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Is The California Wine Club The Wine Club For You?

With Mother’s Day around the corner, you could get mom a gift of visiting California, so she could enjoy wine country. Or, you could bring wine country to mom, giving the gift of wine from small boutique CA wineries. For the past 23 years, husband and wife Bruce and Pam Boring visit the smaller wineries in California, creating relationships, so they can bring boutique wine country to you in convenient, monthly shipments! The California Wine Club  not only offers great wine club options, they’ve provided me with great coupons for wine discounts, as well as a giveaway for one lucky reader!

Welcome to The California Wine Club - perfect mother's day gift

Welcome to The California Wine Club

I am a firm believer that wine lovers need to travel to the source more frequently. You develop a bond with the land, the grapes, and the people who make the wine. You learn more about what you do and do not like about wine. Additionally, it creates an amazing experience to relate when you open a bottle to share with friends. However, if you can’t travel to find great wines, the next best thing is joining a wine club that travels for you!

I was skeptical when asked if I were willing to receive samples of wines from the The California Wine Club for a sponsored blog post. I don’t belong to any wine clubs, though I have in the past. I feel as a Sommelier, I’m happier picking out wine from my own travels. I feared I would have a hard time finding something good to write about the club, especially as previous clubs have sent poor quality bulk wine, not worth the effort expended to remove the cork. It turns out, however, that Bruce and Pam Boring are on to something with their California Wine Club, which has been their passion for the last 23 years.

The theory behind The California Wine Club is simple, and one I previously considered as a business model! Pam and Bruce visit smaller wineries in California with the goal of finding great wines that don’t have the distribution to make it out to you. They develop relationship with the winemakers and owners, and try to select excellent wines to send to you monthly. They have five different club options, starting with the Premier Series for $39.99, as well as the Signature Series, International Series, The Aged Cabernet Series, and the Pacific Northwest series. I was given samples of the Aged Cabernet Series, with a club price of $150 to $235, which offers “prestigious Cabernets aged 8-12 years.”

Ancient Cab Selections from the California Wine Club

Ancient Cab Selections

The wines I relieved were Martin Ray 1993 and Delectus 2002. The condition of the bottles were good, and I trust they were stored properly. The cork on the older, 21 year old wine was fine, and a corkscrew worked perfectly. The younger 2002 cork was spongy and brittle, and the screw killed it. I did not have an “Ah So”, and wish I did. The reading material that comes with the wines explains how to care for your wine, such as standing it upright prior to serving to let the sediment settle, as well as using an “Ah So” for the delicate corks. Determined to drink my wine, I used cheese cloth and filtered the Delectus into a decanter, though a coffee filter would have been great to get the crumbled cork out of my way!

Ancient Cab Sections - Martin Ray 1993 and Delectus 2002 from California Wine Club

Ancient Cab Sections – Martin Ray 1993 and Delectus 2002

I loved how much care was paid to the details with the wine shipment. For example, a color pamphlet explained to origin of the wines, as well as the tasting notes at the time of bottling versus what to expect now! They offered food pairing ideas, which were spot on. I think Pam and Bruce Boring do a great job trying to find the lesser known gems for their club members. They produced a video called The Hunted, which explains a bit about them and their mission. I recommend reading through their site, to learn more about the club options, which have expanded to other regions of the US, and the world, to find wine to tempt your palate! I for one support the mission, and think The California Wine Club is a great gift idea!

Now on to the great gift ideas for Mother’s Day. Thanks to California Wine Club,  #FNICHAT and @CookingWCaitlin, I am pleased to offer you two GREAT coupons to bring gifts of  The California Wine Club  to your mom, mother-in-law, or just to use for yourself. Simply visit the  The California Wine Club and use the following codes, good until May 22, 2014:
Club25: This is good for $25 off your first box (or a case or gifts!)
Club4for2: Double your membership: 4 bottles for the price of two

That is all you need to give a great Mother’s Day gift, while saving a little money! Who said being frugal prevents you from giving a great gift?!

Also, Please join us for a very special virtual Wine Tasting #FNIChat on Monday April 28th, just in time for Mother’s Day!

Now, the giveaway, where ONE winner will receive a 3-month subscription to The California Wine Club Premier Series, a $154 value! There are a few simple things you need to do in order to be entered in the giveaway. First, the giveaway is open to US residents only, and you must be 21 years or older. The giveaway starts Weds April 23rd and is over Mon April 28th. One winner will be selected at random on Tuesday April 29th. You can do just one, or all of the things to get entries into the giveaway, and some you can do multiple times! Additionally, several other bloggers are reviewing and giving away their own California Wine Club Premier Series prize, so be sure to visit them. I’ll link to each of them after the contest rules!

