Saturday, January 14, 2012

ZAP – the Zinfandel Festival returns to San Francisco – Jan 26-28

The Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) is hosting the 21st annual Zinfandel Festival, a California legend, in San Francisco, January 26-28. This is a grand festival in celebration of America’s Heritage Wine, Zinfandel. It is held at a new venue this year, the historic Concourse Exhibition Center, South of Market.  This former railway station harkens back to a classic age of travel and provides plenty of space that is handsomely finished and comfortable.  And there is plenty of parking and handy to public transportation!  There will be four events during those three days plus celebrity chef, winemaker dinners and plenty of fine Zins to sample.

Thursday, January 26, EpicuriaThis Food and Zin pairing occurs from 6 – 9 p.m. in The Concourse.  Your palate will love the discovery of the diversity of Zinfandel and its wide range of complementary flavor combinations.  Mingle with winemakers and epicurean experts as you take a journey for your senses sampling the regional offerings. This event features 50 top Zinfandel wines and creations from master chefs.  The Zin Kitchen will also host cooking demonstrations and talk about Zin and food pairing.  Tickets are $95 for ZAP members and $125 for non-members.

Friday, January 27, Flights – This Forums of Flavor from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Westin St. Francis Hotel on Union Square is your chance to experience discussions as diverse as the wine itself.  Here you experience exclusive seminar-style tastings where you will discover themed flights of Zins and interact with Zinfandel experts. Tickets are $60 for ZAP members and $75 for non-members.

Friday, January 27, Winemakers Dinner – Viva Las Vegas at the Westin St. Francis Hotel on Union Square from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. where you experience a Las Vegas style benefit with VIP taste.  Dress to the nines and bring your lucky charm to this glamorous reception and dinner and enjoy private selections poured by premier winemaker hosts.  The live and silent auctions feature rare and one-of-a-kind lots with proceeds benefitting ZAP programming, education and Heritage projects.  Tickets are $225 per person.

Saturday, January 28, Grand Tasting – The main event is the Grand Tasting from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. for the public at The Concourse through a journey of the world’s largest single varietal tasting as you sample from hundreds of barrel samples, new releases and premier Zinfandels.  Meet the winemakers and learn more about America’s Heritage Wine.  Tickets are $49 for ZAP members, $59 for non-members and $69 at the door.

This is a major wine event in the Bay Area and a great opportunity to learn more about California's heritage wine, Zinfandel.  The Concourse is at 635 8th Street at Brannan in San Francisco.

For more information:

Santa Cruz Mountains Wines win at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

Santa Cruz Mountain wineries brought home gold at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, including one Best of Class, 3 Double Gold, 10 Gold, 26 Silver and 23 Bronze awards.  Congratulations to those award-winning winemakers in this exciting wine region.  The 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is the largest competition of American wines and this year included a record breaking 5,500 entries judged by 65 prominent wine judges.  The competition is always fierce and as the number of entries grow, it becomes tougher.

Best of Class awards went to La Rusticana d’Orsa for their 2008 La Rusticana Cinque Bordeaux blend.  Double Gold medals were captured by Bargetto Winery for their 2009 Regan Estate Pinot Noir Reserve, Martin Ranch Winery for the Therese Vineyards 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Naumann Vineyards 2009 Tre Rosso Cali Bordeaux blend.
 
Other award winners for Santa Cruz Mountain wineries are:
  • Bargetto Winery  - in addition to the Double Gold for their Pinot Noir, brought home a Bronze medal for the 2007 Regan Estate La Vita
  • Beauregard Vineyards– captured Silver for the 2008 Estate Chardonnay
  • Byington Vineyards & Winery– won Bronze for the 2008 Block 4 Pinot Noir
  • Cinnabar Winery– picked up a Gold medal for the 2009 Sorcerer’s Stone blend and Silver for the 2009 Mercury Rising Bordeaux Blend
  • Heart O’ the Mountain– got a Bronze medal for the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir
  • Hillcrest Terrace Winery –brought home a Silver for the 2009 Regan Vineyard Chardonnay and two Bronze medals for the 2008 Regan Vineyard Merlot and 2009 Fambrini Vineyard Pinot Noir
  • La Honda Winery– was happy with the Gold medal for 2008 Salinian Block Cabernet Sauvignon and Bronze for the 2009 Sequence Pinot Noir
  • Loma Prieta Winery– picked up a Bronze medal for their 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot
  • Martin Ranch Winery– in addition to the Double Gold for the Therese Vineyards 2007 Cab, also got a Silver for the 2007 JD Hurley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Martin Ray Winery – captured Silver for the 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Mica Cellars – won a Bronze medal for the 2010 Smith Road Vintners Pinot Noir
  • Michael Martella Wines– topped off with a Gold medal for the 2009 Carmel Hill Syrah and Bronze for the 2008 Hammer Syrah
  • Muccigrosso Vineyards– brought home Gold for the 2007 Pinot Noir, three Silver medals for the 2008 Lyn Zin, 2008 Pinot Noir and 2008 El Cartero Pinot Noir, plus Bronze for the 2008 Jupiter Sangiovese
  • Odonata Wines– picked up two Silver medals for the 2009 Machado Creek Vineyard Petite Sirah and 2009 Zayante Vineyard Syrah
  • Perrucci Family Vineyard– did well with two Gold medals for the 2008 Merlot and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon plus Bronze for the 2006 Special Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards– the Quinta Cruz brand won Gold for the 2009 Graciano and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards got Silver for the 2009 Branciforte Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir
  • Sarah’s Vineyard– won Gold for their 2010 Chardonnay and two Bronze medals for the 2007 Merlot and 2010 Pinot Noir
  • Soquel Vineyards– brought home several awards including four Silver medals for the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, 2010 Saveria Pinot Noir, 2010 Pinot Noir and 2009 Saveria Vineyard Petite Sirah, plus two Bronze medals for the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir and 2010 Lester Pinot Noir
  • Storrs Winery and Vineyards– captured two Gold medals for the 2010 Chardonnay and 2008 Petite Sirah, four Silver medals for the 2008 Zinfandel, 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Late Harvest Zinfandel and 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, plus Bronze for the 2007 Christie Pinot Noir
  • Thomas Fogerty Winery– took home Silver for the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and three Bronze medals for the 2009 Gewurtztraminer, 2008 Chardonnay and 2007 Cabernet Franc
  • Vine Hill Winery– the Cumbre brand captured two Silver medals for the 2008 Raffaelli Pinot Noir and 2008 Hicks Family Vineyard Pinot Noir and Bronze for the 2008 Godinez Pinot Noir, plus Vine Hill got two Bronze medals for the 2009 Clements Ridge Chardonnay and 2009 Pinot Noir
The public is invited to the Public Tasting to be held at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco on Saturday, February 18th at 2 – 5 p.m.
For more information:

Livermore Valley bring home Gold from San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

Thirty Livermore Valley wineries picked up 143 awards at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, including Sweepstake award as the best red wine in the competition by McGrail Vineyard’s 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  Livermore Valley winemakers took home four Best of Class, 5 Double Gold, 20 Gold, 64 Silver and 49 Bronze awards.  This is in comparison with the 89 awards won in last year’s competition.  Congratulations to those award-winning winemakers in this diverse wine region in the heart of the Bay Area.

The 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is the largest competition of American wines and this year included a record breaking 5,500 entries judged by 65 prominent wine judges.  The competition is always fierce and as the number of entries grow, it becomes tougher.
McGrail Vineyard and Winery is proud to capture the Sweepstake award as the best red wine in the competition with their 2008 Livermore Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  Check this article about the award.

Best of Class awards were won by Bent Creek Winery for their 2009 Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuda Ridge Wines for their 2009 Merlot, Thomas Coyne Winery for the 2008 Quest Rhone blend, and Wente Vineyards for their 2009 Nth Degree Livermore Valley Syrah.
  • Auburn James Winery– Bronze medals for their 2008 Bella Vista Block 4 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Cottrill Vineyard Diablo Rosso
  • Bent Creek Winery– In addition to their Best of Class award for their Cab, picked up Double Gold for their 2009 Zinfandel Port, Silver for their 2009 Petite Sirah and 2009 Red on Red, plus Bronze for 2009 Syrah and 2009 Zinfandel
  • Charles R Vineyards– Gold medal for 2009 Zinfandel, Silver for 2010 Chardonnay and 2008 Syrah, plus Bronze for 2008 Petite Sirah
  • Concannon Vineyards– Four Gold medals awarded for the 2010 Reserve Chardonnay, 2009 Reserve Syrah, 2008 Captain Joe’s Petite Sirah and 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. In addition Concannon captured 11 Silver medals and 5 Bronze medals
  • Crooked Vine Winery– Gold medal awarded for the 2009 Moxie Bordeaux Blend, Silver won for 2010 Fume Blanc and 2008 Petite Sirah, and Bronze for 2010 Chardonnay, 2009 Cabernet Franc and 2009 Petit Verdot
  • Cuda Ridge Wines– In addition to their Best of Class for the 2009 Livermore Valley Merlot but also Silver for the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and Bronze for the 2009 Petit Verdot
  • Darcie Kent Vineyards– Double Gold medal for the 2010 De Mayo Chardonnay, Gold for the 2010 Rava Black Jack Sauvignon Blanc, Silver for the 2008 De Mayo Zinfandel and 2009 Rava Black Jack Pinot Noir and Bronze for 2008 Petite Sirah, 2010 West Pinnacles Chardonnay and 2010 Gruner Veltliner
  • Eagle Ridge Vineyards– Silver award for 2005 Madlyn Port and Bronze for the 2010 Pinot Grigio
  • Fenestra Winery– Grabbed a Double Gold award for the 2007 Thatcher Bay Vineyards Merlot, 3 Golds for 2007 Syrah, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2010 Verdelho, plus eight Silver medals and five Bronze medals
  • Harris Tesla Vineyard– Won Silver for their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and Bronze for their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Las Positas Vineyards– Picked up Silver for the 2010 Orange Muscat and three Bronze medals for the 2008 Barbera, 2007 Petite Sirah and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Longevity Wines– Silver medal awarded for the 2009 Tempranillo and Bronze for the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • McGrail Vineyards & Winery– Sweepstake for best red wine for the 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Silver for the 2009 Chardonnay
  • Mitchell Katz Winery– Gold medal awarded for the 2009 Abboud Acres Shiraz, six Silver medals for 2010 Chardonnay, 2010 Pinot Gris, 2009 Sangiovese, 2009 Syrah, 2008 Falling Star Petite Sirah and 2009 Clarks Corner Petite Sirah, plus a Bronze for 2009 Zinfandel
  • Murrieta’s Well– won two Silvers for the 2008 Petit Verdot and 2009 “The Spur” blend, plus 2 Bronze medals for 2010 Semillon Chardonnay and 2009 Zarzuela blend.
  • Nottingham Cellars– captured two Silver medals for both wines entered, the 2010 Chardonnay and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Page Mill Winery– took home a Gold medal for 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, two Silvers for 2010 Angela’s Cuvee Rose and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon plus two Bronze medals
  • Red Feather Winery – won Silver medal for the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Retzlaff Winery– picked up three Bronze medals for 2009 Chardonnay, 2006 Merlot and 2005 Cab/Merlot
  • Rios-Lovell Estate Winery– captured a Double Gold for the Zinfandel Syrah Port, five Silvers for 2005 Cab/Merlot, Cabernet Franc Port, Mourvedre Barbera Port and Petite Sirah Port, plus a Bronze for the 2007 Syrah
  • Ruby Hill Winery– won a Gold medal for the 2009 Peacock Patch Zinfandel, and two Bronze medals for the 2009 Reserve Chardonnay and 2009 Grapeful Red blend
  • Steven Kent Winery– took home Silver medals for the 2010 Lola Bordeaux blend and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Stony Ridge Winery– received two Silver medals for 2010 Chardonnay and 2008 Trifecta blend and two Bronze medals for the Sparkling Malvasia Bianca and 2009 Zinfandel
  • Tamas Estates– in addition to the Double Gold for the 2009 Double Decker red blend, also got Gold for the 2009 Sangiovese Reserve and two Silvers for the 2010 Pinot Grigio and 2009 Zinfandel
  • Thomas Coyne Winery– showed off with the Best of Class for the 2008 Quest Rhone blend, plus a Gold for the 2008 Petit Verdot and two Bronze medals for the 2009 Quest Rhone blend and 2008 Mourvedre
  • Wente Vineyards– in addition to the Best in Class for the 2009 Nth Degree Syrah, plus two Golds for the 2009 Merlot and 2007 Merlot and three Silvers and 2 Bronze medals
  • Wood Family Vineyards– was awarded a Gold medal for the 2009 Muy Bueno Zinfandel, Silver medals for the 2010 Chardonnay and 2008 Madden Ranch Syrah and Bronze for the 2009 Hansen Ranch Zinfandel
Congrats to three of the newer wineries in Livermore, 3 Steves Winery picked up two Bronze medals for their Chardonnay and Cab, TateDog Wines got a Golds for their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and Silver for their Wanless Chardonnay, and Rigg Estate Vineyards captured a Bronze medal for their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The public is invited to the Public Tasting to be held at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco on Saturday, February 18th at 2 – 5 p.m.
For more information:

Santa Clara Valley wineries shine at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition

The Santa Clara Valley appellation consists of 21 wineries concentrated mostly in the southern end of the valley.  But this small collection of wineries scored big at the recent 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, with 13 wineries taking home a collection of 84 medals including 3 Best of Class, 3 Double Golds and 10 Gold medals.  In addition, several wineries outside of Santa Clara Valley won awards using Santa Clara Valley grapes.

Santa Clara Valley is a wine appellation with a long history of wine making and was one of the first premium wine production regions in California.  But during the last few decades the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight” has achieved a premium reputation in the non-wine industries and only recently have wine lovers seen this region achieve a resurgence in winemaking.  Many small boutique wineries have sprung up over the last 10-20 years concentrating on small handcrafted wines that reflect the terroir of this region. 

The 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is the largest competition of American wines and this year included a record breaking 5,600 entries from 1,379 wineries from more than 25 states, judged by 65 prominent wine judges.  The competition is always fierce and as the number of entries grow, it becomes tougher.

Best of Class awards for Santa Clara Valley winemakers went to Martin Ranch Winery for their 2008 Therese Vineyards Syrah, Kirigin Cellars for their 2010 Estate Malvasia Bianca, and J Lohr Vineyards & Wines for their 2009 Los Osos Merlot.  Double Gold medals were won by Jason-Stephens Winery for their 2008 Estate Zinfandel, and Martin Ranch Winery picked up two Double Golds, one for the 2007 Estate Therese Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Therese Vineyards Dos Ninas Vineyard Malbec. 

Other award winners for Santa Clara Valley wineries are:
  • Castillo’s Hillside Shire Winery– picked up numerous awards including a Gold for the 2009 Estate Port-style dessert wine, two Silvers for the 2009 Zinfandel and 2008 Petite Sirah, and three Bronze medals for the 2008 Estate Sangiovese, 2009 Petite Sirah and 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Creekview Vineyards– went home with three Silver medals for the 2010 Arroyo Seco Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel and 2009 Syrah
  • Fortino Winery– captured three Silver medals for the California Pomegranate Fruit Wine, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Charbono
  • Guglielmo Winery– won two Silver medals for the 2008 Barbera and 2008 Charbono, and two Bronze medals for the 2008 Sangiovese and 2008 Estate Zinfandel
  • J Lohr Vineyards & Wines – in addition to the Best of Class Merlot, they also got Gold medals for the 2009 South Ridge Syrah and 2008 Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon and three Silvers for the 2010 Carol’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Carol’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Jason-Stephens Winery– came home with a truckload of 15 awards including the Double Gold for the 2008 Zinfandel, Gold for the 2008 Estate Syrah, eight Silvers for 2006 Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Estate Select Chardonnay, 2007 Estate Rhone Blend, 2007 Estate Merlot, 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Estate Meritage.  Plus they earned five Bronze medals for the 2010 Estate Chardonnay, 2007 Estate Syrah, 2007 Estate Select Syrah, 2008 Estate Merlot and 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Kirigin Cellars– besides the Best of Class Malvasia Bianca, two Silver medals for the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, plus four Bronze medals for the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Zinfandel, 2008 Estate Pinot Noir and NV Estate Red blend
  • Martin Ranch Winery– the top honors for the Best of Class Syrah and two Double Gold medals Cab and Malbec, plus Gold for the 2009 Therese Vineyards Carignane, and JD Hurley 2008 Merlot plus Silver for both the 2010 JD Hurley Sauvignon Blanc and 2009 JD Hurley Zinfandel
  • Sarah’s Vineyard– won a Gold medal for the 2010 Santa Cruz Chardonnay, six Silver medals for the 2009 Central Coast Chardonnay, 2010 Central Coast Chardonnay, 2010 Estate Chardonnay, 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, 2009 Estate Cote de Madone Rhone Blend and 2008 Charbono, plus three Bronze medals for the 2010 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, 2007 Merlot and 2010 Central Coast Pinot Noir
  • Satori Cellars– got two Golds for the 2009 Merlot of the Violet Flame and 2009 Estate Joyous Reserve Bordeaux Blend, two Silvers for the 2009 Estate Zen-Zin, 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon of the Blue Hand and Bronze for the 2009 Estate Oh So Zin  
  • Solis Winery– captured a Gold medal for the 2009 Seducente, Silver for the 2007 Reserve Cara Mia Bordeaux Blend, and three Bronze medals for the 2010 Estate Chardonnay, 2009 Estate Sangiovese and 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Storrs Winery– picked up two Silver medals for the 2008 Central Coast Zinfandel and the 2009 Late Harvest Reserve Zinfandel
  • Sycamore Creek Vineyards & Winery– won four Silver awards for the 2009 Merlot, 2008 Estate Uvas Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Estate Flagship Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Mosaico Bordeaux blend, plus two Bronze for the 2009 Zinfandel and 2008 Petite Sirah
  • Travieso Winery– earned a Silver for the 2009 El Chupacabras Red Wine
The public is invited to the Public Tasting to be held at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco on Saturday, February 18th at 2 – 5 p.m.
For more information:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

UNWINED Wine Bar and Shop under new ownership

Six years ago Dan and Leticia Pascal opened UNWINED, a new wine shop and wine bar deep in Almaden Valley in San Jose.  Over those years UNWINED has become a favorite for winelovers in this southern end of San Jose.  Dan says, “We want to thank everyone for their support during these years.  We will always cherish the great memories, the people we have met and the friendships that we have developed.”

On January 10 UNWINED opens under new ownership.  Rory and Anna Chitwood and Danielle Metz, the new owners, plan on continuing the friendly service, great music and wide selection of fine wines that customers have come to expect over the years.  Danielle has worked at UNWINED for several years and a patron since it opened.  She and Anna have been teachers at a local elementary school and Rory has been at Apple for over 20 years.  Rory and Anna are long-time residents of Almaden Valley.  Rory says, "UNWINED continues to be your favorite local wine bar and we are anxious to meet you and welcome you to our shop."

UNWINED provides its patrons with more than just great wine.  Three wide-screen TV’s provide the latest sports entertainment via satellite.  The best of Jazz is always playing in the background and on Thursday and Saturday evenings; live bands provide the entertainment while the experienced bartenders serve up the drinks.  Local artists and photographers display their works on the walls and occasional art shows provides the patrons with the chance to meet the artists!

The outdoor patio provides patrons with a great venue to sample some great wines while watching the world go by during warmer days.

Now you are drinking your delicious wine, listening to some great jazz, socializing with your local friends, and watching the Sharks win on the wide screen TV.  What goes better with wine than food?  UNWINED offers you a wide selection of cheese plates, tapas, lasagna, salads, Panini sandwiches, desserts and more.  Every Tuesday afternoon is happy hour with special menu items and discounts.

Wine lovers will find approximately 300 labels on the wall of the wine shop, while behind the bar, 50 different wines are always on the menu.  At UNWINED if you are not sure whether the wine in the shop is what you want, there is a great chance that it is currently available at the bar so you can taste before you buy that bottle.  Not sure what wine is right for your occasion?  Check with the bartenders for help in selecting the right bottle for that special dinner or event.  UNWINED also has a wide selection of wine accessories to enhance your in-home tasting adventure.

Be sure to stop by on Wednesday evenings when UNWINED host special tasting events, featuring a selected winemaker, wine style or wine region.  This is the perfect chance to learn more about a winery or wine style since often the winemaker is pouring the wine!

Join the UNWINED Wine Club for a truly exciting tasting experience.  The UNWINED Wine Club is unique from the standard Winery Wine Clubs.  For each 6 week release the tasting crew will sample almost 100 wines to select the right wine for the UNWINED

For more information:

Nottingham Cellars scores high in Wine Enthusiast


Nottingham Cellars continues to shake up the wine world with several wines listed in the December 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast journal.  Nottingham’s winemaker Collin Cranor has already captured 26 wine awards this year at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition and the Best of the Bay awards.  He even captured the Judge’s Best award at the Livermore Valley Taste of Terroir.  Now the wine press, in particular, the journal Wine Enthusiast, has awarded more accolades on this Livermore Valley winery.

The Nottingham Cellars 2008 Supremacy, a Bordeaux blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 11% Petite Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 7% Malbec captured 90 points from Wine Enthusiast.  The reviewers stated that “Supremacy is young winemaker Collin Cranor’s showcase of what the right fruit and right winemaking in Livermore Valley can do with the right vision.”   The price is $40.  Note that Supremacy is one of only a handful of Livermore Valley wines that have reached that 90+ scale from the major wine journals.


Nottingham Cellars 2009 Del Arroyo Vineyard Chardonnay captured 89 points in Wine Enthusiast.   This 2009 Chardonnayfrom Livermore Valley is a none-oaked Chardonnay, fermented and aged in stainless steel.  It has a brisk acidity and great minerality, delivering flavors of apple and pear.  This is a great summer wine for only $18.

The 2009 Livermore Valley Black Label Petite Sirah from Nottingham Cellars walked away with an 87 point award from Wine Enthusiast.  This wine shows you why Petite Sirah is the Livermore Valley grape.  The fruit is from the high quality Casa De Vinas vineyard in Livermore.  It starts with a dark inky color followed with the aromas and flavors of dark fruit, black cherry, chocolate, and rich ripe tannins.  It shows deep complexity and a wonderful combination of flavors that continue on forever.  The price is $32

The tasting room, located at 2245C South Vasco Road across from Lawrence Livermore Labs, is in an industrial office park where you will spy their flags out front as you drive along Vasco.  They are open Friday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Stop by to taste this bit of Livermore.  Parking is easy so stop by for some award-winning wines.

For more information:

McGrail Vineyards wins top honors in San Francisco Chronicle with best red wine

On January 6, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition announced the results of the 2012 competition and the 2008 Livermore Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from McGrail Vineyards and Winery in Livermore Valley is the Red Wine Sweepstakes winner.  The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is the largest competitions of American wines in the world with over 5,500 entries.  As a Sweepstakes winner, all 65 judges from throughout the wine industry and the country voted on this wine, selecting it as the best red wine of the year. 

The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is produced from handpicked fruit on the McGrail estate along Greenville Road in Livermore.  It is barrel aged for 30 months in 70% new oak, a blend of American, French and Hungarian wood.  This sophisticated wine delivers lush dark fruit, baking spices, vanilla, and soft tannins that continue on to the long warm finish.

McGrail is a family owned winery that specializes in estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  Jim and Ginger McGrail planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon on their property in 1999 and originally sold the fruit to local high end wine producer.  By 2005 McGrail started production of 1000 cases of wine per year.  They finished their new winery in April, 2008 and in September 2009 they hired Mark Clarin as their winemaker.  Great grapes, perfect location and a leading winemaker have resulted in McGrail reaching new heights in Cabernet Sauvignon.

The honor of winning the 2012 Sweepstakes award in the San Francisco Wine Competition not only shows the success of McGrail Vineyards and Winery but of the quality that is coming from the Livermore Valley today.

Be sure to come to the annual Public Tasting for the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition at Fort Mason Center on Saturday, February 18th.

For more information:

Big Dog Vineyards – San Francisco Bay

A visit to Big Dog Vineyards really starts miles away as you leave Silicon Valley and start the climb up Calaveras Road.  You are leaving the tensions of the valley behind you as you drive past the Ed R. Levin County Park.  Here you might spy a hiker along the trails, bicyclists along the road or an equestrian negotiating the bridal path.  As you continue several horse ranches, keep an eye out for a hawk or owl in the trees along the side of the road.  While it is tempting to follow Calaveras further into the back country of Santa Clara County, turn right onto Felter Road as it winds around the hills overlooking Santa Clara Valley.  Watch for the sign pointing to Big Dog Vineyards on the left.  Up along the narrow drive past yet another horse ranch you will round the bend where you are looking down upon the San Francisco Bay and you finally spot the acres of vineyards nestled up on the hillside above a beautiful home.  Welcome to Big Dog Vineyards!

Mark Capalongan, owner and winemaker at Big Dog Vineyards, moved to this area many years ago to get to the country.  When local winemakers suggested that he plant grapes on the hillsides he checked with UC Davis and soil analysis came back saying that this rocky, limestone, well-drained hilltop was an ideal area for Cabernet Sauvignon.  Planting on a hilltop location is not only expensive, but hard work as well.  But the result is a rugged 5-acre vineyard flowing up the steep slope that is reminiscent of vineyards you might see in parts of Europe.  Grapevines need to undergo intense growing conditions to produce grapes with an intensity of flavors and these vines on the dry windy hilltop certainly are pushed in their environment to achieve excellent results.  There is a significant bay influence with afternoon breezes to help reduce mildew problems, but generally these grapes face dry heat on the western facing slope with minimal watering.  But in this location, climate is not your only worry; the hillsides house many critters that enjoy a juicy grape or tasty grape leaf, including birds, wild turkey, deer and raccoons.  In fact Mark had to design a special electric fence to keep out some of the visitors!

The tasting room is open the first weekend of every month.  Mark, his wife and several friends will push back the barrels in the winery to make room for the tasting bar and displays.  Besides the tasting room tucked in behind the garage, there is a patio area outside where you can look up to the vineyards climbing up the hillside behind.  Also note that this is a dog-friendly winery, as you can imagine from the name.  The original St. Bernard has left us but Mark’s new Great Dane puppy has taken his place and soon will be the Big Dog.  While this writer was visiting, several visitors had brought their dogs along for the afternoon, picked up a glass of wine from the tasting bar and retired to the patio to enjoy the afternoon.  The attentive tasting room staff brought samples of current releases for them to try.

While Big Dog Vineyards is primarily famous for their Cabernet Sauvignon, they are expanding to other varietals which you can taste including a Zinfandel from Paso Robles.  While not yet released (will be released in March), you might also get to taste a barrel sample of the 2010 Chardonnay from Santa Cruz Mountains.  Big Dog will also be releasing a 2010 Syrah from Dry Creek Valley and a 2010 Merlot from Santa Cruz Mountains.  But the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Estate Cabernet Franc are the highlights of the visit.  They have also released a dessert wine produced in a port style from the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2007 Estate Cabernet Franc is produced from the grapes growing behind the tasting room and delivers a nice complex of dark fruit including cherry and raspberry with a spiciness and black pepper quality that makes it wonderful for a summer BBQ or roasted meat.  The price is $29.50 per bottle and just recently this wine captured a Bronze medal from the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  This is the second year that the Big Dog Cabernet Franc was an award winner in this competition.

The 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon won Gold at last year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and is a handcrafted wine aged for 3 years in American and French Oak delivering a great complexity of aromas and flavors of dark fruit, black cherry, licorice and a long finish.  The price is $28 per bottle

The 2007 Big Dog Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Dessert Wine picked up Silver at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and has a great balance of fruit and sweet, delivering a nice warm finish that you will love.  The price is $18.50 per 375 ml bottle.  Note that the 2007 Cabernet Franc Dessert Wine last year won Best of Class at the 2011 SF Chronicle Wine Competition so Big Dog does know how to make good dessert wines.

Visiting Big Dog Vineyards high atop the hillside is like visiting family.  Mark and his family and friends will welcome you to the tasting room and tell you about the story of the winery, how they hand pick the wines from the hillsides above the winery and the passion that goes into these hand crafted wines.  Take some time to view the many awards that these wines have already earned and taste the wines, surrounded by the American Oak barrels where the next vintage is waiting for you.  The tasting room is open the first weekend of every month so stop by.

For more information: