Wine on the Water, Huge Charity Event at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, Attracts Exceptional Wines

Left,  Casidy Ward of Hidden Ridge,
Right, Hyatt sommelier Kristi Synder
The Third annual Wine on the Water charity event at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe dedicates all proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe. Kristi Synder, the exceptional sommelier at the Hyatt’s Lone Eagle Grille, puts her many contacts in the wine world to good use as the 30 wineries pouring at this event are all stellar. 

BNA Wine Group’s Tony Leonardini, partner and winemaker, poured their 2010 Butternut Chardonnay, Napa Valley.  Tony is a scion of the White Hall Winery family, from a long line of good winemakers.  This delicious chardonnay has a round creamy taste, a hint of hazelnut and a nice toastiness that’s not overwhelming.  Barrell aged in new French oak, he’s crafted a really nice wine.  13.9 per cent alcohol.  $15-17 the bottle.

Tamber Bey poured its 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Deux Chevaux Vineyard, Yountville. This wine features a nice minerality with boysenberry, dark plum and exotic oak overtones, and a hint of clove and mulled spice.  A lovely ripe wine, it features Cabernet Sauvignon with 12 percent Merlot for a firm lushness.  14.9 alcohol.  $42 the bottle.

Pouring: Alan Cannon of Rombauer
and friend Lynette Astors
Rombauer’s Diamond Selection 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is one of their top wines, and I was delighted to taste it.  Wonderful violet and wild berry aromas lead to layers of blackberry, black cherry, mocha and black olive.  The finish is velvety, and this wine drinks well now and will also age.  14.2 percent alcohol.  $55-65 a bottle.

Kristi personally introduced me to Hidden Ridge; it’s the Hyatt Incline’s top selling Cabernet Sauvignon.  The 2007 “Impassable Mountain Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon hails from the eastern part of Sonoma County, and the taste reflects fruit grown at 1700 feet.  It is complex wine with aroma of cocoa, blackcurrant and clove, and taste of cherry, blueberry, vanilla and an earthy smokiness too.  14.9 per cent alcohol.  $75 the bottle.

Jeff Stai of Twisted Oak
At Twisted Oak’s table, one of my favorite Calaveras County (Sierra Foothill) winemakers, Jeff Stai was pouring a new blend he calls “Potty Mouth.”  A nice blend of Mouvedre, Syrah and Grenache, it’s flavorful and popular.  Only 1000 cases made.  14.2 percent alcohol.  $18 the bottle.

Cary Thrasher of Opolo
A new offering from Opolo is a scrumptious Albarino, made of fruit sourced from Edna Valley, Central Coast of California.  Opolo also poured a fantastic 2010 Rhone Blend (Cournoise, Syrah, Grenache, Petite Syrah) that you really should try.  14.5 per cent alcohol.  $19 the bottle.

Put this event on your “must do” list for 2013.



Sierra Vintners Pops the Cork in Nevada City Event

An interesting aspect of attending a multi-winery event in the Sierra Foothills nearby is that you get a sense of not only the currently-poured vintages, but also what the future is likely to present. Talking to the wineries at the Nevada City Uncorked event recently, it looks like 2012 will be a good vintage. Grapes are now well past veraison (when grapes turn from green to red) and the heat days are good. Frost was not a problem this year, although water is. Water is a problem in all agricultural products this year, but many Nevada and Placer County wineries have access to irrigation water. It’s not cheap, but it’s available. Cost of wines may be rising, but they should be good.

Jacques Mercier of Solune

From a sampling of wares from several wineries, my rave review goes to Solune Winegrowers of Grass Valley, whose Titan XIII, a Zinfandel/Syrah blend is simply scrumptious. Winemaker Jacques Mercier teased wonderful flavors out of these grapes, resulting in a wine with refreshing berry taste of the Zinfandel and an earthiness from the Syrah. It is smooth, with a full rich mouthfeel and a lingering finish. A perfect wine for anything from the grill! 14.3 per cent alcohol. $18 at the winery. While you are there, taste the 2009 Verdelho, vinified from a zesty Portuguese grape that is summer-perfect.

Lynn Wilson, Pilot Peak


Pilot Peak Winery’s Paramour, a medium-bodied Rhone blend, is another yummy red. This combination of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvédre and Petite Sirah is nicely intense and a bit spicy, and coats your mouth with light, toasty blackberry and dark cherry flavors. At 14.5 per cent alcohol, it is $24 at the Penn Valley winery. Winemaker/co-owner Lynn Wilson also poured a 2010 Viognier that was medium-bodied with the essence of pears, citrus and ripe melons and just perfect on a hot summer day in a Nevada City picnic-like setting. 14.3 per cent alcohol, $22 at the winery.

Bob Hilsman of Double Oak


Double Oak Vineyards & Winery, Nevada City, grows grapes on acreage near Nevada City that owners Bob and Ginny Hilsman started clearing in 1980. Bob started as a family winemaker producing just a few barrels for friends-and-family consumption, went on to take courses at UC Davis, and in 2001 built a state of the art winery. His best seller, the 2011 Chardonnay, is terrific. Golden in color, smooth and well-balanced, it has a wonderful mouthfeel. Flavors are pear, burnt toast, light citrus. 14.5 per cent alcohol. A real deal at $12 the bottle.

Indian Springs Tasting Room,
located in Nevada City

Clavey Tasting Room,
located in Nevada City

This event, presented by the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce and the Sierra Vintners group, also showcased the following wineries: Avanguardia, Bent Metal, Clavey, Coufos, Indian Springs, Lucchesi, Montoliva, Nevada City Winery, Sierra Knolls, Smith, and Szabo Winery. Head over anytime to Nevada and Placer counties for some good artisanal wines

Seghesio Winemaker Dinner - Perfect Pairings at Manzanita, Ritz Carlton-Northstar

Attention to detail is one of the hallmarks of a good winery, and Seghesio Family Vineyards proves the point.   That is a compelling reason that Manzanita, the fine dining restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe at Northstar, chose to host a winemaker dinner featuring Seghesio’s fine wines.

One of Seghesio's Vineyards
Don’t despair if you did not attend this particular event, because Manzanita will be offering these wines on an ongoing basis.  The Seghesio Family Vineyards in Sonoma County’s northern  Alexander Valley grow fine Italian varietals like Sangiovese, Barbera and Aglianico at their Home Ranch property,  and Pinot Grigio, Arneis and Fiano at Keyhole Ranch.  Amazing Zinfandels come from 300 acres assembled in preeminent growing regions in Sonoma County.  You simply cannot go wrong with these wines!

It is so sad that you can’t buy the 2011 Arneis, Russian River, in stores.  You must go to a fine dining restaurant like Manzanita to experience it.  This white grape hails from Piedmont, Edoardo Seghesio’s home region.  A difficult grape to cultivate, it has flavor of pear, stone fruit, mineral and nice citrus notes.  Aroma of apricot and white flowers leads to a crisp and smooth mouthfeel.  Although paired with a California peach salad for the special dinner, it would go well with so many dishes.  13.3 percent alcohol.  $13/glass, $50/bottle at Manzanita.

The 2011 Pinot Grigio, Russian River, is an old vine wine that’s very tasty and not too sweet.  Grapes are handpicked in early morning and pressed immediately.  With flavor of honeydew melon and spiced apples with some floral notes, it paired well with the diver scallop dish.  12.7 percent alcohol.   When you find this wine at retail, you’ll pay about $22/bottle.

An absolutely perfect food-wine pairing was Manzanita’s prime filet with Seghesio’s Cabernet/Sangiovese blend, the 2008 “Ommagio”, Sonoma County.  In 1920, Eduardo planted what is now America’s oldest and most acclaimed Sangiovese vineyard using a proprietary clone.  It is too easy to call this wine a Super Tuscan, because it has refinement and elegance.  Black currant and cassis flavors from the Cabernet Sauvignon combine with the ripe blackberry and acidity of the Sangiovese.  15.2 percent alcohol.  $20/glass, $76/bottle at Manzanita.

A beautiful and exquisite triple chocolate gateau dessert was magnificent with the 2010 Zinfandel “Rockpile”, Sonoma County.  Bramble is the taste sensation that comes to mind, with intense fruit flavor.   15 percent alcohol.  $38/bottle at retail.

Manzanita is at 13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court, mid-mountain in Northstar,  Truckee, CA 96161. Let sommelier Gail Oversteg guide you in your wine selections. Absolutely call for reservations 530.562.3050 or book on Open Table.  More information on Seghesio wines at

Shakespeare and Wine

What did Shakespeare drink?  Sadly, it probably wasn’t wine, although he pined for it enough to write about it a lot.

 Wine was available in Shakespeare's England, but it was very expensive (about twelve times more costly than ale and so only the upper classes could enjoy it regularly, “ notes Amanda Mabillard in her online article, Shakespeare's Drinking. “English grapes were not adequate for winemaking so they imported their wines from France, Spain, and Greece.”

“Come, come, good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used,” the bard wrote. So if you went to this year’s Shakespeare offering at Sand Harbor (Two Gentlemen of Verona), here is what you could choose to drink.
Actually, there were many good wine selections in the vendor area at Sand Harbor’s Shakespeare Festival where you pay a very reasonable $7 per glass for the interesting offerings on their tasting list.  Or, for $20, you can have three pours from the following choices.

Ruffino Prosecco DOC.  There are lovely fine bubbles in this sparkling wine that is extra dry.  Aroma that is intensely fruity leads to a taste of apples, pears and citrus.   It is crisp and clean, and lovely as an aperitif or as a versatile companion to many foods.  11 per cent alcohol.

The Borgo Conventi Pino Grigio 2012 originates from Collio in Friuli, Italy.  It has an aroma that is quite fruity, and a predominate taste of ripe pear.  It is well structured and with a harmonious yet delicate body and a long finish.  13.per cent per cent alcohol.

2012 Dreaming Tree Chardonnay from California’s Central Coast is a collaboration between Dave Matthews and winemaker Steve Reeder.  Wonderfully fruity, with a taste of roasted pear or baked apple, brown spices and a citrus note.  This wine is very easy to enjoy and absolutely delicious on a warm summer night.  13.5 per cent alcohol.

2010 Primal Roots Red Blend brings together Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel in this wine that hails mostly from California’s North Valley, a combination of several AVA’s from Lodi and northward.  Aroma of black cherry, vanilla and spice leads to a medium body and smooth taste of raspberry, tea, chocolate and orange zest.  Nice soft tannins and gentle acidity result in a finish that’s not too strong, given all the fruit.  13.4 per cent alcohol.

2009 Rioja Vega is a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano and 10% Mazuelo that results in afragrant and well structured wine.  Aroma of balsams and spices too are found in this typical offering from Spain’s Rioja region.   Yummy.  13.3 per cent alcohol.

Taste of Gold from El Dorado Wineries

I’d heard in the past about the wonderful Gourmet Food and Wine Tasting fundraiser for Lake Tahoe Community College, but I can now say with assurance:  put the Taste of Gold event on your calendar for next year.  Held on campus in South Lake Tahoe, this event featured 10 El Dorado/Sierra Foothill wineries and 8 wonderful restaurants who prepared tastes that paired well with the wines.  

Laurie Dishman of
Mount Aukum Winery
Mount Aukum winery served its 2007 Apogee.  This is an El Dorado Rhone varietals blend of 40% syrah, 30% petite syrah, 20% cabernet franc, and 10% merlot.  Blends are becoming more popular in all categories and regions of wine, and winemaker Michel Prodhon has recently been “Club Apogee” giving blending seminars for the trade and for consumers.  This wine is the outcome of such a seminar and is a robust red with plum flavor predominating.  Truly yummy.  14.8 per cent alcohol,  $30/bottle.

Jim Brown of
Sierra Oaks Esates
SIerra Oaks makes its 2006 Petite Sirah in a Burgundian style. This Petite has a unique and interesting floral nose.  I enjoyed the licorice flavor, which is a nice complement to this rich fruity Petite.  It has a nice roundness in the mid palate, giving the impression of sweetness.  The finish is smooth.  13.6 per cent alcohol, $21/bottle.

Connie Varvais and her husband,
Holly's Hill Vineyards
Holly’s Hill Vineyards served a refreshing 2011 Viognier, perfect for a summer evening.  Despite the difficulty in pronouncing this varietal (vee-ohn-yay), it is a delightful Rhone grape that in this instance brought to mind a fruit-cocktail flavor.  “Imagine a bowl of peaches, pears and grapes all tossed with a lilac and lavender dressing,”  said tasting room manager Connie Varvais.  This wine is crisp, not sugary, and nicely mouth-filling.   13.6 per cent alcohol, $20/bottle.

Nello Olivo of
Nello Olivo Winery
Nello Olivo Winery poured a 2007 Toscanello, one of many Italian wines in which they specialize.  This red blend is 60% sangiovese, 20% cabernet, and 20% merlot.   Marco Cappelli is the well-known winemaker.  A full bodied wine with aromas of dark cherry, blueberry, cigar box & eucalyptus, it has a long and friendly finish that features a variety of acidity levels and a good tannic structure.   If you can resist drinking it right away, it will age well for 6 to 10 years.  14.5 per cent alcohol, $50/bottle.

Other El Dorado wineries pouring were Colibri Ridge Winery, Crystal Basin Cellars, Grace Patriot Wines, Lava Cap, Madroña Vineyards, and Perry Creek Winery.  It’s a great and easy day trip from Tahoe to taste the wonderful wines of El Dorado county.
Lava Cap
Crystal Basin

All proceeds from this event benefit Lake Tahoe Community College Foundation, which supports scholarships and College programs.  Find out more at www.ltcc-edu/foundation and get on the notification list for next year’s event!

Pairing Food & Wine at Zia Lina, Tahoe City

Italian food, one of the world’s great cuisines, is well matched with many wines.  Not all of those wines need be Italian;  there are many great choices.  All it takes is a talented wine lover to develop a good list, and that’s what you’ll find when you go to Zia Lina Ristorante in downtown Tahoe City.

Working through the wine list,  there were many wines that paired well with their dishes.  Here are some of my favorites… go and try them yourself!

To begin,  a Villa Sandi Prosecco Brut, DOC Treviso, Italy.  The light bubbly was fresh tasting, with citrus tones, a touch of herbs,  nice minerality and a  pleasant acidity.  11 per cent alcohol, $8/glass, $28/bottle. 

With the Caprese salad, we paired the 2011 Truckee River Winery’s White Barn  Pinot Gris.  Grapes are from the Apple Hill region near Placerville in El Dorado county, California.  Winemaker Russ Jones  has produced a wine that is crisp and clean with hints of pears and apples, and a touch of nut.  12.8 per cent alcohol, $9/glass, $28/bottle.

The 2010 Ceretto Blange Arneis from Italy’s Piedmonte region was served with the artisanal cheese plate.  Arneis is a winegrape that is native to Italy.  This is a fruit-forward white wine, with hints of apple and pear, honey and almond,  a bit frizzante with a nice acidity, and characteristically earthy like many wines from Piedmonte.  13 per cent alcohol.  $10/glass, $34/bottle.

Also a nice match with cheeses is the 2010 Keenan Chardonnay, Spring Mountain, Napa.  This small family-owned winery that produces a very classic California Chardonnay.  Buttery, oaky, taste of pear and citrus…vinified by Nils Venge, a legendary Napa winemaker.  13.9 per cent alcohol.  $38/bottle.

With the arrival of the crispy risotto, we moved to red wines.   The 2009 Lincourt “Lindsay’s” Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills in the Central Coast region of California,  has good red fruit flavor with layers of black cherry and  leather, and lots of spice.  14.5% alcohol.  $11/glass, $36/bottle.

The 2010 Peccinino Dolcetto di Dogliana,  a Chianti from San Luigi in the Piedmonte region of  Italy is a wine that, in my opinion, is very meat friendly although we paired it with one of Zia Lina’s create-your-own pizzas.  It’s a nice earthy wine with dark fruit aroma and flavor, strawberry and black pepper, and that trademark Dolcetto nose of violets.  Yum.  13 per cent alcohol.  $28/bottle.
Zia Lina Ristorante  is at 521 North Lake Blvd, Tahoe City.  Open daily from 5 to 9:30 p.m.  For reservations or to-go orders, call 530 581 0100

Mini Bottles Perfect for Picnics

Wine and picnics do go together.  But if you don’t want to carry heavy full bottles of wine but yet want that cache that comes with wine in a bottle, there are some small-size choices.  A 187 ml bottle will pour two small glasses.  Take two, and it’s your own private wine tasting experience.

Head to Reno for many choices in the 187 ml “mini” size bottles at Cost Plus World Market.  I bought three choices to try.   The Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 from Chile’s Central Valley is elegant and fruity.  It comes in a screw-capped mini at $2.99. The 120 name is a way of honoring 120 patriots who helped lead Chile to independence.  13.5 per cent alcohol.

The Cavit Collection 2010 Pinot Grigio comes from italy’s delle Venezie region.  It is a crisp refreshing white wine, with nice fruit, and a light taste that makes it very versatile.  It’s best served chilled. 12 per cent alcohol.   $2.99 for the 187 ml screw-capped bottle.

