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Napa Valley Red Wine

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!

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!

 

Quick Sip – Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 2008

Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 2008

Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 2008

Confession: I put a bottle of Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 2008 in my wine cellar, and left it there for almost two years. I told Craig Camp, the managing parter of Cornerstone Cellars, the sister label for Stepping Stone, that I did it. He understood. It wasn’t really a function of the wine needing to age before it was enjoyed. Some other wine writers were blogging about the 2008 vintage of Stepping Stones Cabernet Franc in 2010, and it was good. I simply wanted to see how a $30 bottle of Cabernet Franc held up after two years in the cellar.

matthew horbund wine review Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 2008

Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 2008

Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 2008

Earthy vegetables and herbs give way to ripe, lush berries and black cherry on both the nose and the palate. There are sweet spices from the oak aging on the finish.  Even with two years in the cellar, there are still firm tannins, and fair acidity. A blend of 96% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a great wine to pair with food, though the Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Franc is also a very nice sipping wine. The 2008 vintage was $30, while the current 2010 vintage of this wine is $35.

I’ve previously enjoyed wines from Stepping Stone. In 2012 I took sips of Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, and in 2011 I took a look at their white wine called Stepping Stone ROCKS! 2010. I have a bottle of the Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon that has also been sitting in the cellar for about two years. That wine definitely was young and tight when I received it, and I think it’s almost time to pop the cork.

What wine have you been holding on to that you think it’s time to open? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Don’t Race To The Finish Of Jeff Gordon’s Joie de Vivre

Four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jeff Gordon

Four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jeff Gordon

When you hear the name Jeff Gordon, you probably think of going around in circles while being assaulted by the smell of burning rubber mixed with gasoline. The thought of wine, no less good wine, probably never comes into your mind. I’m about to change that, and talk about not only Jeff Gordon’s passion for good wine, but tell you why this delicious red wine is a perfect choice around the holidays.

After winning his first championship in his sport’s premier series in 1995, Jeff Gordon went to London and wanted to celebrate. Jeff ordered a Joseph Drouhin Batard-Montrachet, and says it was then that his passion for fine wine began. He had never seen a white wine decanted, and upon tasting it, declared the white Burgundy wine “liquid gold.” Jeff went on to launch the Jeff Gordon Collection of wines in the fall of 2005 with a 2004 Carneros Chardonnay, working with winemaking legend August “Joe” Briggs, owner of Briggs & Sons Winemaking Co. Jeff said when he decided to start a wine line, he asked around for a great winemaker, and Briggs name came up over and over. The two met and starting working together, releasing a Napa Valley Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and their flagship wine Joie de Vivre, a red wine blend.

Review of Jeff Gordon's Joie de Vivre Red Wine

Jeff Gordon’s Joie de Vivre Red Wine

I was skeptical when asked to join the virtual wine tasting with Jeff Gordon Wine on Twitter. I had just written a post about celebrity endorsed wine, and many of you shared my views; it’s more gimmick than good. And, I knew nothing about Gordon or his wine line, other than they were asking me to sip on what I figured would be $61 worth of gasoline to power his NASCAR ride. Luckily, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Jeff Gordon Joie de Vivre 2008 red wine delivered amazing flavors that made every sip worth the price.

The 2008 Joie de Vivre is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Syrah. Most of the fruit is sourced from Napa, with Cabernet Sauvignon coming from Corbett Vineyards (Spring Mountain), the Merlot from Solari Vineyard (Calistoga) and the Syrah from Page Nord Vineyard (Yountville). There is 15% Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Monte Rosso in the blend. The wine is aged 20 months in a mixture of French and American oak, of which about 30% is new, the rest 2 to 3 year old barrels. It’s 14.5% ABV, alcohol by volume, not a “small” wine, but not big by California standards. The alcohol may be approaching the high side, but that doesn’t show up in the palate, at all.

Like most big, tannic red wines, this wine needs to breathe. I decanted it for about an hour, but honestly think it could sit for two hours and open up even more. The bouquet of the Joie de Vivre is sweet red fruit, reminiscent of chocolate covered cherries. My initial tasting notes were a BIG big palate, dark cherry with big spices on the finish, and it being very dry (tannic). However, with just thirty minutes more air, decanting for an hour and a half, the palate smoothed out considerably, with warm Christmas spice well integrated with the round dark cherry fruit. The complexity continued to unfold, with notes of leather being intertwined with the fruit and spice. I was sad that the wine was gone before the wine sat in the decanter for 2 hours. I think it evolved quite  nicely.

Pair Jeff Gordon's Joie de Vivre red wine with cured meats and more

Pair Jeff Gordon’s Joie de Vivre red wine with cured meats and more

While I paired this red wine with dried salami and cheddar cheese, I think it’s a perfect holiday or Christmas wine. Though there is no rule you can’t have white wine in December, I tend to prefer heavier red wines, especially with the foods that are typically on a holiday table. Our family celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas, and red meat seems to be served for both holidays. With Hanukkah, we often serve a brisket of beef, usually in a tomato based gravy, while with Christmas we often have a delicious Prime Rib, usually coated with herbs and garlic. The Jeff Gordon Wines Joie de Vivre would pair nicely with either dish, as well as lamb or even goose.

Sip some wine with Nascar great Jeff Gordon

Sip some wine with Nascar great Jeff Gordon

There are only 254 cases of this great red wine produced, and the distribution is quite limited, mainly in restaurants. You can of course order Joie de Vivre direct from Jeff Gordon Wine online.I was fortunate enough to receive this wine as a sample, but my opinions are based on the high quality of the product, not the fact that it was free.

A few other wine bloggers were invited to the virtual tasting. During the Twitter tasting, not only did we share tasting notes, but also thoughts about the wine in terms of aging potential, food pairings, etc. Many of us agreed this wine would age nicely. While it’s drinking very well now, I would like to look at it in 3-5 years. Some thought it had 10 years of cellar potential. I’m just not that patient!  As for the other wine blogger’s thoughts, you can see what some say here: Wine JuliaTraveling Wine ChickFabocwinechickNow and ZinFood and Wine Chickie

Now that I’ve told you this celeb wine will rock your socks off, how likely are you to try it, or other celeb endorsed wines? Let me know below!

 

Making Meatballs and Pairing Red Wine

Recipe for Sicilian meatballs paired with red wine

Sicilian meatballs paired with red wine

I can’t think of anything that brings people together better than food.  The notion of breaking bread goes back to biblical times.  However I’m sure the first time Ogg charred a hunk of brontosaurus, he invited Brugg for some and they told stories about when Trobb fell in the tar pit. Food, regardless of cuisine, transcends age, race, and political affiliation. That is why it’s very important to me that my son, now 13, not only gains an appreciation for good food, but also learns how to prepare it.
Even a 13 year old can cook this recipe for Sicilian meatballs

Even a 13 year old can cook this recipe for Sicilian meatballs

You would think that when teaching a 13 year old to cook, I’d start with something basic like pasta or grilled cheese.  I’m a fan of the Go big or go home philosophy folks, so we went with Sicilian style meatballs.  It’s a recipe I found in Food & Wine September 2007 magazine, and after making once right after reading, I saved the recipe for future use.  My son helped me when I first prepared them, so perhaps there was a tie to the dish. We started by reviewing the ingredient list and reading through the steps twice. It is important to understand the steps and the order in which we will use the ingredients, as well as having everything ready before we turn on the oven.

Batasiolo Sovrana and Heitz Cellars red wines to pair with meatballs

Batasiolo Sovrana and Heitz Cellars red wines to pair with meatballs

Before I give you the recipe, I will of course tell you about the wines paired with this fantastic meal.  My selection was Beni di Batasiolo 2009 Sovrana Barbera D’Alba. I paired this Italian red to not only stay on theme with an Italian meal, but also because the grape pairs well with the beefy meatballs while being able to handle the acidic tomatoes.  Like Ogg, I invited Brugg to break bread and share the meal.  Brugg is actually my friend Kirk, who brought his red wine contribution to the meal.  He chose a bottle of Heitz Cellar 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, another wine option that works well with meatballs and tomato sauce.

The Beni di Batasiolo Sovranna 2009 is a Barbera d’Alba. The barbera grape is grown in various places in in Italy, and this one is from Alba, a region in Piedmont, Italy. The bouquet is full of dark berries, violets and the oak notes of spice like cinnamon. The palate is medium to full, and dusty old world flavors come across at first. Dried strawberries and dried raspberries mingle with white pepper. It’s a full flavored wine bursting with taste. There was firm acidity on the finish of the wine, and it lends itself to be a wine to pair with food.

Tasting notes for Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana 2009 Barbera D'Alba

Pairing Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana 2009 Barbera D’Alba

Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is a Napa Valley, California wine. The bouquet is gorgeous, a sensual nose of mocha laced dark cherries. There are subtle spice notes that waft from the glass as well. The palate is full, but silky. Beautiful notes of chocolate cherries, but not sweet. The oak aging fills the glass with lovely spices.

Both the Beni di Batasiolo Sovranna and the Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon wines work so well with a meal of meatballs and tomato sauce. One did not stand out over the other as a better pairing. The Barbera D’Alba from Batasiolo became a bit less acidic and fruit took more of a center stage with sipped after a bite of meatball. For the Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon, the sweetness of the fruit and mocha are a little more subdued with the meal.
Tasting notes for Heitz Cellars 2007 Cabernet sauvignon Napa Valley Red wine

Sipping Heitz Cellars 2007 Cabernet sauvignon Napa Valley Red wine

Back to the recipe. Your mise en place includes
  • Two 28-oz cans of crushed Italian tomatoes
  • Four slices of white bread
  • 1/4 cup of water (drinking quality)
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries or currants
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Kosher salt (about 2 tablespoons)
  • freshly ground pepper (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 large cloves of garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon died marjoram
  • 2 lbs ground beef (chuck)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
ingredients to make perfect Sicilian meatballs

ingredients to make perfect Sicilian meatballs

In a 5 quart or larger sauce pan, pour the Italian tomatoes in and season with salt and pepper. I added about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 tsp of pepper, then added more slowly throughout the simmer, to taste. Add the 1/4 cup EVOO, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil (medium high heat), then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes (low heat).

After your sauce is on low and simmering, in a large bowl soak the 4 pieces of bread in the water. If you need less water to soak the bread, use less. If the bread is still dry, add a little more. Once the bread is saturated, squeeze out the water and place bread in another bowl. Mash the bread into a paste, then stir in the beaten eggs, garlic, parsley, marjoram, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Mix until smooth and well combined. I like to stir the sauce every 5 or 10 minutes while mixing and rolling out the meatballs.

mixing the ingredients for perfect italian meatballs

mixing the ingredients for perfect Italian meatballs

Add the ground beef, cranberries (or currents), pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Mix these ingredients until well combined. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, slowly add and mix in the bread crumbs. Kneed the mixture until it is firm enough to roll into balls.
You will roll the meatballs into about 36 meatballs, each about 2 to 3 tablespoons of mix. Tuck the pine nuts and cranberries inside as much as possible.I placed my meatballs on a cookie sheet covered with wax or parchment paper while rolling them out. Once you’re about finished, turn your oil on medium-high in a large, no-stick skillet. Did you remember to stir the simmering sauce?
roll your mixture into 36 meatballs

roll your mixture into 36 meatballs

Heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. I check the oil by putting a tiny piece of meatball in. If it doesn’t immediately start to sizzle, it’s not ready. Once it starts sizzling, then you’re ready to cook.  Work in batches, placing about 10-12 meatballs into the oil at once. I recommend using a slotted spoon to roll them into the oil gently, to prevent splattering.
You’ll cook the meatballs for about 12 minutes, turning at least 3 times throughout that time to ensure each side is done. Never turn your oil past medium high or the meatballs will burn. Using a 12″ skillet or frying pan will allow you to place about 12 meatballs in it. A 10″ pan will of course accept less. Transfer the meatballs to a plate that is lined with paper towel, and continue cooking the rest of the meatball mixture.
using an all-clad skillet to cook Italian meatball recipe

using an all-clad skillet to cook Italian meatballs

Once finished, place all of the meatballs into the sauce. Again, use a slotted spoon to gently roll them in, to avoid splatter.
After all of your meatballs are in the sauce, allow them to simmer on low for another 30 minutes. I like to gently stir every 10 minutes to allow the meatballs on top to get to the bottom and continue to cook evenly.
delicious and easy Italian Sicilian meatball recipe

delicious and easy Italian Sicilian meatball recipe

Personally I like this dish without pasta. Fill a bowl with a few meatballs and some sauce, sprinkle with a little more Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and serve. Some bread to sop up the sauce is all I like.  Robin, my son and Kirk all had some pasta with theirs and were quite happy. As for teaching my son how to cook, he made the entire meal, including frying the meatballs. He did so well, he went to his mom’s and made this awesome Italian meatball recipe it for her birthday the next week.  Maybe we will do Boeuf Bourguignon next!

Wine and Dine: Napa Cellars 2009 Zinfandel and Stacey Ribs

Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009

Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009

Cooler weather typically means people find themselves reaching for cozy food and wine pairings. While you may not live in a cool climate, you still may change your eating and drinking habits in fall and winter. One dish that really works in warm or cool climates is BBQ baby back ribs. They’re hearty and delicious, and can be made indoors or out. And, since Zinfandel works so nicely with barbeque, I’d recommend pairing BBQ ribs with Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009.

Napa Cellars is part of the Trinchero Family Estates portfolio. They own or market a host of labels, from Sutter Home to Newman’s Own to Napa Cellars, and even Fre alcohol free wines. I received several samples from this past vintage release of Napa Cellars wines to review. Since I’ve already written about Napa Cellars Chardonnay when pairing with shrimp,, I thought I’d take this opportunity to focus on one of their reds.  Coming in at $22, this Napa Zinfandel has powerful, big fruit without being over the top jammy.

The Napa Cellars 2009 Zinfandel is 88% Zinfandel and 12% Petite Sirah, and is aged 14 months in French and American oak, 10% of which is new. The bouquet and palate are very similar, with chocolate and raspberries on the very inviting nose. The palate is fresh red berries surrounded by baking spices, cinnamon and a herbaceous note as well. The finish is very long, with a predominantly spice and pepper note. There’s a little cocoa that dances around that fruit and spice, adding a layer of complexity that was nice. Letting it breathe for 15 or 20 minutes did not tame this powerful wine, which was 14.7% ABV. However, it’s big without being jammy or hot, and that makes it worth trying.

Stacey Ribs on my Traeger Smoker

Stacey Ribs on my Traeger Smoker

Now, the ribs part requires a story. Our family loves to grill, smoke, and cook in general. I respect vegans and vegetarians, and apologize to my plant eating friends. This recipe is not going to please your palate.  However, PLEASE feel free to post your favorite vegan or vegetarian recipe below, and I’ll try it, pairing it with some delicious wines.

One thing that makes it to the table at almost every cookout is ribs. I have several recipes, from a 6 plus hour smoke, to a 1 hour grill, to baking them in the oven. All of them are tasty, but Stacey Ribs have all but cemented their place as our favorite. Stacey is Robin’s cousin, who is an amazing hunter. The man lives to hunt. And he’s apparently equally as good at cooking what he hunts. In eight years, Stacey has only been to two or three events at the same time as us, but this year at the lake house was the best. He rolled out his trailer barbeque and fired up the coals. He then cooked some of the best baby back ribs I had ever had, earning the name “Stacey Ribs”. The preparation was simple, and the results were divine.

Cousin Stacey Queing Ribs

Cousin Stacey Queing Ribs

While the coals were heating the BBQ pit up to 325 degrees, Stacey peeled off the silver membrane from the ribs, and seasoned both sides with Everglades All Purpose seasoning, salt, and pepper. He tossed the ribs onto the grates, indirect heat, and let them cook for an hour and a half, turning two or three times. Then, during the next 20 minutes he basted each side with some BBQ sauce, mentioned below. He pulled the ribs off the grill, let them sit for 5 or 10 minutes, then cut and served. They were tender, moist, and flavorful. The simple preparation was very exciting, and the sauce was some of the best I’d had in ages.

Smoked Ribs on my Traeger SmokerI did the exact same preparation with my Traeger grill, and it was incredible. The Trager holds the heat constant, and produced a nice smokey flavor. I used apple wood pellets, as I light a lighter, sweeter smoke. And while the seasoning and smoking are important, I think the finishing touch was the sauce that Stacey used. He picked it up at  gas station in Kenansville, FL. From what I gathered, the company was small and just sold locally to the gas station. Stacey picked up a bottle while driving by once, and swore by it. I looked the shop up online, ordered a few small bottles, and the rest is culinary history.

Jimmy Bear's BarBerQ Sauce

Jimmy Bear’s BarBerQ Sauce

The sauce is Jimmy Bear’s Original BarBerQ sauce. They sell it online, and accept paypal. I ordered two of the 16 oz bottles, and cooking two racks of ribs used about 1/3 of a bottle. I didn’t dissect the flavors, but it seems to be a mustard base with honey flavors. The spices are excellent, and it’s a great balance between savory and sweet that worked perfectly on the pork ribs. I think the sauce, the ribs, and wine all made a perfect pairing for a good time with wine.

In addition to your favorite vegan or vegetarian recipes, what foods do you find yourself making and eating more of as summer ends? What’s on your table these days? I’d love to know, so comment below.

Sipping Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

When people talk about Napa Valley wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, they often talk about lofty prices of hard to get wines like Screaming Eagle and Scarecrow. And while there are definitely great wines at lower prices in Napa, California, like Hartwell which can come in around $80, that is still above some people’s wine budget. That’s when a wine like the Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon fits perfectly in your glass. It’s a great expression of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, at a price that doesn’t make you feel like you just bought a whole vineyard.

Stepping Stone is the sister label to Cornerstone Cellars, a venture with managing partner Craig Camp and Drs. Michael Dragutsky and David Sloas who started the label in 1991. I had the chance to try the Cornerstone Cellars 2004 Howell Mountain Cab Sauv a year or so back. While I didn’t write up a review, I thought it was delicious, and I was quite sad I opened it when I did. I felt it could have aged for another 2-3 years, if not 10. So, when I was given a shot to try the 2008 Stepping Stone Cab Sauv, bottled in May 2010 after spending 18 months in 50% new French oak barrels and released 9 months after bottling in early 2011, I was quite excited. At just $35 a bottle, I believed we’d have a great Napa wine under $40 to talk about.

Get a Wine Decanter

Get a Wine Decanter

First, a word about decanting, or just aerating wine. Do it. Stop being so impatient. It’s not rocket science, and will improve the taste of just about any red, and even some white wines you’ll drink.  If you don’t have a formal decanter, which my God, if you’re a regular wine drinker, get one, then just pop the cork, and pour out a smidge of wine into a glass. That will allow air to get into the neck of the bottle and start oxidizing the wine. I won’t get into why decanting works, just know you should. Some wines need more air than others to “open up”, and that part sort of IS rocket science. Just know that 10-20 minutes sitting and breathing is almost always the right thing to do.

Tasting the Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, the nose was a sweet cherry, with some notes of blueberry and brambles. Yes, I taste with my nose first. Some 80% of what things taste like are based on smell, so taking a nice sniff of the wine will start producing taste patterns. The palate was big fruit up front, dark cherry and blueberry, followed by a nice earthiness. I let this decant for about an hour after my initial taste. I noticed the mouthfeel was full but silky, round flavors of dark cherry, mocha and a beautiful herb and forest floor note. There were fine, well integrated tannin, and this wine was just a pleasure to sip. Even at 14.9% ABV, there was no heat on the finish, and it was a well made wine. At $35, I’d say it was worth every penny. Tim Lemke of Cheap Wine Ratings wrote up a number of the Stepping Stone wines, and agrees the Cabernet Sauvignon is a good wine.

Cabot Coop Private Stock Cheddar and wine

Cabot Coop Private Stock Cheddar and wine

Food pairings for this Cabernet Sauvignon would be the typical red meat such as steaks, as well as lamb or veal. We enjoyed it with some amazing Cabot Coop Cheddar cheese, and think it’s a perfect pairing. The two dance together in a delicious harmony. The Stepping Stones 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine on it’s own however, and you can enjoy it just sipping on a glass with friends. I know I did.

 

The un-retiring of Bernard Portet

Bernard Portet Heritance Wines

Bernard Portet Heritance Wines

When I was asked if I wanted to meet Bernard Portet for lunch, I immediately hit the internet. Didn’t the 30+ year Clos du Val veteran retire from the business? Why would they want me  to meet with someone spending his days playing cards or shuffle board, wine industry veteran or not? The first result when searching for “Bernard Portet” brought up a July 2011 Napa Register article about his retirement barely lasting a year, and his being involved in a new venture, Heritance wines. I jumped at the chance to meet Bernard, and taste his wines, even if I wasn’t getting a “scoop” story.

I met Bernard at Tryst, a trendy downtown Delray Beach, FL restaurant for lunch. As I walked in, Bernard stood, warmly welcoming me to the table. We sat, along with Tryst owner Butch Johnson, and chatted about the Heritance Wines endeavor. After only a year of retirement, Bernard quickly grew antsy when he saw grapes on the vine during 2010′s harvest, and realized none of that would be wine that bore his signature. He soon formed a venture with Don Chase, named Polaris Wines, and began buying juice he had been fond of from the 2008 vintage. Bernard Portet uses assemblage winemaking for Heritance as it has long been his signature style, where he blends different lots of wine to craft a finished wine that is greater than the sum of their parts. Bernard began his masterful blending, and we were soon given Heritance Sauvignon Blanc and Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon, two wines made in the old world style of Bernard’s native France, heralding from Napa.

Bernard said the intent of Heritance wines was originally to be a negociant, buying juice from vintners and blending and bottling himself. However, that plan changed when the wine glut of 2008 and prior dried up. Bernard said the difficult 2009 and even worse 2010 vintages had caused there to be less available wine for Bernard to purchase and blend.  This forced him to change his business plan, purchasing grapes and blending at a custom crush facility. Heritance would not give up the mission of bringing good wine to market, and quickly began sourcing grapes in Napa to continue their project.

Our discussion lead to the styles of wine we often see out of Napa today. We discussed, and all agreed that the age of big, over the top wines may be coming to the close. Bernard feels that the pendulum has swing to it’s furthest point, and is starting to swing back towards more reserved, balanced and elegant wines. Indeed, Bernard found himself wanting to make wines that were closer to his French roots, balanced between fruit, earth and acidity, and crafted with food in mind. With that, we ordered lunch and began to taste the wine.

Heritance Sauvignon Blanc 2010 review

Heritance Sauvignon Blanc 2010

First we tasted the 2010 Heritance sauvignon blanc, a blend of 91% sauvignon blanc and 9% semillion. The nose was full of fresh melon, with faint notes of citrus. The palate was soft and fresh tropical fruit, with a round mouth feel. As the wine opened, citrus notes of lime and lemon developed, and a light herbal note permeated the glass. The Heritance sauvignon blanc had crisp but not bracing acidity, and additional spice notes developed over time. It’s aged and fermented in 100% stainless steel, and has 13.5% ABV. With only 2,000 cases available, it won’t be around long. This white wine had good depth and balance, making it a great $18 white wine, good on it’s own or with food.

I had ordered the fish tacos from Tryst’s lunch menu, and was very glad. Fresh fish, with great taco seasoning, made a great pairing for the sauvignon blanc. The citrus notes balanced the heat of the taco seasoning, while the spice from the wine managed to keep the flavors lingering. I also thought the fish taco would pair nicely with the Heritance cabernet sauvignon, and I was right.

Review heritance cabernet sauvignon 2008

Heritance cabernet sauvignon 2008

The Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 is a great under $30 Napa cab. A bouquet of dark cherry and spice box waft from the glass. The palate has beautiful fruit, black cherry and blackberry mix harmoniously with a mid-palate of earthy leather. This old world leather transitions into a finish of cedar and soft spice while holding on to the fruit. The finish absolutely kicks on this red wine, bold and prominent but not overpowering. At just 13.8% ABV, the Heritance Cabernet Sauvginon 2008 is a blend of 92% cabernet sauvignon and 8% merlot, and was aged in a mixture of new and used medium-toast French oak barrels. With only 3,000 cases made, you’ll find Heritance cabernet sauvignon mainly in restaurants on their website online.

The fish taco paired nicely with the Heritance cabernet sauvignon. The spice from the wine pumped the spice from the taco, while the dark Mexican seasonings worked nicely with the black fruit. However, I think this wine would prefer beef roasted or grilled, as well as lamb, or veal.

Bernard has no plans of stopping with just the two wines currently in his portfolio. There are plans to bring another red wine to market shortly, and while I can’t mention what it is, I look forward to this South American gem gracing my glass and palate soon. Additional plans are in the work to expand past that and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Bernard Portet, Heritance and his wines.