Truckee River Winery - The Highest and Coldest Winery in California

Enjoy wines by the fireplace!
The wine, the fireplace and the good appetizers are three good reasons to stop into the cozy tasting room at the Truckee River Winery on Brockway Road, Truckee.  Allow time to chat with winemaker Russ Jones, and make sure that you taste his Pinot Noir.  It’s a perfect way to end a ski weekend!

Russ Jones, Winemaker
After Russ earned his B.S. in Oenology UC Davis’ famous winemaking program , he worked at a few wineries and returned to his hometown of Truckee. His vision was to source quality grapes, and then bring fruit to Truckee  to take advantage of the high elevation and cold temperatures, naturally cooling the fermentation and slowing down the barrel aging process. “Thus we became the highest and coldest winery in California,” Russ said. “Our focus from the beginning has been to produce handcrafted wines with great structure and finesse.”

At the Tasting Room you can taste and buy these and other wines:

2009 Garys' Vineyard Pinot Noir.  Just released, the grapes for this wine comes from the eponymous vineyard in Santa Lucia Highlands. The flavor is of dark berries, cassis, briar and black tea.  There’s a nice mid pallet structure, and medium tannins.   15 percent alcohol.  $45/bottle

The 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, just received a Double Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle competition.  This is an ultra velvet, ultra smooth, and complex wine.  13 percent alcohol.  $55/bottle. 

 2011 White Barn Pinot Gris.  A great affordable white wine that is crisp, clean, and with a hint of pear and apple.  Grapes are sourced from the Apple Hill area of El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills.  13.4 percent alcohol.   $14/bottle.

2009 Red Barn Red-Red Table Wine.  A blend of Merlot and Zinfandel, the result is a very drinkable wine that goes well with many dishes.  12.8 percent alcohol.   $16/bottle.

The 2009 Chicago Park Merlot is vinified from grapes grown in the Bear River vineyard  in Chicago Park, Nevada County, Sierra Foothills.  The grapes from this 3200-foot high vineyard results in wine with a concentrated flavor,  a very berry taste and great structure.   13.2 percent alcohol.  $18/bottle.

The Red Barn Red Apres Dessert Wine is a blend of several traditional port varietals.  Tawny, rich and sweet, it goes well with chocolate and strong cheese.  A perfect after-dinner wine!  18.5 percent alcohol.  $18/bottle. 

The Truckee River Tasting room is located at 11467 Brockway Road, Truckee CA 96161.  530-587-4626.  Open 12:00p-7:00p every day

This information first appeared in The Tahoe Weekly newspaper, where I write the Wine Time column, on February 13, 2013   

Meeting Baron Eric de Rothschild and Tasting His Wines

A great way to learn about a wine is to meet the owner of a winery who is involved in every aspect of producing the wine, from selecting the vines, to determining the use of the land, to giving the go-ahead for harvesting, to tasting, tasting and tasting.   And when this person is Baron Eric de Rothschild of the famous Bordeaux winery Chateau Lafite, it’s a very interesting learning experience indeed.

Lafite is one of the leading wines in the world, sought after by wine connoisseurs.   In 2012 in France, a bottle of Chateua Lafite Pauillac grand cru reached the price of 936 Euros, or roughly $1300.  Wisely, the company has used its great reputation to create a collection of wines under the umbrella of Domaines Barons de Rothschild.   Since 1974, they have moved from producing wine at only one Bordeaux Chateau to several Bordeaux Chateaux, acquired an estate in Chile, entered into a partnership in Argentina, acquired a property in the Languedoc region of South France, and are looking at producing in China too. 

At the Agribusiness Seminar at Harvard Business School in January, Baron Eric selected three wines for our group’s dinner, all readily available.

 2008 Bordeaux, Chateau Duhart-Milon, Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite),  from the Paulliac region of Bordeaux, France.  This classic Bordeaux blend has delicate aroma of blueberry and cedar, and hints of smokiness.  It is delicate on the palate too, with black currant and cedar flavors.  13.7 percent alcohol.  Internet prices between $80-100.

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend, Bodegas Caro, Domaines Barons Rothschild & Nicolas Catena, Argentina.  A dense, complex wine with good tannic structure.  The lingering tannin gives the wine good length and a pleasant, soft mouthfeel.   Deep, aromatic and with very appealing intense fruit.   14.5 percent alcohol.     $35-40 internet price.

2011 Reserve Speciale Bordeaux Blanc, Domaines Barons Rothschild, France.  The blend is 40/60 Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  On the nose, the wine is aromatic, dominated by aroma of tropical and citrus fruits like grapefruit and lime. Sauvignon grapes give flavor and liveliness, while the Semillon grapes give fullness and balance at the end.   12 percent alcohol.   $15 internet price.

To taste Rothschild wines locally, stop into L'uva Bella Wine Gallery at 13925 South Virginia St. in Reno.  Not long ago, they did a pouring of five Rothschild wines, none costing more than $19 a bottle:  Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc, Chile; Bordeaux Blanc,  Baron Rothschild Collection, France;  Chateau Paradis Casseuil , France,  Bordeaux  (red blend); Amancaya Malbec , Argentina, a 70/30 blend of Malbec and Cabernet; and Los Voscos Cabernet ,  Chile. 



Top Ten Wines of 2012: Numbers 1,2,3,4,5

Three of the Top 5 of 2012,
per Wilfred Wong
Wilfred Wong is one of the few wine experts that I follow on FaceBook. As Cellar Master for the 130-store retail chain Beverages & More (BevMo), he tastes more than 8000 wines a year.  I’ve found he has a great palate, and so I’m sharing details about his choices of the Top 10 Wines of 2012.  This column covers Numbers 5 to 1.    There are many great wines in this list. Be prepared to open your wallet.

Number Five:  The 2011 ZD Chardonnay is an enormously popular wine.  Wilfred had put aside for many years, but when he tasted the 2009, he was astounded.  “All the elements of fruit, earth and (American) oak worked together,” he said. “The 2011 ZD Chardonnay is simply stunning, showing perfection and artistry. Still a bit young, when I tasted it September, the wine showed beautifully ripened ripe apples and delicate, sweet oak. Firm and crisp in the finish, this is one of the very best American examples of this varietal in the marketplace. Exceptional and in a class of its own.”   $28/bottle at Bevco.

Number Four: 2009 Cakebread Cellars CABERNET SAUVIGNON.  “This is a real stunner,” says Wilfred. ”Shows incredible fruit, from start to finish, the wine crystallizes the winery’s place in the Napa Valley as one its finest producers. The wine, a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot is so finely tuned and perfectly poised. Not a powerful blockbuster, but a stylish Cabernet with style and class….sweet tannins and wonderful balance makes it a fine cellaring wine…let rest at least 4-5 years before serving.”  $60/bottle is lowest internet price.

Number Three: 2009 Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains: “One of the most important wines in the world,”  says Wilfred.  He has tasted and enjoyed over 40 vintages of this wine. Tasting the 2009, he “was absolutely floored by the wine’s concentration and flavors of black fruit and tar. Long and lusty on the palate, with black currants and mineral, the wine’s sweet tannins give a cloak of silkiness…the blend is 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot,” he notes. “This may be greatest Monte Bello I have ever tasted!”   $65/bottle is lowest internet price.

Number Two: 2006 Domaine Carneros by Taittinger Le Rêve, Carneros.: “Don’t we all love Champagne?” Wilfred asks. With this 2006, he was impressed  with the wine’s persistence and length on the palate. “Very fine and quite crisp, the wine will just get better in a few years. This vintage is made from 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay,” he noted.,”This wine has fulfilled the promise that California can make the best bubblies in the world!”  Sold out at the winery.  Lowest internet price, $85/bottle.

Number One: 2009 Altocedro Malbec Gran Reserva, La Consulta, Mendoza “A wine that has stolen my heart and soul,” exclaimed Wilfred.  He found himself asking: ““Is this better than the best Latour, Lafite, Margaux, Ridge Monte Bello, Shafer Hillside Select, Harlan Estate that I have ever tried, I silently thought to myself?” How could an Argentine wine do this to me???”  He tasted blueberries, oak, a long finish, sweet tannins. This wine is made from 97% Malbec and 3% Sémillon. Production was a mere 222 cases.  Hard to find, but obviously worthwhile.  $70/bottle at Bevco.

This information first appeared in The Tahoe Weekly newspaper, where I write the Wine Time column, on January 17, 2013.   

Top Ten Wines of 2012 per Wilfred Wong: Wines 6,7,8,9,10

Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse 2010, left,
and Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc 2011, right
Wilfred Wong is one of the few wine experts that I follow on FaceBook. As Cellar Master for the 130-store retail chain Beverages & More (BevMo), he tastes more than 8000 wines a year.  I’ve found he has a great palate, and so I’m sharing details about his choices of the Top 10 Wines of 2012.  This column covers Numbers 10 to 6.. 

Number 10: 2010 Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Shiraz, South Eastern Australia.  Australian Shiraz, once very trendy, fell out of favor for many years.  “When I tasted the new vintage, I was simply amazed at how good the new vintage showed,” said Wong.  “Excellent richness and depth, the 2010 Diamond Label Shiraz may be the one that brings Australia back to the playing field.”  Priced between $8 to $11 per bottle.

Number 9 : 2011 Duckhorn Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley.  Wong says that this is one of the year’s best wines. “A subtle wine, with exquisite balance, this wine just took my palate into another stratosphere,” Wong said.  He notes that this is a really important wine that “deserves love from all serious wine consumers.”  This 2011 blend includes 24% Sémillon.  “The 2011 is one of Duckhorn’s best Sauvignon Blancs, ever!” said Wong.  Priced at $29/bottle on Duckhorn’s website.

Number 8: 2010 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé.  Wong states that Pouilly-Fuisse is “one of the most unheralded and loved appellations in all of France.  Made from one of “lesser” areas of Burgundy, this place has provided great chardonnay pleasure to many, many wine drinkers.”  He continues:  “I taste Pouilly-Fuissés every year. Over the decades, Louis Jadot has remained consistent and fine.”   Priced between $19 to $28 per bottle. The 2011 vintage is also fine and widely available,

Number 7: 2008 Chasseur Pinot Noir (RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY) Blank Vineyard. Wong notes:  “The search for the ultimate Pinot Noir is always so difficult and frustrating… this wine stood out as one of the best ever Pinot Noirs that I have ever experienced!  Showing enticing and alluring aromas and flavors of ripe strawberries and fragrant flowers,,,long and persistent… one of my top wines of the year.”  This wine might be hard to find but Wong says it is definitely worth the search.  Suggested retail price is $60.00 per bottle.

Number 6: 2009 Mendel Cabernet Sauvignon.  Wong proclaims this is one of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignons in the world.  This Argentinian wine was one he discovered during a trip to the Maipu region last year.  “I had no idea that I was going to be so dazzled,” Wong said.  “The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was so fine; very concentrated, but never over-the-top. Great elegance in a wine with plenty of power…this is really great stuff.”  Suggested retail price is  $35 per bottle.

This information first appeared in The Tahoe Weekly newspaper, where I write the Wine Time column, on January 31, 2013    

Petra at Northstar: Wine and Dine on the Slopes

Alice Baldwin pours Easton wine for tasting
If you are not going to Northstar, I suggest you make the trip to enjoy Petra anyway.  This is a wine tasting room, restaurant, and retail wine shop all in one,  opened under the tutelage of Kali Kopley, proprietor of 3 other good wine shops: “Uncorked” Tahoe City, Squaw and Truckee.  She knows what she is doing in her wine selection and pricing.

The “Taste Three” program is a wonderful way to experience the diversity of Petra’s wine offerings.  For $12 you enjoy 2 ounces of 3 wines.

 In the Sparkling category, the Cava Pino Noir Rose Brut, Aria, Torrelavit from Spain was a good choice.  This has cherry and berry aroma, toasty edges, is full in the mouth, and fresh.  The finish of cherry was a bit chocolately too, and very nice.  12 percent alcohol.   $7/glass,  $18/bottle.

Lana enjoys Qupe Marsanne
In the white wine group, I tasted a 2011 Marsanne from Qupe,  Santa Inez Valley (Santa Barbara).    This organic wine is a classic French blend of white Rhone varietals, 80 percent  Marsanne and 20 percent Roussanne.  It is crisp and floral, light and vibrant.  An intense but refreshing wine, it has flavors of lemon, honey, and notes of pineapple and peach.  13 percent alcohol.  $9/glass, $21/bottle.  Yummy.

In the red wine group, the choice was hard to make.   When in doubt, I will always choose a Sierra Foothills wine.  The 2010 Zinfandel from Easton, Amador County, a Beaujolais-style wine, is a winner.  It has bright cherry and blackberry fruit aromas, and a beautiful balance with a great juicy mouthfeel.  This Zin has a nice creamy texture from ten months in French oak barrels, and a toastiness and spiciness that is complex and scrumptious.   14.5 percent alcohol.  $9/glass, $18/bottle.   Learn more about Easton wines at the website .

Brent enjoys Syrah
with crispy broccolini
 The 207 Syrah from Sequel, Columbia Valley, is deep purple in color, and has complex aroma of smoked meat, pepper, plum.  The flavor of plum and spice dominates, and it has a nice tannic structure.  14.7 percent alcohol.  $18/glass, $60/bottle.

For foods to pair, Petra’s many shareable plates are great.  Try the crispy broccolini, the risotto cakes, and any of the pressed sandwiches.  The charcuterie and cheese choices are fabulous too.  If you like sweets, go for the dark chocolate pecan caramel tort:  heavenly.
Dine on the Patio, summer or winter

Petra's beautiful indoor space
Petra is located in the village at Northstar, 3001 North Village Drive, Suite 3112.  Hours are generally noon to 8 p.m. , but call 530.562.0600 to verify.   Hey, take a bottle back to your hotel or condo!

This information first appeared in The Tahoe Weekly newspaper, where I write the Wine Time column, on January 16, 2013   



Champagne and Cookies: a Sparkling Party Idea

It’s that party time of year, but who has the time to prepare for a really fancy event?  For my holiday celebration, I did a really simple party:  cookies and champagne.   The French producers of “real”  champagne will not be pleased to see me extending the term to include sparkling wine of all kinds and from non-French regions.  Pardon me, but budgets prevail!

Most of the sparklers below you can get at Costco or supermarkets, and the standard is 1 bottle per 2 guests.  And the cookies?   Do a cookie swap type of party where everyone brings two dozen cookies and is thus entitled to take some others’ home.   Keep cookies-and-champagne in mind for Valentine’s Day parties too.

The California Brut Classic Chandon.  This is a soft yet dry and refreshing wine,  made in the traditional champagne style,  with a second fermentation in the bottle.   Grapes are the traditional Champagne varieties, and in this bottle I served,  the blend was 55% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 3% Pinot Meunier and a nice 9% Pinot Blanc joined in the crowd. Taste and aroma of apple and pear, with citrus, spice, almond and caramel in the bouquet.  12 percent alcohol.  Around $20/bottle.

Someone gifted me a Zonin Spumante Brut Prosecco DOC.  This Italian sparkler is intense and fruity, nicely aromatic with hints of white flower and green apples.  Made completely from Glera grapes, it has a delicate almond note.  This well-balanced and appealing sparkler has 11 percent alcohol.   Average price on the internet is $11/bottle.

The Lamarca Prosecco DOC  is a sparkler from the Veneto region of Italy,  available at Costco for about $12.  The bottle notes that it has fresh and vibrant bouquet of golden apple, white peach and honeysuckle are correct!   Yummy, and only 11 percent alcohol. 

You’ll have to go to a well-rounded wine shop for this one, but I suggest you try a sparkler from South Africa, the Graham Beck Brut, “method cap classique”.  The blend is 58% Chardonnay and 42% pinot.  It is a crisp, light, tasty, dry sparkling wine.   11.5 percent alcohol, $17/bottle internet price.

The Chandon California Blanc De Noirs from Carneros has a taste of berries and spice, and is a full- bodied  medium-dry sparkler.  I always read the back labels, and Chandon’s has a graph that shows you where the wine is in terms of the dry-to-sweet spectrum.  Nice touch.  13 percent  alcohol,   $14-$16/bottle

Wines are Perfectly Paired at Six Peaks Grille, Squaw Valley

Ruffino Moscato with beet salad
A nice glass of wine, a beautiful view of Olympic Valley’s astounding mountain scenery, and food by a remarkable chef – nowhere could be more Sierra-perfect as a place to try new wines than Six Peaks Grille in the Resort at Squaw Valley.  It’s a family-centric dining room too, where adults can order either a nice bottle of wine or one of the 30 wines-by-the-glass that are featured this winter.

Chef Chad Shrewsbury commands the kitchen and presents dishes that pair so well with Six Peaks’ wine.  If you missed his pairing at the Autumn Food and Wine Festival, where the restaurant won second place, be sure you dine at Six Peaks sometime this season.

The Ruffino Moscato d’asti 2011 is a versatile sweet semi-sparkling wine that goes with many foods. The aroma is all about fresh flowers and peaches, and  I like the taste of honeysuckle that lingers. Ruffino is world-renowned for Chianti wines and to many wine drinkers, the winery’s products embody “la dolce vita”.   6 percent alcohol.   $35/bottle.   It was paired with one of Chef Chad’s signature dishes, a salad of beets, goat cheese mousse, arugula, and all adorned with crispy shallots.

Adobe Road and Soup
Adobe Road 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, uses grapes sourced from the Greene Vineyard and was a limited production wine.    It has a taste of pineapple and apricot. This wine is often compared to a Riesling; it is medium bodied with a touch of petrol on the back palate.    11 percent  alcohol.   375 ml bottle/$33,   full bottle/$64.   The pairing with soup is delightful, and the butternut squash soup was adorned withhHousemade pumpkin biscotti.

Summerland Chardonnay
The very buttery California-classic Summerland 2007 Chardonnay. Santa Barbara is smooth and silky, with a creamy texture.  The taste of peach, pear and citrus lead to a long finish.  All grapes were sourced from the Central Coast.    14.1 percent alcohol   375 ml bottle/$23.  The pairing was Serrano ham wrapped red snapper. Yummy.

Hook & Ladder Pinot Noir
Hook & Ladder 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River valley.  Its aroma is of Bing cherry and spice, and flavor of cherry and clove with a lot of spiciness.  It’s a smooth drinkable wine, and a solid Pinot that is fruity and juicy.  14.2 percent alcohol.   $50/bottle.   Thepairing was coffee crusted duck, served with bordelaise sauce, fresh apples and blueberry.

To finish, I enjoyed the Moscato again, this time with chocolate lava cake and marshmallow ice cream.  There goes the diet!

Six Peaks Grille is located in the Resort at Squaw Valley, 400 Squaw Creek Road in Olympic Valley, CA.  Open for breakfast and dinner daily.  Dinner reservations are a good idea: 530-581-6621.  

Sparkles and Wine: Bluestone Jewelry in Truckee pairs Jewelry with Inspiring Wines

Lynette Astors, right, pours
Sierra Foothill wines for customers
There are two things that pair well with women and also with men:  fine jewelry and fine wine.  That’s why I like the concept that Lynette Astors is helping to nurture at Bluestone Jewelry and Wine in downtown Truckee.    I’ve known Lynette for many years, and seen her grow in wine knowledge by attending tastings and functions at L'uva Bella Wine Gallery in Reno and helping Rombauer Vineyards grow in recognition by pouring at many of their Tahoe area events.  Now she is adding her own sparkle to the wine shop in the back of the Bluestone’s Truckee store,  They are becoming local specialists in wines from the Tahoe basin, namely Sierra Foothill wineries.

I decided to sample the Sierra Foothill ports from a variety of wineries, and looked over some nice jewelry pieces at the same time.  The ambience of this 1850’s building with exposed brick and reclaimed barnwood floors is conducive to a relaxed afternoon of browsing and tasting.  Many locals know this lovely location from its previous incarnation, as “OB's” building.

Narrow Gate Vineyards, located in Placerville, features its Lot '10 Chocolate Splash, El Dorado County, at the store.  This Port is made from six classic port varietals and is infused with 1.25% bittersweet, natural chocolate essence .  Hold up the glass and you’ll notice the jewel-tones that characterize this and other ports.  Chocolate Splash is winery owner Frank Hildebrand's "special blend".  18 percent alcohol.  $32/bottle (500 ml).

Grant Eddie’s winery, located in Oregon House, Yuba County, is one of the few California vineyards to establish plantings of a range of grapes from the Douro region of Portugal. Bluestone features the tasty Grant Eddie 2010 Port, which is blended from five different varieties of grapes grown in the Ramey Mountain Vineyard.  The blend includes the traditional Douro grapes Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Madeira, and Sousao, and a touch of Syrah.  19 percent alcohol,  $31/bottle.

The Mount Aukum Winery, Somerset, El Dorado County,  features its port-style wine, 2008 vintage Ace of Hearts, at Bluestone.  This delicate port style wine is really tasty, and is a blend of Tempranillo, Touriga, Tinto Cao, and Souzao grapes.  If you are not thinking about blueberries already, you will when you taste this wine.  18.2 percent alcohol.  $29/ bottle.

There are many other wines to sample at Bluestone Jewelry and Wine, located at 10046 Donner Pass Road, Ste. 3, Truckee.   Hours:  everyday 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m.     530-582-0429.

Wines to Serve with Family Feasts (including turkey!)

When smell of cooking turkey will soon be in the air,  take time beforehand to consider what wines you’ll serve.  I chatted with Caroline Vogt Lee, wine buyer for Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet in Tahoe City, and emerged with some reasonably-priced recommendations from their wine corner.

Start with a bottle of Prosecco, always versatile.  Lamberti Prosecco, extra dry, is a sparkler from the Veneto region of Italty.  It has some delicate mineral notes and stonefruit flavors and will pair well with such savory appetizers as pesto & spinach stuffed mushrooms or Spanikopita.  11 per cent alcohol.    $14.99/bottle

Another good appetizer-friendly wine is the J Vineyards Pinot Gris, California.  This well-priced wine ($14.99/bottle) has a lot going for it. The winemaker notes that it is a blend of 100% Pinot Gris fruit from Preston Vineyard and Saralee’s Slusser Road vineyards in the Russian River Valley, with grapes also from several vineyards located along the Salinas River near King City in Monterey County and vineyards in the Sacramento River Delta area of Clarksburg. 13.8 per cent alcohol.  

Pinot Noir is a perfect pairing with turkey.  “The Argyle Pinot Noir, 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon is excellent. It’s 13 per cent alcohol and sells for $28, which is a good price for Oregon Pinot Noir,” notes Caroline.

The Sobon Estate 2010 Amador County Old Vine Zinfandel would be a good choice for those who prefer a more full-bodied wine with their turkey.  This is a great example of Amador Zinfandel, with aroma of cherries, blackberry and maybe a touch of cocoa. Sobon makes this wine from their own certified organically grown grapes.   14.9 per cent alcohol.  $13.99/bottle.

For those who want white wine with their turkey and trimmings, Tahoe House features Pine Ridge 2011 Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend (79% Chenin Blanc, 21% Viognier). The winemaker notes that this blend unites the crisp, honeyed fruit of Chenin Blanc with the plush body, light floral aromas and juicy stone fruit notes of Viognier.  12 per cent alcohol. $14.99/bottle.

If you are a pecan pie fan, as I am, you can serve either of the red wines with this and other desserts.  Enjoy!

Tahoe House prepares wonderful ready-to-go side dishes, appetizers and desserts.  Other purveyors of already-prepared dishes to relieve the crush in the kitchen on family feast days are Dockside 700, and Spoon, both in downtown Tahoe City.