Thursday, March 26, 2020

Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest: Ziplining With The Original Canopy Tour

Ziplining in Costa RicaLooking to spot exotic animals in the cloud forest, zip through the lush treetops, or gallop on a sunset horse ride? Monteverde offers all this and more.

And Away We Go…

No adventure tour in Costa Rica would be complete without ziplining. We first zipped through the treetops in Ohio’s Hocking Hills and found the combination of speed, height and scenery to be marvelous. While in Monteverde, we hooked up with The Original Canopy Tour for our forest zipline experience. OCT is the originator of the canopy tour concept. The founders of the company moved from Canada to Costa Rica with the idea of creating an exhilarating experience while raising environmental awareness.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

TDescending in the Cloud Foresthe cost of the canopy tour is about $50 and you can book online. This is a half-day tour and you should be reasonably fit and comfortable with standing at heights of more than 100 feet. Be sure to wear closed toed shoes. Bring insect repellant and sunscreen. You can forget about your camera. I brought a small digital camera that had a wrist strap, but had almost no chance to use it. They have a professional photographer and the cost is a very reasonable $20. You’ll have lockers to stow your gear before heading out.

The zipline course is located in a 70-acre private reserve of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. After we were fitted with a harness and got a safety briefing we began with a vigorous hike up a hilly trail that winds through the woods. One of the nice things about the OCT is that it isn’t just ziplining. They have a few twists – like the Tarzan swing, which was the first course feature. This helps chase away the butterflies as you leap off the tower and take high, sweeping swings through the forest.

The canopy tour was part of the Eco-Adventure tour we booked with Green World Adventures. They did an outstanding job making all arrangements for our trip.


Into The Scary Tree

The course has 14 cables, but one of the most unique features doesn’t involve zipping. The Scary Tree is a large Strangler Fig tree that has overtaken a ficus tree resulting in a soaring tree with a hollow inside. Once atop the platform on the tree, our guide said the next step was to rappel – straight down -- from our 150-foot perch. This was different from our past rappelling experience as the guide was in control the whole way – and it seemed like he let me plummet for a good while before slowing my decent. I loved it!

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

Once on the bottom, we had to get back to the platform in order to continue zipping. To do that we clamored up rope netting into the hollow tree. When you come out the opening, the path to the top is a vertical rope ladder. After that we were ready to get on the zipline and feel the wind blowing in our faces.

The longest cable is more than a half-mile long. For this one we were instructed not to brake as we would need all our momentum to make it to the next platform. I followed all the instructions. I swear I did. Still, I came up a bit short and finished the last 15 feet or so by pulling myself hand-over-hand to the platform.

The Original Canopy Tour is a first-class operation and an exhilarating experience. We recommend it highly.

TTree House Restauranteree House Restaurante

After a pulse-racing morning, we decided to enjoy a relaxing lunch in Santa Elena. One place had caught our eye as we drove past, the Tree House Restaurante and Café. The main feature of the restaurant is a giant ficus tree that grows right up through the middle of the restaurant and up to the roof. The first order of business was liquid refreshment.

We enjoyed two of our favorite local beers: Pilsen and Imperial. I first had Imperial after I got tossed into the Pacaure River during our rafting trip. As the first into the water, I had to buy beer for the rest of the crew.

We decided on burritos and they did not disappoint. The quality of the food, the surroundings and excellent service makes this a sure-fire pick for a meal during your visit to Monteverde.

After the short walk back to Villa Lodge we decided we had time for a nighttime activity. Through the front desk we were able to book a night tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

My wife had her heart set on seeing a sloth and I figured the best way was to do a night walk. The evenings can be cool in the cloud forest, so dress accordingly. The weather can be changeable, too. We had a rain shower while waiting for our shuttle bus, but didn’t encounter any on our tour. The tour provides flashlights, but I brought my own.

Stick Bug in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde Night Walk

The tour cost is $25 and if you are expecting to see a menagerie of animals, keep your money in your wallet. We had the misfortune of having an unenthusiastic and just not very good guide. His name was Gopher (although the spelling may be suspect). This activity is very popular and the woods were crawling with other tour groups.

Other guides were animatedly talking to their people while Gopher spent a lot of time explaining why we might not see anything and then asking us to keep moving along. Other guides had spotting scopes they set up for their guests to use. Gopher appeared to have one in his pack, but he never got it out.

On the bus back to the hotel others were talking about how they saw tarantulas and how amazing they were. We got to see the legs of a tarantula before Gopher said, “She’s not coming out, let’s move on.”

We did see a green vine snake in a distant tree, a stick bug, a few birds sacked out for the night and the back two-thirds of a White-nosed Coati. No sloths.

Walking around in a Costa Rican cloud forest at night with flashlights is fun and that’s probably worth $25 a head. Dial down your expectations and you’ll have a good time and might, just might, see some amazing animals.

Monteverde is natural Costa Rica at its best. Your options to explore are plentiful and fantastic memories are guaranteed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Invisible Enemy Strikes My Wine Fridge

IMG_20200201_204954_260Battling the enemy within!

Mold Invades My Wine Stash

We’ve heard quite a bit about the “invisible enemy” recently. Although the talk currently is about COVID-19, I recently fought my battle with a different foe.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

I was upset when I went to the wine fridge only to discover mold had started to attack the label of my 1994 Château Pavie Macquin Saint Emilion Grand Cru. Before this I was blissfully unaware that mold can invade your wine fridge.

Back in Ohio, my wine cellar was in my basement – where the temperature was cool year-round. After our move to North Carolina, with its sweltering summers, I had to switch to a pair of wine fridges to properly protect my vino.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

Much to my dismay, I have learned that microscopic mold spores are floating in the air everywhere. They find a surface they can latch onto and start to grow. If it gets into your wine refrigerator, it can rot your wine labels and corks.

What About The Wine?

Before I attacked the mold, I decided it was time to attack the wine. It was high time to open my Saint Emilion. I didn't want to expose the rest of my bottles to the moldy label. The cork was intact, but crumbled as I tried to pull it. After straining into a decanter, I took a sniff.

At first there was an acetone odor and the taste was medicinal. Gradually, the funk started to dissipate, like the sun burning off the morning fog.

Free of the funk, there is a core of blueberry and dark fruit accented with cigar box and a riffle of minerality. Twenty-six years on, there's was lot to like about this wine. We spent the entire evening sipping it. Then it was time to go to work.

Unfortunately, mold needs the same conditions that we have inside our wine fridge: water, food, darkness and a stable temperature.  Corks are made of wood (mostly) and labels are made of cellulose. Mold decomposes both these substances. Based on my experience, an old label is like an aged porterhouse steak to hungry mold spores.

To address the situation in my cooler, I pulled all my bottles and wiped them down with a diluted mixture (50-50) of ammonia solution and water. The inside of the fridge also got a good wiping.

I placed a packet of silica beads (that came in a package for another product) into the fridge and also a small box of baking soda to boot. I also increased the temperature in my fridge by a couple of degrees to throw the mold spores off balance.

The solution has worked. I check occasionally, but try not to be opening the fridge so often that mold rushes back in. Here is a link to a great resource from NewAir, a manufacturer of wine refrigerators. In this time of crisis, the last thing we need is to be fighting two invisible enemies.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Great American Takeout Is Tuesday, March 24: America’s Restaurants Need You

GATONational Event Aims To Boost Business For Nation's Restaurants
These are challenging times. Our mindset is usually positive and optimistic, but it seems like the drumbeat of bad news about COVID 19 keeps on reverberating. As I write this, Ohio has just announced a shelter in place order. Here in North Carolina as well as other states restaurants have either closed or been restricted to takeout and delivery orders. The hospitality industry, in general, has taken a crippling hit. 

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

As a result, America’s restaurants need our help! The coronavirus poses a significant threat to the future of an industry that employs more than 15 million Americans. Spearheaded by a coalition of restaurants, #TheGreatAmericanTakeout has been launched. Your help is essential in this effort to help restaurants and their employees. While we can’t enjoy a nice dinner at a local café or restaurant, we still can provide some needed support.

On March 24, we’re asking everyone in America to show their support for the restaurant industry by joining #TheGreatAmericanTakeout and eating at least one delivery or pick-up meal.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

Please join us in eating takeout or delivery on 3/24 and sharing to your social channels, tagged with #thegreatamericantakeout!

I hope that soon we’ll be able to gather in our favorite restaurants, shaking hands, embracing and enjoying a wonderful meal with a special bottle of wine. That time isn’t now, and it appears as if we’ll have to hunker down for a while. We can and will make it through by helping each other.
#Thegreatamericantakeout is the first step. Please join in this important event.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Costa Rica's Monteverde Cloud Forest: Horseback Riding With Equus

IMG_20200224_171603Looking to spot exotic animals in the cloud forest, zip through the lush treetops, or gallop on a sunset horse ride? Monteverde offers all this and more.

Into The Cloud Forest

San Jose may be Costa Rica’s capital and largest city - but visitors to this Central American country will only find spectacular scenery and wildlife by venturing forth into the hills and forests. We had the good fortune to visit Costa Rica during February, which is during the country’s dry season and was before the coronavirus sent the US and world into a tailspin.

Villa Lodge Interior

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

We booked our trip through Green World Adventures, which handled our lodging, excursions and all our transfers. It is a super way to travel and gave us the best of both worlds. We traveled as a couple (and not a large group) but made plenty of friends on the excursions we participated in. Our tour was called Eco-Adventure, and it certainly was.

Monteverde, or Green Mountain, is a major destination for adventurers. After crossing Lake Arenal in a ferry, we bumped and rumbled to Santa Elena, a small town adjoining Monteverde, and prepared for a horseback riding outing.

We stayed at Villa Lodge, which is on a gravel road that is under construction and lies just a short walk from restaurants and the main part of town. The inside is spacious and includes a television, refrigerator, and microwave. There is no air conditioning, but a standing floor fan provided a nice breeze. Breakfast was included, and we enjoyed the beautiful dining spot and friendly service.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

One evening the Green Dragon, my wife, called me to look outside. A cow was wandering the side of the street. We were told this is common. In other parts of Costa Rica we’d see horses as well as cows meandering while searching for the tastiest grass.

Villa Lodge Exterior

Giddyap Horsey

Action was on our agenda and soon after checking in we were off to ride horses. Equus was the excursion provider and promised “gentle” horses. This was important to me since I had only been on a horse one other time in my life. That was in summer camp when I refused to ride ponies with the other grade school kids and demanded a ride on Big Red.

The horses were being assigned and riders and horses cantered to the trailhead. I wondered what sort of horse would be left in the corral, since only me and another poor soul had yet to be given rides.

HernandoBefore long I was in the saddle of Carmelo, who like Carmelo Anthony of the NBA (remember that?) is a bit long in the tooth. My wife was riding Hernando and, with me holding my breath, we rode down the trail.

The sweeping countryside was amazing. We were riding at the perfect time as the sun was starting to sink. Its rays made the foliage glow with golden hues. Carmelo plodded along at first, but then displayed the spirit of Rocky Balboa, passing pokey horses dawdling in a stream. We then burst up a steep hillside to pass a passel of horses on their way to our sunset overlook.

The horses are sure-footed. I was surprised how they navigated rugged slopes and put their hooves in just the right spot, avoiding ruts and piles of rocks.

Back at the starting point, we turned in our helmets and enjoyed a cup of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. My knees were a bit wobbly after the ride, but it was a marvelous experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Petit Manseng Wines Creating A New Stir

P1070217This French grape is finding a home among the hills of North Carolina. It’s also known as Esciberou, Ichiriota Zuria Tipia or Mansic. Ring a bell?

Petit Manseng is a rather obscure white grape grown primarily in Southwest France. The berries are small with thick skin and it's often used to produce late harvest wine. The grape is gaining popularity in North Carolina as well as states like Ohio and Virginia as it is well suited to the climate and soil.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

The grapes hang in loose bunches that allows air to circulate around the fruit during hot, humid summer days. This  helps minimizes mold and rot – conditions that can ruin a grape harvest.

Petit Manseng Blind TastingWe recently had a chance to attend a Petit Manseng blind tasting and wine thrown-down hosted by Jen and Dathan of Triangle Around Town. Featured were five Petit Manseng bottles from NC and Virginia:
  • 2016 Jones von Drehle Petit Manseng (North Carolina) – A balanced wine with hints of lime and tropical fruit. A straw color with a touch of minerality. Light body.
  • 2016 Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng (Virginia) – Light gold in color. Refreshing on the palate with a touch of sweetness and a rich body.
  • 2018 Jefferson Vineyards Petit Manseng (Virginia) – Pronounced intensity with threads of honey, ginger and citrus. Light gold in color with platinum highlights. This wine delivered the goods and was my top pick of the night!
  • 2018 Williamsburg Winery Petit Manseng (Virginia) – Plenty of acidity and complexity in this wine, which was the favorite of several attendees.
  • 2017 Jones von Drehle Petit Manseng Barrel Select (North Carolina) – This is a very popular wine for Jones von Drehle. There are pronounced floral and oak flavors. This was also a top pick for the group, while some (yours truly included) felt the ABV was a bit too high.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

The take-away from the tasting is that Petit Manseng is breaking into the mainstream. Often used to create sweet wines or in blends, Petit Manseng can stand on its own as a versatile and beautiful grape. I didn’t realize its popularity in Virginia, which some time ago adopted Viognier as its “signature” grape. The wines we tasted should make Virginia rethink its choice!

