25 Jan 2015
To say that Ridge Vineyards is an icon in California wine country is an understatement. Tradition and consistency have made this winery one of California’s favorites. And a visit to Ridge winery only confirms what is true about this winery–they don’t settle for anything less than the best. Its beautiful grounds, famed Monte Bello Series, and courteous staff have brought me to their Santa Cruz Winery tasting room on many occasions.
13 Mar 2014
I love finding the most relaxing and most charming spots in wine country. This month I focused on garden wineries. What better time than spring to locate some great places to have a glass of wine, stroll through a lush landscape, and put your weekday worries aside. From a garden winery l visited in Carmel Valley that housed chirping blue birds and a rustic gold gate covered with wisteria to another in
12 Jun 2013
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
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.