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Tag Archives: Wine Review

Experience Alexander Valley, Day 2 – Clos du Bois, Trione, and Alexander Valley Vineyards

If life is full of disappointments, Alexander Valley is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Robyn and I had been invited to attend Experience Alexander Valley, and we were looking forward to our Sunday Experiences; Yoga in the Vineyard for both of us in the morning, and a Spa Treatment in the afternoon for Robyn. Alas, a few days before the event, Rosie, from Alexander Valley Winegrowers contacted us to let us know that, because not enough guests had signed up for those two Experiences, the host wineries were forced to cancel them. Fortunately, however, there were plenty of exciting Experiences available from which we could choose.

So, Sunday morning we headed to Clos du Bois winery for an exploration of Marlstone Through the Years. When we arrived, our host, Chris, greeted us in the tasting room with a chilled glass of Lightly Bubbled Chardonnay; a delightful and refreshing unoaked, frizzante wine, perfect for the warm day. Thankfully, the previous day’s record heat had abated, and Sunday was more seasonal in the mid-80’s, so our tour of the demonstration vineyard, with chilled Chardonnay in hand, was quite pleasant.

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You may know Clos du Bois; their “Classics” series wines are widely distributed in wine stores and supermarkets across the country. What I didn’t know, and you may not either, is that in 1978, Clos du Bois was the first winery in Sonoma County, and only the second in California, to produce a Meritage wine. Contrary to popular belief, the word Meritage is not French, and is not pronounced as a French word. Meritage is a term coined by a group of American vintners to identify American made, Bordeaux-style blends. The term is a conjunction, representing Wines of Merit, Vines of Heritage. The pronunciation rhymes with Heritage – as “Meri-tidge.”

Clos du Bois’ Meritage wine is called Marlstone. As Alexander Valley is a prime Cabernet Sauvignon region, Marlstone is dominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot as the secondary component. However, in any given year, the blend can include some or all of the other five noble grapes; Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. Here’s where the real fun began!

After the vineyard tour and some barrel tasting, Chris escorted us into a private tasting room where we got to taste through all five components, and the finished Marlstone 2014. Once we had our baseline, we got to create our own blend to see how close we could come to the winemaker’s version. Each component was spectacular on its own, and it was amazing to experience the changes as we blended them in the glass. I don’t know how the others did, but my blend was nowhere near as good as the Marlstone!

After lunch, Robyn and I parted ways again so we could cover more Experiences for you. (You’re welcome!) Robyn spent the afternoon at Trione Vineyards & Winery for a Bocce Ball Tournament, while I enjoyed a mountain-top Cabernet Sauvignon tasting at Alexander Valley Vineyards. Here’s Robyn to tell you about her Experience:

When I arrived at Trione, anticipating the Bocce Ball Tournament, they welcomed me outside with a glass of their tasty 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. I sipped on the cool, crisp Sauv Blanc under the trellis, parallel to two Bocce courts. I sat with Henry Trione, son of the founders, and learned about the family and winery history. Trione Vineyards & Winery was established in 2005. The winery building was completed in 2008. The winery is located next to an historic 1908, beautiful stone building, which the family restored and is now an event center.

As the Bocce Ball Tournament got started, since Kent was across the valley, I needed a partner. Luckily, as promoted, there was a handsome instructor to teach me the rules. I was quickly “adopted” by wine club member, Meredith, and her husband. For a while, we were in the lead. Although not a Bocce veteran, I do enjoy a good game of corn hole, and my accuracy is not too bad. I think my dead-eye aim came in handy on the Bocce court!

Adding to the friendly vibe, throughout the tournament, we sipped on Trione Rosé of Pinot Noir 2017. It was so good; I had to bring a bottle home to share with Kent. It’s a crisp and refreshing wine, and the perfect thirst quencher on the Bocce court. Sadly, our luck didn’t hold, and we lost the round. No worries, it was super fun and it’s always all about the company. Oh, and the wine! Cheers!

While Robyn was getting her Bocce on at Trione, one of Alexander Valley’s newer wineries, I headed across the valley to one of the older wineries, Alexander Valley Vineyards. There, Head of Operations and Family Partner Harry Wetzel met us for a history lesson and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. Alexander Valley is named after Cyrus Alexander, who settled in the area in 1840. Fast forward to 1962, when Harry and Maggie Wetzel (our host’s grandparents) bought a portion of Cyrus’ original homestead. In time, they planted a small vineyard, and in 1975, their son Hank produced the first vintage of Alexander Valley Vineyards wine.

As we toured the property, Harry took us to The Adobe, the oldest structure in Sonoma County, and one-time home to young Cyrus Alexander. We also saw the old, 1868 Alexander School, a one-room schoolhouse, moved from its original location, just down the road, in 1972. Finally, Harry drove us up to a mountaintop picnic bench, set with a flight of Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted through the 2016 Estate, the 2015 Organic, the 2014 Reserve, the 2012 Single Barrel, and the 1999 Wetzel Family Estate. I normally gravitate to slightly younger wines, but the 18 year old 1999 was amazing; mature, soft and subdued, yet still retaining juicy fruit notes. (Yea, I bought some.) I don’t know which was more amazing; the fantastic wines, the breathtaking view, or having 45 minutes to visit with the family partner of such an historic and wonderful winery.

As we headed down the mountain back to reality, I got Robyn’s text that her Experience was winding down. Back across the valley, I picked up Robyn and we reluctantly headed home. We enjoyed our time at Experience Alexander Valley, and have a new love for the region. We will definitely be back!

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Be on the lookout for next year’s event. We encourage you to come and Experience Alexander Valley for yourselves. Please. We really want to do Yoga in the Vineyard next year!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
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Experience Alexander Valley, Day 1 – Medlock Ames and Stonestreet

It was with eager anticipation that we set off on our journey to the first annual Experience Alexander Valley. We’d been invited as guests of Alexander Valley Winegrowers*, and based on all we’d heard about this new event, we knew we were in for something special. We wrote a couple of preview pieces, which if you missed them and want to catch up, you can read here, and here. But the previews don’t come close to capturing the magic and adventure that Experience Alexander Valley delivered.

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* As guests, our event admission was complimentary. We received no other compensation or incentive. All descriptions, opinions, and reviews are our own.

Like many wine country events, this was a two-day adventure. Unlike many wine country events, rather than racing from winery to winery, guests got to choose two Experiences per day. Since we were invited as bloggers, to cover and promote the event, Robyn and I wanted to participate in as many Experiences as possible…to a point – we do enjoy each other’s company! So we decided “divide and conquer”, at least for a couple of Experiences. We each selected one Experience per day to fly solo, and one to attend together.

Saturday dawned clear and bright. And warm.  Weather forecasters predicted highs near 103F, and they weren’t far off. This meant that many outdoor Experiences had to be canceled or at least modified. Nevertheless, we were undaunted and headed from our hotel to Robyn’s first destination, deLorimier Winery. I’ll let Robyn tell the story of her Experience herself. Watch for her blog post in a few days.

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I had a bit of a drive to get to my first Experience, at the Medlock Ames Winery. Though they have a tasting room on the valley floor, they wanted to treat guests to a Sustainable Winemaking Experience at their vineyards and production facility. The drive was beautiful, along the east side of the valley, then up Chalk Hill Road. The thing that struck me most: No Traffic! I was virtually alone on a Saturday morning in Wine Country.

Turning onto a single lane road, I started to get a little nervous that my trusty Google Maps might have failed me. It was a paved, single lane road, so that was hopeful. Alas, my trust in Google ran out two hilly ridges in. I turned around, beginning what would be a 30 minute detour that ended up taking me right back where I was. Around a curve about 100 yards beyond where I’d turned around was the entrance to Medlock Ames. Sigh. I’d done it to myself, and was almost 45 minutes late!

Fortunately, friendly Isabella saw my plight and left her post in the tasting room to rescue me. She came out into the already 90+ degree day, and caught me up with the small group on the outdoor tour. Isabella handed me off to Chelsea, who was leading the two other guests, Jimmy and Maryanne, on a tour of the grounds.

Medlock Ames is a sustainable, organic winery, and includes a one-acre vegetable garden, and a one-acre fruit garden. Due to the heat, we were not able to walk to those gardens, but still got a brief overview of the property and history. Chelsea led us to the shade of a large tree at the edge of a vineyard. There she told us that the two acres of vines were looking at were nearly ripped out when owners Chris Medlock James and Ames Morison purchased the property in 1998. The vineyard had been planted by the previous owner, a sheep rancher, and nobody knew what variety they were. Ames, the head winemaker, was hesitant, however, and decided to walk the vines before excavation. He found a tag on a vine, from a nursery in New York. After a call to the nursery and some research, and they found the answer: Merlot. But not just any Merlot. These vines are Jefferson clones; descendants of vines that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson brought from France to his Virginia estate! With that kind of pedigree, the former Tulane University roommates decided to leave the vines in.

All Medlock Ames are made from 100% organic, estate grown fruit. The winery is fully solar powered. Of the 338 acres on the estate, only about 55 acres are farmed, leaving the rest of the land to its native flora and fauna. There are more than 800 olive trees, five retention ponds for irrigation, and at least 50 barn owl boxes on the property. To help conserve energy, the barrel room is underground, below the production facility.

Speaking of the barrel room, where better to continue the tour on such a hot day? After a brief visit among the fermentation tanks upstairs, we ventured down into the 55 degree cellar to meet Ames, and enjoy some barrel tasting.

The beauty of the Experience Alexander Valley event is that the three of us had about 30-45 minutes of interrupted time with the head winemaker. (I was enjoying myself too much to keep track of time.) We could ask whatever questions we wanted, and he took the time to answer in a way we could all understand. You don’t get that on a party bus tour!

Ames is clearly passionate about what he does, and is very knowledgeable. He thieved us samples of their 2017 Lower Slope Chardonnay, the 2017 50 Tons Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2017 Kate’s & B’s Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2017 Secret Ingredient Malbec. Each of the wines has a nick-name, and a story. The Kate’s and B’s is named after Chris and Ames’ wives; Kate is Ames’ wife, and B (stands for Bradley) is Chris’ wife. They chose the very best grapes from the very best vineyards to make the wine with their wives’ names on it. Smart men!

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From the cellar, we walked back up to the tasting room where Chelsea hosted us in a wine and cheese pairing. The cheeses are all local, Sonoma County artisan cheeses, and paired each of the wine amazingly! I’ll let the pictures tell the story here.

As we were finishing up, I got Robyn’s text letting me know her Experience was over, and she was ready for me to come get her. So I didn’t have time to explore the preserves, marmalades, and olive oils they make with estate fruit. No worries though; that gives me something to look forward to when I bring Robyn on our next visit!

After a quick lunch break, we headed to our next Experience, this time together. Turning up the tree-lined drive to Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, we were taken with the beauty of the property. Here, we were to enjoy a chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. Originally scheduled outdoors on their beautiful patio overlooking the valley and nearby Mayacamas Mountain range, they thankfully relocated the tasting indoors, in their air conditioned tasting room.

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We were greeted by DTC (Direct to Consumer) Manager, Michelle, and our host and guide for the day, Tasting Room Manager, Samantha. Having never heard of Stonestreet before, we were in for a bit of a surprise.

Video credit: Stonestreet Estate Vineyards

Stonestreet Estate Vineyards owns a large chunk of the Mayacamas Mountains we had admired as we entered the property. 5500 acres, to be more specific. Yet of those 5500 acres, only 800 acres are planted to vines. Committed to sustainable and environmentally friendly winemaking, when the owners purchased the land in 1995, they conducted wildlife studies; migration patterns, breeding grounds, etc. and planted around those areas so as to not disturb the native wildlife. This also helps to keep the critters out of the vineyards. But that wasn’t the biggest surprise. Stonestreet Estate Vineyards is part of Stonestreet Farms, located in Kentucky. Stonestreet Farms breeds thoroughbred race horses, very successfully, including such standouts as Rachel Alexandra (depicted in the beautiful statue on the grounds.) The founder of Stonestreet Farms was Jess Stonestreet Jackson. Jess Jackson. Yes, the Kendall-Jackson Jess Jackson! Surprise! Who knew?

Now on to the chocolate and Cabernet pairing. Some might think that it is difficult to pair chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon, and it can be. The wine is often too tannic to work well with the creaminess of the chocolate. But Stonestreet sent samples of the wines for the pairing to the local pastry chef they’d commissioned for the event. She, in turn, created the chocolate confections to match each of the wines. It was exquisite! While it was hard to select a favorite, if forced, I’d say mine was third from the left, the Chocolate Budino with huckleberry compote. Robyn fell in love with the Opera Cake (second from left) made with dark chocolate genoise, espresso cream, and topped with a sprig of lemon thyme. Each of the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons paired perfectly with the chocolates.

Running a little ahead of schedule allowed Samantha to give us a brief tour of the barrel room, and some photo ops. We also had a chance to sample their Meritage, Bordeaux-style red blend. Made from all five of the noble grapes, it was amazing!

 

And that’s it. Just two Experiences per day. I’ve prattled on long enough for now, and we’ll cover Sunday later. Robyn will write about her solo Experiences in separate post, too. Oh sure, there was the fantastic blues concert at deLorimier Saturday evening, but Robyn will write about that in her first Experience post.

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The biggest takeaways for us on Saturday were these: One, Alexander Valley is a hidden gem; a peaceful wine oasis mere minutes from the crowds and bustle of Napa. There was virtually no traffic all weekend, and no crowds, either. Sure, the heat may have kept some away, but Sunday was much cooler and yet no more crowded.

The other takeaway was this: though the lack of crowds was nice, Experience Alexander Valley was noticeably under-attended. Experiences had capacity for up to 24 guests. Of the four I attended, two had only three guests, one had four, and one had seven. Intimate to be sure, but really, folks, come out next year and let’s make this an event, an Experience, worth repeating! You’ll remember your Experiences forever.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael, unless otherwise noted.

Review: Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015

Most wine geeks know the name Chateau Montelena. For those who don’t, allow me to inform you. Chateau Montelena is the Calistoga, California, winery that produced the Chardonnay that beat out Burgundy, France, in the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976. The Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay put Napa on the wine map, and forever changed the landscape of California wine, both literally and figuratively. (Been to Napa lately?)

Would it surprise you to learn that Chateau Montelena is more than world class Chardonnay? Of course being in the Napa Valley, they produce a stunning Cabernet Sauvignon. But did you know they also make a spectacular Zinfandel?

Zinfandel is often thought of as “America’s grape” although genetic testing has determined that the grape originated in Croatia. Nevertheless, Zinfandel is associated with California due to its historical roots to the Gold Rush. Most people associate Zinfandel with Lodi, Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, or perhaps the Sierra Foothills (some of my favorites), but many forget that Napa Valley produces some impressive Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is a hearty grape; a survivor. The vines can live much longer than many other vines, and still produce stunning fruit. Some would say Old Vine Zinfandel is better, softer, and smoother than wine from younger vines. From my tasting experience, I’d have to agree. Zinfandel is also drought tolerant, and thrives in warmer climates, where some other grapes would suffer.

I had never really thought of Napa Valley or Calistoga for Zinfandel, much less Chateau Montelena, known for its Chardonnay and Cabernet. So I was intrigued when I received a sample bottle of Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015. Winemaker Matt Crafton says of this wine: “…the 2015 vintage showcases [the survivor] quality beautifully. There’s something hallowed in the old, war-torn vines that have endured many challenging growing seasons coupled with the vitality and exuberance of younger plantings that allow us to create this truly compelling wine.”

The 2015 is crafted from fruit harvested from Estate vines that were among the first planted the year Jim Barrett founded Chateau Montelena, 1972, blended with grapes from younger vines. This blend provides the best of both worlds; the soft, smooth qualities of Old Vine Zin, with the youthful fruit and zip of newer vines. 2015 was a very dry year, as California suffered through one of the worst droughts on record. Trees and other vegetation suffered, but the sturdy Zinfandel vines took it in stride, producing rich, intense fruit resulting in an exquisite wine.

This wine was submitted to me as a media sample for review. I received no other compensation. All thoughts, opinions, and tasting notes are my own.

Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015

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Medium purple color with ruby rim. On the nose, more earthy than other Zinfandels I’ve had, but all the fresh blackberry bramble and fruit aromas I expected. On the palate, fresh blackberry, blueberry, cherry, and spice, with dusty chocolate notes, and secondary flavors of vanilla and leather, with smoky notes on the finish. Tannins are bold and chewy; balanced with light acidity. Served with grilled pork chops, the food tames the tannins and really brings out the character. The finish lingers, enticing yet another sip. Perhaps another bottle.

SRP $39.00

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This Zinfandel is truly one of a kind. I’ve tasted dozens of Zinfandels over the years; it is one of my favorite varietals; and this one is definitely unique. It’s bigger, earthier, and with more structure and tannin than many other Zinfandels. If you get the opportunity to try this spectacular wine, take it!

​Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo staging by Robyn Raphael

Review: Klein Riesling Trocken 2016

Riesling. A divisive grape, to be sure. Most people either love it or hate it. For many of us in the United States, Riesling means syrupy sweet, low quality wine. Yet the greatest Rieslings are actually dry, with low residual sugar, and layers of complex flavors. Renowned wine expert Jancis Robinson calls Riesling “the wine world’s greatest underdog.” Of course, she is referring to dry Riesling, but even sweeter styles have their qualities, and are appealing to a vast segment of wine consumers who prefer sweet wines. My dad is one of them; a sweet Riesling is his favorite style of wine. Indeed, many wine experts assert that Riesling is the world’s greatest grape variety.

Riesling is a versatile grape, and can be made into sweet, dessert wines, or crafted into dry, refreshing dry wines, or anything in between. Many Rieslings produced in the U.S. are sweet, which leads to much of the confusion about the varietal. When all you know is one style, you assume all labels are that same style. Riesling originated in Germany, and the fact is, German producers did themselves, and the grape, no favors in churning out barrels of low-quality Riesling back in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. Today, quality has improved, and there are many high quality Rieslings readily available to consumers.

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I had the privilege of tasting one such German Riesling recently. As a member of NakedWines.com, I ordered a bottle of the Klein Riesling Trocken 2016. Admittedly, German wine labels are among the most confusing and confounding on the planet. Just remember this: “Trocken” means “DRY.” And dry this wine is! Winemaker Peter Klein is a rising star in the German winemaking scene. He is a 14th generation winemaker! (Read that again…fourteen generations!!) He was runner-up in Germany’s “Young Winemaker of the Year” competition this year. And his Riesling Trocken is all that!

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Pale straw color. Aromas of pineapple and pear. On the palate, crisp acidity and flavors of pineapple, quince, pear, and white peach. Definitely fruit-forward, but not sweet. We started ice-box cold and let it warm as we drank it on the patio. As the wine warmed, enticing floral aromas emerged. We enjoyed this sans food, but it would be an excellent accompaniment to spicy Asian food or local, German cuisine.

If you have always assumed all Riesling is sweet, get your hands on a Trocken, chill it down a bit (but not too much) and get ready to experience the greatest grape in the world. If this Klein Riesling Trocken 2016 sounds like a good place to start (and it is) click here for a voucher worth $100 off your first NakedWines.com order. You’ll be glad you did.NW Logo

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo composition by Robyn Raphael

 

Yes Way, Lodi Rosé!

If you think all Rosé is White Zinfandel, I have two things to say to you. (1) You’re not alone, and (2) you need to get out and explore Rosé!

I’ve actually been in conversation with people who say, “I don’t like Zinfandel; it’s too sweet.” When they see the quizzical look on my face, they say, “You know, Zinfandel? The pink wine.”  (Spoiler alert: Zinfandel is actually a red wine grape.) While it’s true that many of us got our start with White Zinfandel, myself included, Rosé wines have come a long way in the past 40 years! (A nod to all you purists who will argue that Rosé from Provence has always been good.) But the popularity of dry Rosé, as I opine all Rosé should be, has taken off in recent years, and thankfully, there’s no end in sight!

Many people think of Rosé as a spring and summer wine, and for good reason. A well-chilled, crisp, dry Rosé is quite refreshing when lounging by the pool, or dining al fresco. I am a believer that there is no Rosé season, and drink it all year round, but I will concede that it is best when the weather is warmer.

When you think of Rosé, what grape varieties do you think of? Other than Zinfandel, of course. What? You mean Rosé isn’t a varietal? Nope. Rosé can be made from virtually any red wine grape. Yet it seems that most domestic (U.S.) Rosé wines, and many Old World examples, are made from Pinot Noir, Grenache, or other Rhône varietals. However, Lodi winemakers are pushing the envelope with some stellar Rosé wines made from grapes you may have never considered.

The Lodi AVA is home to more than 125 different grape varieties. The temperate climate; warm temperatures and dry summers; is conducive to Mediterranean grapes, which thrive here. Lodi winemakers produce Rosé wines from Carignan, Grenache, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and many others. The characteristics that make each of these varieties great red wines, also serve to produce Rosé wines with distinct profiles themselves.

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. I received no other compensation, and all opinions and tasting notes are my own.

 LangeTwins Sangiovese Rosé 2017

I’ve written about LangeTwins Winery before, when Robyn and I had the good fortune to meet some friends for a personal tour, with winemaker David Akiyoshi as our guide. It was a memorable experience, to be sure! So I was excited when I opened the box that the nice FedEx courier delivered, and found a bottle of the LangeTwins Sangiovese Rosé 2017. (Click the link to read about the day, and some of the LangeTwins story.)

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From the winery:

With an alluring vibrant pink color, our 2017 Sangiovese Rosé is delightfully refreshing. Opening with juicy aromas of watermelon and strawberry, the same fruit notes carry over to the palate and are balanced by bright acidity. These smooth flavors and a lasting finish will leave you wanting another sip.

Here are my tasting notes:

Crisp, dry, and refreshing. Medium pink color. Aromas and flavors of strawberry and raspberry, with a pop of watermelon jolly rancher on the finish. This’ll be great all summer long!

This wine retails at the winery for just $15!

St. Amant Barbera Rosé 2017

​Well, now. I’ve actually never had a Barbera Rosé before. Barbera is one of my favorite varietals. I’ve enjoyed many red Barbera wines, and even a White Barbera (fermented with no skin contact.) But never pink!

St. Amant Winery was born in the early 1980’s in Amador County, growing their own grapes, and making wine in borrowed facilities. The name comes from the founder’s wife’s maiden name., Their first emphasis was on port-style wines, with some success. In the late 1980’s, the White Zinfandel craze exploded, and St. Amant jumped on board. The success of their White Zin sales allowed the family to purchase their own winery, in French Camp, California, just outside Lodi. In 1996, they moved to their current location in Lodi. The history of St. Amant is quite fascinating, and I encourage you to read the whole story on their website.

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I think the cat is angry because it can’t drink Rosé.

About the wine, from the winery website:

This delicious dry rosé of Barbera is the perfect refreshing wine for a hot summer day. Barbera’s natural acidity and Lodi’s decadent fruit flavors come together to create a lively wine that is sure to please. Yes, it may be a pink wine, but then again, it’s a delicious pink wine. The 2016 Rosé was such a hit that we couldn’t resist doing another one. If for no other reason, it’s a wine I like to drink during the summer. It’s a dry, lighter-styled version of our Barbera, with a zesty refreshing quality that lends itself well to warm summer days. Barbera’s natural acidity and luscious fruit lend itself perfectly to this unpretentious and quaffable wine. It has a deep pink color with a bright fuchsia edge. Strawberry and cranberry aromas follow through on the palate capturing the essence of spring in the glass. Drink Pink!

Here are my tasting notes:

Great color! Deep rose petal in the glass. Aromas of wild strawberry and red cherry burst from the glass. On the palate, a variety of red fruit rolls across the tongue, including strawberry, cherry, and raspberry, with hints of kiwi and watermelon. Rich texture and mouthfeel, with bright acidity. The finish is medium with sour cherry (almost like the Lifesaver flavor!), strawberry, and raspberry. A delicious summer sipper, and great wine to pair with light food dishes.

This wine retails at the winery for just $15! (Noticing a trend?)

If you’re not convinced to get out and try some delicious Lodi Rosé wines, well, I guess I’ve failed. Lodi winemakers and producing some stunning Rosé wines, that are delicious, unique, satisfying, and affordable. So, get up, head to your local wine shop…or better yet, come out to Lodi…and try some Rosé!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo credit (unless otherwise noted) and inspiration by Robyn Raphael

El Dorado Passport Weekend 2018

Off again on another exciting wine tasting weekend! This time we were headed to El Dorado County, for the El Dorado Passport Weekend. El Dorado County is right in our back yard, just about an hour from home. As guests of the El Dorado Winery Association, who provided us with complimentary VIP passes to the event, we were looking forward to a deeper exploration of the region. While we’ve lived nearby for many years, quite honestly, our ventures to the land of gold discovery had been few.

 

El Dorado Winery Association represents nearly 50 wineries. About half were participating in the annual Passport Weekend. With so many wineries to choose from, we had to map out our strategy. Compounding the mathematical quandary was the fact that we had only Saturday to attend. We had other commitments on Sunday! Clearly, we needed a plan.

El Dorado County is located east of Sacramento, and runs from the valley floor all the way to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In fact, the town of South Lake Tahoe is in El Dorado County. The highway that one travels from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe is U.S. Highway 50, part of the historic Lincoln Highway. As it happens, Highway 50 bisects El Dorado wine country, with the Apple Hill area wineries on the north side, and Pleasant Valley, Mount Aukum, and Fair Play regions to the south. Of these regions, Fair Play is perhaps the most well-known, at least in the area, and is the part of El Dorado County we’ve explored the most. With that realization, our plan was established. We would delve into the Apple Hill area, on the north side of Highway 50, and visit wineries that were completely new to us! Well, mostly, as you will read.

Passport-2018

Image Credit: El Dorado Winery Association

The El Dorado Passport Weekend actually spans two weekends. We attended the second. The first weekend was met with sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures. The second weekend was, well, more seasonable. It was overcast and chilly, with an often biting wind at outdoor venues. Nevertheless, even cold weather would not prevent us from enjoying the day and sampling some fantastic El Dorado County wines.

High elevation wines are what sets El Dorado Wine Country apart from other California regions. The growing region varies from 1,200 to more than 3,500 feet above sea level! That’s some serious altitude! Some 50 grape varieties thrive here, from Gewürztraminer to Cabernet Sauvignon, to Barbera, to Chardonnay, to Zinfandel, and many others. Rhône and Bordeaux varietals do especially well here. There are many soil types, including volcanic rock, decomposed granite, and fine shale, each providing its own influence to the terroir.

El Dorado Grape Varieties

Image Credit: El Dorado Winery Association

From here, please enjoy the photo montage along with brief descriptions of each winery we visited. We quickly learned that El Dorado Winery Association knows how to host a party, as each winery had food pairings for almost all of their wines. We did not go hungry!

Our first stop was Fenton Herriot Vineyards. Perched atop a hillside with spectacular views, Fenton Herriot is located just outside Placerville, a quaint Gold Rush era town. The wines were as amazing as the views, and we enjoyed the catered food pairings as well. As part of the VIP experience we were invited to a three-vintage vertical tasting of their Sangiovese.

 

 

Next was Lava Cap Winery. This is the one I intimated above; we’ve been familiar with Lava Cap for years, because their production is such that they can be found in Sacramento area restaurants and even grocery stores. Don’t let this dissuade you, however, their wines are first-class! As part of our VIP experience, we tasted a flight of library wines, including a 12 year old, oak aged Viognier. Yes, you read that right – a 12 year old Viognier! It was spectacular!

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Moving on, we stopped at Madroña. Established in 1973, Madroña is one of the oldest El Dorado County wineries. I even remember them being there when I visited Apple Hill as a child! Here was tasted a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon including a 1985. That’s the year my daughter was born! The wine has aged and mellowed as much as my daughter has. Amazing! They also have a red blend, El Tinto, composed of 25 different grape varieties. Delicious!

 

 

Next we stopped at Via Romano Vineyards. Via Romano specializes in Italian varietals, and they do them exceptionally well. Check out the Pinot Grigio paired with mango, peach, and apple bruschetta! Simply ethereal!

From there, we stopped at Bumgarner Winery. Any San Francisco Giants fans in the audience? Owner Brian Bumgarner did some genealogical research, and found at least a distant relation to starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer, Madison Bumgarner. Even if baseball is not your thing, stop on by their rustic tasting room for some rich, full-bodied red wines.

At the recommendation of one of the staff at Bumgarner, we next ventured just south of Highway 50 to Chateau Davell. There we were reunited with owner and winemaker, Eric Hayes, who we had met at the Wine Bloggers Conference a few months earlier. Eric is a skilled winemaker, and also an accomplished painter. Each label is adorned with a portrait of a family member, lovingly painted by Eric himself.

As you can imagine if you’re keeping score, by now we were getting palate fatigued. Nevertheless, we had some time to kill before we would be meeting friends in Placerville. So we forged on to one last winery, Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery. Another early pioneer in El Dorado Wine Country, established in 1979, Sierra Vista was also on the forefront of the Rhône movement in the area. Their dedication to the craft is evident in each sip.

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With a renewed fascination and enthusiasm for our backyard wine region, we are determined to return soon and continue our adventure of discovery. If you are planning a trip to Northern California, perhaps to the more famous wine regions like Napa, Sonoma, or Lodi, you owe it to yourself to plan a little detour to the east, and come discover the fantastic wines of El Dorado County.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Unless otherwise credited, all photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

  • Content and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael