The weather is warming up, flowers are blooming, Easter candy is filling the shelves in every store, and suddenly we have to move our clocks forward and lose a precious hour of sleep. It can only mean one thing…spring is coming! As much as you may want to crawl back into hibernation and beg for another 6 weeks of winter, it’s time to face the sunshine and break out of your daily routine! Treat yourself this spring with the much-needed vacation you’ve been dreaming about all winter. What could be better than breathing in the crisp spring air as you soak up the stunning vineyard landscapes & sip on a cool fruity glass of vino? We can’t think of anything more pleasurable. So spring out of your winter rut, and into wine country!
Allison Inn & Spa
Amidst seven acres of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir vineyards in the beautiful Willamette Valley is Allison Inn & Spa, a sophisticated and spacious resort that provides the perfect place to relax in wine country. Rustic yet luxurious, the Allison offers guests a number of modern amenities, including a private terrace or balcony, a warm and inviting fireplace, a spa-like bathroom, and stunning hillside views. You won’t want to leave your cozy room, but be sure to take advantage of their amazing spa and signature restaurant!
Looking for a reason to go on vacation this spring? Trione Vineyards will give you plenty of reasons to celebrate! This year they are celebrating their 10th anniversary as winemakers, 40th anniversary as farmers and managers of Sonoma vineyards, and 80th (!!!!) anniversary of their tasting room in the Old Stone Winery building! Visit the stunning and historic vineyards of Trione in Sonoma and raise a glass to another year of delicious wine…it’s time to celebrate!
Vigilance Vineyards is located at the Southern end of Clear Lake, and is home to the Shannon Family of Wines tasting room. The Shannon family is dedicated to their land, and of their 1,850 acres. Only 35% of their land has been converted to vineyards, the remainder is dedicated to preserving the natural wildlife that shares their home with them. They feel blessed with their beautiful land and wines, and are eager to share it with guests, inviting them to relax on their deck or hike throughout their vineyards. You will feel like a member of the Shannon family on your next visit to Lake County wine country, so plan your visit to Vigilance this spring!
Silverado Vineyards is unlike any other Napa Valley winery, resting at the top of a flat-topped knoll in the Stags’ Leap District. The Mediterranean-style tasting room is a beautiful place to relax and taste their award-winning wines, including the new vintage of SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon released each year to honor the legendary Heritage-Clone Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. Join in on one of their quintessential tasting experiences such as an in-depth Library Tour to learn the Silverado story, a stroll through the vineyards with a wine educator on the Vineyard tour, or a personally guided Silverado Experience tour. Whatever you decide it will be a memorable visit to the Napa Valley!
Wine & Roses
Now that you are dreaming up a spring getaway to Lodi, it’s time to pick the perfect place to stay! Wine & Roses is the ideal romantic destination that will be the cherry on top to your wine country experience. They have a knack for pampering their guests, offering luxurious amenities while still making them feel right at home. Relax and soak up the stunning garden views from the comfort of your room, or venture out into downtown Lodi. Either way, Wine & Roses is the perfect spot to lay your head during your next adventure into Lodi wine country!
Nothing says vacation like an exotic getaway to the Mediterranean, but if a quick rendezvous to Greece isn’t exactly in the cards this spring, Miraflores Winery in Pleasant Valley is the next best thing! The Mediterranean style tasting room—and a few glasses of their award-winning wine—will transport you right to the Mediterranean islands. Their tasting room is filled with a number of unique artifacts dating back to the 16th century, including their fireplace from the Island of Cyprus! Visit today for some much needed R&R this spring…Mediterranean style!
V. Sattui Winery & Italian Market
Don’t stop daydreaming about an Italian getaway just yet…V. Sattui has the intense feel of a small Italian village! Along with their stunning winery building and tasting room, they also have an amazing Italian marketplace where you can find more than 200 artisanal cheeses, house-cured meats, local baked breads, and more! So grab some lunch, a bottle of their exceptional vino, and begin your search for the perfect lunch spot amongst their two acres of picnic grounds. What says springtime like an Italian style picnic in the vineyards?!
Perry Creek Winery
Unique climate, soil, and topography are the recipe for success that makes El Dorado County an ideal winemaking location. With an average elevation of 2,401 ft. within the stunning Sierra Foothills lies Perry Creek Winery, known for their distinctive wines with rich concentrated flavors. With award-winning wines and picturesque views, Perry Creek has just what you need to break out of that winter slump and kick start springtime!
Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards
If Italy is more your style, get into the Italian spirit at Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards! Visit their beautiful Tuscan style Toccata tasting room in downtown Solvang for the ultimate spring getaway. Close your eyes as you indulge in their Italian style varietals and you will instantly transport yourself under the warm Tuscan sun! Buon viaggio!
Oak Farm Vineyards
Just south of the Mokelumne River in northwest Lodi resides the historic 70-acre estate that is home to Oak Farm Vineyards. Guests are welcomed to relax and enjoy a picnic on the 10 acres dedicated solely for their enjoyment. Here you will find yourself in awe of the beauty of the century old oaks, a private lake, and spectacular views. Visit their casual yet sophisticated tasting room and taste their small-lot and single-vineyard varietals that express their truly unique terrior while cozying up to the fireplace or relaxing on their outdoor terrace. Springtime in Lodi is waiting for you at Oak Farm Vineyards!
The following article was provided by our contributing partner – Touring and Tasting Magazine.
Cheers – Ken
Tuscany could be called a triple threat – breathtaking scenery, delicious cuisine, and amazing wines. It’s not hard to see why it’s considered one of the most iconic vacation destinations in the world, especially for wine lovers. But it can be a difficult place to plan a wine vacation.
Most travelers to Tuscany follow the same general itinerary of taking photos in front of the leaning tower of Pisa, walking around the beautiful piazzas of Florence, trying as many flavors of tasty gelato as they can stomach, and drinking luscious Italian wine at a cafe tucked away on a small back street.
But for a true wine fan, why stop at sampling wines and cuisine in the major tourist areas?
To plan a wine vacation, you need to go beyond where the wine is served and get to where the wine is produced. But this isn’t so easy in Italy.
Touring on Your Own
We all know Italians have a reputation for being crazy drivers. And driving on the highways or in big cities can be harrowing. However, often the best way to get into wine country is to bite the bullet, rent a car, and brave driving with the locals. (One good car rental option is Auto Europe.) If you do, you’ll get to experience Tuscany’s spectacular rolling hills, its stunning strade bianche (white-colored dirt roads) stretching as far as the eye can see, and its large tracts of agricultural land spotted with majestic cypress trees.
You’ll also be able to taste Tuscany’s famous Chiantis and Brunello di Montalcinos, as well as its lesser known wines, at the wineries themselves – venues most travelers don’t get to see.
But even once you have a car, visiting Tuscany is not like visiting Napa Valley where you can drive up to almost any winery, walk into a tasting room, and start sampling wines. Many Tuscan wineries are not open to the public or have limited hours of operation. And often wineries are spread out and not in one convenient valley.
Hiring a Local Guide
To get around this, you might consider hiring a wine guide for the day to maximize your time and experience. Tour guides in Italy are licensed by the national government, which generally means they are extremely knowledgeable and professional.
In searching for a local guide, one good option is to ask for a referral from your planned lodging provider or simply to search online for “wine tours” in the region where you plan to travel. You can also check the Complete List of Wine Tour Operators, which you can sort by country.
Joining an Organized Wine Tour
Alternatively, if you really want to participate in a wine vacation, consider an organized wine tour. Group tours have the reputation of being restricting in terms of itinerary, dining choices, and activities. However, tour operators are experienced professionals who know the local area and can generally plan an itinerary that visits the best of the best. In Italy, especially, this planning saves you the hassle of trying to do this on your own.
A good organized tour should also get you into places and in contact with people you would never be able to visit or meet on your own. Anyone can drop into a winery with a tasting room open to the public. Not anyone can visit a winery closed to the public, only open on Tuesdays from 3-6 PM, or requiring an advance reservation with an Italian-speaking office worker.
One of the most under-appreciated aspects of group tours is the incredible camaraderie that develops among the group: travelers and guides included. Guides are often local experts who will translate, explain, enlighten, and charm their way into your heart and help create what will not just be a wonderful trip but a lifelong memory. And your fellow tour companions are usually fun, outgoing, interesting people. Who else signs up for a wine tour?
However you choose to plan a wine vacation in Tuscany, you won’t be disappointed. It is a trifecta of amazing food, wine, and scenery.
Beth Peluse works for Taste Vacations, a luxury travel company that specializes in wine, food, beer, and spirits tours around the globe. Taste Vacations’ Tuscany food and wine tour includes wine tastings, visits to local food producers and sellers, overnights on winery grounds and even truffle hunting in the forests.
Just because Valentine’s Day is over, doesn’t mean the romance has to stop! Keep the sparks flying by showing some love for your one true soul mate who will never let you down …wine! Touring & Tasting has picked out some romantic getaways in wine country that are sure to impress that special someone! Red or white it doesn’t matter, pour a glass and cheers to true love!
Show some love for Zinfandel at Rosenblum Cellars
Rosenblum Cellars is all about the Zinfandel, in fact they love it so much they produce 20 different types of it! Their love for producing high quality Zin is clearly mutual, many of their wines are some of the highest rated and most awarded Zins in California. Rosenblum has two urban tasting rooms that provide the perfect relaxing atmosphere to enjoy their wines. Visit them on your next trip to Jack London Square in Oakland or their tasting room in Healdsburg!
Remember your roots in Livermore Valley
Calling all history buffs, the Livermore Valley wine region has a rich history just waiting to be discovered over a glass of their high quality wine. In 1840, Robert Livermore planted the first commercial winery, and for centuries the Livermore Valley has been making significant contributions to the American Wine Industry. Visit the San Francisco Tri-Valley and take some time to appreciate the roots of the Livermore Valley wine region, and yours too!
Put family first at Van Ruiten Family Winery
Family is everything at Van Ruiten Family Winery, and it all started with a true American Dream success story. John Van Ruiten arrived in the United States after World War II, and made his winemaking dream a reality in the early 1950’s when he purchased his first vineyard. Today, the Van Ruitens farm over 800 acres of grapes, and three generations of the family work together to bring us the high quality wines we know and love today! Show appreciation for their family’s hard work by enjoying a glass of wine while you take some time to remember your own family!
Surprise a loved one with a Balloon Package at Bennett Lane Winery
What says romance more than a hot air balloon ride over the Napa Valley wine country? Bennett Lane has the first winery-branded balloon in Napa Valley! With their partnership with Calistoga Balloons, you can choose from a wide array of packages, from private tour with a reserve tasting flight and limousine service, to a standard tasting and picnic lunch at the winery! Whatever you decide, a balloon tour with Bennett Lane is sure to bring the love to your life this month!
Learn the love story behind Sullivan Wine
It all started with a wedding present given to Jim & Johanna Sullivan in the 1950s. Jim began making wine at home and quickly his skills in winemaking, along with his passion for the craft, began to grow. The Sullivans landed in Rutherford, along a beautiful river in the Napa Valley. Today, their love story remains and they are one of the long-standing family owned and operated wineries in Napa. Visit their beautiful property to taste their exceptional wines, and start a chapter in your own love story!
Spoil yourself and drink like the Queen at Grgich Hills Estate
You deserve to be treated like royalty every now and then, so why not pop the same cork that Presidents Reagan and Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II and French President François Mitterrand choose for their special occasions? Grgich Hills wines are world renowned, and represent the upmost prestige and good taste from the Napa Valley. Any one of their 6 Estate Wines will transport you straight to Paris, and is sure to bring the romance to your evening!
Make The Westin Verasa your home base in Napa
Are you looking for the perfect home base during your next Napa getaway? The Westin Verasa offers a luxurious oasis in an ideal location to make your wine tasting vacation perfect. The contemporary lobby, modern amenities, and cozy atmosphere will make you feel right at home, and the location is the perfect launching pad to all Napa has to offer. This world-class hotel is in the heart of Downtown Napa, offering walking distance to more than 15 wine tasting rooms, as well as a number of well-known restaurants and shopping options!
Toast with some bubbles from Riverbench Vineyard & Winery
Riverbench is at the front the pack when it comes to Santa Barbara Sparkling Wine, and their Jumper Blanc de Blancs was introduced as the first Certified Sustainable Sparkling Wine in Santa Barbara in 2008. Today they have a variety of delicious Sparkling offerings, which can be tasted as a yummy sparkling flight at their tasting room in the Funk Zone of downtown Santa Barbara. Where there’s romance, there’s bubbles, and in Santa Barbara the bubbles are at Riverbench!
Go to great heights for love Mount Aukum Winery
Love is waiting for you 2,615 feet up in El Dorado County at Mount Aukum Winery! The climb up the mountain is more than worth it, not only for the clear air and magnificent views of the Sierra Nevadas and El Dorado County, but also for their wines! Winemaker Michel Prod’hon says their terrior is responsible for their delicious Zinfandels and Rhone varietals, or simply put “Elevation Matters.” Go to great heights for love on your next visit to the Sierra Foothills, a glass of Mount Aukum wine is worth the distance!
Cozy up on the coast at Bodega Bay Lodge
A waterfront bluff, ocean view, private balcony, cozy room, and a wood-burning fireplace…the perfect recipe for a romantic getaway to the Sonoma Coast, and it’s all waiting for you at Bodega Bay Lodge! They offer exceptional and personalized service that will make you feel right at home, while still being completely removed from your busy life with the relaxing atmosphere. Relax on the property, or go out and explore all that Bodega Bay, Tomales Bay and Point Reyes have to offer. Either way, it is sure to be the romantic weekend you’ve been longing for!
The following article was provided by our contributing partner – Touring and Tasting Magazine.
Cheers – Ken
Are you tired of the same ‘ole New Years Resolutions year after year? At the start of the New Year gym parking lots fill up, fridges are full of fruits and veggies, and Pinterest boards light up with “get fit” inspiration. However, come February the gym rats get their front row spots back, your Pinterest board goes back to DIY crafting ideas you’ll never get to, and you find yourself binge eating potato chips while watching the last 10 seasons of Friends (Thanks Netflix). This year, make a resolution you’ll WANT to keep… with wine! Vow to drink more quality wine this year, and practice some self-improvement in the process!
Transport yourself to New Orleans at Rideau Vineyard
Iris Rideau grew up in New Orleans and spent her childhood in a Creole household that has had an important impact on the wines she produces today. Her first language was French, and today she has dedicated her vineyard entirely to Rhone varieties. She hosts winemaker dinners in which she invites guests to taste her hometown with classic Creole dishes that pair beautifully with her exceptional wines. Rideau Vineyard is a beautiful country setting within the stunning Santa Ynez Valley!
Dress to Impress at Cinque Stelle
Winemaking is a family affair at Cinque Stelle, in fact the name, which means “Five Stars” in Italian, represents the five family members and their shared passion for producing high quality wines. They are known for their small-lot wines, with a focus on the Albarino, Tempranillo, Pinot Grigio, and Syrah grapes. These wines can be tasted while shopping around in their women’s clothing boutique for a truly European experience!
Travel in style with Napa Valley Tours
Planning a wine country getaway can be stressful and seem overwhelming; where to start, where to stay, where to eat? Let Napa Valley Tours & Transportation do the planning for you! They offer more than just an impressive fleet of vehicles; instead they provide their guests with a customized wine tasting experience. They realize that each guest has a different set of needs and interests, so they make an effort to talk with you beforehand to truly get a feel for what you’re looking for. Then they use their impressive connections with the finest hotels, restaurants and wineries in the Napa Valley to plan the perfect wine country getaway for you!
Choose quality over quantity at Venteux Vineyard
Venteux Vineyard is the ultimate success story of two families coming together to produce rich, flavorful wines on an intimate scale. Although the number of wines produced may be small, the limited production allows for the quality that Venteux wines are known for. Stop by for the day to taste their delicious single-lot wines, or spend a weekend amongst the vines and take advantage of one of their unique lodging options. Whatever you decide, be sure to visit Venteux on your next visit to Paso Robles!
Give yourself more “me time” at Jamieson Ranch
At the Southern gateway to the Napa Valley resides Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, a 300-acre landscape of jaw-dropping vista views and gently rolling hills. Guests are in awe of the winery’s beauty and friendly ambiance. It resembles a mountain lodge with its high ceilings, large fireplace, and cozy atmosphere. Their impressive portfolio of award winning wines will be the perfect compliment to the relaxing environment, and is the perfect place to cozy up this winter!
Appreciate Napa’s history in Calistoga, CA
Calistoga is a charming little town located in the Northern Napa Valley. It is known for its famous hot springs, world-class wines and small town charm, but it is also rich in a history so untouched that it was named a “Distinctive Destination” by the National Trust of Historic Preservation. A visit to Calistoga is full of stunning Victorian architecture, delicious wines, and a sense of place that is unique to the quaint town. It is a must see during your next visit to the Napa Valley!
Dream big at Bello Family Vineyards
Michael Bello had two dreams, to own an award-winning racehorse and to make award-winning wine. To say that he achieved his goals would be an understatement. His horse won 13 stake races, which helped fund the highest quality grapes and practices that produce the Bello Family Wines we know and love today. These distinctive wines can be tasted in their tasting room in St. Helena, or guests can plan in advance to visit the Bello Family Estate for a one-of-a-kind Napa Valley experience.
Spend more time outdoors at Cache Creek Vineyards
Cache Creek Vineyards takes great care in preserving the land and creatures that inhabit it. They have planted varies grasses and built ponds to develop a strong kinship with the herd of Tule elk that populated the land when they planted their first grapes. Today, the elk can still be spotted roaming the property, and their dedication to nature has remained stronger than ever. Guests are welcomed to taste at the bar, outside on the patio, or by spending a full day exploring the property. Regardless it is sure to be a unique wine country experience amidst the great outdoors.
Taste the distinctness of the Livermore Valley at Nottingham Cellars
Nottingham Cellars received its claim to fame from its limited production, single vineyard Cabernet and Bordeaux blends, but it has quickly grown to encompass the complexity of the Livermore Valley wine country. They demonstrate this diversity through three distinct brand names: Nottingham Cellars by the NC Collection, Vasco Urbano Wine Company, and 1846 by Nottingham Cellars Wines. This passionate family-owned and -operated winery has shown exceptional dedication to producing high quality wines and will surely play a large role in the future of Livermore Valley.
Adopt the urban lifestyle for a weekend at The Serrano Hotel
Located in the heart of the Theater District and just blocks from Union Square, The Serrano Hotel is the perfect vantage point for exploring all that San Francisco has to offer. The hotel includes 236 guest rooms and suites with the luxurious modern amenities that you would expect of a San Francisco hotel. It is the ideal space for business guests, and provides an ideal meeting place for conferences and meetings. The Serrano also features the popular Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen, an American style pub with a lengthy list of beers and a creative menu to go along with it! Relax on the property or go explore the city—either way, the Serrano Hotel is the perfect place to stay on your next visit to the Bay Area!
As we approach New Year’s Eve on Wednesday evening, we always post our favorite sparklers and Champagnes just before the big night so readers can pick up some bubbles just in time for their celebrations. We certainly hope you can try a few of these and ring in the New Year on a positive note!
This year’s winner comes from a favorite winery of the Tasting Panel. The 2010 Schramsberg “Blanc de Noir” for $40 received 92 points from the Panel. It is made from 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay. With 9,875 cases you should easily be able to find it. It opens with a musty faint peach bouquet with hints of yeast and lychee. The panel found it to be medium bodied, slightly acidic and mouthwatering. They really loved its mineral infused green apple flavors with notes of ginger ale. They also detected hints of strawberry and cherry as well. The finish is dry and its acidity and flavors linger and stick around for a very long time. The panel suggested pairing this terrific bubbly with shrimp scampi.
Next up we have seven 91 pointers to share with you. Staying with the same producer, the 2011 Schramsberg “Blanc de Blanc” for $38 is only slightly behind our top finisher. This offering is 100% Chardonnay and even easier to find as 24,898 cases of this wine were made. This popular beauty opens with very tiny bubbles and a yeasty bread dough like bouquet with hints of toast and apple. On the palate, this wine is light bodied, slightly acidic and crisp. We described its flavor profile as a mineral infused apple and pear blend with hints of stone fruit, toast and salty caramel. The finish was dry and its flavors faded away nicely. The panel suggested pairing the very nice sparkler with baked scrod with Ritz crackers or oysters.
The non-vintage Perrier Jouet “Grand Brut” for $45 is consistently one of my personal favorites. It displays a stream of fine bubbles and a gentle strawberry and pear bouquet. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, balanced and very easy to drink. I love its mild mineral infused green apple flavors with hints of light lemon and bread dough. It finishes dry and its tasty flavors drift away nicely. This Champagne would be a perfect New Year’s Eve offering and I plan to serve it!
Our next two 91 point Champagne’s are non-vintage offerings from Gosset. We will start with the “Excellence Brut” for $47. This sparkler is consistently very good. Nicolay found it to offer up golden delicious apple aromas that jump out of the glass along with notes of brioche and hints of caramelized peaches and honey. It is a medium bodied Champagne that displays passion fruit, papaya, and mangoes. There is a lot of acidity that keeps the “Excellence” in check and balanced. The finish is all golden delicious apples, and it lingers for quite some time. It can be enjoyed young or drunk in 5+ years. Nicolay recommended pairing it with lobster dipped in butter. The second Gosset is the “Grande Reserve Brut” for $68. It opens with a nose of tropical fruits, lemon zest, toast, hints of butter and caramel. It drinks like a well-aged sparkling Chablis. It delivers lemon zest flavors along with lilac honey, brioche, starfruit and pineapples. It finishes long and persistent. Drink now.
Our last two 91 pointers are from Besserat de Bellefon. We will start with the non-vintage “Cuvee des Moines Brut Rose” for $65. The nose reminded Nicolay of a strawberry cobbler. In the mouth, it is tart strawberries and lemon mousse, intermingled with chalk and limestone. The acidity knocks you off your feet, but it leaves your palate refreshed and craving more. The finish doesn’t just linger, it endures. Persisting for quite some time. This is one of Besserat best efforts yet. Nicolay says you can enjoy on its own or with steak tartare. Our last 91 pointer is the 2002 Besserat de Bellefon “Cuvee des Moines Brut Millesime” Champagne for $70. This blend of 54% Chardonnay, 31% Pinot Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir was enjoyed by all that tried it. It is a traditional-styled Champagne that opens with a toasted nuts and candied fruit like bouquet with hints of brett. On the palate, the panel found it to be medium bodied and displaying ample acidity. They described its flavors as toasty caramelized pear with hints of tangerine. It finishes dry and its flavors linger for quite a while. The panel suggested serving this classic Champagne with Thai food.
We will kick off our 90 pointers with a sparkler that is really finding its stride this season. It really impressed the panel and was also the favorite pouring at a very large corporate Christmas party that I recently attended. Everyone was drinking this crowd pleaser over the still wine offerings. So what is this wine? It is the non-vintage Mumm Napa “Brut Prestige.” For $22 and with 173,000 cases made, this should be a serious consideration for your holiday parties. It is faint yellow colored with very small bubbles. It opens with a woodsy faint gala apple bouquet with a hint of peach. The panel really enjoyed its lemon verbena flavors with hints of minerality, stone fruit and grapefruit. They felt this sparkler would be a perfect wedding option, as a second glass is a must! They would pair it with quiche Lorraine tart appetizers.
Another good value offering that was awarded 90 points was the non-vintage J Vineyard “Cuvee 20″ for $28. This blend of 54% Chardonnay, 44% Pinot Noir, and 2% Pinot Meunier is very good and will certainly be a crowd pleaser at your holiday parties. It didn’t last long at one of ours. It opens with a bread dough bouquet with hints of lemon meringue. We found it to be light bodied, acidic, crisp and pleasant. It displays tasty mineral infused pear flavors with hints of lemon and apple. The finish is dry and its flavors linger for quite some time. We found this sparkler to be very versatile and it would pair well with many foods. That said spring rolls would be our top pairing.
Schramsberg returns to the recommended list with its non-vintage “Mirabelle Brut Rose” for $28. This blend of 53% Chardonnay and 47% Pinot Noir was one of Nicolay’s top good value selections for the year. It opens with aromas of candied blood oranges, with hints of red currant, raspberries, and pomegranate. He noted that the palate closely resembled the nose with the blood orange, pomegranate, and raspberry notes coming through with strength alongside ruby red grapefruit, and a caramelized brown sugar finish. The acidity was well balanced leaving your palate refreshed and wanting more. He suggested pairing it with a honey-ginger salmon.
Our next two 90 pointers are a pair from J Vineyards. The first is the non-vintage “Brut Rose” for $38. This blend of 66% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 1% Pinot Meunier was very popular with the panel and will be a crowd pleaser at your upcoming holiday parties. It opens with a yeasty and faint strawberry like bouquet hints of rose and almond. It is light bodied, slightly acidic and savory with strawberry and bread dough flavors. The panel also detected notes of nicely integrated minerality and hints of tangerine and grapefruit. It finishes dry and its flavors and acidity linger for a very long time. The panel suggested pairing this very nice sparkler with fresh Norwegian sliced salmon. Our next J Vineyards sparkler is the non-vintage “Cuvee XB” for $40. This “Extra Brut” sparkler displays lots of very fine small bubbles. It opens with a faint pear bouquet with a hint of lemon and toasted bread. We found it to be medium bodied, semi-sweet and savory. The flavor profile is a mineral infused lemon and apple blend with notes of stone fruit. It finishes dry and its flavors fade away nicely.
Our next 90 pointer is the non-vintage Piper Heidsieck “Brut” Champagne for $40. This Champagne is light bodied, slightly acidic and mouthwatering. The flavor profile is a tasty mineral infused lime with hints of white pepper, grapefruit, and green apple. The finish is dry and its flavors and acidity linger for quite some time. The panel suggested pairing this very good Champagne with bacon wrapped scallops or honey baked brie.
Nicolas Feuillatte Non-Vintage “Brut Reserve” Champagne (France) $40 (90)
The nose is a bouquet of flowers that sits atop a fruit basket; bananas, apples, pears, oranges, lilacs, and toast. On the palate, the bubbles take over at first and then quickly give way to peaches, nectarines, and hints of jackfruit. The toast and yeast notes of this wine linger for quite some time.
Gloria Ferrer 2008 “Brut Rose” (Carneros, CA) $42 (90)
The effects of aging a wine can be clearly seen in this splendid Rose. It has notes of fresh rose petals, dried blood orange rinds, and papaya on the nose. It displays raspberries, strawberries, red currant, and cherries. This has been one of the better rose offerings from Gloria Ferrer. Well done! Pairs well with a fruit salad or salmon.
Besserat de Bellefon Non-Vintage “Cuvee des Moines Blanc de Blanc” Champagne (France) $55 (90)
This traditional-styled Champagne with small bubbles was well received by the panel. It is light bodied and slightly acidic. The panel enjoyed its tart green apple flavors with notes of bread dough, lime, minerals and hints of clementine. The panel suggested serving it with sushi.
Mumm Napa 2006 “DVX” (Napa, CA) $60 (90)
This sparkler is medium bodied, displays crisp acidity and is mouthwatering. The flavor profile is Squirt soda with nicely integrated minerality and notes of ginger. It finishes dry and its flavors go on for quite a while. We would pair it with Emeril’s crab cakes or a seafood casserole.
Our 89 pointers are where you will find some additional very good offerings.
We start with a unique sparkler from Germany. The non-vintage Fitz “Sekt Extra Trocken” Riesling for $17 is quite unique. Nicolay said if he had not known this was a Riesling he would be dumbfounded. It drinks like a trocken spatlese, with bubbles, which is what most Champagne producers wished they could achieve regularly. The palate is as inviting with flavors of peaches, sun dried apricots, almonds and prominent minerality. Pair with honey-glazed ham.
Our next two 89 pointers come from Gloria Ferrer. Their non-vintage “Blanc de Blancs” for $22 is a high quality offering at a very good price. It displays flavors of bread dough, nectarines, hints of lemon custard, and clementines. Its medium bubbles break up what could be a heavy wine, making it extremely refreshing and enjoyable. Pair with bay oysters or shrimp scampi. The second Gloria Ferrer offering is the non-vintage “Blanc de Noirs” for $22. This sparkler is predominantly made from Pinot Noir. On the nose, this reminded Nicolay of a breakfast he once had; toast with strawberry jam, with a side of sliced figs. It drinks a bit lighter than that with hints of raspberries, strawberries, rose petals and pink grapefruit. The finish on the Blanc de Noirs is a bit richer than that of the Blanc de Blancs, but it is every bit as enjoyable.
Schramsberg Non-Vintage “Mirabelle Brut” (California) $26 (89)
The Mirabelle’s bouquet is reminiscent of Schramsberg’s higher end wines. Labeled as Brut, this drinks just under Extra Dry. It showcases lots of body typical of a sparkler from California. It exhibits ginger, ripe nectarines, strawberries and rhubarb flavors. Pair with a fruit tart.
Weltevrede 2009 “Philip Jonker The Ring Blanc de Blancs Brut” (S. Africa) $28 (89)
This sparkler’s bubbles are immense and take some time to give way, but once they do “The Ring” drinks beautifully. Medium to full bodied with flavors of toast, minerality, caramelized apples, ripe peaches, papaya and apricots. Finish is shorter than desired, but still enjoyable.
Our first two 88 pointers are very good deals and should be seriously considered if on a budget. The non-vintage Villa Rosa “Moscato d’Asti” for $11 is made from 100% Moscato. It opens with a very fragrant and inviting tangerine and pear bouquet. It is light bodied, slightly effervescent, fruit forward and pleasantly sweet. It displays tasty pear flavors with notes of ripe orange throughout. I also detected hints of apricot. Serve slightly chilled as an opener at your holiday parties with mini-spring rolls. The Mas Fi non-vintage “Brut Cava” for $11 opens with a bouquet of flowers; from lilac to roses, and everything in between. It displays pronounced Granny Smith apple flavors with hints white peaches and cashew. The bubbles are larger and rounder than the Brut Nature. That should be expected as this is supposed to be a crowd pleaser.
La Marca Non-Vintage “Prosecco” (Veneto, Italy) $17 (88)
This sparkler displays a few streaming bubbles and opens with lemon and strawberry bouquet. It is a medium bodied and slightly acidic. Its flavor profile is a mineral infused pilsner beer with notes of almond and pear. I would pair this Prosecco with bacon wrapped scallops.
Yorkville Cellars 2013 “Malbec Rennie Vineyard Brut Rose” (California) $36 (88)
Cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and pomegranate makeup the nose of the unique offering. The palate is more floral than it is fruity and is lighter than what I had expected. A very unique experience. Try this organic sparkler for something different.
Santa Julia Non-Vintage “Brut Rose” (Mendoza, Argentina) $13 (87)
The nose is a very fragrant strawberry infused mist. There are hints of cherry and strawberries, but the main flavor here is cranberry. The flavor and tartness is reminiscent of cranberry juice. The Santa Julia Brut Rose is well made and easy drinking. Meant to be drunk young.
Barefoot Non-Vintage “Bubbly Prosecco” (Italy) $12 (86)
The Barefoot Prosecco is the most impressive of all the wines from the Barefoot Bubbly lineup. The palate is very inviting displaying notes of ripe starfruit, Meyer lemons, and white grapefruit. The mid-palate is refreshing with plenty of acidity. The finish lingers for a little bit.
We hope you enjoy these Sparklers and Champagnes as much as we did. Be sure to share your favorites with the group. Post a comment and tell us about your favorite! Happy New Year! Cheers – Ken
Twas the night before Wine-mas, when all through the vines,
Not a creature was stirring through the grapes grown in lines,
During harvest the grapes are each handpicked with care,
With hopes of being bottled as a delicious wine to share.
Wine-lovers were all buzzed and snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar grapes danced in their heads.
They dreamt of California, Oregon, and Washington too,
And wished for Santa to check off their holiday to-dos.
So many wines to try and regions to see,
How could they choose what to put under the tree?
Do not fret wine fanatics; Touring & Tasting is here,
Our 12 days of Wine-mas will make your choice crystal clear!
A weekend getaway at the Heathman Kirkland Hotel
The Heathman Kirkland hotel is a perfect balance of bustling city life and a peaceful oasis, resting just steps away from the crystal waters of Lake Washington on the outskirts of Seattle. They offer many luxurious amenities, including a choice in mattress, a gourmet restaurant, and scenic views of downtown Kirkland. Guests of the hotel have easy access to Woodinville Wine Country, downtown Seattle, and the heart of the vibrant city of Kirkland. A trip to Woodinville is just what you should ask Santa for this year!
On the 11th Day of Wine-Mas my true love gave to me…
Horseback riding at the Alisal Guest Ranch
Established more than 150 years ago, the employees at Alisal Guest Ranch are seasoned pros in hospitality, and have been inviting guests to enjoy the beautiful 10,000-acre cattle ranch since 1946. They offer a quiet and rustic getaway with no in-room TVs or phones, while still providing modern amenities and a cozy atmosphere. Guests are welcomed to enjoy a number of outdoor activities on the ranch, including horseback riding on a variety of trails for riders of all skill levels. Turn off the electronics this year, and focus on what Christmas is really about at Alisal Guest Ranch, spending time with your loved ones.
On the 10th Day of Wine-Mas my true love gave to me…
Elk watching at Cache Creek Vineyards
Cache Creek Vineyards is a 500-acre sanctuary located in the eastern foothills of Lake County. This relaxing nature setting is the perfect environment to taste their outstanding varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Chardonnay. Guests are invited to relax by the creek and watch for elk, deer, wild turkeys, and other animals that are regular visitors to the vineyards. What could get you more in the Christmas spirit that spotting Rudolf himself?
An afternoon lakeside picnic at Oak Farm Vineyards
Guests who visit the new Winery and Hospitality Center at Oak Farm Vineyards are greeted with the upmost friendliness and hospitality, making it a favorite stop for many visitors to Lodi Wine Country. Those who join their Circle of Friends enjoy special privileges and benefits on the property, and visit regularly to enjoy a home away from home while sipping their delicious, food-friendly wines. This Christmas season, lay down a blanket next to their private lake and enjoy an afternoon picnic by the water!
On the 8th Day of Wine-Mas my true love gave to me…
A day spent admiring the visual art exhibits at Robert Mondavi Winery
Robert Mondavi Winery understands that guests are now seeking much more than an average wine tasting experience. Their winery has become a cultural center for both locals and visitors to Napa Valley, showcasing art exhibits, concerts, book signings, and many more exciting events. They have expanded their outdoor seating to include many patio areas with comfortable seating that guests can use to relax and enjoy their renowned wines without feeling rushed or crowded, as in many tasting experiences. Get more out of your wine tasting adventure by spending the day at Robert Mondavi!
On the 7th Day of Wine-Mas my true love gave to me…
Shopping in the Italian Marketplace at V. Sattui Winery
Sattui Winery offers the perfect European getaway without the hassle of leaving the country. They have kept their family’s Italian traditions alive, offering a wine tasting experience that is both exceptional and authentic to their roots. The property is disguised as a quaint Italian village, and visitors instantly feel as though they are a part of the Sattui family. Guests are invited to browse the Italian Marketplace where they can find hundreds of cheeses, meats, and other Italian specialties and then take them out to the two acres of property dedicated solely to picnicking under the breathtaking oak trees that populate the grounds.
A Tasting Experience at Vina Robles
Vina Robles is the quintessential happy medium between old and new world wines. It stays true to the bold, fruit-forward wines that we expect to see from Paso Robles, while still remaining loyal to its European roots by incorporating a finesse and elegance that makes their wines stand out. Their 14,000 sq. foot Hospitality Center offers guests the ultimate wine country experience, including choices in wine flights, private wine and cheese pairings, a gourmet lunch tasting (Recommended by Wine Enthusiast), and much more.
On the 5th Day of Wine-Mas my true love gave to me…
A food & wine pairing in the glass-walled tasting room at Calcareous Vineyard
The unique location of Calcareous Vineyard is the secret ingredient to their award-winning wines. The high elevation, dry and chalky soils, and coastal climate produce wines that are reminiscent of famous wine regions in France, creating the Rhone and Bordeaux blends that Calcareous is famous for. Visitors to the winery can admire the stunning views of Paso Robles and the countless miles of picturesque hillside from their glass-walled tasting room at the highest point on the property. Looking for the backdrop for this year’s Christmas card? Snap the perfect shot at Calcareous Vineyard! PS – Try their 2011 “Moose” while there – you will love it!
A visit to the Mediterranean-style tasting room at Miraflores Winery
Located in the stunning Sierra Foothills lies Miraflores Winery, a 254-acre estate that has a home-style charm and amazing terroir for a vast portfolio of wines. The Mediterranean-style tasting room is an attraction of its own, featuring sky-high cathedral ceilings and stunning glass doors. Here guests can soak up the region’s rich history while enjoying a glass of their highly regarded collection of wine. Don’t forget your camera, you won’t want to miss capturing the beauty of Miraflores Winery!
On the 3rd Day of Wine-Mas my true love gave to me…
A day in the Chehalem Mountain range at ROCO Winery
ROCO Winery is the ultimate success story of a husband and wife working together as a dynamic winemaking duo, the name itself taking two letters from their names (Rollin + Corby) to represent the importance of this bond. Together they have made their decade-long dream of starting their own winery come true in the Chehalem Mountain range in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. ROCO wines have taken off with a bang, receiving numerous accolades and making an appearance in the White House. They are continuously moving forward to improve the future of ROCO Winery, with a 15-acre addition to their land for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as a brand new sparkling wine program. There is a lot to look forward to from ROCO Winery!
A romantic rendezvous at the Galleria Park Hotel
The Galleria Park hotel is truly an urban oasis and offers the best of both worlds; located in the heart of Union Square, it’s just steps away from the vibrant city life of Downtown San Francisco, yet inside it remains a tranquil retreat that promises complete relaxation. Explore downtown and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, then come back to the comfort of a peaceful place to unwind. Cozy up next to the fireplace for a complimentary wine hour, take a stroll in the scenic Park Terrace, or just stay in and order room service from your luxurious guestroom with all the amenities.
On the 1st Day of Wine-Mas my true love gave to me…
A Touring & Tasting Holiday Gift Set
Give your loved ones what they really want this Christmas – wine! We have prepared a wide range of two bottle wine gift packs; from crisp Chardonnay, a bold duo of Napa Cab’s, to sparkling, and Pinot! There is something for everyone. Visit our gift section to view all the choices, and if you don’t see just what you’re looking for, give us a call and we’ll be happy to customize the perfect gift for you.
Merry Wine-Mas and Happy Holidays from Touring & Tasting!
The following article was provided by our contributing partner – Touring and Tasting Magazine.
Cheers – Ken
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and we know you’ve been refreshing your Pinterest feed tirelessly, searching for the perfect recipes for this year’s menu. While we would never want to replace Grandma’s family secret, we have hand selected a few recipes that we think everyone around your table would be thankful for! We know wine pairings can be stressful and often the last thing on your never ending holiday to-do list, but this year, there’s nothing to whine about…we’ve done the work for you!
The Appetizer Course
Ancient Oak Cellars, Rosé of Pinot “Lucy,” Sonoma County 2012
Paired with: Charcuterie Board
Rosé is the perfect appetizer wine to kick start your Thanksgiving meal. It has a sweetness that compliments gamey meats, with enough acidity to balance the saltiness and cut through the fat. We recommend a charcuterie board to start your meal off with your favorite meats, or try ours: Prosciutto, Soppressata, & Coppa!
About Ancient Oak Cellars
The story of Ancient Oak Cellars is an amazing tale of families working together and taking pride in their wines. Husband and wife, Ken & Melissa, decided to start making their own wine with the grapes that Ken’s grandfather planted 20 years ago. They live on the land, working closely with other families in managing Siebert Ranch, and helping with Pagnano & Berger Vineyards. These wines can be tasted at Corrick’s in downtown Santa Rosa!
The Side Dishes
Paired with: Winter Squash Soup with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
The wine is dominated on the palate by citrus fruits with an elegant backdrop of new French oak. It has a complexity and balanced acidity that make it a great pairing wine for Thanksgiving. California Oaked Chardonnays pair beautifully with rich creamy soups and the sweetness of the butternut squash will bring out the vanilla oak notes in the wine.
About Broken Earth Winery
Broken Earth Winery is Certified California Sustainable and was one of the first wineries in California to operate on 100% solar power. In fact, it produces enough electricity to power 100 homes for a year! Aside from their deep commitment to the environment, they are also dedicated to producing high quality wines. Their five brands: Broken Earth, Shimmin Canyon, Pull, Quadrant, and SWN, each stand out with a unique style and appeal to a specific market, however, they are all beautifully structured and balanced representations of their special terroir.
2012 Sextant Wines Edna Valley Chardonnay
Paired with: Butternut Squash Risotto
This Chardonnay is fruit driven, highlighting tropical guavas, ripe apricots, and juicy nectarines, and is followed by a buttery sensation of cheesecake crust and marzipan. This warm and inviting wine will pair perfectly with the comfort of this butternut squash risotto, and will be a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving menu!
About Sextant Wines
Sextant Wines is located in the heart of Paso Robles, recently named Wine Enthusiast’s 2014 Wine Region of the Year. Their cooler climate vineyards are perfect for producing their delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but they are better known for their Zinfandel, Bordeaux blend, and GSMs. They involve a variety of old-world varieties from three distinct AVAs, expanding not only their portfolio of wines, but also that of the California Central Coast in general.
The Main Course
Paired with: Thanksgiving Pioneer-Style Herb Roasted Turkey
Pinot Noir is the classic wine pairing for a Thanksgiving meal, and we couldn’t agree more. The bright acidity and gentle tannins are essential for pairing with turkey, bringing out the juiciness of the meat and complimenting the green vegetables. The elegant flavor profile is versatile for a variety of side dishes, and the lighter body won’t over power the star of the show.
About Anaba Wines
Anaba Wines was named after the anabatic winds that blow through the vineyards, slowing down the ripening process ever so slightly, and allowing the fruit to develop to its full potential. The wind is an important part in the process, and after building a 45-foot turbine, Anaba Wines became the first winery in Northern California to use wind in wine production. Visit the renovated century old farmhouse to taste their exciting profile of wines. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rhone varieties and Rhone blends are their most well known, but don’t forget to follow them with one of their delicious collection of dessert wines!
Mettler Family Vineyards 2012 Lodi Zinfandel
Paired with: Ina Garten’s Homeade Gravy
Rather than pair a wine to the simple flavors of turkey, choose a wine that can stand up to the wide array of flavors found across your Thanksgiving table. The richness and complexity of this California Zinfandel can stand up to the varying degrees of acidity within the meal, such as in your favorite cranberry sauce, while still complimenting your Grandma’s famous gravy recipe (or in this case, Ina Garten’s!)
About Mettler Family Vineyards
The Mettler Family first began growing grapes in Germany in the 1770s and arrived in Lodi in the early 1800s. These eight generations of premium winegrowing has helped produce the high quality fruit used for their own label as well as for other respected wineries. Mettler Family Vineyards is both sustainable and certified organic, and their careful involvement in every step of the winemaking process helps set the standard for the quality of wine they produce. Amidst 25 acres of vineyards you can find their secluded tasting room, where guests can enjoy the picturesque landscape while tasting some delicious wine!
Paired with: Charcoal Grilled Turkey with Fresh Herb Butter
Although Petite Syrah is not a typical pairing with turkey, it pairs beautifully with BBQ. Open up the space in your oven for your favorite side dishes by cooking your turkey out in the backyard this year.
About Tara Bella
Size doesn’t mean anything, and Tara Bella Winery is here to prove it! With only 6 acres, they have made a name for themselves by producing some of Sonoma’s best Cabernet Sauvignon, attaching at least one gold medal to nearly every vintage. Their wines are 100 percent estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon, and 95 percent of all they produce is sold directly through their wine club. They have a solid following of Cabernet lovers who take occasional trips together, so visit their tasting room to find out why you should join in on the fun!
And…Things to Do, Places to See, Where to Stay this Holiday Season
Napa Valley Wine Train
The Napa Valley Wine Train offers a unique opportunity for experiencing the Napa Valley wine country. The train starts its journey at their very own train station and then makes the trip from Napa to St. Helena and back. Guests can choose between lunch and dinner, both prepared with the freshest of ingredients under the careful eye of Executive Chef Kelly MacDonald, in one of the three dining cars, and enjoy a first course or dessert in one of the lounge cars. Guests may then choose to do a VIP tour of one of the region’s many wineries, and then embark on a one-way trip, or choose to enjoy both lunch and dinner on the train, and spend the day admiring Napa’s beautiful landscape!
Nicknamed “The Jewel of Placerville,” this quaint hotel is located in the heart of Northern California wine country and is right on the way to Lake Tahoe. It was built in 1857 and has a rich history, including legendary guests such as Elvis Presley, Buffalo Bill, and Mark Twain. The 38 historic rooms and suites have been updated with modern amenities to make guests’ stays both confortable and rich with history!
Traverse City is a hidden gem just waiting for you to discover all it has to offer. It is home to some of the best chefs in the world, being rated one of Bon Appetit’s Top 5 Food towns, and producing some amazing wines to compliment them as well. Sitting on the 45th parallel, the same as the Bordeaux region of France, Traverse City has a unique microclimate that helps produce outstanding wines, and was rated in the Top 10 Places to Taste Local Wines by USA Today. Traverse City sits on Grand Traverse Bay, and offers picturesque views of both the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, which are home to the Traverse City wine country. Whether it’s for the food, wine, or beautiful views, Traverse City should definitely be on your holiday bucket list!
Old Edna Townsite
The Old Edna Townsite is a century old building that has had a very colorful history, serving as a speakeasy, general mercantile, post office, and a dance hall throughout the years past. Today, it is home to the tasting room for Sextant Wines, and offers and enchanting experience for guests to take a stroll through history while enjoying some delicious food and wine. The Suite Edna also provides the special opportunity to stay overnight and fully experience the uniqueness of this unique landmark!
The following article was provided by our contributing partner – Touring and Tasting Magazine.
Cheers – Ken
I know what you’re thinking, Oktoberfest means beer. You suddenly feel the urge to throw on your favorite lederhosen & knock back a bucket-sized mug of sudsy Hefeweizen while shouting “Noch ein Bier, bitte!” Before you inevitably end up with those questionable Facebook photos Monday morning (Wow those suspenders looked a lot better after a few cold ones, didn’t they?) let Touring & Tasting switch up your usual Oktoberfest routine this year…with wine! Germany is also famous for delicious wines, and you can even find a special wine tent at the famous Oktoberfest celebration in Munich. We might not all get to make it out to Germany this year, but here are a few of our favorite wine country destinations to make this October worth celebrating. Prost!
Brian Carter Cellars, Woodinville, WA
Calling all foodies: Brian Carter Cellars wines are extremely food friendly and are favorites of many of the top chefs in Woodinville as well as other chefs and sommeliers across the country. Tasting through their portfolio of wines is like taking a tour around the world, with delicious notes of famous wine regions in Bordeaux and Southern Rhone, France, Tuscany, Italy and even notes from Portugal and Spain. Each varietal is made separately in a small lot to fully enhance the complexities of each different grape, and then blended beautifully into the delicious final product you can taste in their tasting room today. Learn more about their winemaking process at their tasting room located in the heart of Woodinville Wine Country’s Hollywood District!
Le Boat: Various Regions, France
Have you always wanted to visit France, but never seemed to find the right opportunity to plan the trip? Well we’ve found your perfect moment, and Le Boat is ready to do all the planning for you! Le Boat offers a variety of self-guided canal boat vacations in their three hand-selected regions: Canal du Midi, Nivernais, and Loire Valley, each offering a unique gastronomic experience, incredible wines and beautiful countryside views to make your ‘tour de France’ unforgettable. Follow one of their many exciting itineraries or set sail on your own, whatever you decide, a vacation with Le Boat will be the one of a lifetime. Book your trip before November 30th to save up to 12% and to secure your choice in boat and dates!
Le Cadeau: Willamette Valley, OR
“Le Cadeau” means “the gift” and while you may assume after tasting their incredible wines that the name refers to the Pinot Noir, owners Tom and Deb assure their guests that the true gift is the opportunity to pursue their dream with the beautiful land they have been blessed with. They believe the vineyard itself is the single most important aspect of the winemaking process, and have dedicated themselves to upholding the highest farming standards. Guests can taste the quality of their delicious Pinot Noir and other varietals at their brand new tasting room in Dundee!
Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa, Pismo Beach, CA
At Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa in Pismo Beach, every room is a suite! Every single one of their 62 one-bedroom suites have all the features of a home away from home, including a modern living room, gourmet kitchen and dining room. They also feature private laundry facilities, many include fireplaces and Jacuzzi bathtubs, and best of all they have a terrace or patio with an unbeatable view of the Pacific Ocean. If you can find a reason to leave your luxurious suite, you may choose to wade in the infinity-edged pool, visit the fitness center, or get a rejuvenating treatment at their amazing Spa. Dolphin Bay is the ideal spot for luxury and relaxation in Pismo Beach!
Santa Lucia Highlands, CA
Just 35 miles inland from Monterey is the famous wine region of Santa Lucia Highlands. It is an agricultural heartland, offering a rural wine country experience with a unique authenticity that will have visitors feeling proud of their travel decision. Enjoy the winding drive through the beautiful valley where you’ll find fresh fruit and vegetable stands, citrus orchards, and cattle ranches, and pull over at one of the many small family run wineries to taste a glass of delicious wine poured by the winemakers themselves!
Lucas Winery: Lodi, CA
The Lucas Winery team prides itself on their commitment to the quality of their wines. Perfect clusters are handpicked from their certified organic vineyard, and individually hand-sorted to ensure the highest quality in every single grape that goes into their wine. After this meticulous routine, they enter the winemaking process which is 100 percent solar powered. The patient process of Lucas Winery wines results in true star quality and admirable respect for the environment. Visit their winery for a unique adventure including helping punch grapes, or enjoy an intimate tour of their property!
Hope Family Wines: Paso Robles, CA
When thinking of Paso Robles wines, Hope Family Wines should be on your short list. Following his family tradition & passion for winemaking, Austin Hope has been making a name for the family business, as well as for the Paso Robles wine region as Chairman of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. Hope Family Wines has a rich history that fills the pages of every chapter of Paso Robles wine industry history, but also continues to pave the wave into innovation by embracing new technologies and non-traditional marketing methods. It is their vibrant history and hunger for constant improvement that will continue to keep Hope Family Wines at the top in Paso Robles!
Fess Parker Winery, Inn, and Spa: Santa Barbara County, CA
The winery itself is located along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, a winding road with stunning countryside views filled with cattle along the humble natural landscape. Tastings are available daily at the winery, where guests can taste the success of each current release, all of which have received 90 points or better in most of the major US wine publications. Just a short distance down the road in Los Olivos Is the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, the perfect balance between the sophistication of a renowned luxury hotel, and the friendly and warm atmosphere of a small rustic inn. Guests are welcome to enjoy plenty of first class amenities, including spa services, a fitness room, and Petros, their highly acclaimed restaurant. Fess Parker has the perfect winery and wine country inn combination to make your next trip to Santa Barbara County unforgettable!
Timber Cove Inn: Sonoma, CA
If you’re looking for an intimate, private getaway this month, we’re sure you’ll find just what you’ve been imagining at Timber Cove Inn on the Sonoma coast. The Inn is located on a seemingly untouched cliff overlooking the jaw-dropping California coastline, just a short and beautiful drive from over a dozen commercial wineries. They have maintained their rustic charm while adding modern amenities, making it the perfect cozy hideaway for your next wine country visit to Sonoma!
The following article was provided by our contributing partner – Touring and Tasting Magazine.
Cheers – Ken
Dolphins, 49ers and Bears…oh my! Football season has officially arrived and Touring & Tasting is here to be your quarterback in the Wine Country game. We’ve made a list of all the destinations sure to make your next fall getaway a touchdown. So swap out your longneck for a nice glass of wine and let us help you bring home the win!
End Zone: Vigilance Winery (Lake County, CA)
Vigilance Winery in Lower Lake, CA is the perfect place to visit this fall. The owners, the Shannon Family, have been at the forefront of sustainable farming practices, including raising over 1500 grass-fed lamb, which help maintain the property’s exquisite natural beauty. They offer a variety of wines for tasting, and encourage guests to walk or hike throughout their property, or sit on their deck and enjoy the gorgeous views. A visit to Vigilance is both relaxing and rewarding, and is the perfect destination to take your mind off things this fall!
10-Yard Line: Jamieson Ranch (Napa Valley, CA)
The cozy comfort of Jamieson Ranch’s mountain lodge atmosphere is just the retreat you need this autumn. Take a vineyard-to-bottle tour through their property, or enjoy a seated, paired menu from their intriguing new culinary program, Napa Comfort Food: Wood-Fired, Wine Friendly, which highlights the season’s freshest ingredients and produce grown just steps away from the kitchen in one of their organic gardens. Whether you’re drawn to the wine country for the five star food, delicious wines, or spectacular views, Jamieson Ranch is a must-see on your next visit through Napa Valley!
20-Yard Line: Hyland Estates (Willamette Valley, OR)
As one of Oregon’s largest and oldest vineyards, it is no surprise that Hyland Estates has been able to withstand the test of time. Their Pinot Noir and Riesling are highly regarded by well-known wine critics, including consistent scores in the 90s. A visit to the brand new tasting room allows for a modern experience while tasting the wines that are still produced from the historic vineyards. Take a tour of the grounds, enjoy a relaxing picnic while soaking up the views, or indulge in a cheese pairing in the beautiful tasting room, whatever you decide, you’ll be glad you chose Hyland Estates for your fall getaway!
30-Yard Line: Rancho Caymus Inn (Napa Valley, CA)
Rancho Caymus Inn sits on what was once given to pioneer George C. Grant as Napa Valley’s first land grant. Today, this land is in the vibrant heart of the Napa Valley Wine County, giving hotel guests easy access and convenience to all that the valley has to offer (Bet you didn’t see that one coming, George). The inn has stayed true to its historical roots, featuring Spanish hacienda-style buildings, each named after a different pioneer. The rich history and stories that make this destination so unique are paired perfectly with the luxury of the first-class amenities. This quaint boutique inn is the perfect place to hide out and get some much-needed relaxation time this fall.
40-Yard Line: Garre Vineyard/Bella Rosa (Livermore, CA)
The Molinaro family has been staying true to their Italian roots with their delicious wines, amazing food, and deep family values since the winery’s opening. They are passing this love on to future couples and making wedding dreams come true at their new wedding venue called Bella Rosa. You will feel right at home when visiting their stunning property, and when you’re not too busy enjoying all the delicious food and wine (which you will be), play a game of bocce ball or relax in the cozy tasting room!
50-Yard Line: Bouchaine Vineyards (Napa Valley, CA)
As Napa Carneros’ most southern winery, Bouchaine Vineyards has a stunning landscape unique to the region. Visitors are invited to take a self-guided tour through the gently rolling hills amidst Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards, all while enjoying the surrounding views, which on a clear day showcase the San Francisco skyline. Their tasting room is a perfect place to wind down, and their friendly staff will make you feel right at home!
40-Yard Line: Skinner Vineyards (Sierra Foothills, CA)
With a prestigious legacy to uphold, the Skinner family is making a portfolio of wines that their great-great-great grandfather, a Scottish miner, would be proud of. You may be choose to sit in the 360 degree tasting room over looking their rolling California landscape, but if you close your eyes, their delicious Rhone inspired wines will suddenly transport you into Southern France. Escape to Skinner Vineyards (or pretend you’re in Rhone) for French inspired wines, beautiful views, and delicious food—the perfect recipe for an unforgettable fall retreat!
30-Yard Line: Le Vigne (Paso Robles, CA)
It has been a year of change and big improvements for Le Vigne winery, and this fall we suggest you see for yourself how much they have grown! They’ve built a brand new, 360-degree tasting room where they’re pouring exciting new wines paired with delicious new culinary offerings, including the region’s largest selection of gourmet international cheeses. So grab a glass and some delectable bites and spend your day on a tour or enjoying a picnic through their many acres of brand new vineyards!
20-Yard Line: Hahn Estates (Monterey County, CA)
If the Santa Lucia Highlands were a NFL team, Hahn Estates would undoubtedly be the captain. They spearheaded the effort to designate the Santa Lucia Highlands as an official appellation, and continue to lead the pack today with some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the region. Chef Dyon Foster provides guests with an unforgettable culinary experience, showcasing fresh ingredients grown steps away from the dining room, and pairing perfectly with their famous wines. If you’re not too full from all the delicious food & wine (good luck with that), take an ATV tour and enjoy the panoramic views as you drive through the estate!
10-Yard Line: Heritage Oak (Lodi, CA)
Resting just steps away from a 20-acre Riparian woodland along the shore of Mokelumne River, Heritage Oak offers a unique wine tasting experience that screams “autumn.” The tasting room is pouring their exciting variety of delicious wines, all of which are grown on their beautiful property. If you manage to tackle the difficult task of choosing your favorite, bring a bottle down to the sandy beach on the riverbank, or reward yourself with it after a hike on one of the many trails through their property. If you’re ready for it to finally feel like fall, Heritage Oak is the perfect place for you!
You’ve made it this far and now possess all the necessary skills and knowledge to bring home the win this fall. After visiting one of these unique wine country getaway destinations, we’re certain you’ll have a new favorite player in the wine country game. Football season is in full swing, and we have a feeling it’s going to be the best one yet.
The following article was provided by our contributing partner – Touring and Tasting Magazine.
Cheers – Ken
To my dismay, very good Merlot offerings appear to be dwindling. The best ones seem to come from dedicated producers of higher end wines. We had a blind tasting in August and the number of winners is tiny when compared to wines made from other grapes. My fear is that winemakers are not necessarily putting in as much effort into Merlot, because their sales are off. I say, make great Merlot and they will come! The best options that I found over the course of the last year are listed below. As you will see, there still is some very nice Merlot out there, but not nearly as many as I would like.
We will start with the Merlot that is consistently near the top of our list. The 2011 Robert Foley Merlot from the Napa Valley comes in at $52. It is Excellent and worth every penny. I awarded this wine 94 points. This offering opens with a fragrant and inviting cherry-cola like bouquet with a hint of boysenberry. You will find it to be full-bodied, balanced, and smooth. I loved its delicious blueberry flavors with notes of nicely integrated oak and hints of black pepper and Dr. Pepper. It finishes dry and its flavors linger and are nicely prolonged. Robert Foley is clearly on top of his game with this Merlot. Find a great steak house and pair this wine with filet mignon.
This year we have two 93 pointers to tell you about. The first is a classic drink-now Merlot, the second one is for stashing away due to its youth. The drink-now entry is the 2009 Pedestal Merlot from the “Columbia Valley” in Washington State. This wine is $55 per bottle. You will find it opens with a very inviting blueberry bouquet. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, extremely well balanced, and smooth as silk. We loved its delicious blueberry and black licorice flavors with hints black pepper, nicely integrated old oak and a touch of minerality. It closed with dry and mild tannins, while its flavors were nicely prolonged. This terrific Merlot paired perfectly with our filet mignon steaks at Ruth Chris in Boston.
Next up is another top performer in this category. The 2012 Plumpjack Merlot from Napa Valley just missed being put on the top shelf. That said, it did achieve a 93 point score. It is a worthy contender and with some time it might even reach the Excellent status. This wine comes in at $56 per bottle. It is not your typical Merlot, as it is initially a bit on the intense side. You will find it to be full-bodied and very fruit forward at first. The flavor profile is initially a rich and concentrated blackberry. As it settles down and opens up, notes of boysenberry, blueberry and gentle minerality start to arrive. I also detected hints of black plum and oak as well. It finishes dry with minimal tannins that fade away nicely. This Merlot definitely benefits from aeration and could become a blockbuster with some cellar time. I would put it away for a year or two and pull it out when all your Robert Foley Merlot is gone.
There are two 92 point Merlots this year. The first one is another drink-now option. I would grab a few bottles and enjoy it before the end of the year. It is impressive! So what is this mystery Merlot? It is the 2009 Northstar “Columbia Valley” Merlot for $40. It is a bargain when compared to the big boys in front of it. There were 8,100 cases made, so several shops still have some on the shelves. You will find it to be full-bodied, very well balanced, and smooth. Its flavor profile is a very ripe blackberry with notes of black licorice. I also detected hints of oak, black currant, and gentle minerality. This wine went well with my ribeye at Smith and Wollensky. This is also that second 2009 vintage Washington based Merlot to appear in our top 5 offerings. Bravo to Washington State!
Our next 92 pointer was just released. The 2012 Shafer Merlot form the Napa Valley is available for $50. This wine opens with a very inviting blueberry bouquet. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, nicely balanced, and smooth. I really liked its tasty blueberry flavors with notes of black plum. I also detected hints of oak, black licorice, and clove mixed in as well. I would pair this very nice Merlot with Theresa’s meatloaf.
We will start off our 91 pointers with the best value in this report. As a matter of fact, The 2010 Merriam Vineyards “Windacre” Merlot for $30 is a great deal. This “Windacre” Merlot is top notch and perhaps Merriam’s best Merlot that I can remember. The winemaker mixes in 25% Cabernet Sauvignon in this year’s wine which gives it very nice structure. The flavor profile is a tasty blueberry with nicely integrated mild oak and hints of blackberry and black pepper. It finishes dry and its medium dusty tannins are sticky and show very good length. This is a very good Merlot that I would also pair with Theresa’s Meatloaf. This one will disappear quickly given its price and that only 210 cases were made.
Our last 91 pointer comes from another high end Merlot producer. The 2011 Duckhorn “Three Palms Vineyard” Merlot costs $90 per bottle. You will find it to be medium-bodied, well balanced and quite smooth. It displays very pleasant black cherry flavors with hints of gentle oak, pomegranate, and a touch of black pepper. The finish is dry and its moderate tannins build up and linger for quite some time for a Merlot. I would decant this Merlot in the near term and serve it with a rib-eye steak with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed red beets.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2011 Merlot (Dry Creek Valley, CA) $25 (90)
This Merlot from Dry Creek was deemed one of the best value Merlots to come out of our big blind tasting. It is balanced and smooth. The panel really enjoyed its mild black cherry soda flavors with hints of cinnamon and faint plum. The panel suggested this would be a very good glass pour and a nice match with frutti di mare.
Merryvale 2012 Merlot “Starmont” (Carneros, CA) $27 (90)
This Merlot from Merryvale’s second label was one of your top performers in our 1st big blind tasting. It is medium-bodied, balanced, and smooth. The panel really liked its tasty black cherry flavors with notes of toasted oak and a touch of blueberry, plum and cola. It finishes with fine dry tannins that show decent length. The panel suggested pairing this very good Merlot with Moroccan lamb stew or filet mignon.
Reininger 2010 Merlot “Walla Walla” (Washington) $39 (90)
For our next Merlot, we return to the State of Washington. This wine is a classic, easy going Merlot. It’s nicely balanced and smooth. The flavor profile is a welcoming cherry and blueberry blend with hints of plum and vanilla oak. Its moderate tannins stick around, but don’t get in the way. Pair it with wild boar ragu over pappardelle.
Merryvale 2011 Merlot “Napa Valley” (California) $48 (90)
This big Merlot from Merryvale is a bit young and perhaps needs more time in the cellar and certainly gets better with some aeration. It is medium-bodied, balanced, bold and rich. Its flavor profile is mild black currant with a mixture of spice, oak, and gentle blackberry. The finish is pretty dry and its big tannins linger for quite some time. The panel suggested pairing this wine with Cajun tuna or fra diavalo.
Hunnicutt 2011 Merlot “Coombsville” (California) $48 (90)
This Merlot from Napa is medium-bodied, balanced, and easy to drink. Its flavor profile is ripe black raspberry with notes of currant, black pepper and a touch of oak. It finishes dry and its substantial tannins are big for a Merlot. I would swirl this wine a lot and serve with a well-marbled ribeye. Another option is to cellar it for about a year or two and see what develops.
Switchback 2010 Merlot “Peterson Family Vineyard” (Napa Valley, CA) $56 (90)
This Merlot from Napa Valley opens with a new leather and black cherry bouquet. It is medium-bodied, balanced, and savory. Its unique flavor profile is a mineral-infused black cherry with hints of oak, black licorice, and red currant. I found it to be food-friendly and I would pair it with beef bourguignon.
Our other Very Good Merlot recommendations:
Ferrari Carano 2011 Merlot “Sonoma County” (CA) $25 (89)
This Merlot is medium-bodied, balanced, and easy to drink. It features gentle black cherry flavors with notes of old vanilla oak and a touch of black currant and black pepper. Moderate sticky tannins are present. Pair with Italian Braciole.
Reininger 2010 Merlot “Helix Stillwater Creek Vineyard” (Columbia Valley, WA) $29 (89)
This second label from Reininger is smooth and easy going. It displays pleasant black cherry flavors with hints of coffee, spice, plum, and oak. The panel suggested pairing it with Hungarian goulash or barbecue burnt ends.
Thelema 2009 Merlot “Stellenbosch” (South Africa) $29 (89)
This Merlot from South Africa was well received by the panel. It is balanced and approachable. Its flavor profile is a black plum and cherry-vanilla blend with hints of blueberry and cedar. Its moderate tannins are rather sticky. The panel suggested pairing this Merlot with beef brisket, lamb chops or a mushroom risotto.
Grgich Hills 2010 Merlot “Napa Valley” (California) $42 (89)
This Merlot was described by the panel as an interesting wine. It was balanced and smooth. The flavor profile was a unique strawberry rhubarb with notes of blackberry, cinnamon, and cedar with a hint of bacon. Try it with bacon burgers or Kansas City style burnt ends.
Columbia Crest 2010 Merlot “H3″ (Horse Heaven Hills, WA) $15 (88)
One of the best values on the lis, this Merlot is medium-bodied, balanced, and very easy to enjoy. I enjoyed its tasty oak-infused black raspberry flavors with a hint of blackberry and touch of red currant. It’s a nice everyday offering that would pair perfectly with a juicy burger.
Lamoreaux Landing 2010 Merlot “Block 137″ (Finger Lakes, NY) $17 (88)
This Merlot from the Finger Lakes got the nod from the tasting panel. It is medium-bodied, balanced, and easy going. The panle liked its mild tart red plum flavors with hints of spice and mild oak. It finishes dry with moderate tannins that are sticky. The panel thought it would be a good match for a sausage and peppers hero.
Oyster Bay 2013 Merlot “Hawkes Bay” (New Zealand) $15 (87)
This Merlot from New Zealand is a good value wine to consider for everyday consumption. It is nicely balanced and easy to drink. It displays gentle black plum flavors with a touch of oak and hint of black cherry. This friendly Merlot is a very nice glass pour or wedding option. I would enjoy it with juicy Angus burger sliders.
I encourage readers to support this noble grape and bring it back to the forefront of wine consumption. I also encourage winemakers to produce very good affordable Merlot for all readers to consume. If you find a Merlot gem in your travels, please post it in the comments section for our readers to discover.
Cheers – Ken
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