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Category Archives: Wine Travel

Greek Wine Tasting: GAI’A Wines

If you haven’t tried Greek wine, or have only tried what is available in many stores in the U.S., you owe it to yourself, your palate, and the Greek wine industry to stop what you are doing, get on a plane, and visit Greece! Greece is producing some spectacular, world-class wines. They just don’t often find their way out of the country. 

If you didn’t catch our previous Greek Wine Tasting blog, you can read it here to catch up. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

Our next stop on our day of Greek wine exploration was GAI’A Wines. GAI’A is the greek word for “earth.” The name is derived from Greek mythology, in which the primordial mother-goddess, GAI’A, brought the earth into existence out of chaos. In Greek, the letter G is pronounced almost like a “Y”, so the pronunciation here is “yay-yah.” 

GAI’A Wines graciously provided us with a complimentary tasting. All opinions and notes are our own. We received no other compensation. All the wines we bought were purchased ourselves. 

GAI’A Wines has two winery locations, one in Nemea, on the Greek mainland, and one on Santorini, which is the one we visited. Our taxi dropped us off at the winery, which is literally adjacent to the beach on the eastern side of Santorini. The winery complex was, at one time, a tomato paste processing plant. We were greeted by the friendly staff, and escorted to a table overlooking the beach and Aegean sea. Our host for the day, Vassilina Tzagkaraki, brought us a plate of breadsticks, capers, olives, and of course, a dollop of tomato paste, to enjoy while we tasted the wines and enjoyed the stunning view. 

GAI’A Wines started in 1994 by Yiannis Paraskevopoulos and Leon Karatsalos, with the introduction of a Santorini wine. If you recall from the earlier post, to bear the name Santorini, the wine must be made from at least 75% Assyrtiko. This wine was released with the name Thalassitis. Over the years, GAI’A has led innovation and challenged convention in their production and quality.

All of the wines we sampled were sensational. It would be hard to say which was our favorite, and we would have liked to take some of each home with us. Alas, luggage limitations required us to make hard decisions!

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We started with two white wines from their Monograph line. The first, Multi, is a blend, primarily of Assyrtiko, with Moschofilero, and Roditis. Multi spent two months in stainless steel, for a clean, crisp wine with lemon and citrus notes. The second was 100% Assyrtiko. This wine also fermented in stainless steel, but spend four months on the lees, resulting in a softer, slightly creamier wine with notes of lemon, orange peel, and citrus.

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The third wine we sampled was the Assyrtiko by GAI’A, Wild Ferment. This amazing wine is made with various fermentations: 50% in stainless steel, 40% in oak, and 10% in cement tanks. The result is a striking wine, with an almost Chardonnay-like profile. But don’t let this scare you if you don’t like Chardonnay. This is a delicious wine with flavors of pear, citrus, and grapefruit, with notes of butter and toast. 

Next up, Rosé! GAI’A produces two Rosé wines, 14-18h, and 4-6h. Both are made from Agiorgitiko grapes, and are named for the amount of time they spent in contact with the skins. We sampled the 14-18h, which, as the name suggests, spent between 14 to 18 hours in skin contact. This gave the wine a deep pink hue, and enticing flavors of cherry, strawberry, watermelon Jolly Rancher, and a hint of cranberry on the finish. This is a bone dry Rosé, with brisk acidity, just the way we like it. (We liked it so much, this is one of the wines we brought home with us!) 

On to the reds we went. In contrast to the light, crisp Rosé, the 2017 Agiorgitiko by GAI’A is big and bold. Rather than mere hours on the skins, this wine underwent a 2-3 week extraction, followed by 12 months in French oak. The result is a refined wine with soft, smooth tannins and flavors of raspberry and bing cherry. 

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Nobody knows what happened to the picture of the bottle at the winery, but fortunately, this also came home with us, so we do have a bottle shot!

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The final red wine was a spectacular, monster of a red wine. This beauty has aging potential of 15-20 years! Behold, the 2016 GAI’A Estate. Made from Agiorgitiko grapes, this wine spent 15-18 months in French oak. It is a wine of distinction, with a rich, full body, and big, firm tannins, with intense flavors of cherry, blackberry, plum, baking spice, and a bit of bell pepper. This is a wine that wants some meat! Pair it with a juicy rib-eye, or some grilled lamb.

