Tag Archives: Chardonnay

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Tasting Through the Russian River Valley with Gary Farrell Wines

Most wine lovers are familiar with the notion of appellations; designated wine regions identified by geography and legal protection. In the United States, appellations are known as American Viticulture Areas, or AVAs. Within an appellation or AVA, there can be sub-regions that, though perhaps not legally identified, can present climate and growing conditions which contribute to a unique terroir. One notable and well known AVA in Northern California is the Russian River Valley AVA. We recently learned that the Russian River Valley Winegrowers (RRVW) has defined six smaller sub-regions which they call Neighborhoods. How did we come by this newfound knowledge? Well, we were invited to a virtual tasting of single-vineyard wines from Gary Farrell Winery, exploring each of the Russian River Valley Neighborhoods. 

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

The event featured Gary Farrell Winery winemaker Theresa Heredia, who led us through history, geography lessons, and of course, tasting seven wines from the Gary Farrell Winery portfolio; three Chardonnays and four Pinot Noirs. As Theresa explained, although the wines are from the same respective grapes, grown in the same AVA, each neighborhood produces decidedly different wines with unique characteristics. 

Gary Farrell started in the wine business in the late 1970’s, originally working with local wineries. In 1982, he produced the first wine under his eponymous wine label. Since then, Gary Farrell Winery has grown in reputation and prestige and is now one of the most notable small-lot producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. Though Gary Farrell sold the winery in 2004, the current owners are maintaining his legacy and standard of excellence. 

Theresa Heredia started with Gary Farrell Winery in 2012. At that time, she brought with her a decade (now nearly two decades) of experience in cool-climate, small-lot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production. Early in her career, she worked at Domaine de Montille, in Burgundy, France, where she gained an appreciation for the Burdunidan style of winemaking. Friendly and inviting, Theresa was an amazing host for our tasting. 

In keeping with the Burgundian style, Theresa said that each of the wines in the tasting are terroir-driven, and aged in light-toast French oak barrels. The use of light toast oak is deliberate, since heavier toasts can mask the nuances of the wine itself. Theresa also mentioned, to our surprise, that the Russian River Valley AVA has more soil types than are found in all of France!  

During a brief history lesson, Theresa shared her screen, and showed us the six Russian River Valley Neighborhoods on the RRVW website. This is an interactive site that allows you to explore each of the neighborhoods and see which characteristics define each one. Theresa mentioned that only one neighborhood, Green Valley, is a designated Sub-AVA within the Russian River Valley AVA. There are currently no plans to apply for AVA status for any of the other neighborhoods. 

Image credit: Russian River Valley Winegrowers website

The seven wines we tasted, and the respective neighborhoods from which they hail, were, in order of tasting:

  • 2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay – Santa Rosa Plains
  • 2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay – Laguna Ridge
  • 2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay – Middle Reach
  • 2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir – Middle Reach
  • 2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir – Green Valley
  • 2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sebastopol Hills
  • 2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir – Santa Rosa Plains
Ready to taste!
(Behind the scenes at Appetite for Wine: yes, those are yoga blocks!)
That’s a lot of corks for 11 am!
Why are those glasses empty?

The virtual tasting was packed with information; much more than can comfortably fit into a blog post anyone would actually read. Though it exceeded the allotted hour, it went much too fast. Since the tasting was at 11 a.m. Pacific, we sipped and spit, and re-corked the bottles, and then enjoyed them for the rest of the week! Here are our impressions of each wine:

2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay

Light and crisp, yet still exhibiting light buttery, toasty notes. Golden color. Aromas of apple, pear, and citrus. On the palate, apples, pear, pineapple, and floral notes. Medium body with bright acidity – more than most Cali Chards – nicely balanced. Full, lush, mildly creamy mouthfeel leading to a crisp finish of citrus and some light toast.

2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 

A classic but restrained California Chardonnay. Golden color with fresh pineapple the first aromas on the nose, followed by citrus and butter notes. On the palate, green apple, pear, pineapple and tropical notes, as well as citrus. Soft, creamy mouthfeel balanced with medium acidity. The finish has tropical fruit and just a hint of butter. 

2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay 

A more classic California Chardonnay, though in Gary Farrell style, subtle and elegant. On the nose, pineapple, pear, and citrus, with a whiff of butter. Surprisingly crisp acidity on the palate, with pear, apple, lemon curd, and butter, with a light toast note in the finish.

2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Exquisite and our favorite of the tasting. The nose opens with cherry, raspberry, and cedar, with earthy notes. On the palate, the cherry leads the charge with raspberry, violet, cedar, and mushroom supporting. Medium body and acidity, with a long finish of red fruit and black tea.

2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Beautiful Pinot Noir. The nose opens with black cherry and blueberry, with some earthy notes. On the palate, lush cherry, raspberry, and blueberry fruit mingles with mushroom, earthy notes, and a general funk that I’ve come to appreciate in a well structured PN. Medium body and acidity lead to a pleasing finish of red fruit, black tea, and smoke. 

2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir

Quite interesting with herbal and vegetal notes up front, including bay leaf and eucalyptus, with red fruit following. On the palate, cranberry, pomegranate, and raspberry with the bay leaf enhancing the fruit. Medium body with bright, lively acidity. Long fresh finish. 

2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Nice, fruit driven Pinot. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, and cranberry. On the palate, these red fruit flavors continue, joined by blueberry, cedar, and bay leaf. Soft and velvety, with bright acidity and a long finish of red fruit and rose petal. 

We heartily recommend any and all of these wines, and we look forward to venturing out to the Russian River Valley to explore the neighborhoods in person. 

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We close on a somber note. We were sad to learn this week, as we prepared this post, that earlier this month, Gary Farrell Winery oenologist, Mark Osbourne, was killed after being struck by a motorist while riding his bicycle. Even more tragically, the motorist is accused of driving under the influence. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Gary Farrell Winery family. 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Review: Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir

Spring is upon us, and summer soon to follow, with warmer, sunny days, and the anticipation of backyard barbecues and lazy afternoons lounging poolside. As COVID restrictions continue to loosen, and we move beyond the dark days of pandemic lockdowns, we look forward to celebrating with friends and family. Not long ago, we received a sample wine that will be the perfect bottle to open for these parties: Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir.

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

La Belle Fête translates from French to “the beautiful party”, and what a beautiful party it will be with friends and family gathering to enjoy each others’ company, sharing stories and food, and of course tasty and refreshing wines like Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir. 

Diora winery is located in the San Bernabe AVA, in Monterey County. A lesser known region, San Bernabe AVA is made up of a single vineyard, planted to about 5,000 acres under vine, consisting of 21 different varieties of wine grapes. The soil composition is dominated by sandy loam, which drains water quickly, forcing the vines to dig deep to find sustaining water. The soil also cools rapidly in the evenings, helping to create wines with crisp acidity. 

The name Diora is inspired by the golden hills of the nearby Santa Lucia mountain range. The name is derived from the French term “d’Or”, which is translated to “golden.” Using the estate fruit from the family owned San Bernabe vineyard, winemaker James Ewart crafts wines of elegance and distinction. 

The Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir is made from 83.1% Pinot Noir, with a few friends joining the party to complement and enhance the host: 7.9% Grenache, 3.2% Chardonnay, and 5.8% Other Aromatics. The majority of the blend was fermented in stainless steel, but a small portion fermented in neutral oak to add just a hint of creaminess. The result? Read on! 

An exquisite, elegant Rosé of Pinot Noir. Pale pink color. Aromas of raspberry and strawberry. On the palate, red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and a hint of watermelon. Dry, light bodied, with bright acidity. The finish carries the red fruit, with the addition of some orange zest and rose petal. Delicious.

With a retail price of $19.99, Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir is affordable elegance you will definitely want to share with others at your own Beautiful Party. You won’t find Diora wines in your big box retailer, but they are worth seeking out. You can search on the Diora winery website for the restaurants and small retailers carrying the label, or purchase online through the Delicato Family Wines Tasting Room site. Either way, your party will be even more beautiful with a few bottles of Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir.

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

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

Movie Night with Harken Chardonnay

You really have to respect someone who stands on principle. Someone who knows what they like, and what they want. And when they can’t find it, they make it themselves. So it is with Harken Winery and their 2019 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay. The folks at Harken were missing the big, buttery Chardonnays that were so popular a few years ago. But since many wineries have moved away from that style, and many consumers favoring the lighter, more fruit forward style of lightly-oaked or unoaked, big, buttery Chardonnay has become a little harder to find. So Harken decided…well, we’ll let them tell it themselves. From their website:

“We created Harken Chardonnay because we missed that rich, oaky taste of Chardonnays gone by. At some point, someone decided that those great toasty notes and buttery finish went out of style. We think that’s crazy. So we brought it back. Honoring the days when things were done right – including the art of winemaking.”

A while back, we received an offer to sample this wine. While we’re not generally big, oaky, buttery Chardonnay fans, we agreed to give it a try. The suggestion in the media release and accompanying sample pack was to enjoy Harken 2019 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay on a Movie Night! 

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

In the middle of a pandemic, with Shelter-in-Place still safety precautions still prevalent, an at-home movie night sounded like a great way to relax and enjoy some wine. (Though some movie theaters have opened, you won’t find us in one for some time to come.) 

The sample package was cleverly and expertly presented. When the box arrived, it was big enough for two bottles. Instead, as we excitedly unpacked the box, what we found was this:

Inside the movie-reel themed tin, they had provided me the only other thing we’d need: popcorn!

It’s been a busy summer, despite the restrictions and limitations of COVID-19. As you may recall from a previous post, or maybe from our Instagram feed, in the midst of all the crazy, we moved. Finally settled into our new home, we logged into Netflix to enjoy our Movie Night. 

Spoiler Alert: The wine was quite good! Though not our preferred style, it is a well made, balanced wine. Here’s our official Vivino tasting notes:

As advertised. Old school, full throttle, oaky, buttery, California Chardonnay. Rich golden color. On the nose, butter, oak, toast, pear, and apple. On the palate, more butter, caramel, toasted marshmallow, butterscotch, Bartlett pear, yellow apple, and hints of pineapple and citrus. Full body, creamy mouthfeel, medium acidity, and medium finish. Not exactly my style, but nicely balanced and a classic representation of buttery Chardonnay.

If you or someone you know enjoys the big, bold, full-bodied, unapologetically oaky, buttery style of Chardonnay, be sure to grab some Harken 2019 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay (SRP $15). Pop some popcorn, log into Netflix or your favorite movie delivery option, settle in on the couch, and enjoy your own butter-based movie night. 

As an added bonus, now through September 30, 2020, you can enter to win one year’s worth of movies or a free movie credit. Harken Wines has partnered with FandangoNOW for this sweepstakes. No purchase necessary. Be sure to enter here for your chance to win!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

A Very Good Omen

When the Shelter-in-Place orders first rolled out, there was a lot of tension and anxiety around what it all means, what we will do during quarantine, and how long it will last. There was also uncertainty about supplies, not only how to get them, but whether there would even be the products we need. Would life resemble any form of normalcy?

Only a few days into the lockdown, we received a very good omen. Actually, two Omens and an Oro Bello. While we get the occasional sample of wine, we normally receive an email offering the sample. This time, the wine just arrived unannounced! Looks like we’re going to be just fine.

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

Omen and Oro Bello wines are produced and distributed by Atlas Wine Company. With headquarters in Napa, Atlas Wine Company is building a portfolio of wines that are sustainable, approachable, and ready to drink; no long-term cellaring required, though they would hold up well if you laid them down. They source grapes from “hidden gem” vineyards. These vineyards are located in regions that are perhaps less well known, but are up and coming, and producing excellent fruit. Places like Calaveras County in the Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, Madera, and Rouge Valley, Oregon. Grapes from these areas come at a much lower cost than say, Napa, which allows Atlas Wine Company to produce wines that are affordable.

The real test of any wine, of course, is opening the bottle! All of the wines we received proved to be exceptional, and quite food friendly. The Omen line is comprised of red wines, while Oro Bello is whites and rosé.

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Omen Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($40)

This is a single vineyard wine, from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard in Calaveras County. Since Calaveras County has not yet received it’s own (well deserved) AVA designation, this wine is labeled with the Sierra Foothills AVA.

Inky purple color in the glass. Aromas of rube blackberry, black currant, and clove. On the palate, rich and full bodied with flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, plum, and black cherry, with clove, baking spice, leather, and tobacco. Bright acidity makes it quite food friendly; we enjoyed it with grilled rib eye steak. Long finish of black fruit and black pepper.

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Omen Wines Red Blend 2018 ($20)

Another Sierra Foothills AVA wine, this is one tasty blend.

A juicy blend of 63% Zinfandel, 21% Syrah, 8% Barbera, and 8% Petite Sirah. Inky purple color. On the nose there are aromas of ripe blackberry, cherry, and fresh black pepper. Flavors of Marionberry pie, black cherry, dark plum, blueberry, and smoky, spicy notes. Rich, full bodied, with soft tannins and medium acidity. Long, spicy finish. The label says “Pairs great with burgers.” And, boy, they’re not wrong!

 

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Oro Bello Chardonnay 2018 ($35)

Another single vineyard delight, this wine hails from the Fallenleaf Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast. After press, the wine was transferred to neutral French Oak barrels to mature. This is the style of Chardonnay we really enjoy, with little to no oak influence.

Golden straw color. Wonderful citrus and tropical nose, with pineapple and lemon-lime notes, and the slightest hint of butterscotch. On the palate, fresh and clean, with pear, apple, pineapple, and citrus, with slight butter and butterscotch flavors. Medium body and lively acidity. Paired with grilled salmon with lemons, a very complementary pairing.

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Omen and Oro Bello wines are available for purchase online at their respective websites. We definitely recommend giving them a try. As a special thank you, through the rest of 2020, readers and followers of Appetite for Wine can receive 15% off when you use the coupon code: APPETITE15! Just go to https://store.atlaswineco.com/#/ and enter the coupon code at checkout!

In addition to the samples we received, the Omen line also includes a non-single vineyard California Cabernet Sauvignon  and an Oregon Pinot Noir. The Oro Bello line offers a non-single vineyard Chardonnay, a Russian River AVA Rosé of Pinot Noir, and a couple of canned wines; a Blanc de Blancs, and a newly released Light Chardonnay, with lower ABV and fewer calories. Whether you chose red, white, or rosé, still or sparkling, it’s never wrong to seek out a good omen! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Kent & Robyn’s First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party

It was the hot ticket in town! Well, at least in our part of town. OK, maybe just on our block. Regardless, it was a hot ticket! We’ve been wanting to host a wine tasting party for several months now, and at long last we were able to put it on the calendar.

Once the event was scheduled, the preparations began. First of all, what was the format? Simple get together over some wine? Educational experience featuring a particular varietal or region? A taste of the obscure and exotic? We decided that for our first tasting party, we’d keep it basic: a blind tasting of common varietals.

To spice it up and add some fun, we would also have a “Guess the Grape” competition after each wine. Anyone who could guess the varietal got a cork. A bonus cork was awarded if anyone could guess the region. At the end of the tasting, the guest with the most corks was deemed the winner, and got to go home with a bottle of Champagne!

Planning was underway, and as the date approached, the intensity increased. Our format would require five glasses per guest. We had nine guests coming. We don’t have 55 wine glasses! Party store to the rescue with the glass rentals. Placemats? We found these fun, customized placemats on Etsy and ordered them forthwith. Then, the best part…picking out the wine!

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We decided to showcase Northern California, single varietal wines, all well known grapes (well, maybe one outlier), and all in the sub-$20 range. We wanted to challenge our guests, some of whom are “red wine only”, or “Chardonnay only” wine drinkers. While we totally respect that, we also feel it is important to step outside the comfort zone once in a while, because, who knows, maybe you’re missing something you really love and don’t know it!

Within the parameters or Northern California, we made the conscious decision to exclude Napa Valley. Aside from the fact that it is hard to find quality Napa wines under $20, we also wanted to highlight the fact that there are spectacular wines from surrounding regions, at a fraction of the prices of the big Napa producers. So it was off to our local Total Wine & More store to stock up. We figured on one bottle for the tasting (11 two-ounce pours is just shy of one bottle) and then two more bottles to enjoy during the after-party. 11 pours? Yes…nine guests plus us. You didn’t think we wouldn’t be enjoying the wines, too, did you?

We went with two whites and three reds. In keeping with tradition, we went lighter to heavier. Here are the wines we selected:

Wine No. 1 – The Outlier:

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Husch Vineyards Chenin Blanc La Ribera Mendocino County 2017. Total Wine & More (TWM) Retail: $10.99.

Only one guest was able to identify this varietal…and that was on his third guess!

Wine No. 2 – The Surprise White:

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River Road Chardonnay Russian River Valley Reserve 2016. TWM Retail: $17.99.

Not the butter bomb many of our guests have come to expect from a California Chardonnay.

Wine No. 3 – The Value Pinot:

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Angeline Pinot Noir Reserve 2017, Mendocino County. TMW Retail: $17.49.

Though some called out how young it is, everyone enjoyed it.

Wine No. 4 – The Controversial One:

Inconspicuous (by Truett-Hurst) Zinfandel, Lodi, 2016. TWM Retail: $19.99.

One guest called out Russian River Valley for the region. While Truett-Hurst is a Sonoma County producer, this wine is made with Lodi fruit. Would you have awarded a cork?

Wine No. 5 – The Bargain Cabernet:

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Wente Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills, Livermore Valley, 2016. TWM Retail: $13.29.

Did you know that Livermore Valley was instrumental in keeping California winemaking alive during prohibition? What’s more, many of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines found in Napa Valley came from Livermore Valley rootstock. Our guest know these things, now!

The Major Award:

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Montaudon Brut, NV, Champagne, France.

This is one delicious Champagne! Available from Total Wine & More.

The Lovely Parting Gifts:

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MauiWine Mele Red Blend, NV. Available only from MauiWine.

There are wineries in all 50 states. After our amazing trip to MauiWine, how could we not share the Aloha with our friends?

The tables were set. The glasses were poured. The bottles concealed in paper sleeves (thanks to Total Wine & More for rescuing us from out faux pas of not remembering to buy proper blind-tasting bags.) The guests arrived, and after a few minutes of mingling over appetizers, the festivities were underway!  

The Christmas Jazz in the background lent a holiday feel to the party. Everybody enjoyed themselves. All our guests expressed surprise at how difficult is was to identify what were some of their favorite varietals. The evening’s big winner was Glen, who went home with the Champagne.

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Hey, wine tasting is serious business! 

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Remember, there’s a bottle of Champagne on the line!

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But who are we kidding? Everyone was a big winner that evening. We had a lot of fun. We got to taste some great wine. We learned a thing or two. Here are a few of the major take-aways from the evening:

  1. It’s really, really hard to identify a grape variety when tasting blind. We didn’t even use the black-out glasses, so we at least knew whether we were evaluating a white or a red!
  2. There are some very good wines out there from lesser known regions, at amazing values!
  3. Sometimes to top scoring wine at an event turns out not to be the most popular.

Allow us to elaborate on #3. The evening’s overall winner, in terms of rating points, was the Angeline Pinot Noir. Despite its youth, it is fresh, juicy, and delicious. Nevertheless, during the after party, when the extra bottles were opened, it was the two bottles of Inconspicuous Zinfandel that were drained first. Inconspicuous, indeed.

We had a blast hosting our First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party. We’ll definitely do it again. In fact, we’ve already had an offer from one of our guests to take our party on the road! The next Kent & Robyn’s Wine Tasting Party will be at a guest venue! We’ll also experiment with different formats, like a BYOW, or a food pairing party. The sky’s the limit!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credits: Kent Reynolds & 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.

Livermore Vineyards

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

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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.

Concannon Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

Painted Barrel

Just one of 15! Photo Credit: 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

Dinner in a Cave! #WBC17

Dinner in a wine cave. Check! One more thing off the bucket list!

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We had a lot of amazing experiences at this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Rosa, California. However, the unparalleled highlight was the Friday evening dinner at Thomas George Estates. When the list of dinner excursions was published several weeks earlier, we scanned the host wineries’ websites, and noticed that Thomas George Estates has a wine cave. A telephone call to the winery confirmed the WBC Dinner would be held in the cave. We made our reservation immediately!

With eager anticipation, we boarded the luxury wine-tour bus and settled into the plush leather seats. Under the soft mood lighting, we enjoyed the short ride to the winery. Upon arrival, we stepped off the bus and into the cavernous entryway of the cave.

There, we were warmly greeted by Thomas George Estates staff, who handed us each a glass of their 2014 Brut Blanc de Blancs. We sipped this delightful sparkler while visiting with our fellow diners, and nibbling on Hors D’Oeuvres including house-made cured meats, and roasted and marinated vegetables.

Soon enough, we were summoned to the dining table, located in a long corridor in the cave. The service was excellent, the wine free-flowing, and the food exquisitely prepared. We both agree this was among the top five meals we have ever experienced; and toward the top of that list, to boot! The first course was a roasted Brussels Sprouts salad with Black Pig Bacon, Asian pear, Marcona almonds, aged sherry vinegar, and Bohemian Creamery Capriago. This amazing salad was paired with the Thomas George Estates 2015 Chardonnay, Sons & Daughters Vineyard. It was during this course that we learned that all the pork served during the evening was hand-raised by our chef, Duskie Estes, of Zazu Kitchen & Farm in Sebastapol, California. Now that’s farm-to-fork, local food!

The main course was Cracklin’ Pork Belly (from our friendly neighborhood porker) with Star Anise Liberty Duck; a full leg quarter; served over black rice, with pomegranate and watercress. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the pork belly, but I was not disappointed! As much as I love duck, this crispy chunk of heaven was out of this world! Paired with the Thomas George Estate 2014 Pinot Noir, Baker Ridge Vineyard, this was an entrée and pairing worth writing home about!

Amid friendly conversation, ample refills, and boundless frivolity, I wondered if it could get any better. Leave it to the good folks at Thomas George Estate and Zazu Kitchen & Farm to up the ante with dessert. Backyard Quince & Apple Tartin with Bourbon Gelato. Why, yes, I believe I will. Paired with the most amazing 2012 Late Harvest Viognier from Baker Ridge Vineyard, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Just look at the color of that Viognier! Divine!

Even after dinner, the hospitable staff kept our glasses filled, until it was time to, sadly, re-board the bus for the ride back to the hotel. But first, swag bags! We each received a gift of a bottle of Thomas George Estates 2016 Rosé of Grenache, a numbered bottle of their Baker Ridge Vineyard Olive Oil (delicious), and for a longer-lasting keepsake, a Thomas George Estates t-shirt.

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Back on the bus, we basked in the afterglow of a magical, memorable evening. One we will not soon forget.

Cheers!

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

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

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

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

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

ROCKIN RED BLOG

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

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