“He loves wines enough to understand them deeply and fundamentally”


Beyond wine drinkers, there are wine lovers. Ed Coleman, owner of the Pacific Crest Grill in downtown Truckee, CA, is one of those who love wines enough to understand them deeply and fundamentally. That’s why the wine list of 400+ wines wins Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence year after year. And that’s why there’s a growing emphasis on Ed’s list regarding biodynamic and sustainable wines.

Pacific Crest Grill’s dining room is charming; it features wonderful work by local artists, an Amish-style communal table, plenty of smaller tables, and an antique back bar that used to be part of Coburn Station, an old famous Truckee saloon that flourished in the 1920s. With elegant dishes and fantastic wines, you can all the while taking comfort in Ed’s “fiercely sustainable” philosophy of low-carbon footprint purchasing, a locavore orientation, and a championing of environmental responsibility from farm to fork, and terroir to tumbler.

A biodynamic wine can be quickly defined as one that is made from a vineyard that uses the principles of biodynamic agriculture, which includes ethical-spiritual considerations. This type of viticulture views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system. A sustainable wine is not necessarily organic wine, but it also does not exclude this definition; the term relates generally to vineyards and wineries that are socially and environmentally responsible in their production and even their distribution practices, including low-carbon footprint accountability.

Ed keeps many of the wines for the Pacific Crest Grill in a wine cellar under the restaurant that was most likely built in the late 1880’s initially and then redone in brick in 1928. Wine Director Peter Fain keeps the inventory in good order, and the restaurant prides itself on its big selection of half-bottles.

The 2008 Gamble Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Yountville, is a bit sweeter than many California sauvignon blancs. It is clean, crisp, has a hint of Napa grassiness, and a lemon-lime nice acidity. 13.5% alcohol. The winery uses organic and natural farming practices, winemaking that emphasizes minimal intervention and single-vineyard, micro-lot fermentations, and the target is creation of wines that are pure, accurate and true to the source. $8.50/glass; $32/bottle. It was perfectly paired with an asparagus salad with celery root, house-cured bacon and a banyuls vinaigrette.

The 2008 Calera Chardonnay, California Central Coast, is a blend from nine vineyards in Monterey, Santa Clara, and San Benito counties, most of which are biodynamically farmed. This is an excellent entry-level Chardonnay from an iconic winery. It has a nice smokiness, with tropical fruit, honeysuckle, currant and maybe a sweet orange taste, yet it is creamy and rich. 14.4% alcohol. $10/glass; $38/bottle. Pairing was with a tuna tartare prepared with avocado mousse, apples, jicama, pinenuts, with truffle essence. This lovely dish reflects the Mediterranean influence of much of Pacific Crest’s cuisine.

The 2004 Le Cigare Volant, Bonny Doone Vineyard, Santa Cruz, CA, is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and Carignon. It is sustainable and biodynamic, vibrant, fruity and floral all at once! 13.5% alcohol, absolutely delicious! 13.5% alcohol. $25 for the 375 ml half bottle. Paired with a house-made gnocchi with duck confit, port au jus.

King Estate’s 2007 Pinot Noir, Oregon, has a base of organically grown estate fruit from the King Estate ‘Domaine’ vineyard . It has a peppery taste, faint rose petal too, cherry, plum and orange peel both on the nose and in the mouth. 13.0% alcohol. $27 for a 375 ml half bottle. Pair it with the white bass, prawn, fennel, saffron couscous dish for a knock-your-socks off experience!

The Ramsay Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, North Coast, gives both fig and strawberry aroma, blackberry and a nice long finish on the palate. Ramsay is a companion label to Kent Rasmussen wines, and a good value for a fine and drinkable wine. 13% alcohol. $8.50/glass; $32/bottle. The braised short ribs from Trimmer Ranch, with housemade pancetta and celery root puree…wow, a great pairing!

Dinner at Pacific Crest Grill is served nightly from 5:30 p.m. to close, lunch M-F from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and brunch Sat-Sum from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pacific Crest Grill & Bar of America is located at 10042 Donner Pass Road, in historic downtown Truckee. Reservations recommended at 530-587-2626.

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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 March 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."

Nanocork™, Innovative Cork Wine Closure, offers Winemakers An Alternative

Nanocork™, Innovative Cork Wine Closure, offers Winemakers An Alternative;

Newly Introduced to North American Market by ACI Cork USA

Nanocork™, the newest product in the wine closure market worldwide, offers wine producers the means to retain fresh fruit flavours and a long finish in white, rosé, and non-reductive red wines without concern about TCA contamination. An alternative to synthetic closures and screwcap, ACI Cork USA brings the innovative nanocork to the US market at an attractive price that makes it perfect for use in wines selling at today’s sweet spot of $8 to $15 per bottle.

Nanocork is a natural cork that has a specially developed coating with an oxygen transfer barrier that’s adhered to the cork’s top and tail. This extremely thin barrier film meets all EU and FDA requirements for materials intended to be in contact with food products, and is similar in structure to bag-in-box oxygen barrier materials already in wide use. With the nanocork, “nano” quantities of oxygen are consistently delivered to wines via the barrier coating, thus meeting the requirement for the optimal aging of aromatic, fresh and delicate wines.

Nanocork is perfect for winemakers who want to retain cork wine stoppers as their wine closure of choice but have packaging cost constraints. Nanocork provides an option other than lower grade cork and synthetic or screwcap closure systems. It is ideal for wines that require low oxygen transfer, and wines with a low reduction potential. Nanocork’s O₂ permeability is the same as a high quality cork, about 0.0005 cc’s per day. Once bonded to the cork using a highly moisture-resistant polymer, the barrier material used on nanocork is completely inert. The film material is thermoformable so it molds perfectly to cork ends, thus completely covering the curved cork edge and obviating any irregularities.

The results of several years of rigorous and controlled testing with by the Australian Wine Research Institute of a 2007 Clare Valley Semillon (unoaked, around 11% alcohol, relatively neutral with some fresh citrus, tropical notes, taint and fault free) gives ACI Cork USA complete confidence in nanocork’s performance and reliability for American and Canadian wines. In comparison to three other closures (Reference Two natural cork, Reference Synthetic closure, and Reference Screwcap) over 24 months of storage, The AWRI report notes that nanocork was “found to produce a fresh, intense, fruity wine with long persistence on the palate”. The wines bottled with the alternative closures displayed more honeyed notes and oxidized characteristics.

Shelf life of wines using nanocork is excellent. The AWRI research indicates that, even after 24 months, the 2007 Clare Valley Semillon tested “has further to go before reaching its shelf life” versus the other closures tested on this wine. The wines in the research trial which used other closures did show definite signs of nearing the end of their shelf lives at 24 months. The professional taste panel in Australia agreed that nanocorked wines presented an intense and persistent fresh fruit on the nose and palate.

Other advantages of nanocork are improvement in seal between cork and bottle, elimination of ‘off’ flavors attributed to cork, strengthening of the cork end, and reduction in cork dust. In terms of environmental friendliness, nanocork is a closure that is recyclable, has a low-carbon footprint compared to synthetic closures, and its major component – cork – comes from the completely renewable and sustainable Cork oak. Nanocork is ready for immediate use in bottling after the shipping bag of nanocorks is opened; nanocork requires no further treatment.

Nanocork was developed by UK innovation company Bacchus Wine Closures in partnership with Alvaro Coelho & Irmãos (ACI), the second largest cork producer in the world. ACI has been testing this technology since 2005 both in-house and with customers before commercializing the product in late 2009. The Nanocork technology will also work well on sparkling wine corks and corks for spirits.

The first US customer for nanocork is Big White House Winery and John Evan Cellars, Livermore, CA. They have just bottled their 2008 Roussanne, Ripken Vineyards (Lodi), using this newest closure in the wine industry. Big White House Winery and John Evan Cellars is located at 6800 Greenville Rd., Livermore, CA 94550. Contact John Marion at (925) 449-1976.

USA Company Contact:
Armando Andrade, General Manager
2870 Cordelia Road, Suite 150
Fairfield, CA 94534 USA


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.

Zinfandel Galore from Sierra’s Mountain and Foothills Wineries

Some of the earliest documented Zinfandel vineyards were planted between 1852 and 1869 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. To clarify, this includes Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne and Yuba Counties. Many of these vineyards survive today, protected by the remoteness of their location. The unique decomposed granite soils, found nowhere else in the world, produce robust vines at high elevations that are above the fog and with good access to sunshine. Grapes are picked later than in coastal regions, so look forward to deeply colored Zins with fruit-forward taste, intensity, and lots of character.

Grapes for the 2007 Estate Zinfandel from Cedarville Vineyard located in Fair Play, El Dorado County, CA, were grown on their 20 acre estate vineyard by Susan Marks & Jonathan Lachs, owners (pictured above). The vines were planted in the mid 1990’s, the winery established in 2000, and these graduates of the famous wine program at U.C. Davis both tend to favor Rhone Style wines. Only 744 cases were produced of the 2007 Zinfandel, their 10th vintage. It has a lovely aroma of ripe raspberry, a dense espresso overlay, and bright red fruits. There’s a touch of spice there too, and a creaminess that leads to a long finish. If you follow the rating system on Wine Spectator, the preliminary buzz on this wine is a rating of 89-91 points. There is 10% Petite Sirah and 90% Zinfandel in this wine. $22 per bottle. You can get it locally at Plumpjack, Ristorante Montagna, and the Pour House in Truckee.

Winemaker Phil Starr of Sierra Starr Vineyards poured his 2006 “Phil's Selection” Zinfandel , a really harmonious zin made from grapes in Nevada County’s oldest Zinfandel Vineyard. Planted in 1979, this Grass Valley terroir yields grapes from vines that are low yield with small berries and small clusters. The result is a Zin with an aroma that’s redolent of jammy black raspberry fruit. Add a bit of oakiness, a touch of black pepperiness, and you have a classic fruit-forward Zin. It is youthful yet balanced, smooth and rich, medium tannins and great acidity. This is a food-friendly wine; try it with pasta, grilled meats, pizza…great and versatile! $25 per bottle.

Renwood Winery, located in Plymouth, Amador County, featured its 2007 Grandpere Zinfandel, their flagship wine. Fruit comes from vines planted behind the winery on rootstock of the oldest clone of Zinfandel vines in America, dating back to the 1860’s. The vines yield tight berry clusters with deeply concentrated flavors. The 2007 Grandpere Zinfandel is a big, spicy Zinfandel. $40 per bottle. I was happy to hear that Costco’s Kirkland brand is now offering its sister Zin, the 2007 Old Vine Grandmere Zinfandel, Amador County. This is a blend from the finest Zinfandel vineyards in the hillsides of Amador County’s gold country: Jack Rabbit Flat, and Crain-Sleeper Ranch.

The 2006 Calaveras Old Vine Zinfandel from Milliaire Winery, Murphys, Calaveras County, CA uses fruit from four different vineyards in Calaveras; the vineyards range in age from 40 to 80 years old. Steve Millier, winemaker and Fresno State winemaking program grad, believes in small lots of finely crafted wines. This Zin is spicy, fruit-forward, and versatile with food. $20 per bottle.

Boeger Winery’s 2006 Walker Vineyard Zinfandel is a classic Foothill/El Dorado County zinfandel. Boeger, the oldest winery in El Dorado County, was also its first post-prohibition winery. Winemaker Justin Boeger interned in Germany so there is a Rhone feeling to this wine. Nice aromas of cedar, plum, vanilla. Maybe a spiciness that’s vaguely licorice. Yummy blackberry, with gentle tannins. $18.50 per bottle.

Stay tuned for more details on Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and its Foothills. Lots of wonderful places to visit, and wonderful wines to taste! The Zinfandels are just a sampling of what’s being produced near you!

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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 March 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."

50 under 50: Magic Numbers for a Wine Lover

I’m not sure who the bright person is at Ristorante Montagna at The Resort at Small Creek, but whoever conceptualized their “50 wines under $50” program hit the target spot on. In today’s still-hesitant economy, wines on menus need to be both compelling and reasonably priced, and this restaurant has achieved both.

I encourage you to dash over to Montagna right away, since they are only open December to mid-April. The restaurant prides itself on “Cucina Povera”, which is supposedly humble cooking, but features flavor, technique and fresh ingredients for a very memorable experience. The classic Italian culinary inventions of Chef Jason Friendly and assistant culinary whizzes Sarah Kops and Erin Jones are augmented by a large selection of wines both by the glass and by the oh-so-affordable bottle that pair wonderfully.

Sit down to a glass of the Prossecco di Jeio, Bisol, from Veneto Italy. This delightful sparkler with its good acidity, fruitiness and green apple tartness is a perfect wine to pair with the Antipasto plate. So many goodies on this plate that it is impossible to highly one, but the artisanal cheese selection feature Teleggio, its crunchiness from sea salt, and the Bisol was a wonderful choice. At 11.5% alcohol, it is a light and bright way to start your tasting.

Meritage is gaining in popularity, and more California winemakers are turning their attention to this wonderful Bordeaux- style blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The Murriett’s Well Meritage, Livermore Valley, CA, is a great result of barrel fermenting each of these varietals separately, aging them sur lie for 17 months, and taking care to add creaminess in other winemaking steps. The result is a rich, full mouthfeel, with a perfect balance between the Sauvignon Blanc's crispness and the Semillon's creamier structure. Noted as a sustainably grown wine by the green-leaf on the menu, at 14.5% alcohol, it was well paired with the chicken flatbread crowned with garlic alfredo, arugula, roasted peppers and onions.

If you fish the Tahoe streams, you might be lucky enough to catch a flavorful fish once in a while. So much easier to have the huge striped bass appear on a plate right in front of you, head to tails a wonderful concoction in a lobster-saffron broth with clams, mussels and pancetta too. This calls for a wine that can stand up to an impressive dish like this, and that would be the Filus, Pinot Torrontes from Mendoza, Argentina. Although more known for their Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, this torrontes from Filus’ Alto Modrano vineyard has the best characteristics of a Spanish-style white wine: a touch sweet, with flavors of crisp peach and citrus, aged in French Oak and presenting itself brightly to your palete. The 5% Viognier in the wine adds to the complexity. 13.1% alcohol.
In keeping with the Italian theme, our next choice was a Tomei Cellars Barbera. Although the winery address reads Berkeley, California, the grapes are sourced from California's Shenandoah Valley Cooper Vineyard, Amador County. Aroma of black cherry, taste of cranberries, dark chocolate and spices, and an earthiness and acidity that paired magnificently with the Penne Arrabiata dish. The pasta featured basil, spicy sausage, fermented black garlic and red pepper flakes. To my mind, this was the best pairing of the menu.

No Italian tasting experience is complete without a Tiramisu, and Montagna’s pastry chefs outdid themselves here. I loved the inclusion of house-brewed espresso and marzipan, and the Dows 1997 Vintage Porto was the final wonderful touch. Sometime you’ll see a column on Ports, as more and more California Sierra mountain wineries are making great and intriguing ports and dessert wines, but for now, let’s just say this choice was perfecto!

Ristorante Montagna is located in the Inn at Squaw Creek. Open Dec-mid April, 7 days a week for lunch 11:30am-2pm and après ski 2pm-5pm and Tuesday through Saturday for dinner 5:30pm-9:30pm. Reservations required, please call 530-581-6618.
© 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 February 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."

Complements and Compliments: The Dining Room at Sugar Bowl

Complements and Compliments: The Dining Room at Sugar Bowl reflects Chef Alan Davis’ Philosophy

It was almost magical, riding the gondola in the sparkling snow and winter lights, atingle with anticipation at meeting Chef Alan Davis at the Dining Room of the Lodge at Sugar Bowl. Alan is the very creative chef there, and his philosophy of wine and food is simply put: he designs food to match the wine.

When Chef Alan first joined Sugar Bowl to amplify the wine list and menu, the restaurant was known as Four Peaks. He’d come to Sugar Bowl after already putting 12 years experience at Rainbow Lodge on his resume, along with a stint in West Palm Beach training under an Alsatian chef.

“it’s a symbiotic situation,” Chef Alan proclaims. “Finding good wines is a joy, and matching my menu to those wines is a dream come true.” He likes to find complementary wines – for example, a dry wine with rich food. Alan starts every fall by tasting about 200 wines, and he has his menu in mind but not completed. The result is terrific.

Alan poured a sparkling Gruet Blanc de Noir to start, accompanied by one of his signature dishes, pan seared diver scallop on a bed of sweet mashed potatoes, with a brown butter sauce and chives. This dish is rich, and the Gruet was a nice choice. The palette-cleansing effect of champagne is a sure winner with such a pairing, and the Gruet Blance de Noir is a dryer champagne without a sweet back finish.

Next was the 2006 Mount Vernon Petite Syrah, with fruit sourced from Cooper Vineyard in Amador County and made in small quantities at the winery in Auburn CA, uses a lot of oak to emulate a French style of Syrah. On the nose, raspberry licorice chocolate aromas, with a cherry cherry taste, and a nice finish, not too tannic. 13.9% alcohol. This paired nicely with the pan seared Scottish salmon finished with a saffron broth and garnished with braised French lentils.

The absolutely spectacular dish and wine pairing was the medallions of New Zealand venison served with the 2006 Acorn Sangiovese, Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley, California. I like the wines from Acorn, and it is to their credit that the winery takes care to field blend its wines from grapes that are estate-grown and sustainably farmed. This magnificently balanced wine offers a bit of spice, a touch of tannin, creamy oak, berries, and cherry, cocoa, blueberry, mocha. Yummy! 14.1% alcohol. The venison was perfect, accompanied by grilled swiss chard and finished with a lingonberry glace. This is one of Chef Alan’s new menu items; it is a winner!

Not on the printed menu, but a frequent special at the Dining Room at Sugar Bowl, is the quail in a bed of risotto redolent of white truffle, garnished with morel mushrooms. Pair this with a 2007 Domaine Des Vercheres, Macon-Village white burgundy; to the credit of the restaurant (and rare!), it was served at the perfect temperature. This burgundy complemented the richness of the asiago cheese that was used to flavor the risotto, as the wine is a bit on the dry side while still being full-bodied and rich. It is nicely balanced and flavors of peach, legume and grapefruit carry through to a lingering finish. 12.5% alcohol.

Hours for the Dining Room at SugarBowl’s Lodge are 5:30 to 9 p.m. seven days a week during the winter, until the 2nd week of April. Summer hours begin July 4th, and the Dining Room serves Wednesdays through Sundays. Reservations recommended, 530 426 9000. Watch for the winemaker dinners too at

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 February 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."

The Making of a Great Sommelier

“Wine feeds my passion all the time”

If you hear me talk about Kristi Snyder, who last summer became one of my favorite all-time sommeliers, you might wonder if anyone can really be that wonderful with wine drinkers and wine. Yes, she is. I am a huge fan, and so are many other people. She has lifted wine-by-the-bottle sales at the Hyatt Regency Incline Village to the level that it is the top grossing Hyatt in the entire world for wines-sold-by-the-bottle. Now THAT’s a remarkable achievement!

Kristi has been at the Hyatt Regency for 16 years, and she learned about wines from the ground up, inspired by her two best friends, who were sommeliers. But Kristi is humble: “Wow, people say, you are a sommelier, how impressive! I tell them not to be too impressed, that I served boxed white zin at my wedding.”

This is her key to success: she wants everyone to simply have fun with wine, to de-mystify it, simplify the experience of wine, and make it approachable. “Only 20% of Americans drink wine, and I think that is because the industry and the so-called experts have made it a scary experience for many consumers,” Kristi says.

A dining experience with Kristi in the hotel’s fabulous Lone Eagle Grille is a memorable experience. Kristi tries to touch every customer who walks in the door somehow, either with the fascinating wine list she has developed, the magnificent way that dishes are paired perfectly with suggested wines, or by actually greeting customers personally on the many nights that she is present in the dining room.

“A customer might say, I’d like to have salmon for lunch … do you recommend a white wine or a red? My response is always to ask them what they normally prefer in a wine, and to match our offerings with the style of wine that they like,” she says. “And I believe that a fine wine does not have to be the most expensive one on the menu.”

To assure an optimal experience, Kristi personally tastes all wines before they go on the wine list. Tuesday is her day to “hold court” with wine sales reps, and if you walk into the lounge of the Grille that day, you’ll see her surrounded with dozens of glasses and many wines. The result is a wine list that is extensive and well-thought out, without being daunting.
I laughed when I saw her “A.B.C.” list of white wines – that stands for Anything But Chardonnay. And the “Very International” list features wines from varietals and countries that you might find unfamiliar– Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Moscato from Italy, Albarino from the Rias Baixas region of Spain, a Chardonnay from Casablanca, Chile, and more.

There’s an A.B.C. list of red wines too – Anything But Cabernet, and a Very International list including Cabernet Franc from Chinon, France; Tempranillo from Spain, Super Tuscans, etc. And, oh my heart! The Rare and Extraordinary Wine list is a wine-dreaming delight.

A few more tidbits about Kristi: She doesn’t believe that formal sommelier training is required in order to introduce people to fine wines. She is a fan of beautiful stemware, because she says, “It just screams, drink great wine!” She teaches classes for both the Hyatt staff and to groups who come to the Hyatt for meetings; in classes, she uses wine-flavored Jelly Bellys to introduce the different flavors in wines. She works with the hotel’s chefs to help design dishes that go well with wines, and to pick wines that go well with their dishes.

The lucky guest who strikes her fancy might be invited to the patio to learn how to saber a wine -- a really wonderful experience!

Last but not least, Kristi always guarantees the wine personally: “If you don’t like it, I’ll drink it myself, and you won’t be charged.” With flair, passion, personality, knowledge … Kristi is one sommelier you should meet.

You’ll find her most evenings at the Lone Eagle Grille, Hyatt Regency, Incline Village. Throw her a challenge, such as “what pairs well with oreo cookies” … I now know the answer to that. Email me and I’ll tell you, or ask Kristi yourself. Enjoy!
© 2009 Barbara Keck
For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in January 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."


When you do it all – ingredient shopping, menu development, wine buying and tasting – you get it right. And that is exactly the case for Amy Simpson, founder and owner of Jack Rabbit Moon, located at 893 Tahoe Boulevard in Incline Village, right across from Starbucks.

Amy has decades of experience in the food and wine business. As a graduate of a culinary academy and a wine connoisseur as well, she brings her background and love of fine food and good wine to every dish and glass.

In the wine choices offered at Jack Rabbit Moon, she emphasizes “bringing the V back to Value in wines.”

The wine bar is welcoming, with a long counter with high stools that affords a nice view of the stylish restaurant. There are high tables too, and traditional table seating for larger parties.

A nice start to the wine tasting and food pairing experience is the Avinyo Cava Brut, built on the champagne style, yeasty on the nose, and good value. While the bubbles were being poured, we also tasted the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut, a crisp sparkler with great apple tones and yet the yeasty nose that is typical of a nice champagne.

With your appetite piqued, you’ll welcome the arrival of one of Jack Rabbit’s most popular starters, burrata cheese and balsamic clove spiked beets served with grilled bread. This was paired with two compelling wines, both quite different. The white wine, a 2007 Marchetti Verdicchio from Italy, was very fruit-forward with tones of citrus, grapefruit, apple, an astringency on the side palette, and a long finish that’s quite dry. Verdicchio comes from the Marche region of Italy, and there is a classic bitter almond and mineral note to these wines while still being quite floral. 12% alcohol.

The red wine, a 2008 Poggio Vignoso Chianti from Italy, really provided a nice zip to the beets in the starter. This Chianti had good tannin up front, was very fresh and well structured, with bright cherry aromas and flavors. It is a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Malvasia, with a touch of oak from the Slavonian barrels where it aged for a year. 13% alcohol.

Next out of the kitchen is the starter of Dungeness crab cake with a roasted tomato vinaigrette and celery-root slaw. There are so many nice flavors in this dish, that it pairs well with many wines. Amy paired this with tastes of the 2006 Robert Talbott Sleep Hollow Chardonnay, Monterey. This is a lovely big California chardonnay inspired by Burgundian wines in style, with creamy and silky richness, notes of pear, peach and toasty almond. It is bright and vibrant, a hint of sweetness with an acidity that you expect from Burgundy-style chardonnays.15.2% alcohol.

The Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2006 Au Bon Climat is also wonderful with the crab. It is more citrusy, with a tropical-fruit forward taste, maybe some papaya or mango tones. Some reviewers of this wine refer to it as “alternative”, and by that they refer to the sustainable growing practices in the Au Bon Climat vineyards. The grapes come from vines that are low yielding, hand-pruned and leaf thinned by hand, and hand picked. It does make a difference, and this wine is sophisticated, balanced, bright. 13.5% alcohol.

Our wine tasting proceeded through the wonderful wine-by-the glass list, and included a 2007 Pinot Noir by The Four Graces, Willamette Valley. Raspberry, medium finish, licorics, cherry … a wonderful pinot. 13.5% alcohol. There are some nice Super Tuscans on the list, a Grenache Shiraz from Australia, wines from Slovenia. Too many to taste and describe in one sitting. Better go yourself!

Visit Jack Rabbit Moon at 893 Tahoe Blvd, Incline Village, CA. Call (775) 833-3900 for their hours.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of
The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in January 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."

Nevada Wines - Part One

“Visiting the experimental winery at UNR is a must, put it on your Thursday calendar!”

There’s a groundswell of interest building in Nevada wines, and this is in part due to the work being done by Dr. Grant Cramer at University of Nevada-Reno, and in part by intrepid vintners and winemakers in Fallon and Genoa. Right now, we are going to offer you a glimpse of the wonderful work in UNR. Parts Two and Three will focus on Nevada vintners and wineries, which you’ll see in future columns.

What can be done on 2 acres of vineyards in arid Reno? A lot. That’s being proven by Dr. Cramer’s eonology and viticulture crew. Each Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., you too are invited to the wine tasting and study at UNR's Experimental Winery. It is in a blue metal building behind the NV genomics center at 910 Valley Road, Reno. When the sliding gate is open, go on in.

In the winery, you’ll find 30-40 folding chairs set up on the winery floor, and a smiling Dr. Cramer and his student assistants. No doubt you will be greeted by Kitty Spreeman, an extremely knowledgeable lab technician who makes it all run smoothly. Take a seat as near to the front table as you can. Pay your $10 class fee, and take a little extra cash because you’ll no doubt want a Nevada Wines baseball cap or polo shirt. I did, and I’m proud to wear it too!

Settle in for a wonderful tasting experience of 12-14 different bottles each week. The Experimental Winery makes its own wines and blends right there on site. They have a “library” of wines going back to 2003, and they often do vertical tastings of the same wine from different years, and comparisons of wines from well-(sufficiently)-watered vines and drought-stressed vines. Sometimes the event features blind tastings or comparisons to commercial wines. Regardless of what you taste, you’ll be asked to fill out a tasting sheet so that the Winery can collect evaluation data of the wines as they age.
The wines are all estate wines; they come from grapes planted as long ago as 1995 on the two acres on Valley Road at the Agricultural Experiment Station. The wines made include reds such as Pinot Noir, Lemberger, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Meunier, and whites, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Semillion, and Sauvignon Blanc .
The vineyard is itself an experiment. Vines are growing under conditions of well-water, and drought-stressed.

There is an ongoing study to see if drought-stressed vines increase the amount of resveratrol, which is now considered to be a heart-healthy element of red wines. “Resveratrol might be a key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces "bad" cholesterol and prevents blood clots,” says a news note from the Mayo Clinic.

The grapes from these vines at UNR are tested for many things (Phenolics, brix) and the buds of the vines undergo scrutiny too, including testing for different hormone levels. It’s all very sexy for the wine lover!

If you want to taste these wines, you must come to the Winery. By Nevada law, the college is not allowed to sell its wines in Washoe County. Upcoming tastings are Pinot Blanc on March 18, Cabernet Franc on March 25, Semillon on April 1, Cabernet Sauvignon on April 8, Chardonnay on April 15, Syrah on April 22, Riesling on April 29 and Lemberger on May 6.

In addition to tasting these types of Nevada wines, you’ll be treated to a discussion on such topics as pruning and trellis design in the vineyard, and vineyards of the world.

Dr Cramer, Kitty and the crew would love to see you there! For more information, go to Or email Kitty Spreeman for more information:

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 March 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."