Central, Sunny and Sentimental: Sunnyside on Lake Tahoe's West Shore is a Wine-Lover’s Choice

Since the 1950’s, Sunnyside Steakhouse and Lodge has been an attraction for visitors to Lake Tahoe. With its warm and romantic ambience in the winter, to its summer-favorite West Shore lakefront dining area, thousands of tourists and locals flock there each year for panoramic views, a relaxed style, great food and a terrific wine list. Located at 1850 West Lake Boulevard in Tahoe City, Sunnyside is open every day. Call them at (530) 583-7200 for more information.

Jeff “Ox” Oxandaboure, Sunnyside’s managing partner, has spent over 20 years exploring the Napa and Sonoma valleys, searching for rich and full-bodied wines. He’s compiled a wine list called “Ox’s Picks” that features wines to be enjoyed with fine food. Many of the selections are limited in supply, sothe list is ever-changing. To take a peek at a representative wine list, click HERE

Recently, Sunnyside hosted an event that will reverberate in wine glasses all around the Lake Tahoe area. This was a tasting organized by Inertia Beverage Group, featuring 20 small production wineries with interesting wines that are sometimes hard to find. These “Sierra Selections” were tasted by wine shop owners, restaurateurs and wine bar owners from the Lake Tahoe region. I know you will find some of these fine wines being served and sold all over the region this summer!

B Cellars, a Napa Valley winery, produces fewer than 4400 cases of their wonderful wines. Winemaker Kirk Venge works with what nature gives him from the vineyard, and produces some delightful blends from. Their 2005 Blend 24 is fondly called a “Super Tuscan” and is a blend from vineyards in Rutherford, Oakville, Oak Knoll, Pope Valley and Cappelle Valley. It is 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Sangiovese, and the final touch is the 7% Petite Syrah content which leads to a wonderful, deep black/blue color. You’ll enjoy its layered complexity of black cherry, cassis, strawberry-jaminess and minerality, with a bit of smokiness from firm tannins. 14.8% alcohol. Approximately $38 at retail.

Penché Winery, located in the Oak Knoll district of Napa, produces fewer than 300 cases. Proprietor Pauline Asbill and her husband bought the vineyard in 2000 and decided in 2005 to make their own wine. Featured at the Sunnyside tasting was their Penché Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cab Franc, 4% Malbec, 2% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot. Although this wine is still a bit young to reach its optimum flavor, this marvelous Bordeaux-style wine has a dark garnet hue, and layered aromas of cassis, black cherry, and with a toasted oakiness that manifests a bit peppery on the back palate. It was recently given a rating of “92” by Wine Enthusiast magazine. 14.8% alcohol. Approximately $75 at retail.

The wines from Carabella in the Willamette Valley of Oregon are the result geologist/winemaker Mike Hallock’s 12-year search for an outstanding vineyard location. He makes 5000 cases of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, as well as a Late Harvest Pinot Gris. I particularly liked the Carabella Willamette Valley Chardonnay Dijon 76, Chehalem Mountains 2006. This is a burgundian style of Chardonnay, with tones of grapefruit, and minimal oakiness. The fruit is complex, and the crisp acidity is in the tradition of the chardonnays of the Cote d’ Or. 14% alcohol. Approximately $32 at retail.

VM Vineyards in Lodi poured their vMv Lodi Merlot 2005. This is an elegant and flavorful wine, aged in French and American oak barrels to add texture to the rich fruit characteristics. 14.2% alcohol, approximately $15 at retail.

A few other noteworthy wines to look for:

From Chateau Bianca, the 2006 Willamette Pinot Noir, Cellar Select. A 100% Pinot Noir with lots of spice, and tannin. 14.5% alcohol, approximately $20 at retail.

From Work Vineyard, their 2007 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. A characteristic Sauvignon Blanc with mineral-laced qualities. 14.1% alcohol, approximately $28 at retail.

Another tasty Cabernet Sauvignon from Ackerman Family Vineyards, Napa Valley. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 is produced organically and only 40 cases were made. It has a complex, bold and luscious flavor and balance on the palate. 13.5% alcohol, approximately $75 at retail.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck
Photo Credit: Alan Gauld

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 May 2009.


Wines in a Mountain Paradise Setting: Six Peaks Grille, Squaw Valley

Six Peaks Grille, the fine dining restaurant at the Resort at Squaw Valley, offers magnificent views of the Sierra peaks and Tahoe National Forest. Experience one of the most interesting wine lists in the Tahoe area, paired with the exquisite cuisine of Chef Chad Shrewsbury, and feast your eyes on the scenery too!

