Thanks to a Twitter tasting sponsored by Wines of Sicily, I was introduced to some wines I had never tried before and some varietals of which I had never heard. I also learned a little bit more about how wines are labeled in Sicily, and that there are nearly 50 native grape varietals unique to Sicily.
Sicily is the triangular-shaped island off the “toe of the boot” in Italy and is the largest Mediterranean island.
The weather in Sicily is very favorable for grape growing. It has a lot of bright sunshine and reliably moderate rainfall, but overall a very warm and dry climate.
This warm and dry climate is ideal for grape growing because of the absence of mildew and rot (which doesn’t tend to happen in a drier climate). Much of Sicilian wine is produced from organic grapes (because they don’t have a lot of disease), and therefore do not need to be sprayed with harsh chemicals.
There are 250,000 acres of combined international and native grapes planted in Sicily. The best known native grape varietals are Grillo, Catarratto, Nero d’Avola, and Frappato, of which all but the Catarratto I had the opportunity to sample this week.
Below is a map of the country with wine growing provinces marked with numbers. The names beside the circles mark some of the major wineries in Sicily. For this blog post I will focus on the wines I received from Mandrarossa (Nero d’Avola), Planeta (Frappato), and Firriato (Grillo), which you can easily spot on the map.
Now that we have our geography lesson, next a tasting…
The first wine we tried was the Grillo produced by Firriato. Because wine labels read a little differently in Sicily, I have done my best in the photo below to break down what each item means. It’s rather tricky not being too familiar with Sicilian wines, and because the labels can vary in their layout.
Grillo: It’s pretty much like the Sicilian version of a very light un-oaked Chardonnay. My tasting notes for the Grillo are as such: Light straw color, off dry, flavors of lemon and hints of tangerine. It’s a nice wine on its own, however some pairing ideas would be: grilled fish, shrimp, scallops or vegetables, brie and crackers (gluten free-Paleo style, of course!).
Label breakdown: Varietal (grape) is Grillo, produced by the Winery Firriato, Vintage (year grapes were harvested) 2014, and Brand Altavilla Della Corte; kind of like what model of car it is as in Pontiac Bonneville, the Bonneville part correlates with the Altavilla Della Corte. I hope that makes sense!
Next up in our flight was a Frappato. Frappato is most often used as a blending grape with Nero d’Avola (which you will read more about later in this blog post). In the bottle below, Frappato goes solo…
Label breakdown: Varietal (grape) is Frappato, produced by the Winery Planeta, Vintage (year grapes were harvested) 2015. This time the label does not bear a brand but the Designation Sicilia Vittoria DOC. Vittoria is a town in the province of Ragusa and a DOC is an Italian wine classification (there are 330 DOC titles, each with its own laws overseeing viticultural zone, grape varietals and style of wine). So, it would be sort of like saying Sonoma, California, if Sonoma had only certain grapes it could grow in their county and the wine produced in a certain style.
Upon tasting, the wine very much reminded me of a Beaujolais Nouveau, trying to mature into a more robust wine like a Pinot Noir or a Grenache. That’s no knock on Beaujolais Nouveau (made from the Gamay grape and released the same year it is harvested to showcase it’s fresh and fruity deliciousness), and which coincidentally is about to be released this year on November 17th. The Frappato definitely had Beaujolais Nouveau characteristics, but also had a nice charcoal and smoke overtone.
My pairing suggestions would be roasted chicken and root vegetables, mild to medium cheeses, mushroom-centric dishes, and believe it or not, a cheeseburger, especially with mushrooms on it. This is a fun, affordable, crowd friendly red wine, and keep it in mind for your upcoming Thanksgiving table!
Lastly (but not least, of course) comes the bottle of Nero D’Avola sent to us by Mandrarossa.
Once again, we’ll do the label breakdown. The Producer/Winery is Mandrarossa, the Varietal is Nero D’Avola. The Vintage (which is waaay to the right on the bottom is 2015). The phrase “Costa Dune” means sandy coast, and I am sure that’s an accurate description of the vineyards.
Upon examination, we noted the wine’s deep yet brilliant color, deep mauve, and its richness exuding hints of oregano and plum spice. I am not making this up. I’m going to venture out and say that the things we smelled in the wine probably grow within yards of the grapes.
Therefore, a simple pairing rule to keep in mind is: If it grows together, it goes together. So I’ll say a nice red meat sauce with basil and oregano on top of zucchini “noodles”, an eggplant lasagna, Cincinnati chili, or beef stew. Just have fun with it.
I hope you enjoyed reading a little about Sicilian wines, and that if you see them where you happen to buy wine, you will give them a try.
Thanks to the Wines of Sicily (on twitter @winesofsicily) for sending us the sample bottles (great to taste non-US grape varietals I had never heard of) and to Leslie Sbrocco (on twitter @lesliesbrocco) for hosting the Twitter chat on November 3rd on the Wines of Sicily which can be found here.
Cheers and don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never heard of before! It might just be your new favorite.
This premium wine tasting probably should have been held on Halloween because the wines you’ll get to try are SCARY GOOD. Admission to the event is only $30 per person AND you get food during the tasting! Sounds to me like you should already be penciling this event onto your calendar with a giant permanent marker, but if you need more convincing read on…
First, the tasting is on Monday, November 14th from 5:30-7:30pm. So, if you have plans, cancel them and do this instead! Seriously, if you like great wine at all, Matteo’s Wine and Bistro/Matteo’s Cellar Wine Shop is the place to be.
The food menu served will be: pizza, polenta fries, meatball sliders, empanadas, a bread and cheese tray. So I guess I am running 10 miles that morning. 😉
The tasting will include wines from the following labels:
*indicates a cavegrrl.com favorite
Archery Summit, Arrowood, Bella, Brassfield, Bridesmaid, Borjon, Canard-Duchene, Carmenet, Chalk Hill*, Cliff Lede, Dominus, Don & Sons, Double Canyon, Duckhorn*, Dutton Goldfield*, Fisticuffs, Flowers*, Freemark Abbey*, Fuse, Gerard Bertrand, Groth, Guigal*, Hall*, Hartford Court, Hourglass, Jeio, Kansler, Lewis Cellars, Maldonado*, Mer Soliel, Obsidian Ridge, Petree Cellars, Pine Ridge*, Pride Mountain Vineyards*, Raeburn, Regusci, Resonance, Robert Craig*, Roederer*, Sonoma Cutrer*, VDR, William Harrison*, Yao Ming*
As you can see by the asterisks, a lot of my favorites will be served during the tasting, and I am looking forward to tasting some new favorites I can recommend to you.
In Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Theis family is celebrating 70 years of European hospitality in their Bavarian-inspired Hofsas House Hotel.
The Hofsas House Hotel is within walking distance to the beach, multiple restaurants and shops, and several tasting rooms.
The hotel is also within just minutes driving distance to Monterey, Pebble Beach, Big Sur and Pacific Grove. The Hofsas House’s boasts 38 spacious rooms (all unique) with fireplaces, private balconies, wet bars, kitchens and patios, and the Dutch doors in every room allow guests to welcome in the ocean air.
Before I jump into all the amentities the Hofsas House has to offer, I want to talk about the hotel’s rich history, and what makes the hotel so special. On the Saturday morning of our stay, Andy and I met with Doris Theis, the mother of the current owner of the hotel, Carrie Theis. She was such a joy to interview and she filled me in on a lot of the history of Carmel as well as the Hofsas House.
The Hofsas House story begins with a woman named Donna Hofsas and her husband Fred. They moved to Carmel from Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and purchased four cottages in town. They lived in one of them and rented out the other three. The cottages were the humble beginnings of the hotel, as the main building was built in 1957, adding 25 more rooms.
Donna commissioned her friend, artist Maxine Albro (also famous for painting a fresco at Coit Tower in San Francisco) to paint a Bavarian-themed mural which has since been restored and still remains as a lovely welcome to guests. A swimming pool was also added at that time, making Hofsas House Hotel a Carmel destination.
Fred Hofsas created the mosaic coat of arms, the Latin inscription translates to English as “Leisure with Dignity”.
The various additions to the hotel proved to be very stressful on their marriage, and eventually Donna and Fred divorced. Donna retained ownership of the hotel and in the mid-1960s, she added the north wing and a meeting room. Also around that time, she built her house, and the cottage she had occupied became a family suite (Room 9/10) and is still available to guests today, as well as the three other original cottages.
In 1981, Donna passed away, and her only son Jack took over the Hofsas House Hotel. Which brings us to Doris, the incredible lady I spoke with about the history of the hotel. Doris was Jack’s wife. Together, they had two children: Carrie and Scott. The hotel was very much a family affair and Jack ran the hotel until 1996, when he passed away. Doris and Scott then took over the management from 1996-2000.
Then in 2000, Carrie Theis returned to Hofsas House to become general manager. Carrie was no stranger to the Hofsas House Hotel, because she had been escorting guests to their rooms since she was 8 and working behind the welcome desk at check-in since she was 12. Carrie had pursued a college education and a career path of her own, however, felt it was important to carry on her grandmother’s legacy of service and hospitality at the hotel.
And the hospitality is really what keeps the guests coming back to Hofsas House Hotel. I’m told that there are many guests that return because they know the history and the family and there is simply no other place in Carmel where they would rather stay.
I can understand that. My first visit to Carmel was in June of 2013 and I stayed at Hofsas House Hotel. It was my birthday weekend and incredibly special. I think once you know the family and the history of the hotel, you just have to stay there. For me, it’s like being part of the hotel’s legacy. Below is a shot of the bedroom in which we stayed during this visit.
Below is the incredible view from outside our room.
Hofsas House Hotel is located on San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea. For more information, call (831) 624-2745 or visit www.hofsashouse.com. You can like them on Facebook here and follow them on twitter here.
Before I go on to recommend some dining in the area, I’d like to list some add-ons the Hofsas House offers that you can book during your stay:
• First is the Monterey Wine and Cheese Pairing (which we enjoyed, there were two cheeses and a bottle of wine in our room upon arrival) for $30. It’s pretty wonderful to finally get to your hotel room and there’s a chilled bottle of wine with cheeses waiting for you!
• Champagne and Cheese Pairing with Hofsas House engraved flutes for $50.
• The Carmel Wine Walk-by-the-Sea Passport for $65.
• In-room his and her couples massage starting at $160 for 45 minutes.
• Decoration of room in a romantic, anniversary, or birthday theme for $75.
• Golf packages that start at $65 per person including cart.
• 2-day pass for the price of one Monterey Bay Aquarium tickets.
And right now and valid until December 31st, 2016, you can celebrate Carmel-by-the-Sea’s 100th Anniversary and Hofsas House Hotels 70th Anniversary with a History Tour! Delight in the special charms of Carmel on a leisurely, fun and informative two-hour guided walk past enchanting Fairy-tale cottages, through secret pathways, hidden courtyards and award-winning gardens. At the end of the tour, you’ll feel like a local. Cost is $25 per person. Guests who book this package will also receive a Carmel-by-the-Sea history book complimentary upon arrival (value $26.00). Learn about the 100-year history of Carmel-by-the-Sea. When booking use promotion code: HHWALKS. (Block out dates apply.)
On Friday evening, we were hoping to visit, Dametra Cafe. Since the restaurant was completely booked, we ended up at Mediterranean Restaurant (the sister restaurant of Dametra and just a few doors down). I have to say, if you can’t get a table at Dametra, Mediterranean is the next best thing. OK, well, except for a few menu items, it’s exactly the same thing. And you even get the same live music! They did not host our dinner, but I am recommending them as a favor to YOU! If you like Greek-Italian-Middle Eastern food combined, you should check it out!
Another routine in Carmel for us is a lunch stop at La Bicyclette. It’s my annual excuse of the year to eat a high calorie lunch and love every bite. 🙂 Right now they have a cassoulet special (you must try). And they have a gluten-free dough which they can substitute for any pizza on their menu (I picked the fig, arugula & prosicutto). Pretty much heaven with the Alsatian sparkling rosé we had.
On Saturday evening, we visited Lover’s Point walked around the coastline for a while, and then and went to the Beach House at Lover’s Point for dinner. It was one of the most beautiful walks I have ever taken and the weather was still really cooperating. It wasn’t cold or rainy that evening.
The Beach House at Lover’s Point is a very popular restaurant. I highly suggest making a reservation and then arriving a little early to have a drink at the bar. The restaurant is right on the water, so the views are spectacular.
For dinner we started out with a Brussels sprouts appetizer. It was prepared with roasted garlic cloves, chorizo, butternut squash, shaved parmesan, smoked paprika oil. I am probably the biggest fan of Brussels sprouts you’ll ever meet, which is funny because I HATED them when I was a kid. Not anymore. Especially when you throw in chorizo AND cheese! This was an interesting dish and I loved the roasted garlic cloves that added a a slightly sweet flavor–balancing out the spicy sausage.
For my entrée, I ordered the Crab-stuffed Petrale Sole with sautéed spinach, smashed potatoes, saffron cream, shaved fennel, micro green salad. I am getting hungry all over again just looking at the picture and remembering the textures of the tender crab and flaky sole and the creamy sauce over the potatoes.
Andy had the Hazelnut Crusted Sand Dabs with charred Brussels sprouts, pumpkin gnocchi, cipollini onions, beurre blanc, arugula pesto, and balsamic glaze. We shared both entrées because they were equally fantastic. By the way, the chef could have put pesto, hazelnuts, or balsamic glaze on a shoe and I would probably eat it. #allmyfavoriteingredients!!
In closing, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming events at the Hofsas House Hotel! One is the hotel’s 70th birthday celebration on Monday, November 7th, at 10:00am.
The event will begin at with coffee and light bites from Paris Bakery, then at 10:15 there will be a ribbon cutting with the Carmel Chamber and a Champagne toast with birthday cake at 10:30. There will also be a property tour and history discussion of the hotel’s 70 years.
Additionally, there will be a raffle to win an overnight stay! To RSVP (required by November 1) to marci at chatterboxpublicrelations.com
The second event is a little closer to the holidays. On Saturday, December 3rd, the 5th Annual Fundraiser for The Carmel Library Foundation will be held. The event will be a Gingerbread House Making morning/afternoon for the family. Together, families can create a gingerbread house to take home and display throughout the holidays. Children will receive one gingerbread making kit, hot cider and a cookie for a $25 donation to the Carmel Library Foundation.
Adults that want to attend will receive a glass of wine of award winning Monterey County wines from Twisted Roots Winery and can enjoy a gourmet cheese and fruit and tray for a $10 donation to the Carmel Library Foundation. Additional glasses of wine can be purchased for a $5.00 donation to the Carmel Library Foundation. (The $10 donation for adults does not include decorating a gingerbread house.)
There will be two sessions and you can sign up for 10:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m.
Cost: $25 per child and $10 per adult (Adult does not include decorating a gingerbread house. The cost to decorate a gingerbread house is $25. All proceeds benefit The Carmel Public Library Foundation.)
Call Carrie at the Hofsas House (831) 624-2745 to make a reservation.
I’d like to extend my gratitude to the Hofsas House Hotel for hosting us during our stay in Carmel and being a direct ambassador to the 5th Avenue Deli and the Beach House at Lovers Point during our stay. Happy birthday to Hofsas House Hotel and happy 100th birthday, Carmel!!
Recently, Andy and I had a chance to experience the Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa’s stunning remodel. The property, located in the heart of the Napa Valley, has within the last few months, revealed a stunning new resort-style pool and courtyard that will serve as the hub of upcoming weddings, events and activities––from poolside gatherings, dining and yoga, to movies, wine and cocktails under the stars.
Upon arrival, I explored the newly renovated room and was greeted by an exquisite plate of goodies and a fine bottle of wine. A bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon to be exact.
We had a big day ahead of us with two tastings scheduled at Walt Wines and Gundlach Bundschu, so we only had one drink in the hotel’s bar before retiring. As you can see below, the bar area has been updated and is quite beautiful.
The next morning, I snapped a few pictures of the sun outside our room before I took off to the also updated workout facility and spa.
After our workouts, Andy and I went wine tasting, headed to Walt for a Pinot Noir specific tasting, and then to Gunlach Bundschu for a tasting and a lesson on the winery’s history. We ended up spending a few hours at both wineries and then returned to the Napa Valley Marriott to relax by the pool for a few hours before dinner.
After the pool and outdoor excursion, we got ready for dinner and then enjoyed some time in the lobby with a wine tasting. The lobby wine tastings feature different wineries each day. That evening’s featured winery was Raymond Vineyards.
Soon, we settled into dinner at the Marriott’s restaurant VinEleven. Brian Whitmer is the head chef and focuses on American cuisine that celebrates culinary traditions from around the world incorporating locally and sustainably-grown produce.
Andy and I like to order several different items and share them. Our appetizers were the Truffle Fries served with Parmesan Cheese and Truffle Oil:
For our entreés, Andy ordered the scallop special, which upon tasting, we begged for them to put on the regular menu. The scallops were presented on a bed of mushroom risotto and were perfectly seared as you can see in the photo below.
For my dinner, I ordered the Spiced Chicken Cashew Lettuce Cups (which are on the menu in the appetizers section). Since Andy and I share food, it’s not strange for us to order only one main course and 2-4 different appetizers. I believe that it’s possible to get a solid impression of a restaurant this way. Appetizers are one of the most important parts of a menu because they are supposed to intrigue a customer and make them look forward to the next part of the meal.
