Monday, June 26, 2017

Terra Bella 2011 Proprietary Red Blend, Sonoma County

Terra Bella Red BlendFor red wine lovers, the search is always on for a unicorn – an exceedingly rare wine that delivers rich, premium taste for under twenty bucks. We may have spotted one!

Avoiding Gift-Giving Disappointment

Occasionally the Green Dragon (my wife) will buy something at the store, bring it home and tell me that this is the gift I’m giving her for her birthday or Christmas. No problem with me, although it does seem to cut down on the surprise.

Leading up to Christmas, I was perusing a massive online wine sale on one of my favorite sites, Invino. During their occasional clearance sales, you can spend hours scrolling through hundreds of bottles all being sold at significant discounts.

Recently, Green Dragon has shut down my wine purchases. She issued a mandate that we had to “drink down” the cellar in preparation for our upcoming move to North Carolina. So, I was wistfully looking at the site, wondering if the Green Dragon would start breathing fire if I ordered a bottle or six.

She pleasantly surprised me by asking me to pick out a half-case for my Christmas present. I selected two from Terra Bella Vineyards, the 2011 Proprietary Red Blend and an estate Syrah.

Pouring and aerating Terra Bella RedA Unicorn Sighting

We love Bordeaux blends and Meritage. Some of the blends from premium appellations can command high dollars. That’s why this Terra Bella blend caught my attention. It was listed as retailing for $85, but was selling for $19.99.

We opened the bottle over the weekend. Now I wish we had gotten six bottles or maybe a case.

Grapes for this wine come from 600 to 1,100 feet in the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma County. The volcanic soils are well drained and cooling breezes add to conditions that are almost perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was created by acclaimed winemaker Peter Boyd. His goal was to create Sonoma County’s best Cabernet Sauvignon.

Somewhere along the line the train ran off the tracks and his company, Genius Wines, went into bankruptcy. His misfortune is our good luck. Invino purchased the remainder of his inventory and is able to offer it exclusively through their online site at an amazing price.

Although it is from the 2011 vintage, which some classify as being problematic, it is perfectly attuned. It can age for another decade, but drinks deliciously now. There is a flavor rush of cooked cherries with notes of blackberry, herbs and tobacco. The blend is complex, but the enjoyment is easily accessible. The blend isn’t disclosed, but I’m assuming Cabernet Sauvignon as the lead player followed by Merlot and Cabernet Franc with a cameo role.

The tannins provide nice structure and aren’t ponderous. The alcohol by volume is 13.5%. It finds the perfect balance point between power and finesse. The finish is one of the longest I can recall, laced with delicious flavors. 

This wine receives our highest recommendation. Furthermore, we say this “unicorn” is deserving of a multi-bottle purchase. Cheers!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Oliver Winery Camelot Mead

20170622_213354Most of the reviews here focus on the “fruit of the vine.” For a change of pace, here’s our experience with an ancient beverage that is “fruit of the hive.”

Nothing New Under The Sun

Mrs. Alba, my sixth grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary school, was right. Her favorite saying was, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” If there was a news item capturing the nation’s attention, sorry. The Egyptians were dealing with it thousands of years ago. New inventions were simply variations of what the Greeks or Aztecs were tinkering around with during their epochs.

She’d be proud to know that mead, a trendy “new” beverage has actually been around since Biblical times. Mead, a wine made from fermented honey, was the world’s most popular beverage throughout most of recorded history. It was enjoyed by Aristotle and Pliny the Elder – but nearly died out after the Middle Ages. Honey wine remains the most popular alcoholic beverage in Ethiopia, one of the planet’s oldest cultures.

Today It is the fastest growing segment of the American alcoholic beverage industry. In 2003 there were 30 mead producers in the US. Now there are more than 300.

Not Just For Hobbits Anymore

Mead has enjoyed a resurgence and growing mainstream popularity. Ohio has at least three meaderies and they can also be spotted in the popular Finger Lakes wine region.

To our west, Oliver Winery of Indiana, has been producing mead for 40 years. We recently uncorked their Camelot Mead. We expected a thick ice-wine-like dessert wine, but were pleased to discover a medium-light body.

The aroma is a bit of a surprise. Whenever a stick my nose in a glass of white wine, I expect aromas of fruit, perhaps vanilla or toast. Camelot Meade delivers – what else – the bouquet of a dollop of honey.

Camelot is made with source-specific orange blossom honey. On the palate it is crisper than expected and offers citrus flavors with delightful honeycomb taste from start to finish. It certainly has a splash of sweetness – but this is not a syrupy or sugary drink.

I was tasting it after a tennis match that was cut short by a rainstorm. We had it well chilled and is was nicely refreshing.

Camelot Mead by Oliver Winery retails for $10 and is available in 18 different states including Ohio and Michigan. It will be easy to spot on the shelves with its whimsical label featuring Jeremiah the Frog. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal!

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Chamonix 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir, Franschhoek

Chamonix 2013 Reserve Pinot NoirPinot Noir from South Africa is not as well known as that from Oregon or France. Just one sip may make you wonder why this is so.

Out Of The Blacksmith Shop

One or our great wine adventures was our trip to South Africa, which included a visit to Franschhoek, the food and wine capital of the country. Chamonix wine farm was a memorable stop on our tour.

The Chamonix tasting room is in a blacksmith cottage. Outside there was a spectacular view of the mountains and an elevated views of the picturesque Franschhoek Valley. The area was settled by French Huguenots who brought with them their winemaking tradition.

The top-of-the-line tasting cost a mere $3.22 US due to the favorable exchange rate. We were enchanted by the Reserve Pinot Noir and picked up this bottle for $22 US.

A South African Spin On Pinot

The Reserve Pinot is naturally fermented and is made from the best blocks of Pinot Noir, which flourish in the Greywacke soil. Greywacke is a dark sandstone soil with quartz feldspar. The wine is aged for 16 months in French oak.

One of the reasons we love South African wine is that although it is considered “New World,” the techniques and focus are old world. The wines have subtle flavors and a finesse designed to accompany foods – as opposed to the bold flavors of New World wines often quaffed on their own.

The Chamonix had an earthy quality punctuated by raspberry and rhubarb flavor notes. It’s a complex wine with layers of flavors and even a dash of toffee.

This bottle was none the worse from being stuffed into our luggage for the long trip from South Africa. With some wines there is a type of “buyer’s remorse” perhaps more aptly named the “winery effect.” A bottle sampled in a scenic tasting room leaves you scratching your head asking, “What was I thinking” when you sample it at home. But with the best wines – like this one – the memories of our incredible travels came flooding back with each sip.

Three cheers for Chamonix and the superlative wines of Franschhoek!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rosé Overrules Summertime Heat: New Favorites From France and Spain

A selection of Paul Mas roséThis might be the Rosé Summer. Store shelves are bursting with pink concoctions. In our opinion, the quality of rosé has never been better.

It’s Rosé Weather

We really didn’t need another sign, but there it was. Record-breaking heat in Ohio pushed the thermometer to 96 degrees. If you don’t want to be confined to the indoors, there is only one proper solution: chilled rosé. Through a recent Wine Studio education program we were able to taste a quartet of rosé offerings. We added a fifth – just because it’s what we do!

Arrogant Frog and turkey tenderloinDomaine Paul Mas has about 1,500 acres in France’s Languedoc region in the south of France. Mas has agreements with other vineyards totaling about twice that amount in acreage. Languedoc, hugged by the Mediterranean to the south and mountains to the north, is known for its diverse terrain. Domaine Mas has access to 40 different grape varieties.

We sampled a rosé trio from two Domaine Mas Brands. We started our journey with the 2016 Arrogant Frog Rosé paired with turkey tenderloin and cranberry reduction, maple glazed sweet potatoes and asparagus. One of the joys of rosé is that it pairs with a vast array of entrees. An exception would be a heavy steak – that’s Cabernet territory.

Arrogant Frog delivers a lot of arrogance for only $10 SRP. It is 100% Syrah and is rich with cherry and floral flavors. Like the other Domaine Mas rosé we sampled, it has a screw closure – that’s no problem with us. This is a wine intended to be consumed while young.

Attesting to the range of Domaine Mas is the Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé Brut NV St. Hilaire. Limoux is know for sparkling wine and this crémant is a fun blend of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin and 10% Pinot Noir.

Bubbly rosé is a double treat. This is elegant and playful. The price is also easy to swallow at $16. The stream of bubbles was long-lived, but not very vigorous.

Our Domaine Mas trio wrapped up with the 2016 Coté Mas Rosé Aurore, which has a Sud de France appellation. It is priced at $11, but is in a liter bottle – giving you a third more than the 750 ML standard bottle. It is made with 50% Grenache Noir, 30% Cinsault and 20% Syrah. These are typical Mediterranean varieties. The bottle aims to embody the “rural luxury” motto of Paul Mas. I found this to be more flavorful than the Arrogant Frog – but my wife favored the Frog. The packaging gives you a bit more vino but is sufficiently cool that it never feels like “jug wine.”

