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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

V 2 V spells Visitor's Victory

"You have only so many bottles in your life, never drink a bad one."
---Len Eva

It's time to uncork another insiders-look, into the world of high-end Food and Wine, an article written by regular guest contributor; Ilona Thompson  She's the Editor in Chief for Palate Exposure, a self-described believer in the Sustainability of Critical Thinking and Personal Responsibility. She is also a regular contributor to the Brenner Brief.

The Stags Leap District (SLD) is the smallest appellation in Napa Valley; and, according to Clos Du Val winemaker, Kristy Melton, the happiest. Happiness is certainly worth celebrating.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the SLD Winegrowers Association organizes an annual celebration known as Vineyard To Vintner, or “V2V”
Over a three day, food and wine extravaganza, I discovered why this 2700 acre appellation is a such happy place for people and vines alike. Great things clearly come in small packages. To put it in perspective, Bordeaux region has 26000 acres planted and is home to 9000 wineries.
In 1961, one of Napa Valley pioneering grape growers, Nathan Fay, planted 70 acres of Cabernet along the Silverado Trail. Most of the fruit was eventually sold to Joe Heitz, and went into Heitz Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; which earned the Stags Leap district its sterling reputation for growing high quality fruit.  In fact, it was Fay's homemade 1968 Cabernet Sauvignon, served to John Shafer by Joe Heitz, that caused one of the district’s most famous vintners to fall in love with Stag's Leap. Someone else also tasted the same wine and made an instant decision to buy the property. His name: Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars made history in 1976, when a blind tasting, that became known as the Judgment of Paris, catapulted 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet into international fame by placing first. Another SLD Cab, 1972 Clos Du Val came fourth; well ahead of its French peers.
A confluence of unique soil structure, high daytime temperatures and cool nights (a weather pattern  known as diurnal temperature variation) makes this region uniquely optimal in terms for growing fine quality wine grapes. There is something very intimate about SLD, whether it's the folks who populate it and tend to the land (what I refer to as human terroir) or the sheer locale and topography. Once you arrive, you simply don't want to leave.
Stag's Leap District Appellation was formed in 1989.  Four years in the making (a lot of credit for which goes to the tireless efforts of John Shafer) it's currently celebrating its 25th Anniversary. Its nineteen members represent some of the most sought after Napa Valley brands. The vast majority of the area is planted with Bordeaux varietals.  The most  acreage being Cabernet; and then Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Syrah. Some of the district’s notable members include Ilsley Family Vineyards, a 60 year grape growing dynasty, Cliff Lede, a relative newcomer whose wines have won over critics and consumers alike, and, of course, the renowned, Shafer Vineyards.  



Viticultural practices in SLD have evolved and changed dramatically over time. Rootstock choices, irrigation regimes and canopy management have undergone drastic changes. These changes result in an extraordinary fruit quality, regardless of  vintage. What remains a constant is the heartfelt nature of Stag's Leap that adds the intangible yet ever so powerful element to the wines.
The V2V celebration kicked off the weekend with lavish dinners at iconic wineries. I was privileged to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Stags Leap District at Clos Du Val Winery. Hosted by Hartwell, Ilsley, Silverado and Terlato Family Vineyards, the exquisite, multi-course, wine-paired meal was prepared by Jeffrey Jake, of Silverado Resort. The principals of the host wineries were seated at each of the five tables; a real treat for the attendees. The dinner featured classic cuisine, infused with modern style. Each course was carefully paired with past and present vintages of Stags Leap District Cabernet.
The next day featured a seminar with wine luminaries such as John Shafer (Shafer Vineyards), Richard Stelzner (Stelzner Vineyards), Elizabeth Vianna (Chimney Rock Winery) and Kirk Grace (Stag's Leap Wine Cellars), who shared their very personal stories of what lead them to produce wines from SLD.
I learned that, in 1972, John Shafer left a successful career in publishing to seek fulfillment in the hills and valleys of Napa Valley. He moved his family west, bought a vineyard and created a brand that became synonymous with stellar, age worthy wines with a deep soul.
An interesting anecdote came from Dick Stelzner. He originally bought a property on Diamond Mountain for $2K so he could go duck hunting; only to sell it a few short weeks later for $50,000. The profit became "seed" money for his first SLD acquisition.

A 1988 Shafer Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the wines presented that morning, made my heart race with its exquisite intoxicating perfume. The aromas from this gem made it impossible to concentrate on the seminar. How a 16 year old wine from a really tough year, could have such compelling aromatics is beyond me. All I know is that, for well over an hour, I could not stop smelling it. Given a choice, I would have inhaled those elusive, exotic aromas for five more... or a lifetime.
My other open house adventures included Cliff Lede Vineyards where I was  greeted with Mexican chocolate brownies and a food truck which served delicious burgers and scrumptious fried chicken.  They offered the opportunity to taste the elegant and compelling 2011 Cliff Lede Poetry, amongst others. Then Lindstrom, where winemaker Celia Welch crafts her beautiful SLD Cabernets, then on to Odette, Hartwell with their stunning Sauvignon Blanc, and fantastic (especially given the challenging vintage) 2011 Estate Cab and finally on to Malk and Robinson Family. The atmosphere was casual, relaxed yet very upscale. Unlike a lot of public events it had a sense of casual elegance, heartfelt hospitality and intimacy.
The Vintner to Vintner weekend concluded with an opulent, fiesta buffet-style brunch featuring a live Mariachi band; the delicious meal was prepared and catered by Meadowood Resort. It was held at the outdoor patio of Silverado Vineyards, where vintners and winemakers shared predominantly 2010 reds and a multitude of  2012 and 2013 white wine offerings.
V2V is a small, intimate event that has a very loyal following.  It sells out quickly every year. Attendees come from all over the country.  In addition to California visitors, I met guests from Arizona, Texas, Florida, who described V2V as their "favorite event of the year." I suggest you plan early and get on SLD mailing list for the future dates announcements.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Travel Tuesday: Thomas Jefferson's Wine

“We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good.”

~ Thomas Jefferson

Many believe Thomas Jefferson was a man ahead of his time [a visionary] and his vision for establishing vineyards in Virginia while difficult at the time, it can now be said that his vision has been realized. It can also now be said that Virginia wine has a firm foothold on the ever expanding wine scene here and around the world and is set to become a force to be reckoned with on the worlds wine stage. If you'd like to read my review of some of the wines I encountered on my journey to Jefferson Vineyards, feel free to click here.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson visited Bordeaux where fell in love with the region, becoming its first unofficial ambassador here in the United States, you can find the rest of that story here. He brought that passion and some vine cuttings back to his native Virginia where he attempted, but unfortunately failed to start his own vineyards here.

But despite those setbacks, today, there's a thriving wine culture in Virginia and on the very grounds where he planted his first vines at Monticello. In fact, it has been more than 240 years since old TJ attempted to launch his own wine industry in Virginia, but that vision has been picked up my others and it is now one the top five wine producing states in America. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Wine of the Week: 2006 Pago Casa del Blanco 1605

"Great wines don’t make statements, they pose questions. To end with an exclamation mark is easy; when a question mark, perhaps not more difficult, but far more interesting."  - Hugh Johnson

Every once in a great while, you run into a wine that is very different from all the others sitting in the cellar, that have arrived via the sample train or otherwise. Oh sure it's produced from grapes all too familiar to even the casual wine drinkers among us. Here are two grapes which I don't often think of as complimenting each other, all too well. Yet, this 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah make for a harmonious blend, one which makes some very beautiful music together.  

This wine left me with more than a few questions, I'm not sure they were all answered. But one question, what prompted the idea to blend these two grapes getting together in the first place? I know for some folks, this blend is not all that uncommon and you know they're quite right, it's not. But what is uncommon, at least from my perspective, is when this blend works so well, I feel compelled to write a review about it and highly recommend it everyone.


I've had the great pleasure of enjoying wines from three different "Pago Certified" Spanish wineries, so it's no surprise to me that this wine is an absolute stunner. When I talk about Pago Certification, many folks, even folks I regard as 'highly' informed, don't have the slightest idea what I'm talking about or they just vaguely aware and that's surprising to me. 

So what is Vino de Pago? Well the way I read it, it's the highest geographic recognition a Spanish winery can receive and currently only 13 wineries in Spain have this designation. I'm told, it's superior to a DO, which only designates singular wines that come from a specific area with distinct climatic and soil condition. 

Again it's a small club, and only the top estates have been granted the Denominacion de Origen de Pago status and are allowed to put in on their labels. If you'd like to know more, I wrote a small article on the subject here, it also contains a video interview. 


I just read an article asserting it's not about the wine, it's not about the origin of the grapes, where they harvested from or when, no-no those things really don't matter when reporting a story about a wine or a winery. It was asserted those things are superfluous, the thing that matters is the "Cult of Personality".  

To a certain point, I get the what the author was attempting to say, "c'mon with the wine is made in vineyard talk, there are so many other factors which influence how a wine will taste and smell", and all of that is true. But she went on to say stories written about wine and the winemakers who writers ultimately dialogue with should focus on the individuals story and tone down the terroir talk. This is the point where her and I depart ways, I don't believe it's one or the other, but a blend of both things can give the reader, what some would call, the full-orbed perspective. 

If her statement was true, we'd all happily be drinking and slurping down Bradgelina wines and those of other famous celebrities, and I don't think too many folks reading this blog are doing that, perhaps I'm wrong, but that is my impression.

This particular property in Spain, Casa del Blanco, located about 120 miles south of Madrid, has some very specific soils types, seeing they have particular high levels of lithium in the soil, along with their limy and sandy soils you can see above, with a rocky, arid top soil which does not look one bit hospitable to the vine, who as you can see need a drip-line to keep them hydrated as needed.

I hope I've made my case above, because now it's time to dive into tasting note portion of the article. I found the nose, gracious and welcoming, boasting of fully in bloom lavender, while underbrush and blueberry played a minor role in the background. On the palate, a boat-load of freshly smoked meats, cracked pepper, dark ripe plums, wild growing black licorice and funky earthy note, I had trouble fully identifying. 

This wine is sumptuous, from the first sip to the last drop, has enough acid to carry the ample fruit and keep things interesting over a long evening. The finish is long, lasting and memorable. You could age this wine for many more years to come, but I think it's drinking marvelously at the moment. No decanting, aerating or any other fuss or muss; soon as it's uncorked it's ready to rock. 

I found that finishing a bottle like this, on your own wouldn't be too difficult of a task, but in having to share it over dinner with Mrs. Cuvee, it had me wishing there was another bottle on deck, waiting to bat-cleanup [sigh]. My score 93 points. The SRP is $52 most places. Until next folks, have a great weekend and as always sip long and prosper cheers!

Full Disclosure: This wine was sent as a sample for the wine review process. Big thanks to Mónica. Fernández of Pago Casa del Blanco for reaching out to me via twitter. 



Thursday, April 24, 2014

7th Time is the Charm: Pebble Beach Food and Wine Redefines Luxury


It's time to uncork another insiders-look, into the world of high-end Food and Wine, an article written by regular guest contributor; Ilona Thompson She's the Editor in Chief for Palate Exposure, a self-described believer in the Sustainability of Critical Thinking and Personal Responsibility. She is also a regular contributor to the Brenner Brief.

The Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival ("PBFW") titled "7th Time Down the Line," to commemorate its seventh year, is a four day feast for the senses; a cornucopia of food and wine that borders on obscene opulence. It seduces patrons with a never-ending array of events; showcasing food and wines that are captivating, awe-inspiring and just plain fun. Set in a breathtaking community of Pebble Beach, it is the epitome of hedonism brought to the attendees by 250 acclaimed wineries and 125 chefs. Dozens of top notch sommeliers from around the country oversee the meticulously choreographed wine service during lunches, dinners and seminars. A number of expert mixologists and beer purveyors are available should your palate require an impeccable cocktail or a refreshing craft beer.


One of its distinguishing characteristics is that there is truly something for everyone:


  • Fun-filled food demos with colorful TV Chef personalities
  • Wine and food pairing lunches and dinners
  • Walk around wine and food tastings, with offerings presented by vintners and Chefs
  • Once-in-a-lifetime seminars: Featuring extremely rare wines, supplied and presented by the legendary producers themselves, moderated by industry luminaries
  • Decadent, inspired meals prepared by world-class Chefs enjoyed in a glorious setting



For the price of a wine and food pairing dinner at a nice restaurant, you can pal around with the likes of Michael Symon, Robert Irvine and Guy Fieri while they serve you an unforgettable multi-course meal. Oenophiles will enjoy exclusive seminars and uber-luxurious tastings. Brilliant chefs, sommeliers and winemakers host an exhilarating weekend jam-packed with cooking demonstrations, chef's tastings, wine seminars, gala dinners, and over-the-top after-parties.


Nearly 8000 discerning guests flock from all over the world to enjoy this extravaganza. In it's seventh wildly successful year, with the events selling out in record time, PBFW has earned a reputation as the ultimate wine and food event for a very good reason. To quote Phil, from Groundhog Day, "One can have a perfect experience, it just takes a really long time to create it." Pulling off this ultimate food and wine fantasy requires a gargantuan behind the scenes effort. To sum up four days of sensory overload into a few paragraphs is a near impossible task, but I’ll do my best.

Highlights and Notable Vitals:


1. Lexus Grand Tastings: For a bargain $225 price of admission; this event presented a myriad of tasting opportunities from rockstar wineries such as Archery Summit, Bedrock Wine Co, Beringer, Black Kite Cellars, Blackbird Vineyards, Brand, Capture, Carlisle, Caymus, Chamisal, Chappellet, Cliff Lede, Davis Family Vyds, Duckhorn, Dumol, Fel, Flowers, Gandona, Gary Farrell, Hall, Hestan, Joseph Phelps, Jonata, Kistler, Kosta Browne, Ladera, Pahlmeyer, Paradigm, Pisoni, Quintessa, Realm, Silver Oak, Scribe, Turley and lots more.


2. The Champagne from elusive, boutique, and exclusive producers was flowing freely. Champagne houses that were pouring included Champagne Billecart-Salmon, Delamotte, Henriot, Lanson, Louis Roederer, Nicolas Feuillatte, Perrier-Jouet and Champagne Salon.
3. Notable wine personalities: The list included a host of Master Sommeliers; who were conducting guided tastings, seminars, a variety of demonstrations as well as attending as guests:
  • Tony Abou-Ganim Mixologist
  • Gillian Balance MS Treasury Wine Estates
  • Didier Depond Champagne Salon President
  • Paul Draper Ridge Vineyards
  • Fintan Du Fresne Chamisal Vyds
  • Frederic Engerer Chateau Latour
  • Andy Ericssson Mayacamas Vyds (former Screaming Eagle winemaker)
  • Antonio Galloni Vinous Media
  • Ray Isle Food and Wine magazine
  • Paul Lato Lato Wines
  • Jordan Mackay SF Magazine
  • Archie McLaren, Central Coast Wine Classic
  • Puri Mancebo Bodegas Vegas Sicilia
  • Chris Mazepink Archery Summit
  • Roland Micu MS Rose. Rabbit. Lie
  • DLynn Proctor Penfolds
  • Michael Silacci Opus One
  • Larry Stone MS Huneeus Vintners
  • Morgan Twain-Peterson Bedrock Wine Co
  • Bryan Talley Talley Vyds
  • Laura Werlin Cheese Essentials
4. Marquee wine seminars that supplied once-in-a-lifetime tasting opportunities were:
  • 2010 Burgundy; An Exploration of the Great Terroirs of the Cote D'Or
Moderated by by Antonio Galloni, Vinous founder (former lead critic of Wine Advocate) and Larry Stone, MS with wines from Domaine Dujac, Mugnier, Rousseau, Louis Jadot, Comte Armand, Marquis d'Angerville, Robert Chevillon, and Domaine de la Vougeraie was a feast for the Burgundy-phile senses.
  • Opus One Seminar
Moderated by Michael Silacci, winemaker, it offered the admirers of this iconic brand not only to taste but also to blend their own version Of Opus One.
  • 2008 Barolo: Modern day Classics Barolo
Featured Barolos from Elio Grasso, Roberto Voerzio, Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, G.D.Vajra, Elvio Cogno, Luciano Sandrone and Vietti. A study in Italian greatness with great insights by Antonio Galloni, with some wines provided from his personal cellar!
  • Chateau Latour - A Historic Tasting
Wines/Vintages poured were Pauillac 2009, Les Forts 2006/00/10, Chateau Latour 1990/96/00/01/03. Moderated by Frederic Engerer, it was truly once in a lifetime opportunity to taste the grand First Growth in a side by side format.

  • Vega Sicilia Unico - 150 Year Anniversary
Moderated by Vega Sicilia's own Puri Mancebo and featuring Unico wines from 1975, 1989, 1994, 1998, 2000 and Valbuena from 1998/00/03/04/05. Clear takeaway is an extraordinary QPR these elusive wines represent, and what an impressive showing, especially given their size and girth. Age Worthiness galore.
  • The Singular Majesty of Champagne Salon
Moderated by Didier Depond and Antonio Galloni, featuring Delamotte Blanc de Blanc NV/2004 and Salon 1970/1983/1988/1995/97/99/2002, some out of Magnums, flown directly from Didier's cellar, this could only be described as "wow" - this event alone was worth showing up for an entire weekend for.
5. Marquee Lunches and Dinners: The Founder's Dinner, Grand Finale Dinner, A Tribute to a Legend - Charlie Trotter.  A Taste of Italy featured Top Cheftestant Antonia Lofaso, who brought eggplant straight from her grandma's garden for her playful version of eggplant parmigana, made with caciocavalo cheese. Forage to Feast: Lexus Chef's Table Lunch (with Michael Symon and Joseph Lenn), The 4 Martini Lunch (with Ben Spungin of CLM, Michael Hung of Faith and Flower LA, Wesley Hoiton of Rose. Rabbit. Lie and Abby Burk of Restaurant 1833.) were as tasty as they were playful and whimsical.
6. Exclusive After-parties: It is at the lounge where you get to rub elbows with celebrities, nosh on stunning small plates by Hubert Keller (Fleur de Lis), sip cocktails and dance till 2 am to the tunes of local celebrity DJ.




7. Noteworthy for "Foodies: Food Network star Robert Irvine poured copious amounts of wine, while snapping photos and chatting with awestruck fans. He then strolled over to the station manned by the ever cool and wildly funny Guy Fieri to sample his Macaroni Cheese Burger (which caused patrons to stand in the longest line in the tent.) Guy Fieri and Robert Irvine also joined forces for "Dinner in the Kitchen" the night before that guests described as the "most fun they've ever had at dinner"


8. Heard:
  • Guy Fieri's choice of profession other than his own was a bullfighter; Robert Irvine's - firefighter.
  • Robert Irvine asked the military servicemen in the audience to stand up during dinner and offered  them a well deserved round of applause.
  • Rochelle Trotter's moving tribute to her late husband, the legendary Charlie Trotter, didn't leave a dry eye in the room.


9.  Favorite celebrity bite from a Chef:
  • Aubergine's Executive Chef Justin Cogley (one of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs) brought his signature seafood dish, "Dungeness Crab Paired with Seaweed Vinegar and Beach Succulents."
  • Andrew Zimmerman said it was his favorite bite of the event.
  • Ilona's favorite bite: "Bacon and Pork Belly Jam. Slow Poached Egg" + "Portuguese Seafood Soup" by Kim Canteenwalla of Honey Salt in Las Vegas. Sublime.

Speaking of favorite meals, what would you choose for your last one?  



10.  Favorite quote from a Celebrity Chef:
  • "Get up every day and try to be the best person that you can be, and help people in any way that you can" - Robert Irvine


Celebrity portrait photographer, Melanie Dunea, asked the world's most prominent chefs exactly that. Her book "My Last Supper:50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals" served as the inspiration for a whimsical dinner titled "My Last Supper: The Next Course" at which five renowned Chefs presented their "last meal" course, paired with sublime wines.


The idea of PBFW was conceived seven years ago by serial entrepreneurs David Alan Bernahl, II and Robert Weakley, who co-founded Coastal Luxury Management. After taking the luxury food and wine world by storm in the form of Pebble Beach Food and Wine event they have gone on to create the Los Angeles Food & Wine festival; in addition to opening several popular, upscale restaurants.


The wine program would have been impossible without the tireless efforts of executive wine director extraordinaire, Lara Sailer Long, who astoundingly managed to secure the likes of Chateau Latour, Vega Sicilia and Champagne Salon among many other phenomenal wineries. My wine geek heart and palate are forever grateful.

In a word, PBFW 2014 was magnificent. All weekend long I heard "wow"  "amazing" "ultimate" and the like from guests. I've been privileged to attend a lot of fantastic wine and food events. This event was one that took it to whole new level, both in terms of content and experiential experience.

Feel Free to Comment Below: You can also catch our wine-writer-at-large on twitter @PalateXposure where she is currently soaking up fun and flavor of exploring Paso Robles.

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