Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend: Day 1 – Saturday

If we had to describe our experience at the Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend in one word, without a doubt, that word would be: Hospitality.

This was our first trip to Livermore Valley Wine Country. We were invited as guests of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, and were very eager to attend. In preparation for the event, we did a little studying and learned a great deal about the incredible and influential history of this wine region. You can read about what we learned in our previous post by clicking here.

Livermore Valley Wine Country

As the name suggests, the Barrel Tasting Weekend is a two-day event, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. There are more than 40 wineries in the Livermore Valley, and roughly 35 of them were participating in the weekend. Clearly, we had a daunting task ahead of us, trying to make it to as many of these as possible. Yes folks, Wine Blogging has its own, unique challenges and stresses. This is not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, we are willing to do it. For you, dear readers.


As luck would have it, to add to the challenge, we got a late start on the nearly two-hour drive to the Valley, and didn’t arrive Saturday until around 2 p.m. Having missed out on two entire hours of tasting, our mission looked dire. Like many events of this type, during registration we selected a winery to start our journey, where we would pick up our glasses and wrist bands. Scoping the lay of the land, we decided to start at one of the furthest locations from Livermore, the city, and work our way in. So it was that we found ourselves at the charming venue that is Cedar Mountain Winery & Port Works. There, General Manager Cindy Burnett greeted us with wine thief in hand. She was offering barrel samples of their 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as tasted of their finished and bottled 2015. Next to her was owner Earl Ault, with barrel tastes of their recent NV Tortuga Royale, a fortified, Port-style wine made from Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, co-fermented with 70% Cocoa Powder. Truly one of the most unique flavor experiences we have had in our years of wine tasting! After sampling the very chocolaty barrel sample, which we thought tasted like adult chocolate milk, we got to try the current release from the bottle. Here, the bold chocolate flavors had softened and melded into the wine, creating a smooth, bold, delicious finished product. Really, folks, if you haven’t been barrel tasting, this would be a great place to start! This wine really showcased the differences between barrel and bottle!

So friendly were Cindy and Earl, and the rest of the staff at Cedar Mountain that they invited us to stay for a complimentary tasting of their entire library at the tasting bar. Never ones to be rude, we agreed. Though we didn’t taste the entire library…they have more than 20 table and dessert wines…we did work through many of them, including our first White Port experiences; a Viognier Port, Chardonnay Port, and an Oak Fermented Chardonnay Port! Long story short…we were there for over an hour. So much for our itinerary!


On to the next stop, we sauntered up the road to Eagle Ridge Vineyard. There we were greeted by Ron, an outgoing Philly transplant with a gruff, East Coast exterior but a great sense of wit and humor. He thieved us tastes of 2014 Petite Sirah and 2015 Zinfandel. Both presented nicely out of the barrel, and will really shine when bottled in a few months. After the barrel tasting, Ron invited us to taste a few more wines from their library. We were beginning to detect a theme here in Livermore Valley! As we tasted, Ron veered off to help some other newcomers, and we were further entertained by another of the amazing Eagle Ridge staff, Bill. Bill continued to pour, describe the wines…many of which are award winners…and generally entertain us with friendly conversation. Finally, it was time to go. There was less than an hour left in Saturday’s event, and we had more wineries to visit.

Down the hill a short distance and we came to what would be our final winery stop of the day, BoaVentura de Caires Winery. Housed in a quaint country barn, adjacent to a century-old farmhouse, BoaVentura specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon. If you clicked on the link at the beginning of this post, and read our preview article, you know that the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon you know and love actually originated in Livermore Valley.  (If you didn’t read our preview, you can do so now. We’ll wait.)  BoaVentura Batista de Caires is the grandfather of proprietor, Brett Caires. BoaVentura emigrated from Portugal in 1915, bringing with him, and passing down, a great love for wine. Brett purchased the vineyard land upon which BoaVentura winery sits in 1999. The influences of the unique micro-climates of this hilltop property produce distinctly different profiles in each vineyard. Many of the Cabernets are single vineyard, and the differences are self-evident with each taste.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Although specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon, the barrel taste of choice this day was the 2016 Petite Sirah; another impressive barrel sample that will shine after bottling. Brett was also pouring samples of their bottled Green Label Cabernet; a luscious and amazing wine! When we mentioned to Brett that we were there for our first visit, as guests of the winegrowers association, he told us to make ourselves at home in the tasting room, and to tell the staff there to “take good care” of us.


Always the obedient types, at least when it comes to wine, we ventured into the eclectic tasting room where we met Daniel. Daniel is Brett’s nephew, and actually works in the town where we live (did we mention it’s about a 2 hour drive?) Even more, he lives in the foothills beyond our town. No, he doesn’t commute to Livermore Valley every day; just once in a while and for special events. At any rate, we hit it off with Daniel and he was quite generous with the tastings. We tasted the entire flight, up to and including the spectacular Maroon Label. Now, I (Kent) have tasted some cult Napa Cabs before… (remember this amazing day?) I would put the Maroon Label up against a $200+ cult Napa Cab any day, and it’s a fraction of the cost, at just $79!


Clearly we were impressed by the wines at BoaVentura. But what about that Livermore Valley hospitality with which we started this piece? Well, the event officially ended at 4:30 p.m. At 5 p.m. we were still tasting, and making friends with some of the wine club members who had gathered for a post-event event. By 5:15 these same wine club members had started a fire in the fire pit. We left our glasses on the tasting bar and meandered out to warm ourselves by the fire for a few minutes on our way to the car. A couple of minutes later, Brett Caries came out of the barn and walked over. He noticed that we had no wine glasses in our hands. We explained that we left them on the bar on our way out. He said, “well go back in there, grab some glasses, and make sure they pour you whatever you want.” And so it was that we finally left close to 7 p.m., after enjoying wine, laughs, and new friends.

