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Category Archives: Cabernet Sauvignon

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
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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

Review: Château Bélingard AOC Bergerac Rosé

Summer is the traditional season for Rosé wine. There is a movement afoot to encourage wine lovers to enjoy Rosé all year, and I’m all on board. I do enjoy Rosé wine year around. Nevertheless, lighter bodied, crisp wines taste best to me (any many others) when the weather is warmer. Poolside, lakeside, or parkside, a refreshing Rosé is a great way to enjoy a summer afternoon.

Rosé wine comes to the plate with two strikes against it. First of all, many people I know still think all Rosé wine is like the syrupy sweet White Zinfandel popular in the 80’s and 90’s. This is simply not true. The reality is that a good many of the Rosé wines available today are crafted in the classic, Provençal style: dry, crisp, and refreshing. Still, some simply aren’t willing to give dry Rosé a try. I say their loss is my gain: more for me!

Strike two is that there are a lot of low quality Rosé wines out there, lacking in flavor, interest, or character. I suppose this is to be expected when a product suddenly becomes as popular as Rosé has in recent years. Everybody wants a piece of the action; to ride the wave while it is high. So they’ll rush to put something, anything out there to enter the market before the tide turns. (I’m detecting a surf theme here. Appropriate, given that Rosé is a great beach wine!)

Fortunately, there are also many excellent Rosé wines available! I found one of them recently at my local Total Wine & More store. Château Bélingard AOC Bergerac Rosé (Retail: $11.99) is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. As one might expect from the use of these two big, bold red grapes, this Rosé has a bit more body and heft than most. Make no mistake, though; this is still a dry, crisp, refreshing wine!

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Founded in 1820, Château Bélingard is located in Southwest France, in the Bergerac appellation, east of the more famous Bordeaux region. While Bergerac wines are made predominantly with the same varietals as those of Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based red wines, and Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon based whites – Bergerac wines are often considered softer and less serious. I don’t take this as a criticism in any way! On the contrary, these are high quality, value wines! Not everyone is a collector or connoisseur, and there is definitely a need for affordable, easy-drinking, everyday wines.

In addition to this Rosé, Château Bélingard produces an impressive portfolio of reds and whites, including a Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon/Muscadelle blend, and several levels of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends. Below is my review of the Rosé, which we recently enjoyed as a cool refresher on a 102°F Sunday evening.

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IMG_2342Salmon, almost orange color. Aromas and flavors of tropical fruit including mango and passion fruit, with a hint of mandarin, along with light red berry flavors of strawberry and ripe raspberry. Dry with medium body and a soft, round mouthfeel and lively acidity make this a refreshing wine, yet big enough to pair with grilled tri-tip steaks or other summer BBQ fare.

We really enjoyed this wine! I rated it 4.5 out of 5 stars (92 – 94 points).

Check your local retailer and seek out some of this amazing Rosé wine! You’ll be glad you did!

Cheers!

Destination: SF Vintner’s Market

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Its like a farmer’s market, but for wine! Can it get any better than that?

Twice a year, winemakers from all over Northern California converge on the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion in San Francisco. A sprawling warehouse space, the Festival Pavilion is part of the Fort Mason National Historic Landmark District, located right on the bay. One a clear day, like this past Sunday, the views are absolutely stunning! But inside the Pavilion is where the action is!

The SF Vintner’s Market started in 2010 to provide a venue for independent winemakers to sell directly to wine lovers, and get some market exposure to trade reps. With up to 200 wineries in attendance, this is a wine lover’s dream. Some are well-known brands, but many are small, family owned producers, making some very limited quantity cult wines. This is a great opportunity for someone (like me) who has a smallish wine budget, to try wines that are otherwise out of range for purchase.

There are three levels of admission: General, Reserve Room, and Cult Lounge. By some amazing good fortune, my friend and winemaker, Bridget Raymond, was in attendance with her wines, and offered me complimentary entrance at the Cult Lounge level. Bridget makes an amazing Merlot wine, Intertwine, for NakedWines.com. (I’ve reviewed a couple of vintages of Intertwine on my blog.) In addition, Bridget has two personal projects under her Courtesan label. Her Brigitte line includes a Bordeaux-style red blend, and a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. The current release of the signature Courtesan wine is a Cabernet Franc-based blend. You can find her wines at Courtesanwines.com.

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That’s Bridget on the left. I’m blurry and I haven’t even started tasting yet!

I started the day in grand fashion, driving the two hours from my home to San Francisco, where I met my son and a friend for brunch. They live in The City, so they know all the best brunch spots! After our visit, I was off to the event. In my efforts to get hammered taste wine in safe and responsible manner, I left my car at my son’s, and took Lyft to Fort Mason. I also managed to leave my notebook and phone charger in my car. As a result, I was only able to take so many pictures, and my tasting notes are all from memory. Accordingly, they are mostly from the earlier wines I tasted. Surely you understand.

It was a beautiful pre-Spring day in The City, with temperatures unseasonably warm in the low 70’s. Upon entering, I headed straight to Bridget’s table to check in and say hi. Situated upstairs in the far corner, the view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge was simply spectacular! An amazing venue for enjoying some amazing wines! Naturally, I tasted the Brigitte and Courtesan wines first.

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Brigitte Oakville Red Wine 2014

Fabulous Bordeaux style blend. Blackberry, cherry, blueberry, and oak. Soft tannins and rich mouthfeel. Definitely ageworthy, but enjoyable now.

Retail: $29.00

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Courtesan Napa Valley Proprietors Red Reserve 2012

A Cab Franc based blend, this is a spectacular wine now, and will continue to improve for several years. Classic Cali Cab Franc, deep purple color with blackberry, black cherry, and green bell pepper notes. Soft, smooth tannins and perfectly balanced acidity. Long, satisfying finish of dark berry.

Retail: $125.00

Moving on, I enjoyed a number of superb, hand-crafted wines; mostly Napa Cabernet. Along the way, I came across a sensational Syrah Rosé by Scalon Cellars. After so many big, hefty red wines, a light and lively Rosé was just the ticket!

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Scalon Cellars Syrah Rosé 2015

Delicious! Bone dry, crisp and refreshing. Strawberry and raspberry with lively acidity. #roseallday!

Retail: $30.00

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Like I said, this was a great chance to try some wines that are way outside my price range. One such wine was the HL Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. It was toward the end of my tour, so…um…palate fatigue, yeah, that’s it, palate fatigue was setting in, so I can’t provide detailed tasting notes. However, I can tell you it was spectacular! At $375 retail, I think this was the priciest wine I sampled that day.

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In addition to all the wine; way too much to taste or photograph; there were food vendors in the house. I only sampled a couple of bites, but everything looked and smelled amazing! Alas, the battery on my phone was fading, so I couldn’t take any foodie pics. Trust me, it was all delightful!

The organizers of the SF Vintner’s Market really know how to throw a party. I definitely plan to attend again, even if I have to pay my own way in! (Thanks again for the ticket, Bridget!) If you’d like to go, visit the website for details. The next Vintner’s Market will be coming up on November 4 & 5, 2017. Mark your calendars, and I hope to see you there!

Cheers!

Old World v. New World Cabernet: A Total Wine & More Event

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Total Wine & More bills itself as “America’s Wine Superstore.” I would have to agree. The first two times I walked into a Total Wine store, I walked out empty handed. It was simply overwhelming. Those of you fortunate enough to live near one of their 135 stores in 18 states know what I mean. They stock more wine, beer, and spirits on their shelves than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. Simply walking through the store can be disorienting to the uninitiated. I recommend hiring a guide. If you’re ever in the Sacramento area, drop me a line and for a small fee (a bottle of sumpin’ sumpin’) I will gladly help you navigate the labyrinth.

Like so many retailers these days, Total Wine has a loyalty rewards program; they call the Total Discovery Program. Basically, you earn points for each dollar spent in the store. You start at the “Select” level, which basically gets you coupons. Rack up enough points and you level up to the “Reserve”, then “Grand Reserve” levels. At these levels, you receive discounts on products and classes, and invitations to complimentary Members-Only events.

