Wine and Chocolate For Valentine’s Day

Originally published in South Shore Senior News, February 2019 Edition

Wine and chocolate, a match made in heaven in this wine lover’s opinion. I tell my students, when in doubt, grab a bag of dark chocolate and a bottle of tannic red wine, and you will have an evening of deliciously paired bliss. There is so much to explore in the world of chocolate and wine. Valentine’s Day is upon us, and what better time than to take our taste buds on a sweet adventure?

White chocolate and Pinot Noir is probably the most surprising and delicious chocolate and wine pairing I’ve ever experienced. Pour yourself a glass of Pinot Noir, then put a square of quality white chocolate on your tongue and savor. While the chocolate is melting, raise the glass to your nose and breathe in the aromas of the wine. You will start to taste an incredible vanilla flavor that wasn’t noticeable before. Once you’ve enjoyed this sensation, take a sip of the wine, coating the white chocolate as it continues to melt, and enjoy pure bliss.

Old vine Zinfandels are some of my favorite wines, and I’m absolutely obsessed with pairing them with dark chocolate raspberry, such as Ghirardelli dark chocolate raspberry squares. Zinfandels are so jammy and fruit forward that these chocolate squares will turn that wine into liquid raspberry on the palate in the most heavenly of ways.

Cabernet Sauvignon tends to have undertones of eucalyptus or mint, which makes these hefty reds the ideal partner for chocolate mint. You can go beyond dark chocolate mint candies and pair them with Mint Milanos, Thin Mint cookies, or even grasshoppers.

I enjoy the flavor of coffee in pretty much anything, and chocolate is no exception. You will bring out a delicious earthy, mocha note when pairing red wine with dark chocolate covered espresso or coffee beans. Earthier varietals like Cabernet Franc and Pinotage will truly impress with this delightful pairing.

A fun and unusual combination I have grown to love is dark chocolate chili, which provides a nice spicy kick. Enjoy this with a nice Syrah/Shiraz, and watch the fruit and spice dance happily on the palate, switching off who takes the lead.

What about white wines? These can be a bit tricky, especially the drier ones, as too much sugar will amplify the acid, resulting in an unpleasant bitter taste. I have found the heavier bodied oakier whites, such as Chardonnay, pair wonderfully with creamy white chocolate, or even milk chocolate covered nuts or turtles. Try an off-dry white, such as a Riesling, or a sweeter white, such as a Moscato, with milk chocolate caramels with sea salt.

Want to explore a little outside the box? Try chocolate covered bacon for a new and exciting twist. This gives you the best of the wine pairing world: salt and fat blanketed in decadent chocolate. You could even drizzle chocolate on some salty kettle chips for a similar effect.

When it comes to wine and chocolate pairing, the best part is the “research”! 

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

SSSNFebruary2019

A Cookie Swap Wine Tasting

Today is National Cookie Day! Yes, there’s truly a day for everything. Although if there was the perfect time to have a designated cookie day, this time of year is definitely it. Over the past several years, I have conducted several cookie swap themed in-home wine tasting events, and this year was no exception.

My fabulous host and multi-time in-home tasting attendee Ameera hosted a cookie swap tasting in celebration of her 30th birthday. The great thing about a cookie swap (besides the obvious) is that every guest gets to contribute and bring their favorite cookies to share. As the Wine Educator, I choose which wines I will bring to the tasting based upon the cookies everyone has offered to bake and bring.

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It’s certainly fun to apply my pairing knowledge and predict what I know (or at least am fairly certain) will be a great match, which cookies will be delicious with which wines, but it’s even more fun to see my dozen or more wine loving guests experiment with the flavors and come up with new and unpredictable pairings. We pleasantly found the following are fabulous together:

Oatmeal cookies with coconut with Chardonnay.
Gingerbread cookies with Viognier.
Caramel Apple Pie cookies with both Viognier and Chardonnay.
Dark chocolate raspberry cookies with Zinfandel (probably my all time fave!)
Peanut butter blossoms with Chardonnay and Zinfandel.
Dark chocolate peppermint with Malbec (this also pairs amazingly with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah).
Chocolate chip cookies with pretty much any red wine, both dry and sweet.

In previous cookie swap events, I have been been able to determine some general rules when it comes to pairing wine and cookies. That being said, when it comes to wine, there never seems to be one final answer, and all rules are meant to be broken. For instance, I assumed snickerdoodles would be much too sweet and sugary to pair well with an oaked Chardonnay, but much to my surprise, it was a delightful pairing. Generally speaking, the sweeter the cookie, the sweeter the wine. Sugar cookies and frosted cookies should pair nicely with semi sweet and sweet wines. Chocolate cookies with red wines is another almost sure bet. Lemon cookies, if not heavily glazed and not too sweet, seem to pair lovely with off dry and drier whites, especially those whites with citrus and/or lemon notes.

I was asked to create the pairing suggestions for your cookie swaps based upon wine category. You will find this fantastic chart designed by our design team below. But remember… rules are meant to be broken, and you might find additional matches that you find simply delicious. Happy pairing!

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

Rhode Island Wine and Waterfalls

A few months ago I found an article online guiding the reader through a day trip through Rhode Island that included a little hiking, several waterfalls, and various vineyards along the way. I love all of those things, so I texted my best friend Angi, we picked the date of Sunday, October 7, 2018 to go on said day trip, and we patiently awaited a new adventure. Neither of us are strangers to RI wineries in general, as we spend every 4th of July weekend in Newport, RI, followed by a day touring the RI portion of the Coastal Wine Trail. The vineyards and wineries more inland, however, were brand new to us.

The weather report wasn’t looking spectacular for our day trip, so we decided to forgo the waterfalls portion of the day and simply “do wine.” Truth be told, I’m glad it ended up this way, as it allowed more time for an extra winery visit than we had planned.

Leyden Farm Vineyards & Winery

Ang and I hopped in the car and drove about an hour south of my house, where we’d start our day at Leyden Farm Vineyards & Winery. First, let me start by saying the drive from Worcester, MA to West Greenwich, RI was simply beautiful. Rustic homes and farms, one pumpkin stand right after another, lots of small town charm, long winding back roads, and foliage that was just starting to glow. The drive itself with no destination at all would have been worth it, but alas, much wine awaited us.

Ang and I each bought a tasting, and then were instructed to go out back, choose to sit wherever we wished, and then go up to the tasting bar for each of our five selections. They had quite a bit of fruit wines, which Angi chose to taste. I tend to stay away from the sweeter styles and fruit wines when there are other options, so I went for their dry white and four dry reds, which included a Sangiovese, Merlot, “Romeo’s Red” (a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, and Landot Noir), and a Pinot Noir. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty certain not all of these grapes are estate grown, as many of them struggle to grow in our New England climate. What I found odd was that every single red I sampled was exactly the same bright ruby red. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Merlot such a bright shade of ruby. I should have asked more questions, but to be honest, I just wanted to taste some wine and enjoy a relaxing day with my bff! Sometimes I really need to force myself to draw the line between tasting wine for work and tasting wine for pure enjoyment. This day was for enjoyment.

What I did love was that several of their labels were pictures of dogs, and some of the wines were even named after their dogs. I think we all know how I feel about dogs! #dogmom

We enjoyed our wine on the quaint patio overlooking what appeared to be a Christmas tree farm and a lake with a fountain in the distance. It has a beautiful atmosphere and is a wonderful place to enjoy a relaxing day with people you love. We certainly could have stayed for a while and made ourselves comfy for a few hours, but there were other vineyards to see and wines to taste, so we got back in the car to head about 30 minutes north to Johnston, RI.

Verde Vineyards

Another stunning drive through winding New England back roads, and we arrived at Verde Vineyards, and incredibly quaint and rustic farm winery.  Of course the first thing I did upon arrival was hop out of the car and squeal with delight over the backyard chickens running about. I have this weird thing for birds. I love them. LOVE THEM! Chickens, ducks, turkeys, and of course parrots (I am a parront to two macaws, after all). Living in the city, I don’t really have the yard space to own my own chickens and ducks, but mark my words, when I eventually move out to the country, that’s one of the first things on my to-do list. Get chickens! Okay, back to the wine…

Before we even reached the tasting room entrance we were pleasantly greeted by two gentlemen, one of which was the owner, Giacomo (Jim) Verde. Sadly for us, they were completely sold out of white wines, so we were only able to taste the two reds. For $3 per tasting, you can’t really complain, and good for them for creating a product people love enough to buy out! Jim was proud to explain to us that Yankee Magazine had called him “the greenest vineyard in New England,” and not because his last name means green in Italian, but because his energy bill is $0. The farm creates all of their own energy. Angi and I truly enjoyed their reds, so we each walked out purchasing a bottle of St. Croix, a hybrid grape, that we will open during our annual Friendsgiving dinner and share with our closest friends. This vineyard was a charming farm that would be a delightful place to spend an entire day. Pack a picnic, grab some friends and family, head over to Verde Vineyards, buy a bottle, and just enjoy the small town feel. You won’t regret it.

It was suggested by the guys at Verde Vineyards that we add an additional winery visit to our day, and who are we to ignore a great recommendation? Back in the car it was for a quick drive north to the town of Chepachet, RI.

Mulberry Vineyards

I truly can’t get over the simple rustic beauty of every vineyard we visited. The moment we pulled up to Mulberry Vineyards, both of us fell in love. The owner, David Wright, was crushing Merlot grapes, and his wife Melissa was upstairs working the tasting bar, where she greeted us with a huge smile and warm welcome.

The Wrights are truly “living the dream.” They own and operate this gorgeous piece of vineyard property, and produce some truly delicious wines. Like most vineyards in New England, they do source their grapes from other areas of the country that are better suited for growing, and the result is some seriously high quality wines.

Alongside our tasting, Melissa gave us a little plate of the Merlot grapes David was crushing. I find this fascinating, to taste the grape at the exact brix and acidity level the winemaker desires to create the perfect wine. I thought this was such a great touch to add to the experience. The Merlot was fabulous, by the way, and I walked out purchasing a bottle to take home and enjoy.

Tavern On Main

After three fabulous wineries, we were starving, so on the way to our next winery we passed by what looked like a quaint tavern to have lunch. We had no idea what we were walking into. Usually we’ll take a moment to look up a menu online, assess the wine list, all that jazz. Not this time. We wanted to just pick a random place by the looks of it and see what we could find. Wow, were we glad we did. Tavern On Main in Chapachet, RI is one of those hidden gems you want to revisit as often as possible.

You never know what to expect on a wine list in a small town bar or grille. Actually, I take that back. I usually expect the wine list to be full of mass produced, cheap crap wine. Ang and I were pleasantly surprised to see their wine list contained two wines from the very vineyard we had just left, Mulberry Vineyards! I ordered a glass of red, Ang ordered the white, and we thoroughly enjoyed a glass of high quality, locally made wine. In addition, the menu blew us away. The menu was so diverse and had such enticing selections, it took us a bit of time to narrow it down and figure out what we wanted. The decision got a lot easier once I realized they had a seafood dish that was 100% lobster, crab, and butter. No bread crumbs, no carbs, just pure keto-friendly savory goodness. Ang and I started by splitting a bowl of steamers, and then I savored that lobster/crab/butter dish like nobody’s business. Heaven!

Purple Cat Winery & Brewery

Our final destination for this awesome day was a block or two down the road from the tavern, Purple Cat Winery & Brewery. This place is just plain fun. There was live music as we walked in, and people were enjoying tasting flights of both wine and craft beers. As if we didn’t eat enough delicious business at the tavern, for some reason I felt the need to order a charcuterie plate to enjoy with my tasting flight. I’m glad I did, as it was the perfect compliment to the nine or so wines we were able to taste, and it helped me stay away from the bowl of non-keto friendly CheezIts.

After the tasting, we decided to close the day by ordering a glass, relaxing on one of the several comfy couches, and kick our feet up. They closed at 6pm, we were still there at 6:20 (ooops), so we figured we overstayed our welcome and headed back home. Purple Cat was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed their “Trolly Car” red blend, which is what I ended up ordering by the glass.

And That’s A Wrap…

When we think about great wine regions of the world, Rhode Island isn’t one of them. In fact, no where in New England comes to mind. Despite that, what I have found is that we are incredibly fortunate to be home to many wonderful rustic farm wineries, some bigger commercial wineries, and some that are just plain fun. I don’t expect a big, bold California style Cab when I visit our local wineries, nor do I expect a grassy New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc. What I do expect is a unique flavor, some great blends, perhaps some unexplored hybrids, a few fruit wines here and there, and truly something to be proud of. New England has it all, and wineries, vineyards, and amazing cuisine are at the top of the list. We don’t need to compete with the Finger Lakes or California, that would be ridiculous. But we can stand on our own when it comes to local flavor and charm, and appreciate it for exactly what it is.

A Tale of Two Sauvignon Blancs

Traveling Vineyard has released two long awaited Sauvignon Blancs! I immediately ordered a bottle of each so I could “test them out” (haha, tough job) and see first hand what the differences are. Tasting them both together was a great way to see the differences, because I honestly don’t know if the differences are SO noticeable that one could tell them apart without the side-by-side.

jitterbugluloframeOur 2014 Lulo Sauvignon Blanc is from Dry Creek Valley, California and sourced from the Dry Creek Vineyard estate, which was the first new winery in the Dry Creek Valley appellation after prohibition. It also contains fruit from the Clarksburg appellation. Lulo is 99% Sauvignon Blanc and 1% Semillon, which gives it a little Bordeaux style roundness. It was aged in temperature controlled stainless steel with no oak.

Our 2014 Jitterbug Sauvignon Blanc is from mostly Clarksburg, California, with some fruit sourced from Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley. It is 100% Sauvignon Blanc aged in temperature controlled stainless steel only.

Right off the bat, they are both crisp, clean, light and refreshing with plenty of fruit. The acidity is very well balanced and doesn’t give that piercing, mouthwatering feeling on the tongue, which I think will appeal to a wide audience really well. The main difference between these two very similar wines: Lulo is definitely a bit smoother and has a nice rounded out finish. Jitterbug is a bit more citrusy, as far as the “feel” of citrus on the tongue. It was a bit sharper, for lack of better terms, but just slightly.

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Pairing: I paired them both with the same pairings. Macadamia nuts smoothed them both right out, as this nut will do with any acidic white.

Next up: meat rolls. We had rolls of ham, roast beef, turkey, and provolone all rolled up as one. This was fantastic with both wines, so a chef’s salad would be great with these wines, deli platters, ham and cheese sandwiches, Italian subs, muffalettas, etc. would be a delight. A great cold cut wine! I found Jitterbug brought out more of the meat flavors, and Lulo expressed more citrus fruit with this pairing. So interesting to note: Jitterbug brought out the food flavors where the meat rolls brought out the fruit flavors in Lulo. Opposite effect!

Next up: spinach dip with Stacey’s pita chips. This was phenomenal with both wines, but interestingly once again brought out two different aspects of each wine. Jitterbug made the spinach flavor itself stand out, while Lulo seemed to express a more herbal quality. Just like with the meat rolls, Jitterbug complimented the food and brought out the food flavors, while the food brought out the flavors in Lulo.

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Finally dinner: tossed some marinated chicken on the grill and grilled up some fresh pineapple rings. WOW! The chicken, grilled pineapple, and wine in the mouth at the same time was a fruit explosion! I can’t say which one I liked better, because they were both amazing with this pairing.

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We also boiled jumbo shrimp in Mojo seasoning. The shrimp/grilled pineapple/wine combo was just as good, because the Mojo seasoning has just a little kick of spice and citrus to it. We made a green salad and topped it with freshly grated lemongrass and then dressed with with olive oil and lemon juice. Simply fantastic!

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So my opinion? They are both incredible wines, especially for the summer weather and summer fare! If I had to choose one, which would I choose? Depends on the situation. Jitterbug has an amazing capacity for bringing out the flavors of its food pairings, so if I’m all about showcasing the food, I might go for Jitterbug. Lulo, on the other hand, is so smooth and has incredibly refreshing fruits coming forward when paired with food, so if I’m all about showcasing the wine, then I might go for Lulo. Either make a fantastic sipping wine. You’ll note I used a lot of lemon and citrus in these dishes… that was no mistake. These are two very acidic wines, and lemon will smooth out that acidity. I also wanted to bring the fruit notes forwards, which is why I used fresh lemongrass and grilled pineapple.

My customers already LOVE these wines, and the pairings are simple. Anything acidic and citrusy, anything acidic like goat cheese and various dairy based dips and spreads, cold cuts and sandwiches, salads, and certainly anything with some spice to it. This will be a fantastic sushi pairing wine

I brought Lulo to one of my in-home wine tastings last weekend, and we paired it with three-cheese artichoke dip and bbq chicken. It was a HUGE hit!

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I have never been a huge Sauvignon Blanc fan, but Lulo and Jitterbug have completely changed that! These are now two of my absolute favorites! Interested in trying them for yourself! You can have them delivered right to your door! Order at www.winedowntastings.com

Cheers!
Missa
facebook.com/winedowntastings

Napa Valley Masterclass with the Guild of Sommeliers

Hello wine lovers! I’ve been busy sharing my love of wine with others and learning as much as I can by going to classes and wine seminars-a-plenty!

On April 15, 2015 I attended a Masterclass with the Guild of Sommeliers at Catalyst in Cambridge, MA. Matt Stamp, MS was the instructor, who is the Education Director for Guild of Sommeliers. Living in Napa Valley himself, Matt Stamp has a wealth of knowledge to share and I was really glad I took this class! It started at 10am and was going to involve tasting 18 wines in 4 flights in 3 hours. Oh my!

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First, a whole lot of education about Napa. Napa Valley is known for its incredible Cabernet Sauvignons, which typically aren’t very cheap. The price tag of Napa Cabs, however, start with the land. An acre of top quality Cabernet Sauvignon land can run between $300,000 – $500,000! Add in the vines, the labor, the winemaking, etc., and you can see how the price is reflected once it gets down to the bottle.

Napa Valley is small in size but big in quality and diversity. It only supplies 4% of California wine, and 4/10 of 1% of the world’s wine. 45,000 acres of Napa Valley are under vine. In comparison, 90,000 acres of Bordeaux are under vine. Napa is 1/8 the size of Bordeaux!

Although the area of Napa is small, the climate and elevation varies a great deal in just a short distance. Although it is a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and wet winters, it varies greatly from north to south and from valley to mountain top. The temperature variation is vast, and there is a great marine fog and inversion, as well. The valley floor experiences an incredible diurnal shift, which results in broader style wines that still have great acidity because of the cool nighttime temperatures. The soils can vary greatly, as well, because there are hillside stream soils, which are thin, stony, and not too weathered, there are alluvial fans, which are shallow, more drained, and of single geological origin, and then there are fluvial soils, which are found near the river and the base of Napa Valley. They are more clay heavy, deeper, and of mixed geological origin.

The strengths of Napa Valley include a Mediterranean climate, complex soils, grape growing and brand history, proximity to San Fransisco, food and tourism culture, international recognition, and great wines! Disadvantages of Napa Valley wines are the costs, including the land, labor, farming, fruit, and the finished wine. There is also a reputation in Napa of sommeliers vs. critic scores. And of course, there is the wine vs. the wine lifestyle.

After quite a bit of very interesting lecture about Napa Valley, it was time to taste 18 wines.

Flight number 1- The Whites

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Flight 1
2012 Schramsberg “Blancs des Blancs” 100% Chardonnay SRP: $38
– this was a sparkling wine that showed a nice tart apple and was relatively high in acidity. Nice and crisp!

2013 Massican “Annia” (Napa Valley AVA) 44% Friulano, 36% Ribolla Gialla, 20% Chardonnay SRP: $28
– this wine was aged on the lees, saw no malolactic.

2013 Farella Sauvignon Blanc (Coombsvilla AVA) 100% Sauvignon Blanc SRP: $20
– guava juice, sulpher, I got heavy notes of onion on this. I was not a fan! This did see some oak.

2012 Lail “Georgia” Sauvignon Blanc (Totem Vineyard, Yountville/Napa Valley AVA) 100% Sauvignon Blanc SRP: $120
– herbaceous, high acid, this I liked MUCH better than the first SB. (Considering the price, now I see why! LOL)

Flight 2 – Chardonnay
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Now this was a very cool flight to taste because they were all Chadonnays, so we could really see the differences in each vineyard.

2012 White Rock Chardonnay (Napa Valley AVA) 100% Chardonnay SRP: $34
– dry, tart green apples, high acid, old oak, lemon and pear. This is a great produced of classic style Chardonnay.

2004 Stony Hill Cardonnay (Spring Mountain District AVA) 100% Chardonnay, Wente Clones SRP: $42 (current vintage)
– dry, nutty on the palate, almond, sour apple/pear, high acid, old oak. They look toward Chablis as a model for their winemaking. They’ve been making wine since the 1950s. Almost entirely white wines (they also grow Riesling). Not much use of malolactic.

2007 Mayacamas Chardonnay (Mt. Veeder AVA) 100% Chardonnay, Shot Wente SRP: $80
– Founded as Fisher & Sons winery in 1890, became a ghost winery during prohibition. Mayacamas reds are known for being huge reds and aging for 30 years. This is a riper style vintage than the 2004 Stony Hill we just tasted. It was fermented in concrete, then moved to uprights for 6 months, then moved to barrels for malolactic fermentation.

2011 Kongsgaard Chardonnay (Carneros, Hudson and Hyde Vineyards/Napa Valley AVA) 100% Chardonnay, Wente Clones SRP: $110ish
– strong vanilla, butterscotch, high acid, lots of new oak. Carneros fruit from (Lee) Hudson and (Larry) Hyde Vineyards. John Kongsgaard known for the death and resurrection of the wine: press, ferment, all brown juice for like a year. Then he clarifies the wine and brings it back to life (sulfur). He is known for going to the grape growers and telling THEM how he wanted them to grow the grapes, not the other way around.

Flight 3 The Reds

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2013 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel (Napa Valley AVA – St. Helena & Rutherford) 77% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Syrah, 1% Carignan SRP: $30
– very dry, high acid, high tannins, cherry, plum, spice, black pepper. 20% new American oak. Frog’s Leap produces really good wine at really big production. Fresh and exuberant, this comes from fluvial soil.

2012 Storybook Mountain “Eastern Exposures” Zinfandel (Napa Valley AVA) SRP: $55
– jammy, blackberry, raspberry, big, bold, everything a Zinfandel should be. High tannins, high acid, dry, nicely balanced. 20% new American oak. This is my kind of Zin!

2012 Lagier-Meredith Syrah (Mt. Veeder AVA) 100% Syrah SRP: $48
– black fruit, earth, minerality, bone dry. High in pH. Blue and black fruits, smokey, savory tones. Peppery, green olive.

2010 Matthiasson Red (Napa Valley AVA) 55% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot SRP: $90
– Oak Knoll fruit (Dry Creeks alluvial fan), green peppers, herbaceous, coffee. Dry. Steve Matthiasson co-wrote the Lodi Green rules.

Flight 4 – The Cabs

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2011 Corison “Kronos” Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena AVA) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon SRP: $150
– black pepper, red fruits, black fruits, cedar. This is a traditional Napa Cab. This vineyard was planted in 1971 as Petite Sirah, then was grafted into Cab Sauv. This vineyard is still very old school as far as beig a widely spaced vineyard.

2011 Spottswoode “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena AVA) 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot SRP: $150
– red bell pepper, deep blue, black fruit, very dry, high acid and tannins. A pitch perfect classic Napa Valley Cab.

2011 Realm “Farella” Cabernet Sauvignon (Coombsville AVA) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon SRP: $150
– bone dry, high acid and tannins. This is the iconic cult style of Cabs.

2008 Diamond Creek “Volcanic Hill” Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain AVA) Mixed planting, predominantly CS SRP: $175
– First winery in Napa to label Cab as a grape on the label. Has a minerality to it. Austere tannin on the finish. Great representation of a mountain Cab.

2001 Robert Mondavi “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville AVA) 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot SRP: $125 (01 price)
– dry, still tannic even though it is a 2001, oak is still present. Still has decades of aging. Robert Mondavi’s first vintage was in 1966.

1997 Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville AVA) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon SRP: N/A
– eucalyptol (has a string of eucalyptus trees next to vinyard) = airborne terroir. This vintage is at the end of its life. First vintage was 1966.

I’ve got to tell you, 18 wines in a couple of hours… wow. My senses were pretty much shot after that. That was a LOT of aroma smelling! I had a Traveling Vineyard tasting to conduct that night, and on my way to my hostess’s house, all I could smell was a strong vanilla aroma from new American oak! LOL It was embedded in my nose and brain! Fortunately I’ve become a master at tasting, swishing, and spitting the wine, so I’m no longer ingesting the wines and getting buzzed. Of course when I go back and look at the prices of some of these wines, it makes me sad that they haven’t been fully enjoyed and just spit out! At least I know they’ve gone to a good cause… the learning of and appreciation for the beauty of wine.

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So my knowledge quest continues and my continuous studying for the next level of my CMS goes on. Meanwhile, my Traveling Vineyard business has been going wonderfully. My team continues to grow (I have 9 wonderful wine babies now) and I am on the brink of earning my incentive trip to Cabo! Our New England regional meeting is this Sunday, which is going to be super exciting, so I will be sure to write a blog about all that fun and excitement! Drop me a line sometime or come chat with me on my Facebook page at facebook.com/winedowntastings!

Cheers!
Missa
http://www.winedowntastings.com
winedowntastings@gmail.com

Dissecting a Red Blend: Tanglerose Backyard Red, Lot 12A-NC

Last night I held my monthly team meeting at my house for my Traveling Vineyard team of wine guides, The Winelist. Each month I give them a bit of wine education along with other business related things. Our wine education consisted of dissecting one of our Traveling Vineyard wines. It’s an incredibly delicious red blend that is one of my absolute best sellers called Tanglerose Backyard Red. This particular blend is Lot 12A-NC, which is the latest blend. It is a California blend and consists of the following:

37% Napa Valley Tempranillo, 28.8% Napa Valley Syrah, 13.3% Sonoma Carneros Merlot, 10.9% Lake County Cabernet Franc, and 10% Sonoma County Petite Sirah.

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What I wanted to do for my team was dissect the blend and taste each of these grapes alone as single varietals, go through the four steps of wine tasting for each varietal to determine the color, body, aromas, and palate, pair each varietal with a proper food pairing, and then finally after we finish the five varietals separately, we would taste the Tanglerose Backyard Red blend and try to distinguish how each varietal lends its characteristics to the blend to make it what it is.

What we needed, of course, was wine! Since Tanglerose Backyard Red is a blend of California grapes, it would have been ideal to taste the individual varietals from California. Unfortunately, each team member wasn’t able to find their designated varietal from California, so we had to make do with some of the varietals from other regions. No problem, I made sure to note any flavor differences that a California wine would have had. These are the wines we tasted:
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Tempranillo: We began with the varietal that is the most abundant in the Tanglerose Backyard Red blend, in particular, Campo Viejo Rioja 2012 Tempranillo which team member Jen Favata brought. We learned all about the Tempranillo grape, from the climate it thrives in and the soil it prefers to the fact that it ages incredibly well. Because we were tasting a Spanish Tempranillo and not a California one, we focused on the similarities in both flavor profiles, such as red cherries, strawberries, red berries and red plum, as well as the herbal quality of dill. Most of us were able to detect notes of dill, which was fun. Both Spanish and California versions often contain essence of tobacco, vanilla, leather, coffee, and tea. Our conclusion? There were only a couple of us who have had Tempranillo before, and we were not impressed with this particular brand. I prefer my Tempranillos heftier with more smoke qualities, and this just seemed bland to me. We paired it with smoked Gouda, and we all decided we liked it much better paired with the cheese. I think the cheese gave it all its character!

Syrah: The second most abundant grape in Tanglerose is Syrah, so this came next. Again, not from California, we sampled the 2013 Fabrizio Dionisio Castagnino Syrah Cortona, Tuscany, Italy, which Winelister Jen Turner brought. The Syrah grape is a thick skinned, beautifully dark grape, blueish, almost black in color, and it grows in large, tight bunches. These wines tend to be quite tannic and can be aged for quite a while. Much like the Riesling grape, Syrah has the ability to reflect where it was grown in its flavor. These wines are usually big with black raspberry, blackberry, and cherry, but with notable black and white pepper. It’s not usually a high acid wine, but instead a wine high in tannins. Therefore, a Syrah requires a big food pairing, something to smooth out those tannins and a big flavor to stand up to it. When we smelled this wine, spice just hit us in the face. It was wonderful! On the palate it was very tannic with very low acidity, as expected. It was everything a Syrah should be. We paired this with black licorice to bring out the notes of anise, and boy did it ever! It was incredible!

Merlot: Next in the blend is Merlot. Winelister Gina Brown brought a 2011 Murphy-Goode Merlot from California. Merlot is a thin skinned grape, and because of that thin skin, it would naturally be lower in tannins than say a Cabernet Sauvignon that has a thicker skin. Merlot ripens early, so it tends to avoid any damage caused by an early fall frost. Merlot displays great fruit flavors, such as blackberry, black cherry, plum, and black currant in addition to red fruits such as red cherries and raspberry. However, really good Merlots aren’t all about fruit, they are also balanced out with earth notes, such as oak, tobacco, chocolate, and cedar. The Murphy-Goode was no exception. Earthy notes were one of the first aromas to hit my nose, even before the fruit aromas. When we tasted it, I was even more pleased. Not usually a big fan of Merlot, this wine really impressed me. It had great spice to it, earthy notes to it, and was well rounded out with fruit. Winelister Donna Rutigliano made a flourless chocolate cake to pair with this wine, and was it ever heavenly! OMG!! It brought those chocolate notes of the Merlot right to the forefront. This is a Merlot I would absolutely drink again, and that is saying a lot!

Cabernet Franc: Winelister Stephanie MacGinnis brought our Cabernet Franc, a 2010 Domaine des Chesnaies ‘Lame Delisle Boucard’ Bourgueil Cuvee Prestige, Loire, France (gotta love French wine labels!) Interesting fun fact, Cabernet Franc is actually a “parent” grape to Cabernet Sauvignon, the other “parent” grape being Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Franc tends to bud early and therefore ripen early. They are large grapes that have fairly thick skins, but are not overly tannic due to their pulp to skin ratio. Cabernet Franc wines have great balance of acidity and tannins with great fruit and spice. They are spicier than Merlot, but more herbaceous than Cabernet Sauvignon with less tannins. You’ll tend to find notes of blackberries, plums, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and cassis. Earthy and herb notes tends to be mint, green olives, anise, green peppers, nutmeg, leather, oak, cedar, and hints of violets. The California versions of Cabernet Franc tend to have more tannins and less acid than the French versions, so we kept that in mind while tasting this French bottle. On the nose, this was very spicy (black pepper). It was phenomenal on the palate. Only once we tasted it did we finally find notes of violets on the finish. No one could find any mint, but I have to wonder if we paired it with something chocolate mint if that flavor wouldn’t have come right out. What we did pair it with was olive tapenade on crackers, and oh my word, it was heaven! Smoothed it right out and brought those olive flavors to the forefront. Incredibly delicious!

