Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cellarmistress Does The Napa Valley Film Festival -Part Three: Tasting Napa

The final part of the blogger tasting took place on the Saturday evening of the Inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival. Samples of the four wines were sent to us by the individual wineries. As much as I had enjoyed the three previous installments of the live blogging, I felt a bit disconnected from this particular session. Perhaps it was because there was a lot of silent time between tasting and the live feed we were following. Quite a bit of shuffling when it came to the order in which we were going to sample these wines also. Not enough time for much Q & A either so my questions went unanswered. Considering how busy the festival was and how anything can go wrong at any given time, I still think they did a great job with what they had to work with. We did try some really nice wines on this installment and I am here to share those with you.

The first of these wines was the 2009 Saintsbury Lee Vineyard Pinot Noir. Saintsbury Vineyard is located in my favorite area of Napa, Los Carneros. Carneros is the scenic (almost majestic as far as I'm concerned) area in the southern end of Napa as you drive in from the bay area. The rolling hills sweep you away. It is just beautiful! (Note to self: pull over sometime if you can and take photos!) Because of its proximity to the San Pablo Bay, it is an ideal area to grow Pinot Noir grapes and thus the only area in the Napa Valley that produces Pinot Noir. Saintsbury has been around for a very long time, and Pinot Noir is their specialty. They produce many. The 2009 Lee Vineyard is a new release (or at least I think it is...I couldn't get my question answered!) and it is young. I think I would've enjoyed it more had I opened it a year from now. It was very tight with dark cherries, cedar and almost a flinty minerality. A lot darker in color than some of the Carneros Pinot Noir I've experienced in the past. But, hey, I am a novice when it comes to Carneros Pinot Noir and I am willing to learn. Bring it on! $45.

Next we did the 2007 Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. Pine Ridge Vineyards is one of those wineries whose wines you sometimes see at wine shops around the country but did you know they make a lot of unique, single vineyard wines? This one was huge and powerful with loads of plum, chocolate, coffee, caramel and toasty vanilla on the finish. This wine has a firm tannin backbone making the capacity for aging into the 15-20 year mark. I don't have that much willpower!! This wine contains all five Bordeaux varietals in it: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. It's gooood!!! Veteran winemaker, Michael Beaulac made wines for Markham Vineyards and St. Supery before landing here. www.pineridgewinery $80.

And now for my two favorites of the evening, offerings from Swanson Vineyards, located in Rutherford. I first learned of Swanson Vineyards after seeing my friend Rudy McClain's acclaimed film, "Merlove" several years ago. ("Merlove" is a film about Merlot and its unfortunate demise...) Swanson Vineyards' winemaker, Chris Phelps, was interviewed in the film... (On a side note, Rudy says I am the "Mayor of Merlove" on Foursquare because everywhere I go, I meet someone who was in the film! Ha!) I was super excited when I found out Chris was going to be joining us on the feed but alas, he did not...Bummer...Anyhow, the two offerings were the 2009 Swanson Vineyards Pinot Grigio and the 2007 Swanson Vineyards Oakville Merlot. When they came on, the hashtag they used was their Twitter handle, OhHelloSwanson! I thought that was hilarious but really for this winery it is completely appropriate! One sip of these wines is enough to make you say, "Oh Hello Swanson!!! Where have you been all my life???" The Merlot will make a believer out of the non-believers. People who stopped drinking Merlot because of the movie "Sideways" don't realize what they are missing out on. This wine is a full berry explosion with smooth chocolate and a little bit of anise thrown in the mix. It's heavenly! $38. The Pinot Grigio is lemony, refreshing and commands a lot of salty snacks. $21. Love these wines and recommend them wholeheartedly!

Next time you are visiting Napa Valley, please consider visiting these three wineries. All three offer an insider's look into something unique and special.

Now that this is all over I am going through some withdrawal symptoms but at the same time, I am looking forward to next year's Napa Valley Film Festival and also looking forward to attending the festivities in real life after my move out there! Cheers!

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cellarmistress Does The Napa Valley Film Festival--Part Three Continued: Tasting Yountville

Saturday afternoon, we bloggers had the opportunity to taste wines in conjunction with the Yountville Pavilion, TasteLive, CellarPass and Mutineer Magazine. The Yountville tasting was interesting as I was able to sample wines from wineries I'd never visited before. Each winery sent a sample bottle of what we were going to taste. Wineries featured were John Anthony Vineyards, Jessup Cellars and Chiarello Family Vineyards!

John Anthony Vineyards offered up two wines, the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. The winery sources its Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards in the Oak Knoll district of Napa, which is just north of the town of Napa. This wine is 100% Cabernet, nothing else was blended into it. Like a lot of the 2007 vintage in Napa in general, it packed a lot of fruit up front and I was pleasantly surprised that the finish was a lot longer than some I had tried. The $56 price point is well-worth it. This wine would age very nicely. The Sauvignon Blanc, in my opinion, had a much higher perceived value than its price tag of $20 would suggest. It was all citrus and very elegant. And I have to commend their winemaker for sticking to a style that's very typical of Napa Valley. So many Napa producers are starting to shy away from the California style opting for a style that mimics New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and I hate that. I enjoy both styles but the last thing we need is our tried and true California style changing so drastically. After the tasting was over, a fellow blogger brought up the alcohol level of this wine. At over 15%, I agree it is a bit much. But the point is to savor this wine with a meal. It's not a "sit on your patio sipper." There are plenty of other wines out there that fall into that category!

The 2009 Jessup Cellars Juel was interesting! I felt kind of special being one of the first people out here to sample it. The wine won't be released to the public until sometime next Spring! The wine is huge, young, and definitely commands a great meal to go along with it. It is Merlot-based and each year, they change up the blend just a hair. During the tasting, I enjoyed the intense flavors but unfortunately when I went back to it several hours later, the wine had sort of fallen apart. It wasn't nearly as huge and the finish disappeared. Even capped with a rubber stopper with the air pumped out of it. I truly hope that a few more months of bottle aging will prevent this from happening in the future or maybe I received a bad bottle? The winemaker suggested the retail price on this bottle would be somewhere in the $85 range and that's a lot of money to spend on something that may not age well. Let's hope this is not the case because this wine was packing a lot of flavor!

The 2008 Chiarello Family Vineyards Roux is an old vine Petite Sirah (from 99 year old vines) and it was my favorite of the tasting! It was hearty, meaty, had a huge backbone and was completely in your face. It rocked!! This was the first of any Chiarello Family wine I'd had proving that not only is Michael Chiarello a great chef and businessman but he certainly knows a little about wine! If you tasted this wine, you would ask yourselves why more producers don't make a Petite Sirah. I wanted short ribs with this---the short ribs I tasted at Michael's Yountville restaurant, Bottega on my birthday! This wine could age for the next ten years but you wouldn't want to wait that long! The next time you're in Yountville, stop by NapaStyle and pick up a bottle or if you dine at Bottega, order it by the glass. $46 is pricey for Petite Sirah but guess what? It's worth every penny!

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

Cellarmistress Does The Napa Valley Film Festival--Part Three: 11 Wines In 24 Hours!

What a whirlwind that was!! I literally didn't leave my house for twenty-four hours so I could partake in this little venture! Eleven more wines to savor and sample. Some were great, others good and all in all it was a great time! On Friday afternoon, we bloggers took part in the Taste Live tasting in conjunction with the Napa Valley Film Festival, CellarPass and Mutineer Magazine. This time, we were tasting along with the folks at the St. Helena Pavilion. The tasting featured three wines and a multitude of guests speaking on their behalf.

The first of these three was the 2008 Ramian Canard Vineyard Merlot. The bottle was sent to me as a sample from Savour St. Helena, a tasting room located on Main Street in St. Helena. Winemaker Brian Graham was on hand to give us feedback on the wine. This wine helped me coin my new signature phrase, "Hello Lover!" in the same fashion that Carrie Bradshaw uses the term when she sees a pair of shoes on "Sex And the City". The moment I took a sip it was like biting into a delicious chocolate covered cherry. Big cherry mid-palate! I was swooning! The winery is located in Calistoga, the most northern end of the Napa Valley and the wines are very small production. For $45, this Merlot would make a non-Merlot lover change their mind. Outside of purchasing the wine at the tasting room, the winery has an allocation list and wine club to choose from.

The next wine was the 2007 Clif Family Winery Kit's Killer Cab. I recently spent several hours in St. Helena at the Velo Vino tasting room where the Clif Family holds court. What a fun place and what fun, unpretentious wines! (Yes, this is the same Clif Family who does the famous Clif Bars and sells biking and sporting goods!) My friend, Efrain Barragan who does their media and marketing, was on hand as well as the winemaker Bruce Regalia. Efrain sent me the bottle for this event and at $38, this wine is definitely a Napa Valley bargain! Tough to find a nicer drinking Cabernet at this price out there! Blackberries and mocha. I encourage everyone to visit this fun little tasting room. It's on the left hand side of HWY 29 as you enter St. Helena. You can't miss it!

The third of the bunch was the 2008 Raymond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Most people who drink wine have heard of Raymond. They're pretty big out there and widely distributed. This particular wine is their flagship wine, the first of the samples I received from the winery. I've tasted many vintages of this wine and found it to be consistently pleasant to my palate. I also think this wine is a good bargain as well. Recently, the winery went through an overhaul of sorts, a remodel and I simply cannot wait to visit. I have heard wonderful things about the place. I'm looking forward to meeting Jean Charles Boisset, whose company, Boisset Family Estates, oversees the winery. The wine is medium-bodied with a very juicy mid-palate of plums and dark cherries, and a smooth finish. Another $35 value and ready to drink now. If you're in town, visit them in St. Helena. They are located on Zinfandel Lane.

Stay tuned as I head south to Yountville for the next installment...I need a breather first!!!

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cellarmistress Does The Napa Valley Film Festival: Part Two--The Robert Mondavi Gala

Opening night of the Inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival, I was all abuzz getting ready for the first of many tastings of the weekend. 17 wines in 48 hours! Whew, that's a lot when you're doing it all on your own! As a participant in these events, sponsored by TasteLive, CellarPass and Mutineer Magazine, I couldn't wait to get started. Living in the midwest, the first of these events, The Robert Mondavi Gala, started at 8 PM Pacific Time--in other words 10 PM Central Time in my world. But no matter, I was ready to rock this party!! The two wines for this event, the 2009 Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Fume Blanc and the 2008 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon were shipped to me as samples from the winery. I popped them open way ahead of time knowing they would be huge!

The Fume Blanc was a surprise. I had tasted the two previous vintages before and was expecting some sort of "pineapple-bomb". What I got instead was a grassy, herbaceous nose, followed by huge fruit--still tropical (no pineapple this time), lots of citrus notes and a creamy finish. At $45 it is pricey for a Fume Blanc but guess what? I'd pay this because it sets a wonderful standard and you won't find another wine out there like this. I promise!

The Reserve Cabernet is made up of fruit mostly from the prized To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville. The vineyard is situated behind the winery. Made up of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot blended with it, this lush, dense powerhouse is luxury at its finest. If you love your Cabs big and bold with finesse, this one is definitely for you! Dark fruit, blackberries and a ribbon of velvety spice--it's hot. 15.5% A.B.V. But it stands up to the alcohol level. I wish I had another one so I could open it up in a few years and see how it evolves. It's definitely a nice investment at $135.

These wines are available in limited distribution or at If you're visiting the Napa Valley, a stop at this winery in Oakville (situated on the left hand side as you travel up Highway 29--you can't miss it!) is a MUST! It's a big piece of Napa Valley history. I visited in 2008 and took a lot of photos. Enjoy!

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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cellarmistress Does The Inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival: Part One--Tasting Calistoga

I am not actually in Napa Valley at the moment, though I would love to claim that I am! No matter! I was recently invited to participate in some live tasting sessions in conjunction with Taste Live, CellarPass and Mutineer Magazine, as part of the Inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival!

In a rare departure from my usual wordy and lengthy blog posts, I am going to report on my events and tastings here at "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk". The first of these tastings is happening NOW because unfortunately, in real life, I have a non wine-tasting occupation that pays my bills and allows me to visit the beautiful Napa Valley as often as I like. I am unable to partake in this particular tasting in real time, so I am leaving my thoughts and comments here! And boy did I enjoy doing this!!

The three wines I am discussing were sent to me as samples from each participating winery. The first of the three is the Mumm Napa Napa Valley Brut Reserve Rosé, a winery exclusive. (Yes, this means you have to make a pilgrimage to Napa Valley and visit the winery and no you won't be finding this at your local wine shop.) Everyone who knows me knows this about me...I love my bubbles. Especially when they are rosé. I was jumping for joy when I received this bottle. It's a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a delicate coral tint. Their team carefully assembled grapes from 20 vineyards and 30 different blending components and I commend them. It is so tasty!! WOOT!! Cherries, raspberries, cranberries--robust with a lovely long finish! I am so into this!! $36. If you visit them, you need one of these! Go get several!! It's always a party when there's bubbles!!

Now I tried to find information on this next one. Didn't find much, but as I've learned on my latest travels to Napa Valley, some folks just like to be a good secret. They're hidden amongst the valley floor and it takes some doing to find them. When you do, you won't ever let them go again! Tedeschi Family Winery is one of those rare little gems you find hidden away...

They're located in Calistoga, the northern end of Napa Valley. They are an appointment-only winery and Emil Tedeschi handcrafts his wines using everything he knows of his Italian heritage. Awesome. The 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is just that. A little bit rustic, homey, old world style. A little more earthy and less fruit forward like most Napa Cabs. It actually surprised me, pleasantly that is. I couldn't tell you if there's anything else in it other than Cabernet Sauvignon, but the winemaker's heart went into it that's for sure. This is the kind of wine I want to drink in my front yard some day--that is, when my front yard is overlooking a vineyard. That's what it reminds me of. Wine that memories are made of. I'm Italian too. I know what that is all about! $58.

Phew! The next one is the complete opposite... Elegant but racy, and dark dark dark. 2007 Merryvale Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. WOW! I really should've popped this one open and decanted it a long time before now because it is a young stallion!! It needs taming. Even open for several hours, it has a ways to go. 99% Cabernet Sauvignon from several vineyards (including Stagecoach) unfined and unfiltered. And 1% Cabernet Franc. This wine commands filet mignon now!! I need another bottle so I can open it five years from now and see how it evolved. This is the stuff Napa Cabs are famous for. I'm sitting here with a grin as huge as Texas on my face! I hope you enjoy this one as much I have! $65.

So there you have it... Have fun and be safe this weekend as you enjoy the films and the wines of the Napa Valley Film Festival! If you're in the Napa Valley anytime soon, please visit these wineries...Cheers!

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


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cellarmistress Tastes Live With Davis Family Vineyards

I wasn't actually at this location but I had been there before. In September of 2006, as a matter of fact. I was overly excited to visit this little hidden gem in the town of Healdsburg, California. Why you ask? Winemaker Guy Davis makes some extraordinary wines! As a fledgling in-home wine educator, I knew I was onto something special back then. I was pitching some of his "outside" projects to new wine drinkers in Iowa! Fast forward to 2011, I received an e-mail from TasteLive asking me if I wanted to participate in a live tasting event with Davis Family Vineyards. Of course I would! It would be an amazing evening!

Winemaker Guy Davis came into his winemaking through a degree in finance and a penchant for fine French wine. He had tasted and traveled. And he always had a soft spot for the small family wineries. (A man after my own heart!) He ventured into the wine business as a wine buyer, working with these small wineries and eventually making his own first commercial vintage of Zinfandel in 1995. Guy reinforces my belief that when you put your mind to it and find something you are truly passionate about, anything is possible. It is with this philosophy and all the caring that goes into his winemaking that the proof is here. Just try these wines. You will agree.

When the wine samples arrived, I was overjoyed! Like a kid in a candy store! I couldn't wait to get started. However, my day that day was a little crazy. I arrived home from work in the nick of time to get the session started. No time for photos! (I want to thank my good friend Amy Corron Power for providing the photo of that evening's line-up.)

The first bottle to be opened was the 2009 Cuvee Luke (a blend of 49% Roussanne, 37% Marsanne and 14% Viognier from the Sierra Foothills). I knew right away something was amiss. The dreaded cork taint had infected my bottle! With as much wine as I sample, it was bound to happen sometime. Not to worry though. Everyone else enjoyed theirs and their descriptions of the wine: stone fruits, white flowers, aromatic etc. had me wanting to try it. Guy was nice enough to invite me back to the tasting room on my next visit so I cannot wait to do this! $26.

Next came the 2008 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. This luscious, creamy Chardonnay was so rich and gorgeous, it was completely unfair. It was like drinking candy. I liken it to love at first sight. You are literally walking into walls afterwards. None of that cloying butter or oak. Just creamy vanilla and pear. Nutty and toasty on the finish. Pretty close to perfection I think. $36.

The first of the red wines came next. 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Some of my co-tasters thought this wine lacked acidity. I didn't think so. I thought it was well-balanced. I was getting a lot of berries and cinnamon in it and none of that bacon fat funk that gives some Pinot more edge. Very smooth and elegant. $40.

The next wine was the complete opposite. The 2009 Russian River Valley Soul Patch Pinot Noir, a single vineyard wine. This wine was young and rustic and needed a lot more bottle time. Darker in color, more earthy and Burgundian, it had a lot of aging potential. Can't wait to try it again in a couple of years and see how it evolves. It would be a great investment. $42.

So Guy makes a Napa Valley Cab, huh? Interesting. I couldn't find much information about where the grapes come from exactly, but I will tell you it is delicious!! The 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon--lots of chocolate flavor in this one. I mean lots! And those smooth dark berry flavors are integrated so nicely right up to the lingering finish. I had a steak with the remainder of it the next day and wow, was it ever a nice pairing! $50.

So does it get any better than this?? Surprisingly yes!! My favorite of the the reds, the 2008 Russian River Valley Guyzer Block Syrah. Yes, I said Syrah. Stop the presses! This Syrah rocked! With Syrah you just never know what you're going to get. It has pretty much lost its lustre in the U.S. and this one could change all of that. No funk, no earth (although it is a little meaty) it's full of huge plum flavor and that's what I like. You will too! This wine is actually co-fermented with a little bit of Viognier--it adds a little extra zing by binding to the color, aroma and flavor of the Syrah. $38.

Please, if you're in Northern California, visit the tasting room in Healdsburg (Sonoma County). They are located at 52 Front Street and are open Thursday through Sunday from 11-4:30 PM.

Davis Family Vineyards' wines may also be purchased on their website at

I would like to thank Davis Family Vineyards and the team at TasteLive for putting on such an awesome event!

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

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Discovering Hahn Family Wines

One of the things I love about wine is you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Sometimes, the best things come wrapped in a package of simplicity. Effortless and easy. A no-brainer. Back in April, I attended a wine-related charity event called Vin Nebraska. During the "Grand Tasting" portion of the event, I met a rep from Hahn Family Wines. Her table was full of goodies and as I stood there sampling each one, a light bulb would go off in my head. "What a nice wine!" I kept thinking over and over again. And---much to my surprise? The price points. Most of them were $15 or less. Wow! It threw me for a loop! Later in the year, when the annual #CabernetDay Twitter event was announced, I was approached by a rep for the winery. Would I like to tweet about some different Hahn Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignons for the event! Of course, I would! Because I knew that if I did this, I would be introducing my public to some absolutely awesome values! I said, "Yes!"

Hahn Winery was founded over thirty years ago by Nicolaus "Nicky" Hahn and his wife Gaby. They purchased vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County. Nowadays, as Hahn Family Wines, they produce many labels and are setting a great example for California wine by producing wines from many appellations not just their own. The rep sent me three such wines to tweet about for the event and each one had its own unique character and was very representative of the area it came from.

The first of these was the 2010 Cycles Gladiator Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon. I wasn't sure what to expect and it was a powerhouse! Big fruit, huge punch on the front, smooth finish! Way too easy to enjoy! It commanded a big meal! Just released in August. Believe me, if you blind tasted this, the perceived value would be much much higher. And for $12 (seriously???) a bottle, everyone should keep this wine in their wine rack. Look for it in markets nationwide.

Next was the 2009 Cycles Gladiator California Cabernet Sauvignon. For those of you who like smooth flavors and an even easier drinking-style, this Cabernet is for you. Balanced all the way through, it's cherry and mocha flavors tease you and make you want more! And yes, it won't break your pocketbook. $12 (What????) I know, it's crazy but grab as much as you can!!!

The third Cabernet I sampled was the 2009 Hahn Winery Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon. This one was a little more complex, with dark fruit, a hefty mid-palate and smooth, spicy finish. I seriously fell in love with it. The nose on this one was amazing. I wanted to just sit there and enjoy the aroma. And once again, talk about craziness--the price point on this beautiful wine is $15!! Wow! That's all I can say.

So there you have it...Wonderful wines at a wonderful price. From the gorgeous labels to the quality of these wines, you have to hand it to them. They know what they're doing and they're doing it very well. I highly recommend you seek these beauties out and try them for yourselves. You'll be pleasantly surprised. Maybe soon, Hahn Family Wines, won't be a best kept secret anymore!!

For more information on Hahn Family Wines and their wine portfolio, please visit their website: I'd like to thank them for sharing these great wines with me and I will continue to sing their praises wherever I go. These guys are definitely a rarity in the industry!!

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

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chocolate and...Wine!

Who doesn't love chocolate? I know I do and I probably don't enjoy it enough. I also never knew which kinds of chocolate to pair with wine or that you could and should pair it with wine. Well, the folks at Brix Chocolate provided some samples of their chocolate to me and on one of the cooler evenings recently, I decided to put their chocolate to the test!

I know you are all wondering what the difference is between their chocolate and any other chocolate out there. What makes it so special? There is an interesting story behind this. Brix Chocolate was developed by Dr. Nick Proia, an Ohio physician who met with friends to taste wine on a weekly basis but felt their practice of eating high fat cheeses with the wine defeated the purpose of drinking the wines for health purposes. There are many health benefits to eating chocolate. Chocolate is good for you, most of us already know this. It is full of antioxidants, helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure. When paired with red wines, it gives you a double dose of benefit--good for your heart, good for your mind! After much experimentation, Dr. Proia chose chocolate from Ghana, in its purest form, for its fruity notes and thus Brix Chocolate was born.

I will admit, I was a bit skeptical but I tried to use the same skills that have made me a great wine taster and apply them to the chocolate--with amazing results. It was a tasting I truly enjoyed.

Brix Chocolate is sold in several ways: It comes in block form or in individual packets called "Brix Bites" of which I received samples. They make four kinds. I was able to sample three of the four.

The first was the Brix Milk Chocolate. I'm a sucker for milk chocolate. It's my favorite and I never ever thought about pairing it with wine. But, it does go with wine, very well in fact. I sampled this one with a Rose', as mentioned on the label. The creaminess of the chocolate paired so nicely with the strawberry and pomegranate flavors of the wine. It was like the chocolate softened the wine and made it taste richer! Other varietals it pairs well with is Port, Ice Wine and Pinot Noir/Burgundy.

Next was the Brix Dark Chocolate. I paired mine with a Zinfandel (though it can also be paired with Syrah/Shiraz or Merlot). This version contains 60% cacao and is the perfect compliment to a spicy, fruity red wine. Not too bitter but not too sweet. Still rich enough to hold its own but not overpowering so the fruity flavors of the wine stayed intact. Very nice!

Lastly, I decided to sample the Brix Extra Dark Chocolate on the evening of #CabernetDay with three different Cabernet Sauvignons. With 70% cacao, this is great chocolate to pair with a layered, but sturdy Cabernet! Also pairs nicely with Bordeaux blends and Barolos. I must admit this was my favorite pairing of the three. I would venture to guess this chocolate would even pair well with the spicy, fruity Zinfandel I had tried earlier.

I highly encourage everyone to try these different chocolates and pairings. Not only are they delicious but they're a very healthy way to enjoy some decadence with your wines. For more information on Brix Chocolate and how you can purchase it, please visit their website, You can also follow them on Facebook at

I'd like to thank Brix Chocolate and my friend Ryan Wycoff for enlightening me with this delicious treat! Cheers and here's to your health everyone!

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

Magic In A Little Corner Of Sonoma...

One of the things I love the most is when I can come out to wine country and spend several hours enjoying wine with great friends and relishing the time spent there. Perhaps one of the most scenic areas of California wine country is in the Sonoma Valley, especially the Valley of the Moon Highway and the rustic country atmosphere of the towns of Glen Ellen and Kenwood. I'd always wanted to venture this area by myself, in my car, and stop at places along the way. I finally got to do this and the first place I went to was Eric Ross Winery to visit my friend Eric Luse, the winery's owner and winemaker.

I had met Eric several years ago at the North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa. I sat at his table for dinner and found out he was originally from Iowa so we struck up a friendship. He is an inspiration to me as his passion for winemaking and photography has brought him to do what he loves the most. I have to tell you, this little winery is so cute! The decor is whimsical--their logo is a rooster so the winery is filled with beautiful artwork depicting roosters. The atmosphere is extremely friendly and the wines...Well, these are beautifully handcrafted wines and this winery is definitely worth seeking out! It is tucked away in a small corner of Sonoma County and to me, it simply radiates magic!

I sampled several wines during my visit, enjoying them along with several other groups of people who stopped in and out during the few hours I spent there.

The first wine I sampled was the 2010 Lodi Bokisch Vineyard Albarino. Yes, Eric makes an Albarino. It's wonderful! I took one with me back to Iowa. Stainless steel fermented, its bright shiny acidity and citrus flavors are the perfect combination for Summer. $25.

Eric makes an amazing Pinot Noir that I cannot say enough great things about. One sip of this wine and you will fall in love. The 2009 Saralee's Vineyard Pinot Noir is pure heaven. Rich, velvety and beautiful. It makes me swoon everytime I think about it! $45.

One of the most interesting wines I sampled was the 2009 Gout de la Vigne, "Taste The Vineyard" Syrah from Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino County. A lot of people are skittish about Syrah. This one would make you change your mind. Dark fruits, smoky, smooth finish. I savored it! $45.

With Winter around the corner, I love a good Zinfandel port next to the fireplace. The 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Port is made from Dry Creek Valley fruit. So chocolately-rich, it's more than a dessert wine. It's an experience! $48.

Eric had a special surprise for me and he let me sample the 2010 Struttin' Red, which hadn't been bottled yet. Here he is posing with the wine and the new artwork. Can't wait for this release. It'll be a nice, easy drinking everyday red wine!

But alas, all great things must come to an end and I needed to make my way to my next venture. Eric showed me a really neat little book titled, "The Wineries In The Heart Of Sonoma Valley." He contributed photographs to the book and it is just a beautiful rendition of a guide to the area. I highly encourage everyone to pick up a copy when you visit and please do visit and experience these wines for yourselves.

Eric Ross Winery is located at 14300 Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen, CA. They are open for tasting Thursday through Monday from 11-5. For more information, please visit their website, For more information on the Sonoma Valley area, please visit

I'd like to thank Eric Luse and his staff for their warm and wonderful hospitality. I'm so glad I visited and will visit again very soon!!

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

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Do You Soave?

Gotcha! No, it's a not a dance move...But Soave may just become a way of life. What do I mean? Those who know me well know that I am about 98% devoted to domestic wines because there are so many yet to be discovered in our country. But every so often, I like to stray...Go on vacation. Recently, I went to Italy, figuratively speaking that is. And what I discovered was an absolutely wonderful white wine that I'm hoping will become a staple in my home and in yours. It was worth discovering!

Not long ago, I was approached by a PR firm in New York, offering me samples of this important discovery. I jumped at the chance because I knew nothing about this wine, Soave. How important is this wine in Italy? So important, it even has its own consortium: Soave Corsorzio Tutela--a group that has come together to keep this wine alive and in the eyes of the public. Their mission is to protect the quality of these wines and to promote the area.

Soave is produced in a small area of northeastern Italy. Called the Veneto region, this area was once covered by a tropical sea. Now its terroir is contains rich minerals and saline sediments lending to the fresh and fruit forward flavors of this wine. The native grape of this area is Garganega. Garganega is usually blended with another varietal, Trebbiano di Soave and is stainless steel fermented. The wines produced from these grapes are elegant, rich in flavor and ageworthy. Served cold, this white wine is delicious and pairs with many fresh Summer dishes, including salads, vegetables, white meats such as chicken and pork and seafood.

I was able to sample two of the four types of Soave: Soave DOC and Soave Classico DOC. The first of the two was the 2009 ReMidas, a Soave DOC made up of 100% Garganega. It is made by Cantina di Soave, a cooperative made up of 2,200 winegrowers and farmers. This wine is a wonderful value at around $10 a bottle. It has a beautiful lemony, floral aroma and is full of citrus notes and stone fruit qualities. I found it to be a refreshing change and a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.

(I decided to show you the beauty of this region by sharing the above video from YouTube. It is in Italian but if you can disregard the language barrier, you will find a beautiful video. Also I was able to sample one of their wines so now you can see where it came from!)

The Cantina Del Castello Soave Classico DOC was also a crisp, wonderful alternative white. Made of 90% Garganega and 10% Trebbiano di Soave, this wine also had a floral nose but more of a stone fruit and honeysuckle quality, not as citrusy. It was very lovely. Perfect wine to be enjoyed on a hot Summer day! $15.

These wines are definitely worth a good look. Enjoy them anytime of the year! If you are unable to find them in your area, please go to the following website for more information:

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My Surprise Journey To Alexander Mountain

As mentioned in a previous story, I spent most of an entire day recently learning all about Kendall Jackson wines. I had visited the Kendall Jackson Wine Center in Fulton, CA and had spent a glorious morning on a media appointment sampling some culinary delights paired with some fantastic wines. It was terrific! But what lie ahead would prove to be one of the most amazing, educational and unforgettable experiences of my very short wine-related career! When I think about that day and the amazing things I was able to see and do, I smile and shake my head and think to myself how fortunate I am to have come this far. Words just simply cannot describe what I was thinking and feeling that day. I wish all of you could do this. If I were to put a list together of the things wine lovers must do before they leave this world, this would be number one!

Following that fantastic food and wine pairing session in the gazebo, I was given a tour of the Culinary and Sensory Gardens on the Kendall Jackson property. What differentiates these gardens from gardens at other wineries? I'm very happy to report there was a reason why I was to do this. I would highly recommend everyone take this tour because you will learn much about why there are certain flavors in wines and how terroir affects how a wine is going to ultimately taste. Some of the plants were edible, so I tried them to see if I could match their flavors in certain wines. It was an interesting experience. The gardens are very peaceful so it's a nice, mind-clearing and calming experience as well.

Following this short but extremely educational garden tour, my gracious host Dale and I climbed into his SUV for what I call the drive of a lifetime! We would head up highway 101 toward Geyserville to visit Stonestreet Winery. Now, mind you, this is the farthest north I have ever been in California. I had never gone to Geyserville, which is northern Sonoma County. You will be driving along the highway, then all of a sudden out of nowhere comes this absolutely breathtaking view of the mountains. I think my jaw dropped! I've seen some beautiful mountain views in Napa Valley before, but never anything like this! I couldn't get a good shot of it through the front window of the truck! I was stunned. To look at this every day would be a sight to behold! So when we finally arrived at the winery, I got a side view instead...

Stonestreet Winery, is located in the Alexander Valley and is beautiful. I didn't have much experience with their wines before. The only thing I did know was that Jess Jackson's middle name was Stonestreet so this winery must have meant a lot to him. We stopped at the winery to pick up some wines to take to our ultimate destination. Dale and I stood outside and he pointed at a ridge toward the top of the mountains and said, "Do you see that little ridge up there? That's where we are going!" Hooo-wee! Talk about an adrenaline rush!! Inside the winery was a scale model of the Alexander Mountain estate and Dale took the time so show me our route and where we were headed next.

Off we went. I did not know what to expect. As we drove along, Dale talked about the history of Alexander Mountain, which is part of the Mayacamas mountain range. He spoke of the seismic activity up there and how many of the roads were unpaved for a reason. All the seismic activity kept the roads broken so they gave up trying to keep them covered. It sounded like a geological nightmare but all of this added to the beauty of the place and the special wines that came from there. We came upon a gated area, which is where the private Jackson property began and we let ourselves in.

I saw some really interesting things up there including "air conditioning" for the grapevines. Yes, even that high up it can get unbearably hot. As we kept driving up the mountain, Dale pointed out different single vineyard areas for which some of the Stonestreet wines are named. One of the vineyards we passed was the Broken Road Vineyard, and I would sample the wonderful Chardonnay from this vineyard later. And as we headed toward our destination point, the road suddenly became unpaved and much narrower! I could feel the fear begin to overtake me. I trusted Dale to get me there. I tried not to let my fear get the best of me! We finally reached our destination, 1800 feet up, a place called Monument Ridge--just myself, Dale, four bottles of wine and a breathtaking view in one of the most beautiful spots on earth--so far away from anything, you could hear a pin drop on the ground! What an awesome feeling that was!

I walked around the area to a little look-out point they had set-up there and started snapping photos. The look on my face was priceless I'm sure! If anyone would appreciate this, it would have been me. I almost started crying.

We unloaded the wines and sat at a picnic table and began tasting them slowly one by one and evaluated them. This is where the experience of visiting the sensory garden came in handy. As we were tasting them, especially one of the reds I will talk about here, there was a reason why I was picking up certain flavors in the wine. It all had to do with the terroir and the plants growing in the area.

We sampled four amazing wines that I would highly recommend to everyone:

2009 Stonestreet Alexander Mountain Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($35)--rich with pineapple and passion fruit, elegant, fuller mouthfeel than most wines of this varietal. Beautiful wine!

2008 Stonestreet Broken Road Chardonnay ($40)--as we drove up the property, I was able to see the single vineyard this Chardonnay came from. Another very rich, well balanced wine with flavors of fig and pineapple. Very tropical.

2007 Stonestreet Monument Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)--Wow! Talk about intense! Amazing Cabernet! Currants, plums, cigar box, you name it. Huge fruit packs a giant wallop on the front and the finish never ends!

2006 Legacy ($85)--This beauty is a supermodel! Elegant, velvety, sophisticated Bordeaux-blend. I couldn't get enough of this wine. I would have loved to just sit there all afternoon and sip on this one.

These are amazing wines that everyone should enjoy! What an unforgettable experience! Eventually it was time to go back down the mountain and we took a slightly different route coming down and I was able to see some extraordinary things such as a memorial to Jess Jackson, who passed away recently and one of the homes he and his wife Barbara Banke owned. I have to tell you, I am forever changed by this visit and now that I have seen the wonderful things that this man was able to accomplish and the feeling of "family" that he brought to his company, I will continue to support them and sing their praises. Visiting Monument Ridge is something I will always hold near and dear to my heart.

Once again, I would like to thank Dale Cullins, my wonderful and gracious host, for spending the day showing me all these awesome things. And I would also like to thank my friend, Al Samuelson, for giving me the surprise of my life. I am forever indebted to both of you!

For more information on Stonestreet Winery, please visit For information on the Kendall Jackson Wine Center and their gardens, visit

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

Monday, August 8, 2011

Seghesio Family Vineyards: True Superstars!!!

I've been a huge fan of Seghesio Family Vineyards for awhile now. My love affair with their wines began in 2006, when I bought a bottle of their 2005 Sonoma County Zinfandel in a bargain bin at my local grocery store. When I asked how come it was marked down and was there something wrong with the bottle, the gentleman behind the counter said it was the only bottle they had left and they wouldn't be carrying it any longer. After opening the bottle, I thought to myself, "That store is crazy for no longer carrying this wine! They obviously don't know anything..." A year later, I was at a local wine club event and we were blind tasting wines. I won a corkscrew for accurately tasting the 2006 Sonoma County Zinfandel and guessing who made it and what varietal it was. I thought to myself, "These Seghesios sure have something special going on... This Zinfandel is pretty amazing." At that point, I had been discussing with friends how we should do another wine tasting trip to northern California soon. I really wanted to visit this winery! Fast forward to the Spring of 2008, I attended a local event at a wine shop here and the guest of honor was Peter Seghesio, the CEO of the winery. Listening to Peter talk about his family and his passion for the family's history and the winemaking process really touched me so in the Fall of 2008, I decided to take my group of friends out to Healdsburg, California to visit the winery for the first time.

The Seghesio family pulled all the stops! We had a wonderful time meeting family members, tasting wines and I even had the opportunity to crush some grapes!! Meeting Ted Seghesio, the winemaker (seen below) was a wonderful opportunity and one I shall not soon forget! He just makes amazing wines year after year. I know I sound like I'm gushing when I speak of his talent, but you have to try these wines and see for yourself! You will agree with me. The family's warmth and hospitality was genuine and the experience of visiting them would always remain a fond memory!

Well it's been nearly three long years since that first visit and on my trip to California last month, I decided to pop in to the Seghesio tasting room again and find out what was happening! I had heard and read stories about how the winery had been sold and I wanted to make sure that my worst fears would not be realized. Sometimes a winery sale can be a good thing for all involved. And while I don't know all the details of this particular event, I feel confident that this was the right move for them and the quality of their wines will not change at all. When I arrived on that warm Friday afternoon, I was greeted by my friend Brandye Alexander, who does marketing and social media for the winery. I tasted through some amazing wines that afternoon and I would like to share these wines with you!

Although the Seghesio Family is best known for their killer reds, they also put out three amazing whites using Italian varietals--Fiano, Arneis and Pinot Grigio. I have sampled all three many times and cannot say enough great things about them. The white I sampled at the winery that day was the 2010 Pinot Grigio. This is one of the most elegant whites I've ever sampled. It's a bit more full-bodied and full-flavored than most Pinot Grigios I've tried. I find a lot of them pretty lackluster but this one is tops! Highly recommended! $20.

Wow-za! Talk about a powerful Pinot Noir! The 2009 Costiera Pinot Noir is just that! It's huge, velvety, lush, I could go on... Recently, it received 93 points from Wine Spectator Magazine. I completely understand why. You will fall in love with this wine. I'm pretty speechless. I ended up taking a bottle home with me. I keep staring at it waiting for the perfect moment to open it up...It'll be soon, I'm tellin' ya! (I have no willpower!) $42.

What can I say about this next wine, except that your palate is about to go on a big adventure! This is rugged, earthy, jammy Zinfandel at its finest! The 2009 Rockpile Zinfandel is an amazing creature! You might have to sit down when you drink this because you will definitely be taken aback by its layers of complexity! It is to die for! The price point for this wine, at $38, is crazy. It is the yin to the next wine I tried, which I consider the complete opposite or the yang of this one!

The 2008 Cortina Zinfandel is elegant, sophisticated and the feminine counterpart of the Rockpile Zinfandel. Still bold in its flavor profile but smooth and silky as well. Very beautiful. $36.

When asked if I wanted to sample the 2009 Old Vine Carignane, I jumped at the chance. Not only did I not know that they were making one, but Carignane is one of those blending grapes and it's pretty rare to find a winery that makes one straight up like this. I was very excited! It was nearly perfect! Lots of rich blueberry and raspberry flavor and so smooth! I took one of those home too! $28.

While all of this was going on, Ted Seghesio's dad, Ed Seghesio, was making his rounds around the tasting room, telling stories, getting photographed with pretty ladies (he's definitely fond of the ladies!) and adding to the colorful atmosphere of the tasting room that day! I had a wonderful time meeting him! I highly recommend a visit to this winery anytime. They will make you feel very welcome and happy there! I will always support this winery as they hold a special place in my heart! I wish them the best of luck as they transition into the next chapter of their story. They deserve the best! Please visit them and you will find out why they are truly "SUPERSTARS!"

Seghesio Family Vineyards is open 10-5 daily and is located in Healdsburg, California. For more information on the winery, please visit their website at

I would like to thank Brandye Alexander, Ed Seghesio and the tasting room staff for the wonderful time I had last month! I'll be seeing you again very soon!

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Ultimate Food And Wine Pairing

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting the Kendall Jackson Wine Center in Fulton, California (near Santa Rosa in Sonoma County). I have to say my visit was one of the most interesting, educational and delightful experiences I have ever encountered. I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day to do it on and the hospitality there was amazing and something I will never forget! My day consisted of a media appointment in which I was able to participate in a magnificent food and wine pairing session, a sensory garden tour and later, a jaunt up to the Jackson Family's Alexander Mountain property called Monument Ridge. In this segment, I will discuss the food and wine pairing session and how I was able to learn to appreciate why certain foods pair best with certain wines! (Oh, and just how tasty and fun these sessions can be!)

Before I even begin, I wanted to say that I would like to congratulate the winery on their wonderful hospitality. I was greeted by many people and they all had smiles on their faces and seemed like they really enjoyed being there. My host, Dale Cullins, who is a wine educator at the winery, was amazing and such a joy to be around all day! After walking around the beautifully landscaped grounds, I made my way into the tasting room and gift shop where I met my host, Dale and we headed outside for the beginning of an amazing food and wine pairing session. (I long for the day when I can come back and do it all over again!! It was amazing!!)

For those of you who have never visited, Kendall Jackson Wine Center offers many types of tastings including several different food and wine pairings--a dessert pairing, a cheese pairing and the one I participated in--what I consider the ultimate food and wine pairing: Seven courses paired with seven wines, called the Reserve Food & Wine Pairing. Normally this offering is $30 per person and scheduled by appointment. Dale and I walked outside and sat at a table situated in a gazebo. Words could not describe how I was feeling. It was just a neat feeling to be sitting there. I had my own private little space and I enjoyed every moment!

Chef Justin Wangler came out with our first two courses, shown above. (The menus do vary from time to time--to showcase the seasons and the freshest ingredients). All I could say was, "Wow!" when I saw the lovely pairings in front of me. On the left was a cornmeal crusted estate heirloom fried green tomato with Delice de la Vallee cheese and breakfast radishes. The wine paired with it was the 2009 Avant Chardonnay ($14), which is a new Chardonnay just making its debut in shops all over the nation. The crunch of the cornmeal, the acidity in the tomato and the mellow flavor of the cheese complimented the bright acidity in the Chardonnay perfectly! I'm not a huge tomato fan (I have an aversion towards seeds...) but I really enjoyed this! And next was something I have not been able to stop thinking about! Chilled corn soup paired with 2008 Jackson Hills Chardonnay ($25). The shooter of soup, a creamy, naturally sweet delight topped with olive oil was heavenly and the texture was a great match for the Chardonnay's buttery, caramelly undertones. Swoon!

And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, along came a group of pairings that blew my head off!

I had to be grinning from ear to ear when the chef brought out the three courses shown above. The first was a buckwheat crepe with smoked ham hocks and Bellwether Farms Carmody cheese paired with 2006 Highland Estates Seco Highlands Pinot Noir ($35). This was a great pairing! The smokiness of the ham hocks complimented the dark cherry and spicy flavors of the Pinot Noir. Food and wine can be so harmonious in the correct pairing and as I tasted and learned I came to understand why it's so important to pair the right wine with the right dish. I know you're all staring at the item in the middle there and I was too! I couldn't wait to try it! Sweet tea brined Niman Ranch pork belly slider with Syrah BBQ sauce! The wine, 2006 Highland Estates Alisos Hills Syrah ($35), smokey and rich and beautifully paired with this little sandwich. I was a goner! The third course on the plate was very interesting! Snake River Farms beef & nopales tacos. I guess there is a first time for everything. Nopales are a cactus plant. I had never had cactus before. Didn't know what to expect but I'm here to say it was very tasty! Served in a mole sauce and paired with the 2005 Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ($70). A big wine to go with a big dish. So the richer the dish, the bigger the wine.

Are we done yet? Nope! Here comes dessert!!!

How could such a small dessert be so satisfying!! It WAS!!! Buttermilk panna cotta with strawberry gelee and an icebox cookie paired with 2008 Late Harvest Riesling ($25). There were edible flowers on top of the dessert and the green leaf shown in the photo is lemon verbena, something I would run across later in the sensory garden. The Tahitian vanilla bean flavor in the panna cotta complimented the rich texture of the wine and the lemon verbena was infused in the strawberries and made for one heavenly experience! And next was something no one should ever miss: Mama Frischkorn's Caramel Corn (soon to be sold in the tasting room!) paired with 2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay ($25)! Isn't the Chinese take-out box such a cute idea? That's because everyone wants this caramel corn to go. Including myself. The wine was very rich and paired well with the buttery caramel flavor of the corn. What a perfect ending!!

As I sat in the sun enjoying these little courses and these great wines, I considered myself blessed to be sitting there. What a happy experience! I highly recommend it to anyone who visits them. It'll be one the best hours or so you ever spend in wine country!

A big thanks to Dale Cullins, my gracious and wonderful host and to Chef Justin Wangler for concocting these fabulous dishes and to the hospitality staff at Kendall Jackson Wine Center for doing what you do best! And I cannot forget to thank my friend, Al Samuelson of Majestic Fine Wines for making this happen for me. You all are the BEST!

Stay tuned for part two of this fabulous day coming very soon!

For more information on the food & wine pairings and on Kendall Jackson wines and the winery, please visit their website,

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