Wines of Portugal is asking everyone to unite in a Toast to 2021 with a glass of Portuguese wine in-hand while enjoying the music of Fado singer, Gisela João.
But first, the wines.
Portuguese winemakers are blending masters, and once I sipped my first glass of 2017 Quintas de Borba DOC Alentejo, I happily concur. Kudos to Oscar Gato for creating this silky vinho tinto in a masterful blend of Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet and Syrah.
Aragonez is a grape used in making wine similar to Spain’s Tempranillo or Italy’s Sangiovese. It lends to the blend’s inky, full body and aromatic attributes of black fruits and coffee. The Alicante Bouschet has roots in France (Languedoc, Provence, Cognac) and tastes a lot like grenache, which makes perfect sense when you factor in the syrah as the third blend. This is a blend that fits like the glass slipper on Cinderella. The per bottle price is under $10, yet its sips are worthy of a princess.
The next Portugal wine I tasted was a 2011 Reserva Dão DOC Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha. This vinho tinto is presented in the shape of a pinot noir bottle, but it’s taste is a blend of old vine grapes: Touriga-Nacional – considered Portugal’s finest grape of the Dão region, Alfrocheiro for its deep color, Tinta-Roriz, which is another name for Aragonez (see above) – and extended time in French oak barrels.
Its bouquet of cocoa and ripe fruit leads to a medium, dark berried smooth and attractive wine, perfect with grilled meats. Price is approximately $42 per bottle.
In an effort to honor the resilience to the barriers of 2020, Wines of Portugal is offering two Portuguese jewels: Wine and Culture.
“We want to challenge people, all around the world to relax for an hour, and watch a performance of our beloved Fado singer Gisela João. 2020 was not an easy year and we want to pay tribute to all our producers and to the global wine industry in general, by offering them this uniting cultural moment. And the moment will be all the better with a glass of Portuguese wine in hand of course!” says Frederico Falcão, President of Wines of Portugal.
Much like Portugal has its indigenous grape varieties, the country also has its indigenous music: Fado, which is a Portuguese musical heritage that can be traced back to the 1820s and was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO. Fado, just like wine, is a huge symbol of the Portuguese identity.
While it’s fantastic news that a vaccine may be available by end of April 2021, it will not be available to everyone until the end of 2021.
Following 10 months since I last flew in an airplane, I was chomping at the bit to travel. Outside of the occasional road trip, the pandemic prevented me and most of my peers from our pursuits as travel writers. But, once I began reading updates on air purifying and precautions for certain airline carriers (sorry, American Airlines – commentary as a whole has placed you as the WORST airline to fly safely), I grabbed my standard powder blue paper mask and placed it over my washable, double-layered material face mask (with a pocket for an insert) and placed a fresh, new HEPA filter inside. I wore a face shield I ordered from Amazon.com, as well as an air purifier pendant – a gift from my sister. I made sure to assign myself a window seat right away, knowing United wasn’t booking middle seats, or so they announced.
I flew United Airlines for 3 out of my 5 relatively short flights. As I boarded each plane, I was handed a square packet of sanitizer to use on anything I touched: armrests, seat buckle, and tray table latch before I flew from San Francisco to Denver. I was grateful for my TSA pre-approved status, mainly because I didn’t need to wait in long lines to get through security.
Out of my comfort zone, I took no chances. I refrained from eating or drinking while in the airport or on the plane. The biggest issue I encountered was renting a car, as the line was long – and I mean jam-packed and around the corner. The wait was almost 2 hours and there was absolutely no social distancing. In fact, there were a few people mask-less, which was unnerving. Shame on you Fox Rent a Car in Denver.
At every leg of my journey I played the part of a camel. I never used a restroom in the airport, on the airplane, or in the car rental bathroom. In fact, I didn’t use a restroom until I checked into my hotel room at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. It was challenging, but easier since I hadn’t eaten or taken a sip of water since my arrival to the San Francisco airport.
Before my second flight and departure from Denver, United sent me a notice that the middle seat of my row was taken on my flight to Phoenix (what was up with that?!). I appreciated the heads up and immediately looked at the seating and paid $27 to upgrade to more legroom in a window seat, luckily with the rest of the row empty. It was well worth the $27 for the peace of mind I received. Fortunately, I arrived in Phoenix and was greeted by a private driver, courtesy of Mii amo Resort in Sedona; I didn’t have to deal with car rentals again. Phew.
My third flight back to San Francisco was an easy hour, but then I had to shuttle to Novato where a friend picked me up to take me to my parked car in front of her house. I wore my face shield, mask, and air purifier pendant the entire time.
A few days later, I drove to the Oakland airport, where I boarded a flight to Las Vegas. Same methods – except this time ‘round I didn’t wear 2 masks – just the one mask with the HEPA filter because wearing 2 masks made me feel ill! I wore a fresh, new face shield for this trip and Bellagio’s limo driver met me and my travel companion in the luggage area to take us to and from the resort. Once my Vegas trip was over, I boarded my Southwest flight — no middle seat taken on either of my flights — and on my final flight back to Oakland, I had the entire row to myself.
As a side note, during my travels, I mostly dined outdoors, but there were a few meals enjoyed indoors, but with tables spaced socially distanced – I wore a mask up until my wine glass was filled and again once the last sip was taken. At Mii amo I ordered half my meals with a request to send to my room, but when I ate inside the restaurants, which included the restaurant at sister property, The Enchantment’s Che Ah Chi restaurant, it was barely at 25 percent capacity.
In Las Vegas, the casinos were not packed with crowds, but I didn’t spend much time here – just to pass through. The resort had plenty of “mask policing” so everyone had a mask on for the most part, and there were kiosks with masks readily available at no charge. During my stay in Las Vegas, I was even able to get a massage at the Bellagio Spa.
During my most recent spa visits to Arizona and Nevada, steam rooms were closed, and in The Bellagio Spa, everything is closed, including locker rooms. But you can book a massage and most services at the hair and nail salon.
I was there for a massage, and although it was modified for safety reasons, I was able to adapt and enjoy the results. First, there were a limited amount of people inside the massage treatment area. I only saw a few people, in fact. There was no changing into a robe and slippers, and once I grabbed a fresh mask, I was escorted to my treatment room and instructed to remove my clothing and place it on the towel-covered table – not on hooks. And I had to keep my mask on. That was the most challenging, especially when I was belly down and placed my head in the doughnut – I felt suffocated and had to keep lifting my face. My massage therapist calmed my anxiety by informing me that this is the typical first reaction but that it would get better once I got used to it. Luckily, she was right.
Once I calmed down, aided with a swipe of essential oils under the doughnut via the therapist’s hand, I was able to breathe comfortably as she worked to untie my stress knots behind my neck and throughout my shoulders and hip flexor. I relaxed enough that it seemed only a minute had passed before my treatment was over, yet it had been nearly an hour.
By the time I dressed and walked out the door, my massage therapist met me and handed me a small plastic bag. Inside, a small, bottled water and granola bar indicated I should consume both once I exited the 50,000 square foot facility.
It had been so long since I received a massage, I was grateful beyond for the modified version, and thankful The Bellagio Spa is following every precaution to keep guests safe. Better safe than sorry, four days following my return home, I booked a Covid-19 test via Project Baseline, which, gratefully, was negative. It took a lot of pre-planning and effort, but if you’re cautious at all times, travel can be done safely. And you can enjoy outdoor deck dining overlooking The Bellagio water fountain shows to enjoy a dessert like this lemon curd cake at Spago by Wolfgang Puck (featured photo).
While travel memories pierce the thoughts of a pandemic afflicted world, adventure in travel is safest through sips. Georgia, the country… not the U.S. state, is situated in the Caucasus region at the intersection of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. Think Black Sea, north of Russia, south by Turkey and Armenia, and east by Azerbaijan, and some 500-plus unique grapes to produce exotic and captivating wines.
No longer the underdog and, in fact, trending as a top wine destination, Georgia has come a long way since archeologists first discovered clay vessels of ancient wine-making traditions. Those vessels, referred to as Qvevri, included grape seeds that date back to 6,000 B.C., by the way.
One of the best-known wine regions is within the district of Telavi, in the village of Tsinandali. A few sips of Sun Wine 2018 Tsinandali ($16) takes me on a palatable journey to the Telavi and Kvareli area of Kakheti, where Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes produce a pale, white dry wine. The bouquet is a distinct licorice root, or perhaps anise, but the taste is altogether different.
Let’s start with the Rkatsiteli grape. Before its fall, Rkatsiteli fermented in a Qvevri was popular in the Soviet Union. This white wine grape is blended with Mtsvane, which translates to “young and green,” specific to the grape’s coloring. These two grapes are matured for at least two years to create a complexity between aroma and taste, and a crisp acidity. It’s best paired with fish and cheese.
A 2018 Mtsvane ($16) is next, so now the notes of this grape stand out. A honeysuckle bouquet leads to a pear, green apple, and citrus palate, and it reminds me of a Riesling. Recommended pairing for this white wine is with chicken, seafood, and green salad.
For a more personal tasting experience, enjoy my latest Sip Tripper YouTube show!
Moving to the reds…
A 2018 Saperavi (translation: “to give color”) is made with 100% Saperavi grapes. An immediate smoky, cherry bouquet leads to a fabulous pomegranate flavor for this medium bodied dry red wine worthy of more than its sale price of $17. Paired with grilled steak or lamb, you can’t go wrong. Oh, and smoked Moroccan olives are a nice pairing, surprisingly so.
Another version of Saperavi is in a bottle of 2018 Sun Wine Mukuzani. The difference is the location of the vineyard, which is in Mukuzani, where Saperavi is typically aged in oak casks for about three years. This wine is a bit young, with a bouquet of slight oak and rich berries. Any hearty vegetable dish, meat and cheese will work with this wine, which is priced around $18 a bottle. I’d suggest leaving it for at least one year to see what complexity results.
Last, but not least, is the exotic version of a semi-sweet red wine. This is a 2018 Kindzmarauli that surprises and delights my palate. Oh, sweet pomegranate! Priced around $18 a bottle, best enjoyed with a fudge brownie, cheese or fruit.
The price for each of these wines is surprisingly low for the quality and exotic flavors sure to send you on a virtual journey to the exotic wine country of Georgia. I do hope to taste some wines made in those historic clay pots, as this is certainly a case where one hopes history repeats itself… again and again.
With so many rosé wines on the market, and in demand especially throughout summertime, it’s important to note each rosé varies on a wide spectrum, from salmon-pink Provencal rosés to full-bodied rosé of cabernet sauvignon.
Most rosé wines are made using the process of short maceration – fermenting wine is drained from the skins after a short period of time – typically a few hours, and then moved to stainless steel tanks to continue fermentation in the process of white wine, temperature-speaking. Other winemakers blend red and white wines to create rosé, but this is not typical – or permitted in Europe.
As rosé wines go, it’s a personal preference, and my palate is undeniably Provencal style. But around the globe, if the terroir permits vineyards to grow Provencal grapes, I’m happy to taste. And I’m ready to report I’ve tasted 15 amazing bottles of rosé from all over the world and happy to share my thoughts with you.
My rosé roundup has been a labor of love for me throughout SiP days, where I’ve been “sip tripping in place” while sheltering in place.
2019 Malene Rosé, Central Coast, California $22 Sip Tripper rating: GOAT
Why? Because it encompasses all that I love in a rosé: 48% Grenache, 23% Mourvedre, 12% Rolle and 17% Cinsault.
Visually, this is a medium pink rosé offering a light bouquet and notes of peach, a tinge of white grapefruit and a favorite of mine: peony. On the palate, a perfect expression of a fresh-picked strawberry with a smidgen of nectarine leads to a crisp finish of clean, crisp acidity.
Grenache, the black grape variety, needs a warm climate to ripen well, and its red-fruit flavors attribute to the summertime sip’s success. The growing region in the Central Coast of California is as close to the terroir of Provence as one can get, which is why this rosé is a favorite of mine! www.MaleneWines.com
2019 Herdade de São Miguel Colheita Seleccionada Rosé $14.99 Sip Tripper rating: AWESOME
Why? Because this salmony-pink blend wow’d my palate. It’s in a class unto itself due to the use of a few grapes specific to the terroir of Alentejano in Portugal: 50% Touriga Nacional, 30% Syrah and 20% Aragonez.
By the way, this wine has a cork stopper, regardless of its value pricing – hey, it hails from the land of cork forests! Why not? I do, however, recommend that once you open a bottle, plan to consume in one sitting with a friend, as it loses its complexity by next day. Best enjoyed with sushi, fresh fish, seafood and salads. www.quintessentialwines.com
2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Dianthus, Paso Robles, California $30 Sip Tripper Rating: Success is Southern Rhône cuttings grown in California
2018 Rosé, The Wolftrap, South Africa $14 Sip Tripper Rating: Great Value Quintessential Rosé
The trap was set once I read the label for this blend of cinsault (69%), syrah (21%) and grenache (10%). Immediately, I unscrewed the cap and poured half the bottle into an ice cube tray so I could make frozé to share with my neighbor on a hot day in late spring. I threw in about 4 chunks of frozen pineapple, about one cup of sliced strawberries that sat overnight in the fridge in some water, and added the frozé cubes, aa half tray of plain ice cubes and a quarter bottle of The Wolftrap.
The end result was a refreshing version of a slushie in all its rosé perfection. The next day, I poured the remaining bottle to enjoy without the slush effect. There’s a softness on the palate that I enjoy from South Africa wines, and I would declare this bottle to be well-crafted and a best value summer sip! www.vineyardbrands.com
2018 Marqués de Cáceres excellens, Rioja $11 Sip Tripper Rating: Amazing Value — top of my list for rosés
Wine varietals of Rioja have always held a special place in my palate, so when I discovered this Spanish blend of 60% Garnacha tinta and 40% Tempranillo, I was pleased as pink. And this pink is pleasing, believe me. If you could taste what the lightest pink would be, excellens is it. It’s a lovely expression of Spanish grapes softened with bright acidity and freshness.
Crafted with 100% pinot noir grown on French terroir of Domaine Delaporte, this rosé leaves a lasting impression of the palate — a pristine expression of the Domaine’s 15-year-old grapevines and its limestone soil.
The grapes are 100% hand-picked and pressed straight away without any maceration (skin soaking time), which accounts for the feather light pink color, and following six months aging on lees.
A young Sancerre rosé typically offers raspberry and wild peach aromas, and this is no exception. The full palate of raspberries and crisp cool acidity and finish of citrus almost calls for a dollop of whipped cream. Drink within two years of bottling and enjoy on hot summer nights. www.VineyardBrands.com
2018 Studio by Miraval $14.99 Sip Tripper Rating: Lightest rosé ever tasted
It’s irrelevant that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie own the chateau and vineyard. They may be divorced, but they parented a new label with their brand, Miraval. Studio by Miraval, like the estate rosé, has been made in partnership with the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel. And it’s good. Really good.
This rosé from southeast of France carries the appellation “Les Vins de Méditerranée Indication Géographique Protégée”. Its blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Rolle, and Tibouren grapes grown on soil influenced by the sea sprays and the proximity of the Mediterranean Sea attributes to the Frenchness of this very pale rosé. On first inspection, the watered down pink wine indicates barely a flavor, but wow, it packs a bright red fruit punch infused with white flowers and a squeeze of citrus. www.VineyardBrands.com
Louis Pommery Rosé Brut Sparkling Wine, California $26.99 Sip Tripper Rating: Vivacious, Elegant Sparkling Rosé
The coolness of the Pacific Ocean and the heat of the hinterland of the California vineyards are met with French tradition and exceptional wine-making to create this masterpiece of elegance. Well balanced, this brut rosé features a bouquet of delicate red berries with a hint of citrus, all wrapped in pastry.
Winemaker Thierry Gasco, former Champagne Pommery cellar master for 25 years, crafted this sparkling wine with 76% Chardonnay grapes and 24% Pinot Noir — via methode champenoise, with fermentation in the bottle and aging on the lees.
2019 Lucas & Lewellen Rosé of Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California $19.99 Sip Tripper Rating: Pleasant
Why? While I’m not a fan of rosé made with pinot noir… unless it’s sparkling, this light pink, light-bodied semi-dry wine is made by a family winery and was pleasant. My palate didn’t embrace this wine fully – perhaps due to the fact that there’s a small percentage of viognier – my least favorite varietal. This rosé paired well with my Japanese vegetable fritters served over white rice and edamame. The bouquet of blossoms was especially pleasing, as is the acidity. www.quintessentialwines.com
2017 The Clambake limited edition Rosé of Mendocino, California $19 Sip Tripper Rating: Philanthropically delicious!
First, let me say that with every case of wine you order, Clambake will send two complimentary bottles of wine to your healthcare worker of choice to thank them for their service.
I opened my bottle of old-vine carignan rosé as a self-described “not a huge fan of carignan,” but the deep color alone bedazzled my senses to open my mind. Dry-farmed and head-trained at Zaina-Sargentini Family Vineyard, these grapes produced a wine with notes of ripened cherries, limestone and candied grapefruit that paired well with my special treat of mail-ordered lobster tails. www.ripelifewines.com
2019 Bricoleur, Flying by the Seat of our Pants $27 Sip Tripper Rating: Pleasant/Acceptable
I tasted and played with the bottle app, dragged the tip of my phone over the label’s target and received all the info I wanted to learn about this light, fresh, acidic rosé of grenache from grapes harvested in the Fountaingrove District in Sonoma County.
Admittedly, this wine really doesn’t taste like a Provence rosé, but it has much of the same light, fresh, acidic qualities, and the color is barely a tint of the lightest pink rose petal. I taste more peach on the palate than watermelon or strawberry, but every taster has his/her opinion. https://russianrivervalley.org/vineyards/bricoleur-vineyards
2019 Bricoleur, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley $32 Sip Tripper Rating: Splendid/Elegant
Typically, I’m not a fan of rosé made of pinot noir unless it has bubbles. But anything from the Russian River of Sonoma County dispels set notions. Is this the greatest California growing region? Perhaps. A light raspberry with tint of orange and perfection in acidity. This is a winner and worth the price per bottle. https://russianrivervalley.org/vineyards/bricoleur-vineyards
2019 Reserve Côtes du Rhône, Famille Perrin, France $14.99 Sip Tripper Rating: Elegant / What is expected of a rosé
The quintessential rosé blend of cinsault, grenache, mourvede and syrah, this ballet-pink summer sip offers a fresh strawberry bouquet and crisp palate of light red berries and grapefruit finish. Background of interest: The Perrin Family has owned Chateau de Beaucastel since 1909 with five generations involved in the Southern Rhône Valley vineyard. www.vineyardbrands.com
2018 Goose Bay Pinot Noir Rosé, New Zealand $28 Sip Tripper Rating: Atypical and potent
This is an in-your-face burst of strawberries rosé. If you are not a fan of the ballet-pink version of rosé and want more of a fruit candy flavored wine, this is the one for you.
With grapes grown on New Zealand’s South Island on Goose Bay, I would expect nothing more than a vastly different taste. It’s worth noting that this is a vegan wine, and is Kosher for Passover. And if you’re curious about life on a kibbutz winery, novices and oenophiles alike can explore all this and more with Kosherwine.com’s free Live-Streamed Wine Events, presented in partnership with the Israeli Wine Producers Association (IWPA), now through July 5.
2018 The Daily August Rheingau Rosé, August Kesseler, Germany $35.99 Sip Tripper Rating: Unimpressed
Why? Because my first sip was a bit fizzy, and this isn’t a sparkling rosé of pinot noir. Wine Enthusiast gave this wine a 91-point rating and suggested to “drink now”. I agree with the vibrant flavors, but something was amiss and my bottle seems to have begun a secondary fermentation other wine reviewers interpret as “zesty” – but it’s a bottling flaw (carbon dioxide was trapped during bottling). www.vineyardbrands.com
On my first day of tasting, a 2015 French Domaine Saint Gayan Gigondas Cuvée was sent to me. A Rhone red wine priced at $27.99 a bottle. Complex and elegant, this wine is at the top of my list for a favorite tasting.
On the second day of tasting, a delightful 2018 Vignoble Ducourt – Château Briot, priced at $13 a bottle was uncorked. What? A value-priced Bordeaux? Why, yes. This garnet blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot is a light-medium bodied drink-alone Bordeaux perfect when paired with a cheese plate and tapas. It’s not the boldest of Bordeaux’s but that’s a good thing for those who want to keep things light.
My third day of tasting was at the beautiful indoor/outdoor tasting room at Hamel Family Wines in Sonoma Valley, where a bold and structured 2012 Hamel Family Ranch stole the show. Priced at $200 a bottle, this cabernet sauvignon brought forth a bouquet of violets and deep, dark berries mixed with cedar and coffee – black, no cream. The on-site chef, Clinton Huntsman, served up a savory roll of pressed rabbit sausage with a wine-soaked prune in the middle, on a bed of potato puree. The pairing was as divine as this wine.
Day four surprised me with a semi-sweet Stella Rosa Golden Honey Peach wine made with Italian countryside grapes. Talk about shaking things up a bit. With a slice of pumpkin pie. You can Stellabrate this honey and peach forward wine for $12/bottle. And yes, it is not a red, but it’s a dark honey.
On the fifth day of tasting, my palate sang to me once I sipped a 2016 Muriel Fincas de la Villa Crianza of Rioja ($14). Of course, I paired this wine with tapas. Blueberry and toasted coconut mixed with oak… it works!
On my sixth day of wine tasting, a taste of 2016 BRION Cabernet Sauvignon spoke to me. And it was during an outdoor tasting at this new Napa winery on the border of Yountville and showcasing its Yountville AVA. I must share that upon arrival, I was greeted with a flute of Dom Perignon – telltale of the sophistication and hospitality of this winery. And the wines… wow. This particular 2016 BRION Cabernet Sauvignon was made with grapes grown on its Oakville Ranch Vineyard slopes with its red-orange volcanic soils that contribute to the vines’ low water retention, which makes the fruit denser and with deep berry notes. Its earthy bouquet is mingled with tobacco, leather, and mocha. At $225 a bottle, it had better be good, right? Well, it is. Seriously. Kudos to winemaker Mark Herold. This is an approachable wine with potential to gain in its complexity if cellared for another 5 years or so.
Day number seven was spent at home, as I tasted a 2010 Muriel Viñas Viejas Gran Reserva Rioja ($30). Ah, tempranillo. How do I love thee rustic berries of Spain… so much so my thoughts were dominated with visions of visiting and sipping my way through Spain. I’ll get there eventually, just not today. So I’ll travel through this taste and be happy in place.
On my eighth day of tasting, the wine that spoke to me was a 2017 San Simeon Pinot Noir of Monterey – Estate Reserve ($22). Noteworthy is that the Riboli Family was named American Winery of the Year in 2018, courtesy of Wine Enthusiast. I’ve heard good things grow in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and now I know this to be true. Raspberries dominate the palate, and that works for me.
My ninth day of tasting brought me Down Under to the Barossa Valley, a place I’ve actually visited – but not at this winery… yet. This 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon label belongs to 3-Rings and is priced at a reasonable $19.99 a bottle. It’s closure is a screwcap, typical of Australian wines – yes, even the reds. And this is the deepest of deep red, almost black! Twenty-five days of maceration will do this. All I wanted was a BBQ dinner with this wine.
Day number 10 showcased Paso Robles, one of my favorite California wine destinations, with a Maddalena 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) that rocked my palate! Berries, please meet mocha and toast with a drizzle of caramel. This is another label of the Riboli Family and it prompted me to dig out my crockpot to make beef stew.
On my 11th day of wine tasting, I headed to Argentina. Ok, I didn’t actually visit (but I want to!), but my palate traveled to Bodegas Bianchi for a taste of its 2019 Malbec, harvested in March 2019 and bottled in August that same year. This Oasis Sur Malbec is deeply violet in color, packing a bouquet of plums, figs and deep blackberries. It’s a fruity $15.99 bottle of Malbec magic.
My final day, the 12th day of tasting, surprised and delighted me with a… dare I say… Costco wine? Yes, Kirkland Signature Reserva 2015 Bodegas Muriel, L.L. Rioja was my most surprising find. At $6.99 a bottle, say what? Like a ruby slipper on your palate. Balanced velvet. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself.
Charlene Peters is a wine writer who regularly visits wineries around the world and reviews wines from her home in the Napa Valley. She is author of “Travel Makes Me Hungry: Tales of tastes & indigenous recipes to share” available on Amazon and touted as the perfect holiday gift to give during a time when travel is safest when brought to the dining room table.
I took a road trip to Healdsburg, California, to Seghesio Family Vineyards in Sonoma County. This winery celebrates a historic milestone with 125 years of harvesting its flagship grape, the legendary Old Vine Zinfandel. Although “old vine” is an unregulated term, Seghesio applies it exclusively to vines of at least 50 years.
Edoardo Seghesio planted his first Zinfandel vineyard in the Alexander Valley in 1895, and he is considered one of the oldest winemaking names in Sonoma. Through earthquakes, Prohibition, the Great Depression, droughts and fires, five generations of the Seghesio family stayed on course 125 vintages later to establish themselves as Sonoma’s exalted Zinfandel specialists. Today, Seghesio Family Vineyards encompasses over 300 acres in Sonoma growing regions of Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys.
Once arrived, I was handed a glass of 2019 Vermentino, which set the stage for tasting Italian-style wines. This white wine had a bright acidity and would be perfect with seafood or shellfish. But no food could be served, due to Covid-19 restrictions; alas, I gratefully began tasting more Seghesio wines.
I hadn’t expected the first tasting of red wines to be the Italian varietal, Barbera. I was elated to begin with this 2017 Barbera made with grapes from Alexander Valley. Winemaker Andy Robinson took an old-world approach to craft this (and every) wine, and I have to say… this Barbera didn’t actually taste like the Old World Italian Barberas I’ve enjoyed in the past. The Seghesio version of this peasant grape was much more sophisticated in style. It offered a burst of raspberry goodness with a juicy finish, reminding me more of a pinot noir.
But I digress. I was here to taste zinfandel wines of which Seghesio produces 14 versions.
I was more than ready for the first taste of 2017 Mariah Zinfandel. The grapes that make up this wine hail from Mendocino Ridge and grown at an elevation of 2,600 feet, which gives these grapes a bit more minerality to produce a bright, cool-climate wine. Spending 14 months in an oak barrel added baking spices of clove and slight forest floor notes. The tannins were bold enough to let this sit for a few years, no problem.
Next, a 2017 Cortina Zinfandel from grapevines planted in the early ‘70s proved how different a wine can taste when its grapes are planted on the valley floor. This wine hails from grapes harvested at Chen’s Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley (I’m a huge fan of this region), and I have to say… wow. Elegant, yet bold. Balanced and a perfect expression of how a zinfandel should be made. Boysenberry, mulberry, cedar, clove… it’s all there.
Kudos to the dedicated vineyard team, led by Viticultural Director and fifth generation Seghesio family member Ned Neumiller, who maintains several blocks of 100-plus-year old-vine Zinfandel, including the original vines the founders planted in 1895 at Home Ranch in Alexander Valley, of which I am excited to taste next.
Four percent of the 2017 Home Ranch Zinfandel was crafted with those old vines of 1895, with an added smidgen of petit syrah, attributing to its darker color. This estate wine offers complex characteristics and a great intensity I fully enjoyed. Incredible structure and dark berry notes with a nutmeg finish. Oh, yes. I truly tasted the integrity of purple.
Before I departed my outdoor tasting spot, I enjoyed one more wine – a 2018 Paso Robles Zinfandel that tasted more like grenache to my palate. This might be explained by the winemaking techniques Robinson utilizes, which are more commonly associated with First Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy than with California Zinfandel.
Said Robinson, “Our roots, just like those of the old vines we tend, run deep in Sonoma County and we have a responsibility to the Seghesio family name to make wines that celebrate the American dream of our founders—Italian immigrants who came to this country to build a family and a future. As we’ve evolved, so too has our idea of family to include not just the one you’re born into, but also the one you choose. This is the inclusive and welcoming spirit that inspires everything we do.”
All I know is I’ve become a huge fan of Seghesio Family wines.
Charlene Peters is a travel, food, wine and wellness writer with a newly published book, “Travel Makes Me Hungry”. She can be reached by email: SipTripper@gmail.com
Say what you will about tradition and how disappointed we are this Thanksgiving. Yes, once again, the 2020 theme of having to “pivot” rears its ugly head, reminding us of the “new now” – a deadly threat in gathering of extended family and friends. Let’s count our blessings, though, and focus on the wonderful tradition that remains — the release of Beaujolais Nouveau!
Under French law, the wine is set to be released at 12:01 a.m. on November 19, weeks after harvest. Every third week of November, like clockwork, we can count on this bottled gamay. Grown in the most southern wine growing region in Burgundy, France, there’s an outlier region called Beaujolais, where the wine is quite different in regard to production and climate. In fact, Beaujolais is referred to as its own appellation that produces these light, dry grapes that are a cross between a pinot noir and the ancient white gouais grape.
In a non-Covid-19 ravaged world, Beaujolais Nouveau Day is typically marked in France on the third Thursday in November with fireworks, music and festivals to celebrate the first wine of the season.
When you pick up your bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau, be sure to look for label artist Maeve Croghan’s “Russet Vines” on the Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2020 bottles (featured image). Keep in mind that it’s meant to be consumed immediately — within a month, preferably, and it will not have a high tannin structure or acidity, but will be fruity in both aroma and taste. Its tart cranberry overtones make it a perfect pairing for Thanksgiving dinner – even if you’re a table of one.
The producer most familiar to those who open a bottle or two of Beaujolais Nouveau each November is Les Vins Georges Dubœuf. But did you know Les Vins Georges Dubœf produces more structured wines? Try a few bottles of Villages and Moulin-A-Vent and you’ll be sure to up your game with Thanksgiving dinner. Beaujolais-Villages is not the same thing as Nouveau, but it is made from the remaining production to produce a darker, richer and more full-bodied wine – and can be stored longer than Nouveau.
Take a listen to what Romain Teyteau, North America export director at Les Vins Georges Dubœf, has to say about Beaujolais wines:
I look forward to tasting the soon-to-be-released Beaujolais Nouveau, but in the meantime, I’m sipping a 2018 Domaine des Rosiers Moulin-A-Vent produced by Georges Duboeuf and rated 93 James Suckling points, and a 2018 Domaine De La Vigne Romaine Moulin-A-Vent — both pour a garnet gamay of exquisite silk on the palate. Enjoy these deeper, full-bodied wines with beef stew, duck confit, Portobello mushroom dishes, spicy dishes and fine, matured cheeses.
As you celebrate with a bottle of Georges Duboeuf, toast to Georges, who passed away in January 2020 at the age of 86. And be sure to check out THIS LINK for upcoming virtual Beaujolais Nouveau events.
If you’d like to learn more about Georges Duboeuf wines, click HERE.
During uncertain times, there is one thing for certain – white wines pair well with summertime. In honor of National White Wine Day, here are six selections to enjoy on or off the rocks, as recommended.
#1 – In a nod to 1950s Paris, Le Goût d’Autrefois Blanc Limé, a Vignoble Ducourt Bordeaux refresher with lemon, lime grapefruit, sauvignon blanc, semillon and bubbles, is the only one of these wines where ice cubes are preferred. This slightly bubbled spritzer is the perfect gateway wine for newbies or for those who prefer a light wine with low alcohol (8%).
$17 for each impressively designed bottle with retro hinged closure.
#2 – Better known for its production of premier pinot noir, the Willamette Valley in Oregon offers an exotic cedar + salmon 2018 pinot gris to sip throughout summer and beyond. During peach harvest time, this wine’s stone fruit aromas call to the season. Like a ripe peach, each sip of this pinot gris is refreshing and rich with exotic fruit flavors that include kiwi and guava. Chill before serving with grilled white fish or roasted chicken and veggies, but please… leave out the ice cubes.
#3 – Vranken-Pommery recently launched a single vineyard Louis Pommery Carneros Chardonnay 2019, and you will definitely want to sip on this beyond summer – without adding ice. By all means, however, chill before sipping. You’ll notice an expressive palate of creamy honey, attributed to the slight malolactic fermentation, and cantaloupe, and maybe even a touch of almond paste. Best served with blue cheeses or any creamy cheeses, and dessert of crème brulee.
#4 – New Age Sweet Wine is a versatile wine to drink on its own, on the rocks – YES! – or mixed as a cocktail. I am typically not a fan of sweet wines – other than port – but I drank my glass on its own, sans ice – and it was quite pleasant on a warmer than usual day. Made with Argentinian grapes: 90% Torrontes and 10% Sauvignon Blanc, try on ice with a slice of lime or splash of gin and slice of grapefruit to change things up a bit. Pair with Indian, Thai, Chinese or Japanese dishes.
#5 – Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuissé 2018 Chardonnay is a French wine that deserves the royal treatment – so please do not add ice! Serve chilled as an aperitif or with lobster, cured salmon toasts, or cheeses. Better yet, set the bottle aside as it ages well. In typical French style, expect notes of acacia flowers with balanced minerality and… a finish of chestnut! Oh yes. Quality counts.
#6 – Last, but certainly not least, is another Georges Duboeuf, but this time a brilliant pale gold Mâcon-Villages 2018 Chardonnay. The complexity in this wine offers loads of citrus… think lemony, and a nutty bouquet mixed with white flowers typical of France. This is a summer fresh white wine that is lovely when chilled, but please do not add ice.
Fat Tuesday means it’s nearing the time of Carnival celebration, or Mardi Gras, which begins on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday (known as Shrove Tuesday).
With Fat Tuesday approaching, it’s the perfect time to pop the cork on a green labeled bottle of Faire La Fête Brut — the only sparkling wine with historical roots in the world’s original Mardi Gras festival on February 25.
This crémant hails from a wine region in France – Limoux – that with a claim on the first production of Méthode Traditionnelle 150 years before the Champagne region patented the method. This sparkling wine celebrates its cultural origins as the official beverage of the annual January-March Carnaval de Limoux, which is the longest running Mardi Gras festival in the world, dating back to the 16th century (which actually makes it the oldest festival in the world!). The label’s green and purple theme is also a festive nod to that heritage.
The choice on how you want to toast to Mardi Gras is yours, but with pricing so low ($19 a bottle!), Faire La Fête, which translates to “have a party” in French, seems the way to go for a great value on a tasty sparkling wine. Made with a blend of 65% chardonnay, 25% chenin and 10% pinot, I can personally attest to the quality of this sparkling wine, admittedly opening the bottle before Fat Tuesday to confirm my endorsement of this vibrant golden, crisp, lemony crémant with the essence of baked apples on the palate.
If you enjoy dry sparkling wines, this is the one for you. A mere six grams per liter, Faire La Fête has 30 percent less residual sugar than the leading Champagne brands. Compare to Veuve Clicquot “Yellow Label” (9.5 g/L), Moët & Chandon “Impérial” Brut (8 g/L) …not to mention a certain “blue label” Prosecco (16 g/l).
Whether you’re in New Orleans, Italy, or in your own backyard, kick up your heels and toast to Fat Tuesday!
There are tastings that prompt you to remember where you’re tasting – an armchair travel of sorts, when you think of the terroir within a wine region. Although Sicily has a perfect wine-making climate and a history of wine dating back to 4,000 B.C., I found my latest tasting of six bottles of Tenuta di Fessina to be challenging, to say the least. The whites, a 2017 Etna Bianco ($25) made with 90% Carricante, 10% Catarratto and Minella, and a 2017 A’Puddara ($65) made with 100% Carricante proved interesting to sip. The Carricante grape is late harvested, which would explain the intense minerality and candied notes.
I’ve never been to Sicily, so I kept an open mind to these wines and the differences a terroir can make. This is a terroir of volcanic soil, so I was excited to try the wines, but once I tasted a few bottles, I became even more eager for a visit to explore this wine region as it relates to other wine regions of Italy. What I do know — Sicily is where the highest active volcano in Europe sits, and in the village of Roviteelo, on the northeastern side of Mount Etna, are where the vineyards of Tenuta di Fessina produce their grapes.
When I brought a few bottles over a friend’s house, three of us tried the 2017 Laeneo ($42) made with 100% Nerello Cappuccio grapes. We had the same reaction. “Sour cherries!” We were not fans. So, I opened a 2016 Erse Rosso ($25), made with only 8% of Nerello Cappuccio – 90% Nerello Mascalese and 2% Minnella & Carricante. This wine was a bit better, but those sour cherries still seemed to dominate our palates. Although these grapes are known for their sour cherry flavors, we were all disappointed and I had only wished I’d brought the bottle of 2012 Il Musmeci Rosso, made with 100% Nerello Mascalese, a burst of dried cherry fruit with a bit of tar, mint and nutmeg notes.
My conclusion is that when aged, these Sicilian wines are much more palatable. The 2012 Il Musmeci Rosso presented an expression of Sicily that should make Tenuta di Fessina and all Sicilians proud. I read that the Nerello Mascalese is reminiscent of pinot noir, and I would have to say yes, but only a little. I will say that this 2012 Il Musmeci Rosso was my favorite of the half dozen bottles. My next favorite bottle was a 2018 Erse Rosé ($25) made with that same Nerello Mascalese, but only 50%; the other half is Nerello Cappuccio, which clearly tastes better when blended as a rosé.
Charlene Peters is a wine writer living in Napa Valley. She can be reached by email: SipTripper@gmail.com