Petite Sirah: Our last varietal in the blend is probably the most powerful of the five, which is why it is so often used as a blending grape to provide heft, tannins, structure, complexity, and length of finish. Winelister Lisa Woods provided a bottle of 2012 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah from California. Petite Sirah is a slow grower and has a problem with rot because of its tightly bunched grape clusters. One can deduce it doesn’t do too well in humid climates, because of this, so it thrives in the drier hillsides of the California Coast. Petite Sirah is bold… bold in flavor, in color, and in tannins. It has a deep, inky color and can be described as chewy in the mouth. It can be aged for quite some time. Common flavor and aroma profiles are black pepper, plum, black cherries, blackberries, coffee, smoke, caramel, anise, cloves, and leather. We absolutely smelled leather the moment we swirled and smelled this. I LOVE leather smell in my red wines. This had an incredible full body to it. We paired it with peppered salami, and wow, was it delish! Petite Sirah is not for the timid wine drinker!

Put it all together! Tanglerose Backyard Red Blend Lot 12A-NC: I provided Traveling Vineyard’s Tanglerose Backyard Red. Our winemaker Francis Sanders didn’t just put these grapes together all willy nilly. He had a plan! Straight from our tasting notes: “While blending this wine we aimed to leverage the best qualities of each varietal, highlighting the dried cranberry, cinnamon and toasted cedar notes from Tempranillo. The Napa Valley Syrah lends unctuous notes of cassis, violets and some spicy black pepper. A bit of Merlot from Sonoma’s Carneros region delivers suppleness and ripe fruity notes with floral and cherry aromas. The Lake County Cabernet Franc lends the wine a note of seriousness with notes of olives and nuts while the addition of Petite Sirah gives the wine necessary heft and tannin.” This blend is a beautiful slightly translucent garnet to brick in color and is a medium+ body. On the nose, you will find red, brown, and black fruits, pepper, spicy ginger, earthy, herbaceous notes,  and a toasty quality. On the palate, you will taste all the flavors you smell and then some. It is an accessible wine, fruit driven yet dry with an earthy quality at the end. This is your go-to BBQ wine! We paired this wine with pulled pork, and WOW! This is also incredible with smoked Gouda, chocolate anything, and all of the pairings we had with our single varietals.
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Want to try Tanglerose Backyard Red for yourself? It will be delivered right to your door! This gem is only $16.99 a bottle! At that price, it’s worth buying a case! You can find it at http://www.winedowntastings.com SKU: CAL962

Pics of our team meeting:
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Cheers!
Missa
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http://www.winedowntastings.com

Oh Malbec, How I Love Thee

My love Dennis and I absolutely LOVE a great Argentinian Malbec. In fact, when we go out for a nice steak, one of us will order a Malbec and the other will order a Cabernet Sauvignon so we can see which we like better and go back and forth. Yes, we’re wine geeks like that. This year as part of his Valentine’s gift, I wanted to get him a couple of really nice bottles of wine, so I went to a local wine shop a couple of miles down the road from me called the Wine Vine on Highland Street in Worcester, MA. Dennis and I just love this shop. The owners Sang and Camille are wonderful… knowledgeable, friendly, just a really nice couple. So I went in asking for a nice Argentinian Malbec, and Sang suggested the Marta’s Vineyard 2008 Reserve Malbec. He explained that this particular wine only comes out with a vintage every 10 years, so of course this 2008 was the latest vintage. Marta’s Vineyard is a family business. They grow the vines, handpick the grapes, and select the very best to go into their wines. Their winemaker then makes the wine under the watch of Marta Lunardi, which is who the business is named after and led by, and then they cellar and bottle it. I was absolutely sold, so I bought a bottle for $32 and went on my way.

We finally opened this bottle the other night, and oh my what a treat! We aerated it through an instant aerator/decanter, and then took a few sips before pairing it with a deep chocolate cake. The first thing I noticed was how smooth it was as far as tannins go, but still had decent acidity to it. The fruit, oh the fruit! Blackberries, plum, even chocolate, you name it! It was heaven. Little did I know, that was just the beginning. Then this came…

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No words! NONE! It was heavenly! The cake brought out all of the chocolate undertones of the wine and completely smoothed out the acidity of the wine. It was like a chocolate/fruit party on the palate! As incredible as this wine was alone, I didn’t want to keep sipping without pairing a little bit of the cake with each sip, that’s how delicious the combination was.

We also paired it with pot roast later on (yes, dessert before dinner… we just couldn’t wait for the chocolate and Malbec pairing!), and although it was also delicious with the pot roast, it was far better with the chocolate cake as a pairing. I imagine it would have been incredible with a nice medium/medium-rare steak. Guess there’s only one way to find out!

I went to the Marta’s Vineyard website in hopes of finding some more detailed information about this particular wine, but I couldn’t find anything at all, so I emailed them in hopes of some more info. Bottom line? It’s amazing, and at $32 a bottle we will certainly be returning to the Wine Vine to purchase another bottle!

Cheers!
Missa
facebook.com/winedowntastings
http://www.winedowntastings.com