But this post is not intended to be free advertising for this magical place. Rather, it is about an event I attended there yesterday evening. reserveApparently, even though most of my wine comes to me via online retailers, I buy enough product from Total Wine to have recently achieved “Reserve” level status. Thus, I received an invitation to their Sip & Mingle event, The Great Cab Debate: Old World vs. New World Cabernet Sauvignon. Not one to turn down an opportunity to taste world-class wine for free, I naturally submitted my RSVP accepting the invitation.

As one might imagine, this event pitted four Left Bank (Cabernet based) Bordeaux against four California Cabernet wines, in the spirit of this year’s 40th anniversary of the famous Judgment of Paris tasting. This was not a blind tasting, and as the name of the event, Sip & Mingle, implies, it was as much a social evening as a wine tasting. At these events, participants are encouraged to chat, socialize, and nibble on the snack foods provided. Sure, there were a couple of serious wine tasters present, who stood quietly in a corner sipping, spitting, and jotting notes without interacting much. But for the most part, the 20 or so people there relaxed at the tables and enjoyed the wine and conversation. It was certainly a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday evening.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “What about the wine?” Ah, yes, the wine. Most of my Bordeaux experience has been Right Bank, Merlot based, so I was anxious to try some of the prestigious Left Bank Chateau creations. These hailed from the Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Pessac-Léognan, and Pauillac appellations. The California wines included one from Paso Robles, and three from the general Napa Valley AVA. In order of recommended tasting, here’s what I thought of them:

Sextant Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2014

01-sextant-paso-robles-2014Brick red, ruby rim. Nose of blackberry and red currant. Flavors of blackberry, red currant, black pepper and spice. A little hot but smooth tannins. Long, spicy finish.

Retail $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Château Pierre de Montignac Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2011

02-chateau-pierre-de-montignac-medoc-2011Brick red, ruby rim. Plum and earth on the nose. Flavors of raspberry, sour cherry, soft oak, and spice. Bone dry with firm tannins and a medium finish.

Retail $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Courtney Benham Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2011

03-courtney-benham-napa-2011Purple color with brick rim. On the nose, green bell pepper, light blackberry, and dusty earth. Blackberry, black plum flavors with soft, smooth tannins and light acidity. Medium finish with berry and white pepper.

Retail $24.99

3.5 out of 5 stars (85-87 points)

Château Landat Vieilles Vignes Haut-Médoc 2012

04-chateau-landat-vieille-vignes-haut-medoc-2012Ruby color. Nose of raspberry and blackberry. Flavors of ripe raspberry, plum, red currant, earth, and spice. Supple tannins, medium acidity, and a medium, spicy finish.

Retail $29.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Christophe Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012

05-christophe-limited-edition-napa-valley-2012Purple color with ruby rim. Aromas of ripe blackberry and soft oak. On the palate juicy blackberry, cassis, and white pepper. Super soft tannins and light acidity. Medium finish of dark berry.

Retail $35.99

4.5 out of 5 stars (91-94 points)

Château Larrivet Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 2009

06-chateau-larrivet-haut-brion-pessac-leognan-2009Deep purple color with ruby rim. Nose is fig, mushroom, and cedar. Flavors of ripe blackberry, cassis, black pepper, and black plum. Soft, velvety tannins and balanced acidity with a long, fruity, spicy finish.

Retail $39.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Baldacci IV Four Sons Fraternity Napa Valley Red 2012

07-baldacci-four-sons-fraternity-napa-valley-2012Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of blackberry, bramble, cassis, and a hint of licorice. On the palate, blackberry, cassis, black pepper, and spice. Rich and fruity, with soft tannins and balanced acidity. Long finish with berry, cocoa, and spice. My favorite of the evening.

Retail $46.99

4.5 out of 5 stars (91-94 points)

Château d’Armailhac Grand Cru Classé Pauillac 2012

08-chateau-darmailhac-pauillac-2012Ruby color with brick rim. On the nose, herbal notes with green bell pepper and blackberry. Flavors of blackberry, bell pepper, earth, spice, and cedar. Still young, the tannins are edgy and its a little acidic. This one needs a few more years in the cellar.

Retail $44.99

3.5 out of 5 stars (85-57 points)

This was a fun evening. Although not a blind tasting, it was interesting to compare Old World v. New World Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. Overall, as in ’76, Napa won the evening. At least for me! I look forward to my next invitation to a Total Wine & More Sip & Mingle event!