My guide for the evening was Rose Chehade, a brilliant young woman with a fine eye for good wines and also unusual wines. “I always want to try to bring something different to our list and to our diners,” Rose said. “I enjoy wines that are diverse and extraordinary, and have tried to select them for our list.”

The wine list is divided by the usual categories – white wines, red wines, a separate category for small formats and large formats of each, and the special Cellar Collection wines. What I found intriguing was the listing of Particularly Diverse Whites, and Diverse and Extraordinary Reds.

I began tasting a Murrieta’s Well 2006 Meritage (Livermore Valley, CA). A blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillion in this vintage, the aroma and taste both featured melon and grapefruit. A nice light wine, paired perfectly with the starter prepared by Chef Chad: a butter cup lettuce delight with Green Goddess dressing, honey, chives, shallots and a tasty side of graham-cracker dusted apple slices. Wine: $13/ glass, $43/bottle.

The Sonoma Cutrer 2007 Chardonnay (Russian River Ranches, Sonoma, CA) is a fruit forward wine, with tones of green apple, caramel, and a slight acidity that paired well with the small plate course of poached lobster, shrimp ravioli, salmon caviar, all touched with a light and flavorful clam broth. The wine, $14/glass, $50/bottle.

Next on the agenda was fois gras over grilled brioche, served with currant pear compote, a sun-up quail egg and pink pop rocks. After I got over the excitement of a unique culinary event that popped and sizzled on the plate (I must bring my grandson to see this dish!) , I turned my attention to a wine with a very interesting history: the Chateau St. Michelle 2005 “Eroica” Riesling (Columbia Valley, WA).

This wine is the result of a great partnership between German and American winemakers, with the goal of crafting an extraordinary Riesling from Washington State grapes. It’s a blend of two estates – winemaker Ernst Loosen of Dr. Loosen (Mosel) and winemaker Bob Bertheau of Chateau Ste. Michelle (Columbia Valley) – and exemplifies a fantastic mingling of Old World and New World both in terms of wine-making philosophy and technique. Named for Beethoven's Third Symphony, Eroica is fruit-forward and yet you can taste the mineral from grapes sourced from two new vineyards for this 2005 vintage. These vineyards, notes Chateau Ste. Michelle, are located northwest of the Wahluke Slope in a very cool, elevated site right next to the Gorge Amphitheater near the town of George, Washington. Nice aroma of citrus, lime, and lively and crisp on the palate. $36/bottle.

The last wine, Viña Salceda Rioja Crianza 2004 Tempranillo (Rioja, Spain) was aged 15 months in American oak, making it a dark, rich red wine. It is extremely well-balanced on the palate, not too heavy, and paired well with Chef Chad’s braised veal cheeks, with carmel-dipped dates, butternut squash and a candy-cane drizzle. Lovely wine, drinkable through 2016. (My favorite website for “drink dates” information about wine is http://www.snooth.com/: user-friendly and one-click to the data you need.) $46/bottle.

The final pairing was a Woodbridge “Portacino” Vintage 1994 (Lodi, CA), a lovely earthy port from those reliable winemakers at Mondavi. Served with a sticky coffee cake similar to a plum pudding. Yummy.

Six Peaks Grille is located in the Resort at Squaw Valley, 400 Squaw Creek Road in Olympic Valley, CA. Open for breakfast and dinner daily. Dinner reservations a good idea: 530-581-6621.
© 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, written by me, appeared in my column "It's Grape" in April 2009.


Florian in Truckee: Wine Man for All Seasons

Ron Florian has two decades of experience in the mountains, and he knows how to parse all of the seasons here with just the right wine.

Ron worked for more than a quarter century as a manager at Safeway; he opened the Truckee store in 1991 and listened to customers trying to find the “right” wine in the grocery environment. So when he retired ten years ago, he knew about the unmet needs for a wine store with knowledgeable staff, “a place you can find wines you’d have at a fine local restaurant,” he said. The rest is history, and that’s the short story of Florian’s Fine Wines & Specialty Foods on Donner Pass Road in Truckee.

When you walk into his shop, you’ll be greeted with hundreds of fine wines to choose from, many of which you won’t find anywhere else in the Lake Tahoe area.

“We look for small unique wineries to feature, or larger wineries that have unique wines in their portfolio,” Ron said. For example, he carries the Geysers Peak block series, artisanal wines from Sonoma which are selectively allocated and hard to find.

Ron Florian’s wine selections will take you beautifully through all the Tahoe seasons. Perhaps an ice wine for summer? A zin to go with barbeque? A syrah instead of a pinot for the autumn? A reisling or gewurtz for Thanksgiving? Sparkling wines for January? He has it all.

Drop in any Friday from 4 to 6 for tastings. For a small charge, you can taste a variety of wines, and you are sure to find one you like. I sampled these:

Tangley Oaks 2006 Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, Lot 3. Buttery, almond, with nutmeg on the side palate. 14.2% alcohol. This is a drinkable wine perfect for summer. Pull it off the shelf, put it in the refrigerator and it’s ready to serve in 15 minutes. $14.99/bottle.

Sobon Estates 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel, Amador County. Tones of blackberry, smoky, not too much pepper. 14.9% alcohol. 100% organic: it’s got barbeque written all over it. $ 15.99/bottle.

My favorite of the tasting was a sweet dessert wine, absolutely perfect to finish a meal: Arger Martucci, Dulcinea, 2002 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. This is a wonderful blend of 66% Sauvignon Blanc and 34% Semillon. A hint of peaches, a touch of tropical fruit, and a taste of nutmeg. Only a few barrels were produced. 15.4% alcohol. $49.99 for a 375 ml/bottle, but well worth it! Florian personally knows this winemaker, who is a surgeon from Reno, and Kosta Arger is justifiably proud of the products of his boutique family winery. Their vineyards, planted on gentle hillsides at 1,350 feet above the valley floor in the Atlas Peak District, give a consistent source for the finest Napa Valley fruit. The results are tangible and oh so tasty!

The knowledgeable staff will also help you find unique foods to pair with the wine of your choice. “We have carried through our concept of fine wines to the fine food selection too,” notes Ron. For example, they carry the magnificent cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery.

Florian’s also sponsors a wine club. Every other month, he’ll ship a selection of wines to members, and on the non-ship months, there will be a special event at the store for wine club members.

Whether you are a local or a visitor, if you haven’t been to Florian’s yet, be sure to stop in: 11260 Donner Pass Rd # 1 (next to Safeway) in Truckee, CA 96161. Telephone (530) 550-0802. Open 7 days a week, 10 a.m. to 7 pm.

© 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, written by me, appeared in my column "It's Grape" in April 2009.


Pinot in the Pines: Truckee River Winery produces Award Winning Wines

Russ Jones, winemaker at the Truckee River Winery, has a thing for pinot noir. As a visitor to the winery’s tasting area, you’ll agree: it’s an appropriate obsession. His 2006 Pinot Noir recently won a Silver Medal in a very crowded field of fantastic wines judged at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

When you call the winery to make an appointment for a weekday tasting, the answer machine notes that Truckee River Winery is the highest and coldest winery in California. That’s geographically and climactically true, but Russ warms the place up with his love of producing fine wines.

Walk up the path on the right side of the winemaker’s house, and on the way to the winery/barn, you’ll see picnic tables and a patio designed to let wine lovers enjoy the breezes that whisper through the apple and aspen trees. Many visitors to the winery do their own version of a barrel-tasting by stepping outside the winery/barn with their glasses, as did these visitors from Connecticut.

You’ll also pass a small vineyard where Russ experiments with some grapevines, but he admits that very few can survive the Tahoe winters. He carefully sources his fruit to match his winemaking philosophy.

When you enter the winery, you know you are in the real thing: dozens of French and America oak barrels holding pinot noir, zinfandel, sauvignon blanc, and pinot gris. Total production is about 1000 cases of 750 ml bottles a year, and growing.

Russ earned his B.S. in Oenology from the famous winemaking program at University of California, Davis, in 1983. After a few years with famous producers of pinot noir in Oregon and Paso Robles, he returned home to Truckee and started the winery. “Truckee is home -- I grew up here, went to high school here, and I am big into skiing. I married a local girl, Joan, who is now my partner in the winery.”

Here’s what I found, and I know you’ll enjoy your own adventure at this winery.

Sauvignon Blanc, 2007, Lodi. TASTING NOTES: There is a nice citrusy aroma that carries through to the taste. Good acidity, a very nice food wine. 200-300 cases produced. 12.8% alcohol. $14 bottle.

Pinot Noir 2006, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands. GRAPE NOTES: Santa Lucia Highlands typically produces Pinot that shows upfront fruit, black cherry, blueberry, spice and earth notes. Garys’ is planted primarily to Pinot Noir, and specifically the Pisoni clone of Pinot. TASTING NOTES: Ripe plum and black cherry on the nose, LOTS of fruit on the palate, ample tannin, and a nice mouthfeel . A bit of smokiness. “This pinot noir is not too light,” Russ the winemaker noted. “This is a bigger pinot than many other pinots that are on the market.” 450 cases produced. Pair with lamb, pork tenderloin, salmon or halibut. 13.8 % alcohol, 2 years in French Oak. $ 45/bottle.

Zinfandel 2005, Gribaudo Vineyard-Lodi. TASTING NOTES: A lovely drinkable wine. Pairs well with practically anything: pasta, steak , chocolate after dinner. 250-300 cases produced. 14.3% alcohol, $25/bottle.

Best Man 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highland SPECIAL NOTE: There’s not much of this left for sale. It has spent 3 years in French oak, and has all the characteristics of the other Pinot Noir from this winery, only more so. 13.75% alcohol, $55/bottle.

COMING ATTRACTION: 2008 Pinot Gris, Eldorado County. Russ gave us a tasting out of the fermentation tank. This will be bottled in June 2009. TASTING NOTE: Even now, the wine shows a little apple/pear on the aroma and palate. It will be a great summer wine, with its good acidity, good balance. Pair with salad, cheese, aged gouda, figs. “Personally, I would take a piece of good French bread, put on it a dried fig, drizzle it with basalmic vinegar, have a little cheese on the side,” says winemaker Russ. $14/bottle.

Of course you can buy them at the winery, which is located at 10061 S. River St. in Truckee, CA 96161. TASTING HOURS: Afternoons are the best time to catch Russ, after 2 p.m., and there are longer hours on weekends. To set an appointment call 530 587 4626. The winery accepts credit cards and cash.

You can also participate in the annual Truckee Wine Walk and Shop, to be held October 3, 2009, and amble to the winery then.

ZANO’s Restaurant in Truckee at 11401 Donner Pass Road. A little known fact is that Truckee River Winery private-labels their Zano’s Marzano Reserve red table wine. This is really a wonderful wine, only a few hundred cases are produced. A blend of merlot and zinfandel, it is really yummy.

Local restaurants that serve Truckee River Winery wines: Soule Domain (Kings Beach), Garwoods on the Lake (Carnelian Bay), Moody’s (Truckee), Baxters Bistro & Lounge in the Village at Northstar, Pacific Crest Grill, at Bar of Americas (Truckee), Dragonfly (Truckee), River Ranch (between Squaw Valley and Tahoe City), River Grill (Tahoe City)… to name a few.

Wine Stores that carry Truckee River Winery wines: Pour House, Bacchus & Venus, Florian’s (all Truckee), Time For Wine (Tahoe City).

© 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, written by me, appeared in my column "It's Grape" in April 2009.


Wineries Need to Get Creative to Attract Readers to Their Newsletters

Every day, we all get requests to join a winery newsletter list. Sometimes this happens at the tasting room, sometimes at regional or varietal wine tasting events, and sometimes friends send a “you must join this list!” e-mail. But there’s got to be a reason beyond good will for a consumer to agree to have yet another message delivered to the in-box. Here’s one creative idea that worked, from Charles Creek Winery, Graton, CA.

Their Tecolote Times newsletter often has recipes, suggestions for wine pairings, notes about upcoming seminars and other things that go beyond merely trying to sell more wine. Those are reasons enough to like a newsletter, but then they added a compelling item: a cartoon caption contest. Who isn’t addicted to cartoons?

Readers are urged to “put on your (funny) thinking caps for this months’ Cartoon Caption (or word balloon). Send your witty verbiage to info@charlescreek.com with “CCV CCC” in the subject line. Remember, the winner will receive a pair of seriously tasty Charles Creek wines as their reward. With that in mind, don’t forget to vote for the winning entry from last months ‘toon-test...”

So I did put on my funny thinking cap, and Guess What! I had two seriously tasty Charles Creek wines delivered to my door.


Nice glass for a nose bath, but where do I put the wine?

The red wine was an En Casa Merlot, Carneros, Sonoma County, 2004. I found the aroma and taste of plum, a very juicy wine, with soft tannins and light pepper on the back palate. It paired wonderfully with the New York strip steak that my married son Matthew grilled up for Sunday dinner with his family. Yet to be opened is the Las Patolitas Chardonnay, Sonoma County 2006.

If you’d like to participate in the contest – it is fun! –you’ll have to sign up for email communications at their site at http://www.charlescreek.com/mailing_list.php. And the newsletters are archived (click here) so when you win, you can just forward the fun on to your friends. What a good idea!

Is San Francisco the Epicenter of the Wine Business?

By definition, blogging can get personal, so here’s a doozy for you. I’m apprehensive about moving from San Francisco because it seems to be the epicenter of the wine business. A couple of things lead me to think this epicenter thought. Factoid: a recent winejobs.com ad for a marketing position noted that the work could be done anywhere (thank you, internet) or the San Francisco Bay Area. Factoid: Wine 2.0 held its first big event here. I could quote factoids and more factoids about other massive wine events held in Fog City.

When I moved to San Francisco four years ago, I was in the middle of an unexpected divorce. I hoped to learn more about wine, enjoy city life, and perhaps stumble across someone who’d combine the both in a romantic sort of way. Two out of three ain’t bad. I’ve enjoyed city life and learned a lot more about wine and the wine industry.

Now I hear the fog horns blowing as I sit in the middle of enough Lake-Tahoe-bound packing boxes for six months of life on the mountain and I wonder: is San Francisco the epicenter of the wine business? The place where things move and shake and new wine industry ideas, brands, concepts are born? Is the rest of the wine world simply an also-run?

Over the past years of my journey to learn more about the wine business, in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New York, Texas, Florida, Colorado, British Columbia, Washington-Oregon, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa, among other places, I confess that I’ve met wine industry people who are just as passionate about this elixir as is anyone who lives or works near the Golden Gate. But no matter where I’ve traveled, once you say you live in California, and specifically San Francisco, the conversation seems to shift a bit toward enhanced credibility. Is this my rampant imagination at work?

I confess I’ll miss the foghorns… but they’re being replaced with the raucous morning calls of Stellar Jays, the Alpenglow, and deep gulps of clear mountain air. Once I get the wine column established for The Tahoe Weekly, I’m turning my attention to building-out a concept of managing wine brands more efficiently and inexpensively via the use of social networking tools. There’s also a lot of pent-up poetry to write, maybe a wine industry book or two to draft. Bikes to ride, hikes to take, fish to catch. The world of wines is close by via the shops and restaurants around the lake. And… it’s only 205 miles to San Francisco.

(Photo Credit: Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy)

Have You Got Them on Your (Wine) List? These Ideas Should Not Be Missed!

With restaurant visits down, it makes sense to raise the tab by selling more wine to each and every patron. I’m sure there is consumer behavioral science involved in creating the optimal wine list, and certainly knowledge of wine, but my sense is that most restaurateurs and wine bar owners simply do it their own way. So here are a few thoughts on making a wine list more attractive and consumer friendly.
  • First Principle: Readability PLEASE! No patron should need to pull out reading glasses to see what’s on the list… kind of destroys the romance, I think. So if you can print your wine list in 11-pt type or above, you’ll be ‘way ahead of the competition. There really should be no compromise on this principle. Use more pages. Or feature fewer wines.

  • Intrigue the customer. I really enjoyed the list at Six Peaks Grille, the fine dining restaurant at the Resort at Squaw Valley. Rose Chehade is in charge of the wine selection there. She divided the list by the usual categories – white wines, red wines, and then added a separate category for small formats and large formats of each. Who could resist looking at Ms Chehade’s selections called Particularly Diverse Whites, and Diverse and Extraordinary Reds? Ka-ching!

  • Educate the customer. It’s nice to help your patrons understand the AVA or region that the wine is from, but that information can take up a lot of space on a wine list, threatening readability. One clever way around this conflict is the solution used by Bistro Ralph in Healdsburg, CA. They’ve abbreviated those terroir designators and put the index to abbreviations at the end of their list with only the abbreviations next to the winery-vineyard-varietal-year information. For example, AV – Alexander Valley, CH – Chalk Hill, DCV – Dry Creek Valley, and so on.

  • Offer a good selection of 375 ml bottles. This probably goes without saying, but it’s one way to offer fine wines at an affordable price point.

  • Make your list a souvenir. Giving a copy of your wine list to your customers just makes good sense … it’s more powerful as a marketing tool and more compelling for repeat or word-of-mouth business than that dinky business card. And why not offer your customers a pencil to make notes directly on that give-away list, nothing what they liked about the wine they chose?

Feedback, anyone? Comments welcome on your favs and gripes about wine lists!