Thursday, January 19, 2017

Masthead 2014 Sangiovese, Mohr-Fry Block 433, Lodi


What happens when you give four wine bloggers a chance to create their own wine? Read all about it!

Wine Bloggers Turn The Tables

The 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California, was an eye-opener. Those who considered Lodi the land of Zinfandel alone, were exposed to a veritable Garden of Eden with more than 100 different grape varieties. There are grapes native to Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Rhone and all of California’s leading varieties.

Lodi also sports grapes from Italy. This includes Sangiovese, one of our favorites. Sangiovese from Lodi plays a leading role in the Masthead project, which saw a quartet of wine bloggers step away from their tablets and computers to create an impressive new wine.

The Blogger Brain Trust

Masthead is a joint project of Scotto Cellars and four wine bloggers: Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget (Pull That Cork), Melanie Ofenlock (The Dallas Wine Chick) and Cindy Rynning (Grape Experiences). The Scottos are one of the true pioneer winemaking families of California. They have been making wine for five generations, dating back to southern Italy before the turn of the last century. Great grandfather Dominic Scotto sold wine from a wooden cart in the Italian neighborhoods of New York beginning in 1903.

The bloggers were invited to Lodi to visit the uber-cool Mohr-Fry Ranch Vineyards, the source of the grapes for Masthead. They had a chance to become acquainted with the old vines of Zinfandel and Sangiovese and the other varieties that distinguish Lodi. They then moved to the new Scotto tasting room in downtown Lodi to work with legendary winemaker Mitch Cosentino and Scotto Cellars’ own Paul Scotto to produce an exceptional wine.

I must admit, 11 barrels of premium wine and four thirsty wine bloggers sounds like a recipe for disaster. Happily, I am proven wrong, because the results are delicious. After three hours of consideration and tasting, the group decided on a final cuvee combining two barrels of Sangiovese – one aged in Hungarian oak, the other in French oak. The end result is 528 bottles of liquid magic, also known as Masthead.

Lodi Wine ReceptionMasthead Debuts

In August, the opening reception for the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference was at Mohr-Fry Ranches, a historic 225-acre vineyard farmed in accordance with the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing.

At a tent during a pleasantly warm evening, I had my first sip of Masthead. That’s quite good, I thought. Then it sunk in that this was the creation of four fellow bloggers – aided by some very skillful professionals. Wow.

Opening night fun continued during the Masthead party at the Scotto tasting room downtown. No one should ever worry about being “stuck in Lodi” especially if they are near the Scotto tasting room.

We recently received a bottle of Masthead and anxiously popped it open a few days ago. In the glass the wine is a cranberry red. It’s light and elegant on the tongue.

Masthead is a playful mix of cherry flavor intermingled with touches of spice. The Green Dragon, my wife, says there is a taste of sweet tart. Whilst first opened, it seems a bit firm – perhaps that’s the Hungarian oak. We revisited the wine the following evening, and it was even more satisfying. It drank smoothly with tannins much more relaxed.

Masthead is a labor of love – but one you can try for yourself. It is available in select markets around the US with an SRP of $30.

What’s next, political bloggers running the White House? Fantasy football fans calling the shots for the Dallas Cowboys? We’re unsure where this might lead, but the initial foray by wine bloggers into winemaking is a tasty success. We raise a glass of Masthead in salute to all involved!

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Boschendal 2011 Cecil John Reserve Shiraz, Stellenbosch


A visit to Boschendal, a wine estate with roots back to 1685, was a highlight of our trip to South Africa. Would its wine taste as spectacular in our own living room?

Exploring Wood And Dale

In 2015 we spent two weeks in South Africa touring wineries, exploring the spectacular country, and stuffing many, many bottles into our luggage. One of the cool wine destinations was Boschendal.

Boschendal, which means wood and dale, is a beautiful estate with an 1812 manor house done in the Cape Dutch architectural style. The grounds have rolling lawns and rows of mature oak trees providing a shady setting for our tasting.

Foremost in our mind were the Méthode Cap Classique wines. These sparkling wines have a world-wide reputation, and Boschendal is a pioneer in South African bubbly. When we moved to the still wine, we were in for a surprise.

Shiraz And A Legacy

View of South Africa from Rhodes MemorialThe Boschendal estate dates back to 1685 when fruit farming began there. Beginning in 1896, ownership of Boschendal was, for a short time, in the hands of Cecil John Rhodes. Rhodes is considered either a hero or a villain by most. He was an advocate of British colonialism and was the founder of Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zaire). He was owner of DeBeers, the diamond mining enterprise and was an important statesman in the Cape Colony, which included the land that encompasses South Africa.

For what reason, you may ask, do I provide this short history lesson? One of the best bottles of wine we tasted at Boschendal was the Cecil John Reserve Shiraz. This reserve line of wine honors Rhodes and so while we sipped, we wondered if we were somehow endorsing a less than progressive view of South Africa. At the end of our tasting, our love of the wine won out and we purchased a bottle of the reserve wine.

Are We Feeling The Winery Effect?

Manor House at BoschendalThe winery effect is when you are sipping a bottle at a lovely winery overlooking a scenic lake or rolling vineyards. You are convinced the wine is “making you more awesome” and you by a bottle or three. When you arrive home and uncork the bottle, you wonder “what were we thinking? This wine is terrible.”

That thought ran through my mind as we unwrapped the tissue and uncorked the Cecil John Reserve Shiraz. With the first sip, I was relieved.

I consider South African wine to be at the intersection of Old World and New World winemaking. The flavors can be bold and rich but without the heavy-handed manipulation of winemakers. There is room for nuance – and the pricing is unbelievable for the quality.

Cecil John Delivers

Shiraz is considered by many to be a sweeter version of Syrah popular in Australia. That’s mostly untrue and certainly untrue in the case of the Cecil John Reserve. This Shiraz is an elegant glass with savory, earthy flavors. The tannins are smooth, despite 24 months of aging in French Oak. The wine isn’t fined, a clarifying process, and is only partially filtered. In the glass it is a medium cranberry in color.

This is a delicious, supremely enjoyable glass. Boschendal wines are highly recommended and their reserve line will not disappoint. Boschendal’s Cecil John Reserve Shiraz has the integrity and sustainability certification of the Wine and Spirt Board of South Africa.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Southern California Wine Country’s Women Create Their Own Heritage In Temecula Valley

The Wine Institute of California estimates that between 15-20% of California winemakers are women, which is an increase of 5-10% from the early 1990’s. Women winemakers are producing standout wines in California’s Temecula Valley.

“Uncorking Bottles Was Always In The Equation”

Photo Courtesy of Visit Temecula ValleyAccording to the Gallup Poll’s Annual Consumption Habits Poll, 52% of women consumers say they drink wine more often than any other beverage compared to only 20% of men so it makes sense this historically male dominated field is becoming an appealing option for women. Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country is no exception. Talented women like Olivia Bue, winemaker at Robert Renzoni Vineyards and Winery, Valerie Andrews owner of Temecula Hills Winery and Oak Mountain Winery, and Cindy Palumbo owner of Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery achieve success while raising families, giving back to the community, and inspiring other women in the industry.

Olivia Bue, winemaker for Robert Renzoni Vineyards and Winery, first got into wine through family. “I grew up in Encinitas, surrounded by a family who loved wine. Uncorking bottles was always in the equation at every family gathering; wine was our conduit to laughter and love. Around the age of 16, a close family friend who had enrolled at the UC Davis School of Viticulture and Enology told me about the program and experience. The moment I received my acceptance letter I made an easy decision to pack my bags and head up to Davis,” says Bue. She is undaunted by the physical labor and long hours, motivated by those who doubted her or judged her because she is young and female.

Bue advises women interested in entering the winemaking field to taste wine as much a possible, discuss wines with others, take classes and be patient. “Winemaking is such an art,” says Bue. “Yes, there is a lot of heavy manual labor and endless hours during harvest, but taking the time to understand your region’s complexities is something that takes time and a love of the art. Any gender can accomplish that!” Bue is especially passionate about Temecula Valley wines. “The more wines I taste outside of Temecula Valley, the more confident and proud I become of our region’s path. We are going in such a strong direction forward and I continue to be impressed at the quality of wines being made in Temecula Valley.”

Growing Grapes And Communities

Valerie Andrews, co-owner and co-founder of Oak Mountain Winery and Temecula Hills Winery, got her start in Temecula back in 1999 when she and her husband, Steve, moved to a 10-acre ranch just on the edge of Temecula’s wine country. They built Temecula Hills Winery on the property, which opened in 2001, and then Oak Mountain Winery on a separate property which opened in 2005. The vines were hand-planted by Valerie, Steve and their children in 2000. Now in her second decade of her wine career, Valerie is deeply loved by the community and consumers and admired and respected by her colleagues.

In addition to operating the wineries, Valerie’s community involvement runs deep. She balances her time running the day-to-day business operations at both wineries as well as serving on the board for the De Portola Wine Trail and on the hospitality committee for the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association. Valerie also founded Cause Fur Paws, a non-profit organization whose mission is assisting animals with diabetes and helping senior citizens with companion pets. Cause Fur Paws Inc., helps low income pet owners pay for 100% of their medical needs. Dog labeled wines and hand crafted cork tiaras can be found at Oak Mountain Winery with proceeds going to help local animals in need. In addition, Oak Mountain is the site of numerous dog events and charity fundraisers throughout the year.

Passion-Driven Wines

Co-owner of Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery, Cindy Palumbo has been in the valley since 1994. She first started at Callaway and Hart wineries with Joe Hart and John Moramarco. Now co-owner of Palumbo Family Vineyards and Winery, a 13 acre, 2500- case-per-year winery, with her husband Nick Palumbo, Cindy is very active in all aspects of the business. They are committed to small-lot, handcrafted wines from varieties grown on the property. She has also been instrumental in implementing sustainable farming and has helped to create more than just a winery but a "whole farm approach" to their agricultural activities believing that a winery should first and foremost be considered an agricultural entity. She is very active in the community and donates both time and money to local charities, including Big Hearts for Little Hearts of Temecula Valley, as well as the proceeds from her children's books, the Farm Boy Series. The series is a collection of entertaining children’s books that teach about sustainable farming. In addition to working full time at the winery and authoring children’s books, Cindy has been deeply involved with teaching children to farm in a sustainable manner through a local 4-H program.

Whether by virtue of their family wine ties, passion, or drive, Bue, Andrews, and Palumbo are producing some of the valley’s best wines all while serving as pillars of leadership in Temecula Valley’s wine and farming community. These women are paving the way for future women winemakers and winery owners in Temecula Valley.

With natural gifts of climate and geography, Temecula Valley is widely recognized for its scenic vineyards, award-winning wines, and friendly wineries as Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country. The destination includes the Temecula Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area) as well as Old Town Temecula and Pechanga Resort & Casino.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cain 2001 Cain Five, Napa Valley

Cain 5There are three things I will not forget about this wine from Napa Valley.

A Trio Of Remembrances

There’s much talk in the wine world of terroir – the soil, the climate and the unique sense of place that forge the essence of a particular wine. Even after the wine is bottled, there is a terroir of the mind that imprints a mental photograph based on your memories, sensations and images. In the case of this particular bottle of 2001 Cain Five, I have three things I will remember about this wine.


This bottle came from the Woodville Anderson’s store. Cabernetor and I had heard about the closeout sale in their wine department and raced over to the store hoping for amazing values.

When we arrived, the store was in a depressing state of deconstruction where even the shelves were being sold to the public. In the wine department, there was an abundance of “beverage” wines but most everything else had been picked over – except, that is, a small selection of their top bottles.

I grabbed a bottle of Bordeaux from Medoc for $70, which is a 50% savings. The Cabernetor, a Napa fan if there ever is one, carefully selected this bottle of Cain Five. That was four years ago.


The second image I will recall is that we drank the bottle at a dinner hosted by Cabernetor and Glorious T. I had suggested that Cabernetor and I should knock some rust off our ping pong game. Normally we play ping pong after Cabernetor has had an ample supply of premium red wine. This evening, however, close to New Year’s Eve, we decided to start with sparkling wine.

The order of wine service was perfectly by the book – but it didn’t help my table tennis any! After pushing the Cabernetor to the limit in the first game before falling, the worst happened. He was energized by the Champagne – instead of his senses being dulled by the red wine -- and proceeded to unleash a series of backhand smashes and impossible angles.


My third memory wrapped up in this wine is the food. In particular, crab melts. Glorious T had prepared this dish which features a crab meat and cheese mixture atop an English muffin. Light and tasty, this was perfect with our Champagne and with our Gruner Veltliner as well. We had a chocolate lava cake with the Cain Five and it was a gooey delicious mess (the dessert, that is).

The 2001 Cain Five is a blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 9% Merlot and 5% Malbec. The five classic Bordeaux grapes have aged well and this particular bottle could have cellared for another two years. The cork presented some challenges, but the wine inside did not.

Cain Five delivered notes of orange peel and oak. Spice and savory flavors also tickled the tongue. This is the signature blend of Cain and the SRP was $90 – but Cabernetor scored a deal. If your New Year’s resolution is to drink more premium red wines, we suggest you check out Cain and make a memory of your own.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Schweiger 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District

Schweiger Cabernet

Exploring the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley, we discovered this gem at the peak of its flavors.

The Switch From Prunes Paid Off

In 1960, Fred Schweiger purchased 61 acres on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley. His early farming efforts included prune farming. At 30 cents for a 40 pound box, he quickly discovered there had to be a better use for the property.

Today, Schweiger Vineyards includes 25 acres of Cabernet, five acres of Merlot, four acres of Chardonnay and a small block of Petite Sirah. Every single vintage of Schweiger Cabernet ever produced comes from the same small vineyard blocks 2,000 feet above the Napa Valley.

No prunes could ever bring a smile to our faces like the 2008 Schweiger Cabernet we recently sampled.

A Celebratory Cabernet

We popped open this bottle to celebrate my successful completion of the Certified Specialist of Wine exam. That capped about eight months of reading, webinars, and studying including about a month of intensive flashcards, memorization and cramming. Thankfully I didn’t crack after undergoing rigorous security procedures similar to a nuclear weapons site at the testing center.

Part of the preparation was learning all 17 AVAs in Napa Valley. So, it was appropriate that I grabbed this bottle from the cellar for our meal. Green Dragon came through. Instead of a creative concoction of leftovers from the refrigerator, she purchased a fantastic steak and cooked it to perfection.

Schweiger Cabernet TopThis is a rich, full bodied wine. For a number of years (and even today), 2009 is the benchmark vintage. Almost every wine region around the world produced great wine in ‘09. That certainly is the case in Napa. The 2007 vintage was also outstanding. You don’t hear much about 2008 – but the Schweiger Cab tells me there are some real beauties out there.

Schweiger uses extended barrel aging – often more than 30 months – to allow the flavors of the wine to develop. Eight years on, this wine is perfectly balanced. It is deep in color and full bodied. We didn’t detect any prune flavors, but perhaps some ripe plums wafting with dark berries and cocoa. A few brushstrokes of vanilla and a long, coating finish complete this masterpiece.

While I was patting myself on the back for attaining the CSW, I reached around with my other hand to give my back another pat for scoring a great bargain. I picked up two bottles of this Spring Mountain Cab for $24 each and the average price of this bottle is $59.

Once I climb to the top of another mountain, we’ll celebrate by opening the other bottle of Schweiger!

Monday, January 2, 2017

San Simeon 2013 Stormwatch, Paso Robles

After more than 30 years of winemaking experience in the Paso Robles region of California, the Riboli family has debuted its first super premium red Bordeaux blend, Stormwatch, under the San Simeon brand. Yes, you have my attention!

Stormwatch Super Premium Paso Robles Blend

One Hundred Years Of Winemaking Heritage

The Riboli family established the San Antonio Winery in downtown Los Angeles in 1917, beginning 100 years of winemaking heritage. Since that time the Riboli Family Wine Estates has encompassed four generations of the family, a portfolio of 20 different brands and vineyards in California’s most prestigious regions, including the Rutherford AVA of Napa Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco AVAs of Monterey County and the El Pomar District and Creston AVAs of Paso Robles.

The Riboli family was recently in the news opened a new energy efficient winery in Paso Robles with an emphasis on environmental stewardship.The San Simeon brand has focused on single varietal wines – until now. Stormwatch is a premium Bordeaux style blend, the first for Riboli after more than 30 years of experience in the Paso Robles area.

A Shelter From The Storm

Paso Robles and Bordeaux-style blends are a winning combination. Throw in our love of lighthouses, and this was a bottle I was anxious to uncork.

The bottle itself is impressive, befitting a wine with a $70 price tag. The elegant black and silver label show waves crashing menacingly against the rugged California coast under darkened skies while the lighthouse stands stolidly as a beacon of protection. The bottle itself has a nice heft, on par with those used for premium Cabernet from Napa.

While the storm rages on the coast, I was confident that it was warm and dry with plenty of wine inside the lighthouse. There was only one way to find out!

During our Christmas Eve Eve (no, that’s not a typo) party, we had a number of wines to entertain guests, including Champagne, a pair of Pinot, and a Barolo. The show stopper was undoubtedly the Stormwatch, which we decanted for an hour.

Smooth Sailing After The Storm

San Simeon focuses on producing small lot wines that showcase the terroir from which the grapes come. In this case the grapes come from the El Pomar District of Paso Robles with steep hillsides and rocky soils, which produce wines with intense aromas and flavors. The cooling afternoon breezes of the famed Templeton Gap help ensure the proper conditions for growing premium grapes.

The wine is aged in French oak for 18 months, but didn’t feel tight or overly tannic. The blend is a tasty 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 16% Malbec, 11% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc.

I was pleasantly surprised with the balance between bold flavors and the delicate nuance of the blend. Stormwatch has 14.5% alcohol, but at no point does it taste “hot” or too astringent. It is a rich and smooth experience.

For me the red fruit dominated with swirls of raspberry and an undercurrent of blackberry. The attention to using the best French barrels pays off with complementary tastes of vanilla. The soft texture attests to a finely crafted wine.

Although the bottle pays tribute to the intensity of the storm and the power of the grape, the experience is more like a nice sunset after the storm with the relaxing sound of breakers on the beach.

Ahoy, wine lovers. This is a tremendous bottle of wine. We recommend it highly.

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

Friday, December 30, 2016

Charles de Cazanove NV Vieille France, Brut Champagne

ChampagneOur holiday party got off to a tremendous start with this Champagne in a very un-Champagne-like bottle!

Good Things Come In Cool Packages

When I spied this bottle in Costco, I was taken aback. I was looking in the sparkling wine section and thought this bottle must be misplaced. Perhaps it is a dessert wine or an aperitif from Hungary. But no, the label clearly stated, “Champagne.”

I fondled the bottle for a while, but ended up not buying it. The Green Dragon has been after me to “drink down” my wine cellar. That can’t be done if the bottles bought exceed those drunk down. So I passed it by.

Thank the lucky stars, though. We hosted a holiday party the next night and Glorious T and the Cabernetor came bearing gifts. In their package was this bottle of Charles de Cazanove Vieille France Champagne – chilled and ready to open, I might add.

So we did.

Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing, Baby

What a way to start our party! (How it ended is another story…) We poured the Vieille France into our new Champagne flutes and a flurry of bubbles erupted capped by luscious mousse.

Champagne 2

You can tell a lot about sparkling wine by the bubbles. In general, the smaller and more continuous the bubbles, the higher the quality of the wine. Check and check – the Vieille France (Old France) was putting on a bubble show. There was no lacking in the taste department either – flavors of toast and honey were evident with a tickle of apple too.

Maison Charles de Cazanove is a leading Champagne house in the Cotes des Blancs region of Champagne. It was founded in In 1811 by Charles Gabriel De Cazanove, a young man aged 24 from a family of master glassmakers. Perhaps that explains the wonderfully unusual bottle shape. Maison Charles de Cazanove produces more than three million bottles of Champagne a year. Their top of the line Champagne, called Stradivarius, uses grapes from Grand Cru vineyards and is produced in the same bottle as the Vieille France.

This is the time of year for Champagne and sparkling wine. Vieille France is available for less than $30 at Costco and is a true gem. We suggest you uncork some of the “real thing” this holiday season and Charles de Cazanove is a great place to start.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Top Wines of 2016: A Vino-Sphere Exclusive List

Top Wines of 2016

Here it is – our annual listing of the best bottles of the year. Sit back and “sip” these reviews of stellar wines.


It’s been a good year! During 2016, which is now rapidly drawing to a close, we had an opportunity to taste hundreds of wines and visit wineries in Rioja, Priorat, Woodinville, Washington, Amador County and Lodi California. Of course, we do it just for one reason, to bring you the inside information on the very best wines. We also transitioned from “Toledo Wines and Vines” to our new moniker of Vino-Sphere.

Here’s our list of top wines from 2016. We present the list in alphabetical order. An asterisk indicates exceptional quality. Raise a glass!


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lieb Cellars 2011 Reserve Blanc de Blancs, North Fork of Long Island

Lieb Cellars Reserve Blanc de Blancs

What’s weird about this picture? It has a flute and a beautiful bottle of bubbly. Nothing strange about that. Look closer. This wine isn’t from Champagne, California or Italy – but Long Island.

A Special Spot In New York

If you have followed this blog for a while, you know that we are big advocates of New York State wine. Many people don’t realize that New York is the third largest wine producing state, trailing California and Washington. Oregon is fourth.

One of our favorite wine regions anywhere is New York’s Finger Lakes. But we have to give some love to another New York wine region: Long Island. Long Island is about two hours east of New York City and the region is relatively young, with the first vines being planted in 1973.

There are two AVA, the North Fork of Long Island and, in the south, the Hamptons AVA. There are many Bordeaux-style blends and we’ve enjoyed some dynamite Chardonnay from there as well.

Gift Bag O’ Bubbles

The subject of our article today arrived in a gift basket to our office staff, from our friend Patty in Minnesota. There were cookies, sweets and some savory cheeses. I’m sure she wouldn’t be surprised to know I dove directly into the wine-shaped box to see what it contained.

To my delight, I discovered the bottle of Lieb Cellars 2011 Reserve Blanc de Blancs. How cool. I’ve had some delicious sparkling wine from the Finger Lakes, but this would be my first taste of Long Island sparkling. We popped open the bottle during our annual staff holiday lunch.

The Lieb Cellars bubbly is made in the Traditional Method, just like Champagne with a second fermentation in the bottle to create those luscious bubbles. The main grapes from Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The Lieb wine was made with Pinot Blanc. Since it uses only white grapes, it earns the label Blanc de Blancs.

North Fork Gains New Fans

Lieb focuses on small lot, reserve wines from its 85-acre estate. The Reserve Blanc de Blancs did not disappoint. It is aged on the lees for four years before it is disgorged (this is when the yeast and sediment is removed – quickly – and the bottle recapped).

This had nice persistent bubbles with notes of nuts, apple and citrus. We had a variety of dishes, everything from fish to a cheese steak sandwich. The Reserve Blanc de Blancs paired famously and, not surprisingly, was perfect for a holiday toast.

Lieb has produced a well-made sparkler than stands tall. I’ve got a preference for Traditional Method sparkling wine and the care spent making this wine via this very involved process is evident in the glass. It is tasty and tasteful. It has an SRP of $30, but drinks like twice the price. 

Distribution of Long Island sparkling wine is a tiny blip compared to California or Europe, but that just makes it even more of a treat. We highly recommend this bottle – grab it if you can. (It’s available online too.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Over The Top Dinner Focuses on Culinary Feats, Top Shelf Wine Experience

When we bid on a special dinner in the Exchange Club of Toledo silent auction at their benefit wine tasting, we had no idea the spectacular event that was in store.

Appetizers and chefs

Cold On The Outside, Party On The Inside

About 10 months ago we were the top bidders on a wine dinner to be put on by our friends Glorious T and Ann Baronas. We could bring four other guests and for one reason or another, it was almost impossible to get everyone’s schedule to sync.

The icy blasts of winter had their grip on the Toledo area before we could finally get our special evening scheduled. It certainly was worth the wait.

The party was held at the home of Glorious T and the Cabernetor. Ann’s friend Tom Nourse helped with the festivities and our “posse” included friends Maria, Larry and Donna and Maria’s friend Betsy. In addition to a winter weather advisory for Northwest Ohio, we had issued our own “wine advisory” for the evening. As a result, we took Uber to the dinner.

Let The Bubbly Flow

Salad and ChardonnayIf there is a more festive way to start an event than sparkling wine, we don’t know it. Once we arrived we were greeted with Kir Royale cocktails. Kir Royale is a swanky Champagne and black raspberry cocktail made with Chambord liqueur and garnished with a lemon twist and a blackberry. The Chandon sparkling wine matched perfectly with our appetizer trio of prosciutto-wrapped goat cheese dates, mushroom caramelized onion palmier and amuse bouche ala Oscar. This was a sensational party already – and we had barely hung up our coats.

Our six-course meal continued with roasted carrot ginger soup and a winter salad with maple vinaigrette. Soup and especially salad are notoriously difficult wine pairings. Have no fear – as I knew he would, the Cabernetor had just the right wines. The first came from Ann’s cellar – a magnum of French rosé! It was the 2014 Chateau Hourtin-Ducasse Les Roses de Marie from Bordeaux, crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It was a refreshing blast of springtime on a wintery night and paired brilliantly with the soup.

A pair of Balletto wines accompanied the next menu items. The 2014 Balletto Teresa’s Vineyard Unoaked Chardonnay from Russian River Valley rocked the salad and delighted my wife, the Green Dragon, who is no fan of oaky whites. The food and wine decadence continued with butter poached lobster paired with the 2013 Balletto Gewürztraminer. The spicy and floral notes of the Gewürztraminer were a nice foil for the rich flavors of the lobster.

The Main Attraction And Then Some

Many toasts and humorous stories later, it was time for the main course. The dish was beef tenderloin au poivre, which is steak with peppercorn sauce and crust. This was accompanied by goat cheese and garlic potato soufflé, balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts and garlic butter mushrooms. This was a culinary tour de force!

Wine Dinner FinaleThe entrée was paired with two magnificent reds from Lewis Cellars in Napa. Opening up (literally) was the  2004 Alec’s Blend. This is a superb composition of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet. Both bottles from Lewis Cellars – treasures from Ann’s trip to Napa -- were decanted and were elegant companions to the beef. The group was amazed by Alec’s Blend, but my favorite was yet to come.

Following close behind was the 2002 Cuvee L. This wine is made only in exceptional years. It is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon with 7% Cabernet Franc. It is a towering beast of a wine, tamed by the steak and tannins that are integrating nicely. It is a limited production wine, with only 300 cases made. Randy Lewis was a professional race car driver for more than 20 years and raced in five Indy 500’s. He also excels at making supercharged red wines!

We needed a short break from the dining table, so we went downstairs to tour the wine cellar and work off some of the meal at the ping pong table. Larry drubbed me in the first game, but as I drank more of the Cuvee L, my game improved (at least I thought so!).

The Final Verse

How do you wrap up a spectacular wine and food extravaganza? How about a couple of “stickies,” which is what the Australians call dessert wine. Sea salt caramel lava cake was accompanied by Bellangelo Muscat Vin Doux Naturel from the Finger Lakes and the 2003 Dolce Late Harvest Wine from Napa Valley. A vin doux naturel wine is lightly fortified to stop fermentation before much of the sugar is converted to alcohol, leaving it tastefully sweet. The Dolce is called “liquid gold” and is made by the only winery in the US devoted solely to producing a late harvest wine. In this case it is Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon – rich and scrumptious!

We love lava cake and dessert wines. On their own, they would overpower, but were a nice match for a sweet dessert. Betsy, a sweet wine fan, was applauding every drop!

Thanks to Glorious T, Ann, Cabernetor and Tom for cooking and coordinating such an awesome event. Just recalling has brought defrosting thoughts to this chilly December night!

Photo credit to Betsy Watson Herman for the group photo of the “wild wine bunch.”