Thursday, March 14, 2019

Winephabet Street T is for Tannat

Welcome to Winephabet Street Season 1 Episode 20 T is for Tannat. Winephabet Street is a monthly series where Lori Budd of Draceana Wines and I work our way through the alphabet exploring wine and wine regions on letter at a time. The show is live on the third Monday at 8pm and is free, but you must register to attend. Put it on your calendar, pour yourself a glass of wine and hang out with us.

My first glass of Tannat was in Virginia about 10 years ago and I wasn’t sure what of it’s background. I did enjoy it. My second experience with Tannat was from Uruguay.  I never knew that Tannat actually originated in the Madiran region of France, or so they say because they think it might have actually originated in the Basque country just on the other side of the Pyrenees Mountains.

Factoid: Tannat is a palindrome - spelled the same backwards and forwards.

For this episode I let my daughter who at the time was working in a liquor store pick my bottle out. I really wanted a bottle from Uruguay but her choice was limited to a bottle from California from Rock Wall Wine Company, the 2013 The Palindrome.

Rock Wall Wine Company is located on the former Alameda Navel Air base in the East Bay. The name Rock Wall refers to the defensive perimeter wall built during WWII in the San Francisco Bay to protect the base from Japanese air to sea torpedoes and it is visible from the winery.
Rock Wall Wine Company began with Shauna Rosenblum and her dad Kent Rosenblum. Kent was the founder of Rosenblum Winery and I’m sure you have had one of his Zinfandels at one stage of the game. He sold Rosenblum Winery in 2008 and started Rock Wall with Shauna.
The wine showed some juicy blueberry at first with some raspberry, elegant and silky with tannins mid palate.

Listen to the podcast or watch the webinar and see how the chocolate pairing I did with the Tannat turned out. Don't forget to sign up for next month's episode on March 18, where we focus on Sparkling wine from the United Kingdom. Sign up here



Thursday, March 7, 2019

Blown Away By Michigan Wines

I knew they grew grapes in Michigan and I knew there was wine, but I didn’t know it was that good! Many years ago when I had my travel business I had a table at the American Wine Society conference and the gentleman who was head of Michigan wines wanted me to sample them. However, I declined because he wanted me to go to his hotel room to do so. That wasn’t happening!
Fast forward to February 2019 and the #Winestudio program for the month featured Michigan wines. Now will be my chance to taste some of the wines. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to be blown away like I was on the the quality of the wine. The wines I got to experience were amazing. They were all well balanced, elegant in their own way and expressed the fruit like they should. Let’s take a look at the Michigan wine region.

A Look at the Michigan Wine Region
Grapes have been growing in Michigan since 1679. In the mid 1800’s vines were planted in Monroe County and then Prohibition set in. When Prohibition was over new wineries opened in southwest Michigan. Unfortunately between 1930 and 1970 there were many challenges that faced the Michigan wine industry and only two wineries survived these challenges, St. Julian Wine Company and Warner Vineyards. It is these two family run wineries that have led the way to establish what the wine region is today,

The Fennville AVA is Michigan’s first AVA established on September 18, 1981. It borders Lake Michigan on the west side and the Kalamazoo River to the north, the Black River to the south and a game reserve on the east side. Fenn Valley Vineyards was the only winery in the AVA at the time, now there are approximately 7 wineries.

Michigan’s second AVA, Leelanau Peninsula AVA established in 1982. This AVA forms a peninsula between Lake Michigan to the west and Grand Traverse Bay to the east in Leelanau County. It’s located on the 45th Parallel, along with Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone and Piedmont.

Lake Michigan Shore AVA is the third AVA to be established in Michigan on October 13, 1983 and is Michigan’s largest. The AVA border to the north, the Kalamazoo River to the south, the Michigan-Indiana border, to the east the path of the Grand Trunk Western and Penn Central railroad lines. This AVA covers about 80 miles. From going to school in Buffalo New York, when I hear the term “Lake Effect” I think of feet of snow, however here the term “Lake Effect” means a long growing season, 2900 growing degree days. This allows for longer hang time for the grapes on the vine.

On June 8, 1987 Old Mission Peninsula the fourth AVA was established. This is Michigan’s smallest AVA 19 miles long and three miles wide.

Michigan’s newest AVA Tip of the Mitt was approved in 2016. This AVA encompasses a six county area in northern Michigan. If you don’t understand what “tip of the Mitt” is, look at how the state of Michigan is outlined. Kind of like a mitten and this AVA is located at the tip of it. Although it’s cold at the Tip of the Mitt, this region focuses on hybrid and cold hardy varieties like Marquette, LaCrescent and the newest grape out of the Minnesota Grape Breeding program, Itasca.

Factoid: Michigan ranks 4th in production in the US and Top 10 in national wine grape production.

Michigan Wine Collaborative
In 2016 the Michigan Wine Collaborative was born. Their objective and mission is to support the wineries, growers and the businesses connected to the industry through education for both the consumer and industry. Education for the industry in areas of Enology, Viticulture to Marketing and Promotion. They want to take Michigan Wines “to infinity and beyond!”
The Michigan Wine Collaborative spearheaded Michigan wines during our #Winestudio chats. I learned so much from them. If you plan on being in Michigan, don’t hesitate to reach out to them and they’ll guide you to the right AVA for your trip.

Michigan Wines
I got to taste three lovely wines from Michigan. A Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and a Chardonnay. They ranged in price from $19.99 to $30. Honestly, all well worth it.

St Julian Winery, Michigan Shore AVA
St Julian Winery is the oldest winery in Michigan. They were founded in 1921 by Mariano Meconi. They produce 250,000 cases of wine annually including a Kosher wine.

2017 St Julian Winery Mountain Road Riesling
For those of you who like the high acid punch some Riesling offer, you will enjoy this. With a slight hint of petrol on the nose, this Riesling has hints of orchard peach, citrus and tropical notes and white grapefruit. Well balanced and clean this Riesling will put a smile on your face as the acid bursts in your mouth and the flavors of the wine show themselves in layers as they finish in harmony. SRP $19.99

2017 Braganini Gruner Veltliner Reserve
This past summer I came into Gruner. I always enjoyed them, but I drank a lot of them. It was my new favorite white and this one didn’t disappoint. This Gruner was awarded the 2017 Jefferson Cup for White Vinifera Wine. (Kudos!) Dry with nice racy acidity leads to expressions of green apple, white peach, orchard fruit, lemon and lime accompanied by nice minerality and salinity from the lake. SRP $19.99

Chateau Chantal
The Begin family opened Chateau Chantal in 1993 along with a B&B on the property. Located on Old Mission Peninsula it has one of the most scenic views of the Great Lakes and where else can you stay in a lovely B&B in a vineyard with incredible views in Michigan. Robert and Nadine Begin have an interesting past that led them together for follow Robert’s dream of building a European style winery chateau. Robert was a Catholic diocesan priest for 12 years and Nadine a Felician Sister. They both seemed to leave those lifestyles in 1972 and married in 1974. The rest is history.

2016 Chateau Chantal Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay, Old Mission Peninsula
This 30 Reserve Anniversary wine is named after the original block of their 1986 Chardonnay that Robert Begin planted as the first vines of the vineyard. The wine was aged in both French and American oak medium toast for 9 months. There are only 350 cases of this Chardonnay produced. With a buttery nose and nuisances of honeydew melon leads to a slightly heavy palate of green apple, lemon zest, melon and a touch of oak. This Chardonnay was very well balanced and lovely. SRP $30 - Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Jed Steel on Steele Wines

Steele Wines is located in Lake County California an area I don’t know to much about. Last month I participated in a discussion online with Jed Steele and got my introduction to Lake County California and Steele Wines.

Where is Lake County? Lake County is located north of Napa County, east of Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. What’s special about Lake County is it has all four seasons and that is what Jed Steele loves about the area. He was also very impressed with the quality of the grapes being grown in the region. The two most widely planted grapes in the region are Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Jed, celebrating 50 years of winemaking was not originally from California. Actually he lived in New York and moved to California at the age of 5. His father was a copy editor for the New York Times and won a bet on Stymie and that afford him to move the family out to California. In his early years,Jed made wine for Stony Hill Vineyards, Edmeades and Kendall-Jackson. Jed is humble but most famous for developing the concept and style of Kendall-Jackson’s Vintner’s Reserve in 1982. A development he says was actually developed by mistake. Sometimes your best mistakes turn out to be wildly successful.

Steele Wines

In 1991 Jed went out on his own and created Steele Wines. He produces 4 labels under the brand: Shooting Star, Steele, Steele Stymie and Writer’s Block. Each label has its own unique story.

Shooting Star

What do you think of a shooting star? Shooting Star is named after Jed’s middle name Tecumseh, a Shawnee Chieftan born during a meteor shower. This was one of the first two labels he created. Under the Shooting Star label we tasted the 2017 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc.

This beautiful Sauvignon Blanc was sourced from Dorn Vineyards in Kelseyville. The grapes were picked early in the morning, crushed and pressed. Then fermented in three small batch stainless steal bins. This was such a elegant and balanced Sauvignon Blanc. With a beautiful nose of white grapefruit, citrus zest and pineapple leads to an elegant plate with grapefuit, pineapple and tropical fruit. SRP $15


Under the Steele Label we tasted the 2016 Steele Chardonnay Cuvee. The Steele Chardonnay for this wine is sourced from three vineyards across three coastal counties. The Santa Maria Valley vineyards Bien Nacido and Goodchild come from a maritime climate and contribute the tropical character to the wine. Sangiacomo, Durell and Parmelee-Hill vineyards located in the southern part of Sonoma County in the Caneros AVA contribute the citrus character and acid to the wine. The crisp apple profile that is in the Chardonnay comes from the Lolonis Family vineyards in Mendocino County. It’s blended together to create this really nice Chardonnay. The 2016 Steele Chardonnay Cuvee has nice tropical aromas coming from the glass that leads to a plate full of mango, pineapple, green apple and citrus. A very delightful Chardonnay. SRP $24

Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block is a collaboration between Jed and his son Quincy. Quincy double majored in history and English and this is his tribute to his love of writing and wine.Quincy focuses on the bright fruit in this Cabernet Franc and keeps the tannins in check to deliver a beautiful expression of the grape. The Cabernet Franc is grown in the High Valley AVA of Lake County. Writer’s Block Cabernet Franc 2015 is aged for 15 months in French and French American hybrid barrels.{ Hybrid barrels is a new term for me. These barrels are made by alternating French and American staves. You can mix American, Hungarian or French however you want. They are made in Missouri by World Cooperage.} Layers of aromas come at you from the glass. You have cherry, plum, cigar box, black raspberry that leads to a complex palate of black cherry, black raspberry, earthy notes mid palate and some licorice on the finish. As the wine opens you get a black pepper zing on the finish. It’s a very nice easy drinking wine SRP $17

Steele Stymie

Stymie, the horse that changed the Steele’s life. Not that I endorse betting on horses, but this was a win for the family that gave them the financial freedom to move from New York to California. There are two wines made under the Stymie label, a Syrah and Merlot. Both grape varieties are estate grown and Jed expression of the best of Lake County. The grapes for the Syrah come from Jacobsen Vineyard on Jed’s property in Kelseyville that he planted in 2002. A small amount of Syrah comes from Fiora Vineyard . The 2016 Steele Stymie Syrah is aged in oak barrels for 22 months. There is a little bit of smokiness on the nose with hints of jammy red raspberry. The palate had notes of blue and black fruit, plum with a hint of earthiness on the mid palate and a subtle black pepper spice on the finish. SRP $38

Steele wines are available in 47 states. Just ask for them in your wine store.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Interview with Andre Shearer CEO Cape Classics and Wine Enthusiast's Wine Star Importer of the Year

A few weeks ago I had the honor to interview Andre Shearer owner of Cape Classics just after he accepted the 2018 Wine Star Award for “Importer of the Year” from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Cape Classics was co-founded more than 25 years ago by Andre Shearer and his brother Gary after the end of apartheid and trade between the United States and South Africa resumed. Cape Classics is the importer for wines in South Africa and France. In fact Andre didn’t even drink or taste wine until he tasted Thelema’s 1988 Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest is history.

In this interview we talk about his life from being in medical school and being a model.  We discuss as an importer what he looks for in a wine brand. As Andre said “If the juice isn’t brilliant you might as well forget it right away.” Wine quality is paramount. The people are critical, wine quality is essential and as natural as possible and respectful of the environment.

We touch on Andre’s passion the Indaba foundation, a foundation he would like to take global and have the wine industry do more to help their workers.

Sit back as I chat with Andre and learn about Cape Classics

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Winephabet Street S is for Sangiovese

Welcome to Winephabet Street Season 1 Episode 19 S is for Sangiovese. Winephabet Street is a monthly series where Lori Budd of Draceana Wines and I work our way through the alphabet exploring wine and wine regions on letter at a time. The show is live on the third Monday at 8pm and is free, but you must register to attend. Put it on your calendar, pour yourself a glass of wine and hang out with us. Because I was traveling this episode aired on Saturday, January 26.

Sangiovese, what is the first thing that comes to your mind. Me, pizza, because it’s my go to pizza wine, or actually any type of Italian food. Tuscany is home to the Sangiovese gape and it goes under various descriptions.
  • Chianti
  • Chianti Classico
  • Brunello di Montalcino
  • Vino Nobile di Montepulcian

For this episode I tasted a 2014 Chianti Classico Storia di Famiglia from Cecchi that was given to me as a sample. Checchi is one of the most prominent producers in Tuscany and was established in 1893.

The wine is 90% Sangiovese and I am not sure what the other 10% is. It spent 12 months in wooden casks and 2 months in the bottle. It was light in body and had nice acidity with some spice on the nose and integrated tannis throughout. Flavors of red fruit,, cherry, plum, raspberry with hints of licorice. I believe this retails for about $21

Sit back and learn with us about the Sangiovese grape. Listen to the podcast or watch the webinar.

Don’t forget to register for February’s episode on Tannat. You can register here:

We are seeking you help in coming up with the letter U. Any good ideas for what we should cover email me at



Thursday, February 7, 2019

World of Cabernet Franc

My aha moment with Cabernet Franc happened very early when I really didn’t know much about the grape. It was straight up, not blended and with a great black pepper zing on the finish that got me hooked! I later learned that Cabernet Franc was used predominately as a blending grape and wondered why, it was great on it’s own. My friend Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines must have thought the same thing because she created Cabernet Franc day on December 4.

Why December 4th you may ask? What does that date hold special? It is said that Cabernet Franc was established in the Libournais region of southwest France in the 17th century when Cardinal Richelieu brough in the cuttings of the vine to the Loire Valley. Cardinal Richelieu passed away on December 4th. On December 4th we celebrate his life and the life of the grape he gave life to.

Lori put a lot of work into Cabernet Franc Day and the climax of the day is spent on twitter from 8pm to 10pm. From 8 to 9 it’s a general discussion on Cabernet Franc and from 9 to 10pm we taste Cabernet Franc wines from around the world.

I was very fortunate to be able to taste Cabernet Franc from Oregon, Western New York and France. Although the same grape, similar tasting profile, yet different.

New York Cabernet Franc
Both New York Wineries I tasted from are on the Niagara Escarpment. Black Willow Winery is a family owned winery located in Burt, New York on the Niagara Wine Trail. Arrowhead Spring Vineyards is located on the Niagara Escarpment in Lockport, New York.

Black Willow Winery Cabernet Franc SRP $19.99 - Unfortunately I couldn’t find a vintage date on this wine. I admit sometime I can overlook things, but I couldn’t find one on the bottle or on their website. The wine had a bit candied black cherry aroma along with some raspberry jam and a touch of black pepper. The wine was a little thin in texture with flavors of blackberry, raspberry,a hint of earth and smoke. As the wine opens there is a soft hint of black pepper spice on the finish. The wine did go well with a chocolate peanut butter brownie as the brownie brought out the berry in the wine.

