Category Archives: Wine Blog

Book Review: Professional Drinking

For many people, the term “Professional Drinking” conjures up images of humorous t-shirts one would wear to a frat party. Being the wine geek that I am, when I read the title of this book, my mind went to my dream job: Wine and Spirits Critic, tasting fine wine and spirits for a living. In reality, this book is not about either of those things. 

The following book was provided by the author as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are my own. I received no additional compensation.

Somewhat surprisingly, Professional Drinking, by Jim Schleckser, is more of a business book. Jim Schleckser has more than 30 years of professional drinking experience. As the CEO of the Inc. CEO Project, a CEO coaching business, Jim has entertained and coached business people all over the world. That he is also a Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliersand has an Advanced certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust only strengthens his drinking street cred. 

Yet the fact that Professional Drinking stems from Jim’s business experience, and is largely about how to entertain, engage, and responsibly drink in business settings, it is far from a typical, stuffy, boring business book. Jim’s writing style is personable and approachable, sprinkled with humor as well as insight, and occasional embarrassing stories from Jim’s own experiences. (Something about a hot tub and the entire software development team?)

The book opens with a brief biography, in which Jim tells the tale of his introduction to wine, involving a case of 1982 Chateau Haut-Brion that his father received as a gift from a business associate. Not a bad way to start a wine journey.

Throughout the book, Jim takes us through an imagined business party. Covering virtually all occasions from lunch, to a more formal dinner, to entertaining associates at home, Jim provides valuable insight into pre-meal beer or cocktails, moving to wine time, and onto the meal. Chapters include such topics as the history of wine, the 100-point rating scale, and wine clubs. Jim even weighs in on the raging debate over screwcap versus cork. 

Have you ever been intimidated by a massive wine list at a restaurant? Professional Drinking has you covered. Need help deciding what wines to stock in your cellar at home for entertaining? Yup, Jim helps you out there, too. He discusses still wine, sparkling wine, wine storage, and many more topics. 

It also turns out that Jim is as personable and approachable as his writing style. When he emailed me to offer a copy of his book, he also offered to schedule a Zoom call for an interview. I took him up on his offer, and found Jim to be quite friendly, engaging, and welcoming. We talked and laughed about wine, cocktails, childhood and young adult memories of jug wines, travel, and life in general. I asked about the hot tub and software development team story. Jim let me in on the background, but his secret is safe with me! 

On wine clubs, we agreed that there are many of varying quality, and most are good for people new to wine. They give newbies an opportunity to explore different varietals and regions, and that’s always a good thing. 

I asked Jim his strategy for holiday wines. I’ve heard different schools of thought; do you bring the good stuff knowing that your Drunk Uncle will guzzle that $100 Bordeaux like it’s a can of Bud on a hot day? Or do you withhold the quality and pour only cheaper wines? Jim typically follows more of a hybrid model. He’ll bring one or two “killer bottles” to enjoy; this allows the family and other guests to try something they might never purchase themselves. Then, he’ll bring out the daily drinkers that are perennial crowd-pleasers. A sound strategy that I intend to employ from now on. 

In summary, Professional Drinking is a captivating, informative book that has something for everyone, even if you’re not in business. No matter your position on the Org Chart, your drinking experience, or your life-path in general, you’re sure to be entertained and learn a few things when you read Professional Drinking. You can get your copy by following this link to the Professional Drinking website.

  • By Kent Reynolds

Winning Big at Casino Mine Ranch

We have been big fans of Amador County wines for a long time. Awhile back, we connected on Instagram (@appetite_for_wine) with @casinomineranch, a relative newcomer in the wine landscape of the Sierra Foothills. During our early online chatter, we expressed an interest in visiting. We learned that visits to Casino Mine Ranch are by appointment only. Alas, our frequent trips to the area are often spontaneous, so, embarrassingly, we went several months without scheduling a visit. 

Thankfully, that negligence came to an end earlier this month. We were planning a trip to Amador County wine country, and Kent remembered Casino Mine Ranch. After a quick DM on Instagram, Chief of Staff Mackenzie Cecchi confirmed our reservation. 

It was a lovely November day when we arrived at Casino Mine Ranch. Rather spring-like weather, in fact. (Sorry, not sorry to our East Coast family and friends.) Up a winding, nondescript driveway (even with GPS, we missed it and had to turn around), past Lola’s vineyard, until we saw Casey’s tree fort, and we knew we had arrived.  

