Tag Archives: Wine Education

Our Wine of the Week: Argatia Winery Haroula 2016

Two years ago this week, we were on our honeymoon in Greece, so it seems appropriate that our Wine of the Week is a Greek wine. During our 12 days in Greece, we visited four different wineries; two on Santorini, and two on Crete. If you haven’t tried Greek wine, you really must. We have encountered few wine regions that showcase the unique, local terroir than those in Greece. A word of caution, however. Greek wine production is still relatively small, or should we say, boutique. Most of the bottles you find in mega-mart wine stores are mass produced and not the best quality. To find the best Greek wines, check a local, independent wine shop, or head over to the Internet. Sites such as Uncorked Greeks, Diamond Wine Importers, and Wine.com carry a wide range of high quality Greek wines that we wholeheartedly recommend. We found our Wine of the Week, the Argatia Winery Haroula 2016, at Uncorked Greeks. 

Argatia Winery was founded in 2000 by Panagiotis Georgiadis and Dr. Haroula Spinthiropoulou. The name Argatia is derived from the concept of “cooperation for the achievement of a common purpose”, which is very important in Greek agriculture. The founders combined their knowledge of science with their love of wine to create high quality wines from indigenous Greek grapes. The winery is located in the town of Rodohori, in the Naoussa region of the northeastern Greek mainland. 

The Haroula 2016 is a white blend of two native grapes; 60% Malagouzia and 40% Assyrtiko. You may be familiar with Assyrtiko, which is arguably the most famous Greek white wine grape and the signature grape of Santorini. These two grapes combine in this wine as proof that sometimes, when opposites get together, they can create a magical partnership. Assyrtiko is known for its acidity and minerality, while Malagouzia (also spelled Malagousia) offers aromatics and a balanced, citrus and peach fruit profile. The blend of the two results in a wine of finesse and character, that’s just darn good! 

Argatia Winery Haroula 2016

Deep golden color. The aromas take us back to Greece: pear, citrus, and saline. On the palate, ripe pear, apricot, lemon zest, and citrus, with minerals on the finish. Medium-minus body with fresh acidity. Delicious with grilled fish tacos.

One of the things we love about Greek wine is that even their whites are age-worthy. Did you catch that this was a 2016? Not too many five year old whites from the U.S. are worth drinking, but this wine is in its prime! 

Be sure to check out some good Greek wine, and let us know what you think. 

What was your wine of the week? 

Yamas! 

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

Our Wine of the Week: McIntyre Pinot Noir 2018

As the world slowly reopens, our commitment to support local is stronger than ever. Many of our local restaurants remained open for take-out and delivery, and helped sustain us throughout lockdown. One of our favorite locally-owned, independent restaurants is RANGE Kitchen & Tap. We wrote about RANGE back in 2018, not long after they opened, and the quality, service, and hospitality has only gotten better since then. 

We recently paid RANGE a visit for dinner, and happened upon this week’s Wine of the Week. Along with their regular menu, RANGE always has at least two specials: a Fresh Catch and a Game of the Week. On this particular day, the Fresh Catch was Pan Seared Scallops served over a bed of Mushroom Risotto, and the Game was Duck Breast with an Orange Glaze served with Braised Red Cabbage, Bacon Lardon, and Confit Bintje Potatoes. (Kent had to look it up afterward because he stopped listening after “Duck Breast!”) Robyn has had the Scallops before, and knowing how delicious they are, didn’t hesitate to order them again. 

With our decisions made on our entrees, the next challenge was wine pairing. Usually, finding a single bottle that will pair with both light seafood and a rich duck dish can be a real conundrum. However, in this case, the Mushroom Risotto served with the Scallops made the decision a bit easier. Perusing the wine list, Kent’s eyes fixed on the McIntyre Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands 2018. Our server concurred, and commented that of all the Pinot Noirs on the menu, this was her favorite with duck. Say no more.   

Chef Kevin never disappoints, and as expected, the food was exquisite (you’ll have to imagine the Scallops and Risotto since we somehow managed to forget to take a picture) and the wine pairing was perfect with both entrees. 

Deep garnet color. On the nose, smoky raspberry, bold red fruit and cherry, and plum notes. These carry to the palate, with flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, tobacco, leather, smoked meat, and baking spice. Integrated tannins, with smooth, medium acidity, medium body, and a long finish of ripe red fruit and black pepper.

McIntyre’s 60 acre Estate Vineyard was planted in 1973, making it one of the oldest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands. It is also one of the first vineyards in the region to be Sustainability In Practice (SIP) certified. As a smaller production winery, McIntyre wines are available at select restaurants and wine shops. If you come across them, try them! 

What was your wine of the week?

Cheers!

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

Our Wine of the Week: Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018

Every once in a while, you score a wine that absolutely exceeds expectations. Our Wine of the Week this week is one of those wines. A few weeks back, Wine.com was having one of their red wine sales. Always on the prowl for bargains, we checked it out and, among a few others we purchased, we snagged a couple bottles of Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018

We are big fans of Barbera, but typically prefer bottles from Amador County in the Sierra Foothills, where Barbera grows exceptionally well. Barbera is one of the few varieties that we generally favor richer, fruit-forward New World versions over Old World. Maybe we just hadn’t found the right ones, but many of the Italian Barberas we’ve had have been rather thin and lacking, with acidity approaching excessive. Well, the Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018 was about to blow that stereotype right out of the water!

Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta has more than 1,000 years of history in the Piedmont region of Italy. The Incisa family ancestors settled there in the 11th century. In the 13th century, local monks leased land from the Incisa family to cultivate grapes, and by the 19th century, the Marchese Leopoldo Incisa della Rocchetta had become known in the region for his viticulture and winemaking. He was an early pioneer in experimenting with Pinot Noir plantings in Piedmont. Members of the family have expanded to Tuscany, where Sangiovese is king, but the Piedmont estate is still owned and operated by members of the Incisa della Rocchetta family. In the 1990’s the Marchesa Barbara Incisa della Rocchetta inherited and purchased the estate and continues operations to this day, producing wines from local native grape varieties like Barbera, Grignolino, Moscato d’Asti and Arneis, while continuing production of international varieties such as Pinot Noir and Merlot.

With such prestigious and long-standing wine making history, how can you go wrong? You can’t. The Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018 is a stunning, breath-taking wine. It really changed our minds about Old World Barbera. We opened our first bottle with grilled pork loin and the experience was euphoric. Recently, we brought our second bottle to a friend’s house for a homemade pizza night. With seven hungry (and thirsty) adults in the house, suffice it to say we opened more than one bottle of good wine that night. But the one that stood out, head and shoulders above all others, by unanimous decision of all present, was our Wine of the Week, Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018. It’s just that good. 

Garnet color. Aromas of blackberry bramble, plum, and spice. On the palate, black cherry, blackberry, plum, vanilla, white pepper, and earthy notes. Bone dry with medium tannins and bright acidity, perfect for food pairing and great with grilled pork loin or pizza. Or both, why not?

The Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018 is available from Wine.com. As of this writing, it is on sale (still or again, doesn’t matter!) for just $16.99. Many other wines from Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta are also available and worth trying! 

What was your wine of the week? 

Cheers!

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

Domaine Bousquet: Taking Winemaking to New Heights

We wrote about Domaine Bousquet not long ago, when we received a sample of their Gaia Rosé 2020. In that post, we wrote a little about the history of the Bousquet family and the creation of Domaine Bousquet in the Gualtallary Valley, high in the mountains in Argentina, and the fantastic wine. So naturally, we were honored when we were invited to a virtual tasting including discussions with Anne Bousquet, current proprietor of the winery, and Franco Bastias, the winery’s chief agronomist. (What’s an agronomist? An expert in the science of soil management and crop production. Now you know, too.) Of course, to be a virtual “tasting”, one must have wines to taste. We were pleased to receive as samples, six bottles of Domaine Bousquet wine.

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

In their presentation, entitled “Dishing the Dirt”, Anne and Franco discussed what makes the terroir of Domaine Bousquet so unique. Spoiler alert: The subtitle is “The secret is in the soil.” Anne started us off with some history of the land, family, and winery. 

In 1997, Anne’s father Jean Bousquet, moved from Carcassonne, in Languedoc, France, to the Gualtallary Valley, and purchased a plot of land that had never been cultivated. In this arid region, the driest wine growing region in the world, first things must come first, so in 1998, Jean Bousquet dug a 495 foot deep well for irrigation. Meanwhile, in 2002 as vineyards were taking shape, Anne and her husband, Labid Al Ameri, started to invest in the winery, while maintaining their non-wine-industry careers in Boston. The first vintage was released in 2005, and Labid joined full time in the sales department. By 2008, Anne was on board and she and her family relocated to Argentina. Jean retired in 2011, and Anne and Labid, and Anne’s brother, bought Domain Bousquet and assumed day to day operations. In the years since, production has increased, and in 2020, they sold approximately 7 million bottles of wine. 

Domaine Bousquet is planted to 618 acres of vines, all of which are organic. In fact, they received their organic certification in 2005, the same year as their first vintage was released. With Domaine Bousquet coming out of the gate as certified organic, they raised the bar for other growers in the region, from whom Domaine Bousquet would buy grapes, and many of them have achieved organic certification as well. In addition to organic, Domaine Bousquet has also achieved certifications as vegan and sustainable.

As good as organic, vegan, and sustainable is, Domaine Bousquet doesn’t stop there. They have launched a “360° Sustainability Commitment”. This includes supporting the community and the people who live in and around the town. This is a three-prong commitment: environmental, social, and economic. We’ve covered the environmental part. On the social and economic sides, Domaine Bousquet is certified “Fair for Life.” This certification is part of a fair trade and corporate responsibility commitment for global change for the better and helping others. As part of this, the winery supports several children’s homes in the area, and has donated more than $113,000 to help those in the community experiencing economic hardship and social exclusion. Those are some causes we can get behind and gladly support by purchasing Domaine Bousquet wines! 

Next, we met Franco. Franco’s energy and enthusiasm were immediately evident, and infectious. He gave us some geography lessons, then, in video segments, took us deep into the soil. Literally. 

The Uco Valley is comprised of three departments: Tupungato in the north, Tunuyan in the middle, and San Carlos in the south. Domaine Bousquet is located in Tupungato. This area of the valley was originally settled by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century. By the early 1900’s, orchards, vineyards, and other crops were planted. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s, however, that the wine world started to take notice, as local producers started attracting attention to the region. 

The soils in Tupungato vary from rocky to sandy and silt, which flowed down from the Andes mountains. At these elevations, and with the harsh winters there, diurnal temperature swings of up to 59°F can occur, resulting in fresh, fruity wines. One of the other distinctive conditions are calcareous soils, containing concentrations of calcium deposits, which add to the unique character of the wines. 

In the video segments, Franco showed us cross sections of the soil conditions in soil pits, which are dug several feet deep directly adjacent to rows of vines. This was fascinating to see, as each of the wines featured have different soil conditions. As Franco walked us through the various soil pits, we tasted along with the wines. Isn’t that what it’s all about? 

Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Pale straw color. On the nose, apricot, peach, and pineapple. On the palate, pineapple, citrus, peach, and pear. Bracing acidity, yet very smooth with a soft finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Reserve Chardonnay 2019

A very unique and enjoyable Chardonnay. Golden color. Nose of pear, peach, and tropical fruit /mango. On the palate, a tropical paradise: pineapple, mango, with citrus, pear, and just a hint of butter. Creamy mouthfeel, with balanced, vibrant acidity. Medium plus body, with a citrus finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Reserve Pinot Noir 2019

Bright ruby color. Cherry, raspberry preserves, and white pepper on the nose. On the palate, juicy fruit flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry, with cedar, and spice. Light-to-medium body, soft tannins, bright acidity, and a medium red fruit finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Deep garnet color with a ruby rim. Lots of classic Cab Sauv characteristics. Nose of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry. On the palate, black cherry, plum, black currant, blackberry, and cedar. Medium-plus body, integrated tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of red fruit, baking spice, and pepper. Fresh & clean so the fruit really shines. 

Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc 2018

Inky garnet color. Funky, earthy nose, with red cherry and boysenberry. On the palate, ripe, juicy blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, and hints of bell pepper and baking spice. Big, full body, with ripe tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of dark fruit and black pepper and minerals. 

Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec 2018

Wow! Very soft and smooth. Deep purple with a garnet rim. Black cherry, plum, and blackberry on the nose. On the palate, ripe blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and Marionberry, with hints of cedar, cocoa, and baking spice. Rich, full body with velvety tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of black fruit and chocolate.

