PREVIEW: Mia line of Spanish wines, just released in the U.S.

Pictured here is a 187ml bottle of Mia sparkling Moscato, a well-made sweet wine. Weighing in at 7% ABV, it’s light enough to enjoy with lunch without spoiling the rest of your day. And, it’s delicious, with a bouquet of roses on the nose and on the palate.

What’s genius about this little bottle is its screwcap. Forget about intimidation with pressurized corks.

More to come on the Mia line. I attended the release party in Ft. Lauderdale and took lots of pictures and notes. Winemaker Gloria Collell.


Posted in Moscato/Muscat, Spain | Leave a comment

Catalan cuisine: Cooking with “Chef Isma,” Ismael Prados Soto

What better way to learn about Catalan wines and cuisine than to experience a cooking class? As part of my tour of Cataluña, I did just that.

Our guide and chef was the talented “Chef Isma,” Ismael Prados Soto. A TV celebrity chef and author of five cookbooks, Chef Isma trained in many restaurants cooking classic Catalan cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine, and alta expresión (“higher expression”) cuisine.

We met Isma outside Barcelona’s famous La Boqueria market, and we walked around the fabulous place, enjoying the sights and the array of wonderful foods, while Isma selected the ingredients for the afternoon’s class.

La Boqueria is known for its locally grown, “Zero Kilometre” program. The Catalans do not allow GMO seeds or produce at all.

Isma told us that booth rental is nominal, and it is paid to the city. However, the license is granted for 50 years; thus, like the full liquor licenses in Florida, they are sold from person-to-person for a fortune. No wonder: Isma said some of the stalls gross the equivalent of $2,000,000/year.

Many of the market’s stall owners greeted him as a friend, and fans walked up to him occasionally in the aisles. He is a kind family man with a good sense of humor. He is taking a hiatus from the TV scene, because he grew weary of having to come up with jokes and entertainment rather than simply showing people how to cook.

One booth was a mushroom lover’s paradise. Isma said he felt right at home in New York City at some of the Jewish markets.

He chose razor clams and monkfish (“poor man’s lobster”) to prepare for us along with the other ingredients he already had in his kitchen. The seafood was so fresh, it was (a) pink and (b) still moving (in the case of the shrimp and prawns, anyway).
Here is a video of the still-moving shrimp and prawns at the BarcelonaMarket.

After completing our tour and shopping trip, we boarded an elevator and ascended to the top floor of the market into Isma’s kitchen. We had plenty of wine waiting for us!

We were each given personalized aprons with the Freixenet colors, black and gold. In the photo below, Isma’s “assistant” is Toni Domènech Pujol, head of Public Relations for Freixenet. Isma’s sous chef, Mikho, is behind Isma, working on something delicious.

Our starters included edible “spoons” filled with wild salmon caviar. The second appetizer was a construction of a strawberry, sardine, and a strange cactuslike herb that was naturally sparkly and oddly sweet. This course was served with a delightful Freixenet Cordon Rosado sparkling rosé.

Next, Isma prepared monkfish, with the veins and such removed. We learned that if fish is cooked too fast, the fish goes into shock and contracts, resulting in (a) tough fish, (b) a watery, fishy-smelling discharge around the fish, and (c) less flavor in the fish as well. However, if cooked very slowly, the fish retains its moisture yet releases a gelatin. Isma demonstrated how to use this gelatin to create a self-sauce in the pan. With white “hook” beans, snow peas, razor clams, nutty-tasting Jerusalem artichokes (a nice alternative to potatoes), and self sauce, this lovely dish was served with a refreshing Vionta Albariño (crisp, lemon custard; fragrant with citrus, melon, and flowers). The wine is from the Salnés Valley, the birthplace of Albariño and the coolest of the Rías Baixas growing districts, noted for producing crisp and aromatic wines.

For yet another course, Isma prepared rice, but in a way I’d never seen done before. He pan-tossed it in an olive oil based roux, adding “just a little bit” of water when needed to keep it from burning and to keep the moisture in. Then he transferred the rice to a baking dish with water and sauce and baked it in a convection oven.

In due time we were served our main course: Guinea hen rolled up with fois gras in the middle, velvety beans, and Jerusalem artichokes. Guinea hen. We had a laugh about hen-house vs. whorehouse. It was a language thing; you had to be there.

This was served with a Vaza Rioja Crianza 2010. The vintage was whited-out and corrected with pen, because the wine hadn’t been released yet and the appropriate vintage’s label hadn’t even been printed!

For dessert we enjoyed a heavy, triple chocolate brownie cake paired with a Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava, but I loved it with the Vaza Crianza. This is the first pairing I’ve found that works impressively with such a rich chocolate dish.

Originating from the word “Baza” which in Spanish means “trump card” or “new beginning,” Vaza
is produced at the Freixenet group’s Solar Viejo, a winery situated on the shoulder of the medieval village of Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa. This Tempranillo was absolutely delicious and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 14% ABV.

This is Part Three of posts about my experience of Freixenet wines and vineyards in Cataluña, Spain. Part One was about Cataluña’s Priorat district and the Morlanda winery. Part Two was about the René Barbier vineyard in Cataluña’s Penedès district.

WEB SITES:,, and

Media/trade trip courtesy of the Freixenet company.

Posted in Alberino, Cava, Food, Spain, Tastings, Tempranillo, Travel | 4 Comments

René Barbier vineyard: Innovation in Cataluña’s Penedès district

This is Part Two of my report on Spain’s Catalan Freixenet properties. Part One covered my visit to Cataluña’s Priorat district and the Morlanda winery. This post will focus on the René Barbier vineyard in Cataluña’s Penedès district.

Once again venturing out from Barcelona, our group was treated to lovely views of the city. Occasionally, modern logos appear atop old buildings; new buildings have been built alongside the old, at least in the city’s outskirts.

The René Barbier vineyard story began in France more than a century ago. The Web site explains, “In the late 1860s, the phylloxera plague devastated the vineyards of France, among them those of the Barbier family. It destroyed millions of acres of French grapevines over a fifteen-year period and put at risk every vine in Europe. In vine districts, wages were halved, businesses collapsed, and much of the population, including the Barbiers, emigrated to other countries such as Spain. Léon Barbier crossed the Pyrenees, settling in Tarragona where he established his winery in 1880 and was the first to sell his wines in bottles (most wine was sold in bulk at that time in Spain). He applied French winemaking techniques to various types of vines, microclimates and soils, discovering that the local Spanish varieties produced premium wines with striking personality. His son René [1890-1981, pictured at left] would later take control of the winery, reinforcing the quality of the wines with technological advancements, and building a network to distribute these wines throughout the world. In 1984, the winery was purchased by the Ferrer family, owners of the renowned Freixenet sparkling wine house and many other estates in Spain and around the world. Today, René Barbier continues to apply the latest technology in order to craft wines of quality and value that express the terroir of the Catalunya region.”

The René Barbier vineyard uses viticultural techniques that are as natural as possible, but more out of common sense than because it happens to be de rigueur. The earth’s climates are cyclical, and recently the area’s rainfall has often been concentrated in blasts of violent storms with strong, damaging rains. To prevent erosion, every other row is planted with wheat and oats, benign crops that get along with the grapes. The crops are rotated each year.

Winemaker Gabriel Suberviola is experimenting with natural pest control, too. Their method uses “sexual confusion” to deter pests. Red wires, loaded with pheromones to confuse male pests, thus limiting their ability to locate females for mating, are tied to vines here and there, creating a “cloud” of protection over the vineyard. Ever the curious one, I took a whiff, and the red wire indeed had quite a scent. I was briefly affected, and not so well! The system is working, as demonstrated by the specimens prevented from reproducing. Gabriel joined Freixenet in 1980 and became head winemaker at René Barbier in 1998.

The trip took place in early April, and some of the vines’ buds were already beginning to burst. This was happening in the Priorat, too.

Each vine is a poem. I am reminded of Japanese paintings.

Grapes grown at René Barbier include uniquely Spanish white grapes, such as Xarel-lo, native to Cataluña and used almost exclusively in Cava; Macabeo; and Parellada. The estate also grows Merlot, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Carignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

In 2003, René Barbier moved to the village of Sant Cugat Sesgarrigues, about 30 miles west of Barcelona, in the Penedès district. The winery includes a modern 97,000 sq. ft. cellar in a facility designed by Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets, and 296 acres of land and vineyards.

Here is a view of Montserrat from the René Barbier rooftop. Montserrat, soaring to 4,000 ft., can be seen from Barcelona as well. It is, of course, a Catalan icon.

WEB NOTES ABOUT CATALUÑA The province of Catalunya is an area of contrasts, recognized for the relaxing beauty of its Mediterranean coastline and the cutting-edge innovation of vibrant cities like Barcelona. An intrinsic element of life in Catalunya is the joy of wine and food, and the production of wine has a long history in the region. Though the official denomination of origin was established in 1999, winemaking in Catalunya dates back to the time of the Phoenicians.

D.O. Catalunya extends along the northeast of the Iberian peninsula, bound by the Mediterranean to the south and east, and the Pyrenees to the north. [Map courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]

The influence of the Mediterranean Sea and plentiful sun makes the Catalunya region an area with a temperate climate ideal for growing vines. Vineyards in the coastal areas enjoy moderate rainfall and warm temperatures, while vineyards further inland [such as the Priorat] see larger temperature swings and less rainfall.

Catalunya has 27 authorized grape varieties. Among the most important white varietals are Xarel-lo, Macabeo, Parellada and Chardonnay. The most important red varietals include Garnacha, Cariñena, Monastrell, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The primary characteristics of this region include chalky limestone, clay and sand soil.

Catalunya produces a wide range of wines, including powerful reds, crisp and fresh whites, and classic rosés, and it is also the birthplace of Cava, Spain’s renowned sparkling wine.

Pictured to the right is Kraliner, a still wine blended from the three grapes most frequently used for Cava: 40% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeo, and 30% Parellada. Pale yellow and green; aromatic with green apples, pineapple, light citrus; dry; lingering.


Media/trade trip courtesy of the Freixenet company.

Posted in Macabeo, Parellada, Spain, Technical Stuff, Visits to Vineyards/Winemakers, Xarel-lo | Leave a comment

A visit to Cataluña’s Priorat district and the Morlanda winery

Recently, I went on a media/trade trip to Spain to visit the Freixenet (pronounced “fresh-a-net”) properties. I learned about their famous Cava, the sparkling wine made in the Method Champenoise (more on that in another post).

But besides Cava, I learned about many other wines of Cataluña (also known as Catalunya and Catalonia) that Freixenet produces. The Cataluña region is in the northeast corner of Spain, bordering France (map courtesy Wikimedia Commons). This post will focus on the marvelous wines of the Morlanda winery in Priorat, a district within the Cataluña region.

Barcelona,Cataluña’s capital city, is famous for its cuisine, wines, and architecture, particularly the buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí. I studied his work in a college art history course, and to be honest I thought his buildings were somehow a little frightening. However, seeing the buildings in person is a revelation, and they are breathtakingly beautiful, especially when illuminated at night. (Photo: Park Guell, photo courtesy

From Barcelona to Priorat

On our trip from Barcelona to Priorat to visit the Morlanda winery (, we passed many hillsides that were lined with windmills. Wind power, from large commercial windmills to small farm
windmills, is prevalent in the region. Of course, windmills have been prevalent in Spain for millennia, most famously in La Mancha, thanks to the medieval novel, Don Quixote.

Tunnels and caves are common in the region, and mining is an important industry. The area has wonderful architecture; buildings are often 1,000 years old. We passed many lovely groves of olive trees and almond trees. Because of the steep hills, terracing is used frequently, both in farming and in unique applications such as the graveyard pictured above. Stone walls are abundant as well.

The beautiful Morlanda winery, near the town of Bellmunt del Priorat in Cataluña, is at the end of a winding country road with charming vineyards, both large and small, tucked into hillsides on the way.

The oenologist at Morlanda is Judit Llop. Women are strongly represented in the Freixenet family. Judit has been at Morlanda for 11 years. Like many winemakers, she hails from a farming family. She has a team of three others who work with her to taste the blends together, bottle, and label the wines. Morlanda farms sustainably and uses probiotics on the vines. The whites are steel fermented, and French and American barrels are used for the reds; the winery uses their barrels for three years.

Bordered by the great Montsant mountains, the area’s soil consists of chalk and clay, and the climate is very dry. With a special dispensation from the officials who govern the DOQ (Denominació d’Origen Qualificada), Morlanda is allowed to irrigate, but only for the first four years of new vines’ existence. Daytime temperatures can be brutally hot—up to 120°F. I visited in the benign month of April and temps were already notably warm.

Grapes grown at Morlanda include White Garnacha, Garnacha, and Carignan; some of the vines are 90 years old. The winery has also started planting Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties.

We barrel-tasted both whites and reds, as well as earlier vintages that had already been bottled. The beautiful 2005 Morlanda red, pictured to the left, is a delicious Carignan and Garnacha blend. This dark wine was resplendent with florals, raspberries, and plum sauce, as well as an interesting meat flavor.

The hillside towns are just beautiful.

We ate lunch in the town of Bellmunt del Priorat (pictured above and to the right), in a tiny restaurant called Fonda Cal Quel that was run by a brother and sister of a certain age in their 200-year-old home. The picture to the right was taken from the street/alley leading to their home/café; theirs is the first door on the left. Along with several wines from the Freixenet family including some from the Priorat as well as the Montsant district (the subject of another post), we were served salad, canneloni, local almonds and cashews, and an amazing beef stew with peas and onions. The stew was baked in their wood-fired oven, pictured below. For dessert we enjoyed flan, pound cake, and homemade whipped cream.

We were also introduced to The Spanish porrón, a little bota-like vessel that is typically used in Cataluña and the rest of Spain. A few of the more brave members of our group tried this ultimate method of aeration, with napkins at the ready, some more success- fully than others!
Graffiti was seen here and there but it wasn’t obnoxious. Some of it was amusing and even very well done, such as this strange piece of street art in Bellmunt del Priorat.

In Priorat, trees are pruned like the grapevines so that they are gnarly. I enjoyed seeing many roundabouts and lovely European side streets that are such eye candy to my soul.

The wine pictured to the right, the 2009 Mas de Subirà, is a delicious blend of 60% Garnacha, 30% Carignan, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Weighing in at a whopping 15% ABV, it is an intense cherry red wine loaded with ripe red and black fruits and a layer of oak.

WEB NOTES: To make Morlanda, we choose the oldest plots on the estate which are nearly 50 years old. As for the winemaking process, we produce wine from each plot separately in 10,000 or 5,000 litre tanks. The estate is located in Bellmunt del Priorat. The vineyards surround the winery among rolling hills where we grow the vines on terraces facing different directions, which requires that we conduct thorough canopy management on each plot: shoot thinning, leaf pulling, different degrees of tipping, cluster thinning—a full range of tasks essential to achieving ripe, concentrated, healthy grapes, which are the key to making Morlanda. Soils are predominantly clay loam. The company also has four hectares located in another area of Bellmunt with slate soil characteristic of Priorat.


Media/trade trip courtesy of the Freixenet company.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Cava, Grenache/Garnacha, Spain, Visits to Vineyards/Winemakers | 3 Comments

RECOMMENDED: More from Casey Flat Ranch.

2013 Viognier, 14.1% ABV, $20 SRP.

This lovely light-straw-colored wine started out with canteloupe, a hint of citrus, and a delicate candy (circus peanuts!) flavor, which always delights the heck out of me on the rare occasions I encounter it in a wine. This well-crafted wine opened into a velvety, chewy wine of substance with minerals, stone fruit, and a touch of nutmeg.

2013 Syrah Rosé, 14.1% ABV, $18 SRP.

Pale pink. Refreshing and aromatic with a light mouthfeel; delicate strawberry and a hint of spice. Aged in stainless. We paired this with steak and it stood up very well. Also a great summer sipper (Florida temps are in the 80s and 90s now) by itself.

2013 Sauvignon Blanc, 14.1% ABV, $18 SRP.

Every once in a while a winemaker does something unusual with Sauvignon Blanc, and that is to age it in oak á la most reds and many Chardonnays. This particular wine was in fact aged in 75% stainless and 25% neutral oak. It’s a pale yellow-green with extremely crisp mouth-watering acidity, brilliance, citrus, minerals, astringent grapefruit, green grass, and that bit of “cat-pee” that’s distinctive to Sauvignon Blanc. Refreshing and very tart.

LABEL: Deep within the rugged terrain of the Vaca Mountains in Northern California lies the Casey Flat Ranch. The family ranch is home to our Longhorn cattle and the vineyard is nestled on a flat, high above the Capay Valley at a 2,000-foot elevation. The family is committed to sustainable farming, thoughtful stewardship of the environment, and creating exceptional estate wines.


Samples sent for review.

Posted in California, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah/Shiraz, Viognier | Leave a comment

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Casey Flat Ranch “CFR” 2010 Estate Red Wine, Capay Valley, 14.8% ABV, $35 SRP.

WOW. This opaque, nearly-black wine was smooth yet charismatic from the get-go.

Flavors of cassis and blackberries played nice with the pleasant but not-overbearing wood overlay of faint cedar. This was an extraordinarily rich potion that was balanced, impressive, and concentrated without bonking us on the head.

The Casey Flat Ranch vineyard is planted in Bordeaux and Rhone varieties, and this wine is indeed a lovely French twist with 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Mourvedre. Aged in 75% new French oak.

I love great discoveries. I’d never heard of Casey Flat Ranch or the AVA, and if this wine is typical of the quality of wine coming from Capay Valley, I would like to hear and taste more.

ABOUT THE AVA: In Yolo County, just across the border from Napa Valley, sits the secluded and little-known Capay Valley. It was established as an AVA in 2002. Originally part of the Berryessa Spanish land grant, the area was settled in the 1850s during the California Gold Rush. Vines were planted a decade later, making it one of the pioneer winegrowing regions in California. Today, the Capay Valley has less than 100 acres planted in vineyards.

WINEMAKER’S NOTES: “The first vines were planted in 2004 and the vineyard is sustainably cultivated, using materials and farming techniques that emphasize water and soil conservation. The growing season brings warm days and cool nights, creating climate conditions similar to the St. Helena appellation, which lies just 22 miles to the west. The winter of 2010 brought an ample amount of rain that fell well into the month of May. The cool and wet spring delayed bud break until the last week of April, already about 10 days behind a typical year. This was exciting news for [us.] Given that we are an early site, we were excited to hear of the potential late harvest and possible October hang time for our red varieties! June and July were mild with very little heat. Early August brought a short heat wave that accelerated ripening. As predicted, the cool, late season provided us with long hang time and the red varieties were picked at optimal flavor and tannin ripeness.” Laura Barrett, Winemaker

LABEL: Nestled deep within the rugged coastal mountains of Northern California sits the 6,000-acre Casey Flat Ranch, home to CFR Estate wines. Sheltered high above the Capay Valley at a 2,000-foot elevation, our 24-acre vineyard produces fruit of exceptional quality and character. Our CFR Estate Red Wine is a thoughtfully blended, distinctively authentic expression of the land and the winemaker’s art.

WEB: and

Sample sent for review.

Posted in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Mourvedre, Red Blend, Syrah/Shiraz | Leave a comment

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Cono Sur “Bicicleta” 2012 Merlot, Valle Central, Chile, 13.5% ABV, $7 and up

It was one of those nights when I didn’t want to consume any of the wines we’ve laid away at home; I just wanted to get ripped. Late Thursday night, I was on my way home from a theatre rehearsal that had gone unexpectedly badly. (The actors and music were fine, but the theatre’s administration sucks.)

So I stopped at the new gas station/convenience store on the way home, and after filling up the car’s tank, decided to fill my own, and went inside to pick up two bottles of drink-me-now wine for us. First I selected a Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, which I was surprised to see there, even at $13.49 for the always-dependable bottle.

And now for a red. Hmm. Nothing there I hankered for, so I went to the small selection of Chilean wines from the Cono Sur winery. The name, which means Southern Cone, refers to the southern region of South America. I figured a bad Merlot would be better than a bad Cabernet, so I picked up the $7.49 bottle of Merlot and took it with my KJ to the cash register.

Upon opening the screwcapped bottle, I.Was.Really.Surprised. This modestly priced bottle has as much character as any wine I’ve had all year. Ripe, big fruit with violets and bright soprano cherry notes. I knew immediately it was a blend. (In the U.S. as long as a wine is 75% anything, i.e. Merlot, its label can describe it as, simply, Merlot.) I figured it had Grenache in it, but no, it’s 85% Merlot, with 7% Cabernet, 5% Malbec, and 1% each Petit Verdot, Carignan, and Alicant Bouchet.

The Web site says this wine was aged for 8 months in stainless steel, yet refers to “toasted oak” in their notes. I didn’t have that perception, but perhaps the lack of heavy-handed oak in this wine is part of the reason it appeals to me (it’s refreshing to leave the word “molasses” out of my description), besides my love of florals. Winemaker: Matías Ríos.

This is a surprisingly good wine at a great price.

LABEL: The Cono Sur vineyard workers travel around our estate by bicycle, tending the vines using natural methods, in order to produce the best quality grapes. Our Bicicleta wines are a tribute to them. WINEMAKER’S NOTES: A dark plum red Merlot with blackberry, chocolate and lightly toasted oak aromas together with a ripe, fruity palate.


Posted in Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Chile, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot | 3 Comments

TASTING: Wente Vineyards, Wine and Music

On Thursday, August 1st, Karl Wente hosted an interesting Wine and Music tasting, with his friend Shannon Koehler.

Besides being a fifth-generation winemaker, Karl is an avid musician. Karl started on saxophone, gravitated to electric guitar, and plays acoustic guitar now. The name of his band is Front Porch, reflecting the fact that several musicians drift in and out; he also plays with other musicians including Wolf Hamlin. Shannon (percussion, vocals, harmonica) is a member of the Stone Foxes band, which has been together playing blues rock for five years.

Each summer, Wente sponsors the Front Porch Music Series in support of emerging talent, with three performances on the property featuring local up-and-coming bands. (This series is in addition to their concerts featuring headliners such as Foreigner and Earth, Wind and Fire.) Karl’s family has also established the Wente Foundation for Arts Education, whose focus includes “putting instruments in kids’ hands.”

Acknowledging the unusual nature of the evening’s pairings, wine with music, Karl said, “One of the things I really love to do is think about the structure of a wine and the structure of a song. We know that your mood affects how you get music. Listening to music affects your mood, drinking wine affects your mood. Music is good for the soul, wine is good for the soul.”

Our first wine was the 2011 Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc, from Wente’s Livermore Valley vineyards. Karl paired this with Brown Bird, scheduled to play at the Front Porch festival on August 31st. Karl said, “Like Brown Bird, this wine just makes you want to move your head. It has a percussion influence. Crisp acidity, liveliness; music of the world. Sauvignon Blanc is a staple in Bordeaux, South Africa, California, New Zealand, worldwide.” Stainless steel fermented to ensure the fruitiness was retained, this is indeed a round, rich, fruity Sauvignon Blanc.

Web notes: “A French emigrant, Louis Mel traveled the western United States in the 1870s seeking a place to make wines to rival the great French Crus. He found the ideal home in the Livermore Valley. Acquiring Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon cuttings from the Marquis de Lur-Saluces, owner of the famed Chateau Y’quem, he planted them in his vineyards. The Wente family acquired the Louis Mel estate in the 1930s, where the descendants of these vines, located in the southern Livermore Valley, live in gravel and loam soils similar to the terroir of their native Bordeaux.” Karl would pair this with raw Northwest oysters.

The second wine was 2012 Eric’s Chardonnay, a small-lot wine also from Livermore Valley grapes. Eric is Karl’s Dad, and recently several members of the family enjoyed a Chardonnay Challenge and produced several different styles of wine. Eric’s style is “naked,” with stainless steel fermentation, no lees, no malolactic fermentation. Karl said, “It really was made in the Sauvignon Blanc style. Just back to the grapes.” Shannon said, “Wow, smooth!” and the two commented on the apple, pear, citrus, and apricot notes.

Karl paired the Wheeland Brothers (August 3rd performance) with this wine: “It has some pep to it, but it isn’t this huge thing. The other was more peppy, but this has more structure, is more grounded. It has substance behind it, but it doesn’t go too far. My family has a long history of Chardonnay, and 75% of the Chardonnay planted in California has genetic roots from vines that came onto my family’s property in 1912.”

Wente makes several different styles of Chardonnay including the Morning Fog (lean crispness plus some richness), Riva Ridge (more new barrels, with a bigger, richer style), then the Nth Degree, which is the biggest of all, offering a crème brulee structure. Karl would pair this with “a goat cheese dip with crunch, with acidity to cut through it.”

Our third wine was the 2012 Riverbank Riesling, Monterey County. Blended with 20% Gewürztraminer, this was a delightful wine with tangerine, floral, honey, and grapefruit flavors. Karl said, “There’s a tiny bit of residual sugar there, balanced with acidity. It’s smooth and round with some floral intensity.” Shannon’s first response: “Oh, that’s like honey.” and Karl responded, “But with acidity. It cleans the palate.” This is a surprisingly full-bodied and viscous Riesling. Because Karl feels this wine is smooth, alluring, but with a depth to it, he pairs this one with The Kin, scheduled to play on August 31.

Web notes: “The Arroyo Seco Appellation is defined by a unique geological feature called the Arroyo Seco Cone. Composed of soils, water sources, and wind streams that differentiate it from the Salinas Valley and the Monterey Appellation, it was created over eons by the flow of the Arroyo Seco as it spills down from the Santa Lucia Mountains. This funnel-shaped region appears at the edge of steep slopes where the river has cut a deep ravine, forming an imposing riverbank. On the southern edge of this ravine, Riesling flourishes in the deep rocky soils. The grapes were cold fermented in stainless steel. Fermentation at lower temperatures highlights the natural fruit flavors in the grapes. The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation, helping to retain its crisp acidity.” Production: 15,000 cases. Karl would pair this with homemade sausage and pasta.

The tasting finished with the 2010 Sandstone Merlot. Karl commented on the “harmonies just kicking through, the male/female voice, just bringing it all together. I chose the Sandstone Merlot because of the great structure behind it. You don’t think about the drums and bass and rhythm necessarily, but they’re all there,” and he paired this wine with the band The Lone Bellow, scheduled to play August 31. This wine was just delicious. It spent 18 months in oak barrel (no new barrels); it had plenty of big fruit and spice. It’s big enough for beef, delicate enough for salmon.

Web notes: “The grapes for our Sandstone Merlot come from a gently sloping formation of hills running along the southeastern corner of the historic Livermore Valley. With warm days, cool nights, well-drained sandstone soils, and incoming breezes from the San Francisco Bay, the Wente family’s hillside vineyard is an ideal place to grow outstanding Merlot. Each vineyard was harvested and fermented separately in upright stainless steel fermenters. Rack and return, which is the process of draining all of the free-run juice off the cap and then returning the free-run juice back over the top of the fermenter, was performed twice daily. This method increases the color and tannin extractions and improves mouthfeel through the integration of oxygen. This wine was aged for 16 months in American, French, Eastern European, and neutral oak.”

WEB: Watch the video at

Samples received for review.

Posted in Art and Music, California, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Tastings | 1 Comment

RECOMMENDED: Primal Roots 2011 White Blend, California. 13% ABV, around $10.

Primal Roots has made a tasty white blend consisting of 50% Viognier, 20% French Colombard, 15% Riesling, and 15% Gewürztraminer. We enjoyed the contrast of its Sauvignon Blanc-like acidity, and its somewhat sweet, Moscato-like floral notes. A hint of cinnamon and lychee added to its charm. It was the perfect summer sipper during our weekend at the beach; it’s definitely off the beaten path and would pair well with seafood.

LABEL: Sensual and beautiful wines rooted in the art of winemaking. This intriguing fusion of wine begins with Viognier, French Colombard, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, which is artfully blended to create a mouthwatering, sensual wine. The sweet floral aroma of honeysuckle leads to crisp and refreshing flavors of peach, apricot and lychee that are truly captivating.

WINERY NOTES: The harvest year 2011 proved to be of high quality among the white varietals. The growing season was mild, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and steadily. Most of the blend, 70%, is from the North Valley, and majority of the balance is from Central Coast. Both areas provided grapes that had developed concentrated flavors and were true to variety.

The Viognier makes up 50 of the blend and provides honeysuckle, peach, and apricot as well as a creamy texture. The French Colombard adds the bright and crisp acidity. It also contributes a hint of spice to the blend. Riesling lends a very floral orange blossom note, which balances well with the fruit. Gewürztraminer is known for its lychee and spicy characters. This variety adds complexity to the final blend, making it a truly sensual and captivating wine.

The fruit is harvested at optimal ripeness, when the flavors and acids are in balance. The fruit is crushed and pressed as soon as it arrives to the winery. We clarify juice so there are no more than 2% solids. It is kept at a cool temperature throughout fermentation,
55-60°F, which retains much of the volatile aromas. After fermentation is complete, the juice is racked to assist in clarification. It does not go through malolactic fermentation and is not aged on oak. This blend is made to be bright, fruity, mouthwatering, and sensual.

WEB: Not much is happening there, but if you search for “Primal Roots” and “Constellation” you will be able to find more information.

Posted in California, Colombard, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Viognier | 2 Comments


A division of The Other Guys wine group (Sebastiani family), The White Knight brand’s motto is “Saving the world from the tyranny of Chardonnay!” Cute.

After their initial offering of an impressive Viognier, the Knights have expanded into Riesling, Moscato, and Pinot Grigio as well. Like all the TOG wines, these are good, classic representations available at reasonable prices ($10-15 each). This week, I tried all four.


Moscato, like Riesling, is often derided as “too sweet” and “a beginner’s wine.” While swill versions of both varieties are certainly made, a good Moscato is just enchanting. This is one of them.

The White Knight 2011 Moscato (50% Muscat of Alexandria, 27% Muscat Canelli, 20% Pinot Grigio, 3% Orange Muscat; 93% California, 5% Lodi, 2% Clarksburg, 13.3% ABV) is beautiful. Intensely aromatic, it is piquant and slightly sweet, exhibits lychee and roses on the nose and palate with honey emerging later, and shows a surprising little nip of minerality in the finish. This is just fine to drink by itself; the winemakers agree with me, suggesting that we enjoy it “as an aperitif, [or] with whole prawns split in half, marinated in Thai spices, charbroiled and served over a bed of mixed greens with a chili dressing.” 2,000 cases produced.

The winemaker notes, “Our Moscato is a blend of Muscat Canelli, Muscat Alexander, a touch of Orange Muscat and a medium helping of Pinot Grigio. Both varietals were grown in various appellations along the California coastline and central valley, where Muscat varietals thrive. The wines were arrested mid fermentation to leave residual sugar from the grapes, which we believe this is among purest expressions of the Muscat varietal,” hence the lack of cloying sweetness. (I would love, however, to be The Other Guys’ sweet but uncloying editor.)


The 2012 Pinot Grigio (80% Pinot Grigio, 20% Vermentino; Lodi, 11.5% ABV) is very pleasant. Pale straw-green with apple, honeysuckle, and a little vanilla and citrus on the nose. Hints of baking spices, melon, and a slice of lemon. This is a good solid wine that is soft and mouth-filling with good weight; it would pair well with food. The winemakers suggest “Roasted Chicken, crushed fingerling potatoes, torpedo onions, and wild mushroom sauce. Or try a tasty summer alternative – grilled Halibut with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette and a side of BBQ’d asparagus.” 2,850 cases produced.


This one is also sturdy and good. I reviewed the 2010 in June 2012 (click here to read the review), so it was interesting to revisit it a year later. It has held up well, and although it’s a little deeper in color than it was, it has no flaws whatsoever and is softer and rounder than it was a year ago. I am a fan of screwcap closures, which typically allow a longer lifespan with more neutral aging than corks can sustain.

Winemaker’s notes: “Lake County, located just north of Napa, has been growing premium wines since the mid 19th century. This diverse appellation exhibits many soil types including sandy loam, serpentine; iron red volcanic soils; gray-weathered, cinder ash and silt blends; and deep alluvial soils located at the base of dormant volcano Mount Konocti. The Lake County growing climate is strongly influenced by Clear Lake, the largest natural lake in California.”


With 5,400 cases produced and 13.5% ABV, once again The White Knight has produced a Viognier (90% Viognier, 6% Chardonnay, 4% Muscat Alexandria; 96% Clarksburg, 4% California) with velvet gloves that still pack a punch. This wine makes me think, and I like that.

I reviewed the 2008 (click here to read the review) and it’s very interesting to have the privilege of sampling subsequent vintages. My impression of this is similar: to describe it quickly, its first impression is a mashup of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It isn’t as tart, puckering, and cat-peeish/asparagusy as Sauvignon Blanc (although it’s close), and it isn’t as fruity as the Chardonnay. The 2011 Viognier has a citrus edge, crisp acidity, and a mineral component. It is more austere than the 2008, and like a dominatrix, it demands that you either take it seriously or walk away.

The winemaker notes, “Surrounded by the cooling waterways of the Sacramento River Delta and San Francisco Bay, the Clarksburg Winegrowing Appellation is fast earning a reputation for growing lovely Viognier grapes. Its deep sandy loam and clay soils and naturally high water table provide uncommonly rich ground to grow in. Wilson Vineyards has consistently delivered us high quality Viognier. Mostly tank fermented for crispy freshness, with a hint of French Oak for deep richness, we know you’ll enjoy this wine again and again. A dab of Chardonnay was added to give this wine some additional mouthfeel and the Muscat adds some stone fruit and beautiful aromatics.” They suggest pairing this wine “with stuffed pasta and a light lemon cream sauce, peach stuffed chicken breast over a bed of spinach with toasted hazelnuts, or margarita pizza.”

LABEL. They vary, but they all close with “Never follow the conventional path of wine, develop your own love and tastes. Be the Chess player, not the Chess piece.”

I agree!

OVERALL. My pick of the litter was the Moscato, but any of these may leave their shoes under my bed any time.


Samples received for review.

Posted in California, Chardonnay, Moscato/Muscat, Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris), Riesling, Viognier | Leave a comment