Cinque Aperitivo

 Cinque AperitivoCiao, Italia!

As you cocktail mavens may be aware, aperitivos and amaros are currently having a moment in bars across the U.S. The rest of you are probably asking, “A what and a what?”

An aperitivo (in Italian) or apéritif (in French) is a light alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite, and is therefore usually dry rather than sweet. An amaro (Italian for “bitter”) is an Italian herbal liqueur that is commonly drunk as an after-dinner digestif. It usually has a bittersweet and sometimes syrupy flavor.

Cinque is an aperitivo created following a traditional recipe developed in 1929. It is based on an infusion of 12 selected roots and herbs, highlighted by bitter orange and gentian lutea, selected for its bitter root (the overall bitterness level is an approachable “medium”). It’s perfect for fans of Campari and Aperol looking for something a bit different.

Although Cinque is labeled to look as Italian as possible, and the parent company, Don Ciccio & Figli, has roots to the Old Country going back as far as 1883, it is in fact produced in Washington, D.C.

Here’s a sample recipe: 1 oz. gin, 1oz. Cinque aperitivo, 1 oz. amaro, a splash of soda, and a dash of lemon bitters. Stir well and serve on the rocks with an orange twist and sweet cherry as garnish. Salute!

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Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Black Stallion WineryIn 1894, Gaspare Indelicato was born in the small village of Campobello di Mazara in the province of Trapani, Sicily. In 1911, at the tender age of 16, he emigrated by himself to the United States through Ellis Island, New York, as many European immigrants of the time did.

Eventually, Gaspare found his way to Manteca, California, about 75 miles east of San Francisco, in the agriculturally-rich San Joaquin Valley, where the climate reminded him of his homeland. There he met and married his wife Caterina Luppino. In 1924, Gaspare and his brother-in-law Sebastiano made a bold decision to purchase a 68-acre dilapidated dairy farm, planted grapes, and shipped them by train to home winemakers in Chicago and and the Northeast during Prohibition. (Although technically illegal under the Volstead Act that delineated Prohibition, home winemaking was very rarely prosecuted, since the law was vague about it, and the government had its hands full dealing with bootleggers and organized crime surrounding alcohol.)

When “The Noble Experiment” was repealed in 1933, selling grapes to home winemakers was no longer profitable. Sebastiano and Gaspare decided the only way to monetize their grape crop was to make wine themselves. After purchasing some used winemaking equipment, in May of 1935 they opened their winery in a converted hay barn and called it Sam-Jasper Winery after the Americanized versions of their first names. Production began with 3,451 gallons (about 1,740 cases) of red wine which was sold to local farmers and friends for 50 cents a gallon. 

By 1940, the Delicato winery was making and selling about 15,000 gallons a year. As the business continued to grow, Gaspare’s three sons, Frank, Anthony, and Vincent, joined the winery in the 1950s. In 1955, production reached 74,107 gallons. By 1964, the winery increased its capacity to 403,000 gallons. This steady growth over the years is what makes Delicato Family Wines (as it is now known) today a Top 10 U.S. wine supplier. With total sales of more than 16 million cases per year and more than a decade of sustained double-digit growth, Delicato Family Wines is the sixth-largest winery in America and the sixth-largest exporter of branded wine from the USA, and employs more than 200 people.

Black Stallion Estate Winery in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll district is one of 28 labels now produced by Delicato. Before grapevines dominated the landscape there, the valley was a rich grazing land for horses and cattle. Indeed, the winery building itself was once home to the Silverado Western Center, which opened in September of 1963 with riding trails, stables, and the area’s only indoor riding arena.  Delicato acquired the facility in 2010, which is at the southern foot of the famous Silverado Trail in Oak Knoll.

Black Stallion harvests and sorts its fruit by hand. Once crushed at the winery, micro-lots may be fermented in small tanks made of wood, concrete, or steel. These choices of aging vessel give winemaker Ralf Holdenried the flexibility to match a batch of grapes with the material best suited to bring out its full potential.  After fermentation, wine is drained using gravity (not pumps) and aged in oak barrels.

Black Stallion Winery.  Photo: Sean McElroy.

Black Stallion Estate Vineyard.  Photo: Jordan LeMay.

Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Holdenried sources fruit for this wine from throughout the region, including Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards in Oak Knoll, Atlas, Peak, Rutherford, Oakville, Coombsville, Diamond Mountain, and Mount Veeder, districts all familiar to wine aficianados. “Once you start working with grapes, you never get bored. There is always something new to explore. No one year is ever the same,” Holdenried says.

The 2013 vintage was one of Napa’s best, and this wine is no exception. After harvest, it was fermented in stainless steel, then transferred to oak barrels (35% new, 80% French, and 20% American) where it underwent malolactic fermentation and 16 months of aging. Each block was kept separate until the final blending.

This wine is composed of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Syrah.  It is very dark purple/red in color, and is characterized by cocoa, dried fig, mocha, black fruit, and black currant, with a balancing acidity, nicely integrated tannins, and a medium finish.  The ABV is 14.5%

Just like on the improv comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, I give this wine 1000 points, because the points don’t matter.

Note: I originally tasted this wine in August of 2016.  I did so again in October of 2021, and it is easily just as good five years later.   And, I have no special storage regimen, just an ordinary basement with a year-round temperature of about 70 degrees F.

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Terlato Wine’s Tangley Oaks

Terlato Wine's Tangley OaksNégociant [nay-goh-SYAHN] is the French word for “dealer” or “merchant,” and is used in wine circles to denote an individual or company that negotiates, sells, and ships wine as a wholesaler. Traditionally, négociants have often handled all aspects of wine production except the actual farming, including purchasing grapes, making the wine, blending, bottling, and shipping. In some transactions, there is another intermediary: a courtier or “wine broker,” who helps establish the price paid by a négociant to a small producer. Some of the better known French négociants are Barton & Guestier, Calvet, Cordier, Moueix, and Sichel.

Predominately, négociants have been European, but they do exist in the New World (although you will rarely hear the French word used). One such firm is Terlato Wines, of Lake Bluff, Illinois, which rose from humble beginnings to become a powerhouse in the arena of international wine growing, production, and sales.

In 1938, Anthony Paterno, who would become Tony Terlato’s father-in-law, opened a grocery store on the corner of Grand and Western in Chicago. Nearly twenty years later, Tony Terlato and his father, Salvatore, founded Terlato’s Leading Liquor Marts. In 1958, Terlato and Paterno established Pacific Wine Company, importing and selling wines from California and Europe. By 1995, the business had expanded significantly by forming partnerships with leading wine producers from around the world, enabling the Terlato family to purchase Tangley Oaks, the former Philip D. Armour III mansion in Lake Bluff as their company’s headquarters, where 75 people are employed. The Tudor-Gothic estate, which resembles a European wine château, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tangley Oaks Chardonnay 2014

Which explains how a winery in California can be officially located 2100 miles away in Illinois! This is a nicely lemon-hued wine; a mixture of barrel and tank fermentation was employed, after which the wine was aged in barrel for six months. It features aromas of fresh tropical fruit and notes of vanilla; the palate is full-bodied, with pear, nectarine, and a hint of honey, with grapefruit on the finish.

Enjoy this now with Japanese Mero Sea Bass in Carrot Coriander Sauce, Blue Corn-crusted Red Snapper with Warm Tomato Relish, or Smoked Salmon and Brie Pizza.

Tangley Oaks Pinot Noir 2013

Tangly Oaks offers two Pinots; this one hails from California’s North Coast AVA, and was sourced from Napa Carneros, Sonoma, and Mendocino. The wine was aged for nine months in French oak barrels. This ruby-red wine exhibits aromas suggestive of raspberries and strawberries, with hints of pine forest and earth. The lush mouthfeel is complemented by flavors of plum and red fruit, and is balanced by bright acidity and soft tannins.

Uncork this good value with Grilled Chicken with Fresno Chile and Plum Sauce, Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin filled with Sun-dried Cranberries, or Grilled Tuna Stacked with Heirloom Tomato and Crispy Eggplant.

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Wines of Anselmi

Ciao, Italia!

Wines of AnselmiRoberto Anselmi is a legend of north Italian winemaking, a charismatic, motorbike-riding rebel whose uncompromising quality-over-quantity approach has helped redefine the wines of the Veneto through his insistence on higher standards.  It has earned him the title, “the conscience of Soave.”

Anselmi produces crisp white wines from the indigenous Garganega (gahr-GAH-neh-gah) grapes. Garganega is known for its distinctive lemon and almond flavor profiles.

These two summer sippers are characteristic of his work.

Anselmi San Vincenzo 2013 is grown on 110 acres in the Monteforte area of northern Italy. Light straw in color, with scents of minerals, lemon/lime, apricot ,and yellow apple. It is medium-bodied and dry.

Anselmi Capitel Foscarino 2013 comes from 24 acres of vineyards on south-facing slopes 1,140 feet above sea level at the top of the Foscarino Hill.  Light straw-gold in the glass, opening to vibrant aromas of tropical fruit, citrus, and honey. Its medium to full body features flavors of fresh apples, peach, and lime underscored by mineral notes.

For both of these wines, the soil is volcanic tuff, a type of rock made of volcanic ash ejected from a vent during an eruption. Following ejection and deposition, the ash is compacted into a solid rock in a process called consolidation.  Over time, the tuff is broken up with grass undergrowth.

The vines are trained using the horizontal spurred cordon method. In earlier times, this method was common for training grapes on house façades. Foliage and fruit grow from one or two horizontal, strictly trained arms or cordons. Unilateral cordons (1 angle) and bilateral cordons (T-shape) are possible; the vertical main trunk usually remains without foliage.

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HALL Wines

Hall WinesKathryn Walt Hall has a most impressive curriculum vitae. To touch on just a few of the high points, she is the proprietor of HALL Wines and WALT Wines [family businesses she has been involved with for over thirty years], was assistant city attorney in Berkeley, California, worked as an attorney and businesswoman in Dallas, Texas, and has served on numerous non-profit and institutional boards, with an emphasis on issues related to social care and mental health. From 1997 to July 2001, Ms. Hall served as the United States Ambassador to Austria. In the midst of this, together with her husband Craig she has raised four children.

HALL wines hail from five estate vineyards: Sacrashe (Rutherford), Bergfeld (St. Helena), Hardester (Napa Valley), Atlas Peak Estate, (Atlas Peak), and T Bar T Ranch (Alexander Valley). From these 500 acres come classic Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. In each vineyard, small-vine farming is employed to produce low-yield, high-concentration fruit.

Continue reading “HALL Wines”

Greystone Cellars

The CIA’s California Headquarters Greystone Cellars

Cresta Blanca. Inglenook. Roma. Italian Swiss Colony. Christian Brothers. These are just a few of the pioneering and once-popular twentieth-century California wineries that are now long gone.

From 1950 to 1989, the Christian Brothers produced their wines in the Greystone Cellars building, which was built in 1889 in St. Helena, California, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. In 1993, an earthquake-damaged Greystone was sold to The Culinary Institute of America, an independent, not-for-profit college offering bachelor’s and associate degrees in culinary arts, baking, and pastry arts, as well as certificate programs in culinary arts and professional wine studies. After $15 million in upgrades and renovations, in 1995 the CIA reopened Greystone as their California branch campus; the primary campus is in Hyde Park, New York.

The Christian Brothers’ winemaker was Brother Timothy, who was instrumental in creating the California wine industry as we know it today, and had a career spanning more than 50 years. Among his many interests, he was an avid collector of corkscrews, and his collection is on permanent loan
to The CIA at Greystone, and the inspiration for the Greystone Cellars wine labels.

Greystone Cellars wines are actually produced by the neighboring Markham Vineyards under the direction of winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls, but that’s a story for another time. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Greystone Cellars wines benefit The CIA at Greystone.

Greystone Chardonnay 2011

With no ambition of being an estate wine, the grapes for this blend traveled west from Lodi and north from Santa Barbara. The trucks were filled with 77% Chardonnay and 23 % Chenin Blanc.

The wine presents itself in the glass with a light straw color. The nose features mango and lemon. These tropical markers continue in the taste, complemented with guava, lively acidity, and a somewhat contradictory creamy mouthfeel. The finish is short but smooth.

Try this summer sipper with Black Bean and Avocado Crostini, Prosciutto and
Summer Melon Salad, or Grilled Swordfish with Peppered Pasta.

Greystone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

It starts out on the nose with understated aromas of vanilla and cream soda. The visual clues are a garnet color and delicate legs. The wine features flavors of tart cherry and blackberries, with a hint of pepper. On the palate, it is quite smooth, almost lush, but with a short, simple finish. Give this wine about 30 minutes in the frige before serving.

