Category Archives: Wine Education

WINE (noun): the alcoholic fermented juice of fresh grapes used as a beverage

Source: Merriam-Webster

Hola Garnacha #GarnachaDay

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When did Grenache/Garnacha become such a big deal? In the youthful days (the early to mid- 1970’s) of my wine career, I remember drinking Ridge wines with then winemaker and now winemaker/CEO Paul Draper at the winery on Monte Bello Road, sipping Grenache in cool mixed red blends. I always found those wines compelling and fun, but what did Grenache contribute to those wines? Was it just a part of the bigger picture? Could this grape stand alone and be successful and also play nicely in a mix with other varietals? The winery writes, “Ridge became involved with grenache quite by accident when, in 1972, we first harvested the nineteenth-century vines on the eastern hills of Lytton Springs. Though we didn’t know it then, one of the hills—planted in 1902—had a high percentage of grenache interplanted with small amounts of zinfandel and petite sirah.” Yeow, the grape had history in California.

In January 1995, I was on a tour de Spain with a group of U.S. retailers. Led by a pioneer U.S. importer of Spainish wines, Jorge Ordoñez, my colleagues and I endured what we commonly say the “death march” of the wine business (when you travel abroad and visit wineries non-stop for a week, including long rides on buses and trains and even planes). I have endured these trips in France, Australia, Italy as well as Spain. This is where we all learn to sleep on buses and enjoy our music playlists.

This Ordoñez trip was quite fine, but one of the most memorable moments for me was my accidental discovery of Garnacha as a stand alone varietal. We stayed at the rustic Remellluri Winery in Alvara, Spain. The Riojas were outstanding, but the taste of glory came when Jorge asked me to join him in the kitchen to try this experimental wine that winemaker Telmo Rodriguez of Remuelluri had made. I looked at this bottle, with some skepticism. Hand-written, “T.R.S. Muestra “Navarra,” I had no idea what this was, but it was good and super delicious. Jorge then grinned and whispered, “You don’t have this wine (to sell).” All of this wine was earmarked for the U.K. He simply wanted me to do is to taste it and comment. Well, I eventually persuaded him to send a palate to the U.S. and he did. That first Spanish Garnacha was then labeled, 1994 Alma Garnacha (Navarra) and started me on my Grenache/Garnacha journey.

Where to go? First of all, I sold all of the Alma immediately to my customers at a small San Francisco retailer, moved onto a bigger retail position with a new company and immediately began to travel the wine world. I never lost sight of Garnacha, and my new position opened up a whole new world of the varietal. My palate spent lots of time in southern Rhône where I had opportunity to taste unblended Grenache in all of its red-fruit glory.

Today my first love goes to Spanish Garnacha, where the grape has become one of the world’s greatest red wine values. Often vibrant and soulful and enjoyed without discussion, but as a chief storyteller, I am prone to talk and this grape is now front and center in my discussion points. Our team recently took part in a Granacha Tweet-Up #lovegranacha and all of us agree that we love a good Granacha! Not only the red versions, but the white, the rose and even the sweet! No matter your preferred wine style, it’s possible you can find a Garnacha to fit it!

While I will always have a soft spot for the GSM’s and other wines that include Garnacha, I am biggest on pushing the world to discover this red wine for the everyday dinner table. I encourage you to bring the 2012 Los Rocas Garnacha to your next get-together. Hola Garnacha!

Ancient Peaks – California’s newest wine appellation

Domaine Romanee Conti. Chateau Grillet. Santa Margarita Ranch. Okay, so maybe the last one does not ring a bell, but it should! Nestled in the southernmost reaches of Paso Robles lies a single vineyard AVA – Santa Margarita Ranch.  The Margarita Vineyard that inhabits this AVA stands out as the only vineyard located within its own namesake region. This unique vineyard and AVA is the home of Ancient Peaks winery.

santamargaritaWhy should you know about Ancient Peaks? Well, besides the fact that it produces elegant and complex wines, there is a history to the place. First farmed by the Franciscan missionaries in the 1780s, the land took a progressive turn when the Robert Mondavi family saw great potential and planted vines in the region in 1999. Eventually, he sold the land back to the owners and as of now, three families own this winery, vineyard and AVA, which gives them complete control over producing wines distinctive to this unique pocket of California. They are entrepreneurs, ranchers and wine-lovers.

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Last Winery on Earth – Welcome to Two Paddocks

Talented ukulele player, animal and nature lover, winery proprietor, and accomplished actor, Sam Neill is a super cool guy.  His winery in Central Otago, New Zealand, is called Two Paddocks, and these small production wines made by rock star winemaker Dean Shaw are top-notch examples of what can be achieved in this most southernly wine region in the world.  I met Sam and Dean in New Zealand earlier this year, and while I was already a fan of Sam’s acting career, I immediately became a raving fan of the Two Paddocks wines.

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Somme Things I Think About: Which Sherry is right for you?

Sherry is making a huge comeback in the wine world, both as a base in cocktails and as an amazing pairing for savory foods. Although typically considered a wine best enjoyed with desserts and dogged as a sweet sipper for great aunts and English vicars alike, sherry is so much more!   The wine comes in a myriad of styles, from bone dry to seductively sweet. The tricky part about this unique wine is to understand the label so that you choose a style you’ll love instead of one you’ll toss out.

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