The final treat was the Vinsanto dessert wine. Made from Assyrtiko, with small amounts of Athiri and Aidani, Vinsanto is made by allowing some of the grapes to dry in the summer sun, and some in the shade. Drying results in more concentrated sugars and flavors. Once pressed, the wine then ages for 10 years in French oak. Best served slightly chilled, Vinsanto is rich and creamy, with flavors of fig, dates, caramel, vanilla, and Crème brûlée. The perfect way to end a delightful day of Greek wine tasting! 

As much as we wanted to stay awhile longer, we had to get back into town. We had dinner reservations on the waterfront in Oia, and a date with Roger, the Gilt head bream (yes, we named our dinner), and the spectacular Santorini sunset. More great reasons to come to Greece! 

Yammas!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Greek Wine Tasting: Domaine Sigalas

On the plains of Santorini, just outside the historic town of Oia (pronounced “ee-ya”), sits Domaine Sigalas winery. Founded in 1991 by Paris Sigalas, Domaine Sigalas produces some world class wines from indigenous Greek grapes. Considering we would be visiting Santorini during our honeymoon, we contacted the winery to arrange a tasting.

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Domaine Sigalas graciously provided us with a complimentary tasting. All opinions and notes are our own. We received no other compensation. All food featured, and wines we bought, were purchased ourselves. 

Domaine Sigalas organically farms 37 hectares of vineyards, and also work with other Santorini farmers to source grapes for their production. Their average production is about 300,000 bottles per year. 

When we arrived for our tasting, we were greeted by our host, Pavlos. Pavlos guided us through an amazing experience of seven whites, a rosé, a red, and two dessert wines. The normal tasting flight is 12 wines, but three of their wines were sold out, so Pavlos subbed in two additional whites (the Aa blends, described below), and also treated us to something special: a sample of their distillate, known as Tsipoyro. 

 

We selected our table on the patio, shaded from the hot Santorini sun by a vine covered pergola, looking out into the adjacent vineyard. We were immediately surprised to see trellis-trained vines. Santorini is known for its unique grape growing method, known as kouloura, in which the vines are trained into a round, basket shape to protect them from the high winds common on the island. Pavlos explained that this is an experimental vineyard, planted to Mavrotragano grapes. Mavrotragano is a red grape that was nearly extinct just a few years ago. Paris Sigalas planted this vineyard to bring it back, and opted to use a trellis system. The vines are thriving and producing fantastic wines. So fantastic, in fact, that the 100% Mavrotragano was one of the ones sold out during our tasting. However, their other red is a blend that includes Mavrotragano, so we can still attest to the quality! 

 

Roughly 75% of Domaine Sigalas vineyards are planted to what is the most well known Greek grape, Assyrtiko. Assyrtiko is a white grape, producing wonderfully dry, crisp wines. Among the other varieties grown on the estate are Aidani and Mandilaria. They source Monemvasia from the nearby island of Paros, for use in “Am”, their 50/50 blend of Assyrtiko and Monemvasia, the first wine we tasted. 

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The 2018 Am is considered their entry level wine, but that only speaks to their high standards and quality! This is a delightful dry wine, with notes of citrus, grapefruit, and hints of banana. 

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Aidani was originally made into a dessert wine. For the past eight years, Domaine Sigalas has crafted a dry wine with it. The 2018 spent six months on the lees, resulting in a wine with medium body and acidity, with tropical fruit and citrus notes.

We got to compare the newly released 2017 Aa, with the aged 2011. Both are blends of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athiri. Both are vinted in stainless steel with no time on lees. The 2017 was bright and dry, with sea/saline on the nose, and citrus/lemon flavors. The 2011 was slightly oxidized, as one might expect from an 8-year-old white, but was still very pleasant with solid structure and acidity, with flavors of banana and grilled lemon. 

