21 May 2013
It’s only those who know me well that understand the craziness of growing up in my French and Italian Family. It’s loud, we eat constantly, we talk at the table for hours, and of course we drink wine. Growing up with a mother as a chef, I was somewhat spoiled with gourmet food and wine. I mean, who has Bouillabaisse (provencal seafood stew) for Christmas every year? Or, some of the best desserts including homemade cream puffs, chocolate biscotti, and caramel flan. It’s inevitable that those who meet my mother fall in love with her. She’s a short and charming French woman who’s a hell of a cook, tells dirty jokes, and
It’s not often that I step into a tasting room and feel right at home. There are too many wineries that have become double c’s – corporate and cold. But that isn’t the case at Big Dog Vineyards in Milpitas where owners Sandy and Mark make their guests feel welcome with their charming tasting room and wonderful wines. This small, family run winery rests atop a 1200 foot scenic hillside next to their beautiful residence. A large courtyard patio overlooking a hillside of vines offers a great place to sit and have a glass of wine and relax.
We drive up to the winery to enjoy super bowl festivities and watch the San Francisco 49ers play. Though there are about 10-15 people in the tasting room and courtyard, the staff is extremely attentive from the moment we walk in. Dick, one of the tasting room managers, greets us for a tasting and reminds us to take our time sipping each wine. He is knowledgeable about the wine list and genuinely wants to hear our feedback. Mark sets up a big screen in the tasting room and Sandy prepares appetizers and snacks for guests, including very delicious teriyaki meatballs. I stop counting after the 10th meatball I pop into my mouth. I even enjoy some Cheetos with some Cabernet, which is a first for me! During half time, we stand outside and enjoy the views and sip wine next to tall heaters. It’s hard not to take photos as the sun starts to set and the soft light cascades over the vines.
The duo is modest about their wines, but the red wines are no joke and it’s evident how committed and passionate they are about wine-making. The Cabs are a must taste. Standouts are the 2006 and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon – both with a sophisticated bouquet loaded with vanilla, spice, and dark berry flavors. Their Zinfandel Port Style Dessert Wine is also stellar and has a great balance of sweetness and flavor. Think of a field of plump blueberries.
The winery is open to the public the first full weekend of each month. A complete schedule is available on their website. If you want a warm, welcoming and peaceful wine tasting experience, Big Dog Vineyards is a great place to visit.
Big Dog Vineyards
4545 Felter Road
Milpitas, CA 95035
Cheetos and Cabernet – who would of thought?
16 Dec 2012
I enter the allegorie tasting room and can’t help but feel allegoric in my pursuit of some of the best of this small town’s Spanish varietals including a spicy Tempranillo. The tasting counter here is unlike any other on the main street of Murphy’s. It doubles as an art gallery and local artists display contemporary works as well as beautiful designed jewelry in cases. The tasting room attendants are friendly, informative, and passionate as if every bottle has it’s own narrative. Owen kindly helps us through the tasting list and out of the five wines we tasted
30 May 2012
I find that at the very moment I’m spouting that I do not know very much about champagne or nor do I care to drink champagne is the very same moment I’m sitting in wine country drinking champagne. Like it or not, champagne has an effervescent charm that goes beyond just serving it for celebrations.
On a late Saturday afternoon, I am sitting at the patio of Domaine Carneros enjoying the sunlight deck overlooking the vineyards and Carneros region. I order a tasting of three champagnes including a Brut Cuvee, Brut Rose, and Vermeil Demi-Sec. The Brut Cuvee is a toast color with flavors of baked pear, melon and vanilla. The Brut Rose has notes of wild strawberries. But my favorite is the Vermeil Demi Sec with its crisp fruity flavor and long creamy vanilla finish. The wines here are proudly labeled on the bottle with the words “Methode Champenoise”.
Methode Champenoise or also called Methode Traditionelle is the traditional way of making champagne and sparkling wine. Basically, champagne is kept in the bottle for a second round of fermentation, which can last anywhere from 6 months up to 6 years. When shopping for champagne, I recommend purchasing a bottle with “Methode Champenoise” listed on the label for higher quality.
So what makes the bubbles in bubbly? The famous bubbles in champagne are a result of carbon dioxide staying in the bottle during fermentation. Champagne is served in flutes to preserve the bubbles. The most commonly used varietals to produce champagne are Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Blanc de Blanc is generally made from Chardonnay grapes and Blanc de Noir from Pinot Noir. Often times Pinot and Chardonnay are combined along with other varietals so a wine maker can create his own style of champagne.
Domaine Carneros not only offers a great variety of quality champagnes, but they are one of the only few wineries where you can sit and order food to accompany your tastings. It’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon in Napa.
Where to Go:
1240 Duhig Road
Napa, CA 94559
What to Drink:
2008 Domaine Carneros Brut Cuvee, $27
2008 Brut Rose, $36
2007 Vermeil Demi-Sec, $35
Not into bubblies? Try this:
2008 Famous Gate Pinot Noir, $70
19 Mar 2012
In seven years, I get to re-evaluate my relationship with perhaps one of the best dessert wines I’ve had since first hitting the Sonoma border 10 years ago. One little bottle of Criolla from Wellington Winery remains in our pseudo wine celler…aka…the dark closet in the back of our bedroom. The winery has now placed this stellar wine in their library reserve. If I wait another seven years I get to taste their next production.
Criolla ,which is also referred to as the “mission grape”, was brought to California in the early 18th century by Franciscan missionaries. Most of what has survived of the mission grape has been made into dessert wines or more commonly produced as a brandy fortified dessert wine called “Angelica”. A resurgence of this grape started in the early 1990’s.
Wellington is located in one of my favorite places in Sonoma County, Glen Ellen. Not only does Glen Ellen have a rich history including a history of inhabitants like Jack London, but it’s still a place you can go and have a peaceful and not to so pricey wine country experience. Wellington is a hidden gem located off Dunbar Road between Glen Ellen and Kenwood and what locals call “Glenwood”. Prepare yourself for the amount of varietals. The winery was originally an old Italian vineyard and there are 24 different varietals in their old vineyard which includes varietals such as Zinfandel, Carignon, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, and Syrah. Every tasting has something unique, however, the stars of the show are definitely their dessert wine.
So, when is a good time to open a dessert wine that’s only produced every 7 years? When the mood strikes you is my motto. But so far so good and that one little bottle remains in our closet. However, I think back to Wellington’s tasting counter and how John Carmer and his team had plenty of other options to keep us occupied in the meantime, including their deep ruby Old Vines Estate Port and White Port made of 13 different varietals and tasting of cake batter. I’ll be back for a visit soon.
Happy wine tasting!
Featured in this article:
11600 Dunbar Road
Glen Ellen, CA 95442
My favorite thing to do in the wine country: Wine Taste
My least favorite thing to do in the wine country: Wedding Venue Hunt
After several long weekends of hunting for wedding venues, my fiancé and I realized the mystique of the wine country ends once you say that you are hunting for a wedding location and all of a sudden cha-ching (insert cash register sound here) , dancing dollar signs suddenly appear over your head.
16 Oct 2011
On one Sunday afternoon while scouting wineries in the Temecula Wine Country, I found myself in an unlikely place–in a bathtub on a mountain top with a bottle of “Old Gus”. Shadow Mountain Winery is located about a half an hour drive outside the continuously growing Temecula Valley Wineries, but it’s worth the stop for its beautiful location and quality, affordable wines. Nestled at 3200 feet , the winery is located on a coastal mountain range in San Diego county.
10 Oct 2011
I like to throw serious wine drinkers off with unlikely arguments. For example, on a recent trip to a wine boutique for a French Rhone tasting, I was asked if I liked the traditonal corks versus screw top bottles, to which I responded, Neither, I prefer free range corks, because i like my corks to go wherever they please. It just wasn’t what I said, but the expression I gave when the wine clerk recommended a screw top red wine to my friend to take. Imagine a stinky, what the hell are you talking about face and that was me. I may have blurted out, Are you kidding me? To which end, the clerk went on to say how it’s been scientifcally proven that screw top corks are the way to go over the traditional corks which are bleached, can leak air into the bottle, and create a corked (rotten) bottle.
So, the debate goes on to what type of cork is best? The clerk’s pitch started to sink in with me. What if all this time I thought I had it great with a traditonal cork and now my wine and my tendonitis could be solved with a screw top! I’ve tried several screw top wines and there is just something missing. Maybe that POP of the cork is nostalgic for me, but I’ll risk a corked bottle any day over the scratch scratch of a twist top.
28 Sep 2011
Wine does not have to be an extrodinary out of the way journey. It can be as simple as getting in your car and driving to the local grocery store. Let’s face it, on a weekly basis the average wine drinker doesn’t spend more than $10 on a bottle of wine. We call this “house wine” for a reason. House wine is like that old comfortable chair in the corner of your living room. It’s comfy and it’s home.
Recently, I took a trip to Trader Joes and spent half an hour explaining to this very nice wine staff person that I was looking for a Sicilian white wine I had bought there about a month ago. The wine was called Isola D’Oro and it was a fragrant white wine, which flavors I recalled so intensely. I remembered that the wine was about $9. He assured me that they did not carrry this wine and when I insisted I found it there, he called his manager over to assist me. I recounted the story to him and I told him that a very large yellow and black bird was on the label. He laughed and said, “Miss, we don’t carry any bottles with birds on them.” And he was right, I had the wrong store! It was another small market down the road called Bianchini’s. At that moment, I felt like a complete idiot. I was ranting on about this Sicilian white with a bird on it with so much excitement and here I was at the wrong store. But, the staff person made another suggestion for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Australia from a winery called Picton Bay. The wine he described as full of citrus and crisp flavors of apple and pear.
This experience reminded me of two things. One, that drinking too much wine makes you forget. It’s best to write down where you find good wine. And two, that your local grocery store is filled with great wine with knowledgeable people that are as willing to help as much a sommelier at a sophisticated restaurant.
If you are looking to explore the local grocery store wine aisle and not sure where to start, I suggest first that you try Trader Joes, because my experience is that their staff are always available to offer suggestions and they operate a little differently than the larger supermarket chains. That is not to stay that Albertson’s, Safeway, Lucky’s or other markets will not be good to try and offer less of a bargain.
When looking for a wine, often times people forget to read the back of the label. This is the easiest way to get a sense of what the flavors of the wine are, if it’s a heavy or light wine, and what it will pair best with. Finally, the best way to get to know a wine is to open it and try it. Be a little adventurous and try wines from other countries in the market aisle. New World Wines have come a long way and they are comparable to some of California’s best.
My wine find:
2007 Corbera Isola D’Oro $8.99 . Bianchini’s market or online.
Other Great Picks (Safeway, Trader Joes and other major grocery stores)
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay
Peachy Canyon Zinfandel
Alexander Valley Vineyards Temptation Zin
Trader Joes Reserve Syrah
J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon