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Tag Archives: Appetite for Wine

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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Review: Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 and RANGE Kitchen & Tap

When you live in suburbia, surrounded by big-box chain eateries, you get rather excited when a quality, independent restaurant opens up. And you do all you can to support them, hoping to ensure their success and longevity. So it was a couple of weeks ago, when bored with all the same old, same old places for a Friday evening happy hour, that I checked Yelp (love it or hate it, it still serves a purpose) and spotted a “Hot and New” listing for RANGE Kitchen & Tap.

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We headed there directly, excited about the prospect of a new place that might suit our needs. We were not disappointed. Our first time in, we really only wanted a glass of wine and some small plates. When we scanned the menu, and saw the plethora of delicious-sounding salads and entrees, we decided to go all in. We were sitting at the bar, which overlooks the prep-kitchen, so we could see everything coming out of the back, and we were amazed at what we saw. We also got to talk with the prep cooks, and Chef Kevin for a few minutes when he emerged from the main kitchen. We learned that RANGE Kitchen & Tap specializes in farm fresh, local ingredients, prepared on site, to create comfort food with a twist. Everything is made there, from fresh ground beef all the way down to the homemade salad dressings and even mayonnaise. That night we split a Ceasar salad (homemade dressing, yum!) and Mom’s Meatloaf. Sliced, then seared on the flat-top for a crispy crust, it was amazing!

Determined to share the wealth, we invited friends Jason and Heather Thomson, to join us for the full meal deal. And although RANGE Kitchen & Tap has put together a very impressive wine list, we decided to bring our own, and open a bottle we’ve been holding onto for a while: Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015, made by friends and fellow wine bloggers, Mike and Lori Budd.

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If you haven’t tried bringing your own wine to a restaurant, give it a go. Just make sure it’s not something that’s already on their wine list. Most places charge a nominal corkage fee (the charge for the server/somm/owner to pull the cork) although some restaurants don’t charge for corkage at all. I’ve often wondered, and have yet to get a straight answer, but with the increasing popularity of screwcap wines, when you bring your own wine closed by screwcap, do they charge you a “screwage fee”? Anyway, not only does BYOW save money, but it’s a great way to share a special bottle with friends.

But I digress…we met Jason and Heather and set about perusing the menu. We decided to start with the Charcuterie Board. The meat selection changes frequently, and each day the offerings are listed on a chalkboard near the kitchen. Tonight’s board was delicious, though I can’t remember all of the meats that our server described.

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Onto the mains, where were delighted with the selections. The catch of the day, which Robyn ordered, was fresh halibut over asparagus and peas. Heather got the fried chicken over garlic mashed potatoes, Jason The Range pizza, featuring daily market fresh ingredients, and I ordered The Shorty flatbread, made with short rib meat that had been cooked sous vide for 36 hours. As you can see, the food looked amazing, and I can assure you it tasted even better! But how would this wide variety of foods stand up to our big, bold red wine?

 

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The Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 paired magnificently with each and every dish. A well-crafted and food friendly wine, Dracaena is definitely a crowd pleaser. Bold enough to stand up to short ribs or steak, yet restrained and elegant so it complements lighter dishes like grilled halibut just as well.

 

Mike and Lori Budd have a passion for Cabernet Franc. So much so, that they were the driving force behind the annual Cabernet Franc Day, celebrated on December 4th each year. As one would expect, when someone has a passion, their product is going to be sensational. Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 definitely is that. Here’s my review:

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A truly spectacular gem! Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, black cherry, and vanilla. On the palate, there are big, both flavors of blackberry pie, black currant, and chocolate covered cherries, mingled with soft oak and vanilla notes. With a rich, full mouthfeel, velvety smooth tannins, balanced acidity, and a long, juicy finish of black fruit and spice, this is an exquisite wine that pairs well with a wide range of foods, from grilled halibut to a thick steak.

You really should give Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc 2015 a try. It’s available direct from the winery on their website. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, I almost left out dessert. Silly me. We love crème brûlée. Do you know what’s better than crème brûlée? Espresso crème brûlée! Oh, yes! This stuff is rich, decadent, and delicious. We’d come back in just for dessert!

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If you happen to be in the Sacramento area, I encourage you to make the trek out to the ‘burbs of Roseville and check out RANGE Kitchen & Tap. But before you do, make sure you order a bottle or three of Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc, and bring it with you.

Cheers!

  • Content and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo 2014

On a recent business trip, Robyn met a fellow conference attendee who gave her a recommendation for a new wine. Frank said this wine is one of he and his girlfriend’s favorites, and suggested Robyn and I give it a try. The wine is Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo, from Toscana, Italy. Robyn texted me a picture of the bottle, and I went on the hunt. I didn’t have to look far. Our local Total Wine & More store just happens to carry this wine.

When Robyn arrived home from her trip, she had a little surprise waiting for her on the counter. We adore Italian wines, and some of our favorites are the Sangiovese-based wines out of Tuscany. So naturally, I had stopped at Total Wine on my way home from work the day after her text, and bought a bottle to try.

Tommasi Family Estates has been producing wine grapes since 1902. The family got their start in Valpolicella Classica, Verona, and has since expanded to other regions in Italy. They launched the Poggio al Tufo line of wines in 1997 with the acquisition of the Pitigliano Estate, 66 hectares of vineyards planted in volcanic soil, in the rolling Tuscan hills. The addition of two more vineyards, the 24 hectare Doganella Estate and the Scansano Estate, 80 hectares in the DOC Morellino zone, expanded the operation. The Doganella Estate is an organic production, producing high quality grapes due to the hot, dry Tuscan summers and cooling breezes from the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo is a blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Several vintages of this wine have won numerous awards and accolades, including 93 points from Vinous Media (2012), No. 31 in the Wine Spectator Top 100, with a 92 point score (2011), and 87 points from both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast (2010).

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The current release, at least what is available in our local store, is the 2014. We opened it to enjoy with our meal of grilled filet mignon steaks, baked potato, and spinach salad with warm bacon dressing. Exquisite is the best word to describe it! Here’s my review posted on Vivino:

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Delicious Toscana blend. Dark purple and ruby colors. Aromas of bing cherry and soft cedar. On the palate, juicy cherry and blackberry flavors meld with notes of cola, vanilla, and oak. Soft, silky tannins and medium acidity balance the wine and make for great dipping or food pairing. Long, black fruit and spice finish. We had this with grilled filet steaks and it was outstanding!

I highly recommend this outstanding Toscana wine. And at $15.99 retail, it’s a bottle you can enjoy often!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with inspiration by Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds (unless otherwise credited)

 

Venturing Out to Wise Villa Winery & Bistro

The weather forecast was daunting. A “Pineapple Express” was about to bear down on Northern California, bringing biblical rains, winds, and flooding. For those of you who don’t live in California, a “Pineapple Express” is a tropical storm system that originates near Hawaii, and barrels eastward carrying heavy rains and warm temperatures. The resulting deluge has been known to melt Sierra snow packs and cause widespread flooding in the Sacramento Valley from the combination of rainfall and snow melt. That was the prediction for the weekend.

Meanwhile, a week-long business trip was on the horizon. Having completed packing, Robyn suggested that, regardless of perilous weather forecasts, we head out to the nearby Placer Wine Trail, and do some wine tasting. There are about 20 wineries to choose from, but I knew right away where I wanted to go. We’ve enjoyed the wines of Wise Villa many times. In fact, on our first date, Robyn and I had a bottle of Wise Villa Tempranillo. So clearly, this winery holds a place near and dear to my heart. Yet, despite its location a just 20 or so minutes from home, I’d never been. This potentially stormy day, that injustice would be corrected.

Wise Villa Winery & Bistro is a family owned estate, situated atop a hillside in rural Placer county, with stunning views of the surrounding valley. They farm over 20 different varietals, producing more than 30 wines. From Albarino to Zinfandel, Wise Villa’s wines are expertly crafted to capture the essence of the variety, and the unique terroir of the Placer County Wine region.

