Category Archives: Gift Idea

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!

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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.

Merlot Month with Marilyn Merlot

Now that rose season has subsided, I opened a bottle of Merryvale merlot before realizing October is Merlot Month! I hadn’t known until I read (hashtag) #MerlotMe in a professional wine journal. California merlots are wonderful, fruit-forward wines that bring out my favorite, raspberry, as well as blackberry. Heavy notes of mocha delight my palate, and pouring this inky purple wine reminds me of Bordeaux wines. Merlot is famous for its part in Bordeaux blends, but in California, you get a less complex tannin structure and minerality. That is okay with me, because I opened a full-bodied (pun intended) Marilyn Merlot and became smitten with the Marilyn Monroe label. Each wine has an image of the former Norma Jean and the corks are sealed with her kiss!

With grapes from the historic Missouri Hopper Oakville appellation in Napa Valley, California, winemaker Bob Pepi had a running head start in the making of 2014 Marilyn Merlot, just as Bernard Bruno was considered the man who discovered the blonde bombshell. For the 2014 Marilyn Merlot, he blended in 3 percent petit verdot, which adds to the intense purple juice.

Open the bottle today to enjoy with hamburger, pizza and almost any meal. Keep for another 5-8 years and it’s best enjoyed with roasted duck or braised beef.

The 2015 merlot has a different label, called Norma Jeane. Grapes for this merlot hail from the “Estrella Triangle” in the heart of Paso Robles. When you’re ready, say hello to Norma Jeane, open her up and enjoy with pizza, panini or pasta.

Marilyn Monroe is known to have frequented Napa Valley wineries; in fact, if you visit the tasting room at Frank Family Wines in Calistoga, you’ll see a life-size cutout of the “Some Like it Hot” movie star for posing purposes. Can you imagine roaming tasting rooms to meet up with Marilyn?

Each varietal has a unique photographic label of Marilyn, including a 2015 Sauvignon Blonde made with Lake County grapes, and a 2014 Meritage with grapes grown Andy Beckstoffer’s Missouri Hopper Vineyard (like the Marilyn Merlot 2014 except blended with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and a touch of petit verdot.

Lest not forget the magic of a coupe when held by Marilyn Monroe. Bubbles and Marilyn pair well together, and Blonde de Noirs Cuvee Ten North Coast Sparking Wine (pinot noir and chardonnay) also pairs well with smoked salmon, cheeses and hey, why not caviar?

Some like it merlot. I like Marilyn Merlot and especially like the price point of $29.98 for a bottle of 2014. With a price as reasonable as this (remember, this is Napa Valley), who needs to marry a millionaire to drink good wine?

A bottle of Marilyn Monroe makes a great gift for the holidays, especially because almost everyone loves Marilyn!

For more information on Marilyn Monroe wines, visit www.marilynwines.com

Best Holiday Gift: WineBuff

One side shows Napa Valley, another shows Sonoma, but whichever side of Wine Country in Northern California, the WineBuff works great to clean off water spots and leftover lipstick stains.

Created by innovative wine & bar-ware producer, soiréehome, the launch of WineBuff is just in time for the holiday season. This is the perfect gift — and affordable ($17.99) to give a friend or family member that enjoys an elegant glass of wine served in a perfectly polished glass.

This custom woven microfiber towel was designed specifically for glassware, but with the print of Napa Valley and Sonoma County winery maps, it’s even more of a treasure, if not a collectible! Utilizing it to buff glassware is awesome on its own, but to see the maps and understand what you’ll be tasting if you’re drinking a wine from either region… is only better because you understand the growing conditions and more facts written right on the towel by a sommelier. Basically, your polishing is two-fold.

With over 200 wineries on each map, er… side of towel, you can buff, study and sip your way to confidence and join in on a conversation you may have not felt so prepared if not for that buffing towel. WineBuff is one of those cool little things you see in a tasting room or wine bar and say, “That’s so cool and smart, I need that.”

For more information, visit www.soireehome.com.