All of the wines are very well structured and balanced. With minimal oak influence, each wine allows the fruit to take center stage and shine. In the days following the virtual tasting, we enjoyed finishing the bottles with our meals. All are very food friendly, yet able to stand on their own as evening sippers. Did we mention value? The SRP for these wines is shocking; they all drink well above their price point! 

  • Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2021 / SRP $13
  • Domaine Bousquet Reserve Chardonnay 2019 / SRP $18
  • Domaine Bousquet Reserve Pinot Noir 2019 / SRP $18
  • Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 / SRP $13
  • Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc 2018 / SRP $20
  • Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec 2018 / SRP $25

We are very impressed with the wines that Domaine Bousquet is producing, and their commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility. We definitely recommend you seek out these wines and enjoy them for yourself. 

Cheers!

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

Review: Suisun Valley Petite Sirah

Can we talk? 

Let’s get this out of the way up front. Petite Sirah and Syrah are not the same grape. They’re not even spelled the same. However, they do have a few things in common. Both are native to the Rhone,in France. Both go by different names in different parts of the world, most notably, Australia, where Petite Sirah is known as Durif, and Syrah is called Shiraz. What’s more, in 1996, genetic testing determined the Syrah is actually one of the parent varieties of Petite Sirah, the other being the nearly extinct grape, Peloursin

Now that we have that cleared up, let’s talk about Petite Sirah from Suisun Valley. What? Where? Wait, you’ve never heard of Suisun Valley? You’re not alone. But you’ll be hearing that name more and more as this up and coming region makes its mark on the wine world. 

Suisun Valley is located in Solano County, California, which is adjacent to Napa County. Suisun Valley is just a 30 minute drive southeast of Napa, and shares a similar climate with Napa. However, the soils here are more welcoming to what has become Suisun Valley’s signature grape, (drum roll, please): Petite Sirah. 

As a lesser known region, Suisun Valley lacks the notoriety, traffic, crowds, and high prices of its northern neighbor. Instead, small family farms, many of them generations old, dot the landscape. Tasting rooms, too, are family owned and offer a casual and inviting tasting experience. Suisun is also very accessible, just off I-80 in Fairfield, California. (If you’ve been to Napa via I-80, you’ve driven through Fairfield.) There are currently 12 wineries in the valley, with just 3,000 acres under vine. Sounds delightful, no? 

We had the opportunity to sample the wines from five Suisun Valley producers. The Suisun Valley Wine Co-op assembled this sample pack of 2 oz. tasters to tantalize our taste buds and leave us longing for more. It worked.  

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

  1. Caymus-Suisun Grand Durif Petite Sirah 2018

Inky purple color. On the nose, blackberry, plum, and black pepper. These continue on the palate, with “cabinet spice”, cedar, and tobacco. Full body with vibrant acidity and medium tannins. Long finish with black fruit, tobacco, smoke, and spice. 

  1. Mangels Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah 2018

Bright purple color with a ruby rim, Nose of boysenberry, blackberry, and black cherry. On the palate, bing cherry, raspberry, and blackberry. Chalky texture and tannins, soft acidity, and a long finish of black and red fruit.

  1. Tenbrink Vineyards Estate Grown Petite Sirah 2016

Deep purple with a ruby rim. Nose of blackberry, green pepper, and jalapeno. On the palate, blackberry and cherry, with a surprise guest: black olive. Full body, edgy tannins, and medium acidity. Nice, long finish.

  1. Suisun Creek Winery Estate Grown Petite Sirah 2017

Inky purple color, with ruby rim. Nose of blackberry, stewed prune, and boysenberry. On the palate, black cherry, plum, and blackberry. Smooth tannins, medium acidity, and as expected, a rich, full body. Pleasing, smooth finish. 

  1. Wooden Valley WInery Lanza Family Petite Sirah 2018

Deep purple color. The nose is vegetal, with notes of blackberry and bramble. On the palate, bright blackberry, Marionberry, black cherry, jalepeno, and our new friend, black olive. Full body with drying, grippy tannins, bright acidity, and a long, smooth finish.

We enjoyed each of these samples, and it was very interesting to experience the diversity of style and character, considering each sample was the same grape, from the same small region. We look forward to the opportunity to visit Suisun Valley to taste more of the wines coming from this emerging region.

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Our Wine of the Week: Firestone Red Wine 2016

So much about this post is divergent from our usual notions and stereotypes about wine. Red wine in the summer? Certainly. Do you not drink Rosé in the winter? Oh, you don’t? Well, that’s a topic for another post. Our Wine of the Week being a budget-friendly, mid-week wine? Well, this just proves that good wine doesn’t have to break the bank. But the most surprising thing for us, is that our Wine of the Week this week is a…*gasp*…Red Blend from California. (Spoiler Alert: Wine Snobbery Geekery ahead.)

Don’t misunderstand. Many of the great wines of the world are red blends. Bordeaux? Red blend. Super Tuscan? Also a red blend. Côtes du Rhône? We’ve made our point. Nevertheless, stereotypes exist for a reason. California Red Blends have a reputation of being cheap, flat, and sweet; mass produced for the masses. And many of them are. And a lot of people like them. They just aren’t a style we typically prefer. To be fair, the Firestone Red Wine 2016 is from the designated Paso Robles AVA, so it isn’t technically a “California” Red Blend.

(Side note, designations matter. If you see “California” on the label, it means the grapes came from somewhere, anywhere in the vast state. The name of a county on a label means at least 75% of the grapes must come from that county, and if the wine carries a designated AVA name, it means 85% or more of the grapes came from that AVA. Why does this matter? Some regions have better growing conditions for certain grape varieties, a suggestion that the wine will showcase the characteristics of the terrier of the region, and be an overall better wine. Another topic for another blog post. We now return you to our regularly scheduled Wine of the Week blog.) 

Firestone Vineyard was the first estate winery established in Santa Barbara County. In the 1970’s, before even Napa had established worldwide acclaim, Leonard Firestone saw potential in the Santa Ynez Valley. (In case you are wondering, yes, Leonard is the son of Harvey Firestone, of Firestone Tires fame.) With 325 acres under vine, and a commitment to sustainable farming, Firestone produces an enticing portfolio of wines. Their red varieties include Bordeaux and Rhone grapes; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, while their whites vines are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.

The Firestone Red Wine 2016 is a classic Bordeaux-style wine, composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. We found it at wine.com (currently on sale for $14.99.) Here’s what we thought of it:

Yes, stemless. Don’t Judge.

A smooth and easy drinking red blend. Garnet color. Nose of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and smoke. On the palate, ripe raspberries, cherry, fresh blackberry, cherry cola, tobacco, spice, and smoke. Medium body, with dry tannins and bright acidity. Medium finish.

In addition to wine.com, Firestone Vineyard wines are available through the Foley Food & Wine Society website. 

What was your Wine of the Week?

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and 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

Our Wine of the Week: La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was your wine of the week? 

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

Book Review: What Varietal is That?

Who else has the COVID blues? I’m sure some have it worse than I do. My symptoms are a general melancholy, restlessness, and boredom. One would think that with all the extra time on my hands with shelter-in-place, I’d have more time to devote to this blog, and my social media platforms. However, contributing to my COVID blues is the inability to get out and explore, which results in a lack of content and creativity. How many times can you post a picture of a bottle of wine in the same dining room or boring backyard?   

Fortunately, not long ago I received an email from Darby Higgs, offering me a complimentary copy of his new book, What Varietal is That?  (Also fortunately, we recently moved – yes, mid-COVID – and our new house has a much nicer, park-like backyard, perfect for relaxing with a book and a glass of wine.)

The following book was provided by the author as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are my own. I received no additional compensation.

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What Varietal is That? is an informative and educational book detailing 86 major wine grapes from around the world. It’s a fairly short read, only 127 pages in all, but those pages pack a punch! Darby’s subtitle for the book is “A Beginner’s Guide to the Most Important Wine Grape Varieties”, but don’t let that fool you, or dissuade you if you don’t consider yourself a “beginner.” There are a lot of varieties listed that I’d never heard of! And I’m a proud member of the Wine Century Club, with well over 140 different varieties under my belt…or more accurately, in my belly!  

After a brief introduction, in which he takes on one of the most controversial topics in wine: “varietal” versus “variety”, along with some history and a dabbling into science, Darby gets to the heart of the matter. Starting with white grapes, the author details the country of origin, typical aromas and flavors, and food pairings, along with a description of the wines produced and the history of each grape. Conveniently organized in alphabetical order, the book is a worthwhile reference for wine students of any level. 

What Varietal is That? is available in digital format at Smashwords for just $6.99. You can also order a paper copy from Amazon

If you like What Varietal is That?, and enjoy Australian wines, check out Darby’s other book, Rare Ozzies: A Hundred Rare Australian Wine Varieties. In this one, Darby outlines 100 grapes used in Australian wine production. 

Check these books out and dive right in. You may learn a few things, like I did, and they’ll help you through the rest of the COVID blues summer. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds 

Winning Big at Casino Mine Ranch

We have been big fans of Amador County wines for a long time. Awhile back, we connected on Instagram (@appetite_for_wine) with @casinomineranch, a relative newcomer in the wine landscape of the Sierra Foothills. During our early online chatter, we expressed an interest in visiting. We learned that visits to Casino Mine Ranch are by appointment only. Alas, our frequent trips to the area are often spontaneous, so, embarrassingly, we went several months without scheduling a visit. 

Thankfully, that negligence came to an end earlier this month. We were planning a trip to Amador County wine country, and Kent remembered Casino Mine Ranch. After a quick DM on Instagram, Chief of Staff Mackenzie Cecchi confirmed our reservation. 

It was a lovely November day when we arrived at Casino Mine Ranch. Rather spring-like weather, in fact. (Sorry, not sorry to our East Coast family and friends.) Up a winding, nondescript driveway (even with GPS, we missed it and had to turn around), past Lola’s vineyard, until we saw Casey’s tree fort, and we knew we had arrived.  

Mackenzie greeted us as we entered the house. Yes, house. Casino Mine Ranch’s current location is the owners’ second home. Mackenzie said they are in the planning stages of a tasting room down the road near some other tasting rooms, but for now, welcome to this beautiful home! 

Mackenzie poured us our first taste. There would be eight total during the hour-long tour and tasting. The 2017 Vermentino. Simply stellar! Plenty of pineapple and citrus, with bracing acidity. Just the way we like it. If the Vermentino was any indication, we were in for a very special, and tasty hour. (Spoiler alert: the Vermentino was definitely an indication!) 

All of the wines in Casino Mine Ranch’s portfolio are 100% estate fruit. The ranch is 60 acres, but currently there are only 14 acres under vine. However, they are planning to plant more vineyards so they can increase production.

The second tasting on the tour was the 2017 Grenache Blanc. Mackenzie said the 2016 wasn’t quite what they’d hoped for, and asked our opinion of the 2017. Ironically, Kent had taken a wine survey just the day before, and had to respond in the negative to the question: have you tasted a Grenache Blanc in the past six months. Timing, people. Timing is everything! And so is this Grenache Blanc. Straw color, aged in 30% new French oak, with flavors of apricot and peach, with hints of butter and caramel. Exquisite. 

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As we moved outside, and prepared to enter the mine, Mackenzie provided a history lesson. Casino Ranch Mine was founded in 1936 by Simone Shaw. Simone was born in Belgium, and with her family escaped the 1914 German invasion. Her father had a mining operation in Alaska, where Simone spent time in her younger days. Always stylish and worldly, Simone caught the eye of many a suitor. The family eventually moved to New York City, where Simone met Sam Shaw, Jr., hotelier and art patron. It was a match made in heaven, and the two were soon married. 

As socialites, the Shaws spent time in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Paris. Somehow, they found their way to what was then the middle of nowhere…Amador County. (Let’s be real, Amador County may not be the middle of nowhere today, but it’s only just outside the border! We love it that way.) Simone bought the property, with the intention of mining for gold. Always the realist, she felt that striking it rich in gold mining was a gamble, hence the name: Casino Mine Ranch. 

Simone’s instincts were right. Nothing more than a modicum of gold was discovered in their mine. However, what they did find was as precious as gold in the remote Sierra Foothills: water. Under the lava caps on the property were reserves of water. The Shaw’s excavated and dammed the springs, and even today they are used for irrigation on the ranch. 

Into the mine we went. The water was located only a few yards beyond the entrance, so the tour does not go deep into the mine. Here, we tasted the 2018 Rosé, a blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre. Another exquisite wine. Three-for-three! Pale pink color, with flavors of strawberry and raspberry. Bone dry and zesty. 

From the mine, we went back through the house, and downstairs to a beautiful cellar room. Here we tasted the 2017 Grenache Noir; 100% Grenache, aged in 30% new French oak. This wine recently received a score of 90 points from Wine Spectator magazine. A luscious, spicy wine, with bold red fruit and licorice notes. There was an ashtray on the counter, crafted from a bear claw. (Not the pastry, but an actual claw from an actual bear!) Mackenzie said legend has it, that Simone herself shot that bear! 

Venturing outside through the back of the house, we made our way to the pool house. Pool house? Pool house. Not too many wineries have a pool and a pool house! But this was just the beginning. The two-story pool house is a home unto itself, complete with kitchen and entertainment. Upstairs there is a full-scale shuffleboard table, and down the spiral staircase to the lower level, you will find a pinball machine, video arcade game, and an air hockey table. In case you were wondering, as we were, the answer is yes. At wine club events, members have the opportunity to use these games! 

Back outside and down a grassy hill, Mackenzie continued the family tale. Shortly after World War II, Sam passed away. Sam’s brother, Hollis Shaw, came to stay on the property to help the widow with the ranch. Hollis initially lived in one of the small mining shacks on the property. However, after some time, he moved into the main house. Not long after, Simone and Hollis were married. 

During the 1960’s and 70’s, Simone’s grand-nephews, Rich, Jim, and Steve Marryman, would come to the ranch for visits. They were intrigued by their aunt, living in such a remote area but still being so glamorous, serving the children their meals off fine china, and dressing for dinner. In 1999, Rich Merryman bought Casino MIne Ranch. 

In 2011, Rich called brother Jim to tell him he is going to plant a vineyard on the property and wanted to make wine. Jim thought Rich was crazy, though he eventually joined the venture. They hired winemaker Andy Erickson, and in 2015, produced their first vintage. 

Mackenzie escorted us to a large, metal building at the bottom of the hill. She referred to it as the “midlife crisis building.” This, she said, was to be the Casino Mine Ranch winery production facility. However, their winemaking team is in Napa, and they didn’t want to have to come all the way out, almost to the border of nowhere, to produce the wine. With construction started, what is one to do with a massive building that now has no purpose? Turn it into an NBA regulation basketball court, of course! 

Several NBA stars have visited the ranch to play on the court. In addition, college flags adorned the back wall. These are the alma mater of wine club members. Joining the club earns one the right to display their school’s flag. Guests on tour are invited to go downstairs onto the court to shoot some hoops, but we decided to stay topside and just watch. 

Back up the hill to the house, and onto the patio with breathtaking views, where we enjoyed the rest of the wines. Next on the list was the 2017 Mourvèdre. Another 100% varietal wine, this medium bodied red has spicy red fruit, raspberry, cherry, and cranberry, with baking spice and a long finish. 

The 2016 Simone, obviously named in honor Great Aunt Simone, is a blend of 52% Grenache and 48% Mourvèdre. This is a big, powerhouse of a wine, with red fruit and spice on the nose, and flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, baking spice, and mineral notes. Big, chewy tannins and bright acidity lead to a very long finish. 

Next was the 2016 Tempranillo, one of only two non-Rhône style wines in the portfolio. This wine pours inky purple, and has flavors of blueberry, spice, and a bit of raspberry. The tannins are very soft and smooth, balanced with medium acidity. 

The final wine on the tour was the 2016 Marcel. Wait, we sense another story here. Marcel Tiquet moved to Casino Mine Ranch after World War II. He was just 19 years old at the time. Marcel and his wife didn’t intend on staying long, but raised their family there and they loved the place so much, they just never moved away. Making a life here, Marcel became the heart and soul of Casino Mine Ranch. Sadly, Marcel passed away in September 2018, at the age of 93. 

The wine in his honor is 80% Tempranillo and 20% Teroldego. Here is another big, bold red wine, worthy of such a man as Marcel. Inky purple color, with aromas and flavors of blueberry, raspberry, baking spice, and white pepper on the finish. Big, firm, chewy tannins mingle with medium acidity, leading to a long finish. This is a wine that wants a rib-eye or grilled lamb. 

Alas, the tour was over. Nevertheless, we were so impressed with the wines, the story, and the property, that we decided to join the wine club. So, as they say…we’ll be back! 

If you’d like to visit Casino Mine Ranch, and you know you do, you’ll need to make a reservation. You can do this on their website. They are open for guests Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with appointment times at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. When you go, tell them Robyn and Kent sent you! 

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds