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???

Monday, October 12, 2009


I've been in a bubbly mood for awhile now. Scratch that! I've been in a mood for bubbly for awhile now. Since my palate went out of the country on vacation recently, I decided to ask it where it wanted to go next... France? Well, that's a thought but while it would be a nice gesture, you don't always have to go to Champagne to get decent bubbly. How about Spain? Really? Um, ok...How about that! Could I really go to Spain to experience this? It brought back an evil flashback from awhile ago. I posted an update on Facebook once: "Looking for some GOOD Spanish Cava." Someone replied, "Is there such a thing?" I'm proving that person wrong tonight because, yes, there is such a thing. I think I finally found it...

NV Gran Sarao Brut Cava...This is a classic Cava originating from a vineyard in Barcelona and contains the classic Cava grape varietals--Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada but it has an interesting twist--10% Chardonnay. That Chardonnay adds to the flavor, making it a bit more complex yet leaving it clean and pretty and everything a light, sparkling wine should be. Just smell it! You'll be addicted! Inhale the aroma of fresh bread dough. It's yeasty. The mid-palate brings ripe apple and apricot flavor and the finish is crisp but lingers..and it stays on your mind, too....Mmmm....12-15 months of bottle aging. Fantastic. You won't forget it!

Guess what! It's not going to break your pocket book either--anywhere from $10-13 depending on where you buy it. I got mine at Cost Plus/World Market. What a nice deal! So get your party on! Every day is a reason to go out and get this wine! Make it a bubbly day everybody!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Savoring My Sassy Sauvignon Blanc

I cannot believe it's been over two months since I visited California and attended the 2008 North American Wine Blogger's Conference. I was high as a kite from the sheer pleasure of being in wine country and sampling all those wonderful wines! And as you will recall in my August blog posts regarding the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my social media contacts, Lisa Broman-Augustine and completely by accident at that! I happened to get on the correct bus that took me to Gargiulo Vineyards that evening for dinner and she happened to be there representing Broman Cellars with a couple of their wines. She greeted me with a big, warm hug. She couldn't have been a friendlier, nicer person and we enjoyed some great conversation at dinner. One of the wines served that evening was the 2008 Broman Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. I just remember being in a whirlwind haze of giddiness, enjoying the serene, beautiful surroundings, and that wine--well it really stood out! I knew I would not find anything as nice at home. When I got back home, I couldn't stop thinking about that wine! Just as soon as I came back to earth with a big thud in the midst of the Iowa prairie, my very own bottle of this wine arrived compliments of Lisa. Thank you, thank you!

I've been staring at it for weeks! Should I share it with my friends? Should I be greedy and not share it with my friends? Oh, heck! I gave up and dug in this evening because I got tired of just looking at it. I just wanted to drink it and share my experience with my public! This wine is one of Napa Valley's best kept secrets. And I apologize, but I just can't keep a secret...

Broman Cellars was founded by winemaker Bob Broman and his wife Deborah. It is a family-owned business. Bob has been a winemaker for over 30 years, assisting others with winemaking duties in the process of creating his own dream. They own a small vineyard in the Deer Park area of St. Helena and created their first wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon in 1994. They also make a nice Syrah, which I got to sample at the dinner that evening as well as the Sauvignon Blanc I am discussing now.

The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc is definitely a stand-out when it comes to this varietal. With grapes sourced from the Beckstoffer Vineyard and from the Melrose Vineyard in Rutherford, California, this 100% Sauvignon Blanc is elegant but has a very sassy side to it! It dances with a lot of lemony and citrus notes, light floral notes and stone fruits and finishes very crisp. The perfect accompaniment to salads, seafood and poultry. I could drink it alone on a hot day, patio sipping or what not. (I have to lament, today is not a hot day, but a cold, midwestern day and I would still drink it...) And the price point of $17 easily makes it a must!

"Where can I get this wine???" Well, you can purchase it at It's small production. If you are looking for a Napa Valley deal, you got it right here! Incredible wine, incredible price point from one of Napa Valley's best kept secrets. Ooops--I guess I gave it away!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

You Take The Good, You Take The Bad...

There are all kinds of wines on the market these days. It's almost as if everyone and their brother has decided to become a winemaker. Well not really. There are exclusive, handcrafted small production wines that appeal to serious collectors. There are excellent, median-priced core wines, single vineyard wines and such that wineries produce as their staples. There are "digital" brands----they usually come from wineries with ficticious names. These wines can be mass produced and backed up by large corporations. Some are decent, some are not. Then there's another category out there that is difficult to describe. There are wineries out there that do a second, third or fourth label wine. You won't find these wines at their wineries. They're usually sold in grocery stores and appeal in mass to mainstream America. These wines have their own niche and rightly so. They're usually in the $10-12 range or cheaper if they're on sale. They are wines for that person who is just getting started drinking wine. For someone who doesn't want to spend a lot of money. For someone who doesn't care to evaluate the flavors and nuances. They just want to drink it---at dinners, at parties, alone, etc.

Recently, I received a set of sample bottles from a local distributor. The wines in this set were of this last niche I am talking about. I am open to trying anything because I truly believe if you try hard enough, you can find some seriously good bargains in that $10-12 price range. Maybe... In this case, it was touch and go. Let's begin, shall we?

The wines I opened were from Blackstone Winery. Blackstone has been a longtime staple of California, best known for their Merlot. They have two tasting rooms--one in Kenwood (Sonoma County) and one in Monterey. My previous experience with Blackstone has been with their Sonoma Reserve wines. I enjoyed them very much. They also do a less expensive tier called Winemaker's Select. I received three bottles: 2008 Winemaker's Select Chardonnay, 2007 Winemaker's Select Zinfandel and 2007 Winemaker's Select Merlot.

The first one I sampled was the Chardonnay. I am known as Chardonnay's harshest critic! I expect a lot from my Chardonnay at every price point. The thing I love most about Chardonnay is that no two are alike. This one is made with Monterey fruit, so I was thinking about tropical flavors-very fruit forward. That part was correct. Unfortunately, they only used 95% Chardonnay. They added Gewürztraminer and Semillon. This made it unbelievably acidic and sweet and after about three tastes, it went into cloying mode and I couldn't take anymore. I felt like I was drinking cotton candy. I couldn't taste any of the vanilla or the crème brûlée they mentioned was supposed to be in the finish. Really disappointing... I truly would like to know why they did that--why they added two other varietals to this wine? Were they trying to enhance the juice of lesser quality grapes? Were they trying to give it layers? It didn't really work...At least not for me. Everyone has their own taste and threshold. It might end up being someone else's favorite wine. Who knows?

I thought I might have better luck with the reds. I was partially correct. The 2007 Winemaker's Select Zinfandel was a little odd. The nose smelled sweet and of chocolate. I was getting a lot of fruit at the front end and it dropped off on the back end. There was no layering of berries and spice that you normally get in a Zinfandel. Just a one dimensional flavor. No spicy burn. It didn't drink like a Zin. If I had blind tasted it, I would not have been able to tell you it was a Zin. It tasted more like a red blend of some sort.

So I'd been striking out all over the place. What was going to save this tasting session? The 2007 Winemaker's Select Merlot. As I mentioned above, Blackstone is known for their Merlot. I've had Merlots that are thin, watery but flavorful and I've had Merlots that are big, rich fruit bombs. I've also had some bad Merlot in my day--the kind that is redolent of gasoline and motor oil. Not this one. I liked this one. This one is a definite bargain. It had everything: bright fruit, lush berries, vanilla, toasted oak. The finish wasn't bad, it lingered a little. No drop off like the Zinfandel. This one was easy to enjoy, making it the perfect table wine for everyday use. It's not going to wow the snobby wine conossieur but the general public would enjoy it. Thumbs up...

I checked out their website,, and unfortunately they have not updated their tasting notes and information for the Winemaker's Select tier for quite awhile now. Someone needs to do that. Most people won't be bothered with checking out the website for information but there are people like me who might and it would be respectful to be up to date and current on the vintages. If you are looking to try some of these wines, you can find them at your local grocery stores and markets. So, in a nutshell, there you have it. You just never know what you're going to find in the $10-12 price range. Some good, some bad. You'll just have to take them and experiment...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cellarmistress Tastes Live--- From Argentina!

Everyone loves a vacation. Everyone dreams of visiting and experiencing a foreign country. One day, my palate decided it needed a vacation. It begged and pleaded to go elsewhere. Away from California. Away from Oregon. Away from Washington. "Waaaaaah! Don't do this to me!" I cried. But in return, it demanded a passport and a round trip ticket out of the U.S. It pleaded its case. It was absolutely, positively correct so I gave in hoping it would shut up and leave me alone...I've been drinking wine for 10 years as of the end of October. That doesn't seem like a long time. But my growth in the wine tasting world has been stunted and I am still on that huge learning curve to better wine knowledge using the slow snail method. I just can't seem to breakaway from the west coast wines I love so much! It took a recent event to make me realize "Variety Is The Spice Of Life."

A couple weeks ago, I participated in a live tasting event on Twitter. Called "TasteLive", this event allows bloggers to sample wines and give their feedback live on Twitter while the winemaker introduces and discusses them. Before you knew it, I was one of several bloggers confirmed for an event with "Wines Of Argentina". Now that is spicy! When I think of Argentina, I dream of beef with chimichurri sauce and big hearty Malbecs. I received four samples and some literature from Bin Ends Wine. I diligently studied my literature as I waited patiently for the big event!

The wines I received were from the Mendoza region of Argentina. Argentina has really been coming alive in the wine news circle as of late! It has kind of surpassed Chile as far as its potential is concerned and I have been really amazed at how good some of these wines can be for the value that they bring to the table!

And so, our tasting began promptly at 8 PM Eastern time that evening with our first winemaker of the evening, Victor Marcantonio and two of his wines, the 2008 Graffigna Centenario Pinot Grigio and the 2006 Graffigna Grand Reserve Malbec. As he explained the terroir and the winemaking techniques, we bloggers dug in sampling the two wines and commenting. I am not a huge Pinot Grigio fan. I feel a lot of them lack personality and character. A boring wine for a boring meal. But when I find one I like, I try to stick with it. The Graffigna was far from boring! It had a floral nose, with a stone fruit (apricots) mid-palate but finished a bit bitter like almonds. It got better as the session went on. Not bad for a $12 bottle. On the other hand, the Malbec had an intense, smoky chocolate flavor and really needed some meat! I mean, like a steak or some brisket--which I didn't happen to have at the moment. So note to self: Be more prepared in the foodie department the next time I do this! I wasn't fair to it, but I liked it better than the Pinot Grigio.

The second half of the session featured Crios Wines with winemaker Susana Balbo. We sampled a 2009 Torrontes and a 2007 Syrah-Bonarda. The Torrontes was to die for! So floral and fruity--white flowers, orange peel, peaches. I could have had the entire bottle in one sitting! I enjoyed every sip of it and am pleased to find out today, I will be sampling it again at a local tasting in a couple weeks! I couldn't be happier! It sells for around $15. It's worth it! The Syrah-Bonarda was also a stand-out! A 50/50 blend, it was redolent with plums and black raspberries. Such a nice wine! Perfect with food, perfect alone. Also around $15.

So, what did I learn from this experience? Don't ever limit yourself. Expand your horizons. Try new things. Life is too short to not do that. I'm reminded of this every day! My palate came home and hugged me! It wants to go on vacation again soon. I think I'm going to let it...Germany perhaps or how about France? The possibilities are endless!