Appellation Trail

Bowling and Beer? No, Bowling and Wine Country

Highway 12 is the highest traffic corridor in California’s Sonoma Valley, and it soon may be home to a new bowling center inside an existing building that’s appropriately named “The Old Bowl Centre.”

According to the Sonoma Index-Tribune, Adam and Jenny Kovacs are planning to transform a 5,000-sq.-ft. space in the center into a bowling center with “four or five lanes” to be called Noma Bowl. They have signed a 15-year lease with a Seattle-based management company that has owned the building for 25 years.

If plans are approved by the city, construction could begin by mid-summer and Noma Bowl could be open by the end of the year.

To read more about the proposal, go to:

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Weather Got You Down? Remembering Spring at Ferrari-Carano

Ferrari-Carano has been delighting wine drinkers for decades now, with an ever evolving roster of world-class bottlings from Sonoma County and beyond. It has come a long way since we first visited the facility on the day it opened — from a spartan tasting room to a magnificent estate with five acres of spectacular gardens.

You can enjoy the beauty of the gardens throughout the year, but they truly shine during the spring and summer months. The gardens are “Italian/French parterre in style, with classic, geometric shapes,” as the winery’s website notes. You can read more about the gardens here.

Here are a few pictures we shot at Ferrari-Carano last year to help you get through the cool autumn and cold winter months ahead.

— Bob Johnson



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Pahrump Valley Winery Comes of Age

By Glen Frederiksen

I have been following the progress of Pahrump Valley Winery since its inception a quarter century ago in 1990. At that time, a few acres were planted to an obscure grape called Symphony, a white grape with floral aromatics that reminded me of Riesling and Gewurztraminer rolled up into one. It could produce delicious wines, from bone dry to dessert style.

Unfortunately for the winery, the wild horses and other animals that roamed the surrounding sparse landscape also found the grapes and vines delicious, and quickly ate them down to the roots, trampling the vineyard.

The name of the grape lives on today in the wonderful bistro connected to the winery, called Symphony’s.

In the first decade, most wine made at Pahrump Valley Winery was produced from grape juice purchased in other states (like California) and then fermented and finished at the winery. To be charitable, many of these wines were of the lowest commercial grade, some barely palatable.

Hard times came, and the winery went on the block for sale in 2003. Enter Bill and Gretchen Loken.

Residents of Scottsdale, Arizona, they were looking for a change. A winery sounded like the perfect challenge. Far from being wine connoisseurs or insiders in the wine industry, they had to start from scratch. They learned all they could about wine, with Gretchen eventually attending the school of Enology at UC Davis and earning a certificate in winemaking.

With each successive vintage, the quality of the wines has improved. Many of the twenty or so bottlings done at the winery are made with premium grapes grown in California, Oregon, and Washington. But, more and more, the Lokens are seeking out grape sources locally, from vineyards in Nevada. In fact, over 25% of the wines they now produce are made with Nevada-grown grapes, and that percent is increasing with each new vintage.

They have several acres of vines on the property, mostly Zinfandel and Syrah, with smaller plantings of other varietals. They also purchase grapes from around the state, where microclimates have proven favorable to a number of grape varietals. Among the grape varietals they now purchase are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Barbera, Ruby Cabernet, Primitivo, Tempranillo, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc, with Chardonnay and Malbec soon to be available.

On this occasion, I noticed something new in the current crop of releases. The wines of Pahrump Valley Winery are more refined, more balanced, with better fruit definition. These are delicious wines, ready to hold their own with the offerings from wineries in California, Oregon, Washington, and other recognized areas.

The best news is that the wines made from 100% Nevada-grown grapes are as good as those made from imported grapes. Nevada wine-making has come of age. This is reflected in the spate of awards that Pahrump Valley Winery has been garnering in commercial wine competititons. The Nevada Ridge line-up of wines, made from Nevada-grown grapes, has already earned 60 medals, including 12 Gold Medals and two Double Gold Medals.

While at the winery, I tasted a few of the wines currently available for purchase in the tasting room. Below are my palate impressions and on-the-fly ratings.

2013 Charleston Peak Pinot Grigio, California
Pale straw color in the glass. The delicate nose includes floral impressions, apple, citrus, and peach fruit, and a hint of sweetness. In the mouth, the off-dry sweet impression continues. The white is medium-bodied, rounded, and has a creamy afterflavor. A Value Vino.
MSRP: $15.95 (May 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 88

2010 Charleston Peak Syrah ‘Reserve,’ Sierra Foothills, California
This red sports a bright ruby color. Initial notes of smoke and cocoa mix with ample aromas of black berry fruits. It is medium-full in body, picking up some black licorice towards the finish. Enjoy with lamb or smoked red meats.
MSRP: $23.95 (May 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 88

2012 Nevada Ridge Silver State Red, Nevada
This is a blended red featuring several varietals, all grown in the state of Nevada. It has already been awarded two Gold Medals in wine competition.
In the glass, it is a nearly transparent, light ruby color. The nose delivers lush aromas of raspberry and sweet cherry fruit, along with a touch of oak. Light and bright, with a sense of refinement, this is a perfect red for your next BBQ, lunch, or buffet-style event.
MSRP: $25.95 (May 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 88

Pahrump Winery is open daily for wine tasting from 10:30 AM to 5:00 PM. And be sure to dine at the Symphony’s restaurant, open for lunch and dinner daily. Dinner reservations are recommended, especially on the weekend.

Pahrump Valley Winery
3810 Winery Road
Pahrump, NV 89048

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Fervent For Furmint

By Glen Frederiksen

Quick now, like a bunny — tell us everything you know about wines from Hungary.

