Monday, September 15, 2014

Niles Canyon Railway Livermore Valley Wine Tasting Special Concludes Successful 2014 Run




Niles Canyon Railway finished up another highly successful year for the Livermore Valley Wine Tasting Special.  They had five runnings of the special during the summer and most were sold out.  Wine Educator Steve Ferree displayed to the passengers his passion for Livermore Valley wineries.  Each of the five trains had a collection of five different Livermore Valley wines, usually two whites, two reds and a dessert wine.  Each was paired with a cheese personally selected for that specific wine.

The passengers learned much about the history of the Niles Canyon Railway and the history of wine in Livermore Valley.    The Livermore Valley Wine Tasting Specials were a trip through History.  Each of the cars on the train was historic, refurbished by a loving group of volunteers who spend countless hours restoring them.  The route was part of the original Transcontinental Railroad.  Niles Canyon was the link from the main railroad to the San Francisco Bay since 1869.

History is also found in Livermore Valley.  It is one of California's oldest wine regions; the Livermore Valley played a pivotal role in shaping California's wine industry. Spanish missionaries planted the first wine grapes in the Livermore Valley in the 1760s. In the 1840s, California pioneers looking for outstanding vineyard sites began planting grapes in the region. Robert Livermore planted the first commercial vines in the 1840s. Pioneer winemakers C. H. Wente, James Concannon, and Charles Wetmore recognized
the area's winegrowing potential and founded their wineries in the early 1880s.

Livermore Valley captured America's first international gold medal for wine in 1889 at the Paris Exposition, putting California on the world wine map, long before the famous Paris Tasting in 1976 where Napa finally caught up and won an international award. 

Some of the wineries that were represented during the five runnings of the Livermore Valley Wine Tasting Special included:



For more information:




Silver Oak 2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

This is always a great time for Silver Oak wine lovers; the Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
was released recently. And this year they released the 2010 vintage. The year 2010 was an unusually cool year making the winemaking team a bit nervous, but September temperatures rose slightly above average and, while the September 30th beginning harvest was three weeks later than normal, the grapes matured properly for the legendary Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

The grapes were selected from several different Silver Oak vineyards in Alexander Valley, blended and aged in a combination of new and once-used American oak barrels for aging. The wine was aged for 24 months in barrel and 15 months in bottles to produce a finely balanced wine. The wine meets the reputation that the Alexander Valley Cab has maintained over the years. It has a dark garnet color and beautiful aromas of dark berries, cassis, coffee and tobacco. As you taste this wine you will enjoy the same flavors on your palate, drawing out blackberry, blueberry and black cherry. This leads on to a nice long finish with a rich balance of tannins, fruits and spices. As with previous vintages you can expect this wine to continue to deliver quality flavors for another 15 years.

This wine would be a perfect compliment to a meal of roast beef, lamb, veal or venison, particularly those dishes with rich demi-glace sauces, mushrooms and various herbs.

For more information: Silver Oak Cellars

Sharing the Vineyard Table at The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards




The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards celebrated a special four course meal on September 11 featuring menu items from The Restaurant’s former Executive Chef Kimball Jones and the current Executive Chef Matt Greco.  Chef Jones is now the culinary director at Groth Vineyards and Winery in Oakville and guests had the opportunity to pair both Wente and Groth wines with the various dishes prepared by both chefs.  Chef Jones’ wife Suzanne Groth, Owner and Vice President of Sales & Marketing for the family run Groth Vineyards & Winery visited with the patrons to share information about both the culinary treats and the Groth wines.  In addition, Chef Greco and Christine Wente, fifth generation winegrower and President of the Wente Foundation Board were there to visit with the guests.

Wente Vineyards was founded in 1883 by C.H. Wente, an immigrant from Germany who purchased 47 acres in Livermore Valley.  Now, 130 years later this is the oldest, continuously owned, family operated winery in the U.S. with the fourth and fifth generation Wente running the operation.  Groth Vineyards & Winery started in 1982 when South Bay natives Dennis and Judy Groth purchase a 121 acre parcel in Oakville in Napa County.  Dennis had served as CFO and Executive Vice President of consumer products for Atari and eventually President of the International Division at Atari. Groth continued to grow to its current 165 acre sustainably farmed vineyards in Oakville and Yountville, a beautiful California Mission style facility and a solid reputation as a producer of
Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  This family operated winery now has the second generation team, Suzanne Groth as V.P. of Sales & Marketing and Andrew Groth as V.P. of Operation, fully involved in the winery operation.

The “Sharing the Vineyard Table” dinner brought together these two California winemaker families to deliver a taste treat to the patrons.  Chef Jones was happy to have the opportunity to return to The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards and to share in the development of this dinner with Chef Greco. 

The dinner started with a taste of the bubbly, a Brut Sparkling wine from Wente, paired with a delicious cornbread appetizer.  Then the serving team brought out the Jones Farm Fall Fruit Salad created by Chef Jones with Frisee, endive, chicory, Mt. Tam toast and walnut dressing.  This was paired with a 2013 Groth Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley.  The fruit salad was a pleasant blend of fresh flavors and the wine had a wonderful crisp acidity
backbone and citrus/melon blend of flavors with a touch of the veggie qualities found in most Sauvignon Blanc wines.   This was an excellent pairing with the salad providing a focus on the flavors of the wine and also a toning down of the acidity and a delicious finish.

Next up on the menu was a fantastic Shrimp Scampi Ravioli from Chef Greco with saffron, garden tomato, garlic breadcrumb and parsley.  We were lucky enough to be able to pair this delicious dish with three different Chardonnay’s from Wente, California’s First Family of Chardonnay.  the 2012 Wente Nth Degree Chardonnay from Livermore Valley, the 2013 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay from Livermore Valley and the 2013
Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay from Arroyo Seco in Monterey County.  The 2012 Nth Degree Chardonnay is a wonderfully balanced, full-bodied Chardonnay with great flavors of tropical fruit and a touch of spice leading to a long smooth finish.  The Morning Fog Chardonnay is part of the estate grown group of wines.  It has flavors and aromas of green apple, citrus and tropical fruit plus vanilla and cinnamon with a good balance of acidity and mouthfeel.  The Riva Ranch Chardonnay is part of the single vineyard line of wines and has a rich gold color and flavors of honey, apple, citrus, tropical fruit, honey, butter and vanilla.  With this pairing you can see how different wines, produced by the same winemaker but different terroir (vineyard locations) can react differently to the same dish.  With the Nth Degree Chardonnay the ravioli did not have a big effect on the wine, primarily because this was a terrific balanced wine that handled the pairing and came together with the ravioli naturally.  The Riva Ranch Chardonnay had a variety of fruit flavors and the ravioli brought out these fruits significantly.  The Morning Fog Chardonnay saw a nice softening of the acidity, citrus and tropical fruit flavors of the wine when paired with the ravioli.

The next dish was a grilled Porcini Crusted Steak from Chef Jones with greens, parmesan, lemon and Tuscan white beans.  This was paired with a 2010 Groth Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville.  This is a big lush Napa Valley Cab with dark berry flavors, a bit of earthiness and forest floor quality, clove, cassis, black raspberry, cinnamon and a long balanced finish.  When paired with the steak, the combination brought out the fruitiness of the wine and enhanced the finish.

The final culinary treat was “Grandma’s Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake” with late summer berries, and a Macadamia ice cream.  This treat was a collaboration of Chef Jones, Chef Greco and Pastry Chef Melissa Duesler of Wente.  It was paired with a 2010 Murrieta’s Well Touriga Port.  What a delicious way to end the meal with chocolate and port.

The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards has several upcoming events including Chef Demos, Garden Luncheons and Garden Tours.  Check out the Wente events calendar.

For more information:


Wine Tasting at the Livermore Valley Harvest Wine Celebration



Of course, visitors enjoy the music, food and artisan vendors at all the wineries during the Livermore Valley Harvest Wine Celebration, but the primary interest at any of the wineries was to taste the wine!  After visiting several wineries on Sunday, we found many excellent wines being served.


Caddis Wines – Chris and Courtney Sorenson offered three wines for the Celebration, the 2012 Chardonnay, 2010 Syrah and 2010 “Better Together” Red Blend.  There is no shortage of Chardonnay in Livermore Valley, particularly from Del Arroyo Vineyard where these grapes originated.  This Chardonnay stands out for its tropical quality with banana, coconut and fruit nose that continues onto the palate with a grapefruit and orange addition.  This leads on to a long finish for this medium body wine.


Cuda Ridge Wines – Larry Dino shared his 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Merlot and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon to Harvest Wine Celebration wristband holders.  The Sauvignon Blanc was a recent release and is done in an old world style fermented and aged in stainless steel to provide and crisp refreshing style with bold acidity.  You will enjoy the aromas and flavors of grapefruit, pineapple and lime. 


Dante Robere Vineyards – This winery is known for their Estate Syrah and we had the opportunity to sample both the 2012 Syrah and the 2012 Syrah Rose.  The Rose is one of the best in the valley; it has been left on the skins long enough to give it a more reddish color than pink and this also gave it a nice fruity quality of strawberry and rhubarb.  But it still has a nice crisp acidity that makes it a wonderful summer wine.  The Syrah is a medium body with aromas of blackberry, dark cherry, lavender and toast.  On the palate those same fruit flavors are combined with a jam and creamy vanilla quality.  It leads on to a nice soft finish.


Darcie Kent Vineyards – It is always a pleasure to visit Darcie Kent Vineyards, not only for the wines, but for the art as well.  They provided four wines for the Celebration including the 2011 Gruner Veltliner, 2012 Central Coast Chardonnay, 2011 Merlot and 2008 Madden Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Gruner Veltliner from Rava Blackjack Vineyards in Monterey is unique and not often found in wineries around California.  This wine is very popular in Austria and has found many advocates here in the U.S. as well.  It is a nice crisp summer wine that also pairs well with spicy Thai food.  It has a nice nose of peaches and citrus but with a touch of white peach that continues on in the palate with a spice, floral and white pepper quality. 


Eagle Ridge Vineyard – They were serving four of their wines during the event, the 2012 Estate Pinot Grigio particularly stood out.  This is a fantastic dry summer wine with bright acidity and a touch of minerality.  The apple and pear flavors make this enjoyable on its own or with chicken or fish.  On a warm summer day this wine is a life saver and is a nice way to transition from a hard day’s work to a relaxing evening at home.


Longevity Wines – Debra and Phil Long offered us the award-winning 2010 Syrah from nearby Contra Costa County.  The color is a gorgeous deep purple and you will immediate detect the aromas of blackberry, plum and black cherry plus a bit of vanilla and a touch of caramel.  It has a nice pleasant finish with a good balance of tannins.


Nottingham Cellars – This year Nottingham has added two new labels, 1846 which celebrates the year that Robert Livermore first planted commercial wine grapes and Vasco Urbano for their Rhone varietals.  They served their 1846 Chardonnay and 1846 Red Blend to the Harvest Wine Celebration visitors.  The 1846 Chardonnay has only received a short time in the oak barrel and thus retains a lot of the bright acidity and varietal character but still picked up its round body from the barrel.  You will love the green apple and tropical fruit aromas and flavors.


Occasio Wines – The Occasio Sauvignon Blanc has long been a favorite with their customers and the 2012 vintage is no exception.  It has a bright citrus and tropical fruit aromas and flavors with a good amount of crisp minerality and acid.  Again, this is another great summer wine, but is easily paired with food all year long.


Wood Family Vineyards – Rhonda Wood was serving three wines for the event, plus, for an additional fee, two more wines in the winery.  The Estate Merlot (from vines surrounding the winery) has the aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry and plum with a nice touch of vanilla and chocolate.  It also has a nice forest floor quality that reminds you of camping in the Sierras.  Inside we got to sample the Big Wood Zin, 2012 Zinfandel.  This is a heavy duty wine and a real joy to drink with plum and raspberry flavors and aromas topped off with sweet cedar and pepper.  This is like a raspberry maple syrup on your pancakes in the morning.


This was just a sample of the great wines available from Livermore Valley and you are encouraged to visit the wineries of this nearby wine region to see what the winemakers of Livermore Valley have to offer.


For further information:

Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association