Hot Summer — Cool, Refreshing White Wine!

The forecast for the West Coast is hotter than usual.  By now, that is no surprise for many who live here.  The thermometer has been over 100 degrees in Sacramento several days this summer, and it is only July.  Hot daytime temperatures make us all a little thirsty.  A great, refreshing white to “pound on down on the patio” is Pinot Grigio, as the Italians call it.  It is also known as Pinot Gris in other parts of the world.  In fact, this little grape is produced all around the world and has many different titles depending on whether you are in France, Germany, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, or Australia.  This is a lovely white wine that hails from around the world.

The Pinot Grigio I’d like to tell you about today is grown in Napa.  It’s lightly honeyed, with a hint of spice and minerality.  It’s darn good and refreshing!  It is the perfect apéritif to start the evening and set up the palate for dinner or simply to enjoy in the afternoon with no food at all.  I unfortunately have drunk all that we bought and must go back for more.

The winery that produced this lovely white is Gargiulo.  Located on the Oakville Cross Road in Oakville, CA, it is a winery that had flown under my radar.  This is an appointment-only property and again well worth the time to visit.  While I am sharing about the Pinot Grigio, they produce big reds that are delicious.  Their barrel offering for the Napa Valley Auction was one of the top ten wines in terms of the total bids that were placed for it.  It is no doubt that red wine is the staple of the winery; and, as you can tell by the name, Italian in influence.

The winery setting is rustic and surrounded by beautiful vineyards.  Garett was our host on the day we visited and was a real pleasure.  He was born and raised in Napa and was well informed about wine and the exploration of what is in the glass.  He readily shared information about the family who owns the winery and their process.  The tasting was relaxed and quite pleasurable in a lovely setting.  I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit and the wine. 




Just in the “Nick” of Time…

One of the beauties of wine is that the landscape is ever-changing. While great wineries are like the old standards of music, there are new iterations and ideas always finding their way into the refrain. New winemakers and new views are a part of the evolution of the wine scene. Being able to discover an “up and coming” winery and watch it grow into the market is part of the fun of the journey of wine.

One such winery that is on the rise is Nicora in Paso Robles. The winemaker and principal is Nick Elliott. Upon our last visit to Paso Robles, we were able to taste with Nick and learn  about him, the winery and his wines. This is an appointment-only setting. The location for the tasting room is industrial, yet the setting inside is pleasant with comfortable seating around a large table. This is a great experience to sit, chat and taste through the wines with the gentleman who handcrafted each bottle. This was truly a pleasurable and refreshing journey.

Nicora is the blend of two names. The first, Nick, is the owner and winemaker; and the second, Ora, is that of his great-grandfather. His great-grandfather was an inspiration to him and provided a vision for his own entrepreneurial spirit. That spirit lives on in the namesake of the winery.

The wines of Nicora are Rhone varietals, and the first release was the 2009 vintage. Initially, Nick made two wines — Euphoric and Buxom. Both are Syrah-Grenache blends, with Euphoric predominantly Grenache and Buxom primarily Syrah. These two wines were met in the marketplace with great reviews from the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. I found the winery from an article in the Wine Spectator, where Nick was highlighted as someone to watch.

Our tasting started with his first white titled “The Undisclosed.” It is a 50/50 blend of Viognier and Roussanne. It’s a refreshing combination that yielded tropical and stone fruit flavors – a white with layers of flavor. The fruit aromas and flavors range from tropical fruit to stone fruit. We then tried the Rhone varietals (“Euphoric,” “GSM,” “Buxom,” and “Law Vineyard”), which were all deep, rich and full bodied.

The only wine still available to purchase and bring home was the “Law Vineyard,” a blend of 53% Grenache and 47% Syrah. This will drink well for several years to come, yet we could not wait! The wine is juicy, with mouth-coating fruit and a great nose. It was an excellent wine. The only regret is the limited availability based on high demand and small production.

The wine sells out quickly, and I just recently received an email stating that the tasting room was closed until the next release which will be the 2012. There are a couple of ways to secure the wine. One way is to join the mailing list by going to the website. Another option is to visit. Next time you head to Paso Robles, I wholeheartedly recommend this option. Call in advance, tastings again are by appointment. You will get Nick himself and there are very few opportunities to sit with the winemakers themselves and taste their wines.

For more information, check out the Nicora website.


And It Won’t Break the Bank!

Have you been looking for some good wines that won’t break the bank?

One of the benefits of reading Wine Spectator Magazine is that I routinely get early notice of wines coming into the market that are likely well-crafted. To reiterate, ratings are not the most important aspect of reviews, yet they do give you some help on what bottles to try that are most likely to be well-balanced wines.  Remember — the ultimate test of a wine is if it “calls you back for another sip.”

The old adage is that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince or princess. Well, Wine Spectator does taste hundreds of wines; and, at least this way, you have a better chance of making a good investment.

Here are some recently reviewed wines that will likely provide pleasure, are modest in price, can be drunk now, and may likely be available in your area:


  • Amavi, Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2011  -$29
  • Fowles, Shiraz Victoria Are You Game? 2012 – $17
  • Mulderbosch, Faithful Hound Stellenbosch 2011 – $25 (red blend)
  • Antinori, Toscana Villa Antinori Red 2011 – $20
  • Peter Lehmann, Clancy’s Barossa 2011 – $15 (red blend)
  • Bodegas Y Viñedos Luminis, Malbec Uco Valley Allamand 2012 – $13
  • Penfolds, Shiraz-Cabernet South Australia Koonunga Hill 2012 – $10
  • Rosemount, Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Diamond Label 2012 – $9

Pinot Noir

  • Cherry Pie, Pinot Noir Sonoma-Monterey-Santa Barbara Counties Cherry Tart  2012 – $25
  • Castle Rock, Pinot Noir Mendocino County 2012 – $13


  • Jacob’s Creek, Chardonnay Adelaide Hills Reserve 2013 – $13
  • Viña Quintay, Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley Clava Coastal Reserve 2013 – $12


  • Domaine, Montrose Côtes de Thongue Rosé 2013 – $13

My only disclaimer here is that I have not tasted these wines; yet the fun is, at this price point, you can enjoy the exploration without much of an investment!


“100 Barrels of Wine…”

The barrel tasting at Auction Napa Valley, hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners, is a special opportunity to taste many remarkable wines, all while supporting many great charitable organizations. Last week, I wrote about the auction and promised to follow-up with a post about some of the specific wines. Here we go…

Each of the participating wineries donates 10 cases of wine — one for each of the 10 highest bidders on this day, for delivery in the future. There are 100 barrels to taste from and make a bid on for a case (12 bottles). The proceeds from the barrel auction go to charities in Napa Valley.

“100 barrels,” you say. “How can one taste all that in only four hours?” There is no doubt about it, in this setting, it is important to spit so as to not be affected by the alcohol. You can imagine that, after the sixth barrel (or so), everything would taste very similar and make it difficult to discern what is especially pleasing to your palate. In addition, it is very helpful to plan strategically what wines to taste. Previous to the event, I had mapped out wines that were favorites and many new ones to explore based on reputation, AVA, winemaker, and/or availability to taste. (Some of the offered wines do not have tasting rooms and may be highly allocated, so the auction provides a nice opportunity to try these). I had a list of 20+ identified wines and executed the plan flawlessly. :)

The predominate varietal being tasted was cabernet, and the predominate vintage was 2012. As you will recall, this was said to be one of the best growing years in recent history – producing quality crops and abundant yields. This made the challenge even bigger to really identify what to bid on – there was too much great wine to choose from. Keep in mind, there is also no guarantee that your bid will remain on the board. You have to monitor your bids as the event comes to a close to ensure you get a case, if that is what you want.

Luckily for me, I bid on three wines and ended up being among the 10 high bidders for all three cases. All will be coming home in the future, but not for a while — the release date for most of the wines at the barrel tasting is fall of 2015.

The first wine I secured is Gallica Cabernet. This is the wine of Rosemary Cakebread, a truly accomplished winemaker (look for a post on this winemaker in the future). The wine had great depth of flavor, big fruit, and loamy tannins which all combined for a soft, round mouth feel. This is an excellent wine to bring home and enjoy for many years to come – seeing how each bottle unfolds as it evolves over time. This is a wine that will age gracefully and provide pleasure with every bottle.

The next wine I secured is O’Shaughnessy Cabernet from Mt Veeder. O’Shaughnessy is crafted by the deft hand of Sean Capiaux. This is big, bold, mountain fruit with big tannins that are round and soft, adding to the structure and complexity of the wine. There were big flavors of blue and black fruit with a hint of clove. This is also a wine that is not readily available and usually highly allocated from the winery. This time, though – it will be resting quietly in my cellar – there at my beck and call.

Lastly, I was a successful bidder for a case of Mi Sueño, made by owner and winemaker Rolando Herrera. The name translates to “My Dream.” This is a rich wine with black cherry and black currant flavors along with toast notes. It has a big mouth feel and coats the palate with big, seductive fruit. Again, this is an excellent wine that will age and yield different nuances over time.

I am excited for all three wines to grace my cellar. Please be on the look-out for all of these wines coming to a store near you.


“Take Care of Those Who Take Care of You”

Take care of those who take care of you. Good leaders do it. Smart quarterbacks do it. And, this past weekend in Napa Valley, the Napa Valley Vintners did it with their annual community fundraiser — Auction Napa Valley. The spirit of taking care of others was alive and vibrant in the actions of wineries, winemakers, and volunteers who work and live in this valley through their donations of auction lots and tireless hours of putting on a successful event.

Each year in June, the Napa Valley Vintners band together to raise money for many worthy charitable organizations in the Valley. Their stated mission: “To use the worldwide reputation of Napa Valley wines to enhance the well-being of the Napa County community.” Their areas of focus: Community health and children’s education. Winemakers donate 10 cases from a barrel to sell for auction prices at the barrel auction on Friday; wineries put together packages to auction on-line or at the live auction on Saturday. Each year, I am impressed with the generosity of the wineries as they live the values of taking care of others.

The cool thing for attendees is the opportunity to taste wine from barrels, taste delights from local restaurants, and have the opportunity to bid on great packages put together to win the hearts of bidders. It is a true win-win situation. This year again, the auction broke last year’s record, raising $18.7 million for charities. The event was another huge success.

The main event I attend is the barrel auction on Friday, which was held at Charles Krug Winery this year. Wineries and winemakers donate 10 cases of wine from a barrel. (A barrel holds approximately 25 cases of wine.) During the auction, guests are tasting wine from the barrels — you could call this tasting the “futures” of Napa Valley, as the wine will usually not be available for sale or delivery for over a year. The people who place the top 10 bids on each of the barrels will receive a case of the wine.

On auction day, guests can taste from 100 barrels. In addition to the barrel room, there are several outside tents filled with food from local restaurants and other wines to try. The challenge is to keep your palate fresh to discern which wines will mature well such that you may want to bid on them. As a result, the biggest test is to not swallow the wine you’re tasting. If you do, you will no longer be able to discern the balance of the wine. When tasting from the barrel, I am looking for the components of fruit, tannins, acidity, and alcohol to be in harmony. The only way to maintain a level of objectivity is to spit, and this is totally acceptable in these types of situations. I carry a cup – a red solo cup – to allow myself to get an impression of the wine and not take in all the alcohol.

The barrel hall was almost totally filled with wines from the 2012 vintage. This is said to be one of the most perfect growing years in recent memory, allowing for long hang time for the grapes without threat of rain or frost. It provided great yields and many excellent wines. It was a challenge to not bid on too many cases of wine. You have to stay on top of your bids to ensure that you stay in the game. I was fortunate to successfully bid on three.

Look for a follow-blog in which I’ll talk about several of the wines, including the ones I successfully bid on. More to come from Auction Napa Valley!