Tag Archives: Wine Bloggers

Our Wine of the Week: Vriniotis Winery IAMA White 2018

As the days grow longer and warmer, our thoughts turn to crisp, refreshing, white wines. Who are we kidding? We enjoy white wines all year round! But the onset of spring brings a sense of newness, hope, and anticipation. We look forward to shorts and t-shirts, summer vacations, and afternoons on the patio with friends and a good glass of chilled white wine. 

Wine can also evoke memories, and this week’s Wine of the Week did just that. Though we did not visit Vriniotis Winery during our Big Fat Greek Honeymoon, we did fall in love with Greek wine, and every bottle we open brings us back to that trip. Keeping with the theme of warmer weather, summertime also reminds us of the warm days on the Greek islands, and our time at the beach on the Aegean Sea. 

We picked up this bottle of Vriniotis Winery White 2018 from Uncorked Greeks. Vriniotis Winery has become one of our favorite producers of Greek wine, and Uncorked Greeks carries a wide selection of their wines. The White 2018 is a blend of two indigenous Greek grapes, Malagouzia and the more widely known Assyrtiko. Malagouzia was nearly extinct until 1983, when winemaker Evangelos Gerovassiliou planted the variety in his vineyard at Epanomi. The grape is often blended with the lighter Assyrtiko to provide body.

 Vriniotis Winery is located in the town of Gialtra, on the island of Evia (also known as Euboea), overlooking the North Eviokos Gulf, about three hours north of Athens. They are a family owned winery, with 100 acres under vine, and absolutely stunning views. Check out their gallery on their website! We need to go there! Until then, we can enjoy the wines at home. 

Outstanding Greek white blend. Golden color. Aromas of pear, citrus, floral notes, and the saline nose we appreciate about Greek wines. On the palate, citrus, green apple, pear, and tropical fruit, with that saline and minerals. Medium body with fresh acidity. Perfect with garlic shrimp or any other seafood dish.

We look forward to the day when travel restrictions have eased, and we can once again move about the planet. We have many new places we want to visit, but Greece is definitely on our return-visit list!

What was your Wine of the Week?

Cheers!

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

Review: Salengo Grenache 2018 – A Winemaker’s Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

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

Our Wine of the Week: Asúa Rioja Crianza 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asúa Rioja Crianza 2016 

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

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

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Two Beauties from Black Stallion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

An Epic Day, or, Where the Heck We’ve Been for Nearly Two Months

Have you missed us? Or did you even notice we’ve been gone? As most bloggers know, life ebbs and flows and often the blog is the first thing to get put on the back burner when the pace becomes frenetic. But we have a very good excuse. Really. 

A little over three weeks ago, we tied the knot! It was a beautiful, outdoor wedding. Even the Northern California weather cooperated. In late June, it is not uncommon to have temperatures in the 100’s, sometimes topping 110F. Yet we enjoyed the mid-80’s with a cooling evening breeze. The setting, at our good friends’ home in Lincoln, CA, was perfect. Thank you Marguerite and Joe! 

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Ours was a DIY wedding, making the pace of life even crazier as the day approached. Sure, it was easy, three months out, to call the party rental vendor and reserve tables, chairs, and glassware. Yet when we say DIY, we really mean it! The day before the wedding, the party rental vendor delivered the goods, and left. With the help of a team of family and friends, we set up the tables, put cushions on chairs, laid the table cloths and runners, and set out the silverware and glasses. What’s more, we found a terrific local florist who gathered our flowers, but we and that same team of friends and family had to assemble and install them. It was all worth the effort, as the resulting venue was exactly what we wanted, made even more special with our personal touch and efforts. 

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As you can imagine, all this planning and work consumed our time. Thus, a major case of gaposis for Appetite for Wine. After the wedding, we had family from the East Coast who didn’t come all the way to California for a mere wedding! There were days of after-party, and naturally, a jaunt to wine country; Amador County this time around. 

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Even after family left, the pace of newlywed life seemed to continue. There was the 4th of July golf tournament and pool party, followed by more wine tasting and bar hopping with friends, and seemingly endless outdoor activities; kayaking, more pool parties, concerts, and thank you dinners. 

Once the pace started to settle down, we had to start planning our Big, Fat Greek Honeymoon. In a few weeks, when the fall weather will be less scorching, we will embark on the trip of a lifetime. We’ll start in Athens, then head off to Mykonos, Santorini, and Crete, for catamaran-dinner cruises, Greek wine tasting, and relaxing days on the beach. 

As we said, the wedding was beautiful. While Robyn was coordinating flowers and decorations, Kent curated the wine and beer list. Robyn’s son and his best friend, a bonafide Chef, provided the food, and brought along a couple more friends to serve dinner and tend bar. 

Robyn was breathtaking in her gorgeous dress, and Kent was looking sharp in his shirt and slacks. Notice the succulents in the floral arrangements? Stunning!

We are so grateful that friends and family were able to share the day with us. It was truly epic. 

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Now that we’re back to work and life has resumed a bit more normal pace, we’ll write more often. And, of course, stay tuned to follow along with our Greek adventures! 

As always, thanks for your support.

Cheers! 

Book Review: Root Cause

I’m not a big reader. I’ve gone through phases when I was; I’d curl up with a good Victorian detective novel and disappear into the fog-shrouded back alleys of Old London Town for hours on end. But these days, I’m busier with more live-action adventures, and have less time for the literary kind.

Not long ago, we were wine tasting, and the topic of this blog came up. Our server asked if I’d read this or that wine-related book. I told him I had not; that I’m really not much of a reader. He replied, with genuine and obvious disdain, “how can you be a writer if you don’t read?”

I pondered this for some time, and finally concluded that I write short articles, (usually fewer than 1,000 words) that readers can get through in a couple of minutes. Novels can take me weeks to get through, especially if their chapters are long. I prefer shorter, smaller bites when it comes to reading. Given today’s busy pace of life, I think a lot of readers agree.

About this same time, we were contacted by a publishing rep, offering us a complimentary copy of a new, wine-related novel. We read the excerpt and thought it sounded pretty good, so we agreed. I figured it’d be a good opportunity to read more, since it clearly will increase my street cred with judgy tasting room servers.

Root Cause is an action packed, entertaining story. Written by Steven Laine, it is his first published novel. I must say, it’s a pretty good debut!

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Root Cause tells the tale of flying winemaker, Corvina Guerra, and the associates she befriends during the adventure. While visiting a vineyard in Italy, Corvina discovers the pest that all vineyard owners fear the most: Phylloxera. The very louse that nearly wiped out wine production in Europe in the mid-19th century. Concerned that this new infestation may affect her own family vineyards in Italy, she begins an investigation. She soon discovers that this new strain of Phylloxera is actually genetically engineered. Someone is infesting the world’s vineyards intentionally!

Corvina soon connects with two unlikely allies; Bryan Lawless, a disgraced Master of Wine candidate, expelled for misconduct, and Malcomb Goldberg, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who picked up the story, and through his trust in auto-correct, coined a humorous new name for this threatening pest.

Brian saw that by helping to stop the new outbreak, he could redeem his name in the wine community, and perhaps be allowed to take the Master of Wine exam. Corvina was motivated by her desire to save the family vineyard and the entire wine industry. While ——- saw this as an opportunity to make a name for himself in the journalism world. The three embark on a fast-paced, globe-trotting adventure, covering four continents in just a matter of days! (Oh, how I wish I had that kind of youthful energy again!)

Through highs and lows, danger and adventure, and often at odds with the Interpol detectives working the case, the trio must work to find out who is behind this, and how to stop it. Will they solve the mystery in time?

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Pick up a copy of Root Cause to find out. It’s available on Amazon.com in Kindle, paperback, or hardback, or at your favorite local bookstore.  Root Cause is a great summer read, especially paired with a refreshing glass of your favorite wine.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Big, Bold Reds from De Angelis Wines

Paso Robles has come into its own as a wine region. It wasn’t too many years ago that hardly anybody had heard of this area. Now, the wines from “Paso” have gained notoriety and prestige. Recently, we were offered samples of some small batch, boutique red wines from De Angelis Wines. Naturally, we said YES!

The De Angelis Wines story began in 1999, when owners Jerry and Marsha De Angelis planted a small vineyard on their property. It started as a private venture, just to make wines to enjoy with family and friends. As their winemaking skill improved, a neighbor, who had a 30 acre vineyard, asked them to become his winemakers. So in 2004, Jerry and Marsha found themselves employed as full time winemakers.

In 2006, Jerry and Marsha participated in establishing, designing, and building a co-op winery. Once it opened, they were recruited as the chief winemakers, making wines for several growers. During that same year, they decided to launch their own brand, and De Angelis Wines, the label, was born. Even with all their success, Jerry and Marsha remain committed to hand-crafting very small lots each year. They have slowly increased production over the years, but will never make more than 1,200 cases per year.

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The De Angelis Wines portfolio includes some whites; Chardonnay and Viognier, but is predominantly red. We received samples of their 2007 Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County, 2009 Syrah, Santa Barbara County, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo County, and the 2012 Elena Catherine, San Luis Obispo County, a red blend.

The Elena Catherine is homage to the family matriarch, to celebrate her 100th birthday! Here’s how Jerry and Marsha tell the story on the website:

“Who is Elena Catherine? Elena is our Mom, and this wine was developed for her 100th birthday.  (She passed away at 102 Years old!) We wanted a wine that reflects the feisty, peppery, Italian Mom that she was!  The 2012 Elena Catherine is a 13.6% alcohol wine blend containing 50% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Syrah. All of these wines are Estate fruit harvested from the Dry Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, CA.”

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

2007 Pinot Noir

 

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Brick red color. The nose is bursting with bright cherry notes, with raspberry and smoke present, also. We decanted for several hours, as suggested by a colleague. Upon pouring, there are flavors of black cherry, and ripe raspberry, with clove, baking spice, and earth. Hints of mushroom and forest floor round out the complex profile of this wine. Soft tannins and bright, lively acidity. Rich flavors and medium body, with a bold finish of red fruit, smoke, and spice. Paired well with grilled pork sausage.

2008 Syrah

 

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Inky nearly black color. Aromas of blueberry, blackberry, and black plum, with hints of oak. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, with vanilla, tobacco, smoke, cedar, and oak, with baking spice and black pepper on the finish. Big, bold, and full bodied with chewy tannins and medium acidity. Long finish of black fruit and spice, with tertiary notes of worn leather, earth, and smoke. Drinking well now, and will continue to soften and improve for at least another 5 years. This wine would pair well with game and savory dishes.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

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Rich, inky purple color, with a brick rim. On the nose there is ripe blackberry, black cherry and plum, and clove. The aromas are rich, full, and inviting. Taking a sip, flavors of blackberry, black cherry, big cassis, and chocolate, with baking spice, tobacco smoke, and black pepper. The tannins are big, but soft, and soften even more with air. There is medium acidity. The finish is long with blackberry and mocha notes. Pick your meat; beef, lamb, pork…this one goes with all.

2012 Elena Catherine Red Blend

 

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Deep, brick red color. Aromas of ripe raspberry, cherry, and blackberry. On the palate, bright blueberry, cherry, blackberry, cassis, cedar, and tobacco. Huge tannins! Even after an hour in the decanter, but balanced and approachable. This wine deserves a slab of Prime Rib now, and could lay down for 10 more years. Medium acidity and a long, long finish of black and red fruit, cedar, and white pepper.

De Angelis Wines has discontinued online sales, but if these beauties sound like your kind of wine, drop Jerry and Marsha an email. As long as you are in a state to which they can ship, they’ll hook you up!

Cheers!

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

Andis Wines – Block to Bottle Vineyard Tour

Full disclosure: Kent has been a big fan of Andis Wines, in Amador County, Sierra Foothills, for nearly 10 years. Their then-winemaker hosted a tasting at the local Total Wine & More store, and Andis quickly became one of Kent’s favorite wineries. Not just in the Foothills, but anywhere! We finally became members of Club Andis about a year and a half ago.  

Membership, as they say, has its privileges. Like complimentary admission to the monthly Block to Bottle Vineyard Tour. (Psst, it’s only $10 for non-members!) The tour starts just outside the tasting room, where Nick Pilatti, the Cellar Master himself, leads the group through the vineyards, tasting the wines produced from the vines right at your feet.

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Joining us on the excursion this fine, spring day, was co-founder, Janis Akuna. The name, Andis, is an amalgamation of the first names of the founders: Andy Friedlander and Janis Akuna. Clever, eh? 

Andy and Janis founded Andis Wines in 2009. The pair had lived part time in the Napa Valley in the 1990’s. While working in high-pressure careers, they had a vision of a winery as a new challenge, in a quieter setting. However, upon returning to Napa after several years away, they found it busier and more crowded than they had remembered. A friend invited them to Amador County, and they found the home for their winery.

Andis Wines is situated on approximately 25 acres, of which 21 are farmed. There are nine different grape varieties planted, including Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Barbera, and Sauvignon Blanc. Other than irrigation for newly planted vines, Andis practices dry farming, as well as sustainable practices. They also source fruit from other vineyards in the area, including Semillon, and Zinfandel from the Original Grandpère Vineyard; planted in 1869, it is the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in the United States! (Read our blogs about the OGP Vineyard here, and here.) Andis Wines is one of only a small handful wineries with access to these grapes. 

In 2010, their modern, state-of-the-art winery was completed and opened to the public. A striking, modern edifice, perched atop a hill with an amazing view, the winery is like no other we’ve seen. When you get closer, you see that the front of the building is covered with grey barrel staves, engraved with the names of club members. (Ours will be up there soon!) The Andis winery is unpretentious and inviting, with an open, airy tasting room with plenty of windows to drink in the view as much as the wines.lrg_dsc00286-1

lrg_dsc00289-1On a sunny Sunday in late March, 2019, we gathered in the Andis Wines tasting room. The previous day had been cold and rainy, so there was much relief that this day dawned bright, clear, and warm. At noon, on the dot, Nick and his assistant, Vanessa, greeted us to begin the tour. As mentioned, Janis herself was to join in as well!

The first stop was the Sauvignon Blanc block. Vanessa poured each of us a taste of the 2018 vintage, and we sipped among the very vines from which the juice had come. One of our favorite domestic Sauvignon Blancs, it is crisp and fresh, with citrus, stone fruit, and honeysuckle. This is a great wine for sipping all summer.lrg_dsc00301-1Next we moved to the Grenache block. We have a particular fondness for Grenache, so we were excited to try this one. The 2016 Akuna Block Grenache is the first vintage from this vineyard block, which was planted in 2012. Elegant and restrained, this is everything we hope for in a quality Grenache; lighter bodied, with cherry, strawberry, and cranberry, bright acidity and grippy tannins. Nick suggests this wine as an alternative to Pinot Noir. 

Moving up the hill, off in the distance, we spotted the next stop: the Barbera block, where Andis grows the grapes for their Barbera d’Amador wine. Our favorite Barbera’s come from Amador County, and Andis’ selections are always at the top of our list. We tasted the 2016, the grapes harvested from vines planted in 2012. A lighter-bodied Barbera, this wine is bursting with fresh cherry and cranberry. It’d be so good with pizza or pasta! 

As we headed to our next tasting sample, we passed by another block that has really piqued our interest. All along the way thus far, all the vines had been pruned in preparation for the new season of growth. This block still had last year’s shoots. Nothing more than timing, Nick said. These would be pruned the following week. The interesting part is the variety of grape these vines produce: Schioppettino. Never heard of it? Neither had we! If you have read Appetite for Wine very long, you know Kent’s quest for unusual and obscure grape varieties. (He’s a proud member of the Century Wine Club, having tasted more than 100 different varieties!) 

Nick explained that Schioppettino is an obscure red grape, native to northwestern Italy. It produces light to medium bodied wines that are fruit forward and spicy. The first vintage is in barrel, not expected to be bottled for awhile. No, sadly there was no barrel tasting on this tour. Rest assured, however, when it is released and we get our hands on a bottle, we’ll be sure to tell you about it!

From there, we circled down the far side of the property, into one of the Zinfandel Blocks. Like the Barbera, Andis Wines Estate Zinfandel is always one of our favorites. The 2015 that we tasted this day is no exception. Rich, blackberry and black cherry fruit flavors, with chocolate, baking spice, and black pepper.

Making our way to the winery, we stopped on the crush pad for our final tour taste. Painted Fields is Andis Wines’ signature red blend. It is a field blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, with a bit of Zinfandel and Mourvèdre to round it out. Velvety smooth, with bold fruit and soft oak influences, it is at home at a barbecue or fine dining table.  This wine is a perennial crowd favorite.

Our last stop was the barrel room (seriously, can you ever see too many barrel rooms? We think not!) before we returned to the tasting room where we started. After sampling a few more of Andis Wines portfolio, including their exquisite Semillon, Rosé of Barbera, Primitivo, and more, we made our selections and headed out. 

This was a fun and educational day at one of our all-time favorite wineries. We highly recommend the Block to Bottle Vineyard Walk. You can get more information or make reservations on the Andis Wines website.

Cheers!  

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

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

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