Review: Salengo Grenache 2018 – A Winemaker’s Dream

Sometimes, the search for fine wine is like an expedition; studying wine reviews like they were scouting reports, patiently stalking the aisles of the wine shop, asking the advice of the local guide (wine shop staff), and occasionally checking in with your fellow hunters to see how they’ve done. 

Other times, it lands on your doorstep, unannounced and unexpected. So it was when the UPS driver left a distinctive, single-wine-bottle-sized package on the porch a few weeks ago. Upon opening, we discovered a bottle of Salengo Grenache 2018, with its beautiful watercolor art label, and a note indicating the wine was sent at the request of friend and wine broker, Bill Tobey.

We’d never heard of Salengo, but fortunately the box also included a spec sheet, and bio of winemaker Nicole Salengo. In addition, we reached out to Nicole via email, and she was gracious enough to answer a few questions and fill in some additional detail. 

The Salengo Grenache 2018 is from Yolo County. Wine lovers may be familiar with wines from Clarksburg…a designated AVA also in Yolo County. Yolo County is in the Sacramento Valley, just west of Sacramento. Its bordering counties include Solano to the south, and Napa and Lake Counties to the west, all known for quality grape and wine production. The fruit for the Salengo Grenache 2018 comes from the Coble Ranch in Winters. 

Nicole Salengo is the winemaker at Berryessa Gap winery in Winters. She has nearly 20 years of wine industry experience, including time in Napa and New Zealand. With the release of the Salengo Grenache 2018, Nicole is realizing her long-term dream of having her own label. 

The first thing we noticed when we looked at the bottle was the very light color of the wine, noticeable even through the green glass. We are big fans of Grenache, and have had many Grenache wines from numerous regions, but had never seen one this light in color. During our initial email exchange, Nicole said her goal was to model the wine in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style; light and elegant, yet complex, and with lower alcohol.

In Nicole’s bio, and on the back label on the bottle, there is reference to Nicole’s origins from New England. We were intrigued by this, partly because Robyn is from Boston, and partly because one doesn’t often think of New England heritage when discussing wine. So after we tasted the wine (more on that in a minute), we reached out to Nicole again with some follow-up questions. In reply, she said she was born in Vermont and graduated from high school and college in upstate New York. Not Boston, but cose enough! 

Beyond that, Nicole responded to our other questions…(warning: wine review spoiler alert!)

AfW: What brought you from New England to Northern California? Other than the weather, of course.

NS: You said it…the weather! I don’t like being cold!

I would call it ‘opportunity’. I’ve always been driven and when I was 8, I told my mom I wanted to move to California. I wanted to go to college here but that didn’t work out so I moved here after college. I had an aunt and uncle living in Davis and they offered to let me come stay with them. So the same year I graduated from college, I had $1,000 and a suitcase (almost like a dollar and a dream) and got on the plane to Sacramento. The rest is history. Once I was here, I worked in a lab and eventually quit to work in a wine shop. That’s where I learned about wine, and then was hired at my first winery. I went back to school at UC Davis for the Winemaking Certificate.

AfW: Your wine is exceptionally light and elegant. What was your process? Length of skin contact, stainless vs oak, oak selection and aging? 

NS: Thank you. I try to allow for the variety and place where it’s grown express itself. Grenache is like Pinot Noir in that you can have a lighter expression or a darker, heavier expression. It also has a tendency like Zinfandel to creep up in sugar content once it’s in the fermenter (something I want to avoid). So I wanted to pick it earlier than other red varieties to maintain the acid profile and a lower alcohol level. Other things that I think contributed to the lightness and elegance of this wine are the way it was farmed and the area it was farmed in. 2018 was a year with a large crop so we had more fruit. So all of the energy of the vine was distributed among more grapes resulting in lighter color. In addition, the grapes are from the Coble Ranch Vineyard in Winters (owned and farmed by Berryessa Gap) where it has a warm, Mediterranean climate. Warm weather creates less anthocyanins (color compounds) and can result in lighter-colored wines. Both of these factors contribute to how light and elegant the wine turned out.

I visited the South of France (Châteauneuf du Pape) when I first was starting this project and had the most amazing 100% Grenache: light in color and body with nuanced complexities that really made you think about the wine and every sip was a different experience. My Grenache is modeled after that beautiful wine I tasted out of the barrel in France. I remember thinking that it was the perfect wine. And it liked that it wasn’t showy, it was just being itself, something I strive to do in life. In other words, the wine really spoke to me and created inspiration. The grapes in that French wine were grown on similar soils that give it a nice minerality, so that’s what is creating much of the texture (rather than the skins or barrel) of the wine. The Salengo Grenache was aged in old, neutral barrels so I think that also contributes to the lightness of the wine as well and allows for the fruit to be accentuated. Also the light color: as a young red wine ages, it reacts with the oxygen getting into the wine through the oak staves in the barrel and the wood tannin which can help to stabilize color. This wine was aged in very old barrels, that kept the color light too.

The juice was on the skins for about two weeks, just enough time to ferment but not get any over-extraction. We performed manual punch-downs twice a day, pressed it and aged it for 18 months in neutral oak, as mentioned. The wine really blossomed as it was aging and it was so exciting to taste it along the way to see it open up and release all of these yummy flavors.

AfW: How long have you been making wine? Where did you start, history? 

NS: This year will be my 17th harvest. It’s basically been a process of elimination and me trying to prove people wrong and find a career that keeps my attention. I’m hard-headed and have a good palate which has a lot to do with why I’m making wine. It’s been a lot of hard work, and sometimes I try too hard and have too high of expectations and it makes me discouraged but it’s a fabulous combination of art, science, tradition with possibility of great things in the future. That is why I’m a winemaker.

The whole story is I worked at a Belgium-style brewery in college which started to develop my palate. I always had an interest in science, particularly chemistry and geology. I was made wine buyer at a wine shop which expanded my palate significantly when I was an age where I couldn’t afford fine wines. Then, I was hired at a start-up winery and discovered my love for making wine. I fell in love with it the first day of my first harvest. I went back to school, got promoted to assistant winemaking positions, did harvests in Napa and New Zealand and was hired as head winemaker at Berryessa Gap in 2013. I’ve now worked with over 50 varieties and have fulfilled my dream of having my own label. It’s a very fun industry to be a part of.

AfW: What is your wine story? That first bottle that got you hooked? 

NS: The wine I referenced earlier has been a part of my inspiration to want to make wine.  This is going back to my early twenties when I was a wine buyer. It was a bottle of 1995 Chateau Rayas, Pignon. That wine is 100% Grenache like mine and it’s the same winery I referenced above where I serendipitously saw the small rusty sign while in the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 2016. I was by myself and didn’t speak French but after an afternoon of waiting, I had a tour with the winemaker Emmanuel Reynaud and tasted the 2015 Pignon from barrel.

I also recall tasting some really amazing Pinot Noirs from Willamette that really moved me early on. Then some Tempranillos form the Ribera del Duero that were really amazing. There are lots of great wines out there and I just love the ones that take you to a place. There are times when I taste a wine and I almost feel transported to that region where it was grown and made, those are the very special ones for me, the ones that take you on a mini-vacation and get your imagination going. You know a truly great wine when you taste it, so I just keep tasting.

So it turns out that New England isn’t the only bond we have with Nicole. Kent’s start in wine was with a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir; from St. Innocent. Turns out Nicole knows St. Innocent, too, and loves their wines. It’s always good to make new wine-friends!

So what about the wine? Very impressive! It’s a wine that gets better with each sip. Honestly, it’s a wine for wine geeks, like us, but not for everybody. We have a number of wine friends who favor jammy fruit bombs. Salengo Grenache 2018 is not that wine. It is a sophisticated wine with layers of complexity. Here’s our review: 

Very pale ruby color, with an almost tawny port rim. The nose is unique, with subtle raspberry and red cherry notes, with dusty, earthy notes. On the palate, raspberry and cherry, cherry cola, and licorice notes, with hints of smoked meat and black pepper. Tannins are soft and smooth. Bright acidity, excellent balance, and a medium finish of red fruit and a bit of licorice. We paired with brats, which complemented nicely and drew out even more earthiness. This is a very sophisticated wine that grows on you the more it opens up! 

Are you ready to try an out-of-the box Greneache? You can find Salengo Grenache 2018 online at the Berryessa Gap Winery website. Of course, if you’re in NorCal, please stop by the winery and give it a try. Tell Nicole that Kent and Robyn sent you! 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photo cred: Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Our Wine of the Week: Silverado Vineyards Vineburg Chardonnay 2019

It’s good to have good neighbors. Our neighbors helped us get through the COVID-19 pandemic, by joining with us in our front yards for socially distanced happy hours, and sharing the bounty of backyard gardens. It’s even better, though, to have good neighbors who work at a winery, especially when that winery is one of Napa’s internationally recognized producers! 

