Category Archives: Livermore Valley

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.



Livermore Wines; Old Friends

We went wine tasting in our backyard last weekend.  Provided that we can define our backyard as our home territory, otherwise known as the Livermore Valley.  The first winery we went to was Cuda Ridge, which we hadn’t been to since they moved into a new facility in Livermore a few months ago.  Cuda Ridge specializes in Bordeaux varietals, and they do a pretty good job at it.  We really liked their Petit Verdot, which is the fifth red Bordeaux grape, after Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.  It’s usually used just for blending, but this was really nice on its own.  

More important than the fact that we hadn’t been to the new Cuda Ridge tasting room was that they were having music there.  The guy with the guitar, Tim Gomes, was one of my friends at UC Berkeley, eons ago.  And now, like me, he has children; his daughter Audrey (now a sophomore in college) came and sang with him.  Fortunately, she didn’t ask me for any stories about her father, and even more fortunately, she didn’t ask Tim for any stories about me.  Tim can play the guitar really well, but it gets a lot better when his daughter accompanies him.  She’s got a great voice.  We also got to see Tim’s wife Nancy, who was a classmate of my brother, also at UC Berkeley.  Doesn’t get much better than a beautiful day, a nice glass of wine, and shooting the breeze about ancient history.  

Another winery that has recently changed locations is Mitchell Katz Winery.  This is another case of ancient history, although not quite as ancient, as Mitch and I used to play pickup basketball together a couple times each week, early mornings before work.  That was before knees started getting a bit less reliable.  Mitchell Katz Winery is one of the relatively older wineries in the Livermore Valley, at a ripe 15 years now.  And Mitch has an even longer history in winemaking, having helped his grandfather make wines.  

My consistent favorite from Mitch is the Sangiovese.  He just seems to have a nice touch with this wine.  He know regularly makes two different single vineyard Sangioveses; we went home with a few bottles of the Crackerbox Vineyard version.  Easy drinking, nice balance, good fruit, works with food, and a good value too.  Can’t ask for anything more than that.  

One more thing about Mitch and his winery:  great customer loyalty.  Customers keep coming back, whether to talk to Mitch, or because they have a favorite wine (we also liked the Merlot, the Zinfandel, and the nonvintage sparkling on this last visit), or because they just like the vibe and want to hang out there.  It’s great to see a friend be successful in something as tough as the wine industry.  



Livermore Cabernet Blend Scores Against the Best

You don’t get to do one of
these every day, a blind tasting with


Opus One

Joseph Phelps Insignia

Ridge Montebello

Continuum (Tim Mondavi)




I just heard 5 “Wows!” and 1
“Huh?”  Those first 5 are
consistently top California Cabernet Sauvignon bottles.  $150 per bottle and up.  So what is that sixth wine, and why is
it in the tasting? 


Lineage is a Bordeaux blend
from Steven Kent Mirassou.  If the
name is familiar, it should be. 
The Mirassou family is the oldest winemaking family in America, and
Steven is the 6
th generation of winemakers in the family.  “Steven Kent
may also be familiar, as it’s the name of his winery in the
Livermore Valley.  When he founded the winery back in
1996, his goal was to make one great wine, a Bordeaux blend that would show
what the Livermore Valley could produce. 


Lori and I live next door to
the Livermore Valley, and have been tasting wines there for the last 20+
years.  Livermore has consistently
good wines, very good wines for the price, and occasionally great wines.  It’s a different growing region, with
an east-west oriented valley (unusual for California) producing huge summertime
temperature swings.  Add in a few
different microclimates and soil types, a history of winemaking and
grape-growing that goes back to the 1840s, and you have the makings of a great
wine region.  However, the
Livermore VAlley hasn’t been known for its great wines, but instead for the
large producers and good value. 


To find out if Steven Kent
Mirassou can make a great wine, and change the reputation of the Livermore
Valley, we should return to the tasting. 
We went into San Francisco for this tasting, put on by the
American Institute of Wine and Food
(AIWF).  About 20 of us, tasting
those 6 wines, all from the 2009 vintage, blind.  The results were, from last to first:


6.            Opus

5.            Phelps

3.            Dominus

3.            Ridge

2.            Lineage

1.            Continuum


All of us tasting were wine
lovers, with a fair bit of experience tasting wines, but all amateurs.  And 20 people is not a lot, from a
statistical point of view.  Still,
the Livermore wine, Lineage, hung with the big boys and showed that it deserved
to be there. 


Well done, Steve Kent








Concannon Winery and Underdog Wine Bar

My cousins were in town visiting from Los Angeles and we had a few hours to kill.  So in thinking what we could do, the answer was to go to the Livermore Wine Region.  I had heard that there was a new restaurant at the Concannon Winery so that is where we headed.  The staff greeted us very nicely.  This was around 12:30 on a Friday afternoon January 2011.  We each spent the $10.00 for the tasting (which includes keeping the logo wine glass).  We were poured their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and their Petite Sirah (which they are known most for).  We enjoyed tasting their wines and had a good time doing it.  They have a lot of room to roam while sipping the wine.  Their tasting room is filled with great items for sale.  We purchased some chocolate bites that we sampled with our Petite Sirah.


After the wine tasting we went over to the restaurant check-in area, which is on the opposite side of the tasting room bar.  The restaurant is called the Underdog Wine Bar.  We were seated right away.  Inside the restaurant there are two large rooms.  One is smaller than the other and has a beautiful bar and a few tables.  The larger room has another beautiful bar and quite a few tables and chairs.  The décor is all done with dark woods and has a very nice ambiance.  Along
the hallway down to the restaurant from the winery there is a lot of
the Concannon Winery family history posted for your reading enjoyment. 
We opted to sit outside as the sky was blue and the temperature was in the mid to high 60’s.  There was a bit of a breeze but where we sat we were blocked from most of it.  Outside they have a few tables with chairs and a few couches with a coffee table in front of it.  None of us ordered wine with lunch as we had just enjoyed our tasting.  Karen ordered Orange and Thyme Marinated Olives and Brown Sugar Rosemary Cashews and Almonds for us all to share.  After a bit Karen ordered the Ahi Tuna Tartar Tower and Rod and I ordered the Panini with Prosciutto and Gruyere Cheese for our main lunch entree.  Everyone enjoyed their dishes.  It was very relaxing sitting outside.  Some families had opted to bring their picnic lunch and went onto the lawn and enjoyed at the tables provided.  The three of us shared a dessert, Petite Sirah Marinated Fresh Berries with Vanilla Bean Sabayon.  Very delicious!  The service was very good and even though the menu seemed a little bit limited, there was something on it that everyone enjoyed.  Their hours are Thursday thru Saturday 12:00 – 10:00 and Sunday thru Wednesday 12:00 – 8:00.  

Petite Sirah stains my thumbs!

It took over 24 hours to get the wine stains out of my right thumb after attending a Petite Sirah lunch and wine tasting last week.  If you don’t already know, Petite Sirah is a very dark and robust grape that is made into a very dark and robust wine.  Some people get confused in thinking that the Petite Sirah grape is just a smaller Syrah grape.  That is wrong.  It is its own varietal from a little grown French vine called Peloursin, and Syrah, but the name of Petite Sirah has become attached to several different grape varieties all of which have been traditionally planted together in California.  This varietal has been talked about in California wine literature as far back as 1880.  Petite Sirah produces a savory, almost meaty character and dense blackberry fruit.  Its powerful style has long made it a useful blending wine, especially for Zinfandel.  The Petite Sirah wine is often age worthy, lasting up to 20 years in the bottle.  It’s best known for growing in Mendocino and Sonoma County, and Livermore Valley in California.  It is also grown in Argentina and Brazil where unirrigated vineyards of often very old vines produce wines of considerable depth, backbone and brutal power.

One of the lead wineries in the Livermore Valley producing great Petite Sirah is Concannon Winery.  This is where the event was held.  John Concannon, who is the president of the Petite Sirah (P.S.) I Love You advocacy organization, was the host of this event.  It started out that morning with a symposium on Petite Sirah with over 100 interested members attending.  The symposium went on for about 3 hours.  When it broke, lunch was served.

We had a delicious lunch sitting under the grape arbor outside the Concannon Winery and tasting room.  Lunch started with a couple passed appetizers; one was a crostini with Brie and pancetta.  Another was duck confit wrapped in a very small tortilla.  The first course was a delicious heirloom tomato salad served with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil with balsamic vinegar and local olive oil drizzled over the top.  That was served with a Concannon 2009 Pinot Grigio from the Central Coast region.  The main course was then served.  It was a beautiful plate consisting of two small wooden skewers.  On one skewer was fish and shrimp, on the other was sausage, chicken and beef.  This was served on top of Israeli couscous, garbanzo beans, white raisins and some grilled vegetables.  To go with this course we drank Concannon 2007 Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley.  The dessert course was served in a martini glass on a plate.  It was mixed berries such as blackberries and raspberries in a white chocolate raspberry sauce, served with a dollop of whipped cream and a cookie.  Lunch was supposed to last one hour, but it went about 1 ½ hours.  Very lovely.  We sat at a table, which had winemaker Vic, and wife Beth Edwards of Edwards Vineyard and Cellars from the Ramona Valley of San Diego County.  They produce Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  We also sat near winemaker Kristoff Paubert of Stags Leap Winery in Napa and their P.R. manager Carrie.

After lunch we all went into the barrel room where about 40 wineries were pouring their Petite Sirah.  This is a big challenge, as I explained above to you, Petite Sirah is a robust wine and gives great pucker power.  I find it difficult to taste without having a cracker in between each glass or some chocolate to compliment it.  Before the end of my tasting experience and my tongue was reminiscent of my cat’s tongue.  I enjoyed some very good Petite Sirah.  Of course there was Concannon, who were pouring their 2007 Reserve Captain Joe’s Petite Sirah, which honors the founder James Concannon’s son, affectionately known as Captain Joe because of his service in the First Cavalry.  This wine is composed from estate lots and blended with a small amount of Syrah for balance.  They were also pouring their 2007 Reserve Nina’s Cuvee Petite Sirah.  This bottle honors their founder’s daughter-in-law, Giovanina Ferrario Concannon, who came from Italy to visit California in 1919.  These grapes were planted almost 40 years ago; they have a low yield, small berries, dense flavors and unique maturity profiles.  Both of these are bottled in a special bottle where there is a glass design of the gates to the winery.

Some of the other Petite Sirah’s I enjoyed were:
–  Grizzly Republic Winery out of Paso Robles – 2007   
–  Jazz Cellars, San Francisco – 2006 Mendocino
–  Esoterica, Napa Valley – 2007 Rutherford
–  Edwards Vineyards & Cellars, San Diego County – 2005 Ramona Valley
–  Crooked Vines Winery, Livermore Valley – 2007 Del Arroyo
–  Cinnabar Winery, Santa Clara County – 2007 Clarksburg
–  Robert Biale Vineyards, Napa – 2008 Napa

After a great afternoon of eating, drinking and schmoozing, it all came to an end.  But the good thing was that my right thumb, no matter how many times I washed it, was stained for the next 24 hours from the little bit of wine that got on the wine glass after pouring out my tastes.

My suggestion to you is to go and get a few bottles of Petite Sirah from the three different regions of California that I mentioned.  Open them all up and serve a nice heavy dish such as duck, eggplant Parmesan, or a very hearty tri-tip.  Try the wines with the meal, but leave some for dessert.  For dessert you should have either a chocolate torte or chocolate truffles and please drink the wine with dessert.  You will be amazed!  Let me know which wines you tried and what you ate with it. ☺