Category Archives: Wine Destinations

Reflections of Mirror Sauvignon Blanc

I finally visited the Petaluma Gap, a premier vineyard spot and the newest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Sonoma County linked by the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay. A few weeks earlier, I tasted a 2017 Mirror Petaluma Gap Chardonnay ($48), so now I was able to connect the area where the grapes grow in a cool climate, thanks to the constant sea breeze. I enjoyed the top note of honey in this chardonnay, but my palate was still swooning over the 2018 Mirror Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($28).

I tasted these Mirror wines in Napa, inside the Kitchen Collective, where membership has its privileges of allocated spaces for tastings — great for a winery that doesn’t have a tasting room. Note: reservations required.

About that sauvignon blanc, though…Using 20 percent used French oak, this sauvignon blanc is a robust, full-bodied, but balanced gem of a wine made from grapes grown in a dry farming technique (no vines are irrigated after fruit set – when tiny grapes appear) for freshness and high acidity. It doesn’t hurt to use grapes grown in Rutherford dust and clay soil – and to pair these grapes with the winemaking style of Kirk Venge.

Mirror Wines began over a decade ago, when Notre Dame “Golden Boy” Rick Mirer, an Indiana native and well-known football player for the Seattle Sea Hawks, 49ers and Raiders, took his wife on a visit to Napa Valley. Once retired, he considered what his next project would be and came up with Mirror Wines. Today, Mirer resides with his family in San Diego, but he makes it a point to visit Napa Valley at least every month.

Mirror’s red wines reflect grapes sourced from Howell Mountain and Oak Knoll. I can attest that his approximate 240 case production of 2016 Mirror Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain “Pre-Release” ($110, to be released in October) scores a touchdown. This deep berry, black currant cabernet sauvignon with black licorice and tobacco notes offers a lovely tannin structure for aging.

Visit www.mirrorwine.com for more information.

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Tripping and Sipping at Loisium Winery

During a Scenic Jasper river cruise from Budapest to Nuremberg, I opted for a visit to Loisium Winery, an architectural wonder located in Melk, a city in lower Austria, next to the Wachau Valley along the Danube. My experience might have been a dream if not for the photographs I took.

The winery reminded me of the d’Arenberg Cube in McLaren Vale, Southern Australia, but we were in Austria, looking at a winery built by New York architect Steven Holl. I learned that to provide shade for vineyard workers and to keep mosquitoes away, walnut trees were planted.

Vineyards are everywhere in Melk, including vines that grow on ledge rock. Fifty-five percent of vines grown in Wachau Valley produce white wine made from grüner veltliner grapes, followed by Riesling.

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Our tour at Loisium Winery was surreal. I thought maybe I’d consumed a magic mushroom because I couldn’t believe the experience from start to finish. First, our group gathered in what seemed like an underground well, and this is when the water and laser show began, with a voiceover like the Wizard of Oz. I was ready to flee and grab the Wicked Witch of the West’s broom to bring back to this mysterious voice.

From there, we toured through a cave with stops to view elements of the winery’s storied history. We viewed an example of wine’s evolution in comparison to a baby’s feet. There were actually baby’s feet to tickle in an interactive stop before we reached the end of this 900-year-old cave to watch a laser show.

My favorite in the region is the red zweigelt grape. The 2016 Steininger Zweigelt brought forth a bouquet of molded berries and a taste much like a Burgundian red. This wine would be great with a serving of goulash. I fell in love with this wine and purchased a bottle for about $30 and brought it back to the U.S., where I later enjoyed with friends during a dinner party.

A winery with no name

My experience during a stay at Aria Hotel Budapest (by Library Hotel Collection) began in the music-inspired lobby where a spaceship-shaped Bogányi piano was being played. Guests were gathered at various bistro tables to enjoy complimentary afternoon wine and cheese in the indoor music garden. I accepted a cool glass of Sauska Rosé, an award-winning wine from Villainy, in southwest Hungary. It was a delightful refresher.

The next day, I set out to explore Etyek, a village in Fejér county in Hungary, less than 20 miles from Budapest, where it’s a good idea to taste wines. Etyek is, after all, a wine region in Hungary where cool climates  produce fruity wine varietals such as Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

While visiting Anonym (translation: no name) Winery in Etyek, owned by Áron Szövényi and his family, I was treated to tastes of its rosé of pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. But it was the egyböl kettö blend of 40% pinot gris and 60% zenit (a varietal grown in Pázmánd, located about 40 miles south of Etyek) that stole the show, at least for my palate.

I had never heard of a zenit grape, but was informed that it is a rare, black-spotted, white grape varietal developed in 1951 by Hungarian viticulturist Dr. Ferenc Kiraly, who crossed Ezerjo, a local variety, with Bouvier, a grape cultivated in modern-day Slovenia.

I sipped a 2017 made using a reductive technique (when a winemaker ferments in stainless steel containers). These grapes were incredibly fruit-forward and brought forth a buttery mouthfeel of a “wow” factor. I purchased a bottle for $9 and took it home to enjoy later during a dinner party with friends. And now it’s gone forever with no hope of finding this wine in the U.S.

Although Anonym produces 23,000 bottles annually, they don’t export to the U.S. or anywhere else in the world because THEY RUN OUT OF WINE. They admitted to actually importing wine for local consumption.

Fun Fact: Hungary exports more Hungarian oak barrels than wine.

What’s old is new again at Cakebread Cellars

The story of Cakebread Cellars begins in Oakland, California. Jack and Dolores Cakebread were high school sweethearts who married and led a somewhat average life…to start. Jack was a mechanic but loved taking photographs…enough to study under Ansel Adams at Yosemite. In homage to Ansel Adams, a new outdoor section at Cakebread Cellars incorporates a stone from Yosemite.

In 1972 Jack was hired as a photographer to head to the Napa Valley on assignment for “The Treasury of American Wines”. His payment for the book of images was later used as a down payment for Cakebread Cellars, a modest structure at that time. It wasn’t until 1985 that the structure seen today was built. Another renovation is in process – a visitor center which will be complete sometime next year.

Although Stephanie Jacobs has served a few roles at Cakebread Cellars for over a decade, most recently she was appointed as head winemaker. Among the 14 vineyards Cakebread owns, she has a love affair with pinot noir from Anderson Valley. I couldn’t wait to try a glass and share her comments with you:

Several of us on the Cakebread production team are UC Davis alums, so we enjoy partnering with their Viticulture and Enology researchers to explore new innovations – from the vineyards to the cellar – in pursuit of quality. That could mean new technology and equipment, like the infrared spectroscopy machine that we’ve started using in the lab to analyze large amounts of grape samples in short amounts of time.  What may have taken four hours in the past now only takes an hour, which is precious time savings during the busy harvest season and helps us make more timely grape picking decisions. 

Innovation isn’t just chasing what’s new.  It could also mean revisiting older historic techniques that have fallen out of fashion or are less commonly used.  For example, we harvest nearly all of our grapes at night because we think it greatly improves fruit quality, plus it provides cooler temperature working conditions for our picking crews during the warm Napa weather months.  Concrete egg fermentation tanks and larger-sized puncheon oak barrels are other examples of “what’s old is new again” when it comes to winemaking explorations.

On a hot 100 degree Saturday, I froze inside the air-conditioned private tasting room, where a pour of a 2017 sauvignon blanc set the stage for a superb tasting of a 2015 chardonnay reserve made from Carneros grapes. Carneros is a region within Napa Valley with a cooler climate; the grapes grow a thinner skin. This wine feels like cream on my palate and instantly I recall my gal pals on the North Shore of Boston who loved Cakebread Cellars chardonnay. I wholeheartedly agree.