The technical details are: blend is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder Barbera, Malbec, Grenache, and Tempranillo. Aged in 26% new French and American oak. 30,000 cases were made.

Keep the food pairing simple: Reuben Sandwich, Satay of Beef with Peanut Sauce, or Grilled Chicken Burritos.

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Partida Tequila

Partida Tequila
South of the Border, Down Mexico Way

Partida Tequila is one of only a few remaining authentic estate-produced and estate-bottled tequilas, made in the heart of Mexico’s historic Tequila region.

Partida uses only 100% pure blue agave, which is far less common than many realize. The agave plants see seven to ten years from seedling to harvest, so that they mature fully. (Some tequila brands are content with half that time.) After the agave is slow-cooked, the resulting liquid is distilled twice.

Partida Blanco goes directly to the bottle from the still. It features aromas of grilled pineapple and plums. The taste continues with pineapple, plus toasted coconut and black pepper.  It inishes with agave and fresh herbs.

Partida Reposado is aged for six months, making for a pale golden color and a taste with hints of spicy oak and vanilla. The medium body has cocoa and dried cherry notes. Finishes with a long mineral fade. Great vitality and balance, and my favorite of the three.

Partida Añejo sees 18 months in barrel (rare even among premium brands). It is golden amber in color, with aromas of almonds, dried cherries, and spices. The dryish medium body delivers soft honey, delicate herbs, cocoa, and clove. Finishes with a touch of wood and toffee.

For the extremely well-heeled, Partida Elegante Extra Anejo is also available.

It would be criminal to slam any of these tequilas as shots (although you can do that if you insist). Savoring them in a brandy snifter would be far more appropriate. Arriba! Andalay!

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Sanford Winery

Sanford Winery
I Cook with Wine; Sometimes I Even Add It to the Food

If you’re a film buff as well as a wine fancier, you may remember Lompoc [correctly pronounced Lom-poke], California, as the locale of W.C. Field’s The Bank Dick (although the movie was entirely shot on the studio’s back lot). Lompoc can be translated as “Land of Many Lakes,” and is also known today as the Valley of Flowers, as this rich area is the nation’s most prolific flower-seed producing region.

Lompoc is also home to Sanford Winery, the first such operation in Santa Barbara wine country, established in 1971. From the very beginning, Sanford has sourced its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the Santa Rita Hills, which was designated an AVA in 2001. The area owes its magic to an unusual east-west mountain valley that runs from the vineyards to the Pacific Ocean. This passage allows a meteorological ebb-and-flow of air temperature between the mountains and the sea that is ideal for cool-climate varietals.

The winery itself is located at Rancho La Rinconada. It was completed in 2001 and was inspired by traditional California mission architecture. The walls are constructed of adobe blocks handmade on site. The insulating quality of this material makes it ideal for a winery. With adobe walls thirty inches thick, there is no need for either heating or air conditioning. The cellar interior is 55º to 65º year-round with no energy use.

The winery uses a unique and gentle system to move wine through the facility: a gravity racking system. Four 3600-gallon wine tanks are positioned on hydraulic lifts. The winery crew can move a 14-ton tank of wine below ground or 20 feet in the air. The crew then uses gravity to move wine from tank to barrel (or bottling) without disruptive pumping and agitation of the wine.

Sanford Winery Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay 2010

This wine was exclusively sourced from Sanford’s two estate vineyards and was fermented in both 60-gallon French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks.
The color is pale gold, with a delicate, ambiguous nose. This makes the intensity of this racy wine on the palate all the more surprising; plenty of bright citrus and pineapple notes supported by “just enough” oak, a bit of floral character, and a dollop of acidity.

I suggest you pair this Chard with Chicken Breast with Artichokes and Mustard Sauce, Smoked Turkey and Roasted Red Pepper Sandwiches, or Seared Scallops with Fiery Fruit Salsa.

Sanford Winery Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Nior 2010

Like the Chardonnay, this wine was exclusively sourced from Sanford’s two estate vineyards. It was then fermented in open-top stainless steel tanks, and finished in French oak barrels for 10 months.

The wine is ruby in the glass, with a nose of tart cherry and orange rind. The dominant cherry notes continue on to the palate; they are complemented by bright acidity and delicate tannins. In keeping with this wine’s subtlety, the body is light and the finish is rather short.

Serve this wine with Sauteed Duck Breast with Pinot Noir Sauce (just don’t squander this Pinot Noir on the sauce), or Salmon en Papillote.

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Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek VineyardCome Sail Away

Dry Creek Vineyard was the first winery established in the Dry Creek Valley after Prohibition. It was founded in 1972 by David Stare, who came with an early vision to plant Sauvignon Blanc. Before his arrival, the valley was little more than a few family farms and prune orchards, but Stare was determined to start a winery inspired by those in the Loire Valley, which led to a viticultural reawakening in northern Sonoma County.

Stare soon began taking winemaking classes at UC Davis. On the weekends, he looked for vineyard land and finally discovered an old prune orchard and began planting vines. Although Sauvignon Blanc beckoned to him, several vineyard specialists advised him against planting it. “They told me Sauvignon Blanc would never grow in the Dry Creek Valley, but I knew I had to stick to what I knew was right. I was going to plant this varietal come hell or high water.” It turned out to be one of his best decisions. Over the last 40 years, the winery has also developed an international reputation for its Fumé Blanc, Dry Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Bordeaux varietals.

During his long career, Stare has logged many firsts. For instance, he initiated the Dry Creek Valley appellation in 1983 and was the first to label a wine with it. He was the first to release a wine using the descriptor ‘Meritage’ (1985 vintage) on the label to classify his Bordeaux-style blend.

Dry Creek is committed to a healthy and diverse ecosystem for all plants, insects, and animal life, which in turn creates a better place for grapes, with the goal of producing high-quality wines. The winery has 185 acres of vineyards within Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley that are 100% Certified Sustainable. While employing many sustainable practices in the vineyard, top priorities include: growing cover crops to rebuild depleted soil; composting to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and improve the quality of the soil; beekeeping to enhance the eco-system of the vineyard; encouraging birds of prey to adopt the vineyards to control rodent populations; and improving the local fish and creek habitat for a healthy ecosystem.

Chardonnay 2016

This estate wine was partially whole-cluster pressed, and 90 percent was barrel fermented in French oak, one-quarter new. About half of the wine underwent malolactic. It starts with aromas of baked apple and apricot, cut by minerals and citrus oil. The palate features poached pear, meyer lemon and pineapple, with good balance between fruit, barrel oak, and acid.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This smooth and easy-sipping red is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. There are hints of bell pepper and sweet fruit on the nose. The palate showcases black currant, blackberry, and cranberry. The full body is fruit forward, with juicy chewy tannins and a peppery finish. The mouth feel is even and full with no harshness.

Here’s a look at Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc and Merlot:

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Chateau Montelena

Chateau MontelenaCan’t Keep ‘em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Puhree

In 1976, an Englishman who owned a wine shop in Paris hit upon the idea of holding a blind tasting pitting ten of France’s and California’s best producers against one another. He enlisted nine French wine experts as judges; the French wines included the 1970 Haut-Brion, the 1970 Mouton Rothschild, and the 1973 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles.

The famous tasting has come to be known as The Judgement of Paris. No one expected the upstart Yanks to really put up a fight against the French heavyweights. However, when the votes were tallied, the judges were shocked to discover they had awarded the top prize for the red to the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, and top prize for the white to Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, both from Napa Valley. It was the shock heard ‘round the world, and legitimized California as a world-class wine-making region.

Chateau Montelena has seen three cycles of family stewardship. The winery was founded in 1882 by Alfred L. Tubbs, a European immigrant and entrepreneur. The original property was 254 acres of rugged, stony, and loose land just two miles north of Calistoga at the base of Mount Saint Helena. (Montelena is a contracted form of Mount Saint Helena.) By 1896 Tubbs’ winery was the seventh largest in the Napa Valley.

The Tubbs family sold the winery in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, who were looking for a peaceful spot to retire. The setting inspired Frank to excavate a lake and add landscaping to reflect the Chinese gardens of his homeland.

The modern renaissance of Chateau Montelena started under the leadership of Jim Barrett, who purchased the winery in 1972. The vineyard was cleared and replanted, and the chateau was renovated and outfitted with modern winemaking equipment, complemented by the highest-quality grapes from the Napa Valley. Shortly thereafter, Chateau Montelena stunned the wine world with its win at the 1976 Paris Tasting.

Montelena Chardonnay 2015

This wine is brilliantly clear with a golden-straw color. The nose suggests pineapple and stone fruit. On the palate, there are flavors of fresh orange zest and ginger which segues into a long and spicy finish. The wine was aged for 10 months in 100% French oak.

Serve this legendary wine with whitefish with filbert and lemon sauce, chicken Marsala, or duck with mustard and leeks.

Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Dark ruby in color, this wine offers rich, complex aromas of fresh raspberries, strawberry jam, vanilla and black pepper. In the mouth, this wine makes a full soft round entry, after which the acid builds nicely, supporting the dominant flavor of dark stone fruit. Plenty of fine-grain tannin completes the mouthfeel, followed by a tremendous long finish.

Pair this Cabernet with beef in wine on skewers, grilled pork New Orleans, or leg of lamb in balsamic vinegar.

For a review of two earlier vintages of these wines, see:

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Bonterra Vineyards

Bonterra VineyardsBonterra Vineyards has been a pioneer in organic farming in California. The vines were planted in 1987, and the first wines were released in 1992, long before organic products were widely available in America. Bonterra believes that organic grapes produce the purest expressions of the varietals and land on which they are farmed.

Bonterra’s three estates (Blue Heron, McNab, and Butler) are certified Biodynamic® by Demeter, a not-for-profit with the mission of enabling successful farming in accordance with Biodynamic practices and principles.  These are simply to create and oversee a living organism which is self-contained, self-sustaining, and follows the cycles of nature. Biodynamic farming harkens back to how farms functioned centuries ago. It is a holistic view of agriculture with a high awareness of the interconnectivity among earth, plants, animals, humans, and even the moon.

There are nine Demeter-certified preparations made from herbs, minerals, and manures. These are applied to the soil and vineyards in very small doses to enhance soil fertility with increased micro-organism development and photosynthetic activity.

Yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, and valerian each play a role in strengthening, and in some cases remedying, weaknesses in the vineyards. Teas and tinctures are made from fresh or dried plants, and are sprayed to increase active regeneration on the farm.

In addition, animal “partners” play an essential role in the ecosystem. The vineyards provide chemical-free sanctuaries for bees, supported by native plants which bloom throughout the seasons. Chickens roam the rows, eating weeds and insects that can harm the vines. Their scratching and pecking aerate the soil and provide additional nutrients to the vines. December through March, around 2,000 sheep snack on the cover crops and weeds as they “landscape” the vineyards, adding beneficial fertilizer to the soil as they graze.

Mendocino Chardonnay 2014

This wine opens with a hint of crème brulee, followed by aromas of pineapple and citrusy lemon. The palate features flavors of green apples, pears, and citrus, supported by a clean minerality. The wine underwent malolactic fermentation in previously-used or neutral oak in order for its fresh fruit characteristics to shine through. New oak was used for just 16% of the wine to provide a vanilla note.

Enjoy this best-buy wine with seared swordfish with avocado relish and roasted broccoli, or crunchy pecan chicken with lemon ginger sauce.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

This red is very much in the European style, with relatively subtle flavors of cherries and currants. Those are present on the nose as, well, with the addition of a bit of toasted oak. The wine finishes with astringent tannins and a lingering finish.

Serve this up with grilled chicken on rosemary skewers, lamb chops with juniper berry marinade, or sirloin tips Quasimodo.

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Protea Wines

Protea WinesYou Can Bring Me Flowers

Protea [PROH-tee-uh] (sometimes also called sugarbush) is the national flower of South Africa. It was named after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his form at will, because the flowers have such a wide variety of forms.

Taking its inspiration from the flower, Protea the winery is on a mission to make wines that dare to be exotic and beautiful in every way.

The winery is located in the Franschhoek [FRAHNSH-hoook] Valley, about 45 miles due east of Cape Town on South Africa’s western coast. Franschhoek, which translates to “French Corner,” was first settled by French Huguenots in the latter part of the seventeenth century, but quality wine production there is a relatively recent phenomenon. Encircled by the mountains that form the Drakestein Valley, Franschhoek is a highly-regarded, cool-climate wine ward (growing area), which historically has particularly favored white-wine grapes, especially sémillon, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc.