If you are from my dad’s generation, you may recall a sweet table wine called Green Hungarian that was produced by Weibel Vineyards in California. This white wine grape is thought to have originated on the border of Romania and Hungary, where it was called Butschera, and produced large crops that were made into a low-quality, lightly sweet table wine.

By the mid-1970s, plantings of Green Hungarian in California were on the decline, as higher-quality white wine grapes replaced it.

The most famous red wine produced in Hungary is called Bull’s Blood, so called because, during the invasion of Suleiman the Magnificent in the mid-16th century, the attack on Eger castle was successfully defended by the locals against overwhelming odds.

Their fierce fighting was attributed to the red wine they were served during the siege. Rumors circulated that the wine was fortified with the blood of bulls, giving them greater strength and resolve.

Centuries later, in the mid-1900s, the poet Janos Garay is thought to have coined the term Egri Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood of Eger. Today, local wine laws allow the use of three or more of 13 grape varietals in the making of this blended red wine. This modest red has been imported in small quantities into the United States for decades.

By far the highest quality wine originating from Hungary is Tokaji Aszu, a sweet, dessert wine. This topaz-colored elixir is produced primarily from the Furmint grape grown in the Tokaj wine region. The first mention of Tokaji Aszu was in 1571, with the first mention of the Furmint grape in 1611.

Grown on a plateau 1,500 feet above sea level near the Carpathian Mountains, occasional weather conditions accommodate a long ripening season followed by a damp period that allows the growth of a fungus called Botrytis cinerea.

This “noble rot” dehydrates the grapes and concentrates the sugars into a drop of honeyed nectar. When harvested and fermented, the result is a delicious dessert wine that rivals the best from anywhere in the wine world, including France’s famous Sauternes.

Historically, the quality of Tokaji Aszu wine was so renowned that Tokaj became the first wine region in the world to create rules for an appellation control. Guidelines were created dilineating which areas, grapes and growing conditions would be permitted in the use of the name Tokaji on the label. This was by royal decree in 1737, decades before similar rules were developed for Port in Portugal and more than a century prior to the 1855 Bordeaux Grand Cru classification.

But hold on a minute — is there more to this white grape called Furmint that produces the honeyed dessert wine Tokaji Aszu? It turns out it also makes some pretty delicious still table wines. Until 15 years ago, these were rarely seen outside of Eastern Europe. A few would show up at special tastings, but it was not on the radar of most wine consumers.

All that may be changing. There are now some small plantings of Furmint in California and South Africa. And higher-end producers of dry Furmint in Hungary are beginning to ship to the United States wine marketplace.

Classically, the dry bottlings of Furmint are characterized by aromas of smoke, pears and lime, and they have a naturally high acidity, making them quite food friendly. Although lesser known than Chardonnay and Riesling, Furmint has a noble heritage — the ancient grape varietal Gouais Blanc was parent to all three varietals. It should come as no surprise that Furmint has the weightiness of Chardonnay and the acidity and minerality of Riesling.

In the past, you would need to travel to the wine bars in Budapest to try a glass of dry Furmint. No more. Here, we have reviewed several examples that are now being imported into the United States.

2012 Kvaszinger Kanyargas Furmint, Hungary
Brilliant light straw in color, this wine smells like white flowers, leading to impressions of white nectarine, lemon-lime, citrus honey and sun-baked apple. Although fully dry, it has a sweet impression in the mouth with ample juicy acidity. The citrus notes echo in the finish.
MSRP: $20 (May 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 87

2011 Grof Degenfeld Tokaji Furmint, Hungary
This creamy wine is made in an Old World style — dry, austere and well knit. Its woodspice and baked apple notes are nicely intermingled, inviting a plate of lemon scallops to accompany it.
MSRP: $20 (May 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 86

2012 Barta Oreg Kiraly Dulo Mad Furmint, Hungary
The nose evokes gun powder (which dissipates with time in the glass), honey, sun-dappled apple, tangerine and lime. There’s a sense of fruit sweetness in the mouth, but the wine finishes fully dry. Lemon-herb chicken or veal Cordon bleu would make sublime pairing partners.
MSRP: $30 (May 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 88

2011 Majoros Deak Furmint, Hungary
Deep straw in hue and quite pungent, this wine evokes woodspice, white grapefruit, green apple skin, lime, grapefruit and a hint of butter. Quite juicy in the mouth, it would pair nicely with pork schnitzel with lemon and capers.
MSRP: $40 (May 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 88

2012 Gizella Szil Volgy Furmint, Hungary
Floral and alluring, this beautifully knit wine shows off sweet lime, apple, some minerality and a kiss of honey. The fruit flavors follow through on the palate, turning creamy on the finish.
MSRP: $55 (May 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2012 Sauska Medve Furmint, Hungary
Medium straw in color and slightly effervescent in the glass, this wine has a butter toffee/butterscotch and smoky nose that’s almost impossible to resist. The wine expands in the mouth with ample viscosity reflecting the plump, ripe fruit flavors of apple and citrus. A wonderful sipping wine; no food necessary.
MSRP: $65 (May 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 91

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The 2012 Cabs from Murphy-Goode: It’s All Goode — and Ready!

By Bob Johnson

When there’s someone with the last name of Goode involved in a winery, or any business, for that matter, all kinds of marketing opportunities present themselves.

In the case Sonoma County’s Murphy-Goode Winery — established in 1985 by Tim Murphy, Dale Goode and Dave Ready — “The Goode Life” was adopted as a slogan, and the wine club was dubbed Goode & Ready. Murphy and Goode were the farmers, and Ready was the marketing guy who helped developed the winery’s fun-focused personality.

Now, three decades later, Goode is gone (he passed away in 2013 at age 79), Dave Ready Jr. is the winemaker, and Murphy-Goode is under the broad umbrella of the Jackson Family Wines Collection.

Ready learned a lot about wine from his father, and after working a crush at Murphy-Goode, his destiny was sealed. A winemaker’s palate is not something that should be wasted, and Ready had it. In 1997, he became Murphy-Goode’s assistant winemaker, and four years later, the “assistant” part of the title was eliminated.

Ready has said, “You need to let the wine show what it has in its soul.” That philosophy is apparent in Murphy-Goode’s collection of four 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon releases, three from the winery’s home base in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, and one from Knight’s Valley, an appellation that straddles northern Sonoma and Napa counties.

The “Alexander Valley” wine was made from grapes grown in two blocks of the Terra A Lago Vineyard, which is owned by Ready’s long-time friend, Val Peline. The “Terra A Lago” bottling features wines from Ready’s favorite block of that vineyard. The Knights Valley Cab has been dubbed “Poker Knight,” and is quite distinct from the Alexander Valley Cabs. And the “Single Deck” Cabernet comes from a single block of the Alden-Ellis mountain vineyard.

Alexander Valley has an ideal environment for growing Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet, and while Murphy-Goode has a large portfolio of wines at various price points, it is the Cabs that truly shine.

For the 2012 vintage, the “Alexander Valley” Cab is soft and approachable and ready to enjoy now. The “Terra A Lago” figures to be in its prime in four to six years. The “Poker Knight” combines the more powerful nature of Napa Valley Cabs with the more immediate accessibility of the Sonoma side. Finally, the “Single Deck” Cab is tightly wound and built to age. You can read our reviews of these wines here.

When it comes to Murphy-Goode’s Cabs from 2012, we would suggest this marketing slogan: “It’s All Goode.”

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1 Address, 3 Tasting Rooms: A Santa Barbara Wine Tour on Foot

The Au Bon Climat tasting room is the downtown Santa Barbara home of Jim Clendenen's cellar handiwork.

The Au Bon Climat tasting room is the downtown Santa Barbara home of Jim Clendenen’s cellar handiwork.

By Bob Johnson

State Street is “that great street” not just in Chicago, as Frank Sinatra sang, but also in Santa Barbara, where countless boutiques, restaurants, coffee houses and inns line both sides of the north-south thoroughfare.

One block to the east, paralleling State Street, there’s a fun destination for wine lovers in the 800 block of Anacapa Street in the Presidio neighborhood, next door to the long-established Wine Cask restaurant.

Margerum is located adjacent to the Wine Cask restaurant.

Margerum is located adjacent to the Wine Cask restaurant.

If you look across Anacapa Street at the Wine Cask, then look to the left, you’ll see individual tasting rooms for three Santa Barbara County wineries: Au Bon Climat, Margerum and Grassini.

With time to visit only one on this particular day, we opted for Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen Wine Library. “ABC” was one of the first Santa Barbara County wineries that really got it right back in the 1980s, but it had been a few vintages since I’d last tasted Clendenen’s handiwork. I’m happy to report that the wines I tasted under the Au Bon Climat and Clendenen Family Vintners labels were flawless and flavorful, each filling a niche both in the winery’s product line and on one’s dinner table.

Under the Clendenen Family Vintners label, the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($18) was clean and crisp, an ideal foil for shellfish, while the 2012 Chardonnay known as “The Rip” (named for Clendenen’s dog; $25) was easy drinking and seemingly crying out for some Original Recipe KFC.

The Au Bon Climat wines were bigger, richer and much more complex. The 2011 “Pioneering” Chardonnay ($35), made entirely from Bien Nacido Vineyard fruit, was honeyed and toasty, with butter-kissed apple fruit in the finish. The 2010 “La Bauge” Pinot Noir ($30) is another in a long line of ABC Pinots from Bien Nacido that have helped cement the idea that “California Burgundy” not only is possible, but delicious. And the 2009 Los Alamos Vineyard Pinot Noir ($35) showed off plenty of ripe fruit, earth and spice, with soft tannins that provide for immediate enjoyment — no cellaring necessary. The Chardonnay would match nicely with chicken Alfredo, while the Pinots would pair well with roast beef or grilled salmon.

For "dessert," stroll over to the Grassini tasting room for wine-and-chocolate pairings.

For “dessert,” stroll over to the Grassini tasting room for wine-and-chocolate pairings.

Were I planning a Santa Barbara weekend around these three tasting rooms, this would be my plan:

  1. Book a room at the Canary Hotel, just a few blocks away and an easy stroll to/from the tasting rooms.
  2. Begin your tasting adventure at Au Bon Climat, where you can opt for a mixed flight (which we tried) for $10 or a flight of Reserve-level Pinots Noir for $15.
  3. Walk next door to Margeum Wine Company, which focuses on Rhone varietals — much different from the wines at ABC, and thus a very different tasting experience.
  4. Head over to State Street and have a light lunch at one of the countless restaurants.
  5. Stroll back to Anacapa Street and conclude your sampling at the tasting room of Grassini Family Vineyards, which specializes in varieties that can be traced to yet another appellation of France: Bordeaux. Finish there not just because the wines are “big,” but also because wine-and-chocolate pairings are offered daily. This is your dessert stop.

After that, you’re on your own. I’d probably opt for a nap, or you could walk off that Jessica Foster Confections chocolate with a long stroll on State Street — a great street that’s only a block away from a fun street for wine lovers.

– – – – –

The tastings rooms of Au Bon Climat, Margerum and Grassini have their own “suite numbers” at 813 Anacapa St. in Santa Barbara.

For hours of operation and other information, call Au Bon Climat at 805-963-7999, Margerum at 805-845-8435, and Grassini at 805-897-3366.

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Star-Crossed Paths: Mike Trujillo and Sequoia Grove Winery… Plus Words of Wisdom from Andre Tchelistcheff

Michael Trujillo, President and director of Winemaking at Sequoia Grove winery

Michael Trujillo, President and director of Winemaking at Sequoia Grove winery

By Glen Frederiksen

Our journey through the world of wine, from our first eye-opening sip and epiphany over three decades ago, has taken us to many wine regions and down many a dusty wine trail.

When we began this wine blog more than three years ago, it was partly to tie together much of what we have experienced and written about over that long, winding road. Naturally (and hopefully!), there are many more experiences to be had, and this is the bulk of what we are now chronicling.

But there are many switchbacks while on the wine roads, as we follow our passion. Paths will be crossed more than once, and we have the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with old friends.

So it was when we recently had the opportunity to meet up with Michael Trujillo, President and Director of Winemaking at Sequoia Grove Winery in Napa, Calif.

Michael Trujillo, explaining a fine point about the Cambium

Michael Trujillo, explaining a fine point about the Cambium

Trujillo has become one of the winemaking giants in the Napa Valley over the past two decades. Arriving in the valley while on spring break from college, he fell in love with the verdant valley and laid-back lifestyle. He left his Colorado birthplace and returned to Napa shortly thereafter, and made it his new home.

His first job was at a large vineyard in the south end of Napa Valley that would become Domaine Carneros. There, he had the opportunity to meet and work with such titans of the wine industry as Tony Soter, Mike Grgich and others.

He then took a job at Sequoia Grove winery, located on Highway 29 in the heart of the Napa Valley. There, owner Jim Allen and his brother Steve Allen exposed Trujillo to all facets of wine production, from the vineyard to the bottling line.

The consulting winemaker at Sequoia Grove at the time was Andre Tchelistcheff, perhaps the most iconic vintner America has known. Under the tutelage of his new winemaking friends, Trujillo began taking extension courses at U.C. Davis in the Enology department.

Using the Sequoia Grove wine facilities, he started his own label, Karl Lawrence wines. He also consulted with other wineries, most notably Herb Lamb Vineyards. By 1998, Trujillo had been appointed Assistant Winemaker at Sequoia Grove and, in 2001, with the retirement of founder Jim Allen and the sale of the winery to the Kopf family, Trujillo assumed the reins of winery president. Today, the Sequoia Grove winery is making wines that rival those of many of the better-known estates in the valley.

We at Wine Lines first crossed paths with Sequoia Grove in the late 1980s. On one of our early visits to Napa Valley, as we were driving north on Highway 29, we stopped in at the rustic tasting room surrounded by three towering sequoia trees (thus the name of the winery).

We were impressed by the quality of the Chardonnay and especially the Cabernet Sauvignon — so much so, that we purchased our first full case of wine there.

The wines we fell in love with were the 1985 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the Estate Reserve Cabernet. These were our epiphany Napa Valley Cabs. Over the next decade, we continued to stop in on our frequent trips to the Napa Valley, and also sought out the wines at local wine shops.

By the turn of the millennium, our wine muse had led us to open a wine shop, the High Desert Wine Emporium in Victorville, Calif. We looked for wines not found in the local supermarkets — wines that were sought after by wine geeks (which we were). Among the labels we stocked were Karl Lawrence and Herb Lamb Vineyards, both crafted with Michael Trujillo at the winemaking helm.

Yet over all those years, we had never chanced to meet up with Trujillo. So, during Trujillo’s recent visit to Las Vegas, we were enthused to finally shake his hand and put a face to the winemaker behind the wines we had been enjoying for years.

The Sequoia Grove line-up of wines

The Sequoia Grove line-up of wines

Wine tasting notes…

2013 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Ah! Our noses and palates took a trip down memory lane with each sniff and sip of this wine. It is delightfully perfumed and aromatic, mixing together sweet, almost honeyed, impressions of tropical fruit and pear with notes of butter, brioche, and vanilla. Showing a nice balance in the mouth, these flavors carry through to the finish and persist. Think of this as a fine Burgundy, but with the plumpness of California fruit. A perfect foil for snow crab legs dipped in butter.
MSRP: $28 (February 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2011 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
In the glass, it shows an opaque, deep crimson color. The nose is already integrating the fruit and wood components, with a nice interplay between the polished leather, mocha, clove and cedar from the oak and the boisterous red cassis and raspberry fruit. The fruit carries through on the palate, showing all soft and velvety, before fine-grained tannins poke through near the finish. This wine is a delight to drink now, and should provide pleasure over the next eight to 10 years.
MSRP: $38 (February 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2010 Sequoia Grove ‘Cambium’ Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
Cambium is an interesting word to name this wine. It refers to the actively growing layer of a plant or tree between the inner wood and the outer bark. Essentially, these are stem cells in plants — cells from which all other, more differentiated cells will arise. In other words, the building blocks of a grapevine. This is a proprietary blend of the best building blocks — er, barrels — of Bordeaux red varietals produced in a vintage at Sequoia Grove. The 2010 vintage’s opaque deep crimson hue lightly stains the glass. Its uplifted, floral nose (from a large dollop of Cabernet Franc) shows dark flowers, mocha, graphite, and minerality, all cloaking the tightly wound black and blue fruit. This is a wine that would benefit from mid-term cellar aging, allowing the fruit to bubble to the surface. Patience will be rewarded in a decade or so.
MSRP: $140 (February 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 94

If you want more information about Sequoia Grove winery, tasting room hours, tour information, ordering information, or wish to email them, here is the contact information:

Sequoia Grove Winery
8338 St. Helena Highway
Napa, CA   94558
(707) 944-2945

– – – – – – – – – –


By Bob Johnson

Mike Trujillo makes no secret about the influence Andre Tchelistcheff had on his winemaking style — a style that Tchelistcheff taught almost by osmosis.

“He taught me how important it is to really get in touch with the vineyard — the grapevines, the grapes and the land,” Trujillo says. “[The concept of] terroir pretty much gets thrown out the window today; everybody thinks that oak is terroir.

“The interesting thing is that when a problem or a challenge came up, he never told you what to do. He didn’t teach science; he taught art — winemaking from the gut. Many times, he’d just leave me [in the vineyard or cellar] to figure things out.”

At times, that could be scary. In 1989, a notoriously challenging year weather-wise in Napa Valley, it was a skill that proved to be the difference between making dreadful wine and exceptional wine. (There wasn’t much in-between that vintage.)

“You just had to be in the vineyard every day,” Trujillo explains. “We’d taste the grapes, sometimes twice a day, and you could just taste the dankness coming on. We caught it early, and got our grapes harvested in time while most other wineries waited it out and ended up with fruit that wasn’t great.”

Trujillo drew on that experience in dealing with the problematic 2011 vintage.

“The veteran winemakers fared okay,” he says. “They knew what to do, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. With a vintage like that, you just have to let up on the gas a little bit, and you can end up with a pretty, sexy wine.”

Part of the process involves invoking techniques and practices that result in wines that have what Tchelistcheff called “a perfect flow. And when it has that flow, whether it’s a red or a white, it has the potential for aging.”

Adds Trujillo: “I wouldn’t be bashful to say that our 2011 Cambium could go a good 10 years in the bottle, and still be drinking nicely.”

The Tchelistcheff influence can also be seen — and tasted — in Sequoia Grove’s Chardonnay which, unlike most other California Chardonnays, does not undergo malolactic fermentation.

“Andre never wanted us to do M.L. and we never did,” Trujillo says. “To bring up the creaminess and the nuttiness [associated with the M.L. process], it’s actually the grape clones, oak and lees working in combination with one another.”

Trujillo says that he thinks about his old friend and mentor every day, but especially when he’s facing a challenge in the vineyard or cellar.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, ‘What would Andre do?’”

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Dry Creek Valley: The Next Bastion of Bordeaux?

By Bob Johnson

You’re not likely to see the red wine most closely associated with Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley — Zinfandel — ever made in the Bordeaux region of France. But there’s a good possibility that Dry Creek Valley could become increasingly known for red Bordeaux varieties.

Bill Smart poses with some of Dry Creek Vineyard's signature wines.

Bill Smart poses with some of Dry Creek Vineyard’s signature wines.

“We have a climate that closely mirrors Bordeaux, with longer days of sunshine and cooler nights than Alexander Valley or Napa,” notes Bill Smart, Director of Marketing and Communications for Dry Creek Vineyard.

Napa Valley, of course, is California’s “Bordeaux capital,” while Alexander Valley more often than not is cited as Sonoma County’s equivalent. And while Alexander Valley certainly produces some wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings, what the Stare and Wallace families of Dry Creek Vineyard want people to know is that Dry Creek Valley has just has much “Bordeaux potential” as Alexander Valley.

“This is the second generation’s handprint on the winery going forward,” Smart says. “While we’re certainly still about Zinfandel, we also want people to know how good the Bordeaux varieties can be in Dry Creek.”

Kim Stare Wallace is part of the second generation that's expanding Dry Creek Vineyard's portfolio.

Kim Stare Wallace is part of the second generation that’s expanding Dry Creek Vineyard’s portfolio.

It is something of an uphill battle. Because of Zinfandel’s long history in Dry Creek Valley, it is a variety that is embraced by a vast majority of the appellation’s wineries — most of which are relatively small, with no national footprint. So even if great Bordeaux-style wines can be made there — and they can, as smaller estates such as A. Rafanelli, Lambert Bridge, Mill Creek and Michel-Schumberger have demonstrated over the years — getting them into the hands and wineglasses of consumers poses a real challenge.

Thus, it’s up to estates such as Dry Creek Vineyard and Pedroncelli Winery, which do have significant distribution, to take on the bulk of the legwork and educational efforts.

Bordeaux-inspired wines from the Dry Creek Valley AVA figure to be an important part of Dry Creek Vineyard's future.

Bordeaux-inspired wines from the Dry Creek Valley AVA figure to be an important part of Dry Creek Vineyard’s future.

During a recent visit to Dry Creek Vineyard, we sampled three Bordeaux-inspired bottlings from the 2012 vintage, all boasting “Dry Creek Valley” on their front labels. One was the estate’s signature red blend called “The Mariner,” one was a Merlot-based wine that included four other Bordeaux varietals, and one was a wine that now is more closely associated with Argentina than France: Malbec. Our reviews:

2012 Dry Creek Vineyard ‘The Mariner,’ Dry Creek Valley
Most red wines suggest four or, at best, five individual aroma or flavor impressions. More often than not, these impressions present themselves individually: first a whiff of mushrooms, then a note of charred wood, then some type of fruit, and perhaps a finish somewhat reminiscent of dark chocolate. But the 2012 vintage of “The Mariner” is more like an orchestra whose members have been playing together for years. There are plenty of aroma and flavor nuances — blackberry, black raspberry, black cherry, cassis, herbs, baking spices and, yes, dark chocolate — but they are seamlessly integrated. No extended solos in this vinous orchestra of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc; rather, a harmonious whole. This may be the best “Mariner” yet.
MSRP: $45 (February 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Merlot, Dry Creek Valley
Like “The Mariner,” this wine was crafted from five Bordeaux varietals. The blend: 82% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. Because there is a much more significant portion of Merlot, it’s a much softer wine, one that shows off Dry Creek Valley’s iron-rich soils in its succulent mouthfeel. A nice mix of red and dark fruits co-mingle with a dusty note, making this an exceptionally food-friendly wine. Roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes, anyone?
MSRP: $25 (February 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 89

2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Malbec, Dry Creek Valley
Malbec’s “place in life” originally was as a minor blending grape of Bordeaux. But late in the 20th century, it gained star status in its adopted home of Argentina, specifically in that country’s Mendoza growing region. Dry Creek Vineyard likes to include Malbec in its Bordeaux-inspired blends, and also crafts a varietal bottling — for the 2012 vintage, a total of 247 cases. It’s 100% varietal and 100% delicious, a real savory wine with a char element and noticeable minerality, joined by blackberry, black cherry and a mélange of other dark fruit notes. This dark, dense wine needs to be accompanied by a thick steak in order to truly strut its stuff.
MSRP: $38 (February 2015)
Wine Lines rating: 90

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Ironically, Dry Creek Vineyard made its name on a Bordeaux varietal — a white Bordeaux varietal: Sauvignon Blanc. And it continues to craft wonderful renditions to this day, in addition to benchmark bottlings of Zinfandel and one of California’s best varietal Chenin Blanc wines.

A few notes on some of these additional wines that we sampled during our visit…

  • 2014 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg — Wilson Ranch has been providing the grapes for this wine for years. It’s Dry Creek Vineyard’s only non-Sonoma County wine, and the 2014 vintage has a nice mid-palate and bright acidity that supports the tropical fruit, banana essence and sweet citrus notes.
  • 2013 Fume Blanc, Sonoma County — Rounded and herbal, this wine’s acidity makes it an ideal companion to shellfish or lemon chicken. It shows lemon, apple, pear and nectarine fruit notes.
  • 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley — This wine shows much more tropical fruit, and is weightier and fuller on the palate than the Sonoma County bottling. The aroma and flavor spectrum includes honeysuckle, white peach and nectarine.
  • 2012 DCV3 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley — A mere 350 cases of this wine were made in 2012, its fruit coming from original plantings just behind the winery. It shows varietal notes of sweet pea, white pepper and green olive, all amid an oily sensation on the palate and with a persistent after-flavor.
  • 2013 Musque Clone Sauvignon Blanc, Taylor’s Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley — Taylor Vineyard gets its name from the daughter of Don and Kim Wallace, the second-generation proprietors of Dry Creek Vineyard. This is an aromatic wine that’s reminiscent of sweet, perfumed flowers, leading to a weighty palate of tropical fruit flavors.
  • 2012 DCV Estate Block 10 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley — Pear and apple fruit flavors intermingle with heavier notes of butter toffee, caramel and custard. Chardonnay is another “second generation” varietal being embraced by the Wallaces, and the 2012 vintage exhibits great promise.
  • 2013 Heritage Vines Zinfandel, Sonoma County — There’s no heat at all in this pizza- and burger-friendly wine, which shows massive, briary black raspberry, lots of black pepper, and hints milk chocolate and Chinese five-spice. This is Dry Creek Vineyard’s flagship wine, and at $20, it remains one of the best values in California wine.
  • 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley — Five sites with grapevines averaging about 90 years in age contribute to this wine, which shows off white pepper and ample black raspberry, along with black plum, red currant, red raspberry and red cherry notes. Prefer your pork ribs with a North Carolina-style barbecue sauce? This is the wine to open up.
  • 2012 Somers Ranch Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley — Production in this vineyard is quite low, which concentrates the aromas and flavors in the grapes. The use of more new oak for aging also contributes to the heady aromatics, the big mouthfeel and the built-for-aging tannic bite. Expect dark fruit flavors, joined by black tar and licorice notes.
  • 2012 DCV7 Estate Zinfandel, Wallace Ranch, Dry Creek Valley — If the Somers Ranch Zin is big and inky, this is its food-friendly and demure cousin… if Zin can be described as demure. It shows lots of red cherry fruit, joined by an impression of green apple peel — something we’ve seen in numerous bottlings of Hartford Court Zins through the years.
  • 2012 Vogensen Ranch Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley — This wine is French in style, but not Bordeaux-like. Rather, it conjures Cotes du Rhone, with earth, pepper and mineral notes complementing the crushed blueberry fruit flavor. It’s a food-friendly wine that may prompt a hungry imbiber to inquire, “Where’s the beef?”
  • 2011 Spencer’s Hill Vineyard Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley — You can taste the winemaker’s hand in this bottling, no doubt a function of the challenging 2011 vintage. Rather than an abundance of fruit, it shows coffee, vanilla, chalk and bittersweet chocolate notes.
  • 2012 Spencer’s Hill Vineyard Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley — Same vineyard… different varietal… different vintage… and a world of difference. Black pepper, blueberry and blackberry impressions coat the palate, and the relatively soft mouthfeel makes this wine quite food friendly.

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It should be noted that Dry Creek Vineyard has something of a secret weapon in its pursuit of quality across the board: winemaker Tim Bell.

“Tim is big on walking and mapping vineyards — almost like a geography lesson,” Smart says. “He’s a big plant guy, and sometimes he drives our vineyard management company nuts. He’ll tell them, ‘I want these three rows picked… leave these three… then pick these next three.’

“Tim is very creative and artistic, but also an I’s dotted and T’s crossed kind of guy,” adds Smart. “And you need that kind of attention to detail when you’re working to take your wines to the next level.”

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Dry Creek Vineyard
3770 Lambert Bridge Rd.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Note: For archived formal reviews of Dry Creek Vineyard wines dating back to the 2007 vintage, click here.

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Will The Real Chianti Please Stand Up?

By Thomas Madrecki

Chianti is an old land, and this is an old post, taking literal months to think through a whirlwind tour of Tuscany — and to digest the full experience, food, wine and culture.


What is Chianti?

Well, there is a definition according to the region’s authorities themselves, which seems to offer up a strict set of guidelines. But as we will see, those guidelines can play out differently in different places. There is more than a “bit” of wiggle room, even in Chianti Classico. Chianti wine is first and foremost wine made in Chianti, and the authorities tell us that:

Other fundamentals and other requisites concern the ampelographical base—or the types of grapes that can be used in the preparation of the wine. The rules provide for a minimum ratio of 80% for Sangiovese, the typical red variety of the zone. Along with the Sangiovese, other red grapes of the area can be used in a maximum percentage of 20%. These grapes include natives like Canaiolo and Colorino as well as “international” varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, all recommended and/or authorized for the production zone. Among the principal sensory characteristics indicated by the production rules, there is the ruby red color that can become at times intense and profound, depending upon the wine’s origin. The odor offers floral notes of violets and irises combined with a typical character of red fruit. The flavor is harmonious, dry and sapid with a good level of tannin that fines in time, becoming soft and velvety. Other requisites requested include a minimum alcohol level of 12 degrees for young wines and 12.5 degrees for the Riserva.

A quick analysis of these guidelines gives us an initial picture of a lithe, drinkable, sanguine wine, originating from the native Sangiovese grape and perhaps a scattering of local field varietals. Flowers and raspberries dominate the palate, and at 12 percent alcohol, it’s quite sessionable.

That is Chianti… or is it?

A more pointed analysis would highlight that the guidelines only specify 80 percent Sangiovese, and that the authorities allow international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 20 percent of either varietal is enough to change the structure and personality of the wine into something much more forward. It’s more robust, perhaps showing oak and age-worthiness. And because the guidelines only specify a minimum alcohol… it can climb higher, into the 14-15 percent range sought by many consumers, especially those in America.

So which is the real Chianti?

Our mid-September trip to Castello di Gabbiano showed us a full range of Chianti wines, from acid-driven, chuggable table wine at Dario Cecchini’s steakhouse to serious reserve bottlings like the Castello’s “Belleza,” which earned the mark of “Gran Selezione.” The Gran Selezione is a new moniker created by the Chianti Classico authorities to designate the most prestigious wines in the region. A panel of winemakers and region experts grades submitted wines on taste and overall character, approving only the “best.” As a whole, the new practice is a clearly bold move to bolster Chianti’s claim as a region producing high quality wines … and to appease to an international export market that demands high-scoring, slightly bigger wines than the kinds of Chianti wines brought to U.S. shores years ago.

And oh, those wines. Straw-covered bottles and served alongside crockery thin-crust pizza, or Americanized Italian red-sauce dishes on checkered table cloths. They were nothing to write home about, and that’s part of the problem for many regions like Chianti that used to produce such inferior wine for export. On the one hand, some of traditional Chianti wine has always been a little lighter, more like good Beaujolais or Loire than ultra serious Napa or Bordeaux. And as in places like rural France, there has always been a culture of table wine or home-made wine, which wasn’t ever intended to compete in magazines for top awards. Moreover, the Chianti region historically viewed wine and food as nearly inseparable — both originate from the terroir of the region. The downside is that, at export, these lighter Chiantis earned a reputation for being second-rate, downgrading the region as a whole. New winemakers and large holding companies believe Chianti has the potential to be a world class region, and so they’ve taken it upon them to produce something different… more developed, bigger, riper. And as in many places around the world, this generation of winemakers and companies is doing so through the use of modern technology and winemaking techniques, to get the most from grapes while meeting international demands. It’s smart business!

But again, that brings us back to our original question… what is Chianti?

At the Castello, I tried several times to push winemaker Federico Cerelli on the question, urging him to elaborate on his vision and what motivates him to make the kind of wine that he does. I wanted to get at the soul of Chianti wine, at least from his perspective. He is a very smart, personable winemaker, and he clearly knows the kind of wine he wants — and needs — to produce, to achieve the results he and his employers want.

Parsing that last sentence out, Federico is, at his core, a modern winemaker. He is well-trained, and the latest releases from Castello di Gabbiano all have a level of quality derived from that training. Looking at the range of wines and Federico’s influence on the winemaking of Castello since coming on board and since the the property was purchased by the Australia-based Treasury Wine Estates, there is a progressional blending of New and Old World attributes as the wines increase in price. The reserve wines, including the Gran Selezione “Belleza,” have an enhanced mouthfeel and gravitas that exudes a certain richness, aging and “proper” correction. You know these are good, ripe, balanced wines. They are well-made and display a consistent value-quality proposition.

For this, Federico and the Castello team should be congratulated, for they accomplished the very rare feat of producing good wine at affordable prices, and secondly, producing good wine that many people will enjoy. One thing gives me pause, though, or at least raises the specter of the original question again — that the wine I enjoyed most at Castello wasn’t a reserve bottling, but the standard Chianti Classico, which is lower in alcohol and lighter overall. And, in discussing that fact with the Castello’s chef, Francesco Berardinelli, we seemed to be in general agreement that the cuisine of Chianti harkens back to these kinds of wines, although there is a clear time and place for more expressive, age-worthy bottlings.

So, what is Chianti? Is it a lighter, more local style? Is it something increasingly worldly and serious? Is it old-fashioned? Is it modern? Is it more natural? Is it more corrected/influenced?

Chianti, as it turns out, is all of these things. The beauty is that we, the consumer, can select a Chianti for every occasion.

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Aventine Restaurant: A Shining Star in the Valley of the Moon

By Glen and Mary Frederiksen

Coming to the North Coast wine country of California is transformational for us. As soon as we cross any of the bridges that lead us north of the San Francisco Bay, our bodies and minds relax, shedding the cares and worries that come with the workaday world to the south.

While the main attraction is the fabulous wine from any of the 2,000 or so wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties, our later, non-poverty-stricken years have found us increasingly driven to, and seeking out, the wonderful cuisine of the region.

We have dined at dozens of fine dining establishments in the cities of Napa, Rutherford, St. Helena, and Calistoga in the Napa Valley. On the Sonoma side, Healdsburg and Santa Rosa have likewise had their share of fine eateries.

One area that has, in the past, been a flyover zone for great cuisine (in our opinion) was the city of Sonoma and the nearby Valley of the Moon. Despite a beautiful central square, Sonoma was more about cafes and bistros than formal haute cuisine.

With the arrival of Aventine, located just outside of Sonoma at the gateway to the Valley of the Moon, all that has changed. The name of the restaurant is from one of the seven hills upon which Rome was founded. Located in a 175 year old building that once was a grist mill, this upscale Italian restaurant is overseen by Chef Adolfo Veronese. He began his culinary journey growing up in his father’s San Francisco restaurant, Osteria Romano. After formal training at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Veronese worked for a number of highly regarded establishments, including Drago, Valentino, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining, and TAO’s Lavo Restaurant and Nightclub in Las Vegas.

In 2009, Veronese returned to his home town of San Francisco (his grandfather was Mayor Joseph L. Alioto), and has pursued his uncompromising passion for authentic Italian, Mediterranean, and Californian food through the Aventine Hospitality group.

Aventine General Manager Fabiano Ramaci presides over the dining room, welcoming guests and seeing to their every need. As if his duties at the restaurant weren’t enough, Ramaci is an accomplished winemaker, owning Mora Estates Winery. He specializes in – what else? – Italian varietals.

"Hello, my name is Fabiano Ramaci. Prepare to dine."

“Hello, my name is Fabiano Ramaci. Prepare to dine.”

On the night of our visit, four of us enjoyed a sampling of signature dishes from the Aventine menu. The food was incredible! Below, Mary has written a summary of the dishes served, with descriptors and tasting notes.

Mary here. The dishes we were served were memorable and delicious. Here are a few notes about each dish.

Sometimes when I dine at an upscale restaurant where I know the Chef will be offering many dishes, I do not eat the bread course at the beginning of the meal. This night, it would have been a mistake. Please be aware that the bread served at Aventine is not to be “skipped”. It was soft, moist, flavorful and addicting – perfect for sopping up the sauces that accompanied several of the dishes. It was served with a Port Butter that was exceptionally tasty. If they sold this bread and butter in the restaurant lobby, I would have purchased a loaf and a pound of the butter to take home.

Margherita Pizza

Margherita Pizza

Our next course was the Margherita Pizza. The dish was classic mozzarella, tomato and basil with a perfect balance and freshness. This could be a meal by itself.



Gamberoni (jumbo shrimp) was our antipasti course. The prawns were wrapped in prosciutto and sautéed, with sage and a balsamic glaze. Firm but not overcooked, they were so fresh and tasty!

Lasagna al Forno

Lasagna al Forno

The Lasagna Al Forno (al forno means any dish that is baked in an oven) was expertly prepared with a combination of beef, veal, pork, ragu, creamy béchamel, mozzarella, parmigiano and, instead of nutmeg, Chef Veronese used cinnamon. A nice touch and a well-balanced dish.

Ravioli di Formaggio

Ravioli di Formaggio

A signature dish of Chef Adolfo Veronese followed and this was my favorite of the evening. This dish has made it to “My Last Meal on Earth” menu. The Raviolo Di Fromaggio contained peas, wild mushrooms, white wine sauce and shaved parmigiano. Black pepper accented the rich and yummy entrée of perfectly cooked raviolois. When I next return to Aventine, this will be my main course. Thank you, Chef!!



Branzino (sea bass) was the next course. This whole grilled European Striped Sea Bass, infused with rosemary and lemon, was so fresh it tasted like it had just been pulled from the sea. It was accompanied by roasted peewee potatoes, roasted vegetables, oregano and a wonderfully flavorful citrus vinaigrette. WOW!



Scottadito was next. In Italian, the word scottadito means “burned fingers.” This dish is so named because the lamb chops are so delicious that you can’t resist eating them sizzling hot, straight from the grill and burning your fingers. Chef used grilled Superior Farms lamb chops with sides of sautéed greens, fingerling potato chips and a balsamic mint reduction sauce. Mary “had a little lamb” and she was a very happy diner.

Lamb Shank

Lamb Shank

Lamb Shank with Lentils in an Amarone Sauce was a special dish that was not on the menu. Pork shank is the on-the-menu dish, but it had already sold out for the evening. It was beautifully presented and prepared, although some at the table felt the flavor a bit too strong.



For the vegetable course, called Contorni, the chef offered Funghi, a dish of sautéed seasonal mushrooms, roasted garlic and Italian parsley. The flavors “popped,” with a spicy impression on the palate. It was savory and delicious.

Caramel Budino

Caramel Budino

The final two dishes were desserts. Budino is defined as any type of soft, sweet dessert thickened — usually with flour — and baked, boiled or steamed. The one we were served contained chocolate-pecan crumble, salted caramel and soft whipped cream. It was delicious! I wanted to lick the bowl but, because four of us were sharing, I refrained. It was creamy, fresh and light, with a perfect sweet crunch from the crumble.

Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake

Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake

Finally, a warm flourless chocolate cake arrived. It, too, had salted caramel and was served with a vanilla gelato. Sadly, there were a few bites left in the dish but that was only because we had run out of room! I refrained from asking for a to-go box for the remaining dessert.

Compliments to Chef Veronese and all the staff who served us! It was a dining experience I will not soon forget.

14301 Arnold Drive
Glen Ellen, CA 95442
(707) 934-8912

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