Sunday, March 28, 2010

Barrel tasting experience in Livermore Valley

On March 20-21 the Livermore Valley winemakers invited visitors to their annual Barrel Tasting event. This is an opportunity for wine lovers to check out some soon-to-be-released wines and to learn more about how a wine matures in the barrel.

At one Deer Ridge Winery the visitors tasted two new port-like wines being developed, a tawny port and a ruby port. Deer Ridge has a “Name the Wines” Contest for visitors to suggest names for these two new wines. Winners receive 3 bottles of the wine and bragging rights! Tasters were also lucky enough to sample these two ports, along with Deer Ridge famous Moonstruck Bordeaux-style Meritage, with cookies made with a secret recipe that used Moonstruck in the recipe. Overall this was a delicious tasting experience.

Murrieta's Well Winery provided a chance to taste three wines that will soon be released in the lower level of their historic tasting room. The 2007 Zarzuela is an interesting blend of Tempranillo, Touriga, Petite Sirah and Souzao. The Touriga and Souzao are Portuguese varietals, Tempranillo is a Spanish varietal and Petite Sirah originated from France. They also had a 2008 Malbec made with grapes grown adjacent to the tasting room, and a 2007 Petit Verdot. All three wines were delicious but the Petit Verdot particularly stood out as ready to drink with an intense aroma and black berry flavors.

Next we visited the new Nottingham Cellars on Vasco Road. This, the newest winery in Livermore Valley presented another unique opportunity in barrel tasting. While Deer Ridge focused on a port-style dessert wine, and Murrieta Wells brought out three soon to be released red wines, Nottingham gave you the chance to see how different barrels can result in different aromas and flavors of the wine.

First we tasted a 2009 Malbec, one taste from wine aging in 2-year-old barrel and a second from wine aging in a 3-year-old barrel. The wine aged in the 3-year barrel was definitely smoother. Moving on to a Cabernet Sauvignon we got to see how the same wine tastes in a French oak barrel versus an American oak barrel. The wine in the French oak barrel was sharper while the American oak barrel was more balanced and mature and ready to drink now. We also tasted a 2009 Petite Sirah in both French and American oak barrels with the same results.

Barrel tasting is a great chance to meet the winemakers, sample wines at different stages of development and learn more about the steps the winemakers go through to make sure that the wine is delivered to the customer at its peak.

For more info: 
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Napa Cellars - Napa quality, value priced

In today’s economy, wine consumers are constantly searching for quality wines at value prices. Napa Cellars certainly fits that bill, releasing a foursome of “back-to-basics” quality Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, produced in a traditional Napa style but with prices under $30. You will even find that their tasting fee at their Napa tasting room is lower than most Napa Valley wineries!

Napa Cellars was originally founded by Rich Frank (Frank Family Vineyards) and Koerner Rombauer (Rombauer Vineyards), two of the most well-known winemaking families in Napa. In 2006 they became part of the Trinchero Family Estates group who was named this year by Wine Enthusiast magazine as the American Winery of the Year. They continue their tradition of classic quality Napa Valley wines reflecting the character of the valley. The winemaker, Joe Shirley, has been with the Trinchero family for many years.

The California Wine Examiner tasting panel sampled the mighty foursome with the following comments.

Napa Valley 2008 Chardonnay was sourced from select vineyards in the southern Napa Valley, including Yountville and Oak Knoll districts. The common comment from most panel members was the Rombauer-like character of the wine. Aromas of green apple are evident along with some citrus qualities. On the palate it is full bodied and smooth, but not buttery, adding in additional flavors of melon, pear and peach along with spices of clove and leading on to a medium long pleasant finish. Suggested retail price is $24.
The Napa Valley 2007 Merlot is also from grapes grown in the southern areas of Napa Valley. The bouquet has a pleasant, subtle intensity of dark berries, some chocolate, tobacco and mint. The dark berry flavors, bakers chocolate, plum and blueberry shown through on the palate. It exhibited a tartness bite that showed that it was still a bit young. It was interesting that about half of the tasting panel felt this was a very good wine, while the other half felt that, while it as good, it was not as good a value as the others. Suggested retail price is $22.

The 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is produced with grapes from St. Helena, Oak Knoll and Rutherford in the center of Napa Valley. This has the classic Cab aromas of currant, cassis, black cherry, caramel and peppery spices. The same fruit qualities were apparent in the flavors along with anise, vanilla and raspberry. In the mouth, there was a bit of a dusty character that shows its central Napa Valley source. Some on the panel detected an herbaceous/veggie quality. It has a medium long dry finish. Suggested retail price is $26.

The Napa Valley 2007 Zinfandel was a favorite of all on the panel. This wine has a dark rich purple color and a nose of plum, blackberry, raisin, prune, pepper and some tobacco. It was a joy to drink with a typical Zinfandel jammy texture full of dark fruit, dry prunes and a long finish. A couple panel members said that Zinfandel was not their favorite varietal, but they really liked this Zin. It is very easy to drink. Suggested retail price is $22.

The Chardonnay and Zinfandel were particular favorites for all, yet many also championed the Merlot and Cab. All of the wines are on their shopping lists due to the quality of the wine combined with its cost.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Passport Weekend - individual winery events

Santa Clara Valley wineries are opening their doors on Saturday and Sunday, March 27-28 for Passport Weekend. The $30 Passport not only gives you a chance to meet the winemakers and sample their wines, but this year, that same $30 Passport is good for both the Spring and the Fall Passport Weekends! Here is your advance information on what each winery is going to offer this weekend. 
  • Aver Family Vineyards – check out their wines at D’Vine Jazz and Wine in Morgan Hill where they will be pouring their three current releases (Cab, Syrah and Rhone blend) plus a preview of their very limited production of the Durell Chardonnay. Stop by between noon and 5:00 p.m. each day.
  • Casa de Fruta – gift items provided to each Passport holder
  • Castillo’s Hillside Shire Winery – wild game feed and entertainment
  • Cinnabar Winery – A special pouring for the visitors to compare and contrast a 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay to a 2007 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay, and a 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir to a 2007 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir.
  • Clos La Chance Winery – pouring four wines to pair with food, Chardonnay Prosciutto with melon, Syrah with BBQ Port, Cabernet Sauvignon with BBQ Tri-tip, and Late Harvest Semillon with white chocolate covered sweets.
  • Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards – cheese and wine tasting and their Proprietor’s Flight tasting is complimentary for all Passport holders.
  • Creekview Vineyards – in addition to BBQ tri-tip sliders, Saturday has live music with Johnny Fingers, a solo blues guitarists, and Sunday live music from Just Picked, a bluegrass artist.
  • Fortino Winery – Gino’s Pulled Port Sliders, Belgique Truffle Gateau and Maribella specials
  • Guglielmo Winery – serving tri-tip sandwiches and a table of condiments from the tasting room, plus a special barrel tasting, live music and special pricing on select wines.
  • Heart’s Fire Winery – 25% off wine purchases
  • J Lohr Vineyards and Wines – barrel tasting of Chardonnay along with a wine and chocolate pairing. Selected organic chocolates from Snake & Butterfly Chocolate will be matched with three J Lohr Estates wines. A library vintage of J Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon will also be available for Passport holders.
  • Jason-Stephens Winery – sampling of 4 wines, tacos, truffles and spiced pecans, plus live music and barrel tasting. Also, 30% discounts to Passport holders on case purchases.
  • Kirigin Cellars – Vino de Mocha Ice Cream Sundaes
  • Mann Cellars – pouring a selection of Mann Cellars wines at Westside Grill on Saturday and at D’Vine Jazz & Wine in Morgan Hill on both days
  • Martin Ranch Winery – offering six wines on the tasting table along with two very limited wines, a Santa Clara Valley Malbec and a Santa Clara Valley Grenache which will be paired with a special appetizer or dessert. Plus, there is special Passport pricing on the wines being poured.
  • Morgan Hill Cellars – cheese tray, salmon spread, lemon artichoke spread, hummus, ratatouille, Italian meatballs, cheesecake, chocolate fountain and fresh strawberries
  • Satori Cellars – various food dishes both days and live music all day Sunday
  • Solis Winery – live music, food and barrel tasting
  • Team Zin – tasting their new release 2007 Alexander Valley Zinfandel and serving with Santa Maria Tri-tip chili with all the fixings.
For more information:

Santa Clara Valley Wineries - Passport weekend March 27-28

The 25 Santa Clara Valley wineries are opening their doors to visitors on Saturday and Sunday, March 27-28 for Passport Weekend. This year the same passport you purchase for the Spring Passport Weekend can be used in the fall for the Passport Weekend being held the first weekend of October! This is a great opportunity for visitors to sample the great wines found here locally in Santa Clara Valley. And, since the passport is good for the entire year, you will be enjoying different vintages in the fall than you find in the wineries this month!
The passport costs only $30 and gives you access to events and wines not normally available to visitors. In addition to the souvenir wine glass, you will also enjoy at the various wineries barrel tastings, BBQs, winery tours, antipasti, music and special tastings.
Wineries participating in Passport Weekend include:
You can purchase your passport at any participating winery, the Gilroy Visitors Bureau, or the Gilroy or Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce. Be sure to tell them that you heard about it from the San Jose Wine Examiner!
For more information:
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend - March 20-21

Livermore Valley wineries are presenting their annual Barrel Tasting Weekend on March 20-21, Noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. Over 25 wineries are offering samples of wines still in development—direct from their barrels. Guests with special event wristbands and official glasses will receive at least one barrel sample at each participating winery. Many winemakers will be present to personally pour and discuss their young wines and offer delicious pairings with gourmet appetizers, artisan cheeses, chocolate and nuts. Live music and special events are planned at several wineries.

Barrel tasting provides wine enthusiasts of all experience levels with a fun “snapshot” of how wine evolves—from grape to glass. Guests will have the opportunity to pre-purchase some of the barrel wines at a discount, before they are bottled and released to the public (a practice known as buying “futures”). Thirteen different varietals, including the rare Primitivo and Alicante Bouschet and ever-popular Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, will be offered for tasting across the region.

The costs are $25 per person when purchased online at by March 19, or $35 per person at any participating winery during the event. The price includes at least one barrel tasting at each participating winery, one official tasting glass and a map of participating wineries.

Livermore Valley is not only one of the oldest winegrowing regions in California, but also located in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, making it convenient for a weekend in the country sampling great wines. 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 also captured America's first international gold medal for wine in 1889 at the Paris Exposition, putting California on the world wine map. Livermore Valley wineries were the first to bottle varietal labeled Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah. Nearly 80% of California's Chardonnay vines trace their genetic roots to a Livermore Valley clone

Wineries participating in the Barrel Tasting weekend include the following. For more information on events at specific wineries and their location check on the Winery Activity Guide.
For more information:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Calafia Cellars Red Table Wine

Calafia Cellars is a small hidden gem in Napa Valley. Winemaker Randle Johnson has extensive knowledge of winemaking in Napa Valley, first working for Souverain Winery as a viticulturist and later as winemaker for award-winning Stags’ Leap Vineyard and currently a winemaker for the Hess Collection. Calafia is his personal brand where he makes his wonderful Bordeaux blend.

The name Calafia is derived from a legend about a queen and her society of amazons on an island in the West Indies that was recorded in the log of Columbus’ first voyage. This legend was made popular by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo in his novel published in 1503 in which he named the queen “Calafia.” When explorer Hernado Cortez landed in Baja in 1513 he was reminded of the rugged terrain described in Montalvo’s book and believing it Baja was such an island, he named it “Calafia’s Land” which later becomes California. According to legend Calafia’s great wealth was guarded by griffins which were half eagle and half lion. Calafia Cellars use these same griffins on their logo, protecting the fruit of the vines.
The 2005 Calafia Red Table Wine is a Bordeaux blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. The blend is produced from grapes from five different vineyards in the premium areas of Napa Valley, including Mt. Veeder, St. Helena, Spring Mountain and Yountville. After fermentation the wine was aged in 50% new and 50% used French oak barrels for 30 months. The intense delightful nose is brimming with concentrated aromas of blackberry, dark fruit and cassis with a touch of licorice, pepper and allspice. The flavors live up to the promises of the aromas, delivering the same dark fruits with pepper and clove spices and a touch of dark chocolate. The wine has great depth and balance, leading on to a long rich finish. It is ready to drink now, but if you can possibly restrict yourself from drinking this wonderful wine now, it can age for 5-7 years.

For more info:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pinot Paradise - Santa Cruz Mountains Pinots in Campbell, March 28

The Santa Cruz Mountains wineries are bringing their best Pinot Noir to Villa Ragusa ballroom in Campbell in historic downtown Campbell on Sunday, March 28, for the 6th annual Pinot Paradise event. Over 30 wineries from both the Santa Cruz and Santa Clara sides of the appellation are bringing their finest Pinots to the winelovers of the area. Several vintages will be represented and most of the winemakers will be there to answer any questions you have about this great varietal in the unique mountain coastal region.
There will be silent and live auctions at the event with opportunities to not only purchase these Pinot Noirs, but also other arts & crafts, winery tours and exotic get-aways. The live auction will also have double magnums from each winery, plus the one-of-a-kind Paradise Cuvee, a 5-liter blend of all the best Pinots being poured at the event!

Over ¼ of the planted acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation are planted with Pinot Noir, mostly on the cooler ocean side of the mountains where the cool nights and mild days concentrate the flavors in the fruit. The ocean influence and fog is what distinguishes the Santa Cruz Mountains as an ideal place for this grape. In addition, the long growing season and slow ripening result in complex flavors of these wines.

The Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir has also found their place in the hearts and palates of wine judges around the world. Almost a dozen of the wines have scored over 85 points in Wine Enthusiast along with many top ratings from Wine Spectator and other journals. The San Francisco Chronicle annual wine competition consistently awards top awards to Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir.

The weekend events also include a self-guided Pinot Pathways tour on Saturday, March 28 offering the opportunity to taste barrel samples, library wines and verticals at a select group of wineries. Pathways tickets are $25.

Sunday, March 28 features an all day Pinot immersion at Villa Ragusa in Campbell, beginning with a Technical Session at 9:00 a.m. where winemakers will explore the climate and geography of the top Pinot Noir areas in Santa Cruz Mountains. The Grand Cruz Tasting is from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. featuring Pinot Noir from 35 Santa Cruz Mountains wineries paired with gourmet food from local restaurants.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Temecula Valley World of Wine barrel tasting weekend - March 6-7

Join with the Temecula Valley winemakers as they open their cellar doors to the 19th annual winter barrel tasting weekend, the World of Wine (WOW) on March 6-7. There are 27 participating wineries in this annual event offering tank and barrel tastings of future vintages, plus tastings of currently released wines and complementary food pairings. Ticket holders also receive a souvenir glass.

Temecula Valley between Riverside and San Diego along I-15 is Southern California’s wine region. The Temecula viticultural area (AVA) was established in 1984 and currently has 1,300 acres of vines planted. During much of the 19th century, Southern California was the heart of the winemaking industry in California before most of the industry moved to Central and Northern California. In the late 1960’s to early 1970’s wine growing began to make a comeback in Temecula Valley, and it has been growing since that time.
The valley sits at an elevation of 1500-2500 feet above sea level with high daytime temperatures moderated by cooling ocean breezes sweeping over the coast range in the evenings. A wide range of varietals are found here, including cooler climate Chardonnays to moderate climate Cabernet Sauvignon to warm climate Syrah and Sangiovese.

The weekends in Temecula Valley can be busy as the wine lovers in Southern California swarm to the valley to sample the great selection of award-winning wines. The wineries are friendly with staff ready to help you select the wines you desire. Visiting the wineries is easy following the loop up Rancho California Road and crossing over to De Portola Road. The town of Temecula has some nice restaurants and lodging.
For tickets to World of Wine Weekend contact the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association.