate 2014 Pinot Noir, Baker Ridge Vineyard, this was an entrée and pairing worth writing home about!

Amid friendly conversation, ample refills, and boundless frivolity, I wondered if it could get any better. Leave it to the good folks at Thomas George Estate and Zazu Kitchen & Farm to up the ante with dessert. Backyard Quince & Apple Tartin with Bourbon Gelato. Why, yes, I believe I will. Paired with the most amazing 2012 Late Harvest Viognier from Baker Ridge Vineyard, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Just look at the color of that Viognier! Divine!

Even after dinner, the hospitable staff kept our glasses filled, until it was time to, sadly, re-board the bus for the ride back to the hotel. But first, swag bags! We each received a gift of a bottle of Thomas George Estates 2016 Rosé of Grenache, a numbered bottle of their Baker Ridge Vineyard Olive Oil (delicious), and for a longer-lasting keepsake, a Thomas George Estates t-shirt.

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Back on the bus, we basked in the afterglow of a magical, memorable evening. One we will not soon forget.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael

An Excursion to Hanna Winery & Vineyards #WBC17

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Our Wednesday evening drive over to Santa Rosa for the 10th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC17) was dark and rainy. We were unsure what to expect when we awoke Thursday morning for our excursion to Hanna Winery and Vineyards; other than an exciting and educational winery tour, and delicious catered meal with wines to match, of course.

Thursday dawned dry and only partly cloudy. It was a perfect day for a trip to wine country. As we rode on the bus out to Alexander Valley and the Hanna Winery and Vineyards Tasting Room, we saw the results of the devastation of the fires that had ravaged the area just weeks before. Yet we also saw the rebuilding that had already begun. With the sun peeking through the clouds, we could almost feel the hope and resilience we saw around us.

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The drive through the autumn colors of the vineyards was breathtaking, and turning up the driveway to climb the hill to the Tasting Room we were taken by the beauty. Hanna Winery and Vineyards sits atop a hill with a 360 degree of the surrounding valley. The views were amazing! As we entered, we were greeted by friendly, smiling staff with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Soon, our host, Christine Hanna welcomed us and provided some history of the family winery.

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Founded in 1985 by Dr. Elias Hanna, Christine’s father, the land was originally planted to French Colombard grapes. Soon, the family discovered that the land was well-suited to other grapes that could be crafted into world-class wines. As the operation grew, Christine took the reigns as president in 1993, and has continued to lead the way as the winery has grown and expanded its influence.

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Hanna Winery and Vineyards wines are estate grown on three vineyards in the area. In the Russian River Valley, the flagship Home Ranch Vineyards grows Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on its 25 acres, while Slusser Road Vineyard, 50 acres in size, is planted to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Red Ranch Vineyard, in Alexander Valley, is 88 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Bismark Mountain Vineyard, high in Sonoma Valley in the Moon Mountain AVA, grows Zinfandel and Bordeaux varietals.

Christine related the story of how, in an effort to develop the Bismark Mountain Vineyard site, she had to overcome the challenges of accessing a high mountain site without the benefit of such amenities as roads and electricity. Helicopters were involved, and she was successful in bringing this spectacular vineyard into existence.

Christine introduced us to Hanna’s winemaker, Jeff Hinchliffe, who took over the presentation and eventually led us down to the fermentation and barrel room on site for some barrel tasting. Jeff has been the winemaker since 1998. He explained how the varying terrain of the vineyards influences the flavor and profile of the grapes and wines. Jeff is clearly passionate about winemaking, while remaining distinctly humble. Jeff says that “wine will make itself, if you let it.” Jeff is especially enthusiastic about Malbec. He says Malbec wines are easy to make, but the grapes are not easy to grow. Still, he and Hanna Winery are quite successful at it, and produce a number of Malbec varietal wines. In addition, their Cabernet blend contains 25% Malbec.

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Perhaps the highlight of the barrel tasting was our opportunity to sample one of the rarest vitis vinifera grapes in the world. Once common in Bordeaux wine production, St. Macaire was virtually wiped out by the phylloxera epidemic, and thought to be extinct. However, St. Macaire was not ready to be relegated to an historic footnote. Jeff discovered that a nearby vineyard had a half-acre planted to the grape. The vineyard owner provided some cuttings, and Jeff planted a half-acre of St. Macaire at Hanna. They plan to release their first vintage of this wine soon, but we were able to get a taste of the still-developing juice. The wine is inky purple, nearly black in color. Though still very young, with high acidity and tight tannins, the wine was aromatic and flavorful. At this stage, there were significant green, spicy, vegetal notes along with some black fruit. Jeff asked around the room for descriptors. Responses included cassis, eucalyptus, and menthol. I hope to get a sample of the finished product once bottled and released.

Back upstairs and into the tasting room, it was time for a delightful lunch. The table was exquisitely set, and the multiple stemware glasses at each place setting spoke of good things to come! The meal was exquisitely catered by Chef Heidi West, with each course paired with one or two Hanna Winery selections.

The meal was superb, the setting spectacular, and the hosts unparalleled in warm hospitality. Enjoy the photo montage of the meal, and try not to drool on your screen!

FIRST COURSE PLATED

2015 Hanna Russian River Chardonnay

Baby Spinach Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash, Toasted Sliced Almonds, Pickled Red Onion and Warm Bacon Dressing

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MAIN COURSE FAMILY STYLE

2015 Elias Pinot Noir/2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Porchetta with Salsa Rosamarina, Soft Creamy Polenta with Fresh Corn, Marscapone, Pecorino and Parmesan

Haricot Vert with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Sea Salt

DESSERT PLATED

2014 Bismark Cabernet Sauvignon

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Fresh Raspberries

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If you are in Sonoma County wine country, it’s definitely worth a trip to visit the fantastic people at Hanna Winery and Vineyards. Take in the spectacular views, and enjoy some amazing wines.

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Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael