Saturday, March 26, 2011

Clautiere Vineyards visit California Cafe Palo Alto for 5 Bites Friday

California Café’s 5-Bites Friday featured wines from Clautiere Vineyards in Paso Robles on Friday, February 25.  Clautiere Vineyards was founded in 1999 by the team Claudine Blackwell and Terry Brady, who brought together their creative skills as fashion designer, welder, landscape designer and restaurant owners.  They purchased a 145 acre ranch and converted the farm house into a colorful tasting room/gift shop/commercial kitchen.  A visit to Clautiere is a trip to fantasy as these two “Directors of Fantasy” strive to make it a memorable event.  The property is decorated with metal sculptures and mosaics by Claudine.  The old barn has been converted to a theater used by bands and entertainers to perform during parties and other events.

Mark Pettyjohn, executive chef at California Café, put together a five course menu that paired with three wines from Clautiere plus a sparkling and dessert wine.  5-Bites Friday began with the 1st Bite of Honey Grilled Papaya and Pineapple Salad that had frisse lettuce and kumquat-mint crème fraiche.  This was paired with the Yulupa Cuvee Brut.  This sparkling had the acidity that paired well with the creaminess and freshness of the salad.

The 2nd Bite was a lobster butter poached shrimp with a ginger-tomato salsa and carmelized salsify.  It was paired with the 2007 Clautiere Estate Roussanne.  The Roussanne is light bodied with aromas and flavors of tangerine, lemon, melon and tropical fruits.  It has a light toastiness and buttery quality.  There were not the butter flavors you might expect for this dish and, while the wine and the food were good, the pairing did not really show of the wine as much as it should.

For the 3rd Bite we were treated to a mushroom barley Risotto with candied bacon and crispy brussel sprouts.  It was paired with the 2005 Clautiere Estate Mourvedre.  This was an excellent wine with aromas of forest floor, toast and dark fruits.  The flavors included plum, blackberry and boysenberry with a meatiness texture and a bacon quality on the finish.  This paired very well with the Risotto.  The food cut back on the earthiness of the wine and made the fruits shine through.  It was an excellent example of what food and wine pairing is all about.

With the 4th Bite they served a coffee encrusted pork loin that had a coating of crushed coffee beans, sugar and spice.  The dish included a purple sweet potato and raspberry gastique.  The wine was the 2005 Clautiere Estate Grenache.  The Grenache had an intense aromatic nose of strawberry and raspberry.  On the palate you were introduced to a wonderful blend of spices including pepper, cinnamon and vanilla.  The well-structured tannins lead to a very pleasing finish with a touch of pepper on the end.  This wine paired very nicely with the pork loin, bringing out the fruitiness of the wine and enhancing the pepper slightly. 

For the last course, the 5th Bite we enjoyed a delicious fried Cherry-Mascarpone Cheesecake with blackberry coulis in a crispy spring roll wrapper.  For this course we enjoyed a taste of Mann Cellars Port.  The composition of this included Merlot and Malbec and is from nearby Gilroy in the Santa Clara Valley.  The wine had a very nice blend of fruit and sweetness making it similar to a traditional Portuguese style.  The sweetness of the wine was perfect for pairing with this fried cheesecake dish, enhancing the dark fruit of the wine.
Clautiere's local representative, Lori Smith of Frank-Lin distributors, visited each table and told the visitors about Clautiere's wines.

California Café’s 5 Bites Friday is an event that has been becoming very popular with a great selection of wines and very tasty dishes.  They have just released the schedule for March that includes:
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Travieso Wines - the devil made you do it!

Travieso Winery winemaker Ray Sliter has several new releases, including their first white wine, La Llorona white blend.  Travieso wines have received 90+ point ratings by Robert Parker as well as winning Gold medals and Double Gold medals at other competitions.  It is a hidden gem right here in Campbell in Silicon Valley.  Fans not only remember their intriguing labels and names, but the wonderful wine held within. 

Founders Ray Sliter and Mats Hagstrom started producing wine in Ray’s living room in 2000. Ray is a marine geologist and Mats is a doctor. By 2003 they teamed up with John Pinder at his small winery in Campbell. By 2005 Travieso was a fully bonded winery. They work closely with premium vineyards around California and focus on quality wine production using 30 to 50 percent new French Oak barrels to age the wine for 2 – 3 years.

Each Travieso wine is named after a Hispanic legend.   La Llorona is a Hispanic legend about a beautiful woman named Maria who, in a fit of rage about her ranchero husband, killed her children by throwing them in the river.  She realized what she did and ran down the river searching for them.  Villagers found her body along the river the next day.  But the first night Maria was in the grave, villagers heard the sound of crying down by the river as Maria cried, “Where are my children?”  They saw Maria in her white robe she was buried in weeping through the night.  They called her La Llorona, the weeping woman, and in Mexico children are warned not to go out at night, that La Llorona might snatch then.   

The new 2009 La Llorona Sonoma County white blend has 45% Viognier form Dry Creek Valley, 45% Chardonnay from Russian River Valley and 10% Roussanne.  This wine shows off the floral notes and citrus would expect from such a blend.  It has a nice crisp acidity with taste of citrus and sour apple. 
Travieso introduced a new second brand this year with Traviesito, “Little Trouble”, a 2009 blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  It has an intense nose of smoke, jam and black fruit.  On the palate you will enjoy the flavors of blackberry, blueberry, plum and a variety of spices.  The tannins lead to a pleasant finish.  All this for a price under $20.

Travieso’s El Chupacabras Red Wine is their most famous wine.  Its 2005 vintage got 91 points from Robert Parker.  The 2006 El Chupacabras Red from Santa Barbara County is a blend of Syrah from two vineyards, Grenache and Viognier.  This wine delivers great aromas and flavors of dark ripe fruit including black cherry and blueberry with a medley of spices such as pepper, clove and cinnamon.  The nose has a very pleasant smokiness that is evident of the French Oak that blended all those spices and flavors into such a well-balanced wine.  El Chupacabras, also known as the Goat Sucker, is a legendary creature from Puerto Rico that preys on goats and other animals, leaving the body fully intact, but drained of all their blood.  But is this legend or is there such an animal?  Once was recently said to be spotted in Texas!

The Travieso 2007 El Rey Cabernet Sauvignon from Louvau Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley is a rich quality Cab loaded with smoky cedar, dark fruits, cassis, cranberry and spice.  The wine really opens after some time in the glass, delivering the same dark fruit with cinnamon, clove and all spice.  The wine is aged for 24 months in 50% new French oak resulting in a great California wine with quality you can expect from a fine Bordeaux wine.  In addition to the 24 months of aging, four barrels received extended aging for an additional 12 months. 

The 2005 Amaranta Syrah from Kirk’s Fairview Ranch in Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County continues to show the quality possible from fine Syrah.  Previous vintages have been award winners, and the 2005 won Double-Gold at the 2008 San Francisco International Wine Competition.  You will enjoy the prominent blackberry and raspberry flavors tamed with the toasty quality from the oak and finishing up with pepper and spice.  You will also enjoy the touch of chocolate on the palate.  Amaranta is a character in a play about the Mexico Day of the Dead rituals.  Death has commanded her to weave her own funeral shroud and, once finished, Death will take her away.

For more information:
Travieso Winery

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Corte Riva Vineyards - award-winning wines from a Philippine family Napa Winery

Some Napa winemakers are continuing a family tradition started by their parents or grandparents.  Others are descended from generations of winemakers originally from Italy or France.  And others made a boatload of money in other industries and purchased a Napa winery to enjoy later in life.  But one of the unique wineries in Napa was started by a couple friends who emigrated from the Philippines in the late 1970’s.  They did not bring with them a winemaking tradition, but they did come with a strong philosophy of hard work, dedication and a belief in the American dream. 

Lawrence Cortez and Romel Rivera initially arrived in different parts of California but began a friendship in the Calistoga region of Napa County, where they both were literally starting from the ground up working the vineyards tending grapes.  These friends eventually became family with the marriage of Lawrence to Romel’s cousin Nieves.  As Lawrence and Romel were working the vineyards they began to experiment making their own wines drawing upon their combined experiences and extensive knowledge they picked up working in the industry.  They knew that the grapes from Napa were special due to the volcanic soil stressing the vines resulting in small, tight, well-structured berry clusters. 
Friends and family encouraged them to create their own winery.  The name Corte Riva is from their two names, Cortez and Rivera.  Friends and family have been extremely important to these two friends during their adventure.  Visiting with them at the home of Lawrence and Nieves, the friends and their family were constructing the magnificent home themselves.  Remember that at the same time, they were building their own winery and each working their other jobs, Lawrence as cellar master at Pride Mountain Vineyards, and Romel as their assistant winemaker.  This hard work and dedication is what allowed them to achieve their American dream. 

At a recent tasting event, they served four of their wines.

The 2005 Merlot is from three high-end vineyards in the Calistoga area.  In reference to the movie Sideways, I remember once seeing a sign at the entrance to Napa Valley that said, “Miles evidently never tasted a Napa Valley Merlot!”   This Merlot definitely shows you what a Napa Valley Merlot can be.  It has an intense nose of dense fruits including blackberry, black cherry and cranberry, along with toast and leather notes.  As you taste the wine these same flavors shine through with spices and a touch of chocolate.  You will love the full bodied style and juicy jammy qualities that lead to a nice long finish.  
This wine won 91 points from Robert Parker and has a price of $50.

Corte Riva 2006 Cabernet Franc is produced with grapes from both Sonoma (65%) and Napa (35%).  This is a wine that provides the flavors and pleasures from the beginning to the end.  Starting as a deep ruby/purple color, you will enjoy the dark fruits, black cherry, menthol and cedar on the nose with a touch of milk chocolate.  As you taste the wine you will experience a wine with a great mixture of dark fruit, spice, pepper, and texture.  The spice is a bit milder than you would normally find on a Cab Franc giving it better balance and complexity than normally found in similar wines.  The long finish continues to provide you with additional flavors.   The price is $50.

The 2005 Corte Riva Cabernet Sauvignon also has a blend of Sonoma (29%) and Napa (71%) fruit.  The Napa grapes are from the Cargile Vineyard and Sonoma grapes come from Carneros.  The powerful nose delivers a nice blend of dark fruit, spice, earthiness and a bit of herbaceous notes.  The complexity of flavors continues to deliver, leading to a medium plus finish.  This wine was rated 93 points from Robert Parker and has a price is $65.

We finished up the night with a 2005 Petite Sirah.  This wine is a blend of grapes from Lake County (70%) and Napa’s Solari Vineyards (30%).  Lake is well known for producing Petite Sirah grapes that result in high class wines.  This is another wine rated highly by Robert Parker who gave it 92 points.  While the nose was not as intense as this reviewer has found for other Petite Sirah’s, it really came through on the palate with raspberry, black cherry, blueberry, licorice and smoke.  The spiciness was very rich and really struck the back of your throat, delivering pepper, cinnamon, clove and even some leather.  It has a complex finish and a price of $50.

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Dry Creek Valley Passport - April 29-May 1

Many try to imitate Dry Creek Valley Passport but none have surpassed it.  The winemakers of Dry Creek Valley invited you to attend the 21st annual Dry Creek Valley Passport April 29-May 1.  Dry Creek Valley Passport weekend is truly the best passport weekend for a variety of reasons.  Not only do the wineries welcome visitors with an abundance of wine, food and entertainment, but also since the ticket sales are limited, you will not find yourself waiting in long lines, searching for places to park, or facing heavy traffic.  Dry Creek Valley is a unique California wine region with a plethora of small boutique wineries, located in a bucolic agricultural valley, producing high quality wines.  Passport weekend is a first class experience that is well run and many visitors return year after year to this exquisite event.

More than 45 Dry Creek Valley wineries are rolling out the red carpet for an exclusive weekend of new wine releases paired with a bounty of food from top Sonoma County chefs.  You can meet the winemakers and owners to learn more about winemaking in this picturesque appellation.  Wineries will be offering live music or entertainment.  In past years, this has included circus troupes, belly dancers and safari adventures.  Over the next month, check back with the California Wine Examiner column to see what you can expect at Passport as he reviews events from previous years.

Passport starts out on Friday, April 29 with the Gateway to Passport – A First Class Experience, an elegant evening at the acclaimed Dry Creek Kitchen and Hotel Healdsburg.  Family-owned Dry Creek Valley wineries come together with celebrity chef Charlie Palmer to pair delicious culinary delights with small production Dry Creek Valley wines, all to the sounds of live jazz music.

On Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1, tour throughout the beautiful Dry Creek Valley from 11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. sampling some great wines, while the wineries share music, food, barrel tasting, cave tours and more with visitors.

Tickets are on sale now and they go fast.  The Gateway to Passport event on Friday is only $150 per person.  Tickets for Saturday and Sunday combined are $120 for the two-day passport, or $70 for the Sunday only Passport.

For more information: