Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery in the Spotlight

Napa, Tasting Notes

Tasting recent vintages of Smith-Madrone wines reconfirms the depth and intensity displayed in wines made from fruit cultivated in higher altitude vineyards.  The elevation range of their steeply sloped site is 1,300 to 2,000 feet.  Here are my impressions of the wines the Smith brothers, Founder/Winegrower Stuart Smith and Winemaker/Winegrower Charles F. Smith III, are accomplishing in Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District AVA. 

2018 Riesling ($36):  Scents of wet stone and citrus blossom rise from the glass at first swirl.  On the palate are layers of succulent peaches and nectarines, fresh squeezed lime, crisp apples, minerality, and faint lemon verbena exhilarating the palate.   Brisk acidity keeps it in fine balance, and a twist of lime lingers on the gratifying energetic finish. 

2018 Chardonnay ($45):  This beautifully complex Chardonnay opens with aromas of honeysuckle and butterscotch.  Expansive on the palate with a heavenly texture, as flavors of fresh pineapple, Granny Smith apple, Lemon Drop melon, spice cake, and a suggestion of toast reach every nook and cranny in the mouth. Brilliantly balanced and pure, and the lip-smacking finish is persistent.  

2019 Cabernet Sauvignon ($65):  The compelling aroma will keep you lingering over the glass, and the palate fully delivers what the aroma promises.  Flavors of dark berries, freshly turned earth, black currants, olive tapenade, blueberry coulis, and underlying oak marry deliciously.  Tannins are firm, the texture is velvety, and savory notes add depth through the long, memorable finish.  Approachable now, yet ageworthy if you have the patience to wait!   

2018 Cabernet Sauvignon (check with the winery if available):  The expressive aromatic drives you into the glass.  Deep and rich with a gorgeous texture and supple, well-integrated tannins.  Black plums, blackberries, sweet tobacco, crème de cassis, and graphite flow seamlessly across the palate.  Pleasing barrel spice sits nicely in the background adding further dimension. Intensely built while elegant, with years of enjoyment ahead.     

Visits to Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery can be scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday at 10:00 am.  Visits/tastings are by reservation only; you can book online at

Noteworthy Wines from Napa Valley’s Battuello Vineyards

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

Matteo Battuello and his wife Serafina founded Battuello Vineyards in 1909, after immigrating to the United States from the Piedmont region of Italy. They initially farmed grapes, plums and walnuts on the land they purchased.  While raising their sons Dominic and Joseph, they enhanced the property with additional plantings of wine grapes, and the vineyards continue to thrive. From one generation to the next, the Battuellos proudly carry on the family tradition of farming in St. Helena.

When Dominic and his wife Ellen inherited the property they expanded the vineyards, while raising their children Craig, Lois, and Elaine.  Craig is the current proprietor, running and operating the property with his son Dave (vineyard manager) and Dave’s wife Torey (heading up marketing and sales). Dave and Torey’s children Case and Alessa (fifth generation), are being raised on the property today. 

Their sustainably farmed 82-acre site in the St. Helena AVA is planted to 65 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, four acres of Petit Verdot, and smaller parcels of Sauvignon Blanc and Valdiguié (a grape more widely grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, and once dubbed Napa Gamay in California).  All their wines are crafted from estate fruit.

I highly recommend their current releases, which are showing beautifully: 

2019 Valdiguié Rosé ($28):  The brilliant peachy-pink hue simply glows.  Rising from the glass are scents of lemon blossom, and a strawberry field brimming with ripe fruit.  On the palate, the berry theme continues with red raspberries and strawberries accented by citrus, subtle black pepper, and minerality.  Beautifully balanced and refreshing with a zesty finish. 

2018 Valdiguié ($45):  Fragrant floral notes capture your attention at first whiff of this medium-bodied, fully flavored, dry red wine.  Wild raspberries, Sweetheart cherries, huckleberries, a kiss of oak, strawberry-rhubarb sauce, and a hint of crushed thyme coat the palate, and will have you reaching for more. Smooth and nicely balanced with well-integrated tannins and lively acidity that carries the wine to a satisfying close.

2018 Petit Verdot ($70):  A deep purple hue catches the eye, and the concentrated berry and violet aroma captures the senses.  Voluptuous on the palate, as flavors of purple plums, black currant, tobacco, wild blackberries, and oak spice nuances unfold harmoniously.  The texture is velvety, the tannins are supple, and lush fruit lingers well beyond the last sip.  Approachable now, while promising to age gracefully for years.

2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($90): The alluring nose is chock full of heady dark fruit, and the entry offers up mulberry and black currant notes.   Broad, complex, and precisely balanced through the palate where Bing cherry, blackberry, cassis, pipe tobacco, savory spice, subtle oak, and underlying earthiness interlace.  The pure core of fruit, firm backbone of tannins, and balancing acidity speak to this wine’s cellar worthiness, and the finish is everlasting.

Battuello Vineyards welcomes visitors for tastings by appointment.  You can reach Torey via email at, or via phone at 707 888-1320.  For further details and/or to order wine, visit their website at

Napa Valley’s Peju Province Winery in the Limelight

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

Napa Valley’s Peju Province Winery in the Limelight

It’s been a few years since my last visit to Peju Province Winery, which was quite delightful.  I’ve been a fan of Peju wines for more than a decade.  The current releases I recently tasted confirm the family owned winery clearly remains on track, with talented VP of Winemaking and Operations Sara Fowler, their certified organic Rutherford Estate Vineyard, and sustainably farmed Persephone and Tess vineyards in Pope Valley, and the Wappo Vineyard in Calistoga.  

Peju 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley:  The tropical aroma knocks your socks off.  Pure and varietally spot on, the grapefruit, fresh spring herbs, pineapple, guava and lime zest flavors intertwine, exhilarating the palate.   It remains bright and snappy with bracing acidity and a focused edge of minerality throughout, and the zesty finish lingers on and on. SRP:  $25

Peju 2016 Merlot, Napa Valley:  Fragrant forest berries and subtle floral notes engage the nose.  Composed of 95% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petite Sirah, it shows elegant structure and fine balance.  Layers of blueberry, blackberry, savory notes, well-integrated oak and a hint of cherry vanilla cola unfold in the mouth.  Velvety smooth from first sip through the cinnamon-laced memorable finish. SRP:  $48

Peju 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley:  Deep, dark black fruits and savory spice at first whiff speak clearly of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cassis, bittersweet chocolate, fresh olallieberries, black plums, a touch of tobacco and star anise entwine with skillfully managed toasty oak.  Complex with a solid backbone of tannins and balancing acidity, and the velvety texture is divine.  Decant if opening now, or hold; this gem promises years of enjoyment ahead.  SRP:  $60

Peju 2015 “The Farm” red wine, Napa Valley:  This spirited blend of  80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Sangiovese offers up vivid blackberry and cherry aromas and flavors.  Light on its feet and charismatic, it boasts black currant, Bing cherry, hints of dusty earth, savory notes, and a sprinkle of cocoa powder.  Easy to quaff with good depth and balance, and the finish is long, bright and fresh.  SRP:  $80

Peju 2013 Petit Trois Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley:  Wildly expressive, fresh picked cherries and crushed herbs on the nose drive you into the glass.  Vivacious and lively on the palate, where delectable layers of black raspberries, Satsuma plums, cranberries, pomegranate, graphite, and spice elements meld in harmony.  Precisely balanced and silky smooth all the way through. A delicious example of stand-alone Cabernet Franc.   SRP:  $75

Peju 2017 The Experiment Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley:  This tightly wound Cab Sauv is complex and deeply layered.  Aerate to release the aroma more fully if opening now, or exercise patience, this is an ageworthy wine.   Cassis, black plum, blackberry fruits at the core are accented by anise, fresh tobacco, a suggestion of leather, vanilla bean, nutmeg, and toasty nuances from aging in French, American and Hungarian new oak.  Intensely built with firm tannins and immaculate balance, and the finish is everlasting. Extraordinary, and one for the cellar!  SRP :  $110

These beautifully crafted wines give me compelling reason to visit Peju (along with sister winery Calmére Estate) and taste the additional wines offered, and you may want to include them on your “must visit” list as well.   

Cheers, and Happy New Year to all!   

Gems in My Glass: Rombauer Vineyards, Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery, and Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards

Napa, Sonoma, Tasting Notes

Stunning gems from Napa Valley’s Rombauer Vineyards, Smith Madrone in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley, and Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in Sonoma County graced my palate recently.  It’s not the first experience I’ve enjoyed with these vintners, and it was a pleasure to gain an up-to-date perspective of wines they have recently released.

K.R Rombauer III (Proprietor/Board of Directors), Alan Cannon (Director of Distributor Relations) and I are often partnered together for the annual Vintners’ Holidays event at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, and they never disappoint!  It’s always engaging to moderate for the Rombauer team, and discover new gems they are crafting.  Most known through the years for their distinctive Chardonnay, you may have discovered several additional varieties that Director of Winemaking Richie Allen crafts, which deserve accolades as well.  Founded by the late Koerner and Joan Rombauer, the family legacy lives on with son KR Rombauer III, daughter Sheana, and granddaughter, Reagan Blackwood.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery was one of my first Napa “wow” wine experiences.  I visited them in my early years of wine study and appreciation while traversing Napa Valley with colleagues and savvy wine collector friends. It was an enlightening afternoon there, and the wines showed incredibly well, impressing the knowledgeable group assembled.  Founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, the vineyards are situated at the top of Spring Mountain, on steep slopes at elevations up to 2,000 feet.  All their wines come from fruit rooted among their estate dry-farmed vineyards.  Today, brothers Stu and Charlie, and Stu’s son Sam, manage the property and tend to the winemaking, and they remain at the top of their game.

My first peek at Sonoma-Cutrer occurred years ago when my husband and I donned our whites and hats to attend a fabulous croquet and wine event there; it was memorable.  Winemaking Director Mick Schroeter gained a wealth of knowledge in his home country of Australia (at Kaiser Stuhl Winery and Penfolds Winery in the Barossa Valley) prior to heading to northern California’s wine country.  Mick spent 17 years at Geyser Peak Winery (VP of Winemaking) prior to taking on his current post as Winemaking Director at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in 2010.  More recently I’ve judged with Mick Schroeter and Sonoma Cutrer’s Hospitality Manager, Mark Elcombe at wine competitions in Sonoma County, and visited their picturesque site to discover their current vintages of vineyard designate Pinot Noir, and finely crafted Chardonnay.

