Tag Archives: Sonoma

Federalist Dueling Pistols

AG Pick: The Federalist Dueling Pistols 2014

How does a Syrah, Zinfandel, red blend from the West Coast
Taste when you raise it for a toast?

I’ve had the hit musical Hamilton on the brain for months and I couldn’t help but think about the opening number when I was pouring a glass of The Federalist Dueling Pistols.

The name of the wine was inspired by the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The 2014 vintage is a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma.

Federalist Dueling PistolsDueling Pistols is the latest wine from The Federalist, a series of wines that honor America’s Founding Fathers and their ideals.

It’s a great concept for a California red wine blend. Zinfandel, a proudly American grape (and definitely the Hamilton in this duel), faces off with Syrah, a grape that can be on its own or in blends, but is typically blended with Rhone varieties including Grenache and Mourvedre.

The Syrah and Zinfandel grapes for Dueling Pistols were separately fermented. After blending, the wine spent 15 months in 20% new American and Hungarian oak barrels. American oak was used to add sweeter notes, Hungarian to add spice.

Fortunately for us, this duel has a happy outcome – a rich and robust wine that’s enjoyable to drink.

Dark purple in color as you would expect with these two grapes, The Federalist Dueling Pistols has spicy berry and smoky aromas. The taste is bold with flavors of black cherry, ripe plum and blackberry rounded out with black pepper, root beer and a touch of smoked meat. Smooth tannins and good acidity give the wine a supple mouthfeel.

Pair the Federalist Dueling Pistols with roasted chicken or turkey, or red meat. Fittingly, it’s perfect at an all-American barbecue.

The only duel you might find yourself in is fighting over the last sip.

A bottle of The Federalist 2014 Dueling Pistols costs $29.

The Federalist wines are produced by Terlato Wines. Dueling Pistols is not associated with Hamilton: An American Musical.

14.5% alcohol

Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc

Standout Sauvignon Blanc from California

Made famous by France and today grown all over the world, Sauvignon Blanc is a favorite among white wine drinkers. But you don’t need to go international to find a world class Sauvignon Blanc – just look to California.

Here are the Amateur Gastronomer’s picks for standout Sauvignon Blanc from California.

If the warm weather isn’t reason enough to try these wines, pick up a bottle for International Sauvignon Blanc Day, on Friday May 16th. Share what you’re sipping with us @amgastronomer on Twitter and Instagram with #SauvBlanc.

Arkenstone NVD Sauvignon Blanc 2012

There’s a new Sauvignon Blanc from Arkenstone Vineyards. The Howell Mountain winery has expanded beyond its estate vines on the western shoulder to include grapes in the larger Napa Valley AVA.

Arkenstone NVD Sauvignon BlancWinemaker Sam Kaplan uses similar techniques with the Napa Valley District Sauvignon Blanc as he does with the Estate wine to add complementary rounded and creamy notes to the fruit and floral flavors.

The 2012 Arkenstone NVD is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. After fermentation the wine spent 11 months on the lees in a combination of new and used French oak and concrete.

Enticing aromas of green apple, pineapple, kiwi and white flowers invite you to take a sip. The taste is sophisticated with layered pear, white peach, mango, honeydew and jasmine. It’s soft in the mouth, with good acidity and wet stone minerality adding freshness. The finish is long with lingering apple and peach notes. Look for the official release of the 2012 Arkenstone NVD Sauvignon Blanc in July.

$45, 14.5% alcohol, arkenstone.com
335 West Lane, Angwin, California

Bernardus Griva Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Just a short drive from the world-famous destinations of Pebble Beach, Monterey Bay Aquarium and picturesque Carmel-by-the-Sea is the Bernardus Lodge and Winery. Owner Bernardus (Ben) Pon selected the location with the dream to make a red wine in the Carmel Valley equal to the finest from Bordeaux.

Bernardus Griva Sauvignon BlancA standout in its own right is the winery’s take on white Bordeaux. As is common in Bordeaux, Bernardus’ Sauvignon Blanc has a small percent of Semillon added to the final blend.

The grapes for this white wine come from Griva Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA, just south of Santa Lucia Highlands in the Salinas Valley. The Sauvignon Blanc was hand picked and fermented in stainless steel at cool temperatures using three specially selected yeasts. The finished wine has 5% barrel fermented Semillon, added to enhance its richness and complexity.

Wonderfully aromatic with tropical fruit and citrus, the Bernardus Griva Sauvignon Blanc has flavors of white apricot, passion fruit, grapefruit and lime zest with subtle grassy notes on the crisp finish. Refreshing acidity gives the wine a lively mouthfeel, with gentle minerality adding structure.

$22, 13.7% alcohol, bernardus.com
5 West Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, California

Galerie Equitem 2012

The debut vintage of Equitem and the newly launched Galerie series is an exciting introduction to winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz, who brings together European techniques and traditions with New World fruit. Her education and Galerie Equitemwinemaking career began in Spain, with stops in New Zealand and Chile before arriving in Napa and working alongside acclaimed Cardinale winemaker Chris Carpenter.

Equitem, meaning “knight” in Latin, is made entirely of Sauvignon Blanc from Knights Valley in Sonoma. The wine was aged on the lees, half in neutral French oak barrels and half in stainless steel tanks. It was stirred three times per week in barrel and two times per week in tank to enhance the mouthfeel of the finished wine.

