Month: February 2021
A regular for summer time crowds is Wood Family Vineyards 2019 “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, recently release her 2019 Chardonnay.
On the eyes a deep golden color and medium heavy viscosity. On the nose green apple, toasted almonds and soft lemon fragrance. This wine, different from her iconic past phrase of previous vintages of “crackerjack flavors” this added a citrus note. The finish was long and with complex layers of intrigue. This Chardonnay has many of the familiar characteristics of previous years. The wine has lingering tropical fruits, with peach and pear on the palate. 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.
The Food and Wine Pairing
A meal this week consisted of a lemon chicken Piccata breaded in Panko, cooked in white wine, butter, lemon juice and capers. Served with just a small amount of fresh squeezed lemon juice on top of the chicken and on a bed of lemon slices. Accompanied by a mixture of brown long and short grain rice and sautéed asparagus. The wine with its “Sauvignon Blanc” characteristics matched up fabulously with the lemon and butter on the prepared chicken.
Admittedly I was a little hesitant with Rhonda’s 2019 as it departed just a bit from her consistent award winning Chardonnays for the last 3 years. That stated, I believe this wine with its“ new characteristics” will enhance even more food pairings. Looking forward to the next meal with this Chardonnay.
I had been purchasing both Hestan Vineyards and Stephanie labels for some time and one day, the tasting room manager suggested I try Meyer Vineyards. All of these are owned by Stanley and Helen Cheng who purchased the property in 1996 as a former cattle ranch. Fast forward after planting the vines, in 2009 well known winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown joined their team as winemaker. I purchased several bottles and two weeks later, it was voted #8 of Wine Spectators Top 100 (2017). I called to see if any more were available and they sold out in a matter of hours after the news release!
Had a very enthusiastic wine critic over for some wine the other night and opened this bottle. Wine Spectator rated it 95 points and Parker in the 90’s. Meyer Vineyards fruit is on the hillside estate vineyard and aged 18 month in French oak barrels. On the eyes it is a very deep crimson color and heavy viscosity. On the nose dark fruits and chocolate waft into the senses. But similar only in the analogy of a circus clowns coming one after another from a tiny car, this wine continues to unfurl with flavors, layers and aromas. Dark cherry is prominent along with vanilla pipe tobacco with a finish of black licorice and long lasting enjoyment.
No food was tasted with this wine, just simply to enjoy sipping for the evening which we all did!!
Rosa Fierro Cellars
Rosa Fierro opened Rosa Fierro Cellars in 2014 and recently left her full time job and career as a legal assistant to concentrate 100% on the winery. “Rosie” as she is called, had worked in tasting rooms, made port in her garage and eventually worked with many of Livermore’s better winemakers at a production facility in Livermore. The winery is 100% woman owned and operated with women staff. Rosie specializes in hand crafted, limited production wines. Her grapes come from both Livermore and Napa Valleys and other select areas. One of the key points of making wine was instilled in her to work in the vineyards to select the best grapes. Each varietal is limited to 50-200 cases each. Those wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay (both oaked and unoaked versions), Merlot, a Rosé (from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes), Zinfandel, Primitivo, a Red Blend and her latest being the Cabernet Franc. Her total production is approximately 1,000 cases. She has won many awards in a relatively short time. The tasting room is located at 2245 South Vasco Road, Livermore. The backgrounds on her and her staff on the website are especially creatively done! Rosie’s other passion is photography and her pictures adorn each unique label.
2018 Rosa Fierro Cellars Zinphony
This wine is from Sophia Favalora Vineyards in Oakley in Contra Costa County. This is her first vintage using these grapes as previously she used a Livermore vineyard. First on the eyes, a very deep color and medium-heavy viscosity. On the nose soft floral notes with scents of raspberry and blueberry. On the palate, this Zinphony comes to life, like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, with soft spice notes of vanilla and cinnamon. This coupled with fruit tastes makes the presentation of the wine, rounded and soft as Rosie mentioned to me her view of “feminine”. The finish was mid-length and beckoning yet another sip. This was essentially a dry Zinfandel but with a “sukoshi” of the fruit providing flavor but not sweetness. This is not your fruit bomb Zinfandel, it is dry, structured and on point as a flavorful representation of tried and true California Zinfandel. The wine was in both American and French barrels and only 50 cases produced. Today it is available for wine club members only.
The Food and Wine Pairing
A fabulous food pairing was prepared with Zinphony last night by Susan Kelly. Sliced smoked chicken sausage with habanero and green chili and whole grain penne pasta. The dish was prepared using garlic, white wine, small amount of chicken broth, sliced white onion and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Lightly sautéed broccoli was added and topped off with a combination of Parmesan, Romano and Asiago shaved cheeses. The warmth of the meal was complimented with the fruit of the Zinphony for a wonderful meal. The second glass was also enjoyed after dinner and provided a deeper peak into the depth of the structure and flavors of this Zinfandel.
Pear Valley Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Franc, earned a Silver Medal by the Professional Judges and a Bronze Medal from People’s Choice Judges at the December 2020 Cabernet Franc Wine Competition hosted by California Wines and Wineries. This was a blind competition with two sets of judges in different areas. Wines were submitted from 14 states and numerous AVA’s from around the United States. For more on the wine competition sponsored by California Wines and Wineries see:
(picture from Pear Valley website)
Tom and Kathleen Maas started Pear Valley Vineyards in 1999 with 20 acres in Paso Robles, California. Today they own 113 acres. They have developed the land in a couple of marked phases after the initial acquisition. Key was in 2008, when they commence to build a 14,000 square foot winery and 5,000 square foot tasting room. The next critical phase was in 2012 when Pear Valley achieved Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Vineyard Certification. Receiving this certification comes with demonstrated dedication to vineyard practices that are “environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically-viable”.
(picture from Pear Valley Vineyards website)
The reason the Cabernet Franc is only one of the gem’s is that their production variety is outstanding. Their red wines include: Pinot Noir, Grenache, a GSM blend, Zinfandel, Barbera, Charbono, Malbec, Aglianico, Nero D’Avola, a Bordeaux style blend and Petite Sirah. Their white wine offerings include: Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay (both oaked and stainless steel), Albarino, Viognier and Rosé. Additionally, they offer dessert wines and port-style wines. Something for all tastes in wines.
Pear Valley Vineyards has a known reputation in the “California wine world” for producing excellent wines. However this was the first time I had tasted the 2017 Pear Valley Vineyards Cabernet Franc. On eyes, I knew a nice treat was about to happen with a very deep ruby color in the glass, with medium viscosity. On the nose, raspberry and nutmeg awoke the senses. Once on the palate is where the fireworks began with hints of blueberry, freshly tanned leather, cherry and vanilla pipe tobacco. Initially until “warmed up” it was soft and round on the finish with little herbaceous, but warmed up from the cellar, the muted pyrazines and mildly angular tannins came to the party to produce a lingering finish and showing an affirmative structure. BTW, this wine contains 85% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Currently their 2018 is offered on their website at $27. That is a lot of wine for the price for such a delightful experience.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Paired with a cool winter evening comfort meal of seasoned cube steak enhanced with red pepper flakes, a Yukon Gold potato and fresh garden salad. It was sufficiently strong enough with the meal. After dinner we enjoyed another glass of the wine and the soft and rounded presentation was perfect as a standalone Cabernet Franc to be sipped.
Since they did such a solid production of Cabernet Franc, I am now eager to try their Charbono, Nero D’ Avola, Aglianico and their oaked Chardonnay!
Kenefick Ranch 2017 Cabernet Franc Caitlin Select, earned a Silver Medal by the Professional Judges and a Bronze Medal from People’s Choice Judges at the 2020 Cabernet Franc Wine Competition hosted by California Wines and Wineries. This was a blind competition with two sets of judges in different areas. Wines were submitted from 14 states and numerous AVA’s from around the United States. For more on the wine competition sponsored by California Wines and Wineries see: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2020/12/04/national-cabernet-franc-wine-competition-results-are-in-happy-cabernet-franc-day/
The Kenefick Winery
The Kenefick family has roots back to Ireland as farmers. They made their way originally to Iowa and then Minnesota. Tom Kenefick was the third in his family as a physician and then went on as a practicing neurosurgeon in San Francisco. He found the property of 250 acres in 1978. On site, the goal was to focus on Bordeaux style varietals. Today they produce Petit Sirah, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a red blend. Also they have a few whites, like Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc and a white blend. Most of the wines are award winning with scores in the 93 to 95 point range.
The daughter Caitlin grew up on the ranch. Today she is a partner, with her brother Chris, continuing to build the Kenefick Ranch legacy. Caitlin is involved in branding, distributor relationships, case volumes, direct to customer sales and oversees hiring and some marketing. While this may be called “Caitlin’s Select”, I call it one of my favorite and smooth Cabernet Franc’s. Chris focuses his attention on national sales, helping out in the vineyard and chatting with visitors in the tasting room (when you are able to visit).
The winemaker is Kent Jarman. Kent graduated from U.C. Davis in enology and viticulture. He did his first harvest as an intern at Duckhorn Vineyards in 2000. In 2002, he was hired at Duckhorn as the assistant winemaker. In 2007 he became the consulting winemaker at Kenefick Ranch Vineyards. He also is the winemaker and partner at Coup de Foudre (BTW, another favorite wine!).
This 2017 Cabernet Franc is Estate grown in Kenefick Ranch sustainable farmed vineyards in Calistoga. The wine consists of 86% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot. It was aged 18 months in 65% new French oak and 35% neutral French oak barrels. Only 350 cases were produced.
On the eyes, it is bold and begs one to be introduced to its welcoming and bright personality of dark purple hues. On the nose, red cherry and plum swell into the olfactory senses. Once on the palate, soft leather, sweet pipe tobacco, chocolate and cherries swirl in the mouth. And when it warms up, the hint of pyrazine, the scent of green bell peppers wafted in the air as all good Cabernet Franc’s do. The finish was strong and long lasting. It will go at least another 10 years in the cellar. While their 2016 Cabernet Franc was rated at 94 points, their 2017 is even a finer vintage. As of today, no rating has been published but I would give it 95 points.
The Wine and Food Pairing
With the weather unseasonably warm, it was BBQ time once again. So last night, a simple treat of seared and seasoned hamburger, with purple onion and fresh tomatoes, along with broccoli and a Yukon Gold baked potato. While the food was wonderful, the wine outshone the meal. Should have saved this tasty wine for a BBQ’ed ribeye!
Let me begin by stating I am not a rosé wine fan. I don’t possess a single bottle in the cellar. Now thinking back I believe it has to do with my some of my first experiences with Rosé. It was sweet, sweet and only sweet. It had no wine appeal whatsoever!
Then against my protestations, Rhonda Wood almost a year ago, literally arm wrestled me to have a taste of her Grenache rosé called the Pink Pearl. The first sip seem like another rosé, but this was after tasting a few other wines. About the third or fourth taste, I was taken back tasting Grenache wine qualities. I started wondering why I had been so pre-set against rosé wines as this wine had no sweetness and actually had wine characteristics.
Fast forward to last week, Rhonda sent me a bottle of her 2020 “The Pink Pearl”. Again, I lamented having to taste and perhaps write a good word or two about the wine. So this last Saturday with the weather being a balmy 64 degrees with bright sunshine, we sat outside on the patio with another couple. She is well known winemaker in Lodi. We tried to dice and slice and poke holes in rosés on the whole, but we failed miserably with this one.
First on the eyes, the first misconception is that it is not pink! But that takes one back to why it is called The Pink Pearl. The wine is dedicated to several of Rhonda’s girlfriends to use to frequent a restaurant in Fremont called Pearls Café (locally known). Their regular meetings there sharing their life stories, supporting each other and often with loud laughter earned them the nickname “The Pink Pearl Gang”. Perhaps not very intimidating for a gang, nevertheless Rhonda dedicated this wine to their friendship.
So while not being able to state the color was incorrect, let me begin that the color was extremely eye catching with its uniqueness. It is somewhere between salmon and copper color with light viscosity. On the nose, a strong floral characteristic came forth but we could not initially determine a specific flower. Rhonda in her description calls it a “delicate rose”. In the mouth is where this wine shone brightly with spices and stone fruit. What stood out was the dryness of the wine, with no sweetness, and tastes of a refined new world Grenache. The finish revealed a spiced apple flavor, minerality and then a modicum of sweetness.
The acidity was almost not present, but an underlying structure was apparent! Rhonda purposed to pick the grapes in the cool night, then go directly to a gentle press with whole clusters. The wine is allowed to ferment slowly in a cool temperature in stainless steel tanks.
The wine sells out each year so for the 2020 they doubled the production to 460 cases. It will be released Tuesday, February 9th.
Paired with aged cheeses, both Kerry Gold and Tillamook Habanero pepper, crackers, spiced walnuts, grapes and two different sliced apples, I threw up the white flag of surrender. I liked the wine. There I said it and am now a self-admitted rosé wine drinker. The next day during the non-super Super Bowl, with another couple, they brought a rosé wine made from Syrah grapes. I also enjoyed that.
So enough of my journey into the world of rosé wine. I suspect this summer on a warm afternoon and evening, rather than opening up a cool Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, I may in fact open a cool “Pink Pearl”. Nice job Rhonda Wood converting a stubborn committed hearty red wine drinker to your rosé!
Brian and Lori Nuss are the founders of Vinoce. The meaning of Vinoce (vin-o-chay) is a play on his name and German-Italian background. In German “nuss” translates as “nut”. In Italian “noce” means nut and thus Vinoce means “wine nut”. The winery sits high above the valley floor on Mt. Veeder (western side of the valley) and was founded in 1996. Known for their Cabernet Franc’s and Cabernet Sauvignon’s, they do offer two Sauvignon Blanc’s. The “Lori’s Lucky Penny” is from St. Helena in Napa Valley. To read about their Cabernet Franc’s and Cabernet Sauvignon’s see the following articles:
On the eyes a pale straw yellow and light-medium viscosity. The first expectations are a “meek and mild” Sauvignon Blanc, but hold on! You are then greeted with aromas of mild citrus qualities (not a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc), but rounded and milder blends of citrus and white stone fruits. On the palate the first flavor profile is passion fruit and star fruit. While lemon citrus is present it is subdued and contained. The finish provided an even “slightly sweet” (barely on the Rector scale) but counter balanced and added just enough to make the experience not a “lip smacking” Sauvignon Blanc. Minerality and a zesty finish with a rounded finish was exquisite. They produced about 120 cases each year and 30% sees new French oak and balance is neutral. It is in barrel for between 6 to 8 months. The grapes come from the Ashe Vineyard in Yountville. Available at the winery website at $45.
By the way, the name “Lori’s Lucky Penny” name for their “higher end” Sauvignon Blanc is from Brian’s late wife Lori. They were season ticket holders for the San Francisco Giants. As Brian stated in 2010 “she found a penny on the ground at the Giant’s stadium she called her Lucky Penny and she thought the lucky penny is why the Giants won the World Series”. She would pass it along to everyone in their section to rub for good luck at the games. The penny replica is on top of foil on the bottle!
The Food and Wine Pairing
Had the opportunity over one day to pair with a variety of foods. First pairing was with a sashimi with rice of Maguro (tuna), Hamachi (yellowtail) and Sake (salmon). The acidity was a perfect embrace with the raw fish. The second dish was a tuna casserole baked with a cheddar cheese topping. Again the acidity and smoothness allow the flavors of this wonderful winter time comfort food to shine through. The last dish was a Maguro only sashimi and rice. Again the acidity was truly complimentary.
I usually don’t give such lofty praise, but when it is abundantly clear you have tasted the quintessential and benchmark of Chardonnay, you must call it as you see it!
The Winery & Winemaker
(Donald Patz standing in Shop Block with Hansen Hill behind him)
I have provided just below a couple of links on Donald Patz, the man behind the astonishing new labels of wines: Secret Door (Cabernet Sauvignon), Maritana Wines (Pinot Noir & Chardonnay) and Terminim (Roussanne & Marsanne blend). His extraordinary vision and energy, combined with his 35+ years of making exceptional wines already has wine aficionados taking notice.
Click on links to read more:
On the eyes a beautiful and glistening golden yellow flirts with your visual impression. In the glass, the color reinvigorates itself constantly beckoning you to pick up this heavy viscosity wine. Once you take the glass to your nose, the aromas of honeysuckle, toasted almonds and brioche swarm your senses. In the background vanilla and fresh honey (but not sweet) provide an intoxicating aroma. Once in mouth, the palate begins to find the aforementioned aromas now in your taste buds. Additionally, the texture and mouth fill is “other worldly” with a fullness and creaminess. That alone is worth the “price of admission” for this wine. But yet there is still more to be tasted – soft rounded lemon, apple and peach. None are sharp or jagged, just lurking in the shadows of your mouth. Once the finish comes into play, the refined structure, minerality and then the clarity of thought hits you like never before – this is no ordinary Chardonnay. This Maritana wine has both Herculean strength and panache in the same bottle! I was so intrigued about the creaminess and texture, I asked Donald Patz about it. His comment was “…it’s a function of the grape source and not waiting for super-ripeness. Hansen Hill would be a Grand Cru site for sure”. Only 250 cases produced using 20% new French oak barrels with tight grain from various coopers. Available at the winery for $90. If you have a special occasion coming up, this is one to splurge on.
The Wine & Food Pairing
Paired with two small fresh tuna filets sautéed in olive oil, lemon juice, chardonnay, minced purple onions and various spices. Created a sauce using wasabi, minced fresh ginger, Italian seasoning and coarse black pepper. Accompanied by broccoli lightly sautéed with white onions and a twice backed Idaho potato. Should I ever be in a position to have my last meal and a white wine, this is what I would choose!!
Smith-Madrone Vineyards is located on 200 acres on top of Spring Mountain west of St. Helena with 38 acres planted in vineyards. The vineyard elevation ranges from 1,300 to 2,000 feet. The founder, managing partner and enologist is Stuart Smith, Charles Smith is the winemaker and Sam Smith is the assistant winemaker. Truly a family affair! All the wines are estate and dry-farmed on top of the mountain. Annual production is between 3,000 to 4,000 cases a year. Currently they are producing Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and their iconic Cooks Flat (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc). A note on the September Napa Valley Glass Fire: No vineyards or buildings were damaged but communications, fences and gates were damaged on the property. They hope to be fully operational soon.
(Photo taken by Matthew Denny)
The Wine – 2017 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay
Once in the glass you are greeted by a shiny golden straw color with light-medium viscosity. The clarity of the wine is pronounced. On the nose, honeysuckle and a muted lemon are the key aromas. Once in the palate, this is where this “clean gem” shines. Light oak (aged 10 months in 85% new French), minerality (the entire estate is dry farmed), a light creaminess of beeswax with hints of green apple and peach. The finish is crisp and lively like an upbeat jazz tune. Layers of complexity and structure are evident in this wonderful wine. This is an excellent standalone sipping Chardonnay.
The Food Pairing
The food pairing was so appropriate with this clean wine. Paired with a straight forward charcuterie tray of Tillamook aged smoke cheddar and Kerry Irish cheddar cheeses. Glazed pecans and crackers accompanied the wine and allowed it true character to shine through.
I was surprised and delighted by the uniqueness of this dry farmed Chardonnay (something you don’t find everyday) and its clarity and crispness was a welcomed embrace.
Had an absolutely mouth dropping meal last night at our friends home here in Copper Valley. Started out with Portuguese and Irish cheeses, olives, etc., for appetizers. Then dinner was served with great food that included the following: oven roasted fresh vegetables, fresh garden salad with homemade dressing, twice baked potatoes, seasoned and baked fresh salmon and swordfish and a perfectly BBQ’ed tri-tip.
Pulled this gem out of the cellar, a 2009 O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Malbec and Merlot added for roundness. On the eyes an extremely dark purple and med-heavy viscosity. On the nose an almost overwhelming experience of aromas of violets and blackberries. On the palate everything imaginable from a mountain fruit from Napa Valley. Ranging from dark chocolate, granite to boysenberry. Largely structured similar to the Rock of Gibraltar with immense tannins but is balanced as a tightrope walker with a silky smooth finish. For the last 15+ years always a perennial favorite wine. This was a perfect wine with dinner. Robert Parker rated it 96 points, but I even believe it is higher! Current retail is $150.
One of the “many wines” tasted last evening included a 2015 Tobin James Silver Reserve Lagrein from Paso Robles. Tobin James has a tremendous following and a wine club of 30,000!! While “large”, they have some unique and smaller lot wines. Lagrein is an ancient grape variety from northeastern Italy and this is Tobin James 5th vintage. Lagrein is a full body wine with plum and cherry flavors. On the eyes it is an amazingly dark deep coloration. The finish is “old world” with leather, spicy pepper and dried fruits. Only 958 cases produced and is priced at $48.