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Sunday, 01 December 2013 16:04

November 29, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


J Cuvee-20-Brut-NV Picmonkey

J Cuvée 20 Brut (N/V)


Producer: J Vineyards & Winery

Appellation: Sonoma County

Alcohol: 12.5%

Suggested Retail: $28


“Mostly Chardonnay (54%), the balance from the red varieties Pinot Noir (44%) and Pinot Meunier (2%) in this cuvée sourced from Russian River Valley fruit. Freshness and elegance here as citrus and green apple characteristics appear in a bright, sparkly package. There's a nice creamy background to complement the zingy acidity. A high quality exemplar of the California style of sparkling wine.”

Food Affinity: “Would work with any of the traditional pairings at this time of year—caviar, smoked salmon, salted nuts, etc. We'd love it with deviled Dungeness crab on toast points.”


Monday, 04 November 2013 13:39

Five Top Wine Experiences in Sonoma County


Van and visitors at Jordan PicmonkeyVisitors enjoy day at Jordan Estate

by Dr. Liz Thach, MW


With over 350 wineries in Sonoma County open to the public, there are plenty of opportunities to stop by a tasting room and sample exquisite Pinot Noirs, dazzling Chardonnays, spicy Zinfandels, and many other varietals. However some wineries in Sonoma County are offering even more innovative experiences. Here are five “over the top” wine activities to check out the next time you’re in the area.

Sip & Swim - During the warmers months, head to Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Alexander Valley where you can enjoy their Pool Cabinet Package. Designed for four people, it allows you to lounge by the pool in a private cabana all day and sip wine flights ($125 for four people). If it’s raining, check out their amazing Hollywood Movie Museum on the second floor.

Luxury Nibbles With Wine - Sonoma County is not only a great wine destination, but is also known for its fresh vegetables, seafood, and artisan cheese and meats. Sample some of this bounty at the three great venues. J Winery’s Bubble Room treats visitors to a three-course food and wine pairing in an exquisitely decorated private room; St. Francis Winery delights customers with a five-course pairing that has been said to “rival Michelin star restaurants;” and Mayo Family Winery wows tourists with a seven-course pairing that has been praised by the Wall Street Journal.

Wine at The Top - Another exclusive experience that has recently opened to wine tourists is Jordan Winery’s Estate Tour & Tasting ($120). Here visitors spend three hours touring the 1200 acre estate, including tasting fruit and vegetables in the chef’s garden, a food and wine pairing at the fishing lake, forays in the various vineyards, and encounters with animals such Texas Longhorn cattle, donkeys, and chickens. The highlight of the tour is a second food and reserve wine pairing in a private pavilion at the very top of the Mayacamas Mountains with a 360-degree view of Sonoma County.

Wine & Tractors – A longtime favorite experience on Sonoma Mountain is Benziger Vineyards tractor tram tour through the vines. Here visitors learn about biodynamic and organic viticulture practices while riding on a tractor. The tour ends with a wine tasting in a private room at the winery. Another great biodynamic vineyard tour can be experienced at Quivera Vineyards and Winery in Dry Creek Valley.

Hiking & Wine – Probably one of the most unique experiences in Sonoma County is Kunde Family Estate’s hiking program. Located in the northern end of Sonoma Valley, the Kunde family escorts you on hiking trails through the vineyards and mountains. On some of the hikes, you are even encouraged to bring your dog. Another winery that features hiking and dogs is Bob Dog Winery in the new Pine Mountain AVA of Sonoma County.

About the Author: Dr. Liz Thach, MW is the Korbel Professor of Wine Business at Sonoma State University where she conducts research on wine tourism, marketing, consumer behavior, and strategy. She can be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Editor's note: If you're planning a visit to Sonoma's Wine Country, you might first check out the Resource Directory of Taste California Travel. In it you will find links to the websites of Wineries, as well as Lodging and Dining options.

Friday, 18 October 2013 00:07

October 18, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Munselle Vineyards Cab S bottle Picmonkey

 2006 Coyote Crest Cabernet Sauvignon


Producer: Munselle Vineyards

Appellation: Alexander Valley

Alcohol: 14.8%

Suggested Retail: $65


“Fine example of Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from a family that has been farming in this region since 1876. The Munselles grow grapes for some of the best wineries in Sonoma County, including Coppola, Ferrari-Carano, Simi, Kenwood and Jordan.

“Putting nose in the glass the first impression seems slightly herbal, with pronounced dark cherry characteristics. There's also some dark chocolate and, curiously, a subtle, dusty, mocha-like aroma in the background. The flavor is powerful and redolent of blackberries. It's a very big wine (14.8%!), but doesn't seem unbalanced--perhaps because it has a little more time in bottle than most of the currently available Cabernet, it seems lush yet very smooth. Long and pleasing finish, too.

“The Munselle Cabernet Sauvignon probably isn't expensive enough to be called a 'cult wine,' but it certainly has the scarcity factor. The wine isn't in general distribution, but sells through a mailing list or by visiting the website www.munsellevineyards.com.”

Food Affinity: “Deserves something special like an aged prime rib roast, served with truffled mashed potatoes."

Saturday, 05 October 2013 11:25

Vintage Wine Estates Purchases Viansa Winery

Viansa Duck Monument  Picmonkey Duck monument in Viansa courtyardSANTA ROSA, CA, October 4, 2013—Vintage Wine Estates announced today the purchase of Viansa Winery and Marketplace effective October 4, 2013. Another gem in the company’s rapidly expanding portfolio, the picturesque estate is situated upon a hilltop at the entrance to Sonoma Valley in Sonoma County, California. Viansa combines the joys of wine, cuisine and world-class hospitality, making it an attractive asset to acquire. “We are pleased to have Viansa Winery as part of the family and the gateway to our Napa and Sonoma properties,” said Pat Roney, President, Vintage Wine Estates. Included in the sale is the adjacent 168-acre estate vineyard, planted to Sangiovese, Primitivo, Vernaccia and Pinot Grigio and 113-acre wetland preserve.

Overlooking preserved wetlands—a wildlife haven—and the panoramic scenic beauty of Sonoma Valley, Viansa is well known for its prime location. Situated just 40 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge, it is also a popular choice to host weddings and special private or corporate events in an array of attractive settings. Since it’s opening in 1989, Viansa has become “the” destination for locals and visitors to enjoy classic California and Italian wines, sample gourmet foods and relax on the expansive grounds.

Significant investments are planned for the Viansa Marketplace, estate and event facilities to further enhance the natural beauty of the property and elevate Viansa to a world-class Wine County destination. In addition, Vintage Wine Estates will establish a partnership with Ducks Unlimited to initiate restoration of wetlands that are part of the property. The winery will continue to offer classic California and Italian wines made from estate fruit and other prized Sonoma County vineyards.

Lloyd Davis, Viansa president said: “I could not think of a better group to acquire Viansa. Vintage Wine Estates has all the resources to take Viansa to the next level.”

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the wine country of Sonoma and Napa Counties in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. Also in the Directory are links to websites of all the wineries, as well as craft beer specialists.

Saturday, 28 September 2013 18:44

September 27, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Valey of the Moon P Blanc Home Shot  Picmonkey

2011 Pinot Blanc


Producer: Valley of the Moon

Appellation: Sonoma County

Alcohol: 13.4%

Suggested Retail: $23


“The Pinot Blanc variety is native to Alsace, that part of northern France nearest to the German border that also produces dry Rieslings. If you're unfamiliar with the grape, we'd say it's perhaps closer in style to a Chardonnay than any other white grown in California, though not that in the unctuous and sometimes overoaked style popular here.

“Our reviews publish the suggested retail prices of wines as defined by the wineries. Often they can be found at prices less than that. We noticed this bottle in Trader Joe's at what looked like a very good price--$5.99. Over the years we had tasted the Valley Moon Pinot Blanc through several vintages. It seemed solid, if not spectacular, and the winery's Cuvée de la Luna, a Bordeaux blend, was a red wine our reviewer really liked. Visiting the Valley of the Moon website after tasting our 2011 vintage revealed that the 2012 vintage had just been released at $23 retail—nearly four times what we paid for 2011. What could account for such a vast difference? Perhaps it was due to a label change. The 2012 has a very different look. Wineries often want to purge old identities when they make these changes. Also, they sometimes dump wine at fire sale prices if they decide it's not up to to their standards—or if a new regime is in place and they want to concentrate on different products or aspire to a higher level. We have placed a call to the winery and if they shed some light on this situation, we'll bring you their comments.

“Meanwhile, we can tell you that the 2011 we sampled seemed o.k., but maybe a little tired. It didn't have the vitality that we remember from prior vintages. Fairly rich or filling in the mouth, there were some apples and pear aspects that we liked. At six bucks it was fine. At $23 it would have been disappointing.”

Food Affinity: “Subsequent to early review tastings we poured it with a grilled pork with onion and pineapple dish. Another possible pairing would be simple grilled chicken that had been marinated in a basic oil & vinegar dressing.”

Friday, 13 September 2013 11:20

September 13, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Kunde Sonoma V Chard 2012 Picmonkey

2012 Chardonnay


 Producer: Kunde Family Estate

Appellation: Sonoma Valley

Alcohol: 13.9%

Suggested Retail: $18


“Nice combination of creamy and crispy aspects in this Sonoma Valley Chardonnay (Other, more expensive Chardonnays are produced at this winery, but the Sonoma Valley label is what we're reviewing here). Though it's fairly priced at suggested retail, we purchased it at a considerably lower amount. Opens with some appealing floral aromas. Has a creamy vanilla quality (crème caramel? crème brulee?) and also some melon on the palate. Drinks easy, but shows some complexity when it has been open for a while and is not too chilled. Offsetting/complementing the richness was a subtle, lemony acidity.”

Food Affinity: “After tasting, we decided to pair with a roast chicken, prepared with garlic, herbes de Provence and covered with thin slices of lemon. It seemed a successful marriage."


LizThach SSU WEB PicmonkeyDr. Liz ThachRohnert Park, CA August 28, 2013 - Dr. Liz Thach, MW, the Korbel Professor of Wine Business at Sonoma State University, has been selected for a Fulbright Specialists project in Mendoza, Argentina at the National University of Cuyo, according to the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Thach will teach classes on wine business, wine marketing, and eno-tourism to students in the Masters of Viticulture and Enology, as well as work with faculty on curriculum design. The project runs from March 8 through March 22, 2014.

Thach is one of over 400 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad this year through the Fulbright Specialists Program. The program, created in 2000 to complement the traditional Fulbright Scholar Program, provides short-term academic opportunities (two to six weeks) to prominent U.S. faculty and professionals to support curricular and faculty development and institutional planning at post-secondary, academic institutions around the world.

The Fulbright Program, America's flagship international educational exchange activity, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Over its 60 years of existence, thousands of U.S. faculty and professionals have taught, studied or conducted research abroad, and thousands of their counterparts from other countries have engaged in similar activities in the United States. Over 285,000 emerging leaders in their professional fields have received Fulbright awards, including individuals who later became heads of government, Nobel Prize winners, and leaders in education, business, journalism, the arts and other fields.

Recipients of Fulbright Scholar awards are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement. Among thousands of prominent Fulbright Scholar alumni are Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize-winning economist; Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet; and Craig Barrett, Chairman of the Board of Intel Corporation. Distinguished Fulbright Specialist participants include Mahmoud Ayoub, Professor of Religion at Temple University, Heidi Hartmann, President and CEO, Institute for Women's Policy Research, Percy R. Luney, Jr. Dean and Professor, College of Law, Florida A&M University and Emily Vargas-Barone, Founder and Executive Director of the RISE Institute.

Editor's note: Information for this article supplied by TASTE News Service sources.

Friday, 28 June 2013 16:51

June 28, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Dry Creek Vnyd 2012 SB Picmonkey

 2012 Sauvignon Blanc


Dry Creek Vineyard

Appellation: Dry Creek Valley

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $16


“Last week our Pick was also a wine from Dry Creek Vineyard and from, essentially, the same grape variety. Any California wine labeled 'Fume Blanc' or 'Sauvignon Blanc' will be made from at least 75% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The difference in terminology may just be a decision made by the marketing department or, as in the case of Dry Creek Vineyard, it's the winery's choice to produce different styles. While both wines contain 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, today's version had 10% of the Sauvignon Musqué clone of the variety. The Musqué is thought to bring some aromatic qualities, as well as a little textural fullness.”

“Our nose gets a lot of melon and papaya qualities from this one. It's taste is a delightful combination of steely minerality and a lush, almost creamy feel in the mouth. There are also lime and grapefruit aspects. While not being exactly like a French Sancerre or White Bordeaux, this is much more in that direction than is Dry Creek's Fumé or any New Zealand treatments of this grape.”

Food Affinity: “Though not especially expensive, this is a serious wine. Show it some respect. Why not serve it with some big seared scallops, napped with just a little light and lemony buerre blanc?"

South Coast Jim Carter PicmonkeyJim Carter. proprietor of South Coast Winery (left), accepts his Winery of the Year Award from Wesley Chesbro, Chairmman of the Assembly Select Committee on Wine, and Noreen Evans, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on California's Wine Industry.

Sacramento, CA June 25, 2013. Chief Judges Rick Kushman and Mike Dunne joined representatives of state government this morning in announcing winners of California's State Fair wine competition. Originally scheduled to take place on the west steps of the Capitol Building, ceremonies were moved to a conference room indoors because of the most unseasonal summer rains.

South Coast Winery from Temecula was named Golden State Winery of the Year in recognition of winning the greatest number of medals by a single winery. Best of Show among all red wines entered was the 2010 Cabernet Franc from Sonoma County's Imagery Estate Winery. Best of Show for whites was a sparkling wine, the non-vintage Blanc de Noirs, Méthode Champenoise of Korbel, also located in Sonoma. Barefoot Cellars non-vintage Moscato was picked as Best Value, while the Cluster Select Late Harvest 2012 Gewürztraminer of Mendocino County winery Navarro Vineyards was deemed the Best of Show from the dessert category.

Visitors to the State Fair (July 12 to July 28) can enjoy many of the winning wines, including the Best of California selections, in the Save Mart Supermarkets Wine Garden.These wines can also be experienced at California’s Grape & Gourmet, a wine and food event, at Cal Expo on Thursday, August 22. Tickets are on sale now at bigfun.org.

Other wines selected from among the 2600 entries as Best of California 2013 in their categories include:

Cabernet Sauvignon, Shed Horn Cellars, Lake County, 2010, 98 points, $29

Chardonnay, Rutherford Ranch, Napa Valley, 2011, 98 points, $16

Pinot Noir, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Estate Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, 2011, 98 points, $25

Zinfandel, Macchia Winery, Adventurous, Linsteadt Vineyards, Amador County, Lodi, 2011, 94 points, $26

Barbera, Cardella Winery, Fattoria Cardella – L‘aquedotto Vineyard, Mendota, 2010, 94 points, $17

Sauvignon Blanc, Schug Winery, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, 2012, 98 points, $20

Pinot Grigio, CRU Wine Company, Arroyo Seco, Madera, 2012, 98 points, $18

Malbec, Fenestra Winery, Ghielmetti Vineyard, Livermore, 2009, 94 points, $28

Merlot, Oak Grove Winery, Reserve, California appellation, Alamo, 2011, 98 points, $7.99

Petite Sirah, Chacewater Wine, Red Hills, Lake County, 2010, 94 points, $21

Tempranillo, Red Soles Winery, Paso Robles, 2011, 98 points, $32

Syrah, Crystal Basin Cellars, Reserve, El Dorado County, 2010, 98 points, $24

Cabernet Franc, Imagery Estate, Sonoma County, 2010, 98 points, $39

Bordeaux Red Blend, Halter Ranch, Ancestor, Estate Reserve, Paso Robles, 2010, 95 points, $50

Sangiovese (tie), Boeger Winery, El Dorado County, 2009, 94 points, $15

Sangiovese (tie), Windwalker, Estate Bottled, El Dorado County, 2010, 94 points, $22Imagery Estate Winery Mike BenzigerJoe Benziger accepts Best of Show-Red for his Imagery Estate Cabernet Franc

Gewürztraminer, South Coast Winery, Carter Estate Vineyards, Temecula Valley, 2012, 98 points, $14

Riesling, Trinchero Family Estates, Wine Cube, California Appellation, Napa Valley, 2012, 98 points, $16.99

Sparkling Wine, Korbel, Blanc de Noirs, Methode Champenoise, Sonoma County, non-vintage, 98 points, $11

Rose, Chacewater Wine, Sierra Foothills, Lake County, 2012, 94 points, $14.99

Fortified Wine, Pedroncelli Winery, Vintage Port, Sonoma County,   2008, 95 points, $19

Muscat, Barefoot Wine Cellars, Moscato, California Appellation, Modesto, non-vintage, 98 points, $6.99

Other White Varietal, Dancing Coyote Gruner Veltliner (Estate Grown), Clarksburg, 2012, 96 points, $11.99

Other Red Varietal, Michael David Tannat (Inkblot), Lodi, 2010, 94 points, $35

Red Varietal Blend, Imagery Estate, Pallas, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County, 98 points, $65

Red Generic Blend, Coppola Rosso & Bianco, Rosso, California   Appellation, Sonoma County, 2011, 94 points, $11

Friday, 21 June 2013 11:20

June 21, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Dry CreekVnyd Fume 2012 bottle Picmonkey

2012 Fumé Blanc


 Dry Creek Vineyard

 Appelleation: Sonoma County

 Alcohol: 13.5%

 Suggested Retail: $14


“For about 40-years Dry Creek Vineyard has produced quality wines, fairly priced. Our Pick for this week, their Fumé Blanc, is considered the winery's 'flagship wine.' This just-released 2012 vintage is a classic. The aroma is citrussy (the winery suggests Meyer lemon and kaffir lime. The latter may sound esoteric, almost affected, but the reviewer, having taken a Thai cooking course some time ago, believes part of that aroma may not only be kaffir lime, but kaffir lime leaves.).

“The clean and racy flavors demonstrate a great blend of citrus and 'grassy' characteristics of wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. There's also a steely minerality here."

Food Affinity: “Will go beautifully with raw and simply-prepared shellfish (stay away from dishes with cream sauces). Would also work with grilled chicken that been marinated in a basic oil and vinegar salad dressing.”

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