Monday, December 28, 2009

A Bubbly Wonderland of Rosé

I am a pink lady... No--not like the characters in "Grease" or Hugh Hefner's Playboy bunnies who always wear pink. I am a pink lady as in I love my sparkling wines and Champagnes sporting the pink look. It's stylin'!!! All jokes aside, I've spent quite a bit of time in the last few weeks sampling all kinds of bubbly at local tastings and parties here in town---domestic and foreign--American, French, Australian, Spanish, Italian...More often than not though, I find myself gravitating toward the sparklers with the pink hue. Why is this? Why am I so obsessed with that lovely color? I figured out it was more about the flavor than the color. Don't get me wrong--I often enjoy a yeasty Champagne whose nose reminds me of fresh baked bread. But something about that pink hue and rich fruit flavor invites festivity, smiles, fun!! I love fun! And we all desperately need fun because in the dead of winter, nothing motivates us more than a little fun.

New Year's Eve is inevitably creeping upon us, faster than you can say "FUN!". So I've decided to compile a list of five sparklers I've tried lately--all pink, all fun, all price points. None of which will kill your pocketbook. You decide...

I found an Aussie sparkler recently, appropriately named "Pink". It is from a company called Yellowglen. (They also make one called "Yellow".) A beautiful pink hue, everything about this wine spells "BARGAIN". Part Pinot Noir, part Chardonnay, it is no muss, no fuss for the bargain hunter looking for an easy sparkler with a pink hue. It's delicious, barely sweet, inexpensive (around $10) and very easy to drink. Reminds me of a fun Jolly Rancher kind of fruity. So if you don't want to spend a lot, have lots of friends coming over etcetera, this wine can be found at your local grocery store. Easy enough.

Next up is Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs. Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves are located in the heart of Sonoma County, California and are producers of some fine sparkling wines. This one is no exception. Many years in a row, I have purchased this wine knowing I would be getting a great staple, well-rated, value sparkler and crowd pleaser. Predominantly Pinot Noir with a small amount of Chardonnay blended in, it gets its off-pink hue from a bit of Vin Gris thrown in. It's a beauty, it's a bargain at $20. (I got one on sale last night for around $15--pretty happy about that!) I will be opening one of these on New Year's Eve. How about you?

Ah, Mumm Napa...My first experience with them was in the Fall of 2006, when I visited their tasting room on the Silverado Trail in Napa. They sat me down and put a nice sampler of three sparklers in front of me and all "H***" broke loose. Kidding... I was feeling pretty good after that visit and when I went to shop their tasting room, I was faced with a menagerie of choices but the Blanc de Noirs went home with me. I noticed recently that they have changed the name of this wine to Brut Rosé. That's fine with me. I've always been impressed with the color of this wine. It's darker than most Brut Rosés. A very beautiful dark pink hue. The flavor is incredible. Lots of raspberries, strawberries, berry explosions! And at $24, it's still in the running as a great bargain--if you can find it. It disappears fast. I'm hiding one right now. For my eyes only... But I could be talked into opening it...

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé. What can I say? I had it for the first time at a tasting last night and I kept going back to retry it. I was pretty impressed with it. It had a beautiful hue of light to medium pink, delicate berry flavor, a moderate amount of bubbles and no funk. It's French, it's really Champagne (from Epernay in the Champagne region of France) and the bottom line is, at around $42 a bottle, this is a great deal, folks. So if you can find this wine in your local wine shop, go for it. Very enjoyable. Your friends will thank you!

OK, I left my favorite of the season for last...Taittinger Brut Prestige Rosé. I've never loved a bottle of bubbly so much in my entire life!! At around $60 a bottle, I still consider this sparkler a bargain from one of the top Champagne houses in France. Located in Reims, they churn out some top of the line Champagnes in the world! A vibrant shade of pink, full of delicate berries and slightly floral notes (such as roses), it's enjoyable and such a beautiful wine. Highly recommended!

Happy New Year everyone! Here's to a great 2010! May it be even better than 2009!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Little Bit Of (Horse) Heaven...

Washington’s Columbia Crest Winery has been in the spotlight a lot lately and it has been well-deserved. Starting off with many of their wines earning top scores year round to earning the “Top Accolade” of having the Number One Wine of the Year in Wine Spectator Magazine, it is their time to really shine!

I was at a tasting recently (yes—another one. I do this often!) and I spied a bottle of 2007 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon. I couldn’t wait to get a sampling of it. You see, in my fair state of Iowa, the H3 tier of their wines has been relatively difficult to get hold of. So, the excitement mounted as I made my way toward the table and happily over-extended my stay. This wine is a great find and not to be missed!

Horse Heaven Hills is an AVA (American Viticultural Area), located southeast of Yakima Valley, southwest of Red Mountain and stretches to the Oregon border. 570,000 acres (6000 used for grapes-growing) of gorgeous land located east of the Cascade Mountains at a 14,000 ft. elevation. Why is this terroir perfect for grape growing? Because its southern exposure allows the grapes to get a lot of sunlight, making for very intensely-flavored grapes. And it is this intense flavor that shines in the H3 Cabernet Sauvignon.

It is a jammy, earthy animal! Huge, bursting cherry fruit, firm tannins and chocolate-y, smooth finish! My mouth is watering just thinking about this wine! Your pocketbook will thank you too! At $15.00 a bottle, I don’t foresee many bottles of this wine sticking around for very long! In fact, at the tasting I was at, they disappeared faster than you can say “H3”!!! I was lucky to get a bottle but I did take one home. Lucky me!

The 2007 vintage is relatively new so I’m expecting to read great things about it going forward. At least I hope so. It is a really nice buy. When I visit Washington in the Summer of 2010, I hope I can experience a bit of Horse Heaven for myself! I am looking forward to it!

A Christmas Wish

Greetings to all! This will be a more unusual post, not so much about wine, but about hope and support and thanks to everyone who has been reading and supporting my blog since its inception four months ago. I want to thank you all. It all began in 2008 when I joined the Facebook application "Wine Beagles". 800+ wine reviews, an appearance on "Wine Biz Radio" and a lot of reciprocated blog entries later, I feel I am finally making a difference. What began as a hobby just keeps getting better and I have all of you to thank for that!

The next year will bring many more great things as I venture into new territory, blogging about Oregon and Washington wines as well as my familiar California territory and who knows--maybe France, Spain, Italy. The possibilities are endless! I hope to keep all of you entertained with my endless tales of wine-soaked adventures and am looking forward to my first trip to Washington wine country! And another visit to Napa and Sonoma! Look out, here I come!

Most of all, I wish all my readers and supporters a very Merry Christmas and hope that the new year brings many many good tidings to you (and a lot of good wines as well!). Thanks again for your friendship and support! I will continue to support you also! Cheers and be safe!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cellarmistress Tastes Live--From Paso Robles

Yes! Once again I am "Tasting Live", this time from Paso Robles, California. Fresh off the event, which took place last night live on Twitter, I along with seven other wine bloggers had the opportunity to sample five Syrahs (three from the Paso Robles area and two from the Rhône region of France) courtesy of our sponsors, @tastelive and the Hospice du Rhône (@HdR2010). As those of you who follow me know, I am a novice to Syrah, so when this opportunity came up, I jumped fast! I learned Syrahs can range from "Rich fruit bombs to funky, barnyard-like and earthy!"

Founded in 1991, the Hospice Du Rhône is a non-profit business league dedicated to representing and embodying the spirit of Rhône varieties and the producers of these wines. They are based in Paso Robles, California and hold an annual event to celebrate! I was excited to learn that there are twenty-two (count 'em) Rhône varieties, including many I've never heard of. Today we will discuss one of the many: Syrah--a highly colored, aromatic varietal with firm structure and the Syrahs I sampled last night run the gamut when it comes to different flavors. In this segment, I will discuss the three California Syrahs tasted. (Stay tuned for a possible future segment on the French Syrahs we sampled.)

The first of the three was the 2007 Tercero Larner Vineyard Syrah from the Santa Ynez Valley, (just north of Santa Barbara-Ballard Canyon in Los Olivos). Winemaker Larry Schaffer was on hand to answer any questions we may have had. I asked him the significance of the winery name and he mentioned it meant "3". There were a lot of threes in his life, therefore he chose an appropriate name. The Syrah was meaty! It had a terrific, nose and a huge midpalate--very juicy, bursting with berries--- jammy and very spicy and just a little funk. I would've liked a slightly longer finish and this is possibly because of how young it was. Bottled recently, it didn't have enough bottle time to evolve. I would love to try it again in a year or so, meaning it's great to drink now but save a few bottles. It does come with a screwcap instead of a cork but I don't find that a deterrant. I think this wine will age beautifully for many years to come. Definitely worth seeking out. This wine is available on their website for $28.00. Please take the time to seek out this beauty!

The next wine was the 2006 Ortman Family Vineyards Syrah Paso Robles. I was stopped dead in my tracks with this one. My friend Jennifer (and she will kill me for saying this!) has coined a new phrase for this wine: "Oh Oh Oh Ortman!!" Be proud of this wine, Matt! We're so excited and we just can't hide it! This wine was unbelievable! Under $25! Smooth and velvety, it was classy, beautiful, and elegant. Nearly perfect from start to finish. Dark fruits and violets. Long, lingering finish. By the time I was ready to ask questions, the system was moving a bit slow so I just kept enjoying it! Hailing from Brave Oak Vineyard in the Paso Robles-area, the vineyard yields small, but intensely flavored grapes and it shows! One taste of this wine and you will be hooked! I will be screaming, "I want my Ortman Syrah" for many moons to come! Please contact for this wine. It is not available on their online store, but you can purchase their previous ('05) vintage for $22.

The third wine we sampled was the 2006 JC Cellars Syrah Haley's Reserve Rockpile Vineyard from the Rockpile appellation. The Rockpile Appellation is actually not anywhere near Paso Robles, but in northern California in Sonoma County north of Healdsburg-- known for big yielding, high alcohol rugged Zinfandels. This Syrah is high alcohol-15.5%. It has the elegance of a velvety Syrah but is a bit rough and rugged. Very meaty and earthy. Lots of blackberry and bramble. Absolutely huge. It recently received huge accolades from the Wine Spectator clocking in at a noteworthy 95 points (from James Laube). Concentrated, layered and lovely. Jeff Cohn, the winemaker, spent several years at Rosenblum Cellars before venturing out on his own. Anyone who enjoys Rosenblum's big fruit-bomb wines will find some memories in this wonderful Syrah! $60.00 at 351 cases made.

After these three came the French wines from the Rhône region. But I'm saving that for another time. (Awwwww!) Sorry folks, but please go out and discover these for yourself. For me, it's been more of an education--an enjoyable one! Thanks to Craig Drollett and TasteLive, Hospice du Rhône, Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines, Matt Ortman of Ortman Family Vineyards and Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars for being great hosts! I look forward to future tastings and possibly future visits to Paso Robles!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chardonnay For A New Generation

Sometimes when you least expect it, you're blessed with something fun and unexpected. I have a friend named Cindy Cosco. Though I have never met her personally, she's been a great friend online. She is living the dream! And the dream is coming true. I will admit, we wine bloggers would probably love nothing more than to create and bottle our own wines someday. It's harder than it seems. You have to know when to leave your past life and start your new one. You have to labor and toil and work hard! Cindy did just that.

For years, Cindy worked in law enforcement on the east coast. She grew up in an Italian family who had a passion for wine. They instilled this in her. After realizing that wine was her true calling, she finally made the move to the west coast and hasn't looked back. She began her wine industry career as a harvest intern at Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma County, eventually staying on full-time in their lab. After a few years, she made the move to Crushpad, the world-famous custom crush facility in San Francisco, where she currently works as a lab manager and also creats her own wine there, the Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay. The recently-released second vintage(2008) is made from grapes sourced from Lodi, California. I received a sample from her recently and was thrilled to try it!

The 2008 Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay is dubbed "New Generation Chardonnay." I think any generation would love it! I certainly did and I'm no spring chicken! The bottle, which sells for $13.00, is a steal! It is light but certainly not without a medium-bodied mouthfeel at the midpalate. Loaded with lush tropical flavors and stone fruits (I got a lot of peach and apricot). The finish is crisp and clean, making it a nice wine to pair up with poultry and seafood dishes as well as light pasta dishes and salads. Very enjoyable. This wine can be purchased through her website: Cindy also has a great blogsite which is on the bloglist to the right of this page. Please check it out!

I wish Cindy the best of luck in her future ventures and am hoping to see more of her talent shine. She's definitely a role model for a future generation of budding winemakers. Some day, I hope to visit Crushpad and meet her in person!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

All Hail To The Raven!

Whenever I am in Sonoma County, one of my favorite places to visit is Ravenswood Winery. Located in the town of Sonoma, this winery is one of the first California wineries I ever visited and I keep going back for more! I've been there three times now. One of the reasons I enjoy visiting so much is because of the vast amount of different wines they make, including an enormous selection of Zinfandels. And we all know how I feel about Zinfandel!

I believe this winery truly has so much to offer. Founded in 1976, by winemaker Joel Peterson, it began as a small winery and eventually became a world renowned brand! You can pretty much go anywhere and see several of their wines sitting on the shelves! Now I have not met Joel personally (but hope to someday) but the staff at the winery is well-educated and enthusiastic. In fact, I enjoyed my last visit there so much, I visited again a few days later! Guess I couldn't get enough! I have sat on their "patio" with the umbrella covered tables and enjoyed the view, toured their nearby vineyards and even done their famous "blending lab", where you blend your own Zin and and are given a small bottle of your blend to take with! That makes for a decadent afternoon! Afterwards we got to barrel taste! Even better. We definitely needed some help leaving the place. We were just having way too much fun!

As stated before, they make a lot of wines and their wines come in different tier selections. There are the "Vintner's Blend" wines, which are what I call their entry-level wines. Easy drinking, everyday wines at a reasonable price. Usually around $10 at your local shops. I've sampled several of those (sent to me by a local distributor) and I found them to be a great value. So far I have tried the Zinfandel, Merlot and Shiraz. They also make a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Petite Sirah as well as a Chardonnay. The next tier is the "County Series", which are Zinfandels made from Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Lodi fruit. Very nice and sell for just under $20 a bottle. These are also easy to find. The tier I am going to discuss today is the "Vineyard Designate" tier. The winery carries a lot of these and I have managed to find a few at some of the wine shops.

Several months ago, I received a couple "Vineyard Designates" from Sam Folsom & Associates, a public relations firm based in San Francisco. I had actually not tried these two yet, which was remarkable considering how many wines Ravenswood offers on their tasting menu. Both Zinfandels were like night and day. The first one was the 2006 Barricia Vineyard Zinfandel. Barricia Vineyard is located in the Sonoma Valley. This was an elegant and smooth Zinfandel. Very luscious blackberry and an almost blueberry flavor with a lot of spicy undertones. I coined the word "pretty" to describe it. It was very delicate. The second one was the 2006 Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel. Teldeschi Vineyard is located up in northern Sonoma County near the town of Healdsburg. It is the prototypical Dry Creek Zinfandel--a lot more rugged, brambly, jammy and in your face! Huge blackberry flavor, spice and some earthiness. A very big Zin! Both Zinfandels sell for $36.00 each.

I can't wait to go back and visit them again. A couple of my friends joined their monthly wine club and have amassed a huge lot of their wines--verticals and all. I'm going to have to raid their wine cellar one of these days! Hint-hint! All in all Ravenswood is a fun winery, producer of some great wines and a great place to start your wine education, blend your own wine or spend a couple nice hours sipping on their patio. Their philosophy is "No Wimpy Wines" so I leave you with this thought...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Little Taste Of Dry Creek In Iowa

On the final day of WBC09 last July, we were treated to a picnic lunch at Dry Creek Vineyard, a winery in the northern Sonoma County town of Healdsburg. It seemed like a magical place and though it wouldn't be until after I arrived home that I learned of the history of this winery, I was happy to have visited and looked forward to the day when I could go back and re-visit. The short amount of time we spent there just wasn't enough to satisfy my appetite for such a beautiful place!

About a month ago, I learned that the President of Dry Creek Vineyard, Don Wallace, would be making a promotional trip here to our fair city of Des Moines. I was excited to meet him and to discuss the wines and the winery at length. So on that Thursday evening, I headed to Hy-Vee, a local grocery store, to meet the man in person. There was a tasting of Dry Creek Vineyard wines, free and open to the public.

Don was very personable and kind enough to give me the background on the winery and how it came to be. Dry Creek Vineyard had been the dream of his father-in-law, David Stare. David, who was MIT-educated and worked for the railroad in New England, had fallen in love with the wines of the Loire Valley in France. Eventually, he moved his family to Sonoma County after realizing he wanted to become a winemaker. Once in California, he started from scratch, going to school and learning the ropes of winemaking. Finally, in 1972, he broke ground for what would become his winery and his passion. The family also has a passion for sailing which is reflected in the beauiful labels that adorn their wine bottles.

The wines speak for themselves and the winery produces many of them. I got to taste quite a few, my favorites highlighted below:

2008 Dry Chenin Blanc--I consider this wine a sort of flagship for their white varietals. Chenin Blanc is a varietal best known in the Loire Valley of France. Dry Creek Vineyard are one of the only wineries that produce a dry Chenin Blanc in California. It had a crisp apple flavor, very clean, very easy on the palate. The grapes for this wine are sourced up in Clarksburg. $12.00.

2008 Sauvignon Blanc---This is one that I got to sample at the winery as well as here and I truly enjoyed every drop of it. It's classic California Sauvignon Blanc with some wonderful citrus and grassy notes. Crisp and refreshing! $16.00.

2005 Dry Creek Merlot--Juicy and rich with ripe berries, cassis, vanilla and chocolate. It drank like a Cabernet Sauvignon at a fraction of the price. $19.00.

2005 Mariner---This is a classic Bordeaux-blend, beautifully layered, solid structure, nice firm tannins. You could lay this down for awhile but why wait!

2004 Late Harvest Zinfandel--Before sampling this, I'd never tried a late harvest Zinfandel before. It was really smooth and richly sweet with ripe blackberries. Perfect little wine to go with my chocolate dessert. $30.00.

The winery produces an array of other wines including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and several Zinfandels--some of which are single vineyard. Their wines are distributed nationwide as well as being available in their winery tasting room and on their website at Don's wife and the company vice-president, Kim Stare Wallace, has a blog called "Wilma's Wine World." Please check out her blog at the link on my blog list to the right.

I purchased a bottle of the Chenin Blanc, autographed by Don. All in all, I feel I can make a great solid choice with their wines and am very pleased. I look forward to visiting again and came away with an invitation to tour their property when I re-visit. I want to thank Don and Kim for their great hospitality and hope to see you again next year!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving And The Meaning Of Friendship

When I was a little girl, I had an Italian Mom who stayed at home everyday and took care of our family. One day, after we had made the move from Italy to Iowa, our mailman knocked on the door. In his hand was a letter from Italy. He usually didn't make it a point to interact with customers, however, being Italian himself, holding the letter had piqued his curiosity. That was 36 yrs ago...My Mom is no longer with us. (Some of you may have seen her on my Crushpad "Fusebox" label.) My Dad, sister and I celebrated our 36th Thanksgiving yesterday with that same mailman and his family. They have been our dear friends and have welcomed us like family each and every year.

Holidays are all about spending good times with family and friends. This year, I chose to bring the wines to the table. In doing so, I carefully picked two wines created by a new friend of mine, Eric Luse. I met Eric on the first day of the North American Wine Blogger's Conference in Santa Rosa last July. He happened to be the winemaker sitting at our table at the dinner. His winery is Eric Ross Winery, located in the Sonoma Valley town of Glen Ellen. He was kind enough to help me search for my camera when it accidentally got misplaced. And that would make sense because one of his great loves other than winemaking is photography. (I am a terrible photographer so I hope he forgives me for the photos!) He also has Iowa roots, something I'm finding a lot out in California. It's a small world and we've been friends ever since that day... When I expressed interest in discussing some of his wines, he was kind enough to send samples.

The white wine I chose to compliment our meal was the 2008 Marsanne Roussanne Saralee's Vineyard. It is a new release at the tasting room and online site. Though very young, it opened up beautifully as the meal progressed. Very elegant, stone fruit flavor with creamy undertones. It was a big hit as most at our table had never tried a Marsanne Roussanne before. This one would be equally good by itself as a nice warm weather sipper. It has a lot of finesse. $28.00

The red wine was perfect! I couldn't have done it better! The 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Ivywood Vineyard. Wow! Light in color, light bodied, but with so much explosive cherry pomegranate flavor and a lot of spice. It paired perfectly with the turkey, prime rib, stuffing, peas and onions, green bean casserole and the risotto we had! (Thanks Mary--you are such a wonderful cook!) It disappeared quickly and someone asked if there was another bottle. I would buy this one over and over. It was grand. $40.00.

Eric Ross Wines are available online at They distribute throughout the United States so you may be able to find them locally in restaurants or wine shops in your area. If you're in Sonoma Valley, please stop by their tasting room at 14300 Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen. Now that the holiday is over, I've had the chance to reflect on yesterday. I am thankful for my family and all my friends, new and old. I am also thankful that I have finally found my true passion and that is my passion for wine and bringing stories like this one to the public. Thank you, Eric, for your friendship and for sharing your wines and being a part of our Thanksgiving! I will be bringing my friends over for a visit in the Spring!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Surprise Find In Lodi Wine Country

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Hoffman, winemaker and owner of Heritage Oak Winery, located in Acampo, California. Tom's family has been farming and making Zinfandel for generations in the Lodi, California area. (Yes, I know--you're probably wondering if we are related because our last names are the same. Well, not that I know of but I'd be proud to be related to him!) We met on Facebook, of all places, after he read my Halloween wine blog and sent me a message. I have to hand it to Facebook--it has helped me forge a lot of new friendships and open doors. I've had the opportunity to meet amazing people like Tom and sample nice, rare wines I wouldn't have known about otherwise. Tom sent me samples of some of his Zinfandels and after sampling just two of them, I believe he is one of California's Best Kept Secrets!

I'm such a Zin fanatic and it never ceases to amaze me how many great Zins there are out there and I am discovering some of them from areas other than Sonoma County. Located east of San Francisco near the Sacramento River delta, the Lodi appellation's sandy soils and Mediterranean climate makes for the perfect combination needed for excellent Zinfandel production. In fact, it is famous for it! From this area come handcrafted, small production wines such as the ones that Tom Hoffman makes.

Tom was a school teacher in South America when he chose to come back to the U.S. and continue his family's work. After years of hard work and self-teaching, he is at home doing what he does best-- making handcrafted wines. He is a jack of all trades--overseeing the vineyards and wine production. He and his wife Carmela have passed on their love of winemaking to their two sons, making it a family affair.

I had an intimate dinner party a week or so ago and invited my sister and a friend to sample a couple of Tom's Zins with me. For this occasion, I chose the 2007 Estate Grown Zinfandel and the 2007 Block 14 Zinfandel. The label on each bottle is simple, textured and really beautiful. Both wines were exceptional and well-balanced but the complete opposite of each other was far as taste went.

2007 Estate Grown Zinfandel--100% Zinfandel. Upon uncorking it, the aroma was amazing! I could not get past the wonderful vanilla oak aroma and we were all swooning. The wine proved to be just as rich and beautiful. Unlike other big Zins I've tried, this one was light to medium bodied, light in color for a Zinfandel but velvety rich-- brimming with bright fruit, and a spicy caramel cinnamon undertone that made it irresistible! If this isn't Tom's flagship wine, it should be! It left us begging for seconds! $18.00

2007 Block 14 Zinfandel---Much darker in color, it was also medium-bodied and was redolent of concentrated blackberries. Very spicy but elegant. I could feel that familiar "Zinfandel Burn" as I sampled it and it was very satisfying and delicious.$20.00.

Such wonderful flavor profiles and slightly lower alcohol content make these Zins completely enjoyable alone or with food. Definitely a winning combination! And I am not through as Tom makes five distinct Zinfandels and I will be trying and reporting on more very soon. Heritage Oak wines are available in their Acampo tasting room or online. The winery has a website at Please take the time to discover them for yourselves. They are truly a find!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cellarmistress Tastes Live---From New Zealand!

No. I didn't actually go to New Zealand but I am forever honored to have tasted four very different and well-received wines that will forever stick in my mind! In October, I was given the opportunity to do TasteLive once again--this time from New Zealand. There were two tastings--Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. I chose to do the Sauvignon Blanc tasting as I live in the Midwest and it was earlier in the evening. The later tasting was for the west coast. I love surprises! Once everything was finalized, I received a box of samples via DHL Global from Nautilus Estate in New Zealand and one wine to complete the collection of four from Bin Ends Wine, here in the US.

Myself and my fellow blogger, David Honig (New York wine blogger and founder of Palatepress--The Online Wine Magazine) were the two wine bloggers to do this Sauvignon Blanc tasting. Originally, we were told our Tweets (on Twitter) would be seen by people attending the Marlborough Wine Weekend in New Zealand. But a slight snafu (due to that pesky German hash tag) caused us to be pretty much be tasting by our lonesomes... I don't think they were happy the next day. They didn't see our Tweets! (Note to all involved--I certainly hope this didn't hurt our chances of doing this again. It was an amazing experience. We just need to work out the bugs, which I believe we are doing...) There was a lot of "Hellooooo! Are you there?" going on. It certainly was a crazy night, but I'm glad I did it because after the fact, I looked at my notes and realized why these wines were chosen---they were all unique and different. (That would be the supertaster in me saying that!)

As I write this, staring at my notes, I am hypothetically tasting them again and I am not sure I am tasting them in order, but who cares--let's just taste them...

2007 Lawson's Dry Hills 2007 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc--Ah, the Lawson's Dry Hills--I say this as I stare at an old cork with their name on it. However, they haven't done cork for a very long time. Ten years ago when I first began my wine tasting journey, this was the first Sauvignon Blanc I ever fell in love with. For as long as I can remember, this Sauvignon Blanc always stood out in my mind as the prototype I would know and love for the next several years. That grassy, gooseberry flavor. They've never really steered away from that formula. And theirs was the first wine I ever saw that had a screwcap as opposed to cork. It seems to work. (All the bottles I received had screwcaps.) They have stuck to their tried and true formula. The wine was pleasant, easy to drink, delicious, full of gooseberry and grass and I truly enjoyed it! (I really wanted some sushi but didn't have time to stop and get any!)

The 2007 Nautilus Estate Sauvignon Blanc was a bit different than the other. More on the herbaceous side. It has a pleasant nose and a lot of green pepper and grapefruit flavor. Very spicy and crisp finish. Zing! I totally wanted sushi with it at that point. It would really pair well with other fish dishes or even Asian foods. Spicy foods? Not a problem. Perfect! This wine, made by winemaker Clive Jones, has won many awards over the years. Kudos to Clive for all his hard work and it shows! Really a nice find!

Holy mango! Can you say tropical? The next wine was the 2007 Highfield Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The mango flavor was incredible--passionfruit, mango, wow! There still was a bit of the herbaceous, green pepper thing going on the end but the mango was big enough to overpower it to the end. Believe me, any hint of green pepper gets forgotten. Very nice. I dream of a day I can have this wine in my cellar full-time! Loved it!

2007 Seresin Marama. This is the Sauvignon Blanc like no other I've ever experienced. It says it goes through partial malolactic fermentation. Holy buckets! It's a Sauvignon Blanc impersonating a Roussanne impersonating a Chardonnay. Every moment of this wine was encompassed by richness, medium-full mouthfeel, tropical center, creamy caramel came next with a crispy finish. It's like trying three different wines in one shot! Fantastic!! And amazing... Motherlode! I've been waiting ten years for something like this. It's a real escape!

If you visit the wineries and their respective websites, you can find out if they distribute in your area. These are all worth tasting.

I want to thank all the people that made this possible for me: Taste Live, Craig Drollett, Wines Of Marlborough, Seresin Estate, Nautilus Estate and all the New Zealand wineries that follow me on Twitter and Facebook. This tasting has definitely inspired me to sample more Sauvignon Blancs! I'm looking forward to sampling more of your wines in the future!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

You Little Devil!

I miss Merlot! In my opinion, people are crazy to not be drinking it nowadays. Everytime I visit a wine store, I am amazed at how small the Merlot section is. All because of a little movie and a sentence people will never forget (You know what it is. I don't have to say it!). Well, here's your wake-up call! It's coming back whether you like it or not and there is no better person to help re-introduce it to a skittish public than the over-the-top, crazy, edgy persona of winemaker Charles Smith.....Huh? Many of you have probably never heard of Charles Smith. That's ok because after you read this, you will want to know everything about him... His cool exterior makes you want to dig a little further.

Just take a look at him...He's not a winemaker! I can just hear it now...Ah, but he IS--an inventive, gutsy, larger than life winemaker whose keeps churning out idea after successful idea . Around wine his entire life, he began making small lots of my former nemesis, Syrah. After managing rock bands in Scandinavia for eleven years, he landed in Walla Walla, Washington and started his own wine companies, K Vintners, The Magnificent Wine Company and his newest project, Charles Smith Wines. His wines are IN YOUR FACE, drink now wines! This year, he was named 2009 American Winemaker Of The Year by Food And Wine Magazine. Not bad for someone who started nine years ago! After all his multiple successes, this motorcycle riding madman has people, including myself, praying at the altar of his wines.

I happened to be at a tasting the other night when I spotted a huge display of 2007 Velvet Devil Merlot. With it's simple but flashy label (see above), it grabbed my attention immediately. I was swooning as I sampled it. Soft, supple and velvety, it personifies everything I love in a Merlot--sexy, voluptuous, brimming with plums, cherries, cocoa. It's ready for you--NOW! Stainless steel fermented, aged in French Oak with fruit from Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills and Yakima Valley. This is the real deal! A Washington bargain. I cannot wait to drink it again. I purchased several... Average price $12-15 a bottle. You'll find this in wine shops and markets. Check out his latest website: (Note: The 2007 Velvet Devil Merlot is sold out on the website. They have the 2008 available.)

I've never visited Washington and will hopefully be attending the 2010 North American Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC#10) in Walla Walla next June. I sincerely hope Charles makes his presence known there. We want more Charles!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Fusebox" Addendum

The Crushpad "Fusebox" Blend-Off Contest is officially over and on Monday, November 9th, they chose the winners for the label and the blend. Unfortunately, I was not in the winner's circle. But I felt I made a terrific but "safe" blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit verdot and 3% Merlot. On the other hand, my label (for those of you who haven't seen it), was a beautiful homage to my Mom, Elena. She passed away on February 16, 2008 and was never able to see all the great things I have accomplished since then, regarding my blogging and my interest in wine. She was my biggest supporter and always wanted the best for me. Her spirit will live on in the label I created and someday I will put it on a bottle of wine I will create on my own. I can't wait for that day to happen! Just looking at her smile in the photo encourages me to be the the best I can be!

Crushpad gave me this wonderful opportunity to learn and create and I want to thank them. I plan to take this experience with me as I forge forward through the future and the wonderful world of wine. Cheers!

Right On Middle Sister!

Awhile back I happened to be in a Target store when I spied some wines with really unusual labels. They were called "Middle Sister" and I became intrigued with their cute designs! Each varietal had an assigned female character, drawn out of fun and original artwork. Definitely caught my attention! Shortly thereafter, I was friended on Facebook by Rebel Red, one of the characters from this scenario. So I jumped at the chance to ask her if I could do a story on the brand. I felt they had a unique concept here and could use some more exposure. I had a ton of friends, male and female alike, who would love this idea! Lo and behold, I received a box of samples. I couldn't wait to play!

Middle Sister Wines is the brainchild of Terry Wheatley, a wine industry professional with over thirty years of experience including working her way up in such illustrious companies at E & J Gallo and Sutter Home. She started her own wine company, Canopy Management, with a goal to provide delicious and affordable wines along with personal stories from her life experiences. Label designer Susan Lombardi and "Middle Sister Muse" Erin Wassum (she is their muse because she truly is the "middle sister" inspiration) round out the trio of dynamic women, whose carefree and fun-loving attitudes are so infectious they bring out the sassy "middle sister" in all of us! They are genuine proof that anyone can take a great idea and turn it into a dream come true! It even inspired ME!

But what about the wines? What are they about? The wines are fun--the labels all have an assigned "Middle Sister" and a great name to go with it. Three whites and three reds--each with a story to tell. I took the whites with me to a small dinner party that included my younger sister and a couple of her friends. We enjoyed all the wines and they agreed that the wines were all a great value retailing for $10.99 each.

All six of the wines in this line are non-vintage, meaning all grapes used in each individual wine come from different years and therefore since the lots are mixed, they cannot have a vintage year listed on the label. Some people would be afraid to try a NV wine, but not me. It's about the quality and the taste. And all three of these fared well.

"Wicked White"---A white blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer is a fabulously tasty blend made of 100% California fruit--23% coming from Monterey. Melon, pear and lemony goodness---sure to please anyone at a party or for light patio sipping. Has won many wine competition awards.

"Drama Queen"--This is a Pinot Grigio-blend with some Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay blended in it. It was really nice, a bit more subdued than the "Wicked White" but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It had some nice pear flavor and good minerality.

"Smarty Pants"--Their Chardonnay, which is predominantly Chardonnay with some odd whites mixed in (varietals not mentioned) is very pear-like and unoaked. It was crisp and flowed clean with a slight spice on the end. Since I personally am very picky about my Chardonnay, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Although it reminded me more of a white blend than a Chardonnay.

After sampling all the whites, I took a break for a few days before delving into the reds. Middle Sister Wines makes three reds. None of them see oak. How can that be? You would be surprised at how enjoyable an unoaked red can be. You won't miss it!

The other night, I decided to test these reds on an unsuspecting public by bringing them to a pre-Thanksgiving "Turkey" party. I thought they would pair up well with all the foods that would be served. Let me just tell you, people went nuts! I'm lucky I got to sample any!

"Rebel Red"--I wanted to run off into a corner with this one all by myself! A bold blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah--all California fruit--42% from the Lodi appellation. Huge berry flavor, zingy with a peppery velvet finish. YUM! Another award winner!

"Forever Cool"--A Merlot/Malbec blend, this wine was fantastic and very easy on the palate with cool berry flavor and vanilla throughout. Really enjoyed it. So did everyone else as it disappeared quickly and people kept asking "Do you have any more of that Merlot???"

"Mischief Maker"--The Cabernet Sauvignon of the group with a plummy, spicy and herbaceous flavor. I didn't get to try much of this one as it disappeared almost as fast as the "Forever Cool". Definitely a hit!

From the moment you log onto their website, (or look for the Middle Sister icon on the right hand side of this blog), you will find fun, mischief and mayhem all over! Really nice website--very organized with a lot of information. Games, quizzes, facts, stories, a blog and many more surprises are in store. I recommend just having fun with these wines! What a great way to being friends and family together! (And no, you don't have to be a girl to love these wines! Guys will love them too!)The wines are available for order on the website or you can download a form to find out who distributes them near you. So go out and find the "Middle Sister" you've always wanted to be!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beauty And The Beast

The beauty of being a wine blogger is that every once in awhile, I stumble upon greatness--the chance to try something rare, something beautiful and share it with my public. My beautiful moment came several weeks ago when I received a set of samples from Sobon Wines. I wasn't familiar with them, but I was intrigued because another beautiful thing I love is the fact that there are so many undiscovered small family wineries on the west coast and my goal is to discover as many as possible and bring them to you!

Sobon Wines is a family-owned winery located in the Shenandoah Valley appellation of Amador County in Northern California. They have been a presence there for over thirty years. Most of their grapes are sourced in the area they are in, however, every once in a while they will source some excellent quality grapes from other appellations in California. Recently, they started a new label featuring the wines they produced from grapes that were outsourced. The label is called NOBOS (which obviously is Sobon spelled backwards).

The first sample I tried was the 2007 NOBOS Monterey Chardonnay. This wine has grapes sourced from Scheid Vineyards in Monterey. That may mean nothing to the average reader but please keep in mind that this vineyard produces some of the best Monterey wines out there. When I was first introduced to Chardonnay (a good ten years ago or so), the predominant style out there was big, buttery, a lot of vanilla and oak. As the years went on, the style of California Chardonnay went toward a different direction--back to the clean, lightly or unoaked, unpretentious and true to the grape flavor of Chardonnay. It took me awhile to get used to this new style but I eventually did. Fast forward to 2009--I still miss that big, fruity, buttery flavor sometimes. Guess what? The 2007 NOBOS Monterey Chardonnay brought that back for me but not in a huge, over the top way. It was fresh but full of tropical fruit and rich vanilla crème brulée. I enjoyed every moment of drinking it! Realizing how much I miss that style, I wanted more! Full, rich mouthfeel and tropical goodness with a finish that doesn't stop. At $20.00, this was more than a steal! I would run away with case loads of it if I could! I feel I am happier for discovering it!

And that, my friends, is the beast of it all. I can't just go to the store and buy it when I want. But I can order it online and have it shipped to me! Just go to and discover this winery for yourselves. It may just be the best thing you do today!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Best Of Show or "What Should I Drink On Turkey Day?"

Sometimes I consider myself fortunate. For as long as I have been into wine (10 years to be exact), I have had the great pleasure of attending some large, over the top, wine tastings. I'm talking anywhere from 80-150+ wines in one afternoon or evening. You'd think my palate would be fried! But really, this is how I "honed my chops" so to speak. These tastings enabled me to get where I am today, slowly but surely...

I attended one such tasting this past weekend and I wanted to do a blog based on this tasting while it was still fresh in my mind. I also thought a lot about what wine I could serve guests for Thanksgiving. It's November 4th already (Where did Summer run off to?) and let's face it---you must have a wine plan of attack by now or you might be toast. Here are some helpful hints to make it easy and less stressful for you. Plus if you cook a nice feast to go with these wines, you'll be good as gold! I will be test tasting more throughout the season and will report accordingly!

Dilemma #1: "I have a lot of friends who are new to wine or like sweet wines. Short of white Zin, I have no clue how to make them happy. Help!!!"

The answer is simple. Serve them a white that has some sweetness coming from the fruit and not so much from the sugar level. This will help them transition into the drier whites and maybe eventually even some reds!

Wine Of Choice: 2008 Peter Lehmann "Layers": An Aussie wine made with five grape varietals: Semillon, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, this wine is crisp and very flavorful, redolent of peaches and flowers and has 11.5% alcohol, making it very slightly sweet and will easily satisfy the palate of new and old wine drinkers alike! Priced at around $17. A very nice buy. Check your local wine shop to see if they have this.

Dilemma #2: "I want to serve Chardonnay at my Thanksgiving dinner, but I have no idea what to look for. I've given up on Chardonnay because most of them are too oaky to suit my taste and the good ones are always out of my price range."

No problem! Here's a nice recommendation that won't break your pocketbook: 2007 St. Supery Chardonnay Oak-Free. At around $24, this wine will not break the bank and promises a very nice, true to the grape flavor. Really nice tropical fruits, absolutely no wood or butter. Just pure Chardonnay at its finest. A breath of fresh air. One should be able to find this Chardonnay at most wine stores. If not, go to for more details.

Dilemma #3: I heard Rosé is really making a comeback. Does it have to be White Zinfandel? Aren't there others that are better? How can I find a fun Rosé wine to serve for the holidays?

Well here's your answer! 2008 Bitch Bubbly!!! First of all, the title is awesome, the wine is tasty (a Grenache/Shiraz blend that sparkles) and the bottle is the coolest! Not sweet, just fun! Watch out, Ladies! This one's for you! How much is it? $10. Yes--way!! Put some sass into your holiday with this pink gem! New to my area, but maybe not to yours. Check it out!

Dilemma #4: I keep reading that Pinot Noir is perfect for holiday meals! But ever since that dreaded movie came out (and we all know which movie that is!), I can't find a decent Pinot Noir for a price that won't make me go bankrupt! What gives? I welcome any ideas you have!

Well, I just happened to have stumbled upon a real find this past weekend. 2005 Bianchi Pinot Noir Garey Vineyard. At $28, this Central Coast find from Santa Maria, California will not be on the shelves for long! It bursts with all kinds of berries and has a velvety, spicy finish. Mmmm... Very nice! Perfect with turkey and all the accompaniments.

Dilemma #5: We've reached the dessert course and my guests want more! More wine! Is there something I can serve that will pair well with a plethora of desserts? Please advise...

This is where Cellarmistress decided to drink local. (And no, I don't live in California.) It is time for all my out of state readers to focus on my tiny little home state of Iowa and a winery we call Tassel Ridge. Located in Leighton, Iowa--an hour or so south of Des Moines, this winery combines the home grown grape varietals with grapes from California to produce some very interesting blends! I had the pleasure of sampling many of theirs this past weekend and one that really stood out was the Chocolate GranFinale. Luscious and decadent, this dessert wine pairs wonderfully with creamy, fruity or even chocolate desserts! It had a very nice chocolate and berry flavor. I have no idea what grape varietals they used but I really didn't want to think about it. I just wanted to drink it. $20.

I hope this list took some of the fear out of you! I plan on doing a few more installments as we get closer to the end of the year. Stay tuned for Christmas Wine Extravaganza and Winter Bubblyland! Cheers!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Final Blend

A couple posts ago, I mentioned I was invited to be part of Crushpad's First "Fusebox" Cabernet Blend-Off. After I agreed to do it, Crushpad sent me all the tools to create my blend and on October 21st, I decided to celebrate my birthday in style--I had a blending party with my three closest friends.

As you remember, we had trouble at the beginning of our session back in August. This blending session went without a hitch. We had one goal in mind--to make the best and winning blend! As a serious red wine drinker, I knew what I was going for. I took all of my expertise--the countless visits to Napa Valley wineries, the wine-related classes and tastings I'd attended and the countless books I'd read and poured it into my blending session. I wanted to make an elegant, classy blend that would appeal to the serious red wine drinker. We started with a basic blend, then tweaked it, fine tuned it and the end result was, in our opinion, everything we wanted it to be. But best of all, we had fun doing this. That's what it was about--having fun and sharing good wine with friends.

I left that night feeling confident that people would like my wine. And if not, so be it. Everyone's palate is different. Still, I had to design a label for my blend--something I felt would be very hard to do. I'm a writer not an artist. But I do have an eye for beautiful things and I needed to create a label that not only would attract attention but would depict the beauty of my blend. I feel like I have accomplished this. It only happened after it came to me in a dream. After that night, the answer was as clear as day! The best part about the label is the story that ties the wine in with it to make the complete package. Once you see it, you will completely understand... I hope you get to see it!

I have now accomplished my mission. The deadline is tomorrow morning. My blend and label have been e-mailed to Crushpad and I have already gotten some feedback and it is all positive! Now, I have to sit and wait for the next week until Monday, November 9th when they will announce the two winners: one for the label and one for the blend. If anyone was ever more enthusiastic about a project, it had to be me. I Tweeted and Facebooked the heck out of it! I wanted the world and my competitors to know what I was doing! A little healthy competition never hurt anyone...

I want to thank Crushpad and Linda Yee for this fantastic opportunity! I want to thank all my supporters out there--please keep rooting for me! You keep me inspired! And, last but not least, I want to wish my nine competitors the best of luck once again! Hope to see you in the Winner's Circle!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or "Treat"???

It's Halloween eve and I am not going out tonight. The bunny costume has been officially retired. And let's face it, my head hurts and my palate is shot from tasting 120+ wines last night. I just don't want to take wine seriously at all today! OK, although I may be hurting, I am not a party pooper! I've decided to make the most of this evening at home by celebrating with a little "Treat"...

Halloween happens to be my favorite holiday. So as I was out and about this afternoon, I brainstormed my way into World Market and lo and behold, I spied a bottle of "Treat"---a Halloween-inspired wine. It was $5.59 and at that price, I had to take one home because this was one wine I could maybe stir up a little mayhem with! "Oh no--what is she up to now?" you ask! Heh-heh-heh!

I just love a mystery...When I brought this "Treat" home, the first thing I did was get on my laptop and try to find out some information on it. Right--how about NO information at all! The only thing I had to go on was the alcohol content--12.2%. It was going to be a somewhat sweet Halloween treat, right? Maybe. How about other information on the label--it said 2008 California White Table Wine. That could be anything! Cellared and bottled by Treat Cellars, Healdsburg, CA. Hmmm... A digital brand. I'd love to know where they really made this wine. I was doomed to guess which varietals were in it, too! Sheesh...

As I uncorked the bottle (yes, they sprung for "real" cork, not synthetic...), I read the cute poem on the front label--"Trick or Treat, Kiss my feet, Give me something good to drink". The words were printed behind this evil-looking cartoon cat with a Cheshire grin made of candy corn... (Mmmm...Candy Corn!) I decided to take a whiff of his poison and the first thing I smelled was Gewürztraminer, maybe Viognier--couldn't tell... It was all fruit-forward, more fruity than sweet. But then it hit the middle and disappeared. There was a bitter thing going on the back end. The result of bad blending, perhaps? Or maybe it's the use of what I call "filler white varietals" such as French Colombard. A cruel "trick" I say! OK, I guess I asked for it. "What do you expect for $5???" said my Dad this afternoon. This coming from someone who doesn't even drink wine...

So, here's the good part---after today this wine will literally disappear... Only to hideously reincarnate itself during the next holiday. Maybe they'll call it "Turkey Tango" or better yet, can you say "Box O' Grapes???" HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYBODY!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Legacy From the Dry Creek Valley

As everyone probably knows by now, I am fond of Zinfandel. Rich and majestic, spicy and decadent. I can't get enough of the stuff. One day, I received a message from a Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma) winemaker, Glenn Proctor. "Have you ever tried my Zinfandel?" he asked. To which I replied, "No." He sent me a couple samples and my life has not been the same since. Not only was I wowed by his wine but the story behind it is amazing...

Glenn Proctor wears many hats. He is a family man--father of two, husband, winemaker and owner Puccioni Ranch, which was started by his great-grandfather, Angelo Puccioni, an Italian immigrant who planted the first Zinfandel vines on the property in 1904. The two-hundred acre property is tucked away in a forested area of Dry Creek Valley and has been in the family for four generations. He is also a partner with Joseph W. Ciatti Company, a bulk wine and grape brokerage. All of this stems from a colorful history, which includes a master's degree in horticulture from U.C. Davis, a stint as director at Benziger Winery in Glen Ellen and Vice-President of Winegrowing for Diageo. Glenn has accomplished a lot in such a short time. His latest project, winemaker and general manager of Puccioni Vineyards is his labor of love.

Puccioni Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel is made from the old vines on his property and fifty year-old vines from a cousin's property. It is a handcrafted, very small production (260 cases) wine and is not to be missed by anyone. Exemplifying everything I love and look for in a Zinfandel, it contains rich layers of blackberry jam, spice, cedar and coffee combined with a long, lingering finish. The 2006 vintage, released in February of this year, is exceptional and such a great value at $28 a bottle. (He also makes a very limited amount of Petite Sirah--50 cases.) The bottle's label displays a mule named Prince, the last of the mules the family used to help in farming the land. In fact, Glenn's family was the last Sonoma County family to use mules for such practice. The mules have immortalized in the name of the Puccioni Vineyards wine club--Puccioni Mules. Glenn was taught by family how to use the mule and plow at the tender age of four. What an awesome story! I'm sure Glenn is very proud. I am looking forward to shaking his hand some day and seeing the property myself firsthand when I visit Healdsburg again next year.

The 2006 Puccioni Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel is not distributed but can be purchased directly at I highly recommend everyone get to know this wine. It is such a wonderful and rare find and definitely worth seeking out...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Crushpad's First "Fusebox" Cabernet Blend-Off

Yes, I am back so quickly because I have a grand announcement! This past Friday, I was invited to participate in the first-ever "Fusebox" Cabernet Blend-Off sponsored by Crushpad. For those of you not familiar with Crushpad, it is a custom crush facility in San Francisco. If you are a person with a desire to become a winemaker but are just starting out, this would be a great place to start. They can do it all for you or you can assist and do as much as you would like to do, while getting a wonderful learning experience in the process.

Recently, they introduced a "blending kit" available for purchase so you can blend and play at home. The "Fusebox" is a kit containing all of the wine components needed to possibly make a grand blend of Cabernet Sauvignon. As you recall, I had a blending party with friends recently, using the same kit, while attempting to dodge all kinds of errors and faux pas, but ultimately taking too long in the beginning steps. We blended and could not decide on a blend of our own so we chose one of the recipe card blends. A total default. Not what we really wanted to do and therefore we gave up at that stage and did not go any further than that. End of story...Until now.

This time it will be different. My kit, courtesy of Crushpad, arrived today! I'm up against ten fellow bloggers (some I know, some I don't) and there is some nice swag at stake--like a free case of my own blend and total bragging rights! There is also the possibility of eventually marketing my blend. Ooh--lightbulb!! This is serious stuff and I am scrapping my last experience and starting over. Out with the old, in with the new! I'm designing my blend and designing my label and hoping for the best all while having a great experience with friends who believe in my goal! I am excited and pumped and rearin' to go!

So let the games begin, let the fun begin and let the blending begin. I just want to say "Good Luck" to all my competitors. May the best blend and label win. And whatever happens--be proud of your accomplishment and have a great time!

WBW #62: Is it Syrah or Shiraz???

Call me crazy but here I am discussing that once-taboo subject again: Syrah. Yes, folks, once again it is Wine Blog Wednesday and this month's assignment was to find a grape that had more than one name. Looking around my house and perusing my wine racks, I had no choice but to do this again as nothing else would qualify! So last Sunday, I made my way over to sister's house for her beef stew and accompanying me would be a rich, meaty Syrah...2005 Miraflores El Dorado Syrah.

Miraflores Winery is located in Placerville, California near the Sierra Foothills. I have this mental picture of people living the good life out in the middle of this beautiful area of the country near Lake Tahoe, where it snows and one could get away for the weekend and stay in a log cabin with a huge fireplace. Not sure if I'm correct but I like what I'm thinking about. This Syrah is very typical of the big, hearty reds I've previously sampled from this area.

On the first day of my adventures at WBC09, I met Cheryl Alvarez. (She is one of the winery's owners.) She sat next to me during the live blogging session and we had the chance to chat and get to know one another.We had something cool in common as she is originally from Iowa. She asked me for my contact information and when I got back to Iowa, a nice box arrived with two bottles for me to sample--the 2005 El Dorado Syrah and the 2005 El Dorado Zinfandel. The Syrah is chock full of dark fruits--currants, dark plums and blackberries. There's a smoky, almost chocolate-like component to it. There was also a slight gamey component--possibly terroir-related as I've also sampled a Barbera from that area and found it to be somewhat gamey. Overall, it was rich and hearty and had a very long finish. I almost wanted to sigh when it done! Definitely a food wine. This wine has been written about in other wine publications and given very nice scores. I have to say this Syrah is the closest American-made Syrah that I've tasted and likened to an Australian Shiraz as far as weight and heartiness are concerned.

They have a really nice website full of information and I would recommend visiting as they host events on a regular basis. Please go to for further information. There you have it--I'm starting to try more Syrah and liking it! Who knows what will be next???