Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cornerstone Cellars Rocks!!

I first learned of Cornerstone Cellars in 2009 when I attended the North American Wine Blogger's Conference in Santa Rosa, California. Managing partner, Craig Camp, came to our table during a "speed-blogging" session and poured us some of their wine. I remember being pretty impressed at the time, so I became an instant fan. Two visits to the tasting room later, I am even more impressed and excited for them. They are proof that Napa Valley can produce some great buys that are affordable and the experience of visiting them is fun and relaxing. 

They may seem new to you and I but in reality, Cornerstone Cellars have been around for twenty years. They are committed to excellence and quality and I think for being such a young winery, they can compete with the valley's heavy hitters! This winery has something for everyone: Great wine bargains for daily consumption to single vineyard mountain wines for the consummate collector. Today I'm going to focus on those great wine bargains--every day drinkers that prove that quality does not have to break your bank account.

I recently received four samples from them--all from their "Stepping Stone" label, which is their second label. Each wine was unique and enjoyable.

 The 2011 Corallina Napa Valley Rose is 100% Syrah and what makes this wine so unique is the fact that it ages for five months in French oak. Lots of strawberries, cranberries and citrus. Perfect Summer wine. Perfect anytime wine. At $20, it won't be around for long. Get it while you can!!

Next are two new wines that were just being introduced recently! The first is a unique blend of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, the 2011 Stepping Stone North Coast Rocks! White. Made in the style of wines coming from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, this refreshing wine dances in your mouth with crisp citrus and pear notes. I loved it! I want more!! For $18, I don't believe there are any other white blends out there that stand up to this one!!

Yes, this wine has a red partner that is just as tantalizing! The 2010 Stepping Stone North Coast Rocks! Red,  a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Merlot. This hearty, spicy blend is delicious and perfect for barbecues, Italian feasts, stews and the like! Juicy, playful and fun! You don't even have to think about it. You just have to enjoy it! $18.

And finally, a perfect everyday Napa Valley bargain that tastes so good, it gave me the notion of a much higher perceived value. The 2010 Stepping Stone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. 93% Cabernet Sauvignon (sourced from many great Napa Valley vineyards) and 7% Merlot--aged 18 months in 50% new French Oak. Rich and velvety smooth with lots of dark cherry and cedar/cigar box notes. For $35, this wine is a steal. It will continue to open up and the layers are fantastic already! 

Cornerstone Cellars also produces some stellar single vineyard wines in Napa Valley as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from their vineyards in Oregon. They are definitely worth visiting. Their beautiful tasting room is located in Yountville, California. The friendly atmosphere is enticing and their staff is very knowledgeable and fun to converse with. They are also very active in social media, something I like very much! They have an awesome Facebook page and love to include their visitors as part of their daily posts! I had a great experience there and I'm sure you will to! So please include them as part of your next visit to Napa Valley! 

For more information on Cornerstone Cellars, please visit their website, Please follow them on twitter @cornerstonenapa and like their page on Facebook.

I would like to thank Craig Camp, managing partner at Cornerstone Cellars for turning me on to such fun wines and to the staff of the Yountville tasting room for their gracious hospitality! Stay tuned for an upcoming story on the Oregon wines!

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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Quest For Higher Wine Education...

As most of you can see, I have not been blogging much lately. I decided to devote my time to my quest for higher wine knowledge. The past few months have been frightening, enlightening and empowering. Why did I decide to do this?

It all started in the Fall of 1999. We all crammed into this tiny wine and cigar shop hoping to sample free wine and spirits at a pre-holiday wine tasting. Me, I knew nothing. I was along for the ride. I was a Tanqueray and Tonic girl. Maybe I would sample the wine. Maybe I wouldn't. My sister's friend who was working for a distributor said, "Here Grace. Try this Shiraz from Australia." I took a sip. I wanted to die. My mouth could not comprehend the ugliness that had just happened. Cotton balls. I had a mouth full of cotton balls. The scary look on my face probably said it all. And thus, completely by accident, began my wine education...

Fast forward a year. It was a fierce snowstorm during the dead of winter. Nothing was stopping me from attending my first Bordeaux class at the local wine shop. So there I was, just me and four older gentlemen. Some nice Bordeaux wines and a wheel of Maytag blue cheese.  One of the gentlemen poured me some Chateau Carbonnieux, a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend and "PING!!!" There went my head. Something just exploded. Something I couldn't grasp. It was a defining moment for me. I knew I would eventually do something wine-related as a profession. I just didn't know what it was. Yet…

It's been 13 years since that day I sampled my first Shiraz. Wine has brought me a vast new world of pleasure, happiness and success. The interim has been full of wine adventures: attending classes at local wine shops, attending wine tastings, purchasing and reading a massive library of books and magazines on wine and anything remotely related, amassing list after list of notes,  trips to Napa Valley and Sonoma and even a short-lived in-home wine tasting business. (I finally gave that up when I tired of showing up at the host's homes and their guests were already drunk!) With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, my so-called wine life became larger than life when I diligently networked and became friends with many important people in Napa Valley and Sonoma County. These on line friends are now my close friends, in real life. There are some that I even consider family and if it weren't for wine, we never would have met. Social media has brought me into a sort of spotlight and I have been able to experience some great things! In 2009, I won a "Bloggership" through the North American Wine Blogger's Conference and in 2010, I won the "WBC or Bust" contest through the Washington State Wine Commission.  As far as my wine education is concerned, there is nothing better than hands on experience and I have been able to meet winemakers and follow them around during harvest and crush and watch them actually make wine. I've toured vineyards, tasted some of the best wines California and the Pacific Northwest has to offer, and rubbed elbows with the best of the best at many Napa Valley and Sonoma County events. 

All this is great but what do I really have to show for all of it? Short of some great photo albums on Facebook,  nothing. I didn't go to college to do this. I did go to college but not for wine. I don't have a degree from UC Davis or any other school that offers courses in winemaking, enology and wine business. Do I want to go back to college? Not really but I do have a huge desire to learn and prove what I'm worth and then some. So what now???

A few years ago, I met a national rep for Kings Estate, a winery located in Oregon. She handed me her card and there was a title next to her name… CSW. I asked her what that meant. She said, “Certified Specialist of Wine”. Hmmm…Really…So I delved further, doing some online searches and I found The Society of Wine Educators, based in Washington D.C. I put off doing anything about it for a long time and just concentrated on what I knew best. But it was eating me up inside. Having all this knowledge and experience and not having anything on paper to show for it. I did look into every aspect. Would I want to become a certified Sommelier? Not really. The restaurant business is not my thing. I love to go to restaurants but I don’t want to be there all the time. Then there was the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) certifications. Very pricey. Not in my budget. I know a lot of people who have taken the test at different levels and passed. In my opinion, The Society of Wine Educators offers the most cost effective way to get certified for wine education. And you can study at your own pace, a key point that I loved considering I work full time.

So at the end of May 2012, I purchased my study guide and signed up for my test. The study guide and the scheduling of my test together was a package deal for $450. A savings of $50. I had a year to commit to a test date and thankfully, there was a date scheduled in my home town at one of the distributor’s offices on September 14th. Now it became real. I did not spend the extra money to join Society of Wine Educators and gain access to their online library of materials (though I may do that when I move to the next level. The CWE) nor did I purchase the  CSW workbook. I was just using the study guide alone. (I was told there would not be anything on the test that wasn’t in the study guide.)

At first I committed myself to reading a couple chapters a day. The study guide is quite large (250 or so pages)and I would fall asleep reading it. I was really worried about being able to retain the info. But I found a great website called and it helped me tremendously. There were other people’s flashcards on there. I also found a website called That site (which is full of practice tests and helpful hints) was instrumental in motivating me to get where I needed to be. Once I had read the material, I practiced those tests every day (knowing full well that possibly none of those questions would even be on my actual test. I was wrong. A lot of them were. Thankfully…) I even took the CWE practice test in error and scored an 83 the first time. I was pretty excited! The more I “practiced” with those tests, the more I started to retain these tiny facts. All this wine knowledge. It made me feel powerful!

Here’s what you are going to need to know: The chemistry of wine, viticulture, winemaking 101 (whites, reds, sparkling, fortified), wine faults, wine etiquette, everything wine related to France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the US, all their wine laws, regions, maps etc etc etc…It’s a lot. Foreign words, definitions, you gotta know it all! And you have to know your geography. No question is beyond choosing… I missed at least 8 questions on this exam, one of them I don’t even remember reading about.  It was about Rainwater Madeira—something I will probably never drink in my entire life. I went back and looked and sure enough it was the tiniest fact listed.

I walked into the testing room on September 14th and much to my surprise some of the local wine reps here in town were taking the test too. One guy made a joke about “carbonic maceration” and he pointed at me and laughed. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t even know what that meant. He had taught us that at a wine club meeting years ago. I laughed too. Some of them were joking around about not studying much and I thought they were crazy. You have to study. Even with years of wine knowledge, one can’t possibly know everything! To my relief, I was able to answer about 90% of the questions with confidence. The other 10%, not so much. Some were disappointing and insignificant facts I will probably never need to use. They are probably the questions I’m sure I missed since I had to take a wild guess on the answer. 

Now the hard part comes. The waiting. The waiting. The waiting. It’s been a week already. They say 2-4 weeks for results. In order to pass and receive your certification, you have to score at least 75% or better. I am confident I did at least that. In the meantime, I have begun the next step. I want to take the CWE (Certiified Wine Educator) exam in Napa Valley in September 2013. By then, I will be a Napa Valley resident as I am taking my dream one step further and moving there next year. I will need a good job in the industry to afford to live there so everything I do now I consider an investment in my future and in my dream.

Should you decide to do this too, I would strongly recommend it. If anything, my quest for higher wine education has given me a whole new appreciation for the wines of the world and on my next visit to wine country, I will be able to have even stronger conversations with winemakers and industry folk. It’s making me better. And that’s what’s important. Good luck to all of you who decide to educate yourselves further. It’s completely worth it! 

For more information on the Society Of Wine Educators, please go their website:

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

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The St. Francis Food & Wine Experience

This past July, I was invited to visit St. Francis Winery, which is located on the gorgeous Valley Of The Moon Highway just past Kenwood in Sonoma County. The drive to reach this place is one of my favorites of all time, very picturesque and in my opinion, one of the prettiest areas of the Sonoma Valley. The day before my visit, my life kind of fell apart due to technology and I almost had to cancel my visit! What did we do before cell phones ruled our lives? I did not let the lack of a working cell phone ruin my day there and I enjoyed every minute of my visit!

I did not know what the staff had planned for me that day so I drove up to their tasting room and introduced myself. A minute later, a gentleman came out and gave me directions to drive up the road aways to the winery's production facility and administrative office. I was really taken aback when I was offered a VIP tour of the production facility with their two winemakers, Katie Madigan (who makes their Sonoma County wines) and Heather Munden (who makes their artisan wines). I was able to taste out of their barrels and walk through their laboratory and see how a larger winery is operated. The two winemakers were so gracious to take time out of their busy schedules to do this for me. They explained what their lives are like during harvest and I was able to get a better understanding of what it is like day in and day out there.

I also met Dave Buerger, their DTC Marketing and Social Media Manager. Dave is awesome and in my opinion, the reason why their Facebook page and website are the most informative and exciting winery pages today! He seems very excited and enthusiastic and since he is on premises, he understands the public wants to know what is going on at the winery! I hope other wineries use their pages as examples on how to excel in social media!

Their photographer came out and photographed me on the lawn with the two winemakers, their Executive Chef David Bush and President and CEO, Christopher Silva with the stunning Sonoma Valley view behind us! My visit was posted on their Facebook page as well as mine! It was a nice surprise! After our photo session, I sat in their newly refurbished dining room with President and CEO, Christopher Silva and chatted about life and wine while enjoying a five course food and wine pairing that seemed endless!! I completely lost track of time as I immersed myself in the experience. It was very intimate and lovely. Pretty amazing and I highly recommend it for groups or just for two! Here's a video that shows you a little bit of what I experienced...

Chef David Bush, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, changes up the menu on a regular basis and I asked him how he decides what wines to pair with the dishes and he replied that he usually bases his dishes on the wine instead of the other way around. Our five course pairing was exceptional! I could eat like this every day!!

The first course was a White Corn Vichyssoise with citrus marinated rock shrimp, basil puree, sweet peppers and micro basil. It was paired with their 2010 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($14.95). I am a huge fan of this Chardonnay and try to keep a few bottles in my collection at all times. It is a tremendous value! Perfect balance of lively tropical fruit and oak. The acidity in it was perfect to offset the creaminess of the soup!

The next course was a Roasted Mushroom Salad with Hamhock Braised Collard Greens, Roasted Cippollini Onion, Truffled Cream and Chive Blossoms. It was paired with what will soon easily become one of my favorite wines from their Artisan Series, the 2009 "Trouble" Sonoma Valley Syrah ($35)! This is a full-bodied and somewhat rustic Syrah and it enhanced the earthiness of the mushroom salad. Just lovely!!

If I were to pick a favorite of all the five courses I tried, it would have been this next one. A Bánh Mi Sandwich which consisted of Grilled Sirloin of Beef, Duck Rillette, Aioli, Pickled Vegetables, Fresh Herbs and a Sweet Chili dipping sauce!!! It was paired with the 2009 Sonoma County Old Vines Zinfandel ($19.95). I would love love love to have the recipe for this sandwich. It was amazing! The vibrant flavors, crunch of the pickled vegetables paired so nicely with the Zinfandel. I never would've imagined pairing a red with this but it works so well!! All I can say is "YUM!!!"

Course number four was a Slow Roasted Spice Rubbed Shoulder of Local Lamb with Housemade Lamb Chorizo, Potatoes, Fava Beans, Wilted Arugula and Roasting Jus paired with 2008 Anthem Sonoma Valley Meritage ($60). The Meritage, a Bordeaux blend of 69% Petit Verdot (YEP! You saw it here first!! I don't think anyone else makes a blend quite like this! It is to die for!!!) with smaller quantities of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Smooth, silky and the perfect accompanyment for this dish which had a spicy melange of flavors. The aroma was quite tantalizing!

The cheese and dessert course were like two courses in one--both served on the same plate. Bellweather Farms San Andreas Cheese with Pickled Mission Figs and Toasted Walnut Bread on the left hand side of the plate, along with a "S'more" consisting of a Graham Cracker Crust, Red Wine Soaked Blueberries, Dark Chocolate Ganache and Marshmallow Fluff. This course was paired with another Artisan Series wine, 2009 Caro Santo Sonoma Valley Red Wine ($45) which is 85% Sangiovese with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blend as well. Absolutely wonderful combination!!!

This seated food and wine pairing is available to the public for $38 (or $30 if you are a wine club member). This is an amazing price for the experience you will have. The winery does three seatings on Friday through Sunday, two seatings on Monday and Thursday. They do not offer seatings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. (My seating was a private offering done for me.)

I want to thank the winery staff and especially President and CEO of St. Francis Winery, Christopher Silva, Dave Buerger, Chef David Bush, and winemakers Katie Madigan and Heather Munden for their gracious hospitality and for taking an afternoon out of their busy schedules to surprise me with such a wonderful visit. You have made a fan for life out of me and I hope to be attending events at the winery very soon!!

For more information on St. Francis Winery and their wines, please visit their website, Follow them on Twitter @stfranciswinery and please like them on
Facebook. Their page rocks!!!

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

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Everything's Coming Up Rosés...

Everyone who knows me, knows I love love love Rosé! And, everyone who knows me also knows how I am always complaining I can never find any... I recently took a trip to California and my goal was to sample and bring home as many bottles of Rosé because now is the time you should be enjoying them! It's hot and it's the middle of Summer and nothing says "Summertime" like Rosé!

But what is Rosé and why is it so scarce in other parts of the country. First, I would like to say that NO, Rosé is not White Zinfandel. White Zinfandel was an accident that happened in Napa Valley in the 1970s and if that is your beverage of choice, great--however, I'm here to give you a small tutorial why you should embrace Rosé. Rosé is dry--usually but not necessarily over 13% alcohol. They are often small production and not often distributed nationwide which makes them a lot harder to find!

There are several ways a winemaker makes Rosé. If their primary purpose is to do this and this only, they will allow the juice to come in contact with the skins for a brief amount of time, enough to provide a pink color. The longer the skin contact, the deeper the color. Rosé can be made from almost any red varietal and the more I explore this category the more I am finding more and more interesting ones to choose from. The second way is Saignée method. This method is when a winemaker decides, while making red wine, that he or she needs to remove some of the pink juice in order to impart more color or tannin to their reds. The resulting juice is fermented making Rosé . The third way is to blend white wine with red wine. I wouldn't concern myself too much with this method. Rarely happens enough to mention...

California is a virtual smorgasbord of Rosé especially this time of year! I found many appealing and I have chosen just a fraction of them to discuss here...Please seek these wines out. They are delicious and enjoyable on hot days like today:

2011 Pink Girl Rosé of Syrah--Last Fall I had the pleasure of meeting Tina Carpenter in Napa. Tina is the wife of Chris Carpenter, winemaker for Cardinale in Napa Valley. "Pink Girl" is her project. The wine comes from grapes sourced in the Coombsville AVA (Napa Valley's newest AVA) and Tina designs the beautiful label (even adding a Swarovski crystal to it). She had a larger than life, awesome personality which made the whole room light up! She handed me a bottle of the 2010 which I tried recently before I had the chance to retry it again when a friend brought it to dinner. This time, it was the 2011. I love it. The flavors were subtle (cranberry, pomegranate) and refreshing! Two hours of skin contact for this one. Under $20. Found at many retailers in the bay area. Delicious!

2011 Cline Cellars Contra Costa County Mourvedre Rosé---OK, it was a frantic Tuesday all around and Cellarmistress was about an hour late to her appointment at Cline Cellars. Stuff happens, phones quit working, where was technology when I needed it? But I was focused and I knew when I got there, I would want to purchase this wine. Why? Because it is one of the BEST value Rosés in the state of California. For under $15, you are getting a mouth full of flavors---plummy pomegranate and then some. At this price, I want more more more!! I hope they make a lot. This wine could definitely be a staple in my collection!

2011 Acorn Winery Rosato---As you can see from the photo above, the hue on this wine is absolutely gorgeous and stunning! A bright bright red and the flavors coming out of this wine will wow you! This comes from overnight skin contact! Part of this wine is made using the Saignée method. This wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Cabernet Franc and Viognier. Bet you've never had one like this!! If you haven't discovered this tucked away, small family winery in Sonoma County (Healdsburg), I highly recommend you do. They are wonderful and the wines they make from their Alegria Vineyard (which I feel blessed and fortunate to have toured) will make you smile. A small labor of love and a lot of great wines! This one hails for $22 and pairs nicely with just about anything! Thank you to Bill and Betsy Nachbaur, the winery's proprietors for turning me on to such a nice wine!

2011 Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé--I can't say enough great things about this winery, located in Yountville. This Rosé is the one that got the ball rolling for me! I received a sample of this from my friend Craig Camp, managing partner of the winery, right before I went on vacation and it rocked my world! This Syrah Rosé is blended with a little bit of Grenache and even undergoes a few months of barrel fermentation to smooth it out. Bone dry with creamy strawberry flavor and a fuller mouthfeel. It is simply amazing and you must get some! $20.

2011 Waterstone Winery Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon---On the last day of my trip, I sat in this cute little tasting room called Taste At Oxbow in Napa and sipped this pretty wine all afternoon. The bottle sold for $18 and was floral and fruity at the same time! Bone dry and flavorful--lots of stawberry and rhubarb...I would have purchased more and taken it with me if I'd have had room in my shipper box. But alas, I didn't. So I'll hopefully get more on my next trip!

For my last
Rosé, I wanted to write about something I hold very near and dear to my heart. Sometimes a varietal comes along that you've never tried before and it becomes sort of a quest to find it. How many of you have heard of Charbono? I didn't think so. But I found some up in Calistoga, the northern most part of Napa Valley, at a small family-owned winery called Summers Estate Wines. This varietal is rustic and hearty and this Rosé is a perfect match with spicy foods! (I had mine with fish tacos--muy bueno!!). The flavors are reminiscent of a cherry-berry explosion! They also make a red varietal Charbono which would stand up to stews and Italian foods really well. But folks, this one is winery only, so you'll have to visit them and you should!! $22.

So there you have it! These are some of my favorite recommended Rosés of the season! Get them while you can and enjoy the last days of Summer with these treats!!

For more information on these wineries and wines, please visit the following websites:

"You Saw It Here First!" This post was written solely for Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk. Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with a huge passion for wine and everything it encompasses!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Reflections Of Global Sauvignon Blanc Day

Sauvignon Blanc. What can I say about this varietal except that I have an obsession with it and am beyond help! Sometimes to understand these things, one has to go back to the beginning. So we'll go back to the beginning of my wine education. I remember my first wine tasting in November of 1999. (Yes, it's true...I did not drink wine before then...Shame on me!) I was at a free, overstated holiday wine tasting, which enabled me to sample here and there. I fell in love with a bottle of 1998 Sterling Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. So I went and bought one. And that's how my obsession started. Over the years, I've tasted hundreds of them--from the grassy, gooseberry-flavored wines of New Zealand to the peppery wines of Argentina to the citrusy, tropical wines of California to the cat's pee-flavored wines of France (apparently I have not had enough French White Bordeaux--I'm sure they don't all taste like pipi du chat...). This year in June, we admirers of Sauvignon Blanc came together in a global way to celebrate this grape varietal. We tasted and tweeted and put on events all over the world for twenty-four hours. I was a willing and excited participant!

I chose two bottles (or rather, they chose me--but I was happy to represent them out in the field as both were fine examples of high quality), the 2011 St. Supery Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and the 2010 Gary Farrell Redwood Ranch Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc. The two wines were like night and day!

The 2011 St. Supery Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc was sassy!! Love at first sip for me! It had a personality that did not quit. Fragrant with limes and grapefruits, the wine's fleshy, tropical mid palate was juicy and lively! So vibrant!! This wine is 100% stainless steel fermented with a beautiful crisp finish. One of my favorites so far this year! After happily enjoying this bottle, I said to myself, "Now there's a wine I am going to want to keep drinking!" I made an appointment to visit them in a few weeks. I'm pretty happy! $20.

The 2010 Gary Farrell Redwood Ranch Sauvignon Blanc is a whole other animal. It is elegant, sophisticated and lovely. It has typical citrus notes but it is a bit more complex than that. There are some interesting flavors coming from this wine--unusual ones. I tasted some spice notes and a touch of vanilla. This stems from the fact that the wine actually saw some oak treatment but not so much that it takes away the acidity we love. This one is definitely a food wine--a great accompaniment for seafood, chicken, salads, cheeses... This is what happens when Sauvignon Blanc gets dressed to the nines to go out to a formal dinner. She's radiant! $25.

My Global Sauvignon Blanc celebration doesn't end here. Until next Summer when we reconvene to celebrate the day once again, I will continue to drink them on a regular basis and explore them every chance I get! I have a feeling in me, Sauvignon Blanc has found a new best friend!

For more information on St. Supery Vineyards and Winery, please visit their website, They are located in Rutherford, CA. Their wines are available at their tasting room, online and through some distribution nationwide.

For more information on Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery, please visit their website, They are located in Healdsburg, CA. Their wines are also available at their tasting room, online and through some distribution nationwide.

I wish to thank Sam Folsom & Associates (trade & media contact for Gary Farrell Winery) and St. Supery Vineyards and Winery for sending me the Sauvignon Blanc samples.

"You Saw It Here First!" This post was written solely for Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk. Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with a huge passion for wine and everything it encompasses!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cellarmistress Debuts On "TV Tuesday Live!"

21 months ago, I sat in a little wine bar called Cellars Of Sonoma in Santa Rosa, California. I was appearing as a live guest along with Michael Gann of Gann Family Cellars on a local show called "TV Tuesday Live!". I knew little about the place and of the winemakers who were often guests, but my appearance that evening would make a huge impact on me and the way I felt about small family winemakers going forward...Afterward, more often than not, I would tune in and throw in my two cents, asking questions and using the show as a valuable learning tool. And then my moment arrived, the moment I would be asked to join the show as a live wine blogger in the field! I was ecstatic! The day I was contacted by owner Scott Jordan, was one of the best days ever!

Cellars Of Sonoma is GREAT! Not only do they promote small family wineries but the wines they carry are top notch. If you haven't heard of some of these producers, please seek them out because they are small production and crazy good! There are such Sonoma County producers as T.R. Elliott, Bonneau Wines, Amorosa Bella, Gann Family, Joseph Jewell, DuNah, James Family Cellars and Napa Valley producer La Sirena . You just can't go wrong with any of these producers! In order to participate as a "blogger in the field", Scott sent me the monthly wine club shipment (Yes, they have a wine club!) as samples. (These aren't distributed wines so I would not have been able to obtain them here in my area.)

Forward to last Tuesday, June 26th, my debut on the show! And what a debut! Who would have dreamed I, and my co-horts--Jodi Fritch (@TampaWineWoman), Dan Goderis (@DanGod1), Dezel Quillen (@myvinespot) and Shawn Burgert (@awanderingwino) would be sharing the stage with illustrious winemaker extraordinaire, Heidi Barrett and her La Sirena wines!

It is always a pleasure when Heidi appears on the show! She is someone I could sit down with and marvel at how she does it all--established winemaker, wife and mother, accomplished artist and helicopter pilot! And the list of wineries she has consulted for is stellar: Screaming Eagle, Paradigm, Fantesca, Kenzo Estate, Lamborn, Revana, Grace Family, Showket, Dalla Valle and Barbour. And how about her own wines, La Sirena?

The 2005 La Sirena Barrett Vineyard Napa Valley Syrah ($80) was simply WOW! A blend of berries and bacon, rustic with a lot of punch! And still so young. You could definitely lay this one down for several more years and watch it really come alive! If you are fortunate enough to taste Heidi's wines, savor them. They are some of the best the Napa Valley has to offer!

I might mention she also makes a very unusual white wine. Called 2011 La Sirena Moscato Azul, it is a dry Muscat made from grapes from the Napa Valley and Paso Robles. Pricey ($48) but worth it! Floral with grapefruit and stone fruit notes, it is Moscato for the dry wine drinker. Nothing sweet about this one except that it's beautiful and will make you smile. I was able to sample this one at a Premiere Napa Valley event for the Calistoga Winegrowers last February. The event was held at Chateau Montelena, a winery owned by Heidi's husband, Bo Barrett.

I am looking forward to being a part of the "TV Tuesday Live!" family on a regular basis and hope you will stay tuned for more fun with their winemakers coming up: T.R. Elliott, Bonneau and Amorosa Bella! The show airs on UStream every Tuesday night at 6 PM Pacific time. Who knows? I may even pop in on July 24th when I visit Santa Rosa! A big thanks to Scott Jordan and the team at Cellars Of Sonoma! I am honored to be a part of this!

If you would like to see a UStream version of the most recent show with Heidi Barrett, please go to this link:

For more information about Cellars Of Sonoma, please visit their website, If you are in the Santa Rosa area and would like to stop by for some wine, they are located in downtown Santa Rosa in Railroad Square.

For more information about Heidi Barrett and her La Sirena Wines, please visit

Photo Credits: Jerae Knutson and Grace Hoffman

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

Cellarmistress Goes To Italy, Part One

In an effort to get back to my Italian roots, I decided I needed to learn more about Italian wines. But where was I to start? A person could seriously spend years learning about the wines of Italy and not even touch the surface! When an opportunity came up for me to sample the wines of Beni di Batasiolo, a winery in the Piedmont region of Italy, I embraced the opportunity! The experience left me tantalized and excited to learn more!

Beni di Batasiolo is located on 345 acres and is estate-owned. The Dogliani family have been farming this land since 1978 and their dedication to quality is impeccable. I sampled four distinctively different wines, all great values and much to my surprise, I found them a delicious alternative to the California wines I always write about.

The first one I sampled was the 2011 Gavi di Gavi Granee DOCG. I wish more of the American public would discover Gavi. It is an amazing white wine! Made from 100% Cortese grapes, it is food-friendy, crisp with floral aromas and citrus flavors! Just a breath of fresh air and perfect for Summertime sipping. I love it and going forward, I am going to seek out this varietal and make it a staple in my wine rack! $18.99.

My next bottle was the 2008 Barbera d'Alba Sovrana DOC. Barbera was a varietal I had tried before, but I was used to its rugged and rustic California counterpart. This Barbera was fruity and smooth. Delicate but with ripe fruit flavors and a beautiful ruby red color. This wine, also very food-friendly, is the perfect accompaniment to any meal. Average price around $18. Great value!
This was the first time I had ever had a Barolo. Yes, in my short 13 year history of drinking wine I had never once tried a wine made of 100% Nebbiolo grapes! (My counterparts out there are probably shaking their heads right now!!) Barolo is the KING of Piedmont and its pride and joy and I can see why. This wine is almost regal! The 2007 Barolo DOCG is huge, rustic, spicy with a velvet finish. I would love to taste this one again after a few more years as it is so ageworthy! Firm tannins will give it a lot of future life! So impressed I am with this wine that I cannot wait to sample more of them. Average price $48 (and a bargain at that!)

And now for the big surprise of the day!! Everyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of sweet wines. I make a face everytime I think about it. Something made me change my mind recently and of course it had to be Italian!

There is a huge Moscato craze here in the US. Most of the ones I've seen and tried are of the sticky sweet variety. I call it a "girly girl" wine for those who don't really drink wine, almost likening it to a wine cooler. The Italians, however, know how to do Moscato correctly and even though the alcohol level is low (around 8%), guess what? You would never know when sampling this one! The Moscato Spumante Rose is absolutely delicious! Not only does it taste dry but the lovely strawberry flavor reminds one of Summertime! It's also a very romantic kind of wine. Hot tub wine, I call it. For you and your sweetheart! $15.99.

I want to thank Katie Hunter of Charles Communications for turning me on to such lovely wines and sending me the samples! It definitely was a great experience and I look forward to exploring a lot more Italian varietals in the future! Hopefully some day I can go back to Italy and maybe even visit Beni di Batasiolo. These are great wines worth exploring!

Beni di Batasiolo wines are distributed nationwide through Boisset Family Estates. For more information on Beni di Batasiolo, please check out their website,

"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, June 17, 2012

The Father Of Chardonnay

It's been awhile since I've posted anything. You can blame on the furthering of my wine education and the countless amounts of online wine tastings I've participated in for the past two months. But I'm back in full force and ready to begin this again on Father's Day...With a rather fatherly story...

Everything has a beginning. I recently struck gold when I did an online event for the winery responsible for the beginning of Chardonnay in this country, Wente Vineyards.  Founded 125 years ago, Wente Vineyards is located in Livermore, California--a town on the East Bay of San Francisco. In 1936, they were the first commercial California winery to produce wine labeled with the varietal name, Chardonnay. This Chardonnay came to be known as the "Wente Clone" and virtually every Chardonnay vine in the state of California has its origins from this clone.

Nowadays, the winemaking at Wente comes under the watchful eye and skilled expertise of Karl Wente, a fifth generation winemaker. Karl is an up and coming force to be reckoned with. As a veteran of many online events with Karl, I've come to find out that his wines are pretty special. Karl keeps us on our toes. He is a master of blending and we never quite know what he's going to do next. He makes enjoyable wines at every price point and knows how to please his audience of wine consumers.

In conjunction with Global Chardonnay Day 2012, I began my week with a plethora of Karl's Chardonnays. Each one completely different in style and price point. But each one as enjoyable and memorable as the next.

The first of the four was 2011 Eric's Small Lot Chardonnay. This is Karl's unoaked Chardonnay project and it is just lovely. I agree that there is a niche for unnoaked Chardonnay. As consumers, we like options and when the market is flooded with boring, big oaky Chardonnays, the unoaked version is very welcome and a breath of fresh air. This one, unfortunately, was not produced in large quantities so I believe the only way to get some would be to visit the winery. As of today, it is not available for purchase on the website but may be in the future. As for taste, this wine bursts with green apple, pear and citrus flavors with a crisp, mineral finish. Perfect for a hot Summer day!

The 2010 Morning Fog Chardonnay is a winery bargain. I call this the Chardonnay for those who want a little oak but also enjoy a crisp, fruit-driven wine. And the $12 price point and wide availability make this wine a must for everyday enjoyment. (Plus this has to be the best under $15, widely distributed Chardonnay on the market today!) 50% of this wine was barrel fermented and aged sur lie for 7 months. The other half was stainless steel fermented. This allows for rich, fruity taste with crisp acidity. It's very well balanced.

The 2010 Riva Ranch Chardonnay is a tropical dream come true! Buttery, with pineapple, vanilla and caramel flavors, this too is a huge bargain for around $17! I had my first experience with this wine years ago at a small little seafood restaurant in Newport Beach. The server brought it to me in a plastic glass. I remember thinking to myself, "Wow! I wonder what this wine would taste like in a real glass!" It was that good! The grapes for this one are sourced from their Arroyo Seco Vineyard near Monterey. Central Coast Chardonnays are full-flavored and tropical without being cloying. In other words, you won't stop at one glass!

OK, so I've waited a very long time to finally try this one. The 2009 Nth Degree Chardonnay. The Nth Degree tier of wines is something usually reserved for wine club members, with a small percentage of the vintage distributed nationwide. This $50 Chardonnay is elegance and finesse in a bottle. Balanced, full-bodied and barrel aged in a combination of several types of oak, it has a lush mouthfeel with intense tropical flavors and spice. It's just a gorgeous wine.

I want to thank Karl Wente and Charles Comm for providing me with these fine wine samples to kick off my week of Chardonnay exploration. The event was magnificent! If you would like to see the tutorial and event footage, here is the link:

You may access the wines of Wente Vineyards on their website at If you are interested in visiting them, they have a gorgeous winery located at 5050 Arroyo Road in Livermore, California. I hope to visiting them some day soon!

"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, May 13, 2012

Cellarmistress Pinks Out!!

Every May in San Francisco, there is a lovely event that takes place at Butterfly Restaurant. The event is called "Pink Out! SF" and it is a celebration of Rosé. Rosé is a wine often misunderstood and overlooked and I beg to disagree with the non-believers. I am a huge fan of this wine. The more,the merrier! It is made of virtually every red varietal grape, in many different styles (including the dreaded, sweet White Zinfandel, which we will not talk about here...) If you can get past the stigma that pink wines have been burdened with for the past thirty plus years and realize what you have isa virtual goldmine of flavors, you too will enjoy this wine! I look forward to celebrating this event every year, albeit virtually from out in the field, but still proud to partake!

This year, samples came to me from two Sonoma County wineries: Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves and Envolve Winery. I also received a sample from Chateau D'Esclans in the Provence (France) and Croft (Portugal). These four wines were all unique in style and distinctively different! From the serious to the not so serious...

The 2007 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé is just gorgeous and a wonderful example of a sparkling rosé. I had the pleasure of visiting the winery in Sonoma last Fall and enjoyed every breathtaking moment of sitting on their terrace and drinking in the view. With that in mind, this handcrafted wine is heavenly,with its hints of cranberry, strawberry and cotton candy. Off dry, perfec talone or with cheese and charcuterie. Loved it! $45.

The 2011 Chateau D'Esclans "Whispering Angel" was a breath of fresh air. From its light, iridescent color to its fresh and fruity flavors, this wine held court at my place! Handcrafted with a much higher perceived value, I was blown away at the $19 price point! Fashioned from five varietal grapes:Grenache, Rolle, Syrah, Cinsault and Tibouren and stainless steel fermented. I want more of this wine now!

I was excited to try the 2011 Envolve Winery Sonoma Mountain Rosé. For those of you who aren't familiar, if you happened to watch ABC's "The Bachelor" show on prime time earlier this year, you would have familiarized yourselves with Ben Flajnik, one of the winery's partners and winemakers. This rosé punched me in the face with its huge strawberry/raspberry/rhubarb "Jolly Rancher" flavors but I couldn't quite grasp the finish. I wasn't excited. It was a tad too sweet so I'm not understanding why they fermented it sweeter rather than drier. It would've been so much more palatable and enjoyable as a drier wine. Perhaps for future vintages? Time will tell. $24.99.

The last wine we sampled was Croft Pink Port. I was skeptical. At first sip, I didn't much care for it. I like my dessert wines with more substance.However, the next day, I made a nice Martini out of it. It makes a great mixer!In fact if you go their website, there's a link for cocktail recipes. I'm not really sure what the price point is on this one. But I can't imagine it would be pricey. Not if you're going to make cocktails with it. It was a great thought, whoever decided to create this concoction. I think it would definitely appeal to women.

So, this event has me so excited to seek out more Rosé wines!! And I plan to do that in a couple months when I visit Napa and Sonoma again! Cheers everyone! It's Summertime! Get your Pink on and Pink out!

And Gentlemen, keep in mind that we women love a man who drinks "Pink"!

A special thanks to the team at TasteLive for inviting me to participate again this year and to my great friend Katherine Parker for providing the fun"Pink Out! SF" photo.

"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.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rock Stars & Their Wines, Part Two: Carlos Santana Sparkles...

A couple days ago, I was one of a team of wine bloggers chosen to participate in an event called "The Wines Of MUSEXPO." MUSEXPO was an event that took place in Hollywood. An international festival bringing bands together and...WINE! Our friend, Ziggy Eschliman (better known as Sommelier to the music world and @ZiggyTheWineGal on Twitter) was our on-line hostess with the mostest and we sampled our way through an array of wines! So what does rock 'n roll have to do with wine? CHECK THIS OUT!!

Carlos Santana...Rock star extraordinaire...He delves in some serious stuff... Restaurants, shoes (yes, I happen to own a couple pairs of his designer shoes...) and BUBBLY. His relationship with Mumm Napa Winery in Napa Valley has been long standing and his latest creation, Santana Brut, has proven successful. And it is delicious! At $45 a bottle, this gorgeous sparkler (35% Pinot Noir, 65% Chardonnay) bursts with red apple, hazelnut biscotti and a huge kiss of strawberry on the finish. Light effervescent bubbles will transport you to a dark and raunchy state of mind. Guess there's a reason why he sang, "Black Magic Woman"... But the best part, part of the proceeds of your purchase of this wine goes to the Milagro Foundation, a charity that helps under privileged children. And when you're done with the bottle, you'll want to find an artsy thing to do with it because the front and back labels are fabric with the classic Santana logo and the metal cap, well...It's one of the coolest I've ever seen...So smooth!!!

Santana Brut is available at Mumm Napa Winery or online at their website, For more information about the Milagro Foundation, please check out their website at What are you waiting for? Everyone has a rock star within them! Go unleash yours and sparkle!!

