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Big Gay Wine Train Comes Out In the Vineyard

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Gaytrain.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

On Saturday March 12, the Napa Valley Wine Train will make history with its first LGBT wine dinner, co-sponsored with Sonoma-based Out in the Vineyard.  The event brings together Sonoma's most prominent LGBT travel company, and one of Napa's most iconic and campy activities for the first ever big gay train ride.  

The evening kicks off at 5:30 pm with a sparkling wine reception at the train station lounge, featuring J Vineyards' fantastic brut.  I don't know if the piano player in the lounge will be taking requests from the audience, but I think it's worth asking.   The train departs at 6:30, with five gay vintners from Sonoma and Napa on board to schmooze and carouse with guests.  Specifically, Greg Bjørnstad of Bjørnstad Cellars, Mark Lyon of Sebastiani Vineyards, Philippe Langner of Hesperian Wines, and Jeff Durham and Joey Wolosz of Poem Cellars will all be roving the train with wine in hand, answering questions and making new friends.

Two Hot New Pairing Programs at Napa Wineries

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lmrwines.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

I enjoy wine tasting, but I definitely perk up substantially if there's food pairing involved.  Thankfully, there are plenty of other people who feel the same way, and our growing numbers are prompting great changes in the way wineries present their products to the public.  I recently had the good fortune to be invited to two of the best winery food and wine experiences in Napa, and can't wait to spread the word.  

Long Meadow Ranch
Adding a food component to their winery's tasting program was a no-brainer for Long Meadow Ranch Winery in St. Helena, which for many years has been producing grass-fed beef, premium olive oils, free-range eggs, and organic vegetables in addition to their wines--and which opened a Ranch-supported restaurant (Farmstead) next to their tasting room just last year.  LMR has just announced some new options for people interested in food as well as wine, with packages at practically every price point.

Crab & Wine Days Ahead In Mendocino

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crabnwine.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

I'd choose crab and wine over roses and song pretty much any day of the week.  Unfortunately, the highly acclaimed "Crab & Wine Days" festival in Mendocino County only happens once a year--at the cold, wintry peak of local Dungeness crab season.  But what better excuse do you need for a winter getaway than the promise of days and days of crustacean revelry and local wines, hosted by California's greenest wine country region?

Those heady Crab & Wine Days will take place January 21st through 30th, 2011, at a variety of locations around Mendocino County.  Events range from classic crab feed fundraisers for local community groups to crab-themed cooking demonstrations, wine dinners, and open house winery tastings celebrating wines that pair with the crabby festival hero.  And because this is Mendocino, everything comes at a very affordable price.

Napa Grapegrowers Cautiously Optimistic About 2010

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vineyard2.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Despite the doom and gloom forecasts circulating about the 2010 vintage, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers think this year's cool summer doesn't necessarily mean disaster, or even a difficult vintage.  At an August 18th press conference held at Beckstoffer Vineyards' historic Georges III vineyard in Rutherford, the growers discussed their hopes and fears for the harvest this year.  The consensus: it's still too early to call.

Harvest dates vary depending on the grape varietal and location, but typically occur in mid-to-late October for red grapes like cabernet sauvignon.  With harvest still two and a half months away, no one knows how this vintage will turn out.  

When Wine Is Not Enough...

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By Deirdre Bourdet

I love wine. But sometimes only a beer will do.  Here are a few places to slake your beerish thirst around wine country and not feel like a heathen for ordering the pint.

Oxbow Wine Merchants.  Despite the name, the Wine Merchants are much beloved by locals for their draft beer selection, excellent back deck, and televised sports inside in the air conditioning.  Tuesday locals' nights and weekend happy hours from 2-5pm bring the already affordable brews to the very quaffable $3.50 range.  Don't miss the watermelon beer from 21st Amendment... not sweet, not fruity, just really refreshing--and it's got something in it that might be good for you.

Wine, Women, Shoes...And Men To Serve Them All

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WWS Save the Date[1].jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

This Sunday, June 27th, HALL St. Helena hosts one of the most anticipated and delicious female fantasies/worthy cause fundraisers of the year...The Sixth Annual Wine, Women & Shoes Event, benefiting Planned Parenthood!

The concept is genius: seriously awesome wines from a huge range of blockbuster and sleeper wineries, delectable snackage from local masters of wine country cuisine, a Moulin-rouge inspired fashion show, live and silent auctions full of ridonculous treasures and one of a kind experiences, and fabulous footwear peddled on silver trays by attentive, eager to please men in the prime of life.  Oh, and you're in beautiful St. Helena on a gorgeous summer day...  and oh, a portion of every sale benefits Planned Parenthood of Shasta-Diablo counties.

Sequoia Grove

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Sequoia-Grove-front-1_0.jpgWho Said Napans Are Snobby?
By Deirdre Bourdet

Whoever said Napa wineries aren't as friendly or down to earth as those in other places has clearly not been to the right places in Napa.  Even before I moved here, I always found Napan tasting rooms welcoming and friendly to everyone with a genuine interest in the wines and the region.  

Sequoia Grove is a perfect example, and one of my latest sleeper discoveries even though it's been around since 1978, and housed in a barn on Highway 29 that's 150 years old and surrounded by giant sequoia trees.  How I never managed to find my way there before is a complete mystery to me, but I'm very glad I finally made it. 

Healdsburg Prohibition

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Phone booth, shop.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The "Great Experiment" of Prohibition provided our nation with lots of valuable data about what Americans will do when legally deprived of something they love. It also left us with a scurrilous penchant for hidden bars with secret passwords, and places Joe sent you.  Ninety years after the 18th Amendment inspired the speakeasy, an enterprising bootlegger's grandson has opened a modern twist on his grandfather's original--named, naturally, Prohibition.

Richard and Kae Rosenberg of Healdsburg's boutique Grape Leaf Inn opened their speakeasy wine bar at the corner of Healdsburg Avenue and North Street after eleven years of offering guests a similar experience in the Inn's secret wine cellar.  To the uninitiated, Prohibition is an upscale retail establishment with interesting glassware, home accents, and wine-related accessories.  Locally hand-spun throws made of wool from local sheep, rolling decanters, Art Nouveau Prohibition T-shirts, and wine tumblers of all shapes and sizes vie for your attention in the warehouse-chic space.  Those in the know head for the antique telephone booth once their shopping is done, however--and not to approve a credit card charge.  Step into the booth, close the door, and lift the receiver... then push on through the secret door into the swanky bar that awaits.

The Plight of The Cab-Drinker

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By Deirdre Bourdet

One of the biggest challenges facing a fan of cabernet sauvignon is finding foods that stand up to their bold and brawny wine. Unless you subsist entirely on red meats, you have no doubt noticed cab's tendency to overwhelm or clash with more delicate flavors and textures, particularly vegetables or white meats and fish.  Does this mean that you can never enjoy a glass of cab with these kinds of meals?  Of course not.  It just means you need to be more creative about bridging the gap between them.

Here are a few pointers on making your food more compatible with cabernet:
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.

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.  

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). 

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