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2017 Cuda Ridge Wines – A New Discovery

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Had the opportunity just before the “stay home quarantine” to sample a few of Cuda Ridge wines. This new discovery was shocking on various levels. First Larry Dino was “unknown” by me but has been a knowledgeable and standout winemaker for years in Livermore Valley. Secondly, he makes some incredible award winning wines. Thirdly and greatly appreciated, is his sense of humor which was contagious, amusing and had just the right amount of an edge to keep one on their toes!!



So let’s talk about one wine in particular, his 2017 Cuda Ridge Cabernet Franc. This is part of his Bordeaux Collection. He has two other “wine labels” called the Black Label and Reserve Collection. His Bordeaux Collection as imagined has besides Cabernet Franc, the other key varietals of Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In our conversation, he mentioned he will be coming out with a Carmenere to help round out his portfolio of Bordeaux varietals soon.


This 2017 Cabernet Franc showed some “old world characteristics” as well as unique Livermore Valley traits. The coloring of this wine was so dark and alluring with a medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, blueberry, cherry and a hint of plum and floral notes abounded. On the palate, the naturally higher acidity was milder for a Cabernet Franc as well as the tannins subdued as expected. In the mouth, the blueberries and dark cherry were prominent along with a modicum of your typical bell pepper, black pepper and sage qualities. Soft leather, a dry rockiness and sweet pipe tobacco lingered to make the finish long lasting and inquisitive. I can only imagine what this will evolve like given some more years in the bottle.


Larry’s awards are numerous for all his wines, but specifically his Cabernet Franc over the years has won the following distinctions:
• 2017 Wine Enthusiast 91 points; Silver Medal at 2020 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
• 2016 Wine Enthusiast 90 points: Silver Medal at 2019 SF Chronicle Wine Competition and Silver Medal at TVC Uncorked
• 2014 Best Livermore Cabernet Franc; Silver Medal 2017 SF Chronicle Wine Competition and 90 point from Wine Enthusiast
• And many more awards going back to 2008 including more Silver Medals, high ratings from Wine Enthusiast and a Gold Medal from SF Chronicle Wine Competition.


While only having a short time with Larry Dino this one afternoon, the wine sampled were extraordinarily mouthwatering and left a lasting impression. Especially noteworthy were his Malbec, Petit Verdot and his Cabernet Sauvignon (2020 Gold Medal at SF Chronicle). As I appreciated the opportunity to finally meet him, I promised to return soon to appreciate his full arsenal of award winning wines.


It was my loss for not having met Larry Dino and Cuda Ridge years ago, but will make up for it going forward.




2012 Pasetti Tenutarossa Montepulciano D’ Abruzzo – A Real Red Wine

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Once or twice a month, I showcase a non-California wine even while having the website, BLOG, etc., named California Wines and Wineries! I do believe diversity and exploration in wine are some of the key tenants of authentic wine enthusiasts.


Last evening, I opened one of my favorite Italian wine, Montepulicano D’ Abruzzo from Pasetti. First Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo and Montepulicano are two entire different wines. Montepulicano d’ Abruzzo is a totally unique and wonderful wine from the Abruzzo region in east-central Italy and not to be confused with the Montepulicano which is mainly Sangiovese grapes from Tuscany.

This is a family run vineyard and winery. Franco, of Pasetti Winery, along with his son Mimmo who was at the time studying oenology, helped in the naming of this now well recognized label. The name Testarossa means red hair or redhead. Mimmo’s first daughter had red hair as did many of the women in the family lineage. Thus the name of this wine was originally called Testarossa to pay homage to the women in the family. The name was later changed to Tenutarossa meaning “red seal” which is found on top of the bottle.

Domenico Pasetti has a great quote and now Mimmo adheres to this in the vineyard and making of the wines “the wine is a life experience, not an exact science”. Very refreshing thought process verses some of the “manufactured wines” here in the United States. They have won numerous awards for their wine on the international level. This being their flagship wine, it is stored for 18 months in steel tanks, then the wine is aged for between 18 and 22 months in oak barrels. After bottling, it is stored another 6 months before being released.

On the eyes, it is a deep colored inky red/purple with a medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, dark cherries, soft leather and violets are prominent. On the palate, the wine opens up to licorice, tobacco, black pepper and cocoa. The finish is medium lasting with an ongoing beckoning to entice you to take additional sips. The tannins are “mellow” and the structure is solid with an ability to last many years. After one or two sips, you are immediately drawn to the country hillside of Abruzzo.

Enjoy a glass of Montepulicano D’ Abruzzo and find yourself transported to a rustic village in central Italy.


This wine can be purchased at:

Saint Patrick’s Day – Corned Beef, Grenache, Jameson and Friendships – A Personal Tradition Continues

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A wonderful Instant Pot Corned Beef with mustard and peppercorn spices for St Patrick’s Day dinner. Cooked in Guinness beer and with a side horseradish deli mustard. Thanks Susan!! Paired with one of the best Grenache wines from Napa (Zuidema Wine yours is the other one) from Outpost Winery on Howell Mountain. Outpost winery is well known for the Cabernet Sauvignons made by Thomas Rivers Brown with scores of 95-100 points. A whole cluster soak produces one of the tanginess and spicy Grenache’s ever, which paired extraordinarily well with the corned beef. A great St Patrick’s Day treat all around.


A 38 year old tradition continues despite the quarantine request by the Governor and President. I have had three half shots of Jameson Whiskey on St Patrick’s Day every year, usually at a restaurant or drinking establishment. The first toast is to my grandfather Lewis Kelly who always had a shot on St Patrick’s Day. My father used to take him to a local bar despite the protestations of my grandmother! 39 years ago my father passed, so I took my grandfather out for a shot of Jameson. It only happened once, as subsequently later that year at 89 he too passed. I had a very good friend Tom Mollard an industry mentor and every year since we met for 37 years having 3 half shots of Jameson. During this time we told a tale or two of the those we were toasting. The first shot was for my grandfather, the second shot was for my father (and subsequently Tom’s wife Ann who passed) and third was for good health and life for those we were drinking with on St Patrick’s Day-Slainte. No surprise, there was always lots of others around us who joined in!! Besides telling some stories of those we toasted, many Irish toasts were given.


Tom Mollard passed 6 or so years ago. So today the second toast is to the key and influential people in my life who have passed: Dr John Rhodenbaugh (golfing buddy, former NCGA President, mentor), Tom Mollard (a great friend in the high tech industry, mentor), Margaret Houghton (one of our adapted grandmothers, former member of Castlewood CC), Richard Becker (the greatest father in law one could have!) and Deidre Comerton (a Saint in Dublin Ireland, mother of my good friend David Comerton) and continuing with my father, William Lewis Kelly. The third continues to be with those we are with this evening. Being quarantined, it was Susan and  I, but with the power of video chatting, we toasted with one daughter and son in law. 38 years of tradition continues with toasting and speaking about great friends and relatives, despite being quarantined.




The Cork – The Unsung Hero of Wine

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(Stored correctly, meaning temperature & humidity, this cork is over 7 years old)


The history of using corks for closure on wine bottles dates back to the late 1600’s. Prior to that everything from cloth, leather, wax and glass stoppers were used. Why do you want a good seal? One is to retard the chemical reaction between fruit acids and alcohol. The second one is the oxidation process which needs to be curbed or suspended. But total suspension is as bad as too much oxygen.

Some of the interesting facts about cork are:

• The higher quality of corks allow approximately 1 milligram of oxygen to enter the bottle each year. Why is this important? Air allows the sulfites to be removed that are added in the
bottling process to keep the wine fresh and not have harming effects from oxidation.

• Cork harvested off Oak trees needs to be at least 25 years old before being considered top grade.

• The cork from Oak trees is known as Quercus Suber. Cork Oak trees grow to 60 feet in height and 12 feet in circumference. The trees are harvested once every 9 years.

• After harvest the cork needs to be “dried out” which takes between 1 to 6 months.

• After the drying process, the cork is boiled to sterilize and clean it. This process also “softens” the cork material.

• The major issue with cork is TCA or tricholoroanisole. This is recognized as the smell of wine as being rotten eggs or moldy sneakers!

• Approximately 70% of worldwide wine production uses cork to seal their bottles.

• Portugal provides almost 50% of the world’s cork and Spain 31%. The balance is spread between Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, France and Italy.

• Only about 1 to 2 percent of wines today are “corked” or affected by TCA. Some figures show as much as 3-5% can be “corked”.

• The standard cork that fits a typical 750ml bottle of wine is ¾ of an inch. Various lengths are also available.

Alternative methods from glass to plastic to synthetic to manufactured corks are being used but the long term viability is yet to be determined. Similar with screw caps. That said with most wine being consumed within seven to ten days of purchase, synthetic, glass and screw caps are gaining some ground. This actually helps the cork industry as it is a renewable and limited resource.

So the next time you pop the cork out of the bottle, think about its long history and its vital function in delivering you a wonderful wine.




A Unique Idea – Livermore Valley Vintners’ Collective

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Livermore Valley Vintners’ Collective is a group of winemakers in Livermore who are taking on a new challenge. The idea is to make a wine from each winemakers’ perspective using local grapes with pre-assigned percentages to show case the winemakers’ quality and artistry. The group was open to all Livermore wine producers using Livermore Valley grapes. Six winemakers joined this initial launch and the LVVC group is anticipating many more to join.


The parameters of wine were fairly simple:

The Base: 100% Livermore Valley fruit. No more than 50% new oak is to be used and no adjuncts may be added.
Production Guidelines: Primary varietals were selected and percentages. They were: 30-40% Merlot, 30-40% Syrah, <25% Cabernet Sauvignon, <25% Malbec,<25% Petite Sirah,<25% Zinfandel, <5% Winemaker’s Choice (any varietal).
Getting a Taste: The final wines will have a minimum of 6 months of bottle aging and all participating wineries would release at the same time. The first release being 3/13-15 and one weekend monthly until the wine is all sold out. The wine comes in the wooden case with six bottles, with one bottle per winery.


Each of the six LVVC wines were entered in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January 2020 with varying results. The wines received 2 Bronze, 2 Silver, 1 Gold and 1 Double Gold for their inaugural release. The wineries  who participated initially are 3 Steves, Fenestra, John Evan Cellars, Las Positas Vineyard, Page Mill Winery and Wood Family Vineyards.


I attended the LVVC Inaugural Release Party on Thursday, March 12th as part of the media coverage. This was held at Las Positas Winery with each winery pouring and many delicious appetizers served to compliment the wines. Having tasted all the wines, each were of substantial quality and showed excellent artisan skills. All the wines were on a “grade scale” of either an A or B level. The wines were “mellow and smooth” and very drinkable.  Only one had little “edge” due to their percentage mix and all will mellow in time.


Here are wines and their percentage mix which is located on the back of each bottle.


So stop by any of the six wineries and pick up a “six bottle case” and you can be the judge as to which winemaker did the best job in expressing their wine.




Michael   (John Evan Winery)





Tillamook Specialty Cheeses With Wine Pairings

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I was recently introduced to Tillamook Specialty cheese from Oregon. While Tillamook has a cult following and is almost a household name with their regular cheeses, butter and ice cream, they have recently launched and are expanding their distribution nationally with some exciting new products. Firstly, Tillamook is a unique company of around $600 million being a farmer owned and operated “cooperative” with local dairymen in Tillamook, Oregon. This co-op is comprised of 80+ local family farms and has been in existence for over 110 years representing dairy experience, quality and a commitment to future generations.

While trying to pair wine with some of these exquisite cheeses, I was made aware that Specialty Cheeses, like wines sometimes use iconic landmarks tied to the cheesemaker’s location and heritage to name their cheeses. “Terroir” is a taste of place from the environment. It is the flavors and nutrients in the grasses reflected in the cow’s milk and ultimately the cheese. Tillamook has four such iconic names from the heritage from around the Tillamook Bay inlet: Cape Meares, Morning Star, Marker’s Reserve and Trask Mountain (a bit inland). So here is a rudimentary description on each area and the cheeses:

Morning Star: a crumbly 3+ year aged extra sharp cheddar which is named after a ship which was built by the first generation farmers to carry dairy products to Portland.

Maker’s Reserve: a private selection of exceptional long-aged cheddars with vintages available from 2017 back to 2010. Tillamook has patiently aged enough cheese so they could release quantities of each vintage annually. This was envisioned by their cheesemaker of almost 50 years.

Trask Mountain:  A  15 month aged cheddar hand cut and cold smoked for six to eight hours with hickory and a hint of Oregon Coast breezes. It is located in Yamhill County with rich nutrients to the soil.

Cape Meares: Is the fist new cheddar recipe for Tillamook in 110 years, a mild & sweet English style cheddar. Cape Meare’s is a famous lighthouse off the coast of Tillamook Bay.

So without getting too deep into the details of farm & animal care, premium quality milk, proprietary cultures, heat shocking versus pasteurization, high butterfat & protein, low Somatic cell count, rBST-free, naturally aging, etc., all of which produces a signature creamy texture and flavor profile unique to Tillamook’s cheese! There is a lot more to producing great cheese than just milk.

So the task at hand was to pair 4 cheeses with 4 wines for a demonstration. While food and wine pairing are very common and relatively easy, doing cheese pairings adds another variable into the equation. Pairing a Cabernet Sauvignon with a BBQ’ed Ribeye steak is essentially simple. Doing a cheddar cheese with so many variations of locations, milk, how the cows were fed, nutrients in the soil, etc., doubles the variables in picking out a suitable pairing. For example to find the four wines to go with the cheeses, required no less than 22 wines to be tried with the cheeses. This was after consultation with two professional cheese mongers and tens of hours of research. Empirical tasting was the final criteria with several folks involved. While all the wines tried were excellent as a standalone wine, when macerating cheese and sipping the wine it changed so much but finally the winners emerged. The four outstanding wines with these cheeses rose to the top!





First cheese was Tillamook’s Maker’s Reserve Vintage white cheddar. The one tasted was their 2012, meaning it was aged 8 years. They also have very limited quantity of 2010 vintage. This cheese had a “light fruity and nutty profile with herbaceous notes that build up to a pepper finish and a crumbly, shattering texture that becomes velvety on the palate.” Paired with a 2017 Wood Family Vineyards Chardonnay which was won Double Gold at the San Francisco Wine Competition brought to life the creaminess in the cheese. The wine burst with lemon and pear, followed by butterscotch and as Rhonda Wood states “crackerjack flavors”. Just the right amount of secondary malolactic fermentation (mild butter flavor) and use of both tight and wide grain barrels produced a harmonic and symbiotic relationship between the wine and cheese.


The second cheese was Cape Meares Cheddar English Style Cheddar. This Specialty cheese is aged 12 months. For over 110 years their cheddar had not changed, however with this introduction they formulated new cultures for a new flavor profile. It was named best USA Cheddar Cheese at the 2018 International Cheese Contest. It also was awarded second place for Aged Cheddar Category at the 2018 American Cheese Society. This smooth, silky and “slighty sweet” English style cheese was paired with a School Street Barbera, from Chatom Winery. The grapes came from Calaveras County (Sierra Nevada foothills) and was aged 30 months in 25% new American oak and 5% new Hungarian oak. This wine had the typical Barbera aroma profile of plum, blackberry and almonds and flavors of blackberry and spices of clove, black licorice and soft leather. The two flavors of cheese and wine complemented and made for a delightful tasting.


The third cheese was Tillamook’s Smoked Medium Cheddar Cheese using hickory for the smoking. The cheese was aged 60 days and then moved to the hardwood smoker for the hickory smoke infusion. This flavor profile was not your typical cheddar cheese as it had a firm texture with oozing hickory smoke that was not overpowering but present. Once in your palate it was creamy and mouth filling. This was paired with Arroyo Cellars 2016 Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma Valley). This Zinfandel possessed hints of oak, nutmeg and with a strong black cherry flavor profile. The winemaker calls this his “Christmas Zinfandel” with the various yuletide spices. The spiciness with the creamy and smoke flavors produced a flawless pairing.


The fourth cheese was their Hot Habanero Jack cheese. This Monterey Jack cheese has both habanero and jalapeno peppers. This proved to be the most difficult cheese to pair to the “hotness” of the peppers and the residual hot finish that lasted for 1-3 minutes! This is “not your social cocktail” cheese but truly needs the right audience and complimentary food and wine. A wonderful cheese for a wintery toasted cheese sandwich, especially when using flour tortillas. Now what to pair it with? We went through many wines and finally ended up with Jessie’s Grove Winery Port made with Carignane grapes. This 2009 vintage called “1868” provided just the right amount of sweetness and a thick viscosity to tame both the habanero and jalapeno peppers. This port coated the cheese in a deep and strong black cherry fruit flavors. At the end of the tasting, even some small morsels of dark chocolate were added to the cheese and with the wine, the winner was easy pronounced.


This was such a mind expanding tasting trial which took thirty days, 22 wines and an openness to experiment with other than the normal wines to complete. I believe these wines and cheeses were meant to be together, if not as soulmates, at  least best of friends! Enjoy these delectable pairings.




2013 Teroldego, Single Vineyard from LangeTwins Family Winery

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Teroldego is an ancient grape variety that has been grown in Italy for hundreds of years. Teroldego is a deep colored red grape that grows in the northern region of Italy, mostly in Trentino. The wines there are deep ruby in color, almost inky in color, with intense fruit characteristics. Right after bottling the wine is soft and needs very little aging but can be cellared for up to 10 years. Teroldego is known for its spicy red fruits, faint aromas of pine & almond and edgy acid. Aromas of dark cherry and blueberry are present through the finish. 97% of worldwide production comes from Italy and 2% from the United States. The remaining 1% is spread between Australia, Argentina and Brazil and Canada. Of the 629 bearing acres of Teroldego in California, 70% is from Sacramento and San Joaquin counties (per Wine Institute 2018 figures).


LangeTwins Winery has undertaken a commitment to bring forth single vineyard production of varietals. One of those varietals is Teroldego. Their Teroldego has some of the traditional flavor profile, but also adds some cranberry and blackberry with some black pepper and cinnamon. Not an everyday wine for all foods, but that is excellent with anything that includes bacon, BBQ’ed pork or a BBQ’ed beef.

Today LangeTwins offers the 2017 Teroldego from Jahant Woods 02 Vineyard in the Jahant AVA. Retail is $32.