Blog Archive

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




Four Winds Winery

Four Winds Winery


It’s the end of summer and what better way to celebrate the harvest than to revisit a favorite winery of mine in Calaveras County in the Sierras over Labor Day weekend.  Previously named Laraine Winery, Four Winds Winery sits just off of HWY 4.  The road leading into to Four Winds winery is called Six Mile Road and you wind your way through beautiful scenery including rolling hills, old barns, and roaming horses. The winery itself sits on a

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 Sonoma Dessert Wine from Wellington Vineyards

Wellington Criolla and White Port


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:

Wellington Vineyards

11600 Dunbar Road

Glen Ellen, CA 95442






Regale Winery Wine Tasting Los Gatos Fresco

Regale Winery Fresco

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.

Here’s the good news,

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Indian Rock Vineyards, Murphy's

Indian Rock Vineyards, Murphy’s

Driving through Calaveras County, I explore wine in an unlikely place; near a cave called Moaning Cavern where passerby’s in the gold rush era used to fall to their death when they mistook the wind howling from the cave as screams for help. My fiancé convinced me to

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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.

The current owners, Alexander and Pamela McGeary, acquired the estate in 1990 and produce all their varietals in this unique microclimate. “Old Gus” is a tribute to

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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.

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

Chicken Piccata Wine Pairing

Chicken Piccata paired with Tablas Creek Wine

Does a dish inspire a wine selection or does the wine inspire the dish? In this case, on my visit to Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, the wine definitely inspired the dish and the chef. Grown and bottled on the estate, the 2009 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel blanc inspired my chicken piccata cooking frenzy this evening. With notes of lemon, honey, spice, and a slight mineral finish, it was the perfect compliment to this traditonal italian dish.

Tablas Creek Winery specializes in Rhone Varietals. The Espirit is a white blend consisting of Roussane, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul blanc grapes grown in the Rhone Valley of France.  Don’t panic if you have never heard of any of these varietals. This dish could easily pair with any white wine, especially Chardonnay which flavors usually compliment, creamy buttery flavored dishes.

Here are two easy rules to follow when pairing wine and food, which I always use:

1. Compliment the dish with similar flavors in the wine. In this case, the key ingredients in the chicken piccata were lemon, capers, and butter.

2. Go opposite. For example, pairing a rich spicy pork dish with a softer, smoky red wine like Pinot Noir. Or a spicy dish with a slightly sweet wine.

3. There are no set rules to pairings. Try what works for your tastes, but  I suggest trying a few traditonal pairings before you get too adventurous, especially when having dinner guests over.

What’s cooking

Chicken Piccata

4 chicken breasts rinsed and patted dry. Cut crosswise. Sprinkle with Salt and Pepper. Dredge lightly through flour. In a frying pan, add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Cook chicken 3 minutes on each side and remove to plate.  Add 1/3 cuplemon juice, 1/4  cup capers (rinsed and drained) and 1/2 cup chicken broth. Bring to boil.  Return chicken to pan. Cook 5 minutes or until fully cooked. Remove to plate and pour remaining sauce over chicken. Garnish with parsley.

Wine Suggestions

Tablas Creek Vineyard 2009 Espirit De Beaucastel Blanc. $40. Divine.

Budget Version

2009 La Crema Chardonnay $14.99.  Bevmo and most grocery stores.

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