 

2016 Santorini Assyrtiko – Similar to rules in other wine regions, the Greek Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) specifies that for a wine to be called “Santorini” it must be made of at least 75% Assyrtiko. This one is 100%, and is amazing. Lemon, Kumquat, and citrus, with notes of herbs, saline, and mineral. It is vinted in stainless steel and spends six months on the lees. (A bottle of this one made its way into our suitcase!) 

 

2015 7-Villages – dialling down even more, much like the AVA system in the US, the Greek PGI identifies large regions, smaller sub-regions, and single vineyards. The 7-Villages line represents wines from grapes in a single village. As the name suggests, Domaine Sigalas makes individual wines from seven different villages. This one spend one year on the lees, and has mineral/earthy notes of decomposed granite, along with creamy lemon curd flavors. 

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 2017 Kavalieros Single Vineyard – 100% Assyrtiko from 70 year old vines. This wine is the most place-specific in the PGI. Kavalieros loosely translates to “the one that climbs on other things,” a reference to the tendrils on grapevines that grasp anything they can to allow the vine to climb higher and higher. After spending 18 months aging on the lees, it is very smooth with noticeably more body, yet still crisp with brisk acidity and flavors of lemon and citrus.

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Next up was the Rosé – the 2018 Ean. Made from 100% Mandilaria grapes grown on Rhodes, this wine spent less than one hour on the skins. This is surprising given the bold, deep pink color. Pavlos said that Ean means “if.” As in, “if” not Rosé, this would be a red wine. Delightfully crisp, Ean has flavors of strawberry, cherry, and cranberry. (This one to, came home with us.)

 

And now, onto red! The 2017 Mm, named for the two grapes in the blend: Mandalaria and Mavrotragano. This medium-bodied red spent 18 months in French oak. It boasts rich flavors of blackberry, black cherry, clove, baking spice, and a bit of earth. With big, bold tannins, this is a dinner wine to be sure. 

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The only other red on the menu, the 100% Movrotragano, was sold out, so we moved on to dessert wines. 

An interesting bit of Santorini history, including the story of how the island got its name. In times of antiquity, the island was known as Thera. For mariners crossing the Mediterranean, Thera was a famous stop to pick up supplies, including wine. Even in modern times, it is not recommended to drink the water on Santorini, so in ancient days, wine was considered the preferred beverage. During Medieval times, the chapel of Saint Erini was built, and was visible from the sea. Chrisian crusaders renamed the island in honor of Saint Erini, thus the name became Santorini. 

The name Vinsanto comes from the Venetians, who referred to is as the wine of the saint, Vino Santo. The 2013 Vinsanto is a naturally sweet wine, with no added sugar or fortification. This wine is made by allowing the grapes to sun dry, thereby concentrating the sugar content. It takes seven times the grapes per bottle, since the grapes lose juice during the drying process. Though tawny-port-like in appearance and taste, the alcohol content is only 9%, so you can sip it all night! Vinsanto must contain a minimum of 75% Assyrtiko, and this one had 25% Aidani blended in. After five years in French oak, the wine spends an additional two years in barrels before bottling. 

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The final wine of the tasting was a red dessert wine. The 2011 Apiliotis is 100% Mandilaria, and is made in the same manner as the Vinsanto; using sun dried grapes. Again, a naturally sweet wine with no added sugar. Spending a minimum of 24 months in oak, the wine is deep, rich, and complex, with black cherry and boysenberry flavors. 

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Our final treat was a taste of the distillate, Tsipoyro. Similar to Grappa (only better, in our opinion), Tsipoyro is a distilled spirit made from Assyrtiko and Mavrotragano grapes. This stuff is 40% ABV, so proceed with caution! You’ll be tempted to shoot it, but please slow down and savor it! Clear color, with herbal and floral flavors, it is quite smooth and easy to drink.

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We had the opportunity to sample some sparkling wines from a related winery, too, but after such an extensive tasting thus far, and with another winery stop on our agenda for the day, we decided to just have some lunch and let our palates savor the wines of Domaine Sigalas. 

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House made Dolmades – stuffed grape leaves. Pavlos said the tzatziki is made with ginger instead of garlic, because “garlic is a wine killer.” It was delicious!

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Taramosalata with fresh pita. The dip is similar in appearance to hummus, but is made with fish roe, with onion, lemon juice, and olive oil. Quite tasty and surprisingly filling!

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We heartily recommend visiting Santorini, and Greece in general. The wines here are outstanding, the food is spectacular, and the people are amazing. Sadly, not many good Greek wines are available outside the country, due to economic and political factors. So to enjoy the best, you have to come here. When you do, be sure to book a tasting at Domaine Sigalas. You’ll be glad you did! 

Yammas! 

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

It’s in the Bag!

Wine. Travel. Wine and travel. The two just seem to go together. Sometimes, the travel can be as simple as a picnic at a local park. Other times, it’s a trans-ocean, international dream trip. Depending on your journey, you may need different wine transport options. Fortunately, our friends at I Love Wine have compiled a list and review of a number of different Wine Travel Bags for your consideration. From a single-bottle picnic tote, complete with glassware and corkscrew, to a full-blown 12-bottle wine suitcase, they have you covered.

We’ve used bubble wrap wine sleeves when travelling, similar to No. 9 in the featured article below, and we’ve been very happy with the results. No breakage, no leaks, and no problems with packing – as long as you keep your suitcase under the weight limit! Remember, a bottle of wine weighs an average of about three pounds! Whether we’re bringing wine with us on our trip, or planning to buy some at our destination to bring home…or both…these sleeves are practical and affordable.

Now’s the time to start planning your 2019 getaways. Don’t forget to consider the wine! Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried any of these bags, or something similar!

Cheers!

We love wine more than anything. Traveling comes in a close second, so traveling with wine is nearly perfect. It presents some challenges depending on how far you’re traveling and whether you need to keep the wine chilled in transit. Wine travel bags with insulated interiors solve part of the problem, but they vary in quality. Wine bags are also available in a variety of styles, so you need a carrier that reflects your taste as well as the formality of the event. Here we share ten of the best wine travel bags. Whether you’re carrying wine for a picnic on the beach, a train ride through Napa Valley, or a plane trip across the Atlantic, we have the perfect options for you.

1. OPUX Insulated 2-Bottle Wine Tote: $17

This insulated wine tote from OPUX is perfect for an afternoon picnic. The wine compartment is insulated to keep the bottles cool and has a divider to protect them from clinking together. It has convenient dual zippers, plus a front pocket for carrying other accessories. For a wine tote under $20, we’re impressed with its durability. It has a handle at the top, plus a detachable shoulder strap, offering a few transit options. We also love that it’s available in so many colors. For the price point, you can easily pick up a few of these to match the mood of the occasion. As a bonus, it comes with a free corkscrew.

2. Picnic at Ascot Deluxe Insulated Wine Tote: $24

This kit from Picnic at Ascot is an even more complete picnic kit. It includes two acrylic wine glasses, a wine opener, and a pair of napkins. With the goblets in place it holds just one bottle of wine. Remove the goblets and you can carry two bottles. The panel that holds your wine opener folds neatly between them so they won’t collide. The tote is made of sturdy canvas and comes in a variety of colors and patterns. Although it’s and extremely durable carrier, we love that it comes with a lifetime guarantee from the company.

3. KOVOT 9-Piece Wine Travel Bag and Picnic Set: $25

KOVOT boasts one of the most complete picnic kits on the market, including accessories you might not have thought about. It includes an insulated compartment to hold two bottles of wine with a divider in between. The side pocket holds two acrylic wine glasses, cloth napkins, a corkscrew, and a bottle stopper. The surprise accessory is a pair of stakes so you can secure your wine glasses on uneven ground. At first blush, this might seem like overkill, but it’s perfect if you need to set your glass down on the beach. This picnic set would make a wonderful impression on a first date and also makes a marvelous gift for any wine lover.

4. Kato Insulated 2-Bottle Wine Carrier: $20

If you want a 2-bottle carrier that looks more like a regular tote, Kato makes this stylish wine bag. It keeps wine chilled for hours thanks to its internal padding and insulation, plus it has a flexible divider to protect the bottles in transit. We love the zippered side compartment for carrying your phone, keys, or wine accessories. Like some of the other kits, it also comes with a free corkscrew. Above all, we love the variety of colors and patterns available, making this one of the most versatile and stylish totes at this price point.

5. Vina 3-Bottle Insulated Wine Carrier: $18

The Vina is our favorite 3-bottle wine tote. The bottles are held in place by dividers and the insulation does well in keeping chilled bottles cool until you get to your destination. One thing we especially love is how easy this carrier is to clean. The high-quality polyester is just a wipe down from looking perfect again, making it the ideal carrier for picnics, festivals, and other outdoor events. It has a convenient side pocket for storing the free corkscrew and any other items you need handy.

6. Kato 4-Bottle Insulated Wine Tote: $22

We love the styling of this 4-bottle carrier from Kato, with its leather accents and stainless steel hardware. The tote is made of canvas and comes in gray or a cute navy and white striped pattern. It doesn’t have side pockets, but we love that the divider inside is removable, which gives some storage flexibility. For such a stylish bag, we love the affordability. The quality of insulation is also impressive, keeping chilled wines cold for hours.

7. Wine Enthusiast 6-Bottle Weekend Wine Carrier: $69

For higher-capacity totes, sturdy construction becomes critical. If the carrier isn’t built to handle the weight of the bottles, it will wear out quickly. Worse, it might break while you’re carrying it. For transporting up to 6-bottles, our favorite is this canvas wine carrier from Wine Enthusiast. It has a padded divider which leaves space to carry up to six Bordeaux bottles, plus a side pocket for accessories. The insulation and padding are both excellent and the exterior construction is just as impressive. The forest green canvas is durable and we love the chocolate brown trim. There’s also a monogrammable leather hang tag in case you’d like to personalize it.

8. Wine Enthusiast 6-Bottle Leather Wine Bag: $300

For a 6-bottle tote that doesn’t look like a standard wine carrier, Wine Enthusiast offers this gorgeous leather weekend bag. It’s much more expensive than a simple canvas carrier, but you won’t find a classier wine travel bag. It’s 100% handcrafted and the attention to detail is apparent in all aspects of the bag, both inside and out. It holds up to six bottles upright, separated with padded dividers, and has an outer pocket for small accessories. It’s the perfect bag to accompany you on that train trip through wine country you’ve always dreamt of.

9. Wine Wings Wine Bottle Protector Sleeve: $20 for 4

Planning a longer journey? If you’re traveling by plane, Wine Wings are an inexpensive way to safely pack your wine. These bags completely seal the wine bottle inside with Ziplocks and velcro to keep any leaks contained. The bags are also padded internally with bubble-wrap and have a stronger exterior to prevent piercing by other items in your bag. They’re durable and reusable, so investing in these means your only worry will be keeping your suitcase under the weight limit.

10. VinGardeValise 12-Bottle Wine Travel Suitcase: $209

Finally planning that wine vacation through Europe and plan to bring a lot of bottles home? VinGardeValise makes suitcases specifically designed to keep your wine safe during its journey. This suitcase holds 12 bottles and weighs between 43 and 49 lbs when filled to capacity. This keeps it safely under the checked bag weight limit for most airlines, though be sure to doublecheck when you buy your tickets. The suitcase meets TSA, FAA, and airline luggage standards and is a sturdy piece of luggage, as well. It has double channel zippers, a reinforced internal frame, and wheels that spin 360 degrees for easy mobility. We also love that it has a TSA-compliant lock to keep the wine even more secure.

 

Experience Alexander Valley, Day 1, Part 2 – deLorimier Winery

I arrived and deLorimier a little bit early for the Sensory Experience. Kent had to drop me off and get to his experience across the valley. As I waited for the event to start, I enjoyed walking in the beautiful courtyard and nearby grounds, while sipping on a glass of deLorimier’s 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, that the tasting room staff had brought out for me.

I was first greeted by Ben, the shy vineyard dog. He hesitantly approached me, and dropped a piece of wood, with the apparent expectation that I would throw the wood and engage in a game of fetch with him. Owner and winemaker, Diane Wilson, explained that once you engage with Ben, you’re on the hook.

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The two other guests arrived, and we were escorted into a beautiful, private tasting room. My eye was drawn to the tables, which were hand-made by a local craftsman, and made from old wine barrels cut in half lengthwise, filled with corks and some deLorimier wine bottles, and covered with glass. I love artistic expression! Our tables were set with a blind tasting, complete with black, non-transparent wine glasses. I’d never done a sensory experience, so I was really excited to see what I would learn, and how I would do in the blind tasting.

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We were presented with five paper strips, each with a particular essential oil scent. It was at that moment, that I was wishing Ben could be my wingman. As a dog, according to Diane, Ben has 300 million olfactory receptors, as compared to humans, who only have 6 million. Nevertheless, I put my sniffer to the test.

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First, we took a sip of each wine, to identify only whether it was a red or a white. If we wanted to throw out a guess at the varietal, we could. They were all room temperature, to make it more complicated. I got all the colors right, although I mistook their Rosé for a Chardonnay. (They didn’t say there could be a Rosé in there.) I smelled each of the scents, and one by one, matched them to the wines. I must say, I surprised myself; I was close or right on many of the aromas and varietals.

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The most exciting part of the experience was the food pairing. Chef Donna Parsons prepared the most delectable dishes to pair with each of the wines. That was our last challenge: pairing each dish with the appropriate wine. Luckily, she made it easy and presented left-to-right. But, still, I picked correctly with each wine and food pairing!

During the experience, Ben was by my side the whole time. I would kick his piece of wood a short distance, and then he would pick it up, bring it back, and drop it on my foot until I kicked it again. I think he was my lucky sensory partner! Maybe Ben was my wingman after all.

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After this amazing experience, Kent and I met up, grabbed some lunch, and then enjoyed a Cabernet Sauvignon and Chocolate pairing at Stonestreet Estate Vineyards. You can read about that in Part One of our series.

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Later that evening, we returned to deLorimier for a Blues concert. The concert was an added bonus, included with our event tickets! The band was Brad Wilson & the Rollin’ Blues Thunder Band, and they were amazing! Kent and I got the dancing going, and pretty soon the dance pad was full.

With great music and dancing, delicious food catered by Jimtown Store, and deLorimier wines, it was a great way to end an amazing day in Alexander Valley.

  • By Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael and Kent Reynolds
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Experience Alexander Valley, Day 1 – Medlock Ames and Stonestreet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video credit: Stonestreet Estate Vineyards

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael, unless otherwise noted.

Reminder: Experience Alexander Valley

Hi gang! Robyn and I hope you enjoyed our post about the upcoming Experience Alexander Valley event coming up June 23 and 24. If you missed it, you can read it here. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

All up to speed? Great! Experience Alexander Valley is a wine region event like no other. There’s no frenzied rush to make it to as many wineries as possible; no party busses; no palate fatigue. Instead, each of the two days of the event, you will enjoy two experiences at two wineries. These will be unique, intimate experiences limited to just 24 guests at each location. With such intimate experiences, they will also be quite personal. You will have the opportunity to have real, genuine conversations with the winery owners, family members, and winemakers.

If this sounds like your kind of experience, you’d better hurry! Ticket sales end this Wednesday, June 20, at 9 p.m. Surf on over to the Experience Alexander Valley website to reserve your tickets! Experiences are filling up, so you need to act quickly to get in on the action!

This will be a fun and memorable weekend experience. We hope you can join us!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Come Experience Alexander Valley

Show of hands, how many of you have been on one of those wine region weekend events? You know the ones. A single fee gets you a wrist band and a plastic glass (or actual glass stemware if it’s a swanky affair) and you power through two days of as many wineries and tastings as you can manage. Elbow-to-elbow, fighting your way to the tasting table, desperately trying to catch the eye of the winemaker so you can ask a couple of questions, trying to stay one winery ahead of that fleet of party busses with all…those…drunk…fun-loving…people! Of course I exaggerate. Honestly, these are fun events that allow you to try a number of different wines and wineries in a short period. But let’s be honest; they’re exhausting. OK, you can put your hands down, people are starting to stare.

On June 23 and 24, 2018, Robyn and I will be attending a different kind of regional wine event. We’ve been invited, as guests of the Alexander Valley Winegrowers Association, to attend the first annual Experience Alexander Valley. What makes this event so different? Glad you asked…

For years, the Alexander Valley Winegrowers Association hosted a regional event like so many others. This year, however, they’ve decided to revamp the event and create a whole new…well…”experience.” This will be nothing like the fast-paced and frenzied tasting events you’ve attended in the past. 20 wineries are participating. Each guest selects two…yes, two…winery experiences each day. Yup, that’s it. You don’t get to try and pound through all 20 wineries in two days. The participating wineries will provide their own small, unique, and intimate experiences for guests. Each experience is limited to just 24 guests. No more jockeying for position just to get a 2 ounce taste. Here, you can have an actual conversation with the farmers and winemakers! Morning experiences start at 10:00 a.m., so you can still sleep in a bit. Afternoon experiences begin at 2:00 p.m.; plenty of time in between for a hearty wine-country lunch, or maybe even a little siesta!

So, what are these experiences they are offering? How about Pizza Making & Wine Experience at Francis Ford Coppola Winery? Maybe a vertical Cabernet Sauvignon flight at Silver Oak’s new Alexander Valley winery and tasting room is more to your liking. Interested in learning how to make sausage, and then grill ‘em up and eat ‘em? Sign up for the Sausage Making class at Hawkes Wine. Do you have a talent for art? Sutro Wine is offering a Hike, Sketch, and Sip experience. And who doesn’t love a good Corn Hole competition? White Oak Vineyards & Winery is hosting one. These are just a few of the experiences you can enjoy if you come out and join us June 23 and 24. The complete list, with descriptions, is available at the Experience Alexander Valley website.

Hold on a second, Robyn wants to tell you what she’s looking forward to at Experience Alexander Valley.

Did someone say “Yoga in the Vineyard?” I’m looking forward to breathing in some fresh, Alexander Valley air and getting my chakra on in the vineyard, at Hawkes Wine on Sunday Morning. I’m not sure if my yoga attire is suitable for wine tasting afterward, but, heck, I’ll throw in a change of clothes, just in case. I’ve always wanted to do Yoga in the Vineyard, and now I can. Namaste.

Kent is the wine guru; I just know what I like. I’m really looking forward to the Saturday morning Sensory Experience with Diane Wilson at deLorimier Winery. During this experience, I’ll be able to understand my preferences based on olfactory and flavor sensations, and learn food and wine pairing tips. I love learning more about wine and why I like what I like.

As a treat on Sunday, I’ll be able to experience Hanna Winery for the second time. My first time there was exquisite. We went there on an excursion during the Wine Blogger’s Conference, and enjoyed a wonderful meal and tour with the winemaker, Jeff Hinchliffe, and winery president, Christine Hanna. My second experience will be a Spa Day with Wine Country Botanicals. YES! Just saying, I’m a girl who loves pampering, and I love the wines at Hanna that I’ll be sipping on during the Spa Day, most notably their Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. What a way to end a great weekend of Alexander Valley Experiences. Cheers!

Those are going to be some exciting experiences! While Robyn is enjoying her sensory experience Saturday morning, I’ll be learning about sustainable winemaking at Medlock Ames. Saturday afternoon, we’ll meet up for a Cabernet and Chocolate Pairing at Stonestreet Wines with estate wines and local, artisan chocolates. We’re together again Sunday morning for Yoga in the Vineyard, and then we’ll split up again and while she is getting the pampered treatment at Hanna Winery, I’ll be headed to Alexander Valley Vineyards to enjoy a Cabernet tasting with family partner Harry Wetzel.

We hope you can make it out to Alexander Valley on June 23 and 24, for a unique, intimate, and actually relaxing, regional wine tasting event. Tickets are available on their website.

After we return from our weekend, we’ll follow up with posts about all six of the experiences we enjoyed. Stay tuned!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael