Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Terra Bella 2008 Estate Syrah, Paso Robles

Terra Bella SyrahCan this Syrah from Paso keep punching a full decade after the harvest? We uncork to find out.

Ten Years Are Gone

On a recent Friday night I pulled out the 2008 Terra Bella Estate Syrah from Paso. The bluesy sounds of John Mayall’s Ten Years Are Gone came to mind as I uncorked the bottle. “Ten years are gone, what of ten years from today?”

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Aging can do funny things to people and wine. Some mellow with age, some fade away and some just get weird. Which would it be with the Terra Bella?

Terra Bella is a former cattle ranch in Paso Robles that specializes in Rhone varieties and supplies grapes to some of the top California Rhone producers. Talented winemaker Andrew Murray crafted this single vineyard Syrah with grapes from the steep limestone hillsides of Paso Robles.

Into The Darkness

The drinking window for this wine was listed as going through 2017. High time to drink up! Pouring into the glass, the wine is an inky, opaque deep purple. On the neck of the bottle a fine coating of sediment lined the inside.

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On the nose there was a slight odor of acetone, making us wonder if we had waited just a year too long. Swirling and sipping dissipated the smell which gave way to subdued black fruit. The nose was pretty closed.

The Terra Bella has 15.5% ABV and seemed quite “hot” to me on first taste. The Green Dragon turned to me and said, “What are you talking about?” As the wine opened up I experienced the same slippery smooth tannins she was enjoying.

Despite being a decade on from vintage, this is still a big wine. Black fruit and blueberry notes contribute to a dark and powerful character. There are some brambly notes, which we love about Syrah – especially from hilly terrain. The wine has a medium-plus body and a hint of spice.

I’m not sure if Terra Bella is still producing their own wine, or just selling grapes from the vineyard, but this Syrah is an excellent one. We picked this up for a mere $18. To paraphrase John Mayall (with Blue Mitchell playing some mean trumpet behind the vocals), “Ten years are gone and the future worked out fine!”

Monday, August 13, 2018

JOLO Winery & Vineyards: North Carolina Winery Visit

Panoramic view of JOLO and Pilot MountainWhat could be finer than the stirring sight of North Carolina’s landmark Pilot Mountain? How about a superb winery just a few miles away.

JOLO barrel roomSetting A High Standard

Before we left Ohio to relocate to North Carolina, we had dinner with friends who served a bottle of wine from our new home state. It was a bottle of Pilot Fog from JOLO winery. It was a delightful treat and when headed back north on a recent trip, we made sure to stop at JOLO along the way.

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Many North Carolina wineries are blessed with spectacular mountain views. JOLO can boast a scenic view of Pilot Mountain to go with its wonderfully crafted winery and grounds.

We’ve had unique experiences over the years as we’ve visited more than 200 wineries. In some cases, the tasting room was some spare room in a barn where we were offered wine in plastic cups. Yadkin Valley’s JOLO is the opposite end of the spectrum – everything is first class all the way. The grounds of the estate are manicured and the tasting room would not be out of place in some of the top wine regions in the country.

Chic dining at EndpostsThe JOLO Tasting Experience

Before enjoying our tasting, we got a tour of the production area which also features a barrel-room tasting area. The use of local custom woodwork and a great sense of design makes the winery a decidedly upscale experience. You can even stay overnight at the Newlywed Chateau, a cozy bungalow-style building a few steps from the tasting room.

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The 80-acre property features a lake, flower gardens, marked trails and a bocce court. JOLO also boasts a great restaurant, Endposts. It has an outstanding view and an interesting menu that includes Chicken Lombata Salad, Soft Pork Tacos and Gouda Mac & Cheese Arancinis. We moved back into main room of the “tasting lodge” for our tasting.

Some of the great food at EndpostsTastings cost $15 for seven wines. For an extra $5 you can take home a very large JOLO Riedel glass that can hold a bottle and a half of wine. (That way you can say you’re only have one glass of wine!)

JOLO Golden HallowsJOLO does a great job not only with the traditional Bordeaux varieties, but also the French hybrid grapes that really do well in North Carolina. For example, the JOLO Twinkles, a lightly sparkling wine, has Chambourcin and Viognier. The JOLO Beach Bubbles, another sparkler, is made with Traminette. It starts sweet with floral notes and tropical fruit.

The 2017 harvest is said to best the best at JOLO since the winery began in 2012. We were anxious to try the well-regarded Golden Hallows White. This is a dry white made with Vidal Blanc and Traminette. This light and crisp wine is delicious with notes of pineapple and pear. It retails for $25. We also tried the Golden Hallows Reserve (Lot 2) which is aged briefly in new American oak. This would be a spot-on wine for fans of oaky Chardonnay, but we preferred less oak in our whites.

With a rinse of the glass and a mental reset, we were ready to try the reds.

Rise Of The Reds

JOLO WineryCrimson Creek is a light bodied wine made with Chambourcin. We’re fans of this French hybrid that was also popular in our former home state of Ohio. The tannins are nice and soft with notes of raspberry and herbs. The body is on par with Pinot Noir, so it is ideal for those who like reds, but not heavy-handed tannins. A nice value at $27.

JOLOTAGE is a Bordeaux blend with a twist. It features Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot – all Bordeaux varieties – as well as Chambourcin. It is a graceful wine with a medium to medium-plus body. The tannins are silky. There are nice layers of red fruit. It is aged in French and American oak and has spice and cedar flavor notes.  A great deal of care is spent picking the best lots and wines for blending and the results show. It is priced at $31.

Our most favored wine was Pilot Fog. This is made with Cynthiana, which is another name for the Norton grape. Cynthiana makes a deep, full-bodied wine. JOLO’s Pilot Fog is considered the most highly acclaimed wine in Yadkin Valley with a slew of medals to back up the claim. We were able to sample the 2017 vintage, but were brought down to earth when told that the wine is on allocation. It is only available to JOLO wine club members and they can only buy one bottle per visit. Needless to say, we savored every drop of this wine (which isn’t on the regular tasting menu). It’s a complex and substantial wine that would go great with lamb.

We wrapped up with a tasting of the JOLO Sangria and the Happy Endings Late Harvest Traminette. A sweet conclusion to our tasting!

JOLO is a not-to-be-missed winery with standout wines. Be sure to visit on your next trip to Yadkin Valley.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah Elevates In Vertical Tasting

Decanting 2004 Parducci True Grit Petite SirahSometimes one glass or one bottle just isn’t enough to measure the greatness of a wine. Join us as we take an exhilarating vertical leap into wine.

Digging Into True Grit

The words “True Grit” call to mind the late 1960s Western movie starring John Wayne. Wayne was a tough guy. In each John Wayne movie you can expect him to deliver a right hook onto the bad guy’s chin, sending the villain crashing through the saloon window.

He was rugged. He was tough. Mendocino County winery Parducci knew what they were doing when then dubbed their reserve Petit Sirah True Grit. It’s big and bold with plenty of heart.

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We’ve had three bottles of True Grit for a couple months, just waiting for the proper time to stage a vertical tasting. That time finally arrived when we returned to Ohio to visit friends and family. An over-the-top wine dinner was the perfect setting to taste the trio of Petite Sirah.

IMG_20180726_163318~2The Corkscrew Of Time

The meal was hosted by our good friends and tasting team members, the Cabernetor and Glorious T. We were house guests, so not only could we enjoy fantastic wine – but we wouldn’t have to drive home, just navigate a flight of stairs.

A vertical is a tasting of the same wine but at least three different vintages. This enables you to really understand the character of a wine and appreciate the nuances that differentiate harvests. If you can believe it, the vertical was just a part of a magnificent wine dinner, which I’ll share more about in the days to come.

The vertical wines were the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah. Parducci is the oldest winery in Mendocino County, founded in 1921. Their pre-Prohibition Petite Sirah vines are some of the oldest in America.

Our first task was to uncork the wines, which was easier said than done. The 2004 was the first to face the corkscrew. Cabernetor plunged the lever of the corkscrew and then withdrew the cork – or should I say half of it. Crumbling remains of the cork were still in the bottle. We tried the “ah-so” corkscrew with flat prongs that slide outside of the cork. You’re supposed to twist the tool and the cork will come out. But it didn’t.

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We ended up pouring the wine through a mesh filter into the decanter. The 2006 uncorked easily, but we had the same crumbly cork for 2005.

I wasn’t sold on the need to decant a 14-year-old wine, but it was a good call. Petite Sirah in its youth can be bold and brash. Even after more than a decade, these wines displayed hearty flavors that benefited from time in the decanter.

Duet With A Trio

After mingling and munching with appetizers then enjoying a carefully crafted salad course, our party of 10 was ready for the main dish: a duet of salmon and steak with asparagus and a cauliflower/potato dish. The food was lovingly prepared by Glorious T and Green Dragon (my wife). Cabernetor and I had been tasting each of the Petite Sirah vintages as they were opened just to make sure they would pair well with the entree. Despite the gritty reputation of Petite Sirah, age had mellowed the Parducci and we felt it would match superbly with the steak while not punching out the salmon.

True Grit Vertical

We started with the 2004, not wanting a more aggressive 2006 to overshadow it. In a nod to Rhone winemaking, the 2004 actually has 2% Viognier, a white grape. The age and decanting had smoothed the rough edges from the wine. Instead of a lumbering John Wayne in a 10-gallon hat, it was light and nimble with notes of pepper and vanilla. Just right with the salmon.

When others zig, we zag, so for a reason not completely known to me now, we poured the 2006 next. The ‘06 was going strong, with robust flavors of blackberries and chocolate. This displayed lush flavors and was still firing its six-guns in the air shouting “yee-haw.” (Wait a minute, that might have been us!) This vintage has 4% Grenache and 2% Syrah. It has more intense flavors than the 2004.

Circling back, we served the decanted 2005. This has 8% Grenache and may not have undergone the same 25-month oak aging as the 2006. It was lightened by age and mellowed by integrated tannins. Black fruit and traces of caramel were present as we enjoyed our delicious meal and chatted about everything under the sun. The 2005 is my favorite, I declared. The rest of the table voted 2004 as the standout. While no one professed 2006 as the best, its decanter was bone dry by the end of the night.

The ability to age is a hallmark of good winemaking. These are exciting wines made even more enjoyable by the aging process. Whereas a current vintage of Petite Sirah is all swagger and strength, aging adds finesse. The rounding of the tannins makes the wines suitable for a wider range of foods, too.

Usually when we review wines this old, we have to say “sorry, but they are no longer available.” This time, they are! Parducci is making these three wines available singly and all three as a vertical. Each is priced at $50. The vertical of three is priced at $140. If you prefer a more current vintage, the 2015 True Grit Petite Sirah is nicely priced at $30.

Time to saddle up for a tasting at the Vertical Corral!

Editor’s Note: As of this writing, the largest fire in California state history is burning in Mendocino County. Our thoughts and prayers are with the residents and firefighters there.

Full Disclosure: We received these wines as a marketing sample.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Wine, Travel & Food News From Vino-Sphere: August 6, 2018

Eagle-Eye View Of Vienna

Vienna Tourist Board Captures Bird’s-Eye Videos With Eagles

The Vienna Tourist Board sent eagles up into the skies to capture footage of the city from above. Now online, travel fans can watch it using VR goggles and experience the capital in 360° just as the eagles caught it on camera. Videos can be found here:

Fritzi, Bruno, Darshan and Victor took to the skies on behalf of the Vienna Tourist Board, taking off from the top of the Danube Tower and a hot air balloon launched from the grounds of Palais Schwarzenberg. They were kitted out with 360° cameras and 16:9 format cameras on their backs. The eagles circled above the city capturing bird's-eye views in stunning 4k resolution supported by the production company Red Bull Media House, who were brought on board to give the Vienna Tourist Board campaign wings.

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"The project was a world first - never before had eagles wearing 360° cameras been used to capture footage of a major city," explained Norbert Kettner, CEO of the Vienna Tourist Board. It goes without saying that all the necessary animal welfare clearances were obtained before starting the project and none of the eagles - wearing lightweight cameras - came to any harm during filming.

Mercer and Delicato Announce Joint Venture

Delicato Family Vineyards and Mercer Wine Estates announced today they will launch a collaborative new wine from Washington. The new brand, Mercer Family Vineyards, is a partnership between two respected fourth-generation family wine companies.

The Indelicato family planted their first vineyards in California after Gaspare Indelicato emigrated from Sicily to California, and under the continued family leadership it has grown into a top-ten wine company with well-known consumer-loved brands such as Gnarly Head, Bota Box, Noble Vines, and Black Stallion Estate Winery on Napa Valley's Silverado Trail. The Mercer family settled in Washington'sHorse Heaven Hills as a farming family in 1886, they planted the first vineyard in the area in 1972. They released their first wine in 2005, and the portfolio has continued to garner high scores and respect from critics and the trade.  

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The first vintages of Mercer Family Vineyards, 2016-17, will include a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend, and a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon available nationally and rolling out August 1, 2018. In addition, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Malbec and Reserve Red Blend will be launched in the Pacific Northwest.


Surfliner Offers Special Angels-Padres Promotion

The Amtrak® Pacific Surfliner® announced the first-ever Surfliner Series as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim face the San Diego Padres at Petco Park for a series of three interleague games on August 13, 14 and 15, 2018. Fans can take advantage of special offers and promotions to save on both train travel and ballpark tickets, as well as, enter for a chance to win the Grand Slam Giveaway, where one lucky winner will get to throw out the first pitch at Petco Park on August 14 prior to the Angels-Padres game.

Texas Experiences One Of Their Most Successful Harvests

Historically having a short harvest period sets Texas vineyards behind. A shift in both wine demand and production methods in the wine industry has recently helped the region sustain a healthy harvest cycle. With their annual grape harvest starting in the summer month of July - that's four months ahead of growers in the ever-popular Napa region - the state has had one of their most successful seasons producing 38% more than 2017, continuing a growth trend.

With the market developing a growing taste for different blends including varietals that have a shorter hang cycle, the state's wine businesses are reducing their loss caused by those blends that require much lengthier dry times. "Paired with advances in winemaking technologies, mid-west wine producers are able to maximize efficiency and production costs helping them compete better inside and outside of their local markets," shares Texas-based award-winning wine collector, Marcus Hiles.

Craft Beer Tap Room Opens In Shanghai

The Stone Brewing Tap Room – Shanghai is now open, its third location to open across three continents in three months. The opening marks the first tap room by an independent American craft brewery in China, and raises the bar for craft beer in Asia.

"There's no other US craft brewer bringing this level of commitment to China right now," said Paul Gelinas, Stone Brewing Executive General Manager of China. "Independent American craft beer is of increasing interest to the craft beer community here, and Stone is truly bringing the full experience with guest beers, rare finds and the most impressive tap system available. We knew we wanted Stone's arrival in China to be something exceptional, and we're delivering in strides."

Stone's 300 square-meter bar and restaurant offers seating for 90 indoors and 28 in the additional 100 square-meter gardens (30-50 person capacity for events). Floor to ceiling custom roll-up doors open the tap room to the outdoors on two sides. The interior incorporates reclaimed wood, concrete, steel and vintage lighting around tables, a main bar and an oversized fireplace lounge. Vintage carpets and sofas warm the industrial elements for a visual experience as nuanced as the beers. Natural landscaping and stone boulders flow inside and out. Outside, guests can indulge in to-go beers while enjoying the property's grassy front lawn or lounge around a massive stone slab garden table.

Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé To Debut

Rosé fans will be joining Beaujolais Nouveau-lovers in eager anticipation of Thursday, November 15, when Beaujolais Nouveau Day also becomes Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé Day for the first time in the US.

On this day, the third Thursday of November when French law allows the release of the "first wine of the harvest," Les Vins Georges Duboeuf (the family owned-and-operated winery that popularized Beaujolais Nouveau across the globe) is launching a "new" Nouveau.

According to Franck Duboeuf, who manages the winery with his legendary father Georges, the Nouveau Rosé is made from Gamay grapes carefully selected from the best vineyards in AOC Beaujolais.  These same growers supply the winery with the grapes for their classic Beaujolais Nouveau.  Some of them have worked with Georges Duboeuf since the winery's first Nouveau release in 1983.

"We are excited to send a Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé to the US for the first time," Franck says.

Gamay grape skins are nearly black, while the flesh and juice are white, so these same grapes can produce either a red or a rosé wine.  Like the classic Beaujolais Nouveau, the Rosé is being made by Duboeuf's Chief Winemakers, Emeric Gaucher and Denis Lapalu,  The winemakers explained that they look for grapes fit for rosé -- those with a slightly high acidity to retain a fresh mouthfeel.


Dinner Time Stories To Open Interactive Meal In Toronto

The first Canadian pop-up of Dinner Time Stories, opens on Sep. 29 through Nov. 25 in downtown Toronto at Katana (333 Bay St.). Elevated by cutting edge 3D technology, the immersive dining experience takes guests on an adventure with Le Petit Chef, making his way along the historic route of Marco Polo on the Silk Road. Combined with a refined six-course menu of international cuisine, the production delivers an unforgettable journey around the world in two hours.

Brought to life in Toronto by The Substance Group and Go West Creative, the show sets the tone for the evening with music, table patterns, props and decorations, all changing with the chapters of the story. Once guests take their seats, they are introduced to the hero of the story, Le Petit Chef, who comes to life onto their plates. Through 3D digital mapping, Le Petit Chef embarks on his travels in a projection timed to be perfectly in sync with each course.

"When I was first introduced to the Dinner Time Stories concept, I was completely blown away by the extraordinary technology, unmatched service and absolutely delicious food that draws you into the world of Le Petit Chef," says Neil Forester, owner of The Substance Group. "There is a huge appetite for something like this in Toronto and I am thrilled to lead the team that is bringing Dinner Time Stories to the city."

Besides the captivating visual element, the show's six-course menu is created behind-the-scenes by catering leaders 10tation and Chef Bashir Munye, taking diners along a unique exploration of flavours. Le Petit Chef begins his culinary exploits with an amuse-bouche of ratatouille, a French classic from his hometown of Marseille. As he continues on his travels, he makes his way through the desert and into the hills of the Himalayas, savouring cuisine from North Africa and India before ending with a selection of dishes from China. For the final course, Le Petit Chef creates his favourite dessert from Marseille, infused with elements and ingredients he has collected from his adventures across the world.

The show runs Friday to Sunday from Sep. 29 to Nov. 25, 2018, with two seatings nightly. Tickets are $200 per person at

Drake’s Coffee Cakes Return

Drake's Coffee Cakes are now back on store shelves to the delight of Drake's consumers. With their delicious cinnamon streusel topping, Drake's Coffee Cakes were first introduced in 1930.

Drake's Coffee Cakes are a part of popular culture, having been featured in a story line on the TV sitcom Seinfeld. As with all Drake's® cakes, Coffee Cakes are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. 


Wings Over The Rockies Attraction Opens At Colorado Airport

Exploration of Flight, a unique to the nation attraction, is now open at Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colorado, thanks to Wings Over the Rockies is a Colorado-based non-profit dedicated to educating and inspiring all people about aviation and space endeavors of the past, present and future.

The 19,000 square foot Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery is broken up into two experience arenas. The first floor will cover the "experience" of flight. Strap into a tumbling gyro chair to understand the effect of G-forces on your body, interact with a wind tunnel using items of your own design, navigate mountain passes, witness leading edge technologies and even feel the thrill of flight through virtual reality.

On the second level, visitors will understand the "sequence" of flight. From mission planning and career readiness to a full-fledged viewing lounge, guests will be able to witness the excitement and buzz of the second busiest general aviation airport in the United States. Guests can even don a headset to hear chatter from Centennial Tower, a direct line into the complicated, yet fascinating, world of aviation communication.

Along with the robust array of interactive exhibits, the Blue Sky Gallery will include incredible opportunities to discover flight first-hand. Sit in the cockpit of pilot-quality flight simulators, interact with the latest aviation technology and even experience flight itself through a partnership with Aspen Flying Club.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Hess Select Cabernet and Pinot Noir Deliver California Flavor And Value

Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot NoirLooking for wines from Cali that don’t cost half your paycheck? We uncork two smooth sipping suggestions.

Sustainable and Affordable

Hess Family Wine Estates is a continent-spanning wine empire that includes brands in Napa, Sonoma and Argentina. Donald Hess founded the winery and oversaw the plantings of the first Hess Cabernet Sauvignon on Napa’s Mount Veeder more than 30 years ago.

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Hess is focused on sustainability, being a leader in environmental practices in California. Currently they are certified “Napa Green” and follow the dictates of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance Code of Sustainable Winegrowing.

While some of the wines in the Hess Collection can top $300 (for a magnum), the Hess Select range is much easier on the wallet. Prices range from $11 to $20. Hess Select wines originate from Hess estate vineyards in Napa Valley as well as partner growers in Lake, Napa and Mendocino counties. We recently uncorked the Hess Select Central Coast 2016 Pinot Noir and North Coast 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Juicy Bargains

Hess Select Pinot Noir and pork tenderloinThe Central Coast Pinot 2016 vintage highlights grapes from the Sarmenta Vineyard from the Santa Lucia Highlands. The vineyard is located on the benchland of the Gabilan Mountains in Monterey. It’s a perfect Pinot scenario, with Pacific breezes cooling the grapes in the afternoon and allowing them to ripen slowly, developing full flavors.

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We paired the Central Coast Pinot Noir with a nice pork tenderloin with balsamic vinegar reduction, tri-colored carrots and some sautéed fennel. Pork and Pinot is a favorite pairing of ours and the Hess Select showed nicely with flavors of ripe berries and a pinch of spice with nice silky tannins.

The Pinot is aged up to a year in neutral French oak, giving nice structure. This is a juicy bargain at only $20. About 5,000 cases were produced.

The 2015 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon is 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Sirah, 4% Malbec, 2% Syrah, 2% Merlot and 2% Zinfandel. Aging is for 18 months in 35% new French and American oak.

Hess Select Cabernet offers quality and valueWe opened this as an after dinner wine and were pleased with its smooth drinkability. The alcohol content of the Cab is actually less than the Pinot Noir (13.84% versus 14.3%). This isn’t a bombastic big wine with hard tannins that requires cellaring for a decade. It’s a nice pick for right now.

At $19, we consider this an outstanding value in California Cabernet. Black fruit and cocoa flavor notes blend with ripe cherry and vanilla. It is full bodied with rounded tannins and a satisfying finish.

Don’t have $300 to drop on a magnum? Hess Select wines are a solid and satisfying choice.

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Left Coast Cellars Delivers Surprises And Wine Satisfaction

Left Coast Cellars Rosé with shrimpWillamette Valley’s Left Coast Cellars specializes in single vineyard wines. Our most recent tasting of Left Coast wines included something we absolutely didn’t expect!

Willamette Valley Standout

Left Coast Cellars is a 356-acre estate winery with steep hills creating a natural amphitheater surrounding a large meadow and spring fed lake. It is one of the largest contiguous vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The focus is on single-vineyard bottlings, drawing from eight different estate vineyards each with a unique microclimate.

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We previously enjoyed a bottle of Left Coast’s Latitude 45° Pinot Noir. Our most recent tasting included the 2017 Rosé, 2017 “The Orchard” Pinot Gris and -- a nice surprise -- the 2017 White Pinot Noir. We tried each wine under different, and enjoyable, circumstances.

We Give Left Coast Wines The Patio Test

Left Coast Cellars The Orchard Pinot GrisA warm summer night on the patio prompted us to open the chilled “The Orchard” Pinot Gris. We flamed on the tiki torches and poured a glass. The Orchard is 91% Pinot Gris with 9% Pinot Blanc.

The wine is further tweaked by using two different clones for each of the grape varieties. The Orchard Vineyard is planted at the site of a historic apple and pear orchard dating back to the pioneers who settled Oregon.

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Oregon produces our favorite style of Pinot Gris and Left Coast doesn’t disappoint. Good acidity and minerality frame delicious tropical fruit notes, green apple and kiwi. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel, keeping the flavors pure and delicious.

Summer around our house means plenty of rosé. We paired the 2017 Rosé with a grilled citrus shrimp and rice entree along with watermelon and corn on the cob. We just finished setting the table on the patio when the sky started to darken with billowing clouds. Into the house we went, just missing the downpour.

At the dining room table we started our feast with this unique rosé. The blend is 54% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier (a traditional grape for Champagne) and 6% Pinot Blanc. Add four months of aging in neutral oak and you have a very unique wine.

Unlike a typical rose that is fashioned in the Provence style, the Left Coast version has notes of spice and cherry. The color is pink bordering on copper. It's a unique take on rose that dances to its own piper. It is expressive and a perfect pairing for a myriad of foods.

Only 827 cases were produced. SRP is $24.

Unraveling The Mystery Of White Pinot Noir

Left Coast White PinotIs white Pinot Noir just a novelty? That’s something we were asking ourselves as we poured the 2017 White Pinot Noir. It’s not uncommon in many countries to chill Pinot Noir, so we gave this a quick chill before opening. At the time we were watching the Wimbledon grand slam tennis tournament. There, tradition rules and players must wear all white while playing. So we went “all white” with our Pinot Noir.

This Pinot Noir has 9% Pinot Blanc, a white grape. It’s also fermented in stainless steel. So in many ways, this is a red wine made in a white wine style. The fruit is crushed at extremely cold temperatures to ensure minimal coloration from the skins. The color is that of light straw.

The aroma is peach and citrus. On the palate, the initial sensation is of a white wine, with pear and minerality. For me, the wine then had an extended mid-palate of cherry and the body weight of a red. The finish was again in line with a white wine.

Left Coast White Pinot Noir needs to be experienced to be fully understood. Salmon, a tried-and-true pairing for Pinot Noir, would be a good match as well as vegetables or chicken with light seasoning. Stay away from pork or heavier sauces -- there is a delicacy here you don’t want to obscure.

This is a unique and winning wine. SRP is $24.

Left Coast Cellars continues to intrigue with their well-crafted wines. If you are stuck on the Right Coast, North Coast or somewhere else, take the trip. The destination is delicious.

Full disclosure: We received these wines as a marketing sample.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Wine, Travel & Food News From Vino-Sphere: July 24, 2018

Martha StewartMartha Stewart Wine & Food Experience Set For Las Vegas

Can’t get enough of Martha Stewart? Tickets are now on sale for the Martha Stewart Wine & Food Experience presented by USA TODAY NETWORK and MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas, NV. The event will take place October 13 at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds on Sahara Avenue. The venue has 35 outdoor acres on the southwest corner the famed Las Vegas Strip. The venue provides a great fan experience with turf throughout and trees for shade.

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Cheat Day Land Experience Coming In September

If you've ever dreamt of donuts while pumping iron, or simply wished that being bad didn't have to be so bad for you, then Cheat Day Land may well be the place for you. Rubi Rymenmy, creator and founder of Art Flying Aerial, is presenting Cheat Day Land to Los Angeles, CA. Cheat Day Land is a space where healthy lifestyle advocates can take a break from their dietary restrictions and indulge in whatever strikes their fancy for the day. Everyone's entitled to a cheat day after all.

Cheat Day Land is the world's first interactive pop up museum dedicated to your favorite cheat foods. Imagine a donut gym complete with pastry dumbbells, or a life- size bowl of cereal where you suspend from the spoon to get that perfect Instagram shot. This is a playful, fun, whimsical world where your inner child can come out to play. "Cheat Day Land is a sensory explosion," Ms. Rymemny explains. "A space where you are able to truly experience each piece of art, to immerse yourself in it."

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But Cheat Day Land isn't purely about indulgence. The event will offer up sensible ideas and suggestions on balancing a healthy lifestyle with snacking and guilt-free cheating. Don't worry though; you can still eat the donuts.

Ashford CastleRed Carnation Collection Earns “World’s Best” Honors

The Red Carnation Hotel Collection has announced it has once again earned top honors in the highly esteemed Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards. This year the collection garnered the No. 2 spot in the ‘Best Hotel Brands’ category, while Ashford Castle, Hotel 41 and The Chesterfield Mayfair each placed in the top 10 in their respective categories.
2018 is the first year that Red Carnation has appeared in the ‘Best Hotel Brands’ category. Its debut second from the top of the list is impressive. The brand has 17 luxury boutique properties worldwide.

Reidsville NC An Enticing Option For Parks And Recreation

July is national Parks and Recreation month and a great place to spend a little fun in the sun is Reidsville, North Carolina. Gorgeous lakes, greenways, trails, outdoor events and cozy downtown make it an ideal outdoor adventure spot.

The Tar Heel State prides itself on some of the most welcoming, picturesque, unique and historic destinations in the nation. Approximately 10 minutes from North Greensboro, Reidsville offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city complete with a wealth of outdoor activities, both on lake and land. Lake Reidsville is a 750-acre lake and park. If hiking is your thing you can reconnect with nature on the Chinqua-Penn Walking Trail, a historic trail featuring a small waterfall, wildflowers and over 150 species of birds.

Cage-Free Eggs And Craft Beer On New Alaska Airlines Menu

Alaska Airlines has announced the roll out of a new seasonally-inspired Main Cabin food and beverage menu. Based on research and feedback from guests, the menu includes local ingredients paired with West Coast staples such as artichokes, tomatoes, asparagus, berries, avocados, artisan breads and cage-free eggs. Main Cabin guests will also enjoy a rotating selection of craft beers starting today and an elevated wine program, which will be rolled out later this fall.

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Sip From Livermore Valley’s Murrieta’s Well Is Deep And Refreshing

Livermore Valley is gaining fans among California visitors. Quality wineries like Murrieta’s Well are one reason why.

Lineup of Murrieta's Well winesA Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Napa…

Livermore Valley is less than an hour east of San Francisco. It is one of California’s oldest winegrowing regions with the first commercial vineyards being planted in the 1840s.

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The region boasts some wine heavyweights with high outputs as well as wineries like Murrieta’s Well, that focus on limited production wines. Increasingly, wine lovers are deciding to skip the crowds and high prices of Napa and Sonoma and visit Livermore Valley.

Through a virtual tasting hosted by Snooth we were able to taste a quintet of Murrieta’s Well wines with commentary by winemaker Robbie Meyer. It gave an insight into why wines from this region are garnering increased attention.

Murrieta's Well 2017 Dry Rosé A California Original

Murrieta’s Well is one of California’s original wine estates, growing grapes since the 1800s. The winery also comes with an impressive pedigree. The vineyard was started with cuttings from the prized Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards in France.

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We started our tasting a bit early, taking the 2017 Dry Rosé with us on a trip Wrightsville Beach, NC. After a day of fun in the sun, we uncorked the chilled bottle while watching the surf roll in on our balcony.

The rosé is 42% Grenache, 39% Counoise and 19% Mourvedre. It’s a Rhone-style wine and the addition of Counoise adds great acidity. It is a peach color with strawberry notes. No flimsy summer sipper here: It’s a serious rosé that would pair beautifully with salmon. SRP is $30.

The virtual tasting kicked off with a pair of whites. The 2017  Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc is made in the French style. It is fermented in French oak barrels to breath and mature, but is removed after early aging so heavy oak qualities are not imparted to the wine. It is aged sur lie for four months in neutral oak barrels to add texture. It has soft grapefruit notes and a wonderful acidity. The grapes are descendants of the original Chateau d’Yquem cuttings. It retails for $35.

Murrieta's Well "The Whip" and Lump Crab CakeBrilliant Blends Bottled

Two wines that have brought Murrieta’s Well to the forefront are beautifully crafted blends. The 2016 “The Whip” White Blend is 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Semillon, 21% Chardonnay, 12% Orange Muscat and 10% Viognier. The wine is dark straw in color and provides a carnival ride of flavors and aromas. The Orange Muscat and Viognier amp up the aromatics with funky floral notes.To add to the complexity, some components of the blend are aged in small oak barrels while others are aged in stainless steel tanks.

This is a lively wine with white peach flavor notes and a crisp finish. We paired it with lump North Carolina crab cake, snow peas and hush puppies. It would also work well with Thai food, too. It’s one of our favorite white wines and has a very approachable cost of $26.

Counterpoint to the Whip on the red side is the 2015 “The Spur” Red Blend. The wine is a mix of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot and 6% Cabernet Franc. Each variety was fermented individually then blended together and aged for 24 months in a combination of new and neutral French oak. This wine is easily the equal of others costing twice the price. It exudes ripe blackberry, vanilla and spice notes. Layer upon layer of flavor create an inviting complexity. It is one of our top wine picks.

Preparations ready for Murrieta's Well virtual tasting!

The Well Is Not Dry

Murrieta’s Well had not yet run dry. The crowning wine in our tasting was the 2015 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cab has 11% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. All the grapes come from the Murrieta's Well estate vineyard and the grapes are hand sorted. The 2015 harvest was the fourth drought vintage in a row, but contributed to flavor-concentrated grapes and expressive wines.

The wine has earthy notes with luscious black fruit and cocoa. It’s an impressive wine that can be aged now through 2025. The Small Lot Cab is scheduled to be released in September (we got a sneak peak!). It retails for $58.

Murrieta's Well Small Lot Sauvignon BlancIn case it isn’t apparent, we really like Murrieta’s Well wine. This iconic Livermore Valley winery has a great lineup of wines and the quintet we tasted is representative of the quality of the entire range. They aren’t producing “entry level” or “lifestyle” wines. Instead, Murrieta’s Well focuses on finely crafted, limited production wines. We are particularly enamored of their “The Whip” and “The Spur” blends. A good host could keep a case of each on hand and be very nicely provisioned for any occasion.

We’re glad that California’s drought hasn’t dried up this well of amazing wine.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as marketing samples.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Montefioralle Producing Chianti Classico Gems For 50 Harvests

Montefioralle Chianti ClassicoFor more than 50 years the Sieni family has been making limited production wine in the Medieval hamlet of Montefioralle. One of the smallest Chianti Classico wineries, their wine continues to attract new fans.

In Chianti, Small Is Beautiful

It seems not a week goes by without news of a winery or brand being gobbled up by a massive international beverage company. Due to its mountainous terrain and political divides, profusion of different winemaking traditions and native grapes, Italy has avoided this. There are more than 1 million grape growers in Italy and the average holding is less than two-and-a-half acres.

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That suits us fine. To us, small is beautiful. A case in point is Azienda Agricola Montefioralle, a family-run winery in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany. Through the recent Wine Studio education program, we were able to learn about this Italian gem.

The winery has been run by the Sieni family since 1964, when Renato Sieni took over management of the vineyards that had been cared for by the local priests for centuries. Renato and son Fernando planted new grapevines and started production of a Chianti Classico wine called Santo Stefano a Montefioralle.

Montefioralle C.C. Riserva and seafood pasta When the church administration gave up the vineyard in the 1990s, the Sieni family immediately bought it. Now Fernando’s oldest daughter, Alessia, is the owner of the estate and winery. Together with brother Lorenzo and Fernando, they manage the production of wine and olive oil.

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The first harvest by the Sieni family was 1968. This year marks the 50th harvest for the winery!

The roots of Montefioralle go back to the Romans and the castle dates back to the year 931. The rule of the castle was controlled at different times by Florence and Sienna. The village of Montefioralle currently has about 70 inhabitants and the Sieni vineyard is about five acres.

A “Peculiarity Of The Soil”

Sangiovese is one of our favorite grapes and Chianti Classico is one of the best expressions of it. While Chianti can be produced anywhere in the Chianti zone, Chianti Classico is the historic heart of Chianti and became a separate appellation in 1996. Chianti Classico wines contain 80% to 100% Sangiovese and white grapes are excluded from the mix. Chianti Classico wines are emblazoned with the “black rooster” logo.

Montefioralle Vin Santo is made with dried grapesWine producers in the Montefioralle knew that something was unique about their soil. This microclimate, a peculiarity of the soil, is what gives their Sangiovese a special character. The soil is rich in limestone and good drainage, forcing the roots deep underground. Geologists surmise that a glacier may be the reason  why certain areas in the region have up to 50% rich, fertile loam soil.

We were able to try three Montefioralle wines:

The Vin Santo del C.C. 2014 is a dessert style wine that we paired with assorted fruit mini-cheesecakes. Vin Santo is made with grapes that have been dried to raisins. This concentrates the fruit sugar that will turn into alcohol. The pressed juice is put in small cherry wood barrels and allowed to ferment slowly.

The result is a delectable raisin nectar. At first we served this with a slight chill, but heeding the advice of the winemaker we gave it a more substantially chilling and that made the wine even more enjoyable. The colder temperature lessened the perception of high alcohol and allowed us to focus on the sweet, delicate flavors in this amber colored wine.

The Montefioralle Chianti Classico DOCG 2015 is primarily Sangiovese with small amounts of Canaiolo and Colorino. The wine is aged for a year in oak. It has a smooth body with sour cherry notes.

We enjoyed the Montefioralle Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2014 with a seafood cocktail of squid, mussels and shrimp over pasta. The Riserva gets two years of aging and a higher level of alcohol, but the tannins are surprisingly supple. There are delicious red fruit notes wrapped with hints of wood and spice. The finish is velvety. An outstanding wine that didn’t overpower our seafood dish!

The Montefioralle winery is small but mighty. It produces limited run, handcrafted lots of elegant wines. This is an ideal site for a visit – but if not the wines can be purchased online. Cheers!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

SoCa Cocina Latina Restaurant Rocking Raleigh With Eclectic Food And Wine Options

So.Ca offers outdoor diningDrawing its culinary inspiration from the region South of the Tropic of Cancer, Raleigh’s SoCa, offers a delightful mashup of Latin and Caribbean inspired street food paired with an outstanding selection of wine.

Elevated International Cuisine

We’re always up for exploring unique restaurant experiences. Last month was Triangle Restaurant Week, so we headed to SoCa, a Latin-inspired Raleigh restaurant that we viewed through the windshield, but had never visited.

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SoCa has carved out a unique culinary perch, focusing on cuisine from locales south of the Tropic of Cancer, a geographic dividing line that runs just north of the equator. That adds up to an eclectic menu that includes dishes from more than 20 different countries. Dishes include Guatemalan Ceviche de Camaron, Jamaican Lamb Patties, Peruvian Tiradito de Pescado and Brazilian Feijoada, to name just a few.

The restaurant is one of just 11 Wine Spectator Award winners in Raleigh. We were all smiles as we saw the finely crafted wine list featuring a wide array of southern hemisphere wines.

So.Ca caramelized pear empanadas and roséOutstanding Vibe And Vittles

SoCa, located at 2130 Clark Ave, Raleigh, in the Cameron Village area, has an inviting energy. Servers whisk past with trays of food, guests unwind with friendly chatter at the bar, wine bottles are opened and food sizzles as cooks work in view of the customers.

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It was a hot summer day in Raleigh (imagine that!) and so we first wanted a drink to chill down. What better way than a sparkling Brut rosé? We selected the Viña Underagga from Chile’s Central Valley. Not only are South American wines delicious, but they are typically great values as well.

I opted for the three-course Triangle Restaurant Week special and my first dish was Caramelized Pear Empanadas, with savory pastry, Manchego cheese, chorizo and toasted almonds. This dish was not only a sweet and savory explosion of flavors, it was artistically plated. It was a treat for the eye and the palate – something that was true for each dish we had at SoCa.

The evening was a bit toasty outside, but we plan to sit out on the patio during our next visit. It looks like an ideal vantage point to watch the world go by while sipping a glass of wine. SoCa also offers free valet parking, something greatly appreciated by us and certain to remove the “do you see any parking spaces” anxiety from your evening.

So.Ca Adobo Pork Tenderloin and Pinot NoirDone with my ruminations while gazing out the window, I was ready to pick a red wine to go with my entree. We like to try new and different wines (hey, it’s what we do!) but SoCa has you covered even if you don’t. They offer lists of SoCa reds and whites, focusing on countries in their geographic bullseye, but also have lists of global reds and whites featuring outstanding choices from the rest of the world. For example, they feature Cabernet Sauvignon by Sleight of Hand in Washington State and Ty Catton in Moon Mountain, Sonoma, as well as Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain and a good selection from France.

To accompany my Grilled Adobo Pork Tenderloin I selected the 2015 Alto Limay Pinot Noir from Patagonia. I’ve been wanting to try a Pinot from this up and coming Argentine region. At SoCa I was able to do so by the glass. The pork dish had poblano pepper slaw, charred pineapple, salsa verde and lime. The Pinot had notes of cranberry, minerality and a touch of cocoa. It was a nice pick to go with my entree as well as my wife’s seafood dish.

A Sweet Ending

So.Ca Choco-LatteIt was no contest for the dessert selection. The Restaurant Week menu offered Choco-Latte which, by its description, promised to raise the bar on decadence. Videri dark chocolate cake is topped by whipped mascarpone and Brazilian brigaderos (a chocolate fudge ball!) and accompanied with raspberry purée and chocolate chunk coffee ice cream.

The dessert delivered in spades. Rich chocolate accented with tart berries and creamy coffee goodness – an outstanding way to end our dinner.

So.Ca offers a great vibe and crazy good cuisine.There’s a lot to like about SoCa. The cuisine is at a very high level: well prepared and beautifully presented. The menu is also thoughtfully composed with surprising and inviting dishes, most of which you won’t encounter elsewhere and certainly not all together. The wine list is well designed and contemporary in style. Other restaurants may have more voluminous lists, but they likely don’t have some of the great selections featured at SoCa. It has everything to make a wine lover keep filling glass after glass.

SoCa Cocina Latina gets our highest recommendation. Whether you want to explore the world or just have a great meal, head south of the Tropic of Cancer!