Sunday, November 28, 2010

For A Breathtaking Experience...

One of the things I badly wanted to do on my latest trip to Napa Valley was to visit some off-the-beaten path little hideaways. (And yes, as skittish as I am, I was talked into visiting a mountain winery.) So on October 21st, my birthday, I headed to a place approximately 1550 feet above the valley floor--a magical place whose acreage and simplistic beauty just marveled my senses! Perched high above the town of Napa against the slopes of Mt. George lies Kenzo Estate. A lot of you may have never heard of it. It is a fairly new winery, just having celebrated its grand opening this past July. Owned by Kenzo Tsujimoto, the Japanese founder of Capcom, this beautiful 4000 acre property is worth discovering. Years in the making, this winery has something for everyone--world class wines and impeccable hospitality! There are plenty of photo opportunities as the landscape and winery are breathtakingly beautiful!

We arrived that morning and were greeted by our host, who immediately made us feel welcome and brought us pashminas to wear to shield us from the cold mountain winds. We were given a tour of the grounds and the winemaking facilities. From the minimalist Japanese-style architecture and décor, to the beautifully transplanted olive trees outside, to the state of the art tanks and barrel caves, everything was pristine.

Talk about state of the art! The tanks are computerized so if something goes awry, the error can be fixed via phone! Never saw that before at any winery! Mr. Tsujimoto has employed the talents of some of Napa Valley’s powerful heavy-hitters: David Abreu, famed vineyard manager, is responsible for tending the vines. Heidi Barrett, winemaker extraordinaire is making the wines. Thomas Keller, of the famed French Laundry and Bouchon, put together the food pairings. Now that is some star power there! But what about the wines??

For the past several years, the wines being made were made solely for the Japanese market and were being shipped overseas. With the opening of the new winery, the 2007 vintage is available and we did a sit down tasting of the winery’s four wines plus a food pairing of Thomas Keller’s sweet and savory breads. (Normally, there is a cost for this kind of tasting but the cost was waived for me.)

Please note, the thing I loved the most about this experience was the fact that it was relaxed and not rushed and we were able to take our time and just enjoy the moment. This is how it should be.

The first wine we sampled was the 2009 Asatsuyu, a Bordeaux-style Sauvignon Blanc. It was an extremely crisp, citrusy version of this wine with exceptional minerality and underwent a small amount of barrel fermentation. $60.

The three reds they make are all fairly similar as far as which Bordeaux components are used. The difference is in the percentages. All were 2007 vintage.

The “Signature” wine from Kenzo Estate is called Rindo. It was by far my favorite of the three reds. It was a big, fruit-forward California-style red, with a third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and just a touch of Petit Verdot. Huge fruit, elegant finish. It will age gracefully for years to come. (If it lasts that long at my house!) $75.

The Murasaki was even more elegant, with the structure changing slightly to feature Merlot as the main component. “More like a Pomerol than a Pauillac” as they would describe it. It was the female to the male counterpart Ai that I will speak of next. Still young in expression, this bottle requires some serious bottle aging. $150.

The Ai was an amazingly powerful wine. Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, it will go against all the “Big Boys” in Napa Valley. Tight but well structured, it will come into its own in the coming years. Patience is a welcome virtue in this case and well worth it. $150.

A bottle of the Rindo made its way back to Iowa with me and the experience of visiting Kenzo Estate will live with me forever. I highly recommend visiting them for a unique, off-the-beaten path jaunt you won’t forget.

Kenzo Estate is located at 3200 Monticello Road, high above Napa. They are an appointment only winery and are open 10-4 seven days a week. They feature three different kinds of tastings so please check with the host regarding your options. Tastings are priced from $30-60 per person. For more information, please visit their website at

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Oh Oh Oh...ORTMAN!!!

This past Winter, while participating in a Taste Live Syrah event on Twitter, I was introduced to Ortman Family Vineyards. Located in Paso Robles, California (near the central coast), the Ortman family brings nearly forty years of experience to their handcrafted wines. At the winemaking helm are Chuck Ortman and his son Matt. Chuck began his career in Napa Valley, working as a “cellar rat” for Heitz Cellars, moving on to such illustrious wineries as Shafer, Far Niente and Cain. Wine Spectator magazine has dubbed him "Mr. Chardonnay" as he's made award-winning Chardonnay for other wineries. When he finally decided to strike out on his own, he moved south--founding Meridian Vineyards--what I call a “Central Coast Staple” that can be found in many households across America. There is no time like the present and Chuck , along with his son Matt, are now dedicated to bringing the BEST of what the central coast appellations ( such as Edna Valley and Santa Rita Hills) showcase to a wine-hungry public with their own private label, Ortman Family Vineyards.

These days, there are a lot of wines on the market. Competition is fierce. If you stick to what you do best, you’ll find a way to appease everyone. Even those who want great wines but at a value price point!

Enter the Ortman Family O2 label. These wines are elegant, food-friendly, and easy on your pocketbook. Perfect for everyday drinking but also work for special occasions.

I had my first chance to sample one of them back in June when I attended the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington. Matt Ortman and his wife Lisa participated in the conference's red wine speed-blogging event and introduced the 2008 O2 Series Sangiovese to us. I remember really being excited about this wine. In my opinion, there are too few Sangiovese producers on the west coast and when a great example of this wine catches my attention, it is a rare treat indeed! When I was approached to start writing about central coast wineries recently, I was pretty excited to receive the entire inaugural line of O2 Series wines from the Ortmans to sample.

The inaugural line has three wines:

The 2009 O2 Series Central Coast Chardonnay was a deal at $18! Zingy with lime zest and stone fruits and nice minerality on the finish, it sang in my glass as I paired it up with a light shrimp dish. Suffice it to say one could also drink it alone. It's that delicious! Well done!

The 2008 O2 Series Paso Robles Sangiovese rocked my world! So soft and lush with hints of raspberries and cinnamon. A nice tribute to the spirit of Tuscany, this wine is the perfect accompaniment to any Italian meal! Salute! $20.

The 2007 O2 Series SLO County Cuvee Eddy is a Rhone-varietal blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre with a bit of Petite Sirah thrown in. Dark fruits, dark spice and a little bit of that "funky" edge that makes Rhone varietals so great and sought after. This would be a great wine to pair with meat dishes including Winter stews. And with Winter well on its way, this is a good $20 investment!

Ortman Family O2 Series wines are available on their website at Their tasting room is open to the public daily and is located in Paso Robles, California at 1317 Park Street. They would love to have you come visit them! I'll be looking forward to seeing if they add any other wines to this line in the future!

Please seek out these wines! I truly believe they are a great representation of this region's bounty at a fraction of the cost!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cellarmistress Does The Glampire Ball!!!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year. It gives me the opportunity to be someone I’m not for a small fraction of time. Another person who names Halloween as their favorite holiday is John Jordan, CEO of Jordan Winery. Jordan Winery is located in the beautiful Alexander Valley (Healdsburg, California). A few years ago, John began throwing these lavishly-themed private Halloween parties for friends at his family's mansion-style winery. Eventually, the parties got bigger and now they’ve become a way for him to thank the hundreds of wine industry members (media, press, wholesalers, retailers etc.) who help spread the word about Jordan wines.

At the beginning of September, I received my invitation to this year’s party. A box arrived in the mail and in the box was a wooden coffin with the word “Glampire” etched on it covered with a chain bracelet and heart on it. Upon opening the coffin, I found a cross-shaped flash drive and a scrolled paper invitation. I had planned to be out in wine country that same week so after playing the flash drive and seeing all the creepy things that were about to happen, I gladly sent my RSVP to the winery!!! (The invitation can be seen below. However, those of us who were invited received a different version of the one shown below. The wording on our video is altered below since the party was not open to the public. The winery posted this video on YouTube as a Halloween tribute…)

After putting much thought in to my costume, I decided to attend as “Miss Guided”, the beauty pageant princess who gets murdered. After all, the invitation did say “Blood Required.” I couldn’t wait to go! It was certainly going to be a highlight during what I am now calling one of the BEST WEEKS OF MY LIFE!

I thought October 23rd would never get here! The full moon rose over Sonoma County and the pouring rain and the somewhat treacherous drive on the mountain roads from St. Helena to Healdsburg made the beginning of our evening unbelievably creepy and awesome!!! I felt like I was in a horror film! Thanks to our GPS, my friend Amanda Hagood and I finally arrived at the gate to check in. We drove past the perfect hedges up a windy path to the parking lot and the first thing I spotted was the word “Glampire” in red lettering blazing off the side of the winery! How cool!!!

All I can say is a lot of thought, preparation and lavish detail was put into this production! It was absolutely amazing and once we got inside, we were greeted by friends and party-goers alike and lots of libations such as J Rosé sparkling wine (J Vineyards & Winery is owned by John's sister Judy) , martinis concocted just for this event (Loved the "Glam-tini!!!"), Jordan Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, oysters, caviar and all kinds of appetizing hors d‘oeuvres!

The almosphere was a beautiful mixture of red and black costumes, fog, cigars, beautiful but creepy décor (yes, there was even a casket you could climb into!) and the wine casks and barrels held surprises at every turn…

We ate, drank, danced and networked and had an amazing time!!! John Jordan and his mother Sally walked around greeting and mingling with the guests! (John told me his mother was from Iowa so I thought that was kind of interesting…) A great time was had by all who attended!!!

I want to thank my good friend Lisa Mattson, Communications Director for Jordan Winery and John Jordan for inviting me to such a lavish and wonderful event! I hope you both had as great of a time as I did! It was truly an awesome event and a great way for me to celebrate my birthday in wine country! I really can’t wait to see Jordan Winery during the day and am looking forward to coming back in a few months! See you then!

Jordan Winery is located at 1474 Alexander Valley Road in Healdsburg, California. Appointments are required. Please check out their website at for more details, videos and photos.

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.