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Our original intention was to visit a few wineries that day, but when we arrived at Wise Villa, and took in the beauty of their Tuscan-style building and breathtaking views, we decided to make an afternoon of it. That Wise Villa is the only Placer County winery with a full-service bistro, complete with gourmet chef, combined with the fact that we hadn’t had lunch, made our decision to stay an easy one.

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With the combination of beautiful views, excellent wines, and exceptional service, it’s no surprise that Wise Villa is the favored destination of local large group outings; work-related team building, bridal showers, etcetera. Sure, the winery and bistro were buzzing with activity when we arrived, but we found a quiet table on the covered patio that overlooked the vineyards and valley, and ordered a bottle of wine to enjoy with our small plates. Service was outstanding, and soon our glasses were full of the 2015 Sangiovese, and our Artisan Plate of cheeses, charcuterie, nuts, and fruit, and a platter of chicken skewers were presented for our enjoyment. And enjoy we did!

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Here are my thoughts on the Wise Villa Sangiovese 2015. (Shhhh. It’s a wine club member exclusive.)

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Rich, ruby color in the glass. On the nose, aromas of ripe raspberry and fresh cherry. The wine coats the tongue with a smooth, rich mouthfeel, and flavors of Rainer cherry, kirsch, and raspberry. Tannins are ultra-soft and smooth, balanced by medium acidity and a long, smooth finish of red fruit and spice. Paired perfectly with the Artisan Plate; especially the blue cheese.

As it turned out, the dreaded “Pineapple Express” failed to make an appearance. Instead, we were treated to cotton-ball clouds, warm weather, and absolutely unbelievable views. We relished in our appetizers and wine, and enjoyed a relaxing Saturday afternoon, and each other’s company.

As the larger groups departed, the tasting room became more tranquil, and our bottle now empty, we ventured inside to explore the rest of the Wise Villa menu. All of the wines were exquisite. From soft, supple whites with perfectly balanced fruit and acidity, to big, bold reds with unique aromas and full, rich flavors.

While tasting, and capturing a few photos for the blog, I happened into owner and winemaker, Dr. Grover Lee. A personable and friendly man, Grover shared his passion for winemaking and pairing good food with good wine. He also informed me he offers guided tours of the winery, and assured me they are like no other winery tour I’ve ever been on. Intrigued, I vowed to return to experience the full journey. In the meantime, there was an early morning flight to catch, so we had to say our goodbyes, with an intention to return soon.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with inspiration from Robyn Raphael
  • Photo credits: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Come Barrel Tasting With Us…In Livermore Valley!

When you think of California Cabernet Sauvignon, where does your mind go? If you’re like most people you probably think of Napa, maybe Sonoma. How about that nice, big, California Chardonnay you’re enjoying with dinner tonight? Carneros? Monterey? Napa? Would you be surprised to learn that both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have their California roots in Livermore Valley? I know I was surprised!

Livermore Valley Wine Country

Wait. You mean you’ve never heard of Livermore Valley? Don’t feel bad. Many people haven’t. Being from Northern California, I was aware of the area, but never really associated it with wine. Yet, as I started to learn more about this region, I learned that wine grapes have been grown in the Livermore Valley since the 1840’s, and the first Livermore Valley wineries were established in 1883!

Livermore Valley is located east of San Francisco Bay, roughly midway between San Francisco and Stockton, and an easy drive from Silicon Valley. The valley has an east-west orientation that allows coastal fog and marine breezed to roll in, tempering the interior valley’s heat. This results in ideal wine growing conditions, producing exceptional fruit. In fact, Livermore Valley is one of the first regions to receive American Viticulture Association (AVA) status, back in 1982.

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With a long history of winemaking, and innovative pioneers leading the way, it is logical that the greatest wine grape varieties should be linked to the Livermore Valley. Perhaps you are aware that most Chardonnay grapes grown in California come from Wente clones. Well, Wente is a long-standing producer, located in the Livermore Valley. In fact, they were the first winery to produce a varietally-labeled Chardonnay, back in 1936. So you have the Wente family, now in their fourth generation of vineyard management and winemaking in Livermore Valley, to thank for that delicious Chardonnay.

