Category Archives: Wine

Recent posts on wine

AG Pick: Stephen & Walker 2005 Pinot Noir

My husband and I stumbled on Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited on our first trip to downtown Healdsburg. We were about to call it a day when a man standing on the sidewalk asked us if we wanted to try some wine. With that persuasion, we followed him inside the simple and clean tasting room.

Michael introduced himself and told us about the history of Stephen & Walker. It’s the collaboration of Nancy Walker and Tony Stephen, who together have 42 years of experience in the wine industry. Their goal is to bring their own perspective to each bottle of wine, with the focus on bringing out the true flavors of the terroir. They use grapes from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Monterey Counties.

Their 2005 Pinot Noir from Monterey was the first wine we tried. It’s become one of my favorite Pinot Noirs. The smell is of freshly picked red berries. The taste is strawberries, plum and rhubarb, with warm spices on the finish. It’s nice and smooth with just the right amount of acidity. It would go great with fish, chicken and pasta dishes.

Stephen & Walker is one of our favorite tasting rooms to visit. The people there are very friendly and knowledgeable, and their wine is excellent. They also make a great Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Port.

There were 210 cases of the 2005 Pinot Noir made; according to their website they’re sold out. The 2006 Pinot Noir is available online for $39. For more information about Stephen & Walker Trust Wine Limited visit their website.

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AG Pick: Dry Creek Vineyard's Somers Ranch Zinfandel

I have to admit, I was first drawn to Dry Creek Vineyard’s wines because of their labels. They’re brightly colored with a picture of a sailboat gliding through the waves. I don’t usually buy wines based on their label, but I thought I’d give their merlot and cabernet sauvignon a try. I was very impressed by both. I guess in some cases pretty labels mean pretty good wines!

My interest in Dry Creek Vineyard wines took me to their winery during my last trip to Sonoma County. It’s a beautiful drive, past miles of vineyards and rolling hills. Pulling up in front of their tasting room, you feel like you’ve crossed over to another country, perhaps a winery in Provence or Tuscany.

The 2005 Somers Ranch Zinfandel was among the four wines I tried there and was definitely my favorite. Their Heritage Zinfandel is very tasty, but the Somers Ranch has an extra dimension of taste and complexity. I tasted ripe blackberries, cherries and a little plum. There’s a nice spiciness in it, with hints of clove and cinnamon. It has well balanced tannins and a very smooth finish. I drank this with steak; it would also go well with lamb or any big meaty dish.

The 2005 Somers Ranch Zinfandel is $34 and can be purchased on Dry Creek Vineyard’s website. Click here for more information on Dry Creek Vineyard.

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A Dog (and a Wine) Named Moose

I’ve seen B.R. Cohn wines at stores and at several wine tastings. I’ve driven by the Sonoma Valley winery a couple of times. But it wasn’t until my most recent trip to Sonoma when I decided to try the wine – and I realized I should have tried it sooner

B.R. Cohn is located off Sonoma Highway in Glen Ellen, on a beautiful tree-covered stretch of road that winds around fields of grapevines stretching out as far as the eye can see. Around every curve is another winery. It’s the perfect place to spend the afternoon driving around, seeing which wineries tempt you to stop in.

After driving up the long driveway, we parked in front of the tasting room. When we walked in we heard Abbey Road playing. I’m a huge Beatles fan, so I took this as a good sign. A friendly man with grey hair welcomed us over to the tasting bar and started telling us about the history of B.R. Cohn. The winery’s founder and proprietor is Bruce Cohn, who is the manager of the Doobie Brothers. He bought the property in the mid 1970s, and began making his own wine there about 10 years later. Also on the property is a grove of 140-year-old French Picholine olive trees, the inspiration for B.R. Cohn’s distinctive labels. B.R. Cohn also produces a variety of olive oils and vinegars which I’ve seen sold at specialty food stores and Whole Foods.

We decided to stick to reds for our tasting and were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed them. One favorite was the 2005 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel. The color is deep red, almost purple. The smell is of raspberries and very ripe blackberries. In the taste those berries come through, with hints of cherries and strawberries. It has a smooth finish with very soft tannins. We purchased 3 bottles for $26 each.

