Thursday, September 30, 2010

Goin' Back To Cali

I love a little old school LL Cool J, "Goin' back to Cali, stylin', profilin'...". We worked as hard as we could to be "stylin" in our rented 12-passenger van as we checked into the Avia Hotel in downtown Napa. The Avia is a new boutique hotel on First Street that is within walking distance to great restaurants, bars and tasting rooms.

I don't know if it is inherent because I am a woman but I care about the small things. Like the cozy bed with fluffy down blankets and the fireplace at my feet that lit with the flip of a switch. I loved the big bathroom with lots of counter space and the random tub in the middle of the room with a tray of bath products.....aaaaaahhhhh.

Enough daydreaming, lets get back to the business at hand; WINE! I mentioned there was a tasting room within walking distance to the hotel, Ceja. The Ceja family came to the US from Mexico in the 60's to pursue their winemaking dreams. They now own 113 acres and produce wine that has earned them various titles including "Hottest Small Brand of 2007".

A typical tasting is $10 for four pours. We enjoyed: a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc that was full of guava, papaya and lychee; a 2007 vino de Casa which was a delicious blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, full and balanced with ripe plums; a 2007 Pinot Noir that had layers of menthol and dried fruit; a 2006 Sonoma Syrah that exploded with pepper and blackberries, a comfort food wine. Only 575 cases were produced and we bought one of them.

The wines we tasted ranged in price from $20-$40 and all were well worth it! However, it's really hard to find Ceja in Florida. Sorry for the tease. Join the wine club.

The tasting room also offers gourmet foods, cozy seating and engaging art work. In addition Ceja hosts a Salsa night at the neighboring Bistro Sabor on Saturdays. Very cool place to visit.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't Cry For Me Argentina

My next wine tasting trip is going to be Argentina! I just attended a Malbec seminar at Austin’s Wine Cellar with adorable winemaker Santiago Mayorga of Mendel Wines. Malbec is the signature red wine of Argentina. All of the red we tried were 100% Malbec with one exception.

We actually started with the Mendel 2010 Semillion. It was a bit surprising since Torrontes is the signature white grape of Argentina. The first things I smelled were pineapple and white flowers. I tasted them too along with a hint of spice. It’s a great wine for Southwest Florida.

The reds were outstanding! We started with a juicy 2008 Lunta that had plum, spice and lots of tannins. Next up was the vineyard's flagship Mendel Malbec (2007). Robert Parker gave it 90 points. It had big ripe fruit and was smoother than the Lunta. The ’06 Unus was next. This Malbec was blended with 30% Cabernet. It had hints of mint and vanilla and when I closed my eyes I envisioned it with lamb.

The best is almost always the last: a 2007 Finca Remota. This wine is not even available yet and was given 94 points just after it was bottled. The grapes came from a single vineyard and there are only 1800 bottles! It smelled like sweet raisins. It tasted like velvet! What a treat!

These reds ranged in price from $22-$110. They were all well worth the money and I would buy any of them! See Frank at Austin’s to get yours!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Big Dawgs

I’ve tried so many delicious wines this week! Two more big dawgs to tell you about then I’ll let you in on some more affordable and easy to find gems.

Napa is synonymous for great Cabernet’s but have you ever had a blockbuster from Hollister, CA? I just found one, the ’06 Godsend from Leal Vineyards. This limited production Cabernet is from Leal’s Library Collection. The grapes were hand selected and the wine given a little more time in the barrel. The result is a rich, elegant wine with a nice round finish! It will run you about $75 a bottle. Might be a good Christmas gift for someone special. But make sure that special someone shares with you!!

Boyanci is from Napa. Only 360 six bottle cases were produced and the winery is officially sold out. Good luck hunting it down. It’ll cost around $140 but it is worth it! Big ripe fruit, blackberry and light chocolate with great structure! That sounds so official so let me try it this way, it freakin' rocks! The wine is actually a blend of mostly Cabernet with some Syrah Petite Verdot Merlot and Cab Franc. Get on the winery mail list so you can score some of the '07 when it released.

Monday, September 20, 2010

More Than A Mouthful

Thanks to the nice gentleman at the bar in Cru who shared this delicious wine with my friends and me! The 2007 Buccella Cabernet has consistently received ratings in the mid to upper 90’s since its release and now I know why!

The nose was toasty. The wine was full-bodied with some smoke, licorice and black fruit! The finish lingered in luscious layers! I wish I could’ve sipped and swirled a little longer! Like many big Cabernets the flavors were just starting to explode when I got to the bottom of my glass. The wine definitely needs to open so be patient if you buy a bottle. If you can really be patient, cellar it! With more time in the bottle this wine will REALLY knock your socks off!

There were only 1,110 cases produced and a bottle will cost you about $150 retail. Buccella is Latin for “mouthful” and it certainly is!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cabernet The South African Way

I was having a late dinner last night at Bistro 41 when Kimberly Christenson came bouncing up to the table with a laptop and a bottle of wine. Just having returned from South Africa she was bursting with stories, amazing photos and of course a delicious bottle of wine; a 2006 Cabernet by Rudera.

Always up for trying something new I pushed my glass over for a splash! Kimberly works for Select Brands and was in South Africa on a wine tasting trip, life is rough! She warned us the wine would be a little tight at first and asked us to be patient.

Have you ever been in the kitchen of a Southern woman when she is cooking Sunday dinner? Do recall the smells of vegetables cooking in bacon fat? That’s the first thing I smelled when the wine was first poured. It was also hot on my tongue, not temperature hot. But as it sat in the glass it opened and mellowed and began displaying some of the typical Cabernet traits like tobacco, dark fruit and mocha. I love how wines change and evolve once poured!

Rudera received a 5-star rating from Decanter Magazine. Get a couple of bottles. Drink one and put one up. I can definitely see it aging well

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Glen Ellen Inn

Nothing like a nice big meal following an afternoon of wine tasting! Our party had grown to ten throughout the day so we were a little concerned about finding a locally owned establishment that could accommodate us without a reservation. The staff at Glen Elen Inn didn't even bat an eye when we swept in with our boisterous laughter and empty bellies!

A 10 minute drive from the Sonoma Square, Glenn Ellen Inn is a 1940's wine country cottage with intimate indoor dining and shaded garden tables outdoors. It's known as the "smallest restaurant with the biggest wine list" in Sonoma Valley! Besides having an outstanding wine list, the impressive martini menu also offers mini martini's for those who still have their training wheels on!

There were too many mouth watering creations on the menu to choose just one. I was sitting at the head of the table with Dinah and Heather so we pooled our cravings and had one heck of a feast. We started with a raw oyster sampler. The oysters were a little on the small side but had three different sauces to tempt the taste buds. The Watermelon and Arugula Salad was killer with Pancetta, hazelnuts, Chevre and a Port dressing. The bread basket was hot, fresh and included a slightly sweet scone with a hint of rosemary!

The Spinach & Feta Ravioli was a huge hit with it's chipotle paste and red bell pepper cream sauce! Another big hit was the Chicken Breast. Sounds boring right? WRONG! The chicken was brined in buttermilk and served on sauteed corn succotash with caper lemon cream sauce. Also on the table was a perfectly cooked Halibut with Asian spices and a juicy Kobe Flat Iron Steak!
Fresh, local ingredients were used in all the dishes!

We brought in a couple of bottles of wine from our purchases earlier in the day and for a small corkage fee were able to enjoy them with dinner!

If you travel to Sonoma and need a place to stay, the Glen Ellen Inn really is an "Inn"! There are so-called secret cottages just steps from the restaurant. They have fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs and are situated along a creek. Don't miss this gem of a place for lunch or dinner during your Wine Country travels!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Charles Creek

The Charles Creek Vineyard tasting room is on the plaza in downtown Sonoma and it's open late! I've had Charles Creek in the past but wasn't really that familiar with all the winery had to offer. Gracing the middle of the tasting room was Ms Moo-lot; a giant cow made of corks. Talk about a conversation piece!

We started with an '08 Rose that was a crazy blend Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with some Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, White Riesling and Grenache. It was raspberry and cherry and delicious! Don't be scared to drink pink!!

Everyone in our group was keen on the '08 Riesling, a dry wine from El Dorado County chalked full of exotic fruits! We had Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, an award winning Merlot and several others. The other big hit was the La Sonrisa del Tecolote Cabernet. It smelled like figs and tasted like plum and spice. I could also taste some dark chocolate and toasty oak. The name means "The Smile of the Owl" after the winemaker's Grandma! I love anything that pays homage to Grandma's!!!

The bomb was La Bomba Chocolate, a rich port wine of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, fortified with brandy and infused with flavors of dark chocolate. The infusion process is a highly guarded secret. It was chocolate cake in a glass. Someone else referred to it as drinking a Tootsie Roll. Forget the dessert just drink this!

B.R. Cohn

Just around the corner from Valley of the Moon in Glen Ellen is the tasting room for B.R. Cohn. Owner Bruce R. Cohn is the long time manager of the Doobie Brothers so this winery is famous for events that involve live music and other fun! We just missed the Fall Music Festival! Of course the winery has a signature Dobbie Brothers wine. It's called Doobie Red and is a blend made with Bordeaux style varietals. A portion of the proceeds from this $20 bottle go to veteran and other charitable organizations.

2007 produced some great wines in California and all of them we tried at B.R. Cohn are worth purchasing. The Petite Sirah was dark, toasty, spicy and rich with tannins. My favorite of the tasting was the 2007 Petit Verdot. The grapes are grown at the Olive Hill Estate Vineyard and are said to receive "the same care and attention" as B.R. Cohn's well known Olive Hill Cabernet Sauvignon which totally rocked! The Petit Verdot was full of black-cherry and vanilla and got a gold star on my tasting notes!

They were making room for the new vintage and had great sales on these wines by the case. Another fabulous perk for visiting the tasting room in person!

By the way, if you are thinking about a wine country wedding B.R. Cohn hosts them and will soon be home to a culinary center.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Valley of the Moon

I just returned from five days of soaking myself in giant barrels of wine during the first days of harvest in California. Harvesting is late this year because of the cool summer they've had. The grapes have just begun to ripen enough to pick. I was asked why I didn't blog while on the trip. I was so immersed in what I was doing, so caught up in the moment that I just couldn't stop to write. I tasted literally hundreds of wines. So I thought I would blog a little at at time so I don't overwhelm you or myself!

Our first stop after landing at SFO was Valley of the Moon in Sonoma, Glenn Ellen to be specific. When I think of Valley of the Moon I usually think of an affordable, light Pinot Blanc. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg of what the winery has to offer. We started with a Rosato Di Sangiovese that smelled like raspberries. It was hot pink and full of pomegranate, cranberry and citrus. I was surprised at how long the finish was. A great wine for Florida! We tried some delicious sparkling wines, a tobacco filled Barbera, a spicy old vine Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernets, some blends; about a dozen wines total.

Some of the wines we tried were only available at the winery or through the wine club so I stocked up on those and had them shipped home. Valley of the Moon also bottles Lake Sonoma wines. If you can find the 2007 Alexander Valley Cab you have to get it! It was full of blueberry and cassis, a little cinnamon for some spice and nicely balanced overall! The staff was great and the tasting room had one of the best gift stores! I had no idea Valley of the Moon had so much to offer!