Wine Walking in Tahoe City - Put on Your Calendar for June 20th

One of the nicest ways to enjoy the breeze off Lake Tahoe in late June is to stroll the streets of Tahoe City during the annual Wine Walk.

This year's line-up of wineries is really terrific, and my tasting glass is ready already!   If you want to attend, you can get tickets in advance at

Downtown Tahoe City
Here are the wineries you'll have a chance to experience, all in a tidy 6 block walk:

A to Z Wineworks, formerly REX HILL Vineyards, a 25 year old legacy winery in the northern Willamette Valley, is known for their Pinot Noir

Arbios/Praxis Cellars, a small Sonoma County family wine business, is known for their Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Bent Metal Winery, located in nearby Grass Valley, features Barbera, Primitivo, and wonderful blends

Charlyn Zin is showcasing its Old Vine Zinfandel,  Lodi appellation, from a limited production of 10 barrels

NEW TO THE EVENT!  Cline Cellars, a family-owned vineyard and winery in the Carneros region of Sonoma County, sustainably farms and crafts Single Vineyard, Sonoma County, Ancient Vine and California wines.

NEW TO THE EVENT!  CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, is featuring its Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and its Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Fawnridge Winery is a small, family-run winery and tasting room located in the heart of the Placer and Nevada County wine trails,

HaGafen Cellars brings together the elements of “Old Napa” style so often missing from today’s world of wine.  They produce wines that they themselves drink and enjoy: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, White Riesling, and Zinfandel as well as Sparklig Wines.

NEW TO THE EVENT!  Handley Cellars, established by Milla Handley in 1982 in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County, produces award winning Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris

NEW TO THE EVENT!  J Vineyards & Winery is an independently-owned Sonoma County winery that focuses on Brut and Brut Rosé sparkling wines, as well as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris primarily from the Russian River Valley appellation. 

Madroña Vinyards, located near Placerville in El Dorado County, makes wines that are a pure and balanced expression of the land.  They have produced a Lake Tahoe Red (Zinfandel) and a
Lake Tahoe White (Chardonnay) for your enjoyment!   (for more information, search this blog for “Madrona”)

Nevada City Winery is a small production high-quality boutique winery located in historic downtown Nevada City, in Nevada County, CA  (for more information, search this blog for “Nevada City Winery”)

Pedroncelli Winery is a family winery that has been making wine in Sonoma County for nearly 90 years.  Enjoy their Zinfandel, white wines, and Rose’

Renwood Winery, located in Amador County, is one of the most respected wine producers in the Sierra Foothills, specializing in Zinfandel, Rhone and Italian varietals.  (for more information, search this blog for “Renwood”)

Single Leaf Winery is the oldest continuously owned family winery in the Fair Play region for over 2 decades!  Enjoy their Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Barbera

NEW TO THE EVENT!  Skinner Vineyards and Winery produces hand-crafted Rhone-inspired wines in El Dorado, in the Sierra Foothills of California. (for more information, search this blog for “Skinner”)

Smith Vineyard produces exquisite wines from a 10 acre estate vineyard is in the Sierra Foothills near Grass Valley. (for more information, search this blog for “Smith Vineyard”)

Sobon Estate and Shenandoah Vineyards are a family owned and operated winery in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County, specializing in award winning wines that include Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Primitivo, and Zinfandel Port. (for more information, search this blog for “Sobon”)

Tank House Winery is a two generation family winery located in Gilroy, Santa Clara County, CA.,  with a tradition of creating premium wines, each with their own distinctive varietal character.

Twisted Rivers Wines is a winery created by the Heringer Family which has been farming the Clarksburg Delta for over 145 years. After selling wine grapes through the decades to many of the great wineries in California, they now produce a full range of wines from their grapes.

Vino Noceto is a small, family-run vineyard and winery, renowned for our premium Sangiovese wines and located in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County.  (for more information, search this blog for “Vino Noceto”)

Wilderotter Vineyard is a premier grower and producer of fine wines in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County, CA.  They are pouring Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, Mourvedre and Zinfandel

A summer treat near Tahoe: the fabulous Wine Dinners at Atlantis Spa Casino in Reno

It is impossible to resist the lure of a wine dinner at the Atlantis Spa Casino in Reno.  One of the outstanding events of my summers at Lake Tahoe has always been to attend one of these dinners.  At only $125 per person, it is one of the best values in wining and dining around -- particularly as a wine lover when you consider the wonderful high quality wines that are served.

In addition to the food and wine, these dinners are a SPECTACLE not to be missed!  The service is exceptional, and I may have mentioned this before in past blogposts.  It is like a well-choreographed ballet, and the servers are as graceful and orchestrated as any performers can be.  All together, it's a treat.

Here's what is ahead for you, if you go.  And if you do go, you will see me there!   Thanks to Tracie Barnthouse, who does a great job with PR for the Atlantis, for the sneak preview below"

Atlantis Casino Resort Spa welcomes Paul Hobbs wines to Atlantis Steakhouse on Tuesday, June 30 at 6 p.m.

The second oldest of 11 children, Paul Hobbs grew up on a farm near Lake Ontario in western New York, but moved west to study winemaking at the University of California, Davis. After working at and consulting for a number of prominent California producers, he started his own label with the 1911 vintage, eventually adding his own winery and vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Paul Hobbs wines produces around 23,000 cases a year of top-notch, vineyard-designated Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot from sites around Napa and Sonoma.

To complement the wines, Atlantis Steakhouse will be serving the following:

Amuse Bouche
Diver Scallop Crudo
Roasted Pear, Pickled Pumpkin, Honey-Almond Coulis, Micro Celery
Paul Hobbs, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
First Course
Pan-Roasted Alaskan Halibut Cheek
Citrus-Scented Blue Potato Spatzle, Roasted White Peach Compote, Fleur de Sel
Paul Hobbs “CrossBarn”, Rose of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Second Course
Earl Grey Tea-Smoked Arctic Char
Hazelnut-Quinoa Salad, Cranberry Gastrique
Paul Hobbs, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Third Course
Lavender-Pepper Crusted American Kobe Strip Loin
Olive-Strewn Couscous, Wood-Grilled Black Fig, Natural Jus
Paul Hobbs, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Fourth Course
Carpaccio of Bison Loin
Cocoa Oil, Smoked Walnut Salad, Flash-Roasted Wild Berries
Vina Cobos “Bramare”, Malbec, Lujan de Cuyo, Argentina
Strawberry Tiramisu
Grand Marnier Soaked Lady Fingers

Dinner is $125 all-inclusive. Reservations are recommended and can be made at 775.824.4411.

About Atlantis Casino Resort Spa
Atlantis Casino Resort Spa is a world-class AAA Four Diamond resort destination, nestled at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and ideally located in the heart of Reno’s restaurant, shopping and entertainment district. Atlantis is the only resort connected by a Sky Bridge to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, and boasts Reno’s only Concierge Hotel Tower. Atlantis is just minutes away from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, downtown Reno, pristine area golf courses and is a half-hour away from Lake Tahoe. Guests enjoy complimentary airport shuttle service, free valet parking and acres of convenient self-parking. Recognized for luxurious accommodations, eight award-winning restaurants, 10 captivating bars and lounges, a world-class spa and casino-wide action, Atlantis has all the options and amenities to suit your needs. For more information please visit or call 800.723.6500.

STILL THE KING: Steve Bjerklie writes about Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Name a specific region and a specific wine that sum up what quality American winemaking is all about. If you say “Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon,” you will be in agreement with most people, I’ll bet.

Other areas and wines are making a claim to be definitive for American wine — the elegant Pinot Noir produced in Oregon’s Willamette Valley; Washington state’s rich, luscious Syrah from the Walla Walla region; and the delicious Riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes — but California’s Napa Valley remains the most famous winemaking region in the United States, and its primary wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, is still king.

This is due in large part to the marketing genius of the late Robert Mondavi. Napa had produced great Cabernet in the distant past, notably from the Inglenook and Beaulieu wineries, but when Mondavi opened his own namesake winery in Oakville, Calif., in 1966 after a tumultuous partnership with his brother Peter at the Charles Krug winery, he sought to give the Napa Valley the same cachet as held by France’s famous Bordeux appellations. And to a great extent, he succeeded.

Robert Mondavi
looking pretty determined!

Indeed, the argument can be made that Mondavi succeeded too well. Even before the advent of so-called “cult” Cabernets in the 1990s, prices for upper-end Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon were generally higher than for any other American wine, and a good portion of those prices was generated by the Napa Valley mystique Mondavi had created and so effectively marketed. (Interesting trivia sidebar: Did you know that Robert Mondavi and Bob Dylan were both young children in the same town? It’s true, and that town is Hibbing, Minnesota, not exactly the heart of rock and roll or the wine industry!)

But the cult wines took things to a new level. After capturing the hearts, minds, taste buds and flowery pens of influential critics, including Robert Parker, these wines competed with the most expensive French Bordeaux. They still do. A quick Internet check finds a single bottle of 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Screaming Eagle, which Parker’s Wine Advocate publication awarded with a perfect 100-point score, available at for a bargain $2,399.95. A 2011 Pritchard Hill Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Bryant Family Vineyards is available at the Mister Wright wine shop in Manhattan for $600. Vinfolio, another online wine retailer, offers a bottle of 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Colgin Cellars for $495 and a 2010 Madrona Ranch Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Abreu for $575.

I’ve had an occasion or two to taste a couple of these cult wines, and personally I find them overdone, overblown and most definitely over-priced. They remind me of blockbuster superhero movies: take away all the flash and special effects, and you don’t have much of a story, really. To my taste, these ultra-high-end Napa Valley wines fail in wine’s most basic job, which is to accompany food. They are just too rich and dense, and generally have way too much alcohol (15%, even higher, isn’t uncommon for these wines) to accompany anything but themselves. No thanks.

But that’s me. Cult wines have cults for a reason. I just don’t belong to any.

Fortunately, there are plenty of less expensive Napa Valley Cabernets from numerous producers that are complex and balanced and will deliciously accompany steak and other Cabernet-friendly goods. I love the Cabernet made by Randy Dunn at Dunn Vineyards. Not only are Randy’s wines as graceful and beautiful as Ingrid Bergman, they don’t carry the high alcohol that the cult wines generally do.

Silver Oak is another reliable Napa Valley producer of wonderful Cabernet. Same with Stag’s Leap, Cakebread and Spottswoode. You won’t go wrong with a Robert Mondavi Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, either. And good old Beaulieu Vineyards still makes a superlative Cabernet under its Georges de Latour designation.

None of these wines cost anything close to the cult wines, but they’re not cheap. A bottle of Dunn, if you can find one online, runs $80 or more. The Mondavi will be in the neighborhood of $120 and a Stag’s Leap will be in the same territory — but then, it was a Stag’s Leap Cabernet that knocked the priciest French Bordeaux on its butt at the famous Paris Tasting of 1976, so they’ve earned extra cred.

Steak and Caesar and Napa Cab: Yum!

For me, a good Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a special occasion wine. I’ll buy one every once in a while and put it away in the cellar to forget about for several years. When the occasion’s right I’ll bring a dusty bottle back up into the light, pull the cork and share it with people I love over a good steak or simple Caesar salad. (Try it: Cabernet matches wonderfully with a Caesar.) It’s like bringing a work of art to the table for everyone to admire and be inspired by.

There may still be a lot of marketing razzmatazz driving Napa Valley’s reputation, but there’s a lot of good wine behind it, too. Robert Mondavi was not wrong about that. At its balanced and well-aged best, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is still the definitive American wine. I would never pass up a glass. Would you?

Guest Blogger Steve Bjerklie notes this about his love of wine:

Steve and his gal Polly
enjoying the New Hampshire
snow at Tuckerman's Farm
"I grew up in Mill Valley, Calif., just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. My mom and dad enjoyed wine with dinner nearly every night, and together as a family we explored the wine country of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Monterey counties, the Sierra foothills and the San Joaquin Valley. I became acquainted with European wines in my early 20s when I toured western Europe on a bicycle for three months. Later, back in the States, I grew to love wines from Oregon, Washington state, Virginia and New York in addition to my old favorites from California. My wife and I moved to New Hampshire in 2007 to assist my aging father, who had retired here. We fell in love with the Upper Valley, North Country and White Mountains Region almost instantly, and now live on a small farm in Dorchester, NH, with several goats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, three rambunctious dogs and one regal cat. A fledgling apple orchard on our property will one day produce great cider and applejack, we hope. Thanks for stopping by.

This article was first published in The Upper Valley ezine:

Bunting Wines - Tasty Rhones in Calaveras County

Strolling around Murphys last weekend, I wandered into the tasting room for Bunting Wines.  I hadn’t been to Murphys for a while, and needed a refresher on the Calaveras County wine scene.


Bunting is a welcome addition to the cluster of tasting rooms in Murphys on and near Main Street, and I thoroughly enjoyed tasting through a few wines with Garrett Neeley, the young and amiable tasting room manager.


Bunting specializes in Rhone varietals and their offerings are all the classics you’d expect:  Grenache, Marsanne, Syrah, and a GSM blend.  A 2009 Muscat Canelli is their first dessert wine Garrett noted that their most consumer-popular wine was their Syrah, and it is a nice not-so-tannic wine,  and is at the upper end of their price range at $42 a bottle.


Scott Neeley
Tasting Room Manager
My favorite was their 2012 Red Blend GSM, which they call a Cuvee’ Rouge.  The grapes are sourced from Vallecito (not far from Murphys) and the blend is 44% Grenache, 44% Mouvedre and 12% Syrah.   It is really yummy, and at $32 the bottle, it is a good value in my estimation.  Alcohol is 14.2%


Bunting uses primarily grapes from the nearby Sierra Foothills vineyards in and around Calaveras, in particular their own Pyshon Vineyard which is just over 6.5 acres in Vallecito.  Mourvedre, Grenache, Marsanne, and Roussanne vines were planted in 2004, using French ENTAV clones.  Grapes for the Syrah come from Flicker Oaks Vineyard in Mokelumne Hill,  Calaveras County, managed by Steve Collum.


Rich Gilpin, owner of Lavender Ridge Vineyard in Calaveras County, has served as a consulting winemaker.  I personally love it when that happens … it is so much a part of the sharing-expertise tradition of Sierra Foothills wineries, and a wonderful attribute of wineries in this California wine region.


The Bunting Winery tasting room is located at 397 Main Street.  Open seven days a week from 11am until 5pm.   They also offer wine by the glass on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5pm-7pm.


For more information, go to