Monday, March 26, 2018

Vintastic Voyage: Napa (and a little Sonoma)

Kronos Vineyard @ Corison Winery

Confession: Napa Valley has never been my “go to” California wine region to visit. The wines are quite pricey and there can be an air of pretension at some of the larger tasting rooms. However, my experiences in Napa over the last year have helped me see that there is a whole lot more to Napa than egos and flashiness. Just like any wine region, it is hard to peg the region in one broad stroke (which I have been guilty of doing). Yes, there are plenty of stuck up tasting rooms, chateau after chateau that look like McMansions, and overpriced cult wines. But there is also plenty of honest, regional wine made in Napa. Wine made by individuals. Wines that are restrained. Good juice.

This old adage rings true: How do you make a million dollars in Napa? You start with a million. The cost of land and grapes is sky high, and with such a high barrier to entry, not all have what it takes to survive . For this reason, as a general rule, you’re not going to see cheapy $8-12 grocery store wine from “Napa”. The math just doesn’t add up. But not all wines from Napa are out of reach. Below is a summary of my visit to three wineries where you can expect to try some great wines with no pretense!

Corison Winery

Corison is a small, family-owned winery by Cathy Corison and her husband William Martin. Corison was founded in 1987 and their estate vineyard, Kronos, was purchased in 1995. 

The tasting room is open by appointment only and is a “no frills” type of place. Here you are sure to try impeccable wines, with high prices to match, as their Cabs start at $100/bottle. However, this is a place that I would highly recommend. There is no attitude here. The wine is good. The people are great. And you will leave this tasting room, having learned things about Napa Cab that you might not have known before you came. That is the beauty of tasting room appointments. You get personal attention and the person leading your tasting (should) speak to you and walk you through the tasting at whatever level of wine knowledge you have. No need to feel embarrassed or inadequate.

There are two different tasting options. We went with the Library Experience which is generally $55/person (tasting fee waived with the purchase of 3 bottles of Cabernet or wine club enrollment). Though this tasting was waived for me as a member of the media. This tasting showcases their current releases and highlights a selection from their library. They also have a Collector’s Vertical Experience, which is designed for serious Cabernet collectors interested in a deeper understanding of how Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon can speak eloquently of time and place. This flight features four decades of Cabernet, including two of their single vineyard estate wines. This tasting is $150/person ($100 for wine club members).

2014 Corazón Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer $35
Grapes from Mendocino. No RS (residual sugar). Loved this guy….even took a bottle home. Great aromatics, good acidity, goes down easy.

1999 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (no longer for sale)
This was a special wine to taste as it came from Cathy’s library and has 15 years in bottle. The wine has a lovely garnet color. On the nose I got faint black fruit (blackberry), black pepper, plus cigar and smoke. The palate had beautiful muted fruit plus cigar, smoke, tobacco, and leather. Firm tannins. This wine is showing its age, but it is holding up. It’s a masculine and dusty wine for sitting down with and really digging into.

2013 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $90
This wine is a true Cabernet with Cab markers such as blackberry, black pepper and cassis. On the nose I also get bramble, and on the palate we also see plums. This is an outstanding wine with an Old World feel.

2012 Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon $165
This is the only wine I tried from their estate vineyard, Kronos. This is a powerful wine with bright acid and fruit. On the palate we have juicy red and black fruit, including plum, cherry, and blackberry.

2006 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (no longer for sale)
On the nose we have baked black fruit, like a coulis. Great acid, firm tannins, and medium + flavor intensity. This is a big boy that’s showing off at this point in its life.

Ehlers Estate

The tasting room of Ehlers Estate is located inside a gorgeous stone barn dating back to 1886. When I visited, the place was bustling with guests and energy. The vineyards are planted to Bordeaux varietals and by 2008, 100% of the Ehlers vineyards were certified organic. The tasting room is open daily and offers portfolio tastings for $35 (complimentary for wine club members). This is a great place to go for that picturesque vineyard feel with a warm and cozy tasting room.

“1886” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $110
A round and supple Napa Cab. I usually describe Napa Cabs as masculine, but this one has a soft femininity. Black fruit (blackberries), blueberries, black pepper on nose. On palate: blackberries, vegetal/bamble, chocolate/mocha/coffee.

Cabernet Franc 2013 $60
Perfumed and pleasing on the nose. Would love a simple grilled skirt steak with this. Red fruit (cranberry, cherry, pomegranate), floral (violets), vegetal, and vanilla notes. Espresso beans on palate.

Merlot 2013 $55
Red/black fruit (plum, cherry, raspberry, blackberry). Spice (vanilla, black pepper, cloves). Cedar/cigar box. Leather. This wine dances on my tongue and I get dark chocolate and a smokiness on the palate.

Sauvignon Blanc 2015 $28
Aged 6 months sur lie (which adds significant body and weight). Slightly restrained on the nose, but I can detect citrus (lemon), yellow apple, wet stone/minerality. On the palate I also get citrus (lemon), plus stone fruit (peach/apricot), salinity/brininess. This is a textured….almost chewy, which is not a descriptor I usually use for whites.

Trione Winery

Trione Winery & Vineyard is actually located in Sonoma County, but I felt it could be included in this wrap up, as they are very close to Napa. The Trione family has been deeply rooted in the Sonoma County wine industry for three generations, with the Trione Winery and brand starting in 2005. The grounds her are lovely with an equally comfortable tasting room (we even got a visit from the winery dog!). 

Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley-River Road Ranch 2015 $25
A great wine and a great value! Stone fruit (apricot/white peach), minerality/wet stone, and smokiness.

Rosé of Pinot Noir 2015 $28
Citrus (lime), red fruit (strawberry, raspberry), and floral (rose).

Russian River Valley Chardonnay-River Road Ranch 2014 $34
This wine has gone through full malolactic fermentation (which is where the tart malic acid has been converted to a smoother lactic acid (which is found in milk!). The MLF gives the wine a creamy and buttery feel. The wine also shows bruised yellow apples, pear, and vanilla.

Russian River Pinot Noir-River Road Ranch 2013 $42
Red cherry, black pepper, gaminess, and forest floor, with an aging potential of 7-10 years.

Alexander Valley Henry’s Blend 2012 (35% Cab Sauv, 34% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot, 13% Cab Franc, 5% Malbec). $56
A traditional Bordeaux blend, showing red + black fruit (plum, blackberry), pyrazines, and black pepper. This wine gives me Cab on the nose, but more Merlot on the palate (a velvet silkiness). Also lovely tertiary notes of smoke and cigar.

Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Block 21 $69
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 2% Cab Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec
What a wine! Baked/stewed black fruit such as blackberry compote and cassis, plus baking spices. Smooth, round tannins and 10-15 years aging potential.

Alexander Valley Primitivo 2013 $37
Stewed red fruit (plum, cherry), plus black fruit (blackberries and currants) and vanilla. French oak gives a nice cigar box feel.

Zinfandel 2013 $37
This one is aged in American oak. I get juicy black fruit (plums and blackberries). This wine is velvety, supple, rich.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Don’t Put the Kibosh on Grenache

Being that I am a certified sommelier, and write a wine blog…..friends and family ask me a lot of questions about wine.

What’s your favorite wine? Answer: anything sparkling

Where can I get good, cheap wine? Answer: at your local wine shop!

What’s the most expensive wine you’ve tasted? Answer: A Bordeaux red at a tasting event that was about $300/bottle

Can you blind taste ANY wine and know what it is? Answer: No. Definitely not.

Wine is convivial and so popular these days that you can find great ones at most stores, bars, restaurants, etc. People love to drink wine and love to show off whatever wine knowledge they have. I’m here to tell you the BEST way to learn more about wine is to broaden your horizons and to never drink the same wine twice. That’s right. EXPLORE. There are thousands of grape varieties and dozens of countries that produce wines. If you always try something different, you’ll have a better understanding of the world of wine (literally), and you’re more likely to stumble across things you like.

Does this describe you? You go to the grocery store (or wherever you buy your wine) and pick a wine made from a variety you know. In other words, you pick a “safe” wine. Probably Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc for white and Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon for red. Ain’t nobody got time to pick a wine out that they’ve never heard of, such as Nebbiolo, Grenache, Sangiovese, or Gewurztraminer??!?!? Well, I’m here to tell you to take the leap and try something new! Don’t put the kibosh on Grenache! I guarantee you that over time, you will thank me. Your palate will develop organically from trying many different wines and you’ll be able to confidently rattle off a couple of your new favorite varieties!

Today I want to explore the tip of the iceberg of Grenache, a red grape. Grenache makes a wine that (as a general rule) is on the lighter side in terms of body, tannins, and acidity.  But don’t think of this wine as “wimpy”. Grenache can be bold and spicy and is a fabulous wine to go with grilled meats. Common aromas and flavors found in Grenache include red, sometimes candied, fruit such as strawberry and raspberry; also spice such as clove, white pepper, and cinnamon. Grenache grows well in warm climates and can be found in places like: Spain (Cariñena, Priorat, Rioja), France (Languedoc-Roussillon, the Rhone, Provence), California, and Australia. It is even called Cannonau in Sardinia. Grenache is originally from Spain where it is known as Garnacha. It is the predominant grape in DOP Cariñena, in the northern Aragón region.

What makes Grenache such a unique wine is its versatility. It is a great varietal wine (meaning a wine that is named after the dominant grape variety), but also is a good partner in blends to add spice or to soften the acid or tannins of the partner variety. The other great thing about Grenache is that there are so many value priced Grenaches of incredible quality. You don’t have to spend a ton to get good wine.

Fun fact: All that #roséallday #rosébae you’ve been drinking is predominantly Grenache. That’s right: Grenache is one of the most popular grapes vinified as a rosé. See, you’ve been drinking Grenache, loving it, and you didn’t even know it! Do me this favor: walk into your local wine shop and ask the salesperson to help you find a good Grenache for under $20/bottle. You will thank me later!

A Grenache tasting I attended, highlighting the reds of DOP Cariñena

Saturday, March 17, 2018


My LODI RULES Care Package

 It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Lodi wines, as I have written multiple blog posts about the region (see HERE). I used to be a naysayer, but I have since visited Lodi multiple times and tasted many wines, not just the crap that’s sold at the grocery stores. What people might not know about Lodi is that they are one of the leaders in regards to sustainable winegrowing.

Prepping for the LODI RULES Facebook Live Virtual Tasting

Last spring I participated in a Facebook Live virtual tasting of four Lodi wines all certified under the LODI RULES program. They also sent us a lovely wooden wine box that was to be reused as a windowsill garden with the Lodi Rules information printed on seed paper! The tasting was moderated by three Lodi locals who are involved in some way or another in the wine industry:

Stuart Spencer, Lodi Winegrape Commission

Aaron Shinn, local grower with Round Valley Ranch

Chad Joseph, local winemaker at Oak Farm Vineyards, Harney Lane, & Dancing Coyote


LODI RULES is a third-party sustainable vineyard certification system that was launched in 2006 with five growers and covered 1,200 acres. The program is now over 100 growers and 36,000 acres are certified. The program promotes practices that enhance biodiversity, soil health and water cleanliness/purity and further encourages responsible farming by focusing on the community through land stewardship, employee training, and safety initiatives.

It has been described as “aggressive, progressive, and thorough”. The LODI RULES standards are the most thoroughly and rigorously vetted set of sustainability practices in California’s viticulture industry. This program goes WAY beyond certifying vineyards as organic. There is a LODI RULES seal (see below) that can be used if at least 85% of grapes in the wine come from certified vineyards. Overall, LODI RULES isn’t just about better grapes. It’s also about the people who work with the grapes and their well-being (particularly in reducing their exposure to harmful pesticides).


Lodi Wines Tasted

Wines Tasted

Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Lodi $20
13% ABV, Mohr-Fry Vineyard

A stainless steel, cold fermented Sauvignon Blanc that checks all of the boxes. Aroma notes of citrus and tree fruits as well as some herbaceous and floral notes.  On the palate, a range of fruits from citrus (lime) to tropical (melon and ripe pineapple).

Bokisch Albariño 2015, Lodi $18
Terra Alta Vineyard in the Clements Hills

Beautiful acidity and bright fruit, including citrus (tangerine, grapefruit), stone fruit (peach, apricot), and floral (orange blossom, honeysuckle) plus minerality and a flint note. This is exactly what I want in an Albariño. Young and bright with great acid.

Michael Klouda Wines, Broken Vines Zinfandel 2014, Lodi $20
14% ABV

THIS is what Lodi Zinfandel should be. Great fruit concentration and intensity without being overripe and/or jammy. The good acid cuts through the ripe, dark fruit. Lovely notes of red and black fruit (dark cherry, plum, blackberry jam), spice (black pepper plus baking spices), chocolate/mocha, and coffee.

Michael David Inkblot Cabernet Franc 2014, Lodi $35
15.4% ABV

A dark, brooding wine with 21 months in barrel. On the nose, great black fruit, black pepper, sweet, spices, and graphite. The palate also has chocolate/mocha, which give it a nice richness.

Even my cat, Ziggy, like Lodi Wines!


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Vintastic Voyage: Lodi

Me at the m2 Vineyards in Lodi

I’ve had the privilege to visit Lodi multiple times over the last couple of years. For one, I live in California, so visiting any California wine country is quite convenient and only a car ride away. And secondly, I gained an in depth appreciation for Lodi after attending the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference where we learned about multi-generational family producers, the history of the local old vines, and met many incredible people who welcomed us with open arms and who were proud of Lodi and happy to show it off to us!

A while back I was staying with my friend in the NorCal area (disclaimer: I think people from Northern California dislike the term “NorCal”. But I think being from “SoCal” allows me use of the word!) we took a day trip and visited Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, m2 Wines, and the Lucas Winery. Three very distinct wineries, which made for a great day of tasting!

My rule of thumb for a day of wine tasting is a MAXIMUM of four wineries. The best plan is to have a healthy sized breakfast (pro tip: no coffee because coffee tarnishes your taste buds for a few hours), visit two wineries, have a good size lunch, then visit two more wineries. The trick to not be a hot mess by the end is to swirl and spit. And yes, I know not everyone wants to spit their wine out. But if you swirl and spit for the first two wineries, have a good lunch, you can imbibe at the last two wineries with no regret! You’ll still be a bit tipsy and have a great time, but this will assure you won’t be tanked by the last winery and you won’t wake up with a raging hangover the next day. Your liver will thank me if you follow these tips!

Here is my recap of a fun-filled day in Lodi!

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards

I have been here a couple times now and I love this place. For one, Sue Tipton is the owner and winemaker, and I am always more than happy to support a female-owned business. The tasting room is comfortable and homey and feels like you’re in a farmhouse in Tuscany or the south of France. What is unique about Acquiesce is that they only make whites and rosés. No red wines to be found here, which is a gutsy move in the Zinfandel-soaked Lodi area. She is focused on Rhone varietals. When I was there we tasted: Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Rosé, Picpoul, Rousanne, and Belle Blanc (which is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, and Viognier). They also have a Clairette that I did not get to try. 


From their website: Acquiesce has become our mantra -- to submit to nature, to yield to the vineyard, to acquiesce to the grapes so they present their own true character. Attention to detail reigns here with sustainable vines that are lightly watered, grapes that are handpicked and then whole cluster pressed to create wines that are both classic and traditional.

There is a $10 tasting fee, which is waived with any wine purchase. The fun part is that they pair a small bite with each wine taste. My favorite was the goat cheese with thyme and Meyer lemon paired with the Grenache Blanc. Delicious! Check out this (and a few other) recipes on the Acquiesce page HERE.

They sell-out of their wines every year and their tasting room shuts down until the following season!

Fun fact, Acquiesce Winery is a member of LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing, which is California’s original sustainable viticulture program. LODI RULES is considered a benchmark program that will (hopefully) be transferable to other winegrowing regions. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but stay tuned for my next post which will delve more into Lodi and the LODI RULES program.

m2 Wines

The m2 tasting room is in stark contrast to Acquiesce. It has a modern and industrial tasing room feel. Almost like you’re in a very hip downtown loft…...yet in the middle of a Lodi vineyard! I love the aesthetics here…’s not what you expect in Lodi, and I dig that. 

While visiting, I tasted a Viognier, a Zinfandel, and a couple red blends consisting mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Syrah. They have a $10 tasting fee which is waived with a wine purchase.

According to their website, m2 Wines creates small-lot, artisanal wines. They describe their wines as old-world craftsmanship meets modern winemaking.

Fun fact, Layne Montgomery is the winemaker/founder. I interviewed him and other Lodi winemakers in 2016 for my Lodi Native posts, which can be found HERE and HERE.

The Lucas Winery

View from the ZinStar Vineyard

According to the Lucas Winery website, wine tasting at The Lucas Winery is very different than you will encounter at most wineries. We move through the winery while tasting different wines. Depending on the time of year, you might prune a vine, taste Zinfandel grapes almost ready to harvest, punch down some newly harvested grapes, or sample some freshly fermented wine. During my visit we walked through the vineyards as well as the Grand Chai room.

ZinStar Vineyard

The Grand Chai Room
Lucas is a lovely property and you get the true "heart and soul" feel from every touch point, whether it's from the warm greeting upon arrival, the pride from the staff as they take you through the vineyard, or the care taken in pouring the wines and telling you the story in the glass. 

Lucas is owned by David Lucas, who is also winemaker with his wife, Heather Pyle-Lucas. I actually got to meet them both when I spent an afternoon onsite at Lucas at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Read more HERE.

Heather says she spends more time in the vineyard than in the winery. She loves getting up in the middle of the night in her pajamas and checking in on how her fermentations are doing!

Their winery is 100% solar powered. They specialize in unblended Chardonnay and Zinfandel.

ZinStar is their signature wine sourced from their 83-year old CCOF organically certified and hand harvested ZinStar vineyard (3.5 acres). The wine has black cherry notes and subtle notes of white pepper. It is a wonderfully complex wine showcasing fruit, spice, and leather. It is VERY food-friendly! We tried the 2012 vintage during this trip. The current vintage is 2015 and retails for $58.

Join me next week as we talk more about Lodi!