Mackenzie greeted us as we entered the house. Yes, house. Casino Mine Ranch’s current location is the owners’ second home. Mackenzie said they are in the planning stages of a tasting room down the road near some other tasting rooms, but for now, welcome to this beautiful home! 

Mackenzie poured us our first taste. There would be eight total during the hour-long tour and tasting. The 2017 Vermentino. Simply stellar! Plenty of pineapple and citrus, with bracing acidity. Just the way we like it. If the Vermentino was any indication, we were in for a very special, and tasty hour. (Spoiler alert: the Vermentino was definitely an indication!) 

All of the wines in Casino Mine Ranch’s portfolio are 100% estate fruit. The ranch is 60 acres, but currently there are only 14 acres under vine. However, they are planning to plant more vineyards so they can increase production.

The second tasting on the tour was the 2017 Grenache Blanc. Mackenzie said the 2016 wasn’t quite what they’d hoped for, and asked our opinion of the 2017. Ironically, Kent had taken a wine survey just the day before, and had to respond in the negative to the question: have you tasted a Grenache Blanc in the past six months. Timing, people. Timing is everything! And so is this Grenache Blanc. Straw color, aged in 30% new French oak, with flavors of apricot and peach, with hints of butter and caramel. Exquisite. 

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As we moved outside, and prepared to enter the mine, Mackenzie provided a history lesson. Casino Ranch Mine was founded in 1936 by Simone Shaw. Simone was born in Belgium, and with her family escaped the 1914 German invasion. Her father had a mining operation in Alaska, where Simone spent time in her younger days. Always stylish and worldly, Simone caught the eye of many a suitor. The family eventually moved to New York City, where Simone met Sam Shaw, Jr., hotelier and art patron. It was a match made in heaven, and the two were soon married. 

As socialites, the Shaws spent time in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Paris. Somehow, they found their way to what was then the middle of nowhere…Amador County. (Let’s be real, Amador County may not be the middle of nowhere today, but it’s only just outside the border! We love it that way.) Simone bought the property, with the intention of mining for gold. Always the realist, she felt that striking it rich in gold mining was a gamble, hence the name: Casino Mine Ranch. 

Simone’s instincts were right. Nothing more than a modicum of gold was discovered in their mine. However, what they did find was as precious as gold in the remote Sierra Foothills: water. Under the lava caps on the property were reserves of water. The Shaw’s excavated and dammed the springs, and even today they are used for irrigation on the ranch. 

Into the mine we went. The water was located only a few yards beyond the entrance, so the tour does not go deep into the mine. Here, we tasted the 2018 Rosé, a blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre. Another exquisite wine. Three-for-three! Pale pink color, with flavors of strawberry and raspberry. Bone dry and zesty. 

From the mine, we went back through the house, and downstairs to a beautiful cellar room. Here we tasted the 2017 Grenache Noir; 100% Grenache, aged in 30% new French oak. This wine recently received a score of 90 points from Wine Spectator magazine. A luscious, spicy wine, with bold red fruit and licorice notes. There was an ashtray on the counter, crafted from a bear claw. (Not the pastry, but an actual claw from an actual bear!) Mackenzie said legend has it, that Simone herself shot that bear! 

Venturing outside through the back of the house, we made our way to the pool house. Pool house? Pool house. Not too many wineries have a pool and a pool house! But this was just the beginning. The two-story pool house is a home unto itself, complete with kitchen and entertainment. Upstairs there is a full-scale shuffleboard table, and down the spiral staircase to the lower level, you will find a pinball machine, video arcade game, and an air hockey table. In case you were wondering, as we were, the answer is yes. At wine club events, members have the opportunity to use these games! 

Back outside and down a grassy hill, Mackenzie continued the family tale. Shortly after World War II, Sam passed away. Sam’s brother, Hollis Shaw, came to stay on the property to help the widow with the ranch. Hollis initially lived in one of the small mining shacks on the property. However, after some time, he moved into the main house. Not long after, Simone and Hollis were married. 

During the 1960’s and 70’s, Simone’s grand-nephews, Rich, Jim, and Steve Marryman, would come to the ranch for visits. They were intrigued by their aunt, living in such a remote area but still being so glamorous, serving the children their meals off fine china, and dressing for dinner. In 1999, Rich Merryman bought Casino MIne Ranch. 

In 2011, Rich called brother Jim to tell him he is going to plant a vineyard on the property and wanted to make wine. Jim thought Rich was crazy, though he eventually joined the venture. They hired winemaker Andy Erickson, and in 2015, produced their first vintage. 

Mackenzie escorted us to a large, metal building at the bottom of the hill. She referred to it as the “midlife crisis building.” This, she said, was to be the Casino Mine Ranch winery production facility. However, their winemaking team is in Napa, and they didn’t want to have to come all the way out, almost to the border of nowhere, to produce the wine. With construction started, what is one to do with a massive building that now has no purpose? Turn it into an NBA regulation basketball court, of course! 

Several NBA stars have visited the ranch to play on the court. In addition, college flags adorned the back wall. These are the alma mater of wine club members. Joining the club earns one the right to display their school’s flag. Guests on tour are invited to go downstairs onto the court to shoot some hoops, but we decided to stay topside and just watch. 

Back up the hill to the house, and onto the patio with breathtaking views, where we enjoyed the rest of the wines. Next on the list was the 2017 Mourvèdre. Another 100% varietal wine, this medium bodied red has spicy red fruit, raspberry, cherry, and cranberry, with baking spice and a long finish. 

The 2016 Simone, obviously named in honor Great Aunt Simone, is a blend of 52% Grenache and 48% Mourvèdre. This is a big, powerhouse of a wine, with red fruit and spice on the nose, and flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, baking spice, and mineral notes. Big, chewy tannins and bright acidity lead to a very long finish. 

Next was the 2016 Tempranillo, one of only two non-Rhône style wines in the portfolio. This wine pours inky purple, and has flavors of blueberry, spice, and a bit of raspberry. The tannins are very soft and smooth, balanced with medium acidity. 

The final wine on the tour was the 2016 Marcel. Wait, we sense another story here. Marcel Tiquet moved to Casino Mine Ranch after World War II. He was just 19 years old at the time. Marcel and his wife didn’t intend on staying long, but raised their family there and they loved the place so much, they just never moved away. Making a life here, Marcel became the heart and soul of Casino Mine Ranch. Sadly, Marcel passed away in September 2018, at the age of 93. 

The wine in his honor is 80% Tempranillo and 20% Teroldego. Here is another big, bold red wine, worthy of such a man as Marcel. Inky purple color, with aromas and flavors of blueberry, raspberry, baking spice, and white pepper on the finish. Big, firm, chewy tannins mingle with medium acidity, leading to a long finish. This is a wine that wants a rib-eye or grilled lamb. 

Alas, the tour was over. Nevertheless, we were so impressed with the wines, the story, and the property, that we decided to join the wine club. So, as they say…we’ll be back! 

If you’d like to visit Casino Mine Ranch, and you know you do, you’ll need to make a reservation. You can do this on their website. They are open for guests Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with appointment times at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. When you go, tell them Robyn and Kent sent you! 

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Warm Reds for Cold Nights, Part 2

While some parts of the country are starting to see signs of spring, other regions are still being pummeled by harsh winter storms. Yes, some of the trees and bushes in our neighborhood have buds and blooms, but there is another major winter storm bearing down on Northern California as we write this.

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

For the second installment of our four-part mini-series, we journey to Portugal. Portugal and her wines are trending strongly of late, and for good reason. Portugal is the sunniest country in Europe, and features amazing wine, food, and culture, miles of coastline, and warm, welcoming people. With more than 200 indigenous grapes, there is a wide variety of outstanding wine available at attractive prices. So we were quite pleased when we received a sample of José Maria da Fonseca Periquita Reserva 2016 for tasting and review.

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José Maria da Fonseca has a family history spanning nearly two centuries. Since 1834, the family has been carrying on the passion and commitment of the founder, as the oldest producer of table wine in Portugal. Not a family to rest on their laurels, the José Maria da Fonseca family invests in research and the latest technology in winemaking. Yet with all the advances, the passion of crafting fine wine shines through in the wine.

An alluring blend of 56% Castelao, 22% Touriga Nacional, 22% Touriga Francesca, the José Maria da Fonseca Periquita Periquita 2016 is aged for 8 months in French and American oak. We opened it to pair with grilled chicken, marinated in a locally produced Basque-style marinade and gorgonzola & bacon stuffed portobella mushrooms. Yes, grilled. As in, outdoors. It’s never too cold or too stormy for grilling at the Appetite for Wine house!

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Deep ruby color. On the nose there are aromas of raspberry, cherry, cedar, and earth. On the palate, complex and integrated flavors of blackberry, black cherry, cranberry, and red currant, with oak and cedar notes. Full bodied with a luscious, round mouthfeel and brisk acidity. Long, lingering finish of red fruit and white pepper. Paired with our grilled, marinated chicken and mushrooms, it was exquisite! Vivino average price: $15.99.

We are quite happy to have these warm reds to help us through these cold nights. Chapter three will be posted soon. In the meantime, check out José Maria da Fonseca, and let us know what you think.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Wine Tourism in Portugal – Guest Post

I’m very excited and honored to announce that the good people at Wine Tourism in Portugal asked me to write a guest post. I’m now officially published on a professional wine website! Please check out the article and let me know, in the comments, what you think.

What to Do, See, and Drink in Portugal

Special thanks to John & Irene Ingersol of Topochines Vino, Kristy Harris of CaveGrrl and husband Andy, and good friend Edward Decker, for their input and first-hand experiences for this project.

Cheers!

Warm Reds for Cold Nights, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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Before…

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

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

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

Vivino Average Price: $22.99

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

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credit, unless otherwise noted, Kent Reynolds

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Lane

Yea, that’s a pretty big deal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh, the humanity!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hurricane Lane Damage! The Struggle was Real!

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

An Excursion to Hanna Winery & Vineyards #WBC17

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Our Wednesday evening drive over to Santa Rosa for the 10th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC17) was dark and rainy. We were unsure what to expect when we awoke Thursday morning for our excursion to Hanna Winery and Vineyards; other than an exciting and educational winery tour, and delicious catered meal with wines to match, of course.

Thursday dawned dry and only partly cloudy. It was a perfect day for a trip to wine country. As we rode on the bus out to Alexander Valley and the Hanna Winery and Vineyards Tasting Room, we saw the results of the devastation of the fires that had ravaged the area just weeks before. Yet we also saw the rebuilding that had already begun. With the sun peeking through the clouds, we could almost feel the hope and resilience we saw around us.

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The drive through the autumn colors of the vineyards was breathtaking, and turning up the driveway to climb the hill to the Tasting Room we were taken by the beauty. Hanna Winery and Vineyards sits atop a hill with a 360 degree of the surrounding valley. The views were amazing! As we entered, we were greeted by friendly, smiling staff with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Soon, our host, Christine Hanna welcomed us and provided some history of the family winery.

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Founded in 1985 by Dr. Elias Hanna, Christine’s father, the land was originally planted to French Colombard grapes. Soon, the family discovered that the land was well-suited to other grapes that could be crafted into world-class wines. As the operation grew, Christine took the reigns as president in 1993, and has continued to lead the way as the winery has grown and expanded its influence.

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Hanna Winery and Vineyards wines are estate grown on three vineyards in the area. In the Russian River Valley, the flagship Home Ranch Vineyards grows Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on its 25 acres, while Slusser Road Vineyard, 50 acres in size, is planted to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Red Ranch Vineyard, in Alexander Valley, is 88 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Bismark Mountain Vineyard, high in Sonoma Valley in the Moon Mountain AVA, grows Zinfandel and Bordeaux varietals.

Christine related the story of how, in an effort to develop the Bismark Mountain Vineyard site, she had to overcome the challenges of accessing a high mountain site without the benefit of such amenities as roads and electricity. Helicopters were involved, and she was successful in bringing this spectacular vineyard into existence.

Christine introduced us to Hanna’s winemaker, Jeff Hinchliffe, who took over the presentation and eventually led us down to the fermentation and barrel room on site for some barrel tasting. Jeff has been the winemaker since 1998. He explained how the varying terrain of the vineyards influences the flavor and profile of the grapes and wines. Jeff is clearly passionate about winemaking, while remaining distinctly humble. Jeff says that “wine will make itself, if you let it.” Jeff is especially enthusiastic about Malbec. He says Malbec wines are easy to make, but the grapes are not easy to grow. Still, he and Hanna Winery are quite successful at it, and produce a number of Malbec varietal wines. In addition, their Cabernet blend contains 25% Malbec.

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Perhaps the highlight of the barrel tasting was our opportunity to sample one of the rarest vitis vinifera grapes in the world. Once common in Bordeaux wine production, St. Macaire was virtually wiped out by the phylloxera epidemic, and thought to be extinct. However, St. Macaire was not ready to be relegated to an historic footnote. Jeff discovered that a nearby vineyard had a half-acre planted to the grape. The vineyard owner provided some cuttings, and Jeff planted a half-acre of St. Macaire at Hanna. They plan to release their first vintage of this wine soon, but we were able to get a taste of the still-developing juice. The wine is inky purple, nearly black in color. Though still very young, with high acidity and tight tannins, the wine was aromatic and flavorful. At this stage, there were significant green, spicy, vegetal notes along with some black fruit. Jeff asked around the room for descriptors. Responses included cassis, eucalyptus, and menthol. I hope to get a sample of the finished product once bottled and released.

Back upstairs and into the tasting room, it was time for a delightful lunch. The table was exquisitely set, and the multiple stemware glasses at each place setting spoke of good things to come! The meal was exquisitely catered by Chef Heidi West, with each course paired with one or two Hanna Winery selections.

The meal was superb, the setting spectacular, and the hosts unparalleled in warm hospitality. Enjoy the photo montage of the meal, and try not to drool on your screen!

FIRST COURSE PLATED

2015 Hanna Russian River Chardonnay

Baby Spinach Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash, Toasted Sliced Almonds, Pickled Red Onion and Warm Bacon Dressing

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MAIN COURSE FAMILY STYLE

2015 Elias Pinot Noir/2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Porchetta with Salsa Rosamarina, Soft Creamy Polenta with Fresh Corn, Marscapone, Pecorino and Parmesan

Haricot Vert with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Sea Salt

DESSERT PLATED

2014 Bismark Cabernet Sauvignon

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Fresh Raspberries

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If you are in Sonoma County wine country, it’s definitely worth a trip to visit the fantastic people at Hanna Winery and Vineyards. Take in the spectacular views, and enjoy some amazing wines.

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Cheers!

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

We’re Off to the Wine Bloggers Conference #WBC17

And away we go!

Tonight I am packing for the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference. What to pack? What to wear?

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#WBC17 will be held in Santa Rosa, California, in the heart of Sonoma wine country, from Thursday, November 9 through Saturday, November 11. I’ll be in the company of my associate and fellow wine lover, Robyn Raphael. This will be our first time attending a Wine Blogger Conference. Last year, it was held in Lodi, just 45 minutes from my home, but scheduling conflicts prevented attending. Fortunately, the 2017 event is still local for us; just a 2 hour drive away! An easy trek compared to the cross-country or international travel many of my associates will endure. We are excited to be going, and looking forward to meeting so many of the bloggers we have been reading for several years.

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As you may be aware, Santa Rosa, and much of the Napa and Sonoma wine regions, was ravaged by wildfires last month; historic fires that were the most destructing and deadly on record. Yet, the people there are resilient and strong, and are already in the process of rebuilding. The bloggers who will be descending on the region will be helping in the recovery in one of the most practical ways possible: visiting wineries, buying wines, and dining in the area restaurants. While the conference has been planned for more than a year, the timing, relative to the fires, allows attendees to dig deep and support the region.

Among other activities, we will be going on a wine excursion to Hanna Winery, complete with wine-pairing, catered lunch; a wine cave dinner at Thomas George Estates that will cross off a bucket-list item (dinner in a wine cave); and a banquet at the host hotel hosted by NakedWines.com. We will attend wine education sessions, including one hosted by Beringer Vineyards, in which we will experience a vertical decade tasting of their Private Reserve Cabernet, from 2014 all the way back to the iconic 1984 vintage; and an exploration of Pinot Noir, hosted by Etude Wines. There will be gourmet foods, and spectacular wines. I anticipate we will not want to come home!

Through it all, we will be attentive to the destruction, loss, and hardship around us. We will honor the resilience of the local residents. We will contribute to the recovery and rebuilding with our words and our wallets. We will unite as bloggers and journalists, and meet new friends. All in all, this will be an amazing weekend! We are grateful to be able to attend, and look forward to experiencing every moment.

If you are attending WBC17, we look forward to meeting you in person. If you aren’t, stay tuned for live-blogging updates, and follow along on Instagram or Twitter for up-to-the-moment coverage.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael, 11/7/2017

My Winestory – #MWWC29

I can’t say exactly when I had my first taste of wine. As a child, Sunday dinner was a formal affair. We’d come home from church and change out of our “Sunday” clothes, only to dress again that evening for dinner. I clearly remember pot roast. Lots of pot roast. I also remember wine. My parents always served my sister and me a small glass of wine with Sunday dinner. I’m sure it was no more than an ounce or two. I assume that started around age 11 or 12. Mind you, this was wine from a jug, from one of the fine estates of E&J Gallo, Almaden, or Carlo Rossi, but wine it was.

Skip ahead a few years to junior high. In health class we studied a unit on alcohol, including a section on alcohol abuse and alcoholism. In one lesson, we took a quiz and to my shock, my parents’ drinking habits ticked almost all the boxes that indicate possible problems. Around this same time, I have vivid memories of my dad, passed out in his recliner after dinner. His normal habit after coming home from work was to toss back a couple of gin & tonics, then have a few glasses of wine with dinner. After dinner he’d retire to his recliner to watch TV, and within minutes, he was sawing logs. My sister and I laughed at it this first, but as I got older, it stopped being funny. One night, I tried to wake him up so he would go to bed, but I couldn’t, so I turned off the lights and went to my own bedroom to read.

I don’t know if my parents met the clinical definition of alcoholic, but with that kind of upbringing and exposure to excessive alcohol consumption, by high school, I had pretty much decided I was never going to let that happen to me. Whether alcohol abuse is an inherited genetic trait, or learned behavior (nature vs. nurture) I do not know. However, I do believe that children of alcoholics are much more likely to become alcoholics themselves. My sister is an example of this. She is a recovering alcoholic who, with the support of her AA friends and family, recently celebrated 18 years of sobriety!

So how, then, did I end up here? Not only drinking wine (and beer and liquor), but blogging about it? Glad you asked.

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

John Taylor, author of Pairs With: Life, won #MWWC28, and his Major Award was to select the topic for #MWWC29. He chose: Winestory. An opportunity for us to share our personal stories about how we got here, and why in the world we decided to start writing a blog. Having sufficiently (I hope) set the stage, here is my

winestory

Like any other kid in living in a college dorm, despite my convictions, I occasionally succumbed to peer pressure. That’s when I first learned about the joys of the sweet elixir. I’m referring, of course, to White Zinfandel. In the early 80’s, this fine juice was in its heyday, and priced right for starving college students! It was everywhere! Kool-aid with a kick, and all the cool kids were drinking it. But I still wasn’t hooked.

In our early married years, my wife and I were pretty much teetotalers. st-innocentWe might have a glass of wine when we went out for a special occasion dinner, and would buy a bottle for home maybe twice a year. However, one fateful December when we were living in Oregon, we attended a company holiday party at St. Innocent Winery. At first I demurred when the hostess offered me a glass. Sure, I knew Pinot Noir is what put the Willamette Valley on the wine map, but I truly subscribed to the (untested and erroneous) belief that red wine gives me headaches. The hostess assured me that St. Innocent’s wine would not give me a headache. She was right, and the wine was delicious. The rest, as they say, is history.

I started buying wine regularly, and joined a wine club, receiving quarterly shipments of wines from all over the world. My journey of discovery and adventure had begun! Soon, friends and family were asking me for advice: wines to buy, pairing suggestions, anything wine related. I was hungry for knowledge about wine. I subscribed to magazines, and enrolled in web-based classes. Then one day, I received a voucher in the mail. My wine journey was about to change, and go in an entirely new direction.

If you have read my blog before, you probably know that I am a member, and ardent supporter of NakedWines.com. (If you are unfamiliar with NakedWines.com, please follow this link to their FAQ page.) When that voucher arrived, I was skeptical. I had been disappointed by many of the wine clubs I’d tried, but I figured $160 worth of wine for $60 was worth the one-time risk. Once the wine arrived and I had my first taste from the first bottle I opened, I was hooked.

not-the-original-bottle-it-was-so-good-i-bought-more

Not the actual First Bottle. It was so good, I bought more.

One of the things that sets NakedWines.com apart from traditional wine clubs is the social media aspect of the company. Members, known as Angels, are encouraged to post reviews of the wines they drink, and interact with each other…and the winemakers…on the website. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed writing the reviews of the wines. Even more surprising was the fact that other Angels were reading them, and commenting on how much they liked them. New Angels were starting to seek out my reviews and opinions. They were looking up to ME! I’m no sommelier, no winemaker, or any other sort of expert. I’m just a guy who drinks wine, with a new passion for writing about it.

The natural next step, then, was to figure out this whole blog thing, and start writing. So I did. My main focus is on sharing those wine reviews, expanding them beyond NakedWines.com, to include all the wines I enjoy. More than just reviews, though, I like to tell a story about the wine, the region, and if possible, the winemaker. My goal is to engage my audience, and if I may be so bold, perhaps educate them a little. Keeping my childhood in mind, and cognizant of my family history, and remain vigilant on my consumption. Nevertheless, wine has become my true passion, and sharing it brings me joy.