1 – Tweet the following (you can tweet 1 per day from 4/23 through 4/28), simply click this to tweet or copy and paste the following exactly: I entered a #wine giveaway from @cawineclub & @cookingwcaitlin! Visit @mmwine’s blog for your chance to win http://ow.ly/w0jNf

2 – Leave a comment below, sharing who you’d give a gift of wine to!
3 – Follow Matthew Horbund on Twitter – @mmwine
4 – Follow The California Wine Club on Twitter – @cawineclub
5 – Like A Good Time With Wine on Facebook

6 – Like  Like The California Wine Club on Facebook!
7 – Follow The California Wine Club on Pinterest
8 – Pin the above photo of the 2 wine bottles

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to check out the other bloggers who are doing their own giveaways of The California Wine Club Premier Series memberships!

The California Wine Club

The California Wine Club

 

Do you belong to any wine clubs? Leave a comment below, and let me know your thoughts!

–Edit–
The following was written up by the team of Cooking With Caitlin, and I thought it tied together the group that tried out the club nicely!

Deep thoughts on The California Wine Club

In their ongoing effort to distinguish themselves, the folks at The California Wine Club reached out to a savvy group of wine, food, and entertaining bloggers for their takes on The Club. They packaged up their California wines, shipped them throughout the country…and then braced themselves for candor.

The following posts are the result of the blogger campaign. Read on for the thoughtful reviews and brilliant ideas on how to really enjoy a California Wine Club subscription — from cork-removal, to cheese pairings, to giveaways, The Club and these bloggers have you covered. Enjoy:

Behind The Wine: Lunch with Sequoia Grove Director of Winemaking Michael Trujillo

Wine is about the story. It’s not about tart cherries and blueberries wrapped in a blanket of cedar and sprinkled with generous amounts of pepper. Likewise, it’s not about making sure you’re pairing Merlot with lamb shank and Chardonnay with lobster. Sure, those things are nice, and work their way into most of my articles. However, in the end, wine is about the people behind the juice, who they are, as well as where and why they do what they do. I had the chance to meet, and have lunch with, the man behind Sequoia Grove, President and Director of Winemaking, Michael Trujillo.

Sequoia Grove Winemaker Michael Trujillo Talking Napa Red Wine - agoodtimewithwine.com

Tasting barrel samples with Sequoia Grove Winemaker Michael Trujillo

The son of a Colorado rancher, Michael has been in the wine industry for over thirty years. While in college studying architecture and engineering, Michael took a spring break vacation in California, and it changed his life. Leaving his college studies in his 20s, Trujillo packed his belongings and moved to Napa, landing a job at a vineyard that would eventually become Domaine Carneros. There, he had the chance to learn from wine industry legends such as Tony Soter and Mike Grgich, helping shape his ability to craft excellent wine.

Michael soon transitioned to working in the cellar at Sequoia Grove with founder Jim Allen, as well as consulting winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. Here, Michael Trujillo learned quite a bit about making wine. So much so, he started his own side project in the 1990s, Karl Lawrence, using the Sequoia Grove winery as a custom crush facility. In 1998, Trujillo was appointed as assistant winemaker of Sequoia Grove, and in 2001, when founder Jim Allen retired, Michael got his call to the big leagues.

Wines From Sequoia Grove - Cambium, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay - agoodtimewithwine.com

Wines From Sequoia Grove – Cambium, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay

In 2001, the Kopf family, which had acquired 100% of Sequoia Grove, brought Michael to New York for a meeting. Meeting with “the three sisters”, Michael was rather relaxed and aloof when they started asking him questions about how he would change Sequoia Grove. He was quite candid, discussing things like improving the quality of the winemaking equipment, elevating the quality of the grapes sourced, and the fact that the winemaking facility was “like cooking for an army on a Coleman stove.” The Kopf family was impressed with his vision to improve the brand, and handed the reins over to Michael, who was made President and Director of Winemaking at Sequoia Grove. He began immediately putting into place the improvements he outlined.

By the end of 2002, the winery was buying and using only “A” quality grapes, where it had previously been sourcing “C” quality grapes. Vineyard Manager Steve Allen began replanting the winery’s estate vineyards, including the purchase of an additional 48-acre vineyard in 2006. The goal was to eventually provide 80% of the fruit for Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon and Cambium, and have that fruit be top quality. Michael brought on UC Davis grad Molly Hill as Assistant Winemaker in 2003, who was promoted to Winemaker in 2008. All of these measured steps elevated the wine from an average California wine at a good price, to an excellent Napa wine at a good price!

Pairing Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2011 with stone crab claws - agoodtimewithwine.com

Pairing Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2011 with stone crab claws

Back to our lunch together, which started with the Sequoia Grove Chardonnay. Beautiful aroma of vanilla and pear, with a crisp palate of Granny Smith apple, vanilla, rounded out by warm baking spice. The wine is crisp while being full bodied, seeing oak aging but no malolactic fermentation. The oak is well integrated, however, and there are no splinters in your glass, I assure you.  The acidity of the Sequoia Grove Chardonnay, which is excellent for the $27 price, worked perfectly with our Florida stone crab claws, as well as the Alaskan king crab legs.

We then took a pause from the serious look at Sequoia Grove wine, to play with… wine. Michael brought two barrel samples from the newer Sequoia Grove vineyards, 100% Petite Verdot, and 100% Cabernet Franc. These two wines show a lot of promise, and I look forward to seeing what Sequoia Grove does with them once they’ve aged.

Pairing Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon with barbecue beef tri-tip - agoodtimewithwine.com

Pairing Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon with barbecue beef tri-tip

Lunch was served, and I chose a barbecue tri-tip sandwhich to pair with my two red wines. However, Michael encouraged all of his guests to order fish or lobster, in typical “Drink what you like” fashion. Several orders of fish tacos and lobster rolls were soon paired with Cabernet Sauvignon and a blended red wine, and no one was disappointed.

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - agoodtimewithwine.com

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

The first red wine, the Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, had aromas of blackberry and black cherry, and sweet vanilla scents.  The palate was beautiful red fruit, sweet spices, with a hint of vanilla and soft tannins, which were “sweet”, as opposed to dry and astringent. The  Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2o10 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from multiple appellations, aged in 100% American oak for 22 months, with 40-50% of it new oak. Absolutely lovely wine, and for about $38, definitely one to  have with food. It paired perfectly with my well seasoned barbecue beef sandwich.

Sequoia Grove Cambium 2008 red wine blend - agoodtimewithwine.com

Sequoia Grove Cambium 2008

The proverbial icing on the cake was tasting the Sequoia Grove Cambium 2008. Michael said that when blending wine, his goal is to create the perfect blend, “where you smooth out the peaks, and fill in the valleys”. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, there are only about 400 cases of the Cambium made, and it’s sold mostly in restaurants. Aromas of soft raspberry and vanilla with soft baking spice waft from the glass. The palate is a wave of spice, start to finish, with tart cherry and cranberry mixed with mocha and espresso flavors.

The Sequoia Grove Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are two wines that are well priced, and fairly available. They offer great quality, and are definitely worth trying. You should be able to find them where you live, as I saw them in both Total Wine and Publix here in South Florida. I told Michael these were “Put your money where your mouth is” wines…. wines that I may have had the chance to taste for free, but I’m happy to spend my own money on. You’ll be happy you did too.

As for the rest of Sequoia Grove’s story, it’s still being written. Michael’s goal of elevating the quality of the fruit continues, with a focus on building the estate vineyard program while nurturing the relationships he has with his current grape sources. He tools around with various grapes at the home vineyard, the Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc mentioned earlier, as well as Malbec. He said we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. I’ll be waiting, Michael!

Behind The Wine: Tasting Clos Pepe With Winemaker Wes Hagen

Uncorking Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2009 | agoodtimewithwine.com

Uncorking Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2009

Nestled in the northeastern corner of the Central Coast’s Sta Rita Hills AVA sits Clos Pepe Estate. Purchased in 1994 as a horse ranch by Steve and Cathy Pepe, Clos Pepe winemaker Wes Hagen began at the Estate full-time in 1994 as well. The estate was planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from 1996 to 1998, and made the first commercially available vintage of Clos Pepe in 2000. I had the chance to “talk” to Wes Hagen during a Twitter Tasting, where a group of bloggers received samples of the Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2009, tasted, and tweeted about it with Wes. A cerebral straight shooter, Wes had a lot to say about a lot of things!

“Sta Rita Hills has poor soil, wind, fog, cool temps, long hang time and passionate explorers of flavor” was one of Wes’ first tweets during the tasting. That was soon followed by “And not to be topical or anything. Dirt Does NOT Lie, and this AVA is a testament to that.” Of note is the Hashtag used during our tasting, #DirtDontLie. A hashtag, for the uninitiated, is a way to aggregate tweets (or status updates) by a subject. With all of us adding the same hashtag to each tweet about the 2009 Clos Pepe Pinot, you should able to pull together the entire virtual conversation, and follow along. The hashtag speaks volumes about Wes, and his thoughts on where the wine is made, the vineyard!

Speaking of the vineyard, The Concise World Atlas of Wine describes the poor soil of the Sta Rita Hills AVA as “a patchwork of sand, silt, and clay.” The diurnal winds and fog keep the grapes cool at night, prolonging the growing season to help the grapes reach peak maturity, and ripeness. However, Sta Rita Hills is one of the coolest wine grape growing regions, lending itself to that bracing acidity.

I noticed Wes tweeting about decanting his Pinot Noir about an hour before the tasting began. When I asked about it, he said

I decant everything I drink 5 years and younger, whites pink and red. Decanting whites and then laying the decanter on ice is a new thing for me…and it’s revelatory.

Oh, revelatory in a sentence. I feared I would need to break out my dictionary, as I do when tweet with Randall Grahm. I digress. Few Americans I know are patient enough to decant a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, no less a normally approachable and easy to drink Pinot Noir. I tried the Clos Pepe 2009 Pinot Noir right after I pulled the cork, and was punched in the face with ripping acidity. I grabbed a decanter and gave it an hour of air.

Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2009 | agoodtimewithwine.com

Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2009

My first taste of the Clos Pepe 09 Pinot was strawberry, smoked bacon and the ripping acid I mentioned previously. Masculine on the palate, there is firm, assertive fruit and acidity. Think of it as a dapper, but manly James Bond. 007, in your glass. As the wine opened, flavors evolved into dark red berries, smoked bacon, great baking spices, with sea smoke on a long-lasting finish. This wine, which was four years from vintage when sampled, has the potential to age and develop nicely, in part because of the acidity. Experts like Parker/Galloni and Laube give this delicious red wine a drink window through 2020, though Wes himself feels you should enjoy your Clos Pepe 2009 Pinot Noir by 2016!

Speaking of drink windows, I recently came across a tasting note from March 2013 discussing Wes’ 1999 vintage. The wine was a his first at Clos Pepe, a year before their commercial launch, and was unlabeled. Nearly 14 years after harvest, the reviewer said the wine was “holding up remarkable well, with primary fruit still in evidence.” This speaks not only to Wes’ wine making prowess, but also the quality of the grapes grown at the estate.

The Clos Pepe vineyard practices are sustainable, and quite straight forward: Take care of the vineyard, and the people working in it. They try to “Encourage a healthy, diverse vineyard environment by using sheep, chickens, owl boxes, raptor perches and policies that guarantee a healthy farm. Promote soil health by composting and organic fertilization, but only enough to make the vines able to support a small crop”

Likely written by Wes, Clos Pepe does “believe that organic practices that help improve our wine are worth implementing, but we do not believe in organic for organic’s sake, nor do we practice Biodynamics, which we consider (mostly) the ravings of a charlatan, and voodoo fluff/marketing fodder.”

I read somewhere that many of the grapes grown on the estate are sold to other wine makers, keeping only a fraction of what Clos Pepe grow. Only 900 cases of the 2009 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir were made. With a suggested retail price of $54, the 2009 vintage is likely sold out. The wine is mostly available online.  The current Pinot Noir release, 2010, was given 93 points by Robert Parker/Antonio Galloni.

Joe Roberts of 1winedude asked Wes for the geeky productions details on the wine. Wes replied

Geeky production details: I didn’t fuck up a perfect vintage. That’s it. I’m a farmer.

Other BRIEF geeky production details include the Clos Pepe 2009 used all 4 Pinot Noir clones grown on the estate, 667, 115, Pommard 4, and 777. The wine aged 11 months in oak, very loose filtration, no racking or fining, picked at 23.2-24.7 brix at 3.26 to 3.38 pH final TA is 6.8 g/l, 14.1% ABV

We went on about where and when terroir exists and other cerebral, wine geekery. And just plain geekery, as I believe Wes mentioned if he wasn’t making wine, he’d still be an English teacher. It was an awesome evening with a great wine lover, who happens to make great wine. You can see what Pamela, Melanie, and Dezel thought about the Clos Pepe #DirtDontLie Twitter tasting. Wes also has his own blog, definitely worth checking out!

 

Sparkling Wine For your Valentine, That’s Amore

Amore, Italian for Love. That is what Valentine’s Day is about. It’s not about gifts, or fancy dinners out. Those things are nice, but Valentine’s Day is about love. And wine.

Valentine's Day Sparkling Wine - agoodtimewithwine.com

Valentine’s Day Sparkling Wine

You can make a bold statement with a bottle of sparkling wine. From dry to sweet, there’s an Italian sparkling wine that’s perfect for you and your amore.

From Northern Italy and founded in 1887 by Francesco Mionetto in the village of Valdobbiadene,  Mionetto Prosecco Brut DOC is a great way to say I Love You. Made with 100% Glera grapes from the Veneto region, the Mionetto Prosecco Brut is ever so slightly sweet. The Italian sparkling wine is rich yellow color, with an aroma of white peaches.

Mionetto Brut Prosecco - a great sparkling wine for Valentine's Day - agoodtimewithwine.com

Mionetto Brut Prosecco – a great sparkling wine for Valentine’s Day

There are lively bubbles in the glass, and you first notice the minerality of the wine, followed by delicious notes of pear and white peach. Mionetto Brut Prosecco is widely available, and can be found in retail stores for approximately $14.

Pink and Valentine’s Day sometimes seem synonymous, so a rosé sparkling wine will suit your amore perfectly. From the Veneto region of Northern Italy,  Lamberti Rose Spumante is made with 34% Pinot Bianco, 33% Pinot Nero, and 33% Raboso. A soft, light pink color, you will notice an aroma of sweet red raspberry and strawberry wafting from your glass. The tiny, fine bubbles are persistent, but not too firm, just a beautiful, delicate sparkle.

Lamberti Rose Spumante Sparkling Italian Wine for Valentine's Day - agoodtimewithwine.com

Lamberti Rose Spumante Sparkling Italian Wine for Valentine’s Day

A touch sweeter than the Mionetto, the Lamberti Rose Spumante has a light, delicate palate of ripe red fruits. The hint of sweetness is brief, and the dry finish leaves you wanting another sip. Another $14 Italian Sparkling wine that can be found in stores and online.

As unique and interesting as the love of your life, Cavicchioli Lambrusco di Sorbara ‘Vigna del Cristo’ is an Italian Sparkling wine from the Modena region of Northern Italy. Lumbrusco is a wine that has different characteristics according to where it comes from, and there are  five Lambrusco DOCs, each with it’s own variety of Lambrusco grape. This affordable red sparkling wine is made with 100% Lambrusco di Sorbara, which is thought to be the highest quality Lambrusco grape since it is one of the more difficult ones to grow, having the lowest yields of grapes per vine, and thus more concentrated flavors.

Cavicchioli Lambrusco di Sorbara 'Vigna del Cristo' Sparkling Wine from Italy - agoodtimewithwine.com

Cavicchioli Lambrusco di Sorbara ‘Vigna del Cristo’ Sparkling Wine from Italy

The Cavicchioli Lambrusco di Sorbara ‘Vigna del Cristo’ is a dark pink color in the glass, with an inviting aroma of dark raspberries. Those dark raspbery scents belie the dryness of the palate, however. Soft dried red berry, cranberry and raspberry make up the flavors of this quite dry but fun sparkling Italian wine. It retails for $17, and paired with some dried salami, would be a delightful way to start your Valentine’s Day celebration.

Our fourth Italian sparkling wine, the sweetest of the group, is also from Cavicchioli. The Cavicchioli 1928 Sparkling Lo Spumante is made with 100% Malvasia grapes, and the beautiful bottle hints at the flavors inside.

Cavicchioli 1928 Sparkling Lo Spumante italian sparkling wine for Valentine's Day - agoodtimewithwine.com

Cavicchioli 1928 Sparkling Lo Spumante

An inviting aroma of white peach and white jasmine, the Cavicchioli 1928 sparkling lo spumante is a burst of white honeysuckle, white peach, and floral jasmine on the palate. It’s a very soft approach and mid-palate, the finish is medium in length, leaving a touch of sweetness lingering on your tongue.  Available in retail shops for only $14, this sweeter Italian sparkling wine is sure to please your Valentine.

Four Italian Sparkling Wines Perfect for your Valentie's Day - agoodtimewithwine.com

Four Italian Sparkling Wines Perfect for your Valentie’s Day

Any of these affordable Italian sparkling wines would be a perfect way to toast to the love of your life. So, pop a cork, and toast to another beautiful year with your amore! Cin-Cin!

 

Why You Hate The Wine I Love

Pouring Wines for Blind Tastings

Pouring Wines for Blind Tastings

Just because I recommend a wine, doesn’t mean you’ll like it. “But, you’re a sommelier. You have to know what wines are good, right?” I’m glad you asked. My short answer is, “Sort of.” Please keep in mind that the definition of a sommelier according to Merriam-Webster is “a waiter in a restaurant who is in charge of serving wine.” Therefore, while a sommelier extensive knowledge of the wines and wine regions of the world, and likely has more passion for wine than some people have for their own children, they are not always going to recommend a wine that you fall in love with. There are several reasons why the next wine your sommelier recommends may not be your favorite.

Everyone has different sensitivity to various tastes. Some people favor sweet tastes, while others savory. Some may notice a hint of fruit flavor in a wine, while others  couldn’t pick out a pear note in a chardonnay if their lives depended on it. Therefore, when your sommelier recommends a bone dry riesling from Germany, and you’re thinking of the more off-dry, or slightly sweet, version that comes from Washington State, you can be sure there’s going to be disappointment when you take your first sip. However, this mismatched expectation will probably not happen frequently, as your sommelier has a focus on service and your ultimate satisfaction. They will do their best to elicit your preferences in wine, and find a suitable match. Therefore, we’re back to people’s ability to perceive flavors at different levels.

blind tasting wine for the court of master sommeliers certified sommelier exam

This Week’s Blind Tasting Wines

The genesis of this entire article was Monday night’s sommelier study session. Four of us gather on Monday nights, blind taste several wines to hone our skills, then study various wine regions of the world. This is all in preparation for passing the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier exam this coming April. Each of us hit one or more of the eight wines we were blind tasting out of the park. However, it was the fourth red wine that threw two of us a major curve ball. I was one of those two, and the wine was actually one I brought to the tasting. How could this happen?

As I mentioned everyone has varying levels of sensitivity to different scents and flavors. When we first took a deep sniff of the last red wine, my immediate and audible reaction was “WOAH!” The other person who was taken by surprise looked at me and said “You did stay within the guidelines, right?” I smiled and assured her I did. There are very specific areas and varietals that are tested for blind tasting on the Certified Sommelier exam, and we are trying to focus on them to keep on track with our studies. However, I knew what she was thinking. The wine exhibited scents, and flavors, that would be found in a varietal from Chile, which is not on the exam.

photo 4However, the other two tasters did not get this note, a note of green pepper. They picked out all of the normal markers of the wine. They picked out cherry, cocoa, sweet baking spices, many of the hallmarks of a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. However, myself and my bewildered partner could only smell and taste green pepper. So much so, that we both agreed the wine was picked very under ripe, and put our glasses down. It wasn’t until we mentioned what we could smell and taste in the glass that our colleagues noticed the green pepper notes too.

What does that mean? Does it mean our colleagues who picked out the normal marks of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa have very acute palates and … sniffers? Or, does it mean that the two of us were more sensitive to the green pepper notes, and it overwhelmed any other scents and flavors in the wine? Well, there’s probably a bit of both going on here. I know that I’m extremely sensitive to Brett, which I mentioned when talking about the funk in wine and life. I have been unable to drink wines with the slightest hint of Brett, when others sing it’s praises from the hilltops. However, it could indeed be that the other two tasters were better able to discern the fruit and spice through the green pepper.

How does all of this wrap up? It wraps up by keeping in mind that the wine that your friends love and bring to every party you throw may be their favorite, even if you hate it. And, that could be because they prefer a different style of that wine than you do. Or, it could be that their sensitivity to sweet, salty, sour, and fruity are different from yours, and they taste something markedly different than you do. Neither of you is wrong in your preference. Afterall, it is indeed your preference, and no one can tell you it’s wrong. Not even a sommelier.

 

On Philip Seymour Hoffman, Addiction, And Wine

Philip Seymour Hoffman Died February 2, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman Died February 2, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose February 2, 2014. Well known for roles in Capote, for which he won multiple acting awards, Charlie Wilson’s War, Doubt, Moneyball, The Master, and The Ides of March, Philip Seymour Hoffman had the ability to make us suspend disbelief, becoming engrossed in the characters he portrayed, and the stories he told. Unfortunately, he was unable to beat his addiction to drugs, admitting to being in rehab at the age of 22 during a 2006 60-Minutes interview, and again battling the demons in 2013, and succumbing to them yesterday.

There are some, many perhaps, that will spend little to no time thinking about the actor’s passing. They will wonder aloud why should we focus and feel bad for him, when scores of people die each day, in a similar way, and go unsung and unnamed. I can’t disagree with them, as the loss of life is tragic regardless of it being an actor, or a homeless man with nothing to his name. However, as actors are in the public eye, they are often thought of as role models by many. We look to them for cues as to the things we want to buy, the places we want to visit, and the things we want to do. So, when one of them dies from drug overdose, it’s particularly unsettling to think of the indelible mark they’re leaving on the masses.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was an addict, and so am I

Addiction runs in my family. We have fought the battle with drugs and alcohol, food, spending, gaming, and more. We’re not much different from the man who died yesterday. Luckily, most of us recognized our addictive personalities, and have found ways to avoid that which tempts us so deeply. You would think that I would not write about wine, or become a sommelier, if I had an addictive personality. Fortunately for me, my addiction is in areas far away from drugs and alcohol, and in an area that I’m more able to manage than not.

So, what does all of this talk about drugs, addiction and Philip Seymour Hoffman have to do with wine? It’s a reminder that we all need to exercise good judgement in life. Ensure that when you’re enjoying the wine recommendations from my site, you do so in a safe environment. Do your best to drink responsibly. Do your best to be a positive role model for the people around you.

Philip Seymour Hoffman leaves behind three children under the age of 11, and a partner of 15 years, Mimi O’Donnell. I only hope that this actor’s passing leaves behind a positive message for his children, and ours. A message that while you can achieve greatness, and be a master at your craft, you are still a delicate human, fallible, and in need of constant guidance. Never believe you’re above everyone, or anyone else. Admit your faults, work on diminishing them, and try your best to avoid the temptations that bring you down. Remember that none of those things need to be done alone. Your family, friends, and the community at large are there to help you. All you need to do is ask.

Wine, Chicken Wings, and Sriracha score a Superbowl Touchdown

superbowl snacks made with Sriracha Chili Sauce

Sriracha Chili Sauce

Sriracha is the hottest thing on the internet now. No, really, it’s hotter than Matt Cutt’s rant on Guest Blogging Is Dead. And, with the Superbowl coming up, every food blogger is talking about their Sriracha Appetizers for the big game. My favorite Superbowl finger food is chicken wings! So, I found three chicken wing recipes perfect for the Superbowl, two of which are made with Sriracha. I then, of course, paired wine with them, because that’s what I do. Touchdown, Sriracha!

I went with three red wines for the Superbowl appetizers this year. I’ve previously written about Wine and Wings, and stand by my pairing of Riesling with hot wings. Riesling is the perfect white wine to pair with spicy foods, as the fruit flavors and residual sugar balances the heat perfectly. However, some people don’t want balance, they want heat. And lots of it. So, I picked red wines that keep the heat hot. We’ll look at those wines after the wings.

Sriracha Oven Fried Chicken Wings from Honestly Yum Blog

Sriracha Oven Fried Chicken Wings

The first Superbowl appetizer hails from Honestly Yum’s Sriracha Oven Friend Chicken Wings recipe. Her complete hot wing recipe calls for Sriracha, butter, jalepenos and cilantro for the sauce, and cooking the wings on wire racks in the oven. She has this nifty method for making the skin crisp while baking, and it would have been cool if I was patient enough to try it!

Unfortunately, I was cooking three different types of wings at once, and had no patience for wire racks. I threw all of my wings on a cookie sheet, cooked them for 20 minutes, drained the fat, flipped the wings, and cooked for 15 more minutes, all on 475 degrees. They may not have been as FABU as Honesty Yum’s wings, but they were darned tasty. My son absolutely loved these wings, as did I. We didn’t garnish with jalepeno or cilantro, and they still rocked. These wings are not for the faint of tongue however, because they’re seriously hot!

harry and david blood orange marmalade and sriracha hot sauce chicken wings

Strange Bedfellows – Sriracha and Blood Orange Marmalade

The second Sriracha Chicken Wing recipe comes from The Little Kitchen. She puts together a sweet and spicy sauce for her oven baked wings that I liked. While I enjoyed it, I felt it was a tad light on the heat. Had I had time, I would have messed with the ratios a little, upping the Sriracha a touch, and reducing the Harry & David Blood Orange Marmalade a touch.

Sriracha Spicy and Sweet Chicken Wings

Sriracha Spicy and Sweet Chicken Wings

You definitely want to check out her blog, because she prepares the wings by boiling them first, then oven baking them. She claims it makes an awesome, crispy skin, and I am sure it does! Again, I didn’t do that, since I was pressed for time.

Though any old orange marmalade will do, I was very glad that I had a jar of the marmalade left over from my 2012 visit to Harry & David in Oregon. The quality ingredients made these Sriracha Spicy and Sweet chicken wings rock.

Garlic and Olive Oil base for Parmesan and Garlic Chicken Wings

Garlic and Olive Oil base for Parmesan and Garlic Chicken Wings

The last recipe that I made tonight was From Gate to Plate’s Parmesan and Garlic Boneless Chicken Wings. Oh. My. GAWD! Hands down, these were everyone’s favorite wings tonight. It wasn’t just the fact that they were boneless wings, because I used the same chicken in all three sauces. The sauce just rocked, and everyone agreed.

Roasting Garlic in Olive Oil for Chicken Wing Sauce

Roasting Garlic in Olive Oil for Chicken Wing Sauce

The Parmesan Garlic sauce required you to bake 8 cloves of garlic for 20 minutes, then mix together a number of ingredients with that garlic, like mayo, corn syrup, apple cider vinegar and more. I short circuited the process by using a small disposable aluminum baking pan, instead of a big cookie sheet for roasting the garlic. Worked perfectly. The house smelled AMAZING, like my Italian grandmother was cooking for the family. If I was Italian, that is.

Frying Chicken Breast Chunks for Boneless Chicken Wings

Frying Chicken Breast Chunks for Boneless Chicken Wings

This recipe has you frying boneless chicken breasts that you coat in flour, rather than actual chicken wings. I was a bit skeptical at first, because I don’t fry things. Ever. Not even eggs. Sunny side up, sure, but not fried. I digress!  I don’t have a deep fryer like she recommends, so I filled a cast iron skillet about 2/3 of the way with vegetable oil, put the burner on medium high, let it warm for 8 minutes, then began frying my chunks of chicken. I turned them once or twice, and cut into one after about 8 or so minutes frying. PERFECT! I call it beginners luck. So, after you fry up the boneless chicken breasts, toss them in the sauce, and mangiare. That’s Italian for EAT!

Pairing Wine with Parmesan Garlic chicken wings

Pairing Wine with Parmesan Garlic chicken wings

Now, what about the wine? I went with three very different red wines. One was a Garnacha from Spain, another was a Petite Sirah from California, and the third was a Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend from the Southern Rhone in France.

Spellbound 2012 Petite Sirah paired with spicy hot chicken wings

Spellbound 2012 Petite Sirah paired with spicy hot chicken wings

Though perhaps not the best example of Petite Sirah in the world, the Spellbound 2010 Petite Sirah from California was the best wine to pair with the hot wings. The fresh California fruit really balanced the heat from the Sriracha hot wings perfectly. The Spellbound Petite Sirah was a “Grocery Store Wine” that cost around $15. The aroma is ripe red raspberry, with hints of chocolate, and is very inviting. The palate is soft silky red fruit, not super complex or super structured. It’s definitely a California porch sipper, but I think it’s a nice wine and the hot wings are perfect with it – all fruit balances all heat!

Domaine de la Maurelle 2010 Gigondas red wine

Domaine de la Maurelle 2010 Gigondas red wine

The Domaine de la Maurelle Gigondas 2010 was a very nice, but very different wine to pair with the chicken wings. This blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre has a spiced black and blueberry aroma. The palate is medium mouth feel, dominated by earthy leather on the palate with dried red and black fruit, with firm tannin, as well as some menthol rounding it out. Old world wine all the way, yet nice with the wings. This Southern Rhone red wine cost $25.

Las Rocas 2009 Garnacha red wine from Spain

Las Rocas 2009 Garnacha red wine from Spain

Finally, we had Las Rocas 2009 Garnacha. Disappointed. This was a wine that in 2008 I was singing praises of. Now, I’m just going to say, skip it. The aroma is subdued red raspberry with hints of a leather bound book. The palate is fresh and ripe fruit, with some earthiness. However, there’s a green celery component that really is NOT pleasant. The $15 wine was too simple and yet too awkward to really get behind. However, I believe a nice Spanish Garnacha (Grenache) would be perfect with the Sriracha chicken wings, or the parmesan and garlic wings.

So, there you have it, three, well two wines that pair perfectly with chicken wings for the Superbowl. Whether you go for Parmesan Garlic or Sriracha hot wings, you’re sure to score with the three recipes I linked above. So, tell me, what’s your favorite wine for the Superbowl? And what are you pairing it with? Let me know below, just leave a comment! 

 

Wine, Steak and The Godfather Part II

review wine pairing napa cellars merlot 2007 and steak

Napa Cellars Merlot 2007

On Sunday night, we like to get ready for the work week ahead, have a comfort meal, and watch some TV. This weekend, AMC ran a Godfather marathon, which seemed perfect to watch while eating steak and drinking red wine. With The Godfather Part II as a backdrop, we grilled some delicious porterhouse steaks, and popped the cork on a wine that’s been in my cellar for a few years. Sipping the Napa Cellars Merlot 2007 with Michael Corleone was a perfect way to end the weekend.

How Do We Grill Our Steak?

We’re steak purists. This is not to imply we don’t like interesting and exciting preparations for our steaks. I’ve have some amazing steaks with sauces that could blow your hair back. However, when we pull out the Weber charcoal grill, we only season our steak with two ingredients. Those ingredients are salt, and pepper. We grill the steaks over a high heat for about 5-7 minutes per side, and pull them off medium rare. Then, we pour the wine.

Grilled Porterhouse Steak with Sautéed Mushrooms paired with Merlot  red wine

Grilled Porterhouse Steak with Sautéed Mushrooms paired with Merlot

Tasting the Napa Cellars Merlot 2007

Part of the Trinchero Family Estates portfolio, I’ve written about Napa Cellars wines in the past. This bottle was a sample that I received in 2010, so it’s been sitting in my cellar a while. I opened the Napa Cellars Merlot 2007 about 30 minutes before we were ready to eat, and poured 2 ounces or so into a glass. This allowed the bottle to open up a little, and I was able to sip on some of the wine while grilling the steaks. The wine was an opaque purple to garnet color in the glass, with an aroma of fresh blueberry and brambles. The palate was full, having great layers of blueberry and vanilla, with wonderfully integrated oak in the form of warming cedar and spice that is noticed on the mid-palate and finish. This wine really benefited from the 30 minutes of air, and certainly evolved over the next hour as it was slowly sipped.

Napa Cellars Merlot 2007 Pairs Perfectly With Steak

Napa Cellars Merlot 2007 Pairs Perfectly With Steak

Wine Pairing With Steak

We do tend to eat a lot of red meat, steak being on the menu at least twice a month. While we usually pair a Cabernet Sauvignon, we’ve been known to break out an Italian red wine for steak before. Merlot does not make it into our glass often, but not because we aren’t fans. Rather, it’s a wine we just don’t seem to grab from the shelves often enough. However, as the Napa Cellars Merlot shows, Merlot a great wine time and time again.

At $22, the Napa Cellars Merlot 2007 is aged in new and 1-year old American Oak barrels, is 100% Merlot and is 14.5% ABV. When Fred from Norcal Wine reviewed the wine in 2010, he recommended it, saying it would drink through 2013, though it’s doing fine in 2014 in my opinion. While you’re not likely to find the 2007 vintage in stores, I would not hesitate to try the current, 2011 vintage of this wine. Napa Cellars wines deliver time and time again, and at a price that’s more than reasonable.

What are your thoughts on Merlot? Let me know below!