Current releases I tasted from each of these vintners left a lasting impression:

Rombauer Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley:  Aromas of black currant preserves, and piquant spices engage the senses with this complex and finely balanced Cab Sauv.  Rich layers of Bing cherry, black plum, fresh tobacco, blackberries and savory spice fill the palate.  Velvety smooth with firm yet approachable tannins, drink now or hold for years of enjoyment ahead.   The intense and  long-lived finish will have you reaching for more, now and later!  SRP:  $65

Rombauer Vineyards 2018 Sauvignon Blanc; Napa Valley: The mouthwatering tropical fruit aroma of this jazzy Sauvignon Blanc drives you joyfully into the glass, wow.  A refreshing well-balanced gem, it’s just the ticket for a picnic or a warm summer evening’s repast.  Fresh sliced pineapple, sweet Honeydew melon, a pinch of lemon verbena, hints of fresh grass, and lime zest unfold in harmony, and lead to a bright and energetic finale.  SRP:  $24

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2016 Chardonnay; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley:  A brilliant hue captures the eye, and scents of lemon-splashed stone fruit awaken the nose as this sophisticated Chardonnay is poured from the bottle.  Peach flavors are mirrored on the palate, melding with Honeycrisp apple, citrus, herbal accents, and beautiful oak spice nuances.  Rich and mouth-filling, with perfect acidity offsetting the juicy fruit through the long memorable finish.  SRP:  $40

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2016 Riesling; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley:  The classic petrol and citrus blossom aromas simple scream what is in this glass—a beautifully crafted, irresistible dry Riesling.  Unwinding with enchantment are layers of sun-ripened peaches, lemon basil, nectarines, fresh squeezed lime juice, and a solid thread of minerality creating a kaleidoscope of vibrant flavors on the palate.  Vitalizing and elegant with immaculate balance, and the finish soars.  SRP: $34

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2016 Vine Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley:  Here is a beautifully balanced Pinot Noir that engages at first whiff with an expressive berry aroma.  Lush while being bright and focused, it displays layers of raspberry preserves, fresh picked cherries, strawberry-rhubarb pie, a pinch of herbs and well-managed oak.  Brisk acidity, a firm structure, and refined tannins provide perfect framework, and the lingering finish extends well beyond the final sip.  SRP:  $46

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2016 Founders Reserve Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley:  This magnificently textured Pinot Noir with a seductive black cherry and forest floor aroma knocks it out of the park.  Multilayered and complex, with flavors of cocoa-dusted Bing cherries, boysenberries, exotic spice, licorice drops, a subtle hint of black tea, and underlying oak nuances flowing seamlessly across the palate. Polished and immaculately balanced with silky tannins; a cellar worthy selection.     SRP:  $65

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay; Sonoma Coast:  Here is a great value priced Chardonnay that broadcasts tree fruits and hints of buttered toast on the nose.  In the mouth, roasted almonds, spicy elements, and honeysuckle accent the succulent core of Gala apples and ripe summer peaches.  Nicely integrated oak adds dimension without being over the top; and the finish is lip-smacking delicious.  SRP:  $23

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards 2016 Les Pierres Chardonnay; Sonoma Coast:  This classy and complex Chardonnay displays an upbeat nose of citrus, melon and flinty notes.  Fresh and pure on entry, it broadens fully on the palate.  Layers of crisp apple, peach skin, Crenshaw melon, cloves, nutmeg, well-integrated oak, wrap around a minerally backbone.  Beautifully nuanced and structured with a finish that goes on forever!   SRP:  $42

Visit their websites to order, or plan a visit to experience these properties and taste the wines for yourself, before these gems are sold out.  It’s not too early to think about wines for the holidays, which will be here before you know it; cheers!

Pope Valley’s Gratus Vineyards

Napa, Tasting Notes

Gratus (pronounced “grah tuhs”) Vineyards in the Pope Valley (a sub-AVA of the larger Napa Valley appellation) is a new find for me, and I am impressed.

Proprietor Thomas Wargovich grew up in the eastern part of the USA and became a cardiac surgeon based in Florida.  In 2001 he moved to CA, purchased a 27-acre property adjacent to Pope Creek, and planted grapes there in the Pope Valley.   The winery name stems from the Latin word, Gratus, which means thankfulness or gratitude. Thomas’s family includes several doctors and scientists who often chat among themselves in Latin. The winery name ties his heritage and gratefulness together.  He, wife Victoria, and family have embraced a dream of producing wines for years.  They have 10 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Sirah and a mix of white Rhone varieties.  Their boutique winery currently produces 500 cases a year.  Thomas tends to the vines, Victoria handles sales and marketing, and Robbie Meyer is the team’s Winemaker.  Their Pope Valley vineyards, boasting well drained soils, rise to an elevation of 1,000 feet with slopes of 3 to 15%.   Their skillfully crafted wines are all made from estate grown fruit.

2017 White Blend; Napa Valley:  This divinely aromatic white blend is crafted of 50% Grenache Blanc, 15% Viognier, 15% Marsanne, 15% Roussanne and 5% Picpoul Blanc.  Smoothly textured on entry, it bursts forth with crisp green apples, citrus-flecked peaches, minerality, a pinch of herbs, and lemon-lime sorbet notes tantalizing the palate.  Vibrant and beautifully balanced with an exquisite mouthfeel, this gem concludes with a snappy and persistent finish.  SRP:  $29

2015 Red Blend; Napa Valley:  Here is wildly expressive red blend, composed of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, and 5% Petite Sirah.  Bold and intensely flavored with layer after layer of blackberries, cassis, purple plums, earthy elements, savory spice, saddle leather, and tobacco.  Impressive with its purity of fruit, and toasty oak nuances from 22 months aging in 50% new French barrels adding further dimension.  The rich, full body, velvety texture and refined tannins promise age-worthiness, and the finish lingers forever.  SRP:  $75

2015 Estate Malbec; Napa Valley:  This highly aromatic Malbec leads off with a compelling floral, deeply fruited fragrance.  On the palate it is elegant, well-structured and richly flavored with black plum, Bing cherry, wild berry, savory spice box accents, hints of roasted coffee bean, and underlying oak nuances unfolding seamlessly.  Smoothly textured with firm tannins, I envision it to continue developing handsomely through the years. Delightful notes of cocoa peek through on the lingering finale.  SRP:  $55

2015 Petite Sirah; Napa Valley:  Gratus hit a home run with this classy, 100% Petite Sirah.  it greets the nose with a heady fragrance of dark fruit and pretty floral notes.  Powerful and concentrated yet marvelously balanced, with juicy boysenberries and blackberries joining plum jam, anise, fresh ground peppercorns and hints of leather filling the mouth.  The undercurrent of toasty oak from 22 months aging in 50% new French oak adds complexity without being over the top, and the tannins are firmly structured.  SRP:   $45

Thomas is also passionate about horticulture as well, having secured a botany/biology degree from West Virginia University prior to completing medical school. Thomas parlayed that passion into an arboretum on their property, with over 1,000 conifer, oak, beech, birch and horse chestnut trees.  His vast collection of conifers (with more than 300 species), is one of the most extensive on the West Coast.

To inquire about tastings, and/or purchase the well worth seeking out wines from Gratus Vineyards, visit their website at

2014 bASH Food and Wine Event in St. Helena – Delicious!

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Napa, Tasting Notes (1 Comment)

Appellation St. Helena recently held their bASH Food and Wine Competition.  This annual extravaganza is one that wine and food lovers should not miss.  Fine wines crafted from vineyards in the St. Helena Appellation are paired with incredible gastronomic treats created by chef teams from the California Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and professional chefs representing local caterers and restaurants.   Attendees enjoy a lively, fun filled evening of sipping, tasting and voting for their favorite wine and food pairings.  Results are tallied and winners are announced at the conclusion of the well-orchestrated event.  My favorites among the many delicious pairings this year included the following:

Charles Krug Winery 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

Food pairing:  Lobster Bisque with Pickled Asian Pear and Crab Meat created by CIA Team 24; Jason Raffin (Los Angeles, CA) and Alexa Mejia (Los Angeles, CA)

This crisp, lively Sauvignon Blanc is a lovely quaff heralding racy acidity.  Aromas and flavors of citrus flecked pineapple, tropical fruit, tangy lime and mineral notes capture the senses.   This food and wine pairing was striking in its contrast.  The brightness and acidity of the wine cut right through the heavenly rich and creamy bisque leaving you with a keen desire for more of each.

Corley Family Napa Valley 2010 Yewell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Food pairing:  Monticello Braised Short Rib Tortellini with Black Pepper Cream Sauce & Pumpkin Seed Pesto created by Sweatpea Catering & Private Chef Services Chef Jeanna DeMarco

This Cabernet Sauvignon is powerfully built yet approachable now with generous cassis, cherry and black plum fruit flavors, savory spice, well integrated tannins and a nice shade of oak from its 28 months aging in new French oak.  The firmly structured wine displays precise balance of fruit, tannins and acids, which suggests good cellaring potential too.  This tender meaty tortellini with a savory sauce was a perfect match to the spicy, dark fruit components and refined tannins in the wine.

 Louer Family Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

Food pairing:  Venison Ragout with Ricotta Tortellini created by CIA Team 8; Josh Hurst (White Plains, NY) and Ryan Hatton (Maryville, TN)

This Cabernet Sauvignon is fruit forward, balanced and velvety smooth.  Chock full of blackberries and currant with accents of spice and woodsy nuances, it is bright and plush throughout.  The rich and tasty dish brought out the savory, earthy notes in the wine.  This pairing showcased complementary flavors and textures with the earthy tones in the wine matching up with the subtle gamey quality of the venison ragout and the wine’s velvety texture harmonizing with the smoothly textured tortellini.

Taplin Cellars 2009 Taplin Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Food pairing:  Slider topped with Gorgonzola Dolce and Terra 9 Cabernet Caramelized Onion Jam on an Herbed Gougère created by CIA Team 13; Kathryn Schmitz (Richmond, VA) and Bryan Owens (Hollywood, MD)

This deep, terroir driven Cab Sauv boasts aromas of eucalyptus and cassis.  It fills the mouth with black plum, cassis and savory notes interlacing with a stream of minerality that makes its way from start to elevated finish.  The wine paired deliciously with this meaty, Gorgonzola heightened slider with caramelized onion accents.  The fat content in both the meat and cheese tamed the firm tannins exquisitely.

Parry Cellars 2010 Parry Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Food Pairing:  Fennel Risotto with Braised Lamb created by CIA Team 3; Trisha Holguin (Los Angeles, CA) and John Pelham (Maplecrest, NY)

This Cab from Parry Cellars’ half acre Parry Vineyard is fresh and full flavored with impressive precision.  On the palate cassis and dark berry entwine with herbs and finely integrated oak nuances.  The impressively balanced wine was a perfect coupling with the tender meaty lamb and creamy herbed risotto.  The simpatico flavors flowed together in unison, lusciously satisfying the taste buds.

Pellet Estate 2011 Pellet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Food pairing:  Braised Oxtail with Brioche Cauliflower Crumbs created by CIA Team 12; Addison Girdner (Boise, ID) and Michael Pazan (Ventura, CA)

Here is an earthy Cabernet Sauvignon that shouts out dark fruit and heady spices on the nose.  The spicy, fruity qualities remain consistent upon entry, expanding further in the mouth with good depth, purity and complexity.  This Cab was adroitly paired with the earthy wine-braised oxtail.  The dish complemented the savory qualities in the wine while softening the firm backbone of tannins; wow, a pairing made in heaven.

Ehlers Estate 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

Food pairing:   Beurre Blanc Shrimp Salad on Toast created by CIA Team 18; Daniel de la Rosa (Los Angeles, CA) and Steven Fedalen (Los Angeles, CA)

This perky and crisp unoaked Sauvignon Blanc showcases purity of fruit from the first whiff to the refreshing palate through the elevated finish.  Grapefruit, lemon drops and fresh chopped herbs are wrapped around a lively spine of acidity.  It was a delightful match with the expressive and flavorful herb scented shrimp salad which brought out a nice creaminess in the energetic wine.

Raymond Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

Food pairing:   Cracked Pepper Beef Carpaccio on a Vegetable Terrine prepared by CIA Team 19; Ben Newlin (Thousand Oaks, CA) and Tom Stribling (Santa Rosa, CA)

This Cab’s alluring aroma of dark berry, plum, tobacco and spice merges impeccably with black currant, licorice, hints of lead pencil shavings and well integrated oak, richly filling the mouth.  Refined tannins frame the attractive layers of fruit, tobacco and savory spice on the palate.  I thoroughly enjoyed how the spicy flavors of this delectable cracked pepper adorned beef carpaccio bonded with this beautifully expressive, well balanced Cabernet Sauvignon.

Titus Vineyards 2012 Zinfandel

Food pairing:  Warm Smoked Duck with Radicchio Salad created by CIA Team 20; Kelly Gladstone (San Diego, CA) and Ying Chen (Taiwan)

This Zinfandel is abundantly fruit forward and lip-smackingly juicy.  The senses are filled with briary blackberry, olallieberry and chocolate-dipped strawberry goodness meshing with hints of toast, spice and vanilla bean.  Salad is often a challenging pairing and this one worked extremely well.  The savory, smoked duck melded with the wine’s lush fruit sumptuously.  The fat and richness of the duck in this dish subdued the slightly bitter note of the radicchio too, a creative and tasty pairing.

Robert Biale Vineyards 2010 Thomann Station Petite Sirah

Food pairing:  Spring Lamb Belly with Pea Puree, Black Pepper and Licorice prepared by CIA team 14; John Miller (Sioux Falls, ID) and Alex Tubero (St. Helena, CA)

This complex, deep, darkly hued Petite Sirah offers up aromatic pepper spice and black fruits on the nose, followed by intense flavors of blackberries and blueberries with hints of savory herbs and fresh cracked pepper coating the palate.  It is a richly textured, full bodied wine with firmly structured tannins.  The black pepper spiked meaty lamb belly with its layers of fat softened Petite Sirah’s power and concentration of tannins, and the consistency of black pepper spice in the wine and the dish pulled the combo together seamlessly; an irresistible pairing.

St. Helena Winery 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Food pairing:  Cream of Mushroom Soup with Madeira Brandy created by Goose and Gander Chef Kelly McCowan

This captivating Cabernet (blended with 2% Petit Verdot) draws you into the glass with its dark fruit and heady spiced tea aromatics.  Flavors of cassis, blackberry, plum and hints of earthiness weave harmoniously on the palate around a firm backbone of tannins.  This paired divinely with the rich and creamy mushroom soup.  The mushroom flavors brought out the earthiness in the wine, and the creaminess of the soup rounded out the tannins without taking away from the wine’s complexity, sumptuous.

Sequum 2009 Kidd Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

Food pairing:  Flat Iron Steak with Bordelaise Sauce, Fennel and Apple Slaw prepared by CIA team 1; Ekin Huynh (Orange County, CA) and Fangfang Gong (Chicago, IL)

This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon speaks clearly and proudly of the St Helena appellation terroir.  Dark berry, black cherry and Herbs de Provence aromas and flavors wow the senses.  It is bright, complex and penetrating on the palate with velvety tannins and a kick of toasted oak on the long finish.   This wine was provocatively paired with the Bordelaise-sauced steak.  The weight of the full bodied wine and the rich dish were exquisitely in sync and the Herbs de Provence spice in the wine complemented fennel accent in the dish.

Check out Appellation St. Helena’s website at, and next spring don’t forget to buy a ticket and attend this fabulous event.  I assure you it is a delicious, enlightening experience with tantalizing sips and tastes that will please even the most scrutinizing palate!

Gems in My Glass . . . April 2013

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Napa

Appellation St Helena wines continue to impress!

The second annual bASH Wine and Food Pairing Competition was a big success again this year with impressive wine producers from the St. Helena appellation pairing their wines with palate pleasing dishes prepared by both professional chefs from local restaurants and student chefs at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena.

Among my favorites were:

Taplin Cellars 2008 terra 9 Cabernet Sauvignon:  An intense, full bodied, brilliantly hued Cabernet Sauvignon with layers of cassis, dark berry and hints of tobacco spice wrapped around firm tannins.  Paired with this bold Cabernet was Fiscalini Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese with accents of bacon and parmesan.  The rich creamy dish nicely rounded out the tannins of the firmly structured wine; a match fit for a king!

Vineyard 29 2010 Aida Estate Zinfandel: An enticingly aromatic Zin chock full of vibrant black and red berry fruit, savory pepper and nutmeg spice.  It was paired deliciously with a Duck Confit Brioche with Roquefort Cheese and Arugula Salad.  The juicy fruit is lifted and bright acidity cuts right through the rich duck. The Zin’s lingering aftertaste caps off the tasty package.

Charles Krug 2012 Sauvignon Blanc:   Bright and fresh with aromas of lemon verbena, sun ripened casaba melon and mouthwatering white grapefruit that persist through the palate.  Zippy acidity keeps this oh-so refreshing quaff impressively balanced.  Terrific pairing with smoked sturgeon which really brought out the minerality in the wine.

2008 Varozza Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon:  This rich, deep and round Cabernet combines black currant, plum and dark berry fruit with a generous sprinkling of anise spice, a hint of violets and nicely integrated oak notes throughout.  The Steak Sliders with Blue Cheese married heavenly with this beautifully balanced Cabernet.

V Madrone Cellars 2011 Old Vines Zinfandel: This lip smacking Old Vines Zin entices the senses with spice laden berry compote aromas.  Filling the mouth are densely concentrated wild berry and blackberry flavors with savory black pepper accents, all weaving together in harmony.  The spicy puréed sweet potato and bone marrow served in a flaky spiced cone was a magical pairing.

Ehlers 2012 Estate Sauvignon Blanc:  Bright and crisp with pleasing floral and citrus aromas followed by lively flavors of grapefruit, lemon drops, fresh pears, citrus peel and a kick of herbs on the zesty finish.  Splendidly paired with a crisp crostini topped with tasty Fava Bean Purée adorned with Pecorino Cheese.

J. Lohr 2010 Carol’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon:  Enticing forest floor and wild berry aromas interlace with crème de cassis and Bing cherry flavors saturating the palate.  Striking purity and intensity hold through the long finish. This Cab paired divinely with a Savory Mushroom Risotto which was made with a bit of Cab pulling the dish and the wine together perfectly.

Freemark Abby 2009 Josephine Cabernet Sauvignon:  Stunning aromatic with scents of fresh blackberries and a hint of eucalyptus entrancing the nose.  Richly textured with layers of black cherry, blackberry and black raspberry sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg spice coating the mouth fully.  Well-structured with integrated tannins and a touch of spicy oak on the lingering finish.  The pairing with savory lamb sausage delighted the taste buds.

Pellet Estate 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon: This complex Cab (blended with a touch of Merlot and Petit Verdot) opens with gorgeous aromas of cassis, fresh blackberries and floral notes.  Expanding on the palate are flavors of blueberries and plums, a thread of graphite and skillfully integrated oak.  This Cab is full bodied with a backbone of firm tannins and a velvety smooth texture. Scrumptiously paired with a delectable bite-sized Beef Wellington.

Anomaly Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon:  Inviting anise spiked dark fruit aromas captivate the senses and remain focused on the palate.   Rich and impeccably balanced with black plums, cassis and licorice flavors at the core offset by striking acidity. The smooth texture and integrated tannins persist through the memorable finish.  Tri-tip Sliders with Blue Cheese paired perfectly with this well-crafted Cab.

Trinchero 2009 Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon:   Aromas of red currants and a bouquet of spring flowers rise from the glass.  The rich entry introduces layers of raspberries, Lambert cherries, a touch of oak and hints of tobacco spice bursting forward on the palate.  A nice backbone of tannins supports the depth of this powerfully crafted Cabernet.   A delicious pairing with the savory braised short rib croquettes.

This second annual bASH Food and Wine Pairing Competition was thoroughly delightful and delicious; I encourage you to get tickets well in advance for next year’s event.  Watch this space in early 2014 for further details:, you would not want to miss it!

Gems in My Glass . . . April 2012

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Napa

Appellation St. Helena put on the first annual Food and Wine Pairing Competition this month at the Culinary Institute of America, and it was a bASH! to be remembered.    Wines from the St. Helena Appellation were creatively paired with unique and tasty bites prepared by local professional chefs as well as student teams from the CIA’s Culinary Program.   Among the impressive wines presented were:

Anomaly Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon:  Spiced aromas meld deliciously with blackberry, chocolate dipped cherry and licorice flavors that generously fill the palate.   Savory earth-tinged notes led me to ask if there was a splash of Cab Franc, and indeed there is; and a touch of Petit Verdot also adds complexity.   This solidly built Cab Sauvignon with a creamy, rich texture and beautiful oak integration is approachable now, and is also cellar worthy. 

Benessere Vineyards 2008 Sangiovese:   This aromatically inviting 100% Sangiovese is delightfully reminiscent of a classic Italian Sangiovese with its dried cherry, strawberry and trace of orange peel intermingling with a dusting of herbs on the palate.  Elegant and precisely balanced with an uplifting kick of acidity holding firm through the tasty, lingering finish.   

Calafia Cellars 2007 La Reina, Johnson Vineyard:  Deeply hued with bold, dark fruit aromas, this rich, smooth Meritage crafted of 66% Cab Sauv, 15% Malbec and 19% Petit Verdot really packs a punch upon entry.  Black plums, cassis and wild berries sprinkled with freshly ground nutmeg and cinnamon spice take center stage, all framed by firm tannins; finishes long and strong. 

Flora Springs Winery 2009 Rennie Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon:   Intoxicating aromas of fresh raspberries waft from the glass and expand broadly on the palate.  Earthy, cherry, red currant and herbal notes artfully playing off one another and lead to a memorable finish.  Tremendous depth and purity in the glass with deft handling of oak, this full bodied 100% Cabernet Sauvignon speaks volumes for the sense of place; beautifully crafted.

David Fulton Winery 2007 Petite Sirah:  Appealing aromatics of blackberries and spice draw you straight into the glass.  Juicy black cherry, blackberry and dried plums, black pepper spice and a thread of earthiness unfold richly on the palate and hold up to firmly structured tannins.  Bold and powerful, with dense, concentrated fruit continuing to build through the persistent finish; should cellar nicely for many years.

Charles Krug Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc:  Wildly expressive aromas chock full of grapefruit and attractive grassy notes leap from the glass and remain focused and clean, dazzling the palate.    Lean and minerally, the grapefruit notes meld seamlessly with lemon grass, guava, lime peel and a touch of stone, all framed by a backbone of racy acidity; delicious!

Charnu Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon:   The senses are fully engaged from the moment you lift the glass with this lush, full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon.   Black raspberry, plum and cassis aromas and flavors join fresh tobacco and savory spice notes swirling exotically on the palate.    The ripeness of the fruit is spot on and the texture is smooth as silk.  Impressively balanced with a finish that lingers with persistence; a pretty, age worthy wine.

Robert Biale Vineyards 2009 Old Crane Ranch Zinfandel:   Enticing aromas grab your attention and an energizing burst of goodness wows the palate upon entry.  A decadent mouth full of juicy, jammy, boysenberries and plums accented by black tea notes and inviting pie spices meld harmoniously in the mouth.    Dense and lush with a velvety mouth feel and delectably fresh and clean. 

Tudal Family Winery 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon:   Heavenly floral aromatics make way for focused red currant, cherry and wild berry fruit at the core, supported by finely grained tannins and a nice backbone of acidity.   Leather notes, pretty spice accents and a touch of earthiness add complexity and depth.  Nicely structured and balanced; another Cab Sauv built to go the distance. 

Vineyard 29 2008 Aida Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon:  This deeply hued Cabernet opens with a nose resplendent in mixed berry and mocha notes that leave you wanting to stay put and enjoy the aroma forever, but move on, as there is plenty more ahead.    Chocolate covered cherry flavors layered with spicy, earthy notes, a thread of tobacco and a hint of graphite lift this Cab Sauv to even greater heights as it broadens deeply on the palate.   Well structured with velvety, firm tannins suggesting its cellar worthiness.

Keep an eye out for this delicious Appellation St. Helena event next spring (more information can be found on their website  You don’t want to miss out on sipping the beautiful wines and the chance to choose your favorite food and wine pairings – absolutely wonderful!

Gems in My Glass…November 2010

Napa, Tasting Notes

This month I had the pleasure of tasting a variety of stunning wines from the St. Helena Appellation in Napa Valley that really display a delicious sense of place. This is just a sampling of my favorites:

Charnu Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: The provocative earth and berry scents that fill the nose are a perfect gateway for the ripe berry, cassis and black cherry flavors that explode brightly on the palate. Spice and well integrated oak notes add depth through the long finish.

Corison Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: Heady tobacco and black currant aromas fill the senses fully and gain momentum on the palate with layers of cherry, leather and spicy oak kicking in on mid palate. This stylish and complex Cab finishes powerfully with beautifully structured tannins; lay this one down, if you have the patience to wait.

Flora Springs 2008 Rennie Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Fragrant aromas of cherry and vanilla really strike a chord and remain persistent with tobacco, blueberry and anise spice filling the palate generously. Rich and balanced with good depth and a solid backbone of tannins that suggest good aging potential.

Trinchero Napa Valley 2007 Cabernet Franc: Forward aromas of black cherry, roasted green bell pepper and herbs accent the bursting juicy cherries and spicy pepper notes at the core. This artfully balanced Cab Franc boasts a firm structure and satiny smooth texture, finishing with a touch of sweet oak and a pretty lingering finish.

Charles Krug 2008 Limited Release Zinfandel: Take one whiff and you’ll be sold on the pure goodness in the glass of this rendition of America’s sweetheart grape. Succulent berry and aromatic spice are equal partners in this Napa Valley Zin that really hits the mark with its ripe, yet not overripe, supple fruit.

Robert Biale 2008 Thomann Station Petite Sirah: A tantalizing monster of a petite! The bowl full of crushed blackberry, wild berry and Bing cherry flavors taking center stage are surrounded enticingly with vanilla bean, cinnamon and nutmeg spices. The copious fruit and acidity are very well in balance, and the huge structure with tannins galore suggests long term aging.

Chase Cellars 2007 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel: Mouthwatering cherry and ripe wild berry aromas scream Zin, and expand gloriously on the palate with generous layers of fresh coconut, juicy red and black berries, a hint of vanilla and pepper spice interweaving deliciously. Intense and richly flavorful with a beautiful purity of fruit.

Egelhoff 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: An aromatic blend of black cherry, cassis and wild berries with hints of leather fills the senses and remained focused with dried spice and a touch of graphite joining in on the mouth filling mid palate. Richly textured and complex with firmly structured tannins and great length on the finish.

Revana Family Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: The decadent aromas of mixed berries and a splash of balsamic are intoxicating. A dense concentration of juicy blackberries and red currant meld splendidly with brown spice and well integrated oak, coating the mouth deliciously. Polished and well built with a smooth, silky mouth feel and a great tannic backbone suggesting long term aging potential. Finishes long and memorably.

Gems in My Glass . . . March 2010

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

A recent enjoyable trip to Napa Valley (with wine savvy relatives from Ohio in tow) confirmed once again the quality and consistency of wines that are crafted by winemakers in this premium wine producing region.   Amidst winter rain drenched vineyards and cozy tasting rooms, a host of impressive wines were unveiled:

Joseph Phelps 2006 Insignia:  This 95% Cab Sauv, 5% Petite Verdot blend has an inky dark purple hue with expressive aromas of cassis and tobacco that are ever-so engaging.   This rich blend builds on the palate with opulent, dense dark berry and cassis flavors that are cloaked magnificently in mocha, anise and tobacco notes, and shows off a velvety texture and long finish   Complex with beautifully integrated tannins that suggest long ageability. 

Joseph Phelps 2005 Bacchus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon:  The nose is a bit restrained at the moment, but the dark berry and cassis flavors spring forward on first sip and create an elegantly structured and complex elixir full of dense, dark berry fruit, rich cocoa, pleasing minerality and a subtle hint of oak on mid palate.  Well crafted with plenty of firm tannins to go the distance.

Joseph Phelps 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:  Cassis and toasty oak greet the nose and continue on the palate with layers of red and black berry, tobacco, sweet oak and smoke notes and a hint of black licorice, too.  Nicely balanced with silky smooth tannins and a satisfying finish.

Freestone 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir:  Opens with immense florality and cherry on the nose that simply scream Pinot Noir.  Juicy Bing cherry, white pepper, Asian tea spice and smoky notes mesh together gloriously on the palate.  This is a full bodied, elegantly composed wine.

Freestone 2006 Ovation Chardonnay:   Aromatic poached pears and butter notes rise from the glass and meld deliciously on the palate alongside almond paste and toasty oak notes.   Full bodied, rich yet clean and fresh with its bright acidity, this chardonnay strikes a beautiful balance and a lingering finish.

Patz & Hall 2007 Zio Tony Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay:  Stunning aromas of butterscotch and pleasing oak capture your attention and broaden on the palate with crisp green apple, sun drenched peach, candied citrus flavors and a dash of pie spice.   Round and viscous mouth feel with layers that unwind handsomely through the long finish. 

Patz & Hall 2007 Hudson Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay:    Enticing aromas of freshly churned butter, subtle oak and minerality lead to a rich, plush mouth filling wine with Asian pear, ripe apple and lemon zest weaving together seamlessly.   Stunning acidity holds up the rich fruit layers strikingly, and the finish is bright and persistent.

Patz & Hall 2007 Jenkins Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir:   Aromas of spicy cherry compote fill the nose and the cinnamon, clove and allspice notes hold enticingly through the palate alongside succulent red and black raspberries, fresh cherries and a generous level of acidity.  Silky and ethereal with a magnificent flavor profile from the beginning through the memorable aftertaste.

Patz & Hall 2007 Freestone Hill Russian River Valley Pinot Noir:  Cherry cola and anise aromas lead to a burst of juicy tart cherry at the core, and layers of mushroom, anise and exotic spice notes add complexity and simply explode in the mouth.   Bright and lifted on the palate, this PN is well constructed and irresistible.

Patz & Hall 2007 Burnside Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir:   Here is a deeply hued Pinot Noir with floral and wild cherry on the nose that lead to a full bodied, complex wine on the palate.  Provocative earthy, forest floor and anise notes accent wild berry and dried cherry flavors that take center stage on mid palate.    Well structured with good depth of flavors and stays nicely focused through the everlasting finish. 

Honig Vineyard & Winery 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc:   Lush tropical fruit aromas promise a juicy mouthful and this Sauv. Blanc delivers!   Grapefruit and lime peel notes meld harmoniously with the ripe tropical mango flavors on the palate; the vibrant acidity enlivens the juicy fruit.   What a perfect spring and summer sipper!

Honig 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:  Take a big whiff and capture the generous dark berry, herbs and allspice in the nose.   Blackberry and plum laced with spice fill the palate nicely with a dollop of vanilla and coconut weaving throughout.  This Cab Sauv is nicely balanced with soft tannins, and finishes delightfully. 

Honig 2005 Bartolucci Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon:    Inviting  plummy notes rise from the glass and open up to dense black cherry, luscious plum and black raspberry flavors enhanced by licorice, herbs and earth notes.  Complex and tightly woven, this is a powerful Cabernet Sauvignon that should last for several years.

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