Arrowhead Springs Vineyard 2015 Cabernet Franc $24.95 - This Cabernet Franc was aged for 24 months in oak. There was a touch of vegetal notes on the nose with some dried herbs, and black fruit. The palate had a hit of green pepper with black cherry, red raspberry and a hint of spice on the finish.

Oregon Cabernet Franc
Leah Jorgensen calls herself the “Pirate Princess and Winemaker at Leah Jorgensen Cellars. She has been in the industry for close to 20 years. She got her start managing a wine shop in Washington DC and went out to Oregon Pinot Camp in 2004 and never looked back. Cabernet Franc was the first wine she made and her signature wine. She provide me three Cabernet Franc’s to taste with one being a white Cab Franc and the first of it’s kind that I have tasted.

Leah Jorgensen Cellars 2017 Cabernet Franc SRP $25 - This wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels with some also in stainless steel. Lots of complex aromas coming from this wine. Cocoa, ripe cherry, blackberries, vanilla, dark chocolate, eucalyptus and hints of earth. The palate saw flavors of black cherries and black currant with a hint of clove and black pepper on the finish
Leah Jorgensen Cellars 2015 “Clos Rogue Valley” Reserve Cabernet Franc SRP$50 - This wine was aged in new French oak barrels and aged for 15 months. Nice aromas of red berry, violet, smoke and cigar box leads to a palate of bright raspberry, plum, black currant and finishes with hints of baking spice. This went really well with hanger steak and truffle potatoes.
Leah Jorgensen Cellars 2017 Blanc de Cabernet SRP $30 - This was the first time I was tasting a white Cabernet Franc. Leah was the first winery outside the Loire Valley to produce a still white wine from Cabernet Franc grapes. The grapes were pressed just after picking and transferred to acacia barrels for fermentation and aging sur-lie. Complex aromas of white flowers, jasmine, touch of minerality and some vegetal notes leads to a palate full of lemon curd, apricot and a touch of green apple. Leah says you can age this wine for up to 10 years. We found the wine went very well with sushi.

Bordeaux, France
Paradise Rescued is located in Cardan, France and is certified Organic by ECOCERT. Founded by David Stannard after he had purchased a vacation home in Cardan in 1992. Years later from a threat of property development, he purchased the surrounding vineyard and began operations in 2010.

Paradise Rescued B1ockOne 2010 Cabernet Franc - This Cabernet Franc was aged in one year old oak barrels for eight months. A nose of dark cherry, green peppercorn and a hint of smoke lead to a palate of dark cherry, red plum, green olive and nutmeg. It’s light on the palate and has a lingering finish of black peppercorn. As the wine opens it begins to show some tart cherry. The wine went very well with Comte and Gruyere cheese.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Traveling the San Diego Wine Trail

I visited San Diego a while ago when my kids were young and it never occurred to me that there were wineries in San Diego. Our trip that year included Lego Land, San Diego Zoo and some museums with a stay in the GasLamp District. Had I known there were wineries I’m sure we would have visited at least one of them.

During the month of October last year I got to explore the San Diego winery scene with #winestudio. I had no idea there were so many wineries in the San Diego area. It wasn’t until 2010 when a San Diego County ordinance allowed facilities to host public tasting rooms and on site sales. So the boom has been fairly recent. There are 3 AVA’s in San Diego County. The South Coast AVA extends from Malibu to the Mexico border, the San Pasqual Valley AVA which is in Escondido and the Ramona Valley AVA. There are more than 115 wineries throughout these three AVA’s. The wineries are located in both urban and rural settings.

You will find ocean influences in a lot of the vineyards. Even thirty miles inland feels the effects of the ocean breeze. The climate is Mediterranean climate with little rainfall, some dessert wind and fog coming in off the ocean. Grapes can grow in the mountains at elevations up to 4,200 feet and the soil consists of granitic and chaparral. It’s quite a complex area.

We were led through the 4 week tasting by Tami Wong CS and Tina Morey, founder of WineStudio, exploring six wineries. I have lots of notes on these wines. I was very impressed. I also learned a new term Mataro. Mataro is original name in the United States for the Mourvedre grape. Although not used much anymore, if you hear it, you will know the synonym for it.

Stehleon Vineyards & Vesper Vineyards
Alysha Stehly and he husband Chris Broomell began Vesper Vineyards about 10 years ago. At the same time her her parents Al and Lisa Stehly began Stehleon Vineyards as a custom crush at Vesper Vineyards.( Alysha is the winemaker for both.) It was after this that Al planted his own vineyard of Syrah, Sangio, Grenache Blanc and Malvasia Bianca. Most of the grapes for Stehleon come from that vineyard. Vesper sources grapes through out San Diego County.
Stehleon Vineyards 2015 Grenach Blanc, Sunrise Ranch, San Diego County was grown in granite soil. It gave off wonderful aromas of lemon, lime and floral notes leading to a palate full of passion and tropical fruit. SRP $23
Vesper Vineyards 2013 Carignan McCormick Ranch, San Diego County showed lots of black fruit, plum, black cherry and blackberry, anise and earth undertones SRP $25

Domaine Artefact
Located 45 minutes north and east from San Diego’s center, Mark and Lynn purchased a parcel of land that was perfect for a boutique winery in the Highland Valley.
Domaine Artefact 2017 Les Printemps Grenache Rosรจ - Nice salmon in color with hints of minerality, red berry, nice acidity and finishes with a touch of strawberry. SRP $30
Domaine Aredact 2016 Estate Rincon del Diablo, San Diego County is a blend of 57% Syrah, 26 Grenache, 17% Mourvedre. Lots of dark fruit notes with sweet tobacco with a strong black pepper finish accompanied by strong tannins. I paired this with smoked rib shepards pie and the meal softened the tannins and the smoke flavor softened the pepper finish. SRP $45

Altipiano Vineyard & Winery
Denise and Peter purchased their property in the Highland Valley in 1997. At the time it was a 30 year old avocado grove with 1100 trees in an agricultural preserve. A wild fire destroyed the avocado grove in 2007 and they replaced the trees with grape vines.
Altipiano Vineyard & Winery NV Estate Barbera, San Diego County showed aromas of black cherry, anise and hints of cigar box lead to a palate with bright acidity, juicy sour cherry, black currant and cardamon. SRP $58
Altipiano Vineyard & Winery 2016 Sangiovese Reserve, San Diego County - The first words out of Paul’s mouth after his first sip of this wine was “whoever made this, did a good job.” Garden spice, black cherry, black berry hints of oak and vanilla lead to a palate full of plum, tart cherry, anise and clove. SRP $65

Charlie & Echo
An urban winery in the Miralini Makers District of San Diego began in 2007 as one of five urban wineries. (Today there are about 15) Their first harvest was in 2010 and they went “minimalist” in 2011 meaning, they want to let the natural character of the grape show through rather than trying to force it into a profile. They source their grapes only from San Diego County as they feel if they make wines from other regions it’s like making other people’s wine.
Charlie & Echo 2017 Viognier, Warner Springs, San Diego County - It’s not all the time that I taste a wine the second day. The bottle is usually finished the first go around, however, this one was around for day two. It’s interesting how the wine can change, all for the good in this case. Day 1 showed aromas of lime and lemon zest with some hints of floral notes. Nice acidity with flavors of tropical fruit. Day 2 showed aromas of white flowers and white spice leading to a palate of lime, tropical fruit and green apple. This wine in known to evolve over a few days. SRP $23
Charlie & Echo 2017 Darkstar, Warner Springs, San Diego County - This is sparkling blend of 47% Syrah and 53% Zinfandel. As the wine pours into the glass the escaping aromas of ripe blackberry hit you in a good way. Ripe blackberry leads to black raspberries, plum and hints of black currant. SRP $26

Koi Zen Cellars
Darius and Lisa had two very high stress careers. After a life changing stroke for Darius at the age of 51 they combined their passion for wine and created Koi Zen Cellars. Their tag line is Uncork, Sip Back and Relax.
Koi Zen Cellars 2016 Paso Syrah - Blueberry spice aromas get jammy as the wine opens. The palate emerges as blue fruit with nice black spice integrated throughout the finish. As the wine opens the palate begins to get silky with brambly layers of blueberry, blue and red fruit. SRP $33