Month: September 2020

2017 Jeff Runquist Grenache – Paso Robles Meets Amador County

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Jeff Runquist has been making excellent wines for years as demonstrated by his numerous awards at every wine competition.  He often garners more awards than any other winery! The 2017 Grenache is also an award winning wine having won Silver Medals at both East Meets West and San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competitions. For more on information on Jeff Runquist’s Wines located in Amador County, read a previously written story at:

The 2017 Runquist Grenache grapes comes from the west side of Paso Robles at Three Way Vineyard. The vineyard is located at 1,530 feet elevation.  His current 2019 release comes from the award winning Silvaspoons Vineyard in Lodi. Over the years this vineyard has won both Double Gold and Gold at various competitions. It is listed at $26.00 at the winery.

On the eyes the 2017 has a bright purple color and medium viscosity. On nose, floral notes with a combination of red fruits (raspberry, cherry and strawberry) awaken ones senses. On the palate, the fruits combine with a soft earthiness to round out the flavor profile. A bit of cooking spices loom in the shadows to make this a tantalizing treat.  The tannins are guarded and hardly present as it goes down so smoothly.

The Food Pairing

The Grenache was served with a grilled spicy pork chop and accompanied by a sea salt encrusted baked potato and a beautiful artichoke. Both the fruit of the wine as well as the spice came together for the pork chop. A great “yin and yang”, push/pull tasting.




2017 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc – A Great Wine/Food Pairing!

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Last night a delightful 2017 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc. Pam Starr, the winemaker mostly known for her Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, has always made an excellent Sauvignon Blanc that is inappropriately seen sometimes as a step-child. I have always enjoyed this wine. This year they have sold out and the new release will be April 2021. This is your “tip of the day”!!

The wine on the eyes is a pale yellow straw color with a medium viscosity. On the nose tropical floral aromas. On the palate, is light and crispy with toned down hints of citrus, melon, lime, mango and kiwifruit notes. The finish provides a wet stone mineral finish. What is unique about Pam Starr’s Sauvignon Blanc is the non-aggressive “citrus profile” (unlike New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s). It is soft and mouthful with no after taste or puckering!

The food pairing was a fresh brook trout müllerin. The trout was cooked in olive oil, lemon citrus juice, pink Himalayan salt, rainbow ground peppers, lightly floured with lemon slices. Müllerin means “the miller’s wife’s” fish. Apply named because the mountain trout that came from streams that powered the flour mills. The citrus in the fish was exquisite intermingled with the wine. It provide a harmoniously beautiful meal.



Two New Pre-Halloween Treats!! Wood Family Vineyards

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The first treat is Wood Family 2019 Para Mas Amigas Chardonnay. A regular for summer time crowds, is “Para Mas Amigas” means “for more girlfriends”. This was not on purpose, but some rusty Spanish made it thus! She was trying to say “for my girlfriends”. She has made many friends, of both sexes, all enjoying her Chardonnay. Rhonda Wood who for three years in a row has won either a Double Gold Medal, Best of Class, Gold Medal from the SF Chronicle Wine Competition and who knows how many other accolades, is about to release her 2019 Chardonnay this coming Friday, September 25th.  This Chardonnay has many of the familiar characteristics of previous years. The wine has lingering tropical fruits, peach and pear in the palate. A portion under goes 100% secondary malolactic fermentation, but allows a final mix, to allow old world and new world Chardonnay to coexist in harmony. In a recent conversation, Rhonda stated she blended her Chardonnay from both “tightly grained barrels and loosely grained barrels” into the final production wine. For the 2019 Chardonnay, she incorporated a higher mix of new French oak barrels, which imparted a new twist on an already exquisite wine. A little bit less “buttery” but the same big mouthful feel/texture and imparting some mild “Sauvignon Blanc type” lemon citrus for enjoyment. The previous three years this wine made “The Best of the Year” on my annual report. Destined to win many more awards in the coming months upon “official release”.

This was paired with some fresh sautéed scallops, fresh fettucine and broccoli cooked in olive oil and topped with parmesan cheese. Also accompanied were farm fresh sliced Beefsteak tomatoes with olive oil and drizzled with a balsamic reduction.

The second treat is her 2018 Cabernet Franc. Always a perennial favorite but never has made my “Best of the Year”, but this year could be the year when the calculations get tallied in December.  On the eyes a dark ruby red and medium heavy viscosity.  On the nose blackberry, cherry and violets were dominant. On the palate, plum and caramel pipe tobacco engulfed the mouth with milk chocolate. The finish was medium with soft edges and extremely smooth with an earthiness, an absence of any strong pyrazines and a soft and smooth landing with a hint of vanilla. This was released the first week of September.

Don’t get tricked and pass up two very good treats!!



2018 Cuda Ridge Wines Carménère – First Livermore AVA Grown Carménère Offered

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Before talking about the wine, here is a quick overview / refresher on the history of Carménère:

History of Carménère

The history of the Carménère varietal is as fascinating as it is happenstance! It was once one of the grapes in the Médoc region of Bordeaux. It served a similar purpose as Petit Verdot does today – producing a deep red ink on wines. It was one of the original six red grapes of Bordeaux. Carménère originates from the French word for crimson (carmin) which refers to the crimson color of the autumn foliage.

When the Phylloxera plague hit in 1867 destroying most of the vineyards in Europe, many thought the Carménère grape was extinct. It wasn’t until 150 years later that it was discovered that Chile had preserved the Carménère grape thinking it was Merlot (from clippings planted from France). DNA confirmed that it was the missing 6th varietal of Bordeaux.

Carménère Today

Carménère grows mainly in Chile, specifically the Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley and in the Maipo Province. It is also grown in the Veneto region of Italy, and recently several wineries in Mendocino, Livermore, Lodi, Napa and Calaveras are producing it, albeit in small quantities. Walla Walla also has some root stock growing in Carménère. 

Uniqueness of Carménère

As a varietal, it has the deep ruby coloring and aromas of red fruits. Tannins are softer and milder than Cabernet Sauvignon, thus its use in blending to soften a strong Cabernet. The use is similar to the use of Merlot in formulating an enjoyable blend. Chile produces a 100% Carménère which has a cherry and fruity flavor but has traces of smoke and earthy notes with the inky coloration.

The 2018 Cuda Ridge Carménère

One of the solid and simple marketing ideas that Larry devised is his coloring scheme: White label for his Reserve wines, Black label for his non-Bordeaux wines and Purple label for his Bordeaux varietals.  Obviously the Carménère falls in his Purple label.

This wine lived up to and exceeded some of the key characteristics of Carménère.  On the eyes, a medium viscosity wine with a unique deep purple coloration. On the nose, ripe Bing cherries greeted the senses.  The palate is where this wine excelled. First the bright cherry taste was intense and concentrated. Plums and dark fruits then came forth with a hint of soft dry and wet earthen tones (minerality and forest floor) with black tea in the background. The earthen notes are generally found in Chilean Carménère but not found too often in California. The finish was long lasting with mocha and pepper finishing off the enjoyment. The wine is aged in French oak barrels (100%) for 18 months.

Larry Dino owner and winemaker for Cuda Ridge Wines now has all six modern Bordeaux varietals available at the tasting room. The Carménère is the first locally produced wine varietal in the Livermore AVA. This initial release is very limited but the following year it will be increased significantly. Initially available for club members and very highly allocated to only 2 bottles, fortunately a few cases remain. Inquire at the winery for availability.

His Carménère will surely garner many awards in the upcoming wine competitions. The wine lists for $50. Truly a good price point given the uniqueness and scarcity of Carménère plantings in California and the only Livermore grown Carménère being offered.

The Food Pairing

Carménère is a wine that pairs well with roasted meats, barbequed ribs, rack of lamb, bacon encrusted meats, curry seasoned meat dishes, pork asado, chicken mole, beef brisket and many more. This evening a slow cooked roasted beef topped with Tabasco sauce, steamed rice and a fresh garden salad. The pairing was spot on with texture and spicy flavors.



2018 Yorkville Cellars, Eleanor of Aquitaine – Elusive and Fascinating

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A rather long name for a white blend!  That said, this wine comes from the kingdom of Yorkville Cellars in Mendocino County so royalty is expected. As with their handcrafted red wine called Richard the Lion-Heart (see full story at:, Edward and Deborah Wallo, owners and winemakers, reached into the history books to call this Eleanor of Aquitaine.


To catch up on the history of Eleanor, Eleanor married Henry II in the twelfth century. With the marriage, her inheritance of Bordeaux and the Graves regions of France passed to the English crown. It remained there for almost three centuries. The history books are somewhat vague about her life, but suffice it to say, the monks who did most of the writing then, wrote more about rumors surrounding Eleanor’s life and her association with the Courts of love and the arts of the Troubadours who were known to be “scandalous and controversial”. Even to this day, most scholars don’t know if records were of historical accuracy or merely as moral teachings. Either way, Eleanor remains “tantalizingly elusive and fascinating”. Thus the name of the wine!

2018 Yorkville Cellars, Eleanor of Aquitaine

This is a wine made from the best barrels of Semillon (60%) and blended with Sauvignon Blanc (40%). As they call it “wine fit for royals”. This proprietor’s blend is made in the classic tradition of Graves style Bordeaux Blanc. It is 100% barrel fermented in small French oak barrels to garner the mouthful feeling and provide complexity often only seen in red wines.

The 2018 Yorkville Cellars, Eleanor of Aquitaine besides using French oak are sur-lie aged for 10 months. The blend gains complexity as it ages and can be enjoyed now or even 3-5 years from the vintage date. On the eyes, a clear and medium viscosity wine. On the nose, distinct floral notes of honeysuckle and pear. On the palate, honey, pear and apricot in a rich mouthful feel come across. The finish is surprisingly long and smooth for a white wine. Historically, they have received Gold Medal (2015 Orange County Wine Group), and 93 points (and a Gold Medal) from Tastings. A unique blend and something not commonly found.

The Food Pairing

Paired with fresh scallop’s sautéed in olive oil and pinch of brown sugar plated over a combination white and brown rice. Served with an artichoke and fresh garden salad.



2018 Acquiesce Vineyards Picpoul Blanc

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Tonight’s wine was an unusual and beautiful white wine, 2018 Acquiesce Picpoul Blanc produced by winemaker/owner Susan Tipton.. Visually this varietal is faint in color and almost translucent with a pale yellow hue. On the nose pineapple was the predominate scent coupled with minerality. Picpoul means to “sting the lips” yet this wine was much more embracing and had a disguised light sweetness. The finish produced a full mouthful of wonderment. This wine was made to pair with oysters in Europe. Susan Tipton also believes in the New World, it is excellent with spicy Thai food and dishes with cilantro. In 2017 only 220 cases were produced and all going to wine club members. In 2018 based upon expected yields, she increased that number to approximately 350 cases. As an aside, only 40 acres were planted with this grape varietal in the USA in 2017!

Paired this evening with a fresh Swordfish cooked in Chardonnay, olive oil, purple onions, Himalayan sea salt, coarse ground rainbow peppers, lemon juice, capers and sliced Kalamata olives. Served with fresh fettuccine with garlic and broccoli and topped with parmesan cheese.

Another excellent wine by Susan Tipton of Acquiesce. These wine has made my Best of the Year Wines two years in a row and again will appear in 2020!!

Some other stories on Acquiesce and their unique wines:



2013 Mira Cabernet Franc from Hyde Vineyard – A Wonderful Treat

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The Winery

The winery was co-founded by winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez and Jim Dyke. The name Mira comes from a Latin root meaning miracle. Mira has a dual meaning for the winery. First it was happenstance or a miracle that the two meet to form this venture as they came from different world experiences. Secondly, the other meaning comes from their exquisite wine birth at each new harvest, a miracle in exotic taste profiles. Located in Yountville, they have 16 acres and typically do 100% varietals. Some of the wines produced are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Mira’s production is approximately 6,000 cases per year.

The 2013 Mira Cabernet Franc from Hyde Vineyard

On the eyes, the deep crimson color and medium heavy viscosity alerts one that something special is being poured into the glass. On the nose, red currant, soft pipe tobacco, black licorice and herbal fragrances are dominant.  On the palate, a range of dark fruits (blackberry and blueberry) counterbalance with dark chocolate and mild oak notes envelop the mouth.  The finish is well structured and layered providing a long lasting smooth finish with strong but tamed tannins.

In the 2019 Cabernet Franc Wine Competition, hosted by California Wines and Wineries, 2013 Mira Cabernet Franc scored a Gold Medal in their class by the Professional Judges. See the complete story at:

This was a very limited single vineyard production, but one worthy of seeking out. Listed at the winery for $144 it was a treat to sip leisurely. This made my list of The Best Wines of 2020!  Looking forward to trying some of their additional wines.



2016 Yorkville Cellars, Richard The Lion-Heart – A “Bordeaux Style” Blend

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I have been anxiously awaiting to try the 2016 Yorkville Cellars (Bordeaux Blend) wine called Richard The Lion-Heart. It is a blend of all organic grapes from the estate vineyard. It consists of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 15% Merlot, 5%, Carménère, 5% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Franc all six Noble Reds. The grapes are grown from their Mendocino highlands (1,000 foot elevation) vineyard and handcrafted by Edward and Deborah Wallo. For “their regal” wine, they select the best barrels of each varietal and work on a harmonious blend, then it is rested in 100% French oak barrels for 21 months.  The wine has won numerous awards such as: Best of Class, California State Fair; Gold San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition; 96 Points from Critics Challenge and many more over the years.

The 2016 Yorkville Cellar, Richard the Lion Heart Wine

The 2016 on the eyes appears as a dark ruby red and crisp in color with medium to medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, floral aromas of dark red and black berries, specifically raspberries and blackberries, cocoa and a tinge of smoke. It has the floral aromatics from Cabernet Franc, the unique taste profile of Carménère, dark fruits and spices of Petit Verdot, plum jam and smoothness of Malbec, structure and cherry of Cabernet Sauvignon and the roundness of Merlot. In the mouth you are awakened to all of the components of this lush wine of Noble heritage and together they provide another dimension found in classical “Bordeaux wines” with a near perfect blend. The finish was medium length and silky smooth. The sum experience was definitely greater than the standalone wines.

The Food Pairing

Paired this evening with two Chaka marinated & seared and BBQ’ed tri-tip steaks. Served with a fresh garden salad presented as “mosaic masterpiece’ (our friend Candy Strubbe), twice baked potatoes topped with cheese and bacon pieces. Additionally, roasted halved Brussel sprouts drizzled with balsamic reduction completed the meal.  I will only in passing mention the lovely angel food cake with pineapple and ice cream.

Further reading on Yorkville Cellars can be found at:

As a side note, this “Bordeaux or Meritage blend” was considered by most at the table as “delicate and refined” and compared to the gracefulness of a Pinot Noir, not in taste but how it interacted with the food. The lightness of the blend would be better suited for a less bravado dinner steak. One could make this Richard The Lion-Heart a stand along sipping wine with its precision character and traits.

Perhaps the name “Richard The Lion-Heart wine” is similar to the person. Richard I, King of England (1157-1199) a military strategist putting down rebellions in Poitou against his father, commander during the Third Crusade and leading the campaign against his Muslim counterpart shows the “strength and might as the warrior” spirit of him but may have an analogous meaning with the wine components as strong character of themselves. Yet Richard The Lionheart also published two poems and “had a softer side of his personality”. Thus similar to the finish on the wine. I will let you draw your own parallels for me, the name seems very appropriate for this wine.



2016 Vall Llach “Idus” Priorat, Spain

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Yes once again, I depart from California wines and wineries and specifically this time to the Priorat wine region in Spain.

Where and what is Priorat?

Priorat is area about 2 ½ hour drive west/southwest of Barcelona. Priorat consist of ten small villages in the southern portion of Catalonia in the province of Tarragona.

Brief History and Background of Priorat

This wine area has over two thousand years of history from the Romans. Due to the proximity of the Iberian Peninsula, it was controlled by the Moors until the twelfth century. In this area you get a fabulous combination of architecture from the Moorish influence as well as Romanesque.

The Priorat district gets its name from the Carthusian order who founded a monastery in the region in the end of the 12th century. Interestingly, the more changes have transpired during the last 30-40 years. Winemakers in the region upgraded their methods and equipment and began a modernization and professional approach to wine.


Weather, climate and soil are the major components of this region. The wine area receives 3000 hours of sunshine and roughly 15 inches of rainfall per year. The soil in the area is rich in hard slate but the roots can go through seeking underground water. A lot of the vineyards in the area follow the terrain with terraces and steep slopes.

The two grapes which are used in this 2016 Vall Llach “Idus” are Garnacha (Grenache) which is the predominant grape in the region due to its survivability to the dry climate. One of the distinct traits of the grapes from the region is its ability to produce a strong, yet fresh wine. The second grape varietal used in the making of Idus is the Cariñena in the USA called Carignan. Carignan grows very well in the drier regions of California like the Central Valley and Sierra foothills.

Typically wines from the area have intense red coloration, with aromas of ripe fruit with a minerality from the slate vineyards. In the mouth a fleshy, strong flavoring with tannins being present are common.  They present black plum, licorice and have a black pepper spice quality, coupled with berry and chocolate with a smoky scent. Cariñena is a unique black skinned grape varietal. It typically is used in blending in many wines.

The 2016 Idus is multifaceted, with alluring aromas of red forest fruit, fleshy black plums, with hints of forest herbs, wood smoke and dark minerals. Wide on the palate, the wine is both powerful and fresh for an old-vine Priorat; displaying good acidity, round tannins and an incredibly long finish.

2016 Vall Llach “Idus” Priorat

The 2016 Idus provides multiple levels of aromas and tastes. The percentage mix is 90% Cariñena and 10% Grenacha. A dark color and medium to medium heavy viscosity is present. You immediately pick up on the palate, wood smoke from cedar and the minerality from the slate. It is what I describe as a representation of “old world” wine. Powerful with enough acidity to give an edge, but with round tannins so as not to overwhelm ones senses. Together they provide a long and satisfying finish. On the label it states this wine can age up to 30 years with proper storage.

The Food Pairing

Paired was a grilled pork chop with an apricot and chipotle sauce, with fresh wide fettucine with broccoli and topped with parmesan cheese.  A fresh garden salad was also served.


I hope you enjoy the side trip to Priorat as this growing region is extremely well-known in wine circles and the grape varietals Grenacha (Grenache in USA) and Cariñena (Carignan) are extremely tasty and wonderful grapes grown both in Priorat and the USA. I have for years now always kept wine from the Priorat region in the cellar for the uniqueness, quality and delightful expression of the local area.



2019 Lavender Ridge Vineyard Blanc de Blancs – Just Released!

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Lavender Ridge Vineyard has just introduced a new wine to their outstanding existing lineup. It is their 2019 Blanc de Blancs. It is half Viognier and half Roussanne and thus formulating the “Blancs”. It is a Brut sparkling made in the Method Champenoise style. While the sugar level is ½ gram per liter is “dry by standards”, it seems just a tad bit “sweeter” due to the fruit primarily from the Viognier grapes.  Both grape varietals come from their organically farmed vineyard and the quality is easy to recognize on the palate. In total only 130 cases were produced and it is listed for $32. This is a refreshing and inspiring bubbling sipping wine.

The Viognier provides a silky and mouth full feel which adds depth to the honey and floral fragrances.  Typically Viognier is low in alcohol and has characteristics of peach, apricot and honey. Roussanne, which Lavender Ridge has won numerous Gold and Gold Double Awards in the Sierra Foothills Wine Competition for their stand-alone Roussanne, also provides powerful floral aromatics, with hints of peaches, pears and a silky mouthful experience. The fullness of body provides a creamy sense to the drinking experience. The wine is only 12% alcohol but this is no second class Sparkling wine!

For reference, a couple of previous stories on Lavender Ridge Vineyards and their wines can be found at:

The Lavender Ridge Blanc de Blanc’s was paired with various appetizers one evening last week, including fresh shrimp, cheeses, vegetable dips and more.

I will taste it one more time in the next 30-45 days but this definitely has the possibility to make the Best Wines of 2020!