Brianne Cohen is a Los Angeles based certified sommelier, wine educator, and wine writer focusing on delivering fun and relatable wine education to her audiences. Brianne was recently asked by Pix to share her favorite white wines under $25.
Brianne offers both virtual wine tasting experiences and in-person wine tastings for corporate and social groups. A corporate virtual wine tasting is a good way for teams to strengthen culture and team build. A wine class in Los Angeles (or anywhere in southern California) is a sure-fire way to please a group of wine lovers and foster connection for your group.
Brianne regularly judges at international wine competitions and holds the WSET Diploma certificate, which is one of the most coveted and difficult wine certifications. She also holds a Master of Business Administration from Loyola Marymount University and writes for such outlets as Decanter, Monarch Wine, Edible, and SommTV.
“Look for terms like unoaked or stainless steel on the label or shelf-talker. That is going to signify that the wine is more fruit-driven and fresh versus fuller-bodied and oaked”.
Read the full article at the link HERE.
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: April Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below. You can also re-watch it on Instagram.
In my line of work, I taste A LOT of wine. And I found that tons of wines slipped through the cracks. I couldn’t possibly cover every single wine in a blog post or on social media, so I came up with the idea to highlight the ten “Best Bottles” that I drink every month. Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of April!
A spectacularly solid sparkling from a classic (female founded!) producer in Sonoma. Last year I visited J. Vineyards & Winery for the first time and had an incredible meal in their Bubble Room aka their tasting room. J specializes in sparkling, though they make an entire line of still wines as well. This Brut Rosé is their flagship rosé sparkling that (in my opinion) is the best bubbly in Sonoma. Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock crafted this wine with all 3 champagne grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. J is one of the only wineries in the US to have a French coquard press. They are quite rare these days. They are a special press that keeps the clusters in place during the press, which minimizes skin and seed contact, which can make wine taste extracted or harsh/abrasive. The wine is spent 24 months en tirage, which encourages a rich and deep complexity. Really a stellar, consistent wine that can make for a lovely wine tasting gift for almost anyone. BUY HERE
A little background on Clif Family. The Clif Family Winery tasting room is situated right on Main Street, the main drag in St. Helena in Napa Valley. And if the Clif name sounds familiar, it’s because they’re the same family who brought us Clif Bars back in the 90s! Avid cyclists, Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford started Clif Bar & Company in 1992 and moved to Napa Valley in 1997, with Clif Family Winery starting soon thereafter. Today, Clif Family farms 90 acres of CCOF and Napa Green Certified estate vineyards in the Howell Mountain and Oak Knoll District AVAs and sources fruit from Napa and Mendocino vineyards. They also grow fruits and vegetables in Howell Mountain where 70% of the food items they serve at the tasting room is sourced from. A heads up that this vintage is sold out, but they do have other rosés in their portfolio. The grapes for this wine come from the CCOF (aka organic) certified Valle di Soto vineyard in the Oak Knoll District of Napa. This wine has more structure than most hyper quaffable rosés. Which would make this perfect for something along the lines of a corporate wine tasting or team building event. It was aged in both natural oak and stainless-steel tanks. Think of rosé of Cabernet Franc as a rosé for someone who wants more “there there”. I get Asian pear, cherries, and stone fruits. Yum-o.
This wine is made by Oak Ridge Winery in Lodi, a woman and 4th generation family owned and operated winery. The winery is owned by three sisters of the Maggio family, plus the winemaker and assistant winemakers are all women! You can also find women in most departments: HR, tasting room, sales, marketing, in the lab, the cellar, and on the bottling line.
This wine is vibrant and fun, just like the label! All grapes are sourced from their sustainable farmed family-owned estate vineyards in Lodi and are farmed according to the Lodi Rules specifications. I’m getting super rich tropical vibes such as pineapple and guava, plus notes of lemon curd. Perfect as a wine if you’re on a budget or looking for a wine tasting gift for a friend. BUY NOW
Weingut Stadt Krems was founded in 1452 and is one of the oldest wineries in Austria. If you know your Austria geography (anyone…Bueller?), Kremstal is located between Kamptal and Wachau. All grapes are grown according to certified sustainable farming practices. The wine is vinified in stainless steel tanks and rests a short period on the fine lees. This wine is dry, dry, dry. It’s giving notes of citrus, stone fruit, and flowers, plus a healthy dose of minerality. A good wine to cut the fat in foods such as pork or sausage. Perfect for something like a corporate wine tasting event to keep things refreshing. BUY NOW
This wine comes to us from South American. But not Argentina….Uruguay! Uruguay is a small but mighty winemaking country with 164 wineries. Most of the wineries are family-owned and only 7% of wine from Uruguay is exported, so it’s gonna be hard to find. This wine from Bodega Cerro Chapeu is 70% Trebbiano and 30% Malvasia and is fermented in stainless steel tanks sur lie for 6 months. I get so much stone fruit notes plus aromatic and floral notes both on the nose and palate. BUY NOW
Let’s hear it for boxed wine. Talk about the comeback kid. Wine in a box used to be terrible…really bad. And the issue wasn’t necessarily in the format. It was in the fact that only terrible wine was produced and packaged in a box. Now the conversation around packaging and sustainability has progressed and people can wrap their head around the idea that the bulk of the carbon footprint in a bottle of wine, is from the bottle itself because glass is so energy intensive to produce AND is quite heavy in terms of transport. And now here we are with a quality wine in a BOX. This wine comes to us from GEA Root: 1, Chile’s first 100% certified sustainable winery. It is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah and is 100% delicious. The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and some of the wine was aged for 4 months in both French and American oak barrels. This is a no fuss, chillable boxed red, screaming to be taken to a BBQ where wine drinkers will be present. BUY NOW
Villa Maria was founded over 60 years ago in New Zealand. Fun fact, they were the first major winery in New Zealand to move to 100% screw cap back in 2001. This wine is a fruit-driven style of Pinot Noir, giving red cherries plus baking spices. Super-duper light in color and very easy drinking. Exactly what should be expected from a sub $20 Pinot Noir. BUY NOW
Still in the southern hemisphere with this Pinot Noir from Mascota Vineyards. This wine is varietally correct, meaning I can clearly detect that I have Pinot Noir in my glass, both on the nose and in the palate. It’s actually giving me Russian River Valley Pinot Noir vibes. Aged 12 months in French oak, this wine is textured on the palate and an overall beauty. BUY NOW
This is one of those workhorse, well-priced Cabs that we all need. I don’t know about you, but a quality $20 Cabernet Sauvignon is #1 hard to find and #2 much needed. From the Benzinger Family in Sonoma, they are a pioneer of sustainability with both certified organic and biodynamic farming methods in their estate vines. All fruit sourced is certified sustainable, at minimum, including for this wine. This wine serves up dark fruit, black pepper, plus oak spice and toast, seeing as it was aged in oak for 16 months. Perfect as a wine tasting gift for someone that’s looking for a quality Cabernet Sauvignon; & for $20 I ain’t mad at it! BUY NOW
From historic Bodegas Lustau we have their fino Sherry. The Lustau family has been growing grapes for Sherry since 1896 and actually making Sherry since 1931. What is Sherry, you ask? It’s a fortified. What’s a fortified wine, you ask? It’s a wine (made from white grapes) that is fortified (or strengthened) with a high alcohol grape spirit. If you’ve never had a Sherry, they’re all a bit pungent. Definitely try before you buy to understand if you enjoy the style. This fino Sherry is fresh, dry, high acid, and has a mineral character to it. Give me all the salami, cheese, gambas, and patatas bravas. This is a classic tapas wine! BUY NOW
Brianne Cohen is a Los Angeles based certified sommelier, wine educator, and wine writer focusing on delivering fun and relatable wine education to her audiences. She recently reported on the almost all(!) female team at Bouchaine Vineyards.
Brianne offers both virtual wine tasting experiences and in-person wine tastings for corporate and social groups. A corporate virtual wine tasting is a good way for teams to strengthen culture and team build. A wine class in Los Angeles (or anywhere in southern California) is a sure-fire way to please a group of wine lovers and foster connection for your group.
Brianne regularly judges at international wine competitions and holds the WSET Diploma certificate, which is one of the most coveted and difficult wine certifications. She also holds a Master of Business Administration from Loyola Marymount University and writes for such outlets as Decanter, Monarch Wine, Edible, and SommTV.
“Tatiana Copeland, proprietor and president of Bouchaine Vineyards, is a true woman of the world. She was born in Germany, raised in Argentina, and educated at both UCLA, where she landed at the top of her class and Berkley, where she received an MBA. Tatiana is fluent in five languages and has Russian roots that go back more than 1,000 years.”
Read the full article at the link HERE.
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: March Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below. You can also re-watch it on Instagram.
In my line of work, I taste A LOT of wine. And I found that tons of wines slipped through the cracks. I couldn’t possibly cover every single wine in a blog post or on social media, so I came up with the idea to highlight the ten “Best Bottles” that I drink every month. Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of March!
One thing I love is a good Sauvignon Blanc dupe. I don’t mean a wine that tastes exactly like Sauvy B. I’m talking about a wine that’ll satisfy my craving for something refreshing, high acid, clean, and crisp. Let me tell you Picpoul de Pinet does that! Some call Picpoul “the oyster wine” because it goes so well with said oysters. One of the major markers for Picpoul is its salinity or saltiness. #Seaspray Bottom line, I want this wine all day erreday. Picpoul is the new porch pounder. You heard it here first!
A great wine made by a great person. Alecia Moore aka the music artist Pink. I have always been a fan of Pink and her music. She’s also got this kick ass, edgy, authentic, and gritty way about her that I just love. She’s a fierce supporter of human and LGBT rights, which aligns with who I am. When I heard back in 2019 thst she was starting a wine brand, I was super interested to see how this was going to play out. Unsurprisingly, Pink’s process has been pretty authentic, like herself. She took WSET classes to learn more about wine, she grows grapes, she makes wine, she rides a tractor….all the things. She’s not just slapping her name on a brand. So admittedly, while I did simply buy the first batch of wines just because of her name, I have now been supporting her brand since the beginning, because the wines are actually quite good. This is a super delicious Sauvignon Blanc that is elegant….not the first word you think of with this grape. Bottom line, there’s nothing I don’t love about her and her wines.
Domaine Bousquet is a large family-owned estate in the Mendoza region of Argentina, my family’s motherland. All of the reserve wines for this brand are hand-picked and certified organic estate fruit. They are also certified regenerative organic. Regenerative agriculture is the rehabilitation of land through organic and biogenic farming techniques focusing on restoring soil health and increasing organic matter which enables carbon sequestration. That’s a mouthful, I know. Think of it as organic or biodynamics PLUS. Regenerative organic farming includes the tenets of eliminating herbicides, eliminating synthetic fungicides, composting, planting cover crops, incorporating animals into the ecosystem, social fairness standards, and biodynamic preparations, though those are not required. They are only the 4th winery in the world with this certification. The others are Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, Troon in southern Oregon, and Fetzer in California. Back to the wine! This wine does see some oak. Fermentation in Oak and the wine is aged for 6 months in oak, but that doesn’t translate a ton on the palate. A really pretty Chardonnay. I got a nice bit of white flower notes. The wine is fresh, vibrant, and balanced. BUY NOW
A premium estate-bottled, single-vineyard Provence style rosé anchored by Grenache plus a few other varietals to round it out. Your perfect “Spring sipper” with notes of stone fruit (peaches and apricots), plus watermelon and raspberries. Rooty tooty fresh and fruity. An easy drinking and versatile wine that would pair with most all lighter fare. BUY NOW
I’m actually enjoying this wine as I am writing this blog post. #Meta. There’s something so great about all-purpose utilitarian wines; specifically in Italy. Every region has a set of specific grape varietals that are grown there and each region has some great table wines that honestly are not to be missed. And this is one of them. We are in the Abruzzo region in central Italy with the humble Montepulciano grape. This wine is a dark berry color; none of that light pink Provence color. Remember that the color of a rosé is not an indicator of its sweetness. This wine does actually have a lot of savory notes, which I love. So in addition to the sort of expected berry and watermelon notes, we also have citrus (grapefruit) and some herbaceousness. A porch pounder of a 1L bottle for $23! BUY NOW
Another humble wine from Italy that majorly over delivers. Ferdinando Principano started with 7 hectares of vines in the 90s from his father and grandfather and he now owns and farms 21 hectares. He works the vineyard by hand, and encourages biodiversity. Ferdinando purchased an adjacent forest, created a pond near the vineyards, which has encouraged both migratory birds and frogs to stop by for a visit. All wines are low intervention in the winery. “Dosset” is the local Piemontese word for Dolcetto, the grape. This wine is on the spectrum of natural wines, but it’s on the lower end of the spectrum in the sense that it really does taste like wine, but with this itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny air of funk to it. This wine would be fantastic served slightly chilled, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it at room temperature. 11% and alcohol, which also makes me a happy camper. No oak. BUY NOW
Cabernet Sauvignon tends to make big, bold, and structured wines, and this one is no exception. The wine is gusty and serving up notes of red + black fruits, smoke/toast, and fresh cracked black pepper. Well-made, high quality Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be $100+ per bottle. This wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, then aged in 30% new oak and 70% used oak. And oak, can significantly increase the cost of a wine. This one is a steal at $40! BUY NOW
La Follette focuses on single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from well-respected family-owned vineyards in Sonoma. This one from the Heintz Vineyard is no exception. The Heintz family (3rd generation now) has owned the land for over 100 years and meticulously cares for their Pinot Noir grapes. The wine is both delicate yet powerful; that perfect tension you want in a Pinot Noir. The Alicia Keys of red wine if you will. Perfumed notes on the nose abound with a welcome spiciness on the palate. BUY NOW
We are in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region in southern France, specifically in the Corbiéres sub-region. This is an area known for making wines from Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. The wines from this region can have a marked herbaceous note, and this one is no exception. Maxime was actually born in Burgundy but he was not born with hereditary rights to a domaine so he came to Corbières, where he farms 11 hectares and manages it all on his own. The vines are certified organic but also incorporate biodynamic practices in the vineyard management. This one is a blend of Carignan, Grenache, and Syrah. It’s light bright and quaffable. BUY NOW
I have to say that this was MY JAM the last month. I have gotten into vermouth and soda as a nice easy low alcohol aperitif. Yes, vermouth is generally a touch higher in alcohol than wine. In this case I think it is 16%. But you’re only using a couple of ounces in each drink versus a full glass of alcohol. I like two ounces of vermouth over ice, and topped off with bubbly water and garnished with a squeeze of some sort of citrus. It honestly doesn’t matter what citrus, FYI. It is refreshing, bright, and just the perfect amount of bitterness. I actually hate true bitter flavors in beverages. Things like quinine in ginger ale, digestif type beverages like Fernet, or aperitifs such as Camapri or Aperol. But vermouth, yum yum. BUY NOW
*This post was originally published on February 28, 2022.
As Black History Month comes to an end, I leave you with a valuable resource to help continue your journey to support Black-owned wineries. If you are new here, you may not know that my goal in the world of wine is to not only make wine fun and approachable, but to also highlight diverse (Black, BIPOC, LGBT, minority, and female) owned wineries.
Diversity and inclusion matter – not only in wine but in life. Diversity, representation, and inclusion are key tenets of humanity all necessary to ensure we, as people, have a place and a purpose in this world. There are many ways in which you can support diversity and inclusion. My favorite way is to find and support Black-owned wineries. And why not join a new wine club?
With 11,000 wineries in the U.S., there aren’t too many diverse options to choose from. According to Wine & Spirits Magazine, less than 1% of wineries are Black-owned, which significantly limits representation and inclusion within the wine industry.
Black History Month is not just about highlighting Black-owned businesses in February, but also year-round. As any business owner knows, residual/repeat income is KING. Consider joining a black-owned wine club to give ongoing support to that business, not just in February. Or perhaps give someone a wine tasting gift or a wine club membership!
We’re starting with the largest Black-owned wine company in the US. The McBride Sisters has three different club options available with varied offerings of canned wine, bottles and even a wine and book club. Memberships range from $89-$150 per shipment. Perks of joining their club include 10% off orders, discount shipping, pre-release access to special offers, access to their online community, and more. One of their clubs includes shipments that feature a two bottle of wine gift box and one book (all written by women of color) shipped 4 times a year. Perks of joining include giveaways and access to their online community. McBride Sisters Wine Club sign up.
Bodkin Wines features two different wine club options: 12 bottles shipped twice a year for $250 per shipment or six bottles shipped twice a year for $120 per shipment. Perks of joining include 20% off orders. Bodkin Wines Wine Club sign up.
Frichette Winery in the Red Mountain AVA in Washington state features two different club options shipped either quarterly or biannually, starting at $80/shipment. Perks of the base level (Signature Cru) wine club include 15% off orders, priority tickets to events including wine club only parties, access to club exclusive wines, access to the Wine Club Lounge, and free tasting flights when visiting. Reserve Cru wine club perks include 20% off orders, discounted shipping, a private tasting when picking up club wines, and Reserve Cru exclusive events each year. Frichette Winery Wine Club sign up.
Indigené Cellars is the only Black-owned winery in Paso Robles. The Indigené wine club options include either four or six bottles shipped twice a year. Memberships range from $140-$220 per shipment. Wine club perks include discounts starting at 15% off, free wine tastings for the life of your membership, and wine release parties for you and a guest. Indeigene Cellars Wine Club sign up.
Based in Livermore, CA, Longevity Wines offers multiple wine club options. The shipments feature a two bottle wine gift box (or four bottles) shipped quarterly. Perks of joining include 20% off all wine purchases and 10% off all merchandise. Longevity Wines Wine Club sign up.
LVE Wines is a collaboration between John Legend and Raymond Cellars. Two different club options include three wines shipped four times a year. Membership prices range from $150-$175 per shipment. Perks of joining include loyalty points redeemable for wine tastings/events/merchandise, first access to all new special edition LVE releases, 20% savings on wine, 30% reorder savings on club wines, and a special birthday savings, which would be a perfect wine tasting gift as a birthday gift for a loved one or a wine enthusiast. LVE Wines Wine Club sign up.
Okapi Wines has different club options available with either six or 12 bottles shipped twice a year in the spring and fall. Perks of joining include 15% off wine purchases, complimentary tastings for two, entry to Okapi events, and access to limited releases. Okapi Wines Wine Club sign up.
P. Harrell Wines has three different club options available with mix and match selections of either three, six, or 12 bottles in each shipment. Perks of joining include invitations to member only events, generous bottle and case discounts, complimentary shipping on orders of 3 cases or more, and a 10% discount on all non-wine items. P. Harrell Wines Wine Club sign up.
Theopolis has three different club options available all requiring a one year commitment. Selections include three, six or 12 bottles shipped bi-annually. Memberships start at $65/shipment. Perks of joining vary depending on club option chosen and include a 5% – 15% discount twice a year, invitations to exclusive club member events, notifications of winemaker dinners, priority access to limited production wines, and priority alerts to last vintage inventory. Theopolis Vineyards Wine Club sign up.
Sip & Share wine clubs include two options with two, four or six bottles of sweet, dry or both delivered quarterly or monthly. Membership starts at $40 per month. Perks of joining include 10% discount for wine club and all other wine orders, which can help you create the perfect wine tasting gift for someone on a discount. Sip & Share Wines Wine Club sign up.
*This post was originally published on April 15, 2022.
Brianne Cohen, certified sommelier and wine expert, is the principal in a lifestyle brand and business based out of Los Angeles, offering her services as an event producer, wine educator, and wine writer. She was recently asked by Pix to share one of her favorite California Black-owned wineries.
“Theodora Lee was a senior partner and trial lawyer in San Francisco for many years before becoming a winemaker and opening up her winery Theopolis Vineyards in Yorkville Highlands, near the border of Mendocino and Sonoma, in 2003. Working with Petite Sirah may be Lee’s true calling, according to Brianne Cohen, a sommelier and wine educator in Los Angeles. Theopolis’ Petite Sirah comes highly recommended as it is a multi-award winner and has consistently received high scores from critics since its first vintage in 2006. “Serving dried herbal notes and velvety tannins, this exceptional wine has racked up more medals than Theodora can count,” Cohen says.”
Since COVID hit, Brianne has educated and entertained over 6,000 people through her “Virtual Vino” online wine classes, both public and private. Brianne regularly judges at international wine competitions and holds the WSET Diploma certificate, which is one of the most coveted and difficult wine certifications. She also holds a Master of Business Administration from Loyola Marymount University and has been quoted in outlets such as Wine Enthusiast, Vinepair, HuffPost, Forbes, and Eating Well. In her virtual and in-person wine experiences, Brianne strives to highlight Black-owned wineries and other diverse owned (BIPOC, LGBT, minority, and female) wineries, chocolatiers, and cheese mongers.
Read the full article, including other pioneering Black-owned wineries and winemakers at the link here.
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: October Edition. If you missed the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below. You can also re-watch it on Instagram.
In my line of work, I taste A LOT of wine. And I found that tons of wines slipped through the cracks. I couldn’t possibly cover every single wine in a blog post or on social media, so I came up with the idea to highlight the ten “Best Bottles” that I drink every month. Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of October!
I don’t read tarot cards, but I’m told that the “Ten of Cups” card symbolizes harmony, joy, and abundance. This wine from Banshee is made in the traditional Champagne method with grapes sourced from all over California. Like its namesake tarot card, you’ll always be happy to see this bottle land on your table:) It is a blend of the traditional Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier and is aged on the lees (or dead yeast) for a minimum of two years. BUY WINE
Before I delve into this wine, I’ve got to share one thing. If I had one piece of advice for people looking to up their wine game, it would be to step away from grocery store wines that hover around that $8-$12 price point. Almost all of them are domestic (usually California) wines that are commercially and industrially made. The grapes used for these wines are generally low quality and from the Central Valley of California. Pretty much you’re starting out with subpar grapes and you need to do a lot of manipulation on the backend in the winery in order to make the wine taste palatable. So, if you step away from these crappy grocery store wines, what do you drink? And remember I’m not against all grocery store wines at all, I just know the difference between industrial glug and honest, regional wine. So my advice to you is to find those honest, regional wines like this one. And look at the price point here! You can’t beat it. This Planeta wine is a blend of a few different white grapes (the local Grecanico plus some international varieties) and delivers a really refreshing, lively, and easy to drink white, due to it being all stainless steel fermented. BUY WINE
When I think of Riesling I don’t think of New Zealand. But I think now I need to start! Central Otago in the South Island of New Zealand is known for high-quality Pinot Noir. This Mondillo Riesling is a stunner. Serving up all of the markers for quality Riesling: bracing high acidity, minerality, and a faint petrol note. There are also some beautiful floral notes here, classic to Riesling. And know that this wine is totally dry. I mean a bone dry. Another thing to take away from this chat is that not all Riesling is sweet. Many people believe that. And we have Château St. Michelle to thank for that. They make a sweet Riesling that became VERY popular here in the US (especially on Thanksgiving tables). But if you’re not into sweet, just know that you can easily find dry Rieslings. Look for the word “troken” on the label, which means “dry” in German. The server at the restaurant or the person selling the wine at a wine shop can help you navigate and figure out if a bottle of Riesling is dry, sweet, or somewhere in between. I still get confused sometimes, so don’t feel any kind of way in asking for help! BUY WINE
I’ve got a handful of Cali wine brands that I love to recommend because they consistently deliver quality wines at the $20-ish price point. I think that’s a nice sweet spot for a lot of people. There’s plenty of people that easily spend $10-$15 on a bottle of wine and what you sometimes don’t realize, is that especially some of those big brands that you can find at every retailer, they’re not producing really well-made wine. The wine looks less like a food/agricultural product, and becomes more of this manipulated industrial product. Qupé is not that. Qupé is one of those brands that constantly churns out wines at that price point that are quite amazing. I receive a sample of their Y-Block Chardonnay from Santa Barbara every single year, and every year I’m quite happy with it. Most of the grapes are sourced from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in the cool Santa Maria Valley of northern Santa Barbara County. This is literally one of the most high-quality and well-respected vineyards in the area. How Qupé makes a $20 wine from that I’ll have no idea, but I’ll take it! This wine is barrel fermented and aged in oak, so if you have a phobia of oak, find another wine. If you love your oak and you like that warm, comforting hug from an old friend that oak gives, come on down and try this wine! BUY WINE
Because there can never be too much rosé from Provence as far as I’m concerned! Also, let’s stop spreading the misinformation that rosé is only for summertime. For the record, I live in Los Angeles and it’s summertime approximately nine months out of the year. You bet your bottom dollar I am drinking rosé year-round. This Rose Gold Rosé is classic Provence in style and made from both Cinsault and Grenache grapes. From the tect sheet: the grapes are grown about 50 miles north west of St. Tropez and fermented in Provence. If that doesn’t sound delicious, I don’t know what does! BUY WINE
Prats & Symingnton is a partnership between the Prats family of Bordeaux and the Symington family, a traditional Port producer in Portugal. This dry red wine is a blend of traditional Portuguese grapes including Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Tinta Barroca. This wine is an example of a really light, easy Portuguese red blend. Personally, I can’t stand the whole “red blend” category that you find at places is like the grocery store and big box wine retailers. They’re usually way too ripe of fruit and way too high of alcohol. I also find that they lack structure and are a bit flabby (not enough acidity or tannin structure). Step out of the grocery store, step into a wine shop, and look for Portuguese red blends. You’ll thank me. BUY WINE
This wine is from the same producer, Prats & Symington, that I just mentioned, but this one has some oak aging. 15 months in new oak to be exact. Some of the wine is also aged in used oak. The idea for this wine is that wood has a supporting role in the ensemble cast. In the words of Bruno Prats “The wood should be the frame, not the picture itself”. I love that quote, because sometimes oak is used to a gratuitous level that is just too much. Not everyone wants oaky oaky oaky ass wines. BUY WINE
They make wine in Virginia? Yup! Fun fact: wine is made in all 50 states. And let me tell you something: a lot of that wine is good. Virginia is an interesting place because one of their major pressures that they deal with is rain, there is a ton of rain (and also humidity) which can make it challenging to grow quality grapes. But I will say, the few Virginia wines I have tasted have been quite good. This was sent to me as part of the Maryland Governors Cup, as one of their top-rated wines. And I can see why! Petit Verdot, a grape very rarely bottled on its own, is one of the minor grapes in Bordeaux. So, if you like really dry, structured tannic reds, this Pippin Hill Petit Verdot is a good bet. Perhaps with a really nice grilled steak? BUY WINE
Aglianico is perhaps one of my most favorite semi-obscure grapes from Italy. If you know, you know. Taurasi is considered the “Barlo of the south” in Italy and is made from Aglianico. And if you are a fan of Antinori wines in Tuscany, know that Tormaresca is a brand from the same family. But with this wine, we are in Puglia in the south of Italy. The grapes for this wine are certified organic and if you’ve got a bottle of Aglianico in front of you, you’ve got a big boy wine. These wines are nothing to take lightly! Lots of deep, dark, brambly fruit plus beautiful balsamic notes. If you’ve ever been to Italy and toured a winery that has balsamic vinegar aging in barrels, you know exactly what I mean. It’s sort of this woody, earthy, yet sweet smell. Give me braised something with this wine! BUY WINE
Wente is the classic legacy producer in the Livermore Valley of California. I know Napa and Sonoma get all of the play, but know that wine is pretty much made in every corner of California at this point. I will actually be visiting Livermore wine country early next year as I’ve never been and have never tasted the wines, aside from a few wines from Wente. I’m looking forward to that and will definitely share more! Wente is a very well-known name in the wine industry because they actually are responsible for bringing a specific clone of Chardonnay from Burgundy to California. This clone is now called the “Wente clone”. Most Chardonnay planted in the US is this clone. In terms of wine, what can you expect in Livermore? Single vineyard Cab for $35!?!? This wine is a beau and seriously overdelivers for the price point. Step out of Napa……find some deals like this! BUY WINE
I have been known to talk smack about Ruby Port. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and I find Ruby Port to be a bit simplistic and too cloyingly sweet for my taste. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Ruby Port, that’s just how I feel about it. OK? Reserve Port is very similar to Ruby Port except for one key factor. Ruby Port does not require any sort of aging, which is why we get those really simple red fruit notes (cherries and plums) and maybe some black fruits and sweet spices. With Reserve we are looking at up to five years barrel aging, which is going to give you a more complex wine with more intensity. This particular Graham’s Reserve Port was aged for two years in seasoned casks before bottling. I got a little bit of red fruit notes, plus lots of black fruit notes, cassis, and licorice. Fun fact, I just tried cassis for the first time a few weeks ago and I was like “yup, this is exactly what I thought it was”. This wine would be lovely with chocolate desserts. I love really leaning into richness, so like I’m thinking a rich chocolate mousse maybe with some raspberries on top or a flourless chocolate cake. If that’s a little too much for you and you prefer to contrast with a savory flavor, I would say a mature cheese could do the pairing trick. BUY WINE
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: September Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below. You can re-watch it on Instagram.
In my line of work, I taste a lot of wine. And I found that a lot of wines slipped through the cracks. I couldn’t possibly cover every single wine in a blog post or on social media, so I came up with the idea to highlight the ten “Best Bottles” that I drink every month. Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of September!
From No. 1 Family Estate in New Zealand, this Blanc de Blancs was made with 100 percent Chardonnay grapes. It was held on the lees for two years, meaning you’ll find those rich, Champagne-like characteristics. That time on the lees results in nutty, brioche-like flavors. It’s beautifully toasty with layers of stone fruit and citrus for balance. Gorgeous! BUY NOW
Scharffenberger has been making premium sparkling wine in Mendocino since 1981. This is a great area for sparkling wine because of the cool coastal influences of the Pacific Ocean. The cool temps help keep the grapes cool and help them retain acidity, which is key to making a premium sparkling wine. A really yummy “berry”ful sparkling rosé. Pretty much everything I would want in this style of wine at this price point. Grab it! BUY NOW (this is for the Brut, not the rosé)
This is an exciting one to share, as I will be visiting this winery in Italy in the next couple of weeks! Zenato actually has two properties. One in Valpolicella and the other in Lugana. I’m lucky to say that I will be visiting both properties on my trip! The Zenato legacy of winemaking spans over 60 years starting with the family’s patriarch Sergio and continuing today with his wife Carla and their children Nadia and Alberto. Turbiana is the white grape used to make Lugana wine, a refreshing and dynamic white from a Lugana DOC near Lake Garda. When I tasted the wine, the first thing I wrote on the tech sheet was “jesus that’s good”. I get aromas and flavors of lemon and lime zest, peaches, and majorly high acid, almost mouth puckering. I had this with some homemade elote and it was incredible. BUY NOW
This wine from Domaine Anderson is rich and full, yet bright and clean. How do they do that? I actually have no idea! But I do love that juxtaposition, and that tension in wines. There’s a beautiful salinity also that cuts right through the middle. Mouthwatering acidity. As the wine came up to temperature, I got a really nice tart apple note. BUY NOW
A very special wine from Cattleya Wines. This wine is a singular clone of Chardonnay (clone 76) from one vineyard site on the Sonoma Coast. This is definitely a terroir driven wine, but with a lot of winemaking behind it. Technique: grapes were hand harvested and hand sorted before being gently pressed and transferred to tank for overnight cold settling. Juice was in racked into French oak barrels, 60% new. Indigenous yeast carried out a slow fermentation over a four-month period, preserving the purity of fruit. 17 months undisturbed aging. No fining, no filtration. An incredibly rich and opulent Chardonnay but with major sophistication. Like Shaggy says: smooth, just like a silk a… BUY NOW
Fun fact: I actually have an article coming out next month all about Bouchaine Vineyards in the Carneros area of Napa Valley. Bouchaine has a cool story starting with the great niece of Composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and the fact that they have an all-female run enterprise. From the owner, the winemaker, the winery crew, and the vineyard crew. All women! Quite incredible! The difference between vin gris and rosé is slight. In both cases we’re talking about a pink colored wine made from red grapes. The only difference is that a vin gris is very very light in color. This is due to the fact that there is almost no contact between the grape juice and the skins, which is what gives a wine it’s color. A really pretty wine full of red fruit notes (strawberries and watermelon) plus white flower notes. BUY NOW
Let’s hear it for cheap and cheerful! And before we delve into what’s in the bottle, let me tell you a little bit about District 7 Wines. District 7 is under the Scheid Family Wines label, long time growers in Monterey County. Their vineyards are 100% certified sustainable and the winery is 100% powered by wind. How cool is that!? For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed this wine slightly chilled. BUY NOW
Some say that making a value priced Cab Sauv in Napa is impossible. I’m here to disagree! You can find it, you just have to look hard. Luckily, I’m saving some time by giving it right to ya! This wine is easy-drinking and approachable upon release! Dark ripe fruit notes plus layers of tobacco and sweet spice permeate the palate. A touch of Petit Verdot and Zinfandel add richness and round it all out for this crowd pleaser of a red! BUY NOW (10-20% discount at the link, depending on how many bottles you buy)
Castello di Fonterutoli is a historic property just south of Castellina in Chianti in the heart of Chianti Classico. The Mazzei family has been making wine on this property for 24 generations. This is their flag ship wine. Showing beautiful floral notes of violets and lavender, plus red fruits and black cherries. 100% Sangiovese. 100% perfection. BUY NOW
Ehlers is a beautiful estate up in Napa Valley that I visited years ago. They have a historical barn on site, which I believe is where the tasting room is located. Quite beautiful. This Napa Cab is their best-selling SKU across the nine wines they make. The nose is showing big juicy dark fruit. And on the palate I get dusty tannins, minerality, and stunning balance. BUY NOW (plus, it’s on sale!)
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: August Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below. You can re-watch it on Instagram.
In my line of work, I taste a lot of wine. And I found that a lot of wines slipped through the cracks. I couldn’t possibly cover every single wine in a blog post or on social media, so I came up with the idea to highlight the ten “Best Bottles” that I drink every month. Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of August!
Fetzer, the parent company of Bonterra just changed their name to “Bonterra Organic Estates”. Bonterra is the largest owner of land planted to organic grape vines in the country. As you may know, they’re one of my favorite easy to find, grocery store brands. And these cans are no exception. I tried the Brut Bubbles (Viognier and French Colombard) and Rosé Bubbles (Grenache, Mourvèdre and Malbec). Cheap, cheerful, and portable make for a perfect canned wine combination. Oh, and the cans are GORGeous! BUY HERE
Jordan Winery in the Anderson Valley is an interesting brand study. They make two wines. Literally two SKUs. But yet, they almost always land on the top of the Wine & Spirits Restaurant Top 50 list . How do you create such a dedicated, loyal following if you only make two wines? It’s the experience: the Jordan Experience. Stay tuned for more, as I will cover Jordan in an upcoming piece for Monarch Wine. A partnership with a Champagne house is the perfect example of the Jordan Experience. It’s exactly what the Jordan customer would want. And, for the record, this bottle of bubbly majorly overdelivers for its $49 price point. BUY HERE
If you ever find yourself in the Sonoma Square, seek out Sosie Wines for relaxing and comfortable wine tasting in a charming alley off the main drag. I have had many Sosie wines, but had never tried this one, and was so glad it was included in my flight. I’m a sucker for a dry dry, food friendly sparkling red. This checked all the boxes. My perfect pairing: a charcuterie plate with cured meats, salami, mustard, and cornichons. Chef’s <kiss> BUY HERE
32 Winds is a GEM just outside of the Healdsburg Square. A gorgeous tasting room set just on the banks of Dry Creek. On a recent visit to Sonoma, I enjoyed two nights in their vineyard cottage that is exclusively available to wine club members. If that’s not a motivation to join, I don’t know what is! A really nice Sauvignon Blanc serving a fuller mouthfeel and texture that separates it from run of the mill Sauvy B. BUY HERE
Grillo, an indigenous Italian grape, is the most common white grape of Sicily. The younger generation of winemakers here are showcasing its modern potential, specifically in blends with Chardonnay and Cataratto. High acid and refreshing Grillo gives aromas of fresh cut grass and grapefruit. What food to enjoy Grillo with? Crudo or sashimi, poké, grilled fish or octopus. Lighter meals of summer, specifically ones served all fresco, call for Grillo. Bottom line, Grillo is your perfect Sicilian Summer Sipper, especially this one from Cantine Ermes.
Freeman Vineyard & Winery (in Sebastopol) was founded by husband and wife team, Ken and Akiko Freeman in 2001. Their focus is on cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so it’s no surprise that “ryo-fu” means “cool breeze” in Japanese. A full-bodied and mouth coating Chardonnay, but with a refreshing, clean finish. A gorgeous wine, and one of many in their lineup. BUY HERE.
Littorai is in the true “North Coast” of California with a focus on single vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They have farmed biodynamically since 2003 but hold no certifications. They are not dogmatic in their farming philosophies, and choose to just do what is best for the land and the wine. When you visit it sure does look like a true biodynamic property with forest, pasture, sheep, cows, ducks, a donkey, vegetable gardens, and fruit trees. This vineyard designate white sees a bit more new oak than their appellation series whites. Beautiful tropical notes, including bananas. BUY HERE
I recently visited J Vineyards in Sonoma. Let me first say that their Bubble Room is a place to visit! Ok, back to the wine. The Eastside Knoll Vineyard is an estate vineyard minutes away from the tasting room. It is planted solely to Pinot Noir and was the first estate vineyard to provide grapes for their sparkling wine, what they are known for. This wine serves up all the red fruit notes plus forest floor and a hint of toasty oak. I enjoyed this wine as I was overlooking the Eastside Knoll vineyard, and it doesn’t get any better than that: enjoying wine direct from the source. BUY HERE
Steve and Jill Matthiason are the poster children for the “new California” when it comes to wine. Though that title is a bit outdated, as a lot has changed since the 80s and 90s. We’re speaking of those producers who rejected the “Parkerization” of wine. Their wines are lighter, fresher, and more vibrant. While they do make international varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet, they also make Refosco and Ribolla Gialla, indigenous grapes to Italy. To say that Matthiason beats to their own drum is an understatement. To me, this wine represents the Matthiassons to a T.
We’re in Annapolis in the new West Sonoma AVA, which is a nested AVA within the Sonoma Coast. Pronounced “pay”, Peay is an absolutely beautiful place to visit (Redwoods as far as the eye can see), but you have to really want to go here. It’s about an hour from anything. And I mean, anything. Plus, a 5 mile dirt road, once you arrive to the address. Serving the brightest, juiciest Pinot Noir aromas and flavors of raspberries and cranberries, this wine is a revelation. Eric Asimov from the NY Times agrees as well. BUY HERE
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: July Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below or you can re-watch it on my Instagram feed.
Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of July!
Y’all know my love for Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards in Lodi, California. A female owned wine label that (defiantly) only produces white and rosé wines in red wine country. What is so fun about Sue Tipton‘s wines is that she focuses on Rhône varieties. And even the Rhône varieties that most of us have never heard of! Not only does she grow those grapes and make those wines, but she also bottles them varietally, which means she’s bottling them with those obscure grapes specifically on the label. This means that the majority of the grapes that are used to make the wine in the bottle are that grape. Versus white Rhône blends, which are very common. With her wines, you have an opportunity to try things that are very rare and very hard to come across. This Picpoul Blanc gives deep stone fruit notes really popping into the tropical fruit realm. Off the chart acid, and a slight oiliness which is a characteristic I regularly find in white Rhône wines. BUY HERE
We are in Bordeaux between two seas, or Entre-Deux-Mers, as you see on the label. Bordeaux is a region in France that is famous for its incredible red wines. Which means that a lot of times people sleep on their white wines. A white Bordeaux is really nothing to ignore! As a reminder when we are in the Old World, or in Europe, we can only grow certain grapes in certain regions. In Bordeaux the white grapes allowed are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. So, if you’re a Sauvy B drinker, and want to try something different, reach for a white Bordeaux. You really don’t need to know more than that. If you see a wine bottle that says Bordeaux on the front of the label and it’s white, it’s gonna be Sauvy B based. This Chateau Canteloudette wine is super easy to drink, a daily drinker, porch pounder if you will. We don’t need to go any deeper than that. This is your “I’m having a bunch of people over, throw a few bottles on ice type of wine” and everyone will be happy. BUY HERE
Third generation farmer Tom Gamble is at the helm of The Mill Keeper, with the goal of delivering quality wine at competitive price points. Tom has farmed high-quality fruit in the Napa Valley for the last three decades and brings his skill set to The Mill Keeper. What is unique about this wine, and about the Cabernet Sauvignon I will speak about later, is that these are both “multi vintage” wines. Meaning that the grapes that were used to make the wine in this bottle came from more than one year or more than one harvest. To give you some context, I would say something like 95% of wines on the market come from a specific vintage. You will almost always see that vintage or year on the front of the label. Exceptions can be some really cheap sort of bulk wines or interestingly enough, Champagne. In Champagne, multi vintage blends are very common. You will see the letters NV on the front of the label of a non-vintage champagne. Needless to say, this is an interesting decision by Tom, and I wanted to know his why. And here are his words exactly: (With a multi-vintage wine) “We can make a wine that over-delivers on quality for a consumer-friendly price point. The idea for The Mill Keeper started with making wine from dropped fruit; we experimented with winemaking techniques for years until we got it right, and along the way, we found that blending vintages made for a pleasing more affordable wine overall. We’ve done surveys that show that Millennials that are new to wine find quality and price to be far more important than vintage. We currently have the happy challenge of trying to keep up with demand. I will keep making my high-end luxury wines under the Gamble Family Vineyards brand, but with The Mill Keeper I am having a blast introducing a new generation to wine at a price they can afford. Coexistence. It is possible.” And now let’s quickly move to the glass. I almost would not call this one a Chardonnay by the nose! It is definitely a lighter style Chardonnay that would be delightful served with a cream or butter-based pasta or fish to cut through the fat in the dish. BUY HERE
Two Wolves is a vineyard and winery owned by Alecia Moore a.k.a. the artist Pink. She has gotten a lot of attention in the wine world because of her intentionality and commitment to learning the craft of growing grapes and making wine. If you follow her and the winery on social media, you will frequently see her studying for wine certifications, riding a tractor, showing the steps of the fermentation process, etc. Without knowing much more, it does feel like there is a hefty dose of authenticity in what she’s doing up in Santa Barbara wine country. I have been on her allocation list since the beginning and I’ve been hoarding her wines for the last three years. Recently I realized it was time for me to taste the rosés that I had in my cellar, as I had one from 2019, 2020, and 2021. Wanted to make sure none of them were past their prime. This current release rosé is made from Grenache grapes. And I don’t know if you can tell from this picture, but this is one of the palest rosés I have ever seen. It would almost be mistaken for a white wine in the glass. Which means we have very little skin contact during fermentation, as the skin contact is what gives a rosé it’s color. Don’t be fooled into believing people who say that the darker the rosé, the sweeter the wine. Sweetness has absolutely nothing to do with the color. This wine was ethereal and on another level. It was just so vibrant and so mouthwateringly juicy and delicious and I cannot wait to try all of the other wines! BUY HERE
This Monterey rosé from the Pisoni family with Lucy is a winner on all fronts. A beautiful nose of wildflowers and sea spray give you a hint as to what’s to come on the palate. Speaking of the palate, high acid reigns, but there is more to this wine than just that. A lot of these sort of vapid rosés can lack depth. But there’s some gumption with this wine (there’s some booty!), there’s something behind it. I also get a beautiful blood orange note on the palate, and there is a nice crisp tartness to the fruit. Helloooooo coastal rosé. BUY HERE
Sosie Wines is a Sonoma based winery with a tasting room just off of the Sonoma Square. I hope to go visit during my trip up north in the next couple of weeks. I will report back! This is a really lovely rosé to highlight for people who want a bigger more structured rosé. A lot of rosés can be quite light, watered down, and vapid. This is not that! For one this is a rosé of Syrah. Syrah is a sort of bigger more buxom grape that delivers good structure and color and vibrancy and tannins. In the summertime we’re always talking about porch pounders, and I would not call this wine a porch pounder. It really is quite structured. And though this term is overused, it is a true “rosé for red wine drinkers”. I recently enjoyed it with some Brazilian barbecue takeout that included grilled shrimp, plantains, black beans, and yucca flour. And it was an absolutely perfect pairing. BUY HERE
Grab your passports, because we are in Rioja, Spain with this Tempranillo based red wine. Remember, back in the Old World, which is where we are here (in Europe) we have a lot of rules and regulations when it comes to growing grapes and making wine. The Rioja aging system is one of those highly regulated processes. With Rioja we first start with Crianza, then we move to Reserva and then we move to Gran Reserva. Each level up is going to require more cellar and or bottle aging. For a wine in Rioja to be labeled Crianza, it has to have spent at least one year aging in oak barrels. For the Reserva level we are talking about a minimum aging (between oak and bottle) of three years. At least one of those years has to be in barrel followed by a minimum of six months aging in bottle. For Gran Reserva we are talking about a total aging of at least five years with at least two years in oak barrels and two years in bottle. Note that this aging structure is solely for red wines. The Rioja white wines have different qualifications. OK, let’s get to the wine. I had a lot of thoughts about this wine when I first put my nose to it. This would be a wine that so many people wouldn’t give the time of day to unfortunately. Whether it’s people who like really high-end Napa Cab or people who drink that mass produced commercial grocery store glug that taste like a fruit bomb and a charred barrel had a baby. This El Coto Rioja wine is so bright, the fruit is so red, and beautiful violet notes dance out of the glass. The palate is juicy, fruity and just delightful. Especially as a red wine in the summertime. In fact, chill me up Scotty! I would put this bad boy on ice for about 20 or 30 minutes before enjoying it and it would be <chefs kiss> BUY HERE (2017 vintage)
Pas de Deux from Kukkula in Paso Robles is a Grenache dominant blend with Syrah. Pas de Deux means “a dance for two” or “a close relationship between two people or things” in French. With the idea being that Syrah and Grenache, both red Rhône varieties, dance beautifully together. Kukkula (kook-koo-luh) in Finnish means the hill or high place. Finnish Kevin Jussila and his wife Paula moved to Paso in 2004 to start the process of building their home, winery, vineyard, and olive orchard. Kevin had no formal winemaking training when he started making wine in 1992 in the basement of his Topanga, California home. Kukkula focuses on organic, dry farmed, low intervention wines from Rhône varieties in Paso Robles. Loved this wine. Definitely a dance between the lighter Grenache and the deeper, more soulful Syrah. BUY HERE
We are in Amador County near Sacramento with this 2018 Zinfandel from Terra d’Oro. Zinfandel is one of those grapes that a lot of people have opinions about. Whether they’re thinking about white Zinfandel or whether they’re thinking of overripe jammy cheapy grocery store Zinfandel, Zinfandel is actually quite a noble grape that can do great work in the bottle and in the glass. When handled correctly you end up with a robust and juicy wine that actually is quite light and not overwhelming. It sort of seems like a juxtaposition, and it kind of is. As long as you have some acidity and strong fruit intensity with a throughline of balance, you know you’ve got a good Zinfandel in the glass. This wine is showing beautiful red fruits and gives a really nice warming characteristic, which is usually because of a slightly higher alcohol that Zinfandel has, and this is no exception with 14.5% ABV. BUY HERE
And we are back with The Mill Keeper by Gamble Family Vineyards. This is their Multi-Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon. The same conversation and notes we discussed with the Chardonnay will apply here. This really is an easy drinking Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. And those words don’t usually flow together! Soft tannins and balanced fruit make for a really pleasant drink. Call this “the lighter side of Napa”. BUY HERE
One of the my most favorite comfort foods is an empanada. My father’s family hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and empanadas are a staple on the table. They’re regularly enjoyed on the go, and if you go to a friend’s house for an asado (our word for BBQ), empanadas are most certainly going to be the first course for everyone to enjoy while the meat cooks on the parrilla, or outdoor grill.
Empanadas are not unique to Argentina. Many Latin American countries (and other countries around the world) have their own version of a turnover made from pastry dough and stuffed with savory fillings. Empanadas are named from the Spanish verb “empanar” which means “to wrap or coat in bread or dough.” In Argentina, empanadas are a way of life. Depending on the region you are from, they can be either baked or fried. For the record, baked is the only way to go. Told you, they’re a way of life. Almost a religion with fierce loyalty to the style and the flavors you grew up with.
I have memories of making empanadas in the kitchen with my grandmother (Nana) and also my stepmom. Preparing the various filling in large mixing bowls and creating a sort of assembly line to put them all together and prepare them for baking. Nowadays, I don’t make empanadas from scratch very often. And like most ethnic foods you grow up on, finding options that remind you of home can be tough. I’ve tried a few empanadas locally here in LA and have always been sorely disappointed. But I recently tried empanadas from Catalina’s Market in Hollywood and was SO impressed. These are the closest empanadas I’ve tasted to what I grew up on and what I’ve had in Argentina. I highly recommend a visit. Catalina’s is a Latin American market with food and products from many Central and South American countries.
As you would expect, once I found these amazing empanadas, I had to pair some wines with them! Below are a few of my favorite pairings I pulled together for my empanada and wine night!
One of my most favorite empanadas. This is our version of a spinach and feta turnover. This empanada is obviously savory and has some bitter notes from the greens (spinach) and the tart cheese. A perfect companion here is an orange wine, which is similarly bitter. This is the “like with like” food and wine pairing principle to pair things together with similar characteristics. I received this wine a couple years back from a wine “secret Santa” group I belong to. This was the perfect opportunity to pull it out! And it’s a weird one! A wine from Georgia. The country, not the state. Georgia is considered the cradle of wine civilization. They have been making wine for thousands of years. Here we have an amber or orange wine from Mosmieri. To understand what an orange wine is, you first need to start with a white wine. White wine is made with little to no skin contact during fermentation. If the winemaker decides to keep the skins in contact during fermentation for an extended period of time, we end up with a wine that gives an amber/orange color. Warning! Some orange wines, especially orange wines from Georgia, can be really, really funky. I’m talking funktastic voyage. This one is actually quite quaffable and totally still taste like wine. I dig it. And it worked perfectly with the empanada de pasqualina. BUY HERE
Another classic empanada filling is corn. This is a very simple and humble empanada with only the corn plus some simple seasonings and spices. The whisper of sweetness in this slightly off-dry Ruhlmann Pinot Gris really brought out the sweetness in the corn filling. There’s that “like with like” food and wine pairing principle again!
Chicken empanadas include shredded chicken, onion, bell pepper, and various seasonings. I loved this empanada with the Thacher Chenin Blanc. Thacher is a low-intervention winery, meaning not much is done in terms of winemaking and grapes and terroir are to speak for themselves. They’re part of what I call “new school Paso” and focus on making wines that are lower in alcohol, have higher acidity, and use different grapes than the usual suspects. Chenin Blanc is a white grape from the Loire Valley in France that gives very different expressions depending on where it is grown. Here we get a really nice green fruit note, moving into tropical. This is the perfect summer porch pounder and paired famously with the chicken empanada. Unfortunately, this bottle appears to be sold out, but hopefully the next vintage arrives soon!
As it sounds, this is the same chicken empanada, but with quite a bit of heat to it. A tough thing to pair, for sure. I decided to go with a chillable red. I wanted to something that would stand up to the robust flavors, but would also cool your mouth down a bit from the spice. This wine hit it like a nail on the head! Vinos Lechuza’s claim to fame is that their wines are served at French Laundry in Napa Valley. Thomas Keller discovered the Vinos Lechuza wines while in Cabo San Lucas, and subsequently added them to his French Laundry wine list. This is a 100% unfiltered Nebbiolo meant to be served chilled. Trust me, it’s delicious. And before you try this wine, suspend all thoughts about Nebbiolo from Piemonte. This wine appears to be sold out, but hopefully the next vintage will arrive soon!
Saved the best for last. The beef empanada is the most popular and the most prolific throughout Argentina. And every region has their own specific recipe with the most important distinction being: do you include raisins in the filling or not. This one did NOT have raisins in it, but I do love me a beef empanada with raisins in it, for the record! What else to pair with the most classic empanada than the most classic Argentinian wine: Malbec; especially thiss one from classic producer Catena Zapata. This wine serves up Plums, violets, chocolate. A notch up from the basic $10 grocery store Malbecs. BUY HERE
You’re in the center of London in the hustle and bustle, far away from wineries in England. You check out of your hotel, roll your suitcase to the tube station, brushing shoulders with countless people on the street before you head underground to catch your train. In a little over an hour, you emerge from the train station in a pastoral, rural setting with lambs and baby cows in every pasture! It is time to exhale and enjoy the calm, relaxed pace of English wine country.
The bulk of the wineries in England lie south of London in the Kent and Sussex areas, near Brighton. This area is known for the traditional method of sparkling wine, made in the same style as Champagne. In fact, 75% of all wine in this region is sparkling. If you find yourself scratching your head at the mention of English wine, you’re not alone. In decades prior, the quality of wine coming out of England was questionable. The region was too cold and wet to grow quality grapes for wine.
Climate change and increasing temperatures have, in fact, allowed for more quality grapes to be grown in English wine countries. Still, the region struggles with frost pressure with the weather being consistently inconsistent, as the locals say. If you need another reason to believe that wine quality here is increasing, know that Champagne houses Pommery and Tattinger have both planted in the area.
In the Kent/Sussex areas, there are over 400 vineyards growing grapes for wine and 200 producers making wine. In short, there’s a lot of choices to make. I visited these wineries in England in April of this year, and I am going to share with you my tips to make it a hassle-free experience.
First off, decide if you are going to come for a day trip or a weekend trip. If you opt for a day trip, a visit to Gusbourne, a very popular winery, works out nicely, as they have half day experiences including a tasting, tour, plus lots of food. A great “one stop shop”. Secondly, make a decision between the areas of Kent or Sussex. Trying to do both in a day or in a weekend is like trying to combine Napa and Sonoma. It’s virtually impossible and just too spread out.
When planning your trip to English wine country, just remember that things move slower in the countryside, and adjust your expectations accordingly. This is a younger wine region than most, with the hospitality details literally being figured out as we speak. During my visit, I heard multiple people say that they are looking to the US for examples of hospitality best practices. I would allow at least 2 weeks (before arriving to the UK) to plan your trip.
You have a couple options on how to structure your visit. You can do an organized trip with a tour company who will handle transport while there, winery visit appointments, and meals. This is a nice all-inclusive solution for those wanting to skip the planning process and just show up. Might I recommend Sussex Wine Tours. They were the first place I reached out to, but I had a specific itinerary I needed to follow, so a group trip didn’t work out. They did go over and above to help me find a private driver to execute my itinerary. I have no doubt their attention to detail translates to their tours as well.
The other option (as I did) is to plan your own trip. The pro is that you’ll get to visit the exact places you want. But the con is that it takes some effort to plan (see my “2 week” comment above). Lots of pieces to try and pull together, different people to contact, etc.
Let me be clear: no ground transport option is “cheap” at the moment. Whether you rent a car or hire a driver. Like many countries, they are dealing with staffing/labor shortages and high gas prices. So prepared to spend some serious $$ to get around.
For one, you can opt to rent a car in London proper and drive yourself to wine country. It’s about an hour or an hour and a half drive. You just have to be comfortable driving on the “wrong” side of the road and possibly on some unpaved country roads.
If the prospect of renting a car in the UK is stressful, the train is a GREAT option to get from London to the wineries in England. The problem (like most trains to wine country) is that once you get to wine country, you will need a car, as everything is so spread out. And I was told repeatedly that replying on Uber or any other ridesharing app is virtually impossible.
PRO TIP: When you buy your train tickets, read the fine print carefully so you know all of the fare rules. I am told if you purchase the incorrect fare type or ticket, the fines are steep! Trainline.com is where I procured my tickets.
As for hiring private drivers, I have the TOP resources for you, whether you’re tasting in Kent or Sussex. I used both of them, had stellar experience, and I am so happy to share them with you. I private driver is exactly as it sounds. A car and driver for you…..all day! I found it so nice and relaxing. Especially as I was getting off of the train with my suitcase and what not. Plus, it’s so lovely to talk to a local in a relaxed, and comfortable setting.
Married couple Claire and Matt run Biddenden Cars Ltd throughout the Kent area. They were both so friendly and we had some delightful conversations during our short journeys. They were even so kind as to hold me suitcase for the day, so that I wouldn’t have to lug it around the wineries.
Dean was a DOLL and I fully enjoyed my day with him as my driver. His company is Hughes Chauffeurs and they have a fleet of 40 cars. They can handle things like single trips (such as a visit to only one winery) or a private hire for the day.
I stayed at the Little Silver Country Hotel in Tenterden and loved it! A quaint little country hotel/B&B with some really nice touches including an outdoor garden and a super comfortable and modern bathroom with a killer bathtub that I took full advantage of. I am told there are also lots of AirBnBs and really small country inns that are just charming.
I found it to be VERY quiet and chill in most parts and I don’t get the vibe that this is a culinary destination. Each town appears to have a local watering hole and a few casual eateries. I was only there one night, so I didn’t get to explore too much.
Note that both Brighton (on the coast) and Ashford (the local college town) are more happening spots and quite close to wineries in England. Lots more to do. Depending on what type of trip you want, this may or may not appeal to you. I was into the quiet countryside bed and breakfast type place and didn’t need “things to do.”
On my trip to English wine country, I visited three wineries. Unfortunately, my planning wasn’t great (which is why I decided to write this post) and they were very spread out. Because of that, I wouldn’t recommend my exact visits as an “itinerary”. You can read my reviews of Stopham Vineyard, Ridgeview Wine Estate, and Gusbourne at my article on WineTourism.com.
Come with patience. Be ready to slow down. Leave your city vibes in the city. Relax and enjoy English wine country.
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: June Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below or you can re-watch it on my IGTV channel.
Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of June!
Teneral Cellars supports a different charitable organization with every quarterly release and is committed to social justice issues, women’s health and empowerment, and combating climate change. Teneral Cellars is also a women owned winery. This wine is part of their Peace Love & Joy collection that came out over the holidays with $10 from every sale going to the World Central Kitchen. I found the Chardonnay to be refreshing and exactly what I want in a summertime Chardonnay. Not too oaky, not too buttery, but with plenty of taste to satisfy the Chardcore in you. BUY HERE.
We are in the Rías Baixas region of Spain for this delicious Miguel Torres Albariño. This means we are on the west coast of Spain in an area known as “Green Spain”. All of the maritime influence from the Atlantic Ocean brings immense precipitation and rain causing there to be a lot of green landscape in the area. For those who don’t know, I always share Albariño as a great alternative to Sauvy B. If you are in a Sauvignon Blanc rut, definitely try an Albariño. You will almost never pay more than $20 a bottle and the wines are as close to “satisfaction guaranteed” as you can get! BUY HERE.
Paso Robles has a certain reputation when it comes to wine. Paso is hot hot hot, and the reputation is that the wines are BIG, high alcohol, and jammy. Yes, some are. This is not that. For one, Thacher is a low-intervention winery, meaning not much is done in terms of winemaking and grapes and terroir are to speak for themselves. They’re part of what I call “new school Paso” and focus on making wines that are lower in alcohol, have higher acidity, and use different grapes than the usual suspects. Own-rooted signifies that the grapevine is literally planted on its own roots. Versus being grafted, which is very common. Grafting is when the shoot system (the part of the vine that the grape bunches grow on) and root system come from two different places. This is generally done when heartier rootstocks are needed to resist pests, or to be a better match to the soil type and composition. Chenin Blanc is a white grape from the Loire Valley in France that gives very different expressions depending on where it is grown. Here we get a really nice green fruit note, moving into tropical. This is the perfect summer porch pounder. Unfortunately this bottle appears to be sold out, but hopefully the next vintage arrives soon!
Here’s a weird one for you! A wine from Georgia. The country, not the state. Georgia is considered the cradle of wine civilization. They have been making wine for thousands of years. Here we have an amber or orange wine from Mosmieri. To understand what an orange wine is, you first need to start with a white wine. White wine is made with little to no skin contact during fermentation. If the winemaker decides to keep the skins in contact during fermentation for an extended period of time, we end up with a wine that gives an amber/orange color. Warning! Some orange wines, especially orange wines from Georgia, can be really, really funky. I’m talking funktastic voyage. This one is actually quite quaffable and totally still taste like wine. I dig it. BUY HERE.
Searching for a quality Pinot Noir under $20 is like searching for a meaning in a Pauly Shore movie. Get it? Get the reference? It’s Clueless for those who don’t know☺ The key to this Imagery Pinot Noir is: balance. This is the thing that separates the men from the boys. The so so wine from the great wine. The fruit on this wine is a bit jammy and rich: things like strawberry, cherry, and boysenberry. But we also have some well-integrated oak influence, and a little bit of Petit Verdot blended and to add body and color. BUY HERE.
Prats + Symington is a well-known Port producer in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal. As per Port production rules, only a portion of the estate’s grapes can be used each year to make Port wines. This is the reason why many Port producers also make non-fortified, dry, red table wines. What else are they gonna do with the grapes? What I love about Portuguese dry red wines is that they are complex, yet approachable. And about as food friendly as you can get, and this wine is no exception. It was a hit at a recent dinner party I attended and paired beautifully with Argentinian empanadas. BUY HERE.
The Bodegas Salentein estate is situated against the backdrop formed by the Andes. Numina Gran Corte is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. The traditional red Bordeaux grapes. These grapes from Argentina’s Uco Valley in Mendoza are from some of the highest elevation in vineyards on the planet. I generally find Malbec to be quite plummy and velvety, and overall, easy-drinking and smooth. The addition of the other Bordeaux varieties really kicks this wine up a notch to give it a deeper sort of more complex and luxurious vibe. BUY HERE.
Vinos Lechuza’s claim to fame is that their wines are served at French Laundry in Napa Valley. Thomas Keller discovered the Vinos Lechuza wines while in Cabo San Lucas, and subsequently added them to his French Laundry wine list. It’s a small(ish) property with a simple tasting room and beautiful outdoor space. Be sure to do the tasting outside on their patio…it’s beautiful. This is a 100% unfiltered Nebbiolo meant to be served chilled. Trust me, it’s delicious. And before you try this wine, suspend all thoughts about Nebbiolo from Piemonte. This wine appears to be sold out, but hopefully the next vintage will arrive soon!
These cans are full of certified organic wine from Argentina‘s Uco Valley. In French “Le Petit Verre” means “small glass”. Domaine Bousquet was started by a family originally from France, hence the nod. We have the Malbec and a Bubbly Rosé. These are 250 mL cans (1/3 of a bottle of wine) and both are totally dry and totally delicious. For reference, the bubbly rosé is a motley blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Gris, and Viognier. But I can attest that it comes together really nicely! Also, a great price at $13 for a 4 pack! These cans will be on the market very soon!
One of my early pandemic discoveries was Costco and I haven’t regretted it for a minute. I don’t recall what drove me to get a membership, but I just strolled in one day and signed up. I’m in a household of two people, so I wasn’t sure if I’d get to take full advantage of things. Boy was I wrong! Our favorites now are the proteins, big hunks of cheese, and fun snacks (the Korean BBQ jerky is a hit). Every time I go, I seem to discover something new. And Aaron hates going, so it’s shopping alone time that I love. Sometimes I stroll the aisles fantasizing about the big ‘ol house I’ll own one day, where I can store all 36 cans of tomato sauce in the pantry! Though that is not happening now in my 1-bedroom apartment situation!
In case you didn’t know, Costco is the largest retailer of wine IN THE WORLD. Crazy, right? People always ask me about Costco brand wines, and I never had a meaningful reply, as I had never tried them. Once I got my membership, I decided to change that! In previous blog posts I conducted Costco wine reviews of their Kirkland brand wines. For most of them, I actually blind tasted with a group of friends to find out which were the Costco Crowd Pleasers and Costco Brand Wine Values. To date, these Costco wine review have been the most popular posts in the history of my blog!
Let’s get right to my Costco wine reviews of the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon.
Before I begin this Costco wine review, let me share something that I think is helpful if you want to up your wine game. Pinot Noir is a very difficult grape to grow. A lot goes into ensuring its success in the vineyard which translates into good juice in the bottle. Pinot Noir has thin skins, which makes it susceptible to rot, mold, and mildew in the vineyard. Essentially this grape has to be treated with kid gloves from start to finish to ensure that you get a good wine in your glass. With that being said, I’ll say it once and I will say it again “it is very difficult to make good, cheap Pinot Noir”. And honestly this wine is no exception. I find this wine to be hollow with no mid palate. Super simple and no complexity. This wine tastes like a cheap grocery store, non-appellation Pinot Noir. A very basic wine. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that. I just think that for this to be a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, I am expecting a step up in quality than just good ol’ fashioned, basic Pinot Noir. I will let you decide if his Costco wine review will make you run out and buy it or if you’re going to pass. For me this one is a hard pass.
With this Costco wine review, we are squarely in the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon category. Which isn’t for everyone! I’m talking about big juicy fruit, big tannin structure, high alcohol, extraction, essentially: more is more. That is what Napa Valley is known for. With this wine, we are specifically in Oakville, one of the sub AVAs of Napa Valley. Oakville is known for all of these big structural elements, but one of the key hallmarks of Oakville (and why it is so prized), is that their wines are known for having balance. None of the structural elements stand out and jut ahead of the others. I was so damn pleased with this wine, and would grab a megaphone if I had one, to tell you to go buy some now. How’s that for a positive Costco wine review! An insane and complex finish of coffee beans, cigar box, and sweet tobacco. Plus, this is only a 2019. I believe this wine has all of the elements to age and evolve beautifully. Seriously, go buy a case. And have one bottle a year for the next decade. You’re welcome.
Check out my article on Decanter: Decanter Best: Costco Kirkland Signature Wines: Top Buys from the US
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: May Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below or you can re-watch it on my IGTV channel.
Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of May!
“La Folie” from Maison Mirabeau is an interesting sparkling blend of Négrette, Colombard, Syrah, and Grenache. This wine is made in the Charmat method, where the second fermentation happens inside of a stainless-steel tank instead of in the bottle. This is a method to make sparkling so that the wine retains its freshness and fruit flavors and aromas. This is a generic Vin de France, meaning that the grapes can come from anywhere in France. I found this wine light, refreshing, and lively. At $20 a bottle, this is a great buy.
A great sparkler for the wine geek! This Pere Ventura wine is made from the Treppat grape, which is an indigenous Spanish grape that is almost extinct. I’ve only seen it one other time. A Cava from the Penedès region of Spain, which is my go to Champagne alternative. Cava is always made in the traditional method just like Champagne, but we’re talking about $15-$20 a bottle instead of $40 or $50+. For those who think that Prosecco is a good alternative for Champagne, they’ve got it all wrong!
This Monterey white blend from the Pisoni family is a winner on all fronts. The Lucy Pico Blanco is a blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, and is named after the famed mountain peak in Monterey County. Interestingly enough, Monterey County has some of the largest plannings of Pinot Gris compared to any other coastal region in California. And to set the record straight, I am not a huge fan of Pinot Gris. My Pinot Gris experience lies mostly with Oregon Pinot Gris and I find them to be hollow, linear, and missing that certain something. I call this Pinot Gris but with a soul, aka a mid palate. Of course, there are the typical citrus and high acid elements you would expect for a Pinot Gris dominant wine, but hints of stone fruit fatten up the wine a bit. Plus, a nice white flower note to round things out.
deNégoce is an interesting DTC (direct to consumer) model. They source and bottle wine and then sell it directly to consumers in half case and full case increments. No middleman, no distributor, no retailer, etc. The wines are available for purchase on the website as “futures” meaning they have not been bottled yet. The earlier you buy them, the more you save. A great model for wine people who don’t have the time to constantly shop for wine to drink. People who have expensive wine taste, but want to save some moolah! I am absolutely in love with this wine. It comes from the renowned Yamhill-Carlton area of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. In this area, the uplifted seabeds exposed by the Missoula floods give us the best Willamette Valley wines. Here we have a full, rich Chardonnay in the style of Montrachet in Bourgogne. There is no hiding or shying away that this wine is squarely in that style. Beautiful citrus notes leading into red apple pie, plus honeysuckle and a hazelnut finish. This wine really deserves some kudos here. Texture, creaminess and richness abound.
You may be wondering what the heck a dracaena is. It is a tree. Husband and wife, Mike and Lori Budd are the founders of Paso based Dracaena Wines. The back story is that their beloved Weimaraner Draco passed away in 2011. Along the way, they discovered the Dracaena tree, better knowns as the Draco tree. They planted a Draco tree in the spot Draco used to eat. In 2016 Lori and Michael quit their corporate jobs in NJ, moved to CA, and started a winery. They had been hobby winemaking before that in a crush facility. What to name it? They decided to keep Draco’s memory with them and named it: Dracaena Wines. They produce 400 cases annually with a focus on Cabernet Franc. This Chenin Blanc is a really lovely stand out though for a Paso white serving all of the acidity and freshness. With Dracaena you come for the Cabernet Franc, but you stay for the Chenin Blanc.
Heather Rader was a horse loving corporate executive Looking for more. Along the way she and her husband came to Napa and started Spirit Horse Vineyards. The beautiful thing about this winery is that they also have a rescue horse ranch on site. They are used as therapy horses with young girls in a mentorship and leadership program called Off the Vine. So, while you are sipping one of their wines, you will know that you are helping to support this project. All of the horses are either rescued from the racing industry or other situations (i.e. they were abandoned). I never feel the need to wax poetic about rosé, because I really don’t think the wines are that serious or meant to be serious. This is just a good one. Drink it. Trust me.
Established in 1981, Adelaida is a 12,000-case estate winery in the mountainous Adelaida District in western Paso Robles, CA. Situated at 2,000 feet of elevation, 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Adelaida specializes in single vineyard wines from both the Adelaida and Willow Creek Districts. They are family owned and the estate vineyards (and walnut orchards) are 100% organically certified. Counoise is a relatively unknown grape from the south of France. These days it is used as a blending grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This wine is very pale in color and serves up heaps of pepper (green peppercorns), baking spices, plus a marked minerality. But a really nice texture and mouthfeel. A really interesting and unique wine.
Located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma, Two Shepherds just completed their 12th vintage. They are now at 3,500 cases a year, and growing. They craft natural wines, from unusual and rare varieties and organically farmed grapes across the North Coast, many of those vines are 45-100+ years old. Owner William has been called the “insane master of small lots” by some. And this Cinsault proves to be no exception, with only 175 cases made. And the funnest fact from this blog post is that the Cinsault for this wine is grown in the oldest surviving Cinsault vineyard (135 years old) in the WORLD, the Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi. This wine is pale, berry noted, floral noted, and chillable. Crushable, as the kids say. If you see a bottle of Two Shepherds wine, just try it.
Winemaker Charles Symington uses only the highest quality grapes from the Symington family estates vineyards in the Douro valley of Portugal for this Graham’s Tawny Port. Many know the ever-popular ruby Port style. But it’s the Tawny Port style that to me is really worth checking out. Tawny Ports tend to have a brown or more tawny color with complex nutty aromas among other things. If you don’t want just a straight up sweet dessert wine, but you might want something after dinner that is not fully dry, Tawny Port could be your jam. This 10-year-old Tawny Port still actually has some ruby color to it. I’m also getting really prevalent fruit notes still, though all the fruit is quite mature/ripe. Fruits such as figs, dates, and prunes. In terms of the nuttiness factor, I get a strong garrapiñada flavor on the back palate. Garrapiñadas are “street nuts”. New Yorkers know what I’m talking about. My family is from Argentina and I have such a vivid memory of going to “capital” in Buenos Aires and smelling this in the streets.
I’ve already told you about the 10yo Tawny. Now The 20-year-old Tawny Port is serving me ALL of the nuts. The category is: NUTS. Nutstravaganzza. And don’t forget that really interesting note of dried orange peel. The color you will note is more brown than that Ruby color we saw with the 10 year old Tawny. This is definitely a sipper. Spectacular for sure.
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: April Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below and you can re-watch it on my IGTV channel or read the blog post!
Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of April!
GORG label, not that it truly matters, but it sure does add to the ambiance! I used this Valdo sparkling as the aperitif for an in-person tasting of all women. Look at this bottle! Something beautiful to look at that makes you smile. Nothing wrong with that. This is a Vino Spumante and not Prosecco. You’ll notice on the bottle that no region is listed. That’s because the Nerello Mascalese was sourced from Sicily and the Glera was sourced from the Veneto. Since it is a multi-region blend, labeling laws don’t allow them to list a region. This wine was fresh, fruity, floral, and delicious. If I’m honest, it knocked any of the Prosecco Rosés I’ve tried, out of the park.
I have my hands full these days with sparkling rosé as I’m working on a roundup piece of the Best Bottles to suggest for this summer. Stay tuned for that! Back to this bottle. Lucien Albrecht is among the pioneers of grape growing in Alsace, with a history that dates back to 1698 and eight generations of winemaking. This wine is made from Pinot Noir, and showcases freshness and acidity. A delicate red fruit character on the palate, rounded out with a creamy texture. Side note: don’t think of rosé as being sweet! You might still be swayed from the olden days of White Zin and blush. Unless you’ve got a bottle of Stella Rosa in front of you, chances are, you’re sparkling rosé is DRY.
This low intervention wine made from the Verdejo grape can be described as “nature in a bottle”. Citrus notes moving to bruised apples, plus aromas and flavors of honey, beeswax, and white flowers. The wine is steel fermented, so even though it’s a bit fuller body, it’s still quite snappy and fresh, which the steel helps accomplish. This really is a spectacular wine, and for a white, it’s worth the few extra bucks.
This fresh and zesty wine from Muscadet, the westernmost area within the Loire Valley, delivers minerality and brininess, characteristic of this area due to the Atlantic influences. Organically grown grapes give a pithy lemon note and a whisper of floral aromas in the glass. Bring out the salinity in this wine by enjoying it with briny seafood such as oysters, mussels, or clams.
Acquiesce Winery is one of my favorite wineries in Lodi, California. In a region known for Old Vine Zinfandel, Sue Tipton and her husband, Rodney, went against the grain and started Acquiesce, which only makes Rhône inspired white and rosé wines. People said they were crazy, but alas, they’ve been wildly successful. This Grenache Rosé 2021 is a fresh, bright, and acid driven rosé. Perfect to cut through spice in any dish. Indian food perhaps? Or tacos? Breakfast sandwiches?
Does everyone have their seatbelts on? We’re in for a bumpy ride with this wine from RGNY. Yes, this is a White Merlot. And yes, this wine was made/grown in Long Island. This is a white wine made with red grapes. How do we do that? By fermenting the wine without the skins (in red winemaking the skins are a part of fermentation and the skins are where a wine gets its color). At first this wine can be a bit confusing and you’re not sure where to place it. And that’s ok. That just means this is a wine that you have NO preconceived notions for. But then you quickly realize there’s a wine for every time and place, and all is right in the world. This wine comes from RGNY, which started in 2019. It is a project by Mexican-American Rivero González who comes from a family of Mexican winemakers.
This Pollak Vineyards red is a great example of a domestic Bordeaux blend. Do we need a $75 Virginia wine? I’ll let you decide. There’s a conversation brewing about “slow wine” just like slow food. Drinking closer to home. Do we need to ship heavy, glass bottles around the world so we can all try and enjoy wines from classic wine regions? Or should we start to appreciate what we have that is a bit closer to home? For those on the East Coast who want a premium Bordeaux blend experience, this is it. Also, fun fact, the winemaker is French. So perhaps we only import the people, not the wine! Made of 56% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon from their oldest estate vines.
Kukkula (kook-koo-luh), is Finnish for “the hill, or high place”. Owner and winemaker Kevin Jussila is of Finnish descent and his vineyard sits on a high elevation, hence the name. Aatto is their most unusual, exotic wine, both aromatically and in the flavor profile. It’s made up of mostly Counoise and Mourvedre, with small amounts of Grenache. You might never have heard of Counoise, and it’s a relatively new grape to me. Counoise is one of the supporting character red grapes from the Rhône Valley, far behind Syrah and Grenace in popularity. This is an awesome wine if you like fresh, high acid reds that are Old World in style. Heaps of pepper and herbaceous character.
There’s no romantic story to tell you for this Avalon Cab Sauv. It’s a $10 Cali Cab and it’s delicious. It’s not very often that I tout a $10 domestic wine. The reason being, is that so many of them suck. If I have $10 to spend, I’d much rather test my luck on a Spanish or Portuguese table wine. But for $10, holy hell this is good. It’s fruity, balanced, and quaffable. Two thumbs up.
Take a moment out of the hustle and bustle to enjoy a quiet moment to yourself. This is what sipping drinks are for. And for sipping drinks, I think of fortified wines and tea. Tea fills the gaps in life. I digress. Back to the Port! LBV (late bottled vintage) is only bottled in the best years. This LBV shares the same provenance of Dow’s legendary Vintage Ports. The wine is aged and seasoned in oak vats for 4-6 years before bottling and released ready to drink. Once open, the bottle will last a month or so. Personally, I use Private Preserve and I get a longer life out of the open bottle. Dow’s is a Certified B Corp, because stuff like that’s important. Indigenous grapes. This is like a kicked up Ruby Port. Black fruit, floral, and herbal notes. Not cloyingly sweet at all. Tannins and freshness keep that all in balance.
One of the best parts about living in Los Angeles is the broad availability of food from just about every culture you can think of. Yes, there’s classed up fancy versions of these foods, but I’m talking about street food. Food quite literally served on the street or local family-owned joints serving food that includes someone’s grandma’s recipes. The street food and pop-up scene in LA is second to none. Add to that my love of wine, and you have a unique challenge: how to pair LA’s dynamic street food with tasty, crushable wine? I recently wrote about these Los Angeles wine tasting pairings with Leo’s, my favorite taco truck. Or how about that time I sampled a slew of Chinese buns and sparkling wines for another fun Los Angeles wine tasting?
Cara Haltiwanger has been in the restaurant and bar business her entire life from growing up in Alabama to moving to Los Angeles 18 years ago. My husband, born and raised in Los Angeles, has known her for many moons, and that is how we connected. Cara has worked every job in a restaurant from front to back of house, including busser, waitress, bartender, line chef, and now chef. In 2008 one of her bartending gigs allowed her to start cooking on their patio once a week. She then started doing pop up restaurants and eventually created her baby, Calabama hot sauce. Cara’s goal has always been to create a positive southern vibe; a vibe that invites you in and reminds you of home. She’s constantly preaching community and the comfort that can be provided by a good meal and conversation. Come to one of her pop-ups, and you leave full and happy. The pandemic put a stop to her in-person pop ups, but she quickly found an alternative.
On an unassuming cul de sac in East Hollywood, you feel like you’re in NYC. An old apartment building looms tall with a column of metal fire escapes. At your scheduled time, you arrive and look up. Cara waves from the highest fire escape and asks you if you’re ready. When you say yes, she launches a red bucket suspended with a rope down to the ground level where you are. Tucked into that bucket are your breakfast sandwiches and (if you ordered them ahead of time) bottles of her addictive Calabama hot sauce, that is the perfect mix of spicy, tangy, and sweet. I could bathe in the stuff.
This is not just any breakfast sandwich. Two slices of grilled white bread are packed with bacon, eggs, cheese, onions, avocado, and cooked on a cast-iron grill. And don’t forget a side of her hot sauce, which really is the main event. The idea is that you dip the sandwich in the sauce with every bite. There is a reason why she sells out in less than 24 hours. With the pandemic challenges, the bucket drop dates/times do vary. Be sure to follow the Calabama Instagram account to stay up to date on all the bucket drops and pop ups. And when you see a bucket drop announced and tickets go on sale, do not wait. They sell out every single time.
Acquiesce Winery is one of my favorite wineries in Lodi, California. In a region known for Old Vine Zinfandel, Sue Tipton and her husband, Rodney, went against the grain and started Acquiesce, which only makes Rhône inspired white and rosé wines. People said they were crazy, but alas, they’ve been wildly successful. For your quintessential Los Angeles wine tasting experience, I’m pairing Cara’s breakfast sandwich with the perfect breakfast wine, the Acquiesce Grenache Rosé 2021.
It’s no secret that this sandwich is rich and decadent. Not to mention a bit spicy when dipped into the Calabama hot sauce. To counteract all of that, I have chosen this fresh, bright, and acid-driven rosé, to cut through the richness and spice. The perfect foil. So, grab a cooler and a couple wine tumblers, and drive over to East Hollywood for your Sunday morning bucket drop breakfast sandwich and Los Angeles wine tasting.
Cara’s slogan is Keep Comin’ Home, and for her, that means, keep going back to the place that makes you the happiest. The kitchen with her family is that place for her, but it’s different for everyone. Find yours, and keep going there. For now, I’m gonna keep comin’ home to the red bucket.
If you find yourself wine tasting in Los Angeles, 1010 Wine & Events is definitely worth a visit! Inglewood’s first and only wine bar serves up flights, glasses, and bottles of Black-owned wines (and beers), plus a delicious assortment of food options to complete your Los Angeles wine tasting experience.
And by the way, this isn’t your mom’s wine bar. I visited not too long ago and arrived to find a live DJ spinning Biggie, Pac, and old school jams. Pretty much the wine bar of my dreams! Why have we not been wine tasting and listening to hip hop? There is no stuffiness, no pretension, and no judgement like you might expect from a “wine bar”. You walk in and instantly feel welcome and a part of the family. Leslie and LeAnn Jones have curated a vibrant, fun, and dynamic Los Angeles wine tasting experience that is EXACTLY what this city needs.
Sisters Leslie and LeAnn Jones grew up in Inglewood, and found themselves sick of having to leave their neighborhood to find good food and wine for a Los Angeles wine tasting experience. Leslie, a luxury wedding planner, and LeAnn, an attorney, had the perfect background of hospitality and a knowledge of wine that set the foundation for what is now 1010 Wine & Events.
The wine list at 1010 features Black and BIPOC Owned Wines & Beers, including Maison Noir, Charles Woodson Intercept, Camins2Dreams, Theopolis, Aslina, and Black Girl Magic. The food menu is tight and right, with a cheese and charcuterie board, a few starters, and a handful of entrees. We had the house salad, the steamed black mussels, and the pesto linguine and everything was DELICIOUS. Yummy, hearty food to soak up all the good wine. There’s nothing I hate more than going to a wine bar to get my drink on, and they only have olives, nuts, and a cheese plate on the menu!
Another touch that sets them apart is the 1010 Wine Club. For $75 (charged quarterly), you become a member of their wine club and get two curated bottles of wine, 10% off merch, and one free tasting per month. Speaking of merch, their #inglewine tees, hoodies, and tanks would make for an awesome gift for your Angeleno wine friends.
Representing a niche style that has gained in popularity as of late, orange wines have become the new darlings of sommeliers across the country, especially when it comes to wine tasting Los Angeles. In fact, these wines have a fascinating history dating back to 6,000 BC and have enjoyed a modern renaissance beginning in the 1990’s through the efforts of visionary winemakers like Radikon and Movia. But what exactly are orange wines? How are they made and how are they best enjoyed? Discover our foray into the world of these skin-contact white beauties!
We are all familiar with the two most common styles of wine: white and red. Lying somewhere between those two are two more styles: rosé (our favorite summer sipper) and the lesser-known orange wine. The former is produced by shortening the “maceration” time of red grapes, or the time the grape skin spends in contact with the must. The latter is produced by lengthening the maceration time of white grapes. A more correct name for orange wines is actually “extended skin-contact white wines.”
Usually, white grapes are crushed shortly after arriving to the winery and then left to ferment without the skins, leading to a pale yellow color in the glass. In the case of orange wines, the juice and the grapes remain in contact, allowing elements like color, tannins and anthocyanins to seep out of the skins and into the juice. This “enrichment” of the juice results in a white wine with a darker hue, ranging from orange to amber, along with a bigger body on the palate.
The tannins and anthocyanins extracted from the grape skins also serve as natural preservatives. This means that orange wines can last longer without sulfur treatment, which explains why many orange wines are also natural wines. Winemakers specialized in orange wines generally choose natural viticultural and winemaking methods across the board. These include a biodynamic or organic approach in the vineyard, spontaneous fermentations using indigenous yeasts, and bottling without fining or filtration. In some cases, orange wines are made in the oxidative style, with some oxygen seeping into the liquid during the fermentation process.
Skin-contact white wines have ancient origins. This style dates back to 6,000 BC in the Caucasus (now the country of Georgia). Even to this day, Georgian winemakers continue producing orange wines using large earthenware vessels known as qvevri to ferment their wines. Traditionally, these qvevri were buried deep underground to keep the contents cool during the fermentation process. Outside of Georgia, the extended skin-contact method of producing white wine has also remained the norm in some remote areas of Slovenia and northeastern Italy.
In the 1990’s, orange wines experienced a renaissance in popularity, when they were rediscovered by visionary winemakers with a more natural approach. Leading this movement were Stanko Radikon and Joško Gravner in Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia appellation, near the Slovenian boarder. Today, orange wines are produced in several regions of Italy and Greece, as well as around the world. While these wines definitely remain a niche style, more and more winemakers are experimenting with them in places like California, Australia and South Africa.
Now that we know what orange wines are, how they are made and by whom, we can get to the most important part: how they smell and taste in the glass. As with any classic white wine, the aromas of the wine will depend on a number of factors, including the grape variety, terroir of origin and vintage of the fruit. Nevertheless, the most common ways to describe the aromas of orange wines include bruised apples, bruised pears, jackfruit, honeyed apricot and dried citrus peel. When produced in an oxidative style, these wines can also reveal nutty aromas and toffee on the nose.
On the palate, orange wines are usually quite voluptuous and full-bodied, showing a higher degree of tannins than standard white wines. Nevertheless, they also maintain a fresh acidity that is typical in white wines.
The ideal serving temperature of an orange wine will depend on the grape variety and style. While lighter-bodied orange wines can be served chilled, just like any standard white wine, fuller bodied orange wines should be served at room temperature to fully enjoy their myriad of aromas. We recommend serving orange wines in a glass with a larger bowl, like the Riedel “Montrachet” glass, which will emphasize the rich texture of these wines when it comes to wine tasting Los Angeles.
As for food pairings, it will once again be important to first consider grape variety when choosing the right dish. Generally, orange wines tend to be quite robust in style, which will allow them to pair with boldly flavored or spicy dishes. Some of our favorite food pairings with orange wines include Moroccan lamb tagine, slow-cooked Ethiopian goat tibs or smoky baba ghanoush. You could also go with your favorite Asian dishes, like Sichuan noodles or Korean kimchi, which you can find almost anywhere when wine tasting Los Angeles.
We hope you have enjoyed this adventure into the fascinating world of orange wines and that you have learned a thing or two about this weird and wonderful style! We recommend that every wine lover try a skin-contact white wine at least once in their life. Who knows, it might even become your favorite!
Founded in 1983, Millesima is a family-owned fine wine merchant headquartered in Bordeaux, France. Millesima’s USA branch was born in 2006 and includes a retail store in New York City as well as user-friendly e-commerce platform, featuring a vast selection of highly sought-after fine wines from around the world.
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: March Edition. This month we’re returning to the IG Live format to present the video portion of this post. I’ll be there tonight at 5pm (Pacific), where in 30 minutes or less I share with you a grouping of wines I’m enjoying this month. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below and you can re-watch it on my IGTV channel.
Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of March!
The Bichot family has been in Burgundy since the 1200s. Currently the 5th generation Albert Bichot male is at the helm of this almost 200-year-old wine business. Over the centuries they have expanded and now own 6 estates across all of Burgundy from north to south. They are currently focused on transitioning their Cote d’ Or vineyards to organics. In this bottle we have a general appellation blend of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I recently served this as an aperitif with various appetizers at a dinner party and it was a huge hit! I think we’re so used to Prosecco these days being people’s “house Champagne”, that when you give them something nice and dry, they’re pleasantly surprised.
A 20-year-old producer in Paso Robles, Robert Hall is one of those tried-and-true Paso places to visit. Incredible wines from easy on the wallet pricepoints to premium (close to $100 a bottle) pricepoints. Their standard tasting is $20 a head for 4 different wines and they have a very well-priced food and wine pairing for $50. Robert Hall is also one of those brands that is relatively easy to find out there. They have their black label wines that are in distribution. You can find these $20(ish) wines in grocery stores and wine shops. Today we’re talking about their 2019 Cavern Select Sparkling Grenache Blanc. Cavern Select is their more premium line that is only found in their tasting room. So, guess what, you have to visit Paso (or join their wine club) to taste this. This is a gorgeous wine with notes of lemon peel, minerality, and even some stone fruit (such as apricot).
This Agusti Torello Mata is a fun one! I bet you’ve never had a STILL Xarel-lo. You might be asking yourself: what’s Xarel-lo? Xarel-lo is one of the three main grapes found in Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine. The other two are Macabeo and Parellada. Personally, I have never seen a still wine made out of any of those three grapes, so I think they’re pretty rare. Also, these three grapes, including Xarel-lo are quite neutral and make a neutral wine. This is not a wine to blow you away or to give you very complex flavors. This is a great sort of unassuming white wine, when you want something to fill a void. Maybe you just want a simple, easy white? I recently served this at a dinner party with a palate cleansing course. The group was coming off of a bigger red wine and red meat dish, into a pear/endive/goat cheese course and this fit like a glove! Remember, not all wine has to be serious.
This Quina da Fonte Souto white was a stunner! It’s for the Chardonnay lover searching for more. Wondering what else is out there. A full-bodied, round wine made from both Arinto and Verdelho. A lot of the same winemaking processes here that you’d see in Chardonnay: oak fermenting, oak aging, and bâttonage. If you were once Chardcore and are now in a wine rut, give this wine a try. Smoky, toasty, vanilla notes, but lots of fruit for sure plus great acidity, which (in my book) trumps everything. You cannot have a quality wine without good acid structure.
Albariño has a special place in my heart, if only because I just love it. I don’t have a romantic story and have never visited, I just know that if I meet an Albariño, I’m gonna like it. A year ago, I remember trying an aged version of a Paco & Lola wine (a 2012 to be specific) and it knocked my socks off. With this wine, we’re back to youthful, fresh, and fruity. If Sauvy B is your go to, then you will LOVE Albariño. Albariño is truly my summer water.
We’re now moving to northeast Italy in the Friuli region, near Venice for this Attems Ramato wine. You’ve probably heard of Pinot Grigio, but you might never have heard the term Ramato. For one, Pinot Grigio (or Gris) gets its name from the rosey-grey color of the skins. Historically in the Friuli region, the Ramato style of Pinot Grigio was the preferred style. Ramato style is where the Pinot Grigio skins stay in contact with the juice during fermentation (which is not normally the case for a white wine). A wine gets its color from the skins. So when we leave the Pinot Grigio skins with the juice during fermentation, we end up with a copper/rosey colored wine. In this case, the contact was only for 10 hours, but you can clearly see the color. This is the same method used to make orange wine. Same process. This wine is very rosé in style with red fruit notes + some citrus notes. Very easy drinking, fresh, and lively.
Back to Lodi! I seem to take a trip here every single month with Best Bottles, only because I love my Lodi wines. Lodi has a lot of heart, hands down. It’s a multi-generational agricultural community with some of the kindest and most openhearted people I have ever met. McCay Cellars is a great stop if you are wine tasting in Lodi. Mike’s got an urban, industrial feel tasting room with a nice outdoor patio. But just cause you don’t get the vineyard views, doesn’t mean you’re not getting top quality fruit and juice in your glass. I have had probably 3 vintages of this Cinsault and it is my favorite McCay wine each time. From the Bechthold Vineyard planted in 1886, this is some old ass fruit! Cinsault is delicate and floral and bright red fruited. Exquisite.
Chateau Briot is under the umbrella of the Ducourt family. They’ve owned this property in Entre-deux-Mers for over 40 years, and it’s known for making easy drinking, approachable Bordeaux wines. Remember, no region is a monolith, and Bordeaux is no exception. This is a great example of a crowd-pleasing red, but with enough body and weight to satisfy even the “big red” lover. I recently served this wine at a dinner party for 12 people and it was the favorite red on the table. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot.
Virginia: they make wine? Yep, Virginia makes wine! In fact, they make a lot of wine. The types of grapes grown in VA vary from some of the usual suspects because of the weather. It is extremely wet and cold, so sometimes hybrid grapes need to be used. These hybrids are specifically bred to be “winter hardy”. The vines won’t freeze and they produce higher sugar levels in cold climates, perfect for this wine. This Rockbridge wine is made from majority Vidal Blanc plus some Vignoles and Traminette. This is an icewine, meaning the grapes are harvested directly form the vine in the wintertime, when they’re frozen. Frozen grapes are pressed, meaning only a small amount of concentrated (and sweet) juice comes out of them. This sweet, concentrated juice, becomes sweet, concentrated wine. The wine is viscous, as you’d expect with notes of honey and orange blossom. Was perfect with a lemon tart! Also, this wine has won gold medals at the Virginia Governor’s Cup at least two years in a row.