Category Archives: Chardonnay

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

The Daily Meal Article: The Ultimate Thanksgiving Meal Requires Oregon Wine

Here is a fantastic article by Michelle Williams, of the Rockin’ Red Blog. Like her, my Thanksgiving table will feature a variety of wines, though not all from Oregon. We will enjoy Pinot Noir, Beaujolais Nouveau, Chardonnay, Dry Riesling, and of course, Bubbles!

Let me know what you’ll be serving with your dinner.

May you have a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving day! Cheers!


Thanksgiving is almost upon us. It is a day that centers around possibly the most important meal of the year. It is also a complicated meal featuring a wide variety of textures, spices, and flavors. A daunting meal to prepare, much less pair with wine. Some try to go the dangerous one wine route. I like to have multiple wines on the table to make the most of each component of the meal. In my latest article for The Daily Meal I share how four high quality wines from Willamette Valley will meet all your Thanksgiving meal needs.

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Fantastic Thanksgiving Wines, Perfect for Chirstmas Dinner


The wine was flowing at Thanksgiving this year! My son and I were invited to spend the day with the family of his friend, Edward. With about 20 people in attendance, we blended in and had a great time. In addition to the four wines I brought, which I review below, several other people brought several bottles to share. Those included Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon, Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Talbott Pinot Noir, and William Hill Chardonnay.  There were others, too, but I didn’t get a chance to make a note of which they were. In addition, a bottle of Dalmore 12-year Highland Scotch appeared on the bar. It would have been rude of me to not have a dram or two, right? It was absolutely delicious!


Photo Credit:

Dinner was a feast! There were two turkeys; one smoked, and one traditional; a honey-glazed ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, two green salads, and rolls. Dessert was equally varied and delicious!


Let the feast begin!

Of the wines I brought, three were from The fourth was the just-released 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau from Georges DeBouef. With varying levels of wine-tasting experience represented, from “I’m here for the Scotch, but I enjoy a glass of wine once in a while, too” to a wine industry professional, all the wines were big hits. The hands-down favorite, with it’s soft, easy-drinking, fruit-forward profile, was the Beaujolais Nouveau. In fact, that bottle was empty long before dinner was served!


These wines were all excellent companions to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. With Christmas just around the corner, if you are having similar cuisine, I can wholeheartedly recommend each of these for that meal as well!

georges-deboeuf-beaujolais-nouveauGeorges DeBouef Beaujolais Nouveau 2016

The hands-down favorite around the Thanksgiving table. A party in a glass! Bright purple color, bursting with juicy fruit flavors; boysenberry, cherry, plum, blueberry, and raspberry. Soft tannins and bright acidity made this a light, fun quaff before and during the meal.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

$8.97 at Total Wine & More

scott-kelley-oregon-pinot-noirScott Kelley Oregon Pinot Noir 2015

Classic Oregon Pinot. Ruby color. On the nose there is raspberry, fresh plum, and soft smoke. Flavors of ripe raspberry, cherry, and strawberry mingle with soft oak. Tannins are soft and super smooth, with balanced acid, leading to long finish. Pinot Noir just the way I like it!

4.5 out of 5 stars (92 – 94 points)

$24.99 SRP, $14.99 Angel Price

franc-dusak-chardonnayFranc Dusak Sonoma Valley Chardonnay 2015

A well balanced Sonoma Chardonnay. Straw color in the glass. Aromas of apple and butter. On the palate, flavors of fresh apple and pear, with some caramel at the end. Medium body, very soft smooth with light acidity and perfect balance of oak and fruit.

4.5 out of 5 stars (92 – 94 points)

$23.99 SRP, $13.99 Angel Price

benjamin-darnault-pique-nique-roseBenjamin Darnault Pique-Nique Rosé 2015

Wonderful dry Rosé of Grenache. Peach color, aromas of fresh raspberry and soft rose petal. Flavors of raspberry and strawberry with floral notes. Light body with bright acidity and a pleasing finish.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

$16.99 SRP, $9.99 Angel Price


I hope all of you had a fabulous Thanksgiving. What was your favorite wine of the day? Let me know in the comments.


Warehouse Wine: Kirkland Signature Chablis Premier Cru 2014

Warehouse Wine? Sure, why not? Premier Cru Chablis for $15? Heck, yea!

Costco Wholesale warehouses are known for offering good wines at great prices. Members can find well-known labels from around the world (depending on your state’s regulations), and enjoy substantial savings over traditional wine shops, and often at prices better than even large wine and liquor stores like Total Wine & More and BevMo. These are great deals, but for the biggest bang for your buck, look for the Costco Kirkland Signature label. No, Costco doesn’t make wine. They use their immense buying power to source and purchase wine from well-known producers, and label them with the Costco brand. Pulling the cork often reveals the secret identity of the estate or chateau that produced the wine, when they use their own corks. A 2015 article in Wine Spectator pulls back the curtain on some of those producers, and some impressive names they are. And Jon Thorsen, the Reverse Wine Snob, has written extensively on the Costco wine scene, and regularly reviews their wines.

So now we know about wine buying at Costco and the bargains to be found there. But what’s so special about Chablis? And what is this “Premier Cru” thing? Good questions. The short answers are: Chablis is Chardonnay wine made in Chablis, which is located in Burgundy, France. “Premier Cru” is a designation that identifies a Chablis wine that was made from grapes from better-than-average vineyards. The Best of the Best receives the Grand Cru designation. You can read a more in depth analysis at Wine Searcher.

When I was a kid, I remember my parents drinking “Chablis” from a jug. (Back in those days, the rules about naming wines were less strict.) carlo-rossi-chablisSo when I started my own wine journey, I had that image in my mind, and avoided Chablis, thinking it was nothing more than cheap plonk. Furthermore, when I started exploring wine, I stuck mainly to New World wines; those from the U.S., Australia, and South America. In those days, Chardonnay meant those overly oaked toast bombs, of which I’m not a fan. Thus began my ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) days. Only in the past two or three years did I learn that Chablis – the real stuff from Burgundy – is completely unoaked. There are no toasty, lick-the-inside-of-the-barrel flavors. Venturing out of my comfort zone, I tried a bottle several months ago, and I was very happy with what I tasted! (Fortunately, the trend with Chardonnay, even in the U.S., is toward lightly oaked or unoaked styles.) Thinking about all the delicious Chablis I missed over the years, because of my incorrect assumptions, is disturbing! Having since turned in my ABC Membership Card, I am now always on the lookout for good Chablis bargains.

So how does the Kirkland Signature Chablis Premier Cru 2014 stack up? Pretty darn good.


Light straw color in the glass. Aromas of pear, yellow apple, and elderflower. On the palate, there is pear and apple, with zesty lemon and grapefruit mid-palate. Bright acidity, and a lighter mouthfeel when cold, but as it warms it softens and becomes softer with a bit of creaminess. The finish goes on and on with tart citrus notes. Not the best Chablis I’ve had, but surely the best QPR for a Premier Cru.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

Retail: $14.99

This is definitely a wine I would serve to guests. The label may not impress, but in my opinion, it’s more important what is IN the bottle, than what is ON the bottle.


Review: Chateau St. Jean Bijou Chardonnay 2014

Once upon a time, I was an ABC’er – Anything But Chardonnay. This stemmed from my general dislike for the California Oak Bombs popular in the 90’s and early 2000’s. As much as I appreciate the influence of oak in wine, I prefer that oak is an enhancer, rather than the dominant flavor. If a wine tastes like I’m licking the inside of a barrel, I’m going to take a pass.

A couple of years ago, I took a leap of faith and started exploring Chardonnay again, but only the Unoaked style. Crisp and fruit-driven, I gained a new appreciation for this, the most popular white varietal in the world. Once I understood the grape, sans oak, I have slowly ventured into oaked styles in the hopes my palate would expand to the point where I could include all styles of Chardonnay in my wine repertoire.

While strolling the wine section of my local Trader Joe’s the other day, I had to do a double-take. A lightly oaked Chardonnay, from notable producer Chateau St. Jean, for just $6.99? Without a second thought, into the cart it went!

The Bijou Chardonnay is part of Chateau St. Jean’s California collection. This is their entry level line, carrying the general “California” designation. This means that the grapes may have come from anywhere in the vast Golden State, rather than from a specific, smaller American Viticulture Area (AVA). Thus, there is not going to be a concentrated expression of terroir, but rather, a more general blend of what Chardonnay has to offer. Nevertheless, I found this to be a remarkably well balanced Chardonnay; fruit dominant, with subtle oak influences and crisp acidity.

Here’s my review, posted on Vivino:


For an entry level wine, this is a remarkably well balanced Chardonnay. Golden straw color in the glass. Aromas of pear, white peach, and browned butter. On the palate, flavors of pineapple, pear, peach, and tropical fruit mingle with toasty oak and just the right amount of zippy acidity. Medium body with a long, zesty finish. If you don’t like Chardonnay, try this lightly oaked version! It could open doors for you, and at just $7, you can’t go wrong!

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

$6.99 at Trader Joe’s

At the risk of repeating myself…which I’m going to do anyway…if you are an ABC’er, give this wine a try. It’s only $7, so you really have nothing to lose, and an appreciation for this iconic grape to gain. What are you waiting for? Trader Joe’s closes at 9 p.m. Go!

Judgment of Paris: 40 Years Later

Dateline: Paris (May 24, 1976)

It was 40 years ago this week that Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant living in Paris, held a wine tasting event, the results of which shocked the wine world. Spurrier gathered nine expert judges, all of them French, for a head-to-head blind tasting of the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy against relatively unknown wines from California. Spurrier and an associate, American Patricia Gallagher also participated in tasting and judging the wines. At the time, the commonly held belief was that French wines were the standard of quality, and anything else was inferior. The tasting was originally intended to simply generate publicity for Spurrier’s wine shop and school. Therefore, there was not a lot of outside interest in it, and only one journalist attended the event; George M. Taber, from Time Magazine (Taber, 2005).


Photo Credit: Wikipedia

There were two separate competitions: White Burgundy vs. California Chardonnay, and Red Bordeaux vs. California Cabernet Sauvignon. In each category, there were four French wines, and six from California. The outcome is now well known – a California wine won top honors in both categories. The event changed the landscape of the Napa Valley, figuratively and literally. Taber later compiled the experience in his book: Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Tasting that Revolutionized Wine (Taber, 2005). It is a fascinating and educational account, not only of the tasting event, but also of the history of wine in France and the Napa region. The tasting was also dramatized in the movie Bottle Shock in 2008. It’s worth seeing if you haven’t, but keep in mind this is a motion picture dramatization, complete with editorial and creative license. If you want to really explore and learn about the history, I recommend reading the book!

Judgment of Paris Taber

Photo Credit:

Below are the results of the famous 1976 tastings, in order of their ranking:


  1. Chateau Montelena, 1973, Napa
  2. Meursault Charmes Roulot, 1973, Burgundy
  3. Chalone Vineyard, 1974, Monterey County
  4. Spring Mountain, 1973, Napa
  5. Beaune Clos des Mouches Joseph Drophin, 1973, Burgundy
  6. Freemark Abbey Winery, 1972, Napa
  7. Bâtard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon, 1973, Burgundy
  8. Domaine LeFlaive, 1972, Burgundy
  9. Veedercrest Vineyards, 1972, Napa
  10. David Bruce Winery, 1973, Santa Cruz Mountains


  1. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, 1973, Napa
  2. Château Mouton Rothschild, 1970, Bordeaux
  3. Château Haut-Brion, 1970, Bordeaux
  4. Château Montrose, 1970, Bordeaux
  5. Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, 1971, Santa Cruz Mountains
  6. Château Léoville-Las-Cases, 1971, Bordeaux
  7. Mayacamas Vineyards, 1971, Napa
  8. Clos Du Val Winery, 1972, Napa
  9. Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard, 1970, Napa
  10. Freemark Abbey Winery, 1969, Napa

Among my more cockamamie ideas, it occurred to me that it might be fun to taste each of the wines featured in the Judgment of Paris. Of course, I’ll have to purchase current vintages, but so be it. Many of the châteaux and wineries represented in the competition continue to produce stellar wines, and their prices and scarcity reflect the prestige. Others have remained more affordable and are readily available. In 2004, Chalone Vineyards was purchased by global conglomerate Diageo, which took the brand in the direction of mass-produced table wine; neglecting its historic importance. Fortunately, earlier this year the winery was purchased from Diageo by Foley Family Wines. Spokesman Bill Foley says that Foley Family Wines will work to restore the estate’s reputation and highlight its place in history (Worobiec, 2016).

As much as I’d like to, I won’t be able to recreate the blind tasting, but instead will have to purchase and sample the wines individually over several months. This may prove to be an insurmountable challenge, simply due to the availability (or lack thereof) and cost of some of the famous French wines. Nevertheless, other than those that are clearly out of my range (Château Moutin-Rothschild, for as much as $1,100 for recent vintages, comes to mind) I am determined to seek out and taste them all! Watch for reviews coming soon!


Works Cited

Taber, G. M. (2005). Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine. New York: Scribner.

Worobiec, M. (2016, February 8). Foley Family Wines Buys Chalone Vineyards. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from Wine Spectator:











Review: Jac Cole Oak Fermented Chardonnay 2014

Jac Cole Oak Fermented

ABC – Anything But Chardonnay. That was me, until about a year ago. When I started my wine journey in the mid-1990’s, Big Oaky was king of Chardonnay. Just about everything coming out of California and many other regions was essentially oak juice, mixed with a little bit of fruit. A very popular style, to be sure, and it remains popular for some today, just not for me. So I abandoned Chardonnay, thinking that’s just what it tastes like. I prefer my whites with little or no oak. Don’t get me wrong, I like big oak in my wine…full-bodied red wine. As a newbie back then, I didn’t understand or appreciate the role oak plays in enhancing the flavor and texture of some white wines.

About a year ago I received, from, a sample of Jac Cole’s Unoaked Chardonnay for review. I was astounded to discover that when left to itself, the Chardonnay grape is fruity and delicious! So I started to explore the varietal a bit more, including oaked styles. Further along in my journey now, I have a greater appreciation of the nuances, warmth, and flavors that oak brings to a finely crafted white wine.

Jac Cole Oak Fermented Chardonnay 2014 is just that: a finely crafted white wine. I’ve written about Jac and his wines before. Former winemaker at Charles Krug, one of my favorite Napa Valley producers, he is a highly skilled craftsman. I also had the honor to meet him about a year ago at a picnic, and he is a truly kind, humble man. This fact makes enjoying his wines even more of a pleasure.

Open Me

Always obedient when a cork speaks to me.

Here is my review, posted on the website:

Once again, Jac Cole knocks it out of the park. Once, I was an ABC’er – Anything But Chardonnay. Then I tasted Jac’s Chardonnay, and I was converted.

Straw yellow on the glass. Aromas of creamy butter and golden delicious apple. On the palate, there is apple, pear, and pineapple, with soft oak. The mouthfeel is rich and creamy, with balanced acidity. On the finish there is green apple, caramel, and toasty oak, and butter.

We started well chilled, and enjoyed it as the wine warmed. Flavors emerged as the temperature increased. It is quite a complex wine. Paired with roasted chicken and butternut squash, it was magical!

Oak fermented, but not overly oaky. That’s Jac. He lets the delicious fruit of the grape shine, and allows the oak to enhance and soften.

ABC? You bet! Anything By Cole!!

4.5 out of 5 hearts exclusive, $13.99 member price.

Become a Angel here, and order some today!