Gems in My Glass . . . September 2018

Tasting Notes

Lewis Cellars 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Deep and intense, this sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon has aged beautifully, showing off both power and gracefulness.  Cassis, black cherry, blackberry, tobacco, dark plum and leather notes join well-managed oak nuances, melted chocolate, and savory spice.  Complex with refined tannins and a velvety smooth mouthfeel, and the dreamy finish keeps on delivering long after the last sip. SRP:  ~$130

Cougar Crest Winery 2016 Estate Chardonnay; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  This deep, full bodied Chardonnay opens with alluring aromas of fresh from-the-oven croissants.  Delicious in the mouth, with layers of crisp pear, apple galette, almond paste, brown spices and fresh pineapple.  Rich yet well balanced with a vibrant level of acidity that holds through the everlasting finish.    SRP:  $35

Maryhill Winery 2014 Alder Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  A spice-tinged berry aroma jumps from the glass with this juicy, well balanced Cabernet Sauvignon.    Black currant, tart cherry, black raspberry, Santa Rosa plum, leather, savory notes, tobacco, and oak spice wrap around supple tannins.  Lush in texture and energetic as it progresses to a persistent aftertaste.   SRP: $40

Helwig Vineyards and Winery 2017 Roussanne; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County, California:  Here is a vivacious and praiseworthy example of Roussanne.  Heavenly aromas lift from the glass, and the entry is lively and dramatic.  In the mouth, flavors of pear, white peach, fresh chopped herbs and a solid thread of minerality broaden on the palate.  Remarkably balanced and well defined with bracing acidity complementing the succulent fruit.   SRP:  $24

Lewis Grace Winery 2015 Grenache–Syrah; Sierra Foothills, California:  A bit shy initially, this satisfying blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah opens delightfully with aeration, showing off aromas of juicy blue and red berries.   Fresh raspberries, just-picked summer strawberries, and cherry pastry flavors swirl on the palate with a splash of blood orange and a touch of spice. Well-balanced with refined tannins and a zippy finish.  Decant if imbibing now, or cellar for further enjoyment ahead.  SRP:  $28

Trojak~Knier 2016 Sangiovese; Napa Valley, California:  This delicately hued Sangiovese opens with a potpourri of Italian seasonings on the nose.  Broadening on the palate are tasty flavors of cranberry, Montmorency cherry, tobacco leaf, dried strawberry, and a dusting of earthiness. Well balanced with bright acidity and gentle tannins, it remains silky smooth through the pleasing finish.

Trojak~Knier 2016 Teldeschi Home Ranch Zinfandel; Dry Creek Valley; California:  An enlivening, perfumed aroma leads the way to forest berries and spice on entry.   There is a nice rustic character on the palate.  Rubyqueen plums, savory notes, candied raspberries, blueberries, a hint of cloves and a twist of black peppercorns meld in harmony. Smoothly textured and juicy, with just the right touch of oak adding complexity.

Trojak~Knier 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  The first swirl unveils a seductive dark brambly fruit, spice-tinged aroma. On the palate it’s intense and multifaceted with layers of Chelan cherries, black currants, tobacco, blackberries, crushed herbs, Satsuma plums, a nice shade of earthiness, spice box, and well-integrated toasty oak nuances.   Succulent and sophisticated, it displays firmly structured tannins and fine balance as it heads to an everlasting finish.

Trojak~Knier 2016 The Blend; Napa Valley, California:  This plush blend of 72% Sangiovese, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc springs forward with charming aromas of a warm cherry pie fresh from the oven.   Rich meets earthy as the wine coats the mouth with flavors of red and black cherries, raspberries, black tea, mulberries, leather, nutmeg and cardamom spice.  Round and juicy with supple tannins, each sip begs for another.

Michigan Wines Achieving New Heights

Tasting Notes

Judging the 2018 Michigan Wine Competition this year gave me more reasons to be impressed with wines being produced across the state.  The quality continues to reach higher levels, many of which deserve to be recognized on a global level.  White wines, including Auxerrois, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Vignoles, and Chardonnay have long been appreciated here.   There are red varieties, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Blaufränkisch, Marquette, Refosco, Teroldego, Lagrein, Chancellor, Chambourcin and Noiret (crafted as a stand-alone variety or part of a blend), that are equally compelling, and deserve accolades as well.  Shining stars tasted during this year’s Michigan Wine Competition included:

Mari Vineyards 2016 Bel Tramonto; Old Mission Peninsula:  This beautifully composed blend of Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Refosco is complex and well defined.  Alluring aromatics pave the way to a richly textured wine boasting mouth-coating flavors of blueberry, red cherry, graphite, wild blackberries, almond paste, savory herbs, and a thread of minerality.  Delicious now, while balancing acidity and firm tannins (joining the bountiful fruit) also suggest age-worthiness.   SRP:  $45 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)  The Mari Vineyards team also took home Double Gold honors for their 2017 Malvasia Bianca, and a Gold medal for their 2016 Troglodyte Bianco (a blend of 50% Pinot Blanc, 40% Grüner Veltliner and 10% Sauv Blanc).

Mawby Vineyards & Winery NV Sandpainting Brut Rosé; Leelanau Peninsula: Engaging with its yeasty aroma and pinpoint bead, this impressive traditional method sparkling wine is crafted of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a touch of Vignoles. Well balanced and expressive, as vibrant layers of green apples, fresh apricot pastry, summer strawberries, raspberries, and a generous measure of orange and lemon enliven the palate.  Finishes with plenty of length and vibrancy.  SRP:  $31 (Gold/Best of Class.) Mawby’s NV Talismon sparkling wine also gained a Gold medal.

Verterra Winery 2017 Dry Riesling; Leelanau Peninsula:  This beautifully expressive dry Riesling is captivating.  Opening with a charismatic stone fruit and river rock aroma, it broadens delectably on the palate with layers of green apples, minerality, white peaches, chopped herbs, a pinch of sea salt, and citrus accents.  Zesty through the persistent finish.  SRP: $18 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)  Verterra’s team also achieved Double Gold for their 2017 Pinot Blanc, and Gold for their 2017 Rosé of Cab Franc.

Left Foot Charley 2017 Blaufränkisch Rosé; Michigan:  This full-flavored dry Rosé is brimming with red and black fruits and spice, from first whiff through the spirited palate, to the long-lasting finish.  Juicy red cherries, tart cranberries, black raspberries, white pepper, boysenberries, and subtle earthiness join savory herbs and a twist of orange peel. Bright and energizing with bracing acidity that keeps it ever so vivacious.   SRP:  $18 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery 2017 Sparkling Auxerrois; Leelanau Peninsula:  This shimmering sparkler, composed of 90% Auxerrois, 5% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay, opens with pizzazz!  Fragrant aromas of citrus blossom and a lively bead of tiny bubbles captivate the senses.  It bursts forth with flavors of fresh pineapple, blanched almonds, crisp pear, and lemon lime on the palate.  The balance is finely tuned, and the extended finish is refreshing. SRP:  $22 (Gold.)    Bel Lago Winery also secured three additional Gold medals for their 2016 Chardonnay, 2017 Pinot Grigio, and NV Leelanau Primavera semi-dry white wine.

Lawton Ridge Winery 2017 AZO Red; Lake Michigan Shore: If you are one who seeks out red wine with a touch of sweetness, reach for this semi-dry gem, a blend of Chancellor, Chambourcin and Noiret.  Round and tasty on the palate, unveiling juicy flavors of wild raspberries, vanilla bean, boysenberry jam, cherry candy, and savory black pepper spice. Fresh and nicely balanced.  SRP: $14.95 (Gold/Best of Class.) Two additional Double Gold medals were awarded to Lawton Ridge, one for their 2016 Harvest Select Sweet Vignoles, and another for their Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier based 2017 Rosé.

Aurora Cellars 2017 Medium Sweet Riesling; Leelanau Peninsula:  Wet stone aromas speak clearly of what you are about to taste.  Attractively sweet without being cloying, it shows off juicy white peaches, citrus-splashed nectarines, and candied pineapple at the core.  The abundant fruit is framed by racy acidity, and there is a pleasing thread of minerality adding another dimension.  Mouthwatering through the lingering finish. SRP: $17 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)  Aurora’s Blaufränkisch also captured Double Gold, and their 2017 Late Harvest Vignoles was awarded Gold.

Black Star Farms 2017 Arcturos Gewurztraminer; 81% Leelanau Peninsula, 19% Old Mission Peninsula:  Here is a delicious semi-dry Gewurztraminer that broadcasts classic varietal characteristics at first swirl.  Inviting lychee and orange blossom on the nose are mirrored on the palate, entwining with flavors of a spiced quince tart, and a touch of ginger.  Precisely balanced, with a proficient level of acidity and subtle hint of sweetness.  The texture is silky smooth, and the finish is dynamic and long.  SRP:  $22.50 (Double Gold.)  Black Star Farms’ 2016 Isidor’s Choice red blend (composed of Teroldego, Merlot, Lagrein and Cab Franc), and Arcturos Pinot Noir Blanc also secured Double Gold awards.

Chateau Fontaine Vineyards 2016 Woodland White; Leelanau Peninsula:  This snappy dry white wine, crafted of Auxerrois, is bright and airy.  Aromas of stone fruit and applesauce make way for juicy flavors of nectarine, Red Delicious apples, a sprinkling of fresh chopped herbs and hints of multi-colored pepper.  The acidity level balances the succulent fruit, and the finish displays vivid lemon-lime notes.  SRP:  $13 (Gold.)   Chateau Fontaine’s 2016 Chardonnay, and 2016 Grüner Veltliner each garnered Gold medals as well.

Chateau Grand Traverse 2016 Riesling Ice Wine; Old Mission Peninsula:  Mesmerizing aromas send you right into the glass. You simply cannot wait to taste the first sip—and it’s a beauty.   Honeyed pineapple, stone fruit, Marcona almonds, citrus blossom and candied lime peel interlace, flowing seamlessly across the palate.  Rich and viscous with vibrant balancing acidity, it lingers far beyond the final sip.  SRP (375 ml):  $75 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)  Additionally, CGT secured Double Gold for their Semi-Dry Riesling, and Gold medals for their 2017 Block Twelve Riesling, 2013 Gamay Noir Reserve, 2017 Pinot Noir Rosé Vin Gris, and 2016 Ship of Fools white wine.

St. Julien Winery Solera Cream Sherry; Michigan:  This sumptuous, well balanced wine, crafted from Niagara grapes and fortified with neutral grape spirits, is ever so enticing.  Heavenly aromas of warm apple pie and caramel rise from the glass.  Rich flavors of honey-drizzled baked apples, butterscotch drops, roasted nuts and freshly grated orange zest coat the palate.  Well balanced through the long-lasting finish.   SRP:  $13.99 (Double Gold/Best of Class.)  St. Julien also took home a Double Gold for their NV “On the Town” dry white wine, and Double Gold/Best of Class in the fruit wine category for their NV Sparkling Sweet Nancie Peach.

For details about all the award winners, visit

A trip to Michigan’s wine regions should be on your bucket list.  There are many impressive producers there to seek out, offering numerous varieties and styles of wines and ciders.  Discover what pleases your palate from the “Great Lakes State”!


Amador County Commercial Wine Competition 2018

Tasting Notes

There is something very special about this California wine competition for me.  My mother’s side of the family has roots in Amador County, and many of my late relatives from generations past are buried in Sutter Creek.  Visiting this region always brings to mind touching thoughts and warm memories of times shared with my maternal grandmother (who was born in Sutter Creek), my mother and father, my five sisters and our engaging aunts, uncles, and cousins. My mother’s grandfather, who was born in Croatia, made wine in his homeland.

Amador County is a happy place for us to reminisce, imagine what our relatives’ lives were all about many decades ago, and enjoy the beauty of Amador County today.

This year’s Amador County Wine Competition was overflowing with Gold and Double Gold (GG) medals.  Favorites among those I judged included:

Jeff Runquist Wines 2016 Fiddlehead Vineyard Malbec; Fairplay:  A fragrant hibiscus and sweet berry fruit aroma sets the stage with this deeply hued, mouth filling Malbec.  Complex and full bodied, it shows off concentrated blackberries, boysenberries, plum preserves, hints of earthiness, tobacco, licorice, nicely integrated oak and savory spice.  Firm tannins and lively acids complement the lush fruit, and the finish is zesty and long lasting.   Double Gold (GG) SRP: $29

Trevor Grace 2015 Estate Petit Verdot; El Dorado: The deep purple/blackish color, and aromatics of dark fruits engage the senses. This beautifully structured Petit Verdot, a grape used more often as a component of red Bordeaux style blends, is a shining example of this variety as a stand-alone wine.   Layers of blackberry, dark plum, licorice and allspice meld in fine balance as this elegant wine flows across the palate.  The structure is firm, the tannins are polished, and the wine finishes with gusto. Gold SRP:  $30

Ursa Vineyards 2016 Lone Meadow Vineyard Tannat; Sierra Foothills:  This dark and delicious Tannat displays aromas of black fruits and spice at first whiff.  It remains lush throughout, with a pleasing rustic edge.  Forest berries, a hint of chocolate, Bing cherries, strawberry rhubarb pie, black raspberries and crushed herbs unwind, filling every nook and cranny of the palate.  Full bodied and well balanced with a nice kick of brown spice highlighting the long, lip-smacking finish.  GG/Best of Class SRP:  $20  www.ursavineyards

Morse Wines 2013 Three Popes; Sierra Foothills, Amador County:  A brilliant crimson red hue adorns this red Rhone blend, composed of 54% Syrah, 31% Mourvedre, and 15% Grenache.  Scents of red raspberry and blackberry fruit and a trace of fresh tobacco rise from the glass.  Delectable tones of boysenberries, plums, marionberries, savory roasted meat, and hints of herbs coat the palate.  Full bodied and lavish with a creamy texture, impeccable balance and approachable tannins.  Finishes with good depth and length.  GG/Best of Class SRP: $22

Cooper Vineyards 2017 Estate Roundpen Rosé; Amador:  A sparkling hue, and engaging floral aromas start the juices flowing with this well-crafted dry Rosé made from Grenache.  Wild strawberries, raspberries, a splash of citrus, and baking spices intertwine harmoniously, enlivening the palate.  Crisp, fresh and meticulously balanced with a spirited level of acidity and a silky texture.  This sophisticated gem remains dynamic, juicy and invigorating from first sip to the lingering final one. GG/Best of Class   SRP:  $26

Lewis Grace Winery 2015 Grenache – Syrah; Sierra Foothills:  A bit shy initially, this satisfying blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah opens delightfully with aeration, showing off aromas of juicy blue and red berries.   Fresh raspberries, just picked summer strawberries, and cherry pastry flavors swirl on the palate with a splash of blood orange and a touch of spice. Well-balanced with refined tannins and a zippy finish.  Decant if imbibing now, or cellar for further enjoyment ahead.  GG SRP:  $28

Helwig Vineyards and Winery 2017 Roussanne; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County:  Here is a vivacious and praiseworthy example of Roussanne.  Heavenly aromas lift from the glass, and the entry is lively and uber expressive.  In the mouth, flavors of pear, white peach, fresh chopped herbs and a solid thread of minerality broaden on the palate.  Remarkably balanced and well defined with bracing acidity complementing the succulent fruit.  G/Best of Class SRP:  $24

Boeger Winery 2016 Cabernet Franc; Fair Play:  This extraordinary Cabernet Franc (88% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon) is illuminating from the get-go with its brilliant garnet color and alluring aroma. Complex and finely structured, it explodes with vibrancy as black berries and purple plums join accents of anise and a subtle touch of roasted red peppers.  Full bodied and succulent as it builds on the palate and flows to a forever finish. GG/Best of Class SRP:  $20

Sierra Starr Vineyard 2017 Solstice Sauvignon Blanc; Sierra Foothills:  Honeydew melon and citrus on the nose are mirrored on the palate with this crisp, exhilarating wine.  The impressive weight and beautiful mouthfeel is (in part) a result of skillful use of 50% French oak (15% new), 30% concrete egg, and 20% stainless steel. Complex and balanced, it broadens fully on the palate with notes of crushed herbs, grapefruit, kiwi and key lime pie accents.  Racy acids provide good balance and linger delightfully after the final drop.  GG SRP:  $20

Helwig Vineyards and Winery 2015 “Gold Country” Zinfandel; Sierra Foothills:  The vivid ruby hue is impressive, as is the mesmerizing, deeply fruited aroma that shouts out Zinfandel. Plush and jammy on the palate with layers of boysenberries, olallieberries and blackberry/vanilla custard parfait notes joining nutmeg spice and hints of anise seed.   A good level of acidity ideally balances the delicious concentration of fruit. The velvety smooth texture and round tannins cap off the delicious package.  Gold SRP:  $18

Jeff Runquist Wines 2016 Esola Zinfandel; Amador County:  This elegant Zinfandel, exhibiting a beautifully hued jewel tone, opens with a compelling spicy aroma.  Lively with mixed red and black berries at the core, joined by vanilla bean, savory elements and integrated oak spice.  The balance is precise, and the restraint in alcohol at 13.8% makes this Zin versatile; an excellent food pairing wine, and perfect anytime sipper.   The texture is satin-like, and the long finish is zesty.  Gold  SRP:  $29  

Cielo Estate Winery 2017 Sauvignon Blanc; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County:  Gorgeous clarity delights the eye, and the equally compelling aroma tantalizes the senses.  Just the right touch of fresh summer grasses, juicy fresh-squeezed grapefruit, and lemon sorbet wind around a vibrant backbone of acidity, and a silky texture adds to its charm.  The extended, refreshing finish offers a stimulating twist of fresh squeezed lime. GG/Best of Class SRP: $24

Grace Patriot Wines 2017 “Fashionably Late” dessert wine; El Dorado:  This sparkling deep yellow diamond hued, wildly aromatic late harvest wine is a blend of 67% Pinot Gris and 33% Muscat of Alexandria. Fragrant citrus blossom and honey aromas are so captivating, you’ll want to keep hovering over the glass for a long while.  The palate is every bit as compelling, with scrumptious flavors of raw honey, fresh roasted nuts, honeysuckle, lemon-lime, and sweet sun-ripened pears.  For all its depth and richness, it is lithe and light on its feet.   The vivid orange-scented finish is heavenly, and lingers on and on.  GG/Best of Class/Best of Show SRP: $23 (500ml)

For further information about all the wines earning awards at this year’s competition, visit  Or better yet, plan a trip to Amador County to discover what best suits your palate!


More gems discovered in El Dorado County

Tasting Notes

An annual visit with good friends Scott and Laurie in El Dorado County always includes a full day of wine tasting, and this year was no exception. There is always something new to discover here.  We were among a lively crowd at Sentivo Vineyards, where we sipped a delightful sparkling wine during our previous visit, and found more to enjoy on our return trip.  Additionally, it was a pleasure to make our way to two wineries not previously explored, E16 Winery and Elements 79 Vineyards.

These are among my favorite wines tasted:

E16 Winery 2014 Grenache Blanc; Fair Play, El Dorado, California:  Inviting tropical fruit on the nose wafts from the glass.  Juicy pineapple, sweet orange, guava and Honeydew melon meld with a sprinkling of herbs.  Smooth as silk, and the acidity level is a perfect complement to the lovely fruit, keeping the wine well balanced all the way through. Vibrant from first sip, through the long, satisfying last one. SRP:  $32

E16 Winery 2014 Escolle Vineyard Pinot Noir; Santa Lucia Highlands, California:  This expressive, provocative Pinot Noir leaves no question what is in this glass!   Cherry, forest floor, red raspberry, cranberry, tobacco leaf, savory spices and nicely integrated oak meld in harmony.  Precisely balanced with brisk acidity and refined tannins, and the finish simply goes on forever; extraordinary.  SRP:  $42

E16 Winery “Firefall” 2016 Vivere; Fairplay, El Dorado County, California:  Stone fruit aromas engage the senses with this elegant dry white wine, a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc and 50% Viognier.  Vivid layers of white peaches, sweet nectarines, honeysuckle, subtle spice, and lemon curd unwind gracefully on the palate. Well-structured and satin smooth, and the finish is bright and lingering.  SRP:  $35

Elements 79 Vineyards 2015 Rare Earth Red Blend; Fair Play, El Dorado County, California:  Here is a snappy dry red, a blend of 50% Petite Syrah and 50% Viognier.  Floral aromas greet the nose, and delectable layers of blackberry, boysenberry, black pepper spice, peach skin, and baking spices interlace, coating the mouth.  Full bodied, succulent and nicely balanced with a spicy finish.

Elements 79 Vineyards Petite Sirah; Fair Play, El Dorado County, California:  This deeply hued Petite Sirah displays dark fruit on the nose.  Full bodied and juicy on the palate, with boysenberry, blackberry, blueberry jam, nutmeg and subtle cinnamon spice flavors interlacing with hints of toasted coconut.  Lovely mouthfeel and good balance of tannins, acids and lush fruit.  The finish is richly fruited, and long.  SRP:

Sentivo Vineyards & Winery 2013 Reserve Syrah; Fair Play, El Dorado, California: Spicy, ripe berry aromatics set the stage for this complex Syrah.  Rich and round on the palate, as concentrated boysenberry, black plum, licorice, blackberry, roasted meat, and a touch of earthiness intertwine.  A firm backbone of tannins, dense fruit and refreshing acids are in fine balance.  Still youthful, suggest decanting if you open now, or hold for years of enjoyment ahead.    SRP:  $56

Sentivo Vineyards & Winery 2013 Estate Petite Sirah; Fair Play, El Dorado County, California: A well balanced and succulent Petite Sirah, with layers of blackberries, spiced plum preserves, black licorice, plump blueberries and creamy toffee entwining on the palate.  It displays a velvety smooth texture, with firm supporting tannins. The luscious, concentrated finish is lifted by a bright pop of orange zest.  SRP:

Sentivo Vineyards & Winery 2015 Primitivo; El Dorado County, California:  Resplendent with deep fruit and violets on the nose, here’s a compelling Primitivo. Juicy loganberries, red plums, and cranberry sauce underscored by spice box notes and well integrated oak richly fill the mouth.  Smoothly textured with vibrant acidity that carries the wine to a satisfying and memorable finish. Food pairing:  SRP:  $38




Vintage Room Wine Pairing Dinner #2 on the Crystal Serenity 2018 World Cruise

Tasting Notes

Our 2018 World Cruise continues to provide the opportunity to taste and appreciate impressive wines from around the globe. A second extraordinary wine pairing dinner in the Vintage Room on board the award-winning Crystal Serenity, as guests of Rob Mason and Jim Olson, was a night to remember. Here is a review of the delights enjoyed during this second Vintage Room wine pairing dinner on board.

Louis Roederer 2009 Cristal Brut; Reims, France: Classic, with its earthiness and yeasty aromas mesmerizing the senses. Intensely flavored, this expressive cuvée is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. Sauteed apples, hints of pomegranate, chalky notes and a touch of fresh squeezed lemon weave around a pleasing backdrop of minerality. Rich and complex with an energetic stream of tiny bubbles persisting through the forever finish. Paired with a delectable crab meat filled cannelloni.

Etienne Sauzet 2014 Puligny-Montrachet; Cote de Beaune, Burgundy, France: Exquisitely fragranced, this pristinely balanced wine offers up a flintiness that I find captivating. Stone fruits, apple skin, and floral notes interlace with spicy elements, hints of oyster shell, and tangy salinity. Full bodied with moderate tannins that are nicely integrated. The rich texture is offset by crisp acidity, and the wine holds good focus and tension through the aftertaste. A grilled sea scallop with butternut squash puree was a fine pairing.

Coup de Foudre 2013 Pinot Noir; Sonoma Coast, California: Red fruits and earthy notes waft from the glass with this well balanced Pinot Noir. Savory notes shine at first sip, melding in harmony with Sweetheart cherries, red currants, caramelized mushrooms, fresh strawberries, Asian spice and black tea accents. Silky in texture with nice purity, and oak nuances add further dimension without overpowering. Paired with a creamy Porcini mushroom risotto.

Chateau Pichon Longueville 2007 Comtesse de Lalande; Pauillac, Bordeaux, France: This sophisticated red Bordeaux displays dusty earth characteristics up front. Broadening on the palate are layers of black currant, black cherry, wild blackberry, anise seed, tobacco, and sweet oak spices, and the wine finishes with impressive depth and length. Beautifully integrated tannins and precise balance marrying with the well defined fruit speaks to further cellar worthiness. Paired with Wagyu beef tenderloin.

Revana Family Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon; St. Helena, Napa Valley, California: Here is a stylish, intensely structured Cabernet Sauvignon that clearly shouts out Napa Valley. A blend of 93% Cab Sauv, 6% Cab Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot, it unveils concentrated flavors of black plums, blackberries, eucalyptus, Bing cherries, dried herbs, a subtle roasted green bell pepper note, and seductive underlying oak. Luxurious on the palate while remaining well balanced and finely tuned, with firm tannins. Approachable now and promises more enjoyment ahead.  This was a second wine paired with the Waygu beef tenderloin, a nice opportunity to appreciate the nuances between old world and new world wines.

Chateau Rieussec 2009 Sauternes; Bordeaux, France: Aromas of honey and dried apricots provided a heavenly lead in to this deeply flavored Sauternes, crafted of 90% Semillon, 7% Sauvignon and 3% Muscadelle. On the palate it bursts with sweet guava, papaya, brown sugar sauteed apples, orange marmalade, ripe nectarines and roasted almonds. Rich with a velvety mouthfeel, and the vibrant level of acidity provides good energy and lift. Still in its youth, I envision decades of aging will reap further rewards. Paired with artisanal cheeses.

W. & J. Graham’s 30-year Tawny Port; Engaging on the nose with a wildly expressive aroma of spice and freshly made toffee. Mandarin orange, honey-laced figs, crispy crème brulee topping, apricot jam, a dusting of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg spice, caramelized pecans, and notes of butterscotch entwine, entrancing the palate. Well defined and powerful while being graceful at the same time. One sip irresistibly draws you to the next; simply divine! Paired with Crystal’s homemade chocolate pralines.

The wines were selected by Crystal’s Head Sommelier Mario da Silva and Rob’s and Jim’s personal Sommelier Consultants; me & Fred Brown.  Each course, created by Executive Chef Werner Brenner and his culinary team, was remarkable. This superb evening was another fine example of the wonderful programs Crystal offers, and how well the talented culinary and beverage teams execute a first class dining experience on board Crystal’s ocean going vessels, bravo!

Vintage Room Wine Pairing Dinner #1 on the Crystal Serenity 2018 World Cruise

Tasting Notes

On board the Crystal Serenity, cruising around the world still keeps me well connected to the world of wine.  Previously I spoke of the “all inclusive” wines that one can choose from (any time of the day or night) while traversing the oceans and other waterways of the world.  Another choice offered to guests is to book a night in the elegant Vintage Room for a wine pairing dinner, with special wines (to be chosen from Crystal’s premium wine list) to pair with multiple courses prepared and served by Crystal’s Executive Chef and his team on board.  Here are highlights from our first Vintage Room experience on this 2018 World Cruise, as invited guests of Miles Gauntt and Daniel Daigle.

Charles Heidsieck NV Brut Reserve; Reims, France:  The tiny bead and shimmering gold hue capture the eye, and the expressive nose fully engages the senses.  Layers of fresh baked brioche, warm cherry pie, butterscotch, spicy ginger cookies, blanched almonds, and grilled peaches and cream create a delicious cornucopia of flavors on the palate.  Generously flavored and well balanced with a nice minerally note lingering through the long, tingling finale.  Paired with poached lobster tail and black winter truffle sauce.

Vintage Tunina 2015 Silvio Jermann; Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy:   Here is an uber aromatic dry white blend crafted of 20% Chardonnay, 20% Malvasia Istriana, 20% Picolit, 20% Ribolla Gialla, and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.  Florals on the nose are promising.  Ever so bright and lively on the palate, with notes of fresh stone fruit, chamomile, red apple, a touch of herbs, and a healthy squeeze of lemon.  Bright, lively and easy to quaff.  Paired with Arctic Sea Bass and artichoke leaves.

Leeuwin Estate 2013 “Art Series” Chardonnay; Margaret River, Australia:  This rich and aromatic Chardonnay opens with scents of tree fruits and spice.  Unfolding on the palate are layers of Asian pears, fig and date jam, toasty oak, a splash of lime and creamy bread pudding. Lush and velvety with just the right level of nervy acidity, keeping it clean, and well balanced. Deeply flavored and nicely complex, with plenty of personality.  Paired with porcini mushroom risotto.

Antinori 2013 Guado al Tasso; Bolgheri, Tuscany Italy:  Enticing from first whiff, this dense and multilayered red blend is crafted of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.  Wild berries, black currants, anise, cacao nibs, blueberry preserves, ground peppercorns and a pinch of herbs interlace with minerality and fresh-turned earth notes.  A firm backbone of tannins and well placed oak nuances add complexity, and the finish is persistent.  Paired with Wagyu beef tenderloin.

Opus One 2014; Napa Valley, California:  This Cabernet Sauvignon dominant (80%) wine is blended with Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec.  Intensely structured with a solid frame of tannins, dark cherry, blackberry and black plum fruit at the core join savory spice, tobacco, hints of espresso bean, crushed herbs and a subtle earthy element.  Tightly wound with plenty of promise, it’s almost a shame to open it now.  It begs decanting if you cannot resist popping the cork immediately.  Better yet, cellar for at least another year or two, if not ten or more.  It, too, was paired with the Wagyu beef tenderloin.  I held a second glass overnight, and it was lovely and more approachable the next day; highly recommend as a cellar selection.

Kracher 2003 Trockenberrenauslese Cuvee No. 1; Burgenland, Austria:  This outstanding botrytis affected wine made from Scheurebe, Welshriesling and Pinot Gris is decadent.  Fragrant aromas of citrus blossom and honey rise from the glass.  The palate overflows with rich layers of apricots, honey-drizzled baked apples, ginger dusted candied peach, orange zest, papaya, caramel corn, and roasted nuts.  Velvety in texture and nicely balanced with a long-lived, lip-smacking aftertaste.  Paired with ricotta cheese strudel.

Lovely wines (selected by Crystal’s Head Sommelier Mario da Silva), and the pairings (created by Executive Chef Werner Brenner and his culinary team) were nicely suited to each dish.  A delicious experience; carried out beautifully by all.

Gems in My Glass . . . March 2018

Tasting Notes

Traveling aboard the incomparable Crystal Serenity cruise ship is always a joy and an adventure.  Since 2012, Crystal has gone to all inclusive, with a good variety of wine, beer and liquor offered among their inclusive alcoholic beverage selections.  Here are some of the all inclusive wines I’ve enjoyed during this cruise:

“C” Wines Sommelier’s Selection 2016 Reserve Merlot; Sonoma County, California:  This expressive Merlot is made and labeled exclusively for Crystal Cruises.  It’s a smoothly textured, well balanced wine, and quite approachable, with soft tannins.  Flavors of blueberry compote, savory spice, a touch of oak and plum jam intertwine on the palate, and the finish lingers.  This selection only available on board Crystal Cruises vessels.

La Chablisienne 2013 Chablis Cuvée La Sereine; Burgundy, France:  Leading off with an expressive citrusy aroma, this Chablis explodes with vibrancy on the palate.  Crunchy Granny Smith apples, juicy white grapefruit, sliced nectarines, lemon zest, and herbal accents are bolstered by striking acidity and a solid thread of minerality.  Fresh and crisp with plenty of energy from first to last enlivening sip. SRP:  ~$22

Yangarra Estate Vineyard 2013 Shiraz; McLaren Vale, Australia:  Fragrant spiciness and deep fruits dominate the nose of this full bodied, captivating Shiraz.   Opulent and balanced with layers of ripe boysenberry, fresh red cherry and blueberry, accented by hints of beef jerky, piquant spice, a touch of vanilla, and a nice level of acids.  Aging 13 months on 25% new French oak adds a nice toastiness without being over the top.  SRP:  ~$30

Quinta da Revolta 2014 Revolta Reserva; Douro Valley, Portugal:  Florals greet the nose with this dense red wine, crafted from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Femea.  A value priced dry red wine offering up nicely ripe fruit and good balance.  Lush with a velvety texture, and flavors of raspberry, blackberry, loganberry, Damson plum, and a hint of earth.  SRP:  ~$12

Wairau River Family Estate 2016 Sauvignon Blanc; Marlborough, New Zealand:  Delicate white flowers on the nose, this snappy Sauv Blanc really hits the mark.  Nectarine, peach, juicy grapefruit and lemon-lime soda grace the palate, with a nice mineral edge and bracing acidity; energetic and delicious.  It’s been a go-to wine day after day, hoping the ship doesn’t run out of it before we disembark!  SRP:  $17

Pio Cesare 2016 L’Altro Chardonnay; Langhe DOC, Piedmont, Italy:  Inviting citrus aromas on the nose opens the door to this crisp, ethereal Chardonnay.   Fresh and elegant with a core of lemon splashed green apple, pear skin, and a pleasing thread of minerality.  Beautifully balanced with good concentration of fruit, and lively acidity keeps it vivacious through the satisfying finish.   SRP:  $22

Wedell Cellars 2014  “Amuse Bouche” Pinot Noir; Sta. Rita Hills, California:  The tantalizing fragrance steers you into the glass.  Layers of red cherry, pomegranate juice, wild berry and cedar on entry broaden with notes of black tea, dried herbs, and savory spice as it flows gracefully across the palate.  Elegant and well balanced, with a satin smooth texture, and long- lasting aftertaste.    SRP: ~$35

Knappstein Enterprise Winery 2017 Riesling; Clare Valley, Australia:  This zesty Riesling is vivid and minerally, with citrus elements and tree fruits on the nose.  The mouthwatering palate is loaded with flavors of crisp green apple and white peach, hints of guava, lime zest and a solid backbone of minerality.  Bracing acidity is a perfect accompaniment to the generous fruit.  SRP:  $22

Paco & Lola 2016 Albariño; Rías Baixas, Spain:  This sleek and full of life Albariño imparts a charming aroma.   Fragrant summer wild flowers make way for flavorsome tropical fruit, chopped basil, crunchy pear, lemon curd, understated saline notes, and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.  Vivid and streamlined on the palate with a silky texture and crisp acids. Finishes with a perky twist of lemon peel.  SRP:  ~$16

Stay tuned for a review of wines from Crystal’s specialty wine list.  In addition to the inclusive wine list, premium wines from around the globe are also available for purchase, and your sipping pleasure.  Cheers!


Southern Highlands, Australia

Australia, Gems in MY Glass . . ., Tasting Notes

While cruising aboard the Crystal Serenity on the 2018 World Cruise voyage, we had the opportunity to visit the Southern Highlands wine region, located in New South Wales, Australia (120 kilometers southwest of Sydney).   There are 12 wineries and 52 registered vineyards situated here, in this relatively cool climate, high altitude region.  Time allowed for Ken and me to visit three wineries during our stop in Sydney this month, accompanied by wine aficionado and fellow cruiser, David Smith.  Ken braved the driving, which offered a few challenges!  For one, getting used to steering wheel on the opposite side of the car, and two, driving on the opposite side of the road compared to our norm, but all went well.  In this region we met delightful and passionate vintners, and discovered several nicely crafted wines.

Centennial Vineyards has vineyards reaching to 760m in altitude.  More than 80 acres are planted to vinifera grapes.  Winemaker Tony Cosgriff produces both sparkling and still wines.  Their Cellar Door is open to visitors for tasting seven days a week.  Nat greeted us with a warm welcome upon our arrival, and she provided us with a excellent introduction to the winery.  They market their wines all around Australia, as well as export to the USA, Singapore, Korea, China and Denmark. Below were among my favorites here.  Learn more at their website:

Centennial Vineyards Blanc de Noir:  This fruit driven, well balanced wine is crafted from 100% Pinot Noir.  Red fruits on the nose are inviting.  Tickling the taste buds are flavors of Rainier cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit linking with fresh lemon and lime accents, a tinge of pie crust, and a lovely touch of spice.  A stream of tiny bubbles carries the wine to a bright and refreshing finish.  SRP:  $39.99

Centennial Vineyards 2016 ”116” Road Block Riesling:   Alluring wet stone aromas speak clearly of Riesling as this wine approaches the nose.   In the mouth, white peach, crisp green apple, lemon verbena and a thread of minerality decorate the palate.  Crisp, dry and well balanced with zippy acidity, it delights through the lingering finish.  SRP: $24.99

Centennial Vineyards 2015 Road Block Savagnin: A beautiful example of Savagnin, a grape more widely grown in the Jura region of France (a unique variety, not to be confused with the Sauvignon Blanc grape).  This finely tuned Savagnin was fermented 96% in seasoned French oak, and 4% in new oak.  It displays an attractive leesy, pastry dough aroma.  In the mouth it is vivacious, with flavors of lemon gelato, ripe pear, guava, dried apricot, and lime zest and a hint of spice.  Underlying oak is well placed in the background; delicious.     SRP:  $21.99

Tertini Wines is focused on producing premium, cool climate wines.  They grow and produce a number of varieties including Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay, Arneis, Nebbiolo, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.   Their Cellar Door is open for tasting seven days a week from 10 am to 5 pm.  We thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated our time spent with talented Viticulturist and Winemaker Jonathan Holgate.  Jonathan holds a BSc degree in Wine Science, and has been crafting wines at Tertini since the 2008 vintage.  Grapes are hand pruned and hand-picked, with a focus on harvesting the best natural flavors from the vineyards.  These below were among my favorites.  Visit their website for more info:

Tertini Wines 2016 Arneis:  Enticingly aromatic, this snappy Arneis (a grape that originated in Piedmont, Italy) is barrel fermented.  Stone fruit on the nose is mirrored on the palate from the moment of entry.  White peaches, nectarines and creamy pear join lemon-lime notes and blanched almonds, creating a masterpiece on the palate.  Rich, expressive and texturally pleasing, with a racy level of acidity through the bright, memorable finish. SRP:  $38

Tertini Wines 2016 PCC Chardonnay:  This private cellar collection, barrel fermented Chard, from their Yarraandoo vineyard, opens with tree fruits on the nose.   Juicy peaches, red apples, lively lemon and orange citrus accents intertwine with well-integrated oak (from new and seasoned barrel aging).  Still in its youth, this wine displays excellent depth of fruit and complexity.  Approachable now, and I see years of enjoyment ahead.  SRP:  $48

Tertini Wines 2015 Pinot Noir:  The delicate hue and earthy aroma could not please me more, it clearly shouts out Pinot Noir.    Sourced from their “Yaaandoo” vineyard, this gem greets the nose with captivating earthy, cherry aromas.  Red cherry compote, raspberry, dried strawberry, earthy elements and exotic spices entwine as the wine flows seamlessly across the palate.  Elegant and beautifully balanced, it boasts a silky texture, refined tannins, and a finish that persists well beyond the last drop.  SRP:  $48

Artemis Wines is a family owned winery.  Winemaking brothers Anton and Mark Balog began making wine in this region in 1996.  They were the third winery to plant Pinot Noir in this region.  They also produce hard cider and mead.  Artemis is open for tasting Wednesday through Sunday and holidays.  They, too, appreciate the cool climate, and high elevation of their site in the Southern Highlands (their vineyards sit at 660 meters).  My favorites here are included below.  More details can be found on their website:

Artemis Wines 2016 Pinot Grigio:  Expressive aromas of stone fruit and a touch of herbs at first whiff.  Peaches, nectarines, green apple, citrusy notes, hints of ginger and oyster shell salinity weave a nice tapestry of flavors on the palate.  Crisp acids complement the bright fruit, keeping it lively and balanced.   Aging in neutral Hungarian oak gives it a pleasing roundness mid palate, and the finish is vivid.   SRP:  $20

Artemis Wines 2017 Sauvignon Blanc:   An engaging citrus aroma sets the stage for this vivacious Sauvignon Blanc.  It is a brilliant rendition of this variety, with its layers of passion fruit, lemon drops, grapefruit and fresh cut spring grasses.  The racy acidity is divine, and the wine displays lovely purity.  Streamlined and thirst quenching from first sip to everlasting final one.  SRP:  $25

Artemis Wines 2015 Close Vine Pinot Noir:   The alluring aroma takes you to a walk in the forest with its earthiness.  On the palate it is offers up flavors of wild strawberries, black cherries, pomegranate seeds, bay leaf and black tea notes.  Pretty oak nuances (from aging in 70% French and 30% Hungarian oak barrels) are well placed.  Smoothly textured and fresh through the lifted finish.  SRP:  $45

If your plans take you to Sydney, Australia, don’t miss the chance to visit the Southern Highlands wine region and discover your favorites.  I certainly plan to return to the region, and spend more time here!

Gems in My Glass . . . January 2018

Calaveras County

Miro Cellars 2007 Petite Sirah; Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County; California:  For any who may question the beauty and cellar-worthiness of Petite Sirah, sip this exceptional wine, and you’ll think again; wow!  Deep, dark fruits and fresh cracked peppercorns greet the nose.  Rich and generous on the palate, as layers of boysenberry, blackberry and plum fruit entwine with savory accents.  Showing off brilliant acidity and supple tannins, it is gorgeous now, with years to go.

Ramey Wine Cellars 2006 Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay; Carneros, Napa Valley, California:  Here is a splendid Chardonnay, remaining impressively vibrant after more than a decade of aging.   Fresh buttered toast and sautéed apples command your attention at first whiff.  The silky texture transports layers of Honey Crisp apples, creamy pears, spice oak notes and lemon curd seamlessly across the palate.  Well structured and polished with a long-lasting finish.

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2010 Revelation & Sorek Bloc Gruner Veltliner; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  A hint of smoke and wet stone on the nose starts the juices flowing with this classic, ageworthy Gruner Veltliner.  Stone fruit, citrus notes, minerality, fresh snap peas, and white pepper dance gracefully on the palate.  Sophisticated, complex and pristinely balanced, with lime peel highlights on the long, zesty finish.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2015 Chardonnay; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California: Aromas of fresh-picked tree fruits and spiced oak notes zone in on what’s ahead.  Poached pears, Granny Smith apples, brown spices and a kiss of butterscotch pudding join underlying oak on the palate.  Firmly structured and rich with good offsetting acidity through the last enlivening sip.

Holly’s Hill Vineyards 2014 Estate Grenache Noir; El Dorado, California:  Fresh wild raspberries and spice notes fill the senses.  Juicy and vivid on the palate, with raspberry preserves, red cherries, subtle smoky notes and beautiful savory elements.  The texture is silky smooth, and the balance is spot on as the lively acidity carries the wine to a vivacious close.

Cooper Vineyards 2014 Barbera Riserva; Sierra Foothills, Amador County, California:  Just try to resist the intoxicating spicy, fruit driven aroma!   Juicy and plush with succulent layers of black plums, spiced cherry salsa, dark berries and vanilla bean that explode with vibrancy on the palate.    Good grip and nicely structured tannins, with crushed peppercorns and vanilla kicking in on the back palate.  Perfect expression of Barbera, from start to everlasting finish.

Andis Wines 2015 Bill Dillian Vineyard Semillon; Shenandoah Valley, Amador County, California:   This snappy, unoaked wine is a fine example of new world Semillon.  Well balanced with juicy peaches and nectarines at the core, laced with fresh chopped herbs, lanolin, and beeswax. Viscous and medium bodied with a velvety texture, and a finish that shows a spry pop of citrus.

Sentivo Vineyards & Winery 2015 Syrah Rosé; Fair Play, California:  This delicious Provence style dry Rosé captures the eye with its glittering peachy pink hue.  Cranberry, wild berry, orange zest, watermelon and notes of charcuterie create a bright burst of flavors on entry.  The wine keeps on impressing as it expands through the mid and back palate with well placed acidity, purity of fruit, and depth of lip-smacking flavors.  Finishes long, with good lift.

Gems in My Glass . . . December 2017

Tasting Notes

Hawthorne Vineyards 2015 Barrel Reserve Chardonnay; Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan:  This well-structured Chardonnay opens with intoxicating aromas of spice and baked pears.  Bright and smoothly textured in the mouth, with flavors of savory pear chutney, juicy apples, blanched almonds, leesy notes and well integrated oak from French barrel aging. The extended finish is lifted by a splash of citrus.

Black Star Farms 2013 Arcturos Cabernet Franc; Old Mission Peninsula; Michigan: The marvelous dark fruit aromas will take your breath away.  Striking perfect balance, this gem displays layers of blackberries, plums, graphite, olallieberries, and subtle spices on the palate.  Just the right touch of roasted bell pepper reconfirms varietal correctness without being over the top; delicious.

Brengman Brothers 2013 Gewurztraminer; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  From a cooler vintage comes this remarkably fragranced, enticing Gewurztraminer.  Streamlined, well balanced and focused with flavors of lychee, star fruit, citrus blossom and subtle herb accents complemented by a racy level of acidity.  Nice restraint in alcohol (11.2%), too.  Expect this gem to age gracefully for several years ahead.

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery 2012 Marino Reserve Vineyard Pinot Noir; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  For years I’ve touted Charlie Edson’s masterful Pinot Noir, and here is another fine example.  This extraordinary wine, reminiscent of a red Burgundy, opens with forest floor notes.  Black cherry, wild mushrooms, raspberry, minerality, and licorice notes entwine with subtle oak from French barrel aging.  Ethereal and well defined, it’s delectable now, and I envision many years of enjoyment ahead.

Holly’s Hill Vineyards 2015 Picpoul; El Dorado, California:  This distinctive, creatively made Picpoul is fascinating!  Dry hopped, it opens with tropical aromas, and YES, a note of hops.   In the mouth, layers of dried pineapple, hints of mango, orange blossom, peach skin and yeasty notes prevail.  Delightfully unique and well balanced as it makes it way to a finish that warms you right up!

Saluti Cellars 2014 Estate Zinfandel; Sierra Foothills, California:  This jammy, expressive wine proclaims Zinfandel with its alluring berry filled scents.  Boysenberry, ripe plums, hints of orange peel and blackberry jam interlace with cherry soda notes, nutmeg and clove spices, while gliding smoothly across the palate.  Nicely balanced, fresh and pure  through the persistent finish.

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