A popular tourist destination, Franschhoek draws visitors for its many fine-dining restaurants as well as its wines.

Protea is especially proud of their bottles. They were designed by Cape Town native Mark Eisen. An internationally recognized fashion designer, he has now turned his attention to artistic glass. Using an advanced screen-printing process in which nontoxic ink fuses with the glass at a very high temperature, Eisen was able to transfer his evocative designs directly onto and wrapped around the bottle.

Protea encourages their customers to repurpose rather than merely recycle the bottles, using them to hold floral displays, olive oil, candles, etc.

Protea also hosts a blog on their Web site. The blog is for “social, adventurous, and creative women.” It provides accessible wine knowledge, simple entertaining tips, and easy crafting ideas, giving women “the confidence to entertain affordably and sustainably.”

Protea Chenin Blanc 2014

This 100% Chenin Blanc is light-blond in the glass. It shows aromas of fresh, crisp fruit, especially citrus. This continues on to the palate, where you’ll find hints of pear, grapefruit, honeysuckle, and melon. The wine is medium bodied, with well-integrated supporting acidity. An excellent choice for the warm weather just around the corner.

Try this with Citrus Terrine with Orange Coulis, Frisée Salad with Bacon and Poached Egg, or Scallops with Endive.

Protea Red Blend 2012

Happily, pinotage, South Africa’s workhorse red, is not to be found anywhere near this blend of 53% cabernet sauvignon and 47% merlot. This medium-bodied, ruby-hued wine starts out with delicate suggestions of tea and espresso on the nose. The flavor basket of dark stone fruits is augmented by cocoa-like tannins and a medium-length finish.

This wine would like to go with Chicken in Red Wine, Rabbit with Mustard Sauce, or Steak Frites, a truly classic pairing.

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Wines from La Merika

Wines from La MerikaI Took a Trip Down to
La Merika

There is a theory among some historians that America was discovered by Europeans decades, or even centuries, before Christopher Columbus by a little-known explorer named Henry Sinclair, who may have been a member of the Knights Templar. In Templar symbology ‘Merika’ is a western star toward which their ships would sail, or mounted knights would ride. It is suggested that the name La Merika (The Star) is what led to the naming of the continent America, rather than after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer who is credited with describing the New World.

The theory is based on old graveyards in Nova Scotia containing grave stones which incorporate Templar devices such as Crusader Crosses and other Masonic symbols. Although there is no surviving evidence, Sinclair may have traveled to Greenland, and perhaps as far south as present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Coincidentally, the sails of Columbus’ ships were emblazoned with the Templar Cross, which was then an emblem of Spain.

La Merika the wine is part of the extensive Delicato Family Vineyards portfolio. Family-owned and operated since the company’s founding in 1924, the third generation of the Indelicato family now control properties throughout California, but they are especially interested in the Central Coast.

I am a big fan of the Central Coast AVA, a huge viticultural area encompassing vineyards from Los Angeles to San Francisco. A wide variety of wines are produced there, and many of them are high quality and of exceptional value.

The Central Coast has one of the longest growing seasons in the world, and is influenced by proximity to the Pacific. Warm sunny days are tempered by cool, afternoon ocean breezes. The extended growing season allows for full fruit development, and, because ripening occurs at an easy pace, rich, full flavors balanced with bright acidity can emerge.

La Merika Chardonnay 2013

This wine pours nearly colorless, and then follows with aromas of citrus, honey, and green apple on the nose. Although it saw some oak, that’s barely in evidence. There are plenty of flavors of lemon/lime and grapefruit. The wine features a medium body, augmented by zippy acidity, recessive tannins, and a crisp finish. Nothing buttery or over-oaked here.

Consider matching this up with Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Trout with Green Onion Sauce, Southern Pan-Fried Chicken, or Salmon Croquettes.

La Merika Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

This Cab shows a classic inky purple in the glass. The nose features ripe plum and brown spices. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry and black cherry plus some dark chocolate or cocoa. The tannins rather than fruit are forward here. It ends with a medium-long finish. To get the full effect, plan on letting this breathe for an hour or so. This wine spent five months in French and American oak.

This big wine can stand up to robust foods like Country Captain with Crispy Thin Onion Rings, Baked Pork Chops with Cranberries, or Garlic Braised Shoulder Lamb Chops with Butter Beans and Tomatoes.

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Ditka Wine

Ditka Wine's The Hall of Famer Chardonnay and The Coach Cabernet SauvignonDa Wine uh Da Coach

Sports fan or not, you perhaps  have heard of Mike Ditka, immortalized as Da Coach in the “Bill Swerski’s Chicago Superfans” sketches that were a staple of the 1991 – ‘92 season of Saturday Night Live. After a career as a Hall-of-Fame NFL player, and a Super Bowl Champion coach, Ditka went on to become a restaurateur (four locations), ESPN commentator, cigar purveyor, and celebrity spokesman.

As part of his restaurant venture, Ditka also became interested in wines, and launched his eponymous private label in 2006, when he partnered with Mendocino Wine Company to do the actual winemaking.

However, in part because of limited distribution, sales were disappointing, falling more than 28 percent by the summer of 2012. At that time, Da Coach decided that a relaunch was necessary, and teamed up with Chicago-based world-wide wine powerhouse Terlato Wines International.

Although Ditka is the public face of the line, and continues to weigh in on the final result, the production chores are now handled by 2Sons Winery. 2Sons is a wine making team that works out of the Rutherford Hill winery in Napa Valley, another Terlato holding.

With the Terlato muscle behind Ditka’s wine, the line has been completely rebranded, distribution has been substantially increased outside of the Chicago area, and output has risen from 5,000 to 16,000 cases, comprised of eight labels.

The Hall of Famer Chardonnay 2012

This wine greets you with a lemony color and aroma. The taste features grapefruit (plenty of zippy acidity), with supporting hints of apple and honeysuckle. Some of the wine spent six months in barrel during fermentation, while another portion was in stainless steel; the ratio was designed to keep the evidence of wood in the background. It ends with a rather one-dimensional short finish.

Ice down a bottle of The Hall of Famer and pair it up with Artichoke and Lemon Fritters, Warm Pancetta-Wrapped Endive Salad, or Asian Chicken in Ginger-Lemongrass Broth.

The Coach Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Come on! Shouldn’t this really be named Da Coach? The wine world could always benefit from a bit more humor and a bit less stuffiness. Regardless, this easy-drinking cab is very approachable. It is transparent garnet in color, somewhat lighter in appearance and body than most cabernets, perhaps because it is “only” 78% cabernet sauvignon, abetted by 15% merlot and 7% cabernet franc.

The nose sports aromas of raspberry and a bit of red currant. The raspberry continues on the palate, supported by an undertone of dark chocolate from the abundant but not overwhelming tannins.

Enjoy this wine with Rack of Spring Lamb with Roasted Garlic, Pork Chops with Morels and Thyme (you do hunt for your own morel mushrooms, don’t you?), or Veal Stir-fry with Snow Peas and Snow Pea Shoots.

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Lobster and Champagne Risotto

Lobster and Champagne Risotto


Serves 6

2 tsp. salt, plus salt to taste
24 oz. of lobster tails
3 cups dry champagne or sparkling wine
(Nothing fancy needed here; try Underwood in a can.)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, minced
1-1/2 cups Carnaroli (preferably) or Arborio rice
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives, plus whole chives for garnish
2 Tbs. chopped  parsley
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
ground pepper to taste

Fill stockpot with 6 cups of water and 2 teaspoons of salt.  Add lobster tails and cook for 9 minutes.  Using tongs, remove tails from cooking liquid and let cool.  Remove meat from shells.

Add shells to the cooking liquid and reduce over high heat to 3 cups, about 15 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a saucepan; add the champagne or sparkling wine and bring to a simmer.  Adjust the heat to keep the liquid hot.

In a large, heavy sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the onion and saute over low heat until very soft, about 12 minutes.  Do not let the onion brown.  Add the rice and stir until white spots appear in the center of the grains.  Add a ladleful of the liquid, adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is absorbed.  Continue adding the liquid, a ladleful at a time and stirring constantly, until the rice is just tender but slightly firm in the center and the mixture is creamy, 20 to 25 minutes longer.  With the final ladleful of liquid, stir in the lobster meat, snipped chives, parsley, lemon juice, and cream.  Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon into warmed individual bowls, garnish the whole chives, and serve.

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