"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, April 29, 2012

Staying Cool With Francis Ford Coppola

Cool. Crisp. Delightful. I love my white wines. Simple. Easy. Perfect for warm weather sipping on my patio. With our crazy weather this year, you can never be too prepared. When I look for these types of wines, I also look for value, especially if I want to impress friends when they come over for company. I've been drinking the Coppola Diamond Collection wines for awhile now and they are always consistent.

Recently, I sampled two such delights: 2011 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Pinot Grigio and 2011 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc. At $16 each, these wines are true values and should be a staple in everyone's collection.
The nose on the Pinot Grigio is intoxicating, with the promise of nectarines, ripe apples and floral notes. Most Pinot Grigio is bland in my opinion, but this one is bursting with fruit flavors and very juicy. It's delicious and will pair well with Summer salads, seafood dishes and light cheeses.
I really enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc. Each year, winemaker Corey Beck, sources his grapes from different vineyards all over California. The 2011 is made from grapes sourced in the cool areas of Lake County (which is just north and east of Napa Valley) and Alexander Valley in northern Sonoma County. This makes for a juicy, grapefruity and grassy Sauvignon Blanc, not so much in the New Zealand-style but more so a typical California style. Loved it!

And for a more hands on Coppola experience, I can't wait to visit the winery in Geyserville, which is located in northern Sonoma County. Not only are these wines featured there, but many others produced by the Coppola team. The winery is fun and boasts a wonderful restaurant named Rustic--the menu features many recipes from the Coppola family. Definitely worth a visit!These wines are easy to find and are distributed nationwide. For more information on these wines and the winery, please visit

I'd like to thank the Coppola PR team for sending me these wines to sample and share them with you! Happy Summer Sipping!!

"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.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

An Afternoon At Garagiste Healdsburg

Back in October, I was celebrating yet another birthday with my fabulous wine country girlfriends, when one of them gave me a bottle of wine as a gift. 2008 Cartograph Wines Two Pisces Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. I had barely heard of Cartograph Wines let alone tried any of it. But I was fascinated...So when I got back home, I did some research and on my latest trip, I decided I wanted to visit them. Why? Because their story, like so many that I am encountering as I venture my way through wine country, is inspirational. I've met many who pick up their lives and move to California to realize their dreams. I plan to do that myself very soon! They had a dream and guess what? It's coming true!! That's an inspiration!

I let another friend of mine plan the visit and on a quiet and chilly early Sunday afternoon, we all got in the car and ventured to Healdsburg, California in Sonoma County. I've been to Healdsburg many times but never to a tasting room in the downtown area. So this was a first for me. However, this place was more than just a tasting room as I would soon find out. It was also a great lounge to hang out with good friends and a micro-winery where small lot wines were showcased!

Alan Baker and Serena Lourie met at Crushpad in San Francisco. Alan, a Minnesota native packed up his life and moved west to make wine. Serena also did this from the east coast. Alan made his first Pinot Noir, under the Cellar Rat label, while at Crushpad and Serena helped him make other wines. Soon the two were collaborating on their own project, which brings us to the present and this wonderful little place they call Garagiste Healdsburg!

To understand Garagiste Healdsburg is to understand the concept behind it. A "Garagiste" is a person who handcrafts small lots of wine with passion and care. Alan and Serena are small lot winemakers who take pride in their work and it most certainly shows! Their wines are amazing and I had a wonderful time sampling these delights. The tasting room also features the wines of their friends, Stark Wines--another example of handcrafted goodness. These are gems you will not want to miss!! Garagiste Healdsburg is very modern, airy and welcoming. Alan and Serena are wonderful hosts!

The tasting room features a very lengthy menu that the owners switch up from time time. Wine can be purchased by the glass or by the bottle.

Among some of my favorites (it was tough to choose because I loved them all!) were some interesting whites.

2010 Cartograph Floodgate Vineyard Gewurztraminer. Gewurztraminer isn't a wine I drink a lot of but one sip of this spicy, sassy white and I immediately started thinking about all the Asian, Mexican and Indian cuisine I could pair it with! $22.

2009 Stark Windsor Oaks Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay. This is where the bold and the beautiful comes into play! Huge, creamy, and tropical. When I'm in the mood for this style of Chardonnay, this is where I would come to find it. They only made 118 cases so get it now while you can! $30.

And some interesting reds...

2009 Cartograph Perli Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir. Interesting and rustic. Leather, mushrooms, cranberries, very full-bodied. Perfect for those gamey meals but I'd drink it with a lamb chop or a huge steak. It's va-va-voom and in your face! $42.

2009 Stark Eaglepoint Ranch Mendocino Ridge Syrah. Drool. Drool. Nom. Nom. Nom. My mouth is watering when I think about this wine. It is so elegant. To me, it was almost perfect. Layers and layers of dark fruit and minerals. Another small case production. 118 cases. Very recommended. $42.

The more I sampled, the more I didn't want to leave! I had such a great time meeting Alan and Serena and hanging out with my close girlfriends. It was such a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I highly recommend everyone visit this little place. It will certainly find a place to stay in your hearts!

I want to thank Alan Baker and Serena Lourie for being such gracious hosts and making such great wines! I would love for you two to join me on Twitter the evening of April 18th as we discuss Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir on #winechat!! I will come back and see you in July!!

I also want to thank my wonderful friends Thea Dwelle, Jerae Knutson, Sherri Housman and Barbara Phillips for being part of this great afternoon! I hope you had as much fun as I did! A special thanks to Katherine Parker, for bringing Cartograph Wines to my attention!

For more information on Garagiste Healdsburg, Cartograph and Stark Wines, please visit the following website: Follow them on Twitter at @garagistehbg and @cartographwines or visit their Facebook page!

But don't just take my word for it! Go visit them! They are located at 439 Healdsburg Avenue.

"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.