Cotés de Provence roséWe continued with our tour of France with a rosé from Cotés de Provence. Eighty-eight percent of the wine produced in Provence is rosé – so this region is always a good option for you. Our pick was the 2016 Sables d’Azur. It also is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah. It is a delightful light peach color and is spritely on the palate.

Arinzano roséOur tour of rosé crossed the border into neighboring Spain, with Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé 2016 from Arinzano. We had a chance to sample some knockout reds from Arinzano. This rosé was most interesting since it is 100% Tempranillo.

From the get-go, this wine was different from the others we had sampled. This rosado (as the Spanish call it) was a deep pink-red in the glass. On the palate the flavors were elevated and more intense than the French rosé.

Arinzano has been designated a Pago, which is the highest classification in the Spanish wine system. Pago is a term reserved for the very best vineyards, and so far there are only 14 of them in all of Spain.

The Arinzano rosé delivered superb freshness, acidity and rich flavors. This would be a good pick for a red wine lover who is unsure about trying rosé. At $20, it’s another great value.

There you have it – a quintet of wines to equip your summer survival kit. One final suggestion. Your rosé should be chilled sufficiently to provide refreshment, but be warm enough to allow the flavors to shine. A good way to do this is to take your bottles out of the refrigerator to sit for about five minutes before serving.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Scotto Family Cellars Offers California Value Selections

Scotto Family CellarsScotto Family Cellars history in winemaking dates back to 1883. Today it is the “biggest California winery you’ve never heard of.”

Family Tradition – Eye On The Future

I first became acquainted with Scotto Family Cellars during last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California. Scotto had collaborated on the Masthead project – a Sangiovese wine developed by a team of four wine bloggers. Well not only was the wine a winner, but we had an opportunity to visit the newly opened Scotto Cellars tasting room in downtown Lodi for a Masthead debut party. It was a great evening filled with fun and excellent wine.

Dominic Scotto’s homemade red wine filled the family glasses in Ischia, Italy, in 1883. In 1903 he immigrated to New York. In the 1940’s his sons sold jugs of their father’s wine from a pushcart in Brooklyn. Dominic and his brother Sal created Villa Armando, one of the oldest wine brands in the US, which had filled more than 250 million glasses with traditional red wine.

The company is now run by the latest generation of Scottos – five siblings – who operate state-of-the-art wineries in Lodi, Napa Valley and Amador County. While Scotto Family Cellars has deep traditional roots – with 53 harvests in California – they also have an eye on the future.

Lodi Flavor And Value

One of the revelations during my trip to Lodi was the diverse winegrowing scene. Although know for superb Zinfandel, grape varieties from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy and the Rhone Valley are also grown.

The agricultural abundance in Lodi, enables the region to be a leader in providing quality wine at a great price point. The wines are on target not only with rich flavors – but with outstanding value.

We sampled a pair of Scotto Family Cellars recent releases that checked both boxes. The 2016 Dry Sangiovese Rosé was opened on a warm evening. We were visiting friends and on their deck overlooking a small lake. We are fans of Sangiovese in any form and the lovely reddish-pink hue had us thirsting for the first sip.

The rosé is crisp with swirls of strawberry and sour cherry. The wine is fermented in stainless steel, so the flavors are pure and crisp. This is an ideal food wine and can pair with vegetarian dishes, appetizers or with mild or spicy entrees.

A few evenings later we were on the back patio around the fire pit. The 2013 Scotto Family Cellars Malbec was uncorked.

This is an unpretentious and satisfying wine. The body is light with ample fruit and smoky notes. Tannins are dialed back in this wine adding to the smooth finish. This was a perfect wine for unwinding around the fire.

Both wines are priced at $14.99 and are a hit at that figure. These are perfect for casual entertaining.

Portable wine from Scotto CellarsWhat Millennials Want

The wine industry has been wringing its hands for some time trying to figure out how to sell wine to Millennials. Contemporary lifestyles require some rethinking on the part of wineries.

Scotto Family Cellars has answered the call with some innovative packaging. The Heavyweight line, which has a boxing theme, is available not only in traditional glass bottles, but also in 187 ML pre-packaged plastic cups.

I sampled the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was a varietally correct Cab. If someone had served this to me in a glass, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. The traditional glass bottle sells for $11.99 and this tastes like what I would expect the wine from the bottle to be.

Assuming the same blend goes into the plastic cups, it includes Cabernet Sauvignon with lesser amounts of Barbera and Petit Verdot. For camping trips or on the boat, this could work very well. They would pop easily into a backpack for a hike, bike ride or picnic. Heavyweight in the convenient plastic container costs $3.99.

Anywhere Cellars is a 250 ML canned wine.  This product is also priced at $3.99, although some states require that they be sold in four-packs. Unlike the Heavyweight, this isn’t a vintage wine. I sampled the California Anywhere Red Wine. To me, the aluminum can was hard to ignore and didn’t enable the typical sipping experience. Unlike the Heavyweight, the wine itself wasn’t very good. I’m not sure if the can contributed to the somewhat bitter taste, or if it was strictly my brain manifesting its objection.

My verdict? If portable wine is a must, Heavyweight is your best option. These two products are in the process of rolling out nationwide.

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Arínzano: Crafting Wines From The Zenith Of Spain

Arínzano 2008 La CasonaI travelled thousands of miles to Spain and traversed five different wine regions. Yet in my travels, one prize eluded me – until now – a taste from Spain’s highest wine classification.

Climbing The Spanish Wine Pyramid

When I was studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine designation, each country’s wine laws were presented as a pyramid. Basic table wine was the broad base and as you moved up the pyramid became more narrow and the quality improved. At the top, the geographic area and often the type of grapes and production method are tightly controlled.

Studying the section on Spain, I was surprised to hear about Vino de pago. What the heck was this? I crisscrossed the country and never saw a bottle of pago.

Thanks to a recent Wine Studio education program, I was able to sample the elusive pago wine. My search had a delicious and satisfying ending!

Pago Perfection

Vino de pago, or “estate wine” is a category established to recognize specific single vineyards of distinction that produce excellent wine. It is awarded only to estates that exhaustively demonstrate not only an outstanding and unique climate and terroir, but also winemaking that turns these inherent qualities into extraordinary wines.
Arínzano is the first estate in the north of Spain to receive this honor.

Arínzano is located in the northeast of Spain, between Rioja and Bordeaux (not shabby neighbors!). The Señorío de Arínzano estate has been recognized for the excellence of its vineyards since the 11th century, when the noble Sancho Fortuñones de Arínzano first produced wines on the property. Alas, over time the estate fell into disuse.

The estate was rediscovered in 1988 and analysis confirmed that the climate and soils were perfect for producing exceptional wines. At the turn of the 21st centuries, the King and Queen of Spain rededicated the Arínzano winery, reinstating a tradition more than a thousand years old.

 ArinzanoVerdict Of The Glass

In pursuit of our wine education, we sampled two Arínzano bottles. We started with the 2012 Hacienda de Arínzano Tinto and then the 2008 Arínzano La Casona.

The Hacienda is 80% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. We paired this with a Spanish style pork entree with an olive, caper and lemon sauce.

Smooth and elegant, this wine is aged 14 months in French oak. There are no harsh tannins, which you may encounter in Rioja, which favors heavy oaking in American barrels. The Hacienda also offers savory flavors which I dubbed “herbalicious.”

Very surprising to me was the price point. At $19.99, it delivers satisfaction of a wine two or three times the price.

A week later Green Dragon was cooking again, this time serving up braciole with black bean quinoa with the 2008 La Casona.

In the glass it is garnet in color with a clear edge. La Casona is 75% Tempranillo with 25% Merlot. The medium-bodied blend exudes elegance and harmony.

On first approach, there is a bit of heat that rapidly shifts to a silky body. On the palate there is tart cherry, with wafts of mocha and a touch of vanilla. The fruit stands front and center in a way that testifies to the skill of the winemaker.

A wine like this makes dinner an a memorable experience. At about $35, it is an excellent value for one of Spain’s top tier wines.

At last count, there were only 14 pago estates in Spain. This is a very small circle of “grand cru” vineyards. Arínzano delivers the quality that shows why this designation is so exclusive.

Monday, June 5, 2017

V. Sattui 2016 Rosato di Sangiovese, North Coast

V. Sattui RosatoThere’s no better way to blast through the muggy heat of summer than with a crisp, chilled rosé. This Mediterranean-style wine is made with one of our favorite grapes. 

Spanning The Centuries

V. Sattui Winery has earned many accolades for its wine. The reputation for this Napa Valley winery comes despite selling its wine only at its winery or through their online store. Selling digitally would have been unthinkable when the winery was founded.

Vittorio Sattui and his wife immigrated from Italy to the San Francisco area in 1882. Three years later they began making wine full time and named their winery St. Helena Wine Cellars after the town from which they purchased their grapes.

The advent of Prohibition in 1920 resulted in the closure of the winery. After repeal in 1933, Vittorio decides to settle into retirement rather than reopen the winery.

This would all have a sad ending if not for great grandson Dario Sattui. Dario returned from Europe in the early 1970s determined to restart the family wine business. In 1975 he began making Napa Valley wine – 90 years after his great grandfather did so. V. Sattui has since established a reputation for award-winning wines.

Crisp And Contemporary

With a recent hot spell, we declared the beginning of rosé season and opened this 2016 V. Sattui Rosato Sangiovese. Grapes for this wine come primarily from Sattui’s Hibbard Ranch vineyard in Napa’s Carneros region. Color in wine comes from juice contact with the skins. In this case, the juice was given minimal contact with the skins.

Color is always a key component in wine appreciation, but with rosé it rises to another level. There are so many delightful jewel-like shades of pink! The Sattui Rosato is a beautiful light salmon color.

Rosato is the Italian term for rosé and this wine captures the sophisticated zest for living for which that country is known. This is a perfect wine for a salad, light entree of fish or chicken or a cheese or charcuterie plate. You can also savor it on its own, as we did.

The wine has a lively acidity and properly chilled, delivers refreshment that can cut through any summer doldrums. We found the flavors to be more robust than many rosé wines. Strawberry and watermelon flavors mingle nicely in the glass.

Sattui Rosato di Sangiovese is priced at $26. It’s a good choice for a hot weather refresher – or to generate a few sunbeams on an otherwise dreary day.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dee Dee and Paul Sorvino Deliver With New Pinot, Pasta, and Parties Cookbook

PINOT, PASTA, and PARTIESYou may know Paul Sorvino from his roles in Goodfellas and Law & Order or Dee Dee Sorvino from her Emmy-award winning television work. What you may not know is that they can cook up a storm. You’ll know it too after reading their new cookbook.

A Different Type Of Leading Role

Italian American actor Paul Sorvino has a career that has spanned more than 200 roles and four decades. His current role is tasty indeed, as cookbook author with wife Dee Dee, herself an Emmy Award winner as a television personality.

Honestly, they had us at the title: Pinot, Pasta, and Parties. All three elements certainly resonate with the editorial core of Vino-Sphere.

The book shares 80 authentic Italian recipes sprinkled with insightful stores from their life. The book is packed with appealing photographs and there is an emphasis on entertaining, not just cooking. Each recipe also has suggested cocktails.

Pinot, Pasta, and Parties is published by Center Street/Hachette Book Group. It has a list price of $30 and is widely available, including on Amazon.

In order to put it to the test, we cooked a six-course meal using recipes from the book, threw a party and opened an ample number of fine wines. The results were delicious.

Stuffed ArtichokeAperitivo And Insalata

We kicked off the evening with our lone Italian wine of the evening: the 2014 Trappolinia Est! Est! Est! di Montefiascone DOC. This wine gained renown, it is said, when a German bishop on his way to Rome was sidetracked when he discovered this delicious wine. In fact, he decided to make Montefiascone his home and never made it to Rome.

The Est! Est! Est!, a Trebbiano-Malvasia blend, was paired with our first Sorvino recipe – Stuffed Artichokes.  Glorious T whipped up this appetizer. She and the Cabernetor were guests of honor at our wine dinner.

Est! Est! Est!This was the perfecting opening act. We continued to explore white wine with our next dish: Panzanella. Green Dragon was the chef for the remaining dishes aided immeasurably by our fried Maria. Maria’s Italian heritage helped keep everything authentic.

Panzanella is a Tuscan bread salad. This was a light an refreshing start to the meal. This was paired with wine from one of our favorite Finger Lakes producers: Hermann J. Weimer. The Weimer 2013 Reserve Dry Riesling was a refreshing accent and a great match with the difficult-to-pair salad course.

We then transitioned into our fish course: Shrimp Scampi. This dish featured a bit of spice and so was a fitting accompaniment to the Riesling.

Parade of Pinot

The title of the book is Pinot, Pasta, and Parties and so we didn’t want to fall short in that category. We rolled out two premier Pinot Noir wines with our Spaghetti Carbanara.

The dish was scrumptious with the cheese, bacon and olive oil meshing into a heart-melting joy. Be sure to flag this recipe in the book for an easy-to-make crowd pleaser. For our first Pinot we uncorked the 2004 Domaine Meo-Camuzet Clos Vougeot Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits. Cote de Nuit is one of the most famous grand cru vineyards in Burgundy. Brick red in the glass, it is light in body on the palate. The tannins are fully integrated into an earthy elixir of smoke and strawberry flavors. This has a smooth elegance of silk.

I opted to go second with the 2014 Argot “Bastard Tongue” Pinot Noir, Santa Rosa, Sonoma, expecting the New World Pinot to be more robust than the Burgundy. This was a parting gift from a friend and president at my last organization. He described the BT Pinot as “unreal.” Indeed it is!

Wine Dinner PPPArgot Bastard Tongue PinotMade by winemaker Justin Harmon at his custom crushpad, it is loaded with what he terms “pinotosity.” For us this meant concentrated strawberry flavors mingled with complex earthy flavors. It is plush and bursting with ripe fruit. It has a medium body and sent our dinner guests into the stratosphere.

Our culinary centerpiece of the evening was the braciole (bra-SHOLE). This is tenderized beef wrapped and stuffed with a delicious filling of pine nuts, prosciutto, mozzarella and bread crumbs. The braciole is tied into “loafs” and then sliced into a very eye-appealing display.

We paired ours with a 2008 Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. This a full-bodied Cab with richness and depth. The oak is subtle with blueberry and black cherry flavors.

Wine Dinner BracioleThe braciole was mouthwatering – but there was even more to come.

Yes, I Can Cook!

For this dish, I chased my wife out of the kitchen and prepared it myself (with the help of Dee Dee and Paul!). The dessert course was Chocolate Coffee Mousse paired with a special treat: Peller Estates Cabernet Franc Icewine from Niagara Peninsula VQA in Ontario. Served chilled in small glasses it was the perfect sipping companion for the masterfully prepared (in my opinion) dessert!

Cheers to Dee and Paul for their delicious recipes and also to our cooks and guests for our wine dinner. We hope there is a sequel in the future!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Stoney Ridge Winery: An Ohio Winery Visit

Story and photographs by Tasting Team Member Glorious T

We have long heard good reports about Stoney Ridge Winery, but never made the trip out to Bryan Ohio. Interesting, because my dad’s family is originally from the area, and he loves their wine, typically bringing the Cherry Blossom to family events, where it receives rave reviews. We recently had the opportunity to visit and jumped at the chance. 

Photo May 12, 2 18 03 PMThe opportunity arose when we were at the monthly Brandywine Country Club’s wine dinner. We have been joining two delightful couples and on this visit were joined by Jim Cameron, Vice President Sales & Marketing, Berman Division of Heidelberg Distributing. Jim was surprised to learn that no one on our group had yet experienced Stoney Ridge and made the offer to arrange a tasting. We were all up for a spring time road trip, and enthusiastically marked our calendars. Well, except the Cabernetor. He missed the memo, but effectively cleared his calendar the week of the trip. When the time rolled around, it was a picture perfect day to leave work early and get outside.

We met at Brandywine and were greeted by a Mercedes van stocked with wine. Our new friends, all Kroger employees, know a thing or two about catering and showed up with beautiful plates of meats and cheeses. Glorious T made a southern pimento cheese dip. We were well set for the one hour trip, west on the turnpike. Once we were settled in and on the road, we popped open the 2016 Charles & Charles Rose from Columbia Valley. It was a perfect start on this sunny warm day. Glorious T and the Cabernetor had visited this tasting room in Walla Walla, and deemed it an interesting and enjoyable experience. Aromatics of raspberry and cherry with a bit of rose petal was complemented by a crisp and bright finish. Even those proclaiming to not be big fans of rosé really enjoyed this selection.

Photo May 12, 2 37 37 PMSoon, we opened the meat and cheese and enjoyed some snacks as the next bottle was open: 2015 Meiomi Chardonnay. As if this smooth and rich wine wasn’t enjoyable enough, Joyce added a slice of mango to each glass. Wow! We were so happy to discover this taste sensation; do try this at home!

Photo May 12, 3 06 13 PMWe turned off the turnpike onto US Highway 127 and were soon at our destination, tucked away back on a country road; a beautiful building, and lovely pond in a picturesque setting. We were greeted by owner, Pam Stotz. She poured our first tasting and took us on a tour of this impressive facility. Her son is the winemaker. They produce 20 varieties on this 13 acre farm, which was originally planted in 2000. In 2013, vines were dug out after an unusually bad winter. In their place, new cold hardy French hybrids originally developed at Cornell University were planted. Pam believes that Ohio wineries are trying to break out of the mold for which they are largely known in the sweet wine category. Stoney Ridge also buys Concord and Niagara juice, and sells its own grapes to Ohio businesses, and they do custom pressing. Quite an operation! Now, on to the wine. We returned to the cozy and rustic wine tasting room with an eye catching fieldstone fireplace as its focal point.

Photo May 12, 3 31 49 PMPam took us through a delightful tasting, complete with entertaining history and stories. We feasted on her new cheesy onion dip – mmmm, do try; you will be hooked! Ohio wineries are trying to rid themselves of the “pink soda pop” reputation. People do love sweet wines, but the staff at Stoney Ridge really does have some remarkable wines for those looking for semi dry to dry choices. This Ohio winery definitely has broken out of the “soda pop” mold.

We deemed the Elegant Farmer to be a great start for any evening, and a wonderful choice for summer. Refreshing, pleasant and light; this is a new estate blend and already quite popular.

We loved the feel of the Vineyard Dew; full and lush, great body and fullness; it was bright and crisp with grapefruit notes.

The next estate wine, Proprietor’s Blend, is semi dry with a floral nose. This was a favorite of the group; it is well balanced and not too acidic.

Another estate choice, Barn Dance Blush, is a blend of reds and whites. Easy drinking and very pleasant.

Photo May 12, 5 50 17 PMStoney Ridge’s best seller is the Barn Dance Red; an estate blend that pretty much appeals to a wide demographic.

We found the story of the Bare Butt Beach to be entertaining, and the playful label is pure fun! Medium sweet and enjoyable, easy drinking.

The interesting Marquette estate varietal was vivid and enjoyable, even though young at only 4 months in the bottle.

Cabernetor and Glorious T discovered Marechal Foch on a trip to the popular Finger Lakes Wine Country. A favorite, Bully Hill Vineyards was displaced by Stoney’s Ridge’s offering today. Just the right amount of jammy fruit, perfectly balanced with a smooth, dry finish. This may have been the favorite of the entire group; nicely done!

A favorite of my family is the Cherry Blossom; it has shown up at holiday events. Subtle and enjoyable choice with sips of sweet and tart cherries.

Photo May 12, 4 18 34 PMRhubarb is in every produce department I enter, and all I can think of is the Country Rhubarb wine. Forget the pie and the sauce; for a real summer treat, grab a bottle of this unique wine. The rhubarb is sourced from a field just a short drive away in Michigan, juiced and pressed, flash frozen, shipped and fermented before it makes its way into the bottle as a semi sweet and charming liquid that you may not realize right away is rhubarb. But you will love that it just screams summer. Great patio drinker.

Before stepping outside, Pam served a dessert glass full of their signature Slap Happy Cider. Two years ago, Pam made the decision to produce a hard cider, using high quality apples picked and delivered by Amish neighbors before placing in cold storage to be pressed. Barrels are filled, fermented, and carbonated before they carefully start the super fast process of filling 2600 bottles an hour! Everyone in the group agreed that this was a taste treat. We picked up bottles to bring home to hard cider fans, and Slap Happy received rave reviews!

Photo May 12, 4 31 34 PMWe decided to take the party outside. The beautifully manicured 13 acre vineyard and surrounding area is so picturesque; and a great place to relax and enjoy some remarkable wine on the lakeside patio with surrounding woods. There are many summer events scheduled, including frequent live music, a pig roast, summer music fest and a lobster boil. Check the website for a complete listing.

Recently, we had a frost warning, yes, in May in Ohio! Pam and her family are so committed, that they developed an intensive plan. She notified the sheriff that they would be burning bonfires all night long, in an effort to save their vineyard. She and her son awoke early in the morning and sprayed all night long, and burned the bonfires, shining so bright they could be seen all around the area. Indeed, they saved their vineyard!

As our road trip came to an end; the group purchased wine (and fresh asparagus) to go, thanked Jim Cameron for arranging this trip, and Pam for her wonderful hospitality. We discovered a gem; put Stoney Ridge on your summer fun calendar!

Stoney Ridge is open all year. For information, contact and visit

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Livermore Valley’s Murrieta’s Well Quenching Thirst With Quality

Murrieta's Well RoséWe had only one regret during last summer’s trip to central California. We missed a side trip to Livermore Valley. We made up for that misstep with a recent tasting of wines from Murrieta’s Well.

A Livermore Valley Legacy

Livermore Valley is one of California’s oldest wine regions, located in Alameda County, about 50 miles southeast of San Francisco.Pioneer winemakers C. H. Wente, James Concannon, and Charles Wetmore recognized the area’s winegrowing potential and founded their wineries in the early 1880s. International recognition followed when Livermore Valley captured America’s first international gold medal for wine in 1889 at the Paris Exposition, putting California on the world wine map.

Murrieta’s Well is one of California’s original wine estates and has been growing grapes since the 1880s. The vineyard was planted with cuttings from the famed Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards in France. The winery was founded in 1884 and was sold to Ernest Wente in 1933. In 1990 the winery was revived and renamed Murrieta’s Well.

We had the opportunity recently to sample six of their Small Lot blends. Green Dragon rose to the occasion with a special dish prepared for each.

Murrieta's Well Warm Weather ChoicesThe Lighter Side Of Livermore

We broke our tasting into two nights, enjoying a pair of whites and a rosé outside on the patio the first evening. The spring breeze rustled the nearby lilac bushes, releasing a delightful aroma.

We started with the 2016 Dry Rosé paired with prosciutto-wrapped garlic breadsticks and strawberries. The rosé is a blend of 55% Grenache and 45% Counoise.  Counoise is a Rhone grape that imparts a nice acidity. This is a startlingly good rosé!

There is a lovely mix of berry flavors with melon. A slight pop of welcome sweetness highlights the finish. You can spend many happy afternoons and evenings sipping this wine!

In 2010, Murrieta's Well launched their Whip (white) and Spur (red) blends. If you have heard of Murrieta’s Well, chances are these are the wines with which you are familiar. In our tasting, the Whip was next featured with Crab Rangoon and a spicy sauce.

The 2015 Whip was incredibly enjoyable – and that’s not a line from from a popular movie. It is a blend of 30% each of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay. It also includes 7% Viognier and 3% Muscat Canelli.

The Whip and Crab RangoonThis is a crisp wine with floral notes and flavors of apricot and honeysuckle. It paired famously with the Crab Rangoon – but it could easily pair with a multitude of dishes or even stand alone. I attribute some of this to the fermentation and aging process. A small amount of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were fermented for two weeks in small oak barrels. The remainder were cold fermented in stainless steel tanks. After blending, a third was stored in used French oak and the remainder in stainless steel tanks. Handling in this was preserves the acidity and fresh flavors.

This is a wine I can confidently recommend for a case purchase. At an SRP of $24, it’s affordable too.

Anchoring this leg of the tasting was the 2016 Muscat Canelli. First of all, it is a treat to taste wine from this hard-tp-find grape. Murrieta’s Well only produced 100 cases.

It was paired with Chicken Florentine – although in retrospect, this was probably a better match with the crab dish and its spicy sauce.

The grapes come from the winery’s Hayes vineyard, which has an array of soils, aspects and slopes. The 2016 vintage is the fourth drought vintage in a row for California, which has resulted in expressive and concentrated wines.

The Muscat Canelli has “Gewürztraminer tendencies” in our opinion. That is to say, it is floral with a touch of spiciness. Over the next two years, the wine will develop even more complex aromas.

Murrieta's Well Superb Cab FrancSpurring On The Reds

The next night we were able to taste the reds during a virtual tasting with Murrieta’s Well winemaker Robbie Meyer. The tasting was hosted by Snooth (and we also revisited some of the whites from the night before). We were joined by tasting team member, the Cabernetor.

The red wine counterpart of The Whip is The Spur, which is a Bordeaux style blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petite Sirah, 14% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc. We paired this with a braised pork dish.

The Spur is a winner with rich flavors of dark cherry and vanilla. It undergoes oak aging for 24 months, half in new barrels – but has no harsh edges. It is supple and elegant. This is another wine which I could heartily recommend a case purchase. It is $30, but drinks like a wine at a much higher price point.

The 2014 Small Lot Merlot has the most limited production of the three reds we tasted, at 18 barrels. It is 90% Merlot with 7% Cabernet and 3% Petit Verdot.

This is a sophisticated Merlot with great depth. Tannins provide nice structure for this wine’s plum and cocoa flavors. It was a great partner with our meatball dish.

Murrieta's Well CapOn the red side, our closing wine – the 2014 Small Lot Cabernet Franc – was the favorite. It is 88% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot. This was a gusher of blueberry, black fruit and herbal flavor notes. The body is medium with a bright finish that has hints of vanilla. This is a smooth ride and differs from Finger Lakes or Ontario Cab Francs since there is no noticeable peppery note.

Our tasting was a revelation on two fronts. First, Murrieta’s Well demonstrated mastery of red, white and rosé with rich and elegant wines at a great price point. Second, Livermore Valley is producing outstanding wine. Wente and Concannon have notoriety, and our introduction to the terroir-driven wines of Murrieta’s well could not have gone better, showing there is more to explore in the valley!

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.