Category Archives: Gift Idea

Judging a wine by its label

Unlike a book cover, judging a wine by its label is trendy and assumed. And when you see a chardonnay label with artwork of buttery yellow drips, it’s safe to assume the chardonnay will taste like a butter bomb.

Au Jus is a 2017 Monterey County Chardonnay ($25) showcasing a robust malolactic fermentation; its label doesn’t lie. This glass of liquid gold was crafted from grapes grown in the best conditions offered in a coastal climate. The aromas of this wine brought the label of dripping butter to life, and on my palate, this chardonnay reveled in the smooth, stone fruit flavors and buttery finish.

Los Angeles Street Artist, Saber, created the label on the Au Jus chardonnay, but all the labels on 1849 Wine products are a depiction of contemporary inspiration from the art movement of the 21st century. In fact, every handcrafted bottle of 1849 Wine reflects the artistic spirit and dedication to the art of wine making.

My next taste was a 2016 Pinot Noir of Sonoma Coast called iris ($30), with a kaleidoscope-colored graffiti label Saber titled “Tool of Dissent”. The philosophy of a prevailing idea is what dissent is all about, but I have to be honest here and admit that outside of the label, this is everything you’d expect a pinot noir grown on the Sonoma Coast to be: aromas of violets and a palate tinged with earthy elements but dominated with red licorice flavors of raspberry, which I personally love — but nothing beyond the typical.

It is worth noting that this pinot noir was barrel aged for 10 months in French and Hungarian Oak and has won several awards: a double gold medal at the 2018 Sonoma County Harvest Fair; a gold medal at the 2018 San Francisco International Wine Competition and at the 2018 Harvest Challenge and Sommelier Challenge, and a silver medal at the 2018 Millennial Awards and New Orleans International Wine Awards.

They say that women generally select wines by the label, and while I don’t personally use this method of selection, I totally understand the allure to visuals. My recommendation: Choose the Au Jus every time!

Charlene Peters, a.k.a. SipTripper, is a WSET Level 2 Certified wine writer with extensive experience traveling the world to explore New and Old World wines and indigenous culinary creations to share with readers. She can be reached at siptripper@gmail.com

 

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A Bucket of Luck with Lot 681

Cameron Hughes is a négociant for Languedoc wines (formerly Coteaux de Languedoc), specifically in the town of Cesseras, a sleepy farm village of less than 200 in the Minervois appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC). What makes this place so beautiful is its geography, with endless acres of southern-facing delineated vineyards.

The Languedoc is an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), also known as the bucket region in the Southwest of France because of the high volume of mid-level quality wines produced. To add perspective, the Languedoc produces more wine than all New Zealand. One such wine is crafted from thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon grapes and is labelled “Lot 681”.

Upon first pour, the wine’s deep purple color was telltale of its youth (2017). A quick swirl later, my nose detected notes of black current, black cherry, and black plum with a slight note of thyme. A tasting revealed medium-high alcohol content (14%), and an earthy, short finish (time in the cellar would most likely improve the finish). The added petit verdot created more of a tannin structure and freshness to this cabernet sauvignon. At $13 a bottle, this is an “enjoy now” bottle — don’t expect a whole lot of complexity. This is a table wine, not a Bordeaux Supérieur.

Word in the wine world is the Languedoc region is making a comeback as the “New World of France”, yet this is an Old-World region if there ever was one. The history of this wine region began with the Greeks, who first planted grapevines there during 5th century BCE.

Interesting to note is that half of the wine produced is organic and is where Millesime Bio, the world’s largest organic wine fair is held. Also of interest, is that Cameron Hughes Wine, Lot 681 2017 Languedoc, is the négociant’s first French release in 5 years.

The Sip Tripper, a.k.a. Charlene Peters, is WSET Level 2 certified and has been reviewing and promoting wines for over a decade. She occasionally serves as a wine judge internationally and travels to wine destinations as often as possible. To reach Charlene, email: siptripper@gmail.com.

The best Prosecco to pair with brunch

Autumn mornings in Sonoma, California are when the air feels crisp and cool before the afternoon sun warms temperatures up to near 90 degrees. A recent birthday brunch with a few favorite ladies could not have happened on a more perfect day.

We met at the River Vine Café in Santa Rosa, part of the Vintner’s Inn. The café closes at 1:30pm and serves breakfast/brunch items with indoor/outdoor seating. The inside was nearly empty on this Saturday morning, mainly because the outdoor seating was full. The view of the gardens captivated our attention, especially when we noticed white folding chairs were being set up for a wedding. It was a perfect day for a wedding, but I was happy with celebrating my friend’s birthday during this marvelous brunch.

The bottle of bubbles I brought to toast my friend’s birthday was much like the air that morning – before temperatures soared into the 80s. This luxury collection Mionetto Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG was as crisp as the first bite of an apple – extra dry, and it was as clear as water with bubbles bigger than bottle-fermented sparkling wines. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from the Glera grape that grows in the northeast of Italy. The sparkling version is typically made using the tank method, and this bottle was no exception. It was lovely, dry, and fitting for fall with its apple notes. I enjoyed the pairing of this Prosecco with my order of Rancho Huevos.

We finished the bottle with ease, laughed and enjoyed the setting and each other’s company, and departed to continue our Saturday, but with a renewed vigor and stride in our step that could only be formed by bonding with your girlfriends during Saturday brunch.

This isn’t the first Mionetto Prosecco I’ve enjoyed. I shared a cocktail recipe previously, of which I’ll share again for those hosting their own brunch sometime soon. I recommend you pour this cocktail in a martini glass.

Italian Honey Suckle (courtesy of Mionetto Master Mixologist, Justin Noel)

Ingredients

– 1 jalapeño slice

– .5 oz fresh lime juice

– .5 oz honey syrup

– 1 oz blanco tequila

– 1 oz Mionetto Prestige Organic Prosecco DOC Extra Dry

– jalapeño slice for Garnish

Preparation

  1. In a mixing glass, add jalapeño slice and lime juice.
  2. Muddle lightly.
  3. Add honey syrup and tequila and shake.
  4. Strain into a martini glass.
  5. Top with Mionetto Prosecco.
  6. Garnish with jalapeño slice.

 

Summer in Style with Bubbles & Balls

Summertime is in full swing, and I’ve joined a boccé ball league.

Yes, I did.

I’ve never played before and now was as good a time as ever. I showed up early on a Friday evening ready to impress my team — with 2 bottles of Simonsig South Africa Kaapse Vonkel sparkling wine in-hand, one a 2016, and an award-winning 2015 brut. I skipped the first game and spent time popping corks over introductions with my team. We noshed and sipped in preparation of my inaugural boccé ball game (pétanque if you’re French).

I knew this Simonsig would be a winner because I sipped this last summer and fell in love with  this elegant South African rosé of pinot noir bubbles. It’s also got a bit of chardonnay and pinot meunier to add complexity — always a good idea to add finesse.

Bring a bottle to a friend’s for brunch on a lazy Sunday morning, or saber open a bottle with some takeout sushi. Bring a bottle and pay a corkage fee to enjoy Simonsig with a dozen oysters and a good friend.

By the time the first game was over, so was the Simonsig. Although I didn’t drink alone, I realized I had imbibed liquid courage to play this strange game that wasn’t quite like bowling as I’d thought when my first ball hit the wall, but more like pool. In fact, I kept this thought in my head as I took out my opponent’s green ball and moved my red in its place, but a bit closer to the palino (that little white target ball thrown out as the game begins).

My bubbly bribe worked, and I made new friends who shared my love for this South African brut. It was a win-win-win as my team won my first game, the bubbly I brought was a winner, and I won over a group of new friends.

Check out Simonsig bubbles at Quintessential Wines.

 

New Age Wine: Something Borrowed, Something Sweet

New Age, an Argentine sweet white wine, is best served chilled, on ice with a slice of lime. I know this because I tried a sip and knew I would never finish the glass unless I tweaked it a bit. This is not my typical wine experience, but it keeps things interesting in the wine world. New Age is a blend of mostly Torrontés with a bit of sauvignon blanc.

Aromas of rose petals swirled through my senses, leading to a sparkling sensation due to the process in making this wine. So, this wasn’t an actual glass of wine to sip, nor was it actually bubbly. I was at a loss on what to do with this interesting bottle, so I read the label and realized it was best mixed with gin, pink grapefruit juice, and ice, garnished with a slice of grapefruit, or just poured over ice with a twist of lime. I tried the latter and voila! I could now drink New Age.

Torrontés is a grape native to Argentina, best served as a refreshing start to a meal or paired with a meal of fish and/or shellfish. It works nicely with spicy and aromatic Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine as well. Price point: $12.99

Want to learn more about wine or gift someone who does? A new book just hit the shelves, offering insight into the world of wine in layman’s terms.

wine-for-dummies.png

Available on Amazon.com, Wine For Dummies explains everything from understanding grape varieties and wine styles to navigating wine shops and selecting wines in restaurants. Authors Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan share their expertise in the easy-to-follow, no-nonsense signature style of Dummies, breaking down everything there is to know for readers that range from casual beginners to intermediate wine enthusiasts. The book includes new information on emerging wine regions in the United States including Oregon, Washington state, and New York, along with international regions like Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia.

Best of Santa Barbara Wine Tasting Party

Distinguished university Professor Kirshenblatt-Gimblett described wine tasting as an event: “It matures over the years and changes even in a few hours. It is an event. Even a single taste can be like an act in a play that is as long as the life of the vintage.”

Perhaps wine opens doors of communication relative to taste and travel, and with discussions revolving around Old World and New World wines, it’s the stuff of wine tasting parties. Have you ever been to a blind tasting party? If not, now is your chance to create your own with help from Boutique Wine Club. Its Boutique Wine Sampler features 6 ultra-premium, small-production wines in small bottles that serve 2.5 glasses each.

I enjoyed a sample pack of wines from Santa Barbara, one of my favorite destination spots in California. I would recommend most of the 6 bottles I sipped, and I would recommend setting up a tasting party of up to 12 (one-ounce pours). Once each taster has breathed in the wine’s aroma, a taste and swirl around the mouth and over the front and back of the tongue is next, followed by a swallow to consider the tastes that surface. The best part is the discussion.

While I might believe E11even, An Andrew Murray Production of Chenin Blanc 2016 from Santa Ynez Valley with its rich and luxurious texture and melting flavors of melon and citrus fruit was the best wine out of the pack, it could also be argued that Blair Fox Cellars 2016 Petite Sirah of Santa Barbara County, with its luscious dark berry flavors and finish of earthy herbal notes performed best.  Or perhaps the 2017 Larner Rosé of Santa Barbara County was a favorite for anyone who loves raspberries and a crisp wine on a warm day.

Once I tasted all six wines, I realized that my personal taste preference is for wines of Santa Ynez Valley. I loved that Chenin Blanc, as well as the 2016 Carr Cabernet Franc with elements of white pepper and spice mixed with raspberry. Did I mention that all of the wines in the sampler pack have been rated 90+ points within Santa Barbara? And there’s more. With each pack, you get a 12-page full-color tasting guide profiling each wine, winemaker and region, plus food pairing tips, recipes and tasting notes, a tour guide map to Santa Barbara County and its unique wine growing areas, and a custom placemat with instructions for hosting your own wine tasting party.

Visit BoutiqueWineBox.com and join the Wine Club so you can begin receiving shipments on a regular basis to plan your wine-tasting parties!

Holiday Gift of Paso Robles picture book

Former Time magazine editor George Taber is known for his “’76 Judgment of Paris” book about Chateau Montelena’s chardonnay besting French wines. His latest publication, however, is a preface to “The Winemakers of Paso Robles,” a coffee-table book with authentic photographs — down and dirty winemaking — of Paso Robles wine country along the Central Coast of California.

In his preface, Taber refers to Napa and Sonoma wine regions as Disneyland-esque, regardless of the fact that these two wine regions of Northern California produce some of the best cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays in California, if not the U.S.

Like the Napa Valley produces Bordeaux-style wines, Paso Robles produces Rhone-style wines. As someone who loves a good Chateauneuf de Pape, and after flipping through the images of this book, I want to visit this wine region and really taste my way through the grenache blends.

The author and the photographer of this ground-breaking, large format book, Julia Perez, spent a year profiling 53 winemakers who are transforming an up-and-coming wine region into to a world-class destination. Immersed in the vineyards, wineries, crush pads, and tasting rooms of this gorgeous and burgeoning wine region, they document and uncovered the struggles and successes of being a winemaker.

Throw in a few bottles of Paso Robles wines and a copy of this oversized book ($119) to gift to that someone special who really wants to learn more about the winemakers behind the scenes.

If you need more inspiration before you buy a copy, watch the video below. It shows the process of becoming a published book.

 

The Upshot of Rodney Strong

Northern Sonoma County, especially Knights Valley and Alexander Valley, produce some of the best dark berry fruit for wines. Both winegrower Ryan Decker and winemaker Justin Seidenfeld have created Upshot, a Rodney Strong red blend at a reasonable price of $28. The label is a circular calendar highlighting the back story in the making of this wine, and the tagline, “Life Simply Does Not Blend Itself” is playful and approachable to wine novices and oenophiles.

Speaking of back story, the Rodney Strong story published on their website is quite interesting:

“Our story begins over 55 years ago, when a celebrated American dancer named Rod Strong settled in Sonoma County to pursue a second lifelong creative passion: winemaking. Rodney Strong Vineyards was the 13th winery bonded in the newly discovered Sonoma County wine industry. A trio of winemaking paths crossed when Rick Sayre joined the team as Winemaker in 1979, and again when the Klein Family, 4th generation California farmers, purchased the winery in 1989 and initiated a renewed commitment of modern artisan winemaking. Through the years, Rodney Strong Vineyards has earned the reputation for critically acclaimed Single Vineyard and Reserve wines, stand out Estate releases and best-in-class Sonoma County varietal wines.”

Upshot actually means, “the final or eventual positive outcome or conclusion of a discussion, action, or series of events” — and this red blend is a collaboration of the winemaking process from the 2015 harvest to the 2017 release.

Five grapes were involved in this blend: zinfandel, merlot, malbec, petit verdot and …wait for it….riesling! Says winemaker Justin Seidenfeld,

“The Upshot of blending these varietals is a wine that was made to underscore my passion for blending wine, a place that I love, and my enjoyment for this amazing life I get to live.”

I found this wine enjoyable without being pretentious… simply a good table wine priced at a great value. Just as taste sensations change in different contexts and situations, it’s interesting to note that there are white wine characteristics that come through within the deep blackberry and dark cherry burst of flavor, especially on the nose, as well as in the light tannin structure. And I enjoyed this with a variety of popcorn snacks and a turkey burger!

Visit https://www.rodneystrong.com/wines/upshot/ for more information.

Martha shares her palatable wine picks

True-to-form, Martha Stewart excels as the DIY queen for home-bodies who seek to simply decorate their surroundings or add pizzazz to dinner parties. So, it would make perfect sense for the gal who continues to experience a career as a television personality, author, publisher — not to mention her former real-life role as a white-collar criminal and amazing ability to get back in the game — to assert her notoriety and jump on the bandwagon of a trendsetting wine company!

Her website: marthastewartwine.com offers a guide for matching her suggested wines with the flavors on a dinner menu. Her tips keep in line with her brand’s mission, which is to celebrate the art of creative living, simplified. For example, she includes “Easy-to-Find cheeses That Will Work Every Time”, listing:

  • Double Gloucester
  • Sharp Cheddar
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Gouda
  • Manchego
  • Chevre
  • Brie
  • Havarti

Martha claims to have personally tasted each and every wine she’s selected from worldwide vineyards. With every order she includes a pairing chart for reds, whites and sparkling wines to highlight four choices of food pairings.

The old adage, “you get what you pay for” rings true, but there’s really nothing wrong with that if you’re seeking sips that won’t break the bank, yet are acceptable — even enjoyable.

My palate was poised for 4 bottles that included 1 Arbos Bianco of Italy, 2 French whites and 1 2014 Le Vassal De Mercues Malbec Cahors. Of the four, I would re-order the 2016 Cuvee Joelle Mauzac, a white wine from South West France that wasn’t too dry or sweet — an easy wine to drink, and absolutely order the A D’Arche White Blend Bordeaux (50% Semillon and 50% Sauvignon Blanc), a diamond in the rough with a lovely floral and citrus nose and flavor that highlights its terroir of Bordeaux minerality. I’d recommend enjoying both of these wines with smoky cheese and charcuterie.

With the holiday season swiftly approaching, giving the gift of a Martha Stewart Wine Company box is affordable and fun! You can order holiday gift packs of 4 bottles for as low as $59.95.

 

Mercer Wine of Washington State

I was caught a bit off-guard when I first sipped a 2015 Mercer Sharp Sisters Horse Heaven Hills red blend. The blackberry taste of syrah dominated the blend of which a majority was cabernet sauvignon, followed by syrah, merlot, petit verdot, Grenache and a bit of carignane; all grapes were grown in Washington State.

Mercer

Although elements of Rhône, France wine tasted familiar, the terroir of Washington State was foreign to my palate. I had met plenty of California, French, Eastern Europe and Italian wines, but this was my first encounter with Washington State, considered in the wine world to be “the new kid on the block”.

Out of three wines I sampled, one caught my attention as the winner in the trio, and surprisingly it turned out to be the white wine in the bunch: a 2016 Mercer Horse Heaven Hills sauvignon blanc. A clean, fresh aroma of citrus and newly bundled hay set the stage for a refreshing taste of perfectly ripened fruit and balanced acidity. The fruit hailed from the rolling hills on the Mercer estate Princeton vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, where the climate proved agreeable for this second vintage, with cool nights and warm days. Priced around $15, this bottle is worthy of a purchase, but I suggest getting a case before they sell out.

My third taste was an inky 2015 Mercer Horse Heaven Hills malbec, a better taste than many Argentine malbecs I’ve consumed. This is a wine that opens nicely, escalating in jammy flavors. The grapes were grown in Spice Cabinet Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills on a southeast slope above the Columbia River. The crop received morning sun exposure and avoided the afternoon harshness of the sun. The wine-making skills excelled, with a double sort, and without crush. It’s the whole berry for this malbec, aged in both new and old French oak barrels for 18 months, and then blended together. It works.

For more information on Mercer wines, visit MercerWine.com.