Monthly Archives: December 2020

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!

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: