Sunday, May 12, 2013

Three Great Reasons Why YOU Should Be Drinking Rosé!

Let's face it! I would drink Rosé all year long if I could. Why? Because it's a wonderful and delicious way to drink red varietals cold. I am all about the pink. And when I have some, I am in heaven... Rosé  can be made of any red varietal grape and I hope to explore the whole gamut of possibilities during peak Rosé  season this Summer!

Unfortunately, here in the midwest, Rosé is not the easiest to find, so I've had to rely on the help of friends, local and afar, to keep me in the loop on the latest finds. Today, I'm going to give you three great reasons why you should be drinking Rosé and how to get your hands on them!

Let's start with my obvious choice, my favorite so far this year, 2012 Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé by Cornerstone Cellars in Yountville (Napa Valley), California. As you have probably read from previous posts, I am enamored with Cornerstone Cellars. Their wines are top notch, their winemaker Jeff Keene is awesome and he makes this amazing Rosé that is redolent of strawberries and watermelon. Like a fun Jolly Rancher candy with more zip! The moment I took a sip, I wanted to swim in it! Made of 100% Syrah from Napa Valley vineyards and aged in French Oak. Terrific! I'm moving to Napa next month. I am stocking up! $16 on special from or visit the tasting room!!

Value is rare in Napa Valley so when I find it, I am beyond excited. Take this next wine for instance. Who's been to downtown Napa? There are so many cute tasting rooms and I found one that brings amazing value for your hard-earned dollar, Taste At Oxbow. This place, located near the Oxbow Public Market, is a must-stop. After stopping there myself in February, I discovered a plethora of wonderful wines with a much higher perceived value. And I love, love, love the fact that they make a gorgeous Rosé  out of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Just look at that color, dark and mysterious! The 2012 Waterstone Rosé  of Cabernet Sauvignon. Strawberries, dark cherries and floral notes round out this great Summer sipper. $18 at the tasting room. Please visit! You'll be happy you did!

I was actually able to find this next Rosé here at home, much to my surprise. I am assuming the Wagner Family of Caymus and Belle Glos fame distributes these wines a little more than some of the smaller production wineries but nonetheless I was thrilled! This one is the 2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Blanc from Sonoma Coast. 100% Pinot Noir, partially barrel fermented and delicious! Cranberry, cinnamon and citrus notes. Vibrant, fruity and refreshing! Do not miss this one,. $17 and available at your local wine store or online at

Well, there you have it! I am looking forward to test-driving many more Rosé wines once I reach my final destination in wine country this Summer! Stay tuned for more cool finds!!

Thank you to Cornerstone Cellars, Taste At Oxbow and Waterstone Wines, and the Wagner Family for making such terrific Rosé! I look forward to tasting many more!

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

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Passaggio Wines Looks To The Future!

It's been awhile since I told the remarkable story of one woman's quest to follow her passion and become a winemaker. Winemaker Cynthia Cosco of Passaggio Wines has certainly come a long way since the early days of her winemaking career, which believe it or not, was not that long ago! I am proud and excited to say, a lot has happened since my last update and I am here to share a new chapter!

Not long ago, Cynthia moved Passaggio Wines from the town of Sonoma to a new home in the city, Dogpatch Wine Works, which is located in San Francisco at 2455 Third Street--a quaint little neighborhood with beautifully restored architecture. Not only is Dogpatch Wine Works a custom crush facility, meaning those who want to make wine, amateurs and pros, can go there to do so, but it also serves as a tasting room and a retail venue for Cynthia's wines. 

My girlfriends and I were excited to visit and Cynthia was gracious enough to host our large group on a chilly Sunday morning in the city! We had a wonderful time, mingling, sampling and overseeing the process of which Cynthia's wines are made there. 

As of now, Cynthia makes four wines (soon to be five) and each time I sample her wines, I get the feeling more exciting news is just around the corner! She is the prime example of someone with so much passion, her wines get better and better and this latest crop of wines are no exception!

2011 Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay--I was speechless when I sampled this wine. In fact, my bottle disappeared very quickly! Clean fresh citrus flavors with great minerality and balance! This is her "flagship" wine and when people ask me about Unoaked Chardonnay, this is the one I talk about. It's amazing. Just take my word for it and try it. $23. I can't wait to try the 2012!

2011 Passaggio Pinot Grigio--This is a zippy wine with ZING!! Pinot Grigio can sometimes be a little boring but this one is far from that! I love the melon flavor and clean finish. It's refreshing and sure to be a go to wine for everyone's patio this Summer. $19

2011 Passaggio Rose'--I will discuss this wine even though it is currently sold out. I remember being one of the first to try her Rose' and this is the second vintage. She changes up the formula a little each time. This one was a Saignee-method (where they bleed the vats)   rose' and made up primarily of Zinfandel from the Dry Creek AVA in Sonoma County and the addition of some Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. A very different combination but worked beautifully! Really tasty with strawberry, cranberry, and watermelon flavor throughout. YUM! Make more please!

And now for Cynthia's first red: 2011 *Unmarked* Pinot Noir--I have to tell you how excited I was when I found out she was making Pinot Noir. We were all clamoring! From the moment I took my first sip, I was completely stoked! It's GREAT!! Cinnamon baking spice, dark tea, cranberry goodness. So lovely. None of that bacon fat or funk. Just nice subtle, pleasant flavors. It will bring a smile to your face. And the "Unmarked" means it goes to support Law Enforcement Personnel, something very close to Cynthia's heart since it is a tribute to her former life. $45.

So what's new on the horizon? A new wine! *Unmarked* Sauvignon Blanc!! We can't wait! Releasing soon hopefully!

These are exceptional wines and should be enjoyed by everyone!

 So how do you get some? Very easy. In addition to visiting Dogpatch Wine Works, the wines can be purchased from her website, If you're not part of the Passionistas Wine Club yet, you are missing out. Being a member gives you a 20% discount on your purchases and at these prices you will want to purchase some more! I am proud to be a member! Interested in making wine or just visiting? Please go to for more information.

Thank you to Cynthia Cosco for her continued friendship and support. We had a wonderful time visiting with you and hope to do it again soon!

"You Saw It Here First!" This post was published solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk".

Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine writer, wine lover and wine educator with a passion for wine and all that it encompasses.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Beauty And Grace In Sonoma Valley...

On the last day of my latest venture to wine country, I was treated to a grand surprise! Such a beautiful and peaceful experience that it will be forever etched in my mind! Tucked away in a remote corner of Sonoma Valley is the most amazing place you will ever encounter! Rich with beauty and grace, The Hanzell Vineyards experience will leave you breathless and wanting more!

I had thought about this place many times over the years, never having tried any of their wines. When a friend of mine mentioned the possibility of visiting them and would I be interested, I immediately said yes! I had no idea where it was.  As we drove closer and closer, we went past a gate and began climbing up the five hundred or so feet to the top where the winery is located, stopping along the way to take photos of the breathtaking views! As we approached the winery buildings, I knew I was in for a special treat!

   The history of Hanzell Vineyards is fascinating! Founded in the early fifties by James David Zellerbach, a gentleman who was appointed Ambassador to Italy by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, this winery is famous for being the first winery to do many things:

   They were the first to create and use custom-designed temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks such as the one below (now housed in a museum-type area of the winery).

                                 They were the first to use inert gas at bottling to prevent oxidation.

                              They were the first to use only French oak barrels for aging their wines.

     And a very important point, they were the first to isolate and cultivate the bacterium responsible for malolactic fermentation.

     Hanzell Vineyards now owns six estate vineyards where they have forty acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted. I was able to see two of the six, the Ambassador Vineyard (Pinot Noir) and the Ramon Vineyard (Chardonnay). They have the most amazing quality control. Everything is near perfect and pristine to the eye. And it is just this attention to detail and quality that shines in the wines when you taste them for the first time. The vineyards were absolutely beautiful. I could have stayed there all day long!

After the ambassador's death in the early sixies, the winery was sold to Douglas and Mary May. During their ten years there, they expanded the winery. When Mary passed away, the winery was once again put up for sale. In 1974, the Countess Barbara De Brye, purchased the winery sight unseen. Upon her unexpected passing in 1991, her young son Alexander became and is now the current proprietor. Although he lives in England, he and his family are on-site often and oversee the day to day operations of the winery. Hanzell Vineyards has had five winemakers since its inception, including their current winemaker, Michael McNeill. The wines are impeccable!

After visiting the wine library, where vintages of their wines go all the way back to the sixties, we were led to a small office where a private tasting was held for us by the winery's wine educator, Gary Saperstein. He was wonderful and I have to say, he made my experience so relaxed and comfortable! He is definitely an asset to the Hanzell Vineyards team!!

The tasting included three current releases, one of which I was the very first guest to try! That was so special!  The three wines included in my tasting were: 2011 Hanzell Vineyards "Sebella" Chardonnay ($36), 2010 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay ($75) and the brand new 2010 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir ($95)


The 2011 "Sebella" Chardonnay was a breath of fresh air! Stainless steel fermented then barrel aged for six months in 1-4 year old French oak barrels, it was citrusy, with green apple and tangerine tones and a clean, crisp finish. It reminded me a lot of a Sauvignon Blanc (which is my favorite white varietal) so I enjoyed it very much!

The 2010 Chardonnay was exceptional! Creamy with a long finish and beautiful notes of honey, lemon and nectarine. Well-balanced with good minerality. They recommend decanting this one. (I guess I would have to learn to be patient!)

The 2010 Pinot Noir was a nice surprise! I don't usually drink Pinot Noirs very young but this one was full-flavored with vibrant cherry notes, anise and cinnamon spice. Just a tiny bit of earthiness. I would love to taste this vintage again in a few years to see how it fares. Absolutely delicious!

     I have decided to make Hanzell Vineyards a part of my new life in wine country and hope to join one of their wine clubs when I move out there soon. I feel like I would be part of something very special when I do. They are off the beaten path and definitely worth making an appointment to visit. Words cannot describe how I was feeling upon my departure of this beautiful place. It's something you have to experience for yourselves. And I hope you do!!

     I would like to thank Gary Saperstein and the team at Hanzell Vineyards for making my visit so special. I would also like to thank my friend, Chef Carlo Cavallo of Meritage Oyster Bar & Grill in Sonoma for setting up my wonderful appointment. For more information on how you can visit Hanzell Vineyards, please visit their website at

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

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Best Olive Oil You Will Ever Experience...

Most of you have either heard of or have seen the movie, "Under The Tuscan Sun"--the somewhat autobiographical story of author Frances Mayes. In the movie, Frances moves to Tuscany on a whim and purchases a villa named Bramasole. Since the book and the movie came out several years ago, I've had the opportunity to meet Frances twice. Her story has really inspired me to follow my passion.

Recently, I found out that Frances and her husband Edward Mayes were off on a new venture--making their own Extra Virgin Olive Oil! How fantastic! This oil would be made from the Frantoio, Moraiolo and Leccino olives grown on the Bramasole property! Some samples of two vintages of the oil, 2011 and 2012, were sent to me and I could not wait to try them out!

Italians consume 15 liters of olive oil per person per year. On the other hand, Americans do not. Not even close. One taste of this oil and their minds could be changed forever! Olive oil has concentrations of polyphenols that carry anti-inflammatory properties. In other words, you should consume more! It's good for your health!

I truly did not know what to expect and what I got in return, after sampling the oil, was the largest surprise of my life! I received a small can of the newly pressed 2012 vintage. The instructions were to pour some in a white glass bowl and eat it with some crusty peasant bread, which I did! It was amazing! So lush, so green, so peppery. I had never tasted anything like it before in my life! Even the bottle of the 2011 vintage was still peppery but the flavors had integrated to a smooth, beautiful finish! Oh my!

I am completely spoiled for life! The Extra Virgin olive oil I have been purchasing at the grocery store has been retired. I'm sold. Every dish I have added this oil to now has an indescribable richness. Wow!

So---how can you obtain this oil? Frances and Edward have started the Bramasole Olive Oil Convivium.
Information on this is available on their website, The oil can be purchased by case or as a 5-liter can. When you order this oil, you will know where it came from and on what date it was harvested.
Most olive oils do not mention this on their label. I think it's worth it. You will be spoiled and your culinary experience will be forever changed. For an amazing experience, please give the Bramasole Olive Oil a try!

I would like to thank my friend Chef Robin White and Frances and Edward Mayes for allowing me to experience such greatness. I also want to thank my friend Katherine Parker for assisting with the photos.

"You Saw It Here First"--This story was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk". Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine writer, wine educator and wine lover whose passion is wine and all that it encompasses...

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..."