Sunday, May 12, 2013

Three Great Reasons Why YOU Should Be Drinking Rosé!

Let's face it! I would drink Rosé all year long if I could. Why? Because it's a wonderful and delicious way to drink red varietals cold. I am all about the pink. And when I have some, I am in heaven... Rosé  can be made of any red varietal grape and I hope to explore the whole gamut of possibilities during peak Rosé  season this Summer!

Unfortunately, here in the midwest, Rosé is not the easiest to find, so I've had to rely on the help of friends, local and afar, to keep me in the loop on the latest finds. Today, I'm going to give you three great reasons why you should be drinking Rosé and how to get your hands on them!

Let's start with my obvious choice, my favorite so far this year, 2012 Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé by Cornerstone Cellars in Yountville (Napa Valley), California. As you have probably read from previous posts, I am enamored with Cornerstone Cellars. Their wines are top notch, their winemaker Jeff Keene is awesome and he makes this amazing Rosé that is redolent of strawberries and watermelon. Like a fun Jolly Rancher candy with more zip! The moment I took a sip, I wanted to swim in it! Made of 100% Syrah from Napa Valley vineyards and aged in French Oak. Terrific! I'm moving to Napa next month. I am stocking up! $16 on special from or visit the tasting room!!

Value is rare in Napa Valley so when I find it, I am beyond excited. Take this next wine for instance. Who's been to downtown Napa? There are so many cute tasting rooms and I found one that brings amazing value for your hard-earned dollar, Taste At Oxbow. This place, located near the Oxbow Public Market, is a must-stop. After stopping there myself in February, I discovered a plethora of wonderful wines with a much higher perceived value. And I love, love, love the fact that they make a gorgeous Rosé  out of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Just look at that color, dark and mysterious! The 2012 Waterstone Rosé  of Cabernet Sauvignon. Strawberries, dark cherries and floral notes round out this great Summer sipper. $18 at the tasting room. Please visit! You'll be happy you did!

I was actually able to find this next Rosé here at home, much to my surprise. I am assuming the Wagner Family of Caymus and Belle Glos fame distributes these wines a little more than some of the smaller production wineries but nonetheless I was thrilled! This one is the 2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Blanc from Sonoma Coast. 100% Pinot Noir, partially barrel fermented and delicious! Cranberry, cinnamon and citrus notes. Vibrant, fruity and refreshing! Do not miss this one,. $17 and available at your local wine store or online at

Well, there you have it! I am looking forward to test-driving many more Rosé wines once I reach my final destination in wine country this Summer! Stay tuned for more cool finds!!

Thank you to Cornerstone Cellars, Taste At Oxbow and Waterstone Wines, and the Wagner Family for making such terrific Rosé! I look forward to tasting many more!

"You Saw It Here First!" This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk". Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine writer/wine educator with a great passion for wine and everything it encompasses!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Passaggio Wines Looks To The Future!

It's been awhile since I told the remarkable story of one woman's quest to follow her passion and become a winemaker. Winemaker Cynthia Cosco of Passaggio Wines has certainly come a long way since the early days of her winemaking career, which believe it or not, was not that long ago! I am proud and excited to say, a lot has happened since my last update and I am here to share a new chapter!

Not long ago, Cynthia moved Passaggio Wines from the town of Sonoma to a new home in the city, Dogpatch Wine Works, which is located in San Francisco at 2455 Third Street--a quaint little neighborhood with beautifully restored architecture. Not only is Dogpatch Wine Works a custom crush facility, meaning those who want to make wine, amateurs and pros, can go there to do so, but it also serves as a tasting room and a retail venue for Cynthia's wines. 

My girlfriends and I were excited to visit and Cynthia was gracious enough to host our large group on a chilly Sunday morning in the city! We had a wonderful time, mingling, sampling and overseeing the process of which Cynthia's wines are made there. 

As of now, Cynthia makes four wines (soon to be five) and each time I sample her wines, I get the feeling more exciting news is just around the corner! She is the prime example of someone with so much passion, her wines get better and better and this latest crop of wines are no exception!

2011 Passaggio Unoaked Chardonnay--I was speechless when I sampled this wine. In fact, my bottle disappeared very quickly! Clean fresh citrus flavors with great minerality and balance! This is her "flagship" wine and when people ask me about Unoaked Chardonnay, this is the one I talk about. It's amazing. Just take my word for it and try it. $23. I can't wait to try the 2012!

2011 Passaggio Pinot Grigio--This is a zippy wine with ZING!! Pinot Grigio can sometimes be a little boring but this one is far from that! I love the melon flavor and clean finish. It's refreshing and sure to be a go to wine for everyone's patio this Summer. $19

2011 Passaggio Rose'--I will discuss this wine even though it is currently sold out. I remember being one of the first to try her Rose' and this is the second vintage. She changes up the formula a little each time. This one was a Saignee-method (where they bleed the vats)   rose' and made up primarily of Zinfandel from the Dry Creek AVA in Sonoma County and the addition of some Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. A very different combination but worked beautifully! Really tasty with strawberry, cranberry, and watermelon flavor throughout. YUM! Make more please!

And now for Cynthia's first red: 2011 *Unmarked* Pinot Noir--I have to tell you how excited I was when I found out she was making Pinot Noir. We were all clamoring! From the moment I took my first sip, I was completely stoked! It's GREAT!! Cinnamon baking spice, dark tea, cranberry goodness. So lovely. None of that bacon fat or funk. Just nice subtle, pleasant flavors. It will bring a smile to your face. And the "Unmarked" means it goes to support Law Enforcement Personnel, something very close to Cynthia's heart since it is a tribute to her former life. $45.

So what's new on the horizon? A new wine! *Unmarked* Sauvignon Blanc!! We can't wait! Releasing soon hopefully!

These are exceptional wines and should be enjoyed by everyone!

 So how do you get some? Very easy. In addition to visiting Dogpatch Wine Works, the wines can be purchased from her website, If you're not part of the Passionistas Wine Club yet, you are missing out. Being a member gives you a 20% discount on your purchases and at these prices you will want to purchase some more! I am proud to be a member! Interested in making wine or just visiting? Please go to for more information.

Thank you to Cynthia Cosco for her continued friendship and support. We had a wonderful time visiting with you and hope to do it again soon!

"You Saw It Here First!" This post was published solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk".

Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine writer, wine lover and wine educator with a passion for wine and all that it encompasses.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Beauty And Grace In Sonoma Valley...

On the last day of my latest venture to wine country, I was treated to a grand surprise! Such a beautiful and peaceful experience that it will be forever etched in my mind! Tucked away in a remote corner of Sonoma Valley is the most amazing place you will ever encounter! Rich with beauty and grace, The Hanzell Vineyards experience will leave you breathless and wanting more!

I had thought about this place many times over the years, never having tried any of their wines. When a friend of mine mentioned the possibility of visiting them and would I be interested, I immediately said yes! I had no idea where it was.  As we drove closer and closer, we went past a gate and began climbing up the five hundred or so feet to the top where the winery is located, stopping along the way to take photos of the breathtaking views! As we approached the winery buildings, I knew I was in for a special treat!

   The history of Hanzell Vineyards is fascinating! Founded in the early fifties by James David Zellerbach, a gentleman who was appointed Ambassador to Italy by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, this winery is famous for being the first winery to do many things:

   They were the first to create and use custom-designed temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks such as the one below (now housed in a museum-type area of the winery).

                                 They were the first to use inert gas at bottling to prevent oxidation.

                              They were the first to use only French oak barrels for aging their wines.

     And a very important point, they were the first to isolate and cultivate the bacterium responsible for malolactic fermentation.

     Hanzell Vineyards now owns six estate vineyards where they have forty acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted. I was able to see two of the six, the Ambassador Vineyard (Pinot Noir) and the Ramon Vineyard (Chardonnay). They have the most amazing quality control. Everything is near perfect and pristine to the eye. And it is just this attention to detail and quality that shines in the wines when you taste them for the first time. The vineyards were absolutely beautiful. I could have stayed there all day long!

After the ambassador's death in the early sixies, the winery was sold to Douglas and Mary May. During their ten years there, they expanded the winery. When Mary passed away, the winery was once again put up for sale. In 1974, the Countess Barbara De Brye, purchased the winery sight unseen. Upon her unexpected passing in 1991, her young son Alexander became and is now the current proprietor. Although he lives in England, he and his family are on-site often and oversee the day to day operations of the winery. Hanzell Vineyards has had five winemakers since its inception, including their current winemaker, Michael McNeill. The wines are impeccable!

After visiting the wine library, where vintages of their wines go all the way back to the sixties, we were led to a small office where a private tasting was held for us by the winery's wine educator, Gary Saperstein. He was wonderful and I have to say, he made my experience so relaxed and comfortable! He is definitely an asset to the Hanzell Vineyards team!!

The tasting included three current releases, one of which I was the very first guest to try! That was so special!  The three wines included in my tasting were: 2011 Hanzell Vineyards "Sebella" Chardonnay ($36), 2010 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay ($75) and the brand new 2010 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir ($95)


The 2011 "Sebella" Chardonnay was a breath of fresh air! Stainless steel fermented then barrel aged for six months in 1-4 year old French oak barrels, it was citrusy, with green apple and tangerine tones and a clean, crisp finish. It reminded me a lot of a Sauvignon Blanc (which is my favorite white varietal) so I enjoyed it very much!

The 2010 Chardonnay was exceptional! Creamy with a long finish and beautiful notes of honey, lemon and nectarine. Well-balanced with good minerality. They recommend decanting this one. (I guess I would have to learn to be patient!)

The 2010 Pinot Noir was a nice surprise! I don't usually drink Pinot Noirs very young but this one was full-flavored with vibrant cherry notes, anise and cinnamon spice. Just a tiny bit of earthiness. I would love to taste this vintage again in a few years to see how it fares. Absolutely delicious!

     I have decided to make Hanzell Vineyards a part of my new life in wine country and hope to join one of their wine clubs when I move out there soon. I feel like I would be part of something very special when I do. They are off the beaten path and definitely worth making an appointment to visit. Words cannot describe how I was feeling upon my departure of this beautiful place. It's something you have to experience for yourselves. And I hope you do!!

     I would like to thank Gary Saperstein and the team at Hanzell Vineyards for making my visit so special. I would also like to thank my friend, Chef Carlo Cavallo of Meritage Oyster Bar & Grill in Sonoma for setting up my wonderful appointment. For more information on how you can visit Hanzell Vineyards, please visit their website at

     "You Saw It Here First!" This post was written solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman, CSW. Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine writer, wine lover and wine educator with a passion for wine and all that it encompasses..."

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Best Olive Oil You Will Ever Experience...

Most of you have either heard of or have seen the movie, "Under The Tuscan Sun"--the somewhat autobiographical story of author Frances Mayes. In the movie, Frances moves to Tuscany on a whim and purchases a villa named Bramasole. Since the book and the movie came out several years ago, I've had the opportunity to meet Frances twice. Her story has really inspired me to follow my passion.

Recently, I found out that Frances and her husband Edward Mayes were off on a new venture--making their own Extra Virgin Olive Oil! How fantastic! This oil would be made from the Frantoio, Moraiolo and Leccino olives grown on the Bramasole property! Some samples of two vintages of the oil, 2011 and 2012, were sent to me and I could not wait to try them out!

Italians consume 15 liters of olive oil per person per year. On the other hand, Americans do not. Not even close. One taste of this oil and their minds could be changed forever! Olive oil has concentrations of polyphenols that carry anti-inflammatory properties. In other words, you should consume more! It's good for your health!

I truly did not know what to expect and what I got in return, after sampling the oil, was the largest surprise of my life! I received a small can of the newly pressed 2012 vintage. The instructions were to pour some in a white glass bowl and eat it with some crusty peasant bread, which I did! It was amazing! So lush, so green, so peppery. I had never tasted anything like it before in my life! Even the bottle of the 2011 vintage was still peppery but the flavors had integrated to a smooth, beautiful finish! Oh my!

I am completely spoiled for life! The Extra Virgin olive oil I have been purchasing at the grocery store has been retired. I'm sold. Every dish I have added this oil to now has an indescribable richness. Wow!

So---how can you obtain this oil? Frances and Edward have started the Bramasole Olive Oil Convivium.
Information on this is available on their website, The oil can be purchased by case or as a 5-liter can. When you order this oil, you will know where it came from and on what date it was harvested.
Most olive oils do not mention this on their label. I think it's worth it. You will be spoiled and your culinary experience will be forever changed. For an amazing experience, please give the Bramasole Olive Oil a try!

I would like to thank my friend Chef Robin White and Frances and Edward Mayes for allowing me to experience such greatness. I also want to thank my friend Katherine Parker for assisting with the photos.

"You Saw It Here First"--This story was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk". Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine writer, wine educator and wine lover whose passion is wine and all that it encompasses...