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.