We have that neighbor, and he works at Silverado Vineyards. So naturally, when Adam and his wife Kim attend our socially distanced happy hours, there’s always some Silverado wine. In addition, Adam is always appreciative when we bring his family tomatoes, peaches, peach cobbler, peach pie (yes, we have two prolific peach trees in our backyard), and lemons, lemon bars, and lemon pound cake. (Yup, a high-yielding lemon tree, too.) So appreciative is he, that when we deliver the goods, Adam invariably and generously reciprocates with a bottle of…you guessed it…Silverado Vineyerds wine. During a recent exchange, we came home with a bottle of Silverado Vineyards Vineburg Chardonnay 2019

Silverado Vineyards is a family-owned winery, established in 1981 by Ron and Diane Miller, and Diane’s mother, Lillian Disney. Yes, that Disney. Walt Disney was Diane’s father. As one might expect, Silverado Vineyards is located on the Silverado Trail, on the eastern side of the Napa Valley, in the Stags Leap District. For years before founding the winery, the family had sold their grapes to other wineries in the area. As the winery grew in production and reputation, the family acquired additional vineyards, including the Vineburg Vineyard in 2000.   

We are pretty particular with Chardonnay. We are not fans of the big, butterball, in-your-face oaky style. We prefer unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay. Silverado Vineyards Vineburg Chardonnay is just that, lightly oaked, and the 2019 vintage is outstanding. It’s a Chardonnay for the ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) crowd, and just the thing to pair with roasted lemon-garlic chicken!

Pale straw color. The nose is subtle, with pear, yellow apple. and citrus. On the palate, Bartlett pear, apple, lemon lime, and hints of tropical fruit. Medium body and acidity, with fresh tree fruit and just a hint of toast on the finish.

Thank you, Adam! 

What was your wine of the week?

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photo cred: Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Our Wine of the Week: Asúa Rioja Crianza 2016

This week, our Wine of the Week takes us to Spain. Specifically, the Rioja region in Northern Spain. Rioja red wines are all Tempranillo based. There are many well known producers in Rioja, and wines from this region have gained wide popularity in recent years. One of the more historic Rioja wineries is Compañia Vinicola del Norte de España, abbreviated in their production and most of their labels as CVNE. Many of the CVNE wines are quite affordable, in the $20 or under range, while others are cellar-worthy, top cuvées, with correspondingly higher prices. 

CVNE has been producing wine since 1879, and remains under a family owned and operated winery. They own 545 hectares (1,350 acres) of vineyards, and also source fruit from nearby independent vineyards. 

In addition to the eponymous label, CVNE offers a number of others, one of which was recently featured by Total Wine & More as a “Top 20 Wines Under $20”: Asúa Rioja Crianza 2016. Eager to see what all the hubbub is about, we added a bottle to our cart and a few days later, pulled the cork. 

Despite being produced by CVNE, this wine is currently absent from their website, so finding information about it proved challenging. The back label declares: 

“Asúa is produced by the Real de Asúa family, fifth generation winery owners from Rioja and the driving force behind CVNE. The abbreviated wine’s name, Asúa, is a tribute to the founders of this legacy, continued to this day in the legendary wines of CVNE.” 

Rioja is one of the rare regions in the wine world where words like Reserva and Gran Reserva have meaning. In most of the world, those are mere marketing terms, with no regulation or control. But in Rioja, you will find these terms, plus Joven and Crianza, on the bottles, and each identifies the treatment and aging of the wine. 

Joven wines are young and fresh, with little to no oak aging. They are intended for consumption within two years of production. Crianza wines must be aged in oak for at least one year, and an additional year in the bottle. Reserva wines also spend one year in oak, but must age in the bottle for three years before being released. Finally, Gran Reserva wines age for two years in oak, and another three years in the bottle. As one would expect, prices and ageability increase with each designation. 

Asúa Rioja Crianza 2016 

A young, fresh, and fruity Rioja. Garnet color with a ruby rim. On the nose, fresh raspberry and blackberry with hints of oak and vanilla. Flavors on the palate include bold, fresh blackberry, blueberry, and cherry, with clove, tobacco, and vanilla. Medium body with vibrant acidity; perfect for food pairing. Medium finish of red fruit and baking spice. We paired with shredded chicken tacos and it was magical.

For a great wine and an amazing price, check out Asúa Rioja Crianza 2016 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Three Gems from Ravines Wine Cellars

A few weeks back, we were talking about different wine varieties, and decided we needed to incorporate more Riesling into our lives. Mere days later, as if she overheard our conversation from 3,000 miles away, Courtney from Ravines Wine Cellars, in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, emailed us offering samples of their wines, including their flagship Dry Riesling. How could we refuse?

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Riesling is a very versatile grape. It can also be polarizing; you either like it or you don’t. In our observation, the polarization is directly related to the versatility – Riesling wines can be made in a variety of styles, from dry to sweet. A few years ago, the market was flooded with cheap, sweet Riesling from Germany, which has turned a lot of wine drinkers away from Riesling in general. That’s a shame, because Riesling is a stunning grape, food friendly and elegant. While we tend to prefer dry wines, we’ve enjoyed some excellent off-dry Rieslings, and have an appreciation for the occasional sweet sip. 

The Finger Lakes Region, in Upstate New York, is known for its Riesling. With a short growing season and cold, snowy winters, Riesling finds itself right at home there. The name, Finger Lakes, comes from the 11 long, narrow lakes formed by glacial movement millions of years ago. Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake are two of the deepest in the US, at 618 feet and 435 feet, respectively. 

Ravines Wine Cellars is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In 2001, husband and wife team Morten and Lisa Hallgren founded Ravines Wine Cellars, with a mission to produce a bone dry Riesling. Born in Denmark, Morten learned winemaking at his family’s estate winery in Côtes de Provence, France. Morten went on to earn a degree in winemaking from Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier. Meanwhile, Lisa studied the culinary arts and is now a professionally trained Chef. As an adult, Morten came to the United States, eventually settling in Upstate New York, where he and Lisa purchased land between two ravines in the Finger Lakes region. You can read more of Morten and Lisa’s story on the Ravines Wine Cellars website.

Our sample pack from Ravines Wine Cellars included three wines; a 2017 Chardonnay, the flagship 2017 Dry Riesling, and their Bordeaux-style red blend, Maximillen 2017. These, and all of their portfolio wines are available for purchase on their website.


2017 Chardonnay (SRP $19.95)

A unique Chardonnay, made in the appassimento method by partially drying the grapes before pressing. The appassimento method is of Italian origin, and is used in making the rich and concentrated Amarone wines. 

Clear golden color. Aromas of ripe apricot, mild citrus, and pear. On the palate, there are flavors of grilled lemon, pear, peach, and citrus. Medium body with vibrant acidity. The finish lingers with fresh citrus and just a hint of toasty warmth at the end. Excellent paired with roast chicken. 


Dry Riesling 2017 (SRP $17.95)

Clear, golden color. Aromas of pear, apple, and citrus, with floral notes. On the palate, there are flavors of Bartlett pear, yellow apple, lemon lime, and lychee, with hints of honeysuckle and lemon blossom. Light body with brisk acidity and a lingering finish. Paired well with chicken and broccoli stir fry. 


Maximilien 2017 (SRP $24.95)

54% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

This is a classic Bordeaux blend. A New World wine with a distinctly Old World vibe. Ruby-garnet color. The nose is earthy, cherry, raspberry, and ripe plum. On the palate, smoky with blackberry, black cherry, ripe raspberry, and red currant, with black pepper, tobacco, cigar box, and wisps of bell pepper. Medium-plus body, with grippy tannins and bold acidity. Long finish of black fruit and spice. Somebody please get me a ribeye! 

Thank you.

We found each of the Ravines Wine Cellars wines to be distinct, expressive, and downright delicious. We are happy to have more Riesling in our lives, and will remember Ravines Wine Cellars when it’s time to re-stock that corner of the cellar.

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Our Wine of the Week: Casino Mine Ranch Simone 2018

This week, our Wine of the Week was an easy choice. Not that any of the other wines were bad, but the Casino Mine Ranch Simone 2018 was hands down the best of the week. We have been fans of Casino Mine Ranch and their entire portfolio of wines since our first visit a little over a year ago. We were so impressed, we even wrote about it

The Simone wine is a tribute to Simone Vanophem Shaw, who founded the ranch in 1936. Simone is Great Aunt to Rich and Jim Merryman, the current owners of the ranch. Simone’s is a fascinating life story, filled with adventure and elegance; from living with her father at his Alaskan fold mine, to jet-setting to New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and other glamorous destinations, to later buying and managing this beautiful, rugged ranch property in Amador County. The Simone wine embodies the lady. As the Casino Mine Ranch website describes it:

“Like its namesake, it’s elegant yet tough, and brims with joie de vivre. It’s a wine for feasting, both opulent and earthy, best enjoyed while wearing dungarees and boots. Or, alternately, diamonds, furs, and pearls.”

The Casino Mine Ranch Simone 2018 is a blend of 57% Mourvèdre and 43% Grenache Noir. As with all of their wines, Simone is made with 100% estate grown fruit. It is a rich, lush, powerhouse of a wine, perfect for cold winter nights and pot roast. 

Ruby color. Aromas of raspberry, cherry, and smoke. On the palate, flavors of blackberry bramble, raspberry, cherry, cola, tobacco, white pepper, and smoke. Medium body, lively acidity, and smooth tannins. Magical paired with pot roast.

We wish we could have met Simone, we know we would have loved her. But at least we can enjoy the wine made and named in her honor. 

What was your wine of the week?

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photo Credit: Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Valentine’s Day Brunch with Lucien Albrecht

In lieu of our wine of the week, we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day with brunch! Cheese blintzes topped with peach-blueberry purée (peaches from our own back yard, frozen last summer) and some pink bubbles! Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé is always the right choice for a romantic meal, at any time of day! 

We’ve been fans of Lucien Albrecht wines for some time, and have written about some of them in this blog, including the Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. As a non-vintage wine, there may be some variations year to year, but we’ve never been disappointed. Here are our notes from Valentine’s Day 2021, followed by what we believe are some drool-worthy snaps. Keeping it short, since as they say, a picture paints a thousand words!

Delightful and perfect for Valentine’s Day brunch. Salmon color. Steady streams of tiny bubbles. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and cherry, with hints of yeast and cream. Vibrant acidity and a medium finish. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Our Wine of the Week: La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Selecting our wine of the week this week was pleasantly challenging. We had to choose between two wines that were both equally impressive. The deciding factor in our decision was the fact that we have another bottle of one of them, so we can revisit it to feature in a future week. And so it is, that our wine of the week is La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2020, from the Curico Valley in Chile.

We’ve become big fans of Sauvignon Blanc in the past few years. Light, crisp, and refreshing, it is also quite versatile in food pairing. Often considered a summertime wine, we enjoy Sauvignon Blanc year-round. While New Zealand, specifically Marlborough, has taken center stage in the world of Sauvignon Blanc, the grape originated in France, and is now planted world wide. (Fun fact: Sauvignon Blanc is one of the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, the other being Cabernet Franc.) 

In general, at least to our palates, we have concluded there are three overarching styles of Sauvignon Blanc: 

  • The French style found White Bordeaux, or Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley – often blended with Semillon, resulting in a fuller, rounder wine, with gooseberry, green apple, pear, and citrus.
  • The New Zealand style – grassy, cut straw, grapefruit, lemon, and occasionally cat pee (yes, this is actually a desirable quality in a Sauvignon Blanc!) with light body and zesty acidity.
  • The Northern California style – bursting with tropical fruit; pineapple, mango, passionfruit;  and stone fruit; apricot, peach, nectarine; with a bit more body and softer acidity. 

As we said, this is a general observation. Plenty of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc have pineapple or other tropical fruit flavors, and NorCal can show grassy, apple and pear notes. With Sauvignon Blanc, style transcends location. Any of these styles can be produced in any of the growing regions. We’ve just come to associate these styles with these places. 

Make no mistake, we enjoy all the different styles. Thus is the approachability and appeal of Sauvignon Blanc. However, we each have our preferences. Robyn prefers the fresh, clean citrusy style from New Zealand, while Kent favors the tropical and stone fruit from NorCal. 

Always eager to explore new wines, we thought we’d try the La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2020 with our meal of grilled fish tacos. A bargain at just $8.99 from Wine.com, we’d put this up against Sauvingon Blancs at three times that price! The biggest surprise was that we had expected more of a New Zealand style, as most of our Chilean Sauvignon Blanc experiences have been, but La Playa is decidedly NorCal, in our estimation. 

Pale golden color. Aromas and flavors of fresh tropical fruit; pineapple, mango, and lychee; with citrus, including lime and quince. Soft mouthfeel with medium acidity and a pleasing finish.

La Playa Vineyards produces only sustainably farmed wines, using native yeasts. They also produce Chardonnay and Viognier, along with a red wine lineup of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, and a red blend. We have tasted their Dry Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon, several months ago, and it was equally delicious. 

What was your wine of the week? 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photo cred: Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Our Wine of the Week: m2 Old Vine Zinfandel 2017

We like to explore the world through wine, eagerly trying wines from various countries, at various price points. Some wines we wouldn’t drink again, others go on the rotation list, and some are really impressive. Here is our favorite wine of this past week. 

With the post-holiday COVID-19 curve finally tapering off and the regional stay-at-home orders lifted, we ventured out for the first time in months. On a beautiful, warm January afternoon, we took the short walk from home to our favorite local wine bar, Platinum Wine Lounge, for some al fresco wine and nibbles. 

As we sat on the patio, basking in the late afternoon sunshine, we perused the wine list. Platinum features many local wines, from the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. We decided on the m2 Old Vine Zinfandel 2017, and we were not disappointed.

Recognize this building? Image credit: Google Maps

If you’ve ever been wine tasting in Lodi and driven down Peltier Road between I-5 and Highway 99, you’ve seen m2 Wine’s distinctive steel winery and tasting room. We have always enjoyed m2’s wines, and their Old Vines Zinfandel is among our favorites in their portfolio. The Old Vines Zinfandel 2017 is a single-vineyard wine, from the Soucie Vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA. The vines were planted in 1916. While there’s no legal definition for “Old Vines”, I’d say 101 years meets the generally accepted definition.

Photo credit: Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

m2 Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2017, Soucie Vineyard, Mokelumne River AVA

Clear dark ruby color. On the nose, aromas of bing cherry, cranberry, blackberry, and smoke. These notes continue on the palate, with flavors of cherry, plum, blackberry, and cranberry, with white pepper and vanilla. Medium-plus body, with soft, supple tannins and medium acidity. Very nicely balanced, with a long finish of red fruit and baking spice. 

What was your wine of the week?

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds  

Two Beauties from Black Stallion

Even during a pandemic, and with wineries and tasting rooms shut down due to regional stay-at-home orders, the work of the farmers, winemakers, and winery staff continues. Though nobody can visit, vines are tended, grapes harvested and crushed, and wine production must press on. (See what we did there?) So it is at Black Stallion Estate Winery. We were fortunate enough to receive samples of two of Black Stallion’s wines recently: Black Stallion Napa Valley Heritage Sauvignon Blanc 2019, and Black Stallion Limited Release Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

We’ve been intrigued by Black Stallion Estate Winery’s history since we first heard of them. Located along the Silverado Trail, on the east side of the Napa Valley, the property was once the Silverado Western Center. The equestria center was home to prize-winning horses, and complete with an indoor riding track and outdoor arena. The original equestrian center has been converted and is now the winery’s production facility.  

Crafted by winemaker Ralf Holdenried, these wines are classic Napa Valley; complex but decidedly drinkable and delicious. Ralf has more than 20 years of harvest experience, and this translates into the quality of the finished product. 

Black Stallion Napa Valley Heritage Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (SRP $22)

Pale straw color. The nose is a burst of fresh pineapple with some citrus/lemon. On the palate, the pineapple continues with quince, lemon lime, white peach, and a hint of chalky minerals. Fresh and lively with zesty acidity. Nicely balanced with a crisp finish. 

Black Stallion Limited Release Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (SRP $60) 

Opaque purple color. Aromas of plum, blackberry bramble, black cherry, and vanilla. On the palate, blackberry, stewed plum, cassis, black cherry, vanilla, and caramel, with white pepper and baking spice. Medium-plus body, soft tannins, and medium-minus acidity. Soft, creamy mouthfeel and a long finish of black fruit and spice. Outstanding paired with grilled lamb chops. 

After tasting these wines, we have no doubt that despite the challenges of this past year, the wines of the 2020 vintage will be stunning! We can hardly wait to try them. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

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