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Similarly, Livermore Valley’s Concannon Vineyards produced the first ever Petite Sirah varietally-labeled wine in 1961. Concannon remains a large Petite Sirah producer; in fact, my first taste of Petite Sirah was a Concannon. What I didn’t know until recently, is that Concannon is more than Petite Sirah. The winery is credited with developing Cabernet Sauvignon clones, which represent approximately 80% of Cabernet grown in California today. In 1965, third-generation winemaker Jim Concannon collaborated with renowned U.C. Davis professor and viticulturist, Dr. Harold Olmo, to develop hearty Cabernet Sauvignon clones. Their work took California Cabernet from fewer than 1,000 acres, to more than 90,000 acres today. The clones they developed can be traced back to the “Concannon Mother Vine” which was imported from Château Margaux, by founder James Concannon in 1893.

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Are you getting excited about Livermore Valley wines? I sure am!

In just a couple of weeks, on the weekend of March 10-11, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association will host their 10th Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Robyn and I will be there, guests of the Association, and we would love to see you there! The event runs from noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. With more than 35 wineries participating, it will be an exciting weekend of samples, thieving, tasting, and eating. Barrel tasting is an exciting way to explore wine as it evolves over time, from vineyard to bottle. If you find something you like, many wineries will be offering futures sales, so you can reserve some exceptional wine at a pre-release discount. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Petite Sirah, you can taste varietals you may never have had the opportunity to sample before, such as Primitivo and Alicante Bouschet.

If wine isn’t your thing, there will also be Livermore-area breweries sampling beer, and distilleries offering tastes of their spirits. It’s all included with your wristband, so go out on a limb and try something different!

Want to start your day with something hearty to eat before you get to winetasting? Consider attending one of the Barrel Tasting Brunches at 11 a.m. Each day, two wineries will partner with local restaurants to host fabulous brunches on the winery grounds. On Saturday, you can choose from Garré Winery & Garré Café Brunch, or Las Positas Vineyards & Zephyr Grill & Bar Brunch. Sunday’s offerings are hosted by Retzlaff Vineyards & Salt Craft Brunch, and Ehrenberg Cellars, The Singing Winemaker & Liberation Foods Brunch. The choice is yours you cannot make a wrong decision wherever you go!

For the more artistic in your crew, enjoy the 15 hand-painted wine barrels that will be on display at participating wineries. If you see one you particularly like, you can buy raffle tickets for the chance to take it home.

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Just one of 15! Photo Credit: lvwine.org

Whether you come for the wine, the beer, the spirits, the food, or just the scenery, the 10th Annual Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend will be an event to remember. You can get tickets at lvwine.org. We hope to see you there!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Holiday Bubbles for January Birthdays

Oh, those pesky January birthdays. They are always overshadowed by the holiday season that precedes them. Family and friends are partied out from New Year’s Eve, Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and other holidays that span from November through the first of January. The earlier in the month, the worse it is.

Robyn and I are both January babies. My birthday falls mid-month, while Robyn’s is at the beginning, just days after New Year’s Day. When I was a kid, my birthday was always disappointing. Sure, my parents tried to make it special. I had parties, outings to pizza parlors, and all the usual kid-birthday adventures. Nevertheless, the general rule was, toys and cool stuff on Christmas; socks, pants, and shirts on my birthday. What self-respecting 8 year old kid looks forward to a new pair of jeans?

As Robyn recounts, family birthday dinners were the norm, but parties not so much. With an early January birthday, school was still out for the winter holiday, so she missed out on the schoolroom buzz and excitement. So often her friends were out of town or otherwise spending the post-holiday season with their families.

So, what do you do when you have a January birthday? How do you compensate for living in the shadow of such major, resource-depleting holidays? You celebrate your birthday for six to eight weeks, starting with Thanksgiving! When fortune shone on us, and we were offered samples of four sparkling wines this past fall, we knew exactly what to do. As we popped the corks throughout the season, we toasted and celebrated our upcoming birthdays.