P1070206In North Carolina, Petit Manseng is trending as a popular pick for winemakers. Its characteristics mean Petit Manseng is less susceptible to disease in the vineyard. High acidity allows additional hang time on the vine where it can develop some nicely nuanced flavors.

About a half dozen North Carolina wineries sell Petit Manseng and several more vineyards grow it. If you haven’t yet tried Petit Manseng, treat yourself to a bottle made with this up-and-coming grape.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Yatir Winery Offers Pair Of Premium Judean Hills Releases

Yatir Creek 2The Yatir region of Israel boasts a winemaking tradition more than 2,500 years old. It’s the site of one of the country’s largest forests – and some very good premium wine.

More Wine!

Israel is an ancient land steeped in history that has seen the rise and fall of civilizations. More than 50 years ago an ink-scribed pottery shard was discovered in Tel Arad. The artifact dates to 600 BC.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

It was only recently that a new method, multispectral imaging, enabled unseen characters on the potter shard to be deciphered. What important message was discovered? A request for more wine! We agree with that sentiment, especially if it is like these two bottles.

Yatir Winery, recognized by the bold red lion gracing its labels, was founded in 2000. The Yatir region has been known as one of the finest for growing grapevines for more than 2,000 years with wine being exported to Egypt, Rome and across Israel.

The Yatir region is also known for Yatir Forest, planted at the urging of David Ben-Gurion, the primary national founder of Israel. Yatir Winery has three ranges of wine, the top being Yatir Forest.

The Red Lion Roars

We recently uncorked a red and white from Yatir Winery, the 2016 Yatir Creek and the 2017 Mt. Amasa White, both from the Judean Hills. The occasion was a wine tasting in Raleigh which featured a bottle share – each attendee brought a bottle or two to sample.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

The pair of Yatir bottles created a stir. It’s not every day you get to sample Israeli wine – especially from a critically-acclaimed boutique winery that has gotten a lion’s share of international recognition.

The Mt. Amasa White is a blend of 52% Viognier, 33% Chenin Blanc and 15% Roussanne. The wine is fermented and matured for five months in a combination of concrete amphorae, 500 liter oak barrels and stainless steel vats. In the glass the wine is gold with a greenish hue.

This is a medium-bodied wine with notes of peach, pear and melon. The acidity doesn’t overpower and instead contributes to a refreshing finish that has you reaching for another glass. The unique aging regimen gives this a distinctly Rhone Valley feel – although Chenin Blanc is a Loire Valley grape. A nice bottle at $27.

Yatir Creek is a red that is a step up in quality. The blend is 76% Syrah, 12% Tannat and 12% Malbec. This is a sophisticated wine that is a joy from the first sip. It’s deep purple in color and the aroma of black fruit draw you in magnetically. On the palate black cherry and currant flavors are knit together with solid tannins. Appreciation grows as the wine opens up in the glass.

Kudos must be given to Yatir Winery for their experimentation with different aging techniques. Although winemaking in Israel dates back thousands of years, the current industry is quite young. For the Yatir Creek, aging was done for a year in oak foudres (100-liter casks). The wine gets two years of bottle aging before release. Using the larger barrels avoids oak overkill which would mask the rich fruit.

The Yatir Creek would be ideal to pair with a hearty casserole or juicy steak. SRP is $50. Both wines are Kosher.

Full Disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Casillero Del Diablo 2017 Reserva Cabernet Costa Rica Limited Edition, Chile

Casillero del Diablo Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon

Mardi Gras Far From Home

Mardi Gras has always been a special celebration for us. We’ve loved New Orleans since the first time we visited. Since then we’ve marked the occasion with celebrations large and small. This year was different.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

We decided to take an eco-adventure to Costa Rica. This Central American country is about as far away from good grape growing territory as you can get. Pineapples, watermelons, bananas, mangos, and papaya -- that’s a different story. The fruit is incredibly fresh and delicious.

The wine in Costa Rica primarily comes from Chile. While we didn’t comb through wine and liquor stores, I didn’t see any US wine on the shelves at the places we did go.

The Search For Vino

When we stopped at a supermarket in Santa Elena for some provisions on Fat Tuesday, I slid down the beverage aisle to see what the options might be. There were several South American wines that seemed very interesting.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

This bottle caught our eye because our friends are big fans of Casillero Del Diablo. What made me pull the trigger was the beautifully ornate bottle. The artwork includes toucans, blooming flowers and lush vegetation in an ornate and very Central American design. This is a limited edition Costa Rica release and that sealed the deal.

Although this is a reserva wine, it won’t blow your doors off. The reserva term indicates that the alcohol level is at least 12% but doesn’t require any special aging.

That being said, it is an enjoyable wine. For a Cab, it is light and fruit-forward. There are juicy flavors of plum and cherry and some wafting notes of oak. It was quite a treat in our bungalow room in Monteverde as we celebrated Mardi Gras 3,500 miles from home after a nighttime stroll through the cloud forest.

Casillero Del Diablo wines deliver great value for the dollar. While the entry range will satisfy your everyday drinking needs, the winery offers several ranges of quality with some nice bottles on the upper tiers.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Whitewater Rafting Costa Rica’s Pacaure River With Exploradores Outdoors

Rafting Costa Rica's Pacuare River

Our whitewater adventure was rolling right along – then we encountered the rapids called Graveyard…

Costa Rica White Water Excitement

White water rafting has always held an appeal for us since we first dipped our toes into the rushing waters of West Virginia’s New River. We’ve been rafting about a half dozen times, but never outside the US. When we booked our travel to Costa Rica, one of the main attractions was the chance to raft the Pacuare River.

Our Costa Rica travels began in San Jose where we overnighted at Hotel Auténtico. The next morning we boarded the Exploradores Outdoors van for our trip to their Exploration Center, the launching point for their raft trips.

Ready to ride the rapids

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

We started by fortifying ourselves with gallo pinto, the staple breakfast for Costa Rica which is rice and beans mixed with onions and peppers. It was quite good -- and we would need the energy for what lay ahead.

Our guide Roy was funny and obviously an expert rafter. We got the safety rundown as our bus rumbled to the river. He covered the basics of paddling, the various commands he would use, and safety instructions in the event someone went into the river. He also mentioned that drinks were on the first person to go overboard.

Packed With Rapids

The Pacuare River flows about 80 miles from the Costa Rican hills to the Caribbean. The one-day raft trip would cover 18 miles packed with 38 rapids. For the trip you’ll need the right rafting clothes, including light shoes that will stay on in the water, a quick-dry shirt, swimsuit, and sunscreen. There are lockers at the Exploration Center, so you can stow your luggage or change of clothes. At the half-way point, we would stop for lunch.

On either side of the river, tropical forest and steep green walls bracket the river. The weather had been mostly dry prior to our trip, but two days before the area had gotten a substantial rain -- which meant good rafting. During the first part of our ride, we practiced the various commands, such as “get down” where we would all crouch in the center of the raft while Roy guided us through a particularly rough passage.

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!

The section of the Pacuare we were rafting has Class III and IV rapids. The top classification for commercial rafting is V, which we’ve done a few times. Soon the water was churning and slapping over the edges of the raft as we paddled in rhythm.

Our rafting crewNever Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

“Wow, was that a Class III?” someone asked. “No,” Roy responded. “That was a one.” We strapped on our helmets a bit tighter and paddled on.

There’s nothing like the exhilaration of being on a raft navigating through jutting rocks, riding high on a rapid’s swell then plunging down into the spray. Meanwhile, you’re paddling like crazy with your fellow rafters. The rapids come fast and frequent, but there are still opportunities to savor the beauty of the river and the forest beneath the impossibly blue Costa Rican sky.

We also had the opportunity to swim in the river, or more accurately drift in the current, in the calmer sections. The Huacas Waterfall plunges 100 feet into the river and you can paddle underneath to get an invigorating shower.

It’s Called Graveyard For A Reason

There are many named rapids including Pinball, Double Drop, and Bye Bye Burrito (which is right after the mid-way lunch stop). The lunch was a nice break to refuel with some tortilla wraps, fresh fruit, and cold drinks. One rapid that I won’t soon forget is Graveyard.

The key step to stay locked in the raft is wedging one foot under the inflatable strut in front of you and your other foot under the strut behind you. Maintaining that while all heck breaks loose is the trick.

Our raft went nose down into Graveyard. It hit a rock or wall of water and momentarily compressed. When it did, my foot pushed down on the raft bottom, freeing it from its locked-in position. The raft uncoiled and I saw the front paddler lurch over backward toward the water. My wife then splashed down.

I was catapulted out of the raft, twisting in the air for a moment I could see the sunshine reflecting on the cascading water. Then I plunged in, enveloped by a swirl of foaming water and bubbles.

When I resurfaced, I was about 20 feet from the raft, still clutching my paddle. I tried swimming to the raft but had no luck against the swift current. I made my way to a safety kayak and tried holding fast to a rock, but soon slid off into the roaring current. The second time was the charm, as I locked onto the kayak and was soon hoisted back into the raft.

Never before had I been tossed from a raft, but the Pacuare was a worthy opponent, full of exciting rapids and rocky challenges. Thanks to the safety briefing and professionalism of the Exploradores Outdoors crew, I never felt unsafe despite bobbing like a cork in the swirling chaos.

It was a trip to remember. I know my raftmates certainly will -- I had to buy them each a cold Imperial beer when we got back to base camp!

Both Exploradores Outdoors and Green World Adventures (who put together our Eco Adventure) are highly recommended.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

White Wines For A Frosty Winter

Winter Whites SMThink winter is solely the domain of hearty reds? Rethink that as you sip these wines.

Winter Wonderland

Does a forecast of snow send you sneaking to the wine rack for a Cabernet? Not so fast.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

The right white wines will make you forget all about the drifting snow and slick roads. Here are a quartet of wines that we recommend.

Domaine Matrot Bourgogne Blanc 2017

The Côte d’Or in the heart of Burgundy produces some of the most famous Chardonnay in the world. Burgundian Chardonnay shuns the heavy oaking of California in favor of fruity and round flavors. This wine, which is farmed and harvested organically, displays the rich taste for which Chardonnay is known. It is unoaked and a great value at $29.

Famille Perrin Cotes du RhoneFamille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2018

You probably know Côtes du Rhône for their affordable and enjoyable red blends. The region also produces intriguing white wines that are a great value. If you aren’t familiar with the white grapes of the Rhône Valley, this is a great place to start. Made with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier, this blend has pops of lime, fresh floral aromas and a dash of minerality. The price? A tasty $14.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2017

Yes, we love Tablas Creek! This wine from the Adelaida District of California’s Paso Robles appellation is a Rhone-inspired masterpiece. The grapes for this wine come from budwood cuttings from the famed Château de Beaucastel estate in France. The blend includes Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Picardan, and Clairette Blanche. An explosion of pear, cinnamon and oak. SRP $45.

Umani Ronchi Vellodoro Pecorino 2018

Italy’s Pecorino is known as the “grape of the sheep” for the presence of this grape in sheep grazing territory. It comes from Abruzzo in eastern Italy. It grows in cooler weather and is great for sipping in the winter. It is ideal if you want to explore white wines beyond Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. This is a dry wine with soft fruit, good acidity and herbal notes. It also has a fuller body than most whites. An excellent pick at $17.

Full Disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Ricasoli Pioneers The Art And Power Of Chianti Classico

IMG_20200114_201002_996When your wine heritage dates to 1141, you certainly know your stuff. Such is the case with Ricasoli, pioneer of premium Chianti Classico wine.

A Wine And Food Experience

Ricasoli is the oldest winery in Italy and the fourth oldest in the world. Not only that, but in 1872 Baron Bettino Ricasoli a politician and visionary wine entrepreneur, originated the formula for Chianti wine, now known world-round as Chianti Classico.

Never Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

During our recent Wine Studio education class we embarked on a month-long look at Ricasoli. Before we began, it was clear that these superlative wines must be paired with exceptional food. We would have to bring our “A” game in the kitchen.

My wife, the Green Dragon, is the culinary force behind Vino-Sphere and she outdid herself, preparing wonderful wine dinners each Tuesday for a month. Our entrees included Pork Roast Stuffed with Kalamata Olives and Oregano, Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu, Cannelloni with Braised Beef, Walnuts and Fried Sage, and Red Wine Braised Osso Buco over Parmesan Polenta. These dishes were over the top with goodness. I must tearfully note that this particular party is over – I had a hot dog today for lunch!

IMG_20200120_115939~2The Heart Of Chianti Classico

The Ricasoli family has been linked to winemaking since 1141. Its sprawling estate includes 593 acres of vineyard plus another 26 of olive trees. The focal point for Ricasoli is the impressive Brolio Castle, which dominates the Chianti Classico countryside and has done so for 10 centuries.

Keep up with the latest. Follow us on Instagram!

Chianti Classico is the historic heart of Chianti dating back to the Middle Ages. In recent times it separated from the Chianti DOCG to become a distinct appellation with somewhat higher standards. The black rooster on the label is the iconic symbol of the wine region. Chianti Classico must include 80% to 100% Sangiovese and cannot be released until a year after harvest. Riserva requires two years of aging and a higher alcohol level.

This was our first opportunity to taste Gran Selezione, a new category of premium wine in Chianti Classico. Gran Selezione must be produced from estate grapes and age a minimum of 30 months along with stricter technical and sensory guidelines. The designation started in 2014, but wines from the 2010 vintage that met requirements also are considered Gran Selezione. In fact the 2010 we tried didn’t have the GS designation on the label, but the 2015 did.

Sangiovese is what drives the success of Chianti Classico. Ricasoli vineyards benefit from southern exposure and a Mediterranean climate. The steep slopes use the rittochino method of managing drainage to prevent erosion. There are 19 different soil types at Ricasoli which allows the production of varied Grand Cru-style wines.

IMG_20200204_195741Uncorking A Legend

We were able to taste through eight bottles from Ricasoli including Chianti Classico, Riserva, Gran Selezione, “Super Tuscan,” and their “Grand Cru” wines. Every splash and swirl was delectable – especially paired with good friends and amazing cuisine. For full enjoyment even the older vintages need at least an hour of decanting.

The wines are artistic and expressive, the tannins are well integrated meaning you enjoy the toasty benefits of barrel aging without having harshness. Ricasoli wines are also complex, with layers that unfurl as you sip and swirl the night away. They embrace the cuisine of Italy perfectly.

Here’s a snapshot of these great wines along with the dishes we served:

Dinner Pairing – Garden Salad with Strawberries, Pork Roast Stuffed with Kalamata Olives and Oregano with Roasted Fennel

Chianti Classico 2016 – Soft and juicy with luscious notes of cherry, a splash of acidity and minerality. Earthy undertones. Sangiovese 80%, Merlot 15%, Cabernet Sauvignon 5%. A luscious house style with smooth tannins and balanced acidity. SRP $22.

Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 - A brilliant wine highlighted by perfect oaking, cooked cherries and a scruff of earthiness. Harmonious and elegant. Only $30? Wow!

Ricasoli MontageDinner Pairing – Ribollita Soup, Pappardelle and Lamb Ragu , Tiramisu

Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2015 – Smooth and integrated red fruit with nice acidity. A blend of 90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Decanted for two hours. Firm with a long finish and touch of vanilla. SRP $70.

Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010 – Bright ruby color. A powerful wine with graceful notes of black fruit. Bold and brilliant. Sangiovese 80%, Merlot 15%, and Cabernet Sauvignon 5%. SRP $70.

Dinner Pairing – Spinach Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Cannelloni with Braised Beef, Walnuts and Fried Sage, Assorted Chocolates 

Casalferro IGT 2011 – A single vineyard 100% Merlot Super Tuscan. Expansive with integrated tannins, vibrant red fruit and undertones of earth. Rich and wonderful. SRP $70.

Casalferro IGT 2008 – Also a 100% Merlot, the 2008 is intense with earthy notes and cherry flavors. A bold take on Tuscan wine. SRP $70.

Dinner Pairing – Faro and Country Olive Salad with Walnuts and Raisins, Red Wine Braised Osso Buco over Parmesan Polenta, Mini-Cannoli

Roncicone Gran Selezione 2016 - Soft, round and rich Sangiovese with sour cherry and citrus zest.  SRP $70.

Colledià Gran Selezione 2015 - A Grand Cru wine for sure. Big and bold with extracted fruit flavors. Rich and rewarding. Decanting necessary. SRP $85.