Graham's at Squaw : Great Wine List, Great Food, Warm Ambiance!

There are many places to enjoy Holiday dinners with great wine selections around Tahoe. My choice this year is Graham’s at Squaw Valley. For warmth of both surrounding and personnel, a classic dinner with classic wines, and very attentive wine experts, it’s hard to beat. You’ll find it tucked away behind Granite Chef at 1650 Squaw Valley Road.

Rich Trattnow is the well-versed sommelier who took almost two decades to build the wine list from 45 to over 600 wines. When you go onto their website,, you can pull up the 37-page wine list to peruse before you go. My advice? Let Rich guide you with your selections.

He selected the 2006 Barton & Guestier Sauternes to pair with the pear & foie gras appetizer. The aroma of honeysuckle is immediately noticeable, and the taste was the classic dessert wine profile. An interesting pairing, and it worked beautifully. $12/glass.

What’s a sauterne? Here’s a useful tidbit from “The great sweet wines of Bordeaux, Sauternes, are among the most decadent, complex and simply enjoyable wines. Based on a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc that has been infected with the "noble rot", Botrytis Cinerea, Sauternes are rich, honied wines bursting with notes of vanilla, coconut, dried apricots and subtle spice tones. They are usually very sweet and rich with a soft quality to them that makes them appealing in their youth yet they can age and improve for decades. “ Alcohol content is usually 14% or higher.

Our next small plate was fig wrapped with bacon and served on a bed of watercress. To pair, Rich chose the 2007 Castello Banfi Pinot Grigio San Angelo Toscana. The grassy character of this wine is evident on the nose, and carries through to the palette also. Although most Pinot Grigio is associated with Northern Italy, the climate of Tuscany, where this wine is from, indicates a good growing region here too. This wine has an aroma that is fruity and intensive, and a taste that is clean and refreshing. Some wine writers see if as a superb aperitif wine as well as a food wine. $30/bottle. 12.5% alcohol.

The lambchop with mashed potato paired well with the 2006 Chateau de Pez Bordeaux, Saint Estephe. In a few words, it is ripe and attractive. A blend of 70% cabernet, 15% cabernet franc, and 15% merlot, this wine hails from the Haut Medoc region of Bordeaux. The importer’s notes: ”Warm and spicy fruit, nutty oak, and a ripe and supple character on the palate. It has a well composed style, with a vigorous acid backbone and plenty of tannic grip beneath." In Graham’s wine cellar, the 1995 sells for $95/bottle. See if he has any of the 2006 around, it is quite good. 13% alcohol traditionally.

What to pair with the beef filet with wild mushroom demi-glaze and white truffle mashed potatoes? Rich selected McDowell Valley 2002 Syrah, sourced from the winery’s vineyards 100 miles north of San Francisco nestled in the Mayacamas Mountains of southeastern Mendocino Count. These vineyards are home to some of the oldest Syrah vines in the United States, dating back to 1919. This is a well-priced wine that received an 88 point rating in Wine Spectator, which reviewed it thus: “Lots of ripe, up-front floral and lavender aromas, with spice, wild berry, cedar and black cherry fruit, offering intensity and richness, with firm tannins and a touch of tar and spice.” $44/bottle. 15% alcohol.

There are many other interesting wines to taste: let Rich guide you! Graham’s is located at 1650 Squaw Valley Road in Olympic Valley, California. Call (530) 581-0454 for hours and reservations.
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© 2010 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 December 2010.

Book in Process: " Mountain Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills".

Sherry: The Other Wine for the Holidays

That wonderful group The Secret Sherry Society keeps me informed about the wide world of sherry, and most of this column emanates from their dispatches. In truth, you cannot go wrong with bringing a bottle of sherry as either a holiday gift, or having one handy to share in upcoming months.

“Sherry is full of vitality and complex flavors. It brings our favorite foods to life and reminds us why people have been drinking wine for hundreds of years. It may be an historic wine, but in the United States, Sherry is new again. Sherry can be described in one word: versatility. There is a Sherry for every mood and every occasion,” says the Society.

Sherry is a fortified wine, which means that it has been fortified with spirits – specifically brandy. The best examples of Sherry can be delicious, complex, exciting and refreshing. Most of us have never tasted a great Sherry because in many restaurants and bars it is often left open too long or unrefrigerated on a shelf. But, wait until you try fresh Sherry from a newly opened bottle.

In sherry, location matters. The Secret Sherry Society notes that it’s only Sherry if it’s from Jerez, Spain.

With the wide spectrum of Sherry styles, there’s sure to be a Sherry that fits every mood and personality. Which Sherry are you or your friends? Take the Society quiz below to find out.

Are you a smart, dry-witted, urban sophisticate who enjoys dry white wines? Your Sherry personality might be Fino or Manzanilla. Fino is pale, dry and delicate, great with seafood and soups or can be enjoyed alone as an aperitif. Manzanilla is made in a seaside town called Sanlucar de Barrameda. The result is a dry Sherry that has a unique, almost briny flavor.

Pairings for Fino and Manzanilla: appetizers, canapés, spring rolls, dumplings, Serrano ham, tapas, chorizo, goat or sheep’s milk cheese, ceviche, sushi, sashimi, oysters, calamari, marinated or smoked fish, shellfish (i.e. shrimp or lobster).

Are you the type who enjoys a hike through the woods on a crisp fall day? Your Sherry personality might be Amontillado. Amontillado is amber in color, dry and robust in taste, possessing a slightly nutty smell. Great as an aperitif, with poultry, meat or after dinner.

Pairings for Amontillado: Everything you would pair with a Fino would also work with an Amontillado, but also consider light meat soups like consommé, rich seafoods like scallops, sardines or herring, grilled fish, poultry, game birds, meat terrines, and ripe, pungent cheeses.

Do you enjoy adventure and mystery? Do your friends describe you as bold and worldly? Your Sherry personality might be Oloroso. Oloroso is dark, full and exotic. They are nutty and fragrant in character.

Pairings for Oloroso: cheeses, foie gras, game meat, red meats, smoked meats, rich foods, and after dinner with cheese, nuts, savory desserts and dried fruits.

Do you have a love of travel and adventure, but prefer a plaid shirt over formal wear? Palo Cortado might be your Sherry personality. Palo Cortado is a rare style of Sherry with the nose of an amontillado and the flavor of an Oloroso.

Pairings for Palo Cortado: rich foods, cheeses, game meat, smoked meat, pork chops, and after dinner with cheese, nuts, savory desserts and dried fruits.

Do you eat your dinner for the main purpose of getting to dessert? You could have a Moscatel or
Pedro Ximénez Sherry personality.

Moscatel is a sweet, soft dessert-style wine. Pairings for Moscatel: foie gras, chocolate, cheese, sip as dessert.

Pedro Ximénez is a rich, dark, raisin-sweet dessert-style wine. Pairings for Pedro Ximenez: foie gras, cheese, sip as dessert, pour over ice cream.

Whatever your preferences, treat yourself and those on your gift list to wine’s best kept secret and discover the deliciousness and versatility of Sherry wines.

(Many thanks to the Secret Sherry Society for these and other interesting tidbits on sherry)

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© 2010 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 December 2010.

Book in Process: " Mountain Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills".

Stella at Cedar House Sport Hotel features Good Food Wines

A touch of Europe in Truckee – that’s what Stella restaurant at The Cedar House Sport Hotel on Brockway Road brings to mind. What it brings to the palate in terms of good wines that pair well with food is exceptional.

Owners Patty and Jeff Baird have meticulously crafted a modern and architecturally interesting restaurant using recycled woods and “green” building concepts. The result is a spectacular wining and dining venue that both pleases and rests the eye and lets you concentrate on the wines and food.

To start, sommelier Roger Slabin presented a 2009 Crios De Susana Balbo Torrontes from Argentina. I found the citrusy-flowery aroma compelling, and was delighted with the wine on the palate: a similarity to Sauvignon Blanc but with more delicate fruit flavor and floral tones. This wine is critically acclaimed by The Wine Advocate: ”The 2009 Torrontes remains one of Argentina’s benchmarks for this variety. Sourced from 31-year-old vines in Cafayate (where the finest Torrontes grows), it displays a fragrant bouquet of spring flowers, honey, and tropical aromas. Medium-bodied and dry on the palate, it has ample fruit backed by vibrant acidity leading to a lengthy finish. Drink it over the next 2 years. " 11.5% alcohol. $28/bottle. Chef Jacob Burton presented a tomato bisque soup with fresh mozzarella crostini with this wine. Excellent choice!

The 2009 Husch Chenin Blanc, Mendocino, has an aroma of white lily, with a minerality in the front. It’s an off-dry wine with a balanced combination of bright fruit and zesty acidity, and a full luscious mouth-feel. 13.8% alcohol. $25/bottle. The pairing was headcheese on homemade bread. Very European, quite delicious!

Moving to the red wines, the 2006 Truckee River Pinot Noir, with fruit sourced from Garys’ Vineyard in Santa Lucia Highlands, is one of our favorite locally vinified wines. It’s a a very delicate Pinot with the complexity, depth, and soft tannins typical of the Pisoni clone for which Garys’ is known. 13.8% alcohol, $50/bottle. This was paired with rabbit and dumplings serve with wilted spinach and stuff loin. Incredible.

By the way, at Truckee River Winery, this Pinot is $45/bottle; at Stella Cedar House, only $50. It is commendable that the restaurant keeps its markups low so that diners can enjoy wines with their meals! “That’s intentional,” says Patty.

The 2007 Hatcher Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills, is sourced from fruit from three vineyards: one in Amador County and two vineyards in Calaveras County, where Hatcher is located. The winemaker says of this wine: “In addition to floral notes, this wine starts with caramel, chocolate raspberry, and cola in the nose. Tart raspberries, American wood tannins, smoke and tobacco leaf start the mouthfeel. In the mid palate wheat, cornhusk, cut hay lead into a dry finish that is tart. This tells me the wine has an opportunity to last a long time.” This Zin was paired with their unbelievably-good chicken and waffles dish. 15.0 % alcohol, $29/bottle

For pairing with any of the fabulous desserts, the Pacific Rim Vin De Glaciere, a reisling from Washington State’s Selenium Vineyard, Columbia Valley, was fantastic. This is for wine-lovers with a sweet tooth, made by the famed winemaker Randall Graham. Apricot, pear, orange blossom – candied delights in a wine! 10.5% alcohol. $7/glass

Stella Restaurant at Cedar House Sport Hotel is located at 10918 Brockway Road, Truckee. Reservations recommended as the restaurant is often busy with big parties. 530-582-5655. Click HERE to go to their website, and then click on “dining” to learn more. And consider their culinary bootcamp, where you get to build and bake your own cuisine under the guidance of master chef Jacob Burton.
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© 2010 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 2010.

Book in Process: " Mountain Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills".

Talking Turkey: Tahoe House Gourmet Suggests Wines for Holiday Meals

“Let’s Talk Turkey”, notes the Thanksgiving flyer at Tahoe House Bakery and Gourmet. This shop’s wine offerings offer perfect pairings for the Thanksgiving foods, baked items and gourmet delights available. There on the right wall as you enter the shop at 625 W. Lake Blvd in Tahoe City is the perfect wine to pair with your Thanksgiving dinner and other wine occasions is there, at affordable prices.

Founded as a full service restaurant in 1977 by Peter & Helen Vogt, ten years ago the Vogt family transformed the popular restaurant into a gourmet deli and bakery. Today, Caroline Vogt Lee carries on the fine food and wine tradition by finding good wines that are very food friendly.

“It just goes together, wine and food,” Caroline said. “When people pop in to get items for dinner, it’s nice that they can get their wines as well. And since we have an on-site license, they can also open a bottle of wine with a nice luncheon chosen from the deli items. “

Caroline is joined in the enterprise by her sister Barbara Vogt Melrose, who manages the deli and J. B. Joynt, chief baker.

“To start any meal, I’d recommend a sparkling wine,” said Caroline. She chose J Vineyards Brut Rose, a Russian River Valley non-vintage wine produced from grapes in the pinot family. It is a nicely balanced sparkling wine, with aroma of jasmine, lilac and ripe cherries, and some vanilla and cream with a toastiness in the taste. 12.5% alcohol. $26.99/bottle.

If you want to enhance your Thanksgiving dinner with the Pesto and Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms appetizer or the Sausage Stuffing with Thyme and Sage from the deli, then take home the Pine Ridge 2008 white blend. This Oakville winery got great kudos for this wine, and it was declared one of the San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 Wines of 2009. The 81% Chenin Blanc, 19% Viognier blend has aroma of white flower, citrus taste, minerality and a nice finish. 12% alcohol. $14.99/bottle.

On to the main course, and right there at Tahoe House to explain his wines the day I visited, was Stefan Tscheppe, winemaker of Perry Creek Winery, Fair Play, CA. I adore Sierra Foothills wines, and the Perry Creek Barbera 2007 Sierra Foothills was magnificent. Stefan brings 6 generations of Austrian winemaking to bear in his alchemy at Perry Creek, and although the winery is home of the famous Zinman (ie, known for its Zinfandel), the Barbera is excellent. It’s a blend of two old vine vineyards, and is made close to the old northern Italian traditions. Only 550 cases were made of this wine. I liked the intense strawberry/blackberry aroma and taste, with a hint of cinnamon and chocolate that makes it dance on your palate. Pairs magnificently with turkey! 14.4% alcohol. $16.99/bottle.

Want to try a Pinot Noir with the turkey? Caroline recommends the Bouchaine Pinot Noir 2006, Carneros. A spicy aroma of blackberry and plum, and a taste that highlights the bright flavor or classic fruit from the Carneros area of Napa: pomegranate, plum, and cherry fruit flavors. A nicely tannic balance, and a silky finish. 14.1% alcohol, $23.99/bottle.

To finish your meal, the desserts from Tahoe House are compelling. I’d choose a caramel walnut torte, and pair it with a Dow’s 10 year Tawny Porto. A perfect match! 20% alcohol, $33/bottle.

Tahoe House is located at 625 W. Lake Blvd, Tahoe City CA 96145. Open Sunday - Thursday 6 am to 4 pm, and Friday and Saturday 6 am to 6 pm. Phone 530-583-1377. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

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© 2010 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 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: " Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date Summer 2011, The Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing Division

Calaveras Wineries support art in Mission neighborhood of San Francisco

Last Saturday, several Calaveras wineries supported the art scene in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco by donating/pouring wine at a special event there, the ARTasting 2010.

I enjoyed tasting the Marsanne by Bodega del Sur, and the Deux Rose from Tanner Vineyards.

FOTO: Evelyn Reyes-Umana and son Victor Manuel. From the Bodega del Sur website: "Our 2008 Marsanne exhibits a rich tropical fruit nose with a honey-orange blossom flavor profile. Light hints of oak are layered with pear and apple spice. The wine was barrel fermented in French Oak barrels. This is a wine that is very enjoyable in it’s youth but will continue to develop dramatically for many years to come. The grapes for our Marsanne came from the Dalton Vineyard in Calaveras County, one of the few vineyards in California to grow this temperamental grape. "

FOTO: Dick and Nanette Tanner. The Duex Rose is a light rose of Syrah made in the French style. Extremely drinkable! I loved it. There's nothing on the Tanner Vineyards website about this wine as it is a new offering. Named after Dick's grandmother, Rose. Absolutely worth a trip to Murphy's to taste this delightful wine!

Event organizers noted: " This event is extra special because it also marks ARTdeezine's 5th year in business in the sunny Mission District of San Francisco! To celebrate, the event will focus on the art, food and style of the diverse, colorful neighborhood, the Mission! Local art will be showcased at the event. Sponsored in part by Slow Food San Francisco, ARTdeezine LLC hosts this annual event exploring the culture and style of San Francisco neighborhoods through art and food. In celebration and support of local art, food and wine, we invite local artists of all mediums to participate and promote their art. Then we donate the proceeds from the event to a local charity or individual in our community that we believe is doing positive things locally or is in need of help. "

The tasting was crowded, and a special treat was the opportunity to sample small bites and purchase street food offered by local vendors. And then, there right in front of us: a special guest appearance from the infamous "Tamale Lady", a Mission legend in her own time! We finished the evening with chocolate and other tasty treats also offered by local vendors. What wine pairs well with a low-fat moon pie? All wines!

Hats off to Calaveras wineries for their public spirit. And we know who's behind this one: Evelyn Reyes-Umana, fiercely proud of her Hispanic heritage and a real mover and shaker in the Calaveras winery scene.

Skinner Vineyards Estate Wine Program Announced

Skinner Vineyards Estate Wine Program Announced;
New 12,000 Square Foot Winery in Fair Play To Open

Skinner Vineyards announced its Estate Wine program for Syrah, Viognier, Grenache and Petite Syrah grown at the Stoney Creek Vineyard, part of Skinner’s 67 acre property in the Fair Play AVA of El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills. The new 12,000 square foot solar-powered greentech winery will soon be complete. Now, the temporary Certificate of Occupancy just granted for the crushpad and fermentation area of the winery allows Skinner Vineyards to produce wines on site beginning with this 2010 harvest season.

“We are thrilled to bring our harvest to our own winery this year,” said Mike Skinner, Owner/President. “The late ripening conditions this year actually helped us, as we were fighting against the clock to get the crucial parts of the new winery built and inspected. As it happens, the timing worked out perfectly for us.”

Skinner Vineyards' winemaker Chris Pittenger (left) and manager Ryan Skinner(right) in Skinner's new Fair Play, CA, greentech winery during the 2010 crush.

Mike and Carey Skinner bought the 67 acres of this Stoney Creek Vineyard in 2007. The Syrah and Viognier vines had already been there for ten years, and Grenache, Grenache Blanc and Petit Syrah were planted shortly after the purchase. These vines, planted between 2600 and 2740 feet elevation, produce grapes with intense flavor. The Skinner’s decided to name the vineyard Stoney Creek after the creek that runs at the bottom of property on Fair Play Road.

Skinner Vineyards also encompasses a 25-acre property in Rescue, CA, the White Oak Flat Vineyard near Green Valley Road. Grapes from this El Dorado land will also be vinified at the Stoney Creek Winery.

“In our Estate wine program, you can taste our rosés and whites in 2011,” said Chris Pittenger, winemaker. “Our Estate reds will be aged in oak before they are released in 2012 and 2013. We expect some fantastic releases from the 2010 fruit.” Approximately 1500 cases of Estate wines will dominate the 2000 total case production of Skinner Vineyards.

Skinner has been a name in the history of winemaking in El Dorado County since 1861 when James Skinner planted his vineyard off Green Valley Road near the town of Rescue in the Sierra Foothills and began to produce native wines and brandy. With a strategic location on the Pony Express Trail, he built a stone wine cellar capable of storing 15,000 gallons of wine. Prohibition intervened, the winery closed, but the new generation of Skinners restarted the venture in 2006.

After the winery is completed in the next few weeks, attention will turn to finishing the new Skinner tasting room in Fair Play which will open in January 2011 and features a panoramic view of the Sierra and the Sierra Foothills. At elevation 2700 feet, visitors to the tasting room can experience Skinner wines while enjoying a view of Pyramid Peak in the distance.

Skinner wines are available online at and to wine club members. The wines are featured at fine dining restaurants including Plumpjack’s in Squaw Valley; and L Wine Lounge and Restaurant, Ella’s, and the Firehouse restaurants, Sacramento; and Bocconato Trattoria in Fair Play. You can also taste the wines at Rhone Ranger events.

More About Skinner Vineyards:
Skinner Vineyards was founded in 2006 by Mike and Carey Skinner. Two vineyards in California’s Sierra Foothills– White Oak Flat in Rescue and Stoney Creek in Fair Play – and a new winery and tasting room at 2700 elevation in the Fair Play AVA comprise the venture. Keeping in the tradition of the El Dorado County winery that was opened by James Skinner in 1861, the winery is committed to producing exceptional wines that reflect the unique spirit of the Sierra Foothills, using the same Rhône varietals that were grown by the Skinner family 150 years ago. The great-great-great-grandfather of current owner Mike Skinner, James Skinner, was one of the forefathers of the California wine industry; his vineyard and winery, started in 1861, was one of the first and largest in California. The old J. Skinner Winery closed during during Prohibition, but Mike and wife Carey opened it again a hundred years later and added the Stoney Creek property to the venture shortly thereafter. The new 12,000 square foot winery is solar-powered and built with many greentech and environmental features.

Disclosure: As part of my portfolio of writing and marketing communications skills, I also do press release writing for a few wineries and a few suppliers to the wine industry for pay. This blogpost originated as a press release for this client.

Day of Dead winery tour in Calaveras County was Successful

This note from the newsletter sent out by Bodega Del Sur:

"The Day of the Dead celebration was a hugh success. Thank you for all your enthusiatic support. We had over 100 visitors view the altars honoring and remembering women, men, and children who have contributed and enriched our lives. We will be making this an annual event. Celebrate with us in 2011.

Bodega del Sur hosted the women's altar filled with pictures of the women who have touched our lives and their favorite things."

What a nice tradition to begin!

Halloween and other Wines on the West Shore: Obexer's General Store features Unique and Affordable Wines

A recent entrant to the wine shop choices on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe is Obexer’s General Store in Homewood, where wine buyer Scott Willers is stocking a great selection of recognizable, unique and affordable wines. By next summer, the shop will be hosting of wine tasting events. Let the fun begin!

“We’ve created a selection of wines that make it easy to find a great bottle for gifting or dining. We’ve got wines for people who know a lot about wine, hard to find wines, and also recognizable brands that everyone loves,” said Scott. “One goal is to stock wines that diners have enjoyed at West Shore restaurants like Sunnyside, Swiss Lakewood and West Shore Cafe, so they can repeat that wine experience at home.”

For fun in October, Obexer’s has stocked wines that are perfect choices for Halloween parties. They are all fun, affordable and very drinkable.

Evil Cabernet Sauvignon, a label of R Wines company, is 100% cabernet sourced from vineyards in Langhorne Creek, Riverland, Barossa Valley. Over 25% of these grapes are aged in French oak for 12 months, resulting in a wine that is a dark red with bright crimson hues. Aroma is fresh yet rich, with hints of black olive, fresh blackberries and raspberries. Taste is nice and complex with fruit and oak both showing through, and some blackcurrant and spicy clove notes, and a fine tannin finish. One wine blogger noted that the fun of the label is “"Evil" spelled backwards is "Live" but "Evil" turned upside down, "It's just wrong". That's what the label says anyway….”14.7% alcohol. $9.99 thebottle.

If you are in the mood for merlot, try the Vampire Merlot, which actually hails from Paso Robles, not Romania. (Sorry to disappoint you). This merlot is blended with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon for some additional depth and structure, and 8% Zinfandel to add a bit of spiciness. The result is a nice plumy bouquet, a dark purple color (keep WineAway on hand for spills!) and a nice soft tannin with vanilla hint from aging in American oak. It is enjoyable now, but has enough structure to age for several years. 13.8 % alcohol. $12.99 the bottle.

Or try a bottle of Dracula Zinfandel, a big and expressive Zinfandel, also from Paso Robles. The wine has full and deep plum flavors, which are a tantalizing lead up to a taste of pepper and other spices. There’s a great refined texture, and on the palate, nice elegance with polished tannins to finish. 13% alcohol. $19.99 the bottle.

You can name your own poison with Poizon Zinfandel, which the winery terms “a wine to die for.” I might not go that far, but it is delicious. This is a Sonoma Dry Creek blend that features almost 80% zin. Aroma of plum, cherries and a hint of green herbs. Nice and velvety, maybe some reminiscence of mocha and buttery cake, and then a nice touch of toastiness from French oak. A mouth watering finish! 15% alcohol, $24.99 the bottle.

Want to slink away from the Halloween festivities to trick or treat? Then you’ll want some Incognito Viognier, a white Rhone wine that’s now grown in a Michael David vineyard on a Lodi Delta island located 25 feet below sea level! Unmask long enough to share this yummy wine with friends: its honeysuckle and jasmine aromas practically jump out of your glass. A great rich mouth-feel, flavors of pineapple, apricot and tropical fruit. 16% alcohol, $14.99 the bottle.

Obexer’s General Store is located at 5300 W Lake Blvd, Homewood, CA 96141. Phone (530) 525-6297 Open all year around.

Watch for my forthcoming book: " Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date Summer 2011, The Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing Division

Uncorked Tahoe City: Tastes by the Glass, and Great Bottles for Dinner

Uncorked Tahoe City in the Cobblestone Center is the newest venture of Kali Kopley and partners Debbie and Marc Metcalf. We know that Kali has one of the best palates around. Mark and Debbie bring experience and enthusiasm of wine afficianados to Uncorked.

You’ll enjoy yourself in this revitalized wine bar/wine shop. Originally opened as Corkscrews in 2009, the new décor is warm and welcoming, the noise level is under control, and the selections are great.

Since Zinfandel is a favorite of Mark and Debbie, they have stocked some wonderful Zins. “It is more difficult to make a Zinfandel than anything else,” explained Marc Metcalf. “Zinfandel as a variety is hard to grow. When a winemaker produces a Zin that is varietally correct, it is a spectacular wine.”

A favorite is 2008 Mauritson Rockpile Zin, a single vineyard “hallmark” varietal. A Grand Opening event recently featured Clay Mauritson, third-generation winemaker, who noted why this is such a special wine.

“Our Family’s Rockpile Ridge Vineyard is located at nearly 1,200 ft elevation in the Rockpile appellation, Sonoma County. We pick the blocks at different times, and ferment these separately to insure the integrity and uniqueness of the individual blocks. Working with nine amazingly distinct blocks is a winemaking dream come true, and is what makes our Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel so spectacular. 2008 was an interesting year to say the least. In fact, if we never have another year like it, it will be too soon. One of the worst frosts that we have seen in 40 years, gusting winds during bloom, an uncharacteristically hot September, and we ended up with about 50% of our normal production. Even so, the quality is as good as ever, but there is just not very much of it!” 15.5% alcohol, $36/bottle. (PHOTO: left to right, Clay Mauritson, Debbie and Marc Metcalf)

The wine bar will host a number of winemakers throughout the year, but their daily wine-by-the-glass menu encourages stopping in any day. It changes daily, but here’s what I tasted:

Two offerings by Fort Ross, which draws its fruit from a necklace of small mountain vineyards on the Sonoma coast. The 2006 Fort Ross Pinotage has classic plum on the palate, with a beautiful dark ruby hue and a concentration of bright, bold and luscious flavors. Grapes come from Fort Ross proprietary clones, MM1 and MM3, that were developed from bud wood imported from one of the most select Pinotage vineyards in South Africa. 14.1% alcohol, $12 the glass, $30 the bottle.

The 2007 Fort Ross Pinot Noir is a deep garnet in color, and this is prelude to a full body with aromas of dark fruit and black tea, and taste of black cherry, raspberry, earthy mushroom, and even some hints of sage. 91 points- Wine Spectator. 14.5% alcohol, $12 the glass, $29 the bottle.

The 2008 Voss Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, has aroma of lemon peel and white flower, taste of grapefruit, honey and a hint of spice and mineral. 11.5% alcohol, $9 the glass, $21 the bottle.

The 2009 Frostwatch Kismet White Blend, Bennett Valley-Sonoma, is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, leaning this year heavily on Sauvignon Blanc. It has bright and refreshing flavors of passion fruit, nectarine, fig and lemon, and a rich texture. 90 points- Wine Spectator. 14.3% alcohol. $10 the glass, $21 the bottle.

Uncorked Tahoe City is located in the Cobblestone Mall at 475 North Lake Blvd., Suite 151, Tahoe City, CA. Open daily noon to 8 p.m. Telephone 530.581.1106

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© 2010 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 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: " Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date early Summer 2011, The Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing Division

Calaveras Wineries Host “Day of the Dead: Celebration of Family and Life”

Calaveras County has many ties to the Hispanic community, including the first Cinco de Mayo held in California . I read about this historical fact in the Columbia State Museum; it’s a featured item from a newspaper from Gold Rush days that is on display, unearthed during my research for a forthcoming book on Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills. I shared this tidbit with Evelyn Reyes Umana, owner of Bodega del Sur Winery, and she mentioned a unique event that wineries in Murphys are creating.

Keeping with the Hispanic tradition, but going beyond it, several wineries in and around Murphys are launching the first annual Day of the Dead winery walking tour. The intent of the tour is to celebrate Family and Life.

Participants are Bodega del Sur Winery, Frog’s Tooth Vineyards, Tanner Vineyards, and Beaux Chevaux Tasting Gallery. This a self-guided walking tour through downtown Murphys, CA, on the afternoons of Saturday October 30 and Sunday October 31.

“We are bringing a traditional festival celebrating our loved ones as we honor and remember them, and how they touched our lives,” says the owner of Bodega del Sur Winery. “Cultural traditions from all over the world have mixed and blended to create a larger tradition in which rites commemorating harvest and death will be celebrated in Murphys.” Evelyn and husband Victor were born in Central America.

Each of the tasting rooms will have something special and unique to share with the community. A self-guided tour map will take wine tourists on an unforgettable educational and cultural experience.

“As wine lovers go from one tasting room to another, they’ll enjoy beautifully decorated altars, photos and memorabilia, “ noted Evelyn. “We’ll share personal stories about those who have touched our lives, and hope our wine guests will join in doing that too.”

Each of the participating wineries has a theme:
* Bodega del Sur Winery – Honoring & Remembering Women
* Frog’s Tooth Vineyards – Honoring & Remembering Men
* Tanner Vineyards – Honoring & Remembering Children
* Beaux Chevaux Tasting Gallery – Food and Art

Beaux Chevaux is providing special Day of the Dead bread from Aria Bakery, and hot chocolate. They are also featuring an exhibit of Day of the Dead folk and contemporary art; the art goes on display beginning Oct 15.

The self-guided walking tour is free to the public. Maps will be available starting Oct. 15 at the host tasting rooms. Families are welcomed. No trick-or-treating or costumes.
For more information, please call (209) 728-9030.

Contact for more information:
Helen Sumser, Bodega del Sur Winery
457 S. Algiers Street, Murphys, CA 95247

Nanette Tanner, Tanner Vineyards, 728-8229
Gary Grant, Frog's Tooth Vineyards, 728-2700
Becky Lanier, Beaux Chevaux Tasting Gallery 728-1000

Alternative Viewpoint on Harvest from Uvaggio's Jim Moore

"With the impending Harvest, plenty of news is coming out of Napa," writes Lauren Eastman, who does Public Relations work from her office in San Francisco. "For an alternative viewpoint, esteemed winemaker and owner of Uvaggio, Jim Moore, provides another perspective. Jim’s career spans more than three decades in Napa, and his experience is well versed in the trends coming out of the premier California wine growing region.

"However, he’s chosen to take his wine dream to Lodi and launch his own brand, Uvaggio.

"As Jim is beginning harvest this week, he is seeing good flavor maturity at low brix, and expecting his Primativo to come in under 13 percent, providing a much different outcome for this wine than one might expect of the typical Zinfandel experience. Even for Lodi, he is breaking down the barriers. The high alcohol Zinfandels that come out of the region are often harvested at a much later date, awaiting the residual sugar.

"Jim’s Italian style cultivars include Vermentino, Italy’s most popular white grape this year, Barbera, Moscato (which will be harvested in sweet (dolce) and non-sweet (seco) in early October. Many of these wines will be perfect on the Thanksgiving table moving into the holidays. This week, I’m most excited about Vermentino, as its been hot in the Bay Area and this refreshing white is delightful on sunny afternoons."

With a build-up like that, I was curious about this winemaker. Lauren did a great job piquing my interest. His bio is pretty impressive, so here goes:

Biography: Jim Moore, Proprietor/Winemaker
l’Uvaggio di Giacomo (a.k.a. Uvaggio)

For a person who walked many vineyard rows throughout several decades for numerous others, the creation and development of Jim Moore’s own wine label - Uvaggio - is a gratifying achievement. Jim’s innovative approach toward winemaking in combination with traditional techniques and alternative varietals allow him to create wines with a distinct Italian flare, from grapes grown in the New World. The style of Uvaggio wines is true to everything Italian-ate. Tasting them blind, one might actually imagine they might come from Italy. With just one taste it is evident these are not typical wines from a typical winemaker.

With a career spanning more than three decades, multiple and diverse regions in California and in several parts of Italy, across a range of cultivars - everything from Arneis to Zinfandel – Jim’s atypical breadth of experience differentiates him and Uvaggio wines from the vast sea of California’s Franco-centric offerings.

Jim’s interest in Italian varietals began long before Pinot Grigio became ubiquitous in the marketplace and on wine lists across the county. He was first exposed to wines in college, then a broader segment while working in restaurants and a vast spectrum while working for a wine retailer, launching him on a quest for a career in winemaking, to experience and appreciate how fine wine is crafted. In 1976 he moved to Napa Valley and worked for several Napa wineries throughout the next three harvests.

In September 1979, Jim joined Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, beginning a two decade tenure California’s most renowned, if not iconic, winery. Initially, he held various production and supervisorial positions. Ultimately in 1988, he was promoted to the enology department and began guiding the winemaking styles. For the next seven years he continued his education by taking winemaking and business courses at UC Davis.

Jim’s palate for Italian wines was recalibrated after his exposure to the exceptional vintages of 1982 and 1985. These vintages were contemporaneous with an increased awareness of wine quality in Italy and in some instances they involved revolutionary production techniques. Inspired by these wines, he developed two vineyard trial blocks to evaluate the performance and gauge the merchantability of specific grape varieties and different clones - primarily Italian and secondarily from the Rhone. He helped to develop Mondavi’s Burgundian inspired, Carneros appellation Chardonnay and Pinot noir, reintroduced Zinfandel and revamped the wine style and packaging for Moscato d’Oro - a proprietary dessert wine. Additionally he created and developed La Famiglia di Robert Mondavi in California, while helping launch Luce and Lucente from Tuscany - a collaborative effort with the Frescobaldi family of Florence.

Jim’s work at Mondavi earned many accolades. Two of the Zinfandels he crafted were honored by Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year, as was a bottling of Luce. A subsequent bottling of Luce garnered a coveted “tre bicchiere” (three glasses - their highest rating) from the Gambero Rosso, Italy’s pre-eminent wine guide. Toward the end of his tenure at Mondavi, he was promoted to Assistant Winemaker and worked to help elevate the quality of Mondavi’s entire Napa Valley portfolio while investigating new winemaking techniques while working with the General Manager to incorporate all the applicable ideas into their To Kalon cellar renovation.

In 1998, Moore left Mondavi to develop l’Uvaggio di Giacomo, (“the Blends of James”) which he had begun with the 1997 vintage. Concurrently, he acted as the consulting winemaker for five new Napa Valley start-up ventures, all while holding a ‘day job’ as the general manager and winemaker for a small, family winery in St Helena. In early 2003 he became the Director of Winemaking for Bonny Doon Vineyard/Ca’ del Solo, staying only briefly, leaving to devote himself full time to revitalizing his Uvaggio project.

Today the Uvaggio label proves to have been worth the long wait and considerable effort. The portfolio consists of Vermentino, Rosato, Primitivo, Moscato (both secco & dolce) and Barbera - offering neophytes and aficionados alike with accessible wines possessing vibrant flavors, framed within a classic structure, all offered at moderate prices. With key attributes like lower levels of alcohol, distinctive flavor profiles and harmonious expressions, these wines are crafted for food affinity, bringing an Italian sensibility to the American table. Jim’s philosophy maintains that the primary role of wine is to accompany food, which results in three important attributes: accessibility, harmony and value.

Jim Moore is a graduate of UCLA and has traveled extensively in Italy; especially Tuscany, Piedmont, Friuli and Trentino - as well as Burgundy and Bordeaux in France in studying their vineyards, winemaking techniques and even coopering. He resides in Napa with his wife, a librarian and educator, where they explore new culinary and vinous horizons daily.

Thanks to Lauren Eastman & Associates for a lively look at Harvest news!

Tahoe's Best Wine Auction: Plumpjack sponsors Biking for a Better World

Plumpjack’s at Squaw was the magnanimous host for the September Wine Auction charitable event, Biking for a Better World. Some great wines were quaffed, discussed and bought. You won’t want to miss this event next year, as it presents an opportunity to acquire wonderful and rare wines for your cellar and your table.

Kali Kopley of Uncorked Wine Shops and Dawn Bertsch (pictured, right, with Biking for a Better World organizer), a sommelier and wine rep, garnered a group of wonderful wines for auction.

A quick run-down:
Auctioned off at 6 times the opening bid was a Dr. Loosen Riesling vertical, 2 bottles each of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Erdener Treppchen Auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. These German wines start off with spicy musky aromas, and flavors of pear, melon, pineapple and red berries please the palate. These plump wines are crystalline and pure, with long fruit-driven finishes. Drink the 2006 now, Dawn Bertsch advises, and cellar the 2004 and 2005 for 5 years.

Winemaker Phil Coturri donated 3 bottles each of his 2006 Zinfandel and 2007 Syrah, Sonoma. The Zinfandel is well balanced and tasty, with red fruit, bramble and good minerality. The Syrah has an aroma of bacon and dark fruits, with “everything a Syrah should display – dark fruit, gaminess, pepper, spice and a touch of iron,” noted the winemaker as he presented the wines.

Tony Truchard of Truchard Family Vineyards & Winery, also present at the auction, donated 6 bottles of his Cabernet Sauvignon, in a vertical array. Although Carneros is not known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, the Truchard wines are terrific big wines with wonderful color and structure. Touches of Cabernet Franc are blended in for added softeness and complexity.

Skinner Vineyards grows fruit in El Dorado near Placerville and also in Fair Play. I’ve personally visited with the winemaker Chris Pittenger in the past, and when the new winery and tasting room opens in Fair Play next year, you absolutely must visit. Chris is a talented winemaker, and these are among the best of Foothill wines. Several wonderful bottles donated to the auction included Skinner White Rhone Blend “Seven Generations” 2008 El Dorado. This is a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier, with tropical aromas of pineapple and papaya, hints of flowers, hazelnuts, banana bread and nice minerality.

The Skinner winery is known for its Syrah, and two of them were auctioned. The 2007 El Dorado Syrah is redolent of ripe blackberry, boysenberry and blueberry, with spiciness and a lengthy finish. The Syrah “Stoney Creek Vineyard” 2007 El Dorado is sourced from mountain fruit grown at 2700 feet, and it’s magnificent! Aroma of blackberry, cherry pie and tastes of cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, flower, pepper. The addition of 3% Viognier gives it a medium body and a long velvety finish.

Plumpjack Winery produces super premium Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from Napa Valley grapes, and also some amounts of Merlot, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. On auction was the 2007 Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Merlot, and the 2008 Chardonnay. CADE winery, also owned by Plumpjack, is located in Howell Mountain. The Cade Napa Sauvignon Blanc 2009, cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Napa, and 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon were also included in the auction items donated by Plumpjack.

Of course the Plumpjack Executive Chef Ben “Wyatt” Dufresne and the entire kitchen team produced a wonderful menu that paired well with 4 great wines: Mason Cellars Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc 2009 California, Miner Family Chardonnay 2008 Napa, Siduri Pinot Noir 2008 Sonoma Coast, and Dogwood Cellars Zinfandel 2006 Mendocino.

Biking for a Better World ( is headquartered in Olympic Valley and this group raises money for schools and bicycles for students in remote villages in Nicaragua.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
© 2010 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 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: " Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date early Summer 2011, The Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing Division
>>Send an email to Barbara (at) if you want to be put on the notification list when it is published...

Incline Spirits Hosts CG DiArie

How did I miss this great wine shop before now? I’m talking about Incline Spirits on Country Club Drive near Austin’s in Incline Village.

But never mind, I got there via a prompt from Chaim and Elisheva Gur-Arieh, owners of C. G. DiAirie Vineyard & Winery, Mt. Aukum, El Dorado County, California. I have great admiration for their wines, and the story of how food-scientist Chaim moved from such innovations as Cap’n Crunch and Power Bars to winemaking is one of the stories you’ll see in my forthcoming book.

They were pouring their wonderful 2006 Primitivo, Estate Grown on 2-acre Block 4 in their Shenandoah Valley vineyard. The new vintage (2008) is now available at a slightly higher price, but the 2006 has all that you’d want in Primitivo, closely related to Zinfandel: floral fruity aroma, such as raspberry, Marion berry, black cherry, plum, blackberry. Also some peach aromas and flavors. This splendid array of aromas carries through to the palate. Nicely structured, complex, good balance and acidity. Long finish of black cherry, mocha and spice. More information at 14.6% alcohol, $21.99/bottle at Incline Spirits.

Three years ago, Aimee Miller and husband Will Brigham created Incline Spirits from an empty office space in what’s since become a lively incline Village destination. Aimee loved wine more than the computer engineering field, and she was encouraged by Will, owner of 6 restaurants over several years.

C. G. DiArie was invited to pour at Incline Spirits because both Aimee and Will love wines from California’s Sierra Foothills. In addition to DiArie’s wines, you’ll find wines from Lava Cap, Twisted Oak and Boeger in the shop as well as other small production, small vintage wines.

“We specialize in hard to find wine, and we like to sponsor guest tastings,” Aimee said. “ We look hard to find wines that have scored over 90 points in various wine industry magazines, and yet are under $30 per bottle.”

The wine offerings changes somewhat seasonally, but both Aimee and Will and general manager Michael Tassone have clear favorites.

Aimee’s choice for the months ahead: a Gary Farrell 2006 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California. “It’s a beautiful bottle, fruit forward, well balanced, complex, and it is drinking really well.” 14.2% alcohol, $48.49/bottle.

Michael’s choice is a 2006 Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon. “It has delicious fruit and is well balanced,” Michael said. “I’d serve it with tenderloin steak topped by bleu cheese and wrapped in bacon.” Michael background includes 13 years as a wine tour guide.

Will’s choice for summer: a 2006 Cowan Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir, Goldeneye/Duckhorn. “The fruit for this wine is grown in the Anderson Valley, and it has a perfect balance, with strawberry and raspberry tones and a dry finish. You can drink it by itself, or with a meal.” 14.5% alcohol, $84.99/bottle.

For winter, Will would walk you to the round rack in the center of the wine cellar and encourage you to try something new. “The wine I’d recommend is not for the faint of heart,” he said. “It’s like a cabernet sauvignon on steroids and is absolutely perfect for cold nights, gamey meats and fatty meats.” This is the Roagna Borolo, a wine that is 100% Nebbiolo. It is big, heavy and tannic. 13.5% alcohol. $59.99/bottle.

Incline Spirits is located at 120 Country Club Drive, # 25, Incline Village, NV 89451. Open 7 days a week, from 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday-Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Their on-premise tavern license means that you can take a bottle of wine outside, pop the cork, order in food, and dine al fresco. 775 831 9292.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
© 2010 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 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: " Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date early Summer 2011, The Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing Division

>>Send an email to Barbara (at) if you want to be put on the notification list when it is published...

At Hyatt Regency Incline: Kristi Sets up an Astounding Wine on the Water Benefit

The Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe benefits from funds raised at the Wine on the Water event at the end of August, organized by master sommelier Kristi Snyder of Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. (photo left) The 24 wineries poured wines to go with small-plate tastings from 12 great Tahoe restaurants. It was an event not to miss.

Frankly, I have not seen such a stellar list of wineries pouring great wines gathered in one place at Tahoe before. The roster included Benessere, Bennett Lane, BR Cohn, Cakebread, Carol Shelton, Chateau St. Michelle, Dierberg, Domaine Carneros, Duckhorn, Educated Guess, Elyse, Emmolo, Forman Vineyards, Four Graces, Frank Family, Gregory Graham, Keenan, Laird, Mer Soliel, Mi Sueno, Miner Family, Opolo, Robert Hall, Rodney Strong, Schramsberg, Simi, Stags Leap, Talbott, Terra Valentine, Twisted Oak, Twomey, Silver Oak. Truly star-studded!

Wines from small production wineries is what I decided to taste. There’s a special place in my heart for the little guy because often their spirit and persistence and innovation leads to new chapters in the wine history books.

Benessere Vineyards, St. Helena, is family owned and specializes in Italian Varietals. With vineyards located along the Napa River, the growing conditions are ideal for Sangiovese, a fairly fickle and delicate varietal. The Benessere 2007 Napa Valley Sangiovese is made entirely from estate grapes grown on their 42 acres, and the dedication to hand-crafting the Benessere wines shows through. It is an elegant and beautiful wine, with structured tannins that do not overwhelm the ripe fruit flavors of cherries and red currant. 14.4% alcohol, $32/bottle. Only 1200 cases made.

At the tasting station for Emmolo Wine Company, there’s a photo of their new concrete fermenter, fondly called “The Egg.” There’s lots of experimentation in the wine business with fermentation types and techniques, and this is one of the newest types of fermenters, developed in Burgundy, France. Cheryl Emmolo, owner, is pleased with the results. Her winemaker son Charlie Wagner produced a bright and clean 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from grapes in their historic Emmolo River Ranch property, Rutherford/Napa. The citrus, starfruit, honeydew and tropical fruit hints are true to the varietal. The finish had a touch of minerality that was classic to this terroir. 12.8% alcohol, $16/bottle.

Mi Sueño Winery, Napa, poured their 2007 Mi Sueno El Llano Red Wine Napa Valley. This blend, 35% Syrah and 65% Cabernet, is named in honor of winemaker/owner Rolando Herrera's hometown of El Llano, Michoacan, Mexico. Begun as a little experiment of 700 cases in 2002, the El Llano has become their most popular wine. A deep, dark, purple-black color leads you to expect the rich aroma of red and black fruits. Great fruit flavor with a touch of roasted espresso and perhaps some sweet cocoa. Ripe-polished tannins and a hint of warm toasty oak. Truly yummy. 14.5% alcohol, $40/bottle.

Educated Guess 2008 Chardonnay is made from grapes grown in Napa’s Oak Knoll and Mount Veeder districts. This is a delicious crisp Chardonnay, not over-oaked. Wonderful tastes of pear, melon, green apple, and a nice bright acidity with creamy vanilla notes. It is both tasty and affordable – and this is a goal of the Roots Run Deep Winery, which produces Educated Guess Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. 14.6 % alcohol, $17/bottle.

For more information about the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe, visit their website at It was founded in 1998 in response to a lack of affordable, year-round youth development services on the North Shore.

© 2010 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 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: " Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date early Summer 2011, The Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing Division

>Send an email to Barbara (at) if you want to be put on the notification list when it is published...


If you haven’t been to the Truckee River Winery tasting room at 11467 Brockway Road, next to Mountain Home Center on the northeast side of Truckee, make a point to go there before it’s too jammed with other folks. The word is getting out rapidly that it is a great place to taste wine and meet friends for relaxation and bocce.

Bocce? You bet. One of the fun things that winemaker Russ Jones installed at the new premises was a terrific bocce court. He runs tournaments, has an expert give master classes, and is even doing a Full Moon Glow Ball Bocce Tournament. There are also Horseshoe tournaments. A game board for cozy checkers in front of the wireplace at wintertime. And let’s not forget the wonderful wines!

Russ started his winery in a two car garage in 1989, moved his winemaking to South River St. in Truckee and in 2009, with case production at almost 1500 cases, created a crushpad and tasting room on Brockway Road. It was a case of local boy (Truckee High School class of 1977) comes home, and establishes the “highest and coldest” winery in the Sierra. He’d graduated from UC Davis’ program in enology and viticulture, worked in the wine industry in Oregon and Paso Robles and then came back home.

Russ’s philosophy is to make good wine, and to make consistent wine. He’s established relationships with good growers and vineyard operators.

“We are proud to source and control 2 acres of Pisoni clone vines at Garys' Vineyard located in Monterey County in the Santa Lucia Highlands . Our Zinfandel comes from Lodi, Gribaudo Vineyard from the old vine section. Bear River Vineyard in Chicago Park, near Colfax, is our source for Merlot. And we produce a Pinot Gris from Eldorado County,” he notes.

There are also the vines he is growing at a small newly-established vineyard within sight of the tasting room on Brockway Road. Those vines, LaCrosse, Frontenac, and Brianna varieties, came from the University of Minnesota and they are cold-hardy vines that can adapt to Truckee’s cold nights. In a year or two, this small vineyard will produce an ice wine to add to the list.

Here is a glance at the wines you can taste, and buy, at the Tasting Room. And if you want to ship them to friends out of state, Truckee River Winery has created a relationship with

2006 Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia) is one of the winery’s hallmark wines. Only 450 cases were produced of this vintage. The wine is unfiltered and handcrafted in Truckee. The result is a very delicate Pinot with complexity, depth, and soft tannins. $45/bottle. 13.8 % alcohol.

The 2009 White Barn Pinot Gris (El Dorado), at $12.00 bottle, is a lovely wine that pairs well with seafood. “This is a very simple wine, with no oak. It is the product of cold fermentation, cold storage, and is bottled within a year of harvest. “It’s got lots of fruit, a bit of melon character, aroma of rose petals and a crisp acidity,” says Russ. He only produced 250 cases of this wine. 13.4% alcohol.

Only 250 cases were produced of the 2006 Gribaudo Vineyard (Lodi) Zinfandel, which has a taste and texture that’s very similar to their 2003 Zin which won a double gold at the San Francisco Chronicle 2006 competition. This wine has a lovely depth in both color and flavor, and is big and bold. “Intense flavors of raspberry, cassis and cloves wrapped in soft oak and tannins making this one big wine,” says Russ. $25/bottle. 14.3% alcohol.

The new tasting room is open every day except Tuesday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm. Visit it at 11467 Brockway Road, Truckee, Ca 96161.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
© 2010 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 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: " Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date early Summer 2011, The Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing Division

>>Send an email to Barbara (at) if you want to be put on the notification list when it is published...

Wine Walks at Northstar at Tahoe: Great Fun for Wine Enthusiasts

Northstar at Tahoe has many events, wine bars and restaurants that make an excursion for a wine enthusiast worthwhile at any time. This is true of their Wine Walk events, and the final one is Saturday August 28th. These Wine Walks are fun events, with no pressure to rush. A beautiful day, a glass of wine, and perhaps some friends to join you… a perfect summer Saturday!

The July event featured Clos Bu Bois Reserve wines and some stops on the 11-point Wine Walk also poured a number of other interesting wines.

First stop was Butterbox, where the 2007 Clos Du Bois Calcaire (Chardonnay) was poured. It has the fresh, crisp fruit flavors that make cool climate Chardonnay from Russian River yummy, with aromas of citrus, apple and pear, and a touch of nutmeg. Creamy and rich in the mouth, the ripe apple and pear fruit tones come through, and then a nice surprise of lemon and lime. 14.5% alcohol. $30 on the winery website, $19-22 from internet suppliers.

Earthly Delights poured a Maso Canali Pinot Grigio. This wine originated on the 17-acre, family-owned Maso Canali Vineyard in Trentino, Italy. The Canali family has lived on the estate for 500 years, and has been planting Pinot Grigio grapes there since 1893. On the nose, an aroma of peach and bit of honey. Flavors are tropical with some floral notes, and there is apricot, lemon and pineapple. Good balance, a great finish. A wonderful summer wine! !3% alcohol. $14-20 from internet suppliers.

Olivier Napa Valley paired its creamy mushroom fondue with a very drinkable 2009 Domaine des Lauriers Languedoc Picpoul-de-Pinet. A nice light Mediterranean wine, notes that “this wine is produced in the Coteaux du Languedoc region of southeast France. The terroir is a mixture of limestone, sand and clay. Pinet is a small Languedoc village overlooking the oyster and mussel farms of the Bassin de Thau. ” This wine delivers delivering bright flavors of pear, pineapple, lemon and hints of orange. 13% alcohol. Retail price around $14 a bottle.

Baxter’s Bistro and Lounge poured a Sangria (top photo) made with Grenache, 2008 Evodia, Altovinum, paired with cucumber slices topped with trout rouet. The recipe from Baxter’s manager Emily Schoonover: Grenache, orange juice, fresh seasonal fruit; let the fruit marinate overnight; fill glass with ice and 3/4 full with Sangria, top with Club Soda.

The 2005 Clos du Bois Dry Creek Reserve Zinfandel, a blend of 90% Zinfandel and 10% Petite Syrah, was served at Mine. True to its Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) terroir, this Zinfandel is ripe and intensely flavored but balanced and not overblown. Color is a deep ruby red, with aroma of blueberry, plum, and hints of vanilla and spice tones of black pepper. Taste follows aroma, with blueberry, plum and raspberry too. 15% alcohol. Should retail between $18-20 a bottle.

The Chocolate Bar featured a Ferrari-Carano 2006 Siena, a blend of 68% Sangiovese, 32% Malbec from Sonoma County vineyards in Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys to create a beautifully balanced and medium-bodied wine. It is a ripe blend with aroma of many fruits: cranberry, strawberry, cherry. Juice jammy flavors of strawberry and raspberry, a nice finish that features caramel and spice. Good acidity with round, gentle tannins and a lingering finish. 13.3% alcohol. $22-$27 a bottle where you can find it… sold out at many internet stores.

The Wine Walks are generally summer events, held from 2:30 to 5: 30, tickets are $20 and include tastings at over 10 locations in the Village, a commemorative wine glass, and some light snacks at a few locations. To find the calendar of wine walk events and reserve tickets, go to call 1.800.GO.NORTH.

© 2010 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 late August 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: " Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date early Summer 2011, The Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing Division

>>Send an email to Barbara (at) if you want to be put on the notification list when it is published...

ZoZo's Ristorante, Reno -- Wine Dinners that Get People Out of the Rut

Looking for a place to take your friends, where the food is good, the wine is well paired with the food, and it’s festive and reasonably priced? Take your group to one of the “A Taste Of…” events at ZoZo’s Ristorante in Reno. Located in the middle of the Moana West Shopping Center at 3446 Lakeside Drive, Reno, the avowed purpose of these twice monthly wine-pairing dinners is to “get people out of the rut”. They do a fine job of that, and for only $35 per person including tax and tip. “The whole reason we do this is so people can try new things,” explained owners Sid and Julie Ashton. “Our customers come in and often order the same wine over and over again; this gets them to try new wines and it won’t break the bank.”

The first pairing was a 2009 Ponzi Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley. This 40-year-old winery, located in Beaverton, Oregon, is internationally acclaimed for producing some of the world's finest Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and White Riesling. Winemaker Luisa Ponzi, a second generation family member, uses a classic Burgundian style in her wines. Luisa defines this Pinot Gris as "A floral nose with lime zest and green apple, the mouth is ripe melon, clove and citrus finishing with a perfect play between sweetness and acidity. " 13.6% alcohol. Nicely paired with ZoZo’s homemade white bean minestrone soup.

I personally love Rombauer Chardonnay. Call it my California palette or whatever you want, but its big buttery oaky fruitiness always pleases me. The 2008 Rombauer Chardonnay that was served with the next plate, a rock shrimp and artichoke fritta with red pepper aoli, had the classic tones: intense pear, pineapple and tropical fruits, balanced with creamy, toasted vanilla. Refined acidity and hints of apple linger on the finish. 14.4% alcohol.

I’ve been touring the El Dorado and Amador wine country recently, as part of my research for the book that’s going to be published in Spring 2011: Mountain Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills. So I was thrilled to see an Amador wine appear on my table. The 2007 Noceto Sangiovese has been called one of California’s best Sangioveses. Winemaker Jim Gullet notes that this wine is a "Chianti-inspired normale” Sangiovese that displays hints of chocolate with a fruit forward cranberry-cherry character. Highly versatile with food, and it compares favorably to its Tuscan forebears.” 14.0% alcohol. Paired with Lobster Cognac ravioli.

The 2006 Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi, is blended with Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc. The Earthquake label is part of the Michael-David family of wines. It opens with attractive blend of mild blackberry, coffee, cinnamon, and clove-like bouquet. On the palate, this wine is full bodied, very nicely balanced, smooth, and elegant. The flavor profile is a tasty mild black currant with notes of coffee, bacon, and milk chocolate. The finish is dry with mild fine tannins. 15.% alcohol. Paired with slow roasted pork.

It’s a fun experience: vines and tiny, twinkling lights weave throughout trellises, hanging from from the ceiling. Grape clusters and Chianti bottles cling to the lattice, and the foot and wine selections are always good.

ZoZo’s Ristorante, 3446 Lakeside Drive, Reno, NV 89509-4854 . (775) 829-9449 Open for Dinner seven nights a week and lunch Monday through Friday. On many Wednesday evenings, live jazz. Want to join a wine dinner? The menu and wine pairings for future wine dinners are on their website, You must make a reservation for the wine dinner, and can do that by phoning or by sending an email to
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© 2010 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 August 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: "Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date early Summer 2011, Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing.

>>Send an email to Barbara (at) if you want to be put on the notification list when it is published...

Wild Goose - Wonderful Wine, Spectacular Food

For a truly special evening with truly wonderful wine choices, run, don’t walk to the Wild Goose in Tahoe Vista! For many years a private dining amenity for owners of property in the Tahoe Mountain Club enclaves, it’s now open to the public. What an incredible treat!

Of course you’ll be awed the minute you walk in, as the restaurant design by a famous San Francisco architect is fashioned after the lake cruisers of the 1920’s with the elements of light, water and wood all focusing your attention toward Lake Tahoe. The view from the bar as well as the indoor dining space is exquisite. If you are fortunate enough to make a reservation far enough in advance to be seated outside, prepare for the feeling of Heaven touching the lake and the delight of wines that tease and please the palate, accompanied by the best food I have had in a long, long time.

Pat Hedderman is the wine expert, recently recruited away from some high-toned Tahoe venues by Brad Kohler, General Manager. Both are experienced professionals, and it shows in everything that is presented to you. Hedderman is a confident wine buyer, and he says that development of the Wild Goose wine list was both reasoned and spontaneous. “I tasted it, I liked it, I thought it had a spot on the list, and I bought it,” he said. He is also dedicated to affordability in his wine selections.

We started with some great selections from the wines-by-the-glass list, and Chef de Cuisine Jason DeGuilio matched items from the menu with those wines.

To begin, a lovely Rose from Lucia Vineyards. “Lucy”, a 2009 product of pinot noir grapes grown in Gary’s Vineyard by the famous viticulturist Gary Pisoni, is a perfect smooth summer wine. The very pretty color reminiscent of a near-ripe strawberry may have inspired its pairing with the strawberry summer salad. 14.1% alcohol, $9 the glass.

What a nice surprise to find a Portuguese Vinho Verde in my glass next. This Famega 2008 is an aromatic white wine, with crisp apple flavors, and slightly frizzantei (sparkling). Perfectly paired with the pistachio-tempura softshell crab on a timbale of avocado in a cucumber soup. This everyday table wine from Portugal is very drinkable, with only 9.5% alcohol. $18 the bottle.

An Adelsheim Pinot Noir 2008 from the Willamette Valley was great with a pan-seared halibut crusted in shitake mushrooms. This wine earned 90 points from the Wine Spectator, who termed it “Smooth and velvety, light on its feet, glowing with red cherry and raspberry flavors, with a hint of mint in the background. Lingers easily on the refreshing finish.” That about wraps it up. 13.3% alcohol. $35 for the half bottle.

My absolute most surprising wine-food pairing was the Shabu-shabu of thin slices of striploin of beef, presented with a lobster-infused butter to be cooked for “only 7 seconds” at the table, according to Brad Kohler. Then a touch of Fleur de Sal, and pop it in your mouth with a 2008 ZD Chardonnay. Chardonnay with beef? This is spectacular, trust me. We all know and love ZD Chardonnary, and at 13.5% alcohol and $14 the glass, you must try this combination, it is surf-‘n-turf in a pot! Fantastic.

I hate to sound so enthusiastic, but then there was the Perrin 2007 Cotes-du-Rhone that appeared with the best lamb chop I’ve been served anywhere at Lake Tahoe. This wine is 50% syrah, 50% Grenache, with a peppery first taste that moderated as it opened up. 13% alcohol, $9 the glass.

I could wax eloquent about the desserts, but you’d hate me. So suffice it to say that the Chateau Rieussec 2001 Sauterne was as heavenly as the rest of the wines. I agree with another taster who experienced quince, exotic fruits, mango, pinepple, honey and hints of citrus in this Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc Blend. $14 the glass. Go to the Wine Doctor’s blog to learn more about this famous estate and its wines:

And to end this incredible wine and food pairing experience a Quinta do Tedo 1995 Vintage Porto. From grapes grown on South side of the Douro, this was Tedo’s first port vintage. $7 the glass.

Wild Goose is located at 7320 North Lake Blvd, Tahoe Vista. Reservations strongly encouraged. 530-546-3640

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© 2010 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 August 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: "Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date early Summer 2011, Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing.

>>Send an email to Barbara (at)
if you want to be put on the notification list
when it is published...

Why Tasting Rooms should Charge Fees

I was visiting a small winery in the Sierra Foothills. I've come to appreciate the passion these winemakers put into their wines, and the sometimes-shoestring nature of their operations. As I pulled into the parking lot, a tour bus was pulling out.

"That was almost a waste of time," John the winemaker said. " Six passengers, one bottle of wine, one pair of earrings."

I did a quick calculation. Maybe a $30 sale. For which he'd poured 24 tastes, and received no revenue. And not even a fare-the-well for use of the picnic grounds and the multiple toilet flushes in the loo at 3400 feet when water is so doggone scarce up there.

What's wrong with this picture?

Another winery owner I'd interviewed last week was Evelyn Reyes-Umaña of Bodega del Sur Winery in Murphys. She'd boldly imposed a $3 tasting fee and has been happy with the results. "That cut down on the 21-year-old-birthday-party nightmare, and that's been great," Evelyn said.

Over the past few months, I've conducted in-depth interviews with more than 20 Mountain Wineries in the Sierra and Its Foothills, for the book I'm writing. About one-fourth charge some small fee for tasting. Three-fourths don't. They all should. I plan to speak up on this topic to the remaining wineries on my interview schedule.

Here's one reason why: when I left the discouraged winemaker and went to downtown Placerville, I stopped at Starbucks and ordered a latte. $3.45 and I didn't give a second's consideration before I forked that over.

What's wrong with THAT picture? Absolutely nothing. Looks like a sound business model to me.

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© 2010 Barbara Keck

Watch for my forthcoming book: "Mountain Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date Spring 2011, Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing.

>>Send an email to Barbara (at) if you want to be put on the notification list
when it is published

Treasured Wines from Ferrari-Carano at Crystal Bay Steakhouse

You know from past columns about the outstanding wine list at Crystal Bay Casino’s Steakhouse restaurant in Crystal Bay, NV. When you combine sommelier Patty Ruhl’s talents with her extensive wine industry contacts and the result is a WineMaker Dinner, clearly the event will be incredible.

The Steakhouse holds WineMaker Dinners throughout the year, so be sure to check their website for upcoming events. The Ferrari-Carano WineMaker dinner hosted earlier this summer was special, as the Carano family are Nevada natives who live in Reno, and have ownership in both the El Dorado and the Silver Legacy Casinos there. So this melding of high-end casino restaurant and the Ferrari-Carano high end wines was perfect.

Ferrari-Carano's 19 estate vineyards in four appellations total over 1400 acres, and the 1.1 millilon vines under cultivation are used to produce over 24 different wines. This review focuses on the 5 wines presented at the WineMaker Dinner. Prices quoted are winery prices.

The 2009 Fume Blanc was served to accompany a nice selection of passed appetizers. This wine is made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and aged in a combination of old oak and stainless steel. There are melon and fig notes that predominate and reach through the crisp freshness of the wine. I liked the subtle oak character from the barrel ageing and felt that it added good complexity to the wine. 13.9% alcohol. $15 the bottle. And oh by the way, Rhonda Carano has a recipe on the Ferrari-Carano website for Spicy Lime Ginger Grilled Shrimp that would pair fantastically with this wine…

The 2008 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, was paired with pine nut crusted halibut filet with braised leek, fennel and white truffle oil. Made from 60 individually vinified lots, it’s a classic California chardonnay, which is to say, yummy. It has apple, pear, honey, butter cream and honeysuckle floral notes, and a great balance of fruit and caramel flavors. Did I taste marshmallow too? The toasted oak finish was nice. 13.9% alcohol. $23 the bottle.

2007 Merlot, Sonoma County, is a velvety wine with a nose of fresh cherries, pomegranate and rhubarb pie. You will pick up flavors of strawberry, brown sugar and crème brulee too. There is 3% Cabernet Sauvignon blended to assure a rounded flavor. It has a nice balance of fruit, tannin, and oak. 13.9% alcohol. $24 the bottle. The 2007 Merlot was paired by Crystal Bay Steakhouse Chef Geno Dugan with Merlot-marinated skinless Peking Duck breast, served with pommes frites and blueberry cassis sauce.

Tresor is a term you won’t hear commonly, but the Ferrari-Carano 2006 Tresor is indeed a treasure and that is the source of this fine wine’s name. It is a blend of the five classic Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc – from the best selections of Ferrari-Carano’s vineyards in Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys. The winemaker’s notes: “Delicious aromas of Bing cherries, blueberry preserves and an herbal, black tea leaf nuance combine with an elegant mid-palate of fresh-picked berry and roasted mocha notes. With a full bodied and richly-textured tannin profile, this wine’s upfront silkiness and roundness make for a delicious selection now and will drink well for 7-10 years.” 14.8% alcohol, $58 the bottle. Paired with Roast loin of lamb en croute, with fungi duxelle rapini.

Dessert was a dark chocolate cappuccino cake. The 2008 Eldorado Noir (Russian River Valley) had an aroma of rose petal, and berries. It is not too sweet, and despite its intensely aromatic nature, it is fresh and clean tasting. A limited release wine, blended from 100% Muscat grapes, $28 the half bottle. Only 11% alcohol!

The Crystal Bay Steakhouse is located at 14 State Highway 28, just at California/Nevada border. Reservations are suggested. 775 833 6333. For more information on the wines, go to
© 2010 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 August 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book: "Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date early Summer 2011, Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing.
>>Send an email to Barbara (at)
if you want to be put on the notification list
when it is published...