As you can see from the photos, we didn’t just limit ourselves to birthday celebrations on the high holidays. Some of the nights, we were more spontaneous and busted out the birthday bubbles with a mid-week meal.

We hope you enjoy sharing our birthday celebrations in the images below. The wines were samples. We received no other compensation. All opinions and review notes are our own.

For our first birthday celebration, we opened a Paul Cheneau Cava Reserva Blanc de Blancs Brut, and paired it with sautéed cilantro-lime shrimp and a spinach salad for a mid-week meal.

 

 

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Paul Cheneau Cava Reserva Blanc de Blancs Brut

Golden color in the flute. Vigorous tiny bubbles tickle the nose. Aromas of apricot, yeast, and nutty notes. Flavors of pear, yellow apple, almond, and hints of tangerine and pineapple with soft vanilla notes on the finish. Super dry and crisp; a very refreshing Cava that paired very well with sautéed cilantro-lime shrimp and a spinach salad with bacon-vinegar dressing.

When we opened the second bottle, a Valdo Prosecco Brut, Christmas season was in full swing. The halls were decked, the Christmas music playing, and it was finally cold enough in NorCal to light a fire in the fireplace. Time for wrapping gifts, and popping some bubbles!

 

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Valdo Prosecco Brut

Bright golden color. A steady stream on tiny bubbles rises to the rim. Aromas of ripe apricot and tangerine. On the palate there are flavors of apricot, pear, apple, and hints of citrus, along with notes of yeast and almond. Lively acidity makes this quite refreshing and light. A perfect pairing with gift wrapping, whether Christmas or January birthday gifts.

On Christmas day, it was time for something French. My parents were visiting, and loved the idea of combining Christmas and birthday, and celebrating with a lovely Rosé sparkler. (Wait, maybe they just thought it would get them out of buying me a birthday present.) To honor the day, and to get the celebration started, we popped the cork on a Côte Mas Cremant De Limoux Brut Rosé St. Hilaire.

 

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Côte Mas Cremant De Limoux Brut Rosé St. Hilaire

Salmon color in the glass. An abundance of tiny bubbles flow from the bottle and carry on in the glass. Aromas of strawberry and rose petals. On the palate there are flavors of raspberry, strawberry, red currant, and cotton candy. Creamy mouthfeel and bright acidity lead to a crisp, bright, red-fruit finish. Perfect with Christmas toasts, or birthday celebrations.

With Christmas behind us, our sights now turned to New Year’s Eve. International Champagne Day. Naturally, we’d want to ring in 2018 with genuine champagne, right? Wrong! Robyn’s birthday was just days away, and we decided to save the bubbles from the most famous sparkling region in the world for her special day. Instead, we headed over to our local wine shop and picked up a domestic brut to toast the New Year.

Finally, the time came to celebrate a January birthday on its actual day. Dinner reservations at a local, romantic restaurant made, we chilled a bottle of Barons de Rothschild Champagne Brut to bring with us and toast to another year of life. The hostess was kind enough hold our champagne we stopped in the bar for a pre-birthday-dinner cocktail.

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When we took our seats at our dining table, our bottle was waiting for us in an ice bucket. Our server expertly released the cork, and also did double-duty as birthday photographer!

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Barons de Rothschild Champagne Brut

Golden straw color. Soft fruit aromas of floral, apricot and pear. On the palate there are flavors of yellow apple, Bartlett pear, apricot, and cream. Bright acidity and vigorous bubbles liven the tongue. The finish is stone fruit with hints of elderflower, almond, and cream. The perfect sparkler to celebrate a January birthday!

The champagne was the perfect accompaniment to our evening, and it was excellent with my seared-scallop risotto. To end the evening, the pastry chef even wrote “Happy Birthday” in chocolate on the plate with our crème brulee.

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Do you have a January birthday? Let us know in the comments how you like to celebrate to ensure your day isn’t lost in the holiday fervor.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael