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Warm Reds for Cold Nights, Part 1

While the East Coast is being blasted by yet another major winter storm, and the Pacific Northwest is experiencing record snowfall, here in Northern California, it’s, well, pouring rain. But I mean really pouring! We’re expecting 3-6 inches of rain in the next 48 hours. The winds are also howling, up to 40 mph. And it’s cold…by NorCal standards. Overnight lows in the 30’s, and highs only in the 50’s. Brrr. By NorCal standards. 

So in light of winter’s harsh punch to the Northern Hemisphere, what better way to stay warm than to enjoy some big, bold, warming red wines on these cold winter nights? This is the first of a four-part mini-series, featuring reds from around the world that were provided as media samples.

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

What better place to start this journey than South America? Afterall, there, it’s summer! From the Maule Valley in Chile, comes the Erasmo Barbera-Grenache 2016, a unique and delicious blend of 60% Barbera, 30% Grenache, and 10% Carignan. Using all organic grapes and wild yeast for fermentation, this wine captures the essence of the Maule Valley terroir.

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The original cellar at what is now Erasmo winery was built at the end of the 19th century. The mud-wall construction provided excellent insulation for maintaining a proper wine cellar temperature. In 2005, after years of neglect and inactivity,  Count Francesco Marone Cinzano set out to restore this historic building. Now complete, and filled with modern winemaking equipment, “La Reserva de Caliboro” lives on, and is the home to high quality, organic wines.

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Before…

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and After. Photo Credit Erasmo Organic Vineyard and Winery http://erasmo.bio/en/

On one particularly cold and stormy night, we paired this delightful, warming wine with a seared Garlic-Butter Brazilian Skirt Steak and Garden Salad. (You can’t forego your greens just because it’s cold out!) What an amazing pairing! Sheer perfection!

Deep purple color with brick rim. Aromas of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and clove. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cherry, and cranberry, with baking spice, cedar, and vanilla notes. Tannins are firm but balanced, with lively acidity and a long finish of black and red fruit and white pepper.

Vivino Average Price: $22.99

Stay tuned for the next in this Warming Reds for Cold Nights series. In the meantime, tell us, in the comments below, what you are enjoying to stay warm during these cold winter nights.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credit, unless otherwise noted, Kent Reynolds
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Odfjell Vineyards Organic Wines

What do a Norwegian ship owner, a verdant Chilean valley, and sustainable farming  have in common?

Wine!

What did you think we were going to say? This is a wine blog, afterall.

More than 25 years ago, Norwegian Armador (that’s “ship owner” in case you were wondering) Dan Odfjell discovered the Maipo Valley in Chile. Well, not discovered in the Viking explorer sense; he found it for himself. Dan fell in love with this little corner of the planet, far from home both in distance and climate. He settled in the valley, and began pursuing his passion for wine.

Today, sons Laurence and Dan Jr. are at the helm, managing 284 acres of 100% certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in the heart of the Chilean wine country. They carry on the family mission of  producing unique quality wines in a sustainable way.

Recently, we were given the opportunity to experience their craft. Odfjell Premium Organic Wines are offered in three different tiers, with labels representing Land, Water, and Fire. We were fortunate to receive samples of each.  

The following wines were provided as a media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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I really don’t know what happened to our photos. Sorry, but it’s your loss. The marinated flat iron steak was delicious with this Cabernet!

2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $15)

From the website: In the bygone days of sailing ships, wine was the drink of choice on long voyages. Today Dan Odfjell, a Norwegian shipowner, perpetuates his legacy by making wines to sail from Chile across the seven seas.

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Ruby-red in color with a hint of violet. Red-fruit aromas recall strawberries and plums, along with notes of licorice and anise. Perfectly balanced on the palate with ripe tannins and a long, refreshing nish.

Here’s what we thought:

Inky purple color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry, bramble, and cassis. On the palate, there are flavors of ripe blackberry, raspberry, bramble, black currant, and cherry, with oak, cedar, tobacco, and black pepper, with earthy notes mid-palate. Tannins are firm and chewy, balanced with bright acidity. Full bodied with a long, spicy finish of black fruit, earth, and smoke. Outstanding paired with balsamic marinated flat iron steak.

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2017 Odfjell Orzada Carignan (SRP $23)

From the website: When the Norwegian shipowner Dan Odfjell founded our winery, he embarked upon adventure filled with challenge and promise. Orzada is a nautical term for sailing up against the wind before setting a direction. Our Orzada wines reflect our staking a course in pursuit of a beautiful and memorable wine.

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Dark red in color. Intense and complex on the nose, with spices and ripe red fruits such as cherries, raspberries, and plums mixed with aromas of blackberries and anise. The palate is juicy and powerful with velvety-soft tannins and a long finish.

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Now we’re talking!

Here’s what we thought:

Deep purple color with a brick rim. Aromas of fresh-picked cherry, oak wood, and spice. On the palate there are flavors of raspberry, boysenberry, tart cherry, licorice, cedar, and black pepper. Soft tannins, medium body, and bright, lively acidity. The finish is long, with red and black fruit, oak, and spice. We paired this with grilled, chili-rubbed pork chops and it really complemented the meal nicely.

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2013 Odfjell Aliara (SRP $44)

From the website: In the age of sail ships, safe and healthy provisions were crucial for the success of the adventure. A “liara” was a tin cup measurement for the crew´s daily ration of wine. Our Aliara is an assemblage made in small and precios quantitites as a tribute to this tradition.

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Concentrated deep violet in color. The nose is attractive and intense with a range of aromas from the different varieties in the blend, including nuts such as hazelnuts, dates, and dried figs, as well as floral notes recalling jasmine and roses. The palate is sophisticated, intense, and juicy and complemented by chocolate, coffee, and tobacco leaves. The finish is long with ripe and velvety tannins. An unforgettable experience.

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That’s some dark, inky wine.

Here’s what we thought:

A blend of 65% Carignan, 20% Syrah, and 5% Malbec. Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of blackberry bramble and plum. On the palate, flavors of blackberry, cherry, blueberry, and plum, with white pepper and cedar. Tannins are big and chewy. Medium acidity. Long finish of black fruit and black pepper. Outstanding with spice-rubbed grilled steak tacos.

​The Odfjell is doing some remarkable things with organic, biodynamic wines in Chile. If you get the opportunity to try these wines, don’t let it pass you by!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Creative Inspiration by Robyn Raphael

It’s in the Bag!

Wine. Travel. Wine and travel. The two just seem to go together. Sometimes, the travel can be as simple as a picnic at a local park. Other times, it’s a trans-ocean, international dream trip. Depending on your journey, you may need different wine transport options. Fortunately, our friends at I Love Wine have compiled a list and review of a number of different Wine Travel Bags for your consideration. From a single-bottle picnic tote, complete with glassware and corkscrew, to a full-blown 12-bottle wine suitcase, they have you covered.

We’ve used bubble wrap wine sleeves when travelling, similar to No. 9 in the featured article below, and we’ve been very happy with the results. No breakage, no leaks, and no problems with packing – as long as you keep your suitcase under the weight limit! Remember, a bottle of wine weighs an average of about three pounds! Whether we’re bringing wine with us on our trip, or planning to buy some at our destination to bring home…or both…these sleeves are practical and affordable.

Now’s the time to start planning your 2019 getaways. Don’t forget to consider the wine! Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried any of these bags, or something similar!

Cheers!

We love wine more than anything. Traveling comes in a close second, so traveling with wine is nearly perfect. It presents some challenges depending on how far you’re traveling and whether you need to keep the wine chilled in transit. Wine travel bags with insulated interiors solve part of the problem, but they vary in quality. Wine bags are also available in a variety of styles, so you need a carrier that reflects your taste as well as the formality of the event. Here we share ten of the best wine travel bags. Whether you’re carrying wine for a picnic on the beach, a train ride through Napa Valley, or a plane trip across the Atlantic, we have the perfect options for you.

1. OPUX Insulated 2-Bottle Wine Tote: $17

This insulated wine tote from OPUX is perfect for an afternoon picnic. The wine compartment is insulated to keep the bottles cool and has a divider to protect them from clinking together. It has convenient dual zippers, plus a front pocket for carrying other accessories. For a wine tote under $20, we’re impressed with its durability. It has a handle at the top, plus a detachable shoulder strap, offering a few transit options. We also love that it’s available in so many colors. For the price point, you can easily pick up a few of these to match the mood of the occasion. As a bonus, it comes with a free corkscrew.