Showcasing an artistry both inside and outside the bottle, the Equitem Sauvignon Blanc is nuanced and elegant with slate minerality and lively acidity. Golden apple, pear, white peach and guava mingle with white flowers, meringue and subtle vanilla, culminating in a crisp citrus finish.

You’ll also want to try sister wine Naissance, Galerie’s Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley.

$30, 14.3% alcohol, galeriewines.com
P.O. Box 328, Oakville, California


Round Pond Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc 2013

How do you make your Sauvignon Blanc stand out in a region that is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon? You focus on the purity of fruit and make the wine as Round Pond Sauvignon Blancclean as possible to highlight the quality of the vineyard. That’s according to Round Pond managing partner Miles MacDonnell, whose family has owned the farm, winery and olive mill since 1983.

Working with winemaker Muiris Griffin, the MacDonnells aim to produce a more classic expression of Sauvignon Blanc that is stylistically closer to Graves in Bordeaux. After a near perfect growing season in 2013, the grapes were hand harvested, whole-cluster pressed and fermented entirely in stainless steel. No malolactic fermentation was allowed to occur.

Crisp and refreshing are words that immediately come to mind. Aromas of lemon, golden pear and just ripened peach expand on the palate along with bright flavors of white grapefruit, melon, starfruit, lime and a hint of lemongrass.

$24, 14.5% alcohol, roundpond.com
875 Rutherford Road, Rutherford, California

Séamus Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013

You can’t beat sipping a chilled Sauvignon Blanc outdoors on a hot afternoon in the South – one of the reasons owner and winemaker James Foley Jr. was inspired to make it. Working with his father James Sr. in Marietta, Georgia, James Jr. divides his time between his home in Savannah and winemaking facility in San Francisco.

Seamus Sauv BlancSéamus (the Gaelic equivalent of “James”) focuses on premium, handcrafted wines from California, sourcing grapes from top appellations. The grapes for the Sauvignon Blanc come from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma.

“I try to stick to the traditional European style but I don’t want to hide the opulence of new world fruit,” says Foley Jr., who used a slow fermentation technique in stainless steel to preserve the tropical fruit characteristics.

Apple and citrus aromas introduce flavors of green apple, honeydew, mango and pineapple. The wine is well balanced with refreshing acidity, and ends with a deliciously crisp and dry finish.

When you pick up a bottle of the Séamus Sauvignon Blanc you’ll notice a tribute to home – the label is an image of the live oaks that line the entrance to Wormsloe Plantation in Savannah.

$29, 14.4% alcohol, seamuswines.com
2455 3rd Street, San Francisco, California

For information on purchasing the wines visit their websites, and look for the wines at wine shops and restaurants.

More White Wines | Red Wines | Under $20

AG Pick: The Federalist Zinfandel 2011

Are you a Scandal fan and looking for a red wine to sip along with Olivia Pope? Or are you interested in something dark and intense to go along with the schemes on House of Cards? Try a bottle of the 2011 Federalist Zinfandel.

Federalist ZinfandelUniquely American from the grape to the image of Alexander Hamilton on the label, this wine from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley is a toast to our nation’s heritage. It is made entirely from Zinfandel, a grape that took root not too long after Hamilton and the Founding Fathers worked to establish the United States.

There is no need to be a fixer or a manipulator to enjoy the wine. This Zinfandel is a crowd-pleasing mix of dark berry and spice flavors with a velvety texture. Bold yet refined notes of blackberry, black currant, boysenberry and plum are layered with black pepper and cinnamon. It feels smooth and lively in the mouth, with gentle tannins and good acidity.

The Federalist Zinfandel pairs with a variety of foods including grilled or baked chicken, hamburgers, prime rib and lamb. Or just enjoy a glass with your favorite television show.

$24.99, 14.9% alcohol by volume

More Red Wines | White Wines | Under $20

It’s Time for Wine: What’s New in Wine Country

It’s Time for Wine & Other Things:
Valley of the Moon, Jamieson Ranch, Lulu’s and a La Toque Report

By Monty and Sara Preiser

We suppose the newest element of wine country is, after about 20 years, the retitling of our own column. We know it qualifies as the most recent as it us happening this very moment while we keyboard. We will still write primarily about wine, but have increasingly found ourselves sharing thoughts and information about restaurants, theatre, travel, and (to the chagrin of some) politics. The name of the column is now more apropos to what we do, and gives us a greater feeling of flexibility – just what all writers seek.

La Toque Breaks Records

What we perceive as the best ultra-fine dining establishment in Napa has been busy breaking reservation records for the past few months, and expects an even more crowded October. Ken Frank’s cuisine continues to rival that of any chef in the Valley, and the wine pairing service (should you choose to accept it) is an experience one should not miss when visiting anywhere nearby. Beautiful La Toque is in downtown Napa at the Westin Verasa (which presently happens to be the Valley’s most sought after hotel).

Valley of the (New) Moon Changes Phases

If you have visited Sonoma you have probably passed Valley of the Moon winery, which is located on Highway 12 just south of the village of Glen Ellen. If you have stopped in, and we doubt many of you have, it is unlikely you were too impressed. The winery was part of a huge wine and spirit conglomerate, and we have been told that it was far from Corporate Papa’s priority.

Valley of the Moon winesThat fate has changed, and continues to change big time, with the purchase of the winery by two innovative, clever, outgoing, and history-loving partners – Canadian Tony Stewart and long-time area resident and other winery founder (can you say ZD?) Dan Zepponi.

We attended what was, for all intents and purposes, the winery’s coming out party Saturday night, and couldn’t have been more impressed. Wine aside for a moment, this was a helluva soiree. Greeted by both the new owners and costumed “deceased” ones, we were steered toward the barrel room where a lovely blonde out of a Cirque du Soleil troupe was performing acrobatics half way up a sheer curtain. The courtyard surrounded a seven foot tall “walking vine,” which we enjoyed watching as we tapped our feet to a terrific New Orleans style band on the old crush pad. Passed hors d’oeuvres were tasty, and there were gourmet sausage, pizza and other stations available – some in the separate garden area where keyboard music ruled.

Other whimsical touches abounded as well. Photographers with props allowed you to create a 7 second “scene,” and then transferred the results to your own old time flip book as a personal souvenir. Just around the corner was a chef from one of the county’s best Italian restaurants demonstrating how he makes fresh cheese. And the back of the property hosted a world champion Bocce Ball master who took on all challengers – and he did it on one leg or with his eyes closed. If you beat him you won a magnum of wine. We think the winery was pretty safe.

Also on hand were the winemakers, whose first harvest was last year (2012), so not much in the way of new bottlings were ready to sample. The winery will be re-planting, purchasing new vineyards, upgrading their winemaking techniques and, in short, doing all that a top of the line business needs to do to be a player in the industry. That being said, the 2012 Zinfandel was ready and on display in four ways – in a new French barrel, a two year old French barrel, an oft-used neutral French barrel, and an American barrel from Pennsylvania. The vintners have not yet decided how many different types they will actually bottle, but each barrel was outstanding in its own way. Watch for the Zin, in whatever form it appears, soon.

In fact, watch for Valley of the Moon and its revitalized property and wines to become another star in the beautiful constellation of wineries that make up the so called “Valley of the Moon” that lies between the cities of Sonoma and Santa Rosa. This Moon is rising.

Lulu’s New in Town

1313 Main has been one of the hot spots in Napa for a year now. Last week it was also transformed from a mere wine bar to one of the more interesting restaurants in the Valley (what’s happening in the town of Napa insofar as new drinking and dining establishments just doesn’t seem to stop).

Maintaining the high wine standards set by GM Steve Distler and extraordinary Director of Wine Jordan Nova, the dishes being offered are geared to pair well with wines – and there are plenty of staff members there to help you accomplish the mission. We truly enjoyed the front of the menu, which included artisan quickbreads; trio of ceviche (shrimp, veggie, and scallop); sweet breads with spatzle; duck confit ravioli with peppers and plums; and the pan seared scallops with carrots, beets and red cabbage. What a wide selection. But don’t miss the “Secret Menu” on the back, which trumpet the Korean wings and the amazing poutine (a Quebec dish of French fries topped with gravy, cheese and other goodies). You can find some pretty good music here too – it is one of our favorite places.

Jamieson Ranch Provides New Gateway to Napa

For a number of years those entering Napa from the east (i.e. Sacramento or Fairfield) were greeted just before they hit Rt. 29 to Napa by the most southern winery in the Napa Valley, Kirkland Ranch. Understandably, many people felt this estate was allied with the Kirkland brand of goods carried primarily at Costco, and, whether it was a good decision or not, passed the winery by. Well, as with Valley of the Moon we have new owners and management dedicated to transforming an underachieving property into a 300 acre showcase for a number of wines, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a few other varietals that thrive in the cool air, fog and breezes that pervade the area.

Jamieson RanchFounded by Bryan Gordon and Alyssa O’Hare, he a long time hospitality expert and she an Oregonian who grew up in the countryside surrounded by vines and crops, the winery’s architecture is a stunning reminder of a majestic western lodge with (our favorite attribute) a wrap-around veranda that on the right day allows views of the Sab Pablo Bay and much of Napa. Serving as President of the Ranch is Bill Leigon, a wine industry veteran of over 40 years with some of California’s best known producers, and as Hospitality Director and wine guru comes Doug Fitzgibbon, who impressed us in our first visit as just the right guy for the job. Former Pine Ridge assistant winemaker Nori Nakamura rounds out this august group, and will craft what promises to be excellent wines at affordable prices.

Not surprisingly, the new team has not had much of a chance yet to make wines in their own style. This is especially true of the Bordeaux Reds, which will be sourced from some of Napa’s best areas and take a few years to be ready. We did enjoy the already available Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Pinot Noir – all not only drinking well but offering excellent values.

Jamieson Ranch is a good bet to become a destination winery for consumers on their way in and out of the Napa Valley, as well as for those who have become wine tasting weary and want to relax in the cool weather and unhurriedly enjoy a day’s final libation. Another new winery, folks – one you will want to visit early and often.

images from wineries’ websites


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com. Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley and Sonoma, the most comprehensive guides to wineries and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

It’s Time for Wine: Chardonnays are Diverse and Affordable

By Monty and Sara Preiser

It has been fashionable in some circles for quite a while to opine that Chardonnays are boring, or simply don’t stack up to white French Burgundies (mostly made from Chard). In fact, an entire silly sub-culture grew up around the initials “ABC,” which, in the wine world fringes, meant, “Anything But Chardonnay.” Don’t believe it.

