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Tag Archives: Wine Tourism

Greek Wine Tasting: GAI’A Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yammas!

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

Greek Wine Tasting: Domaine Sigalas

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yammas! 

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

Wine Tourism in Portugal – Guest Post

I’m very excited and honored to announce that the good people at Wine Tourism in Portugal asked me to write a guest post. I’m now officially published on a professional wine website! Please check out the article and let me know, in the comments, what you think.

What to Do, See, and Drink in Portugal

Special thanks to John & Irene Ingersol of Topochines Vino, Kristy Harris of CaveGrrl and husband Andy, and good friend Edward Decker, for their input and first-hand experiences for this project.

Cheers!

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
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Venturing Out to Wise Villa Winery & Bistro

The weather forecast was daunting. A “Pineapple Express” was about to bear down on Northern California, bringing biblical rains, winds, and flooding. For those of you who don’t live in California, a “Pineapple Express” is a tropical storm system that originates near Hawaii, and barrels eastward carrying heavy rains and warm temperatures. The resulting deluge has been known to melt Sierra snow packs and cause widespread flooding in the Sacramento Valley from the combination of rainfall and snow melt. That was the prediction for the weekend.

Meanwhile, a week-long business trip was on the horizon. Having completed packing, Robyn suggested that, regardless of perilous weather forecasts, we head out to the nearby Placer Wine Trail, and do some wine tasting. There are about 20 wineries to choose from, but I knew right away where I wanted to go. We’ve enjoyed the wines of Wise Villa many times. In fact, on our first date, Robyn and I had a bottle of Wise Villa Tempranillo. So clearly, this winery holds a place near and dear to my heart. Yet, despite its location a just 20 or so minutes from home, I’d never been. This potentially stormy day, that injustice would be corrected.

Wise Villa Winery & Bistro is a family owned estate, situated atop a hillside in rural Placer county, with stunning views of the surrounding valley. They farm over 20 different varietals, producing more than 30 wines. From Albarino to Zinfandel, Wise Villa’s wines are expertly crafted to capture the essence of the variety, and the unique terroir of the Placer County Wine region.

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Our original intention was to visit a few wineries that day, but when we arrived at Wise Villa, and took in the beauty of their Tuscan-style building and breathtaking views, we decided to make an afternoon of it. That Wise Villa is the only Placer County winery with a full-service bistro, complete with gourmet chef, combined with the fact that we hadn’t had lunch, made our decision to stay an easy one.

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With the combination of beautiful views, excellent wines, and exceptional service, it’s no surprise that Wise Villa is the favored destination of local large group outings; work-related team building, bridal showers, etcetera. Sure, the winery and bistro were buzzing with activity when we arrived, but we found a quiet table on the covered patio that overlooked the vineyards and valley, and ordered a bottle of wine to enjoy with our small plates. Service was outstanding, and soon our glasses were full of the 2015 Sangiovese, and our Artisan Plate of cheeses, charcuterie, nuts, and fruit, and a platter of chicken skewers were presented for our enjoyment. And enjoy we did!

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Here are my thoughts on the Wise Villa Sangiovese 2015. (Shhhh. It’s a wine club member exclusive.)

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Rich, ruby color in the glass. On the nose, aromas of ripe raspberry and fresh cherry. The wine coats the tongue with a smooth, rich mouthfeel, and flavors of Rainer cherry, kirsch, and raspberry. Tannins are ultra-soft and smooth, balanced by medium acidity and a long, smooth finish of red fruit and spice. Paired perfectly with the Artisan Plate; especially the blue cheese.

As it turned out, the dreaded “Pineapple Express” failed to make an appearance. Instead, we were treated to cotton-ball clouds, warm weather, and absolutely unbelievable views. We relished in our appetizers and wine, and enjoyed a relaxing Saturday afternoon, and each other’s company.

As the larger groups departed, the tasting room became more tranquil, and our bottle now empty, we ventured inside to explore the rest of the Wise Villa menu. All of the wines were exquisite. From soft, supple whites with perfectly balanced fruit and acidity, to big, bold reds with unique aromas and full, rich flavors.

While tasting, and capturing a few photos for the blog, I happened into owner and winemaker, Dr. Grover Lee. A personable and friendly man, Grover shared his passion for winemaking and pairing good food with good wine. He also informed me he offers guided tours of the winery, and assured me they are like no other winery tour I’ve ever been on. Intrigued, I vowed to return to experience the full journey. In the meantime, there was an early morning flight to catch, so we had to say our goodbyes, with an intention to return soon.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with inspiration from Robyn Raphael
  • Photo credits: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend, Day 2 – Sunday

Though Saturday was overcast, cool, and even a little drizzly, Sunday was a new day. We awoke to glorious sunshine, crystal clear skies, and warmer temperatures. This was going to be a great day for some Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting!

In case you missed it, this is the second of two installments on our first-ever visit to Livermore Valley wine country, to attend the annual Barrel Tasting weekend. We were guests of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association. You can read about our Saturday experience here. Suffice it to say, we were very impressed with the Valley, the wines, and the people.

The question of the morning on Sunday was, would it continue? Would the people on Day 2 be as hospitable? Would we spend hours on end at each winery? Would we get to visit more than three? Read on, to find out.

On Sunday, we were on a mission. We were determined to visit as many wineries as possible. With 35 of them participating, we had to be selective, and took some recommendations from the ever hospitable hotel clerk. We plotted our route on the map, and started the car. But wait. The Barrel Tasting event opened up each day at noon. Our first destination was a mere 10-15 minute drive away. We checked out of our hotel at around 10 a.m. What to do? BRUNCH!

We headed down to central Livermore to check it out in the daylight. Wandering around, we spotted some people on what appeared to be a rooftop bar or restaurant. Now on a quest, we entered what turned out to be an office building. Discouraged, we spotted a sandwich-board sign outside the elevator that confirmed we were on the right track, the Aviation Rooftop Bar & Kitchen was just upstairs. The elevator opened into the bar and small dining room, and just beyond was the spectacular rooftop. Brunch was delicious, the server…well, amazingly friendly and hospitable…and just check out this view!

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Sufficiently nourished, we got back in the car and drove to our first stop, the renowned estate, Concannon Vineyards. This was one of what would be eight wineries we visited that day! Like I said, we were on a mission!

I’d like to pause here to assure you that there was much swishing, spitting, and dumping this weekend. Please drink responsibly, and do not drive while impaired!

We were some of the first guests at Concannon on Sunday, so it was not as crowded as we had feared it might. Here, the friendly hosts poured us several tastes of Concannon’s signature wine, Petite Sirah. From the barrel, and from finished and aged bottles, the wines were delicious. Show of hands here: How many of you had your first taste of Petite Sirah from a Concannon bottle? Concannon has a long history of winemaking in California, and even continued during Prohibition by making Sacramental wine for the church.

Our next stop was Murietta’s Well. I’ve read a lot about Murietta’s Well from many of my fellow bloggers, so I wanted to be sure an stop in. Here we enjoyed samples of several wines, including barrel samples of their 2016 Spur; a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. As good as this was out of the barrel, it will be spectacular in a few years when it is released!

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Next up was Steven Kent Winery. Here we tasted some spectacular Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and met winemaker Craig Ploof. Though the tasting room was busy, Craig took the time to talk with us one-on-one, and share a bit of his story and passion. Craig told us how the unique east-west alignment of the Livermore Valley and the varied micro-climates help create wines of character and distinction. He isn’t wrong.

Next, we went to Wente. (See what I did there?) Wente Vineyards is perhaps more well-known than Concannon; their claim to fame being the development of many Chardonnay clones that are now planted around the world. In their barrel room, we sampled Graciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, and their red blend, Artisan Red. Once again, the hosts amazed us with their easy-going, friendly demeanor, and genuine hospitality.

Moving on, we ended up at something of a strip mall for wine. A beautiful stucco building housing at least five winery tasting rooms! First we stopped in at Nottingham Cellars. I’d had a glass of their Cabernet Sauvignon with dinner the night before, and wanted to sample their other wines. Their simplistic but artistic tasting room is charming, and their wines are just as impressive. (By this point , several hours into the day, my note-taking was becoming, well, sketchy, so I don’t recall the barrel samples we had.)

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Walking next door, we entered Longevity Wines. We were immediately taken with the gitchy, eclectic décor; there’s a barn façade inside the tasting room! As we started our barrel tasting; Grenache and a Rhone-style blend called “Deb-Ru-Vee”, the live musical duet was setting up nearby. In addition, winemaker and founder Phil Long was there, and engaged with us and other attendees. Phil is a big guy, but he’s just as friendly, warm, and hospitable as anybody we met that weekend. Upon hearing we were bloggers, he told his staff to treat us well, and he set us up with a full library tasting. (If you read about Saturday’s adventures, you may be noticing a pattern.) The name of the wine, Deb-Ru-Vee, is homage to Phil’s wife, Debra. The quality of the wine is a reflection of Phil’s love and commitment. It’s truly spectacular! As you can imagine, we spent quite a lot of time here. It’s hard to walk away from that welcoming feeling of family and new friends. Yet, eventually, we had to move on. If for nothing else, to make room for other guests!

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Around the corner in an unassuming warehouse building…it looked like an auto body shop…was Wood Family Wines. Winemaker Rhonda Wood was on hand to host the tasting, which included pairing with locally handmade English Toffee. Oh, yum! Once again, we connected with Rhonda and were treated to a complimentary flight in the tasting room, after finishing the barrel tasting. A friendly and engaging staff made us feel welcome, and made sure we were well cared for.

With palate fatigue setting in, we made our way to our final stop: McGrail Vineyards and Winery. The good folks at McGrail had started following me on Instagram just that morning, so it only seemed right to pay them a visit in person to say thank you. In addition, on their Instagram post, they touted an Aroma Bar.

They doctored eight glasses of wine with aromas common in red wine. The challenge was to identify each of the elements in each glass. While I only got six right, it was enough to win a complementary tasting next time we’re in town!

And so it was time to go. We’d had an amazing weekend, meeting fantastic people, making new friends, and finding new favorite wines. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Livermore Valley, thank you. We’ll definitely be back!

  • By Kent Reynolds,
  • With creative content and inspiration by Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

An Excursion to Hanna Winery & Vineyards #WBC17

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Our Wednesday evening drive over to Santa Rosa for the 10th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC17) was dark and rainy. We were unsure what to expect when we awoke Thursday morning for our excursion to Hanna Winery and Vineyards; other than an exciting and educational winery tour, and delicious catered meal with wines to match, of course.

Thursday dawned dry and only partly cloudy. It was a perfect day for a trip to wine country. As we rode on the bus out to Alexander Valley and the Hanna Winery and Vineyards Tasting Room, we saw the results of the devastation of the fires that had ravaged the area just weeks before. Yet we also saw the rebuilding that had already begun. With the sun peeking through the clouds, we could almost feel the hope and resilience we saw around us.

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The drive through the autumn colors of the vineyards was breathtaking, and turning up the driveway to climb the hill to the Tasting Room we were taken by the beauty. Hanna Winery and Vineyards sits atop a hill with a 360 degree of the surrounding valley. The views were amazing! As we entered, we were greeted by friendly, smiling staff with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Soon, our host, Christine Hanna welcomed us and provided some history of the family winery.

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Founded in 1985 by Dr. Elias Hanna, Christine’s father, the land was originally planted to French Colombard grapes. Soon, the family discovered that the land was well-suited to other grapes that could be crafted into world-class wines. As the operation grew, Christine took the reigns as president in 1993, and has continued to lead the way as the winery has grown and expanded its influence.

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Hanna Winery and Vineyards wines are estate grown on three vineyards in the area. In the Russian River Valley, the flagship Home Ranch Vineyards grows Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on its 25 acres, while Slusser Road Vineyard, 50 acres in size, is planted to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Red Ranch Vineyard, in Alexander Valley, is 88 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Bismark Mountain Vineyard, high in Sonoma Valley in the Moon Mountain AVA, grows Zinfandel and Bordeaux varietals.

Christine related the story of how, in an effort to develop the Bismark Mountain Vineyard site, she had to overcome the challenges of accessing a high mountain site without the benefit of such amenities as roads and electricity. Helicopters were involved, and she was successful in bringing this spectacular vineyard into existence.

Christine introduced us to Hanna’s winemaker, Jeff Hinchliffe, who took over the presentation and eventually led us down to the fermentation and barrel room on site for some barrel tasting. Jeff has been the winemaker since 1998. He explained how the varying terrain of the vineyards influences the flavor and profile of the grapes and wines. Jeff is clearly passionate about winemaking, while remaining distinctly humble. Jeff says that “wine will make itself, if you let it.” Jeff is especially enthusiastic about Malbec. He says Malbec wines are easy to make, but the grapes are not easy to grow. Still, he and Hanna Winery are quite successful at it, and produce a number of Malbec varietal wines. In addition, their Cabernet blend contains 25% Malbec.

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Perhaps the highlight of the barrel tasting was our opportunity to sample one of the rarest vitis vinifera grapes in the world. Once common in Bordeaux wine production, St. Macaire was virtually wiped out by the phylloxera epidemic, and thought to be extinct. However, St. Macaire was not ready to be relegated to an historic footnote. Jeff discovered that a nearby vineyard had a half-acre planted to the grape. The vineyard owner provided some cuttings, and Jeff planted a half-acre of St. Macaire at Hanna. They plan to release their first vintage of this wine soon, but we were able to get a taste of the still-developing juice. The wine is inky purple, nearly black in color. Though still very young, with high acidity and tight tannins, the wine was aromatic and flavorful. At this stage, there were significant green, spicy, vegetal notes along with some black fruit. Jeff asked around the room for descriptors. Responses included cassis, eucalyptus, and menthol. I hope to get a sample of the finished product once bottled and released.

Back upstairs and into the tasting room, it was time for a delightful lunch. The table was exquisitely set, and the multiple stemware glasses at each place setting spoke of good things to come! The meal was exquisitely catered by Chef Heidi West, with each course paired with one or two Hanna Winery selections.

The meal was superb, the setting spectacular, and the hosts unparalleled in warm hospitality. Enjoy the photo montage of the meal, and try not to drool on your screen!

FIRST COURSE PLATED

2015 Hanna Russian River Chardonnay

Baby Spinach Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash, Toasted Sliced Almonds, Pickled Red Onion and Warm Bacon Dressing

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MAIN COURSE FAMILY STYLE

2015 Elias Pinot Noir/2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Porchetta with Salsa Rosamarina, Soft Creamy Polenta with Fresh Corn, Marscapone, Pecorino and Parmesan

Haricot Vert with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Sea Salt

DESSERT PLATED

2014 Bismark Cabernet Sauvignon

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Fresh Raspberries

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If you are in Sonoma County wine country, it’s definitely worth a trip to visit the fantastic people at Hanna Winery and Vineyards. Take in the spectacular views, and enjoy some amazing wines.

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Cheers!

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