What festivity is complete without a bubbly?  I chose the Segura Viudas Brut Reserva,  an estate bottled sparkling wine from Spain.  This Cava is crisp, clean and delicate with interesting floral notes, and aroma of white fruits, citrus and tropical fruits.   Grapes blended for this Cava are 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, and 15% Xarel-lo.  The 187 mini cost $3.99, and is 11.5 per cent alcohol. 

Closer to Lake Tahoe, Uncorked wine shop in Squaw Valley carries the Zonin Prosecco from Italy in the 187 ml size.  Zonin Prosecco is a varietal wine made from the Glera grape, which is native to the Veneto region.  It is a fresh, dry sparkling wine, with a fruity flavor profile that pairs well with almost everything. The classic almond note is typical of Prosecco.  $6.00 for the 187 ml.  11 per cent alcohol.

If you want to move up to the 375 ml bottle, often referred to as a “split”, there are many choices. Incline Spirits offers 4 red wines in this size, including the Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Private Selection 2007.  $7.99 the 375 ml size.    The Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay 2008 is $18.49 in the 375 ml size.

While you are at it, don’t forget the acrylic non-breakable wine glasses.  Cost Plus World markets has stemmed goblets at $2.69.  Uncorked Truckee has a two-pack of stemless 16 oz wine/cocktail tumblers, $7.00

Cost Plus World Market is at 4987 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV

Incline  Spirits is at 120 Country Club Drive, # 25, Incline Village, NV  89451

Uncorked - Squaw Valley is at 1750 Village East Road, Suite 62, Olympic Valley, CA

Uncorked- Truckee is at 10118 Donner Pass Road, Truckee CA

Glasses of Wine at Dockside 700

Dockside 700 is Tahoe City’s casual place for a glass of wine at approachable prices, served with delicious appetizers that won’t break your budget.  You’ll enjoy an unobstructed view of the Tahoe City marina and the lake, and a nice wine experience.   Sit at the elegant and friendly bar, or a table in the lounge area, or the screened-in porch.   All choices are good!

This summer’s wine by the glass menu offers something in every varietal category.  Here’s what I enjoyed.

The De Lyeth 2008 Merlot, Sonoma, is a lovely ruby color, and aromas of vanilla, orange spice and red licorice. The flavor is of plum, wild berry, currant and hints of mint and spices.  13.5 per cent alcohol.  $7 the glass, $20 the bottle.

I was delighted that the Diseno 2011 Torrontes, Salta region of Argentina, was served at a perfect temperature.  There is nothing like an overly-cold temperature to destroy the white-flower aromatics and taste of a good Torrontes.  This wine explodes with flavor of apricot, tropical fruits, jasmine, lily of the valley. 13.5 percent alcohol.     $5 the glass, $16 the bottle.

The Big Red choices include red blends from Livermore Valley and from Washington State, but I chose the Lange Twins 2010 Petite Syrah/Petite Verdot,  California.   It is Lodi-rules-certified sustainably produced wine.  Aroma and taste of blueberry and blackberry, juicy and flavorful!   14.2 percent alcohol.  $8 the glass, $26 the bottle.

Among the Chardonnays, the Wente Riva Ranche 2010 Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, is a medium-bodied wine with tropical fruit, honey, cinnamon and light floral notes. A classic California chardonnay with an oakey, big buttery taste.  13.5 percent alcohol.   $9 the glass, $29 the bottle.

Coming soon:   Ferreri-Carano 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley.   This is a lovely full bodied red wine.  No idea what Dockside 700’s pricing will be, but based on their list, it should be quite reasonable.  Almost all Dockside 700 wines by the glass range from $5 to $9, with just a few in the $10 and above price range.

For food pairings, the appetizer menu is extensive.  Chef Joseph Stecker prepared a tower of shrimp with avocado, cilantro and a touch of horseradish that was simply delicious with all the whites I tasted.  The classic baked-brie en croute was a good choice for the red wines. 
Dockside 700 is located at 700 North Lake Blvd,  lakefront at the Tahoe City Marina.  Tel 530-581 0303.  Open daily from 11a.m.-9 p.m. A wine club, and wine events, are planned too.  Menus (but not wine list) are at

Tastes from the 2012 Barbera Festival

The 2012 Barbera Festival, held in early June at  Cooper Ranch in the Shenandoah Valley near Plymouth, CA, brought 1,700 wine aficionados together to taste Barbera from more than 80 wineries from Camarillo north to Kelseyville, with the majority of participants coming from the Sierra Foothills and Lodi.  This second annual Festival was sold out three months early!

Barbera is a lesser-known, and often overlooked, varietal of wine grape. The Barbera grape was first imported into California in 1884, and was used by the Italian Swiss Colony winery in its table wines. The first Barbera varietal (a wine with the name of the dominant grape on the label) was brought to market in 1954 by Louis Martini. Today in California, some 7,000 acres are planted in Barbera, and nearly 200 wineries make at least one style of the varietal.

Barbera originated in the Piemonte region of northern Italy. On the nose, Barbera is typically lush and juicy, with aromas of black fruits. Depending on the terroir and the winemaker, Barbera vintages can convey bright flavors of raspberry, spice, and tart cherry, or more supple notes of black cherry, blueberry, and vanilla.

Urban Legend "trio"
Marilee Shaffer, co-owner of Oakland’s Urban Legend Cellars noted that Barbera is a “Cinderella” of a grape that has been in large part relegated to use as a blending grape.  But when treated property, she said, “Barbera can really become the Belle of the Ball.” Urban Legend presented a trio of Barbera, including a refreshing 2010 Rosatto and 2009 red from Holland Landing vineyard, and a 2009 Amador Barbera.  The 2009 Amador Barbera is bright cherry and cassis on the nose, dark cherry and cola on the palate. 15.2 percent alcohol. $26.

The 2010 Boa Vista Reserve Barbera, from Oakstone Winery in Fair Play delivered a surprisingly Zinfandel-like punch of black pepper, following plum and blackberry aromas. 14.7 percent alcohol. $28.

Sherri Compton pours
Easton Wines.  Plymouth
(Amador County)
Plymouth-based Easton Wines plured a 2005-2007 vertical from the same four rows of Cooper Ranch fruit. The older vintage tasted plump and jammy, while the younger two were bright and full of spice. The Easton 2007 Shenandoah Valley Barbera is rich, balanced and juicy, with a pleasing spiciness. 14.5 percent alcohol. $24.

The 2009 and 2009 Barbera from  Lodi’s D’art winery is made from grapes grown by Leland Noma .  Both vintages exhibit related-but-not-identical flavor characteristics. The D’art 2010 Lodi Barbera has bright cherry, earth and berry-like flavors, with a long finish. 15.4 percent alcohol. $24.

Other photos from the event:

Crystal Basin Winery, Placerville
(El Dorado County)- Jack Wohler pours

Margie Runquist of Jeff Runquist Winery,
Plymouth (Amador County)

Michael Havill of Bella Grace,
Plymouth (Amador County)

Tom & Thomas Dillian,
Dillian Wines (Amador County)

Peter Nowack
Barbara’s fellow blogger, Peter Nowack, is today’s guest columnist.  He is the wine lover behind the wine blog, and is founding partner of northern-California based WEmarketwine.

Lava Cap Pairs Wines and Events at Placerville Winery

All in a day’s trip from Lake Tahoe, Placerville’s Lava Cap Winery offers the chance to taste incredible wines and participate in events like white water rafting, painting and sipping in the vineyard, sunset concerts, cooking classes, Wine 101 seminars, Harvest 101 seminars, and more.

Aimee Rebmann guides us
Barbara "paints"

I enjoyed the Lava Cap "Sip Wine & Paint"  Event a few weeks ago. I was guided through painting a vineyard scene by Aimee Rebmann.  “No experience needed to create an amazing painting--all while you sip your favorite Lava Cap wines!”  The event lived up to the promise. The next event is August 25.

Lava Cap is one of my favorite Sierra Foothill wineries.  Their Barbera is one of my few “! AHA !” wines.  It is typical of the varietal but oh so good.  At  $25 a bottle (less for wine club members), it’s a spectacular find.   But beyond the good wine, Lava Cap has made a point of helping wine lovers enjoy a tasting experience.  Get on their newsletter list!  Upcoming events include:

 Wine & Sunsets.  Every Saturday, August 18 through September 29, 2012, 4-7pm .  Sip Lava Cap wine, watch the beautiful sunset views from their deck and garden area, and enjoy live music until dusk.

Red Wine, Whitewater Adventures    This is a two-day red wine and white water adventure. Rafting the South Fork of the American River and visiting Lava Cap for wine tastings.  Now finished for 2012, but sure to resume in 2013!

Lava Cap Winery began in 1981. The Jones family purchased an old 64-acre pear farm after a year-long state-wide search for premium vineyard land. David Jones, a professional geologist at USGS and later UC Berkeley, knew the critical role that soil plays with premium wines. This land has volcanic soil of modest depth, gentle sloping terrain with numerous microclimates, a high elevation providing moderate temperatures for even ripening, and an abundance of pure mountain water. The residual “lava cap” topography eroded from the volcanic activity in the Sierra Nevada millions of years ago.

Tom Jones, winemaker
Lava Cap Winery has always been a family affair, and sons Tom and Charlie and their wives and now children are all involved.  The first varietals planted were Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, then Charlie assumed the role of vineyard manager and added Petite Sirah, Barbera, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Tom got his MA in Enology & Viticulture at UC Davis, and is a talented winemakers.

The Lava Cap style is one of elegant, textured-driven wines. The wines continue to win awards, including recent accolades for the Syrah 2009,  Barbera 2009, and Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.

Visit Lava Cap Winery at 2221 Fruitridge Rd, Placerville.  The tasting room is open 11 to 5 daily.  For maps, directions and to register for events or buy wines online, go to

Learn to Wine Taste with Jelly Bellys

How do you learn to discern flavors and aroma in wine?  For those who want to increase their ability to identify a wine when they put it under their nose or take that first taste, this can be an issue.  Not all of us have the time to take professional wine tasting classes.  It will shock the pros out there when I make the following statement:  there are some short cuts.  Consider the Jelly Belly approach, for example.

The first time I heard about the use of Jelly Bellies to educate wine lovers was during a discussion with Kristi Snyder, one of my favorite and very talented sommeliers, who happens to work at Lone Eagle Grille, Hyatt Regency, Incline Village.  Kristi works with groups of executives and others who are at convocations at the Hyatt to provide some relief in the heavy-duty education process.  Her wine tasting classes make liberal use of Jelly Bellies!

The basics of a Jelly Belly wine exercise is that you taste the individual Jelly Belly beans first, in order to understand the different flavors associated with certain wine varietals.  Then, if you put all of the Jelly Belly flavors in your mouth at the same time, and chew them together, you can come close to the taste experience of the wine varietal itself.

Here are some classic combinations of Jelly Belly beans that emulate the basics of certain wine varietals. Go to a store that has a good range of Jelly Belly beans, and put the “glass of wine” together yourself.   Or drive to the factory in Fairfield for a fun family day.  Kids can go on the tour, you can hand-pick the beans!

 Pinot Grigio:  Lemon Lime, Lemon Drop, Pink Grapefruit, Tangerine, Peach, Juicy Pear

Riesling:  Peach, Juicy Pear, Green Apple, Cantaloupe, Pink Grapefruit, Tangerine

Cabernet Sauvignon:   Blackberry (2), Very Cherry, Raspberry, Plum, Dr. Pepper

Malbec:  Blueberry, Plum, Raspberry (2), Very Cherry, French Vanilla

Chardonnay:  Pineapple, Mango, Juicy Pear, Pink Grapefruit, Peach, French Vanilla, Chocolate

Merlot:  French Vanilla, Toasted Marshmallow, Chocolate, Very Cherry, Plum, Raspberry, Strawberry, Dr. Pepper

Sauvignon Blanc:  Lemon Lime, Pink Grapefruit, Tangerine, Mango, Peach, Juicy Pear

Pinot Noir:  Very Cherry (2), Raspberry, Strawberry, Plum, Pink Grapefruit, Cappuccino

Zinfandel (red):  French Vanilla, Chocolate, Very Cherry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Dr. Pepper, Blackberry, Plum

Don’t want to hand pick the Jelly Belly beans, but thinking of doing a Jelly Belly wine tasting at home with friends?  Check out .  There are more than 40 varietal kits offered there!   

Malbecs of Argentina -Top Picks for Barbeques

Looking for a steak-friendly wine for barbeques?  Look no further than the section in the wine store labeled “Argentina”, and then look for Malbec. 

Malbec  sales in the USA are up from 200,000 cases in 2002 to more than 4 million cases in 2010.  This is largely due to importers like WineBow, who often sponsors groups of writers-chefs-photographers to taste the wines on site.  I went in March and that’s the origin of the delicious choices I am recommending to you below.

 Malbec is not a new grape to the Americas.  When Spanish conquistadors invaded Argentina in 1561, they planted European vines around Mendoza.  There are many factors that assisted Malbec in its ascendancy as a grape there, including the fact that the Huarpe Indians used Incan technology to build canals which channeled melting snow from the Andes Mountains to the sunny desert-like terrain of Mendoza.  That irrigation practice is still in place today. 

Nicolas and Laura Catena
Perhaps no one has shaped the destiny of this grape as much as Nicolas Catena.  He and his daughter Laura have built an incredible wine estate, Bodega Catena Zapata, not far from Mendoza.   Son Ernesto Catena has his own winery, Alma Negra.

I’ve found various Catena Malbecs in local stores for less than $20 a bottle.   Delicious.  Even more delicious are the Malbecs noted here:

Catena Alta Malbec 2008. MY TOP PICK. This is 100% Malbec, sourced from several of their vineyards. It’s a dark violet color. Aroma of ripe berries, wild flowers, mocha and tobacco. Taste is soft and silky, with cassis and black currant, and hints of chocolate, vanilla and black pepper. A wonderful minerality on the finish! 14 per cent alcohol, $55.

Catena Zapata Malbec Nicasia 2008. When the money tree falls on me, this will be my house wine! Grapes for this very special wine are selected from clusters plant-by-plant, and the grapes are manually de-stemmed. That begins to give you an idea of how special this wine is. Aroma of ripe black fruits, sweet spices and thyme.  A very complex and expressive wine on the palate, with flavors of dark berries, licorice, bitter chocolate and spicecake.” 14 per cent alcohol. $135 suggested retail price.

A recommendation as a light summer wine is Alma Negra Malbec Rose 2011.  It is refreshing and citrusy wine. The composition is 85% Malbec and 15% Pinot Noir, with all grapes coming from the Mendoza appellation. 12.7 per cent alcohol. $24

Over the next few months, I’ll write also about such varietals as Carmenere, Bonarda,  as well as the wines of Chile. Can’t wait?  See the Chile-Argentina section of winebiznews.blogspot

Uncorked Tahoe City Wine Bar - Ladies Welcome and Gents Too

Girl’s Night Out – Guys Welcome!  That should be the sign on the chalkboard in the welcoming and intimate wine bar in Tahoe City, Uncorked.  Actually it says “Ladies Night ~ Wednesdays 4 to 8,  $4 per glass” but  the night I dropped in there were a fair number of fellows too. 

The wine-by the glass list at Uncorked is very good and reasonably priced.  The Ladies Night wines offered come from their normal list.  Uncorked does change the wine-by-the-glass list frequently, but many of the tastes below will be available most of the summer.

“When a customer comes in, I like to ask them what they like,”  noted Juda Wilson, who is frequently the hostess.  “I’ll suggest something that I know will appeal to the palate they already have, but there are some great wines here to help expand your wine knowledge.”

Juda started us off with one of Uncorked’s absolute best sellers:  the Aria Brut Cava Pinot Noir from Spain.  It is a bit more dry than other cavas, and this particular bubbly features intense raspberry and strawberry aromas with a hint of cherry and caramel.  $6 the glass, $16 the bottle.  12.5 percent alcohol.

In the white list, the Maldonado Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast, California is an oaky buttery typical California chardonnay.  It has flavors of rich fig, citrus and spice, and also flavor and aroma of kiwi, peach, apricot and cream.   Grapes are sourced from the Parr Vineyard.  $13 the glass.  14.3 percent alcohol.

I selected two reds, both of them from some of my favorite winemakers.  The Talbott Logan Pinot Noir 2009, from Talbott’s Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in Santa Lucia, Central Coast of California, is an estate wine with a smoky aroma and great smooth and delicate mouthfeel.  It has lots of bright fruit taste, and flavor and aroma of black cherry and fresh blueberry.   $10 the glass.  14.2 per cent alcohol.

The Mauritson Cabernet Sauvignon 08, Sonoma Valley has a full mouthfeel and a fair amount of tannin.  On the front palate, this deep red wine tastes of tobacco, sweet oak and dark fruit.  The aroma features cassis, vanilla and a smokiness as well.  $10 the glass.  14.5 percent alcohol.

Uncorked Tahoe City is located in the Cobblestone Mall at 475 North Lake Blvd., Suite 151, Tahoe City, CA.  Open Sunday through Thursday from noon to 9, and Friday and Saturday noon to 10.  Telephone 530.581.1106