At VinEleven, you can enjoy a signature summer cocktail at the beautifully lit bar or outdoor patio from 6:30 a.m. to midnight, and as late as 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The Heirloom Organic Gardens feature over 2,000 square feet of raised and in-ground beds, a lush herb garden, and a communal dining table that serves 18 guests. After such a grand meal, it was time to retire.
The hotel’s pool and outdoor wedding and event space also proves to be a showstopper. The Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa has made their outdoor space a place where visitors and locals alike can gather. The pool is a sparkling 100-by-30-foot oasis with luxe lounge furniture and umbrellas, cozy fire pits, shady Redwood nooks, and all-day dining. Poolside yoga is available for guests to begin their day and then afterward they can enjoy a swim.
All 275 guestrooms have been completely renovated with a design specifically to mimic the colors and feel of a tasting room. They have warm greys and Earth tones that appear naturally in wine caves, as well as burgundy/grape hues that take on the grape color so familiar in Napa. There is a sliding wooden barn doors with exposed hardware that provides bathroom privacy while creating a rustic wine country feel to the tranquil space.
Crisp white tile, grey granite and luxurious amenities provide a spa-like experience in the bath with electric mirrors for ideal lighting. Modular seating by large windows provide a cozy sitting area to enjoy a bottle of wine or in-room dining.
All guestrooms come fully equipped with a new state of the art guest entertainment system that provides unique content choices such as, on-screen weather, flight data, and Bluetooth® connectivity. The Enseo guestroom entertainment system will allow you to access your Netflix®, Pandora®, YouTube®, Hulu® and Crackle® accounts directly through the guestroom TV.
The Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa $20 Daily Destination Fee includes the following daily amenities:
- Culinary Garden Tour with Sparkling Wine (4pm)
- Yoga Class every morning meet in the lobby (7:30am)
- Preserve Spa Access Eucalyptus Steam Room (8:30am to 12:00pm)
- Specialized Bicycle Access with hybrid bicycles with helmet, available from dawn to dusk
- Bottled Spring Water replenished in your room daily
- Starbucks House Blend Coffee, two available daily in VINeleven Market
- Daily Vintner Pour every evening in the lobby (5-6pm)
- Wireless High Speed InternetTo learn about the Marriott Napa Valley’s special packages, you can click here.
For more information, visit www.NapaValleyMarriott.com or call (707) 253-8600. Become a fan of the Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Napahotel and follow the hotel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NapaMarriott and on Instagram here.
Gundlach Bunschu’s story began way back in 1858 when Jacob Gundlach purchased 400 acres in Sonoma and named it Rhinefarm. He then returned to Bavaria (in Germany) married, and traveled through Germany and France with his new wife Eva, buying up the rootstock they would need to plant on the land in Sonoma when they returned to the property.
When planting began on Rhinefarm in 1859, Jacob had three partners (Dresel, Kuchel & Lutgens), and they planted the first 60,000 vines on the ranch. (This was a number that towered over the perhaps only dozen other vineyards in wine country at the time with only 27,000 vines.) The first vintage was in 1861, but Gundlach & his partners were already producing wine and brandy from locally grown grapes and fruit.
In 1868, Charles Bundschu joined the winery after working in the produce industry for six years.
During the phylloxera outbreak in the 1870’s, Gundlach and his partner Julius Dresel averted the crisis by grafting the sickly European rootstock to the vines that Dresel had brought from Texas, making them the first in Sonoma to use this procedure. The grafted plantings produced high quality grapes for almost 100 years, until being replanted by Jim Bundschu in 1969.
In 1875, Charles Bundschu joined the family by marrying the eldest child of Jacob Gundlach, Francisca. Jacob retired and Charles managed the winery’s business in San Francisco for many years. Following Jacob’s death in 1984, the winery was renamed Gundlach Bundschu.
The winery was at the height of its success, when disaster struck in 1906. The San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed one million gallons of wine and three family homes. The family took refuge at their country home at Rhinefarm and began plans to rebuild.
By 1910, 68-year-old Charles Bundschu passed away (never fully recovering mentally from the trauma of the fire and physically ill from an illness he came down with during the devastation). His sons Carl and Walter took joint command.
In 1919, prohibition closed the winery, and the company was liquidated. The family was able to hold on to the 130 acres of land and continue to grow grapes to be sold to the “juice grape” market, but half the vineyard was ripped out and replanted with Bartlett pears and some was used as pasture land.
in 1933, prohibition was repealed, but Walter’s wife Sadie remained a prohibitionist and was against reopening Gunlach Bundschu as a winery. Carl Bundschu was soon hired by Suzanne Niebaum to run Inglenook Winery in Napa and to mentor John Daniels, Jr., who eventually took control in 1938.
In 1938, Towle Bundschu took over Rhinefarm following the death of his father, Walter. He also restored Rhinefarm to 200 acres by acquiring an adjacent parcel of land. Soon after, a long contract with Almaden Winery was signed. Towle also served in the Korean War as an aerial gunner until he was discharged in 1946.
In 1969, Rhinefarm was replanted (for quality reasons) by Towle’s son Jim. By 1973, Jim crushed 20 tons of Zinfandel to produce the first wines in the old stone winery in over 50 years. When Towle saw the passion and commitment to the quality and success of the winery Jim possessed, he gave his blessing to use the family name and so Gundlach Bundschu Winery was given new life!
In 1976, Gundlach Bundschu released its “first” three wines: a 1973 Zinfandel, a 1975 Riesling, and 1975 Kleinberger, all estate grown and produced. Also in 1976, the winery became one of the first in California to produce a Merlot.
In 1981, came a Cabernet Sauvignon release, and a Best Red Wine award for it at the annual Sonoma Harvest Fair.
Jim Bundschu had a cave for the wines dug and completed by 1991, to mimic wine caves he had seen while visiting France. The 10,000 square foot, 430-foot-long cave ultimately benefits the 1,800 barrels it can accommodate by keeping the temperature and humidity at optimal levels.
Jeff Bundschu took the helm of the winery in 2000, and in 2001, it is decided the winery will produce estate-grown only wines. Currently, the winery produces Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Mountain Cuvée, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and a Vintage Reserve.
Why are they able to grow all of these different grapes (who need all different climates to flourish)? Because Rhinefarm is located at the intersection of four AVAs––Carneros, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Coast. If you visit the property you will see its elevation changes. Parts of Rhinefarm are hilly and parts are flat. The land is cooled by the coastal influences of the San Pablo Bay from the south and Pacific breezes through the Petaluma Gap on the west. This cool climate allows for slow ripening and more complexity, structure, and overall more control of the outcome of the harvest. If you’d like to see an interactive map of the vineyards you can click here and congratulations, you have completely geeked out (but that’s a good thing!!)
I wanted to share a little history of the winery because I think it is so interesting. During our visit we tasted the wines listed below, and were hosted by a tasting associate named Ronni, who literally told us everything I wrote about in the paragraphs above and had the whole story committed to memory. If you get stuck with her for a tasting, you’re in for a treat.
Artist Nate Reifke came to Gundlach Bundschu Winery to help turn a rusted 1953 International panel truck that had been collecting weeds in Huichica Creek on Rhinefarm for four decades into a centerpiece at the entrance to the winery.
If you plan on visiting, there are even different tours you can experience. There are the Pinzgauer Tour (aboard a 12-person, 6-wheeled, Austrian Army Vehicle), the Cave Tour, the Heritage Experience, the Vista Courtyard and the Historic Tasting Room options from which to choose. (We enjoyed the historic tasting room option.)
I can’t believe it’s been five years since I met Andy at the Curtis Park Wine Tasting and now we live here in Curtis Park together. We are really looking forward to taking our annual walk over to the Sierra 2 Center in a few weeks to enjoy food, wine and friends. 🙂 If you’d like to read how we met at this event, you can click HERE.
I am happy to share information on this event (which happens to be one of the BEST food and wine tastings of the year in Sacramento) put together by the Sierra 2 Center and I hope you will join us for the 26th Annual Curtis Park Wine Tasting! -cg
The 2016 Curtis Park Wine Tasting, Silent Auction & Beer Garden Event promises to be one of the best ever! In it’s 26th year, the event boasts more than 20 of the best restaurants in Sacramento, more than 50 wineries, and the always popular Beer Garden orchestrated by Pangaea Bier Cafe & Bottleshop. We will have special demonstrations by culinary students of American River College and Oak Cafe along with hundreds of silent auction and raffle items.
The annual Curtis Park Wine Tasting, Silent Auction & Beer Garden Event is the largest fundraising event for the Sierra 2 Center and Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association. Proceeds from the event help us fund artistic, cultural, educational and recreational activities at Sierra 2 Center and throughout Sacramento, including the operations of the Senior Center and community building events. Additional beneficiaries of this event include Bret Harte Elementary School and C.K. McClatchy High School. The event’s success helps fund many different important community activities.
Online ticket sales will close at 11:59pm on Oct. 5. After Oct. 5: $60 all. REGISTER FOR TICKETS HERE.
Online tickets available until 11:59pm, Oct. 5. After Oct. 5, tickets available at Sierra 2 Center office and at the door the day of the event. Tickets are also available for purchase by visiting the Sierra 2 Center office at 2791 24th Street or by calling 916-452-3005 prior to 5:00 p.m. Friday, October 7, 2016. Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door prior to the event.
10 Tasting Room Tips for the Aspiring Wine Lover
No matter if you are new to wine or wine tasting, or if you visit tasting rooms often, it’s useful to remind ourselves of good etiquette and read up on ways to improve your experience. Whether you are a first time visitor to a winery, or if you know enough about wine to impress your friends, this list of tips is for you!
1. Avoid wearing heavy cologne/perfume/body spray.
This is without a doubt the number one tip. When you are tasting wines, you need the ability to smell what is in your glass without any interference. A key factor in tasting a wine (as it is in tasting food) is smelling it. Many wines have floral, herbal, spicy characteristics that can be masked when a stronger scent is present, so it’s important that the wine is the only thing you can smell! If you must wear a cologne, apply it at least 2-3 hours before you plan to head to the tasting room. P.S.: Do wear deodorant, but make it unscented if possible.
2. Wine with friends!
Wine is always more fun with friends! Groups of 2-4 people work really well for a number of reasons:
A. 2-4 people do not overwhelm a tasting room associate like a larger group might. Imagine if a bus load of people all arrive at the same time and the craziness that would ensue.
B. A group of 2-4 is bound to have different opinions on what they thought of the wines. One person might hate something that you loved, but that is totally OK! Learn to discuss the wines and get different perspectives at the end of the day.
3. Take a photo of your favorites!
Sometimes you might not be in a traditional tasting room, but at an event where there are nearly hundreds of wines being presented. Maybe there is not an opportunity to purchase the wine at the tasting, but there will be at a later time. This is the perfect opportunity to whip out the camera or cell phone and snap a picture of what you loved so you can make it a part of your cellar later on!
4. Take notes.
Remember when we used something called a pen and paper? Jot down your favorite wines if you don’t have a camera. Write down what you liked about a wine or what it brings to mind. If the tasting room associate says something important (like a food pairing or their recipe for meatballs) get that on paper, too! The most important thing is to document your experience, because most of us have been on tastings and have forgotten parts of them.
5. Use the dump bucket.
But not like that. Part of why we sometimes can’t remember what we tasted is because we have not used the dump bucket to its full potential. The plastic or metal container sitting on the bar beside the wines is there for a reason. So you can taste and spit and keep a sound mind. By all means, taste as many wines as you can, but don’t feel obligated to drink the entire pour. Keep your taste buds refreshed so you can still distinguish wines even if you are at your 3rd or 4th stop. Additionally, a winery is really the only place where spitting in public is NOT frowned upon, so sometimes I have a smaller cup I spit into and then pour it into the main dump bucket, so I am not directly spitting into the bucket. Trust me, I have seen this technique go awry and the liquid ricochet into the spitter’s face when they spat into a mostly full bucket. And they were wearing a white shirt. Not pretty.
6. Get your taste, then step aside for the next person in line.
Be aware of others around you who might be thirsty. It’s really rude to monopolize a tasting room associate when there are other people behind you waiting to taste the long awaited release of Matchbook Arsonist Chardonnay. You can always get back in line for another taste, but don’t just stand there like an oaf and prevent someone from getting one! (I am only 5’1″ tall and have been corkblocked many times!)
7. Ask questions.
Tasting room employees are not there to intimidate you. They are there to share information with you and to hopefully sell you tons of wine and maybe convince you to join their wine club. Ask questions about the wine. Ask about wine in general. Ask about the wine club. Ask about the perks of the club. Joining a wine club might be a great deal of savings to you if you like the winery and the wines they make. Sometimes wineries through big parties during releases of a particular varietal they make and the parties are for wine club members only. PS: Do ask questions, but adhere to rule #6 and do step aside as to no monopolize the tasting room associate so others can taste/ask questions, too.
8. Plan your day ahead of time.
Plan to visit 2-3 wineries maximum and spend quality time at each. Most tasting rooms have put time and effort into making their property somewhere you might like to be for while (maybe even all day). Visit the winery website (almost all of them have some sort of web and social media presence) before your visit, and learn about what makes the winery you choose unique. Some wineries have food and wine pairings/tastings. Some have live music or get food trucks to come by to provide food for purchase. If you like food and music (like I do) those are the most attractive! If you do find a winery with musical entertainment, there will also be comedic entertainment by someone who has had a little too much to drink and has decided to bust out some awesome dance moves!
9. Pack snacks and water!
So if the places at which you are tasting do not offer food, call them and see if you can bring food, more appropriately snacks to the tasting room or winery grounds. I am not talking about getting a Domino’s pizza and having it delivered to the winery, or rolling up a Weber BBQ next to the bar, but I do suggest calling the winery ahead of time and asking them if it is OK if you bring cheese, crackers, dried fruit, etc. with you. Sometimes there might be food sold on the premises, and in that case outside food might be frowned upon. In all cases it is best to call the particular winery ahead of time and ask. If you are bringing something to snack on, keep it classy and bring in a nice picnic basket or small cooler. Water is a no-brainer when it comes to drinking and helps prevent a hangover if you do accidentally overindulge.
10. Buy at least one bottle of wine from each place you visit.
You don’t have to always follow this rule, but it’s just good practice. When you buy a bottle of wine after a tasting, almost always the tasting room will refund your tasting fee. It’s a very strategic move especially in places that charge more than $10 for a tasting. At the very least you get to take home a memento from where you have been that day.
And it’s always nice to have a souvenir from a great trip you had. When you open the wine, you can relive your tasting room visit all over again. Invite your friends over (if you have not gravely embarrassed them from the winery visit and they are still speaking to you) and have a great dinner built around the wine. There are recipes all over the internet geared to almost any common varietal you can buy.
Hopefully my tips have prepared you for your next visit to wine country! Cheers!
By Andy Harris
Opening night of the 2016 Wine Bloggers’ Conference kicked off at Mohr-Fry Ranches, with locally catered food and live music by Snap Jackson & The Knock On Wood Players, a bluegrass band. All in the backyard of fourth-generation Lodi grape farmers Bruce and Peggy Fry. Coincidentally, the Frys were not only hosting this party, but celebrating their 53rd wedding anniversary. But, let’s not forget the purpose of this gathering: Wine!
Multiple tasting booths were set up in a semi-circle in the Fry’s backyard, with many familiar wineries represented. Fields Family Wines, St. Amant Winery and Turley Wine Cellars were in attendance, and they are very well regarded as being among many area wineries leading a renaissance in Sacramento Valley wine making. But I was out to try something different. Maybe something I’d heard of before, but did not really know that much about.
I had heard and read about Harney Lane Winery, and was anxious to try a tasting of what they were pouring. I also wanted to get the back story on when and how the winery was established. It turns out that this winery is only in its eleventh year, having first tried their hand at making wine with their 2006 vintage. The owners, Kyle and Jorja Lerner, told me that Jorja’s great-great grandfather bought land in Lodi in 1907 and started farming grapes, which he sold to others for wine production. Up until 2006, the Lerners were doing the same, but never producing their own wine. Then that all changed…
Their line-up of wines at this event started with a very crisp and fruity 2015 Albarino. This one won a silver medal in the 2016 California State Fair wine competition, and definitely lives up to its billing. It won’t break the bank for $20.00.
Next up was their 2013 Tempranillo. At 15% alcohol, it was a big, tannic wine, but not overpowering. At $26.00 a bottle, it certainly won’t overpower your bank account. Probably slightly more costly than typical Tempranillos, but try it and you’ll see why. I believe this one will improve with age. It was awarded Double Gold, best Tempranillo, 2016 San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Last but not least were a duo of Zinfandels that I believe represents what is unique and wonderful about Lodi Zinfandels. First up was their 2012 Estate Zinfandel. This one was aged 21 months in American Oak, and comes in at 15.5% alcohol, but doesn’t taste even slightly hot. This one has the distinctive Lodi spice and fruit, and is very competitively priced at $22.00 per bottle. It is also an award winner, garnering a Silver Medal at the 2015 California State Fair Wine Competition.
Then I sampled the 2013 Lizzy James Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel. Lizzy James is a 20-acre plot of land that is so special, the Lerner’s named it after their children, Kirsten Elizabeth and Ian James. The property is within the Mokelumne River Sub Appellation which is characterized by its deep sandy soils, common for the Lodi region. Also at 15.5% alcohol and aged in American oak for 21 months, this is a wine of uncharacteristic complexity and power derived from 109 year-old vines. Definitely the best wine I tried that evening, and possibly the top wine of the entire conference. Somewhat more costly than your average Lodi wine, but at $36.00, still a relative bargain as compared to Napa wines twice the price. This wine won a significant award at this year’s California State Fair Wine Competition, a Double Gold, Best of Class of Region. Only 650 cases produced, so get some before they run out! Visit Harney Lane Winery & Vineyards at harneylane.com.
WBC16’s Saturday night dinner party was aptly named Dinner With Lodi Wine. And that it was. But before I start talking about the wine we shared that night, let me tip my hat to local Sacramento restaurant South. South is a downtown Sacramento establishment specializing in barbeque, and they were the caterers for this special dinner. They prepared an outstanding three-course dinner to pair with typically-hardy Lodi wines. The huge conference hall at Hutchins Street Square was divided into several round dining tables with each table hosted by a different Lodi winery.
Kristy DeVaney and I had the distinct pleasure of sharing dinner and wine with Cassandra Durst of Durst Winery & Estate. She shared her wines with us and we sat right by her at our table. We also sat with Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings. I had never heard of Durst, which is not surprising, as the number of wineries in Lodi have gone from 30 to about 200 in the last 15 years. At this point, I can’t keep track!
The first course was a fantastic kale salad paired with their 2015 Albarino, which was very crisp and fruity with just the right balance of acid. This is an outstanding summer wine at only 13.4% alcohol.
Next up was the main course, which was actually five different items, highlighted by a chili rubbed pork loin and dry rubbed smoked brisket with garlic mashed potatoes and baby carrots. The three cheese macaroni and cheese topped with breadcrumbs is something I avoid because of wheat, but it was offered. (Kristy and I shared a gluten free pasta dish instead, which is pictured below). This course was paired with the fantastic Durst Winery 2013 Fairbanks Blend. This wine was 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot for added structure. At 14.8% alcohol and aged in American oak for 18 months, this is a perfect pairing for barbeque.With smooth tannins and a peppery nose, this was a truly excellent wine.
Finally, it was time for dessert. This was a treat for me, as I don’t normally have dessert. But the wine pairings were too good to ignore, so I gave them a try. Featured were 2013 Durst Winery Amada Mia White Blend and 2014 Durst Winery Amada Mia Red Blend. These wines were paired with an excellent brown sugar cinnamon streusel with whipped cream. I liked it so much, I ate mine and Kristy’s!
Amada Mia is in reference to the house at the 90 year-old vineyard in nearby Acampo that was scheduled for demolition before Dan and Cassandra Durst rescued and restored it to its former glory. Along with the house, they also restored adjoining 50-acre vineyard which had fallen into complete neglect. Now, after years of hard work, they are making some of the best wine in the Lodi area. Visit them at durstwinery.com.
These are only two examples of the passion of the wine makers who make Lodi such a unique region. In every tasting room you will find wine makers who farm the land and take the big risks to put something special in your bottle. Enjoy!
You can find Harney Lane Winery online here, find them on Facebook here, and follow them on Twitter here. They also have an Instagram account you can follow here and if you are into Pinterest, you will find them here.
Farm-to-Fork events are kicking into high gear all around Sacramento as noted by the Farm-to-Fork regional events page. Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Week begins on September 8th and takes place for 18 days, along with the Farm-to-Fork Festival on the 24th of September and the Farm-to-Fork Gala (Tower Bridge Dinner) on the 25th of September. But if you’re a wine lover, Legends of Wine (on Thursday, September 16th from 6-9pm) is the hallmark affair of the Farm-to-Fork celebration.
Legends of Wine provides the unique opportunity to sample and discover more about some of the region’s most celebrated varietals, as selected by two of Sacramento’s internationally recognized culinary powerhouses—Darrell Corti and David Berkley. Set against the backdrop of California’s majestic State Capitol, guests will sip a wide array of award-winning wines paired and presented with artisan cheeses and local delights.
Each year of Legends of Wine, Lodi wine has been well represented. I have always been a bigger fan of the region for its Zinfandels (over Amador who I feel produces better Barberas). I bring up the Lodi region because this year it is the home of the Wine Blogger’s Conference taking place next week, August 11th-14th. I am looking forward to learning more about Lodi and revisiting the wineries and taking part in the many seminars planned for the weekend, so that during Legends of Wine, I can chat more in depth with the winemakers about their craft as I try the wines.
Over $60,000 Raised for Charity at the 7th Annual HALL Wines Cabernet Cookoff and an Interview with Duff Goldman!
Here’s a little press release (combined with some photos I took that day and some of my comments) on the recent HALL Wines Cabernet Cookoff from my friends at the winery. After that, scroll down to read my interview with Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes and Food Network’s Cake Masters!
On Saturday, April 23rd, over 700 hundred wine and food aficionados helped raise over $60,000 at the sold out 7th Annual Cabernet Cookoff at HALL Wines in St. Helena. Thirteen impressive Napa and Bay Area Restaurants teamed up with a nonprofit of their choice with the goal to create the best dish to pair with 2013 HALL Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Competition was fierce, the wine was inviting, and the weather paired beautifully with this lively philanthropic event.
“Our team is humbled that such talent, both in competing chefs and judges, clear their schedules each April to help us raise money for these noteworthy charities,” says Vintner Kathryn Walt Hall. “Thank you to our generous sponsors and loyal attendees for joining our efforts to make a difference in our community.”
Five judges, Duff Goldman, Celebrity Chef from Food Network, Leslie Sbrocco, host of “Check Please!” Bay Area, Virginie Boone of Wine Enthusiast, Ian White, SF Magazine, and Ken Frank, Chef at La Toque, took on the impressive task of choosing a runner up and first place winner from dishes like “Cherry Marinated Skirt Steak with Broccolini, Point Reyes Blue, Chive Blossom” or “Black Currant and Rose Macaroon with HALL Cabernet infused Geleé”.
Mark Dommen from One Market Restaurant in San Francisco took first place with his mouth-watering “Pancetta Wrapped Passmore Ranch Sturgeon Du Puy Lentils, Smoked Garlic, Thyme Jus” benefiting nonprofit Collabria Care of Napa (re-create here). Sorry for the obscene shadow! 😦
Restaurants also had the opportunity to raise money for their charity through People’s Choice, a voting system by corks serving as the tallies. First place for People’s Choice was Napa restaurant, Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ, preparing “Fried Chicken with Spring Succotash” with the winnings benefiting Napa Humane.
Paula LeDuc Fine Catering of San Francisco took runner up of People’s Choice with the “HALL Cabernet Roasted Strawberries with White Chocolate Crumble and Mascarpone Cream,” partnering with nonprofit St Helena Hospital.
Proceeds of both ticket sales from attendees and 15% of purchases of 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Coeur Cabernet Sauvignon were also donated to the participating winning charities. Sponsors of the event included at Magnum Level: San Francisco Magazine, Bright Event Rentals, Certified Parking Attendants, MyOffice Products, and Nixon Peabody. At the Harvest Level: Signum Architecture, DP&F, Benefit Marketing, Harvest Sanitation, Snap Fiesta, Napa Valley Tours and Transportation, Print Inkorporated, Frank Zimmerman and Co LLC, and Culligan Water. Bergfeld Sponsorships included Yelp, Alkar Staffing, UpOut.com, Napa Valley Engraving, Tre Posti, Barbier Security Group, The Lux Productions and Villagio Inn & Spa. Local radio station The Vine, 99.3 was on site to capture the excitement, led by personality “Good Morning Bob!”.
For more information about the event, please visit HALL Wines. To re-create the winning recipe visit HALL’s Recipe section. Check out the exciting sizzle reel courtesy of Flynn Kelleher here or more pictures from the event available here. Next year, the 8th Annual HALL Cabernet Cookoff will take place on Saturday, April 29, 2017, tickets available now! The event sold out this year, so make sure to reserve your spot for next year.
I had the chance to sample many of the dishes at the event, but my favorite was the Cabernet Braised Short Rib with Cranberry Beans and Horseradish created by Brix on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I make short ribs with a wine sauce at home quite frequently, so this was just a dish I already like to eat. 🙂
I asked him a few questions about the event and his latest show on Food Network, Cake Masters, which currently airs Monday evenings on Food Network at 8pm EST.
ME: So, how did you get involved with the HALL Wines Cabernet Cookoff fundraiser?
DUFF: Well, I’m not really sure, uh… you know, I went to school here, uh for culinary school (CIA), and I probably do (appear at) about 3 events in Napa every year and my name is around, I’m a friend of the valley, and this is the place where I became a chef.
ME: So your new show is Cake Masters. Please tell me a little bit about that.
DUFF: It’s a really cool show, it’s a lot like Ace of Cakes, you know, it follows my staff, we make big crazy cakes, uh, but it’s in Los Angeles instead of Baltimore, so we really up the stakes. So now what we do is partner with special effects houses, so these cakes are really just wild.
ME: Yes, I heard about the Fantastic Four cake, and that it was pretty cool.
ME: So what cake project were you most excited to do?
DUFF: Uh, well we just made a life-size working R2D2.
ME: That’s so awesome, that’s great. So you’re know for cake decorating, but what on the savory side do you like to make/cook?
DUFF: Well, right now I’m writing a book about soup. I’ve got a soup brain right now.
ME: Yes, I’m sure you probably have soup a lot living in Baltimore, especially during winter.
DUFF: We do, and I actually grew up in Cape Cod, so you know it’s a big soup country up there. It’s cold.
ME: I was reading a little bit about you, and found you started out bread making. How did you transition into making cake and not just cakes but cakes that are really works of art?
DUFF: Well, I was a graffiti artist when I was younger, and I started cooking to make enough money to pay for my spray paint. Uh, I got arrested a lot.
DUFF: Yeah, so I had to stop doing that. So then I started doing metal sculpture, bronzing, welding making giant things like that bunny out front (Duff is referring to Bunny Foo Foo, the large metal rabbit sculpture in front of HALL wines created by artist Lawrence Argent). And then, I started working on cars since a lot of my friends liked working on cars–and I was a really good welder, and they were like, hey can you come over and fix this thing, it’s like you know asking an artist to come over and paint your house, and I really liked doing it, so that’s how I kind of got into mechanics…I’ve been a working pastry chef my whole career and then I’d say when I was about 25, I was in a band in Baltimore and the band was doing really well, we were starting to get looked at by record labels.
ME: And you’re a bassist?
DUFF: Yeah, so I quit my job and I started selling cakes out of my apartment to try and help pay the rent while I was trying to be a full time musician.
ME: You’ve always had the pastry thing in the background and you were in Colorado for a while?
DUFF: Yeah, I used to carve ice out there.
ME: Well it was really cool to hear a little bit more about your background and I appreciate your time.
ME: My blog is kind of small and out of Sacramento…
DUFF: Well send it (the link) to me, I want to read it.
ME: *faints* (KIDDING!) Oh I will! Totally, totally. Thank you so much!
DUFF: Nice to talk to you.
Well, isn’t that something? 🙂 Truthfully, I just didn’t want to take up much of Duff’s time, so I kept it short. It was really warm that day and we were standing outside in direct sunlight and he was wearing long pants and a long sleeved shirt so probably not the most comfortable place to be and get drilled with a bunch of questions from a nervous blogger. And yeah, I was nervous about interviewing Duff, I admit it. The funny thing is, I had met Duff before a few years ago at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco when he was kicking off his line of cake products (pic to prove it below!), and he was super nice and complimented me on my pink chef coat. But then I met Thomas Keller the next year (if you want to call it met) and I tried to ask him a question and he basically dissed me. So, the encounter with Thomas Keller (famous person) made me nervous that the Duff (also a famous person) thing would go awry. And well, I’d say it went alright. I want to thank Duff again for coming out to HALL and for putting up with me for about five minutes. 🙂