Friday, May 18, 2018

Lambert Bridge: A Dry Creek Valley Winery Visit

Nestled into the redwood forested hills just west of Dry Creek we discovered a haven for wine lovers and an epicenter for magnificent Bordeaux-style red wines.

Lambert Bridge

Number 1 Tip For Locating Great Wineries

When we are exploring wine regions we spend a lot of time in advance studying maps, researching online and trying to figure out which wineries to visit. In some regions, like California’s wine country of Napa and Sonoma, there are more than 100 wineries and we may only have time to visit a handful (or two).

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

We’ve found that the most dependable tip for a great winery visit doesn’t come from a glossy brochure or a blinking computer screen. It comes from the recommendations of others during your travels. We often ask the winemaker, tasting room staff or new friends we meet on the wine trail for their recommendations on which wineries to visit next. Hyperbole from websites and magazines is one thing – but the word of mouth recommendation from someone who has been there trumps it all.

Such was the case during our recent visit to Sonoma where we discovered a truly great winery in Dry Creek Valley, Lambert Bridge. The recommendation for Lambert Bridge came from the marketing director at Dry Creek Vineyard. When we finished our visit there we loaded into the van following a her hot tip.

JP displays wildfire melted metalLambert Bridge Experience

The Lambert Bridge winery grounds are scenic and tranquil. Sitting in front of the stone and wood winery building is a perfectly restored vintage Ford panel van. When we walked into the tasting room, it was like entering a wine sanctuary. The décor features rustic wood finishes, soaring ceilings and a beautiful stone fireplace. We were greeted by J.P Lonergan, the estate sommelier.

Check out our reports on more than 200 wineries

The winery is named for the nearby trestle bridge which spans Dry Creek. Dry Creek Valley has long been a favorite of ours and is home to some amazing California wine minus the hype of Napa Valley. The C.L. Lambert family settled the area a century ago. Six decades later, Jerry Lambert (no relation) was drawn to the land with winemaking in mind. In 1993 Ray and Patti Chambers purchased the winery with the goal of crafting Sonoma’s best small lot wines.

During the wine country wild fires in October 2017, Lambert Bridge avoided major fire or smoke damage. Thankfully, 90% of the harvest was in, although a full block was lost in the Moon Mountain AVA. Some staff members had to evacuate and the entire region was impacted in one way or another. JP displayed a blob of metal melted by the intense heat of the fires that damaged property and took lives, but couldn’t overcome the spirt of the wine community.

Lambert Bridge Redwood Barrel RoomSpot-On, Sophisticated Wines

As we soaked in the great surroundings of what some people call “the wine church” we were ready to soak in some great wine. We led off with a pair of whites, the 2015 Bevill Vineyard Viognier and the 2014 Sonoma Chardonnay, which had luscious apple and pear flavors.

Lambert Bridge is known for their meticulous focus on quality, with a berry-by-berry sorter, small-lot fermenters and premium French oak barrels. The quality shows brightly in their lineup of reds.

We tasted a trio of Zinfandel:

  • 2014 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel – Cherry and spice with dark fruit. Has 2% Petite Sirah. SRP – $50
  • 2015 Meyers Vineyard Zinfandel – Nice pepper and brambly fruit. Well balanced.
  • 2013 Forchini Zinfandel – From a benchland vineyard with gravelly soil. Wild raspberry and bright acidity. SRP – $60.

The wines made with the traditional Bordeaux grapes were elegant and flavorful, with not a bad drop between them. We sampled the 2012 Merlot, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2014 Cabernet Franc.

Three powerhouse reds closed our tasting:

  • 2013 Winery Ranch Vineyard Petite Sirah – This inky dark wine has deep blackberry flavors and is a perfect pairing for roasted meats. A wonderful bargain at $55.
  • 2012 Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon – Baked cherries and spice swirl in this limited production wine. SRP $110.
  • 2013 Crane Creek Cuvée – This signature wine is 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec. A delicious, ripe blend with sophisticated flavors. SRP $110.

Lambert Bridge is a small-production winery with craftsmanship that dazzles. Consider this your insider tip: Make it a “must see” stop on your next trip to Sonoma wine country.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bookcliff Vineyards 2015 Malbec, Grand Valley, Colorado

Bookcliff 2015 Malbec

Malbec has shot from relative obscurity to international fame. If you drink Malbec only from Argentina, you’re missing out on a lot – like this great bottle.


High Mountain Malbec

A few years ago we combined a visit to Telluride, Colorado, with a side trip to the state’s wine country. We headed for Palisade – not too far from Grand Junction and the western border of the state.

Check out our reports on more than 100 wineries

What we saw was eye opening. In the valleys surrounded by spectacular mesas, grape vines were flourishing. Stressed by the scarcity of water and the tough growing conditions, the grapes were full of concentrated flavors producing outstanding wine graced by the high altitude desert terroir


Vines in Palisade, ColoradoWhen I stepped away from my role as executive director of a scientific society, a role I held for 12 years, I got a surprise going away gift. Each president with whom I worked presented a bottle of wine – in most cases from the region where they lived (the president from Florida opted for Spain!). One of the past presidents is from Colorado and he gifted me this excellent bottle of Bookcliff Vineyards Malbec.

Colorado Wine, Are You Crazy?

I’ll go out on a limb here. Colorado is one of the best wine producing states in the US. They are not among the top producers. California, Oregon, Washington and New York have a stranglehold on the top four slots. Although much smaller in output, the quality of Colorado wine is really remarkable.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

The Grand Valley, where Bookcliff Vineyards is located, stretches from Fruita to Palisade, just west of Grand Junction. Originally a peach orchard, the winery’s high-altitude, dry terrain is ideal for grape growing. All Bookcliff wines are made with 100% Colorado grapes.

The Bookcliff Malbec has a robust flavor. It is a big wine with an alcohol level of 13.8%. There are bold flavors of jammy blackberry and flowing vanilla. On the night we uncorked, I enjoyed this more than many Malbec wines from Argentina and California. It wasn’t sloppy fruity and had a nice complexity. The tannins are relaxed (and so were we!).

At about $18, this is a tasty value. Malbec is a crowd pleasing wine and Bookcliff’s small production version is worth seeking out. Thanks, Kurt and Lisa!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Shadow Springs Vineyard: North Carolina Winery Visit

Open Lyre Trellising at Shadow Springs VineyardCan a wine lover find true happiness in North Carolina? You need look no further than Hamptonville and the estate of Shadow Springs Vineyard.

From Tobacco To Wine Trellises

Shadow Springs Vineyard began more than a decade ago when Chuck and Jamey Johnson planted two acres of Merlot in an old tobacco field. Since then the family owned vineyard has grown to the point where it now boasts eight varieties of estate grown grapes and sells 18 different wines.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

During our recent visit to North Carolina’s wine country we visited the Swan Creek AVA. The wineries in Swan Creek are the closest in proximity within the state. We were able to visit five wineries, each no more than five miles apart. We came away from Shadow Springs very impressed.

The 5,000 square-foot tasting room was built in 2007. It is light and airy with beautiful wood finishes and accents of Ambrosia Maple. It’s location overlooks the entire 10.5 acre vineyard and features a downstairs bar, a second floor terrace and a patio near a scenic pond.

Shadow Springs Vineyard

Sipping In The Shadows

Jamey was in the tasting room and led us through a line up of their wines. We started with a pair of white wines:

2015 Stainless Steel Chardonnay – Green Dragon prefers her Chard unoaked, so this was a good pick. Green apple and pear.

Check out our reports on more than 100 wineries

2015 Barrel Fermented Viognier – Fermented in stainless steel and then aged in neutral oak, it is soft and creamy and not as fruity as most Viognier.

Moving into the reds, we had our eye on a couple of our favorite grapes:

2014 Cabernet Franc – Cab Franc is one of our favorites. The Shadow Springs version has bright cherry with a dash of black pepper. A great buy at only $20.

2013 Chambourcin – Chambourcin is one of our favorite French-American hybrids and, luckily for us, it thrives in NC. This was one of the best wines we tasted on our trip! It is dark and fruity with flavor notes of raspberry and raisin. Excellent finish.

Shadow Springs 2014 Petit VerdotAnd The Best Wine Is…

We next tasted the 2014 Merlot and the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot is a strongpoint for wineries in Yadkin Valley (Shadow Springs is in both Yadkin Valley and Swan Creek AVAs) and this version is soft and pleasant. The Reserve Cab is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Petit Verdot and is aged in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak. It is smoky with smooth tannins.

2014 Meritage – We are Meritage lovers! This is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. It gets two years of aging in oak barrels. This robust red was a standout. It is priced at $28.

2014 Petit Verdot – This 100% Petit Verdot is a really good bottle of wine. It is aged two years in new French and America oak. Bright purple in color, it has a medium to full body, with ripe blueberry and herbal flavor threads. This is Shadow Springs’ best wine and runs $35. We bought a bottle and opened it the other night – sensational.

Shadow Springs has what we look for in a winery experience: an excellent tasting room with friendly and knowledgeable staff as well as a variety of really good wines. Make Shadow Springs a destination on your next North Carolina wine excursion.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Santa Ema 2013 Amplus Old Vine Carignan, Maule, Chile

Amplus Old Vines CarignanWhat do you pair with the funky city of Asheville, NC, and the music from our favorite jam band? How about a bottle of red goodness from Chile?

Destination Asheville

Asheville is one of our favorite places in of our new home state of North Carolina. Nestled in the western part of the state in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. it offers a kaleidoscope of mouth-watering cuisine, quirky shops, great craft beer and a vibrant music scene.

Check out our reports on more than 100 wineries

It was the later that drew us to Asheville for our recent trip. Our favorite band, String Cheese Incident, was playing at US Cellular Center. During our brief two-day stay, we tried to pack in as much as possible.

Our visits included the small town of Black Mountain, meals at tapas restaurant and wine bar Zambra and another at farm-to-table restaurant The Marketplace.

We intended to visit the gardens at The Biltmore, but when we learned the tour was $75 per person and would take at least four hours, we balked. Instead we headed to the North Carolina Arboretum for an afternoon of hiking. 

String Cheese And A Hot Tub Soak

After enjoying our tapas and vino dinner at Zambra with String Cheese guitarist Bill Nershi, we headed to the show. The streets of Asheville were alive on this spring evening. Street musicians played to the strolling pedestrians and diners enjoyed the sunshine from the outside dining vantage points. Friendly chatter and laughter was in the gentle breeze.

Asheville Sights, Sounds and TastesNever Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

There was a crowd of about 7,000 people for the show. Green Dragon and I opted for the arena seating as opposed to the rippling mass of String Cheese fans on the arena floor. The lights, the music and the scene were rocking!

We arrived back at our hotel about 2 AM, so morning came early. We walked downtown for a bite at the Green Sage Café Downtown. After embarking on a day of hiking, a visit to the New Belgium Brewery and dinner at The Marketplace we were ready to settle in to our VRBO rental for the evening.

One of the main appeals of the place we stayed was its hot tub. (One of the not-main appeals was the narrow, steep driveway that looked like the top of a black diamond ski run!) We grabbed our bottle of Santa Ema Amplus Old Vine Carignan and slipped into the gurgling water of the hot tub.

Carignan From Chile

Outstanding wine values and flavors come from South America, especially Chile. Santa Ema is a leading Chilean wine producer and exports to the Americas, Asia and Europe. In our experience, you can be assured that you'll be getting a quality bottle if it is from Santa Ema.

I picked up the Amplus on sale from Great Grapes in Cary. They have a room set aside for discount and clearance wines and I've always found great deals there. Carignan mostly has a supporting role in red blends, but it is ready to step into a starring role, like with Amplus.

The Amplus Carignan has an aroma of crushed berries. On the palate there are flavors of cranberry and strawberry. It is lively and fruit forward with just the right touch of acidity. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, which gives the body a full, almost creamy texture. The wine is aged in French and American oak for 15 months.

The finish is long and elegant. The wine was so good that even though showers of rain were coming down on us in the hot tub, we just kept pouring the Amplus and enjoying the night.

The Amplus Carignan retails for about $32. I was able to score a primo buy at only $18.56 from Great Grapes. If I had known then what I know now, I'd buy a half case. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Domaine De La Tour Blanche 2013 Riesling, Alsace

Domaine de la Tour Blanche RieslingLove Riesling? Don't overlook France. Yes, that's right. The Alsace region in the northeast corner of France is a leader in producing dry, crisp Riesling.

Alsace: A Wine Region Apart

Alsace is French, but with deep German cultural roots. Located on the German border, its control has switched back and forth between the two countries over the years. The Vosage Mountains provide protection from harsh weather from the west. Although the region is northerly, it enjoys long hours of sunshine that allow the grapes to ripen nicely.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

The use of the name of the grape variety can be used on the label in Alsace. This practice is consumer-friendly, particularly for Americans who are used to shopping for their wine by the grape.

Riesling To The Rescue

RieslAlsace Riesling from Franceing is my favorite white wine. I'm particularly drawn to dry Riesling, although semi-dry often allows a fuller expression of flavors. German Riesling tends to be sweeter than Alsace, although dry wines in German are on the rise.

Alsace produces some of the best Riesling in the world. Quality bottlings can age for a decade or more.

Check out our reports on more than 100 wineries

I recently tried to "rebalance" our wine collection by purchasing a half case of whites. The Domaine De La Tour Blanche was in the shipment. Winemaker Daniel Klack and father Jean are part of a family tradition that dates back to 1628. Vines for this wine are 45 to 50 years old.

This wine has nice threads of minerality with precise flavors of white blossoms. The wine has medium acidity and finishes dry with a dash of pepper. The alcohol level is 12.5%, meaning it will be a nice wine for food pairing or to sip solo.

For about $15, this was a great bargain. Alsace wines are distinctive and their whites are superb. Explore Alsace on your next visit to the wine shop.

Friday, April 27, 2018

AIX 2017 Rosé, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence

AIX 2017 Rosé and wisteriaYes, it’s that time again! As the thermometer starts to climb, you need to chill. There is no better way than with a glass of crisp rosé from France.

Provence Rules Rosé

Other wine regions make pretty good juice, but let’s admit it. Provence makes the perfect rosé.

Provence prides itself on being the birthplace of all French wines. Winemaking there dates back to 600 BC. Rosé accounts for 88% of all wine produced in Provence.

Pink Power

We declared Summer 2017 as the Summer of Rosé, but really rosé is a wine to be enjoyed year-round. In the cold of winter it amounts to bottled sunshine. Just about any month, rosé is a food friendly choice for most of your lighter meals.

Check out our reports on more than 100 wineries

Another appeal of rosé is visual. The subtle jewel tones of the wine enchant the eye before the first sip.

So, you get it. We really like rosé! The selection and quality of rosé has never been better. Our most recent bottle was the AIX, the top blend of Maison Saint Aix.

Wine And Flower Pairing

There are two main methods of producing rosé. In the saignée method, a small amount of juice is run off during the process of making red wine. This has the effect of making the red wine more concentrated. The runoff is used to make rosé. In direct press, grapes are grown especially for rosé and are crushed and pressed at the same time. Short contact with the skin results in the light pink or coppery color.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

AIX uses both techniques. Thirty percent of the wine is saignée and the other 70% is direct press, the method preferred by purists. AIX is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Cinsault. The grapes are farmed organically.

While we were driving around our neighborhood recently I was impressed by the beauty of wisteria. This is a vine with beautiful purple colored leaves that hang in bunches, like grapes. Some of these vines climb 60 feet or more up trees. Green Dragon made me drive around until she could grab a good supply for a flower arrangement.

I mention this, in the midst of my knowledge download on rosé, to explain that this is the reason I uncorked the AIX rosé. It was the perfect visual pairing with our wisteria!

The pale pink color of AIX is entrancing. The wine delivers in proper Provence fashion, striking a great balance between delicacy and ample flavor. It has some nice red fruit flavor, perhaps amplified by the saignée, joined by touches of citrus. Properly chilled (about 50⁰ F), this is one refreshing glass of goodness.

You’ll be able to find this bottle for about $18 to $20, which is a nice price. The time is right to rock the rosé!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Balletto Vineyards: A Sonoma Winery Visit

From its humble roots as a five-acre vegetable farm, Balletto Vineyards has grown dramatically. Today the Balletto family owns more than 700 acres of vineyards. They keep the top 10% of the fruit to make estate wine like we tasted on our recent visit.Balletto Vineyards

From Cucumbers To Chardonnay

Today Balletto Vineyards stands with the top wine producers amidst the Pinot Noir-rich Russian River Valley of California wine country. But that wasn’t always the case. In 1977, 17-year-old John Balletto established his first business, a five-acre vegetable farm in Sonoma County’s Sebastopol.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

Within two decades, the Balletto family had grown the business into the largest vegetable farm in Northern California. They grew 70 different vegetables on 700-plus acres. Fate, however, would intervene. Having concerns about the state’s growing water shortage, enduring heavy destruction from three El Niño storms, and facing economic hardships from the NAFTA agreement, they set their sights on the wine grape growing business.

Over a three-year period they converted their vegetables over to grapes, primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They started selling fruit to well known Sonoma County wineries. They saved the top 10% in quality for themselves and created the first Balletto Vineyards vintage in 2001.

2013 Balletto BCD PinotShaking The Road Dust

We recently visited Sonoma and made a beeline for the Russian River Valley, the source of some of the world’s best Pinot Noir. Friend Ray Carlson is a grape grower in Sonoma and provides the fruit for Balletto’s award-winning BCD Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Our thirsty crew included tasting team members Cabernetor, Glorious T, Green Dragon (my wife), cousin Mary and her husband Cleve. We came in a few days before the Wine Bloggers Conference in order to visit a few select wineries. Ray opened the door for us at Balletto, and we jumped in with both feet – and an empty glass.

Check out our reports on more than 100 wineries

Upon arrival we were treated to some bubbly. The 2013 Brut Rosé is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. Made in the traditional method, it is light on the tongue with outstanding perlage. Just the thing to shake off the road dust.

Chardonnay is another iconic wine for Russian River Valley. Balletto offers four different versions including their flagship 2015 RRV Chardonnay. It is moderately oaked with a creamy texture and notes of vanilla. Thirty percent new oak is used in aging. The 2015 Sexton Hill Chardonnay teases with a taste of crème brulée and savory notes. Our group also enjoyed the 2016 Gewürztraminer, which displayed an aromatic floral bouquet.

The Pinnacle Of Pinot

Balletto winemaker Anthony BeckmanThe wine list showed no less than eight different Pinot Noir. Vineyards at Balletto less than a mile apart can produce Pinot with wildly different tastes. The 2015 RRV Pinot is a blend of seven different vineyards. It retails for $29, is the winery’s best-seller, and certainly must be one of the best values around. The vines are low yield, providing rich, concentrated flavors. This is simply a beautiful wine.

The 2014 Burnside Pinot Noir has spicy accents with a delicate finish. The 2014 18 Barrel Pinot combines grapes from three top estate vineyards high in the Sebastopol hills. The wine is aged for 18 months in oak barrels. This still had strong tannins and should rest a year or 18 months for best results.

The 2014 BCD Pinot Noir consistently wins oodles of awards. It is a luscious style of Pinot Noir with a velvety texture and good acidity. It has notes of black cherry and earth.

Our hats are off to Anthony Beckman, the winemaker at Balletto since 2009. A former news journalist who earned an enology degree at UC Davis, the stories are now all about him. Under his guidance Balletto offers a portfolio of sublimely good wines and extraordinary single vineyard bottles.

Balletto Vineyards is a special place – and not only for the wine it produces. Nestled among the fields of vines is a regulation baseball field. The vineyard workers asked John Balletto if he would sponsor their baseball team. He went above and beyond by setting aside four acres of land and donating all the materials. The vineyard crew donated the labor. So Sunday afternoons you might hear not only the popping of corks, but the crack of a bat.

Be sure to stop in at Balletto on your next visit to Sonoma. Tell them Ray sent you!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Duo Of Jezreel Valley Kosher Wines Display Modern Israeli Style

Adumim and Levanim blends from Jezreel ValleyThis pair of wines from an ancient valley shows the contemporary flair and style of Israel’s new winemakers.

Gideon’s Triumph

The Jezreel Valley in Israel has been inhabited continuously since about 4,500 BC. It is a land rich in Biblical history, being the site where the Israelites under the leadership of Gideon defeated armies of enemy nations. Jezebel met her death in the city of Jezreel and Christians believe that Armageddon, the battle between good and evil, will be fought in the valley.

Today, the valley is a green fertile plain where oranges, cotton, sunflowers and corn grow. Multitudes of sheep and cattle graze contentedly. It's also the home to Jezreel Valley Winery, dedicated to crafting boutique Israeli wine.

Check out our reports on more than 100 wineries

We recently tasted two blends from Jezreel Valley Winery, the white 2016 Levanim and the red 2014 Adumim. As with other recent Israeli wines we have sampled, the flavors were fresh and enjoyable and the style modern. All Jezreel Valley Winery wines are Kosher.

Feasting With White And Red

Levanim with beet saladTo properly savor the wines, the Green Dragon (my wife) artfully prepared a meal of Mediterranean Skirt Steak with tri-color couscous and grilled mushrooms. We started with a beet salad with goat cheese.

Here’s our exclusive list of top wines of the year!

Levanim means "whites" in Hebrew and the wine is a mix of Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and French Colombard. Green Dragon doesn't care for overly floral wines and can be turned off by Gewurztraminer -- but it was love at first sip with Levanim. The grapes are gently pressed and undergo cold fermentation.

The wine retains its fresh flavors and beautiful aroma. This is a dry wine but with nice fruit notes. Although the website notes it's perfect for the hot Israeli climate, it is certain to be welcome this summer on your patio, too.

Reviving A Rare Grape

To accompany our skirt steak, we opened the Adumim. Adumim means "red" and this bottle is a blend of Syrah, Carignan, and Argaman.

Adumim and Mediterranean Skirt SteakArgaman is an Israeli grape that is a cross between Souzão, a Portuguese grape, and Carignan. It had a reputation as being used for jug wines, but Jezreel Valley Winery is leading the charge in Argaman's resurgence. They bottle a single varietal Argaman that is complex and spicy.

Adumim is a deep, delicious red. Each of the three varieties is aged separately for 20 months in oak barrels. The grapes harmonize perfectly in a dark ruby wine with an aroma of black cherry. On the palate there are flavors of plum, chocolate and smoke. The tannins are sleek and smooth, leading to an extended finish.

We enjoyed both wines greatly. They paired nicely with our meal, but could be enjoyed on their own. The Levanim retails for about $23 and Adumim runs about $29. These are great values.

Adumim and Levanim represent something new from an ancient valley. Uncork and discover the modern style of Israeli wine.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Clos Du Bois 2008 Marlstone, Alexander Valley

Clos du Bois 2008 Marlstone

Marlstone is Sonoma’s first Bordeaux-style blend. Born in the ‘70s, it continues to be one of our favorite wines year after year.

Bordeaux-Style Beauty

Marlstone, by Clos du Bois, is one of the reasons we love Bordeaux-style wine. We stumbled on Marlstone at a wine festival years ago. We were swimming in an endless sea of tasteless Pinot Grigio and watery reds when I got a pour of Marlstone.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

My taste buds skyrocketed on the rich flavors and robust body. Soon after we split a half case of 2008 Marlstone with our friends. Years and miles passed, but one of my bottles still remained. Until last week that is. In line with the thought, "life is too short to drink bad wine," we opened the last of the 2008 Marlstone.

Clos du Bois is a premiere winery in Sonoma. They farm top vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Knights Valley and Alexander Valley. Grapes for Marlstone come from Alexander Valley, known in recent years for producing superb Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Alexander Valley is one of the warmest wine growing areas in California during the day, but a wide temperature swing cools the grapes at night. Proximity to the Russian River provides fog that blankets the vineyards in the early morning until burned off by the sun.

Marlstone Doesn’t Jump The Shark

Marlstone was Sonoma's first Bordeaux-style blend, making its debut in 1978. It is a limited production wine, and in 2008 production was 2,000 cases. The blend is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot.

Six separate barrel lots make up the final blend of 2008 Marlstone, three of Cabernet Sauvignon and one each of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Merlot. The individual barrels were then blended and aged in 84% new French oak for 24 months.

Check out our reports on more than 100 wineries

Structure and tannins allow wine to age with grace. Without it, a wine once full of vigor can in time "jump the shark," sliding down the slippery slope to become a shadow of its former self. Marlstone '08, 10 years beyond its vintage, not only still has a great structure, it could easily age for another seven years.

In the glass, this is a muscular wine. In retrospect, this could have used an hour or so of decanting. In the glass, the wine is a deep garnet, almost inky. On the nose, there was a light aroma of spice. As we sipped the wine loosened up in the glass. We had this bottle after dinner with some Manchego cheese, which also helped soften the tannins.

On the palate there is leather and juicy dark berries. Layers of flavors become more apparent the longer you sip. The full body is supple and smooth leading to a wonderfully long finish.

When I purchased this in 2012, my cost was $32, based on a half-case split with our good friends. While the 2008 vintage is no longer available, the current 2014 vintage is available for about $60. Not only is this a superb wine, but a great value – costing much less than an equivalent blend from Napa.

When it comes to red blends, make mine Marlstone!

Monday, April 16, 2018

“The Donut King” Details Poor Immigrant’s Stumbles And Triumphs On The Road To Success

The Donut King Ted NgoyBefore I touched down on the golden coast of California without a cent to my name, before I made and lost millions of dollars, only to make it all back, and before evil thugs destroyed my beautiful homeland and killed my people, there was a girl who smelled of flowers – Ted Ngoy

A Tale Of Survival And Success

Donuts aren’t the usual fare for this blog, but an unusual story and remarkable man have changed that. “The Donut King: The Rags to Riches Story of a Poor Immigrant Who Changed The World” relates the story of Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian refugee who arrived in Southern California with his family and no money. He began working, first for the church sponsoring his family’s stay and later taking on work as a gas station attendant. Less than a decade later, Ngoy was a multimillionaire at the helm of a chain of independent donut shops. He became widely known as the Donut King.

“If you had told me years earlier that I – a poor Cambodian, living in a war torn country, who barely spoke English – would one day come to the United States and become an expert in every facet of the donut business, I might have laughed at you,” said Ngoy.

I agreed to read the book to see if it would be an editorial fit with the blog. With skepticism, I opened the book. From the first lines, shown above, I was engrossed in Ngoy’s battle for survival, success and redemption.

The Man Who Has Nothing To Lose

“From a young age, I understood that being the long shot – the man who has nothing and therefore nothing to lose – can be an advantage,” says Ngoy. “When you are the long shot, you allow yourself to take chances. And success in life favors those who take chances. My story is one full of chances.”

Overcome with despair when his beloved’s family forbid them to see each other, Ngoy plunged a knife into his stomach. He survived and with persistence,  earned parental consent for marriage.

Ngoy and his family fled Cambodia and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. Relocating to Southern California he worked at a Winchell’s donut shop and learned the business. There began his climb to the top of the donut world.

At the height of success, his fall from grace came hard after an innocent trip to Las Vegas turned into a crippling vice. He struggled for years with a gambling addition, which eventually cost him his empire and family. This would not be the last time Ngoy lost almost everything. He went from rich to poor not once but three separate times.

Ngoy is a one-time advisor to the prime minister of Cambodia and played an instrumental role in successfully lobbying the US Senate for Most Favored Nation status for Cambodia, which lead to the creation of countless jobs.

“The Donut King” is a great read. You’ll find yourself rooting for the author and wondering how he’ll overcome the many calamities he encounters. Ngoy is using the publication of his memoir to create a seed endowment for an education foundation he is creating, which will provide scholarships to deserving Cambodian children.

The book is available for $14.95 in paperback from Amazon, which also sells a Kindle version.