Tag Archives: Wine and Food

Greek Wine Tasting: GAI’A Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yammas!

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

Greek Wine Tasting: Domaine Sigalas

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yammas! 

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

100 Zinfandels, and Counting!

When I first heard about Vivino, way back on Thanksgiving Day, 2014, I thought it was a pretty good idea. The concept is simple: users upload pictures of wine labels, give the wine a rating from 1 – 5 stars, and write up a brief review. The label recognition technology is pretty good, so if a wine is already in the database, the user doesn’t have to manually enter it. With a global crowd-sourcing base, the database is extensive and I rarely have to manually enter a new wine. With this database of wine ratings, users can look up a wine and check scores and ratings and reviews before they buy it. If a wine has a low rating, and the reviews don’t sound promising, you might want to pass on it.

Within Vivino, users themselves are ranked. Using a complex algorithm I’ve yet to fully comprehend, but generally based on number of wines rated, quality of reviews, and participation in the social platform (liking other users’ reviews), users are assigned a ranking within their country; Number 3,421 in the U.S, for example. Also, users can earn distinctions based on how many of a given wine style they have rated. These ranks start with Explorer after your first rating, to Enthusiast after rating six wines, to Expert after 26, to the pinnacle, after rating 100 wines of a regional style: Ambassador. 

After using the app for awhile, I noticed my ranking was getting higher and higher. Suddenly my normally docile competitive spirit kicked in. I wanted to see how high I could get in numerical and regional ranking. I started trying more and different wines from around the world. I was obnoxiously diligent in taking pictures of every label of every wine I tasted, be it at the wine shop, a restaurant, a friend’s house, or anywhere else. Eventually, I made it as high as 124 in the U.S.! As of today, I’ve slipped down to 143, largely because I’ve been a little busy getting married. According to data from October 2018, there are 32.8 million Vivino users worldwide. The U.S. has the highest number of users, followed by Brazil. It’s hard to find information on number of users per country, but by my estimation, there are more than 5 million in the U.S. So 143 is still respectable, and I’m working my way back up!

Due to the wide variety of wines I was rating, however, my regional-wine ranking was slower to evolve. California Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel were always my top two, but I was enjoying other varietals and regions as well. Then one day, earlier this month, I rated a California Zinfandel, and saw that it was my 99th review. I was about to become an Ambassador!  

 As I was getting ready to write this post, I went back to the beginning to recall which wine was my first rating. To my amusement, it was a Zinfandel! Back then I was a member of NakedWines.com, and a big fan of winemaker Leigh Meyering. Her “ElegantLeigh” Zinfandel 2013 was my very first Vivino entry. 

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My reviews have gotten more descriptive since then!

For my 100th California ZInfandel, I selected the Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2016. I’ve only had Seghesio a few times, but have always enjoyed it, and it’s widely known and recognized for its quality. 

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Seghesio Family Vineyards has been in operation for more than 120 years, across five generations. In 1895, Edoardo Seghesio planted a Zinfandel vineyard in Alexander Valley. In 1902, Edoardo and his wife, Angela, built a winery and began making wine. Seghesio Winery was born. The winery flourished and gained a reputation for quality, and even managed to survive during Prohibition. Once Prohibition ended, Edoardo re-opened the doors for commercial winemaking. Fourth generation brothers, Ted and Pete Seghesio now run the operation, and are committed to quality over quantity. Ted’s nephew, Ned Neumiller, is now working in the family business; the fifth generation to do so. 

With over 300 estate vineyards planted to Zinfandel and Italian varieties, Seghesio continues to produce high-quality wines and expand their reputation in the wine world. I know I was impressed when I opened my 100th Zinfandel! 

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Deep purple color, with ruby rim. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, and baking spice. On the palate, ripe blackberry, cassis, blueberry, cherry, baking spice, black pepper, and vanilla. There’s a lot going on here. Definitely one of the more complex Zinfandels I’ve had in awhile. Big, bold, and full bodied with bright acidity and medium tannins. The finish is spicy with black fruit notes, and goes on for days. Perfect with baby back ribs!

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The aforementioned Baby Back ribs, with a twice-baked potato and corn on the cob! I do love summer eats.

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If you haven’t tried Seghesio Zinfandel yet, you really ought to. Pop a bottle, download the Vivino app, and rate and review it! Your California Zinfandel Ambassador recommends it. 🙂

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Review: Three Finger Jack East Side Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

We do love Cabernet Sauvignon. Though we don’t know too many people who don’t. It’s the King of Grapes for a reason. So popular, so food friendly, so ageworthy and collectable, and so…expensive! 

Not necessarily. If you’re shopping for Napa Cabernet, maybe. But what if we told you about a high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, from a California appellation, that you could enjoy for a mere $22 per bottle?

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

Recently, we received a bottle of Three Finger Jack East Side Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. Where is the East Side RIdge? We wondered the same thing. It is located on the East Side (obviously) of Lodi! Now, we don’t normally think of Lodi when we are craving a Cabernet, and we bet you don’t either. This bottle has surely changed our way of thinking! 

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Yes, that is an interesting, rather squat bottle.

Most of the Lodi region has deep, loamy soil, good for Rhone varieties. However, up on the East Side, the soil is more rocky, with cobblestones and soil low in nutrients. You know how Cabernet shines brightest when it struggles! 

Next you may be asking, who is this “Three Finger Jack?” The name comes from a legendary outlaw from the Gold Rush era, who sought his fortune in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Little is known about the mysterious man; nobody really knows how he lost his fingers, but his legend lives on in the Lodi area.

As for the wine that bears his name, the Three Finger Jack East Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is rugged and structured, as a famed outlaw should be. 

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We actually held onto this for awhile, waiting for suitable weather for a big, bold red. The summers in NorCal can be hot; calling more for crisp whites and rosés. Finally, an unseasonably cool (well, not hot) weekend arrived when we felt we could best enjoy this wine. Certainly a BBQ wine, which would pair well with steak, ribs, or brats, we opted to pair this with marinated lamb chops. The pairing did not disappoint.

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Inky purple with ruby rim. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, and vanilla. In the palate, boysenberry, blackberry, and cassis, with vanilla and caramel notes. Tannins are very soft with mild acidity. Smooth, full bodied, with a medium finish of dark berry and spice. 

Honestly, we don’t typically think of Lodi for Cabernet. This one is nicely balanced with good flavor and soft tannins.

Though summer is waning, it’s not too late to track down some Three Finger Jack and pair it with your favorite grilled beast. A fantastic value from a region not often considered for Cabernet Sauvignon; lesson learned – think outside the box and you will be rewarded. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Old World Style at Sosie Wines

According to Google Translate, the French word Sosie is translated to English as Doppelganger. As you may know, a doppelganger is a look-alike; a body double; a twin.

Sosie Wines founders, Scott MacFiggen and Regina Bustamonte, have appreciated good wine and food for years. Regina recalls her grandmother mixing a bit of wine with some fizzy water for the kids during Sunday lunches. Scott’s grandfather owned a farm in Upstate New York. It was there that Scott learned how amazing farm-fresh produce tastes. These early experiences provided the inspiration for Sosie wines.

As adults, Scott and Regina traveled to France and became enamoured with the French countryside, the wines, and the Old World traditions that make the wines so great. So when they decided to launch their own wine brand, Scott and Regina wanted to bridge the gap between New World vineyards and Old World style wines.

Sosie Wines uses a minimal intervention winemaking style. They want the fruit to speak for itself, using native fermentation, and letting the natural aromas, flavors, and acidity shine through. Made in very small batches, with lower alcohol and higher acidity, in the Old World style, these wines are food friendly, with deep, complex character.

They were so committed to creating French-inspired, Old World-style wines, they chose their name, Sosie, as an indication that their wines are look-alikes to their French counterparts. They even designed their logo as a marriage of French and Californian influences: the California grizzly bear, featured on the state flag, with a proud French rooster standing upon the bear’s back.

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Credit: Sosie Wines

We recently received two bottles of Sosie wines as media samples for review; their 2015 Roussanne, Vivio Vineyards, Bennett Valley, Sonoma County, and the 2015 Pinot Noir, Spring Hill Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.

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

Roussanne is a white grape from the Rhone Valley in France. It is traditionally blended with Marsanne, to make tasty Rhone white wines. A 100% Roussanne is relatively uncommon.

I’m not gonna lie, when I (Kent) saw the Roussanne, I was skeptical. I’ve only had a couple of 100% Roussanne wines before, and neither one impressed. Both had a distinct “funky” smell and taste, almost metallic or chemical in nature. The first bottle I tried, I returned and got a replacement. The replacement bottle tasted the same. I tried a different producer, and while it was slightly better, it still ranks as one of fewer than 10 wines I’ve ever poured down the drain. So, you can see why I was skeptical. I really thought that the day I found a Roussanne I liked, would be the day that pigs fly!

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Well, that skepticism was blown away with the Sosie Roussanne. Hold on to your hats because that might be a Berkshire flying overhead! On initial pour, it did have just a momentary, slight funkiness (making Kent nervous), but that faded within seconds, leaving a clean, bright, fruity, and delicious wine that most definitely impressed! Here are our tasting notes:

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The first 100% Roussanne we’ve actually enjoyed! Golden color in the glass. Initial aromas are ripe apricot and nectarine. As it open up, there is some floral and herbal notes. On the palate, flavors of pear, honeysuckle, apricot, and some black tea notes. Medium body with a soft mouthfeel and bright acidity. Paired with turkey-stuffed grilled bell peppers, an amazing combination.

Only four barrels produced. Now that’s small batch! SRP: $38.00

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We’re kinda particular about our Pinot Noir. Many these days are overripe, overly extracted, and just too heavy. Almost like they’re trying to make it taste like Cabernet Sauvignon. We think Pinot Noir is meant to be balanced and elegant. The Sosie Pinot Noir is exactly that! Reminiscent of a Burgundian wine, as would be expected from a wine crafted in the Old World style, this wine has fresh fruit, balanced with earthy notes, smooth tannins, and soft acidity.

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An exquisite, elegant Pinot Noir. Brick red color. On the palate, there are aromas of raspberry, clove, and tobacco smoke, with hints of earth. On the palate, flavors of raspberry, dark cherry, baking spice, smoke, and forest floor. Velvety smooth tannins with bright, perfect for food pairing. Long finish of red fruit, earth, and smoke. Paired with grilled marinated pork chop and Brussels sprouts with pancetta, it was a match made in heaven!

Five barrels produced. SRP: $43.00

Sosie also produces a Syrah, a Rosé of Syrah, and a Cabernet Franc. I have no doubt that all are outstanding, and we hope to try them all! Sosie wines are available for purchase on their website. They care enough about your satisfaction, that they only ship when weather conditions warrant.

Give Sosie wines a try. Let us know, in the comments, how you enjoyed them.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo credit: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Small Plates and Vertical Tasting OGP Zinfandel

This is a repost of a project I published in 2017, in collaboration with Bri’s Glass of Wine. Sadly, I recently discovered that Bri has taken her site down. So I am posting this now on our site, because, frankly, I refer to it in a couple of subsequent blog posts, here and here. Plus, I happen to think it’s a pretty good post! Please enjoy!


Nestled in the heart of Sierra Foothills wine country lie what are reportedly America’s oldest producing Zinfandel vines. The Original Grandpère Vineyard (OGP for short) can trace its roots to the California Gold Rush era, with documentation dating back to 1869, and vines predating even that year. In keeping with Wild West tradition, the story of these vines is mixed with history, intrigue, and conflict.

Located in the beautiful, rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, historical records identify the original owners of the vineyard as the Upton family. Over the years, ownership changed hands, Prohibition came and went, and White Zinfandel happened. In the 1970’s and early ’80s, the grapes produced in the vineyard were largely sold to make White Zin. In 1984, Scott and Terri Harvey purchased the land. At the time, Scott worked for Renwood winery. He named the vineyard Grandpere in honor of its age – Grand-père is French for Grandfather.

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OGP Vineyard, photo credit: Randy Caparoso

While working at Renwood, Scott Harvey produced wine from his Grandpère Vineyard for the Renwood label. Meanwhile, Renwood Winery trademarked the name “Grandpère”, and using cuttings from the original vineyard, started producing Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel from their own vines in a different vineyard. Through a series of events, including disputes, lawsuits, settlements, and divorce, Scott Harvey and Renwood parted ways; the use of the name “Grandpère” is legally protected and limited; and Terri Harvey owns the 1869 vineyard on her own. That Gold Rush era vineyard, with its 1869 heritage, is now known as the Original Grandpère Vineyard. The terms of a settlement agreement require that vintners using these grapes must use that entire name, or nothing at all.

Fast forward to 2017, and the few producers who are fortunate enough to source fruit from the Original Grandpère Vineyard are making some outstanding, elegantly restrained, nearly 150-year-old, Old Vine Zinfandel wines. I recently attended a Small Plates & Vertical Tastings event, accompanied by my daughter and her friend, that was hosted by three of those wineries making Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel: Vino Noceto, Andis Wines, and Scott Harvey Wines. By no small coincidence…OK, no coincidence at all…Zinfandel is one of my favorite grape varieties. According to my Vivino stats, Zin is second only to Cabernet Sauvignon as my favorite varietal wine.

Each of the wineries poured a number of their OGP Zinfandel wines, paired with small bites to complement each vintage. We started at Vino Noceto…

Our host, Bret, set us up at a cozy high-top bistro table, and got us started with the yet-to-be-released 2013 vintage, followed by the 2012 and 2008. The small bites for pairing included Genoa Salami with Sundried Tomato-Rosemary Fromage on Crostini (with the 2013), a Black Forest Ham and Cranberry Cream Cheese Spirals with Thyme Zinfandel Glazed Sweet Onions (with the 2012), and Dates Stuffed with Whipped Chevre & Cocoa Nibs (with the 2008).

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The bites were perfect pairings for each wine; drawing out the nuances of the tannins, acids, and flavors in the wines.

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Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2013 ($32 retail)

Violet color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry and soft oak on the nose. Flavors of blackberry, boysenberry, cherry, and blueberry, with notes of spice and black pepper. Bright acidity with full, firm tannins. Long finish with dark berry, black pepper, and cherry notes.

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Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2012 ($32 retail)

Ruby color with brick colored rim. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, and ripe strawberry. Very soft tannins with light acidity. Medium finish with red berry and spice notes. (It was very interesting to notice the contrast one year makes; from 2013 black fruit and firm tannins, to 2012 red fruit and soft tannins.)

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Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2008 ($49 retail)

Brick red color. Nose of cherry and raspberry, with a hint of oak. Flavors of bing cherry, ripe raspberry, and spice. Tannins are soft and silky, balanced with bright acidity. Long, zesty finish with red fruit and spice.

06 VN 2012 in Glass

Next we traveled all the way across the road to Andis Wines. Here, we were seated at a large table in a private room with other guests, and treated to a detailed history lesson by our host, Art. He confirmed my earlier research, outlined above, and then poured us two samples and distributed the matching small bites to complement the wines. At Andis, we enjoyed the 2012 and 2013 vintages. Art explained that the 2012 vintage was made entirely by the original Andis winemaker, Mark McKenna; however, the 2013 was started by McKenna, but completed by Napa winemaker Doug Hackett.  McKenna used non-traditional methods; fermenting in stainless steel, then adding oak chips and dust to introduce the oak influences. Hackett is more traditional, aging in oak barrels. The contrast in winemaking styles was definitely apparent. With the 2012, we enjoyed a Crostini with Whipped Chevre and Rose-Raspberry Jelly. With the 2013, the pairing was Artisan Bread with Aged Gouda and Dried Cherry Tapenade. Again, the pairings were excellent.

06 Andis Menu

Andis Wines Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 ($37.99 retail)

Ruby color. Nose of fresh raspberry and cherry, with a hint of soft oak. Flavors of sour cherry, raspberry, and ripe strawberry. Bright acidity with smooth tannins and a medium finish of red fruit flavors. My overall impression of this wine was “soft.”

07 Andis OGP

Andis Wines Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel 2013 ($37.99 retail)

Deep purple color. Nose of blackberry and spice. Flavors of blackberry, ripe raspberry, black cherry, and toasty oak. Medium acidity with firm tannins and a long, spicy finish. My overall impression of this one was “bright.”

08 Andis Tastes

To finish out the day, we traveled the few hundred yards down the road to Scott Harvey Wines. Here, host Kelsey greeted us at the tasting bar as set up our tasting and small plates. Scott Harvey presented their vertical in the reverse of the traditional order, starting with 2011 and moving forward through 2014. Scott Harvey wines are aged in neutral French oak. The tastes included Potato Chips with Point Reyes Blue Cheese-Zin Glazed Onion Dip (2011), Sopressata & Gouda Palmier (2012), Chicken & Chimichurri Empanadas (2013, and Chard Pesto with Whipped Cream Cheese and Crostini (2014.)

09 Scott Harvey Menu

As an added bonus, Scott Harvey Wines compiled a “This Year in History” handout to highlight some other historical events that occurred in 1869. Did you know the Suez Canal opened the same year that the Original Grandpère Vineyard was recorded? Neither did I!

10 1869 History

Given that Scott Harvey was in the middle of the multiple lawsuits surrounding the Grandpère name, he has abandoned the name entirely, and has dubbed his wines “Vineyard 1869.”

11 Scott Harvey OGP 1869 Vineyard

Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2011 ($55 retail)

Bright ruby color. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, blackberry, and spice. Soft tannins with smooth acid, and a long finish with red fruit, spice, and black pepper.

12 SHW 2011

Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2012 ($55 retail)

Bended with 6% Barbera. Ruby color. Bing cherry, raspberry, and stewed strawberry. Medium acidity and light, soft tannins. Long finish with red fruit flavors.

13 SHW 2012

Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2013 ($50 retail)

Bright ruby color. Flavors of raspberry, cherry, and white pepper. Bright, lively acidity with medium tannins. Long finish with red fruit and black pepper.

14 SHW 2013

Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2014 ($48 retail)

Brick red color. Blackberry and black pepper on the nose. Flavors of raspberry, blackberry, and baking spice. Lively acidity with medium tannins. Long finish of red fruit and spice.

15 SHW 2014

This was a fun, educational event, exploring the history and evolution of winemaking in the Sierra Foothills. The event weekend starts on Friday and includes a Prix-Fixe dinner with wine pairings, and a walking tour of the Original Grandpère Vineyard on Saturday afternoon. I was only able to attend the Small Plates and Vertical Tasting on Sunday, but I hope to go again next year to participate more fully. This is an annual event, so if you are in Northern California in January, look into getting tickets and enjoy a taste of California winemaking history.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Historical References:

http://randycaparoso.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-original-grandpere-vineyard.html

http://www.scottharveywines.com/americas-oldest-documented-zinfandel-vineyard-vineyard-1869/

http://palatepress.com/2012/04/wine/the-oldest-zinfandel-of-amador-county-original-grandpere-vineyard/

http://winecountrygetaways.com/1869-old-vine-zinfandel-vineyard-in-amador-wine-country/

http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/DRAMA-IN-AMADOR-Great-grapes-hard-feelings-2617116.php

Review: Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard View Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

For a lot of people, Cabernet Sauvignon means Napa. Yet, as many people know, when you buy Napa, much of your dollar goes toward the name. There are many other regions producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon at a fraction of the price of Napa. Recently, when we were offered a sample of the Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard View Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, from Santa Barbara County, we jumped at the chance!

 

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

Lucas & Lewellen started as a partnership between Louis Lucas and Royce Lewellen in 1975. Mr. Lucas was a third generation grape grower. Mr. Lewellen was a Superior Court Judge. The two met through the Santa Maria Wine & Food Society. The two men shared a passion for fine wine and the Santa Barbara wine industry. Through their partnership, Lucas & Lewellen has established itself as a highly respected winery, with more than 400 acres of estate vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

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We were not disappointed with this Cabernet Sauvignon! With a SRP of $27, this Santa Barbara wine is a QPR champion. We’d expect to pay as much as 3x this much for a comparable Napa Cabernet. Readers, let this serve as notice that Santa Barbara County produces stand-alone Cabernet Sauvignon, beyond comparison.

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Deep, inky color. Aromas of blackberry, black currant, and vanilla notes. On he palate, big, bold flavors of ripe blackberry, cassis, black cherry, black plum, vanilla, and hints of smoke and spice. Tannins are big and chewy, and the acidity is well balanced. The finish is long, with black fruit and pepper. Drinking very well now, and the tannin structure would allow this wine to cellar for another 10 years. Paired with New York steak, grilled asparagus, and caprese salad, it was pure perfection.

 

Next time you are looking for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that will “wow” your friends, neighbors, or dinner guests, consider Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard View Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. We are convinced that everyone will be impressed!

Cheers!

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