Aside from tasting wines, Cakebread Cellars offers cooking classes and an in-depth tour twice each morning to oversee vineyard production – from the grapes’ path to the bottle. Cooking classes include the harvest from Dolores’s Garden for farm-to-table offerings.

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Finally, I’m ready to taste the 2015 pinot noir from grapes of Apple Barn vineyard. This is a heavy counterpart to Annahala Ranch and sold only at this winery. If you’re a wine club member, you can get this wine. This wine alone is worth the membership. But if you require more incentive, upcoming wine club events include an August 25 Full Moon Dinner at Dancing Bear Ranch, an October 13 Harvest Dinner and a December 1 Holiday Cooking Class.

OK, I’m ready for a tasting of the 2014 Dancing Bear Ranch Estate Merlot ($54), which turns out to be robust and dry, with 6% cabernet sauvignon to give it a good backbone.

If you’re in the Napa Valley and want to know what restaurant wine lists include Cakebread Cellars, check out Saint Helena: Cook, Goose & Gander, Market and Sunshine Market.

My farewell sip, a 2013 cabernet sauvignon from Dancing Bear Vineyard, is smooth – an actual drink alone cab?! One bottle will set you back $146 but like so many great wines of California, it’s worth the splurge.

 

St. Hugo of the Barossa Valley, Australia

We were chauffeured to the Barossa Valley, a premier wine region an hour from Adelaide in South Australia, in a vintage Daimler as part of an Ultimate Wine Experiences tour. First stop: St. Hugo winery.

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Although we were in the one of the driest continents in the world, it rained off and on that day, mostly when our group walked through the vineyards. Our umbrella procession escalated in its amusement when we spotted a few kangaroos hopping between a few rows of grapevines. No need to worry about the grapes; kangaroos like to munch on the grass and offer free labor for their excellent vineyard maintenance.dsc02568.jpg

Inside the luxurious underground private tasting room, where a vault holds a time capsule of vintage wines, I tasted from a bottle of 2016 Shiraz that had no label. Like most Australian wines, it was secured via screw cap. This wine offered a lovely perfume of cherry with a slight of oak, and its taste was somewhat approachable, but could be more so once it’s released next year. The grapes for this Shiraz were sourced from several vineyards.

While at St. Hugo, I learned that from 1980 through 2008, the region only grew Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, but now there’s plenty of Shiraz, Grenache and a few white grape varietals, especially impressive are the Semillon grapes.

I taste a 2015 Barossa Shiraz with ripe tannin structure. Very nice, full-bodied. And then a 2009 Barossa Shiraz harvested during a drought. Those vines were stressed while growing in the ancient sea bed soil, and as a result, the wine offers an intense flavor and velvety structure with great tannins and leather aroma. If held for three more years, you’d get more characteristics of plums and pepper.

Next, a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon with no label was green pepper dominant in its aroma. St. Hugo deems this as its flagship cabernet. It tastes different than my palate recognizes as cabernet, but it does have a good tannin structure and I find it interesting in comparison to the 2009 cabernet that was so black currants-jammy and high in acidity that I craved a filet mignon to make it work for me.

Behind the Saint

Formerly the wine label Gramp & Sons, St. Hugo came about following a tragedy that occurred in 1938, when Hugo Gramp’s flight from Adelaide to Melbourne – with two other prominent wine industry members, Thomas Hardy and Sidney Hill Smith, ended with a crash.

Honoring Hugo as a legend in winemaking, in 1983, a wine labeled “St. Hugo” was released. The “Saint” was inspired by European tradition of naming vineyards after saints in order to bestow good fortune upon them.

The first St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon was made with grapes harvested in 1980 and hailed for its power and elegance, much like the great man himself. St Hugo sets the benchmark for excellence in Australian Cabernet Sauvignon.

Silver Trident wines: A blend of symphony and the sea, Old World & New World

Throughout the Napa Valley, wine novices and oenophiles associate cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay as world-class wines to explore within the 400-plus wineries in the region. But in the heart of the Napa Valley, Yountville, the small town with a population in the mid-2,000, is all about luxury boutique wineries. Silver Trident is no exception.

Open shy of three years, the Silver Trident name is a nod to Neptune, and associated with the owner’s ancillary businesses in luxury Virtuoso and Oceania Cruise line.

Private tasting roomBecause Yountville has an ordinance in place that requires wineries to offer a percentage of retail, Silver Trident is adorned with the interior design of Ralph Lauren. With its muted neutral shades of upholstery and tartan wallpaper, seemingly endless crystal accessories and framed photographs of artfully colored sea turtles and retro-glamour photographs, a tasting at Silver Trident feels like a visit to someone’s home, except that each item is priced for potential purchase, including the tasting plates. The intent of tasting in someone’s living room is to eliminate any intimidation.

To set the stage for this wine-tasting experience, please know that the winemaking style of Silver Trident is Old World, but with New World grapes.

Lori and Cheryl - CheersMy trio headed to the larger dining room to take our seats for a wine/food pairing experience that began with a tasting of pinot of rosé made in the Provence style. Ooh la la, it was perfection, and I was surprised I loved it even though it wasn’t made with Grenache. Next, a taste of spring: A sip of 2017 sauvignon blanc with the label Symphony No. 9 (named after the owner’s love of music), paired with a small spoonful of goat cheese and fresh yogurt, courtesy of Sarah Scott, the winery’s chef and caterer.

Taking things up a notch, a Dijon, France clone of pinot noir grown in the Russian River in Sonoma County is a label Silver Trident calls “Benevolent Dictator”. The 2015 is a taste of some of the most sought out fruit in Sonoma. Sipping this wine felt like rose petals falling on my palate. Yes, the tannins were that soft.

A 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon labeled “Twenty Seven Fathoms” mimics marine depth. We enjoy this 100% varietal with an aged Gouda, butter and sea salt biscuit.

It’s no wonder there is a long list of wine club members who receive shipments of the eclectic wines of Silver Trident Winery. Please visit http://www.silvertridentwinery.com for more information.

The wines of BottleRock Napa

Since I was only 6 years old during Woodstock, it is obvious that I didn’t attend this historical music festival. So, the next best hippie chic music experience I deem close to what I’ve heard regarding Woodstock is #BottleRock Napa, a 3-day musical playground with culinary chef demos, and yes… lots of wine. The event is, after all, in the Napa Valley, and it draws in 150,000 attendees in a 3-day period.

Coppolla bubblesInspired by a cloud of soap bubbles from the tent of Sonoma-based Coppola Winery, my first stop was in front of the tent for Domaine Chandon, where I happily sipped Chandon Rosé bubbles. I wasn’t even concerned about the plastic cup it was served in…it was that good.

A walk in the nearby Wine Garden, is where I sipped Napa Valley white wine, Dissonance. I was told this is the label of Foo Fighters, ‘so I couldn’t wait to sip this rock star wine. But, unlike the awesome rock band’s stellar reputation and performance on Sunday, May 28, Dissonance fell a bit short, or sour to describe the taste. It was a bit too acidic; perhaps with a plate of fries. Next time, I’ll try the merlot, which is what Blackbird in French means, and what has put this label on the oenophile map.

I later realizeBlackbird Dissonance Wine Labeld that there were distinct Foo Fighter wine labels for Blackbird Vineyards:

  • 2016 Foo Fighters Rosé | Central Coast, California ($24) Farmed from vineyards along the slopes of Mount Diablo, winemaker Aaron Pott intentionally crafted an elegant, dry rosé to appreciate at every occasion from the mundane to the extraordinary.
  • 2015 Foo Fighters Cabernet Sauvignon | Red Hills, Lake County ($35) Crafted by winemaker Aaron Pott from 2,400 ft. high vineyards in the Red Hills of Lake County, this ten barrel Cabernet Sauvignon commemorating BottleRock 2017 is steadfast in its character.
  • 2011 Foo Fighters Proprietary Red Wine | Napa Valley ($60) This four-barrel Signature Series Cuvée is hand-tuned to express the lithe structure that only comes from exceptional fruit.

Like missing out on Woodstock, I missed out on sipping these Foo Fighter wines and will always wonder how these small-run labels performed on the palate.

Travel: Montana to meet Merry Edwards

Merry Edwards Winery Toasts 20th Anniversary with a Celebration of Wine, Outdoor Adventure and Gourmet Cuisine.

Remember Missoula, Montana, the setting for that ’80s cult hit, “Twin Peaks” that I’ve since heard is making an updated series? Well, I’ll be heading to Missoula in about a month, and so will you if you decide to fly to Montana’s premier luxury ranch resort, The Resort at Paws Up.

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All 37,000 acres of The Resort at Paws Up is located in Blackfoot Valley in western Montana, and is internationally acclaimed for year-round adventures and stellar culinary events, and for a weekend in March is where you can enjoy the perfect blend of wine, gourmet food, thrilling adventures …and more wine.

The Resort’s first-annual Wine Weekend, this year’s Eat, Drink and Meet Merry event (March 16–18), will allow guests the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the country’s leading vintners. This year’s headlining talent will be Merry Edwards herself.

Much like Paws Up’s successful established weekend events, such as Montana Master Grillers (May) and Montana Master Chefs (September), the weekend retreat will feature top-notch talent, outstanding gourmet menus by award-winning Executive Chef Ben Jones, specialized wine pairings, live entertainment and plenty of adrenaline-pumping adventure. After attending, guests will no doubt be able to impress even the most knowledgeable of their wine-loving friends with sommelier-like expertise.

As part of Paws Up’s inaugural Wine Weekend event, Resort guests are invited to wet their whistle during interactive seminars, educational tastings and wilderness excursions with Merry Edwards and her winemaking partner, Ken Coopersmith. The highlight of the weekend will be phenomenal dinners with expert pairings from Merry Edwards Winery, known for its exquisite Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs.

One of California’s first woman winemakers, Merry Edwards became a household name in the industry soon after she started making award-winning wines in the early 1970s. In 2013, Edwards was inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame, and she also won the coveted James Beard Award for Best Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional in the United States. Edwards was just the fourth woman to be so honored. The Eat, Drink and Meet Merry event corresponds with the 20th anniversary of the founding of Merry Edwards Winery in 1997.

Kick-starting Paws Up’s spring culinary events lineup, Eat, Drink and Meet Merry will be followed by WildFlavor (April 20–23, 2017), a four-day weekend event featuring exquisite menus and cream-of-the-crop culinary talents, including four Top Chef stars. Season 10 winner Chef Kristen Kish and Season 10 runner-up and current contestant Chef Brooke Williamson will be among the featured chefs.

For reservations or more information, call 877-588-6783. The Resort at Paws Up is also on Facebook and Twitter (@Paws_Up) and Instagram (@TheResortatPawsUp).

For more information on The Resort at Paws Up, visit www.pawsup.com or call 800-473-0601. For more information on Merry Edwards, visit www.merryedwards.com, or to schedule an in-depth tasting, contact 888-388-9050.

Fairy tale of a French wine

In Monte Carlo, rosé is the preferred thirst-quencher for wine enthusiasts. I experienced this in 2015, while sipping on a 2014 Château Les Valentines Rosé and dining at a Michelin-star restaurant in Monaco, seaside at Elsa restaurant at Monte Carlo Beach Hotel.

My travel calexa-at-elsaompanion, Alexa (pictured), shared my joy in the life of a princess, sipping on elegant wines such as this Côtes de Provence rosé, with a cherry blossom aroma complemented by the drifting Mediterranean sea air mixed with the fresh floral breeze. Its notes gave way to a minerality typical of French wines, but this particular rosé was like pouring rose petals into a glass lined with drenched pebbles following a summer morning rain. Its color of pale pink/orange misled my palate into thinking this would be a fragile wine short on structure, but I was wrong. This rosé saturated my tongue with a tannin structure of royal character and elegance.

A year later, I found a 2015 bottle of Château Les Valentines Rosé online through a wine searcher app, and I ordered a few to re-introduce myself to this incredible rosé, a wine fit for a princess. Come summer, I will plan for a special dinner with friends to enjoy sips sure to send me back  in time to my time spent reveling in the good life of Monaco.

Digesting Dracula

Before me, a bevy of beautiful women dressed in second-skin skirts and crisp ironed blouses catch our group’s attention. But my eyes are drawn to those stiletto heels they magically maneuver, and to their perfectly made-up faces…. and those smoke-lined, piercing eyes. These are the eyes of lovely young women, but look deeper and you’ll see eyes that reflect the souls of a vicious past; in a moment’s notice these women could easily rip your carotid artery from your neck.

OK, so my imagination got the best of me in Romania, where all of my thoughts led to a vision of Dracula swooping in to drain the blood of unsuspecting souls.

The women, as it turned out, were gathering for Emirates airline hostess interviews; hence the outfits. We were all inside the historic Intercontinental Hotel where, during wartime, the restrooms were outfitted with secret audio devices for spying purposes. I had to assume these audio bugs were still in place. I didn’t speak until we left the building to browse through an artisan’s market of Transylvanian crafts.

The signature swirls of my cobalt blue Transylvanian ceramic bowl will forever remind me of Bucharest, the final destination we toured through on an AMAWaterways Black Sea voyage that began in Budapest and continued through Croatia, Bulgaria and Serbia, with a last stop in Bucharest. We didn’t make a stop in Transylvania, but neither did Bram Stoker, as it turns out.

While Darlene and I settled in our seats of our assigned tour bus, our imaginations, as well as our obnoxious nature, piqued with every Hungarian accented word spoken by our tour guide.

“Ask him to say it!” I pleaded.

Darlene and I egged each other on to request the tour guide recite, “I vant to suck your blood.”

Obnoxious, yes, but effective once we were overheard by the tour guide. And just like that, a truthful history lesson squelched our visions of Count Dracula, much like an eight-year-old child catching a parent stacking presents under a Christmas tree.

Vlad the Impaler, ruler during the 15th century Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, was also Prince of Wallachia and member of the House of Draculesti. He was known as the protector of the Romanians and Bulgarians north and south of the River Danube. As a fictional author, Stoker’s interest in Vlad the Impaler catapulted into an embellishment that will forever captivate audiences into a belief that vampires exist.

They do not.

Stoker didn’t actually visit Transylvania, or for that matter, Dracula’s castle. He did read his history on the subject, however, and with certain aspects transfused into fiction, Dracula came to life. And death.  And life. And so on.

The white face of Dracula was based on the fact that Vlad was a pale-toned man. The sucking of blood was fashioned after Vlad’s time spent imprisoned in a dungeon where he was tossed a live animal for dinner. The only way to kill it would be for him to use his teeth and severe the carotid artery, hence the image of Dracula sucking the blood from women’s necks.

The Hungarian Beef Goulash served onboard the AMAWaterways river cruise would have satiated Dracula’s hunger for iron-rich protein, with a splash of Schwaben Cabernet Sauvignon to wash it down.

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Hungarian Beef Goulash

Courtesy AMAWaterways

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • ½ cup corn oil
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 lbs. boneless chuck roast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 3 bay leaves

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet; add the onions and sauté lightly. Add the garlic and continue to sauté. Next add the meat, stir well with the other ingredients, and season with salt. Cover and let cook gently until meat browns. Add the sweet paprika, caraway seeds and bay leaves. Cover and cook on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until meat has picked up the flavor of the seasonings. Adjust heat so that the goulash simmers very gently and let it cook for approximately one hour, or until meat is fork tender. Serve over buttered noodles or rice.

Serves 6.