Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Flip-Flop Wines: Provides Soles for Souls

We are living in a day and age when the term flip-flop has as much to do with footwear as it does with some smarmy politicians changing positions on the topic of the day, when it appears it's much more politically expedient to do so. 

However, this flip-flop is about slipah's and wine; providing soles for souls. When I think of flip-flops, I'm thinking of my favorite no-socks needed foot attire and since Mrs. Cuvee is from the island where flip-flops came into fashion or possibly even originated, I have to refer to them as "slipahs". There's a tip here for the main-landers in the audience.

Shoes, something to walk-in and is most likely the last thing on your mind today as you head out the door, with all the last minute preparations for the boo-tastic holiday evening with friends and family. But shoes are quite possibly something that each of us take for granted, I mean to be honest I do at times. Living here in the U.S. there is no lack of comfortable shoes to get down the path of life, in fact they seem to be quite abundant, just look in any women's closet [ha]. In fact I'm pretty sure many of us [yes, even us guys] have more shoes than we could wear in a life-time.

It's with that in mind that CEO Wayne Elsey, the Founder and CEO of Soles4Souls, challenges us all to make the human connection, that can change everything. Mr. Elsey has a book entitled; "Almost isn't Good Enough" a place where you too can meet the man who vision is the driving force behind the campaign to provide soles for souls. He likes to think of himself, "as a big-profit guy making good in a non-profit world, no margins, no mission and no rubber-chicken dinners." If you like to grab a copy of the book, you can do so here, all proceed from sales of the book benefits Soles4Souls. 

It's very refreshing to meet the folks behind the Flip Flop wine label; who are honest, genuine and compassionate folks, who look you in the eye and don't just talk the talk, they walk the walk. Tip of my Packers cap, to a great group of folks that I'm proud to say I had the pleasure of meeting back at a Blogher after-party last August and I'm glad to say further, well done.

Many of you may have already encountered Flipflop wines on your local grocery store aisle. Wines bottled under a screw-cap, which are super-simple, value oriented tasty-wines. What I would call everyday quaffers that you can feel real good about swirling about in your glass because “For every bottle of flip flop wine purchased, Soles4Souls will distribute a pair of shoes to someone in need”, proving that good works does indeed work. So the next time you find yourself on the wine aisle of your local grocery store, pick up a few bottles of Flip-Flop and help put shoes on the feet of someone in-need at the same time, a win/win.  

No matter what your wine-style maybe, Flip Flop Wines has a wine that will meet your palate where you want to take it and deliver it for a price that's easy on the wallet as well. I believe all the labels are selling for just under the $10 price point. “We like to make seriously good wines, but not take ourselves too seriously in the process…” David Georges, Vintner

I've had the opportunity more than once via samples and tasting events to sip and slurp my way through the majority of their selections from the sweet to the more serious. While not everyone of them tripped-my-trigger, I can say I did enjoy the wines as whole and can recommend them to you without any equivocation or flip-flopping of any kind [ha]. Until next time my friend, I hope you all continue to sip long and prosper, cheers!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Take a bite out of the Vine: Vampire Vineyards

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown ~ H P Lovecraft.  While they may be true in certain situations, however for me the real unknown in this case, is a product line that I've never sampled from this spooky vineyard. So don't count this as an endorsement of the wine, but simply a public service message for those vino-sapiens in the audience who may want to bring a themed-wine to their holiday party this weekend or give as a host gift. But I do hope you enjoy the video, which I think is quite an interesting lead into wetting folks appetites or sparking an interest in giving their wines a swirl.

Here's a little snippet of their story, which may or may not be true, but rumor has it that the Vampire Vineyards are actually owned by a circle of vampires, and the company’s founder, an entertainment attorney from New York, is actually just a front. (Whether he and his convertible were commandeered by a Vampire is still a subject for debate.) We do know however that after satiating themselves for years with their Transylvanian blood of the vine, the powers that be decided to spice things up and migrate westward like so many vampires before them. Read More

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spring Mountain Uncorked: 2008 "Eight" Chardonnay

It was back in June of 2010 that Mrs. Cuvee and I
stopped by for a visit to Vineyard 7 & 8, where we tasted through their premium line-up and toured the immaculate facilities and breath-taking tasting salon.

Their 2008 "Eight" Chardonnay was among the highlights of the day on Spring Mountain, a wine that I proclaimed as one of my all time favorites. It was just last night that I popped the cork on one that has been resting in my cellar, one of the wines I purchased to take back to home last year. Wow, highly impressed once more this is the kind of white wine which will really turn heads, fantastic juice. 

What to Pair: Possibly looking for a suggestion on what to pair? I paired this wine with Chicken Cordon Bleu recipe I found on the Food Network, thanks to Tyler Florence for the inspiration. I added in some small, stubby, finger-shaped potatoes [fingerling] giving them a little roasting action, some evoo and slap of salt and pepper. Rounding out the meal with an organic spring mix salad, feta cheese, toasted and sliced almond, lightly dressed with a little evoo and balsamic. Wow, to my mind that's perfection.

In the Spot Light: A barrel aged Chardonnay, raised right with 14 months in French Oak. The fruit was estate grown on Wente Clone root-stock, you can see the Chardonnay block in the picture above and to the right. A quick tasting note, this wine super rich and very creamy, baking spices, clove, hazelnut with almost dessert like qualities of a crème brulée and very pleasing long mouth coating finish. By the way, you may see tartaric crystals [also known as Wine Diamonds]
in your glass but its nothing to worry about.

A Chardonnay bottled unfined and unfiltered with 100% malolactic fermentation a factor immediately evident from the first pour to the last lingering sip. A wine that falls into my Chardonnay top ten list and I think I've given this wine my highest score to date. A wine worth all of the 96 points I've given it. At the time they had only produced only 220 cases of this beauty and were selling for a suggested retail price of $50. Most likely the 2008 has sold out by now, they are most likely selling the 2009, but I'd call to find out. I think the price may have gone up a bit since last year and you will need to sign up with them to get your allotment.

About Vineyard 7 and 8: Launny and Weezie Steffens got their start with the purchase of this property in 1999 and began their quest to produce distinctive, terroir driven wines from this unique piece of land. You'll find their winery set among some of Spring Mountain's greatest wine-producing vineyards. The terroir of their estate is a mix of sedimentary, volcanic, and clay soils. Their estate vineyards were established in the early 1980's and were at the time planted with just  ten acres of [Estate] Cabernet Sauvignon and four acres of Chardonnay, which you see directly through the window of the tasting room in the picture above.

Location, location, location: They are located on the top of Spring Mountain, set in the western hills above the town of St Helena some two thousand feet above the valley floor, they produce some wonderful vino from their forty acre estate. Wait until you the tasting room, I was wowed by the size and flattened by the panoramic view of the Spring Mountain District shining like a bright light in the background. Totally worth the price of admission. If you find yourself in the Napa Valley, don't miss an opportunity to stop by say hello and taste some really fantastic vino, that I know will knock your socks off and wow you like they wowed me.

Tastings and Appointments: If after reading this story on Vineyard 7 and 8 has caused you to want to book your own tasting appointment, please give them a call to arrange a time for your visit and tour. The tasting fee is now $30 per person and to me totally worth the price of admission, where you have the opportunity to taste some of the best juice on Spring Mountain.

If you like to drink high quality, terroir driven wines, that are far from the every day labels you normally encounter, then you will want to give the wines of Vineyard 7 & 8, a Spring Mountain high-light a swirl. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wine of the Week: 2009 Quivira Dry Creek Zinfandel

It's Wine Wednesday, it's time once more to uncork another "Wine of the Week" segment. Like the folks over at ESPN daily radio segment; I to am spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of wines; the thrill of finding well made wines for reasonable prices and the agony of uncorking muddled over oaked flabby, fruit-bomb messes.

Thus it's with great pleasure that I bring to your attention a well made Zinfandel from one of the best places in the world known for producing high quality Zin's, that place is called the Dry Creek Valley.

"The Idyllic Dry Creek Valley may be small but this Northern Sonoma viticultural area is best known for its zinfandel's which can range from robust to delicate" ~ Karen MacNeil of Wine Bible fame. Truer words about the fantastic wines coming from this very tiny AVA in northern Sonoma County have never been spoken.

In today's wine of the week spotlight is the 2009 Quivira Dry Creek Zinfandel, a great representation of what Zinfandel was meant to be, a wine that has little something for everybody. A dark inky gob of goodness in the glass color-wise, a blackberry and raspberry compote laid over supple tannins, nice acid, leading to a plush, lingering finish. Selling for the mere suggested retail price of $20 this wine hits every note on the yumminess scale and with that a well-balanced score of 91 points.

All Zinfandel fans will rejoice in what I think is a really well crafted wine that nicely reigns in some of the flabbier notes some Zin's can yield and puts a nice touch of elegance not often associated with Zin's in this price point. Perhaps because this wine has a few other grapes in the blend as minor players, I just call that smart blending adding some nice depth to back-end. This wine definitely gets my highly coveted and often sought after "drink now and drink often" recommendation. So, what are you waiting for order today, before there's no more and that would be a real-zin.

What to Pair: This is my suggestion and you of course have your own faves, but I just wanted to throw this out for your consideration. A couple [okay maybe three] of Carne Asada tacos went quite well with this Zin the night before I departed to Navarra. I have my own version of Carne Asada which I love to use, a seasoned Tri-Tip I had barbecued the night before leaving it a bit on the rare-side to facilitate a quick pan-sear the next day, blended corn and wheat flour shells and some fresh made salsa, not too hot or it will over power the wine. Of course the usual suspects [guacamole, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce] are standing by waiting to jump these tacos with added flavors.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Prison Break: A Wine Tasting Tale Uncorked

Last night was a very unique and special night; I was invited to a private wine tasting that was held at SAQ headquarters in Montreal after hours. A former prison, it now houses Head Offices of the Société des alcools du Québec, the state-owned liquor board in Quebec It was only three couples and the two SAQ advisers who gave us a private tour of SAQ wine museum.

Which is a very cool experience; seeing it used to be a old prison dating back to 1837 with the original century old wall, you can even see some of the original shackles still attached to the former prison walls. The only spirits that remain now are in bottles.

We got to visit the prisons cellar room where I spotted some famous labels; like Penfolds Grange, Château Pétrus Pomerol, Opus One and Romanée-Conti to name a few to grab my attention. I had hard time leaving the cellar, I even offered to stay there and watch over the bottles for the bottles safety of course [wink]. But no sale, after the incredible tour we went into a private tasting room, where there was an incredible selection of wine provided for us by SAQ advisor, along with an assorted cheese and fruits platters to further wet our appetites.

Some of the standout wines poured for us that night included Château Bouscaut Pessac, Léognan Grand cru Classé 2004, which I had completely fallen in love with. The only way to describe is that I was head-over-heels, like mad-love.

Luckily, I was able to get a second glass for tasting it again, oh-my it was fantastic, very well crafted bottle of wine. I was impressed with how fresh it was on the nose very alive and vibrant, white wine form 2004 vintage. In my estimation, it was just special bottle any of you that would love. I’m not much of a white-wine kind of gal, but this wine was for a special treat, selling $55 it’s defiantly worth the price of admission.

I also really enjoyed the Brouilly Château de Pierreux it was very rich and juicy much darker color then the usual Brouilly, very rich had a hints of licorice and dark fruits, dark black cherry and a just a touch of leather, beautiful medium finish was superb from 2009 Vintage selling for about $20, at this price point, I was wanting to buy more then just a few bottles. I was so taken with this wine, I thought oh just another glass would be grand, so I help my self for a second glass [shhh!].

Then came the Malbec, a Catena Alta Angelica Mendoza 2008 , very rich strong spicy wine that best enjoyed with BBQ meat, beef or lamb. It would have showed better, because it was a bit tight and needed to be decanted a least 1 hour to let it breathe some. It sells for about $52, makes a great gift to any wine lover who really enjoys barbecued meats. Our group also enjoyed Pascal Jolivet Pouilly-Fumé 2010 very much.

A beautiful refreshing white wine with strong grassy hints of lemon grass and honey lots of minerality in the glass, lovely mouthful, notes of herbs, grass, touch of citrus, just lovely for any sushi lover out there and the price is only $26 easy on the wallet and great in the glass, young and fresh easy drinking, what can anyone ask for?

Finally, we also sampled some locally made products Michel Jodoin cidre léger rosé mousseux 2009, great little apple bubbly. A light refreshing quaff, only 7% abv, makes for a nice celebration for those people who prefer not drink champagne, but still want that bubble experience. Yes it’s made with Apples, smells like apple pie and apricots and had delicate mousse in the mouth; they sell it for $18, a very tasty local product.

We finished off our evening with ice cider Domaine Leduc-Piedimonte Cidre de Glace 2007 which sells for $26. This wine explodes with hints of caramel and apple puree or apple compote and honey with apricots very nice way to end the evening, so for all of you who follow my wine suggestion hopefully you will give some of these wines a swirl and let me know what you think, cheers!

I hope you enjoyed hearing another voice, from a fellow traveler, a good FB friend and a ever curious vino-sapien. She had a great time at a Private Tasting, where she had the opportunity to sample a delicious selection of wines in the bowels of a former prison, which is now SAQ headquarters in Quebec.

I really like to introduce "other-voices" from time to time. This is her first time contributing an article to the online world outside of her FB audience. I only know her as Honey Bun, on Facebook where I'm always excited to read her vinous-tasting exploits, of which sometimes I'm a bit envious. She and her husband Pierre own a fantastic boating business called Marina FortinUntil next time folks sip long and prosper, cheers!

Red Mountain Uncorked: Terroir Hunting at Terra Blanca

People [okay mostly cork-dorks] often talk about "terroir" and can often be heard around the local wine-bar or the proverbial wine-cooler saying things like "wow, this wine is really terroir driven" or you may see in tasting notes, wow wonderful minerality as a descriptor of the wine they are drinking. But what does that mean? Is it just wine-nerd talk or does it really mean something to the wine in your glass? 

Some say yes and some will say undoubtedly no and add further it is suggested by some that if one believes minerality [a word not found in the dictionary] can be tasted in the wine, then you're one of two things; either a snob attempting lord knowledge over folks or you just don't have a clue about what you're talking about. To see that discussion and make up your own mind, click the link above to read Jancis Robinsons take on whether minerality is a real or contrived characteristic to be found in wine.

Perhaps, before you finish reading this post, you may want to pop over to this link for a fast and easy one paragraph definition of the what terrior means, it gives a great baseline of information to see where I'm attempting to go with this post [I hope you will find it helpful].

If you're drinking mainly commodity wines [jug or box wines], which indicate on the label that the fruit used to produce the wine in the bottle comes only from geographic area known as California for example, then you're not going to be able to appreciate or perceive any real influence of terroir in my opinion.

On the other hand if you're wine drinker who mostly consumes estate produced wines from places like the Red Mountain AVA for example you are going to start seeing a trend in the flavor profile of these wines. A uniquely Red Mountain profile that you that you won't sense when drinking wines produced from the Oakville AVA in Napa, for example. Both have some very unique soils and both produce very different styles of wines, of course terroir is not the only influence to affect the overall flavor profile you experience.

If you want to put this theory to the test; grab a bottle of a estate wine from both regions, pick a producer like Terra Blanca and one from Bobby Mondavi's place in the Napa Valley, decant, serve blind and then compare and contrast. I'm pretty sure you will see the differences that soil-types can play on what happens with the grapes final product, the finished wine in your glass.

So if you remember I recently spent a week on Red Mountain with fantastic folks at Terra Blanca who generously hosted me the entire visit. The video I produced while I was there can be watched below, I think it will really help most folks to understand the impact of soil type on wine and why it's important to delineate between one AVA and another. Watch the video below to see how that difference is made in the overall flavor profiles of the [distinctiveness] wines you drink.

Big thanks to Keith Pilgrim, Terra Blanca's owner and winemaker who starred in this video and the entire wonderfully professional staff at Terra Blanca for putting up with me for an entire week and their very kind hospitality. I had a great time and learned so much from my visit and hope I will be invited back next year, perhaps I could stay a little longer, work as a harvest intern for the season. Until next time folks sip long and prosper, cheers!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lights Out: Three Hoots 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Boom, boom out goes the lights! Ugh, I'm pretty sure all of San Diego remembers that day, which was not too long ago when suddenly the grid powering our city had its switch flipped to the "off" position, which really made for an eventful day, to say the least.

It happened right before the kick-off of the NFL Football season; where my adopted team the Packers were getting ready to remind everyone why they call Green Bay, WI "Title-Town".

After walking my dogs and seeing many of my neighbors who I ever rarely see out and about; it was nearing dinner time and I thought, hmmm, "no power, but I still have plenty of gas" [talking propane here] and I've got some NY strips just jonesing to jump on the grill, oh-yeah baby come to papa.

Because a man with a grill, is a man on a mission and with that in mind there's nothing better in this vino-sapiens mind than a fat Napa Cab and some freshly grilled NY strips [in Pairing 101 this is what I call the sweet-spot]. A match made in heaven, big brawny Napa Cab meets juicy New Yorker. I throw on couple of foil-wrapped potatoes, while the side-burner warms up for sauteing fresh asparagus spears, lightly drizzled with evoo and a shake-down from my oddly proportional pepper mill.

That evening was lights-out in more ways than one; I watched the game on the four inch screen of my phone, glad there's an "app" for that [NFL Network] lights-out. While many folks were still scrambling to get dinner on the table on that evening, I had plan "B" in my back pocket, boy meets grill lights-out. The last piece to the puzzle, I was sent a sample of the Three Hoots Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, that was lights-out tasty juice, that punctuates the phrase "lights-out.

Davis and Dyke Winery and Three Hoots Wines can be found in St. Helena, their operating principal goes a litte something like this; "we believe a great bottle of wine tells a great story; one of dedication, passion, and lives well lived". See folks these are not your garden variety commodity wines, it has been my experience with their wines that they are a cut above the cacophony of other labels clamoring for your attention on the shelf. These are the kind of wines you can taste with your mind.

Their 3 Hoots 2008 Reserve Cab, really thrilled me. In the glass a deeply colored ruby core, the nose was flush with bold black fruits, floral notes, coupled with rich earth elements. On the palate well integrated oak, mocha, a bit of vanilla, black-berry, dark-plum and leather layered over a smooth tannins and enough acidity to carry the vocal fruit, leading to the finessed finish. This wine sells for $55 to club members and $65 retail. I gave this a score of 93 points and can highly recommend you give it a swirl. If you buy a case, you get free shipping which is always a bonus.

Not only that but they have a vision for sustainability; which is a big buzz word these days. But to Three Hoots it's far more than just a buzz-word it's a guiding principal. I think we can all agree that sustainability not only creates but also 
maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can co-exist in productive harmony, so future generations can continue to enjoy our natural environment. 

For Davis and Dyke [Three Hoots] it's about creating an environment of balance and respect for our place in the natural environment, which is why they not only give five percent of their net revenue to the Audubon Society, but they also encourages the population of Barn Owls via the use of Owl boxes, which in turn helps return balance of the pest to predator ratio in the vineyards, putting into practice what they believe. Its not just window dressing or a nice idea to talk about, it's in my mind substance over symbolism, to which I say well-done. Until next time, sip long and prosper cheers!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rhone Zone: Treana Central Coast Rhone Blend

With all the super hero movies packing folks in theatres these days it is easy to lose focus on one of most important abilities that anyone person or in this case any wine, winery or winemaker could have year in and year out.

I have to agree with Mr. Jones who said it best "The greatest ability is dependability" ~ Bob Jones. With that thought in mind; I've uncorked another fab-wine to your attention. It's one of my favorite’s year in and year out. Every time I give this wine a swirl, it does not matter what year happens to be, this wine never fails to impress me.

This wine rolls over my palate like a steam shovel of fermented fig, honey and nutty goodness. If you have not had the pleasure of "her" company, I'd seek her out and giving it a swirl. I'd recommend grabbing it by the case; even letting you sit in your pantry for a year or two, providing it's cool enough to do that where you live.

To me, it just gets better with each passing year. When ever I head over to Costco's wine aisle to refill the pantry I always look for the oldest vintages and stock up. This wine is widely distributed, the Costco here in the San Diego market has been carrying this wine for years, it sells for about $15 - $16 which is great QPR.

This is the kind of wine that really gives a good bang for the buck. It’s great to drink with a little chill on the bottle on its own or paired with your favorite recipe. I paired this wine with some barbecued pork chops [evoo, salt, pepper and pinch of garlic] some home-made scalloped potatoes and a light, lean spinach salad.

Not sure if you can read the label all too well but this wine is a delish blend of Viognier 55% and Marsanne 45%, a percentage that varies year to year. Two blended Rhone varietals combine to make a wine that has great body, nice acidity to carry the abundant fruit and a long lengthy finish. I give this wine a solid score of at 90 points and highly recommend you giving it a swirl yourself.

I've snatched off the label and have thrown it into my wine-journal [the catalyst for this blog], as a reminder of what wonderful wines can be made in the right hands from even from generic Central Coast fruit. Until next time, sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

About San Diego: The Wine Vault and Bistro

To me dining-out is almost always a treat and I think probably to a majority of other folks living in these economic times. So when I do dine-out, I want to go to place that really "gets" the whole wine and food pairing experience.

A place whose passion for this part of life matches mine own closely. That said, may I introduce you to one of my all time favorite spots in San Diego in this "About San Diego" feature; the Wine Vault and Bistro.

Being a cork-dork, I've been to many wine-store, wine-bars and restaurants 
over the years but few offer a full service service on all three counts, this place
offers pairing menus and the wine available for purchase afterward and you can even have one very best martinis in the city, just ask for the Voyager 209. It's a style of doing business in the restaurant game that's very different and unfortunately the exception.

But exceptional is the experience Chris and Mary Gluck; the owners of The Wine Vault and Bistro bring to the table everyday. A charming wine store, wine bar and bistro all in one. They made the splash unto the San Diego Wine scene just five years ago, welcoming the garden variety oenophile and yes even the wannabe-wino alike and may I add in my estimation very successfully.

With no advertising budget to speak of, Chris and Mary depend solely on what Mary calls "chains" or friends telling friends. Mary recalls one of her customers only known as "Sergio" bringing countless friends and business acquaintances dozens of times, simply because he loves the service, top notch food and the boutique wines. Many of which are highly allocated and sought after by wine lovers everywhere. So here I'm telling all you my friends, my readers that place is the "real-deal" and work hard to earn you business each and everyday.

Chris the owner and all around nice guy personally tastes through all the wines on he puts on his shelves, checking for what I call QPR or the quality price ratio. In other words, "a lot of bang for the buck" and who couldn't use that these days. Chris also rejects many labels because they don't meet his requirements, a feat that is not as easy as you may think it is. So whether you are a, Red-Wine only, anything but chardonnay type of wine drinker or you love something "sweet" they will have what you've been looking for at very affordable prices, which are easy on the wallet and delightful upon the palate.

If you're like me you’ve probably drove past or maybe even stopped by for Gelato from the shop below or visited Shakesheare's Pub on this part of India Street countless times, without even knowing that just a full story above the sidewalk lies one of San Diego's best wine shop, wine-bar and restaurant, a delish dining destination like no other located at 3731-A India Street one-half block south of Washington Street, just moments off the I-5 corridor.
If wine is not your thing, I've seen Sake Night, Beer Google Night and some evening they feature special tastings of single malt scotches, tequilas, small-batch bourbons and more. If you crave a great Martini, be sure to give their fantastic martini sampler a swirl.  For the savvy-sipper planing is essential as having a cork screw at the ready in the right moment, thus I'd highly recommend checking their calender page for details. 

After you've checked their calender and you've found something appetizing, you better book it or miss the opportunity, because the "vault" says to the world, umm, what recession? Here's the number to call [619-295-3939]  to book your own slice of a wine and food pairing yumminess. By the way if you'd like to just shop for your favorite bottle of wine; you're encouraged to do so Monday through Saturday from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

On Thursday and Friday nights they feature "casual" wine tastings which attracts folks seeking a bar or lounge type experience. It’s a great place to start out the evening for a night "out on the town" or to just unwind with friends. Wine lovers and newbies alike will find something to love in the bar's collection of Old and New World wines still and sparkling, available by the glass, bottle or flights of multiple two ounce tastes.

One of my favorite things to do there is to attend the winemaker dinners. Mrs. Cuvee and I love-love going to these fun and informative events. Not only is it a great way to discover something new and delicious to add to my already over flowing cellar, bad problem to have I know.

But, it is a great way to see wine in a new light, not just as cocktail but as part of the whole package of seeing how wine can really make food sing, like no other beverage can. What is unique is that after tasting through these flights you can purchase a bottle to take home or keep one with you for on the go.

Most vinosapiens I speak to are well aware of this San Diego hot spot. The Wine Vault and Bistro has a reputation of giving a great bang for the buck wine, food pairing genius, word spreads quickly. While at times it may be tough to get a table or find parking, you'll be rewarded for your patience with stellar wine, fresh food with imbued with no-compromise ingredients and welcoming smiles all-around. You may just discover your next favorite wine or possibly make them your one stop shop for dining and wine shopping all in one. Please take the opportunity to stop by and have a glass or two and see for yourself. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wine of the Week: Robert Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir 2010

Time to uncork another wine of the week; in the spot-light today is a very tasty Pinot Noir from Robert Mondavi Winery in the Napa Valley [a sample provided for the review process].

My expectations were greatly heightened upon seeing the label sporting the 
Carneros AVA, meaning that 85% of those grapes which produced this wine had to be grown in this area.

Why is that important, because Carneros really is a great growing area; where you will see many Burgundian style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and some very nice bubblies as well.

Honestly folks there are very few wines produced in Carneros region that make me unhappy and when Mrs. Cuvee fights me for the last splash, I really know I have a winner on my hands.

After getting a bit of this wine in my glass, a brillant ruby and plum colors jump out at you. Putting my fat nose in the glass I'm immediately hit with a wave of fragant aromas of baking spices mingling with the more muted aromas of dried mushrooms. After the first splash wonderful fruit forward flavors of dark fruit; like black plum and slightly jammy black cherry note, slammed into vineyard dust. The urge to merge with notes of spice, herbs and subtle oak dance playfully together with good structure and acidity, red and dark fruits, smooth tannins and a plump finish, albeit mostly mid-palate.

Definitely a richly satisfying wine that is eager to please, from the first splash to the last drop. I gave this wine a score of 88 points and can highly recommend it to you as an everyday wine. The SRP is $27, but the savvy shopper can find this wine a few places somewhere south of $20, also on that same front I see that Bevmo carries it for the SRP of $27, but if this wine hits their nickel-sale all bets are off, grab it by the case.

The question of "what to pair" always come to my mind; as I am the chief-chef here at Chez Vino, so I took a look at recipe I recently recieved in another sample box and found this fantastic recipe that I would like to share with you, Pomegranate Glazed Lamb Lollipops. This recipe pairs so nicely with the very tasty Carneros Pinot Noir, you'll never look at lamb quite the same way again. So until next time, sip long and prosper, cheers!

This recipe is brought to you by Candice Kumai chef and author of "Cook Yourself Thin" and will serves 4, in appetizer portion.


  3 cups 100% pomegranate juice

  1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

  2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage or 3 teaspoons dried

  3/4 teaspoons sea salt

  1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

  One 6-8 bone rack of lamb, Frenched


1.   Preheat oven to 450°F.

2.   Heat the pomegranate juice in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it comes to gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the juice is reduced to 3/4 cup, and has the consistency of maple syrup (about 30 minutes). Cool to room temperature.

3.   Toss the panko with sage and 1/4 teaspoons salt together on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle 1 1/2 teaspoons of the olive oil over the mixture and rub it between your palms to incorporate into the breadcrumbs. Set aside.

4.    Rub the entire rack of lamb with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet (cast iron works great!) on high heat.

5.   Place the rack of lamb rounded-side down in the pan and cook until browned (2-3 minutes). Turnover and brown for 2-3 minutes on the second side. Use tongs to transfer the lamb to a cutting board.

6.   Using a pastry brush, dab the mustard all over the browned lamb. Press both side of the lamb in the seasoned panko, making sure to cover the entire surface in an even layer or bread crumbs. Wrap a sheet of foil over the tips of the bones (so they don’t burn) and place the rack back in the skillet, bone-side down. Place the skillet in the oven and roast the lamb for 12 to 14 minutes for medium. Let the lamb rest for 10 minutes before using a sharp knife to separate the rack into individual chops. Arrange on a plate and drizzle with the pomegranate reduction.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Give this a Swirl: Wine Regions Redraw the Lines

Last week as I was traveling home from the Red Mountain AVA in Washington State, where cool temps pushed back the harvest dates for a second season. I ran to catch my flight from Seattle to San Diego, but not without some reading material.

I'm constantly amused at how wrong folks can be when think they have a full grasp of the facts and are allowed by their editor to run willy-nilly with their story and plonk it down right on the front page of the paper. Not just any paper mind you, but on the front pages of USA Today.

It is kind of surprising to see these types of glaring errors on front page of a major paper, but it does lead me to conclude or carefully consider just one thing when I see a story like this on the front page, that perhaps fat ad-revenues via eye catching headlines are far more important than getting the story correct.

So once at the airport, as my usual custom I picked up a USA Today, as I've skipped seeing or reading any news items the entire week while I was there [nice break]. So I hopped on the plane and sat down and buckled up, as I started to read the dire prediction on the front page about the coming end of the Napa Valley as a grape growing region and how wine from the Willamette Valley is virtually unknown, I just had to laugh out loud.

So this is what I read on the USA Today’s front page on two weeks ago. It was an article entitled, Taste this: Climate change may redraw wine regions [btw, the paper article is way different than the online version, much is omitted]. The only thing I could taste in this article was a bad case of fact checking.

The article foolishly suggested that the Willamette Valley is a "little known wine-grape growing region" and may, just may start to see some growth according to a controversial study. Don't you just love to read articles by folks who like to cite unsubstantiated studies as facts to support their story line; I do it makes for rather amusing reading.

I thought to myself "really" as I read the article stating Oregon's Willamette Valley is "little-known". I just started to chuckle, I mean come-on USA Today if you’re going put an article on the front page of your paper, you may want to have someone who has a clue about wine, writing the article. I’m just saying, you could have done a little fact checking before you hit the publish button. But hey we all make mistakes, unfortunately this one was kind of glaring like a crocodiles eyes on a Louisiana bayou.

Even the garden variety vino-sapien, understands immediately that saying the Willamette Valley is a little known area for wine production in print, on the front page, is automatic fail. The slate of other inaccuracies in this piece are far too numerous to point out here, but appear to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg regarding the article. Hey USA Today, if you need someone to cover the wine-beat, that knows his way around a wine bottle, let me know I’d be glad to talk about doing some freelance work, give me a call. Until next time everyone, sip long and prosper, cheers!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Red Mountain Uncorked: Ten Year Onyx Vertical

As I was packing up and ready to head home from 
Terra Blanca part of the Red Mountain AVA, vineyard-dust still stuck to my boots and fruit-flies buzzing around the window of my rental, perhaps bidding me farewell.

I realized after I arrived home that hmmm, it was really a quick hop skip and jump to get back into San Diego this past Saturday and vice-versa. It is the kind of trip I'd would recommend highly to any wandering-wino, but especially so for the west-coast crowd.

Sadly though [sigh] I'm already missing wine-country and its wonderful atmosphere; where the smell of fermenting grapes is in the air, clear crisp mornings, even the rumble of a slow moving train and cows mooing in the distance can catch your attention on an early morning. Making it a very easy place to forget a world of folks who have nothing better to do than throw hot-dogs at celebrities and participate in silly "occupy" movements.

It was greatly  unexpected, but I had the great privilege of experiencing a ten year vertical with my great friends at Terra Blanca in the chandelier lighted library. The wine pulled for that vertical is their flagship label called Onyx. A deliciously delicate Bordeaux style blend that has a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot base. Actually truth be known this was my first ten-year vertical, so it looks like I popped my ten year vertical-cherry sort of speak [ha]. I later found out that I was only the second blogger in their history, to have a vertical like this pulled for them, it was great honor and one that I remain very thankful. 

Perhaps, it came about as I reacted to another wineries older [2004] bottlings, that in my words, "seemed a bit tired" which gave me a bit of pause about the long term ageability of Red Mountain fruit. Even though, not that too many folks who buy wines in this day and age, even give a fleeting thought about that issue, because honestly, most folks [vino-sapiens] uncork and suck down said purchase within 24 hours. There's nothing wrong with that either, as I drink most of my inventory, within a year to year and half after purchase, so I'm not too far behind the average. 

So it's Friday night; Happy Hour at Terra Blanca, the place is hopping. The staff is busy, with preparations to pick Merlot in the early AM, preparing for a wedding ceremony, reception and coming up with a new menu item for their delish weekend menu. Keith, the owner, chief wine-maker and all around nice guy is busy pulling the vertical and setting up the library table for what will be one of my most memorable tastings ever [yep you heard me right, ever].

The setting is amazing, ten years of Red Mountain fruit is shimmering in Reidel stems, beckoning me to give it a swirl, oh yeah baby, come to papa. My eye is immediately drawn to the "97" still pulsing with abundant fruit, a shade of brick on the rim and suave sophistication in the true sense of a Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon dominated [counter balanced with rich Washington Merlot] style blend [yes I killed that bottle].

All ten years of the Onyx are still showing vibrant acidity, balanced dark and red fruits, minerality [I could taste the vineyard], a touch of orange-rind, worn baseball-glove leather playing nicely with the well integrated tannins. A fantastic food wine made to pair effortlessly with many different styles of cuisine, whether you find yourself in a mood for Italian or you're going to do Basque style tapas night.

When you get to the top end of the vertical heading towards the 2007 Onyx, the fruit, ruby colors in the core dominate, supple tannins, vivid structure while still being suave and sophisticated, a wine to lay down for enjoyment later or uncork it now and enjoy its youthful embrace. Their Onyx label is a wine, which is far more about subtle influences and less about power of the high-octane variety with most of labels carrying an average of 13.5% ABV.

Now that said, my overall impression of ten-years of Red Mountain fruit with Terra Blanca specifically in mind is that this region is capable of producing extraordinary world class wines which come dressed to impress now and long into the future. If holding unto the wine for maturing is the goal, I know many can't wait that long. Now, if you're a Merlot fan, than you can't do any better than a Red Mountain Merlot, which has great Cabernet Sauvignon style and structure on its own, but when blended with Cab, wow a thing of beauty to be sure.

Hopefully I've peeked your interest in the Washington Wine Scene; specifically the Red Mountain AVA near the Tri-Cities. It's a great place to visit especially over the weekend when the majority of the tasting rooms are open. I had many fun experiences as I traveled around the area; I found wineries in this area to be very welcoming of guests and in many of the tasting rooms they have wine country maps and other helpful info for the wandering-wino to find their way around the Red Mountain AVA. Some of the wineries have tasting fees and others don't, but check with each winery for complete details, also some places are by appointment only. That said, the Tri-Cities is a quick flight from Seattle and once there is a great jumping off point to visit the wonderful Red Mountain AVA, I highly recommend giving it a swirl.

In the interest of full disclosure, yes I was a guest of Terra Blanca for a week covering harvest, which got a bit delayed [honestly it didn't start till the day I was suppose to leave]. I remain very thankful for the great opportunity and wish their entire team of dedicated winemaking and winery operations professionals continued success in all their endeavors, until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Red Mountain Uncorked: Harvest 2011 Delayed

“Experience tells me that it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you respond to what has happened" ~ Wally Amos
Known as Famous-Amos, he's a guy who really knows sometimes, that's the way the cookie crumbles. It's with that thought in mind, that as I enter into day five of my winemaker fantasy-camp without the opportunity to harvest any grapes as of the moment [sigh].

That aside, I wanted to say a hearty "good-morning" to everyone from Red Mountain, I've got a hot cup of Joe in my hand and some fresh baked pumpkin spice muffins from a place called "Yokes" great stuff. In my mind, the perfect fuel to start off a busy day on the bottling line. Oh yeah you heard right, it was my goal to come up to Terra Blanca during crush, but with the rains [cloudy, dark skies over-head] and the ripeness levels not working in my favor it looks like I will go home without that experience under my belt [sigh]. As I’ve drove around the area, I’ve seen that many of the wineries here on Red Mountain have not picked all their fruit either. But hey that's life on a winery, mother-nature is the boss and you can't always pick by the numbers [if you know what I mean].

However, since I've been here, I've learned so much more about the way a winery works than what really meets the eye, especially to the average vino-sapien casually walking in the tasting room doors. I've had unprecedented unfettered access to their entire operation; with that kind of "access" there’s a lot of trust involved. No one has told me, hey Mr. Cuvee [the blogger] don't look in here or don't go in that door. I've not seen one thing that would give me pause. With that said; I can tell you that this winery is a well oiled machine, which is extraordinarily able to respond to situations that can go sideways quickly.

The first day I get here, Terra Blanca's owner Keith Pilgrim is greeted with news of a dish-washing machine that has malfunctioned in the worse way and he calmly say's "really, um okay, call so and so, and he'll get it fixed" but so and so is busy, elsewhere and then he thought for a moment, mentions another team member who can hop on the issue and bada-bing, bada-boom it's done. All before the large group of guest scheduled for the evening show up, without a hitch their giddy-up. I've over heard more than one conversation similar this and their team here, jump on it like a cat pouncing upon an unsuspecting mouse.

Am I saying that Terra Blanca is perfect, uh-no, because no one person or business entity can claim perfection. But what I am saying is that Terra Blanca has a dedicated team employees [from the tasting room to the crush-pad], who are all rowing in the same direction, as a result the end product which ends up in your glass will really thrill you in one way or the other.

The selection of wines on their menu on any given day has a something for every type of wine drinker; whether you want it sweet or serious, I can assure that there will be a wine you will be happy to take home. Whether it's something you want to put away for another day or wine you would like to pour for guest you'd like to have over to show-case Washington wines, either way you be glad you have some Terra Blanca wine in your glass. I have so much more to share about this great experience, so please stay tuned. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fall into Dessert: Chocolate Truffles Meet Yalumba Muscat

Happiness is life served up with a scoop of acceptance, a topping of tolerance and sprinkles of hope, although chocolate sprinkles also work.
~ Robert Brault

In many places fall is in the air, crisp temperatures, greys skies are beating back the smaller pockets of blue, sunny skies. Yes, folks for some unfortunate but summer is in full retreat and fall has taken its rightful place. But there's a way to beat back those chills with an inviting dessert. It's with that in mind that I bring you a little treat, that will compliment a cool, crisp fall evening. This a great dessert, that gives great depths of flavor and boat loads of smiles to guests who may be visiting.

The Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat from Barossa Valley, which I picked last weekend because we were having guests and we planned on smoking a few gar's after the dessert. Which got me to thinking; "hmmm what wine would pair nicely with a chocolate themed dessert and a fat-Cuban cigar? Good questions and I think that I came up with a few answers to the age-old wine question, "what to pair" with my suggestions below.

It was a bit of a quandary for just a moment, until I came across, Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat and I thought oh-yeah here we go. A amber-colored, infused with brandy-spirits, brimming with rich complex flavors of roasted nuts, orange peel, toffee and dried fruits [think raisins and figs] and just a touch of lemony brilliance and just enough acidity to offset the sweetness, leaving you with a long persistent finish.

Lucky for me an old friend of Mrs. Cuvee and I was gracious enough to part with a few "Cubans" from his recent trip to Havana. We ended up putting away a few hand-rolled cigars, Romeo Y Julieta 2 (Churchill) and wow it was a thing of beauty. Everyone who gave it a go, loved how smooth and yet full-bodied with rich complex flavors like the delicious tawny style Muscat which accompanied it.

I compare this style of late harvest to a Tawny Port, as it’s very similar in taste and style, some would even say it compares favorably to a Fonsesa 20 year old Tawny, but without the huge $40.00 price of admission. All said and done, it was a great evening and the cigars, Muscat and the dessert were great partners in punctuating the evening. Here's to great friends, great food and great memories. Below you will find the recipe, which is super simple to prepare and it turned better than expected. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Nutella Espresso Chocolate Truffles: Recipe provided by Rosy and Tart

1/2 cup Nutella, divided
1/2 cup heavy cream
11.5 oz milk chocolate chips, divided
1.5 oz white morsel chips
2 tsp espresso powder
5 Donsuemor chocolate Madeleines


1. Place 1/4 cup Nutella in the corner of a small sandwich ziplock bag. Cut off the tip and, on parchment paper, carefully squeeze out 16 to 18 small balls of Nutella. Place in freezer for at least one hour.

2. While Nutella centers freeze, put 3.5 oz milk chocolate chips, white morsels, rest of Nutella and espresso powder in a medium size bowl. Heat heavy cream in sauce pan over medium-high until it begins to foam. Remove and pour 1/2 over mix in bowl. Allow to set for 45 seconds. Carefully stir well. Pour remaining in and mix until completely blended. Put bowl in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

3. Remove bowl from refrigerator. Using a hand mixer on low speed, carefully mix chocolate + cream mix until it's a light and fluffy ganache. Put back in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

4. Using two spoons, quickly roll Nutella centers in ganache, forming round tablespoon-sized balls. Place on parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 30 more minutes.

5. Place Madeleines in the food processor and blend until evenly crushed.

6. Put remaining 8 oz chocolate chips in microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 20 seconds, remove and stir. Continue this process until just melted.

7. The final step; working in batches, quickly remove 3 or 4 balls from the refrigerator. Using two small spoons, roll centers in melted chocolate, then roll in crushed cookies. Place on parchment paper. Continue until all truffles are completed. Serve immediately or place in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Red Mountain Uncorked: 2007 Arch Terrace Merlot

In the Wine of the Week spotlight this week a sample of Red Mountain's Arch Terrace 2007 Merlot from fine folks at Terra Blanca. A winery dedicated to environmentally sound farming practices, which are evident in every sip and slurp.

I needed a quick fix for dinner last night. So into the freezer I went and pulled what seems to be a new trend on grocery store aisles these days; chef-inspired insta-meals. Opening the freezer door and spied out the Braised-Beef, Portobello Tortellinis, diced red peppers, spinach and covered in a Marsala Wine Sauce, I immediately thought hmmm this should be a spot-on pairing with some Red Mountain Merlot and oh-boy I was right; this wine paired oh-so nicely, can we say happy-dance?

In the glass a great looking ruby core, on the palate ripe fruit flavors are joined by subtle toast and mocha nuances, good acidity, making this wine a great example of Red Mountain fruit which is soft and approachable, but maintains a sturdy frame of tannins and good overall structure.

A great food wine as well that will play nicely from with many different types of entrees like barbecued chicken or with the suggested pairing mentioned above. It's also great wine to sit back and sip on after a long work day. Either way you do it, this is the type of wine that's ready when you are, as there is no fuss or muss needed, it pours from the bottle dressed to impress.

I really love the Merlot coming out of Washington State, they seem to have so much more structure and finesse than many other Merlots that I've encountered else where. In many places it's a great blending grape, but as a stand alone varietal many seem to fall short of the mark, tending to be a bit on the flabby side of the equation. But in Washington State and on Red Mountain specifically Merlot really stands out and shines brightly on its own.

When you can get a wine of this quality at this price point it really makes me, stand-up and take notice. The Arch Terrace 2007 Merlot hits every note and then-some. It sells for a SRP of $20, making it easy on the wallet and plush on the palate. I gave this wine a solid score of 90 points and highly recommend you give it a swirl. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers everyone!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Red Mountain Uncorked: A Visit to Terra Blanca

Good morning everyone, wow what a contrast between here and Seattle, where grey is the newest thing in liquid sunshine.

As I walked across the tarmac preparing to board the puddle jumper, en-route to to my final destination, it was rainy and cold, chilly enough to see my breath.

The change came as I arrived here on Red Mountain in the late afternoon and I could see the sun and feel its warmth, I thought "it's great to be back". It was just last year that I and about 80 other bloggers descended upon Terra Blanca [WBC 2010] for a amazing dinner and they also played host for the Grand Tasting of Red Mountain wines.

Yesterday afternoon, Keith [the owner and winemaker], Randy [the assistant winemaker] and I tasted through some barrel samples of 2008 Syrah [who says Syrah can't age] and they came up with a blend [a special cuvée] that will be a very limited bottling. When this "Special-Cuvee" is released it will just crush you with boat loads of dark and red fruits, vibrant minerality, a dusting of bakers chocolate and tobacco which are both lush and layered well into the mid-palate and the back-end as well.

The pulse of acidity deftly balances the ripe fruit and the tannins also play nice, making this wine wonderfully approachable now. But further bottle aging of up to a year will reward the patient.  So be on the look-out for this special [extremely limited] bottling, it's ready to be bottled soon, so stay tuned.

I also got a chance to taste the 2009 Cabernet Franc from the barrel, oh-my what a treat. My first thought was, "WOW", so if you luv, luv a great Cab-Franc as much as I do, you definitely want to an keep an eye out this wine when it's eventually bottled. But, the 2007 which I sampled last night is no slouch either, give it a swirl.

This wine takes the word "finesse" to a new level, like crushed velvet in a bottle. It danced on my palate like a ballerina, gracefully and delightfully touching each taste bud with fragrant aromas and flavors of pure Cab-Franc delight. It really delivered with amazing length and precision on the very persistent finish. Those were just a couple of the high-lights from yesterday, there are many more to come so stay tuned. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!
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