A side note if you get hungry. Everywhere we went, when we asked for dinner recommendations, to a person, the response was “Zephyr Grill & Bar.” So we went. Robyn had the Eggplant Parmesean; ½ inch thick slabs of eggplant cooked to delicate perfection and served with sinfully delicious garlic mashed potatoes. Kent had the Duck Confit, which was also perfect; not greasy and not dry. Perfect! We’re not food bloggers so we didn’t think to take pictures, (We only managed to snap this shot of the wine glass) but the dishes were definitely worth writing home about. Service was exquisite, local wines aplenty, and we went back to our hotel completely satisfied. Check it out when you visit!


Thus ends day one. Stay tuned for more Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend Adventures in Part 2: Sunday!

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

Come Barrel Tasting With Us…In Livermore Valley!

When you think of California Cabernet Sauvignon, where does your mind go? If you’re like most people you probably think of Napa, maybe Sonoma. How about that nice, big, California Chardonnay you’re enjoying with dinner tonight? Carneros? Monterey? Napa? Would you be surprised to learn that both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have their California roots in Livermore Valley? I know I was surprised!

Livermore Valley Wine Country

Wait. You mean you’ve never heard of Livermore Valley? Don’t feel bad. Many people haven’t. Being from Northern California, I was aware of the area, but never really associated it with wine. Yet, as I started to learn more about this region, I learned that wine grapes have been grown in the Livermore Valley since the 1840’s, and the first Livermore Valley wineries were established in 1883!

Livermore Valley is located east of San Francisco Bay, roughly midway between San Francisco and Stockton, and an easy drive from Silicon Valley. The valley has an east-west orientation that allows coastal fog and marine breezed to roll in, tempering the interior valley’s heat. This results in ideal wine growing conditions, producing exceptional fruit. In fact, Livermore Valley is one of the first regions to receive American Viticulture Association (AVA) status, back in 1982.

Livermore Vineyards

With a long history of winemaking, and innovative pioneers leading the way, it is logical that the greatest wine grape varieties should be linked to the Livermore Valley. Perhaps you are aware that most Chardonnay grapes grown in California come from Wente clones. Well, Wente is a long-standing producer, located in the Livermore Valley. In fact, they were the first winery to produce a varietally-labeled Chardonnay, back in 1936. So you have the Wente family, now in their fourth generation of vineyard management and winemaking in Livermore Valley, to thank for that delicious Chardonnay.


Similarly, Livermore Valley’s Concannon Vineyards produced the first ever Petite Sirah varietally-labeled wine in 1961. Concannon remains a large Petite Sirah producer; in fact, my first taste of Petite Sirah was a Concannon. What I didn’t know until recently, is that Concannon is more than Petite Sirah. The winery is credited with developing Cabernet Sauvignon clones, which represent approximately 80% of Cabernet grown in California today. In 1965, third-generation winemaker Jim Concannon collaborated with renowned U.C. Davis professor and viticulturist, Dr. Harold Olmo, to develop hearty Cabernet Sauvignon clones. Their work took California Cabernet from fewer than 1,000 acres, to more than 90,000 acres today. The clones they developed can be traced back to the “Concannon Mother Vine” which was imported from Château Margaux, by founder James Concannon in 1893.

Concannon Vineyards

Are you getting excited about Livermore Valley wines? I sure am!

In just a couple of weeks, on the weekend of March 10-11, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association will host their 10th Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Robyn and I will be there, guests of the Association, and we would love to see you there! The event runs from noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. With more than 35 wineries participating, it will be an exciting weekend of samples, thieving, tasting, and eating. Barrel tasting is an exciting way to explore wine as it evolves over time, from vineyard to bottle. If you find something you like, many wineries will be offering futures sales, so you can reserve some exceptional wine at a pre-release discount. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Petite Sirah, you can taste varietals you may never have had the opportunity to sample before, such as Primitivo and Alicante Bouschet.

If wine isn’t your thing, there will also be Livermore-area breweries sampling beer, and distilleries offering tastes of their spirits. It’s all included with your wristband, so go out on a limb and try something different!

Want to start your day with something hearty to eat before you get to winetasting? Consider attending one of the Barrel Tasting Brunches at 11 a.m. Each day, two wineries will partner with local restaurants to host fabulous brunches on the winery grounds. On Saturday, you can choose from Garré Winery & Garré Café Brunch, or Las Positas Vineyards & Zephyr Grill & Bar Brunch. Sunday’s offerings are hosted by Retzlaff Vineyards & Salt Craft Brunch, and Ehrenberg Cellars, The Singing Winemaker & Liberation Foods Brunch. The choice is yours you cannot make a wrong decision wherever you go!

For the more artistic in your crew, enjoy the 15 hand-painted wine barrels that will be on display at participating wineries. If you see one you particularly like, you can buy raffle tickets for the chance to take it home.

Painted Barrel

Just one of 15! Photo Credit:

Whether you come for the wine, the beer, the spirits, the food, or just the scenery, the 10th Annual Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend will be an event to remember. You can get tickets at We hope to see you there!


  • By Kent Reynolds

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…


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!


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:


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!


  • By Kent Reynolds

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


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


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.


Andis Wines


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!


  • 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.




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!



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.



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.


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!



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.


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.


  • 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.


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.

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.


  • 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 One of the things I like about the business model is that the company encourages employees, who have an interest in winemaking, to pursue their dream. A number of wines available through 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.


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.


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, 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

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, 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, 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:


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, 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, 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.


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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  • By Kent Reynolds