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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dry Creek Vineyard 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley

2017 DCV Sauvignon BlancTriple your Sauvignon Blanc enjoyment with this new release that not only includes Sauvignon Blanc, but two grapes you may not know as well.

A New Generation Sauvignon Blanc?

Dry Creek Vineyard has been a family-run winery for more than 45 years. Located in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, it has a long history with Sauvignon Blanc. Founder David Stare was the first to plant the grape in Dry Creek Valley.

The second generation, President Kim Stare Wallace and winery partner and husband Don Wallace, is leaving its imprint on the winery and its favorite grape.  The 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Vineyard takes a twist on traditional Sauvignon Blanc.

The wine incorporates not only Sauvignon Blanc, by 13.5% Sauvignon Musqué and 5% Sauvignon Gris. With warm weather rapidly approaching, we wanted to get to the bottom of this new bottle. Literally!

Something Old And Something New

Sauvignon Musqué arrived from France in 1962 and this clone or Sauvignon Blanc is now a popular planting in California. The grape is aromatic and provides a vibrant and juicy weight to the palate. Sauvignon Gris is a unique copper-colored grape. Although sparsely planted in France, it is used by some of the top Bordeaux wineries as part of their blend. At least a couple eminent California wineries, Chimney Rock and Chalk Hill, have released single varietal Sauvignon Gris.

Dry Creek Vineyard is known for delivering great quality at affordable prices. The 2017 DCV Sauvignon Blanc is $20, but delivers flavor beyond its price tag.

The 2017 growing season was challenging, with record-setting rain, followed by foggy and windy days and an extreme heat wave. By the time the wildfires came in October, almost all the wineries lots had been harvested. Despite that, the grapes show an excellent concentration of flavors.

In the glass, the 2017 DCV Sauvignon Blanc differs from most other California Sauvignon Blanc. The Sauvignon Musqué adds depth, giving it a light-medium body. The Sauvignon Gris provides a nice layered complexity. The fermentation regimen is also unique. Stainless steel tanks were used for 82% of the grapes while the rest fermented in a combination of acacia, neutral French oak and chestnut barrels. Prior to 2016, the aging was 100% stainless steel.

The end result is a wine with tropical fruit aromas and a slightly creamy texture. The barrel fermentation adds nice character. This is a distinctive wine, engagingly different than somewhat boring “typical” California Sauvignon Blanc and yet not as “over the top” as some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Dry Creek Vineyard’s 2017 release is Sauvignon Blanc to the 3rd power. Chill it down and check it out.

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Windsor Run Cellars: North Carolina Winery Visit

This just might be the most diverse winery in North Carolina. With a lineup that ranges from Merlot to “Killer Bees,” Windsor Run Cellars is a popular stop in North Carolina wine country.

Windsor Run's Guilty red blendExpanding The Wine Spectrum

We visited five wineries in North Carolina’s Swan Creek AVA during a recent trip. Without question, Windsor Run Cellars had the most wide-ranging lineup.

It’s in a ideal location, being next to “sister” winery Shadow Spring Vineyard. It’s also a stone’s throw from the popular Shiloh General Store, an Amish store with a great deli, interesting wares, and an accommodating porch on which to enjoy your lunch.

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Our palate gravitates to dry red and crisp white wines – but that doesn’t mean everyone follows suit. At Windsor Run Cellars, we were able to find some nice dry wine, something for which Swan Creek is known, but the winery offers so much more including mead, fortified wines and distilled spirits. They even offer a wine blended with pineapple, mango and coconut.

This “run” in the beautifully crafted wood tasting room began with the 2016 Swan Creek Pinot Grigio. It is Windsor Run’s driest white and offers fresh tastes of green apple. After cleansing the road dust from our palates, we were ready to move on to a trio of reds.

We sampled the 2011 Merlot, Guilty and the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. Our favorite was Guilty, a blend of 88% Chambourcin and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s not enough Chambourcin in the world, at least in our opinion. Chambourcin is a French-American hybrid grape that can make excellent quality wine and is more resistant to the ups and downs of North Carolina weather. Guilty is fruit forward with blackberry and cherry notes. It retails for $20.

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The Merlot is a well rounded wine and an enjoyable sipper at $16. The 2014 Cab gets barrel aging, but the body of the wine was still too light for our taste.

Windsor Run Cellars MontageWe then started to climb the sweetness scale! The next sip was the 2016 Traminette. I’m a fan of the grape, but my wife tends to avoid wines with floral taste. It was a semi-dry glass of fruit goodness, just the thing for the coming warm weather.

Pineapple Wine And Killer Bees

Tasting options at Windsor Run are $7 for seven wines or a full tasting of seven wines, three fortified wines and two souvenir glasses for $12. Since we still had a couple winery visits to make, we opted for the $7 special. We leapfrogged over several interestingly named wines (Summer Breeze, Windsorberry, Cherry Smash and Island Holiday) to sample the Apple Mead.

We’d recommend the Apple Mead for a frosty autumn day or the cold of winter. Mead is made from honey and in this case the honey was fermented with apple cider, natural cinnamon and cloves. Enjoy this heated in a mug for a great blend of fruit, honey and spice.

I mentioned the diversity of Windsor Run’s lineup. It offers a nice selection of sweet wines to go with the dry, including Island Holiday, which is Cab Franc blended with pineapple, mango and coconut! There is also Sangria, brandy, Midnight Run (a Port-style wine), three meads and two wine cocktails.

Windsor Run Cellars also operates the WRC Distillery, which was licensed in 2007. The name has changed over the years, but it remains North Carolina’s first and oldest winery owned and partnered distillery. The distillery offers three artisan spirits: White Widow, Killer Bee and Shadow Hawk. Killer Bee is created by distilling mead made from genuine Africanized “killer bee” honey. Killer Bee is an 80 proof straight sipping spirit with pleasant honey characteristics.

On your next “run” to North Carolina wine country, be sure to visit Windsor Run Cellars. You’re sure to find a bottle that suits your taste.

Monday, April 9, 2018

A French Food And Wine Pairing: Châteauneuf-Du-Pape And Ratatouille

Looking for a wine to pair with your “meatless Monday” dish? Here’s the perfect bottle we selected for our vegan Ratatouille.

Vegan Ratatouille with warm bean salad and sourdough bread

Ratatouille: Flavorful French Country Dish

Rachel Nershi of Earth N OvenHonestly, I eat a lot more tuna fish and hot dogs than I do Ratatouille. But when our daughter Rachel, the vegan baker and chef behind Earth N Oven, was in town it was a different story. After a few months backpacking in Southeast Asia, she was interested in creating amazing plant-based dishes in a big, American-style kitchen. I was standing by to pair her work with the best wines I could find.

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Ratatouille is a hearty dish from the Provence region of France. It’s a vegetable dish, with eggplant, zucchini and tomato. With olive oil, herbs and garlic, it is a sumptuous dish. Rachel created a flavorful layered ratatouille served with a warm white bean salad and loaf of sourdough bread.

This dish not only satisfied the appetite, but had an amazing presentation. The veggies were layers and spiraled around the circular pan. It looked so wonderful, it was almost a shame to eat it. Almost!

Southern Rhone Wine To The Rescue

Ratatouille is a colorful display of vegetablesIn thinking about the wine pairing, I decided that a light-bodied red would be in order. I actually had an excellent Spanish Rioja Crianza teed up for the meal. The chef had other ideas. She demanded that her French dish be served with French wine.

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Rhone is one of my favorite French regions, because we go gaga over Syrah and Grenache, two of the regions main red grapes. The cooler climate of the North Rhone is more suited to Syrah, while Grenache thrives in the warmer south. For this dish, the lighter Grenache grape would be the way to go.

My cellar was appallingly low on French wine, with most clearly not suited for this dish. Lingering in the shadows and waiting to step into the spotlight was the 2009 Vignobles Mayard Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau de ma Mère.

Some of France’s best wines come from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Maynard’s “Crau” parcel contains Grenache vines 105-years-old. The blend is 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. The wine is aged 18 months in “foudres” – a large wooden vat significantly larger than a typical oak barrel.

