Thursday, April 29, 2010

Barrel Tasting To Combat Children's Illiteracy

Now here's something fantastic! I found out that Twitter has teamed up with Crushpad, the world-reknowned custom crush facility now located in Napa Valley, and guess what? They are putting together a great event to help combat children's illiteracy in poor countries. The charity this benefits is called "Room To Read."

On Friday May 7th at 7 PM Pacific time, Noah Dorrance of Crushpad will be broadcasting a live barrel tasting and anyone in the world can take part in it by tuning in! To really take part in it and do your good deed for mankind, there are barrel tasting kits available through BRIXR. The kits are $14.00 each. $5.00 from each kit will go toward the benefit of "Room To Read."

This is a fantastic opportunity to do some preview barrel tastings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that will be released under the label "Fledgling". These releases will further benefit the charity and bring attention to children's illiteracy around the world. What a great thing! So, with all this in mind, how will you celebrate this event? Here in Des Moines, a friend of mine is hosting a party at a local coffee shop downtown, Amici Espresso. They have agreed to broadcast the live feed while we barrel taste! With a little effort, you can do this too! It's not too late! (To find out more about our local tasting here in Des Moines, please contact Pamela Henkel at It's going to be GREAT!

To watch a short video and learn more on how you can obtain a barrel tasting kit and participate, please go to this link: or view below:

I urge everyone to take part in this worldwide event and spread the word! For more information on "Room To Read" and Crushpad, please go to the websites below! Enjoy your evening and stay tuned for a future post on the event!

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Sometimes I fall for every gimmick in existence, because I'm gullible that way. (Now that I've said this, please don't play any tricks on me because I'll be on the look out! Ha!) Case in point, yesterday I received an e-mail from Cost Plus/World Market, a favorite shop of mine. I've been known to peruse the wine aisles there looking for bargain wine deals. They're famous for selling close-out wines and alternate label fun stuff. I wasn't prepared for what I found yesterday. The ad pointed to a Sauvignon Blanc made by a famous producer in the Rutherford area of Napa Valley. The story behind this wine was interesting. The winemaker wanted to move on to the next vintage and had a surplus of the 2008 vintage leftover. So why not bottle it under a different label and sell it to an unsuspecting public at a fraction of the cost??? This could be really good or really bad depending on how this vintage turned out for them. Now, I am not sure whether this producer was being funny and teasing us with this label or if they really just can't keep a secret. (Ahem, see below...)

I told you! So I paid my $9.97 to find out what all the hype was about. I'm happy that I did. If this is supposed to be a secret, it won't be for long because I'm letting the "duck" out of the bag, so to speak. Nobody is fooling anybody here. One sip of this wine and you will probably be able to decipher who may have made it. I've tasted this wine before. In fact, it wasn't too long ago and yes, I paid $28 for it. It tastes awfully familiar... You know what I'm talking about and don't pretend you don't. If I am way off, you can just shoot me because the quality of this wine says otherwise.

This is juicy Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc at its finest! Lush with passion fruit and guava flavors. None of the grassy, grapefruity stuff. And there's a wonderful honey-vanilla component that could only come from the addition of some Semillon. Since I'm unable to find any kind of information for this wine online, I will say that I'm pretty positive there's Semillon in it. I just love blind tastings, don't you? It's crisp, cool and flavorful and look at that price tag! I'm going back for another today. You should too, while supplies last.

Who cares if there's a big question mark on this wine? It's here to be enjoyed while it's available and that's all she wrote...Cheers!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sbragia Family Vineyards: Family Unity and Great Winemaking

It seems that lately, we folks here in Iowa have been getting a lot of California winemakers visiting us. Iowa is a hot bed for fans of California wines and when winemakers visit us, we just eat it up! I've met five in the past several months and nothing impressed me more than meeting Adam Sbragia of Sbragia Family Vineyards this past week. When I found out he was coming here to visit, I got really excited because 1) I'd never tried their wines before. 2) I'd never had the chance to visit the winery on my previous trips to Dry Creek and 3) I'd heard great things about the family and hoped that everything I'd heard was true! Well, it was and so much more!

For those not familiar with the Sbragia Family, here is a great story. You've all heard of Beringer Vineyards. Who hasn't? For many, many years, Beringer has been a staple in a lot of households, not to mention grocery stores, wine stores etc. Adam's father is Ed Sbragia, who was Beringer's winemaker for 35 years. He still does consulting for Beringer. Adam even joked that the income generated from all the years Beringer sold (and still sells) their infamous "White Zinfandel" helped put him through school! (Everyone in the room chuckled...) Ed has a new project now---his own winery in Geyserville, which is located in Sonoma County at the northern end of Dry Creek. New to us here in Iowa maybe, but not new in California as it has been around for a few years. And I must say, we are happy to finally have the wines available here!

Sbragia Family Vineyards is truly a family affair. Just listening to Adam speak about his family gave me a warm feeling as there seems to be such unity between them and every family member is involved in the everyday business of the winery. The wines we sampled were exceptional and a real value for what they have put into them. As I sat there and listened, I smiled because his enthusiasm was genuine!

I belong to a couple groups that get together once a month at some of our Hy-Vee grocery stores and sample great wines, great food and occasionally mingle with the best of the best--winemakers from California! It was at one of these meetings that Adam arrived bearing great wines! We sampled six that evening and I'd like to share my thoughts on a few of them:

2009 Sbragia Family Home Ranch Sauvignon Blanc: Beautiful, handcrafted Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Valley. A plethora of citrus flavor, a little bit of guava and pineapple and crisp finish. The closure on this bottle is very interesting. It's made of glass! Adam says with this wine, he didn't want any air getting in or out of it, making it drink now and perfect! He was right! $17.00.

2007 Sbragia Family Home Ranch Chardonnay: This is what I call cooler climate Chardonnay. Closer to the Sonoma Coast, giving it a cool pear flavor and lots of flinty minerality. I believe you may also find the 2008 vintage out available now.

2007 Sbragia Family Home Ranch Merlot: I loved this wine. Brimming with cherry and plum flavors. I would drink this wine a million times over! Rich, delicious and a no-brainer. $25.00.

2006 Sbragia Family Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon: Ah, this is the motherlode. Nearly everyone into wine has heard of the famed Monte Rosso Vineyard. Well, they're very choosy about who they contract their grapes to and they only stick with family wineries. I would call this wine a bargain at $50.00. It was very rich and intense and a keeper for the next few years!

I'm really grateful for this experience. Sharing these wines with Adam was a lot of fun and I simply cannot wait to visit the winery and sit down and have lunch with Adam and his Dad. What a nice family! They really care about what they do. Visit them and you shall see! For those of you who aren't able to make it to Dry Creek soon, please visit their website, or visit your local wine shops to purchase these wines. They are worth it!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

An Iowa Boy Does Great In Walla Walla!

Nothing excites me more than when I hear about winemakers who have firmly-planted roots in my home state of Iowa. The more I study wine, the more I am finding this out. Last Summer, a local wine store in Des Moines hosted Dave Merfield, winemaker for Walla Walla, Washington-based winery, Northstar. Dave, originally from Greene, Iowa, was famous for bringing the winery's Merlot into the spotlight. Merlot has gotten a bad rap ever since the movie "Sideways" came along. A lot of people became snobs after that and refused to drink it. But not me... I had heard great things about Merlots coming from Washington. I couldn't wait to meet Dave and sample these wines. But, alas, it was not meant to be... I don't really remember why I couldn't arrive at the event any earlier than I did, but by the time I did, he had already left. I must've been having a bad day because as I stood there sampling the wines by myself, it just wasn't the same. I knew I'd missed out on a great opportunity to meet one of the best! And although I never got to meet Dave that day, the wines have always stood out in the back of my mind.

So, you must be wondering how a boy from Iowa, of all places, ended up making wine in Walla Walla? I asked myself this too and started researching...Back in the 90s, Dave or "Merf" as he is affectionately known as, became interested in the crafting of beer (not wine). Microbreweries were popping up all over, especially in the state of Washington. So he moved there to make beer. His interest and knowledge in beer-making came in handy years later when an opportunity popped up to learn the craft of winemaking. Dave began his winemaking journey as an enologist then moved on to become an assistant winemaker. Since 2007, he has been head winemaker at Northstar and leads a great team that includes legendary California winemaker, Jed Steele. (Jed is a consulting winemaker at Northstar.) Merf has been known to say he loves his job! That is so refreshing to hear!

Fast forward to a few months ago when I began my quest to learn more about Washington wines. Dave Merfield and Northstar Winery were the first things that popped into my head. I decided to contact Dave and he was gracious enough to write back almost immediately and coordinate something with Chateau Ste. Michelle's communications manager, Grace Doyle. She sent me a couple samples of the latest vintages of Northstar's fine Merlot. (Northstar is part of the Ste. Michelle Estates family. ). The two I received were the 2006 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot and the 2005 Northstar Walla Walla Merlot. Both are unique in their own ways and have that special stellar "Merf" touch that the winery is best-known for. He is a master of handcrafting and blending-- so much so that these wines have received rave reviews from some of the leading wine publications and experts. Bravo!

The 2006 Columbia Valley Merlot is composed of fruit sourced from 17 different vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA! (76% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot). Aged for 18 months is 70% French oak/30% American oak barrels, this smooth and velvety red boasts very ripe and concentrated flavors of raspberries, dark cherries and blackberries with a nutty vanilla finish. It is extremely elegant and worth every penny of its $41.00 price tag. This is a very food-friendly wine and I tasted it with a medium rare steak and the rich flavor paired nicely. One taste of this and you will throw away your "Sideways" DVD forever!

The 2005 Walla Walla Merlot came to me all wrapped in beautiful white tissue paper with the name of the wine printed all over it. A very special touch for a very special wine! Indeed! The grapes for this one were chosen from some of Walla Walla's best vineyards. This is considered Northstar's flagship wine. (80% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot) This one is a completely different animal. It overflows with bright cherry and plum flavor yet is a bit more earthy and structured. More so than the Columbia Valley Merlot. No vanilla finish but lingering and smooth. Aged 17 months in 80% French oak/20% American oak. $50.00. (Please note that since I sampled this wine, they have released the 2006 vintage to the public. It is currently available on their website.)

These may seem like special occasion wines but please don't wait for a special occasion. With these Merlots, anytime is the special occasion. I have to say Dave Merfield has done Iowa proud with these wines! I will certainly be proud to shake his hand and hopefully I will have that opportunity when I come out to Walla Walla in June! To purchase these and other great Northstar wines, please visit the website at You may also be able to find these in fine wine stores in your neighborhood. Let's bring MERLOT back in a big way! Northstar is a great place to begin!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cellarmistress Tastes Live in #SauvBlanc Heaven...

I'm sighing... It's not a relief sigh but more like a happy sigh as I think back to a recent event I took part in. One of the best things to ever happen to the Twitter world of wine is the onset of live tasting events. I've done many and you've probably read all about them. But the interesting thing is the sudden popularity of a monthly event that happens every first Thursday evening. Spearheaded by St. Supery Winery's social media guru, Rick Bakas, these monthly events are just what the doctor ordered! Each event is a chance for anyone out there in the wine world to rub elbows (in a cyber kind of way) with winemakers, wine bloggers, winery owners and other fellow wine lovers from all over while enjoying a common wine varietal. Back in March, the wine varietal was Sauvignon Blanc and the evening was sheer madness! The love of this varietal spread across the Twitter air waves like wildfire! I myself sampled two very unique and distinctive bottles of Sauvignon Blanc that evening and I fell in love with both of them... To me, there is nothing more special than a bottle of wine that is handcrafted from start to finish. These following two bottles are fine examples of this.

The first of the two I sampled was the 2008 Selene Hyde Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Created by consulting Napa Valley winemaker Mia Klein and her partner Tracy Hall, this was a wine like nothing I'd experienced before! I met both these ladies through social media and they've become friends and I'm convinced there is greatness ahead for them! I received a few samples of their wines including the above mentioned Sauvignon Blanc and I am so excited to be talking about it! I've long known about Mia Klein. As an avid reader of Wine Spectator magazine, I've read all about her winemaking and they have raved about her!

When I say this wine was like no other, I mean it in the sense that it took me completely by surprise. I've sampled more Sauvignon Blanc that anyone could imagine and the style of this one was very unique. The Hyde Vineyard is located in the Carneros region of southern Napa. This gives the grapes a warmer climate to grow and contributing to the unique taste of this wine. "Round" would be a good word to describe it. Full mouthfeel, lush tropical fruit--guava, meyer lemon, honeydew melon--slight crisp acidity but very mellow, creamy vanilla finish and just lovely. Yet there is no malolactic fermentation involved. (For those of you who do not know what that is--it is a secondary fermentation that causes the wine's malic acid to convert to a softer lactic acid, giving it a creamy, more round taste.) Hmmm...Interesting. So where does the roundness come from? They used 30% French oak barrels and left the wine on the lees to gain complexity. Nice touch! I highly recommend this wine. $27.00. It can be purchased on the Selene Wines website at An added note, these two ladies handcraft their wines at Laird Winery in Napa. I can't wait to meet them in person on my next voyage out there... They keep teasing me that if I come visit, they will put me to work during harvest! Maybe I will be picking Sauvignon Blanc grapes this Fall! What a hoot!! Now that's a challenge I would welcome!

The second bottle I sampled was the 2008 Gamble Family Vineyards Gamble Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Sent to me as a sample by their marketing director, Elsbeth Sarao, (another social media friend I met last year), this bottle really meant a lot to me. I had been trying to sample it since last Summer. Elsbeth and I were trying to meet up during the Wine Bloggers Conference and I just could not make it work due to the crazy bus schedules of our Napa Day excursion. I owe her a lot because without her, I never would have known about the Gamble Family Ranch. I've decided it will be one of the first places I plan to visit on my next trip to Napa Valley.

Owner Tom Gamble's philosophy is a simple one. He is first and foremost, a farmer. He and winemaker Jim Close handcraft a small amount of cases (roughly 4000) a year total production of all of the wines they make. Tom was given a legacy and does his best to represent his dream. Each bottle is special. The vineyard for this particular Sauvignon Blanc is located in Yountville, 12 acres of land that sees warm days and cool nights. What does this mean for the wine? Notes of tropical fruits and a whole lot of citrus! Juicy and delicious--pineapple, lemons, mango, and more pineapple. Bursting with big fruit and very crisp acidity on the finish. The perfect accompaniment for summertime sipping on the deck. Just heavenly and delicious. I could spend many lazy afternoons enjoying this wine! It is available from their website at $28.00. I can't wait to tour Gamble Family Vineyards and do a private tasting with Elsbeth. It will be very special to me.

I would like to thank Mia Klein, Tracy Hall and Elsbeth Sarao for choosing me to represent them during this event. And ladies, I WILL make it out to Napa Valley this year and it will be an honor to visit with you and learn more about the craft, the land and the vision...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cellarmistress And United Slurps Of America!

For months now, everyone has been preaching to me that I need to taste local--local as in where I live--which is in Iowa. I bet most of you have never been to Iowa, let alone imagine that they even make wine here in my fair state. Ah, but they do... Now part of the largest American Viticultural Area in the nation-the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA, Iowa boasts over 70 wineries. Why haven't I done this before? Beats me! So last week, I decided to accept a challenge presented to me by another website, They asked myself and fellow Iowa-based wine blogger, Dan Goderis (The Iowa Wino), to be part of an Iowa tasting with Tassel Ridge Winery. I was game...Here would be a great introduction to some wines from my home state....The name of their challenge was "United Slurps Of America" and the plan is to go through all the states and sample wines with the help of local bloggers like Dan and I. Awesome idea!

Tassel Ridge Winery is located in Leighton, Iowa among the rolling hills as you drive south of Des Moines. It is a beautiful and picturesque winery and has a huge following here in Iowa and nationwide on Twitter. I counted the amount of wines they make on their wine list and at last count it was 28 or so. Amazing! The wines range from dry to sweet, sparkling to dessert and everything in between. Something for everyone, so to speak. They even combine California-sourced grape varietals with locally grown grape varietals to make innovative blends. I'm pretty impressed with what I've seen so far and I haven't even visited yet. I plan to sometime this Spring.

My friend Derek Whittington, the assistant tasting room manager, sent me a couple samples for this challenge. I received a semi-sweet white called Iowa LaCrescent and a dry red called In the Dark. Dan and I would both be sampling these wines and reporting on them. I was also sent a bonus bottle whose name I found rather amusing, the Oskyfrizzante Pink. It is named, I suppose, after the town of Oskaloosa which is near the winery and is a semi-sweet sparkling wine with a strawberry hue. I ended up opening all three last night and had a little wine and cheese party on the deck with my sister and a friend during what was our first official 70 degree day of the year!

Never having sampled these cold climate grape varietals before, I didn't know what to expect but went in with an open mind. The Iowa LaCrescent was a semi-sweet white with a pleasant sweet bouquet. The mid palate was HUGE! Ripe, fleshy mangoes and peaches. So juicy and sweet. It dropped off at the end so it didn't linger like I would have wanted it to but it was pleasant and enjoyable. Until I got to the second glass and I couldn't really finish it because the sweetness got to be a bit much for me. I prefer drier wines. I would definitely recommend this wine however because the flavors are top notch.

We then moved on to the dry red, In The Dark. Made with Lake County Syrah mixed with a cold climate varietal, Marechal Foch. I loved the bouquet! It smelled heavenly and the flavor was berry rich on the front. As it reached the mid-palate, it hardened up a little with earthiness.The finish was one I didn't care for. It was bitter so it didn't sit well and each sip repeated exactly the same way. I'll be honest and say I didn't like it. It needed a smoother finish.

My favorite of the three was the bonus bottle, the Oskyfrizzante Pink. Made with Zinfandel grapes and another cold climate varietal, St. Pepin, it was very enjoyable with strawberry, rhubarb and kiwi flavors and an effervescent tingle on the finish. It was a tad bit sweet but paired well with the brownies and strawberries that we were eating.

I really can't wait to come out there and do some more sampling. I plan to make a nice afternoon of it and really relax and enjoy. After all, isn't that how it should be? Want to find out more about Tassel Ridge? Visit their website at