2. Picnic at Ascot Deluxe Insulated Wine Tote: $24

This kit from Picnic at Ascot is an even more complete picnic kit. It includes two acrylic wine glasses, a wine opener, and a pair of napkins. With the goblets in place it holds just one bottle of wine. Remove the goblets and you can carry two bottles. The panel that holds your wine opener folds neatly between them so they won’t collide. The tote is made of sturdy canvas and comes in a variety of colors and patterns. Although it’s and extremely durable carrier, we love that it comes with a lifetime guarantee from the company.

3. KOVOT 9-Piece Wine Travel Bag and Picnic Set: $25

KOVOT boasts one of the most complete picnic kits on the market, including accessories you might not have thought about. It includes an insulated compartment to hold two bottles of wine with a divider in between. The side pocket holds two acrylic wine glasses, cloth napkins, a corkscrew, and a bottle stopper. The surprise accessory is a pair of stakes so you can secure your wine glasses on uneven ground. At first blush, this might seem like overkill, but it’s perfect if you need to set your glass down on the beach. This picnic set would make a wonderful impression on a first date and also makes a marvelous gift for any wine lover.

4. Kato Insulated 2-Bottle Wine Carrier: $20

If you want a 2-bottle carrier that looks more like a regular tote, Kato makes this stylish wine bag. It keeps wine chilled for hours thanks to its internal padding and insulation, plus it has a flexible divider to protect the bottles in transit. We love the zippered side compartment for carrying your phone, keys, or wine accessories. Like some of the other kits, it also comes with a free corkscrew. Above all, we love the variety of colors and patterns available, making this one of the most versatile and stylish totes at this price point.

5. Vina 3-Bottle Insulated Wine Carrier: $18

The Vina is our favorite 3-bottle wine tote. The bottles are held in place by dividers and the insulation does well in keeping chilled bottles cool until you get to your destination. One thing we especially love is how easy this carrier is to clean. The high-quality polyester is just a wipe down from looking perfect again, making it the ideal carrier for picnics, festivals, and other outdoor events. It has a convenient side pocket for storing the free corkscrew and any other items you need handy.

6. Kato 4-Bottle Insulated Wine Tote: $22

We love the styling of this 4-bottle carrier from Kato, with its leather accents and stainless steel hardware. The tote is made of canvas and comes in gray or a cute navy and white striped pattern. It doesn’t have side pockets, but we love that the divider inside is removable, which gives some storage flexibility. For such a stylish bag, we love the affordability. The quality of insulation is also impressive, keeping chilled wines cold for hours.

7. Wine Enthusiast 6-Bottle Weekend Wine Carrier: $69

For higher-capacity totes, sturdy construction becomes critical. If the carrier isn’t built to handle the weight of the bottles, it will wear out quickly. Worse, it might break while you’re carrying it. For transporting up to 6-bottles, our favorite is this canvas wine carrier from Wine Enthusiast. It has a padded divider which leaves space to carry up to six Bordeaux bottles, plus a side pocket for accessories. The insulation and padding are both excellent and the exterior construction is just as impressive. The forest green canvas is durable and we love the chocolate brown trim. There’s also a monogrammable leather hang tag in case you’d like to personalize it.

8. Wine Enthusiast 6-Bottle Leather Wine Bag: $300

For a 6-bottle tote that doesn’t look like a standard wine carrier, Wine Enthusiast offers this gorgeous leather weekend bag. It’s much more expensive than a simple canvas carrier, but you won’t find a classier wine travel bag. It’s 100% handcrafted and the attention to detail is apparent in all aspects of the bag, both inside and out. It holds up to six bottles upright, separated with padded dividers, and has an outer pocket for small accessories. It’s the perfect bag to accompany you on that train trip through wine country you’ve always dreamt of.

9. Wine Wings Wine Bottle Protector Sleeve: $20 for 4

Planning a longer journey? If you’re traveling by plane, Wine Wings are an inexpensive way to safely pack your wine. These bags completely seal the wine bottle inside with Ziplocks and velcro to keep any leaks contained. The bags are also padded internally with bubble-wrap and have a stronger exterior to prevent piercing by other items in your bag. They’re durable and reusable, so investing in these means your only worry will be keeping your suitcase under the weight limit.

10. VinGardeValise 12-Bottle Wine Travel Suitcase: $209

Finally planning that wine vacation through Europe and plan to bring a lot of bottles home? VinGardeValise makes suitcases specifically designed to keep your wine safe during its journey. This suitcase holds 12 bottles and weighs between 43 and 49 lbs when filled to capacity. This keeps it safely under the checked bag weight limit for most airlines, though be sure to doublecheck when you buy your tickets. The suitcase meets TSA, FAA, and airline luggage standards and is a sturdy piece of luggage, as well. It has double channel zippers, a reinforced internal frame, and wheels that spin 360 degrees for easy mobility. We also love that it has a TSA-compliant lock to keep the wine even more secure.

 

The Day Pacific’O Saved us from Hurricane Lane, a Restaurant Review

You simply can’t go to Hawaii without attending a Luau. This past August, we were very excited to be heading to the 50th state for 10 days of sun, beaches, snorkeling, wine tasting (what, you missed our blog about MauiWine? You can fix that by clicking here), and of course, a proper Hawaiian Luau on the beach.

For weeks, we had read reviews of the various Luaus around Ka’anapali, Maui, where we would be staying. We finally selected The Feast at Lele. It promised authentic food, including a pit-roasted pig, music, dancers, and the all around romance of a sunset dinner on the beach. We were really looking forward to it!

Upon our arrival on Maui, we were alerted to the impending doom that would be Hurricane Lane. Honestly, we’d had no idea. Our three days on Oahu had been stunning, with brilliant sunshine, and warm tropical waters. Though apprehensive, we were committed to enjoy our stay no matter what the weather brought. Afterall, we were in Maui!

Hurricane Lane

Yea, that’s a pretty big deal.

As Hurricane Lane churned toward the Islands, it became apparent that, although she would not make landfall on Maui, the outer bands of the hurricane would affect the island. Hawaii, the Big Island, took the brunt of the damage, but the storm skirted Maui to the south. Nevertheless, all necessary precautions were taken. The staff at the Westin Ka’anapali were amazing in their diligence, keeping us updated several times a day with voicemail messages, and literally going door-to-door handing out flyers with the latest storm conditions, forecasts, and precautions. Our parasailing trip was cancelled. We dutifully filled our bathtub, and ventured out the the market to stock up on provisions for what could be several days without power.

The town of Lahaina pretty much shut down, including most of the restaurants. This is understandable, considering many of the people who work in the town commute some 45 minutes to and from the north side of the Island, on a sometimes narrow, twisting road. Still, the resort bars remained open, so we got our fair share of Mai Tai’s! And the Feast at Lele held out, determined to treat their guests to an experience of a lifetime, despite an approaching Hurricane.

The day of our scheduled Luau arrived. We called to confirm, and the Feast of Lele said the Luau will go on, unless we were otherwise notified. With winds increasing in intensity, we grabbed a Resort Shuttle into Lahaina. Our driver informed us that, depending on conditions, the shuttles may stop running before we were done for the evening, so we should be prepared to catch an Uber or Lyft back to the resort.

We arrived at the venue about a half hour before they were ready to receive guests. So, naturally, we set out to find somewhere to relax with a glass of wine before the Luau. As luck would have it, right across the walkway, we spotted Pacific’O restaurant. As we found two seats at the bar, we were greeted by Manager Cory Brownfield, who was manning the bar that evening. A very personable man, we enjoyed chatting with Cory as we sipped our wine and waited for the Luau. Cory gave us the inside scoop: don’t rush over right when they open the doors. We’d be crammed into a “holding pen” until they were ready for us to go down our tables on the beach. There would be plenty of complimentary Mai Tai’s and Pina Coladas to go around, so we sat and visited with Cory a bit longer.

Finally the time came. We left Pacific’O and walked across to the Luau. We could see the nervousness on the faces of some of the staff, as the winds continued to build, and rain clouds loomed overhead. We grabbed a Mai Tai and waited for our turn to walk down the ramp to the beach. Despite the tension of the impending Hurricane, the vibe was energetic. At last, we took our places in line and walked down the ramp. As we reached the bottom, literally at the moment we were adorned with our lei’s, the skies opened up! This was it! Hurricane Lane was upon us!

The staff hustled us back inside. For a few minutes there was confusion, and it was unclear if they would try to hold the Luau indoors. After a few passing moments, however, we saw one of the most horrific sights we’ve seen in our lives: the barbacks started dumping Mai Tai after Pina Colada down the drain! It was clear the Luau was cancelled. Kent tried to rush the bar in a quest for a to-go cup, but the staff held firm. Our money would be refunded, and the Luau was cancelled.

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Oh, the humanity!

As Kent waited a moment for the details on the refund (hey, he is an accountant) Robyn, always forward-thinking in times of crisis, made a dash back over to Pacific’O to secure us a table before the throngs of other disappointed cancelled-Luau guests got the same idea. Although there were no tables available, there was still room at the bar, so we took our seats and resumed our pleasant interaction with Cory.

Alas, the deluge was not the fearsome Hurricane itself; only a passing squall from an outer band. In fact, within 10 minutes, the rain had stopped, the clouds thinned, and we enjoyed one of the most spectacular sunsets we got the see during our trip!

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Cory continued to be the consummate host. He gave us recommendations, and we were treated to an exquisite meal. Of all the Mai Tai’s we had during our time on Maui, the one at Pacific’O was far and away the best!

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The one on the right was their Farm Cocktail of the Day. It was delicious, but I don’t remember what was in it; I didn’t think to bring my notebook.

The pictures really don’t do justice. The portions look small in the photos, but they were more than enough for the two of us! Exquisite ceviche – the fish can’t get any fresher! Buttery seared scallops and prawns with mushrooms and rice. Everything was delicious, and more than made up for our missed roast pig and poi. (Do they still serve that at Luaus?)

We survived the hurricane, obviously. There was some damage as you can see, but thankfully, Hurricane Lane wasn’t as destructive as early predictions suggested; at least on Maui. Hurricane Lane did put a damper on our vacation, but they way we see it, it’s hard to be disappointed when you’re in Maui. Besides, it gives us an opportunity for a mulligan!

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Hurricane Lane Damage! The Struggle was Real!

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If you happen to be in Lahaina, be sure to stop in at Pacific’O. They’re located on the beach, at 505 Front Street, Suite 114, Lahaina, Maui, HI 96761. If Cory’s working, tell him Kent and Robyn from the night Hurricane Lane almost destroyed the Island, say “Aloha!”

Kent & Robyn’s First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party

It was the hot ticket in town! Well, at least in our part of town. OK, maybe just on our block. Regardless, it was a hot ticket! We’ve been wanting to host a wine tasting party for several months now, and at long last we were able to put it on the calendar.

Once the event was scheduled, the preparations began. First of all, what was the format? Simple get together over some wine? Educational experience featuring a particular varietal or region? A taste of the obscure and exotic? We decided that for our first tasting party, we’d keep it basic: a blind tasting of common varietals.

To spice it up and add some fun, we would also have a “Guess the Grape” competition after each wine. Anyone who could guess the varietal got a cork. A bonus cork was awarded if anyone could guess the region. At the end of the tasting, the guest with the most corks was deemed the winner, and got to go home with a bottle of Champagne!

Planning was underway, and as the date approached, the intensity increased. Our format would require five glasses per guest. We had nine guests coming. We don’t have 55 wine glasses! Party store to the rescue with the glass rentals. Placemats? We found these fun, customized placemats on Etsy and ordered them forthwith. Then, the best part…picking out the wine!

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We decided to showcase Northern California, single varietal wines, all well known grapes (well, maybe one outlier), and all in the sub-$20 range. We wanted to challenge our guests, some of whom are “red wine only”, or “Chardonnay only” wine drinkers. While we totally respect that, we also feel it is important to step outside the comfort zone once in a while, because, who knows, maybe you’re missing something you really love and don’t know it!

Within the parameters or Northern California, we made the conscious decision to exclude Napa Valley. Aside from the fact that it is hard to find quality Napa wines under $20, we also wanted to highlight the fact that there are spectacular wines from surrounding regions, at a fraction of the prices of the big Napa producers. So it was off to our local Total Wine & More store to stock up. We figured on one bottle for the tasting (11 two-ounce pours is just shy of one bottle) and then two more bottles to enjoy during the after-party. 11 pours? Yes…nine guests plus us. You didn’t think we wouldn’t be enjoying the wines, too, did you?

We went with two whites and three reds. In keeping with tradition, we went lighter to heavier. Here are the wines we selected:

Wine No. 1 – The Outlier:

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Husch Vineyards Chenin Blanc La Ribera Mendocino County 2017. Total Wine & More (TWM) Retail: $10.99.

Only one guest was able to identify this varietal…and that was on his third guess!

Wine No. 2 – The Surprise White:

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River Road Chardonnay Russian River Valley Reserve 2016. TWM Retail: $17.99.

Not the butter bomb many of our guests have come to expect from a California Chardonnay.

Wine No. 3 – The Value Pinot:

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Angeline Pinot Noir Reserve 2017, Mendocino County. TMW Retail: $17.49.

Though some called out how young it is, everyone enjoyed it.

Wine No. 4 – The Controversial One:

Inconspicuous (by Truett-Hurst) Zinfandel, Lodi, 2016. TWM Retail: $19.99.

One guest called out Russian River Valley for the region. While Truett-Hurst is a Sonoma County producer, this wine is made with Lodi fruit. Would you have awarded a cork?

Wine No. 5 – The Bargain Cabernet:

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Wente Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills, Livermore Valley, 2016. TWM Retail: $13.29.

Did you know that Livermore Valley was instrumental in keeping California winemaking alive during prohibition? What’s more, many of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines found in Napa Valley came from Livermore Valley rootstock. Our guest know these things, now!

The Major Award:

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Montaudon Brut, NV, Champagne, France.

This is one delicious Champagne! Available from Total Wine & More.

The Lovely Parting Gifts:

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MauiWine Mele Red Blend, NV. Available only from MauiWine.

There are wineries in all 50 states. After our amazing trip to MauiWine, how could we not share the Aloha with our friends?

The tables were set. The glasses were poured. The bottles concealed in paper sleeves (thanks to Total Wine & More for rescuing us from out faux pas of not remembering to buy proper blind-tasting bags.) The guests arrived, and after a few minutes of mingling over appetizers, the festivities were underway!  

The Christmas Jazz in the background lent a holiday feel to the party. Everybody enjoyed themselves. All our guests expressed surprise at how difficult is was to identify what were some of their favorite varietals. The evening’s big winner was Glen, who went home with the Champagne.

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Hey, wine tasting is serious business! 

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Remember, there’s a bottle of Champagne on the line!

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But who are we kidding? Everyone was a big winner that evening. We had a lot of fun. We got to taste some great wine. We learned a thing or two. Here are a few of the major take-aways from the evening:

  1. It’s really, really hard to identify a grape variety when tasting blind. We didn’t even use the black-out glasses, so we at least knew whether we were evaluating a white or a red!
  2. There are some very good wines out there from lesser known regions, at amazing values!
  3. Sometimes to top scoring wine at an event turns out not to be the most popular.

Allow us to elaborate on #3. The evening’s overall winner, in terms of rating points, was the Angeline Pinot Noir. Despite its youth, it is fresh, juicy, and delicious. Nevertheless, during the after party, when the extra bottles were opened, it was the two bottles of Inconspicuous Zinfandel that were drained first. Inconspicuous, indeed.

We had a blast hosting our First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party. We’ll definitely do it again. In fact, we’ve already had an offer from one of our guests to take our party on the road! The next Kent & Robyn’s Wine Tasting Party will be at a guest venue! We’ll also experiment with different formats, like a BYOW, or a food pairing party. The sky’s the limit!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credits: Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael

Getting Cozy with Mulled Wine

I think most would agree that a crisp, refreshing, chilled white wine just isn’t what we’re looking for on a cold winter’s day. Those big, bold red wines are more suitable for this time of year, and there are plenty to choose from for all the different occasions.

But what happens if you’re just relaxing by the fire, wrapped in a blanket, binge-watching your favorite Netflix show, and you want something to warm you up? Enter Mulled Wine.

What? You’ve never heard of Mulled Wine? Or you only think of Mulled Wine as something they drank in Dickens’ time? Well, it’s time to re-think this tasty winter’s drink. (Hey, I rhymed!) Mulled Wine is essentially warmed, spiced wine, often revved up with some type of spirit; brandy, rum, etc.

You can often find pre-made bottles at your wine shop. I found this bottle, and it’s ready to go; just warm it up and start sipping, or add some addtional spices, fresh fruit, or spirit to suit your taste.

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If you have a more time, and are feeling a bit more adventurous, you can gather up the ingredients, and make your own Mulled Wine. Our friends at I Love Wine prepared this informative post on Mulled Wine, (scroll down to read it) complete with history, and several delcious recipes your can make at home for family and friends this holiday season. Check it out, and if you make any of the recipes, let us know how you liked them!

Happy Holidays, and Cheers!

Tis the Season to be Jolly: Fa-La-Fall in Love with Mulled Wine

Not that we ever need a reason (or a season!) to sample delicious new wines, but the holidays are particularly a treat when it comes to trying different traditional vinos from around the world. While wine is typically best served room temperature red or perfectly chilled white, hot wine is also a “thing.” Yes, HOT WINE! If you have never tried mulled wine, do yourself a favor and put that on your list of holiday season must-do’s.

What is Mulled Wine?

Mulled wine is a spice-infused red wine served warm and best enjoyed in the colder months. It goes by different names in various regions; such as Glogg in Sweden, Glühwein in Germany or Vin Chaud in France. Ingredients for this comforting beverage depend on the region, but typically consist of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, anise, vanilla and allspice. Bitter orange, figs, apples, raisins or ginger can be added as well for additional sweetness. Other liquors are often added to the mix; with vodka, rum, brandy, sherry and cognac popular choices for an extra kick. The ingredients for mulled wine are simmered, allowing flavors to infuse, and then strained and served immediately. The wine can also be refrigerated for 24 hours to allow for further infusion then reheated before serving.

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History of Mulled Wine

The origin of mulled wine came about in pre-refrigeration days, where the purpose was to use wine on the verge of spoilage and not let it go to waste. The addition of other liquor, spices, fruit and sugar made it more pleasant to drink.

The history of mulled wine dates all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. Said to be invented by Greek scientist and Father of Medicine, Hippocrates; the wine (red or white) was spiced and sweetened with honey and not always served hot. The drink gained its name from the Old English word meaning “muddled” and has been popular throughout Europe for centuries.

The oldest recipe dates back to 1834 and was found in a recipe collection in the State Archives in Dresden, Germany. The collection belonged to Count of Wackerbarth, Augustus Christopher. However, wine was first recorded as spiced and heated in Rome during the 2nd century. The Romans traveled all across Europe, bringing wine and their recipes with them to the Rhine and Danube rivers, and to the Scottish border.

While it can be served throughout the winter months, mulled wine is more traditionally a Christmas beverage. Charles Dickens is credited with making mulled wine synonymous with the holidays, thanks in part to his mention of the beverage (a mulled wine punch known as the Smoking Bishop) in his timeless classic, A Christmas Carol.

“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!”

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

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Recipes for Mulled Wine

There are quite a few recipes for mulled wine floating about. We will list a few of the traditional favorites here, should you wish to whip up a batch of this delicious winter treat:

Smoking Bishop:

Ingredients:

  • 2 bottles of strong red wine
  • 1 bottle of port wine
  • 5 sweet oranges, unpeeled
  • 1 large grapefruit, unpeeled
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 30 cloves

Directions: Wash the fruit and bake it on a foil lined baking sheet until it becomes light brown, turning once. Heat a large earthenware bowl and add the fruit. Stud each fruit with five cloves. Add the sugar and the red wine, and store covered in a warm place for about a day.

Squeeze the fruit to extract the juice, and strain into a saucepan. Add the port and warm thoroughly, but don’t boil.

Serve in heated glasses.

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Clarence’s Mulled Wine:

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1 glass of brandy
  • 1 lemon, peeled
  • 1 lime, peeled
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Sugar, to taste

Directions: In a saucepan, gently heat the wine and spirit. Using a speed peeler, remove large parts of rind of the lemon and the lime. Be careful not to remove the pith. Toss peels into the saucepan.

Add the cinnamon, cloves, orange slices and sugar.

Simmer for 15 minutes then ladle into glasses and enjoy.

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A Modern British Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 bottles of fruity, unoaked wine
  • 150ml ginger wine
  • 2 un-waxed oranges
  • 1 lemon, peel only
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 5 cloves, plus extra for garnish
  • 5 cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Directions: Peel and juice 1 orange, and add to a large saucepan along with the lemon peel, sugar and spices. Add enough wine to just cover the sugar, and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Bring to the boil and cook for 5 – 8 minutes until it turns into a thick syrup.

If you are serving the mulled wine immediately, stud the second orange with 6 vertical lines of cloves, and then cut into segments to use as a garnish.

Turn the heat down, and pour the rest of the wine into the saucepan, along with the ginger wine. Gently heat through and serve with the orange segments as a garnish.

Alternatively, there are several good options available for purchase in your local store if you don’t feel up to the task of mulling your own. A notable, tasty and affordable option is Mrs. Beachley’s Mulled Wine, at a cost of about $10.

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Enjoy Après-ski after a day out on the slopes, warm up while strolling Christmas markets on a chilly night, or heck…indulge to make those holiday family gatherings a bit more bearable. Mulled wine is sure to comfort and warm you from the inside-out during this festive season!

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Review: Toccata Classico 2015

I first learned about Toccata wines several years ago, when one of their sales reps was hosting a tasting at a wine bar near my home. I happened in, by happy coincidence, and was immediately impressed by the quality, complexity, and character of the wines. Alas, the wines are not widely distributed, so Toccata was difficult to find and enjoy regularly.

The Toccata label is owned by Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards, a family owned estate in Santa Barbara County. I’m fairly certain the Toccata tasting all those years ago was the first Santa Barbara wine I had experienced. Lucas & Lewellen is fairly well known to travellers along Highway 101 south of Paso Robles, as their large estate vineyards are adjacent to the highway, and are well marked with signs identifying ownership and often the variety of grape.

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Photo Credit: llwine.com

Years after that original Toccata tasting, my son started college at U.C. Santa Barbara; another happy coincidence. During the hours-long drives from Northern California to visit, as I passed the Lucas & Lewellen vineyards, I was reminded of the Toccata wines I had enjoyed. When I discovered that Toccata has a tasting room, just a few miles off Highway 101 in the quaint village of Solvang, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy these wines again while also enjoying time with my son, and the beauty of Santa Barbara. Still, once he graduated, and my regular trips to Santa Barbara came to an end, so did my ready access to Toccata.

To my sheer delight, I was recently offered a sample of the Toccata Classico 2015. There was no hesitation in my affirmative response to the offer!  

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Toccata wines are all Italian varieties and styles. Toccata Classico is a red blend made in the Super Tuscan style. The fruit comes from two estate vineyards; Los Alamos Vineyard in the Santa Barbara AVA and Valley View Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. The 2015 is composed of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Freisa, and Petit Verdot. Here’s what we thought of it:

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

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Rich, deep purple with ruby rim. Initial nose is vanilla, with ripe red berry. On the palate, flavors of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and cassis, with baking spice, vanilla, tobacco, white pepper, and toasty oak. Firm, chewy tannins, with medium acidity. Rich and full bodied. The finish is long with red and black fruit, oak, and black pepper.

SRP $29.00 per bottle

Perfect for Italian cuisine, and also fantastic with other genres of food, too. We loved it with Pan Seared Filet Steaks with Gorgonzola and Caramelized Onions. Sheer delight! img_2349

If you are in the Santa Barbara area, be sure to take a detour out to Solvang and visit the Toccata tasting room. It’s well worth the trip!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo credit, except where noted, and inspiration by Robyn Raphael