Our other favorite was the 2005 Moose’s Red. It’s a blend of grapes from B.R. Cohn’s vineyard and other North Coast vineyards. The wine is named after Bruce’s dog, who’s featured on the label. A portion of the wine’s profits are donated to a local animal shelter. On the back label the wine is described as having “the potential of becoming your best friend.” It’s easy to see why – it’s full bodied with the taste of blackberries, cassis, cherries and a hint of vanilla. We purchased 3 bottles for $40 each.

Moose’s Red inspired me to think of what I would name my own wine. Here’s what it would be:

Porter, my cat, is the most adorable cat ever. Just click on the bottle to see an enlarged picture of him. I can also send you hundreds of other pictures if you need more proof. Porter is very talented, he can jump high into the air to catch his favorite stuffed mouse. If I were to make a wine named Porter it would be big and full bodied (he’s big and full bodied), with rich fruit flavors that come out after a few minutes (he can be a little shy and timid at the beginning).

From the tasting room we moved to a small building next door to taste some of B.R. Cohn’s olive oils and vinegar. My favorite olive oil was the Olive Hill Estate Picholine extra virgin olive oil. It was light and clean with a delicate flavor of olives. It was $39. Other olive oils are around $10. We tried a balsamic vinegar that was aged 25 years. It was delicious – full of flavor and thicker than regular balsamic vinegar. The man who had been guiding us through the olive oil and vinegar tasting said this was great on ice cream. I think I’ll stick to hot fudge on my sundaes, but I had no doubt the balsamic vinegar would be great on sliced heirloom tomatoes. This vinegar cost $25, others ranged from $10 to $20.

If you like your wine, olive oil or vinegar with a side of rock and roll, B.R. Cohen hosts a charity concert each fall. This year’s event is on the weekend of October 4th, and features some famous groups and of course, the Doobie Brothers.

For more information on B.R. Cohn, check out their website.

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Beyond the Stigma of Screw Caps

I must admit, I am a little biased when it comes to screw caps on wine. The thought of them brings back unpleasant taste memories from college. However, now that screw caps are gaining popularity among skilled winemakers in places like Australia, New Zealand and here in the United States, I’m giving screw caps a second chance.

There are benefits to screw caps. They’re cheaper than cork and you don’t have to worry about them tainting the wine. On the other side they’re not as good for aging. And there is something to be said about the tradition of using cork to seal wine bottles.

I really enjoy the ritual of opening a bottle of wine – cutting the foil, twisting in the corkscrew, anticipating that first sip. The sound of metal cracking when you twist open a screw cap is nowhere near as satisfying as the pop when the cork comes out.

Last night one of my favorite local wine bars, Wine 69, hosted a tasting that featured screw cap wines from Finnegan’s Lake in California and Stringtown Wines in Oregon. The first was a 2006 Chardonnay from Finnegan’s Lake. It was light and fruity, good for drinking on a hot summer afternoon. It was aged in stainless steel barrels instead of oak; I did miss that oak taste that I like in other Chardonnays. Next came a 2007 Pinot Grigio from Stringtown Wines. If you’re into light wines with the taste of tropical fruit you might like it. It was too fruity and a bit watery for my taste. The 2006 Stringtown Pinot Noir was nice. It did have a lot of strawberry and other light fruit flavors but it wasn’t too overwhelming. The next wine was an interesting mix of six grapes. The 2006 Stringtown Cotes du Rogue had Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Grenache. It had a fairly big taste, but seemed to be lacking direction. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Finnegan’s Lake was my favorite. It was well balanced and smooth, with very soft tannins. Price-wise it was the cheapest. Both Finnegan’s Lake wines were $22, the others ranged from $24.50 to $39.50.

Though I wasn’t too big on any of these wines, it wasn’t because they were sealed with screw caps. I may not always gravitate toward screw cap wines at the store, but in the future I’ll definitely give them another look.

Snapshots from Napa

The Napa Valley is one of my favorite places to visit. It’s a special place for me as well — I got married in Rutherford this past August. Everywhere you look is a picture postcard view, especially right before harvest when the vines are bursting with grapes. During my trips there I’ve enjoyed trying wines from some of my favorite wineries and discovering new favorites. I thought I’d share some photos from my trips. You can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Driving along Silverado Trail

Grapes at Clos Pegase

This is at Matanzas Creek which is in Sonoma County but it\'s one of my favorite wineries to visit.  Along with great wines, they make lavender products.

The photo with the lavender was taken at Matanzas Creek, which is actually in Sonoma County. It’s so beautiful it’s worth a trip over from Napa. In addition to making great wine (I’m a big fan of their merlots and cabernets), they make lavender products.

My wedding bouquet, at Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford

The final photo is of my wedding bouquet. The photo was taken at Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford.

A Cafe Culture

In London you have pub culture, in Paris it’s the café culture. Hundreds of cafes line the streets of the city. They’re great spots to meet friends for coffee or to sit by yourself and people watch.

It’s my last day in Paris and I’m feeling like a real Parisian. It’s a rainy afternoon, I’ve got my French newspaper, and I decide to stop in to Café de Flore. It’s a well-known café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, right next to Les Deux Magots. Years before I was born, this was the place for artists and intellectuals. Sitting at the small table by the window I imagined I could be in the same spot where people like John-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus discussed philosophy.

An older waiter came over carrying a silver tray. “Un café, s’il vous plait,” I said. “Oui,” he responded. Somehow I felt he could still tell I’m not a real Parisian. Minutes later my espresso arrived, along with a small piece of solid dark chocolate and a packet of sugar. It reminded me of my first trip to France with my family, when I was 7. My sister, who at the time was 4, and I would play with the sugar cubes at restaurants while waiting for our food. Each restaurant had its own wrapper for the sugar cubes. We’d take one from each restaurant. By the end of our trip had quite the colorful collection. The sugar at Café de Flore is in a wide, white packet, not a fancy looking cube – not worth saving. There’ve only been two worth saving so far – a thin packet with the recognizable logo from Les Deux Magots, and bright pink sugar cubes from Fauchon.

While the cups of coffee have been abundant and have always tasted good, it’s been harder to find a good tasting glass of wine. It seems most people order bottles or half bottles, so some of the wines by the glass taste like they’ve been open for a day or so.

I found my favorite glass of wine (and favorite wine of the entire trip) at a place called Willi’s Wine Bar. I thought a place with ‘wine bar’ in its name would be a good place to find a good glass of wine.

Willi’s Wine Bar is located near the Palais Royal, on Rue des Petits Champs in the first arrondissement. It was opened in 1980 and named after the owner’s dog. They had a fairly extensive list of wines by the glass from all over France, and the good vintages weren’t only reserved for full bottles. I ordered a glass of the 2001 Chateau Issan from Margaux. I wasn’t familiar with the wine, but it tasted delicious. The blend of cabernet and merlot was a dark red color. It had ripe red fruit on the nose, the taste of blackberries and black currants, followed by a finish of tobacco and cloves with soft tannins. Definitely a wine I’d like to drink again.

Strolling on the Ile Saint-Louis

It’s in the middle of Paris, yet many visitors I’ve spoken with say they’re not familiar with it. The Ile Saint-Louis is a small island in the Seine right next to the Ile de la Cite. To get there, walk around the back of Notre Dame and you’ll see a small bridge connecting the two islands. You’ll see it’s clear plenty of other tourists know about it. Many flock to the small island for the famous Berthillon ice cream. It’s easy to tell where it’s served – you’ll always see a line of people waiting to order. It’s sold all over the Ile Saint-Louis; the farther you walk from the bridge, the shorter the line. I’m a big fan of Berthillon ice cream, especially the fruit flavors. I recommend mango and pear.

My favorite place on the Ile Saint-Louis is a small cheese shop. If you’re walking down the main road, Rue de Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile, it’ll be on your left. You can’t miss it, with the hundreds of cheeses in the window. You may even smell it before you get there, if someone opens the door. When you step in you’re immediately hit with the strong smell of cheese.

The selection is overwhelming – goat, sheep, cow, round, square, white, yellow, red, blue, some covered with eastern spices or herbs de Provence. There’s also wine, saucisson, pasta, and pate; it’s a pretty big selection for a store that can fit about 4 customers at a time. It’s tough to go in because you want to try all the different cheeses, but unless you have a refrigerator in your hotel room, the cheese won’t last too long. Fortunately, if you want a small taste there are single-serving chevres – small, bite size balls of goat cheese on a wooden stick, covered with a variety of spices. It’s the perfect bite, and won’t ruin your appetite for Berthillon ice cream.