Gems in My Glass . . . October 2017

Tasting Notes

Trojak~Knier Winery 2016 Chardonnay; Napa Valley, California:  The compelling aroma of a fresh, buttery croissant is mouthwatering.  Flavors of sun-ripened stone fruit, lemon zest, minerality, sweet hay, subtle oak spice and a touch of herbs interweave, exhilarating the palate.  Balanced and multi-dimensional, with bracing acidity that lifts the wine through the long-lasting final drop. Trojak~Knier hit a home run with this superb Chardonnay.  SRP:  $48

Trojak~Knier Winery 2015 Sangiovese; Napa Valley, California:  Remarkably expressive on the nose, with dusty earth, bramble berries, and a hint of crushed spearmint leaves drawing you in.  Focused and well balanced, as flavors of strawberries, tart red cherries, Italian herbs, hints of earth and savory spices fill the mouth, keeping you more than satisfied.  The classic Sangiovese acidity never wavers, and you’ll be delighted in the finish, which never lets up.  SRP:  $40

Trojak~Knier Winery 2015 Syrah; Napa Valley, California:  A rich fragrance of grilled meat and black fruits set the stage for this intensely flavored, powerfully structured Syrah.  Distinctive layers of wild forest blackberries, pungent spice, a touch of smoke, and ripe black plums frame a firm backbone of tannins.  The mouth feel is luxurious, and the balance is meticulous.  I envision a long life ahead for this beauty, if you have the patience to wait (if not, decant now). SRP:  $64

Trojak~Knier Winery 2016 Pinot Noir; Napa Valley, California:  Intoxicating at first whiff, as notes of black truffles and violets come to mind.  The pale ruby hue suggests delicacy, and indeed this gem is elegant.  But just wait – the vivid flavor profile bursts with precisely defined flavors.  Wild cherries, underlying forest floor, cranberries, Chinese five spice, licorice and sandalwood mingle harmoniously, and the texture is as smooth as silk.  The dreamy finish will tempt you into another pour.  SRP:  $58

Cantine Lunae Bosoni 2015 Vermentino Etichetta Grigia (grey label); Colli di Luni DOC; Liguria, Italy:  Sleek and fanciful, with lots of personality as flavors of lemon grass, nectarine and star fruit, herbaceous notes and a hint of lime soda fan out onto the palate.  Razor sharp acidity buoys the wine from start to vibrant, refreshing finish.  Food pairing:  SRP:  ~$20

Roederer Estate NV Brut; Anderson Valley, California: This sparkling blend of 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir offers up an expressive aroma with hints of fresh baked bread, and the lively mousse is captivating. Bartlett pear, honeysuckle and citrusy notes on the palate are complemented by a firm spine of acidity.  Elegant and pure, with a long-lasting finish, and easy on the pocketbook, too.  SRP:  $23.99

Tonti Winery 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel Reserve; Russian River Valley, California:  Here is a jammy Zinfandel that is bound to please Zin lovers near and far.  Opulent and pure with impressive depth, it coats the palate with juicy boysenberries, fresh black raspberries, purple plums, vanilla bean, toasty oak notes and underlying spice.  Finishes with depth and lift.  SRP:  $50

B.R. Cohn Winery 2015 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay; Carneros, California:  Glorious aromatics capture lovely fruit elements, citrus blossom and a nice touch of oak without being over the top.  Rich and smoothly textured as layers of baked apple, lemon-lime, hints of ginger, and cinnamon flecked toast interlace.  Full bodied and well balanced with a creamy, extended finish.  SRP: $35

Cliff Lede Vineyards 2014 High Fidelity Red Wine; Napa Valley, California:  Here’s a stunning blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  The fragrant, provocative aroma makes way for layer after layer of blackberry, cassis, woodsy notes, wild mushrooms, warm spiced plums, and anise seed unwinding on the palate. The 75% new French oak is precisely managed, giving the wine subtle oak spice nuances.   Firm tannins wrap it up perfectly; an ageworthy selection.   SRP:  $85


2017 Michigan Wine Competition and Winery Visits, Part 2

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

Noteworthy Red Wines, Rosé Wines, Fruit Wines and Dessert Wines

Part 2 of my 2017 Michigan Wine Competition and Winery Visits article focuses on noteworthy red wines, rosé wines, fruit wines and dessert wines.  Those noted are among the judges favorites at the competition, and  wines I tasted while visiting the Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula AVAs after the competition concluded.  Gold and higher award notations are included for those wines entered in this year’s Michigan Wine Competition.

Rosé Wines

Chateau Fontaine 2016 Laughing Waters Rosé; Leelanau Peninsula:  This wildly expressive, well balanced dry Rosé crafted of Pinot Noir is chock full of red fruits.  Raspberry, strawberry, cherry and watermelon join tangerine accents and a dash of herbs creating a rainbow of flavors on the palate.  Lively and easy to quaff, with crisp acidity giving it lift and beautiful balance.  SRP:  $16  (Double Gold/Best of Class)

Black Star Farms 2016 Pinot Noir Blanc; Old Mission Peninsula:  The delicate pale pink tone of this engaging Rosé resulted from a direct-press right off the skins, shares Winemaker Lee Lutes.  This blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc reveals beautiful aromas, and juicy primary fruit on entry. A dazzling mouthful of strawberry, tart cherry, melon, and a splash of citrus enlivens the palate.  Exotic spice kicks in, and lingers through the persistent finish. SRP: $21 (Double Gold)

Free Run Cellars 2016 Pinot Meunier Rosé; Lake Michigan Shore:  The brilliant pink sapphire hue is glittering.  Aromas and flavors of berries and spice grab your attention. In the mouth, it is fresh and provocative, with layers of red cherry, blueberry, savory spice, blanched almonds and subtle smoky nuances.  Racy acidity carries this zesty wine to a vibrant finish. SRP: $16.99 (Gold)

Red Wines

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery 2006 Pinot Noir; Leelanau Peninsula:  Wow, this Burgundian style Pinot Noir has aged beautifully.  The varietally spot-on aroma is absolutely mesmerizing. Multi-dimensional and refined on the palate as layers of black cherry, dried cranberry, licorice, wild mushroom, toasty oak, hints of sage, and forest floor elements unravel.  Silky in texture and precisely balanced, and the finish goes on endlessly!

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery 2006 PN is likely sold out, but seek out current releases.  The spicy, earthy and elegant 2012 North Vineyard PN, the spicy, uber expressive 2013 North Vineyard PN, and the black cherry, mushroom-dusted 2012 Moreno Vineyard Reserve PN, (wines I tasted with owner/winemaker Charlie Edson) are each equally compelling, and clearly promise cellar worthiness.  I’ve tasted several vintages of Charlie’s PN over the years and continue to be impressed. Not only when the wines are released, but after many years of aging, they are exquisite. SRP:  $30 (North Vineyard 2012), $35 (North Vineyard 2013), $46 Moreno Vineyard Reserve

Black Star Farms 2013 Leorie Vineyard Merlot Cabernet Franc; Old Mission Peninsula: This sophisticated blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc broadcasts generous blueberry fruit and mocha on the nose.  Pure and complex with layers of blackberry, blueberry preserves, toffee, roasted coffee bean, and a touch of graphite.  Firmly structured and precisely balanced with firm tannins, and the aftertaste lingers long after the last sip.  This star declares cellar worthiness, too.   SRP:  $42

Mari Vineyards 2013 Bestiary Red; Old Mission Peninsula:  This exemplary red blend, crafted of 60% Blaufränkisch, 30% Zweigelt and 10% Lagrein, offers up an enticing aroma.  Seductive and well balanced in the mouth, as black cherry, blackberry, plum, dried cranberry, earthiness, and savory spice notes interlace.  Skillful aging in neutral French barrels places the understated oak perfectly in the background, and the finish is smooth and long.  SRP:  $24

Chateau Fontaine 2015 Woodland Red; Leelanau Peninsula:  Aromas of a warm berry pie rise from the glass as you take the first whiff of this palate pleasing dry red blend (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cab Franc, 12% Merlot and 8% Syrah).  Co-owner Dan Matthies shared that he and his wife Lucie began planting grapes in 1987.  They were the first to grow Syrah in Michigan, and the first to grow Cab Sauv in Leelanau.  This blend is round and luscious with flavors of blackberry, plum, nutmeg spice, blueberry, and earthy notes coating the mouth.  Smoothly textured with firm tannins and a gratifying finish.  SRP:  $36

Hawthorne Vineyards 2012 Bruce’s Blend Pinot Noir; Old Mission Peninsula:  This elegant Pinot Noir, aged in 60% new French oak barrels, opens with hints of violets and cherry cola on the nose.   Complex and nicely structured, it broadens on the palate with cassis, black cherry, Asian tea spices, hints of earthiness and cloves. Silky tannins and toasty oak nuances add further dimension as it makes it way to a charming finale. SRP:  $45

Brengman Brothers 2013 Crain Hill Vineyards Right Bank; Leelanau Peninsula:  Reminiscent of an old-world style Bordeaux, this stunning blend is crafted of 75% Cab Franc and 25% Merlot.  Deep and complex with well delineated flavors of black fruit, earthiness, cassis, hints of roasted meat, tobacco, graphite and leather.  Exactly balanced with firmly structured tannins and a core of solid fruit speaks clearly to its ageworthiness.   $50

Brengman Brothers 2015 Cabernet Franc; Leelanau Peninsula:  This 100% Cab Franc wows with its classic aromas of lead pencil shavings and cassis, and flavors march to the same tune.  In the mouth, finely grained tannins frame black currant, dark cherry, roasted red bell pepper, tart cranberry, cedar, roasted beets, graphite and crushed herbs.  Impressive depth and complexity; decant if enjoying now.   $50

Walloon Lake Winery NV North Arm Noir; Tip of the Mitt:  Here’s a richly textured, highly aromatic dry red wine; a blend of 75% Marquette and 25% Frontenac (French American hybrids). Aromas of forest fruits waft from the glass.  This bold wine delivers delectable layers of blackberry jam, Bing cherry, fresh ground peppercorns and mushrooms to the palate, and hints of caramel linger on the finish. SRP:  $17.99  (Double Gold/Best of Class)

Lemon Creek Winery NV Pleasant Run Red; Lake Michigan Shore:  If you favor a bit of sweetness in your red wine, this fanciful semi-dry red will please your palate!  Crafted of 80% Chambourcin and 20% Chancellor (French American hybrids), it boasts a deep purple hue and is pleasantly aromatic.  Soft and round on the palate, with bountiful ripe berries and sweet red cherries at the core accented by earth and cedar notes.   SRP:  $10  (Gold/Best of Class)

Fruit Wines

Chateau Grand Traverse NV Cherry Reserve; Michigan:  This decadent “port style” wine is brimming with red and black cherry aromas and flavors.  Wonderfully textured and rich on the palate, with notes of caramel, blood orange and chocolate-covered roasted coffee beans joining the dense cherry goodness.  Lovely acidity keeps this gem exactly balanced and you’ll soon be reaching for another pour.  SRP:  $19  (Double Gold)

Mackinaw Trail Winery NV Blueberry; Michigan:  If you are a fresh blueberry fan, put this on your shopping list!  Pure, balanced and lively, with the essence of blueberries on the nose. This wine also displays a glorious expression on the palate, as it delivers gobs of sweet blueberries, mixed-berry gelato, a touch of candied cherries, and a trace of spice.  A yummy afternoon quaff.  SRP:  $13.50 (Double Gold/Best of Class)

Dessert Wines

St Julian Wine Company NV Solera Cream Sherry; Lake Michigan Shore: This heavenly, potent elixir is richly textured and mouth filling, without being cloying.  So seductive is the aroma, you’ll want to linger over the glass before taking the first sip.  Savor the scrumptious tastes of butterscotch pudding with a dollop of orange zest scented whipped cream, cinnamon-dusted almonds, roasted pecans, and crème caramel. Striking acidity keeps it balanced to a T.  SRP:  $15.99 (Double Gold/Best of Class)

Black Star Farms NV Sirius Raspberry Dessert Wine; Michigan:  Crafted from estate grown raspberries and fortified with Black Star Farms grape brandy, this port style wine is seriously excellent!  The sheer deliciousness of fresh raspberries takes center stage, with accents of fig jam, orange marmalade and a drop of honey.  Warm and rich on the palate, a simply delectable dessert in a glass.    SRP:  $27.50 (375ml) (Gold)

For a full list of the 2017 Michigan Wine Competition results, visit, and for further details check out the individual winery websites.

There are now five AVA’s in Michigan.  In addition to Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula located in the northwest, you’ll find the Fennville AVA and Lake Michigan Shore AVA in the southern part of the state, and the most recently declared AVA (designated in 2016), Tip of the Mitt, located in the north central area of Michigan.  I’ve yet to visit all five, but based on the quality of wines I’ve tasted from Michigan, you can be sure I’ll be planning to so, hopefully in the not-to-distant future.  You may wish to do the same, you’ll be glad you did!

2017 Michigan Wine Competition and Winery Visits, Part l

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

Michigan hits a Grand Slam on 2016 White Wines

Judging the Michigan Wine Competition is always enlightening, this year being no exception!  A total of 380 wines were evaluated, and judges were excited about the quality of wines entered this year.  Of particular note was the significant number of Gold Medal white wines (51) sent to the Sweepstakes rounds.

My ensuing trek to the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula reinforced what was suggested at the competition; 2016 was indeed one impressive vintage in this cool climate wine region.  The sparkling and white wines noted are among the judges favorites at the competition, and wines I tasted while visiting these two picturesque AVAs after the competition concluded.  Gold and higher award notations are included for those wines entered in this year’s Michigan Wine Competition.

Sparkling Wines

Mawby NV Grace Brut Rosé; Leelanau Peninsula: Produced in the traditional method, this dazzling bubble is a blend of 98% Pinot Noir and 2% Regent (a dark-skinned hybrid grape). Aromas of fresh baked pie crust lead the way, followed by red raspberry, red cherry, wild blackberry, blood orange, and a sprinkling of spice. A brilliant thread of acidity caps off the lively, lip-smacking package.  SRP:  $23  (Gold/Best of Class)

Mawby NV Talisman Brut, also from the Leelanau Peninsula AVA, has long been a favorite of mine.  This sparkling wine, a blend of Vignoles, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay is one I’ve followed year after year.  Opening with classic yeasty aromas on the nose, it bursts onto the palate with vibrancy.  A stream of tiny bubbles transports crisp apples, star fruit, brioche, citrus, hints of toasty oak, and blanched almonds to a lifted finish.  SRP: $37

Black Star Farms NV Delighted; Leelanau Peninsula:  This charismatic sweet sparkling Rosé bubbly is aptly named, it will keep you delighted!  Crafted of Frontenac Gris, it’s crisp and fresh, and the sweetness is balanced by a good level of acidity.  Floral aromas drive you into the glass, and succulent strawberry, raspberry sorbet, and watermelon flavors accented by sweet Meyer lemon and a touch of spice simply dance on the palate.  SRP: $15.50 (Gold)

Shady Lane Cellars 2016 Estate Sparkling Riesling; Leelanau Peninsula:  Bright and lean, this Sparkling Riesling showcases a steady stream of pinpoint bubbles and a lovely Riesling fruit profile, pleasing the eye, the nose and the palate.  Loaded with juicy sun-ripened peaches, nectarines, crisp pears, a touch of minerality, crushed herbs and lime zest, it engages from first, to last refreshing sip.  SRP:  $25

White Wines

Verterra Winery 2016 Dry Riesling; Leelanau Peninsula:  Delightfully expressive aromas and a bright entry completely wakes up the senses.  Perfectly balanced and lively as white peach, pear sorbet, lemon verbena, and wet stone minerality entwine on the palate.  Racy acidity provides a solid backbone, and the well-defined flavors extend from the moment it hits your lips, to the prolonged finale. SRP: ~$16 (Gold/Best of Class)

Bel Lago Vineyards and Winery NV Pinot Grigio/Chardonnay; Leelanau Peninsula:  This snappy dry white blend, crafted of 75% Pinot Grigio (2015) and 25% Chardonnay (2016), really hits the spot.  Fresh and bright with green apples, Asian pears, tropical fruits, subtle oak nuances, and lemon-lime accents enlivening the palate.  Well balanced and shimmering through the final drop.   SRP:  $14 (Double Gold)

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery 2016 Gewurztraminer; Leelanau Peninsula:  A stellar new world Gewurz that broadcasts a captivating floral aroma.  Energetic flavors of lychee, papaya, fresh guava juice, minerality, a touch of spice, and orange zest create a kaleidoscope of flavors from the minute this wine hits your lips.  The balance is immaculate, the mouth feel is satin smooth, and the aftertaste lingers on and on.  SRP:  $18

Black Star Farms 2016 Arcturos Semi-Dry Riesling; Michigan:  The inviting aroma of fresh picked peaches and cream entrances the senses.  The palate echoes the fresh peaches on the nose, which intertwine harmoniously with nectarine, minerally notes, honeysuckle and citrus-flecked Gala apples.  Bracing acidity keeps it meticulously balanced through the polished finish, and the silky texture is divine.   SRP:  ~$18.00 (Gold)

Brengman Brothers 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay; Leelanau Peninsula:  Focused and steely with razor sharp acids, this sleek Chardonnay shows off the purity of the grape.  Crisp Granny Smith apples laced with bright lemon citrus notes, beeswax, a suggestion of brioche, and honeysuckle caress the palate.  The balance is spot on, and the flavors linger well beyond the last sip.  Watch for the 2016 vintage soon to be released, it should be another beauty.  SRP:  $30

Brengman Brothers 2013 Estate Crain Hill Vineyards Riesling Spatlese; Leelanau Peninsula:  Wet stone aromas remind me of a walk along a babbling brook.  This elegant, medium sweet Riesling is multi-layered, with nectarines, crisp pears, tree ripened peaches, and candied orange lifted by racy acidity. Lean and well balanced with a persistent, mouthwatering finish.   (Their 2016 Riesling Spatlese is not yet released.)   $24.95 (Gold)

Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery 2016 Pinot Blanc; Old Mission Peninsula:  This extraordinary Pinot Blanc immediately engages the senses with its captivating aroma. Mouthwateringly delicious from the start, with passion fruit, guava, sweet tangerine, minerally notes, crisp apples and citrus blossom accents cascading onto the palate.  Fresh and fine-tuned with exacting balance and a long, memorable finish.  SRP:  $25

Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery 2016 Dry Riesling; Old Mission Peninsula:  Crisp and bright with a fine thread of minerality, this stunning Riesling displays classic cool climate Riesling.  Lean and pure with flavors of white peaches, nectarines and dried apricots harmonizing with the minerality.  A kick of citrus on the finish adds just the right touch.  Beautifully structured and balanced from start to finish.  SRP: $22

Tabor Hill Winery 2016 Gewurztraminer; Lake Michigan Shore:  An inviting perfumed aroma greets the nose at first whiff with this thirst quenching Gewurz.  Bright, and true to variety with flavors of lychee, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, mango, and apricot preserves joining minerality and honeysuckle notes flowing across the palate.  A brilliant finish caps it off perfectly.  SRP:  ~$12 (Double Gold/Best of Class)

Chateau Fontaine 2016 Pinot Blanc; Leelanau Peninsula:  Fresh sliced pineapple aromas wafting from the glass get the juices flowing. This well-crafted Pinot Blanc is lush and layered, with banana chips, grilled pineapple, hints of toast, sautéed apple, almond paste and crushed herb accents flowing across the palate, pure and finely balanced.    SRP: $18  (Gold)

Left Foot Charley 2016 Le Caban Riesling; Old Mission Peninsula: Intense aromatics and flavors confidently proclaim Riesling here!  Stone fruit and minerality abound, with a razor sharp level of acidity that catapults this wine to great heights.  Finely structured with well delineated peach, lime-accented nectarine, Honeycrisp apple and subtle herbs, it is clear-cut and spirited all the way through.  SRP: $18 (Double Gold)

Left Foot Charley 2016 OMP Riesling; Old Mission Peninsula:  Wet stone minerality on the nose lays claim to what’s in the glass.  Peach, nectarine and lemon-lime soda join minerally notes that are echoed on the palate.  The succulent fruit meets up with striking acids creating a colorful explosion of flavors on the palate; and the finish is long lasting.  SRP:  $20

Left Foot Charley Hard Cider:  I would be remiss not to mention the delicious hard ciders crafted by Winemaker/Cidermaker Bryan Ulbrich, as well.  Favorites include The Cunning Ham, a rustic, dry hard cider; Antrim County Hard Cider, a juicy and fresh hard cider with rockin’ acidity; and their spicy Cinnamon Girl Cider, that will take you back to Grandma’s warm, spiced apple pie!

Hawthorne Winery 2016 Pinot Blanc; Old Mission Peninsula:  Tasting this, another magnificently crafted Pinot Blanc, got me thinking that this variety may be just as ideally suited to plant in Michigan as Riesling and other aromatic whites that stand out here.  This stylish Pinot Blanc is delicately floral on the nose, with broad flavors of Golden Delicious apples, tropical melon, hazelnuts, citrusy elements and underlying minerality.   SRP:  $18

Chateau Grand Traverse 2016 Block Twelve Riesling; Old Mission Peninsula:  Aromas of crushed stone arouse the senses with this juicy, medium dry Riesling.  Sun ripened peaches, grapefruit, candied citrus peel and minerally notes entwine seamlessly.   Nicely weighted with zippy acidity, and refreshing crushed herbs peeking through on the engaging finish.  SRP:  $19 (Gold)

St. Julian Winery 2016 Braganini Reserve Traminette; Lake Michigan Shore:  Heavenly aromas of tropical fruit lead the way with this sassy semi-dry Traminette (French American hybrid). Mouthfilling flavors of melon, sweet peaches, fresh apricots, lychee, a pinch of spice, and lemon meringue pie are offset by a firm backbone of acidity.  SRP:  $14.99  (Gold)

Shady Lane Cellars 2016 Hennessey Vineyard Pinot Gris; Leelanau Peninsula:  Winemaker Kasey Wierzba conveys that the grapes for this gem are from the southern facing slope of their estate Hennessey Vineyard. Velvety in texture and deliciously dry, it bursts with aromas and flavors of stone fruit, honeydew melon, mango and a pinch of herbs, finishing with a pleasing note of chamomile tea, a sunny, flavorful Pinot Gris.   SRP:  $16

Mari Vineyards 2016 Gruner Veltliner (pre-release tank sample); Old Mission Peninsula:  Gruner is one of my favorite white varieties, and this sample assures me I’ve found another winning example.  Zesty and fresh with classic white pepper on the nose.  On the palate, grapefruit, guava, fresh pea shoots and chamomile flavors are unveiled, with a clear thread of minerality. Aging on the lees adds texture, spice and complexity.  Already uber expressive, watch for this wine’s release, soon.  Winemaker Sean O’Keefe also crafted Sezession, the first sparkling Gruner Veltliner I have ever tasted; another superb gem!

Stay tuned for the continuation of this article:  Part 2, Noteworthy Red Wines, Rosé Wines, Fruit Wines and Dessert Wines, to be posted shortly.

Meanwhile, for a full list of the 2017 Michigan Wine Competition results, visit, and for further details, check out the individual winery websites.





Engaging Wine Writers Invitational in Lake County

Tasting Notes

Strolling through vineyards, caves and wineries, and enlightening discussions with vintners and winemakers in Lake County reminded me once again that a prize of a wine region has blossomed here.  Our first stop at Gregory Graham Wines tasting room began the unveiling of noteworthy sips.  Their 2013 Bartolucci Vineyard Viognier is superb.  Apple blossom and stone fruit aromas get the juices flowing.  Apricots, honey-drizzled apples and spiced peach pie flavors glimmer on the palate.  Fermenting in neutral oak barrels and stainless-steel tanks gives this complex Viognier further depth and definition.  Their 2012 Red Hills Syrah, 2014 Chardonnay, 2012 Cab Sauvignon, and 2013 Magma Red (Bordeaux blend of Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cab Sauv) are also luscious.

A visit to Boatique Winery Kelseyville followed.  Not only are there nice wines to be appreciated, but the eye is treated to an extraordinary display of rare wooden boats.  One of my favorite wines here is the 2014 Red Hills AVA Cabernet Sauvignon.  Dark fruits and tobacco on the nose set the stage for the lush mouthful of elderberry jam, blackberries, tobacco and vanilla custard, accented by underlying oak nuances.  I also appreciate their beautifully crafted 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Musqué from the Big Valley AVA, aged in concrete egg tanks, with its tropical fruit, subtle herbs, citrus accents, and smooth texture.

A leisurely drive to the other side of the lake took us to Clearlake Oaks for our check-in at Stonehouse Cellars. There, we were greeted warmly by Stonehouse Cellars’ COO Tamara Richmond, and local Sommelier Stephanie Cruz-Green (who organized the event).  This historic property boasts a vineyard, ranch, agricultural homestay and a savvy, new upscale Bed and Breakfast with a modern, open and fully equipped kitchen that flows to a spacious dining/living area, where a tasty array of wines, cheeses and fresh fruits awaited us upon our arrival.  Touring the acreage gave us the opportunity to take in the beguiling historic guest house, carefully-tended-to vineyards, and four-legged friends including sheep, llamas, and a family of squirrels dashing in and around the stone walls crafted of stones from the property.  Also located on site is their winery, from which the first estate wine, a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, will soon be bottled and released.  The barrel taste was lovely, looking forward to tasting the finished wine later this year!

Our next stop took us to the stately Brassfield Estate Winery, where we were welcomed by Director of Winemaking Matt Hughes, and attentive staff members, who prepared a gorgeous evening repast.  The scrumptious fresh fish tacos and additional delights paired nicely with their lineup of well-crafted wines. The vast estate encompasses 2,500 acres, with vineyards sitting at elevations from 1,800 feet on the valley floor up to nearly 3,000 feet at the peak of the property.  The acreage spans across sections of High Valley, Lake Serenity and the Round Mountain Volcano. The trip up to the top of the 256-acre property and down to their expansive caves, in a four-wheel drive vehicle, was an experience not to be forgotten!  The wild, exhilarating ride revealed exquisite views of the towering Mt. Konocti, serene Clear Lake and its surrounds. Their miles of caves support the winery’s commitment to growth for years to come.

Brassfield Estate treated us to a compelling Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, their 2016 vintage from the High Valley AVA.  Bright and minerally up front, with an alluring aroma that wakes up the senses.  Crisp melon, stone fruit, lemon verbena, grapefruit and fresh squeezed lime flavors enliven the palate, and the texture is divine.  Their 2016 dry Rosé, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, is equally lovely.  Notes of watermelon, a touch of spice, raspberry gelato, and citrusy accents flow across the palate with perfect balancing acidity. It’s vibrant and mouthwatering through the long finish.  Their intense and well-structured 2014 Cab Sauvignon from the High Valley AVA delivers a solid core of pretty fruit, skillful oak management, and firm tannins.  When you visit, don’t miss their impressive 2016 Grenache, 2014 Eruption (blend of Malbec, Syrah and Petite Sirah), and 2014 Petite Sirah, as well.

Back to Stone House Cellars for a nightcap and a good night’s sleep, before heading out the next morning to Shannon Ridge Family of Wines.  Joy Merrilees, Director of Winemaking and Production, and Production Assistant Ben Neyman met us in the winery’s lively tasting room, offering views of their precisely manicured, certified sustainable vineyards.   We thoroughly enjoyed the tasting of their three 2016 Sauvignon Blancs, which clearly showcased the unique terroir expression of different AVAs in Lake County.  Their 2016 High Valley Vineyards SB with its loamy soils is linear and mineral driven, with layers of citrus, nectarine, and fresh herb elements.  Their 2016 Vigilance SB from the crushed pumice, volcanic soils of the Red Hills AVA, is rounder in the mouth, with ripe tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and guava joining hands with crisp green apple and subtle spice.  Their 2016 Shannon Ridge High Elevation SB crafted of fruit from the High Valley, Red Hills and Big Valley appellations, is crisp and vibrant with fresh summer grass notes playing off Bosch pear, peach, kiwi and citrusy accents, sleek and minerally with brisk acidity.  Each are well balanced, wonderfully bright and fresh; an extraordinary showing of the depth and high quality of Sauv Blancs coming from Lake County.   Don’t miss their remarkable Vigilance 2014 Red Hills Cab Sauvignon, 2014 Shannon Reserve Home Ranch Cab Sauvignon, and 2015 High Valley Petite Sirah, too.

Our next stop was Fore Family Vineyards, where we enjoyed their expressive, deep, dark and velvety 2015 Mourvedre, and elegant 2012 Cobb Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, revealing wild berry fruits and just the right touch of oak (aged in neutral French barrels).  Both wines crafted from grapes grown in the Red Hills AVA.  Another easy to quaff wine is their 2013 Cobb Mountain Vineyard GSM, a plush, richly fruited, vanilla spiced blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, also crafted from Red Hills AVA fruit.

On to our picturesque lunch setting among the super rocky vineyards of Obsidian Ridge, perched at an elevation of 2,640 feet, where we gained a true sense of place among the high altitude vines.  Their intense and complex Cabernet Sauvs are firmly structured, deeply fruited and ageworthy.  In addition to the current vintage (2014, noted below), we tasted a few earlier vintages with our delectable lunch.  Fresh air and cool breezes prevailed, as Co-Founder Arpad Molnar and Marketing/Sales Manager Jennifer La Rosa shared more about the wines, and the history of their 105-acre Obsidian Ridge Vineyard along the Mayacamas Mountains.  The 2011 Cab Sauv is drinking exquisitely, with an intense structure, dark fruit, tobacco, and a thread of minerality adding to its complexity.  The 2007 Half Mile Block (Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot blend) offers a deep hue, and fragrant violets on the nose.  In the mouth, it sings with bright red and black fruits, tea spice, and savory notes, all supported by a solid spine of firm tannins.  Meticulously integrated oak and hints of tobacco linger though the memorable finish.

Obsidian Ridge 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Red Hills AVA) is a charismatic wine, starting with the aromas of earth, shale, spice, and black fruit.  The palate displays tremendous depth, with blackberry, black currant and dark plum fruit melding with savory spice, leathery notes, and well placed oak nuances.  Multilayered and complex with a solid backbone of firm tannins foretelling its cellar worthiness.

Time to freshen up, and imbibe additional Lake County wines with our sumptuous dinner of lamb, salad and roasted root vegetables, back at Stonehouse Cellars.  Wines included Steele Wines 2012 Stymie Founder’s Reserve Merlot, that showcases a bowlful of fresh blueberries on the nose.  The fine aromatics are followed by juicy blueberry, fresh raspberry, and red currant fruits with accents of cinnamon, vanilla bean and oak spice elements titillating the palate.  R Vineyards expressive and vivacious 2015 Viognier offers up aromas of jasmine and sweet fruit, broadening in the mouth with honeysuckle, juicy guava, mango and clingstone peach flavors wrapped around a nice spine of acidity; brilliant.  The 2013 Six Sigma Ranch Tempranillo wows the palate with plum preserves, blackberries, crushed pink peppercorns, a touch of herbs and tobacco notes.  Mouthcoating and finely balanced.  Noggle Vineyards & Winery’s impressive 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon opens with stunning scents of cinnamon and clove, and blossoms on the palate with cherry, black raspberry, currants, tobacco, earthy notes, cocoa, and toasty oak spice; impeccably balanced with a persistent finish.  Another striking wine is the 2011 Hawk & Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon from the Red Hills AVA.  Dark and delicious with layers of cassis, loganberries, black cherries, tobacco leaf, earth, cocoa and a hint of pencil shavings filling the palate.  Complex with firm tannins, it promises more years of enjoyment ahead.

Our final stop, engaging with Nick Buttitta at family owned Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, was delightful.   The family has been growing wine grapes in California since 1953.  In 2001, they founded Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, focused on crafting Italian varietal wines. The Buttittas have 14 acres of grapes planted in the Kelsey Bench AVA.  The charming tasting room is housed in an old bank building from the early 1900’s.  Nick’s stories are captivating, and the wines are varietally spot on and delicious. Their 2014 Nebbiolo is divine, starting with the heavenly berry, cherry aromas.  Rich and juicy on entry, it coats the palate with layers of raspberry, black cherry, and wild berries, hints of oak, and earthiness, and vibrant acidity carries the wine to a savory finish.  Other wines not to miss here are the lively, raspberry and herb-scented 2013 Aglianico, savory and well balanced 2014 Refosco, intensely aromatic and juicy 2014 Barbera, and jammy, boysenberry and spice-accented 2014 Primitivo.  A fitting finish to our gratifying trip, was Rosa d’Oro’s 2013 Carmen Dessert Wine, a gem crafted of 50% Refosco and 50% Tinta Roriz.   A rich, spiced plum, berry, toffee and dark chocolate accented wine to keep in mind when you are ready for a blissful nightcap!

Ageworthy, Bold, Captivating and Delicious – Petite Sirah! 

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Petite Sirah, Tasting Notes

I recently attended the 5th Annual Napa Valley Petite Sirah Breakfast at Robert Biale Vineyards. Talk about a wakeup call!  A delicious spread of savory quiche, breakfast potatoes, fresh baked biscuits and multiple selections of the finest bacon around was paired with this bold, intense wine. Good Morning indeed!

Petite Sirah, also known as Durif, originated in France.  It is a cross of Syrah and the lesser known French variety, Peloursin.  I’ve been a devotee of Petite Sirah for several years, and in my opinion, it is one of the most ageworthy varieties.  I recall tasting a 1967 Foppiano Vineyards (Sonoma County) Petite Sirah in the late 90’s, and it was showing incredibly well.  Yes, that’s right – at 30 years of age!

Many of the fascinating Napa Valley Petite Sirahs I had the pleasure of sampling at this tasty event also promise years of enjoyment, into the next decade and beyond.  Here are my impressions:

Robert Biale Vineyards 2014 Palisades Petite Sirah; Calistoga, Napa Valley, California:  Floral and dark fruit aromas captivate, as this assertive, cellarworthy Petite Sirah approaches the nose.  On the palate, the wine exhibits impressive complexity and balance, with layers of blackberry, bittersweet chocolate, blueberry compote, anise seed, and underlying spice notes from French oak aging. It boasts a firm structure, supple tannins, and a long and memorable finish.   SRP:  $55

Calder Wine Company 2014 Petite Sirah; Rutherford, Napa Valley, California:  From organically grown vines comes this delightful, expressive Petite Sirah.  Inky in hue, it is lush, juicy and bright in the mouth, with blackberries, plums, spice, a splash of citrus, and underlying oak nuances.  Broad and intense yet elegant at the same time, with meticulous balance and fine grained tannins.  SRP:  $30

Chase Cellars 2014 Barberis Vineyard Petite Sirah; Napa Valley, California:  This fragrant and ageworthy Petite Sirah opens with gusto!  Well defined layers of black cherry, cranberry chutney, plum and black raspberry fruit interlace with licorice, oak spice and pleasing earthy accents.  Luxurious and round yet immaculately balanced, as approachable tannins and rockin’ acidity carry the dense fruit to an everlasting finish.  SRP:  $75

Frog’s Leap Winery 2014 Petite Sirah; Rutherford, Napa Valley, California: Fresh berry fruit on the nose leads the way to a powerful display of blueberry, spiced plums, sweet huckleberries, earthiness and a subtle touch of herbs on the palate.  Oak spice (from 20% new oak) adds dimension, while firm tannins and nice acids offset the concentrated fruit; full bodied and nicely crafted.  SRP: $40

Switchback Ridge 2013 Peterson Family Vineyard Petite Sirah; Calistoga, Napa Valley, California:  The black-purple hue sets the stage for the power and intensity of this mouth filling Petite Sirah. Enticing and confident on the nose and palate, delivering aromas and flavors of cassis, elderberry liqueur, orange-scented blackberry marmalade, mocha and savory spice. Firm tannins, depth of fruit and bright acids speak clearly about its ageworthiness.  SRP:  $60

Titus Vineyards 2014 Petite Sirah; Napa Valley, California:  Hints of earth and spiced berry compote rise from the glass.  This wine is smoothly textured and succulent, with flavors of marionberries, warm cherry pie, ripe plums, blackberries, spice cake, a hint of cocoa, and attractive oak accents coating the mouth.  Rich and tasty from the pleasing entry to the plush finish.   SRP:  $38

Tres Sabores Winery 2012 Guarino Vineyard Petite Sirah; Calistoga, Napa Valley, California:  Here is a fruit driven Petite Sirah that is far from shy.  Engaging at first whiff with red and black fruits, this on point wine expands deliciously, as spiced blackberry jam, succulent purple plums, huckleberries and hints of toast unwind on the palate.  Concentrated and deep through the persistent aftertaste.   SRP:  $45

Stanton Vineyards 2014 Petite Sirah; St. Helena, Napa Valley, California:  Deep and complex, this powerhouse opens with dark berries and floral scents.  In the mouth, layers of black plums, wild berries, a twist of fresh cracked peppercorns, and oak nuances (aged 21 months in French and American oak) join energetic acidity.  Full bodied and muscular, with a backbone of firm tannins; drink now or hold.  SRP:  $45

Salvestrin Winery 2014 Estate Vineyard Petite Sirah; St. Helena, Napa Valley, California:  This 100% Petite Sirah offers up gorgeous dark fruit aromatics.  Intense and juicy from first sip, as blackberries, melted chocolate, plum preserves, savory spice, and well-integrated oak meld in harmony.  Deftly balanced and structured with a subtle suggestion of mint on the extended finish; appealing now, with years to go.  SRP:  $49

Neal Family Vineyards 2011 Rutherford Dust Vineyards Petite Sirah; Rutherford, Napa Valley, California:  From certified organic vineyards comes this pure, fruit driven wine that arouses the senses.  Well composed, with a velvety texture on the palate, where boysenberry, ripe plums, black cherries, vanilla bean and spiced olive tapenade interlace gloriously.  Graceful and vibrant with refined tannins. SRP:  $35

Kenefick Ranch 2012 Petite Sirah; Calistoga, Napa Valley, California:  Forest fruit aromas capture the senses.  This vivid and balanced Petite Sirah, blended with 10% Merlot, broadcasts blackberries, Bing cherries, blueberries, spice, and almond paste notes. Oak treatment is perfectly managed (aged 18 months in 10% new, 90% seasoned French barrels), and the texture is satin smooth.  A long finish completes the lovely package.  SRP:  $45

Priest Ranch Winery 2011 Petite Sirah; Napa Valley, California:  Bright and flavorsome, this wine offers up black fruit aromas, followed by sun-kissed blackberries, raspberry jam, licorice and savory spices filling the palate.  Luscious and pure, with silky tannins, a firm structure, and finely integrated tannins.   The lively thread of acidity provides a perfect complement to the lip-smacking, dense and long-lasting fruit.  SRP:  $40

Patland Estate Vineyards 2014 “D’Oro” Port style Petite Sirah; Napa Valley, California:  Here is a decadent way to cap off an evening. Concentrated flavors of boysenberry jam, roasted pecans, caramel, Kirsch, brown spices, orange zest and a trace of crushed spearmint weave a heavenly fabric across the palate.  Fortified with Germain-Robin Alambic Brandy and aged 20 months in French oak, it is opulent, multi-layered and skillfully balanced through the remarkable finish.  SRP:  $80 (375ml)

Petite Sirah is grown in many appellations in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, among other areas across the country.  It is also grown outside of the USA, in countries including Australia, Canada, Chile, Israel, Mexico, and South Africa.  Visit the above noted websites, schedule a visit, or check with your favorite wine merchants to pick up a few bottles to sip or cellar, and discover which wines suit your palate. Gain further information about this bold and beautiful variety, and learn about other fine producers, by visiting the Petite Sirah Advocacy Organization, P.S. I Love You website at




Judgment of Geyserville IV – An Impressive Round of Grenache

Judgment of Geyserville, Tasting Notes

 Wine writers, Eric Degerman, Mike Dunne, Dan Berger, Bill Ward, and I met for our fourth annual Judgment of Geyserville, with Grenache taking center stage.  This year we also welcomed Stag’s Hollow Winemaker Dwight Sick, and April Reddout, Wine Director of the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center.  Wines from Australia, British Columbia, Idaho, California, Oregon and Washington were represented in this blind tasting.  I see a growing trend for Grenache rising among consumers.  This is attributable in part, I believe, to how well this wine pairs with food.  Give it a try with balsamic glazed salmon, smoked trout, chicken gumbo, pork tenderloin, ribs off the grill, tofu stir-fry, caramelized roasted beets, and vegetarian lasagna; it is quite versatile!   The judges agreed that the overall quality of the flight was remarkable, with nearly every entry securing a Silver Medal or higher.  The winery capturing the only Bronze medal, Andis Wines (2012 Grenache), went on to capture GOLD and Best of Class honors for its 2014 Grenache at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January.  Here are my impressions for the Judgment of Geyserville IV wines (with the overall group score noted in parentheses):


Abacela 2014 Barrel Select Estate Garnacha; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Full bodied with a deep, dark hue, this concentrated Grenache is tightly wound.  With aeration, enticing aromas of wild raspberries and savory spice waft from the glass.  Layers of black cherries, plums, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, a dash of white pepper and sandalwood unravel onto the palate and lead to a sumptuous, long-lasting finish.  (GOLD) SRP: $29

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2014 Hebron Bloc Estate Grenache; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  The brilliant hue catches your eye, and the aroma is engaging and expressive.  Pure and well balanced on the palate, with black raspberry, pomegranate, citrus and mineral notes interlacing with a touch of fresh cracked peppercorns, and immaculate oak integration. Finishes with elegance and plenty of length.  (SILVER) SRP: $27

Folin Cellars 2014 Estate Grenache; Rogue Valley, Oregon:  Lush and rich from the sun-kissed berry scents that pave the way, to the cohesive, mouth filling flavors of spice-dusted raspberry compote and Santa Rosa plums, accented by minerality and underlying oak.  Fruit, acids and tannins are exactly balanced, and the finish is vivacious and persistent.  (SILVER) SRP: $35


A Tribute to Grace 2014 Highlands Vineyard Grenache; Santa Barbara, California:   Delicate floral notes and a basket full of fresh mixed berries greet the nose.  Aerate this well-structured wine to fully unleash layers of cranberries, red cherries, huckleberries, orange zest and spicy oak nuances.  The refreshing finale is upbeat and clean.  (SILVER) SRP: $45

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2014 Rancho Solo Vineyard Cuvee R Grenache; Monterey County, California:  Energizing scents of a walk in the forest rise from the glass.  Fresh spiced cranberry sauce, subtle earthiness, and juicy raspberries join savory notes and a thread of minerality creating a burst of flavors on the palate.  The mouthfeel is silky and the wine remains lively through the extended finish.  (SILVER) SRP: $48

Andis Wines 2012 Grenache; Amador County, California:  Highly aromatic, this wine tempts the senses with floral and spice notes.  In the mouth, pleasing flavors of cherry and raspberry compote, a hint of toast, and tangerine accents entwine.  A nice level of acidity keeps the wine balanced and energetic.  (BRONZE) SRP: $26


Sawtooth Winery 2013 Classic Fly Series Grenache; Snake River Valley, Idaho:   Floral notes and hand-picked berries fully engage the senses.  Richly fruited with red raspberries, huckleberries, and juicy loganberries at the core, highlighted by blood orange accents and a touch of clove spice.  Pure and spirited with racy acidity balancing the juicy fruit.  Bright and perky through the lingering aftertaste.  (GOLD) SRP: $32


Stag’s Hollow Winery 2013 Grenache; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia: Ripe black fruits open the door to this opulent Grenache.  Black cherries, black plums and black raspberries intertwine on the palate, with anise and a nice smoky note adding depth. Full bodied, velvety smooth and well balanced, with plenty of verve.  (GOLD) SRP:  $30

Stag’s Hollow Winery 2014 Renaissance Grenache; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia:  Perfumed aromas of berries and a hint of earth at first whiff.  Deliciously fruity, multi-layered and complex, with pomegranate juice, ripe raspberries, tangerine, minerality, and a dusting of sweet herbs interlacing in harmony.  Lacy and ethereal with a silky texture and an everlasting finish.  (DOUBLE GOLD) SRP: $40

Stag’s Hollow Winery 2015 Grenache; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia:  The fruity aroma sets the stage for this gem.  Tightly knit, the wine broadens with aeration, unveiling spiced plum pudding, black cherries, and cranberry notes on the palate. Bracing acids, good depth of fruit, and firm tannins speak to years of enjoyment ahead.  (GOLD) SRP: $30


Palencia Wine Company 2013 Grenache; Yakima Valley, Washington:  This intensely aromatic Grenache shows off gobs of ripe berry fruit.  Robust on the palate as layers of juicy boysenberry, raspberry, Bing cherry, black licorice and spice elements unwind.  Brisk acidity offsets the lush fruit, and the tannins are firm, creating a lovely balance.  (GOLD) SRP: $36

Columbia Crest 2013 Reserve Grenache; Horse Heaven Hills, Washington:  The alluring toasty, vanilla scented nose draws you in.  Black raspberry, Black Splendor plum and loganberry fruit spiked with licorice and a splash of fresh squeezed orange juice enliven the palate.  Succulent and well balanced from first sip to lip-smacking finale.  (GOLD) SRP: $35

Maison Bleue Family Winery 2012 “Bourgeois” Grenache; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Here is a Grenache that struts out with raspberry coulis and herbs on the nose.  Streamlined and zesty on the palate, with cranberry relish, raspberries, blueberries and subtle hints of spice and forest floor notes.  A firm backbone of acidity keeps it bright and lively. (GOLD) SRP:  $30


Kilikanoon Wines 2012 Prodigal Grenache; Clare Valley, Australia:  This wildly expressive Grenache shouts out deep black fruit on the nose.  Powerful from the get go, with blackberry, black plum, and pomegranate seeds marrying with chocolaty notes and impressive oak management.  Fruit, acids and tannins are perfectly balanced.  (GOLD) SRP:  $33

Yalumba Family Vignerons 2014 Samuel’s Garden Collection Old Bush Vine Grenache; Barossa Valley, Australia:   This lighter style Grenache offers up pretty scents of red fruit.  Flowing onto the palate are flavors of strawberries and cream, fresh raspberries, cranberry soda and a sprinkling of fresh cut herbs.  Elegant, nicely balanced, and easy to quaff.  (SILVER) SRP: $20

d’Arenberg 2013 The Derelict Vineyard Grenache; McLaren Vale, Australia: Take a good whiff and enjoy the essence of a plum orchard ready to be harvested. This intense Grenache broadcasts succulent purple plums, black raspberries, a touch of earth and savory spice wrapped around firm tannins.  Nicely structured with a velvety texture.  (SILVER) SRP: $29

My hope is that this variety continues gaining well deserved accolades and upward traction in the marketplace.  Why not gather up a few bottles and discover which suits your palate?  I think you’ll find Grenache to be a very nice addition to your cellar, and your next dinner party.

Gems in My Glass . . . February 2017

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Tasting Notes

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2006 Gruner Veltliner; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Seeking an ageworthy white wine?  Look no further!  I have found Reustle Prayer Rock wines to age gracefully over many years, and this is one outstanding example.  Stephen Reustle crafted this gem more than ten years ago, and it simply could not be more stunning.  Mouthwatering aromas get the juices flowing.  Elegant layers of Chamomile tea, flinty notes, honeysuckle, salinity, oyster shell minerality and subtle white pepper accents wow the palate, and the flavors linger heavenly on the persistent finish.

Garrison Creek Cellars 2011 Syrah; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Here is a blockbuster Syrah!  Still in its youth, it is tightly wound with firmly structured tannins.  Cassis, blackberry and plum fruit meld with meaty elements, savory spice and well placed oak.  Full bodied and complex, decant if you pop the cork now, or cellar; this complex wine promises many years of enjoyment ahead.

Nicolas Feuillatte 2006 Palmes d’Or Brut; Champagne, France:  Alluring floral and citrus aromas set the stage for this gorgeous Champagne.  Titillating aromatics of brioche and fresh cut lemons waft from the glass. This complex bubble shows off a creamy mousse and flavors of fresh baked bread, citrus, quince paste and crisp apple flavors.  Exactly balanced and lively, with a pinpoint tiny bead that lasts until the final lip-smacking drop.

Dehlinger Winery 2011 Chardonnay; Russian River, California:  I’ve been drawn to Dehlinger wines for decades, and here again is a prime example of what keeps me coming back for more; the consistency and quality shows through year after year.   This is a mouth filling Chardonnay, chock full of crisp pear, spice-dusted baked apple, and Meyer lemon flavors cascading onto the palate.  A thread of minerality and precise oak management cap off the lovely package.

Concha y Toro 2004 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon; Puente Alto, Chile:  Aromas of earth and leather are entirely engaging. Gorgeous vibrancy in the mouth, with just ripe berries, wild mushrooms, roasted coffee bean, licorice and baking spices joining the earthiness that remains consistent on the palate.  Exquisite balance and depth, with beautifully resolved tannins, and the finish, well, doesn’t!

Domaine Desertaux Ferrand 2013 Cote de Nuits-Villages Les Perrieres; Burgundy, France: Flinty, earth driven aromas send you jumping into the glass.  Ethereal and flavorsome as exotic spice, fresh earth, underlying red cherry, and soft suggestions of oak unfold on the palate.  Pure, pretty and elegant with a racy spine of acidity.

Silkwood Wines 2007 Vintners Select “Satin & Silk” Petite Sirah; Stanislaus County, California; This expressive red wine is opulent and finely structured.   Aged 48 months in brand new Mireau oak (crafted in Burgundy France), it showcases magnificent oak spice. Blackberry, boysenberry, mocha, and plum jam flavors coat the mouth with highlights of orange zest, a tinge of vanilla and tobacco spice.  Deep, dark, dense and delicious.

Kosta Browne 2008 Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, California: Aroma of dried rose petals and cherries delight the senses. Firmly structured, this PN is brimming with lively layers of black raspberry, wild cherry, cola, a pinch of sage, and sassafras from first sip, to mid palate, through the back palate. Full bodied and nicely structured with a touch of oak adding dimension to the long finish.

Spring Valley Vineyard 2010 Uriah Estate Bottled Red Wine; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:   Here is a spunky blend crafted of 46% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Malbec.  Black cherry and blackberry fruit at the core, with black licorice drop and nutmeg accents.  Oak spice from 18 months in 60% new French oak adds depth, yet stays perfectly in the background.

Spit Take – Breaking the Tie

Spit Take, Tasting Notes

“Gold, Gold, Silver, Silver—let’s discuss!”  This is a typical around-the-table call out on a panel of four professional judges at a wine competition. The tie must be broken. What happens next can change the fortunes of an unheralded winemaker, or end a hot streak for a top-end winery. Wines awarded Gold or Double Gold (unanimous Gold from all judges on that panel), not only gain kudos and shiny medals to display, but can provide vintners a direct route to increased exposure, publicity, and sales.

A good judge will have given each wine thoughtful consideration—each wine on its own merits, regardless of their personal variety or style preference.   A good judge, who may taste 50-125 wines that day, will have been spitting—the first step to maintaining a clear head and palate—and being invited back to judge. And a good judge will be ready to explain and debate their case when ties occur. Communication is key. The most important element of the tie breaker is about to begin: it’s time to lobby. Each judge presents a case for his or her rating.  The judges who called out Gold hope to talk up one, or both of the judges who ranked it Silver, to a Gold rating.  A consensus must be reached before the panel moves on to the next flight of wines.

I appreciate wine competition directors who, when assigning flights of wines, take into consideration judges’ expertise with certain varieties.  It allows judges with particular expertise to share knowledge about lesser known varieties during the discussion portion of the judging.  This gives those who may not have much (if any) experience judging that variety a better idea of what to expect.  Take for example, Gruner Veltliner, a wine I understand very well. In a recent competition, I provided in-depth information to judges who lacked experience with that variety and who under-rated the wine on its true varietal merits. After further discussion and retasting the wine, a Silver medal was elevated to Gold.

Breaking the tie is one of the most exciting parts of any competition. It presents a fun opportunity to share perspectives and knowledge, and become a better judge and co-panelist by understanding what other judges experience in the wines. As I often say, every palate is unique. The discussion that follows—during which passions can show—is part of what has energized my interest in wine, and judging over the past 16 years across vastly different competitions. There is always more to learn…and plenty of wine and conversation to fuel a passionate judge on the way to deciding which wines deserve “Gold!”

Extraordinary Wines, and the Beauty of Nature in Yosemite!

Tasting Notes

Moderating the Grand Grape Celebration again this year, at the historic Majestic Hotel (aka Ahwahnee Hotel) in Yosemite, was an honor and a pleasure.  The vintners for this session, “The Goddesses of the Grape” included Beth Nickel, Far Niente; Mia Klein, Selene Wines; Susie Selby, Selby Winery and Shauna Rosenblum, Rock Wall Wine Company.  Under the top-notch direction of Special Events Manager, Kathy Langley, and the entirely competent staff, this is one of the most spectacular wine events on the planet.  Imagine combining extraordinary wines, fine dining, and the splendor of nature surrounding you in Yosemite, it doesn’t get much better than that!

The noteworthy wines below were among the gems presented by this esteemed panel of women vintners:


En Route 2014 “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, California:  Aromas of a walk in the woods arouse the senses.  Lively and pure as the first taste crosses your lips, with red cherry, raspberry compote, a touch of oak and savory spice box notes tantalizing the palate.  A thread of minerality holds firm throughout, adding depth and complexity.  The wine is precisely balanced and elegant, with a silky, lingering finish that seems to go on forever. SRP:  $67

Nickel & Nickel 2013 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Scents of cassis and black cherry segue to complementary flavors of spiced plum jam, boysenberries, dark cherries, cassis, black licorice and fresh tobacco.  Hints of oak are nicely placed in the background (aged 18 months in French oak barrels), adding further dimension.  Focused and complex with concentrated fruit, a solid backbone of tannins, immaculate balance and plenty of length; an ageworthy selection. SRP: $110

Bella Union 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Dark fruit aromas are enticing, and in the mouth this wine really delivers, with flavors of ripe blackberries, plum pudding and Bing cherries accented by nutmeg and well-integrated oak spices from French oak aging.  This Cab is ultra smooth with velvety tannins and fine balance.  This is the second vintage of Bella Union Cab Sauv; the 25-acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard along Bella Oaks Lane shows magnificent promise for years to come.  SRP:  $85

Far Niente 2010 Dolce; Napa Valley, California:  Perfumed aromas draw you into this exquisite late harvest dessert wine.  Composed of late harvest Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, it is reminiscent of a fine Sauternes. Decadent layers of apricot, orange zest, butterscotch candy, fresh guava and a dollop of honey saturate the palate.  The lively acidity and bright citrus accents keep the wine beautifully balanced, and the finish will put you in a dream-like state.  SRP:  $85 (375 ml)


Selene Wines 2014 Hyde Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc; Carneros, Napa, California:  The first vibrant sip puts you in a celebratory mood; more please!  This wine is fresh and juicy with Honeydew melon and Asian pear at the center, surrounded by generous lemon and lime citrus notes and a touch of lemongrass tea.  The balance is spot on, and the wine remains upbeat and energetic through the bright and lasting aftertaste.  SRP:  $22.50

Selene Wines 2004 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  This red blend, crafted of 60% Cab Franc, 22% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Sauvignon presents a stunning bouquet, which may convince you to stay there enjoying the fragrance for a long while.  On the palate, red raspberries, loganberries and blueberries join hands with savory spice, graphite, a hint of smoke and underlying oak notes.  The tannins, fruit and acids are in perfect balance through the lasting finish.  SRP:  $50

Selene Wines 2005 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  For the 2005 vintage of Chesler, the blend is 50% Cab Franc and 50% Merlot.  Violets on the nose lead to a core of dense blueberries and red plums, marrying seamlessly with pipe tobacco, tarragon spice, a pinch of fresh mint, and chocolate overtones.  Marvelously textured and focused with refined tannins, it keeps your attention through the finish, that lingers with subtle oak and lovely savory notes. SRP:  $50

Selene Wines 2006 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  The 2006 vintage, a blend of 62% Cab Franc and 38% Merlot, offers up floral notes, dark fruits and spices that tempt the senses.  Complex and well balanced with blackberry, blueberry, and wild berry fruits entwining with graphite, hints of tar, and a very slight suggestion of roasted green bell peppers peeking through on the back of the palate.  Well structured, this wine shows pristine balance, purity of fruit, well-integrated oak and good length.  SRP:  $40


Selby Winery 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel; Sonoma County, California:  This is a delightful example of old vine Zinfandel, America’s sweetheart grape, crafted from vines that range from 40 to 110 years of age.  Welcoming aromas of ripe berries and spice elements carry over to the juicy expression on the palate.  Bing cherries, olallieberries and raspberry preserves take center stage, entwining with fresh ground multi-colored peppercorns and hints of oak; jammy and delicious.  SRP:  $26

Selby Winery 2015 Chardonnay; Russian River Valley, California:  Here is a zesty Chardonnay broadcasting lemon blossom and orchard fruit on the nose.  Creamy and elegant on the palate with layers of Bosc pear, Crenshaw melon, fresh snipped herbs, citrus and oak nuances (from French oak aging).   There is an appealing richness to this Chard, and the level of acidity beautifully balances the succulent fruit.  Finishes with verve and persistence.  SRP:  $32

Selby Winery 2014 Sangiovese; Russian River Valley, California:  Cherries and a touch of earth start the ball rolling at first whiff with this exceptional Sangiovese.  The fruit comes from a steep hillside vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Vanilla bean, cinnamon and nutmeg spice accent the red cherry and raspberry flavors that are carried across the palate with a nice level of acidity, keeping the wine impeccably balanced. The finish lingers, with savory herbs and spice.   SRP:  $26

Selby Winery 2014 Azevedo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Russian River Valley, California:  Highly aromatic, this delectable Cabernet Sauvignon opens with inviting scents of dark fruit and eucalyptus.  Flavors of cassis, Black Beauty plums, fresh spearmint, leather, mocha and tobacco spices meld in harmony on the palate.  The toasty oak (from 22 months in French oak), is well integrated.  Solidly structured, with refined tannins and good length.   SRP:  $42


Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Sparkling Grenache Rosé; Yolo County, California:  This vibrant sparkling wine engages the senses with floral notes and fresh strawberries on the nose.  The wine dances on the palate, with a lively bead transporting delicious flavors of cranberry, red apple skin and lemon zest framing the juicy strawberry fruit.  Hints of allspice and blood orange chime in as this shimmering bubbly makes its way to a lifted finish.  SRP: $24

Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Fiano; Sutter County, California:  Dive in and enjoy this refreshing white wine crafted from the Fiano grape (more widely grown in Southern Italy). From first whiff, it is bright and clean with a melon and roasted hazelnut aroma.  Tropical fruit, honeyed almonds, hints of banana bread and a generous splash of tangerine fill the mouth. I love the high acids and strong personality.  This wine is sleek and dynamic, finishing with energy.  SRP:  $18

Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Montepulciano; Contra Costa County, California:  This Montepulciano (a grape widely grown in the Abruzzo region of Italy), shows off floral notes on the nose.  This wine reminds me of my father’s favorite pie (strawberry rhubarb), as it broadcasts rhubarb and sweet juicy strawberries accented by brown baking spices and vanilla bean.  Intriguing and lively, with licorice drops and a strong mineral card adding complexity throughout; simply scrumptious.  SRP:  $30

Rock Wall Wine Company 2013 Tannat “The Palindrome”; Sonoma and Solano County, California:  What a pleasure to taste this well-crafted new world Tannat.  It’s the national grape of Uruguay, and having visited there recently, I applaud winemaker Shauna Rosenblum for her delicious interpretation of this savvy grape.  Hints of smoke and black raspberry on the nose expand broadly on the palate to lush blackberry, plums and vanilla, with mushroom and spice box highlights.  Concentrated and far from shy, it finishes with a kick of cocoa and cinnamon toast. SRP:  $30

Take a moment to visit the websites of these wineries, and order a bottle or more.  You’ll be missing out if you lose the opportunity to place some of these gems on your table, and/or in your cellar!









Gems in My Glass . . . November 2016

Tasting Notes

Mara Wines 2011 Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, California:   This exquisite Pinot Noir showcases provocative scents of earth and a warm cherry pie.  Red raspberries, black cherries, exotic spice, cranberries, sandalwood and forest floor notes fill the palate, uplifted by beautiful acidity.   Satin smooth with refined tannins, precise balance, and a finish that goes on and on.  SRP:  $50

Gregory Graham Wines 2014 Bartolucci Vineyard Viognier; Lake County, California: Aromas of citrus blossom, sweet tree-ripened peaches and apricots capture the senses. This satin smooth Viognier is rich and viscous, with good offsetting acidity. Juicy flavors of fresh peaches, sweet nectarines, honeysuckle, lemon drops and a touch of spice simply bathe the palate in luxury.  SRP: $22

Ken Wright Cellars 2013 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir; Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, Oregon:  This seductive Pinot Noir offers up roasted coffee bean and earthy aromas. Showing remarkable complexity on the palate, this wine displays layers of dried cherry, allspice, and cherry cola joining earthy notes and lovely oak integration; focused and finely balanced. SRP: ~ $49

Trojak~Knier 2013 The Blend; Napa Valley/Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California: This elegant blend, composed of 35% Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, 33% Sangiovese and 32% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley, opens with aromas of red and black fruits. Smooth as silk as it unfolds onto the palate with flavors of cherry, black currant, and marionberry fruit underscored by fresh ground black pepper.  SRP: $40

Patz & Hall 2014 Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir; Sonoma Coast, California:  Here is a deeply hued Pinot Noir with scents of violets, raspberry jam and red fruits rising from the glass.   Rich and expressive from first sip, with black cherry, plum, raspberry, exotic spice and dried strawberry notes unfolding on the palate.  Intense and chewy, yet bright acidity keeps it balanced through the lingering finish. SRP:  $60

Long Meadow Ranch 2015 Rose of Pinot Noir; Anderson Valley, California:  Fresh strawberries fill the senses with this lively dry Rose of Pinot Noir.  Delicious in the mouth with red cherry, strawberry preserves, watermelon and citrus accents melding in harmony.  Bright and energetic with a touch of herbs adding another dimension on the back palate. SRP: $25

J & J Vintners 2012 Les Collines Vineyard Malbec; Walla Walla Valley, Washington:  Dark berry aromas capture your attention with this powerful Malbec.  Delicious in the mouth with a nice backbone of tannins.  Flavors of blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries and currants meld with hints of spice, well integrated oak, cocoa powder and a suggestion of caramel on the decadent finale.   SRP:  $35

Brush Creek Winery NV It’s a Dog’s Life (Sweet White Blend); Iowa:  It’s not just the name of this wine that will make you smile!  Take in the charm of this sassy, sweet blend of 50% LaCrosse and 50% Niagara.   Aromas of honeysuckle and tropical fruits lead to creamy pear, ripe pineapple, and juicy melon flavors on the palate.  If you are a Moscato fan, this wine too will win you over!  SRP:  $12

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