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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

Harvest In Wine Country Report

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by Courtney Cochran

istock_harvest.jpgHarvest is always a nail-biting time for winegrowers, but never more so than in a cool, late year like this one. Why? Early autumn rains can wreak havoc on fruit left on the vine to ripen long into the season, but low sugar levels in cooler years necessitate doing just that.  As a result, this year brought fretting throughout wine country over when to pick versus when to roll the dice and hope for the best.  

In some instances, grapes - especially whites and lighter reds - were harvested a bit behind schedule with little incident, while in others, rain fell on crops that were awaiting that extra bit of sunshine that never came. Here are insights from the harvest trenches on the peculiarity of the 2011 season. 

Sweet Whites: A Napa Valley Itinerary

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girlsDrinkingWhiteWineOutside.jpgby Courtney Cochran

If you enjoy a crisp, off dry Muscat (aka "sweet wines") on a warm afternoon or kicking back with girlfriends, this itinerary's for you. Come along as we visit three Napa Valley wineries offering pours of sweeter whites, and learn about shopping excursions and nightlife options, too. Here's to enjoying a sweet day in wine country!

Healdsburg Itinerary: Russian River & Environs

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grapes4.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

When visiting the achingly cute hamlet of Healdsburg - replete with lovely shops, fabulous markets, quaint tasting rooms and Michelin-starred cuisine - it can be tough to motivate to venture outside city limits.  But with some of the world's foremost vineyards beckoning just beyond, it's a sure thing your efforts will be rewarded with sweeping scenery, warm hospitality and - natch - delicious pours.

World Series Wines Part II: Player/Pairing Mashup!

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By Courtney Cochran

We simply couldn't help ourselves in pulling together wine pairings around our fav Giants players.  And why shouldn't we?  We know that you're almost as into watching our local team in the World Series as you are into quaffing the good stuff.  So with no further ado: The original San Francisco Giants Player/Wine Pairing Mashup!  

(Shout out: Thanks to my friends on Facebook whose tips helped make this piece possible!)

Tim Lincecum: Oregon Pinot Noir
Unless you're a hard-core ball fan, you don't often hear the phrase "perfect pitch" outside of a musical reference.  But thanks to Lincecum's near-perfect form on the mound, we're beginning to hear a lot more buzz about the phenomenon.  Still, the guy's known almost as well for being undersized as he is accomplished, which is why we've selected Oregon Pinot as his pairing.  Fiercely talented but often overlooked and underappreciated, Oregon Pinot is making news these days as pros (critics) and fans (consumers) alike catch on to its talents.  To wit, look for silky tannins that recall - if we may - the waves in Tim's famously long locks.

Buster Posey: Beaujolais Nouveau
As one of the youngest Giants, catcher Posey charms audiences with his youthful (dare we say "baby faced"??) visage, which means we're looking to seriously young wines to pair with this player.  With the annual release of France's Beaujolais Nouveau less than a month away, it seems only natural to pair the 2010 vintage of this popular wine with the youthful athlete.  Released every year on the third Thursday in November just weeks after it's been harvested and fermented, Beaujolais Nouveau is the definition of a "young" wine.    

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.

A Winemaking Stroll Down Bennett Lane

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By Robert P. Farmer

bennettLaneWinery3.jpgAlthough it was the birthplace of Wine Country as we know it today, Calistoga is often overlooked among the visiting public. Or, more accurately, it's not overlooked so much as it is not quite reached. Snuggled into the northernmost region of the Napa Valley, Calistoga frequently proves just a bit too far up along the lengthy, easily sidetracked winery trail of the Valley. Too bad. Because some of Napa's true gems await the tenacious traveler with the stamina - or planning foresight - to alight upon Calistoga.

One such gem is Bennett Lane, situated near the edge of the Mayacamas Mountains. Bennett Lane is not one of the household names associated with Napa Valley, but the still-young winery has quickly garnered a reputation as serious producer - earning especially high recognition for its cabernet sauvignon and for its tasty everyday varietal appropriately called Maximus. The vision of owners Randy and Lisa Lynch, Bennett Lane typifies the potential for high-caliber cab grown in the northern stretches of the valley - where warm summer sun and volcanic soil give the fruit a compelling intensity. Bennett Lane's winemaker, Grant Hermann, grew up in the area and learned at an early age the importance of sourcing local fruit and attention to detail when aiming for the sort of quality that he has achieved at Bennett Lane. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. In less than half a decade, more than a dozen Bennett Lane wines have earned 90-point scores from Wine Spectator, and the publication has twice given the Maximus Vintage its "outstanding value" recognition.

2010 Mendocino Harvest Report

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By Courtney Cochran

With smoke-tainted 2008 vintage wines in circulation now, Mendocino winegrowers no doubt are keen on a strong harvest this season. Still, this hardy group from one of Nor Cal's most northerly wine regions is all too familiar with the vagaries of inclement weather - not to mention so-called acts of god (hello, fires!) - which means they're used to holding their breaths come near-harvest-time.  

I caught up with standout Mendo vintner Paul Dolan of Paul Dolan Vineyards to get his take on what's in store for Mendo wines in 2010.


Hot 10 Under $20: Sonoma Summer Sips

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By Courtney Cochran

Funny things happen to people when the thermometer inches up (according to the FBI, crime rates rise 10% nationally during the summer months).  And this summer - which is tracking to be the nation's hottest on record - will be no cup of tea.  Which is why, amidst all the hoopla about the heat and the stress from the heat itself, there's nothing quite like a glass of chilled white or rosé to take the edge off of it all.

Whether the weather where you are is scorching (hello, much of inland California!), simply warm, or something in between, we've got ten summer-ready Sonoma wine reco's that are guaranteed to cool you down.


Yountville Tasting Itinerary

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By Courtney Cochran

bubbly.jpgYountville has never been hotter, and - fittingly - visitors to this popular Wine Country hamlet have never had better options when it comes to things to do. In this spirit, read on for a wine tasting itinerary starring four of the town's top vinous haunts; we're sure you'll find plenty more reasons to call this a hot spot once you've tasted its best in red, white and bubbly.

Yountville: Taste In Town

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wineTasting.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

You'll be hard pressed to find a cuter - or more gastronomically gifted - town than Yountville. With its myriad hotels, spas, restaurants and retail shops right within a several-block radius, it's a self-contained Wine Country hamlet literally tailor-made for tourism. Now, with the addition of Maisonry, Yountville packs more appeal than ever before.

Sonoma Valley Tasting Itinerary

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By Courtney Cochran

sonomaValleyTasting.jpgThe birthplace of the California wine industry, Sonoma Valley - more romantically known as the Valley of the Moon - is today home to dozens of wineries and the historic town of Sonoma, site of the Bear Flag revolt and home to California's northernmost mission, San Francisco Solano.  Beyond its impressive historic pedigree, Sonoma Valley is a gorgeous place to while away a few hours or even a few days sipping, shopping and savoring the bounty of this vinous enclave that's just an hour north of San Francisco.

>>Day 1: Los Carneros & Sonoma
>>Day 2: Kenwood & Glen Ellen

Sonoma Valley Tasting Itinerary: Day 2

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by Courtney Cochran

Kenwood & Glen Ellen
An easy drive north from Sonoma, the wineries near the rural hamlets of Kenwood and Glen Ellen beckon with superb hospitality perks and the dramatic backdrop of the Mayacamas Mountains.

kenwoodVineayrds.jpgKenwood Vineyards
Kenwood puts the country in your Wine Country visit thanks to its rustic-chic tasting room housed in a welcoming, circa-1906 Redwood barn.  Hewing close to Sonoma's reputation for responsible environmental measures, Kenwood employs sustainable business and winemaking practices in producing its wide variety of wines, most of which are on offer daily in the tasting room.  Don't miss the spot's historic Jack London series of award-winning reds, produced each year from lava-terraced vineyards on the renowned Jack London Ranch in Glen Ellen.
9592 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood, CA 95452 * (707) 833-5891 * @KenwoodVineyard


Sonoma Valley Tasting Itinerary: Day 1

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by Courtney Cochran

Los Carneros & Sonoma
Our first itinerary is within easy reach for those driving north from San Francisco for the day or staying overnight in Sonoma.

anabaWines.jpgAnaba Wines
Named for the anabatic winds that cool the vineyards of Sonoma, Anaba is a postcard-cute stop at the intersection of highways 116 and 121. Housed in a modest converted farmhouse, the cozy tasting room offers affordable pours of Rhône blends and Burgundian varieties along with informed commentary. Just about a year old and anxious to establish a good rapport with Wine Country visitors, Anaba is an ideal stop for those who enjoy one-on-one conversations with tasting room staff alongside a pleasingly varied vinous lineup. 

60 Bonneau Rd., Sonoma, CA 95476 * (707) 996-4188 * @AnabaWines


St. Helena Wine Tasting Itinerary

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DSC02806, Beringer Vineyards, Napa Valley, Cal...

Image by jimg944 via Flickr

By Courtney Cochran

ST.HELENA, CA - Wine may be what brings us to wine country, but it's not the only show going on when it comes to things to do amongst the vines.  Read on for an itinerary focused on activities in and around St. Helena that promise more than your average swirling and sipping experience - one we're sure you'll remember long after the day's done.

History Lesson: Beringer 
Start you day north of St. Helena at Napa Valley's oldest continuously operating winery, Beringer.  Designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, the 19th Century Rhine House (fashioned after the family's impressive old German home at Mainz-on-the-Rhine, natch) encompasses the tasting room and is a marvel of ornate Victorian architecture.  Choose from one of three tours (30 minutes to 90 minutes in length, including a family tour) to learn about the spot's vibrant winemaking history, or explore the estate's beautifully landscaped grounds on your own with a glass of wine in hand.
(707) 963-4812 * 2000 Main Street St. Helena, CA 94574
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Here's to Mom: Our Must-Do Mother's Day List

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by Courtney Cochran

NAPA VALLEY / SONOMA, CA

Once a year (seems it ought to be more often, no?) we pay tribute to that special woman who had the good sense to bring us into the world - and, once we'd arrived, to guide us through life's many travails and triumphs with aplomb. This year, we encourage you to consider our list of Must-Do Mother's Day activities in planning your Sunday celebrations.  Because wine, like mothers, improves with time, we think it's only fitting that you pair these two delights come fête-time.

yogaVineyardsWebsite.jpgYoga In the Vineyard
San Francisco sommelier-turned-yogi Christie Dufault offers delightful Mom-and-me experiences in her buzz-worthy new "Yoga In the Vineyard" retreats. Held amidst the vines in vinous hotspots including Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Santa Cruz, Dufault's classes emphasize being in the moment and celebrating the senses - activities made all the easier thanks to inclusive Biodynamic® wines and organic meals. Call for custom retreats; gift certificates available.

St. Supéry Behind the Scenes
Sundays from 11am-12pm Rutherford's St. Supéry offers cellar tours designed to give you the inside scoop on the winemaking process from crushing to bottling. Wrapping with a barrel tasting of estate grown reds, it's a rewarding way to pair a little education with your wine country exploration - something Mom will no doubt appreciate (while noting your grown-up savvy, ahem).  St. Supéry's sweet staff and beautifully appointed tasting room should be icing on the cake.

"Secret" Spring Whites

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By Courtney Cochran

Surprise pals with your vinous prowess as you uncork these lesser-known whites this spring.

AlbardoubleTreeSpecial.jpgiño
Famously made in northwestern Spain's ocean side Galicia region, Albariño is also grown stateside by a handful of adventurous growers including central coast white wine powerhouse Tangent.  A crowd pleaser thanks to its medium body, food friendliness and fruit basket aromatic profile, Albariño works as well with fish tacos as it does with fruit salad and lighter meat dishes - though it may shine brightest of all when sipped on its own. 

Arneis
Wonderfully full-bodied, this aromatic variety from northwestern Italy has surprising heft for a white wine, making it an excellent choice for food pairings where you might otherwise look to red.  But take note: Arneis' eclectic flavor profile - think blossoms, pears and herbs, punctuated by an almond finish - make it tricky for food pairings, though it may just be tailor-made for chicken salad tossed with dill, almond slivers, pear slices and a kiss of dried cranberry.
Note: look for versions from Roero DOC.

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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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.
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)  

Top 10: Mood-Boosting Wines

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Feeling down?  Let these cheerful wines turn that frown upside down.

By Courtney Cochran

This time of year - and this year in particular (sheesh) - there's a laundry list of things that could be getting you down.  Lost jobs, money worries and holiday stress are just a few of the icky items that could very well be a drag on your otherwise sunny mood.  Happily, we're here with a list of wines known for their mood-boosting powers, all packaged into a convenient list.  So, should you need them, we offer not just a few but 10 reasons to stay cheerful this wintry season.

Top 10 Holiday Wine & Movie Pairings

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miracle.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

When it comes time for the holidays, little sounds as good as a cozy night in with loved ones and a great seasonal film. So read on for our list of top holiday films - each one paired, of course, with a superb vinous partner. Because here at WineCountry, we wouldn't have it any other way.

10: Miracle on 34th Street
This 1947 holiday classic tells the tale of a precocious six-year-old who doesn't believe in Santa Claus - that is, until she meets a Macy's toy department Santa (72-year-old Edmund Gwenn, in an Oscar-winning performance) who insists he's the real St. Nick. Heartwarming and full of nostalgia, it's a can't-lose cinematic selection for the season. Pair the original black and white version of the film (our choice) with Meyer Family California Port ($35), a warm, soulful sticky tailor made for a cozy night in.

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?

Merry Good Gear: Top Wine Gifts of 2009

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By Courtney Cochran

fishnet-wine-tote-two-bottle-R-2[1].jpgWith the holidays already upon us, many of us are wondering: what in the world will I buy for the wine lover on my list this year?  Please, allow us to suggest: At the conclusion of a year that can only be described as tough, let loose with gifts that embrace the adventurous, offbeat side of wine.  Because what we can all use right now is a healthy dose of humor - packaged, of course, in stellar style.  

Bonny Book
Santa Cruz wine scion Randall Graham's zany new book, Been Doon So Long ($23), is being hailed as the best new thing in wine reads since Gary Vaynerchuk's manic wine Tweets first hit the web.  Graham - founder of the trailblazing, troublemaking (in a good way) Boony Doon brand - peppers the pages with hilarious literary parodies, song lyrics ("Born to Rhone", anyone?) and more hilarity, but at the heart of it all are some serious questions about the future of New World wine. Score it here.

Tote Tease
Built NY - which first brought us their stylishly minimalist neoprene wine totes several years ago - has only continued to riff on their original concept since, with great success.  And though their well-crafted line of picnic and computer accessories charms as well, we still love their basic wine tote design - updated for '09, of course, in a very cool new "fishnet" design.  So let your bottles AND your style shine through with this terrific new tote, available in two-bottle style for a rightly reasonable $17.



This is the first in a series of behind-the-scenes articles that explore what it's like to be a wine writer.  I promise to deliver plenty of juicy details, insider tidbits and mouthwatering descriptors - so grab a glass and settle in.

By Courtney Cochran
Twitter: @HipTastesMaven

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.  

Hoax or No - Twitter to Make Wine??

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fledglingwine.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

It's true, management for social networking phenomenon Twitter.com recently announced a partnership the company has struck with San Francisco-based Crushpad, the urban winery, to make its own brand of wine: Fledgling. Proceeds for the so-called social media wine - which has its own handle, natch: @fledgling - will go to Room to Read, a charity that supports international literacy projects. And with some 49,124 followers as of press time, it sounds like Twitter's Fledgling Wine is off to a buzz-worthy start.

Parker Pandemonium

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parker.jpegBy Courtney Cochran

It's not easy being Robert Parker.

If the recent rash of criticism of the wine ratings czar is any indication, the lawyer-turned-world's-most-recognized-wine-critic isn't sleeping easy nights. Things first turned tough for Parker this spring when respected wine blogger Tyler Colman (AKA Dr. Vino) as well as The Wall Street Journal penned exposes on ethical missteps by members of Parker's tasting staff. And things have only continued to heat up since, with Colman penning follow-on pieces examining the veracity of Parker's so-called perfect tasting recall and discrepancies in the quality of wines rated in his publication, the Wine Advocate, and on the market.
By Courtney Cochran

Another ringer hit the wine industry recently when geologists gathering for the annual Geological Society of America conference in Portland declared there's little evidence the minerals we find in vineyards can be tasted in wines.  Perhaps most shockingly, the geologists said that "the concentration of minerals in wine is below the threshold of human taste and smell."  This all throws a major monkey wrench in the common belief held by critics and tasters-in-the-know (or so they thought) that mineral flavors can be tasted and smelled in many of the wines we quaff.  
By Courtney Cochran

A proverbial bomb dropped in the wine world late last week when online sales giant Amazon.com notified erstwhile winery partners it would no longer be getting into the online wine sales business. Reactions to the news ranged from astonished to relieved, with many speculating the cause of the ouster can be traced to fulfillment partner New Vine Logistics' recent bankruptcy and pressure from the government to prevent so-called third-party wine sales.

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

Boo Worthy Wines

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by Courtney Cochran

dessertWine1.jpgIn a curious twist of linguistic fate, some decidedly frightening-sounding statements have been lately transformed into vehicles of praise. Mostly refashioned, as far as I can tell, by loquacious members of the surfer/skater culture prevalent in California, the phrases run the gamut of topics and references, but given the time of year I've singled out two that undoubtedly invoke Halloween.

A sampling: .

"These [insert noun in the plural form] are scary good!"

Translation: These [things] are delicious.

"That [insert noun] was wicked bad."
Translation: That [thing] was very cool/extremely impressive. (Note: True to the ironic spirit of this group, the use of two negative descriptors - "wicked" and "bad" - in this one makes it all that much more complimentary.

And so, to borrow a page from this verbally adventuresome sub-culture, I'd like to say that the following sweet wines are scary good, and that serving them on Halloween this year would be wicked bad of you.





Crush 2009: Harvest of Love

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crush.JPGBy Courtney Cochran

The mood at the Napa Valley Vintners 2009 annual harvest report Monday, October 12 at San Francisco's Waterbar Restaurant was decidedly upbeat.  Almost giddy with the news, Honig Vineyards Winemaker Kristin Belair announced that she had actually had time to watch the Giants beat the Dodgers during harvest time this year - in person. Equally thrilled with the unusually mild year and mellow harvest, Judd's Hill's Judd Finkelstein announced proudly - if a little incredulously - that he'd even had time to take his daughter to the circus last Saturday.

Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Repeat

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By Deirdre Bourdet

tastingParty.jpgWine tasting parties always seem like such a fun, good idea, particularly this time of year as the evenings get chillier, and harvest-themed wine events get pricier.  If only someone else would throw one... but actually, hosting a wine-tasting is a snap when you keep it simple.

Step 1: Pick a tasting theme--like oak vs. no oak Chardonnay, Napa vs. Sonoma, Old World vs. New World, or some other contest fraught with passion and potential conflict.  If you need thematic inspiration, or suggestions for generally-available wines at all price points that are good examples of regional or stylistic wines, check out Great Wine Made Simple by Andrea Immer (now known as Andrea Immer Robinson). 
PH-Oppenlander-06.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

In the world of wine as we know it, few winemakers have followed so circuitous a route to oenophilia as Toby Hill, owner/winemaker for Phillips-Hill Estates in Philo. A California native who grew up in Manhattan before returning to the Bay Area for high school, then heading back to New York to pursue a successful career as an artist and ultimately settling down in Mendocino, Hill literally began making wine on a whim when a friend gave him several bottles of unfinished wine one harvest. Several years later, the self-taught winemaker is turning heads with his extremely limited, Burgundian-style Pinots made from Mendo's emerging comptche sub-region. Read on for notes on my favorite of his current offerings.

Oregon Odyssey: Top 10 Willamette Wines

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By Courtney Cochran

Wine hasn't been big in Oregon's bucolic Willamette Valley for long - in fact, it was only in the 60s that the first plantings were made in what is now considered by many to be some of the most hallowed ground for wine production in the world. With a cool, moist climate that favors Pinot Noir in particular, the region just an hour's drive from Portland has fast turned into one of the most exciting places to swirl, sip and savor your way through wine country. Read on for my top ten wines tasted on a recent visit.

Wine Country Itinerary: Willamette South Valley

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ribbonRidge.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Visitors to Oregon's wonderfully Pinot-centric Willamette Valley will do well to split their tasting excursion into at least two days, as the area's wide open spaces create not only lovely panoramic views but also drives of some distance between wineries. Thus, this itinerary starts in the centrally situated Dundee Hills and meanders from there to the nearby towns of Carlton and McMinnville. Along the way, you'll visit one of the region's best-known (not to mention physically striking) wineries in Domaine Drouhin Oregon, a start-up venture in Scott Paul Wines and the birthplace of Willamette wine in The Eyrie Vineyards. In all, it's a fabulously diverse lineup where Oregon winemaking is concerned - and one just waiting for you to savor.

For more on wineries further north, check out our North Valley itinerary.

Oregon Odyssey

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oregon_wine_country.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Oregon's famed Willamette Valley - a wonderfully bucolic spot an hour's easy drive from Portland - may just be the anti-Napa Valley. You won't find any medieval castles or Persian Palaces here, though you WILL find no shortage of ridiculously good wine, an incredibly warm people and a far slower pace of life than that in bustling California. So slow down (literally, the police ticket a lot around these parts), take your time and prepare to be awed by the natural beauty of your surroundings, the superb quality of the wines and the kindness of the people serving them. It's not exactly wine country in slow motion, but it's not far off.

And given the hectic pace of our lives these days, this can be a very good thing.

Willamette Itinerary: North Valley

Willamette Itinerary: South Valley

Wine Country Itinerary: Willamette North Valley

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By Courtney Cochran

Stop 1: Adelsheim Vineyard

A Willamette tour wouldn't be complete without a visit to well-known Adelsheim Vineyard, which boasts stellar views of the Chehalem Mountains from its newly refurbished tasting room just outside Newberg. Founded in 1971, the winery is run by the affable David Adelsheim, a Willamette wine pioneer whose passion for the area and its world-class Pinots runs deep. It's worth going just to taste the winery's nuanced single-vineyard Pinots - the Ribbon Springs Vineyard ($68) is a standout - though Adelsheim's Willamette Valley-classified bottling ($32) is easier on the wallet and does a better job capturing the full scope of the region's signature aromas, flavors and silky texture.

Tasting Room: 16800 NE Calkins Lane, Newberg, OR 97132. Open daily 11am-4pm (tel) (503) 538-3652
Tasting Fee: $15 for 6 wines
Watch My Video of David Adelsheim at the winery

Tip: Take a picnic lunch and enjoy it on Adelsheim's spacious outdoor patio (bottle purchase will be appreciated as a courtesy for using the space). There are no other lunch options in the immediate area, and you'll want to make sure to refuel in the midst of a full day of tasting.

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.

New In Napa: August 09

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EstateCave1_LargeWeb.JPGBy Courtney Cochran

Home to some 300 wineries, Napa Valley is the engine that drives California's booming wine industry. It's also a place where history, art, hospitality and a search for perfection collide to produce some of the most compelling products and experiences Wine Country has to offer. Read on for new developments in this "land of plenty" in our own backyard.
twitter_grapes.jpegBy Courtney Cochran

Just a few weeks ago I spent a half hour on the phone "tweducating" a long time wine industry veteran on how to use Twitter, the microblogging site that allows anyone to post 140-character-or-less updates on everything from food and wine to software and current events (the Iran political protests gained worldwide notoriety nearly instantaneously thanks to Twitter). After we'd noodled the nuances of hash tags, handles and what's appropriate to post (hint: don't tweet the details of your latest root canal; we REALLY don't need to know you just got the novacaine), the subject of harvest came up.

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.

Wine "Made In Hong Kong" A Hit

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By Courtney Cochran

Though wine drinking in Hong Kong is ever on the rise, it still came as a surprise to me when I heard that wine is being made in the city. After all, the flashy metropolis is made of mostly concrete and steel - there's nary a vineyard in site. Having recently visited City Winery in NYC, however, the pieces started coming together as I began to envision the newly faddish urban winery concept taking root overseas - and it turns out that's exactly what's going on in Hong Kong.
deloachbag.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Russian River-based DeLoach Vineyards continues to innovate in the sustainable wine realm with its newest initiative, the "Barrel-to-Barrel" by-the-glass program. Created for eco-conscious on-premise accounts like The Fairmont San Francisco, DeLoach's program - which features nearly 100% recyclable mini barrels and equally recyclable 10L "eco-bag" wine inserts - virtually eliminates the waste associated with buying and serving wine.

From Bottle to Bulletin Board

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Cuvaison_cork1.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Cuvaison gave new meaning to recycling when it kicked off its National Cork Recycling Program at last month's Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Reps for the sustainable Napa winery - which utilizes solar power and is certified Napa Green - collected more than 5,000 corks at the swank Colorado festival and say their efforts were rewarded with choruses of 'It's about time!" and 'Great idea!' from fellow vintners.

Rounding Out the Portfolio

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round_pond.jpegRound Pond Presses More Than Olive Oil From Its Estate

By Robert P. Farmer

Years ago, when I first had the pleasure of visiting the Round Pond Estate, I was struck by its tucked-away beauty in the heart of Napa's cabernet country. What struck me next was the fact that cabernet was not coming out of this tucked away beauty. Instead, Round Pond was well known for olive oil.

Its neighbors are some of the world's best-known cab producers. Without listing them all here, suffice to say you know who they are. And it's not accidental that they are all mashed into this little patch of the greater Napa Valley. Rutherford affords idyllic conditions for growing cabernet sauvignon. Generations of winemakers have subsequently been crafting the benchmark for the varietal here.

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.

Wine Country Itinerary: Yountville

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By Robert Farmer

It is arguably the most power packed handful of square miles in California's Wine Country. Yountville: a tiny town along Hwy. 29, can be driven through in a matter of a couple minutes. But at a more leisurely pace, it can take a week to soak it all in. What a week that would be--filled with hours of wine tasting, spa time, and long casual dinners in some of the nation's best restaurants.

Yountville is home to several charming inns and a few world-class resorts. It boasts six Michelin stars among its dozen or so globally famous restaurants. And it's all contained within a few blocks radius. Yet in spite of its highly charged wine-and-dine reputation, Yountville manages to retain its slow-paced rural charm--never feeling too far from the roots that were planted in 1855, when George Calvert Yount laid out the city's plan and put the first grapes in the ground.

So it's not surprising that while many visitors are drawn to Yountville because it is home to Thomas Keller's French Laundry and his more casual Bouchon, still as many arrive to take in the joie de vivre of Wine Country as it can only be found in a town chock full of shops, boutiques and purveyors of the good life.

The town is in the throes of a master plan improvement, which will ultimately add a series of new hotels, spas, and of course restaurants--effectively jamming even more into its already packed four square-mile radius. And through December, the city and its surroundings come aglow during its 20th annual Festival of Lights, a series of celebrations and holiday-themed events.

Gift Guide 2008 - Bottle Talk

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peoplePickingWine.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

The Latin phrase "In Vino Veritas" - in wine there is truth - could easily inspire a second maxim:  "in wine gifting, there is always gratitude." When it comes to giving, a well-selected bottle of wine is always welcome and - as important - carries the added bonus of leaving an indelible impression that's likely to last long after its final sips have been swallowed.  Read on for our list of top picks for gifting this holiday season, for every oenophile on your list.  Prices are estimates.

Wine Country Itinerary - Stags Leap

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By Robert P. Farmer

NAPA VALLEY, CA - In a Valley that is home to many famous regions, Stags Leap jumps out. Located near the eastern center of Napa Valley, the Stags Leap district is bisected by the Silverado Trail. Among Napa Valley's great regions for Cabernet, Stags Leap is known for wineries that produce cabs with a heralded reputation--famously described as an "iron fist in a velvet glove." The cabs are given their strength and subtlety from the volcanic soil, the moderate climate, and by the able hand of the many vintners who produce wines here. Local lore has it that the region is named for a horse that leapt across the craggy palisades to escape pursuing hunters. You will no doubt find much easier going on your hunt for fine wines.

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