Bubbling over the holidays

“I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not.” 


Fascinating facts about bubbles add to the allure of the pop. Did you know that to label a bottle as Champagne, the grapes must grow in the Champagne region of France? This, according to its Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) regulation, is non-negotiable… well, unless you’ve been grandfathered in before the AOC occurred on June 29, 1936.

If you’ve ever seen bottles of bubbly labeled California Champagne, such as Korbel, what you’ve seen is perfectly legal because Korbel was established in 1882, before the 1936 regulation. There’s always a loophole. Korbel, like, Champagne, is made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise (secondary fermentation in bottle), and it is perfectly elegant in taste and presentation. A bottle of Korbel is a great option at an affordable price – under $20 a bottle – an economical choice for large group celebrations.

A California sparkling wine can rival any Champagne, and if you prefer a sparkling California wine with a bit of pink, try a bottle of Windsor Vineyards Brut Rosé Sparkling ($32) – and order online for your next gift to offer a holiday party host – and create a custom label. This non-vintage Brut Rosé Sparkling is made in Méthode Champenoise with grapes grown on the North Coast. Aromas of honeysuckle and pear lead to a palate of crisp watermelon and a finish of grapefruit. Refreshing and ready for you to grab your favorite brie cheese and bake it with fruit.

If you’re searching for authentic Champagne, France is where it all begins in the soil composition: chalk, oyster shells, and limestone. These elements attribute to a grape structure that produces the best sparkling wine in France, if not the world. Three grapes are utilized in Champagne: Chardonnay for its elegance; Meunier for its offer of roundness on the palate; and Pinot Noir for its strength. More factors include the weather, cultural practices, and time-honored experience.

The newest Korbel bottle on the shelves isn’t Champagne, though. Korbel Prosecco is a sparkling wine made with glera grapes of the Veneto region. Like Champagne, the Veneto region has regulations of its own. Korbel didn’t make the loophole for this one, though. As of 2009, strict regulations were in place in that the glera grapes must be grown in Prosecco to be called Prosecco. And Prosecco is a place about an hour from Venice; it’s no longer the name of a grape.

The glera grape is a white varietal which is said, but not confirmed, to hail from Slovenian in its origins. One sip of this sparkling and I was transported back to my one and only stop in Prosecco, Italy, where our tour group stopped to pick a few leftover green-skinned glera grapes from the recent harvest. From my first sip, the slight aromas of honeysuckle, lemon, pear, and peach led to a palate of the same, with a crisp acidity.

Another Prosecco worthy of a mention is a bottle of Guinigi Prosecco Rosé ($17), produced in Treviso and Fruili Venezia Guilia, Italy. This wine is a blend of Prosecco (glera grape) and Pinot Noir, the latter grape to produce the pink color. This is considered a Spumante Brut and it pairs perfectly with a creamy vegetable risotto – or platter of sushi. It’s also a great palate cleanser due to its robust acidity.

La Gioiosa Prosecco is floral forward with fruits on the palate that suggest a ripened apple. It’s considered “off-dry,” meaning a bit sweeter than most dry sparkling wines. This is a great sparkling to serve with shellfish.

Another “sort of” sparkling something is a fun Lambrusco, which hails from one of the best places in the world to get cheese… Reggio Emilia. American negociant Cameron Hughes has introduced Lot 841, which is more of a frizzante, meaning semi-sparkling. Most Americans recall the one brand, Reunite, available in a jug, and it tasted like Welch’s grape juice. This Lambrusco is delicious with any red-sauce dish or pizza and is a fun conversation wine priced around $15 a bottle.

Summer sips that make a palatable splash

My friend Kathy arrived ready to roll, quite literally rolling two pieces of luggage as she exited the terminal. Her arrival to Ft. Myers, Florida from Boston was prompted by her thirst for some vitamin D. Following a year-plus of lockdown, she was primed and more than ready for a few splashes. The first splash was a pour from a bottle of Angels & Cowboys Sonoma County 2020 Rosé. This barely pink-toned grenache-based rosé, sourced from one of my favorite vineyard spots in California: Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys, is modestly priced at $15.99.

One sip and I was transported to my time living in Northern California and driving along the Russian River for wine tastings in Dry Creek Valley. This is a stellar region for rosé production, especially when said rosé is made with grenache grapes. But wait, there’s more. A touch of syrah, carignan and pinot noir adds finesse to the final product.

Another sip transported me to the French Riviera, where rosé wine tastes much like this Angels & Cowboys version. A slight hint of citrus and ripened strawberries on the nose led to a palate of delicate-infusion of pulverized sweet-tart candy and pixie sticks, but with a soft mouthfeel. And just like that I was transported to joyful childhood memories of filling a brown bag with penny candy.

The only thing better than this rosé would be its sister sparkling version, a Brut Rosé made in the traditional Champagne method (secondary fermentation in the bottle for fine bubbles). Kathy and I toasted to being fully vaccinated as we cozied into the wicker rattan furniture on the screen-covered lanai in her second home, a.k.a. snowbird escape. Front and center was the heated pool, which served as our centerpiece; we jumped in for a splash soon enough.

Angels & Cowboys Brut Rosé paired nicely with the act of two friends catching up and enjoying some overdue fun in the sun. At $24 a bottle, this bubbly is one to keep in the wine refrigerator for moments like this, when a plate of artisanal cheeses from Brent, TheCheeseGuy.com is all that we want for dinner.

One bite of Ghost Pepper Jack vegetarian cheese would have brought Kathy to her knees, but she had seen the wrapper and decided to test out a nibble. “Once you get past the initial heat, it’s delicious,” she said, but stopped after a few bites. I opted for the Viney Sheep aged over 9 months in red wine, made from the milk of grass-fed sheep of Italy. This was one of the best cheeses I’ve ever tasted and I’m happy to share it’s lactose-free.

This sparkling rosé is an iconic blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier, sourced from Mendocino and Sonoma counties (Sonoma pinot noir rocks my world!) from vintages 2012 to 2018. It’s bouquet of bright fruit and crisp minerality led to tastes of licorice and watermelon in the lightest taste.  

This spring, Ondine Chattan, head winemaker for Share a Splash Wine co., released a Cannonball Chardonnay from grapes sourced from Coastal California vineyards. Share a Splash was started in 2006 as Cannonball Wine Company. At the helm, Yoav Gilat’s vision was to create the best $20 California Cabernet. The company expanded to a portfolio that includes Cannonball, ELEVEN by Cannonball, Angels & Cowboys, New Zealand’s Astrolabe Wines and High Dive Napa Valley.

I opened a bottle of Ondine’s Cannonball Chardonnay (2019) and wondered about the label of a boy crouched in the cannonball position above waves. How does this relate to a chardonnay? Well, one has to have dexterity and balance and exhibit a fearless persona to be able to perfect the summer splash of a cannonball from a pool’s diving board. This chardonnay happens to exhibit an uninhibited spirit of liveliness that begins with its fun twist-off, easy to open cap. The bouquet is like a first kiss — of oak — and leads to a stone fruit with a slight pineapple finish. You’ll be craving a lemon meringue pie once you taste this, so you should probably make the pie before opening a bottle. ($15.99)

Wines to Pair with Oscar-Nominated Films

From Promising Young Woman to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, here are 5 picks to sip while watching the Academy Awards. If wine could win an Oscar, all of these would be winners:

Promising Young Woman

Elouan Wines 2020 Rosé ($19.99) – Strawberries and roses on the nose of this light and simple salmon Rosé of Oregon could be considered a revenge wine, one that Carey Mulligan as a Promising Young Woman would sip. On the palate, a retaliation of strawberry surge mingles in a mix of ripened raspberries that prompted me to grab a container of berries to enjoy later.

Spearheading an environmentally conscious effort, Elouan Wines is a partner of Trees for the Future, and through the “Enjoy a Bottle, Plant a Tree” initiative, Elouan and Trees for the Future have planted more than half a million trees together.With every bottle or glass of Elouan Wines sold through May 31, a tree will be planted through Trees for the Future’s program with farmers across the globe.

The Father

Chêne Bleu 2015 Aliot ($54) Although it’s promoted as a medium-bodied white, I’d say this is a full-bodied white with a bite even Anthony Hopkins would enjoy. This Chêne Bleu Alio is more of a shoulder season white with a blend of Roussane, White Grenache, and Marsanne, and aged in old and new French oak barrels for 8 months.

It’s as powerful as the acting career of Anthony Hopkins, beginning with its bouquet of simmered peaches and roasted almonds that lead to a big finish of dried apricot and pineapple on the palate. The pairing suggestions for this wine seem about right: salmon, game, poultry, rabbit, pate and hard cheeses. I enjoyed with rotisserie chicken and vegetables. This wine is a keeper and can lay down for 5-6 years.

One Night in Miami

Malene 2020 Rosé ($22) leads the charge as the workhorse of Malene wines. I discovered the Malene magical rosé last summer, on a hotter-than-Miami day in California. Refreshing and vibrant, the 2020 central coast California vintage of pink drips strawberry, which isn’t exactly what I tasted last year. My palate preferred the peony, white grapefruit, peachiness of the 2019, so if you can scoop up any 2019 bottles, I highly recommend! The 2020 is lovely, too, but is more strawberry forward, so if you like this, by all means, enjoy!

I can imagine Director Regina King sipping on this crisp rosé during the filming of this Oscar-nominated film. The struggle is real in the film and for this 2020 vintage that created new meaning for the term “dry” January. There was no significant rainfall until March, and added to this historic year were wildfires, which led to some grapes with smoke taint – and ultimately dropped from the vines. The best grapes were saved to make this rose-gold expressive and exotic rosé. Kudos to the winemaker, New Zealand native Fintan du Fresne (Fin), whose passion to make rosé started during time spent with many of the great rosé houses of Provence, this rosé exudes the ideal French-style with lovely California Coast influences.


Like watching the incredible film, Mank, 2020 wasn’t a complete bust, especially when you factor in a bottle of Reserva Casillero del Diablo Rosé ($11.99). Crafted from French varietals, this medium-bodied Chilean rosé begins with a bouquet of crisp and cool raspberries. On the palate it’s a burst of fresh-picked strawberries with a bit of spice in the finish – perfect to pair with a summer salad. Care to take it up a notch to a Mank level of a spirited, boozy treat? Check out this recipe for Frozé del Diablo Popsicles.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Böen 2019 Pinot Noir ($24.99) Ba-da-bing! Cherries, that is. And Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom dresses she wore to cover her bodacious figure reminds me of this big, Burgundian-style wine – personality, plus! Like Ma Rainey, this pinot noir is a bit gravelly, but refined, and Böen draws its profile from the varied coastal winegrowing areas of California’s most sought-after cool-climate appellations. Pinot Noir must be harvested early and during optimal growing conditions. Temperamental as these grapes are, this vintage packs a wallop of ripe Bing cherry, cocoa and red blackberry (marionberry) with a rich and balanced palate and a bright acidity that leads into a long, smooth finish Ma Rainey would surely enjoy.

Charlene Peters is living the life of a nomad and shares tales of luxury travel, food, wine and wellness. She is also the author of Travel Makes Me Hungry: Tales of tastes and indigenous recipes to share.

Old Vine’s Down Under

Australia’s first grapevines were planted in 1788 in Farm Cove, today’s Sydney Botanical Gardens. This was pre-phylloxera (late 19th century), and because Australia vineyards weren’t affected by the deadly louse that wiped out vineyards around the world’s premier wine regions (Chile, the country of Georgia, and the Mosel region of Germany weren’t affected, either), the wines are considered Old World.

In a virtual tasting hosted by San Francisco Wine School, with special guests from Australia that included famed Aussie winemaker, Corrina Wright,  and winemaker Dean Hewitson, thanks to AustralianWineDiscovered.com, 11 wines were tasted by over 100 virtual guests, including myself. Over 1,500 mini bottles were shipped to approximately a dozen states. I happily share my top 5 favorites:

#1 – During my last visit to McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley, I fell in love with the grenache wines of these regions. True to form, my absolute favorite sip during this virtual evening was the 2016 Edgar Schild “Reserve” Grenache, Barossa Valley ($26). The family behind the winery is a story you’ll want to follow online. This old vine was planted in 1916 and reflects a warmer vintage that works for me! The wine aged for over a year in new and old French barrels and presents as dark ruby with opulent dark and red fruit notes leading to slight tannin structure of the same berries on the palate.

#2 – One of my favorite white varietals is semillon, and the 2019 Tyrrell’s Semillon, Hunter Valley ($27) was truly exceptional. Grown in sandy loam soils and a short time on lees before bottling, this minerally-forward wine is a delicious and perfect representation of semillon. Aromas of cut grass and lemon lead the way to a palate with… wait, was that dried ginger on the finish? Amazing.

#3 – OK, so I’m partial to semillon Down Under, apparently. And this one was even better than the last. The 2018 David Franz “Long Gully” Semillon, Barossa Valley ($29), is a showstopper. The grapes hail from ancient vines (134 year’s old!) dry grown in sandy loam. This bright straw-colored wine exhibited a weighty, rich mouthfeel and was so wonderfully greeted on my palate – as refreshing as a perfectly made lemon meringue pie.

#4 – It would be blasphemous to leave out a Shiraz recommendation. Thankfully, there was one crimson selection I enjoyed, right down to the finish with notes of sage and allspice. This was a 2017 Langmeil “Orphan Bank” Shiraz, Barossa Valley ($65). The name “orphan” is due to the vine’s history, as explained on the Langmeil website: “Ten rows of Shiraz planted pre-1860 were saved from the developer’s bulldozer and replanted alongside the original Langmeil vineyard on the banks of the North Para River. We called these ten rows the “Orphans”, but after 150 years they have a new home.” Drink this wine and you’re tasting history.

#5 – Blended wines can be tricky, but this 2015 John Duval “Plexus” Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvedre, Barossa Valley ($80) was poured from a magnum and delighted my senses as the final pour of the tasting. It was a textbook red blend of the old days, exhibiting the full spectrum of bright red licorice to dark berries and plum on the palate, finishing with baking spices.

Email help@sfwineschool.com to inquire on how to order any of the wines listed above.

Charlene Peters, a.k.a. Sip Tripper, enjoys sharing wine reviews and her discovery of wine destinations. Sign up for her e-newsletter on www.spavalous.com and receive travel inspiration, wine recommendations, and more tips related to travel, food, wine, and wellness. Be sure to order a copy of her book, “Travel Makes Me Hungry: Tales of tastes & indigenous recipes to share” available on Amazon.

Road Tripping & Tasting: Wines of Emilia-Romagna

Even before I’d watched Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy on CNN, I was invited to a virtual tasting of Emilia-Romagna wines. Alas, my shipment didn’t arrive in time for the scheduled event. But, like so many Zoom events, a link of the recording was sent to me post-event. It all worked out well because, as it turns out, the wines I received were completely different from what Daniele Cernilli, a.k.a. Doctor Wine, showcased in the virtual tasting.

Be that as it may, I’m simply glad I had the chance to taste wines from an Italian wine region I love so dearly!

Geographically speaking, the wines are from Romagna, from North to South. And several are designated Superiore, which is just what it seems. Wines labeled as such benefit in quality from longer aging, less production by hectares, and offer a fuller body.

On a recent cross country road trip, I arrived with two bottles in-hand to my Italian-American friends in Tucson, Arizona, as they were hosting me for dinner. One, a 2019 I Diavoli Le Rocche Malatestiane Romagna Sangiovese Superiore, priced at less than $20 a bottle, has a label design of colorful hand-drawn bats. This wine is produced in the hills of Rimini, from vineyards located between the clay soils of San Clemente and the chalky soils near Gemmano – near a natural bat habitat referred to as “devils that live in a cave.” It’s an easy-drinking medium-bodied wine, telltale of its year spent in stainless steel, and bursting in bright red raspberry, licorice flavor. We enjoyed both wines with a plate of rigatoni and red sauce with sausage, but we especially fell for the Fattoria.

It was 1970 when the Sangiovese reserve Vigna delle Lepri (translation: vineyard of the hares) was first produced in Romagna from a clone named “Biondi Santi” or Sangiovese Grosso. The 2014 Fattoria Paradiso Bertinoro Vigna delle Lepri Sangiovese Riserva exhibited complex, dark ruby lusciousness in layers of red berry jam, violets and a hint of pipe tobacco or cigar, with the slightest mocha. This 100% Sangiovese Grosso was vinified in steel and aged at least 4 years in large oak barrels before bottling and laying down for a year before shelved for purchase. From time of purchase, this bottle can be cellared for 30-plus years and best enjoyed with braised meats, game, grilled red meats, chocolate and fine cheeses.

Next, I opened a bottle of delicate, impressive white wine: A 2019 I Croppi Albana Secco produced by Celli. I cannot recall ever tasting an Albana grape, one I learned was the first to get the DOCG seal in 1987. This golden yellow nectar was all that and then some, with grapes that grew in the good life of a soil mixture of clay and a bit of limestone. From there, the grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks. This is an excellent wine to enjoy with noodles, grilled fish or poultry. Priced less than $20/bottle.

Back to reds, a 2018 Notturno Sangiovese DOC Predappio of Drei Dona was aged in wooden casks for 6 to 8 months. Sangiovese accounts for 80% of grapes grown in this Romagna region. This wine had a bit too much acidity for my palate, but I could’ve been thrown off by the finish of balsamic vinegar.

Watching Stanley Tucci in Emilia Romagna was a thrill, especially since I’ve made a few trips there and he visited at least one stop I made in Modena, to tour the museum and barrel rooms of the oldest balsamic vinegar producer, Giuseppe Giusti. My published story on balsamic vinegar may be accessed HERE.

By the time I opened the next white wine, I was immersed in warm Florida weather and eager to sip on what turned out to be an all-time favorite Italian white wine: a 2019 Fattoria Zerbina Bianco di Ceparano DOC Albana Secco of Romagna. Might I say, WOW! This is the quintessential summer sip for 2021. Bright gold with a fresh citrus bouquet, and on the palate, a cornucopia of refreshing grapefruit and a bit of lemon citrus. It is the perfect pairing for salads, grilled or fried fish, asparagus (!) and chips and onion dip, my favorite by the pool. Less than $20/bottle, this is a wine worth stocking for summer.

Finally, the weather cooled a bit (70s), and it began to rain. Watching Stanley Tucci passionately consuming the best pasta in the world prompted me to purchase homemade pasta at the local farmers market here in Fort Myers, Florida. And with this pasta, I pretended I was in Rimini with Tucci, and I opened my last bottle of Romagna wine, a 2018 Noelia Ricci Godenza Sangiovese Predappio, located at the foot of the Tuscan-Romagnolo Appenino of a once war-torn Forli. These large sangiovese grapes ferment for six months in steel; 8 months in bottle.

I must note that the missing link in Tucci’s CNN show is the pairing of wines with the 20 food regions of Italy he’s showcasing. If only he’d reach out to me, I’d happily co-host and speak on behalf of the wines. But I digress.

Noelia Ricci is the woman behind the wine’s success and has a fascination with the land’s animals of the past. Each label represents an animal once found on the land. For this bottle of Predappio, an illustration of a monkey is interpreted as a wine with its feet firmly planted in its land. The wine is representative of its vineyard of mostly sandstone, which attributes to its lovely bouquet and approachable taste. It’s not the most complex wine I’ve tasted, but it’s a perfect pick for an everyday red table wine. Raspberry forward, clean and bright.


The best white wines for winter sips

Embracing a welcome change of pace to drinking heavy cabernets this winter, here are some full-bodied white wines to sip while winter finishes its course.

Sun Wine Kisi Qvevri Dry Amber

It’s no surprise that the country of Georgia is experiencing a wine boom in the U.S. The fact that Georgia is one of the oldest winemaking regions in the world came to light five years ago, when archeologists discovered qvevri (pronounced “kway-vree”), traditional clay vessels used in winemaking. Inside the qvevri were grape seeds dating to 6,000 BCE. UNESCO was so amazed by the longevity of these ancient clay jars that they included qvevri on its Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013.

A bottle of 2019 Kisi Qvevri, a dry amber wine, offers a luscious mouthfeel. This is a rare grape varietal of Georgia, made in a traditional clay vessel, a qvevri, skins-on to create a full-bodied “orange” wine. Deep citrus notes and hints of black tea on the finish. Bottle price: $22

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve 2018 Chardonnay

If a wine could taste like slipping on a classic little black dress, this golden wine would be the perfect fit. It has remained the cream of the crop of Chardonnay’s for over 25 years, and this year, especially, it’s best enjoyed with a favorite companion during an indoor picnic.

Behind the making of this wine, whole grape clusters were pressed to retain the fresh fruit qualities and the fruit was sur lie aged with monthly battonage (lees stirring) to create a Kendall-Jackson signature velvety texture and creamy flavor.

Its silky texture delivers powerful and seductive tropical notes of pineapple, mango and papaya and aromas of vanilla, honey and toasted oak. If this wine were a celebrity, it would be Meryl Streep, simply due to its versatility to act as a lovely accompaniment to winter squash, creamy pasta dishes and pork loin. Bottle price: $17

2018 Rkatsiteli Qvevri Dry Amber Wine

In traditional unfiltered qvevri style, Rkatsiteli, which literally translates to “red stem,” is made of Georgian grape seeds whose history dates back to 3000 BC. This sumptuous wine is “orange” and offers a ripe citrus bouquet and sweeping, complex palate of dried orange peel, sweet tea, stone fruits and a lingering finish of caramel. Bottle price: $20

2019 Banfi La Pettegola Vermentino of Toscana IGT

Central Italy vermentino grapes make this choice a nice change of pace to a traditional sauvignon blanc. Its crisp bouquet of fresh-cut bouquet leads to a palate of grapefruit and pineapple, a bit of honey, with a lemon-citrus lingering finish. Enjoy with a salmon taco. Bottle price: $19.99

2019 Banfi Principessa Gavia Gavi DOCG

Its bouquet is more subtle than its taste, which lends to a full-on intensity of fruitiness and a tingle telltale of a slight secondary fermentation. The story behind the label will lend to a tingly sensation: Princess Gavia’s love story is the stuff of legends. In the 6th century, Gavia fell in love with a soldier. Their marriage was forbidden by her father, Clodimir, King of the Franks, so they ran away, eloped, and settled in northwestern Italy in the Gavi region of Novi Ligure, which was surrounded by vineyards. This is a wine best served as an aperitif with seafood hors d’oeuvres. Bottle price: $19.99

In this year of the pivot and discovering a new you, do you dare to be different? If so, winter whites are a good start.

Charlene Peters, a.k.a. Sip Tripper, reviews wines, travels the world and authored a book of her culinary travels, titled “Travel Makes Me Hungry: Tales of indigenous tastes & recipes to share,” available on Amazon.

Cheers to 2021! Why not pair Portuguese wines with Fado?

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.

Boas festas de Portugal!

Tips to fly safe during the pandemic of 2020-2021

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).

Georgia On My Mind

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.


2020 Rosé Roundup

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
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
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
Sip Tripper Rating: Success is Southern Rhône cuttings grown in California

Full-on power on the palate, with strawberry and guava and a touch of rose petal. www.VineyardBrands.com

2018 Rosé, The Wolftrap, South Africa
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
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.

2018 Domaine Delaporte Sancerrre, Chavignol
Sip Tripper Rating: Ooh La La!

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
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
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.

Enjoy as an aperitif or with fresh seafood and plenty of French fries! www.champagnepommery.com

2019 Lucas & Lewellen Rosé of Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California
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.

2017 The Clambake limited edition Rosé of Mendocino, California
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
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
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
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
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.

Visit Kosherwine.com for a full schedule, to register, receive notices of every event, and catch up on past episodes. www.SpencerHillWine.com Imported by Royal Wine Corp.

2018 The Daily August Rheingau Rosé, August Kesseler, Germany
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

Tastes that transport to Tuscany

The sensory trigger of tasting wine serves as time travel for many aficionados. Why? Consider this: if you’ve ever visited Chianti’s wine region and then, years later, opened a bottle you selected as interesting (was it the artsy label that caught your eye?), that first sip is sure to send you back in time to your last visit.

Art is also in the mix of wine tasting; the association of the two are no surprise to wine afficionados who understand the artisanal aspects of winemaking. Beyond winemaking, to create a label, and variations that include adding the logo and brand name, lead to cleverly naming of wine blends. And sometimes there are labels that are actual works of art.

il Molino di Grace Toscana Gratius 2017 is one such bottle with a label that almost overshadows the Super Tuscan wine-tasting experience. Yes, the Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Colorino grapes were blended to perfection, but that label, titled “Bouquet of Grace,” created by famed artist and sommelier of Harry’s Bar in London, the late Valentino Monticello, is, well… ammazza!

Opening a bottle of il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 ($33) during a food and wine pairing dinner… with fettuccine and mushrooms drizzled in truffle oil, was a transport to my 2015 stay at Castelfalfi in the heart of Tuscany. The hills of Panzano, where the Molino di Grace winery is located, is a mere hour drive from Castelfalfi.

Wine and art fueled the vision of winery founder of il Molino di Grace, Frank Grace. A visit would be awe-inspiring with sculptures adorning the vineyards and art canvassing the cellar. In fact, 23 unique pieces created by Monticello are on display at this winery, including the “Wine as Art” collection and the series “The Life of Bacchus.”

Since the 1980s, the Grace Family has adored Monticello’s art, as well as his idea to name “Gratius” on the signature Super Tuscan label.

Daniel Grace, son of Frank and Director of the winery, said, “My family is proud to honor Valentino Monticello’s timeless legacy and truly unique art-form with the commemorative 2017 Gratius label – the 20th vintage of this authentic wine he originally named.”

During yet another Italian-themed wine pairing dinner, the Gratius proved to be a fan favorite. However, the 2015 Gran Selezione Il Margone ($40) stole the show on this oenophile’s palate.

Anyone who sips this wine will feel ‘gratus,’ a.k.a. gratitude. For more information, please visit www.ilmolinodigrace.it

12 Days of Red Wines

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.  

The Italian varietals of Seghesio Family Vineyards

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