We decanted the wine for about a half hour before dinner. The wine is still quite lively nine years after vintage. It is drinking in its prime now, but could probably age for up to three more years. The tannins are soft and the wine was jammy with a nice acidity. Just as there were layers in the Ratatouille, there were delicate layers of complexity in the wine, with cherry, blackberry notes.

A good rule of thumb when pairing food and wine is to opt for wine from the country of the cuisine. Ratatouille and Southern Rhone equaled an evening of French elegance. Viva la France!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Ca’Marcanda Delivers The Art And Style Of Italian Wine

Ca’Marcanda winery is named for the seemingly endless negotiations it took to purchase the historic estate. The name has come to represent the best in modern Italian winemaking.

Ca'MarcandaBolgheri: Italy’s Best-Kept Secret

Italy is home to amazing world-class wines. But it wasn’t always so.

In the decades before the Italian wine renaissance, regions like Chianti had restrictive regulations that handcuffed the creativity of winemakers. The best wines sometimes had to be released as vino da tavola, table wine.

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Modern Italian wine began to take shape in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Super Tuscan movement was launched near the town of Bolgheri, with the introduction of Cabernet-based  Sassicaia. (A Super Tuscan is considered a Tuscan blend made with Cabernet Sauvignon or other international varieties.) Other wines based on international grape varieties followed.

Angelo Gaja, the owner of Ca’Marcanda winery, was instrumental in the introducing revolutionary winemaking practices in Italy, such as the planting of French grape varieties and the use of malolactic fermentation and oak barriques. His pioneering spirit is embodied in the Ca’Marcanda winery.

Super Super Tuscans

During a recent Wine Studio education session, we had the chance to explore three outstanding wines from Ca’Marcanda. Each features international grape varieties and only one includes a small quantity of a signature Italian grape.

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Bolgheri is located along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea in an area known as the Maremma. The climate, with hot days, cool nights and brisk sea air, is ideal for the growing of premium red grapes. Today Bolgheri is its own officially recognized DOC wine region.

Any discussion of Ca’Marcanda would be incomplete without mention of its two types of soil. The rich dark “terre brune” is primarily loan and clay. The “terre bianche” is light soil, primarily clay and sand,  rich in limestone and filled with abundant stones and pebbles.

The 2015 Ca’Marcanda Promis was our first taste. It is 55% Merlot, 35% Syrah and 10% Sangiovese. Promis (pronounced proh-MEES) means commitment, expectation, fulfillment and hope. We enjoyed the bottle with a dish of spaghetti.

Promis grapes are grown in the terre brune. This wine is supple and elegant, with the Merlot providing a silky texture. There is a mix of black fruit and a savory note. The wine is aged in slightly used barriques for 12 months. Promis retails for $48.

The middle wine in the Ca'Marcanda trio of reds is the 2015 Magari. Magari means “if only it were true.” The wine has been produced for 20 years. Starting with the 2015 vintage, the blend will be predominantly Cabernet Franc. The composition is 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot.

Super Tuscans of Bolgheri's Ca'MarcandaCabernet Franc ripens well in Bolgheri and the Ca’Marcanda Cab Franc is profoundly excellent. We are huge Cab Franc fans, and so this delicious wine was a treat.

In the glass the wine is a deep purple with a bright edge. On the palate the wine is rich and savory with luscious blueberry notes. The wine offers a pop of pepper. It is polished with a nice minerality. The SRP for Magari is $65.

Ca’Marcanda Flagship Red

The crown of Ca’Marcanda is its namesake wine. The grapes are grown in 100% terre bianche soil, which are ideal for producing long-lived wines.

To enjoy this special wine, Green Dragon prepared Filet Mignon and Truffled Mushroom Reduction. The entree was served with organic polenta with Pecorino Romano cheese and braised kale with onion, garlic and bacon.

The 2013 Ca’Marcanda is a blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc. It was decanted for an hour before our meal, but continued to evolve in the glass until the decanter was empty more than an hour later.

In the glass the wine is a deep red and the aroma has layers of fruit. Ca’Marcanda has structured but relaxed tannins, nice minerality with core of dark cherry and blueberry. This is a wine to savor and sip while reflecting on the goodness of life.

Ca’Marcanda is only produced in exceptional years. All three of the grape varieties are fermented separately. After blending, the wine ages for 18 months in slightly used barriques and gets another year of bottle aging. Ca’Marcanda retails for $145.

Why settle for average, when you can enjoy “super?” Super Tuscan, that is. The sensory experience of modern Italian winemaking is at its best in Ca’Marcanda wines.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Carlin de Paolo 2015 Estate Arneis, Terre Alfieri, Italy

The Italian grape Arneis is called “Little Rascal.” We paired the rascally grape with a hearty vegan meal.

Carlin de Paolo Arneis

Plant-Based Pairings

Vegan meals can provide a delightful wine pairing challenge. I discovered this when our daughter Rachel, a vegan baker and chef, visited for a couple months.

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Normally I focus on the main entree, which is usually meat or fish. From there, the wine selection process can be narrowed to a few key decisions down the pathway to the perfect wine.

Taking meat and seafood out of the equation means I’ve had to power up my wine pairing skills to find the right picks for Rachel’s plant-based dishes.

Northern Italian Flavor

A recent meal was centered on Quinoa topped with garlic sautéed asparagus and mushrooms with a side of citrus-maple glazed root vegetables. Vegan cooking done right is loaded with flavors. This meal highlighted a unique ensemble of roasted beets, carrots and potatoes coated with a delicious glaze that had sweetness as well as a citrus zing.

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I needed something that would accentuate the flavors but not overwhelm them. Scanning over my inventory of wine, I locked on the 2015 Carlin de Paolo Arneis. We’re big fans of Arneis, first tasting this unique white grape a half dozen years ago with a superb Italian meal in San Diego.

The bottle comes from the Terre Alfieri DOC in the Piemont region of Northern Italy where Arneis is the primary white grape. The Carlin de Paolo is 100% Arneis and is straw yellow with green highlights in the glass.

Aromas are those of tropical fruit. On the palate there are soft fruit flavors of citrus and white flowers. The tannins are strong enough to stand up to the robust root veggies. The finish of the wine is crisp and dry.

Our Arneis was a smashing pairing with the vegan dish, but it can also be enjoyed as an aperitif. It also pairs well with fish and white meat – just don’t tell Rachel! For more information Rachel’s cooking, visit Earth N Oven.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Baronia del Montsant 2008 Englora, Montsant

Englora from Montsant, Spain

In 2002, Montsant was recognized as a distinct wine region in Spain. Winemakers aimed to make premium wines from low-yield vines and modern technology.

On The Edge Of Greatness

When the great wine regions of Spain are mentioned, chances are Montsant is not in the discussion. It wouldn’t be on my radar except that during a trip to Priorat a few years ago, I picked up a bottle of Montsant wine in a shop and stuffed it in my luggage for the trip home.

Roman Coliseum in TarragonaMontsant is a U-shaped wine area southwest of Barcelona. It nearly circles the Priorat region. Priorat and Rioja are the only regions to obtain Spain’s highest quality regional designation (DOCa). On the other hand, Montsant had been part of Tarragona, which has an amazing Roman coliseum but otherwise is known for lower quality supermarket wine. Winemakers in Montsant felt they could do better and perhaps emulate their neighbors in Priorat. In 2002, Monsant became its own DO (Denominación de Origen under Spanish wine law).

The bottle of Montsant I purchase in Spain was outstanding. Since then, I’ve looked for Montsant high and low.

Englora, a great blend of five red grapesSpanish Quality And Value

I picked up the 2008 Englora for $18 at Total Wine. Spanish wines tend to overdeliver for the price, one reason I love them.

This is a blend of 47% Garnacha, 22% Carignan, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Syrah and 4% Tempranillo. That’s a lot of red grape goodness in the bottle! The grapes are grown at the foot of Montsant in the Siurana Valley. It is aged nine months in oak barrels.

The wine is medium bodied with aromas of red fruit wafting from the glass. On the palate there are rich notes of raspberry and cherry. Nice minerality permeates the wine which has structure, but leans toward the fruit forward side of the spectrum.

Montsant is a wine region ascendant. We recommend starting to drink its wine now. You’ll be able to tell friends you knew Montsant before Montsant was cool.

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