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Category Archives: Cabernet Sauvignon

Experience Alexander Valley, Day 1 – Medlock Ames and Stonestreet

It was with eager anticipation that we set off on our journey to the first annual Experience Alexander Valley. We’d been invited as guests of Alexander Valley Winegrowers*, and based on all we’d heard about this new event, we knew we were in for something special. We wrote a couple of preview pieces, which if you missed them and want to catch up, you can read here, and here. But the previews don’t come close to capturing the magic and adventure that Experience Alexander Valley delivered.

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* As guests, our event admission was complimentary. We received no other compensation or incentive. All descriptions, opinions, and reviews are our own.

Like many wine country events, this was a two-day adventure. Unlike many wine country events, rather than racing from winery to winery, guests got to choose two Experiences per day. Since we were invited as bloggers, to cover and promote the event, Robyn and I wanted to participate in as many Experiences as possible…to a point – we do enjoy each other’s company! So we decided “divide and conquer”, at least for a couple of Experiences. We each selected one Experience per day to fly solo, and one to attend together.

Saturday dawned clear and bright. And warm.  Weather forecasters predicted highs near 103F, and they weren’t far off. This meant that many outdoor Experiences had to be canceled or at least modified. Nevertheless, we were undaunted and headed from our hotel to Robyn’s first destination, deLorimier Winery. I’ll let Robyn tell the story of her Experience herself. Watch for her blog post in a few days.

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I had a bit of a drive to get to my first Experience, at the Medlock Ames Winery. Though they have a tasting room on the valley floor, they wanted to treat guests to a Sustainable Winemaking Experience at their vineyards and production facility. The drive was beautiful, along the east side of the valley, then up Chalk Hill Road. The thing that struck me most: No Traffic! I was virtually alone on a Saturday morning in Wine Country.

Turning onto a single lane road, I started to get a little nervous that my trusty Google Maps might have failed me. It was a paved, single lane road, so that was hopeful. Alas, my trust in Google ran out two hilly ridges in. I turned around, beginning what would be a 30 minute detour that ended up taking me right back where I was. Around a curve about 100 yards beyond where I’d turned around was the entrance to Medlock Ames. Sigh. I’d done it to myself, and was almost 45 minutes late!

Fortunately, friendly Isabella saw my plight and left her post in the tasting room to rescue me. She came out into the already 90+ degree day, and caught me up with the small group on the outdoor tour. Isabella handed me off to Chelsea, who was leading the two other guests, Jimmy and Maryanne, on a tour of the grounds.

Medlock Ames is a sustainable, organic winery, and includes a one-acre vegetable garden, and a one-acre fruit garden. Due to the heat, we were not able to walk to those gardens, but still got a brief overview of the property and history. Chelsea led us to the shade of a large tree at the edge of a vineyard. There she told us that the two acres of vines were looking at were nearly ripped out when owners Chris Medlock James and Ames Morison purchased the property in 1998. The vineyard had been planted by the previous owner, a sheep rancher, and nobody knew what variety they were. Ames, the head winemaker, was hesitant, however, and decided to walk the vines before excavation. He found a tag on a vine, from a nursery in New York. After a call to the nursery and some research, and they found the answer: Merlot. But not just any Merlot. These vines are Jefferson clones; descendants of vines that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson brought from France to his Virginia estate! With that kind of pedigree, the former Tulane University roommates decided to leave the vines in.

All Medlock Ames are made from 100% organic, estate grown fruit. The winery is fully solar powered. Of the 338 acres on the estate, only about 55 acres are farmed, leaving the rest of the land to its native flora and fauna. There are more than 800 olive trees, five retention ponds for irrigation, and at least 50 barn owl boxes on the property. To help conserve energy, the barrel room is underground, below the production facility.

Speaking of the barrel room, where better to continue the tour on such a hot day? After a brief visit among the fermentation tanks upstairs, we ventured down into the 55 degree cellar to meet Ames, and enjoy some barrel tasting.

The beauty of the Experience Alexander Valley event is that the three of us had about 30-45 minutes of interrupted time with the head winemaker. (I was enjoying myself too much to keep track of time.) We could ask whatever questions we wanted, and he took the time to answer in a way we could all understand. You don’t get that on a party bus tour!

Ames is clearly passionate about what he does, and is very knowledgeable. He thieved us samples of their 2017 Lower Slope Chardonnay, the 2017 50 Tons Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2017 Kate’s & B’s Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2017 Secret Ingredient Malbec. Each of the wines has a nick-name, and a story. The Kate’s and B’s is named after Chris and Ames’ wives; Kate is Ames’ wife, and B (stands for Bradley) is Chris’ wife. They chose the very best grapes from the very best vineyards to make the wine with their wives’ names on it. Smart men!

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From the cellar, we walked back up to the tasting room where Chelsea hosted us in a wine and cheese pairing. The cheeses are all local, Sonoma County artisan cheeses, and paired each of the wine amazingly! I’ll let the pictures tell the story here.

As we were finishing up, I got Robyn’s text letting me know her Experience was over, and she was ready for me to come get her. So I didn’t have time to explore the preserves, marmalades, and olive oils they make with estate fruit. No worries though; that gives me something to look forward to when I bring Robyn on our next visit!

After a quick lunch break, we headed to our next Experience, this time together. Turning up the tree-lined drive to Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, we were taken with the beauty of the property. Here, we were to enjoy a chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. Originally scheduled outdoors on their beautiful patio overlooking the valley and nearby Mayacamas Mountain range, they thankfully relocated the tasting indoors, in their air conditioned tasting room.

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We were greeted by DTC (Direct to Consumer) Manager, Michelle, and our host and guide for the day, Tasting Room Manager, Samantha. Having never heard of Stonestreet before, we were in for a bit of a surprise.

Video credit: Stonestreet Estate Vineyards

Stonestreet Estate Vineyards owns a large chunk of the Mayacamas Mountains we had admired as we entered the property. 5500 acres, to be more specific. Yet of those 5500 acres, only 800 acres are planted to vines. Committed to sustainable and environmentally friendly winemaking, when the owners purchased the land in 1995, they conducted wildlife studies; migration patterns, breeding grounds, etc. and planted around those areas so as to not disturb the native wildlife. This also helps to keep the critters out of the vineyards. But that wasn’t the biggest surprise. Stonestreet Estate Vineyards is part of Stonestreet Farms, located in Kentucky. Stonestreet Farms breeds thoroughbred race horses, very successfully, including such standouts as Rachel Alexandra (depicted in the beautiful statue on the grounds.) The founder of Stonestreet Farms was Jess Stonestreet Jackson. Jess Jackson. Yes, the Kendall-Jackson Jess Jackson! Surprise! Who knew?

Now on to the chocolate and Cabernet pairing. Some might think that it is difficult to pair chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon, and it can be. The wine is often too tannic to work well with the creaminess of the chocolate. But Stonestreet sent samples of the wines for the pairing to the local pastry chef they’d commissioned for the event. She, in turn, created the chocolate confections to match each of the wines. It was exquisite! While it was hard to select a favorite, if forced, I’d say mine was third from the left, the Chocolate Budino with huckleberry compote. Robyn fell in love with the Opera Cake (second from left) made with dark chocolate genoise, espresso cream, and topped with a sprig of lemon thyme. Each of the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons paired perfectly with the chocolates.

Running a little ahead of schedule allowed Samantha to give us a brief tour of the barrel room, and some photo ops. We also had a chance to sample their Meritage, Bordeaux-style red blend. Made from all five of the noble grapes, it was amazing!

 

And that’s it. Just two Experiences per day. I’ve prattled on long enough for now, and we’ll cover Sunday later. Robyn will write about her solo Experiences in separate post, too. Oh sure, there was the fantastic blues concert at deLorimier Saturday evening, but Robyn will write about that in her first Experience post.

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The biggest takeaways for us on Saturday were these: One, Alexander Valley is a hidden gem; a peaceful wine oasis mere minutes from the crowds and bustle of Napa. There was virtually no traffic all weekend, and no crowds, either. Sure, the heat may have kept some away, but Sunday was much cooler and yet no more crowded.

The other takeaway was this: though the lack of crowds was nice, Experience Alexander Valley was noticeably under-attended. Experiences had capacity for up to 24 guests. Of the four I attended, two had only three guests, one had four, and one had seven. Intimate to be sure, but really, folks, come out next year and let’s make this an event, an Experience, worth repeating! You’ll remember your Experiences forever.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael, unless otherwise noted.
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Review: Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

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

 

Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend, Day 2 – Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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: lvwine.org

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 lvwine.org. We hope to see you there!

Cheers!

  • 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…

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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

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