Champagne Bubblies and New Year Treats

Ringing in the New Year in the traditional champagne-toast way does not mean that you have to wring out your wallet in order to buy a decent bubbly. There are many nice champagnes and sparkling wines that can grace the Auld Lyne Syne part of your holidays and leave you exhilarated but not broke. Then, on the other hand, if you want to do a once-a-year splurge (or maybe more often?), there are marvelous “true” champagnes (see note at the bottom of the column) that will give you a tasting pleasure that is exceptional.

A basic vocabulary guide before you go shopping: Extra Dry means a little sweet. Brut means dry. Extra Brut means very dry. Blanc de Blanc is wine made entirely from Chardonnay grapes.

For good taste and good value, try the Deutz Champagne recommended (and sold) by Ron Florian at Truckee’s Florian Fine Wines & Specialty Foods. “It is a very subtle champagne, with a little bit of yeastiness,” noted Ron. At $49/bottle, it is an excellent value. Deutz has 275 acres of vineyards in the finest crus of Champagne. The wines are slowly and carefully aged in Deutz’ chalk-walled cellars far beneath the historic village of Aÿ, right in the middle of the champagne region of France. In fact, located in the village of Ay is the Musée Champenois.

Moving to a Brut Rose champagne from France will double the cost, but the Billecart-Salmon is exquisite. $117.99/bottle at Florian’s. For this bubbly, we’re letting one of the world’s famed experts speak: Stephen Tanzer. “Pale, orange-tinged pink. Vibrant, spicy aromas of orange peel, ruby-red grapefruit and floral honey. Focused and pure, with juicy orange and tangy rhubarb flavors and a lush, velvety texture. This is weightier than previous bottlings of this cuvee, but has the usual precision and lift expected by long-time fans of this rose. Finishes with juicy citrus flavors and a lite mineral jolt.”

Caroline Vogt, wine buyer for Tahoe House of Tahoe City, has a selection of champagne and bubblies that are affordable and food friendly. Gosset’s Brut Excellence Champage, a nicely layered and rich blend. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes from from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards constitute 87% of this wine, with13% Pinot Meunier, give a bright finish with a hint of pear aroma. $42/bottle. An American favorite is Schramsberg’s Blance du Blanc, $38/bottle. Caroline was very enthusiastic about J Vineyards Cuvee 20, a nice dry bubbly which will go well with appetizers and desserts. $23/bottle. A very affordable “and really very nice bubbly”, said Caroline, is the Sequria Viudas Bruce Reserve Cava, a spanish sparkling wine, $10.99/bottle.

Will Clark, the very amiable owner of 49 Vines wine shop in Downieville, CA, has an enthusiastic recommendation: ”Wiebel Family vineyards in Hopland (Mendocino County, CA) makes a non-vintage almond Champagne (demi-sec sparkling wine) with an essence of almond! The very delicate almond flavor is layered over impressions of pear, green apple, and toasted vanilla. The tiny bubbles waft these flavors over the palate to create a very pleasing and unique taste sensation. Perfect for any celebration and a steal at $12.00.” Alcohol 11%. Will suggests that a perfect appetizer pairing is Thai chicken, chicken and shrimp… or pour this wine as a dessert over apricot, peaches and raspberry sorbet, and you'll have the perfect end to an everlasting meal memory .

A recent note from the Champagne Bureau and its Director Sam Heitner makes these points: True Champagne comes only from the Champagne appellation, located approximately 90 miles northeast of Paris. The Champagne region’s distinctive chalky soil, cool climate and strict regulations come together to create a unique sparkling wine impossible to duplicate anywhere else in the world. For a wine to bear the Champagne name, all the grapes used in its production must come from approved parcels and the wine must be elaborated, manipulated, stored and labeled within the appellation.

However, a loophole in U.S. law allows some domestic winemakers to continue to use the name Champagne and 15 other internationally recognized wine regions on wines that are not produced in those regions. “We are very proud to see more and more U.S. wine producers embracing the importance of location, yet until all practices change, we urge U.S. consumers to carefully review labels to insure they are not mislead,” continued Heitner. “When the time is right to pick a bottle of Champagne, it is important to remember that Champagne only comes from Champagne.”
The Champagne Bureau is the official U.S. representative of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), a trade association which represents the grape growers and houses of Champagne, France.

Oh those French! Just enjoy your New Year and all your many blessings.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appears in my column "It's Grape" in December 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas: What Every Wine Lover Should Have

There are a few essentials, and some frillies, that I’d put in gift wrap for anyone who enjoys wine.

The first is a bottle of Wine Away, which removes red wine stains from furniture, clothing, rugs – any fabric, pretty much. Made by Evergreen Labs, it costs about $10 for a 12 ounce spray bottle. I saw it on the shelf at Corkscrews Wine Bar in Tahoe City, but it is widely available.

Why is this important? Well, recently I was enjoying a tasting of Opolo’s wonderful wines with Kristi Snyder, Sommelier at Lone Eagle Grill at Hyatt Incline, and the sales manager for Opolo, Cary Thrasher, who was pouring their 2007 Mountain Zinfandel. Poor Cary poured the Zin right on his lap when his attention flagged for a moment. He was wearing taupe colored wool slacks. Kristi jumped up and got the Wine Away, handed it to Cary with a wet napkin. About half a bottle later (it was a BIG spill, and too bad, because the Zin was wonderful), Cary’s slacks were back to normal color.

If your wine loving friends don’t already have it, buy them a copy of The Wine Bible, authored by Karen MacNeil . A weighty paperback at 910 pages, the word “Bible” just begins to describe the importance of this book. About $20 new, and on used book sites, as low as $4. Drew Conly, wine server at the Fat Cat Café in Tahoe City, was pouring a taste of the Montepulciano they have by the glass. Out comes Drew’s well-worn copy of the Wine Bible, and we looked up a few references to Tuscan wines. Drew was so intrigued by The Wine Bible that he took it on his trip to Italy last year.

A few good wine glasses, one for reds, one for whites, are always welcome gifts. I’d recommend the Crate & Barrel “Elite” Chardonnay glass that stands 8 ¾” high and holds 22 oz. Plenty of stem to keep your warm hands away from cooling down the wine. $5.95 per glass. For the reds, a great everyday wine glass is the Spiegelau “Vino Grande” Burgundy glass, six for $52.95 at If your giftees already have red and white glasses, think about the Riedel “Wine Collection” Pinot-Nebbiolo glass, a set of four at $49.95 at

Taking care of your wine glasses is as important as having a few good glasses. I am a great fan of the Brushtech handled cleaner, and the small brush is fine even for big glasses. $6.95 at, perhaps a dollar or two more at a wine shop. The manager of the La Bodega Winery shop, located in Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, TX, suggested adding a touch of bleach every few months to keep it bacteria free.

An absolute must for any wine adventurer who drinks inexpensive red wine of an untested quality: a Vinturi Wine Aerator. The standard one at $39.95 is a fine choice. Check it out at Corkscrews in Tahoe City. The explanation is this: it mixes just the right amount of air with your wine as you pour it through the device and into your glass, allowing your red wine to breathe instantly. Results are a better bouquet and flavor. The company also makes a white Vinturi wine aerator now too.

Some stocking stuffer ideas are the Epic Screwpull foil cutter made by Le Crueset. You can find it for $12.99 at, or at many wine shops or kitchenware stores. Or consider the fun of “drinkware”, foam coasters for the bottom of wine glasses. Take a look at; for designs ranging from flip-flops to holiday designs to golf caddies; $15-20 for a set of 4, depending on the design.

Wine and the holidays. A perfect pairing!

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in December 2009.

Where to go for the Holidays? Italy – but locally

Those little hidden ristorantes in Italy beckon, but they are not so very far away. Walk into Pianeta Ristorante in Truckee’s old Commercial Row area downtown, and you are there! Owners Robyn Sills and Ed Coleman have painstakingly created a fresco-laden, welcoming and wine-loving place right here in Tahoe.

With more than 50 years of experience in fine dining between them, Robyn and Ed have worked to coordinate wine and food in Pianeta to create an evening that’s unrushed and fun. Their extensive wine list, which has been cited as one of the area’s best, features (of course) many Italian wines.

One of those good Italian wines on their list is La Vis Pinot Grigio, from the Trentino region of Italy. This wine is delicious, with bright fruit flavor, a soft floral aroma augmented by a bit of spice, and as it opens up in your glass, you can taste tangerine, almond, apricot and citrus on the finish. $7/glass. There are several good food pairings on the Pianeta menu, and all of them went well with this Pinot Grigio – bruschetta, olive tapenade with goat cheese on toast triangles, and a caprese served on a pool of fresh basil and olive oil.

If those pairings intrigue you, try an Italian red wine with them too. The Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, an Italian Chianti, is aromatic with tones of cherry, and features soft tannins on the finish. Not so earthy as many Tuscan wines, and medium acidity made it a great food wine.
$8.50 per glass

“There are so many Italian varietals available now,” noted Robyn. “A problem is that prices for Italian wines have been rising due to the Euro-dollar exchange rate. But we have sought out the hidden gems because we are dedicated to making wine accessible and offering many price points for every budget. We’ve also built the wine list to support our Italian cuisine.”

The Tormaresca “Neprica” is a blend of Cabernet (30%), Primitivo (30%) and Negromaro (40%) and it is a hidden gem indeed! At $7 the glass, it paired fantastically well with the carpaccio, and the house-made Salcica served on poleta with roasted pepper. Often called a Super Tuscan, this wine is rich and complex, is well balanced with lots of fruit, and a nice structure with medium tannin. 13.5% alcohol.

The house made pasta dishes at Pianeta are many, and all of them are fabulous. There is a daily special ravioli that is always excellent, Good wine pairings from the Pianeta wine list are many, but two good ones are the 2005 Leonetti Sangiovese and the 2007AntinoriBianco.

The Leonetti hails from Walla Walla, WA, and is a blend of 76% Sangiovese, 13% Syrah, 11% Cabernet. It is a bright ruby red, and the aroma is redolent of red currant, berry, spice. Taste carries the spice through with some floral tones. On the finish, a hint of sweetness, chocolate. A nice acidity.

The 2007 AntinoriBianco is in Pianeta’s “More Adventurous Whites” section on the wine list, and it is a lovely Tuscan white. It is crisp, a blend of four grapes, dry and yet the tropical fruit overtones lead to a very enjoyable wine with medium finish and a citrusy aftertaste.

The favorite wine/food pairing of the owner? Ed would sit down anytime to their ribeye steak, topped with gorgonzola cheese & balsamic grilled onions. His wine choice is the 2005 Avignonese, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which Wine Spectator awarded 92 points. A beautiful garnet red in color; it’s intense in flavor, a teasing scent of violet, and dry taste of black cherry and licorice, with a hint of tannin. It’s perfect for serving now, and Ed likes its understated style and good balance.

Pianeta Ristorante is located at 10096 Donner Pass Rd, Truckee, CA 96161. (530) 587-4694. Try their daily special pasta!

What oh What to Pair With Chocolate? TAHOE Festival Answers This Important Question!

The Chocolate, Wine and Roses Festival, held in November 2009, answers the important question for wine aficionados and chocolate lovers: what wines to pair in order to extend the sumptuousness of chocolate.

This event is another instance of the do-good, taste-wine, eat-well opportunities that Tahoe neighbors and visitors can experience each year at the lake. Benefitting Tahoe Women’s Services and Project MANA, the Festival held at the North Tahoe Event Center, Kings Beach, should go on your calendar next autumn.

Ta-Dum! A new winery debuts at this Festival – the Big Woody Wine Company, located in Incline Village at sailing coordinates 39° N, 120° W. Alan Richards, president (who owns a goodsized vintage wooden Chris Craft boat, thus the winery’s name) poured his 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from Lake County. This is similar to a vin de pays from the Southern Rhone, with the raisinated fruit of a village wine. 13.7% alcohol. $15/bottle. The 2007 Chardonnay from Sonoma is akin to southern-Rhone white - think Granache Blanc/Viognier with some floral aromatics and backbone to stand up to foods. 13.0% alcohol. $15/bottle.

The Big Woody wines were wonderfully paired with a dozen different chocolates hand made by Aaron Zendner, chocolatier extraordinaire of Mr. Z’s Micro-confectionary, based in Incline Village. My favorite of Aaron’s array was an amazing chocolate covered toffee sprinkled with chopped nuts. This is NOT for the calorie-conscious.

Truckee River Winery, which has just opened a tasting room, has expanded its offerings. They poured their 2008 El Dorado County Pinot Gris, very flavorful , an unfiltered wine with the characteristic Pinot Gris coming through nicely, with a crisp finish, 13.4% $12/bottle. This wine was awarded the People’s Choice Award at the Chocolate-Wine-Roses Festival.

On the way to taste the wines presented by Joseph Nase of Moody’s/Baxter’s Northstar, we took time to watch Brooke and Thomas McCarthy, owners of Bite Catering of Incline Village, put together a wonderful Choco Taco, comprised of a slice of ripe persimmon, topped with house made Ghiradelli Fudge and finished with pomegranate and fresh fruit tidbits.

This could be a difficult pairing to make, but Nase recommended two very different wines, both of which went beautifully. The 2007 Banyuls by M Chapoutier is a classic with chocolate. Somewhat prun-ey in the nose, but then delights the palate with raisins, nuttiness, molasses, black raspberry. Made from very old Grenache vines, 16% alcohol. About $20 for a 500 ml bottle.

The second wine, a Lot XIII Charles Krug Napa Valley Zinfandel Port is a limited release wine that presents a toffee-delight to the nose and carries through in taste. There are oak aromatics at play here too, and berry jam. “Crafted in the spirit of the Solera style, thirteen vintages create a seductive history of our Port in one glass,” notes the Krug website. “This elegant and weighty Port lingers on the palate, slowly drifting to a chewy, yet supple finish.” Yes it does. It is a delight with chocolate. 18.1% alcohol, $35 for a 375 ml bottle.

The 2007 Gold Note Zinfandel, Fair Play (southern El Dorado County) CA, is an amazing wine from Kevin Foley, winemaker at Gold Note. This Zinfandel keeps winning awards. Foley characterizes it this way: “an aromatic fruit nose rich with strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry flavors. This gold-medal Zin is smooth, powerful, and full-bodied with a well-balanced dry finish with notes of caramel and spice.” 16.9 % alcohol. $30/bottle

Nevada City Winery offered their Late Harvest Zinfandel as their chocolate pairing wine. Sourced from grapes in the Sierra Foothills, it is richly flavored with, a mildly sweet taste counter-balanced with crisp, fruity flavors. 14.8% alcohol. $18/ 500 ml bottle
Dawn Bertsch, one of our favorite young sommeliers in the Lake Tahoe area, poured two wonderful chocolate-pairing wines on behalf of Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants. Dr Loosen 2007 Riesling Kabinett is not only a great aperitif wine, but a dinner wine due to a fine lingering aftertaste and a spicy, tangy minerality. It’s low alcohol, 8.5%, makes it very refreshing . $20/bottle.

The Cossart Gordon Madeira Bual was aged 15 years in Oak, to reach its 19% alcohol level it is an inviting wine, fruity, and with well rounded fruit, touch of cinnamon, and a lasting finish. $38/ 500 ml bottle.

Although it will be another year before this benefit is held, please remember that these charitable organizations deserve and need your support year-round.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in November 2009.

Tired of Waiting

It will pay to sit up straight and think about this quote : "Defining a new normal and acting on that is more prudent than waiting for the old normal to return." That's a note from Rob McMillan, founder of Silicon Valley Bank's Wine Division and author of their Annual State of the Wine Industry Report. Of all the prelims, this is the most important lesson.

I haven't been blogging a lot this year, because the paradigm shift initiated by the current recessionary economic environment has been confusing to all. I've been hesitant to write about the old order and best business practices to maintain that order, and it just hasn't seemed appropriate to be a booster of techniques and terms of the "old normal".

Now, my prognosis is that the shake out is almost done. The owners of cult wineries fueled by the excess money earned in Silicon Valley are twisting and turning and trying to survive, and these wannabe winmakers have learned -- or should have learned -- that their $120 cabs and $80 chards are just not going to sell beyond their own personal rolodexs. The big guys got bigger (Foley, an excellent example) by buying low and smartly are using the synergies that come from centralizing management functions to reduce G&A and other fixed costs and stay profitable.

So maybe 2010 will bring some structure to the industry, and the "new normal" -- yet to be defined and quantified -- will provide grist for the blogger mill once again.

I'm really looking forward to the Unified Symposium to schmooze and get the skivvy. One of the nice things about survival mode, I've observed, is that the best and brightest people are more willing to share... or at least to drop a few veils.

$45 Winery Sustainability and Design Education Series Online from VT

"In early 2008 the Virginia Tech wine department organized a very successful Winery Sustainability and Design program covering many winery sustainability issues. Because of the success of this event and the importance of the subject, Dr. Bruce Zoecklein posted an Adobe Presenter version of this Online.

The subjects included in these audio and Power Point slide presentations are as follows:
 Sustainability in Winery Design
 Sustainable Winery Architecture
 Why Solar, Why Now
 Gravity Flow Design, Principles and Practices
 Cellars, Caves and Earth-Sheltered Design
 Winery Construction and Sustainable Building Materials

Each presentation is approximately 45 minutes long. Topics are discussed by some of the most respected winery architects, engineers, and winery planners from California and the Pacific Northwest.

This password-protected program is available for a donation of $45 to the Enology-Grape Chemistry Group at Virginia Tech. These funds will be used to support graduate student education. Check it out at: "

This info from Iowa State's Michael L White. who produces a fantastic bi-weekly newsletter called Wine-Grower-News: issue #104 October 9, 2009

Tasting Opolo by Lake Tahoe's Shores (What could be better?)

One of the most talented sommeliers at Lake Tahoe is Kristi Snyder, who buys wine and makes diners feel very welcome at the fantastic lakeside Lone Eagle Grill at Hyatt Regency Incline. She's the kind of wine professional who you just want to visit time and again. No wonder this is the highest ranking Hyatt in the world in terms of bottle sales of wine!

Kristi pulls everyone together in a spirit of education, fun and food. Today's treat (November 10, 2009) was happening onto a tasting of Opolo wines, and 7 bottles of wonder from this Paso Robles vineyard and winery were open and being gently paired with the Grill's great cuisine.

"We've become known as a Zinfandel house," said Cary Thrasher, Sales Manager of Opolo Vineyards. He was pouring their 2007 Mountain Zinfandel. No sense in mincing words, this is a fantastic wine, a great value at $28 per bottle, and there's a good chance you will find it on the Hyatt Incline's wine list soon. The Opolo website description says it all: "Always an Opolo favorite, we are particularly proud of this wine. Possibly the best vintage yet, the '07 Mountain Zinfandel is loaded with gobs of boysenberry, wild cherry and blackberry. Rustic anise and ripe velvety tannins on the finish are the perfect ending to this fantastic wine."

Regardless of the Zin-house reputation, Nevada sales rep Gabri Fogliani of Encore Beverages encouraged me to try the Opolo 2006 Viognier. It is absolutely wonderful. Grapes come from 300 acres that Opolo has in Paso Robles. It's big-bodied, tones of apricot and melon and a bit of spice, and it has a great long and rich finish. 14.9% alcohol, $22.00 a bottle.

Frankly, the Viognier is one of the best wines I've tasted since I started writing the weekly wine column for The Tahoe Weekly newspaper in April 2009. That says a lot -- it's been almost 1000 wines.

Might be the perfect wine for your Thanksgiving feast!

Wine Trail Programs Thrive on Saturdays: Kernels of Wisdom from MidWestern GrapeGrowers and Wineries

Staff up your tasting room on Saturdays! This is one lesson to be gleaned from a recent survey from the MidWest wine industry, in this instance Nebraska. The results are courtesy of Iowa State's Michael L White. who produces a fantastic bi-weekly newsletter called Wine-Grower-News. In issue #106 November 6, 2009, Mike shared a news item that should help wineries who particiate in wine trail programs better understand consumer behavior.


"The Nebraska Winery and Grape Growers Association (NWGGA) has a great newsletter called the NWGGA Juice. The August, 2009 edition has a good article that summarizes the mid-point survey of their Nebraska Wine Tour Passport program. Much of this information can be of value to other wine trail programs and/or events being planned here in the Midwest. These are the highlights of the mid-point consumer survey they completed using the Online Survey Monkey .

- Only 9% of the responders felt that they would visit all 28 stops. Time and travel costs were issues.
- 36.4% participated in the Passport program because they enjoy learning more about Nebraska wine
and they like the adventure and travel across Nebraska.
- Only 9% participated in the Passport program for the wine bucks.
- Saturday was the 100% top answer for the day they most likely would visit a Passport location.
Sunday was second with 36.4%.
- A tie for the number of visits per outing at 36.4% indicated visitors both choose 1-2 and 3-4 stops.
- 72.7% said they travel more than 50 miles in a single Passport outing.
- 90% knew that tasting rooms are different from wineries.
- 63.6% enjoy sampling wine specific to the winery they are visiting most. 63.6% of the responses
indicated that visitors liked learning about other wineries in the state while visiting a winery. 27.3%
liked meeting the vintner.
- 72.7% appreciate the ability to taste wines from several wineries when visiting a tasting room.
36.4% enjoyed the ambiance of the tasting room.
- Ambiance, friendly staff and good hospitality are key to a good experience.
- 63.6% of the responders didn’t know that Nebraska law requires 75% Nebraska grapes in Nebraska
- 90.9% of the respondents wanted to learn more about the Nebraska wine industry.
- 81.8% would consider a social membership with a fee around $10 per year being most popular.
- Just over ½ of the respondents buy Nebraska wine at retail and 36.4% buy national brands because
they are easier to find. 54% say they buy other wine because of price.
- 45.5% did not know that many wineries have gift shops online that they can order from.
- 100% said they will do the Passport again in 2010.
- When asked about preferences on newly proposed wine trails:
- 55.6% said it was important to invite tasting rooms to the wine trail
- 25% said restaurants were of little interest
- 22.2% wanted a motel or B&B included, some thought antiques were interesting
- 25% said gift shops should be on the trail and area events on the trail were important
- 50% thought tourist sites would be an interesting option to include.

You can check out the the Nebraska 2009 Passport Wine Tour here: "


Mike works within a group called the Midwest Grape & Wine Industry Institute: You can reach him at Michael L. White, ISU Extension Viticulture Specialist, 909 East 2nd St. Suite E, Indianola, IA 50125-2892, ph: 515-961-6237, fax: 6017 or

Winemaker Dinners at Baxter’s Northstar – Special Feature, Wines of Burgundy from Kermit Lynch

It would be difficult to find a better host for a winemaker dinner than Joseph Nase, Director of Wines at Baxter’s Bistro, Northstar-at-Tahoe. The winemaker dinner series he hosts are justifiably famous and packed with patrons, and Chef de Cuisine Michael Plapp contributes outstanding dishes for pairings with wines at the dinner.

(Joseph Nase, left; Steven Ledbetter, right)

I attended the winemaker dinner that featured the wines of Kermit Lynch, a famous purveyor of the wines of Burgundy, with a shop located in Berkeley and sales offices nationwide. Mr Lynch has been named Wine professional of the Year by the James Bearch Foundation, and has been given medals by the government of France, including the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. His book, Adventures on the Wine Route, is award-winning.

To begin the dinner, Stephen Ledbetter of Kermit Lynch, chose a group of rose wines to tickle the palate. We tasted the following:

Domaine de Fontsainte Corbieres “Gris de Gris” – 50% Grenache Gris, 25% Cinsault, 25% Carignan

Domaine de Poujol Coteaux du Languedoc Rose – 50% Cinsault, 30% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 5% Carignan

Chateau Trinquevedel Tavel Rose – 50% Grenache Noir, 20% Cinsault, 20% Clairette, 10% Syrah, Mourvedre, Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc. A note on the Trinquevedel’s rose from Mr Ledbetter: “The last 10% of grapes is somewhat typical for the southern Rhone. Historically farmers planted a range of varietals (all allowed under the French laws) to insure they had a large enough harvest. That is, in the event that one varietal didn’t ripen properly or was destroyed by the weather (hail and strong winds are a recurring problem), they would have other grapes to use in the final blend.”

The dinner began with Local Oysters Three Ways (broiled, smoked, raw), paired with a 2007 Aligote, Bouzeron, A & P De Villaine. This is a high acid white wine featuring Aligote, another white grape that’s used to make dry white wines in the Burgundy region of France. The most famous white grape from Burgundy is chardonnay.

The next wine pairings were matched to the first course, a Clover Farms Rabbit Dijonnaise served with escargot and with Gary Romano’s Baby Carrots. (Gary Romano is an organic farmer producing wonderful produce in the Placerville area). The 2007 Morgan, Cru Beaujolais, Breton, was almost aromatic, hints of cardamom. The second wine, a 2007 Cote de Brouilly, Cru Beaujolais, Chateau Thivin, is a high acid wine, with bright fruit. It is terrific with food, and would match well with fish too. Taste of tobacco, pepper, black cherry. According to Mr. Ledbetter, this wine is a great value at about $19/bottle, so search for it!

The second course, sautéed frog legs with parlsley coulis and garlic flan, was paired with two wines. The first, 2004 Chambolle Musigny, Premier Cru, Domaine Bertheau. Is a sophisticated wine made from pinot noir grapes, with a deep floral structure and a fine fruit-forward nature. The 2006 Morey St. Denis, A.C., Meo Camuzet, had wonderful earthy tones and is reminiscent of the village wines you’ll find in Burgundy. (Hope you’ll do the Burgundy wine walk with me in July 2010 and taste these village wines for yourself!)

The third course, a Muscovy duck breast served with Romano’s Russian Kale, beluga lentils, Foie-shallot soubis sauce, was paired with two wines, both of them dark and spicy for the perfect accompaniment to this rich dish. The 2006 Nuit-St.-Georges, Premier Cru, Bousselots, Chevillon was the first wine, and the 2006 Gevrey-Chambertin, Premier Cru, Cherbaudes, Domaine Lucien Boillot was surprisingly mellow; it is often a very powerful wine.

Finishing up the wine-food pairing was the dessert course, Champagne Grape Clafouti, paired with a low alcohol (7%) Vin due Bugey-Cerdon, La Cueille, Patrick Bottex.

A lovely beginning to this over-the-top evening was a short seminar that Joseph Nase and Stephen Ledbetter gave on Chablis. We tasted four wonderful Chablis…. But we are out of space!

Look for the next winemaker dinner series at Baxter’s at Northstar, listed on Northstar’s website Or call (530) 543-3132 for information.

To obtain any of the wines mentioned above, or other burgundian wines, contact Kermit Lynch via their website ( or call their Berkeley location at 510 524 1524.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in November 2009.

September Delight: Grand Tasting at Northstar

In the world of wine, what could be grander than a Grand Tasting? The culmination of the Autumn Food & Wine Weekend held at the Village at Northstar is a chance to discover new wineries and sample their latest vintage or newest varietal. Paired with gourmet delights from Tahoe’s newest restaurants and most exquisite caterers, you’ll want to put this on your calendar for September 2010.

Life is short, eat dessert first. That’s why I want to jump right into my adoration for Deerfield Ranch Winery’s 2005 Gold, which is a Select Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Their literature calls it “Nectar of the Gods,” and I have to agree. The winery is located in the heart of Sonoma Valley. This wine is made from Santa Barbara grapes from the Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards in Los Alamos Valley. This is a scrumptious dessert wine, with a beautiful golden hue, aroma of ripe apricots, dried peaches, tropical flowers. The taste is divine, not overly sweet but rich. Only 583 cases made, and it only is sold in a 375 ml size. 12.5% alcohol. $50/bottle.

The Salvestrin Retaggio, a “Super Tuscan” blend is comprised of 45% Sangiovese, 30% merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Syrah. It’s a dark purple wine, with aroma of blackberry, currant, spice. The taste carries through the aroma notes, with a well-balanced fruit quality a bit of oak, pepper, earth. Reviewer and critics, The Wine Spies, notes that “present here is that classic subtle orange zest spiciness that you only find in exceptional Italian wines”. The finish is long and dry. This wine is made by this St. Helena, CA, winery as a tribute to the family’s legacy in the wine business, explained third-generation winemaker Rich Salvestin. Rataggio means “legacy” in Italian. The winery makes only 3600 cases total, and only 800 cases of the Rattaggio. 14.8% alcohol. $34/ bottle.

Robert Stemmler’s 2006 Pinot Noir, Russian River, from the Nugent Vineyard, has aroma of blackberry, cherry and a taste of blackberry, cherry, chocolate and a nice minerality too. A silky texture, with nice rich tannins. It takes a while to open up, but has a long and sweet finish. 14.1% alcohol. $40/ bottle.

Oliver Hill Wines poured their 2006 Pinot Noir, Oakville. Nice balanced, with a taste of tart cherry, and a bit different of a Pinot Noir – I liked it a lot. Aged 24 months in French oak gave a nice structure with hints of raspberry too. Their vineyard, according to owner/winemaker Jerry Hill, backs up to the river just north of Yountville, and this gives a cooling affect to the vineyard very evening, resulting in a pinot grape with a uniqueness. Of 450 cases total production at Oliver Hill, only 63 cases of this pinot were produced. 14.9% alcohol, $20/bottle.

Gruet’s 2002 Grand Rose is a wine that hails from New Mexico, and the vineyard is said to be one of the oldest vineyards in the US. This is a Brute Methode Champenoise. In color, it is a beautiful salmon pink. The floral aroma has hints of cherry, apple, almond. In taste, the Pinot Noir grapes dominate the flavor, by the 90% Chardonnay gives this Brut a wonderful finesse. This is a limited production wine, of 280 cases. 12% alcohol. $32/bottle.

Rombauer poured their 2008 Chardonnay, Carneros. I confess that this is one of my true loves in California wines – big, oakey, fruit forward. I’ve been known to buy Rombauer Chardonnay by the case and give bottles as gifts. So it’s hard to be objective. This wine has been called “the benchmark California Chardonnay”. So yummy, lovely fruit -- pear, pineapple and tropical fruit—and balanced with creamy, toasted vanilla. A nice acidity, and fruit that lingers on a medium finish. 14.4% alcohol. $32/bottle

The Autumn Food & Wine Weekend is held at the Village at NorthStar each September.

© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in October 2009.

Luxury wine vending machine increases wine sales for Goss Wine Bar, Tokyo

info via CrunchGear by Serkan Toto on 10/15/09

"It’s not really a secret: Japan loves vending machines. So it’s not really surprising this newest (and quite unique) model is made in Nippon, too: A vending machine that lets you buy luxury wines through a pre-paid card. The machine is supposed to soften the negative effects the current recession has for wine lovers.

The vending machine is operated by the Goss Wine Bar in Ginza, Tokyo’s poshest neighborhood. All customers need to do is to insert said pre-paid card, select a bottle of wine among 24 different kinds and watch how the wine flows into their glasses.

Reportedly, customers enjoy the fact that they can actually see the bottle before they drink the wine and that they can now taste expensive wines in smaller quantities.The Goss Wine Bar claims the number of customers has risen by 20% in September (when compared to September 2008)."

Squaw Valley Village: September Alpen Wine Festival Showcases Good Wines for a Good Cause

The 21st Annual Alpen Wine Festival, held in September, is a not-to-be-missed event for wine aficionados and those who want to learn more about wine. Held every year at the Village at Squaw Valley and hosted the great wine bar there, Uncorked, the event helps raise money for The Huega Ceter for Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The Huega Center teaches people with MS how to use exercise to help manage their life with this chronic disease.

More than 40 wineries poured samples in the village setting, surrounded by Squaw’s beautiful Alpine-like scenery. There were so many wonderful wines to taste and enjoy, but here are a few that we found noteworthy.

Grant Family Winery’s California Tempranillo was a standout! This varietal has been a recent darling of the West Coast wine industry, and long a favorite of those who love wines from Spain. Jon Grant, winemaker, produced his tempranillo from grapes grown in the Madder Lake Vineyard near Clear Lake in Lake County, CA. Dark purple in hue, this tempranillo features aroma of plum, leather, mineral, spice, and a taste of complex berry, cherry and mineral. Bold and balanced tannin on the palate. Only 150 cases produced. $24/bottle.

The Alpen Cellars Winery poured a 2007 Pinot Noir with a yummy aroma and a lovely jammy taste. Located in Trinity County, this mountain winery grows early maturing vinifera grapes such as White Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 2007 Pinot Noir is a great red wine for dinner with pasta, chicken, red meat, cheese. Aroma of black cherries, plum and black pepper. Taste of cherries, cranberries. 13.5% alcohol. Approx $17/bottle.

Chatom Vineyards is located in the breathtaking Esmeralda Valley of Calaveras county, a short distance from Murphys in the Sierra Foothills. The 2005 Gitano-Sangiovese is made from 100% estate grown grapes, and the result is a taste of spice, plum, raspberries, and a hint of anise and chocolate. I enjoyed the way this wine lingered with an herbal finish too, and the spice persisted. 14.9% alcohol. Only 812 cases produced. $16/bottle.

Andrew Geoffrey Vineyards made only 1700 cases of their 2005 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon. For those who like a complex wine with a strong tannic backbone, you’ll enjoy this peppery-tasting high alcohol wine. Their estate vineyard is located atop Diamond Mountain in the Diamond Mountain District sub-appellation of the Napa Valley. John Gibson, winemaker, has blended the finest lots produced from the varietals grown in the vineyard to produce a sophisticated and balanced age-able wine. 15.8% alcohol. $75/bottle 92 points Robert Parker.

Stark Wine poured their Damino Vineyard 2007 Viognier, with grapes sourced from the Sierra Foothills AVA. It has aroma of peach and pear, but the honeysuckle is what struck my nose as truly aromatic. Taste of tropical fruit. Winery owner Jennifer Stark and her husband Christian Stark, the winemaker, pride themselves on using Sierra Foothills grapes to produce fullbodied wines that are immediately drinkable but also have extended aging potential. 14.5% alcohol. $25/ bottle. Only 208 cases produced, so contact them soon!

Truchard Vineyards treated us to a glass of their 2007 Chardonnay. This Napa winery, established in 1974 in the Carneros area, produces Chardonnay that benefit from the marine soils and cooler temperatures of Carneros. This 2007 chardonnay has an intense fruit aroma of tropical fruit, lemon, vanilla and spice and flavor of honey, green apple and fresh pear. This complex wine has great acidity, minerality and a finish of toasted oak. 14.1% alcohol. $30/bottle

The Alpen WineFest is held each year in late August or early September in the Village at Squaw Valley. Did I mention that it is a dog-friendly event?

© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in September 2009.


El Dorado Wineries - Proactive on Water Conservation

From time to time, representatives of winery associations will give a glimmer as to the status of that region's water issues. Jolaine Collins works with the El Dorado Winery Association, and her quick report is that several El Dorado wineries are proactive with sustainable farming practices, including water conservation.

"In the Placerville area, Boeger Winery, the region’s largest grape grower and winery, works with the El Dorado Irrigation district on using electronic probes to monitor the vines’ water needs," Jolaine noted. "Greg Boeger told me that many of the region's wineries employ this irrigation management system to monitor and predict their vineyards' water needs on a weekly basis, and mentioned that both Boeger and neighboring Madrona Vineyards have specific vineyards that sometimes require as little as one application of water per year. "

In the south part of El Dorado County, the Fair Play wine region is faced with an even tighter water supply than its neighbors to the north, she said. "Without water storage facilities, Fair Play’s local water agency depends on Mother Nature for the south county's water allotment."

The El Dorado Winery Association includes 29 wineries, the majority of them family owned. Growing grapes in hundreds of microclimates from 1,200 to 3,500 feet, the county contains more than 2,000 acres of vines, and is home to approximately 50 wineries. El Dorado was designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983.

You can read more about water issues in the sister blog of winebiznews,

Hyatt (Incline Village, NV) Winemaker Dinners: A Best-of-Class Experience

A brilliant young winemaker and experienced Chef de Cuisine, brought together in harmonious combination by a talented sommelier – nothing could be quite as perfect as this kind of evening orchestrated at the Lone Eagle Grille at the toney Hyatt Regency resort in Incline Village, NV.

We’re talking about the fabulous winemaker dinners here, and the sommelier Kristi Snyder is the knock-your-socks-off hostess with the moistest. This summer we experienced Kristi’s hospitality first hand, as winemaker Nicholas de Luca of Dierberg Estate Vineyards poured wines that paired so perfectly with the dishes of chef Mark May that writing about the experience is like returning to a food-wine-pairing dream.

Throughout the year, the Lone Eagle Grille is a place sought out for its fine food and its fantastic wine list, all enjoyed with fantastic views of Lake Tahoe. We’ll talk more about the wine list built by Kristi Snyder and her philosophy of making wine accessible in a later column, but for now, picture yourself in a cozy corner room of the Grille, surrounded by great food and great wine and 30 other guests.

The wines featured were from the Dierberg Estate Vineyards. The Dierberg vineyard is located near the Pacific Coast in Santa Barbara County, and they produce incredible Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; owners Jim and Mary Dierberg focus the Dierberg label on the delicate and elegant Burgundy varieties. The nearby Star Lane Vineyard, also acquired by the Dierberg’s in 1996, is in the most eastern corner of the Santa Ynez Valley; this notably warmer terroir produces robust and powerful Bordeaux varieties.

Winemaker Nicholas de Luca brings his on-the-job experience to these wines from background at Cline Cellars, Fisher, several crushes in New Zealand, and Byington, in the Santa Cruz Mountains among other stops in a nonstop climb to the ranks of great young winemakers.

As guests mingled with the winemaker and sommelier, the Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2007 was poured. This refreshing wine with aroma of citrus and a taste of grapefruit was served at the perfect temperature – frankly, a rarity in my wine tasting experience, as most whites are served far too cold! The correctness of the temperature allowed the wild spring flowers, gooseberries and mandarin orange flavors to manifest too . !3.6% alcohol. $20 bottle/winery, cellar for up to 6 years.

Chef May presented a first course of sautéed soft shell crab, served on a bed of mache lettuce and finished with beets and brown butter at the side. The Dierberg Chardonnay 2006 was a full bodied Chardonnay with bright acidity and, with its wonderful citrus characteristic, a perfect accompaniment to the crab. Grapes sourced from the Santa Maria vineyard result in deep tangelo, grapefruit and lemon grass aromas, with a touch of hazelnut. 14.6% alcohol. $32 bottle/winery, and will hold well for 5 years.

For my palate, the yummiest wine came next – the Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2006. Aroma of blackberry, a touch of white pepper, tobacco. Mild tannin in the middle, and a great finish. Winemaker de Luca noted that this wine is a bit of a lighter style Pinot than what Dierberg is generally known to produce, but said that “the wine we make needs to reflect the wildness of the vineyard, and we then take care of the fruit from that point forward.” This wine has overtones of sage, with delicate aromas of tea leaf, raspberry and forest floor. The 2006 Dierberg, aged in 75% new French oak for 17 months, then lightly fined with egg whites and bottled unfiltered, has 14.9% alcohol, $42 bottle/winery; it can be cellared for 10 years. It was incredible with the Grilled Niman Ranch pork tenderloin, prepared with blackberries and quinoa.

The third course, roasted prime striploin with seared goose liver, grilled zucchini and green peppercorn sauce, was paired with the Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This is a beautifully balanced cabernet, with light tannin, with tiers of blackberry, currant, and herbs, and is truly reflective of the love of the owners for wines from Bordeaux. The hallmark of this Santa Ynez Valley vineyard, the notes of sage brush and chaparral, are present in this wine. $42 bottle/vineyard.

The meal finished with an exquisite dark chocolate hazelnut torte served with plum compote and cassis. It was served with the Star Lane Syrah 2004, with its aroma of ripe black fruits, and taste of plum, black berry, lavender and violet. A full-bodied Syrah full of character and depth; $31 bottle/average retail.

The Lone Eagle Grille is part of the many lovely features of the Hyatt Regency at Incline Village, located at 111 Country Club Drive, Incline Village, Nevada, USA 89451. Reservations are recommended, and are a must for the winemaker dinners: 775.886.6899 Go to for more information.

© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in September 2009.


Elegant yet Unpretentious: Wine matched to Great Food at Soule Domain

Soule Domain in Kings Beach is the place to take a date for a very special meal, to celebrate a birthday or anniversary with friends and family, and to sample wines from a wonderful list of reasonably priced wines from some of the more interesting appellations in California. Charlie Soule is the heart of the restaurant, and his chef motto of “Buy local, cook global, eat universal” extends to the wine list as well.

Soule Domain sets the mood for an intimate exploration of wine and food pairings in the lovely log cabin environment with exposed rafters, a high roof, heirloom furnishings and vintage photos from around the lake. Subdued music – cool jazz or classical – sets the tone for an elegant evening.

Charlie’s philosophy as a chef is to work from good fresh products, preferably using local organics that are naturally raised. He specializes in unpretentious foods, prepares dishes that people understand and relate to, and his choice of wines is in line with that. He searches out wineries that are smaller, “family owner operated business like ourselves”, and if the grapes are sustainably grown, “that’s better yet”. A proponent of nearby wineries, such as those in Amador and El Dorado counties, Charlie says they “all have a lot to offer”.

From his wine list, Charlie Soule selected 3 whites and 3 reds for our wine-food pairing experience.

The first, a Swanson Pinot Grigio, Napa, was paired with an Ahi crudo tartare with olive tapenade . The wine is crisp and minerally, its slightly-astringent quality nicely balancing the food. Long before it was fashionable Swanson Vineyards has been making Estate Pinot Grigio. The fruit, sourced primarily from their Oakville vineyard, yields a wine that gives an aroma of citrus and guava, and the rich mouth-feel reveals more citrus and some pear. 13.6% alcohol.

Charlie also suggested a Sobon Estate Viognier to accompany the Ahi or any fish course, for that matter. Aroma of jasmine, lily of the valley, lavendar, Bazooka bubblegum, and a full-body taste featuring peach with a hint of minerality. 14.1% alcohol. Located in Plymouth, Amador County appellation.

Gold Notes’ Chardonnay originates in the Fair Play growing area of El Dorado County. It was beautifully paired with a scallop appetizer prepared with a white wine reduction of lemon, butter and basil.. Charlie Soule not only enjoys the Gold Note wines, but he has huge respect for the Winemaker/Owner of Gold Note, Kevin Foley. Gold Note makes small quantities of rich, complex wines, and the Chardonnay is lovely. It’s nicely oakey, a nice tannin on the front palate, well-balanced and crisp. Hints of citrus, pineapple, pear. 14.3% alcohol.

The first of the red wines selected was a 2007 Laetitia Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley- Monterey Coast. This is a somewhat young but robust Pinot Noir, but it opens up beautifully after 15 minutes or so and delivers magnificent flavor of spice, dark fruit, and an earthiness that went well with the pairing of duck salad finished with a sesame soy vinaigrette. A medium finish, and 14.1% alcohol. Charlie Soule considers this an excellent value in a pinot. We agree.

Also with the duck, a good choice would be the 2006 Gold Note Petit Sirah, which is fruit forward and a soft, and aromatic wine with hints of chocolate, black pepper, and citrus zest. 14.8% alcohol.

Truckee River Winery’s Zinfandel is what some might call a fruit-bomb. Absolutely luscious, and perfect with the lamb ravioli dish. We’ve written about this wine before… grapes sourced from the Gribaudo Vineyard-Lodi, only 250-300 cases produced. 14.3% alcohol. Get it while it lasts!

Soule Domain is located at 9983 Stateline Rd in Kings Beach, CA , and is open 7 nights everyday but Thanksgiving. Reservations are suggested, as this intimate and charming restaurant seats only 44; call (530) 546-7529.

© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in September 2009.

El Dorado Wines Pioneer – Sierra Vista Winery

Viewing the Sierras from the other side is a must-do for lovers of Lake Tahoe. The mountains, gorgeous from lake-side, are equally beautiful from the wineries in the regions of the Sierra Foothills. The shaded picnic area of Sierra Vista Winery near Placerville gives an almost-mystical view of the mountains, made even more pleasurable as you sip the wines produced by John and Barbara MacCready.

The MacCready’s pioneered the re-emergence of El Dorado as a premium wine region. In 1972, they bought this property on the eastern highlands of California and put their energy into mountain viticulture. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon to begin with, feeling that the climate was similar to that of the Northern Rhone Valley of France. Now they produce more than 7000 cases a year of 30 wines.

Of John MacCready’s white wines, we liked the 2008 Viognier, El Dorado Estate. It won a Double Gold ribbon in recent Amador County competitions. Its aroma of buttercup, honeysuckle flowed through to the taste, where tone of citrus and grapefruit arose too. A nice minerality, 14.1% alcohol. Only 250 cases produced. John said it pairs well with lobster thermidor, one of Barbara MacReady’s specialty dishes. $18/bottle.

Of the 2007 Roussane, 100 cases were produced. These grapes do well on the west side of the Sierra Vista Vineyards, which vineyards have no fewer than four microclimates. Producing a Roussane was a bit risky, but John MacCready had tasted it 10 years ago and really liked the wine and so took the chance. He believes it has the potential to replace a lot of barrel-fermented Chardonnays. This Roussane won a Double Gold ribbon in the San Diego competition. There’s a flowery aroma of wild rose, and a limey minerality that gives a full round mouthfeel. Flavor of strawberry was dominant to my palate, but there are definitely tones of peach, apricot too. 13.9% alcohol. Pair with chicken, Thanksgiving turkey, and also note that it stands up well to spicier foods. $17.50/bottle.

The 2008 Fume Blanc won a Double Gold ribbon and was declared the best white wine at the recent Calaveras competition. Only 490 cases produced of this sauvignon blanc-based wine. Malolactic fermentation toned down the early acidity of early results, but this wine still has a nice clarity and bite to it. It is a bit sweet, very fruit-forward, tones of peach, with a long and silky smooth finish. 13.5% alcohol. $15/bottle.

Of the red wines, I was thunderstruck with their 2006 Fleur de Montagne, an Eldorado Estate wine. MacCready produced only 400 cases of this wonderful blend, and calls it “Flower of the Mountain”. It is a look-alike Chateauneuf-du-Pape, at a much lower price. Cinsault grapes – only 5% of the blend – add a delightful touch. Other components are 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre. Smooth smooth and smoother, with black cherry, a bit of pepper, a hint of clove. 13.7% alcohol, $23/bottle. This wine has won 3 Gold Medals. Said John MacCready: “If I had to say that I had a favorite wine from my list, this would be it.” Grab it while it is available!

The 2006 Mourvedre is another blend of Rhone grapes, and will appeal to Petit Sirah drinkers! Aroma starts with cherry, there is a bit of smoke. Pairs wonderfully with grilled meats, hearty stews and soups. 13.7% alcohol. $22/bottle.

The 2006 Red Rock Ridge Syrah is very juicy, taste of blackberry and a hint of tobacco. Medium tannins made this very drinkable now, but it will also age nicely for the next 5 to 12 years. Only 400 cases produced. 13.9% alcohol. $28/bottle.

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is a big wine, with deep dark fruit and aroma and taste of black cherry, plum, currant, vanilla, and a hint of cedar. It is terrific with red meat dishes and other hearty foods – or standing alone on a wintery evening! Drink now, through 2020. 13.4% alcohol, $22/bottle.

Sierra Vista Winery is at 4560 Cabernet Way in Placerville, CA, only 45 miles west of Lake Tahoe Open daily 10 to 5. Telephone 530 622 7221.

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in September 2009.

Wonderful Wines and Cuisine Unique: Wolfdale’s in Tahoe City Combines Both

Wolfdale’s in Tahoe City is legendary. Started in 1978, it’s gained a loyal clientele due to the talents of Chef Douglas Dale. Since 1986, it’s been located at 640 North Lake Blvd in the oldest building in Tahoe City; this charming restaurant has created a wonderful ambience in the logger’s home that was built in 1889 on Lake Tahoe's South shore, floated to the North shore in 1901, and housed a succession of constables over the years. The old jail on the bottom floor provides perfect temperature control for Wolfdale’s extensive wine cellar. Creating an expansive wine list is the responsibility of wine buyer J.B. Budny, who has selected wines that match the food and provide value at all price points.

An event worth putting on your calendar for the future is Wolfdale’s innovative Farmer’s Market Cooking Courses, which take place throughout the summer. Students shop at the Tahoe City farmer’s market and then are guided in the kitchen by Chef Dale to use the fresh ingredients creatively. J.B. pairs wines with each of the four courses as students enjoy the food they’ve prepared. The next class in September is part of the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival.

J.B. has a great selection of wines to offer. “I try to match the taste and expectations of the guests,” J.B. said. “Once I know the palate of a frequent guest, I’ll try to find a few wines that I think the guest will enjoy, and keep them on hand.”

This attention to detail is rare, and accounts for the loyal clientele of the restaurant. Wolfdale’s pays attention to the newest trends in the wine and food business too. “People are drinking more Rosé and Gewürztraminer now, and getting away from the big oakey chardonnays. Regardless, it is a big challenge to find a well priced wine that is also well made – but we’ve done this repeatedly,” J.B. says. “In fact, today’s trend toward value in wines can actually help people expand their palates.”

The luncheon prepared by participants started with a squash blossom appetizer, filled with a Pedrich’s cheese rubbed with olive oil, butter, paprika. The filled blossom was fried, and served on a platter of grilled summer squashes.

The wine pairing was a sparkling white from Italy, Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. Bubbles, noted J.B., love fried foods. This pale and bright wine has refreshing citrus and lemon overtones, with a clean and minerally taste, and low in alcohol (11%).

A salad of French-cut fresh green beans was served with red-orange-yellow cherry tomatoes, basil and chives, then drizzled with a nut sauce of pinenuts, garlic, olive oil, capers, and topped with thinly-sliced goat gouda .

The wine pairing was Teruzzi & Puthold’s 2007 Terre di Tufi, a white wine from Tuscany. On the nose, a bit floral but not too much; on the palate, a hint of almond. 13% alcohol. J.B. also suggested pairing this kind of summer salad with a cold dry sherry.

The corn chowder was started by Chef Dale before the class due to its many preparation steps. The class created a roux that derived its intense flavor from corncob stalks, and brandy, thyme and soy sauce were components. Crowning the thick chowder was grilled Columbia River king salmon.

The wine pairing was a 2006 Pessagno Chardonnay, Lucia Highlands Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Salinas. This chardonnay is one of J.B’s personal favorites. The minerality of this chardonnay, with flavors of apple and pear, was a perfect match. 14.2% alcohol. J.B. also suggested that a Washington State unoaked chardonnay would have done well with this course.

The Farmer’s Market luncheon finished, appropriately enough, with a fresh fruit crisp featuring triple-crown blackberries sourced from California’s Central Valley.

Wolfdale’s is open 7 days a week for dinner during the summer and Christmas week; Wednesday-Monday otherwise.. Facilities include Dining Room, Full Bar, Outdoor Deck and Garden, and a bocce ball court. Reservations strongly suggested: 530 583 5700.

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in September 2009.

South Africa Scoops World Wine Awards

South African wines have trounced all international competition in both the red and white single varietal categories at the 2009 Decanter World Wine Awards, held in London under the auspices of Decanter magazine.

While the results are released to the trade earlier in the year, the rest of the world has to wait for the traditional September award issue to find out which are the wines to seek out.

Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2006 was named the world’s top red single varietal over £10 (R122), while Beaumont Wines Hope Marguerite 2008 took the trophy for the best single white varietal over £10.

South African wines scooped 11 regional trophies and 23 gold medals. Local wines also came home with 130 silver medals, 246 bronze medals, and 131 commended certificates.

A Brief History of Pinotage

South Africa’s own home-grown Pinotage grape variety has come into its own in recent years. The grape was created in 1925 by the chemist Abraham Izak Perold, also first professor of Viticulture and later Dean of Agriculture at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape. Perold bred a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, both varieties of Vitis vinifera, the common grape vine.
Cinsault is known as Hermitage in South Africa, hence the blending of the names of the two parents to form Pinotage.

The first Pinotage wine was made in 1941 by CT de Waal, a lecturer at the Elsenburg Agricultural College in the Stellenbosch district.

However, it was only in 1959 that a Pinotage from winemaker Pieter Krige “PK” Morkel of Bellevue estate won the first of many awards for the variety. Morkel’s wine took the coveted General Smuts trophy for the best young wine at that year’s Cape Young Wine Show (now known as the South African Young Wine Show).

Bellevue estate, still run by the Morkel family, continues to produce award-winning wines, among them the famous Pinotage.

Farmers subsequently stampeded to plant Pinotage vines, but even so the variety never quite took off until 1991 when Kanonkop’s Pinotage earned winemaker Beyers Truter the Winemaker of the Year award at the International Wine and Spirit competition in the UK. Truter was the first South African to achieve this.

Making history

Fittingly, Kaapzicht’s award for the Steytler Pinotage 2006 award comes 50 years after that first Cape Wine Show coup.

Kaapzicht estate lies between Stellenbosch and Kuils River and since 1946 has been in the capable hands of the Steytler family.

Kaapzicht’s reds are no strangers to international recognition. In 2004, at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, the estate’s Steytler Vision 2001 became the first Cape Blend (a 40% Pinotage blend) to win the title of overall world’s best red blend.

Grapes from those same vines have now been used to produce the 2009 Decanter winner. Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2006 lay for two years in new French oak barrels before going to the bottle.

"Pinotage is a very versatile red wine variety,” commented cellarmaster Danie Steytler, “and the Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage from those vineyards is a shining example of the serious, well-oaked, full-bodied style to be enjoyed with food, especially venison, red meat and traditional South African dishes and cheeses."

Decanter judges agreed, commending it for its “voluptuous, heady nose with very precise black fruits, plums, mocha and tar. Full-bodied and opulent in the mouth, ripe and supple fine-grained tannins with plenty of spice to enliven the finish”.

Made from the oldest vines

The winning white single varietal Beaumont Wines Hope Marguerite 2008 is a Chenin Blanc made, as the vineyard claims, only from fruit harvested from the oldest vines.
The winery is located in Bot River in the Western Cape’s Overberg region. For the past few years Beaumont has concentrated solely on producing Chenin Blanc, having discontinued its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The results speak for themselves. Named after the matriarch of the Beaumont clan, Hope Marguerite Beaumont, the winning wine, was glowingly described by Decanter judges as having a “stylish spicy floral character, supple orchard fruits, white almond and grass. Soft and broad on the palate, lifted citrus fruits with some glycerol and honey at the end”.

“Our Chenin really illustrates the diversity of the grape as well as its strong roots in the Beaumont soils,” commented winemaker Sebastian Beaumont.

Hope Marguerite is matured in 400l French oak barrels using only natural yeasts.

“We allow the grape to express itself in very hands-off wine-making – this has been the essence of the Hope Marguerite,” Beaumont added.

About Decanter and the World Wine Awards

Decanter magazine, the UK’s leading wine magazine, is sold in 92 countries and for the past six years has presented the prestigious World Wine Awards. A record 10 285 entries from 2 240 producers poured into the Decanter offices for the 2009 event, more than for any other wine event.

Wines compete according to region and in eight price brackets, ranging from less than £4.99 (R61) to over £40 (R487). Once the initial rating has been given, the gold medal-winning wines are re-tasted for confirmation, and then go forward to the regional taste-off.
The regional winners then compete for an array of international trophies, which are judged in two sections for each wine style, under £10 and over £10.
The judging panel is chaired by veteran British wine consultant and journalist Steven Spurrier, who is assisted by a number of regional chairs. This year the South African section was chaired by the respected John May, a senior wine master in the UK.

South African regional trophy winners:

Beaumont Wines Hope Marguerite 2008 - South African White Single Varietal over £10 Trophy

Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak, Pinot Noir 2008 - South African Pinot Noir over £10 Trophy

Cederberg Private Cellar Five Generations Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - South African Red Bordeaux Varietal over £10 Trophy

Cederberg Private Cellar Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - South African Sauvignon Blanc under £10 Trophy

Kaapzicht Estate Steytler Pinotage 2006 - South African Red Single Varietal over £10 Trophy

Paul Cluver Weisser Riesling Noble Late Harvest 2008 - South African Sweet over £10 Trophy

Perdeberg Rex Equus Shiraz 2007 - South African Red Rhone Varietal over £10 Trophy

Pongracz Desiderius 2001 - South African Sparkling over £10 Trophy

Rustenberg Chardonnay 2007 - South African Chardonnay over £10 Trophy

Schalk Burger & Sons Welbedacht Hat Trick 2006 - South African Red Blend over £10 Trophy

Swartland Winery Indalo Shiraz Nature's Way 2006 - South African Red Rhone Varietal under £10 Trophy


This information is courtesy of and appeared as written above in a September 21 2009 article by Janine Erasmus. To see the original article, click here


Guilty as Charged: Missing the Moment

Remind your customers and friends that it really is an ideal time for a glass of wine... right now! Here's the professional perspective on the benefit of living in the moment: "Psychological research shows us that not only do people tend to overestimate the benefits of planning for the future, but that people who take decisions that make them happy in the moment tend to experience less regret over time. This reminds us that a fulfilling moment can last a lifetime." Read more from our psychologist guest-blogger...

This Magic Moment...

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift, and that's why it is called the present.

Too often in our lives we miss out on magical moments. Whether it is because of the morning rush, the midday crunch, or burning the midnight oil, we often don't take time to stop and smell the roses. Many times this is because we perceive our lives to be too busy, but other times we choose to distract ourselves with something unnecessary whenever we have a free moment. We have been so conditioned this way that we often miss out on opportunities to enjoy moments that are presented to us.

Our lifestyle in this age of immediacy does not lend itself well to enjoying the moment. Instead of enjoying a moment alone we reach for the immediacy of a text or an email that probably could wait. Furthermore, because of our cultural values around saving and planning, we are often thinking of or worrying about the future before it has arrived. By doing so, we take ourselves out of a moment that could be potentially fulfilling.

This phenomenon has been termed "Hyperopia", a tendency to look too far into the future at the cost of enjoying the moment we're in. Look out for this occurrence in your own life. Research on this phenomenon shows us that not only do people tend to overestimate the benefits of planning for the future, but that people who take decisions that make them happy in the moment tend to experience less regret over time. This reminds us that a fulfilling moment can last a lifetime.

The other reason we tend to miss out on the moment is that we mentally time travel to escape a moment. Many of us carry around pain and discomfort from our past. Sometimes moments we experience trigger those feelings or remind us of our past and we travel back there without really wanting to. Or we go into the future, thinking of how our lives will improve "if only" a certain thing were to happen. Or we travel to a place we are not, seeking an escape from the place we currently are.

Learning to enjoy a good moment is hard for many reasons.
  • First, we worry that good moments are fleeting and it hurts when they end. As a result we sometimes do not immerse ourselves fully in them, not wanting to experience the withdrawal from them.

  • Second, we judge moments, and categorize them in our minds and doing so affects our ability to enjoy the moment because it now has a label attached to it.

  • Third, we distort time, thinking that moments of discomfort last longer that moments of comfort. Moments are just moments, for better or for worse. All moments pass if you let them.

No matter what is happening in the moment, be it blissful or stressful, you can take comfort in knowing that in a moment you will have a whole new opportunity to make the most of another moment.

If you would like to fill your life with more magic moments you don't need to do anything extra. These moments are all around you, you just have to slow down and notice them.

Thanks for taking a moment to read this.

Guest Blogger:
Matt Keck
Adapt Psychotherapy
Offices in San Francisco and San Mateo, California

(650) 455-9242

Specializing in the treatment of:
Eating Disorders

(Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: #46314 California)

World's First Twitter-Enabled Tasting Booth- South African winery Noble Hill innovates!

The "World's First Twitter-Enabled Tasting Booth" was the headliner news from Noble Hill Wine Estate, a boutique vineyard and winery tucked between Kanonkop and Paarl Mountain in South Africa.

The winery proudly annouced that it was "ceding control of its brand to the public".

Alerted to this innovation by South African Wine News ( ), we were interested in what can be done with the basic 140 characters in a Tweet, and this was it: Noble Hill Wine Estate launches the world's first Twitter-enabled tasting booth, ceding control of brand to the public.

The press release made some important points:

"If the 140 character blurb above seems like a foreign language, it's because it is written for the micro-blogging service Twitter which has gained a worldwide following including the likes of Oprah, Richard Branson, and Barack Obama to name a few. Twitter is used by celebrities and the proletariat alike to post short bursts about daily life, links and comments.

However Twitter took on a new role connecting the wine-loving public with a boutique South African producer at the WineX Festival in Cape Town, held from September 9 to 11.

The idea is simple: instead of using its booth to indoctrinate the public with pre-formed ideas about its wines, Noble Hill Wine Estate is ceding control of it's marketing message to wine-savvy festival-goers. Talkative sales reps will be replaced by a Twitter-enabled tasting booth that will let tasters post their comments, thoughts, and reactions directly to Twitter or via their smart phones. Tweets@noblehill or containing #winex keywords will be displayed real-time in large-format for all to see.

"Most luxury brands exercise draconian control over their message in order to sell their products. We're turning this idea on its head because, let's face it, wine drinkers are an educated and opinionated crowd and can already turn to forums like Spit or Swallow and other blogs to broadcast their experiences," said Director K. Austin Tillery. "Instead of ignoring this elephant in the room, we are embracing public opinion and letting it shape the direction and tone of our brand. We're not editing what people have to say; we're giving visitors a platform to share."

Prizes were awarded for the best Tweet of the Day each evening.

Useful Links:Noble Hill's Twitter stream -
The official Noble Hill web site -
Rate and review South African wine farms -
WineX Rand Merchant Bank Wine Festival official site -

Noble Hill is a single-vineyard estate produces premium red and white wines sold in select restaurants and bottle stores in South Africa and abroad. Noble Hill has garnered international acclaim, including being recognized for producing the Best Merlot in the Paarl District by South African Terroir and winning Michelangelo International Gold and Silver Medals for its Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

All information courtesy of press release from Noble Hill.

Producing New Wine Drinkers: Hats Off to Gary V

I'm not a true Vayniac; I don't follow Gary V every day, but he's done something we all need to get better at: producing new wine drinkers.

A friend sent me this link (click here) to the short bio/interview in the New York Times: It is well worth a read.

Not long ago, I was sitting at a luncheon with 22 great minds in the wine industry, and this fervor to produce new wine drinkers was sadly, and noticeably, missing. I'd asked, "Who at this table owns a millennial?" I was greeted with quizzical looks.

I confess, I no longer own a millennial. My boys went off to college, graduated, got jobs, girlfriends and wives (in that order, and sequentially) and are now producing the next generation of wine drinkers. But I do hold loose title to one millennial, my 22-year-old niece Margaret, and we keep in touch via text messaging (she never answers her iPhone anymore and doesn't own a landline phone and rarely deigns to answer email). Margaret is the real thing.

So... Margaret is sitting at the bar in a restaurant and her date goes to the bathroom. My text alert bings, and it says, "Quick Aunt Babs, date in loo, steak + calamari coming, what wine 2 get?"

I do my bit. Value wines for this group. But soon they'll be moving to $15 a bottle consistently in the campus liquor store, and she's been known to use my brother's credit card for $25 a bottle and more.

I just KNOW that somewhere out there, a smart person is going to create an iPhone app for this generation of new wine drinkers, kind of like a Ghostbuster-Who-Ya-Gonna-Call and then the texts will no longer bing on my phone and some edgey guy like Gary V is gonna get really rich.

And more power to that person!

p.s. Gary I love you, and who wouldn't?