Recently in Wine Education Category

The Holidays: Wine Pairing Suggestions

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Whitehall Lane Winery has several suggestions for keeping holiday meal planning and wine selection stress free!

whitehall-lane-winery-wine-bottle-medley.jpg(1) Don't Interfere
Select wines with low tannins that won't make the mouth pucker (like biting a banana peel) and overpower the meal. Avoid big, buttery chardonnays and young cabernet, syrah and petite sirah that can have a lot of bite. Light-to-medium reds, such as pinot noir, Beaujolais, Burgundy and tempranillo, rosés, and steel-casked whites mix well with abundant holiday meals.

Select a wine that complements the sauce.
The darker the sauce, the darker the wine. Giblet gravy is great with a savory white while a well-aged red brings out the flavor in red-wine and red meat sauces.

(2) Consider Audience
Is the table full of foodies who love to experiment or Aunt Opal who has an opinion on everything? Always consider whether or not your guests like to stick to the tried and true or if they're willing to experiment with something new.

(3) Don't Break the Bank
Both quality and quantity are important. Keep in mind that there are many high-quality, reasonably priced wines out there and the professionals at your local wine store or favorite winery online shop can help you stay on budget while also helping you find everything you need to impress your guests.

(4) Go Big!
Big bottles, such as magnums, three-liter and six-liter bottles, are ideal for holiday meals. Many people are intimidated by big bottles but they're great for budget-conscious consumers looking to save time and money while at the wine store or favorite winery. It will leave your guests feeling impressed and you feeling like you hit a home-run.

Click Here to read the full post.

Roots run deep in Tri-Valley; one of California's oldest wine regions

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Livermore Valley Wine Country is home to more than 50 wineries.

livermore-wine-country.jpgWineries range from small family-owned operations to historic leaders of the California wine industry. You can enjoy handcrafted wines in an intimate, authentic setting in Livermore Valley.

The difference.
Unlike other wine regions, with long lines, large crowds, and expensive tasting room fees, most of our wineries still offer a complimentary tasting and a homespun atmosphere. We warmly welcome wine enthusiasts and novices alike. The neighborly ambiance of our tasting rooms will never make you feel like a tourist. We treat our guests like old friends, creating a one-of-a-kind experience. Meet the winemaker, get a private tour, barrel taste, and get a firsthand account of the wine-making process.

The experience.
There are several types of wine-tasting experiences in Livermore Valley wine country, from tasting rooms in downtown to no-frills country wineries and historic tasting rooms. Downtown Livermore's Blacksmith Square has several tasting rooms offering local wines, with restaurants and shopping nearby. Taste in an old barn while the winery owner's dog naps at your feet. Picnic in the countryside at a winery where the owners greet every visitor personally. Sip wine on the lawn, and play a relaxing game of bocce ball. For an upscale experience, with a touch of history, celebrate over 125 years with Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards. Hungry for more? Livermore offers everything from picnic fixings to award-winning fine dining at several wineries throughout the region.


Pinot & Mushroom Weekend at Chateau St. Jean

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event_ChateauStJean_PinotMushroom.jpgNo need to forage for mushrooms on your own this season. Join local Sonoma County mushroom experts at Chateau St. Jean February 23rd and 24th for a weekend of discovery with perfect pairings of fine St. Jean Pinot Noir and artisanal mushrooms. This special event will feature special wine and mushroom flights, a bountiful, mushroom-centric marketplace, informative lectures on fabulous fungi, an incredible Station-to-Station tasting experience, and a sumptuous Earthly Wonders luncheon, all which will leave you with a renowned sense of awe for the so-called simple mushroom and Pinot Noir. See more details below!


Whitehall Lane Winery: Harvest Update

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Napa Valley, CA



Harvest 2012 is off to a great (and tasty) start, with much, much more to go!  We officially began harvesting our first grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, on Saturday September 8th.  As you can see, our entire crew, led by winemaker Dean Sylvester and Cellar master Fernando Cortez, were Œin the zone¹ ensuring the first grapes of the season were sorted, de-stemmed, crushed and pressed to perfection.

To date we have crushed numerous lots of SB and one of Pinot Noir picked at the peak of ripeness. Meanwhile, Mother Nature has been very helpful in providing textbook Napa Valley autumn days.  In fact, it¹s hard to believe ­ even if you live here ­ that it is 45 degrees in the morning and 85 in the mid-afternoon, every day.  Reds like Merlot and Cabernet flourish in this weather, which allows the grapes to develop flavor complexity and balance.

We'll begin picking them soon. There are lots of crushing to be done, so please come up, taste a few wines, and let us tour you through the winery. SEE SPECIAL OFFER!
 
What¹s the best way to celebrate harvest?  A Whitehall Lane HARVEST DINNER!
Join us at the winery Saturday October 13th, for an al fresco BBQ dinner commemorating the 2012 harvest.  CLICK HERE more information, or contact Dustin at 707 963 9454 x 32 or dustin@whitehalllane.com.

VIDEO: Learn About Harvest & Crush at St. Supery Winery

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Learn about the harvest season and what crush is like in Napa Valley from St. Supery's Assistant Winemaker Brooke Langelius and Winemaker Micheal Scholz.


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KJ: 2012 Harvest Predictions

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kgBlog_HarvestPredictions.jpgIs 2012 going to produce a phenomenal vintage? What are winemakers starting predict about this year's harvest? All questions we know our readers are keenly interested in as the harvest season slowly creeps closer!

Matt, the winemaker at Kendall Jackson is predicting that "with the necessary grand gestures of knocking firmly on wooden surfaces, I will admit that things are looking pretty darn good out there, " but concedes . . .

"there's a lot of "ifs" that still need to happen for 2012 to be one for the record books:  If the warm summer weather continues into September, we're probably looking at a great one, if that heat is not too excessive where we get violent heat waves that destroy a lot of crop, like in 2010, if the rains hold off until late in October so that our latest-ripening grapes can achieve that perfect ripeness . . .

CLICK HERE to read full article.

A Look at Pre-Harvest at Benziger Winery

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Mike Benziger takes a look at the vines at Benziger Family Winery in July and says this year's vintage is "off to an awesome start"! Watch the video below:


Verasion Begins at KJ Winery

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kj_Blog_PhotoOfTheDay_Verasion.gif"It may seem like a small thing, just one purple grape in a cluster of green, but it means the most exciting time of the year, Harvest, is starting to creep into view." ~ Kendall Jackson Blog

Summer days seem to be passing by in flash! Some wineries are already starting to see a tinge of purple on their grapes in the vineyards. The winemaker at Kendall Jackson, located in Sonoma County, snapped this beautiful picture of a cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon that is already starting to change color from green to purple.

See other pictures in Kendall Jackson's "Photo of the Day" thread.

Why Are Tannins So Crucial to Red Winemaking

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Winemaker Matt Smith from Kendall Jackson, located in Sonoma Wine Country, answers a question that many wine lovers may have asked themselves at one point or another "Why are tannins so crucial to red winemaking?"

The answer might be bit technical in nature, but the result are red wines we love to drink!

kj_Blog_Tannins.jpgExcerpt from recent KJ Blog Post:
In 2010, Kendall-Jackson participated in a seminar on high-altitude winemaking. The winemaking team here was particularly eager to participate because we wanted to confirm what we've known all along: great red wines are particularly rich with tannins. And, for us, that means high altitude vineyards.

Winemaster Randy Ullom reported some of the findings from this research we conducted on tannins. Our philosophy has always been that the best wine comes from the best land; a core tenant of this philosophy is that mountain grapes produce better wines. A large part of that has to do with how much tannin is found in those particular grapes.

So, just what is a tannin?

Summer Wine and the Living is Easy

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We're already a full week into summer and what better way to enjoy the weather then with a glass of "light, crisp, and refreshing" wine. Winemaker Cameron Parry from Chateau Montelena Winery makes some recommendations on his favorites and possible wine and food pairings.

chMontelena_Blog_SummerWine.jpgExcerpt from Blog Post:
So what is a "summer wine?"  Well, the snarky (but accurate) answer is that a "summer wine" is whatever happens to be in your glass from June 20th to September 21st.  However, most of the time we're talking about anything that is light, crisp, and refreshing - a wine that can benefit from a bit of time in the refrigerator (or even - *gasp* - the occasional ice-cube in the glass). For me, most often that means Sauvignon Blanc nice and frosty right out of the 'fridge . . . Close runners-up for summer time R&R are Riesling and Rosie . . .

Try the Riesling with some Memphis style ribs - you'll be pleasantly surprised; the Sauv Blanc, on the other hand, is a great match for barbequed oysters.   As far as the Rosie goes, it is a small production Rosé of Zinfandel that is great with grilled pork chops. 

Now, don't worry, I'm not leaving out the Chardonnay, and no it is not 4th place on my summer (or any other) list, but it is far too versatile to be pigeon-holed as a "summer wine."

CLICK HERE to read entire post.

Sustainable Growing & Wineries: Sonoma

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by Courtney Cochran

Sustainable businesses famously have an eye to the future as well as current projects. As awareness about the need to conserve for tomorrow's generations grows, so does the number of wineries in our backyard converting to eco-oriented wine-growing - and a sustainable future for us all.  Below are some of the Sonoma wineries featuring green practices ranging from responsible vineyard management to economically friendly processes in the winery.

benziger_Vineyard_FromClientWebsite.jpgBenziger Family Winery

Sustainability is built into the mission at this green winemaking leader, which famously focuses on "family, great wine and healthy vineyards." Now three generations in, the Benziger clan - more than a dozen are actively involved in the winery - ensures their entire roster of vineyards is certified sustainable, organic or Biodynamic© via green metrics and a rigorous annual audit. Visitors will see the 'whole farm' ethos at work by way of the farm animals at the welcoming Glen Ellen property (hello, sheep cam!), and can look forward to quality that shows through in the glass:  a diverse lineup spanning Sauvignon Blanc to Syrah is well-received by critics.      

*Visit: 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442; Call (707) 935-3000; Tasting Offer
**Event: Celebrate Earth Day

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards

Nestled into the hills of cool, bucolic Carneros, Gloria Ferrer is in a prime spot for making world-class sparkling wines.  What's perhaps less apparent is this picturesque winery's commitment to sustainable agriculture, something its owners pursue through innovative approaches to everything from soil biodiversity programs to integrated pest management, water management and energy conservation.  Because sustainability also has an eye to the health of people - not just plants - Gloria Ferrer's sustainability efforts support an arts program for local bereaved children, facilitating a focus on renewal of life through creativity.  Ferrer's high marks for hospitality and stellar pours are just icing on the sustainable cake, as it were.

*Visit: 23555 Arnold Drive Sonoma, CA 95476; Call: (707) 996-7256; Tasting Offer

Wine Lovers Boot Camps

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CIA_KeithHarris_Photo2.jpgThe Culinary Institute of America is launching a new series of classes designed for the wine enthusiast at its St. Helena, CA campus -- Wine Lovers Boot Camp: Basic Training and Wine Lovers Boot Camp: Tasting Like a Pro.

Wine Lovers Boot Camp will debut in spring 2012 at the CIA at Greystone, whose location in the heart of the Napa Valley--home to great vineyards and wine estates--is ideal for the study and enjoyment of wine.

Wine Lovers Boot Camp: Basic Training
is a five-day exploration of the joys wine can bring to one's lifestyle, and is designed to elevate participants' overall understanding of wine. The program will also enable students to select and enjoy wine with greater knowledge and confidence, whether shopping for a mid-week meal at home, dining out at a restaurant, or hosting a special social gathering.

Working with the CIA's renowned faculty, students in this Boot Camp will taste the world's major white and red wine grape varieties as they learn to decipher wine labels from regions near and far. They will discover how a vineyard's location and a winemaker's influence can impact the flavor, style, and price of wine. Through tastings, participants will learn how to evaluate wine "flavor" and place it skillfully in the context of a meal. This new-found understanding will ultimately be put into practice in the kitchen as students prepare a multi-course meal with paired wines.

Initial 2012 class dates are February 13-17, April 16-20, and May 21-25 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuition is $2,195 per person, and the class is open to students 21 years of age and older.

The Summer Grilling Wine Guide

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grilledSteak.jpgSummertime . . .and the grilling is easy. The long, warm days of summer are reason enough to fire up the grill - or barbecue - and enjoy some of the tastiest food on the planet with family and friends. Serving a good wine with fare hot off the grill turns dinner into a feast to be savored and making a good wine match is easy if you know how.

Making that good wine match begins with knowing the food to be grilled. While grilling imparts smoky, caramelized flavors, it is - with a few major exceptions - the food's intrinsic character that suggests good wine choices. As with most wine and food matches, the key is to select a wine that both complements the flavor and approximates the flavor intensity of the food.

For example, grilled steaks offer rich, hearty, mouthfilling flavor that pair well with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, which offer similar richness, heartiness and depth; Kenwood Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Valley of the Moon Sonoma County Syrah and - for more smoothness and complexity - Valley of the Moon Cuvée de La Luna Red Wine are all terrific matches.

2010 Wine Harvest: Schizophrenic & Still Uncertain

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By Courtney Cochran

Depending on who you talk to, the 2010 harvest in wine country was anything from incredible to downright awful. Why such a disparity?  The year was, in the truest sense of the word, a rollercoaster of a vintage, one in which an unseasonably cool summer prefaced unruly late season rains, with a smattering of unexpected events further complicating matters in between (think sporadic triple-digit heat spikes).  The result was a harvest that fell two to four weeks behind schedule - leaving many a winemaker biting his nails in anticipation of when things might kick into gear - and culminated in a mad dash to harvest when things warmed up and rains loomed.  Amidst all this mayhem, some winegrowers came out on top, while others were just unlucky.    

Here's a closer look at the factors that drove this year's wacky harvest and the circumstances that led some to come out on top while others were left wishing that 2010 had never happened.

Holiday Entertaining

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mwdHolidayTable.jpgHoliday wine and food pairing can be tough. Figuring out which wines to pair with such a wide assortment of foods is a challenge for even the most experienced chef and the thought of entertaining on top of everything makes is stressful! Here are a few guidelines to follow to ensure your food and wine pairings are easy and fun:

Main Dish
For the white wine lover, a soft Chardonnay is a great accompaniment to poultry and an assortment of sides. Even a Riesling or Pinot Grigio could work. The minerality and apple-citrus notes common to Pinot Grigio match well with rich holiday foods. Also, while many assume white wine is the ideal poultry pairing, Pinot Noir's fruity character and lack of tannins are ideal for serving with turkey. It's vibrant and fruity character is sure to please red wine drinkers too.

If you end up serving an elegant roast meat at your holiday dinner, select a bolder red wine, like a Meritage, to match the stronger flavors of the meat.

Side DismwdRedWineGlasses.jpghes
Any of these earlier wine pairing suggestions will also work well with the myriad of rich side dishes that often accompany the main course. To complement the spices and flavors try a delightful Syrah-Malbec. This lighter red, with its own notes of spices and earthiness, will stand up well to any dish, from sweet potato mash to creamed pearl onions.

Mendocino County: A 'Grape' Cinderella Story

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mwd_MendoArticle.jpgOne of the original counties of California, Mendocino County is located on California's north coast above San Francisco Bay Area and west of the Central Valley. Most notable in Mendocino are the distinctive Pacific Ocean coastline, Redwood forests and quality wine production.

Mendocino's history in winegrapes began following the California Gold Rush in the 1850's. Immigrant farmers, in lieu of riches in gold, turned to farming; choosing the slanted, roughed up, sun-drenched hillsides for winegrape growing. Production started small and then grew with successes.

The more southern markets of Napa and Sonoma proved to be tough competition. Their proximity to distribution channels in larger cities like San Francisco gave them an advantage over the locally sold Mendocino wines. Then, during Prohibition, wine production all but stopped in Mendocino. Only one small family vineyard kept production alive, until the 1960's. Mendocino winemakers had their work cut out for them!

World Series Wines

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What to Quaff With What to Eat While Tuning In
By Courtney Cochran

drinkingWine.jpgAT&T Park - home to SF's National-League-topping Giants - is renowned for its fancy game fare (Gilroy garlic fries, anyone?), though beer usually trumps wine as game-viewing-beverage-of-choice at the LEED-certified park.  Still, we know that vinous-inclined ball fans watching from home will no doubt reach for the corkscrew come this evening's World Series kickoff game.  Accordingly, we've put together a few suggested food and wine pairings for those of you who prefer the likes of Zin while taking in our team's next win.

Peanuts
Where would a true ball fan be without this classic game viewing staple?  When tucking into 'nuts, there's nothing more fitting with which to pair them than a crisp sparkling wine.  Why? Its acidity will deftly offset all the salt in this treat, while its bubbly profile and creamy mousse recall beer (though we know bubbly is better!).

*Make 'em gourmet: Upgrade your traditional basic nut to fancy Virginia versions.

Hot Dogs
We can't imagine a ball game without 'dogs.  Accordingly, uncork a fruity, medium-bodied red like Pinot Noir or Cru Beaujolais (for the latter, we like versions from Morgon and Brouilly) when tucking into this meaty treat.  These wines' mellow tannins will stand up to dogs' chewy texture, while their fruity flavor profiles make great foils to the savory taste of this choice game fare.

*Make 'em gourmet: Opt for Polish sausage franks for a richer, beefier taste.

Wine Country Exclusive: Domaine Carneros' Eileen Crane

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eileencranedccredit1.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Champagne Taittinger's American outpost is helmed by a dynamic woman bent on improving opportunities for women in wine and putting Napa on the worldwide sparkling wine map.  Part of the founding team that literally built Domaine Carneros from the ground up, CEO/Winemaker Eileen Crane is one of Wine Country's brightest stars.    

Herein, her responses to our most pressing questions.

Napa Valley in a Bottle

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conncreek.jpgConn Creek's Barrel Blending Experience will teach you what each growing region has to offer.

By Ethan Fletcher

Tired of enjoying a nice Napa Cab and then forgetting everything about it the next time you want to buy a bottle?

You might want to check out Conn Creek's Barrel Blending Experience, a two-hour seminar that provides a unique introduction to Napa Valley's famed Cabernet Sauvignons. Best of all, you'll walk out with something a little harder to forget: your own bottle of custom-blended wine.

Falling somewhere between wine tasting, a history lesson, and a high school science lab, the blending experience shows off Napa Valley's unusually diverse wine-growing regions by letting you play winemaker. Inside its recently completed AVA Room, the Yountville winery has collected Cabernets from the region's 13 distinct subregions. The Cabs are lined up in barrels underneath posters that detail their unique regions, climates, and soil types. Wines are ordered according to their characteristics, starting with the three lightest varietals, which offer the softest tannins, and ending with the three boldest Cabs.

READ the rest of the article HERE!

Wine Sampling's Small (Read: Big) Idea

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home_hero_2.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

It seems obvious to eco-conscious winos that wine packaging should be shrinking, but until lately that idea has been little more than just a soupçon of wishful thinking.  But Nor Cal's TastingRoom.com is turning that hunch into reality, thanks to the company's innovative new line of 50mL bottles (compare to a standard wine bottle's 750mL) that allows consumers to taste tiny amounts of wines from a growing roster of winery partners.

Tasting Tours & Barrel Blending

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winetheif.jpgSUISUN VALLEY, CA - The Vezer Family is one of the originators and only one of a few wineries in California that specialize in Barrel tours that actually take you through a hands on Blending experience. This Barrel room tour starts with a base wine right from the barrel, at the same time your host is giving you a wonderful history lesson in the art of wine making, the use of barrels, the origination of aromas and bouquets, the structure of the wine grape itself, and how to balance and give you a well rounded tasting experience.

Top 10 Most Asked Wine Questions (With Answers!)

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By Courtney Cochran

Ask.com, that fount of Internet-based info dedicated to answering every pressing question site visitors can dream up (top searches in '09 included What is Twitter?, What is the meaning of life?  and - not kidding - What is Miley Cyrus' phone number?), kindly shared with us their top ten most frequently asked wine questions.  And since we figure we know a thing or two about that topic, at least, we took a pass at answering these burning vinous questions.  

Miley's number, however, is another story. 

Top 10 DIY Wine Tasting Themes

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Wine glasses

Image by slack12 via Flickr

By Courtney Cochran

As a wine writer and some time hip wine party planner, I'm asked time and again about how to throw a great wine tasting at home. Naturally, I've no shortage of ideas. And given that the recession has inspired ever more tasters to turn to their own homes and devices to explore the vinous world in all its grape glory, I here submit my top recommendations for easy-to-implement wine tastings in your home. As for wrangling the troops, that's entirely up to you.  

The Wine Next Door
With wine now made in all 50 of our great states, it's never been easier to host a tasting highlighting wines raised in your own 'hood. Whether your area specializes in Rhône reds (AZ), crisp Rieslings (NY), Bordeaux reds (CO) or Seyval Blanc (GA), there's bound to be something interesting to get to know.  For a cool twist on this theme (or for those whose local wines may be far from new news), try a tasting that features wines from little-known locales around the US. 

Special Bottle Sunday
Inspired by the national phenomenon that grew out of longtime, Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher's Open That Special Bottle Night, Special Bottle Sunday is just what it sounds like: an evening to invite over your friends to share special wines you've all been saving for...you can't remember any more.  The theme makes for a wonderfully congenial tasting that focuses on great friends and great wine - and reminds you all that you don't have to have a reason to enjoy the better things in life.
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BIODYNAMIC Dynamos

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collage_over_image_page41_10_1[1].JPGBy Courtney Cochran

A recent San Francisco tasting of some of our nation's top Biodynamic® wines proved revelatory as potential for these much-buzzed-about quaffers goes.  Made from grapes grown in vineyards that are treated with special natural soil additions and farmed according to the lunar calendar (seriously), these wines are beginning to turn heads with their graceful fruit profiles and authentic transmission of terroir.  Read on for some of my favorite producers from the event, along with tasting highlights and recommendations.  

And for more on the practice of Biodynamic® farming - along with historical facts and philosophical considerations, such as the importance of biodiversity on farms - check out this useful site from the Demeter Biodynamic® Trade Association, organizers of the tasting.

Wine Tasting in Santa Ynez

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Sunstone Vineyards

Image by nicadlr via Flickr

by Robert P. Farmer

Sunstone Winery & Vineyards

With its picturesque setting overlooking the Santa Ynez River and mountainous backdrop, Sunstone feels like a bit of Provence in Santa Barbara County. The winery's reputation for big, beautiful reds doesn't hurt the illusion, either. The award-winning lineup of fully organic wines includes wonderful reserve Pinot Noir and Syrah.

The grounds feature sprawling picnic grounds and vine-covered walls. It's a slice of French Countryside life, without all the fussiness. The tasting room is welcoming and the unpretentious staff is eager to discuss the day's pouring, or the weather, or most anything at all.

Tasting fee: $10
Tasting room open daily: 10am-4pm
125 Refugio Road, Santa Ynez, CA
(805) 688-9463
www.sunstonewinery.com

Mustard Wines: A Cautionary Tale

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With wine country's rolling hills ablaze in the signature yellow mustard blossoms we've come to look forward to every winter, I couldn't help but pen a piece on enjoying the famed condiment with wine. Trouble is, mustard and wine are the gastronomical equivalent of Paris and Nicole - sworn enemies.

Most of the time, that is.

Consult any reputable resource on wine and food pairing and you'll in all likelihood find mustard couched somewhere between vinegar and chili spice in the reference's list of the all-time trickiest foods to pair with wine. The reason is that, mustard, with its vinegary sourness and, occasionally, piquant sweetness, is fundamentally at odds with most wines' plush fruitiness and dry (read: not sweet!) character.

Fortunately, just as the notoriously fickle The Simple Life stars occasionally patch things up and put on a good friendship face for the cameras, so too can wine and mustard - in the right circumstances - carry off the appearance of a healthy partnership. Read on for the low-down on how to pair these fickle friends.

Crab Wines

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What to pair with the other white meat

by Courtney Cochran

Come mid-November each year, crustaceans become decidedly de rigueur as a dining alternative to all the rich savory fare that frequents the table this time of year.

I don't know about you, but I reach a very certain point of saturation when it comes to the likes of ubiquitous holiday meats turkey, ham and roast. Consuming them throughout the holiday season can be overwhelming to a lass like me who's accustomed to so-called California cuisine, with its emphasis on fresh veggies and lean meats.

Enter audible sigh of relief, then - at least on my part! - when crab season arrives. Every year it seems to come just in time to give respite to like-minded diners who're searching for a little levity amidst all the hearty foods so popular during the cool months.

With Respect: Wine Tales of the Decade

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robertmondavi.jpegBy Courtney Cochran

Props to Sasha Paulsen over at the Napa Valley Register for penning a spectacular piece on the top trials, travails and triumphs of the last ten years in wine. Beginning with a nod to the two economic downturns that "bookended" the decade, Paulsen explores everything from the departure of legends (RIP, Robert Mondavi) to the erection of Tuscan castles to a move towards producing wines with environmental and sustainable cues in mind.

New Year In Wine: 10 Predictions for 2010

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newyear2.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

With 2009 behind us, let's all breathe a collective sigh of relief and turn our sights - not to mention our vinous radar - on the New Year.  If you're like us, a fresh start means you're looking forward to good things like pay raises, thinner waistlines and general prosperity like we haven't seen in some time.  And while that's all good and well, we'd like to remind you that there's more - much more, in turns out - in store for you in the world of wine in the New Year.  

Read on for our predictions on what'll be hot - as well as what'll be...not...in 2010.

Clef du Vin: Best Wine Gadget Ever, Or Just Another Expensive One?

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clefduvin.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The Clef du Vin purportedly allows a collector to identify when his or her wines will be at their prime by mimicking the aging process.  For each second the copper-looking alloy is submerged in the wine, the wine supposedly "ages" one year.  If true, this has got to be the best gadget ever invented!!  Imagine taking the guesswork out of when to drink your precious bottles, and even out of which bottles to buy for the collection.  Imagine being able to buy only cheap, young wine and having it taste like pricy, aged collectors' items in a matter of seconds.

Bridge Wines: The Ultimate List

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Red with meat, white with fish?  Not necessarily! 

By Courtney Cochran

For years, the annals of wine drinking 101 have told us that we must drink whites with light dishes like fish and reds with sturdier fare such as steak.  Not so!  Turns out there are many wines that manage to work well with foods on both sides of the intensity spectrum - and they're primed for your food and wine pairing pleasure.  We call them bridge wines, and we've prepared a whole list of our favorites for you below, along with tips - natch - on the best fare with which to pair them.  

Get ready to start drinking outside the proverbial wine box. 

Football Wines

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footballwine.jpegBy Courtney Cochran
Twitter: @HipTastesMaven

With New Year's bowl games nearly upon us (and Super Bowl '10 just around the corner!), we decided to offer you some suggestions for wines to pair with football.  Because while these games have long been beer-centric, we're convinced there's room for a few good wines after kick-off.

Bowl Game Bruiser
There's something undeniably masculine about Petite Sirah, the hearty grape that produces massive reds like Parducci's standout Mendo bottling, True Grit.  Crafted from gnarled old vines that deliver loads of palate-pleasing black fruit, vanilla, pepper and caramel, True Grit might as well be tailor-made for the biggest grill fare - think steak, sausage, brisket and ribs.  In other words, it's just what your football fan ordered.  Game on!
2006 Parducci "True Grit" Mendocino Petite Sirah ($20)  

Passion, not Pretense

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Julio.jpgPalmaz Vineyards reflects the ingenuity and determination of its owner.


By Ethan Fletcher

Dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, Julio Palmaz doesn't give the impression of being the millionaire inventor of a medical device that has saved many lives. Just as his Palmaz Vineyards, located virtually unmarked off a windy country road on the outskirts of Napa, doesn't seem all that extraordinary at first glance. But like the winery, which houses one of the most sophisticated underground wine-making operations in the world, Palmaz has more going on than meets the eye.

Trim and youthful looking at 63, Palmaz was born outside of Buenos Aires-his father, a bus driver, used to send the young Julio to the store to fill up glass jugs with wine. After attending medical school in Argentina, he came to the United States in 1977 for his residency at UC Davis, and it was while living in the Bay Area that Palmaz and his wife, Amalia, discovered the magic of Napa Valley.
"I had this little white Triumph Spitfire, and we used to love exploring Wine Country on the weekends," Palmaz recalls.

It was also at Davis that Palmaz first came up with the idea that was to enable the couple to fulfill their fanciful dreams of one day owning their own Napa winery. Interested in medical innovation, Palmaz developed a coronary stent-a miniature collapsible scaffolding expanded by an inflatable balloon that essentially props up clogged arteries.

Read More

Decanting 101

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By Courtney Cochran
Twitter: @HipTastesMaven

From a purely practical standpoint, we decant wine for two reasons: to remove sediment from older bottles, and to aerate younger wines to enhance their aromas and flavors. But there's a third reason for decanting that's equally important, though rarely acknowledged: Decanting wine is one of the most visually captivating things you can do surrounding wine service, and the act adds an undeniable sense of heightened ceremony to any special occasion.

Given all of these perks, don't you think it's time you mastered the art of decanting?

Natural Is As Natural Does

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So-called "natural wines" are under the microscope these days
By Courtney Cochran
Twitter: @HipTastesMaven

The natural wine debate reached a fever pitch last week when the San Francisco Chronicle's head wine scribe, Jon Bonne, penned a blog post asserting that "natural wine is toast." At the core of his rant? The co-opting of the term - intended, at least initially, to describe wines made with minimal intervention - by marketers who wish to capitalize on its buzz-worthiness. The problem with buzz, of course, is that as soon as something becomes earmarked as "buzz" it's usually lost most of its potency anyway.

Cooking With Wine

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When You Actually Put It In the Food

By Deirdre Bourdet

Some may consider the deliberate pouring of wine into anything other than a drinking vessel or eager mouth a shameful, wasteful act.  While I see their point, wine-based cooking also happens to be one of the most delicious, easy, and traditional techniques for creating wine-friendly food.  A splash of red to deglaze your meat searing pan, a dash of white to loosen up those all-too-quickly browning onions, and you've suddenly added worlds of flavor, depth, and sophistication to your creation.
 
Then there are the truly wine-based recipes (coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, moules marinière, etc.) where the wine takes center stage.  Typically there is a great deal of reduction involved--simmering the wine with other ingredients to concentrate flavor and reduce the volume of liquid to a thicker, more sauce-like consistency.  These recipes make you confront the question of which bottle to use head-on, because the quality of the wine reduction really sets the tone of the dish.

Must-Have Glasses For Holiday Party Season

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Fusion-Infinity-placesetting.jpgby Deirdre Bourdet

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away, and while most people have started planning their menus, most people haven't given much thought to rustling up stemware for the hordes of celebrants about to descend.  Big gatherings tend to bring out those back-of-the-cupboard wine "goblets," or the ever-festive plastic glasses--both because of necessity (few people have 14 Spiegelau glasses on hand), and because no tears will be shed when the inevitable shattering occurs.

Having recently broken two Riedels at home myself, I decided it was time to check out the purportedly "break-resistant" wine glasses Wine Enthusiast stocks.  Fusion stemware is made of lead-free European crystal fused with magnesium, and is backed with a 10-year warranty.  If the glasses shatter from normal klutziness, Wine Enthusiast will replace it for free.  (See full details at wineenthusiast.com/Fusion)  Now obviously this is still crystal, so if you hurl it to the sidewalk in a fury, it will almost certainly break--and not be covered by the warranty.  But Fusion is apparently immune to those everyday backhands that bring down your glass and its contents in a cascade of splintered pain.  

Nouveau Sips: Wines to Savor in 2010

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By Courtney Cochran

Let's face it: the recession taught us many of things, perhaps the most important: you've got to appreciate the small things in life. And with 2009 drawing to a close, we can all look forward a renewed perspective (not to mention uptrending economic indicators, whew!) in the new year. To go along with this reinvigorated view of things, we offer the following ten wines that are destined to be hot in 2010. Because if another thing is altogether clear as we head out of this strange era: wine is and always will be a hallmark of the good times. And, it's time for each and every one of us to start living the good life again.

So go on: The little things in life are beckoning - and go down swell with a swill of some excellent vino

Back Room Battle

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Back Room Wines 10.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The film Bottle Shock tells the tale of the 1976 "Judgment of Paris," where California wines beat out their French counterparts in a widely publicized blind tasting.  This week in Napa, three local merlots go head to head against three from Bordeaux at Back Room Wines' Thursday night tasting event. It won't be blind, but it will be delicious.

Top Wine Faults & How To Deal

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By Courtney Cochran

We've all been there before: The wine you've ordered arrives at your table at the chichi restaurant and smells...wrong. You're not sure what's behind the malodorous scent, but you're quite sure it smacks of your Aunt Edna's moldy attic. You're desperate to send it back, but nervous the "dirty attic" excuse will come off as uninformed, inadequate and pathetically incorrect all at once. But take heart, worrisome wino: there is a method to the madness of decoding wine faults (as usual, we've got you covered).

Because no one - your Aunt Edna perhaps excluded - should have to suffer through the unpleasantness of a mold-imbued wine.

Watch the Harvest in Napa Valley

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Want a first hand glimpse of crush season in Napa Valley already underway? Of course you do, which is why you're here!

See what Hall Wines and Goosecross have been up to . .  .

Hall Wines




Goosecross Cellars

Pre-harvest Grape Sampling from David Topper on Vimeo.



If the Glass Fits

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A Sommelier's Take on the Supposedly Perfect Glass

by Courtney Cochran


As a little girl I believed that, really truly, Cinderella's glass slipper was made just for her. Not only had she gone through all that heartache and pain before finally getting her chance with the prince, she had such a perfectly tiny foot it seemed like destiny that she'd wind up not only wearing the shoe, but wed to the dashing guy.

Fast forward about 20-some years to last night, when I found myself seated in a comfy conference room at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, thinking not so much of fairy tale princesses as fairy tale stemware. I was assembled there with more than a dozen wine journalists, all gazing skeptically at a very dapper Austrian dude at the front of the room.

Although not exactly a prince, Georg Riedel is most definitely cut of an elegant mold. The current head of his family's renowned Austrian glassmaking firm, Riedel was there in his fancy suit and clipped accent to tell us all how, really truly, wine tastes better when it's served in his Sommelier series glasses. Only this time he had a much tougher audience than Cinderella's impressionable four-year-olds!

DIY WINE

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homewinemaking.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Who says that when it comes to winemaking you have to leave it all to the pros? Turns out there's never been a better time than today to make your own wine, whether you're set on doing so solo in your own home, with a group at your local wine shop or at one of the popular new custom crush facilities. The wine world, you see, is your oyster - or perhaps we should say, your Cabernet.

Home Winemaking
Home winemaking has been around for millennia, though it really picked up in popularity during the Prohibition era, when Americans were allowed to make a limited quantity of wine at home for their own consumption. Techniques for home winemaking have improved since then, though many of the practice's most staunch adherents continue to use fairly basic techniques (for more on how to begin making wine inexpensively at home, consider picking up the well-received The Way to Make Wine: How to Craft Superb Table Wines at Home.

Wine Forward: iPhone Wine Applications

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iphone_app.jpegBy Courtney Cochran

Made from scores of regions, hundreds of varieties, thousands of producers and newly released each vintage year, wine is one of the most data-challenged consumer goods we enjoy. But now, thanks to a host of fancy new iPhone and iPod Touch-compatible applications, sorting through the dizzying array of wine selections in stores, restaurants and even in your own cellar is getting a whole lot easier. Read on for our picks for top applications to fuel your Wine Country lifestyle; they make researching, scoring, sharing and even buying wine a snap - and they let you do it all from the palm of your hand.

Get Rave Reviews - Host Your Own Wine Tasting!

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Submitted by My Wines Direct

The reviews are in on the My Wines Direct Home Tasting Party Kit, and the critics agree...hosting your own wine party can be fun and easy! The group over at WineMavens.com sampled our Tasting Party Kit and here's what they had to say:

"Lots of legs"
"Smells like vodka"
"I don't really know why I like it but I do."

You'd think my friend Meredith was describing a blurry night in a hotel room in Vegas. You can just imagine the sunglasses, venti Starbucks and the six of us Sorority sisters ohing and ahing and digging for details at brunch the next day a la Sex and the City. But alas, that will be saved for another write-up my friends. I am in fact quoting from an event much more morning-after friendly (and with many fewer embarrassing pictures) and appropriate for our everyday grape enjoyment: a wine tasting party I threw with a rockin set up designed by My Wines Direct. No miniskirt or VIP pass necessary. You don't even need to know the difference between a merlot and a cab. Well maybe you'd want to, but your party will end with many more memorable comments when your guests aren't the biggest imbibers of the vino.


Cayenne You Drink Wine With That?!

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Honing in on the best wines for hot fare

by Courtney Cochran

There are few places in the world where people get as excited about eclectic cuisine as they do in Northern California. This truth was at the top of my mind while I reflected on a spirited Cajun-style crawfish boil I attended at a private home in Napa a while ago.

There, an excited group of wine industry luminaries had waited anxiously while two giant pots' worth of crawfish freshly harvested from the Sacramento River cooked over several hours in piquant Cajun spices. After a protracted cocktail/cooking hour, the pots of boiled crustaceans were poured out onto newspapers spread on an outdoor table for a southern-style alfresco meal. The guests, taking cues from a host with Louisiana roots, rolled up their sleeves and dove into the crawfish, ultimately polishing off the entire batch before retiring to nurse their over-spiced taste buds over conversation and cold beer.

Blind Tasting 411

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by Courtney Cochran

Come on, admit it: you're dying to know. Just how do professional sommeliers identify the seemingly endless varieties of wine out there with just a quick sniff and a little taste? Allow me to enlighten you: it's not brain surgery.

People are constantly asking me how I can divine a Pinot from a Zin, tell a Riesling from a Sauvignon Blanc and ID that soupçon of chicken coop in my Chateauneuf du Pape. The answer is actually quite simple: practice! Just as it does for riding a bike, practice makes perfect for honing your blind tasting skills.

In fact, I'm quite sure that with a little practice lots more folks could master the art of blind tasting. Sure, it takes some professional insight and guidance at the get-go to make sure you're doing everything correctly, but once you've got that part squared away I think you'll be surprised by how decidedly un-mysterious tasting wine blindly can be.

Wine With a Side of Fries

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What to quaff with these salty treats

by Courtney Cochran


Whatever wise guy once said "some of the best things in life are free" had it all wrong.

Most of the best things in life, in my estimation, are just the opposite: cable TV, fabulous vacations, exquisite meals in high-end restaurants and fancy cars are just a few examples of some of the better things in life that are most decidedly NOT free.

Given my realist tendencies, you can probably understand my frustration when somebody started referring to French Fries not long ago as "Freedom Fries." Although I understand the not-so-subtle political agenda behind the re-naming, I can't help but poke fun at the unintended implications of the new name. Because, as is the case with most good things in life, there's absolutely nothing "free" about fries.

Burn, Baby, Burn: Best Wines for BBQ

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A Sommelier Sheds Light on the Best Wines for BBQ
by Courtney Cochran

Firing, roasting, and grilling are decidedly du rigueur during the summer months, but finding wines that work well with this tricky fare can be a challenge. Just as shining a spotlight on an actor onstage brings her features into focus for an audience, these cooking methods serve to concentrate the flavors of whatever's being cooked, necessitating a wine with both strength and personality to stand up to the food.

Read on for the low-down on some of the more common characteristics of flame-cooked fare and how to track down the perfect wines to pair with these traits.

Pinot.com

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pinot.jpgIf you love Pinot (and all it's variations), then Pinot.com is the site for you.

Discover the "sensuality" of Pinot Noir  . . .

Plan to attend upcoming Pinot wine events around the country....

Pair some of your favorite dishes with Pinot...

Read recommendations on what Pinots to buy and drink...

Remember...there can "Pinot" no others!

www.pinot.com

Wine Tasting Etiquette

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wineEtiquette.jpgApparently there is a certain etiquette to wine tasting. If so, I should enroll some of my friends who seem to think it is impolite to not drink all the wine offered and after two wineries are tipsy. Then, of course there is always the one guy in the group who wants to showcase that he just read wine basics 101 online. Hint: No one cares. Let us enjoy the wine in peace or at least hear from the expert behind the wine tasting counter.

Columnist Nathaniel Bauer knows who you are and he has compiled together 10 etiquette tips for wine tasting.

Some you might know, others may be new, either way, it's always good to review!  Read full article here.

Aroma and Tasting Guide: Reds

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by Courtney Cochran

Grape Variety

Common Aromas

Common Flavors

Pinot Noir

Light ruby with brown or pink rim

Red fruits: cherry, strawberry

Also: vanilla, caramel, smoke, earth, leather, game, spice, tobacco

Red fruits: cherry, strawberry

Also: vanilla, caramel, smoke, earth, game, spice, pomegranate

Merlot

Medium ruby with pink tones

Red fruits: plum, cherry, strawberry

Also: chocolate, vanilla, cream, coffee, herbs, tea leaves

Red fruits: plum, cherry, strawberry

Also: chocolate, vanilla, cream, coffee, herbs

Cabernet Sauvignon

Deep ruby

 

 

Red/dark fruits: raspberry, cranberry, cherry, blackcurrants

Also: spearmint, pencil shavings, cedar, oak, coffee, tobacco, dust

Red/dark fruits: raspberry, cranberry, cherry, blackcurrants

Also: spearmint, coffee, licorice, bell pepper, tobacco

Syrah/Shiraz

Deep cherry with pink rim

 

Red fruits: stewed plum

Also: pepper, licorice, spice, earth, jam, deli meats, tar, smoke

Red fruits: stewed plum  

Also: pepper, licorice, spice, jam, deli meats

Nebbiolo (Barolo & Barbaresco)

Medium brick with brown rim

Red fruits: strawberry, jam

Also: tobacco, smoke, tea leaves, coffee, tar, eucalyptus, anise, floral

Red fruits: strawberry, jam

Also: tobacco, smoke, coffee, anise, mint

 

Zinfandel

Ruby to brick

(color varies)

 

Red/dark fruits: jammy blackberry and raspberry, cherry, plum

Also: tar, pepper, spice, herbs, licorice, cinnamon

Red/dark fruits: jammy blackberry and raspberry, cherry, plum

Also: pepper, spice, herbs, licorice, cinnamon

Aroma and Tasting Guide: Whites

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by Courtney Cochran

Grape Variety

Common Aromas

Common Flavors

Sauvignon Blanc

Pale yellow with green tinge

Citrus fruits: grapefruit, lemon, lime  

Greenness: freshly cut grass, honeysuckle, rainforest *FRESH*

Minerality: slate, wet pavement

Citrus fruits: grapefruit, lemon, lime

Greenness: tomato, herbs

Also:   mineral, smoke (if oaked), sometimes melon and passion fruit

Riesling

Very pale yellow, nearly translucent

 

Citrus fruits: candied lemon

Stone fruits: apricot, peach

Tropical fruits: banana, pineapple

Also: mineral, slate, petrol, melon

Citrus fruits: candied lemon

Stone fruits: apricot, peach

Tropical fruits: banana, pineapple

Also: mineral, melon, honey

Chardonnay

Medium straw

 

Pome fruits: apple (green or red)

Tropical fruits: banana, pineapple

Also: vanilla, butter, cream, baking spices, lemon or lime, toast, oak

Pome fruits: apple (green or red)

Tropical fruits: banana, pineapple

Also: vanilla, butter, cream, baking spices, citrus fruit, toast

Gewurztraminer

Golden peach

 

Pome fruits: quince, pear

Stone fruits: apricot, peach

Also: rose water, lychee, spice, rose, flowers, melon, lemon rind

Pome fruits: quince, pear

Stone fruits: apricot, peach

Also: lychee, spice, honey, baking spices, melon

Viognier

Deep gold

Stone fruits: white peach, apricot

Also: flower blossoms, baking spices, caramel, cream, toast

Stone fruits: white peach, apricot

Also: baking spices, caramel, cream, toast

Bubble, Bubble Everywhere

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Sifting through the sparkling wine clutter this holiday season

by Courtney Cochran

It never fails: the holidays arrive yet again and you still have no idea how to tell your Prosecco from your Cava. When to serve vintage versus non-vintage Champagne? You're clueless.

With all the stress that comes with the holidays, worrying about your sparkling wine selection seems like an unnecessary burden. Happily, help is here when it comes to the sparkling wine thing. Read on for the low-down on some of the most popular styles of sparkling wine, so that this holiday you can really mean it when you insist that - ahem - you're quite certain a sparkling Chenin Blanc is just the thing to pair with your honey-baked ham.

Turkey Wines

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turkeyWines.jpgby Courtney Cochran

It's that time of year again, and you have no idea which wines to pair with your turkey feast during the Holidays. Do you stick with your usual favorites, Pinot and Cab, and throw in a nice Chardonnay for contrast? Or do you try something you've never had before, like a Gruner Veltliner, to make a big statement?

The answer lies somewhere in between. On upcoming Turkey Days you ought to offer a blend of whites and reds, but you also ought to seek out specific wines whose flavor profiles and weight complement heavier foods, which are often laced with a combination of sweet, savory and spicy notes. Some of these wines are exotic-sounding and can add an exciting contrast to your otherwise traditional table - never a bad thing!

By Courtney Cochran

Those of you who follow this blog probably know that I'm a big fan of user reviews and the whole "wisdom of the crowd" model that's taking the online world by storm. Lamentably, wine web players - outside of a handful of cutting edge companies involved in the Wine 2.0 movement - have been slow to get on the user review bandwagon. But with Sonoma-based Dry Creek Vineyard's recent addition of user reviews to its ecommerce site, there may be hope for change after all.

Ghost Wineries

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by Robert P. Farmer


Stroll on any afternoon through the Vintage 1870 shopping complex in Yountville and you'd never know ghosts surround you. The shops, restaurants, and art galleries give little hint of the building's past. But the structure is actually living its second life. As the name implies, the first life was in the late 1800s--more than 130 years ago. Back then, this building contributed to Napa Valley's original winemaking boom. Today the old winery enjoys a reincarnation, its winemaking past gone but not forgotten.

Top 10 Emerging Wine Regions - California

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By Courtney Cochran

With close to 200 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) recognized in the US - more than 100 of which are in California alone - there's no shortage of interesting domestic wine regions for oenophiles to explore.  And, thanks to the bumper crop of AVAs recently added to California's already impressive lineup, there's an exciting bunch of new regions angling for your attention.  Read on for our picks on those to watch.       

Wineries: Breasts' Best Friends

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By Courtney Cochran

Guffaws over the title of this entry aside, breast cancer is no laughing matter. And with Breast Cancer Awareness Month squarely upon us, I'm happy to report that numerous wineries are spearheading initiatives in October to help spread the word and stem the suffering associated with this terrible disease. Read on for highlights of wineries with the most interesting - and interesting-sounding - breast cancer support programs.

Wine 2.0 Takes Off

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By Courtney Cochran

With the rash of new social (heh, Facebook) and micro-social (Twitter, anyone?) networking sites, it was only a matter of time before the techno-connectivity bug hit the wine world, big time. Enter Wine 2.0, an organization whose tagline - "Blending the Line Between Wine & Technology" - sums up its vocation, though there's a lot more to the organization that just sips and bits.

A Pairing of Wine and Livermore

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livermore_TastingRm2.jpgBy Jessica Beck
As submitted by Tri-Valley CVB

A relationship has transpired over the years between Livermore and the full and vigorous wines of the area. The Livermore Valley serves California as its oldest wine region but what is even more unique and special about the area lies in the connection between the two. Over the decades, a rapport has developed in which one supports the other and one in which each would not be what they are without the help of the other.

In 1997, the city of Livermore adopted the South Livermore Specific Plan which to date has permanently preserved over 5000 acres of vineyards. Livermore has supported the wineries over time and is very proud of the resulting outcome that is now the Livermore Valley Wine Region.
By Courtney Cochran

It's official: If one more restaurant, winery or joe-hawking-specialty-wine-tours-in-Napa bloke signs me up for his mailing list without my permission I'm going to implode. Seriously. In fact, the email deluge has gotten so bad of late that I've been forced to take the proverbial pickax to my inbox, ruthlessly unsubscribing to literally dozens of unwanted distribution lists in fits of slash and burn clean-up. In spite of this furor, I have to admit that I still DO occasionally receive the odd piece of unsolicited email which I find - irritating though it is to admit - undeniably useful, at times even intriguing.

Krug Pops Cork on New Era

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krugwinery.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Happily, the more things change in Napa, the more things stay the same in Napa. And so it goes that as one legendary winery changes ownership hands, another emerges from the chrysalis to spread its wings anew.

In September, the Mondavi family will celebrate the renewal of the Charles Krug Winery--officially unveiling an $8 million restoration to the two historic national landmark buildings at the winery while also honoring the patriarch, Peter Mondavi.

A New French Paradox

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chateaumontelenaroom.jpgBy Robert Farmer

There are more than a few ways to interpret the news from Napa. You might think it ironic. You might think it sad. Or you might think it adulation. And that's the way I chose to interpret the recently announced news that Chateau Montelena was purchased by Cos d'Estournel, one of Bordeaux legendary winemakers.

Rosé Renaissance

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By Courtney Cochran

Unless you've been living under a rock, the news that pink wine is hot is hardly something new to you.  Still, the array of rosé styles to choose from is impressive - and often takes even the pink stuff's most serious fans by surprise.

Dry Rosé
By far the most common style of rosé, this is the version you see on the shelves of most quality wine merchants come summertime. Fermented entirely or nearly "to dryness," this style of rosé contains little or no residual sugar and tastes stylistically similar to the dry red and white table wines (think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) we're most familiar with.  They key difference when it comes to dry rosé is in the winemaking style - these wines score their enticing pink color from a process called "saigner," meaning "to bleed" in French. During the saigner process, a touch of color is leeched from the skins of red grapes (all grape juice is more or less clear without skin contact) prior to fermentation, leaving the finished wine anywhere from just barely pink in color to just shy of fully red in hue, depending on the amount of time the wine spent in contact with the grape skins.

Courtney & Hip Tastes Come to St. Helena!

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htb_header.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

St. Helena, Napa Valley: I'm thrilled to announce a rare Napa Valley appearance tomorrow night, 6/25 - I'll be chatting about my book, Hip Tastes: The Fresh Guide to Wine, and signing copies as part of the 1st Annual Books on Wine Festival at the St. Helena Public Library. I'm thrilled to be included in a super lineup of wine books published in 2007, including A Moveable Thirst, New Classic Winemakers of California, Small Plates Perfect Wines, and The Art of Terroir.  Refreshments begin at 6pm and are followed by author chats from 7 to 8:15, with author signings to follow.

Benziger Swaying With The Palm

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thepalm.jpgBy Robert Farmer

I'm typically not a "chain" guy, when it comes to restaurants. Indeed in most instances I avoid them by personal writ. But of course some chains are better than others. And some are cut from different cloth entirely. So it was when I entered for the first a couple summers ago The Palm Restaurant in Miami.

I knew the Palm was one of the most feverishly followed steak houses in the U.S., and I was eager to discover what all the fuss was about. Besides, with only 25 Palms in existence, this particular chain was decidedly "short" which made it easier to bend my own rule.

Wine Popping With Climate Change

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climate2.jpgBy Robert Farmer

It's easy to overlook just how pervasive the topic of climate change really is. Not everybody lives in the South Pole, where massive sheets of ice are breaking away at alarming rates and melting into the ocean. Not does the threat of coastal waters rising to overtake entire cities sway the minds of most people on earth.

But the fact is, climate change can and will impact nearly all parts of our current lives. Yes, dear wine lover, that includes wine. And so it was with a great interest that I heard the news recently of a planned Wine Industry Seminar on Climate Change, scheduled for July 31-August 1 at Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma.

Go Go Camp Mendo

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glasshand.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Those familiar with this space know that I am a fan of "immersion learning." Especially when it comes to wine appreciation, there's no better way to "go deep" into it than to live it for a few solid days. Wine camps are a great way to do it. And increasingly, regions are offering innovative, educational, and above all fun, opportunities to experience wine like you never have.

Mendocino gets into the act with Wine Camp 2008, a three-day, three-night immersion into Northern California wine and all of its various nuances and tendencies. I like this Wine Camp because it takes place in one of California's lesser-known regions and provides "insider info" to the intrepid camp-goer about one of Northern California's under-discovered gems. And, with each camp limited to just eight campers, it promises to be an intimate excursion, with ample opportunity to get one-on-one contact with winemakers and other participants.

Deep In the Heart of Texas

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texaswine.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Texas has long been known for many things - BBQ, the Alamo, Dynasty, a fantastic music festival called South By Southwest (to name just a few) - but until recently something the Lone Star State most certainly was not known for was its wine.  On the heels of this year's well-attended Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival (texaswineandfood.org), however, that's all changing.

Solar Wineries Celebrate Solstice with First Annual Solarbration

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solarbration.jpgNapa Valley, CA - This summer solstice, wineries at the heart of the solar power trend in Wine Country will celebrate the day of the year when the sun shines the longest with the first annual Solarbration.

On June 21, from 5:30 p.m. until sunset, ZD Wines, Honig Vineyard & Winery, and Peju Province Winery will host a solstice celebration, with special wine tastings, sustainably grown gourmet cuisine, and live entertainment at each of their facilities. Guests are invited on a behind-the-scenes tour of the solar energy systems that power the wineries. Ticket price includes entry to all three wineries. All proceeds will be donated to The Land Trust of Napa County. Land Trust personnel will be at the wineries to answer questions about their land-saving work.

Wine List Anxiety

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winelist.jpgBy Robert Farmer

With only one or two exceptions among my decent-sized group of regular dining-out companions, I am always first to grab the wine list. And once I get it, I rarely let it go. Not to say others don't take a look, but instead I tend to keep hold of the list throughout the meal - occasionally prying it open to peruse depending on which stage of the meal we happen to be in.

I love looking at wine lists--the imagination of the sommelier or wine-steward is in full view in these lists, which can range in size and scope from a single-sided sheet of paper, to a handsome, leather-bound book that looks more like an Encyclopedia Britannica. This I know is not the norm. Many people shy away from a wine list like the waiter was waving a plate of liver and onions beneath their nose.

R. Mondavi - With Respect

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rmondavi.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Growing up in a small town in Central California, good wine was difficult - if not downright impossible at times - to find.  And since I had the good fortune of having parents with a European sensibility when it came to sharing wine with their kids, I developed a good enough palate early on to feel the pain, so to speak, when the vino on the table wasn't up to snuff.

Oregon's Vital Center

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refrigerated-truck.jpg

By Robert Farmer

Those few I-live-in-a-cave-types who need further convincing that Oregon's wine scene is not just full-grown but thriving, need only look at the hard evidence. Or, in this case, brick-and-mortar evidence.

Recent news that the Oregon Wine Services & Storage company--a temperature-controlled storage space and distribution center--embarked on a $3.5 million dollar expansion to increase its 110,000-square-foot capacity by 60,000 square feet was certainly no surprise. It's a function of necessity. In a report this year from Silicon Valley Bank about the state of the wine industry, it was predicted that the wine industry as a whole, and in particular Oregon, will continue its record expansion.

Tips For A Terrific Home Wine Bar

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winestorage.jpgWhether your taste is grounded or grand, a few essentials will ensure your home wine bar is primed for the long haul:

Temperature plays a crucial role in the life of your wines. If you do not plan on cellaring your wine, consider a refrigerated system from Sub-Zero. This will also take care of humidity, which should be moderate.

In The Wine World, It's Always Earth Day

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By Robert P. Farmer

earth.jpgWhen you're making wine, the term "earth day" has a different meaning than the one conjured up by what you see in the media at this time of year.  Because when the earth is your office, every day is earth day. So each April, when the focus turns globally to the single day we've set aside to call attention to the fragility and splendor of the Big Blue Marble (don't we really need more than one day for that?), it's worth pointing out the ways in which Wine Country--by that I mean wine-producing regions across the globe--have quietly led the charge to be earth-friendly.

Corked

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Blame it on Ravenswood. With their irresistible Zinfandel, Cab and Chardonnay flowing freely, the audience was well primed for 'Corked', one of the 75 films featured at this week's 11th Annual Sonoma Valley Film Fest.  Created by local winemaking millennial/GenXers Russ Clendenen and Paul Hawley, Corked leaves no stone unturned in a hilarious spoof on the wine industry.  While Sideways took aim at the wine tourist, this little gem nails the insider's perspective.

Eco Touring at Kunde Estate

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By Robert Farmer

kunde_ecotour.jpgWhen it comes to sustainable wine practice there are those who talk the talk and there are those who walk the walk. For those interested in know more about the latter, there is  Kunde Estate Winery & Vineyards (www.kunde.com). The winery that has been a staple in California's Wine Country for a century has also been farming sustainably for five generations. And they are more than happy to show you how it works.

P.S. I Love You

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by Courtney Cochran

psleaf_logo_100.jpgOnce upon a time, there was a wine so big, so bold and so outrageously outsized that its fans felt ashamed admitting it was their favorite. "Oh no," naysayers would insist, "a wine that big just can't be good with food. Why, it's so ridiculously over the top as to hardly even resemble what I think of as a wine."

Despairingly, lovers of Petite Sirah would retreat to enjoy their prodigious darling in the privacy of their own homes, away from the prying eyes of fellow drinkers who insisted that a wine must have impeccable balance - meaning it could harbor neither outsized fruit nor high-octane alcohol - in order to be enjoyed.

Sweet and Local -- American Dessert Wines Are Coming of Age

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DessertWineGlass.jpgIt's no accident that most great wine-producing regions of the world have a signature dessert wine. Bordeaux, Tuscany and the Rheingau are the most famous homes of "stickies," as dessert wines are sometimes called, but the list is far longer. The reasons are simple: sweet wine makes a great finish to good meals, and it takes good grapes to make good dessert wine. So superior stickies tend to be made in places where good wine and good food go hand in hand.

The How-To Harvest

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Harvest Tales - Part 2

by Robert P. Farmer

It's easy enough to feel like you're part of the wine country harvest simply visiting in the fall. But there are ways to truly be part of the action. Short of pulling up stakes and moving here, you can act like a local by getting involved with one of the many programs designed by wineries to make guests feel right at home. These events and programs don't only take place during harvest, but there's no better time to take advantage.

There are a number of excellent behind-the-scenes programs at wineries throughout wine country and in all of California's various wine regions. They range from full-fledged, yearlong grow-your-own courses to afternoon-length grape stomps. The programs are fun, educational ways to get to know wines first hand.

The Time is Ripe

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There's No Time Like Crush in Wine Country

by Robert P. Farmer

For my money, there's no better time to be in wine country than during harvest. The crush. That's what the locals call it. It's the time of year that the grape growers turn their crop into cash. It's an important time for them. And for the average visitor, it should be just as important - and no less busy, if you want it to be. The trick is to know what to do with your harvest time visit. You can spend day after day traversing the countryside, watching the colors change, and taking in chest-filling breaths of the crisp fall air and not really have any idea of what is really going on at harvest time. Wineries love this time of year and you should too.

Diary of a Crush: Part 3

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courtneyCochran_profile.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Day 3 - Saturday, Sept 22

We rose at five the next morning to pick Kenny's Zin. As I emerged from the guest room I was greeted with a large mug of coffee and pressing questions about how much beer I thought we would need when we finished picking. Unable to think with perfect clarity at that hour, we all agreed to err on the side of "more is better." Amply plied with caffeine and with our beer in tow, we departed a few minutes before 6, giddy with excitement about what was to come.

Diary of a Crush: Part 2

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courtneyCochran_profile.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Day 2 - Friday, Sept 21

Friday dawned crisp and cold in the Russian River, where I was staying with Kenny and his family. Although Kenny had left for the winery before 6 to supervise early morning harvest-related activities, I'd been given the go-ahead to sleep in and catch up on a few emails before heading out to meet him. I wondered briefly if the folks back home would call me a fair-weather-crusher for sleeping in, then got over it: I wasn't on payroll here, after all.

Besides, the dreary weather wasn't exactly welcoming at the crack of dawn. It registered to me at that moment that you have to seriously love what you're doing to work until 10, then rise again at five to head out and do more of the same - in icky weather, at that.

Diary of a Crush: Part 1

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By Courtney Cochran

f I'd kept a diary as a teen, it surely would have chronicled many a crush. After all, the anthem of adolescence is, without a doubt, unrequited love.

But, given my current profession (and age, I must grudgingly add), crushing has everything to do with wine, and little to do with romance. Unless, of course, you believe the general splendor of wine country nets it a spot in the romance category, in which case you might make an argument that this diary chronicles an adult crush of a very serious nature.

However you see it, read on for the story of an exciting adventure in crushing.

High Hopes for Harvest

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By Robert Farmer

Wineries throughout Napa Valley have got that happy feeling--not just because it's harvest time, which always brings a smile, but because the harvest this season is looking particularly good--as good, in fact, as it's looked in a long long time.

The official (and unofficial) word among vintners is that the 2007 harvest season, which got under way about three weeks ahead of schedule, is shaping up to be the strongest harvest for Napa in at least a decade. This according to early reports in the industry and according to a panel of growers convened by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

Kisses (and Vino) from Rio

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By Courtney Cochran

The dating life is tough. Take, for example, an unfortunate coincidence that came up between two good friends of mine not long ago. Both ladies were living in Manhattan, working hard by day and - unbeknownst to each other - enjoying romantic dates with same dashing bachelor by night.

Both believed her relationship was "getting more serious," when in reality the guy was more interested in dating most of Manhattan than moving closer to any sort of commitment. It wasn't until said gentleman went on vacation to Brazil and sent both women flirtatious text messages signed, "Kisses from Rio" that they made the connection.

As you might imagine, they then promptly made a disconnection from the guy who became known infamously in our circle as "Kisses from Rio."

Dry Creek Zinfandel Recommendations

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Zinfandel has been on a rollercoaster of popularity for nearly 150 years - today's mad passion is only the latest peak for the bold-flavored red. Throughout most of that time, Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma has been a bastion of Zinfandel quality and tradition. A quarter of the valley's vineyard acreage is planted to Zin, yielding up an abundance of Zinfandels with "Dry Creek Valley" on the label every year.

While it's hard to go too far wrong with Dry Creek Zin, prices have crept up steadily during the grape's latest burst of popularity. There's also been a major move toward higher alcohol and more saturated color and flavor. So there's more reason than ever to choose carefully in order to find a Dry Creek Zin with a style and price you like.

Nearly Native Son--Zinfandel is as American as Fine Wine Can Get

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Dry Creek Zinfandel RecommendationsZinfandel's more passionate adherents got some wind knocked out of them in 2002, when the premium wine grape they described as "America's own" turned out to be European - and from a never-heard-of-it neighborhood to boot.

In the years leading up to this discovery, Zin fans had become increasingly creative in defense of their chosen vine. When a southern Italian grape called Primitivo turned out to be genetically almost identical to Zinfandel, some Zin fans came up with a "reverse immigration" theory: the American grape was so good, they said, that Italian-Americans must have exported it back home to their winemaking cousins. (As if Italy, with more than 2,000 indigenous grape varieties, needed another one.)

Syrah Shows That Change Is Intrinsic to American Wine

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Centuries of wine tradition are ending in a single generation. In just the past few years we've been given premium wine in boxes and cans, $160 Cabernet with screwcaps and imported wine named for small marsupials - and it's all wonderful. Wine is good for us and the earth, and today's trends toward an easier, friendlier wine experience are all positive.

But just a short time ago, almost none of them were on the horizon. In fact, some of the grapes we now take for granted were still struggling for a place in American wine.

Take Syrah. In the early 1970s, there were a few Syrah vines scattered here and there in northern California, but they were usually mixed in anonymously with other varieties. No one made anything with "Syrah" on the label. The University of California at Davis had vines which it had propagated from cuttings taken from a famed French vineyard in the northern Rhône Valley, but the faculty was divided on whether Syrah was worth planting in California. So the vines remained in the university's teaching vineyard.

A Better Blanc: Great Whites That Are Good for the Earth

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At harvest time in California wine country, it's not just warm during the day. Sometimes it's downright hot. That's because the vast Pacific Ocean, the cold California current that runs along the coast, and other factors conspire to push our summer season, weather-wise, much later into the year than in other parts of the country.

So while the south is steaming and the Midwest is baking in June and July, California's coastal counties are often chilled by morning fog and cooled by afternoon wind. Then in September and October, when the leaves are turning in Wisconsin's Door County and people are donning jackets to walk on Cape Cod, vines in California hang in all-day sun, soaking up the energy they need to complete their reproductive cycle.

Oregon Wine Country - Facts and Figures:

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Think you know Oregon wine? Chances are you might be surprised to know that since 1986, the number of Oregon wineries has gone from a paltry 47 to more than 314 in 2004. Or, that grapes were first planted in the Willamette Valley in 1847? Read on to find out what you need to know about Oregon's booming wine industry.

Go Premium Yourself

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Personal-batch wines for the High-end Set

by Robert P. Farmer

In our do-it-yourself world, people remodel their kitchens and build their own outdoor decks. Now, add to the list, making their own wine fine wine. Sure, folks have been making their own wine (and outrunning the local sheriff) for centuries. But, of course, today we're talking about Wine Country and personal-batch wines in these parts are always up-and-up, and more often suitable for sampling along with fine cuisine than for sipping from a jug in a shed 'round back.

The individual-label wine trend is growing. And as part of its natural evolution, the trend for personal premium wine is growing too. In Napa and Sonoma counties, the trend is fostered with the help of professional winemakers who possess both the facilities and the patience to help interested parties learn about and appreciate the effort it takes to make their own wine. Individuals like this can be found at Owl Ridge Winery, whose custom-crush services at Owl Ridge Winery gets under way this year in the form of Sonoma Grapemasters.

Santa Cruz Cab takes first in a re-visit of the 1976 Paris Tasting

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If anyone thought the 1976 Paris tasting, where several virtually unknown Napa wines bested their French counterparts was a fluke, they'll have to contend the 2006 COPIA tasting. In May, two panels convened--one in England, and other in Napa at COPIA--to re-evaluate the original wines and see who's stood the test of time. The results: the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon from the Santa Cruz Mountains finished in first, followed by the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cab, with a third place tie between the 1970 Heitz Martha's Vineyard Napa Valley Cab, the 1971 Mayacamas Vineyards Cab and a 1972 Clos du Val Napa Valley Cab.

Petite Sirah, The Not So Little Prince

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fa_little_prince.jpgIt's one of the most heart-warming wine stories of recent times: a tale of love and loyalty, family tradition, and the perilous passage through deserts of neglect to reach the lush garden of commercial success. The hero of this romantic journey? A forgotten prince known as Petite Sirah.

Petite Sirah was born of French parents in the 1800s. His father was Syrah, long renowned for the famed red wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie. His mother was the less noble but passing fair Peloursin. Yet somehow they abandoned or lost their offspring. He finally turned up in Livermore Valley east of San Francisco, planted by Irish immigrant James Concannon in 1883. But no one knew who he was.

Syrah's Star Keeps Rising in Santa Barbara County

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syrahGlasses.jpgMany years after the movie debuted, they're still giving "Sideways" tours down in Santa Barbara County, and they will be for years to come. That's how it is with movies that cement an image of a place in the popular mind. Santa Barbara's wine country is now Pinot Noir country, and that's that.

Except that it isn't. For some of us, Santa Barbara County's chunk of the massive Central Coast appellation is Syrah country.   It's where Zaca Mesa winery, founded in 1972, still preserves what it calls the oldest Syrah vineyard in the Central Coast and still makes illuminating Syrah. It's where Bob Lindquist went to work in 1975, and then founded Qupé to make some of California's first breakthrough Syrahs in the early 1980s. Those wines made it onto the wine list at Chez Panisse, which wielded more influence in those days than most people can imagine, and Syrah was effectively launched on its current rocket ride to star status.

Another Appellation for Monterey

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otr_another_appellation.jpgThe federal government late last year approved the establishment of the San Bernabe American Viticultural Area (AVA), located in southern Monterey County. Delicato Family Vineyards applied for the 24,796-acre area that includes its famed San Bernabe Vineyard property.

This is the "the world's most diverse" vineyard, according to Delicato. Almost two dozen grape varieties are grown there, including: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah/shiraz, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, barbera, gewürztraminer, white riesling, lagrein and valdiguié. More than 5,580 acres are planted to wine grapes, which is divided into 135 unique vineyard blocks, each farmed individually to maximize grape quality.

Closet Merlot Drinkers, Unite!

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There's no reason to hide our love of top-notch Merlot.

The current attitude among wine fans about Merlot - don't get caught dead with it - is a fashion trend, not a wine evaluation. Like many bashin'-fashions, it arose in response to over-exposure. Starbucks was cool once, before it was on every block downtown. Even Jennifer Lopez went from scorching hot to the, ahem, butt of jokes when she put out too many movies, videos, and albums too quickly. Same with Merlot. So it's useful to remember when Merlot was first emerging into the limelight.

Closet Merlot Drinkers, Unite!

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lrg_merlot.jpg

There's no reason to hide our love of top-notch Merlot.

The current attitude among wine fans about Merlot - don't get caught dead with it - is a fashion trend, not a wine evaluation. Like many bashin'-fashions, it arose in response to over-exposure. Starbucks was cool once, before it was on every block downtown. Even Jennifer Lopez went from scorching hot to the, ahem, butt of jokes when she put out too many movies, videos, and albums too quickly. Same with Merlot. So it's useful to remember when Merlot was first emerging into the limelight.

fw_winecellar_chardonnay.jpgChardonnay's attraction is like that of a movie star. It's the most widely planted premium wine grape in America, it has millions of fans and it shines in any setting--from backyard barbeques to presidential dinner parties. In fact, one of the surest signs that Chardonnay currently leads the fine-wine parade in that people are starting to jump off the bandwagon. While some of them simply seek a change (a trend known as ABC--"Anything but Chardonnay"), others have a bone to pick. Chardonnay, they complain, just doesn't taste like Chardonnay anymore.

Vigonier: An Exotic Alternative Alternative to Everyday White Wine

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There are some who think that Americans should get past an obsession with Chardonnay and start drinking other white wines, such as Viognier, as a white wine of choice.

Granted, many of the people who put this thought forward have a vested interest -- they make Viognier and would like nothing else than to be in the position of not being able to make enough of this wine, made from the white Rhône grape variety of the same name. But having tasted through a number of Viogniers from around the United States recently, I'm beginning to see the light as well.

Pinot Noir - If France is the Past, California is the Future

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PinotNoirArticle_LargePic.jpgPinot Noir may be one grape, but it has developed two distinct personalities in this country. They have as much to do with each other as a string quartet and heavy metal; both are music, but one was designed to decorate the status quo and the other to shake it up. That's how it is with Pinot Noir in America.

Judgment at Paris, Revisited

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Thirty years later, how do California wines stand up against their French counterparts? You make the call.

Thirty years ago, a young British wine retailer had the big idea to put a group of unknown Napa wines up against some the Grand-Cru wines of France in a blind tasting. So utterly outrageous was the premise that almost no one, but a single journalist from Time Magazine, bothered to even attend the event. At the time the idea that these young, New World vintners--including Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars--would even be considered in the same class as the Bordeaux and White Burgundies of  France was utterly implausible.  C'est impossible.

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