A Warm Entrée for the Winter Weather

By Mary Frederiksen, AKA The Happy Cooker

(Editor’s note: This recipe was first published in the March 1999 issue of the High Desert Wine Explorers newsletter)

Lately all I see on the television newscasts are stories about the winter weather. It is winter but somehow the snowstorms and cold temperatures are news worthy. It is wonderful not to live in the inclement conditions in the north and the east. I did that when I lived in Ohio for the first 25 years of my life… That was quite enough for me. Once I found out there was better weather elsewhere, I was on the move.

If you are in an area where the weather is very frigid and stormy, this recipe may be just the thing to chase away the cold and gloom. It is a hearty dish and has that “stick to your ribs” quality that your parents told you about. Add a loaf of crusty bread and perhaps a salad to the meal and you will soon forget the storms and cold around you.



½ cup of walnuts, broken
1 cup of heavy cream
8 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
A pinch of nutmeg
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
12 ounces fresh (or 8 ounces dried) fettuccine, cooked and drained
Grated Parmesan cheese


Heat a small skillet over low heat. Stir in the walnuts. Toast gently until fragrant and lightly browned. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream until hot, but not boiling. Stir in the Gorgonzola until melted and the sauce is creamy. Add the nutmeg and the pepper.

Cook the fettuccine according to package directions and drain.

Toss the fettuccine with the sauce, sprinkle with toasted walnuts and serve with the grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Two Remarkable… But Distinct… Vintages from Wakefield Estate

With all of the advancements in technology — both in the vineyard and in the cellar — some are of the opinion that vintages don’t matter anymore.

But as our tasting of two recent vintages of Wakefield Estate’s “The Visionary” Cabernet Sauvignon reveal, that’s simply not true.

Both wines are exceptional, and built to age. But we found that the younger 2010 vintage actually is drinking better now than the year-older 2009 bottling. There are some similar characteristics, but a careful analysis reveals that these are two very different wines — different because of their vintages.

You can read our reviews of these two Aussie beauties HERE.
And to learn more about Wakefield Estate, read Glen Frederiksen’s blog here.

Holiday Wine, Part 2 – More Sparkling Wines

By Glen Frederiksen

What with the Holiday season upon us and all, it is a little hard to stay focused on the job at hand. Work commitments, shopping, family, friends, and celebratory parties all conspire to keep the diligent wine blogger from making his appointed rounds.

But nothing could keep me away from the December 20 wine luncheon at Marché Bacchus. Beside the insanely good food provided in the three course lunch, ten high-end sparkling wines and Champagnes were slated to be served. With great gastro-intestinal fortitude, the Happy Cooker and I forced ourselves to partake in the luncheon offerings.

From left, John Smith and Beth Williams of Wirtz Beverage join Your Humble Scribe

From left, John Smith and Beth Williams of Wirtz Beverage join Your Humble Scribe

Let’s dispense with a description of the dishes served. All were excellent, with plates piled high with tasty fare. One would be hard-pressed to consume all of the food at any of these wine lunches at Marché Bacchus, wine or no. The lunch itself is already a bargain; the wine is a delightful bonus. So on to the tasting notes!

Below are my on-the-fly scribblings as each one ounce pour was presented. It is a great cross-section of the world of sparkling wine – both Old World and New World, different countries, different styles, various grape varietals. In other words, something for everyone’s palate preferences. Since the tastes were poured in regular wine glasses, I was unable to evaluate the mousse and beads.

Angelo Reyes, Marche Bacchus Sommelier

Angelo Reyes, Marche Bacchus Sommelier

All are available for purchase at Marché Bacchus, either to dine in with or to take home for your own festivities.

2006 Duval-Leroy “Design Parts” by Leroy Neiman Brut, Champagne
Artist Leroy Neiman was a good friend of Carol Duval-Leroy and designed this bottle for the Cuvée Paris series. The initial impression is of toast and lees in the nose. There is crisp acidity on first sip, then it turns creamy with a caramel kiss. Some baked apple, and a strange herbal note.
Marché Bacchus price: $32.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

NV Poema Cava Brut Rosé, Cataluña, Spain
In today’s marketplace, the wines of Spain represent good value. This is a delightful sparkling wine made from the rare red grape Trepat. Aromas and flavors of plump red berries and rose hips are held in check by a crisp acidity, followed by a noticeable crystal minerality from the limestone soils the grapes are grown in. A Wine Lines Value Vino.
Marché Bacchus price: $15.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

NV Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige, Italy
A pretty sparkler from Chardonnay grapes that delivers ample baked apple, nuts, and caramel notes, with a final whiff of honey. Lively on the palate, with a lingering finish.
Marché Bacchus price: $35.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

NV Domaine Carneros Brut, California
A lovely estate property in the Carneros region of California’s North Coast, it is owned by the prestigious Champagne house Taittinger. A refined style, with moderate aromas and flavors of white flowers, apple, citrus, toast and vanilla. It has a crisp entry to the palate, then rounds out to a creamy finish. New World fruit with Old World refinement.
Marché Bacchus price: $31.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2011 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut, California
Ample bright citrus, crisp pear, and white flowers. Initial juicy entry turns creamy. A clean and refreshing style of bubbly.
Marché Bacchus price: $35.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

NV Ayala “Brut Majeur” Rosé, Champagne
A beautiful salmon color. The aromas and flavors are delicate and feminine for a rosé, with wisps of almond, cherry, and white raspberry. Well knit and oh-so-drinkable.
Marché Bacchus price: $55.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

NV Pierre Péters “Cuvée de Réserve” Blanc de Blancs Brut, Champagne
A classic Champagne nose – in all of the good ways. Toast, lees, bread, nuts and red apple aromas and flavors show good complexity. Perfectly knit together, with a persistent finish. This was a new producer for me, but I will be on the lookout for it in the future.
Marché Bacchus price: $73.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 93

NV Vilmart & Cie “Cuvée Rubis” Brut Rosé, Champagne
More than most Champagnes, this Rosé communicates a sense of terroir. A blend of 90% Pinot noir and 10% Chardonnay grapes that receive wood aging prior to transforming into bubbly. Lots of ripe apple, cherry, raspberry, and a ghostly whiff of honey waft in and out of the glass. Juicy on the palate, with a long afterflavor. Power and refinement in a glass.
Marché Bacchus price: $95.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 93

NV Varnier-Fanniére “Cuvée Saint Denis” Blanc de Blancs, Champagne
It has a seductive nose of rich baked brioche, almonds, citrus, and candied apple. The initial mouthfeel is steely, then the ample acidity gets the juices flowing. It has an amazingly clean finish. Purity of expression makes this stand out from the crowd.
Marché Bacchus price: $85.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

NV Marenco “Pineto” Brachetto d’Acqui, Italy
What a pleasant surprise! Imagine Asti Spumante, but made with red grapes and without the cloying, candied viscosity. Ta da! That is Brachetto d’Acqui. Neon coral color. Can roses be honeyed? One whiff will have you convinced. Add in some red berries and notes of geranium. Throw in a creamy mouthfeel. What do you have? The perfect celebratory sparkler for your next Big Event. I will definitely be opening one this New Year’s Eve.
March´´Bacchus price: $26.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 94

Marché Bacchus is located at:

2620 Regatta Drive, Suite #106

Las Vegas, NV 89128

(702) 804-8008

To make reservations for coming events, get on their email list, peruse their menu, or otherwise contact Marché Bacchus, click on the link below:

Uniquely Austrian: A Heurigen Hike

The Grinzing neighborhood of Vienna is the home of the heuriger — a unique version of a winery tasting room.

The Grinzing neighborhood of Vienna is the home of the heuriger — a unique version of a winery tasting room.

By Bob Johnson

I have a feeling I would have liked Austrian Emperor Joseph II. Among the numerous reforms he enacted, he ended censorship of the press — something a lifelong journalist like myself certainly respects and appreciates. And for wine lovers, August 17, 1784 was a big day. That’s when Joseph issued a decree that permitted all residents to open establishments for selling and serving wine.

Although the laws have changed considerably over the decades, that legacy can be experienced in the Grinzing neighborhood of Vienna, which is home to a uniquely Austrian enterprise known as the heuriger.

Grinzing is easily accessible from downtown Vienna, using the city’s Underground and Tram systems. My fiancée, Michelle, and I were fortunate to have a local tour guide provide us with a detailed set of directions that made the trip a snap (keep this blog in mind in case you decide to go):

  • Board Underground Route 4 (U4) in the direction of Heiligenstadt
  • Exit on the fourth stop: Spittelau
  • Transfer to Underground Route 6 (U6) in the direction of Sievenhirten
  • Exit on the first stop: Nussdorfer Strasse
  • At street level, walk to the stop for Tram 38 in the direction of Grinzing
  • Exit at the tram’s final stop…

…which puts you right in the middle of the neighborhood, with heurigen in every direction. We stopped at two, each of which offered flights of their wines featuring very generous pours.

Check out the size of those pours — a good reason to take public transportation to Grinzing.

Check out the size of those pours — a good reason to take public transportation to Grinzing.

At the first stop, Zum Martin Sepp, I decided to simply soak in the atmosphere. We were given printed placemats complete with in-English descriptions of the five wines we’d be tasting — Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Zweigelt and Pinot Noir. This heuriger had a buffet stocked with hot and cold items, and the place was packed with locals partaking of the various dishes.

From there, we walked down the street to Wein Gartnerei Uhler, where the flight consisted of six wines, accompanied by tasty bread that reminded us of a light pumpernickel. This time, I decided to take notes…

  • 2013 Zweigelt “Monia” Rosé — Bright and refreshing, with notes of strawberry, rhubarb and banana. Would be perfect with pulled pork.
  • 2013 Gruner Veltliner — Apple, baking spice and white pepper notes. Clean and crisp.
  • 2013 Wiener Gemischter Satz — A blend of four varieties, showing apple, pear, peach and brown sugar. Nicely balanced, fruit-sweet and easy drinking.
  • 2013 Riesling — A white flower aroma leads to flavors of apricot, peach and melon, with a kiss of sweetness and a lingering finish.
  • 2013 Gruner Veltliner “Der Jubilar” Reserve — “Bigger” than the “regular” bottling, with luscious fruit impressions of papaya, grapefruit and apricot, framed by caramel and butterscotch notes. Lip-smacking good.
  • 2012 Cuvee Rot “Quartettensatz”— This four-variety blend has a dark purple hue, and offers impressions of lavender, blueberry, boysenberry, mint, bubblegum, vanilla, red cherry and crème brulee. Rich, smooth and delicious.

All six wines in this flight were well made, nicely balanced and exhibited no flaws. Unlike the out-of-balance, high-alcohol, in-your-face wines favored by some vintners, Uhler cuvees are extremely food friendly.

It would be easy to spend a full weekend visiting the heurigen of Grinzing — heaven on Earth for a wine lover.

All of the Uhler wines are well made, beautifully balanced and extremely food friendly.

All of the Uhler wines are well made, beautifully balanced and extremely food friendly.

Creative Uses for Those Used Corks

By Bob Johnson

If you’re like me, you save the corks that you pull out of wine bottles. In my case, I fill baskets with them and place the baskets around the house.

But if you have some artistic talent, you can put those corks to even better use — either for your own pleasure, or for creative gifts.

Pictured here are two ideas from our recent trip through the winelands of Austria.





Marché Bacchus Wine Lunches, Year 2

By Glen Frederiksen

Last winter, there were a series of wine lunches presented at Marché Bacchus restaurant in Las Vegas. They were great fun, and a stone bargain besides. With the coming of spring, they disappeared. I wondered if they would come back as the weather cooled, and if they would be as good as before.

Guess what? They are back, and better in every way!

Let’s start with the food. Marché Bacchus is renowned for being the best French Bistro food in Las Vegas not on the Strip. Add to that the wine shop in the front that stocks some of the best, hard-to-find labels on the planet, and you have a combo that is hard to beat. And yet, over the past year, Marche Bacchus has done just that – gotten better.

Jose Aleman, Executive Chef

Jose Aleman, Executive Chef

A big part of the reason is Executive Chef Jose Aleman. He crafted the menu for the luncheon event, and the meal was outstanding. There were two choices for each of the three courses. I will list the ones I had for lunch – others at the table had the remaining dishes, to similar rave reviews.

Cream of Celery Soup

Cream of Celery Soup

My first course was a Cream of Celery Soup. Light and almost mousse-like in texture, it was an outstanding match with the first three wines we tasted. I showed no couth, lapping up the last of the soup with a hunk of the bread provided.

Coq Au Vin

Coq Au Vin

My main entrée was Coq Au Vin. This classic French bistro dish takes chicken and braises it in red wine, bacon, pearl onions, mushrooms, and fingerling potatoes. The two California Pinot Noirs tasted were a perfect match. More bread was ordered so I could sop up the reduced wine sauce left in the bowl.

Apple Strudel

Apple Strudel

For dessert, I ordered the Apple Strudel with Vanilla Gelato. This was an Americanized version, much sweeter than the Strudel I used to have when I lived in Germany. Think of it more like Mom’s homemade apple pie. That said, it was delicious.

A baker’s dozen wines were presented by John Smith, veteran wine educator and representative of Wirtz Beverage Company. The quality of these wines across the board was outstanding. The notes that follow are my on-the-fly impressions. The prices given are what they retail for at Marché Bacchus.

2012 Domaine Laroche Chablis “St. Martin,” Burgundy, France
Lightly perfumed, with honeyed lemon-lime aromas and flavors. In the mouth, there is minerality and a juicy acidity. Very clean.
Marché Bacchus price: $23.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

2011 Pierre Sparr Gewürztraminer, Alsace, France
Lush and opulent, with rosewater, white flowers, lychee, green apricot, and a hint of geranium. Impressive quality for this pricepoint.
Marché Bacchus price: $19.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2013 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé, Burgundy, France
In contrast to the Chablis above, this Chardonnay has riper, honeyed stone fruits. It shows a medium weight on the palate, good acid balance, and a clean finish.
Marché Bacchus price: $29.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 88

2010 Schloss Schonborn Estate Riesling, Germany
Pretty honey-kissed apple with pine needle notes. There is a nice round, sweet impression in the mouth, kept balanced by ample acidity.
Marché Bacchus price: $19.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

2011 A. J. Adam Riesling Spatlese, Dhron Hofberg, Germany
While classified as a Spatlese, the sweetness level of this wine is more in line with an Auslese. Quite decadent, initial pine needle scents lead to honeyed tropical fruit and apricot. In the mouth, the overtly sweet fruit is nicely counterbalanced by young, prickly acidity. This wine will drink well for a decade and more.
Marché Bacchus price: $54.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2013 Rueling Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
No expense spared here… A high quality Pinot Noir vineyard planted to cuttings from DRC La Tache and DRC La Romanée-Conti was used to fashion this delicate rosé. Moderate aromas and flavors of strawberry, passion fruit, and rose petals are found in this sleek, clean rosé. It is light on its feet, more Old World in style than New World. Enjoy this as a welcome wine.
Marché Bacchus price: $19.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

2012 WHOA Farm Pinot Noir, Crane Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
Perfumed aromatics of red cherry, beet root, and anise, with subtle notes of oak. Sleek in the mouth, with flavors of red berries and orange peel.
Marché Bacchus price: $55 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2012 Melville Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills
Layered, complex, and exquisitely balanced, this smooth red delivers orange, black raspberry, dark flowers, black tea, sandalwood, and fennel seed. The best estate Pinot Noir from Melville I have tasted.
Marché Bacchus price: $42.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2011 Chateau des Jacques Moulin-A-Vent, Burgundy, France
Full of berries and fleshy cherry. Many shy away from young Cru Beaujolais as they can be tannic and earthy, if not downright gritty. Such is not the case here. These wines can age gracefully for 10 to 20+ years. Good value.
Marché Bacchus price: $27.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2010 Buglioni “Il Bugliardo,” Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Ripasso, Italy
Deeply perfumed with a concentration of fleshy black fruits (plum, currant, and cherry). A rich style of red well-suited for meat roasts or mature cheeses.
Marché Bacchus price: $39.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2011 Clau de Nell Cabernet Franc de Anjou, France
Opaque purple/black color. This dense red has an iron-tinged minerality that leads to leather notes and black fruit. Full and chewy in the mouth, with drying tannins at the back. This one could use a decade of cellaring.
Marché Bacchus price: $47.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

N/V Caposaldo Sweet Sparkling Moscato, Italy
There is a chalky edge to this sweet bubbly, showing aromas and flavors of rose geranium, honeyed stone fruits, and sweet lime.
Marché Bacchus price: $15.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2003 Clarendelle Amberwine, Bordeaux, France
From Chateau Haut-Brion comes this new mid-priced line of wines, Clarendelle. This one, Amberwine, looks like and drinks like a Sauterne – but without the stiff pricetag. Typical aromas and flavors of marmalade, honey, and dried apricots make this a pleasant and affordable substitute for its more expensive big brothers.
Marché Bacchus price: $25.99/500 ml. (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

At a nickel under $38, the wine luncheons at Marché Bacchus are a steal. The wine pours are just tastes, but the three courses are full servings. You will not go away hungry.

Marché Bacchus is located at:

2620 Regatta Drive, Suite #106
Las Vegas, NV 89128
(702) 804-8008
To make reservations for coming events, get on their email list, peruse their menu, or otherwise contact Marché Bacchus, click on the link below:

Old Friends: Sonoma-Cutrer and Winemaker Mick Schroeter

By Glen Frederiksen

For thirty years, I have followed my wine muse. She has taken me to wine education classes, to wineries all over the world, to numerous wine clubs and tasting groups, to dozens of wine dinners, and many wine tasting events.

I began my own wine education group and held monthly tasting seminars. I organized wine dinners, led tours to the wine country, published a monthly wine newsletter, became a wine judge, and was director of an international wine competition.

Those thirty years have left me with many memories, nearly all of them good. Unlike most industries, the wine community is one rife with sharing and camaraderie. I have belonged to many special interest groups over the years, and the world of wine is uniquely friendly and positive. Maybe it is because all wineries share the same struggle with Mother Nature to bring in the harvest each year. Perhaps it is the free flow of information that occurs because winery personnel move around so often.

Or maybe drinking wine on a regular basis just makes everyone happy and mellow.

An email from my favorite Las Vegas wine shop/restaurant, Marche Bacchus, indicated that they would have a free tasting event on Tuesday, November 11. The featured winery was Sonoma-Cutrer and would be attended by winemaker Mick Schroeter.

Sonoma-Cutrer and Mick Schroeter. Two old friends.

The Sonoma-Cutrer Winery should be familiar to any casual wine drinker, diner, or bon vivant. For the past 25 years, the Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Chardonnay has been declared the most ordered Chardonnay in fine restaurants across the USA. I first tasted their wines in the late 1980s, and loved their clean, fruity, spicy take on the Chardonnay grape.

Sonoma-Cutrer Winery was established in 1973 in the heart of the Russian River Valley, bringing its initial vintage of Chardonnay to the marketplace in 1981. True to the terroir of the Russian River Valley where the estate resides, Sonoma-Cutrer specializes in only two varietals – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Helping to maintain its trademark expression of these two Burgundian varietals, the winery has employed only three winemakers over the more than three decades of vintages. The first was William Bonetti. Second was Terry Adams. And, beginning in 2010, Michael ‘Mick’ Schroeter took over the reins.

I’ve known Mick for some 15 years now. We first met when he was working at Geyser Peak Winery with Daryl Groom. These two Aussie transplants had originally worked together in the Barossa Valley at Penfolds Winery. When Groom came to California to take over the winemaking operation at Geyser Peak, Schroeter followed shortly thereafter. They took a winery better known for everyday table wine and crafted a brand that produced dozens of different bottlings, from everyday “fighting varietals” to reserve level reds and whites that could hold their own with the best in the state. Their everyday Sauvignon Blanc, all stainless steel fermented and on the shelf just months after harvest, became an industry standard for the varietal, garnering gold medals and Best of Class awards in nearly every vintage.

Interestingly, neither Penfolds in Australia nor Geyser Peak in the Alexander Valley of California produced a Pinot Noir, and their Chardonnays were solid but not exceptional. I asked Schroeter why he took on the role of winemaker at Sonoma-Cutrer Winery, a Burgundian varietal specialist. The best sense I could make of his response was the desire for a new challenge at an established, world-renowned facility. It was this wanderlust, the desire to “do it all” in the wine world, that had brought Schroeter to California in the first place, after making wine in Australia and Chile.

From the wines I tasted at Marche Bacchus that evening, Schroeter is doing a magnificent job overseeing the winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer. The current releases are among the best I have tasted from the winery. And the 2012 Founder’s Chardonnay, only the second such designated bottling from the winery, is the best Chardonnay I have had this year.

After years of not being open to the public, Sonoma-Cutrer now welcomes visitors to the estate property for tastings and tours. For more information, check out their website, drop them an email, or give them a call.

Sonoma-Cutrer Winery
4401 Slusser Road
Windsor, CA 95492
(707) 237-3489

Below, please find my on-the fly assessment notes of the Sonoma-Cutrer wines tasted at Marche Bacchus, with winery pricing:

2013 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
This is their flagship wine, found only in fine restaurants and at the winery. This vintage is bursting with honeyed, spiced, apple fruit that screams Russian River Valley. An opulent style of Chardonnay, but with impeccable balance. This is one of the best RRV bottlings ever produced by the winery.
MSRP: $28 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2011 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
True to its name, wet stone minerality interplays with perfumed white flowers, notes of honey, toasted nuts, baking spices, apple fruit, and citrus notes. Complex and well-knit. This should gain complexity and drink well over the next decade. The 2011 harvest in the North Coast was a difficult one, but you wouldn’t know it from this bottling. Superb!
MSRP: $42 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Founder’s Chardonnay
Only the second rendition of this bottling, a selection blended from the best five barrels of the vintage. Enticing aromas of exotic flowers, hazelnut, lemon chiffon, light apple, stone fruit, and crème brulee. This is decidedly feminine and seductive – not your typical California oak-and-fruit monster. Exquisite.
MSRP: $65 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 94+

2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Wood notes of cinnamon spice frame a potpourri of red and black fruits (strawberry, raspberry, and black cherry). Notes of orange rind. In the mouth, it is sleek and supple, with flavors mirroring the nose. There is a moderate, youthful, tannic grip at the back. This is a great wine to enjoy now, but it will continue to provide pleasure over the next six to eight years.
MSRP: $34 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

More fun! Following the tasting at Marche Bacchus, Mick and the winery reps put on a special tasting for the Sommeliers of Las Vegas at Ferraro’s restaurant just off the Strip. I was allowed to tag along. It was a vertical tasting of the iconic Les Pierres Vineyard Chardonnay, noted for its Burgundian style and longevity. The vineyard, which derives its name from its rocky soil reminiscent of Burgundy, is located just outside the town of Sonoma. Here are my impressions:

2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
Crisp minerality. Lightly perfumed, showing white flowers and apple fruit with a whiff of smoky oak. Notes of roasted nuts. Hint of herbs. Unevolved, but showing great promise for the future. Mouth filling, with a long finish.
Wine Lines rating: 92

2009 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
Ample fruit punctuated by nuts, wet stones, and clarified butter. It is medium-full in the mouth, with a long, lip-smacking finish.
Wine Lines rating: 91

2004 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
At first whiff, a note of petroleum, which gave way to butter-kissed lemon curd fruit and distinct minerality. The nose is piquant, but it is silky smooth in the mouth.
Wine Lines rating: 89

1999 Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
Wow! Perfumed, with pretty clove woodspice and apple fruit. Still seems young and vibrant, with a perfectly smooth feel in the mouth. Beautiful and compelling, with a long life ahead.
Wine Lines rating: 93

Holiday Wines, Part 1: Sparkling Wines

By Glen Frederiksen

The 2014 harvest is now complete in California, and all indications are that it will be a successful one, landing somewhere between the brash fruitiness of the 2012 vintage and last year’s more structured wines.

The months of November and December are a traditionally celebratory period in Northern hemisphere cultures, a time to give thanks for the bountiful harvest just brought in, reminisce about the old year coming to an end, and to cheer in the new year.

The colder temperatures bring about a change in the wines that find their way to the dinner table. The rosés and lighter, sweeter white wines give way to dry whites and full-bodied reds.

One style of wine that remains constant the year ‘round is sparkling wine. Whether it hails from the Champagne region of northern France or from the cooler micro-climates of the United States, Italy, Spain, or Australia, a good sparkling wine goes with any season of the year, all kinds of weather, and most anything that is on the menu.

Sadly, because traditional Méthode Champenoise bubbly was expensive to produce, many saw it (and still see it) as a celebratory wine only, something to bring out during the Holidays and special life events.

The truth is, good sparkling wine is available for the same price as a typical, everyday bottle of table red or white. Try a Prosecco from Italy, a Cava from Spain, or any number of West Coast producers in the $8 to $15 range, and you will be amazed.

While decent Champagne from France starts at around $40 a bottle (and can go up to $300 a bottle and more), quality sparklers from other parts of the wine producing world start at around $25 and rarely see a price tag north of $100.

As it turns out, our youngest generation, the Millennials, has discovered the quality and reasonable prices of sparkling wine. A recent poll showed that 61% of Millennials considered themselves to be frequent drinkers of bubbly, compared to 36% of Gen Xers and only 22% of Baby Boomers.

As an aging Baby Boomer myself, I can attest to the tendency to save sparkling wine for the Holidays and special events. But as the quality has improved (and prices have stayed reasonable), I find myself buying it more, whether dining out or just enjoying a glass (or three) at home with my wife, The Happy Cooker.

Over the past few years, Wine Lines Online has reviewed dozens of sparkling wines perfect for your next special occasion, Holiday celebration, or everyday pleasure. They can be accessed here:

MacPhail Tales: Chasing the Muse of of Terroir and Noir

By Glen Frederiksen

In the world of wine, Pinot Noir has a reputation as a fickle grape, capable of sublime complexity and, conversely, sour, vegetal displeasure. The road to Pinot Noir perfection is fraught with missteps and pitfalls, enough to drive a winemaker over the edge. Just a generation ago, the red Burgundies of France and the Pinot Noirs of the New World were hit and miss, more often than not a glass of V-8 or stewed fruit. Yet, even with this spotty record, the best Pinot Noir bottlings, like those from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy, are the most sought-after wines in the world and command the highest prices.

Among the many reasons for this is the sublime drinkability of well-made Pinot Noir. By itself, it can be a seductive pleasure. At the dinner table, it matches with a wide array of foods. Perhaps the only other wine that shows such affinity to food is Champagne – which is often produced from Pinot Noir, or a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. And, like the world’s greatest wines, top-shelf Pinot Noir can age gracefully for decades. I have enjoyed superb 20 year old Pinots from Oregon and California, even older ones from Burgundy, and Champagnes with over two decades aging.

What would drive a winemaker to make it his life’s pursuit to produce Pinot Noir?

James MacPhail, owner, winemaker, and Pinot Noir lover

James MacPhail, owner, winemaker, and Pinot Noir lover

We took this question, and others, to James MacPhail. A winemaker with two decades experience, MacPhail produced more than a dozen different bottlings of Pinot Noir in the 2012 vintage. Most were single vineyard designates from the most acclaimed Pinot Noir growers in California and Oregon.

Wine Lines Online: At this point in time, your MacPhail Family Wines is undoubtedly the most prolific crafter of single vineyard designated Pinot Noir in the United States. Why so much passion for the Pinot Noir grape?
James MacPhail: I would say the intrigue and pure fascination with all aspects of her. It is the variety that resonates the most with me, in both pure enjoyment to drink, yet also with all the challenges she poses in the vineyard and the cellar. I am a winemaker with the belief that you can not ‘perfect’ winemaking in your lifetime, that it is a product that takes generations to figure out vineyards versus style versus matching coopers, etc. So I chose to focus on one variety and do it as well as I could in my lifetime. There are enough challenges among all aspects to keep this cutting edge and interesting for a lifetime. Why try to do too much – or too many varietals? My focus is on the highest quality, not quantity. You just can’t get bored with Pinot.

Wine Lines Online: What is your understanding of terroir? Can you describe some of the unique characteristics of some of the vineyards from which you source grapes?
James MacPhail: I am a true believer in terroir. Especially with Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a very transparent variety. She will show her flavor differences between (pick any) two premier appellations. You can’t really say that with Syrah, or Zinfandel, or another red grape. It shows the most with Pinot Noir. Just like Burgundy, where a Grand Cru status can be determined by just one row within the vineyard, the same goes for our Pinot Noir territories. One vineyard growing the same clones as the one across the street or next door, will be completely different. Soil and climate play such a big role, which is why there are only a handful of cool-climate, maritime influenced appellations in CA and OR where Pinot Noir can excel. For example, Pennyroyale from Toulouse (Anderson Valley), the distinct dried rose petal from Pratt (Sonoma Coast), or the volcanic soil influence in our Sangiacomo (Sonoma Coast).

Checking the barrels

Checking the barrels

Wine Lines Online: In 2012, you produced a dozen or more different bottles of Pinot Noir, from vineyard sites all over California and even up in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Do you have any plans to source from other areas?
James MacPhail: Not at this time. With the amount of vineyard acquisitions happening, we think it is best to hunker down and focus on the great vineyard sources locally that we have been historically working with over the years – and slowly grow from within those. I would love to go back up to Oregon, but right now, with 18 premier vineyard sources, there’s enough on my plate.

Wine Lines Online: OK, we all have our epiphany wine… What was yours?
Jame MacPhail: Actually, I do not have an epiphany wine. Wine in general, yes, that was my epiphany. I grew up with wine on the table, my mother and father enjoyed it as the Europeans do, as another “food” with dinner. From early childhood, I remember my father allowing me and my sister to have a sip of his wine on special occasions. I was always fascinated – from the history of wine, to how you can craft such an enjoyable product “from the earth.” So when I started drinking, it was always wine, when my peers were drinking beer or cocktails. It just resonated with me like nothing else did.

Wine Lines Online: Thank you, James, for your time and thoughtful answers.

For more information, check out the MacPhail Family Wines website:

MacPhail Family Wines now has a tasting room in Sebastopol where the public is invited to try the latest releases:
MacPhail Tasting Lounge
6761 McKinley Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 824-8400

Here are our reviews of the current releases from MacPhail Family Wines. All bottlings are unfined and unfiltered. Keep in mind – these are young Pinot Noirs. If you serve them now, give them an hour or two of aeration. Also, these wines will go quickly – most are produced with less than 100 cases total:

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Chardonnay, Gap’s Crown, Sonoma Coast
In the glass, it shimmers a brilliant golden hue. Enticing aromas of smoky oak, buttered toast, lemon curd, granny smith apple, and pear lead to similar flavors in the mouth. The wine has viscosity, coating the palate. Even after the last sip and swallow, the warm buttered fruit lingers a full 30 seconds or more. Winemaker MacPhail describes the wine as having an Old School touch. We at Wine Lines Online would take that a bit further, and say it is reminiscent of older classic white Burgundies.
MSRP: $45 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast
Essentially, this is the same wine as the Gap’s Crown Chardonnay, but with little oak treatment. 91% was stainless steel fermented, while 9% was fermented in neutral oak barrels to add a touch of roundness. It is a brilliant medium straw color. The nose delivers intense impressions of ripe pear, sun-drenched apples, citrus, and fleshy tropical fruit, followed by smoked butter and gunflint minerality. The fruit plumps out on the palate, showing a mouth-coating viscosity rarely seen in unoaked Chardonnay. So often, “naked” Chardonnays are acid bombs but here, all is in harmony. A sublime food pairing would be breast of chicken, whether in a cream sauce, grilled with a lemon glaze, or slathered with a spiced apple compote.
MSRP: $40 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Wildcat, Sonoma Coast
In the glass, the translucent dark coral color picks up brick shades at the rim. Notes of cinnamon spice and cedar frame the floral red fruits – strawberry, red raspberry,and cherry. It is soft and velvety smooth in the mouth; youthful and seductive. The afterflavor evokes palate memories of cherries jubilee. This red is a delight to sip on its own, but would be a welcome addition to the Holiday dinner table.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Gap’s Crown, Sonoma Coast
Translucent medium ruby color. Initial whiffs of menthol, mint, and cinnamon lead to tightly wound sharp and sweet red berry fruit. With time, a note of rose petal makes an appearance. This young Pinot Noir is a demure debutante – only with hours in the glass (or additional years in the cellar) will she unfold to show all of her charms. It cries out to be paired with darker game fowl meats (even the turkey leg at Thanksgiving will do).
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90+

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
In the glass, a nearly opaque deep red/violet hue. Sourced from the Eola-Amity Hills in central Willamette Valley in Oregon, this wine displays the differences between Oregon and California Pinot Noir. It is lighter in alcohol, more floral. The first whiff from the glass shows perfumed lavender, dark flowers, and dried black tea leaves. A tightly wound wine, scents of delicate red fruits pop through now and again. In the mouth, the tannic grip is prominent, especially since the fruit is shy to display itself. Will a few years in the cellar help this wine to blossom? That is the question.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 88

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Rita’s Crown, Santa Rita Hills
The Santa Rita Hills, some 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, are known for bold, fruit-forward Pinot Noirs. This one is no exception. It sports a deep purple color that is nearly opaque. Forward aromas of cigar box, menthol, and jammy strawberry and black raspberry fruit burst from the glass, seducing the nose with its voluptuousness. This promise is kept with the first sip, as pretty, cinnamon-laced, sweet, fleshy fruit expand and coat the palate. Some prominent grip towards the back speaks to this red’s youth. The big structure lends itself to heartier fare. Winemaker MacPhail recommends pairing it with a grilled flank steak… Sounds good to us!
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Sundawg Ridge, Green Valley
Green Valley is a sub-appellation in the southern part of the Russian River Valley. In the glass, the wine is a translucent, dark ruby color. Pungent aromas of earth, clove, menthol, and sweet/tart dark cherry and red berry fruit promise a complex wine with a hint of mystery. There is a real sense of place – terroir, if you will – upon taking the first smooth sip. Rich loam impressions mingle with the plump sweet-tart fruits in the mouth, evoking thoughts of a serene, bucolic setting. Pack up a basket full of barbecued chicken and sides and go enjoy a bottle while picnicking on a hillock just above some vines. Perfect!
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Translucent ruby color. The inviting nose offers up ample red berry and cherry fruit, nicely framed by wood notes of cedar, cinnamon/clove, and licorice. In the mouth, there is an initial burst of spiced red fruit, followed by a youthful, tannic grip. Nine clones of Pinot Noir and nine vineyards in the Sonoma Coast were sources to produce this blend. It ably shows off the profile of the area, despite the many micro-climates in the Sonoma Coast appellation. Enjoy this bottling in its fruit-forward youth.
MSRP: $40 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Dutton Ranch, Green Valley
Green Valley is a sub-appellation within the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. The Pinot Noir bottlings from this region are known for their lush, layered complexity. This is a fine example. In the glass, it has a deep, nearly opaque ruby/purple hue. Rising to the nose, aromas of wood spice nicely frame the basketful of fresh black fruits, including blackberry, black cherry, and black plum. On the palate, it is at once, fleshy and voluptuous, delivering oodles of ripe fruit. With additional aeration, the wine picks up floral notes and a hint of Christmas spices. For those who enjoy the fruit-laden style of Pinot Noir from California, this is a pure pleasure.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Pratt Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
Translucent garnet color. The first impression in the nose is of sharp red cherry, followed by rose petal, subtle clove and cinnamon spice, and crushed herbs. Then it surprises at first sip – there is fat, sweet fruit but also a delicate, feminine sleekness. With two hours of aeration, it fleshes out to a beguiling aroma and flavor of cherry pie filling, framed by scents of French oak. When pairing this with food, keep it pure and simple, such as Chinese barbecued pork or braised duck breast.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 93

2012 MacPhail Family Wines 2012 Pinot Noir, Wightman House, Anderson Valley
In the glass, the dark translucent garnet color hints at the depth of this wine. Prominent aromas of cedar and menthol give way to jammy red berry and cherry fruit. This follows through in the mouth, before leading to medium-grained, earthy tannins at the end. This red is big enough to pair with orange glazed salmon or even duck in a hoisin sauce. Cellar for a few years to bring the elements all together.
MSRP: $55 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Vagon Rouge, Russian River Valley
In the glass, a brilliant translucent ruby color. The nose is instantly seductive, full of rose petal perfume, notes of pencil shavings and, finally, red cherry and strawberry pie filling. Intense and sweet, the spice-tinged fruit cloaks the palate with a velvety hedonism only seen in a handful of the finest Pinot Noirs produced in California. Rightfully proud, winemaker MacPhail calls this “one for the ages.” We could not agree more. Right now, this young red whispers about greater things yet to come over the next decade and beyond.
MSRP: $65 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 95

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo, Sonoma Coast
Translucent ruby hue, lightening at the rim. From one of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in the Sonoma Coast, this beauty offers up classic varietal aromas and flavors. Lightly spicy French oak frames a mélange of sensory delights, including earthy dark berry, sweet red cherry, orange peel, white pepper, a hint of lavender, and clove/menthol. In the mouth, there is a distinctive earthiness from the Pommard clone in the blend, which parries back and forth with the sweet, spicy, red fruit. For those who like and remember the first great Pinot Noirs that came out of the Sonoma Coast, this is a pleasant sip down palate memory lane.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Toulouse Vineyard, Anderson Valley
Nearly transparent light garnet color. The perfumed, spice-driven nose shows delicate red fruits, clove, and notes of smoked herbs. It is distinctly silky and feminine upon first entry in the mouth, picking up a note of caramel before ending with a youthful tannic grip. The profile id more Burgundian than California, reminiscent of early 1980s bottlings from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Beware – this wine will seduce you with every sniff and sip.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Anderson Creek, Anderson Valley
Translucent ruby hue, lightening at the rim. In the nose, there is a pungent tartness to the forward cherry and red berry fruit, followed by vanilla and clove/cinnamon woodspice and, finally, fresh earth. There is a varietal silkiness in the mouth, followed by fine-grained tannins in the back. Cellaring this wine may turn this gangly youngster into a beauty. Want to enjoy it now? Give it a few hours aeration to soften the sharp edges.
MSRP: $49 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, “The Flyer,” Green Valley in the Russian River Valley
Translucent ruby hue. Initial wood scents of uplifted clove and white pepper lead to jammy red berries, fleshy cherry, and plum. A wisp of charred oak wafts in and out. This is a real mouthful of red – silky, voluptuous, and seductive. Of all the bottlings produced by MacPhail in the 2012 vintage, this one is the most harmonious and ready to enjoy from the first pop of the cork. It will be hard to keep this one in your cellar to see what additional layers of aroma and flavor evolve over the next six to eight years.
MSRP: $59 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 94

The First Vintage of MacPhail Family Vineyards Mardikian Estate Pinot Noir

The First Vintage of MacPhail Family Vineyards Mardikian Estate Pinot Noir

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Pinot Noir, Mardikian Estate, Sonoma Coast
This is the premier release from winemaker MacPhail’s own estate vineyard. With friend and vineyard consultant Jim Pratt, a total of eight clones were selected to provide the texture, depth and complexity that MacPhail prefers. As one might expect from a vineyard that is only in its fourth leaf, the color is lighter, a transparent garnet hue. Ashy smoke and clove are prominent in the nose, followed by green tea, delicate red cherry, light strawberry, and earth. Airy, almost ethereal in texture on the palate, it hints at what the vines will deliver in vintages to come. As the vines reach maturity, the sleekness and refinement of this Estate bottling should be among the best in the New World.
MSRP: $85 (October 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

A Window Into Tuscany: Castello di Gabbiano

By Thomas Madrecki


A note in advance — I approach any and all media trips with a bit of skepticism, in no small part because I make a living in the world of public relations. It takes a great deal for me to be impressed, and there’s a sort of natural apprehension about “giving in” too easily. You don’t want to be that wine writer.

So, when approached by the team from Castello di Gabbiano about an opportunity to visit their estate in Tuscany, I accepted, but with a whole host of immediate questions. For one, as most readers of this blog will readily realize, I usually write about small, up-and-coming winemakers in lesser known regions. Secondly, it almost sounded too good to be true — a 12th century castle, formerly home to some of Florence’s most famous noble families, overlooking more than 300 acres of vines in the storied Chianti Classico.

The big question, then — would it be overdone? Over-commercialized? Lacking in authentic character? Could a “big name” castle retreat still satisfy a geeky hipster wine nerd like me?

The answer couldn’t have been more resounding. I adored my time at the Castello, to the point that I might want to question my journalistic integrity. As a writer, you sometimes get that weird feeling of actually enjoying and liking the subjects you’re talking about, and that’s a dangerous thing.

Still, I’ll try to be objective — and even while tempering my personal enthusiasm for the Castello’s gorgeous landscape views and hospitable staff, I can tell you that if you’re ever in the Chianti region, you would do well to make a stop in San Casciano Val di Pesa. To be sure, I have my quibbles and questions, but at the end of the day … few places on earth could be as relaxing, enjoyable and smile-inducing.


Over the next few weeks, I’ll pen a series of articles diving into issues as far-ranging as authentic Tuscan cooking (and the lack of salt in the region’s bread) to the questions surrounding viticulture and wine-making in a region best-known for hay-wrapped bottles doubling as candlestick holders. But for now, let us meditate on the Castello, and why it’s worth writing about.

In all sincerity, one must confess that there is a certain elitism present in the wine industry, and especially in the industry of wine writing. We all want to experience the unattainable — the rarer the better, the more exclusive the better, the more unusual the better. And so, we also see a particular strain among us who might disapprove of “corporate” wine estates, owned and operated by large international holding companies. Castello di Gabbiano, which is held by the Australian-based Treasury Wine Estates (which also owns Beringer in California), is one such label.

Long story short, Castello di Gabbiano produces a lot of wine — definitely more than many of the producers about which I’ve been known to wax poetically. And because of that, there most definitely would be a segment of the wine cognoscenti who might write off the estate, simply because it’s bigger than they would like. Winemaker Federico Cerelli, a native of Tuscany, is a far cry from the kind of eccentric vignerons celebrated in too-cool-for-school Paris natural wine bars. The wines themselves don’t smell like manure or oxidation. They don’t have that racing electric acidity, or that shocking drinkability, or that uncanny uniqueness that might characterize some small-label wines. What they do have is universal appeal and a global distribution. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the fact remains that some wine snobs (the only word to accurately describe such an attitude) might instead choose to solely define “good wine” as “wine other people can’t have.”

The truth, though, is that this kind of snobbery resembles an unfair demonization of things we all like and should appreciate more. It’s an inversion of values, in the interest of pushing back against something that seems too comfortable if you’re rough around the edges. The Castello is gorgeous. It’s historic. It’s peaceful. And though the wines aren’t going to radically change your perspective on what wine can or should be, they’re carefully calibrated and dialed in. The entry-level Chiantis are sure to please, and given their ready availability, you’d be a fool to pass them up. The higher end bottles have a seriousness that rewards careful contemplation.

And the Castello’s food, from chef Francesco Berardinelli? OK, you’ve got me. Now you know the real reason I fell so hard for the Castello.

Berardinelli’s name won’t appear in any “top chef” listings, but he’s the real deal — exuberant, enthusiastic, and hell-bent on not achieving the kind of fame his cooking deserves. His sourcing is impeccable — take the suckling pig, from a farm and butcher dating back centuries — and his training superb (he was once a consultant for Alain Ducasse). But now, at the Castello, he nearly hides, content at producing rustic Tuscan food out of a two-person kitchen adjacent to a vineyard, fruit trees, and herb boxes. In short, he’s living the dream.


Berardinelli’s restraint — that he isn’t just OK with, but happy to serve country-side dishes like braised wild boar in an era of over-reaching young chefs — ultimately might be the best way to explain the Castello’s charm. It’s isn’t going to blow you out of the water. It’s not the Selosse hotel, or Frank Cornelissen’s vines on the side of Mt. Etna in Sicily. But it is what it is — and that is a retreat, a happy place, an escape. It’s luxuriously comforting, like a bowl of Berardinelli’s homemade pasta with tomatoes found only outside Florence.

And if that doesn’t make you smile, doesn’t make you yearn to visit, then nothing will. This isn’t a place to sip cult wines or make a discovery that will impress your wine geek friends. But it is a place to walk amid olive groves in the moonlight, full of wine and wild boar, and to delight in the simple things that make life — and Tuscany — so special.