Blog Archive




It’s that time of year where most of us wander about the wine aisle trying to find the right selection to pair with a meal we are hosting, to select as a gift for a friend or family member, or just serve as a simple cocktail to start off the holiday season. This list contains some classic wines and some unique selections, including

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Photo by Joe Ercoli @


Robert Frost once wrote, Two roads diverged in a wood/and I—
I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference.

In this case, the wine road less traveled led me to Treasure Island where besides an old naval base and the location of the World’s Fair in the 1930’s there is not much afoot except fantastic views of San Francisco that await a snapshot from its next tourist. This island can be an oasis or wasteland whichever way you choose to see it, but several unique wineries have sprouted up making it their home here, including

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Arizona Desert

Arizona Desert


As I prepare for my trip to Arizona, I ask myself two very critical questions? What should I pack and where can I locate great wine in the desert? Not water, but wine.  So, I look in my handy Frommers guide and  three towns are listed: Cottonwood, Jerome, and Sedona. These three magical, ghostly, and mystical places weren’t on my radar as prime wine tasting regions and I feel instantly aware of my lack of wine travels outside of California. I know where every Vortex site is in Sedona, even a Psychic center for New Age, but apparently I need a Frommers guide to tell me where wine grows in Arizona.  Although, the vortex visits and red rock hikes yield some good feeling energy, my real enlightenment comes while passing through Jerome on our way back from Sedona.

Cody Burkett, Passion Cellars

Cody Burkett, Passion Cellars

At Passion Cellars, a small boutique winery at the start of town, Cody Burkett, Gentleman Adventurer (listed on his business card and very apropos), shares his extensive knowledge with us about Arizona wines.  The first critical information that Cody points out to us is that people tend to think of Arizona as all flat desert when in fact most of the varietals being produced are in regions with elevations of more than 4000-5000 feet. The very hot days and cooler temps at night mimic regions such as Mendoza, Argentina or even places in Italy where wine has been produced for centuries with success in these extreme temperatures. With low water crops like grapes, a little more struggle yields a happy, plump grape. Makes sense.

From the wine tasting list we choose 5 different wines to sample. My favorites include the Syrah 417 which Cody describes as a “1950’s pinup model – rich, voluptuous and vivacious.” I’ll have to agree there. Most notably the rich flavors of blueberry and chocolate that are present are remarkable. Another favorite and unusual wine is a greek white varietal, 2011 Freitas Vineyard’s Malvasia Bianca which has a syrupy, silky texture and notes of melon, pear, and opens with a bouquet of florals. If your’e not an intense red drinker, then the Jerome Red is a wonderful Syrah blend that’s smooth and light. This is great with food or just sipping alone. And lastly, a spicy 2012 Black Hills Zinfandel that’s aromatic and filled with ripe flavors of plum and raspberry is memorable on the palette.   The overall wine list is well balanced and each wine on the list has it’s own unique character, which I look for when reviewing wineries.

Lundon Crow, Passion Cellars/Echo Canyon

Lundon Crow, Passion Cellars/Echo Canyon


Next door, and part of the same tasting room,is Echo Canyon Wines. Tasting room attendant, Lundon Crow, introduces us to an eclectic collection of wines that are mostly 2003 vintages or older.  The wine list here is a hit or miss depending on each pour, but my favorite is a 2003 Crop Circle Merlot (call for info) with great rich flavors of blueberry, coffee, spice, and a smooth finish. Being on this side of the tasting room is like going on a wine treasure hunt and pulling out some of the last great bottles from unknown places.  And for this reason, I highly recommend a stop to both tasting rooms at Passion Cellars if you are driving through.

So finally, I can say I’ve tried Arizona wines and in fact, I even managed to smuggle two bottles home in my suitcase free and clear of any unfortunate breakage.


Happy Wine Adventures!


Where to Taste

Passion Cellars
417 Hull Ave.
Jerome, AZ 86331




Supermarket wine aisles can be pretty daunting. With rows and rows of wine bottles stuck together like little glass soldiers, picking out a wine for the right price and quality can be tricky.  Plus, most of us are generally in a hurry and don’t want to deal with calling the grocery wine expert to help.

I have several ways of dealing with my selection. One that I often tell people is there are certain varietals you can pick by region that usually do not disappoint. For example, a Pinot Noir from Russian River, a Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley, or Chateauneuf-du-Pape from just about any vineyard in France! Second is I analyze labels, but again this is time consuming. The best way is

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Domaine Carneros Winery, Napa


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:

Domaine Carneros

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







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

Concannon Chardonnay

Peachy Canyon Zinfandel

Alexander Valley Vineyards  Temptation Zin

Trader Joes Reserve Syrah

J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon

Photo by Laura Localio

Coming here for the first time on an afternoon day for my birthday without knowing anything about the winery was certainly taking a chance. I had no idea what the quality of the wine was like and I had 16 yearning wine enthusiasts driving an hour from San Francisco to join me. The winery is noticeably located next to a housing track in the hills and not your usual winery sign after sign road. But, driving up the driveway and through the unique sculpture garden, we were transported into a completely secluded property and elbow free tasting room. We were greeted at the door by extremely friendly tasting room staff who seated us on two round tables on their shaded veranda overlooking their vineyards.

The tasting room hostess gave us a private tasting on the veranda of 5 wines; 2008 Estate Sauvignon Blanc-Grandview Vineyard, 2008 Estate Chardonnay-Nagasawa Vineyard, 2008 Russian River Pinot Noir, 2006 Estate Zinfandel, 2006 Convict Zinfandel-Rockpile Vineyard. The Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay had great floral bouquets, but the Chardonnay lacked body and creaminess I usually love in chardonnay. The Estate Zinfandel was a superb blend of Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. It had a complex rich berry flavor with a lingering spicey finish, a tasty signature of Zinfandel. The Convict Zinfandel was equally rich with more tannins and roundness. The heartier stone fruit flavors are perfect for duck, lamb, and grilled meats.

The tasting room hostess was lively and recounted us stories to us of the history of the winery, including some of the origin of the wine names. The Convict Zinfandel was named after laborers from a local jail who actually carved a 15 mile road over the terrain of Rockpile. The Estate Chardonnay was named after the first Japanese winemaker in the world, Kenaye Nagasawa.

The winery also allows guests to take a self-guided tour of one of their vineyards. After our tasting, we were given maps and information and drove down to a gate on the property that led us onto a path with numbers and information about each varietal, the soil, and history of the vineyard and included the story of a 200 year old oak tree with a vast amount of poison oak underneath it! We avoided the poison oak successfully. Good thing everyone in our group reads signs well.

An insider secret that’s well worth the find, Paradise Ridge Winery is located in the rolling hills of Sonoma Country. The Santa Rosa property has stunning views of Russian River Valley and an expansive deck for sitting, sunning, and most importantly sipping! The winery property has been family owned and operated since 1991 and only produces about 5,000 cases a year. The estate varietiels include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Petite Syrah, and Zinfandel. Definitely worth a stop.

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