As proud Chardonnay lovers who taste hundreds each year, we can tell you that to lump all U.S. Chardonnays into one category is uninitiated at best, and foolish at worst. If any grape lends itself to multiple processes of production, and thus a myriad of taste profiles, it is Chardonnay.

Even a short list of some of the factors that influence a Chardonnay’s ultimate taste should well illustrate our point. Consider the soils in which the vines grow; how long the grapes were left on the vine, thus affecting ripeness and sugar levels; whether the wine was fermented in barrels or steel tanks; whether the wine was aged in barrels or tanks; if aged in barrel, for how long, and in what types (or combination of) barrels; whether the wine went through secondary fermentation (which would turn the malic acid properties into the smoother lactic acid); and whether it aged on “the lees” (dead yeast cells naturally occurring from fermentation) to facilitate creaminess.

With so many decisions facing the winemaker, Chardonnays can easily display every type of nose, body, palate, and finish one can imagine, and these sensory aspects can be interchanged into enough variations that it would take months to experience them all. Therefore, there is a Chardonnay for everyone, and anyone who searches out what is available can really never become bored with this grape, because it is almost never the same. Add to that our belief that one should have a goal for a wine (pairing crisper unoaked Chards with shellfish and light sauces, perhaps, or maybe oaked Chards with fowl and heavier sauces), and there is enough about this varietal to make it exciting and challenging.

Clearly the pendulum as to what people prefer is in constant motion. One might drink gin for years, tire of it, go to scotch, and then return to gin. We personally enjoyed Zinfandels for a long time, moved to big Bordeaux style Reds for a while, but are returning to Zins (which are, not inconsequently, achieving their best balance and profiles in many a year). So it is not surprising that for many consumers Chardonnay would be caught up in the same type cycle.

Over a long span of years, the majority of the American public clearly preferred highly oaked Chardonnay that had been put through malolactic (secondary, and often abbreviated to m/l) fermentation which brought on the illusion of butter in the mouth. About a decade ago, however, marketers and some producers started trumpeting the virtues of “clean,” “minerally,” wine, and thus that pendulum’s arc went far afield and overly austere (and less expensive) Chardonnays were in vogue – no oak, no m/l etc. Just the steel fermented grapes showing their origin.

There certainly is nothing wrong with the concept of “unaoaked” and “non m/l” Chardonnay. We like many of them. However (and here is the most important thought of the day), as with everything else a Chardonnay needs to have balance. Whether it be political orientation, religion, or winemaking, balance is most often the key. As that relates to Chardonnay, winemakers worldwide are now concentrating on how to best combine all the tools available to make a wine that will please the palate of the consumer when sipped alone or savored with food. Now we commonly see Chards aged in new barrels and old barrels, or in both barrels and stainless steel. We find Chards where malolactic fermentation has been artificially stopped after a certain percentage of completion to tone down the butter. And in greater numbers all the time, grapes are being harvested earlier to allow for a final product with less alcohol. All of this is fine – it permits the consumer scores and scores of choices, but also tons of fodder for confusion.

Today we feature 11 Chardonnays that are not only excellent in their own right, but can usually be purchased for the surprisingly low price of $32 and under. Those not aged in oak are often a bit less expensive for the obvious reason that there were no barrels used. So if that is your style of Chard, it is your day when you find some good ones. Yet, it would be difficult to drink only unoaked Chardonnays. They might pair better than oaked (of varying degrees) wines with some dishes, but a big Chardonnay with great balance of oak, acid, and ripeness, can well accompany a great many proteins, including meats so traditionally thought of as red wine dishes.


  • 2010 Benziger Signaterra “West Rows” ($32): The winery’s best selling wine – it is full bodied due to oak aging, and has crispy minerality and stone fruit notes due to lower alcohol levels than most at pick time. Complex and fresh – a hard duo to get right – but here it is.
  • 2011 Peju Estate ($28): Though favorite descriptives for stainless steel Chards, vibrant and bright can also refer to a well made barrel fermented wine. Witness this one, which sat on the lees for six months and aged completely in 25% new French oak. A big wine full of spices.
  • 2010 Raymond Reserve ($20): Amazingly long finish and big body for a wine of this modest price. There are flavors of peaches with a hint of nuts (perhaps hazel) that follow a particularly elegant nose of jasmine. The wine is aged in 100% French oak for two months.
  • 2010 Rombauer Carneros ($32): No Chardonnay is better known than this mega award winning beauty. It is unapologetically creamy, smooth, melon and citrus influenced, and possessive of a huge body. Oak aging and m/l provide color and lots of buttery components.
  • 2009 Russian Hill Gail Ann’s Vineyard ($32): Melons are all over the nose of this rich, layered wine where half was aged in oak (giving it color, depth, and body), and half in stainless steel (providing liveliness and minerality). The balance allows many pairing opportunities.
  • 2009 Simi Russian River Reserve ($28): Wonderful balance – 100% Chard aged for 14 months in French oak (50% new and 50% 1 year old) with outstanding fruit throughout. You will get hints of citrus, nuts, and even a little pineapple. The first whiff is honey-like, which foretells the wine’s luscious body.


  • 2011 Chamisal Stainless ($18): Fermented in stainless steel and seeing no oak whatsoever, it is made from fruit grown in a number of Central Coast regions, and thus is very diverse in flavors. Enjoy apples and pears seemingly washed by fresh stream water. An amazing buy.
  • 2011 Foley Estate Steel ($30): A terrific wine that was aged in stainless steel tanks for ten months, and went through no m/l. Its freshness is apparent from the lemon-lime nose, its crispness is obvious, and the minerality on the finish reminds us of fresh well water.
  • 2010 Hess Collection Napa Valley ($22): Made from 100% Chardonnay, this lovely wine is smooth with a nose of honeysuckle and pear, a mid-palate of Granny Smith apples, and a finish of apricot. Only about a fifth of the wine is aged in new French oak barrels.
  • 2010 Marimar Estate Acero ($29): If you know Spanish, you know this wine has not seen oak. “Acero” means “steel.” We get pears on the nose, and perhaps because the wine went through m/l, some creamy banana and vanilla in the otherwise crisp, minerally middle.
  • 2011 Mer Soleil Silver ($24): Fermented in stainless steel and cement tanks (the latter being in vogue), and there was no m/l. Scents of a rocky river bed first hit the nose, followed by hints of bananas and grapefruit. The winemaker recommends consuming chilled.

This article appeared in the September issue of Coastal Carolina Life. To view the article in the magazine, which also includes pictures of the bottles mentioned, visit www.coastalcarolinalife.com.


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November. In fall 2011 the Preisers released the first issue of The Preiser Key to Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

Copain: Exceptional Pinot Noir & Syrah

By Robin Alix Austin

When describing the wines of Copain you could begin with the name. French for buddy or pal, Copain calls to mind someone you enjoy spending time with and with whom you get along well.

At the risk of sounding a bit cliché, Copain produces wines that evoke the idea of a friend. Pleasing, easy to drink and with layers of flavors, these are wines you can – and want to – enjoy often.

Assistant winemaker Mike Lucia shared a taste of five wines from the Healdsburg, California winery during the High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction in March.

Among all of Copain’s exceptional wine, the ones that really stood out to me were from the “Les Voisins” series. Meaning “the neighbors” in French, these wines come from grapes grown on neighboring vineyards in the Anderson Valley and Yorkville Highlands appellations.

Taking a sip of the 2009 Les Voisins Pinot Noir makes you understand why some wine drinkers are so passionate about Pinot. Even if you’re not the biggest Pinot Noir fan, I dare you to taste this wine and not think it’s absolutely delicious.

This Pinot Noir comes from the Anderson Valley and is a blend of three neighboring vineyards. At first it’s bright and juicy, with flavors of ripe cherry, raspberry and blueberry. Then comes some darker notes – boysenberry, white pepper, violet and a touch of star anise. Woven throughout is nicely balanced acidity and subtle minerality from the sandstone and shale soils. It’s silky and supple in the mouth, with a long, satisfying finish.

The 2009 Les Voisins Syrah is just as elegant but with more intensity. The wine is a blend of three vineyards situated on the same slope of rocky terrain in the Yorkville Highlands. Floral and black fruit aromas introduce a sophisticated palate layered with blackberry, plum, cassis, black pepper, graphite and allspice. Full in the mouth and well balanced, this wine culminates in a finish that has long-lingering spice and boysenberry jam notes.

Now these are the kind of friends and neighbors anyone would want.

For more information on Copain visit www.copainwines.com.

This is part of a series of articles on wines from the High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction. Click here to read more.

It’s Time for Wine: Sonoma Valley Appellations

By Monty and Sara Preiser

Most oenophiles are aware of the Russian River, Chalk Hill and Carneros districts of Sonoma, but few others. As Sonoma county winemakers continue to refine their decisions as to what varieties grow best in what locations, the designation of the wine’s appellation will become more and more important.

In Sonoma County, as in other wine producing areas of this country, there are grape growing/producing regions that each possess characteristics approved as unique by the government, and, thus, are granted status as an American Viticultural Area (commonly referred to as “AVA” or “Appellation”). While memorizing these AVAs is not necessary, it will enhance your understanding and fun to have at least a general working knowledge of each one, and what you can expect from a wine that bears an Appellation name on its label.

Modern oenology allows the luxury of matching grape varieties with the locations that are best suited to grow them. Individual regions feature distinct meso or microclimates (functions of wind, rain, temperature, and time-in-the-sun) as well as terrain – hill, valley, foothills, type of soil, etc. When all of these factors, which obviously affect the grapes, are put together, they can be said to create a specific “terroir,” or, for lack of a better definition, “sense of place.”

Why is it important to know a wine’s AVA? For many reasons, most of which have to do with predicting how a wine should taste or be paired, before you actually taste or purchase it. Being cognizant of what an AVA brings to the bottle can help you select a wine to go with a particular dish, or decide whether a price is fair. For example, the Russian River AVA is well known for producing cooler climate varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. If you saw a Zinfandel with a Russian River Appellation, you might have some doubts about ordering it before having the opportunity somewhere to taste it.

But the good thing about drinking wine is that once a bottle is opened and you actually taste the wine yourself, all bets are off. You can then make the call as to whether you like it and what foods you want to accompany it. If you are satisfied, that is all that matters. Let’s discuss the various Appellations below.

Sonoma County

Placing this first since all the other thirteen smaller appellations are a part of it, a winery might use this appellation if a bottle of its wine contained grapes from more than two viticultural areas other than those in the Northern Sonoma (see below) region. If it sounds like “Sonoma County” is a catch-all, it is. There is no unifying description of its characteristics.

Alexander Valley

Located in the northern part of the county, Alexander Valley includes both the flatlands and the hills to the east and west (22 miles long and from 2 to 7 miles wide). The diverse micro-climates support the growing of a number of grape types, though Cabernet Sauvignnon is the star.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, some Chardonnay.

Bennett Valley

This is a small AVA, but rising in stature all the time. It benefits tremendously by being bordered by three mountains which permit the cool early fog and winds to blow from the Pacific down the gap which is Bennett Valley. The extra hang time needed to obtain ripeness allows for very balanced wines.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Zinfandel.

Carneros (formally “Los Carneros”)

Don’t be confused as this Appellation is partly in Napa as well (one of only 2 places in the U.S. of which we are aware where an Appellation crosses county lines). As Carneros is just off the San Pablo Bay in the county’s southernmost area, it is quite cool.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and recently some excellent Merlot.

Chalk Hill

This name comes from the soil of white, chalky, volcanic ash found in the mountains (actually there is no chalk – it is a mixture of quartzite, sand, and loam). The region, north of Santa Rosa, experiences plenty of sun and heat from a thermal belt that influences the temperatures.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc.

Dry Creek Valley

Named for Dry Creek, a tributary to the Russian River and irrigated by Lake Sonoma, this region is about 16 miles long and 2 miles wide and experiences warm late mornings and afternoons following morning fog from the Pacific. Wines are grown on the valley floor and hillsides above.

Best Varietals: Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, some Chardonnay.

Fort Ross – Seaview

The county’s newest appellation, approved by the TTB in late 2011, its 27,500 acres were carved out of the 480,000 acre Sonoma Coast, the latter of which actually extends somewhat inland. Truly located on the shoreline, this AVA was granted its distinct status because much of it is mountainous and thus above the fog line that often affects the rest of the older, larger appellation.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Green Valley (formally Green Valley of Russian River)

This small, beautiful area near Sebastopol is worth exploring on many levels (redwood forests, llama farms), but from a wine standpoint is is significant that it may be the coolest, foggiest region in Sonoma County – even cooler than the rest of the Russian River Valley.

Best Varietals: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Knights Valley

Located next to Napa Valley and protected from the cool Pacific Ocean influences due to its geography, this region is the warmest in all of Sonoma County. Its warm days and cool nights provide the ideal weather for producing Bordeaux grapes of all kinds.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot.

Northern Sonoma

This region encompasses a half dozen other appellations (Chalk Hill and the Alexander, Dry Creek, Green, Knights, and Russian River Valleys) and was primarily championed by giant Gallo, which wanted a definitive umbrella appellation so it could make an “estate wine” at its winery in Dry Creek using grapes from the other aforementioned areas. Gallo is the only winery using this AVA designation, which is cooled by the Pacific rather than the San Pablo Bay, and has sedimentary rather than volcanic soils.

Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak

This is an interesting new (Fall of 2011) AVA, in that it includes part of northeastern Sonoma County and portions of Mendocino County. Only about 5% of its 4,600 acres are planted with just a bit more under development. The area is relatively fog free, so it has ample sunlight, and is cooler than the Alexander Valley, much of which stretches below.

Best Varietals: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, some Chardonnay.


This appellation’s name is quite descriptive of the hardscrabble soils and actual rocks in and around which the vines here must struggle to grow (survival of the fittest, as they say). Rockpile is also above the fog line, so, while ocean cooled, the evening mist is not a factor and sun is plentiful.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel.

Russian River Valley

Not really including the entire Russian River Valley, this region follows the river from Healdsburg south to Santa Rosa and then west to Occidental. It is remarkable for the fog that rolls down the river banks from the ocean and lasts until late morning, creating the perfect cool climate for world class wines.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, some Syrah.

Sonoma Coast

A huge geographical area abutting the Pacific coast (San Pablo Bay in the south all the way to the Mendocino border) belies the fact that it is sparsely planted. Cooler and wetter than most of Sonoma, the vineyards benefit from being above the fog line, and ultimately achieve great balance due to a long growing season.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Sonoma Mountain

East of the Sonoma Valley near the town of Glen Ellen, this region allows a number of varietals to be successfully grown because of its diverse micro climates created by mountain crevices and some rolling slopes. Primarily eastern facing and above the fog line, sunshine is abundant.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel.

Sonoma Valley

Running north/south between the town of Sonoma and Santa Rosa, this is also called “The Valley of the Moon.” The mountains on both sides protect the area from Pacific weather and so the southern part is cooled from the San Pablo Bay while the northern areas can become quite hot.

Best Varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Semillon, Merlot.


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November. In fall 2011 the Preisers released the first issue of The Preiser Key to Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

AG Pick: Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Merlot 2008

The Amateur Gastronomer has predicted that 2012 will see the return of Merlot. Why? In the years following the movie “Sideways,” California winemakers have revamped how they produce Merlot wine. Careful attention has been paid to how the grape is grown, when it is harvested and how the wine is crafted. The latest releases focus on the desirable characteristics of Merlot, with wines that are better than ever.

The Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Merlot 2008 is a wine that stands out. Its refined black and berry fruit flavors show just how tasty and sophisticated Merlot can be.

The wine is made from 95% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remaining 4% comprised of other Bordeaux grapes. The fruit is all estate grown and comes from the top 5% of Kendall-Jackson’s Merlot wine lots in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties.

Through precision farming methods and harvesting the grapes at the peak of their potential, Kendall-Jackson ensures a high quality Merlot.

The wine spent 19 months aging nearly entirely in French oak, of which 47% was new.

At first sniff you can tell this is a Merlot that deserves a taste. The wine has aromas of dark fruit and spice. The taste is a round mix of boysenberry, blackberry, black plum, cherry and currant layered with violet, cedar, dark chocolate and a touch of smoke. Refined tannins give the wine good structure. The finish is satisfying with lingering berry notes.

If you stopped drinking Merlot years ago this is a wine that will bring you back.

A bottle of the Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Merlot 2008 costs $26.

14.5% alcohol by volume

More Red Wines | White Wines | Under $20

It’s Time for Wine: Introducing Shadowbox Cellars

Our Own (plus our partners) shadowbox cellars to Make its Debut

By Monty and Sara Preiser

We were chosen as the “inspectors” for an election the other day, meaning that we watched the counting by both sides to be sure all was accurate and there were no shenanigans. There were a number of candidates, and we were astonished to see that one person did not mark the ballot for himself. Not surprisingly, he did not win, but in O’Henry like irony, he lost by only one vote. It made us think about grade school, where kids (at least of our era) did not commonly vote for themselves, as well as about later realities when one learns that if you don’t have enough confidence in yourself to cast in vote in your own favor, you shouldn’t be running in the first place.

Well, that lesson sort of carries over to this column. We are always happy to write about and review the wines we taste and enjoy, so today we are proud to announce the debut of our own line of wines – shadowbox cellars, making premium Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Owned by Monty and Sara Preiser of Boynton Beach and Napa, Ira and Eydie Holz of Boca Raton, and Justin and Stacy Preiser of Napa, shadowbox is following a bit of a different business model than most wineries in an effort to put truly fabulous wines in the bottle. And the effort has, at least for now, worked spectacularly.

For quite a while, we have been fortunate to live five months a year in Napa, and our son Justin has lived there full time running our comprehensive wine and restaurant magazines (The Preiser Key to Napa and The Preiser Key to Sonoma) for almost seven years now. This has allowed us some pretty good insight into what vineyards produce the best fruit, what winemakers excel at crafting certain varietals, and what flavor profiles are desired by consumers who, like us, want outstanding quality at prices that do not border on the insane. With the addition of Ira, a financial and business expert, we put together a team of people on the production and business sides who all contributed something positive and important to every varietal we make. Our wines are, if we do say so ourselves, beautiful in every way, and properly priced for consumers.

When the owners gathered to taste our wines for the first time out of the bottle we were of course apprehensive. Under a past and different label, we (Monty and Sara) had refused to distribute one vintage of a wine many years ago because it did not meet our standards. We are ecstatic to report that such a problem did not exist with shadowbox. Below is what we found.

2010 Orchard Vineyard Oak Knoll Napa Chardonnay
Made by winemaker Mike Drash (late of Far Niente and Luna, and now owner of Tallulah), this is a wine of immediate impressions – a golden straw color to the eye, a powerful medium to full body on the palate, and a fruit-to-dry finish that seemingly lasts forever. Yet there are many other characteristics belonging to this layered and balanced Chardonnay. The nose gives off scents of brioche, grapefruit, and Crenshaw melon, while the mid palate is consumed by caramel, apples, and a hint of ripe banana. Overall, the wine is bright enough to accompany light meats, salads, and fish, while suggesting a long period of ageability. The Oak Knoll grown fruit is next door to the famed vineyard that produced the grapes for the storied 1976 Paris tasting. Ours is even better. It is ready now, and should continue to improve for many years to come.
85 cases available. $40

2009 Anna Katerina Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir
Strong, yet lovely, aromas of roses and violets are evident long before this wine reaches one’s nose. And the gorgeous dark color of ruby/garnet is the perfect sensory lead-in to distinct flavors of strawberries and raspberries. The fruit here comes from Donum President Anne Moller Racke’s private vineyard in Carneros, and is transformed into this luscious Pinot Noir by Donum and Auteur winemaker Ken Juhasz. It is smooth on the palate, evidences berries from start to finish, shows the perfect Pinot Noir medium body, and boasts soft, yet structure-providing tannins. The berries, white truffles, and Hen of the Woods mushrooms give way to traces of forest floor that take you to a lingering finish. If you seek terroir from your wine, here it is, and here it should stay for better than ten years.
65 cases available. $46

2008 Mountain Terraces Vineyard Sonoma Valley Syrah (SaraBec)
There is only a bit of this left, and it is under the name of our previous label “SaraBec,” which until we began this new venture was not offered for sale. Now the 2008 is available and the 2009 will be released in the spring under the shadowbox name. The fruit for the 08 comes from the top of the mountain separating Napa and Sonoma, and is influenced by the San Pablo Bay, which is actually in sight on a clear day. The winemaker is rising-star Ames Morrison of Medlock-Ames winery. Before you drink this huge wine, it needs a good two hours in a decanter. Only then will you experience the inviting tar and charcoal on the nose, the hints of graphite that pop up in various stages, the black plums that seem to frame the tannins, and the velvety/rose petal smoothness that takes over immediately and stays with you to the back palate. By that time the wine has danced around your mouth and transformed into notes of dark chocolate, cocoa, and purple fruit on the finish. Game or meat is the perfect accompaniment. Ready to drink now and through 2018.
10 cases available. $44

2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The rich, alluring, and intense color of this full-bodied Cab only hints at the beauty of the wine in the glass. Supple aromas of caramel, Bing cherries, and toasted spiced nuts give way to a smooth, creamy, and layered mix of dark fruit, currant, and black cherries. A touch of Merlot assures drinkable tannins while a dash of Cab Franc enhances each sip. But this is Cabernet all the way, with a chocolate finish supported by zest of orange that simply sails on and on. Our choice to make this wine was Steve Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Family Wines, and famed for his Reds of all varietals. The fruit is from varying locations in Napa, including a healthy dose from the Annapurna Vineyard, acknowledged as one of the Valley’s finest. This Cab is fantastic now, but perhaps best enjoyed between 2012 and 2025.
40 cases available. $75

2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
It is no secret that the 2007 vintage is one of Napa’s finest ever. And this bell-ringer reflects the perfect growing season of that summer with its outstanding balance and multiple layers. Chocolate and mocha aromas are not only prevalent on the nose, they hover around on the taste buds throughout the entire sip of wine. Primary flavors of sweet black cherries, black plums, and currants fill the palate from start to finish. Tannins are surprisingly smooth for such a huge Cabernet Sauvignon, also made by Steve Reynolds, yet they allow one to enjoy the wine immediately, or lay it down for a generation or more. A long finish completes the picture.
Only 20 cases available. $78

Purchasing shadowbox Wines:
We are a small producer, as you have seen, and so our wines will be highly allocated and we expect them to sell quickly. Those restaurateurs and others who have sampled them have nothing but accolades for what we have produced, we are happy to say. We expect to be able to deliver around Valentine’s Day.

If you would like to be on our allocation list and have us get in touch with you about an order, or if you have any questions, please send an email to info@amateurgastronomer.com.

Thanks for reading, and we hope you will like what we have produced.


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November. In fall 2011 the Preisers released the first issue of The Preiser Key to Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

A Trio of Ravenswood Zinfandel — Great Pairing for Your Holiday Meal

Zinfandel makes a great pairing with holiday meals. Flavors that range from bright and fruity to dark and spicy make Zinfandel an extremely food-friendly red wine, whether you’re serving turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables or beyond.

If your holiday get together also includes a variety of tastes when it comes to wine, Ravenswood has you covered. The Sonoma, California winery produces a variety of Zinfandels that are worthy of a spot at your table.

If you or your guests prefer red wine on the lighter to medium side, try the 2009 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vine Zinfandel. This wine spent 14 months in 25% new French oak barrels.

Fun, fruity and approachable, this Zinfandel is bursting with ripe berries. The Vintners Blend has mouthwatering flavors of raspberry, plum and boysenberry, with a touch of black pepper at the end.

For those who like a little more oomph to their Zin there is the 2008 Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel. This wine is 84% Zinfandel rounded out with 8% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignan and 2% mixed black grapes. The grapes come from vineyards in the Dry Creek, Sonoma, Alexander and Russian River Valleys.

Compared to the first Zinfandel, the Sonoma Zin has darker fruit notes. Black cherry, plum, blueberry and blackberry mingle with black pepper, cedar, tobacco and baking spices. The tannins, while more pronounced than with the Vintners Blend, are still soft and give a fuller structure to the wine. Well-balanced acidity and a nice lingering finish are sure to make this wine a crowd-pleaser.

For those who like their Zinfandel dark and intense there is the 2008 Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandel. The grapes for this wine come entirely from the Teldeschi vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. The Zinfandel is blended with 20% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignan and 2% Alicante Bouschet. The wine spent 20 months in French oak, of which 31% was new.

The Teldeschi Zinfandel lures you in with aromas of black fruits, spice and chocolate. The taste is rich and exciting. Blackberry, dark plum and black cherry are layered with coffee, dark chocolate, nutmeg, cigar box and a hint of vanilla. Silky tannins give the wine a lush and velvety mouthfeel. The flavors in the wine continue to expand as it mixes with air so you may want to decant the bottle before serving.

Have your guests taste each wine and pick their favorite to enjoy during the meal, or start with the lightest Zinfandel and move to the heaviest as your feast progresses.

If you would rather pick one Zinfandel to serve at your meal, match the intensity of the wine with the intensity of the flavors in the food. If the dishes you’ll be serving are lighter, go for a fruit-forward, juicy Zinfandel. If your dishes are rich and hearty, serve a full-bodied Zinfandel that has spicy and earthy notes.

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2009, $10. 13.5% abv.
Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2008, $16. 14.5% abv.
Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandel 2008, $35. 14.5% abv.

More Red Wines | White Wines | Under $20