Sonoma Travels

Over Labor Day weekend I was able to enjoy two things: a weekend with old and wonderful girlfriends and a weekend away from my toddler (LOVE the child, but time away is rare, therefore glorious!).

What do 10 girls in Sonoma do all day? Visit wineries of course! While we also enjoyed long lunches and brunches, a few winery visits are worth mentioning.

I was obliged to be at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend on Saturday, so I will mention how fantastic that event was – the wines (and food!) were excellent and the weather could not have been better. If you're looking for a great way to spend 5 hours on the Saturday of Labor Day, I highly recommend this festival. Great selection of wines from all over Sonoma, some new labels I'd never seen, as well as some new wineries. And the food… did I mention the food? From Kobe beef sliders to fig pizza, there were some delicious samples going on from the restaurants and food providers of Sonoma. While I was delighting my taste buds at this festivity, the other gals had a memorable visit with Ravenswood, and I returned to find bottles of Zinfandel lined up for later consumption. My red wine drinking friends were quite delighted in the hospitality and wine quality of Ravenswood and I was sorry to miss it.

Sunday's trip included more yummy sipping.

Cuvaison – I'm quite familiar with Cuvaison – I remember they make Chardonnay and I'd recognize their label anywhere, but I could not remember the last time I actually tasted it. Since they've been around for a while, I expected an old school style winery and tasting room, but to our surprise, the winery we entered was hugely modern, with glass walls showing off the sunlight, and lots of room to move. Plus tables! A plethora of tables and chairs for guests to sit and enjoy their wine while taking in the incredible view of Carneros. All these modern-looking glass windows and panes had one more attribute – it helped the winery rely on solar power for much of its energy.
And the wine…
The entry level Chardonnay we tasted was hallmark California Chardonnay, but of the new style – meaning not overly oaked, but nicely balanced between fruit, acid and oak. It was clean, yet rich in texture. It made me remember that Carneros Chardonnay is not Central Coast Chardonnay – this wine had more crisp than creamy in the mouthfeel. We also tasted the higher-end Chardonnay, which, unfortunately, is only sold in restaurants and the tasting room. This always frustrates me as I think consumers should have equal opportunity to buy wine in restaurants and retail stores, but many wineries make labels solely for on-premise use, and the higher end Chardonnay and Pinot at Cuvaison are made in this manner. So while I do recommend – with renewed enthusiasm – the Chardonnay that is well-recognized by all, I also recommend a trip to the winery if you're next in Carneros to taste their other offerings. It was a nice surprise – both the winery set up and the wine itself.

A final added bonus – the winery is directly across from Domaine Carneros! My favorite place to sit on a beautiful day to sip bubbles. Which is exactly what we did. This winery is always worth a visit. The service is knowledgeable and friendly, and the view from the deck is incredible. Plus how can you beat an afternoon munching on cheese, sipping on bubbles and basking in the Sonoma sun?

So your stops for your next trip to Carneros? Cuvaison & Domaine Carneros.
And what you're doing next Labor Day? Sonoma Wine Festival.

Cabernet Week at WineShopper

As we come to the last day of WineShopper‘s Cabernet week, I thought it may be helpful to talk up some of the wines we’re showcasing & why these are not only fantastic deals, but also fantastic wines.

Won’t lie – Cabernet Sauvignon is not my favorite grape. I’d typically prefer Champagne, Pinot Noir or a White Burgundy over a Cab, but there are definitely times and places for a good bottle of this age-worthy and complex style of wine.

Some fun Cabernet Sauvignon facts:
– Cabernet Sauvignon is the result of a crossing between Cabernet Franc (daddy) and Sauvignon Blanc (mommy). Nice parentage – certainly explains the name!
– The grape has a high “pip to pulp” ratio, which equals high “skin to juice” ration. Since the skins of Cabernet Sauvignon have such high and concentrated phenolics, this leads to a wine high in tannins and worthy of age.
– Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape in Lebanon, where Chateau Musar (not the region that screams Cabernet, much less wine) makes collectible wines.

This week, a few gems we’re offering at WineShopper include:

Kenwood Jack London Cabernet Sauvignon – year after year this is one of my favorite wines. It’s one of the best California Cabernets for the price. WineShopper price this week? just $17.99.

Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon – always a value, but particularly a value at $12.99. Yahoo. Love a good Cab under $15! Yes, Chateau Ste Michelle is big, but their wines are consistent and this is a perfect everyday drinking Cab that holds up to food or sips well on its own.

Stay tuned for the Friday deal – it’s a Mount Veeder gem!

Diamond Creek Shines

For those of you who don’t live in the Bay Area: Lucky You. We’ve been freezing since last year. Each day I pray the forecast will predict that some ray of sunshine might make it through the fog. This, week I gambled on short sleeves and got lucky. It’s a beautiful 81 degrees and I am reminded of a warm day in July when Diamond Creek opened its doors and invited me to its Open House. It was all very exciting, I signed up for the mailing list and viola, I received a parking pass to attend their open house, ah… the feeling of privilege.

Wine aficionados have long known about Diamond Creek but for some reason it remains a relatively unknown gem. I was very excited to see the three storied vineyards up close. Diamond Creek produces Cabernet Sauvignon exclusively and has done so since 1968. Only 3 single vineyard wines are produced each year, each with a splash of Petit Verdot, they are: Gravelly Meadows, Red Rock Terrace and Volcanic Hill. Although located in the Napa Valley, these are not Napa Cabs. These are Bordeaux, through and through. The late Al Brounstein sweet talked his way into a few premier cru cuttings in Bordeaux and personally flew them (also known as smuggling) into California.

After swimming in all 3 of their lakes (woo-hoo!), I made my way to 2008 barrel tasting. Let me walk you though the barrel samples in three words: Dy-no-mite. Like the 2007 vintage, these wines are meant to age. In ascending order of intensity it goes from Gravelly Meadows to Red Rock Terrace and finally, the mighty Volcanic Hill. The names are completely self-explanatory and literally describe these three vineyards. Each vineyard is distinct, each an actual stones throw from the next. Like the greatest Cabs of the world, muscular deep black fruit, spice, earth and tannins balance with the underlying acidity to give grace and elegance. Fruit and oak bombs need not apply. Although these are cellar worthy wines, the 2007 Gravelly Meadows and even the yet to be released 2008 vintage can be uncorked, if only to realize how great these are even as babies. To give you some perspective, fellow picnickers were uncorking bottles from 70’s and 80’s to the delight of our hosts.

It looks like it going to be another warm day tomorrow, maybe not a Cab day, but those Diamond Creek lakes are making me restless for next year's Open House.

The case for half bottles

The other night my husband and I opened a half-bottle of Lanson Black Label Champagne. I love Champagne and would have a glass every night, but sometimes (even with a good Champagne stopper), it's hard to preserve that bottle. WIth a half bottle, both of us can have one glass (in our very big glass/flutes) as an aperitif or to start the meal, then move onto a red or white.

A few years ago in France, we spent 3 or 4 days in Burgundy. Most restaurants we went to had an extensive half bottle list, which thrilled us as we could have white AND red without overdoing it (by our standards) or spending too much, because each half bottle was exactly half the price of a full bottle of the same wine.

We can't be the only ones that are excited by larger half bottle lists in restaurants or in stores. So why are they so rare? On the production side, is it because half bottles are just as expensive to produce as 750mL? Is it because they are difficult to sell? On the consumer part, do you look for half bottles in the store? At a restaurant? Most half bottles I see are sweet wines (some of which are only available in half bottle size) and sparkling. Perhaps because these are drunk in smaller quantities. At, we have 60 wines in our half-bottle selection, 21 of those (about 30%) are still, dry wines (not sparkling, not dessert). For us, as an online retailer, shipping a half bottle is no less expensive (or space saving) than shipping a full bottle. But that's not why there is not a huge selection – consumer demand is not high. As a distributor told me the other day, consumers request the half bottles and lament the lack of variety, but when they present the options, customers continue to buy full bottles. In other words, customers demand, but do not act when the opportunity presents itself. But I certainly would! With a good selection of half bottles on a wine list, at half the price of the full bottle, I'd much more enjoy drinking two different wines over my meal than be stuck with one. That said, I'd probably stick with buying more full bottles in the store. As someone who has worked in retail, I don't see half bottles as popular in stores as in a restaurant – although they are the perfect solution for partners who have a pregnant wife! My husband stocked up on half bottles when I was pregnant.

Asking the question on Twitter (what do you think of half bottles?), the responses were positive towards them, with most wanting more variety and not liking the premiums – aka, they are not always half the price of a full bottle. Seresin Estate (some of the best Sauvignon Blanc & Pinot Noir in New Zealand) said they are just starting to make half bottles. I'd jump at a chance to order a half bottle of their SB in a restaurant as a starter and move to a red for the main meal, but again, only if it was half the price of the full bottle.

Would love to hear more opinions on half bottles from producers, retailers and consumers – why don't we see more of them?

Chardonnay from Oregon is crazy good

Living in the Pacific Northwest gives me total access to the Willamette Valley wine country and after living here for over a year, I can say I've visited… twice. Yes, tis sad. I blame it on my travel, my husband's travel and a baby (who is now a toddler). It just has not happened near as often as I'd like. Luckily, a colleague's visit last week was the impetus to get us out the door and down to some wineries. Instead of dragging you through each visit and what we tasted, I'm going to do what I like to call the tasting takeaway – in other words, Oregon Chardonnay rocks.

We visited Adelsheim, where we tasted through the lineup in their lovely new tasting room (best bathrooms ever!). Though I have always been a fan of their Pinot Gris and Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir, I came away loving their Chardonnay, too. Though I know many dislike this comparison, it really was Burgundian in style – luscious and round, yet crisp and light on the palate. Made with 100% Dijon clone and no malo-lactic fermentation, the wine was mineral-driven yet textured. Duly impressed.

At this point I'm liking Chardonnay, but not swooning. Till I reach Shea Vineyard. Hands down, my favorite wine was their Chardonnay. And to be honest, we tasted some pretty amazing wines out of barrel that day. But I could not help going back to the Chardonnay – it was the best Oregon Chardonnay I'd ever tasted, and one of the best Chardonnays from anywhere I'd tasted (in a while at least). I've also loved the offerings from Argyle (Nuthouse Chardonnay is excellent) and Domaine Drouhin, but it's been a while since I've tasted those and I just see so much more Oregon Pinot Gris.

Why aren't more people talking about Oregon Chardonnay? Maybe the are and I'm missing it. Yes, Pinot Gris can be delicious, but when you think of Oregon's climate and it's ability to create amazing Pinot Noir, why do we so often also think of Pinot Gris instead of Chardonnay? Burgundy, Carneros, Russian River – most great Pinot Noir growing regions make great Chardonnay as well. Like every great region, there will be some Chardonnay not worth the effort, but the potential here I think is stellar.

So when it comes to white wine from Oregon, what do you gravitate towards and why?

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