Monthly Archives: August 2014

Earthquake in Napa

The headline this morning for the San Francisco Chronicle was “Wake Up Call.” We, like more than 1 million residents of the Bay Area, were awakened at 3:20am Sunday by the ground doing its shaking thing once more. This was the third earthquake of 6.0 or larger that we’ve experienced first hand. Thankfully, no one in our circle of family and friends has been hurt in any of them; just some property damage. And this one was not so bad at all, from our perspective 40 miles away. One of our sons lost power for a few hours was about the worst of it.

From the perspective of the people living a lot closer to the epicenter, this was not so easy. Our thoughts are with the people whose houses were damaged, or even red-tagged, and with those whose businesses lost so much. Our thoughts are also with those injured during the earthquake.

Most of all, our thoughts are with our friends and family. This was another reminder that lives can change quickly, and out of our control. So we take a deep breath, and try again not to take every day for granted, to treasure our time with those we love.

We hope our readers are all well, and hope that the next time you lift a glass, your toast will be To Life!


Lori and Larry

Blessing of the Grapes in Livermore Valley

Grapes are getting ready at Garré Winery.

Grapes are getting ready at Garré Winery.

This week I attended the annual Blessing of the Grapes in Livermore Valley. The event was held at Garré Winery.

Blessing of the Grapes ceremony in Livermore Valley

Blessing of the Grapes ceremony in Livermore Valley

Up front for the event were, left to right,

Rabbi Larry Milder, Congregation Beth Emek, Pleasanton
Father Mark Wiesner, St. Charles Borromeo, Livermore
Chris Chandler, Executive Direction, Livermore Valley Winegrowers Assocation
Pastor Steve Wilde, First Presbyterian Church, Livermore
Gina Molinaro-Cardera, Garré Winery

Pastor Wilde talked about the need for help from above for a successful harvest: sun, soil, rain and more all need to come together for the grapes to grow.

Father Wiesner talked about the many connections between grapes, wine and the Catholic faith.

Rabbi Milder pointed out that Noah is the first person to plant grapes and make wine (Genesis 9:20-21). He also told us about the Jewish prayer for wine, which essentially thanks G-d for creating the fruit of the vine. Finally, he led us in the traditional Jewish toast, “L’Chaim”, which means To Life.



I hadn’t been to Garré in a few years. It has always been a nice place to visit, especially for lunch, since they have a nice café. They also have bocce courts, which are fun for adults and good to keep kids entertained. They also have recently built a new event center. We had Garré wine as part of the event, and it seems to me that we should go back for a more formal tasting at the winery.

Also, the next major event in the Livermore Valley is the Harvest Wine Celebration, taking place over Labor Day Weekend. If you’re around, this is a great way to spend a day. Wineries will have their wines for tasting, and also fresh food vendors, local artisans and music. You do need a ticket; best to purchase online from the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association.



Armida Winery 2014 Harvest Update

Lori and I went to Armida recently to check in with Winemaker B regarding the upcoming harvest. We also brought his kids to the winery and had lunch on the deck. Maybe the best picnic location in Sonoma County. The picnic was enhanced greatly by a glass of the 2013 Armida Sauvignon Blanc, the first vintage from their new estate vineyard. This Sauvignon Blanc is already receiving accolades from various sources, and was light, fresh, crisp and fruity when we had it. This new estate vineyard, in addition to the conventional Sauvignon Blanc clones, has the Sauvignon Musqué clone, which provides some interesting new flavors and different nose. It still tastes/smells like Sauvignon Blanc, but with some subtle and enjoyable differences.

Regarding the 2014 harvest, the fifth for Winemaker B running the show at Armida, he’s cautiously optimistic. Harvest is starting early, which is a chain reaction from a warmer and dryer winter, resulting in earlier bud break, resulting in earlier start to the harvest by about 2 weeks. Earlier harvest is not a negative though, it’s just that the grapes are ready. In fact, the hang time for the grapes is effectively the same as for a normal year. Also, the lack of water with the drought this year will stress the vines, which can produce higher quality grapes. So cautious optimism going into harvest.

View of the new "wedding deck" at Armida Winery.

View of the new “wedding deck” at Armida Winery.

It was also interesting at Armida to see some of the facilities improvements and additions that they’ve made. First is a new deck, separate from the original deck, perfect for wedding ceremonies. And second is a renovation of the upstairs area from the tasting room, which now includes an area for private tastings. And while this doesn’t exactly fall under facilities improvements, Armida has been making wine and bottling it for Fender (the guitar folks), and there is a nice little display in the tasting room.

Display of Fender guitars, and Fender wine, at Armida Winery.

Display of Fender guitars, and Fender wine, at Armida Winery.

With the great wines and the great view, this is one of the best tasting experiences in the wine country.



Chocolate – Wine Pairing Menu at Las Positas Vineyards

We’ve all had chocolate and red wine at one time or another. A lot of people think this is the best pairing of all wine pairings, and will go to a winery just to get that final big red wine with some sort of dark chocolate. Really, how can you go wrong with this pairing, as individually chocolate and wine are two of the best things in the world? Two of the major food groups for some of us.

I’m not a huge fan of chocolate and wine. Usually it’s a case of 1 + 1 = 2. The chocolate is nice, the wine is nice, but together they don’t usually add up to more than that. Last Sunday, “Sunday Funday!” at Las Positas Vineyards in the Livermore Valley, we had an opportunity to not only pair one wine with chocolate, but go through a full tasting menu of chocolate-wine pairings. The chocolate truffles were from Landru Chocolates. Here is the menu, in the order we tasted:

Chocolate truffles for the Sunday Funday wine pairing at Las Positas Vineyards.

Chocolate truffles for the Sunday Funday! wine pairing at Las Positas Vineyards.

Rosemary Cole: Single origina dark cream with fresh rosemary leaves, virgin coconut oil and lemon zest dipped in dark milk chocolate.
2011 Coccineous: 51% Tempranillo, 26% Petite Sirah, 23% Syrah

English Tea: Dark chocolate cream with black tea and bergamont enrobed with dark chocolate.
2011 Estate Tempranillo

Darkeriuse: Dark chocolate cream dipped in dark milk chocolate.
2011 Estate Petite Sirah

Hazel Praline: Dark chocolate cream with hazelnut praline dipped in milk chocolate.
2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Nutmeg Almond: Milk chocolate cream with almond praline cream and roasted almonds dipped in milk chocolate.
2012 Estate Barbera

In addition to Lori and I, we had a friend with us, and this was a great way to help her celebrate her birthday. (She also broke any ties when voting on the pairings.) The unanimous best pairing was the Darkeruise with the Petite Sirah. Great chocolate and great wine. The pairing of the Nutmeg Almond Truffle and Barbera produced the widest ranges of scores in our group, with one voter giving this pairing the highest rank, and one giving it the lowest overall rank.

For me, aside from the Darkeruise pairing, the Hazel Praline and the Cabernet Sauvignon was the most interesting pairing. Interesting because when I tasted each individually, I was not impressed with either the truffle or the wine. Together, however, they were excellent, and received my second highest ranking for the menu. A clear case of 1 + 1 = 3, or at least 2.5.

Las Positas Vineyards view from the garden.

Las Positas Vineyards view from the garden.

After the chocolate tasting we sat outside in the garden at the tasting room, talking and enjoying the view of the Livermore Valley.

Grapes are getting ready at Las Positas Vineyards in the Livermore Valley.

Grapes are getting ready at Las Positas Vineyards in the Livermore Valley.

Thanks to Curt, the tasting room manager at Las Positas Vineyards, for spending the time with us on the tasting, and making it a really wonderful experience.



Moroccan and Merlot

On weekends, Lori and I like to take one afternoon/evening and cook. We’ll cook for ourselves, or for friends, or family; it doesn’t matter who, just so long as we can have fun in the kitchen. We’ll open a bottle of wine and get to work, with one of us having come up with the menu early enough so that we could get the necessary ingredients. The twist on that last Saturday night is that we went to a cooking class, where the menu for the night was Moroccan food. (We brought our own bottle of wine.) And the class upped the ante by pairing Moroccan food with the most famous movie set in Morocco, Casablanca.

Pans on Fire, in nearby Pleasanton, does these Dinner and Movie events regularly, it’s just that this summer is when we first found out about it, and this class was the first that we could both go to, and that really appealed to us. The menu for the night was

– Moroccan-Style Chicken Phyllo Rolls served with a spiced tomato sauce
– Moroccan Chicken, Apricot and Almond Tagine, served with vegetable Couscous
– Ghoribas (almost like a Moroccan shortbread cookie)

The nine of us in the class got to help with all the dishes. Some of the class was learning techniques: better knife skills, how to dice an onion, how to preserve lemons (a great alternative to lemon juice in recipes). Some of the class was just hands on work: shredding the chicken for the phyllo rolls, prepping and rolling the phyllo rolls, getting the spices and other ingredients ready for the tagine, making the Ghoribas dough. The best part of the class was eating our work, and watching the movie. We broke up the movie watching with the kitchen work, about 1 ½ hours of initial work, followed by the first half hour of the movie, then another 30 minutes of work on the tagine, followed by another half hour of movie watching, then the final kitchen work and the final bit of the movie. About 4 hours in total.

Regusci 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District

Regusci 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District

As I was choosing the wine, I thought about the Moroccan spices we’d be using, and not so much about what the meat would be. Moroccan food, which evolved because of its geographical/historical position in the world (on the Spice Route, Mediterranean Sea, Africa), typically uses bold flavors like cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, red chilies, and ginger. We needed something that could stand up to the spices, in both flavor and body, but not overwhelm them. Pinot Noir would likely be too subtle; Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah too big. A softer GSM (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah) blend would work, but then I found a great candidate in the cellar: 2006 Regusci Merlot, Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. Lori and I are pretty sure this was a gift from our friend Phil, so thank you Phil. (We ought to do better about cataloging our cellar, but there you go, other priorities.) It worked great, as anticipated, and was our mama bear wine: not too small and soft, not to big and bold, but just right.

Linda Wyner, the fearless leader of this class, has an interesting background. She’s a food anthropologist, lawyer, cook, teacher and founder of Pans on Fire. What the heck is a food anthropologist?

The Anthropology of Food is an analysis of food in culture. While the primary purpose for food is nutrition, it also has a cultural dimension by which people choose what they eat not only by flavor or nutritional value but by cultural, religious, historic, economic or social status, and environmental factors. From

Well, that makes sense, and sounds like fun. Maybe some food anthropologist will look at our blog in future years as a treasure trove of information. Not!

The last surprise here? I’ve now written about Merlot twice (here’s the first post) in a 2-week span.



Livermore Taste of Terroir

A couple weeks ago I went to the Thursday night kick-off four day event of the Livermore Taste of Terroir. It was held at Casa Real Winery in Livermore. My friend Marybeth and I arrived at 5:00 for the one-hour VIP tasting hour before the doors were open at 6:00 to those who bought tickets to the event. When we went into the large room there were 17 different stations set up with local wineries pairing their wines with either restaurants or caterers from the East Bay. There were mostly red wines there but a there were some white wines as well. We got a sheet with a list of the wineries and food establishments so we could keep our personal score.

We sampled 8 red wines and 4 white wines in the three hours we were there. It was challenging to take notes and eat and drink all at the same time. We were given a plate with a cup holder for the wine glass. Most of the dishes were user friendly and we were able to pick them up with our fingers, some we had to use a fork. The challenging part was holding onto my notes and pen which ended up getting stuffed under my arm. They had some tables that we could stand at so we could actually put our wine glass down, eat the food, sip the wine and write up our notes.

Some of our favorite pairings of the night were: Longevity Wines was serving a pink Pinot Grigio paired with 1300 on Fillmore’s bbq shrimp n’ creamy grits. We each gave it a 7+. We also liked Page Mill Winery 2013 Vintner’s Select Chardonnay paired with Handles Gastropub’s roasted zucchini, corn and jalapeno potato cake topped with chipotle aioli. I gave it a 6+. The Wente Vineyards 2012 The Nth Degree Syrah was paired with The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards bbq Wente Estate beef and Emigh Ranch lamb sausage sandwich with a smoked eggplant aioli, cilantro and syrah pickled onions. I gave it a 7. And our personal favorite was Wood Family Vineyards which served their 2012 Big Wood Zinfandel paired with First Street Alehouse Mole’ pulled pork tacos with chipotle lime slaw. I gave this a 9. This was hands down our favorite pairing. We voted for Wood Family for our favorite red and Longevity Wines as our favorite white.

When you arrived at the event you were given two corks. These corks were to be used to vote for your favorite white and red wine and food pairing of the night. Around 7:45 they announced the winners. The peoples choice awards went to Longevity Wines pairing with 1300 on Fillmore for the whites and to Wood Family Vineyards with First Street Alehouse for the reds. As for the judging awards, (the judges were Nicholas Boer, food editor, Diablo Magazine; Rocky Fino, chef and cookbook author; and Sara Schneider, wine editor, Sunset Magazine) the first place went to Vasco Urbano Wine Company for their 2012 GSM “The Sheriff” paired with the Zephyr Grill and Bar house cured lamb bacon BLT. Second place went to Cuda Ridge Wines 2012 Cabernet Franc served with Posada Restaurant braised boneless pork ribs simmered in a tomatillo-cilantro sauce topped with charred creama. Third place went to Garre Vineyards and Winery with their 2010 Profound Secret served with the Garre Cafe all natural short rib papa rellenas; tomato and olive braised beef short rib encased in buttermilk whipped potatoes, deep fried with panko crust and finished with a Profound Secret gastrique.

We met all sorts of nice people, and we had the opportunity to sit outside for a while and listen to the live music and just watch all the people enjoying the event. There was a silent auction going on and there was a separate dessert room with items such as cupcakes on a stick, chocolate dipped strawberries, fresh berries, brie and assorted cookies. There were four wineries in the room serving ports and sweet wines to go with the desserts. On the patio there were some wineries serving their wines and sparkling wines as well, just not paired with any food.

This was a very fun evening. I would highly recommend this event for next year, it’s a great way to sample some of the best wines of Livermore Valley and have some great food paired with it.



Merlot Tasting at WBC14

Merlot has an interesting history. Most closely related to Cabernet Franc, Merlot is extensively planted in the Bordeaux region, and is the predominant grape in the so-called “Right Bank” area, particularly in the regions of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. One of the reasons for having so much Merlot planted in France is that Merlot typically ripens 2-4 weeks before Cabernet Sauvignon, resulting in Merlot getting to ripeness every year in France, where Cab grapes don’t always get to full ripeness. There is actually more Merlot planted in France than Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s not even close. The different levels of ripeness, as well as the other varying characteristics of the Bordeaux grapes (taste, nose, body, color, …), allows/enables/demands blending of the grapes to get the best results.

In the U.S., Merlot is the second most purchased wine behind Cabernet Sauvignon, even after the negative effect of the movie Sideways. (See the clip at the end of this post for a reminder.) This high standing with U.S. consumers is most likely due to Merlot not being made to be as full bodied and tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon, therefore being very accessible to U.S. wine drinkers. However, in the movie Sideways and in the wine industry press, Merlot was characterized as soft and flabby and not fit for a real wine connoisseur to drink. This is in contrast to the Merlot-based wines of Bordeaux, which include some of the great Bordeaux wines.

At the recent Wine Bloggers Conference, we had the opportunity to taste both styles of Merlot. (I’m not sure if that was the intention, or if everyone else had the same impression from the tasting, but this is my take on it.) Participating in the tasting were Rutherford Hill Winery and Duckhorn Vineyards. Both of these wineries have been in business for about 40 years, making them veterans of Napa Valley.

Merlot tasting at Wine Bloggers Conference, 2014

Merlot tasting at Wine Bloggers Conference, 2014

Merlot is the flagship wine for Rutherford Hill, comprising about 75% of their production. Almost all their grapes are estate grown. We tasted three of their 2010 wines:
• Napa Valley Merlot: a blend from different vineyards and grapes, which is primarily Merlot, but also has some other grapes
• Atlas Peak Vineyard: 100% Merlot
• Club Cuvèe: also a blend, however this is primarily from Pope Valley, and is 90% Merlot (only available for purchase at the winery, only available in magnums)

Merlot is one of the signature wines from Duckhorn. All their grapes are estate grown, and we tasted three from their 2011 vintage:
• Stout Vineyard (Howell Mountain AVA): 3.5% Cabernet Sauvignon
• Rector Creek Vineyard (Yountville AVA): 25% Cabernet Sauvignon
• Three Palms Vineyard (Calistoga AVA): 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc

As a reminder, a wine needs to be a minimum of 75% of a varietal to be called that varietal on the label. So all the blends here qualify to be called “Merlot”.

This tasting reminded me that Merlot can be a wonderful wine. However, just like every other wine, make sure you know what you personally like and are looking for in a wine, and don’t let a movie or popular trends dictate your wine drinking habits. If you want to know my favorite(s) from this tasting, leave a comment for the blog and I’ll respond.

Sideways clip re Merlot

If you’re interested, October is “MerlotMe” month, including a special tasting in San Francisco mid-month.