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Cariñena– The Region to Watch

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“I’ve found something” is the battle cry for this region. Even though this area was the birthplace for Garnacha, I had not personally tasted nor fully understood the quality and underappreciated value it possessions.

Firstly, the area without vineyards, would look more like a moonscape with its rocky soil. Even with vines, it is not your typical scenery of a vineyard! Yet they it does rain on the plains in Spain and the vines do seek out the life giving water. Cariñena is located in the high altitude region of Aragon in the northeast of Spain. It is about half way between Madrid and Barcelona. Cariñena has doubled its distribution in the US in the past year and has been cited by both and Wine Enthusiast as the region to watch!
At the recent break out session at WBC17 held in Santa Rosa, California, we were fortunate enough to taste six wines from this area. This one wine was so compelling, I couldn’t wait to write about it. I keep copious notes on all wines tasted during the year and in December publish lists of the Best Wines of the year. I generally don’t pre-announce any specific wine, but this one I know has already made the list! It received my highest rating given to less than wines in 2017. If that wasn’t enough of an endorsement, let me talk a bit about this wine.

particular bottle
It is San Valero and is called 2012 Particular Centenarias. The Garnacha vines are 80-100 years old and is aged in the barrel for 12 months and 18 months in the bottle. The wine is as smooth as silk, yet “meaty enough” to pull leather and oak off the nose. Tasting it blasts out structure, intensity and unending complexity. Again, if this was not enough to take note of this wine, it sells in the USA for a pittance, perhaps as low as $30. Yes no zeros were missing! In the top wine of 2017, several will be in the $150-200 and this Garnacha will stand alone as the value of the year.

So I too have adopted their Battle Cry “I found something” – it is a great wine at an unbelievable value. Thanks Lyn Farmer for sharing the story.


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Audelyn Wines

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Double your pleasure, double your fun is an old jingle but it applies to Audelyn Wines also! Audelyn wines was named for one of the co-owners twin daughters, Audrey & Madelyn. Thus the two swans on the label and cork. As it states on their website, “The logo of two swans also serves as a tribute to the girls and represents elegance, love, purity and a connectedness of life.”


The two owners are Mitchell Masotti and Blake Burnham. Mitchell is the wine maker and like so many good wine makers, has traveled extensively crafting his trade (Craggy Range in New Zealand). His stints include an Enology degree at CSU Fresno, assistant winemaker at Dutton-Goldfield, MacPhail, Freeman and today besides Audelyn he is the assistant winemaker at Bevan Cellars. The goal of Audelyn Wines is to produce handcrafted, small lot production wines show casing both Pinot Noirs and Roses. Today they are approximately 600 cases/year.


I received a note from Brock Watts, an Audelyn advocate, asking me to taste it and provide some feedback.
First, the wine is a refined and a light Pinot Noir in color with a pleasing viscosity. The flavor included a delicate rose petal, black cherry and a hint of strawberry. It was perfectly balanced between high acidity and low tannins. This was an excellent representation of Russian River Pinot Noir. For the price point of $35, this is a wine to be bought and drank. I asked Brock how long it could be laid down for but have yet to get an answer. However, I suspect once you taste it, you will not want to wait long to enjoy the balance of your purchase! Go double your pleasure and double your fun — buy two bottles!!


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Tate Wines Team Up With Saddle Creek Wine Society

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What do you get when one combines a world class Napa wine maker, an extremely talented Executive Chef, a dynamic owner/marketer and a setting on a beautiful golf course? An absolutely marvelous time!!


David Tate the wine maker and owner of Tate Wines (also GM and wine maker at award winning Barnett Vineyards), provided the wines last evening at Saddle Creek Golf Resort. Add the bubbling, effervescent and eloquent speaking partner in Tate Wines, his wife, Suzanne Tate and you have 32 captivated attendees sitting lakeside enjoying many wonderful wines.


*2015 TATE Spring Street Chardonnay
-Brie cheese with jalapeños and apricot sauce (so unique)
-Shrimp, Grilled Peach, Macadamia nuts, Spinach with Sweet Citrus Vinaigrette
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*2014 TATE Spring Street, St Helena Cabernet Sauvignon
-Spiced Duck, Pork Belly Collards, Pomegranate Reduction
-Lemon-mint Sorbet and Lemonchello Martini
*2014 Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon
-Teres Major Fillet, Parsnip Puree, Blackberry Gastrigue, Baby Chard Leaves
*2014 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
-Cabernet Cake, Vanilla Mousse, Black Pepper, Chocolate Bacon, Black Currents, Chocolate
Demi-glaze (a wildly successful treat!)
Chef Nigel, the Executive Chef at Saddle Creek Resort, provided a gourmet meal fit for kings & queens. Actually it was for Saddle Creek Wine Society in the community. The various dishes served were pieces of edible art. His creativity and wildly unique desert was off the charts!!
Add to the above quality of individuals and talents, a setting overlooking the ninth green over a lake and glowing fire pit on a lovely warm evening made this wine maker’s dinner truly memorable.


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Kola Farms

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Literally walking out of a Japanese Restaurant at lunch in Murphy, California, I happened upon a “soft opening” of a winery called Kola Farms. Having tasted many wines in Calaveras County without “much happiness” I was reluctant to enter, yet I was still curious. 20170913_131330
Firstly, it was indeed a soft opening, but already a handful of folks were sipping the wines. The goal and objective of Kola Farms is to specialize in premium and limited production wines from Calaveras, Amador and El Dorado Counties. They were featuring Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Grenache Rose, Barbera and Syrah varietals. I was stunned and shocked at the high quality of the wines tasted.

I started out skeptical but still inquisitive why a new winery would open up on the crowded Main Street in Murphy’s’. The first tasting was the Sauvignon Blanc which absolutely was shockingly great upon the reception of the nose and lots of soft citrus but still crisp on the palate.

The other two wines received the same ravening from this writer: The Barbera and Syrah. The Barbera had a rarely found complexity of soft tannins, wood and layering of a classic Barbera.
The Syrah was equally strong in quality with chocolate hints and a smooth but not a syrupy jammy quality.

One last comment on the Manager of the wine room, Lacy. She is knowledgeable, friendly and eager to answer any questions thrown her way.

The end goal of the wine tasting experience will be food, an indoor/outdoor downstairs porch and food/groceries being availability in the Kola Farms General Story. They still have work to do, but if the soft opening was any indicator of their longer terms goals, this is one solid addition to the crowded Main Street wineries – perhaps becoming one of the best!

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Pietro’s & LangeTwins, A Perfect Team

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Lodi just keeps getter better and better! I know a few folks are skeptical of this statement, as was I initially, but having some of the freshest and most authentic Italian foods and wines west of Milan, you too will becoming an advocate. Jim and Annette Murdaca served some of their best dishes, perfected with decades of experience and authenticity, even compared to the “well known Italian cities of NY & SF”. Add two of LangeTwins best wines, their Centennial Zinfandel and Midnight Reserve (Bordeaux Blend), and your palette is saturated with characteristics that are “heaven sent”.

This is the second food/wine pairing with Pietro’s and LangeTwins this year! The food from a fig enhanced “pizza” followed by Gnocchi con Piselli (pesto sauce & pine nuts—the gnocchi was as soft as a cloud) to the Fettuccini Piedmontese (pancetta, onion, garlic, peas, olive oil and an almost deadly black pepper) launches one into the Antipasti dish of Italian salami, cheeses and olives. Then to the Bruschetta (grilled Ciabatta with the freshest tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil) it is hard to determine which to savor first!

These were all tried with LangeTwins Sauvignon Blanc (light citrus and floral nose) and their Midnight Reserve a true Bordeaux with ripe berries and a hind of chocolate. The Midnight Reserve was just recently stockpiled in the wine cellar!

Then on to the main meal of NY Steak sliced and topped with fresh corti olive oil, sea salt, parsley and balsamic vinegar reduction. Both the LangeTwins 2011 Zinfandel (traditional not sweet) and 2013 Midnight Reserve paired like a long term love affair. The catch of the day was the Mediterranean sea bass, Branzino in Italian. It has a limited window and the flavor is buttery and mouthwatering.

Dessert was a “chocolate concoction topped with a pinwheel of fresh peaches” —- one slice was enough to burst the waist line!

Should you find yourself in Lodi, better yet, plan a visit to Lodi and treat yourself to the best one-two gastronomical punches you can imagine at Pietro’s and LangeTwins.

A special thanks to Mark & Candy Strubbe for the invitation.


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Ayrael Vieux

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The name is a “play on words” as they had a Border collie named Ayrael when they first bought the property. The dog was so entrenched in the grounds that it was originally named Ayrael Farms. Later they changed to it using the French word Vieux (view) to make it Ayrael Vieux (pronounced aerial view).


What you cannot see from the sky is an extremely lovely manicured vineyard of 1 ½ acres producing the grapes for all their wines— a very limited amount of approximately 400 cases. Bob Eisenman believes this size is optimal for producing handcrafted and artisan wines. This seems also to fit with his other passion the Bob Eisenman Jazz Group which has a few “gigs” coming up this summer.


The tasting room is warm, rustic and definitely a country theme. They are located in Douglas Flat just off Hwy 4. Ollie the vineyard dog (and on the back of the bottles) will most likely greet you upon entering the vineyard. Don’t be fooled, the grounds are like a well-groomed garden! Here you are invited to sit and enjoy your purchase or taste indoors at “the counter”.


The wine which stood out the afternoon of our tasting and conversation were the 2014 Montepulciano and 2010 Zinfandel. First the Montepulciano was smooth with dark berries and brought you back to memories of Italy in an instant! This was definitely one of the better wines I have tasted in Calaveras County. Only 38 cases were produced.

The second wine which stood out was their 2010 Zinfandel which only 149 cases produced. Raspberry, blackberry and rose petal were the dominate aromas and it produced a full initial and lasting impression on the palate. It was more a classical Zin than many “fruit booms” from the foothills.


Both of these wines are now residing in my cellar—nice job Bob!


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Jeff Runquist Wines

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The winemaker/owner can be called a man of “many vineyards”. Jeff’s career history is via Paul Masson Sherry Cellars (Madera) as an intern while studying enology at UC Davis. Upon graduating, he worked at Montevia (Amador) and was subsequently promoted to winemaker in 1982. He then spent 3 years at the Napa Valley Cooperative Winery, followed by J. Lohr winery in San Jose. Then in 1996-1997 made wine at Sycamore Creek Winery (Morgan Hill) followed by 12 years at McManis Family Vineyard (Ripon).  With this history, Jeff and his wife Margie, opened their winery in 2011, Jeff Runquist Wines in Amador.


During his sojourn, Jeff understood the “terroir” of each vineyard and decided to arrange contracts with no less than six wines from the Sierra Foothills, three from the Napa Valley, and two from Paso Robles. With this diversity in vineyards he has been able to produce a portfolio of a wide range of wines. I believe this provides Jeff a challenge with each varietal. The offerings are numerous but highlighted by Tempranillo, Cab Franc, Barbara, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel “Z”, etc.  He has conquered all them as evidenced by 28 Gold Medals and 80 Silver Medals in 2012 alone! And his awards have continued.



His varietal offerings are impressive. The two which stood out were the 2015 Mataró (which will be released shortly) and the 2015 Petite Sirah. His Mataró or Mourvèdre a Rhône varietal, was exceptional with blueberry, blackberry fruit with a ting of black pepper and a hint of smoke. The tannins were medium. This particular vintage will last in your cellar, as it will in mine once released!


The next wine was his Petite Sirah. This wine was almost perfect with a high viscosity, bold fruit forward aromas and high tannins (but not too harsh). Coupled with the mild acidity, this will enhance just about any bold entre presented with this wine. An excellent job! This one is aging in my cellar!

Again experience, melded with various vineyards in multiply AVA’s, Jeff has managed to produce a real gem in Amador.


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