16 December, 2016

If you're smart, Join the Dean's List at Materra|Cunat Family Vineyards in Napa


Photo Credit: Materra/Cunat Family wines
This time of year, a lot of people ask me where to take their out of town relatives in Napa. With so many delicious, luxe fun places, I wanted to highlight a "smart" choice, where you can "drink for the kids"** during this holiday season.  I was hosted here during the summer.

Materra| Cunat Family Vineyards in the Oak Knoll District is a relatively new tasting room open by appointment where you can taste wines of quality.  Here, artistry in oenology is served in art filled setting.  

Brian Cunat and his wife Miki and their extended family invested in fifty acres in the Oak Knoll AVA in 2007. Today, they leverage relationships with mountain fruit growers as well as their own estate fruit to create lovely Napa wines.  
We get excited about Fancy sorter destemmers

Calling their wine club the "Dean's" list is a nod to Dean Cunat,  a Midwestern farmer who inspired a love of the land and farming in his son, Brian.  When Miki and Brian saw the lovely parcel in Oak Knoll with its distinctive soil, then experienced the flavor profile of local finished wines, they knew they had found their spot.  Partnering with Brian's brother, John to purchase the estate, today many members of the family participate.  We met Neena, the oldest daughter who leads the winery's efforts.  Neena walked us through the impressive production facility and did not laugh when we gushed over their pristine operation, which includes a very cool mechanical sorter destemmer.  We also quizzed her about a cool experimental cone shaped stainless vat.  Walking around it was easy to see the family's investment in action.  But what was more fun was to taste through those successful efforts:

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon,  Rutherford($65) Wine from this tough year is frequently sparse but delicious,  Materra is no exception.  Difficult harvest produced a wonderful wine with a long elegant vinous driven finish.  Flavors are a balance of vinous and fruit with a top note of black raspberry and gorgeous dusty notes, the hallmark of Rutherford dust.  They marked the bottles with silver foil to mark the achievement.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain (wine Club only) Blending in a little Petit Verdot, Merlot  and Malbec creates a Bordeaux inspired wine. They only produce fifty cases of this Wine-Club-Only  wine.  A luscious perfectly integrated blend with lively aromas of anise and blueberry and a beautifully vinous finish will tempt  you to join.  

They also make white wines,  Both a lovely Viognier, which is a balanced wine with nice structure and hints of stone fruit as well as a rich, but elegant Chardonnay with "Golidlocks" oak #Just_Right. 


Tactile art in one shelf-drinkable art in the other
Their Merlot varietal is lush and balanced lots of dark fruits and touch of bittersweet chocolate in the aromas and flavors with dark, forest-y berry in the finish.  Until December 31 2016, Materra has a cool holiday special of  a three bottle Merlot vertical that includes one bottle each of 2009, 2010 and 2011 Right Bank Reserve which is a bargain at $100.  Merry Christmas to whomever receives that!

It's a great place to visit.  Care is taken to telegraph the family's artistic focus by their beautiful facility.  Artful touches like the beautiful, tactile art enhance your visit.

**For Christmas they are doing something awesome.  If  you bring a new and unwrapped toy with a value of at least $25, Materra will waive your tasting fee as well as organize toy delivery to Toys 4 Tots.  So you are as smart as a Dean's list member, drinking great wine to benefit the kids.
Even if you miss the holiday festivities, it's a great place to visit to experience artful wines in a friendly place.


For more information about tastings and tours, click here:
Visit Materra



01 December, 2016

Green Valley Wines


What a fitting start to Advent:  heavenly wines from the Green Valley appellation. Snuggled near the Russian River Valley, Green Valley has a special taste of place.  These three innovative wineries showcased exmples of how they bring delicious wines to market the best way possible: tasting!

Here are three great examples 
1) 2013 Chenoweth Vineyards Pinot Noir Sedition Wines - Interesting spicy wine made from Pommard clone and worth every dollar of the $75 price. Josh cut his teeth at our fave, Kokomo and now works delish Pinot stylings at Sedition Join the rebellion !
2) 2013 Magnum Porcum Pinot Noir, Cam Low Cellars ($45) a sassy fun wine whose label seduced me to use the wine in my meat glaze Think delicious; think @CamLowCellars 
3) 2012 Calypso Vineyard, Syrah Scherrer Vineyards ($45)  -Love Fred Scherrer's philosophy in life and winemaking ( Syrah is the answer to the questions not resolved by Pinot) Smooth blackberry herb kissed wine
Bottom line: look to Green Valley for your holiday picks.
Many thanks to Robert Larsen and the Green Valley team for sharing the amazing samples with me

21 November, 2016

Discovering More to #SeeEatLove in Oakland

See. Eat. Love  offers  you a fun way to get to know Oakland in  the most delicious way possible: through food, beverage and the companionship of kindred spirits.

For the past the two years since leaving a corporate marketing job,  owner,  Raquel Navarro has been refining the walking tour experience.  Today, she showcases three Oakland neighborhoods and brings forward all her wonderful discoveries in a delicious and fun three hour package.

The East Bay Wine Posse (@thegourmez, @wineharlots, @sftownie and @brixchik_Xan) was lucky enough to try out the Oakland Warehouse District Walking tour,   With all the planning taken care of, we were free to taste, learn and laugh our way through discovery

Our meeting place was Dashe Cellars, This Oakland wine production facility and tasting room was started by Anne and Mike Dashe. Both are winemakers and their logo shows the nexus of their different sides.
Anne and Mike via Fish and Primate

Anne, who studied at the University of Bordeaux, is from Brittany, while Mike is from Tarzana, CA.  Represented by the fish and the primate, their styles mesh in some interesting wines.  2013 saw their first production of Grenache Blanc. We detected the notes of oxidation and learned that Grenache Blanc had a tendency towards this.  The inaugural vintage was unfined and unfiltered and the grapes were allowed to express themselves with exuberance, which resulted in aromas of apple pie with a gamy note, along with tropical fruit and an astringent kick to the midpalate.

My favorite wine of the day was the 2015  Les Enfants Terrible Zinfandel from Heart Arrow Ranch. Mendocino fruit is coaxed into a balanced wine with fruit, minerality and complexity.  Carbonic maceration as well as time in neutral oak brings up delicious, almost delicate, Zin. We tried the wines with an assortment of well paired cheeses that complemented the wines.  This was the first course of our progressive lunch.  The opportunity to taste through the offerings with the knowledgeable staff helped me come away with a much deeper experience of Dashe Cellars than on previous visits.  Like The Terminator, "I'll be back".

Our next  stop was nearby Urban Legends Winery. They poured a nice Carneros Chardonnay, which paired well with the
Javi's Empanadas.  This modern tasting room is set up to help you learn while you taste.  Urban Legends does some interesting blends, so tasting through unfamiliar combinations is encouraged.  Relax and enjoy the experience.  Relaxation among other patrons may have been pierced by our squeals of delight when we heard Javi's  Emapanadas filled the main course slot of our progressive lunch.  Javier Sandes, Javi, perfected the tender crust and sumptuous filling in his miraculous empanadas.  I had a Ham and Cheese with salty meat and a rich sauce of gooey mozzarella and savory Fontina.  The  Pork was paired with chunks of pineapple and spices.  Rabbit, Mushroom and Classic ground beef are other flavors.  You can order online, chase the food truck or have frozen empanadas shipped to you.  As the holidays approach, who couldn't use a crowd pleasing hit readily in the freezer?  Warning:  the juicy fillings will try to catch a ride on whatever you are wearing. With volume as an indicator of enjoyment, our tour was leveling up at this modern spot.  Growlers adorned with Oakland sights were a favorite souvenir.

Not admitting saying we were wobbling more than walking towards our third and final spot, Jeff Cohn Cellars but when our happy band of food explorers entered, we were warm and giggly and ready to try these wines.  The winery specializes in Rhone varieties.  I loved the fresh, floral taste of the Viognier, Stagecoach Vineyard, Atlas Peak, Napa, CA.  A collaboration with Yves Gangloff from Condrieu, getting to taste a local version of French favorite was fun.  We also enjoyed some lovely Zinfandels from the Shake Ridge in Amador County.  Dense and lovely, lit with the juiciness of Amador County it reminded me I need to go back.  And of course, ending our lunch with a dessert of We The Minis was a spectacular way to end the progression.  We the Minis not only produce delicious, toothsome macarons, powered from within by intense flavors in this case the succulent cinnamon of Churros, but they also donate 5% of their profits the end family homelessness.  Whenever I can eat well and do good at the same time I am all in.  And best of all, these macarons were insanely tasty. My teeth broke a subtle crunch, that was followed by an explosion of creamy cinnamon flavors calling back a churro, while I celebrated all that is delicious with macarons.  How perfect an ending can you get?


The warm feeling inside was intense satisfaction in my hometown of Oakland as well as an appreciation for the good taste and organization of Raquel Navarro.  As the holiday season gears up and you are looking  for something fun to do, make time for a walking tour and take time to See, Eat and Love Oakland.  You get a little exercise, time with your friends and a new (or renewed) appreciation of the delicious East Bay Food scene.

For information on how to book a tour click here

Many thanks to Raquel Navarro and See. Eat. Love for gifting us this tour.  


04 November, 2016

Congratulations, Chicago! Go, Cubs! And Go Drumbar! #CocktailsandChill


Photo Credit Murway-Drumbar
If you're in Chicago and you are celebrating (who isn't?), Drumbar has just announced the launch of their fall cocktail menu, #CocktailsandChill. With cool, clubby furniture and a plethora of delicious cocktails, they channel the best of speakeasy spirit.   Tempt yourself by reviewing their full menu here Caution: the whimsical mixology  will make you want to run to the rooftop bar atop Chicago's luxe  Raffaello Hotel.  Happy hour is 8pm - 10pm.

With "Game of Thrones", on extended hiatus, my new heroine is Whitney Morrow,  Drumbar's beverage manager, who, with the Drumbar team, developed a range of cocktails based on various Netflix shows. 

Genius.   Inspired by Chicago’s upcoming winter hibernation and unavoidable Netflix binging, they ranked each cocktail on a five star scale from chill to boozy, with five stars being the most alcohol-infused. Additionally, each beverage reflects its corresponding show either in personality or in appearance.

 
My favorite binge-worthy show, Orange is the New Black,  represents with a  bright orange cocktail made with Rhine Hall Mango Brandy,  lemon,  salted sweet potato syrup and Grand Marnier. 

Thai Bitters give this drink a hot and tangy flavor, which contrasts with its fall-spice top notes.

Drumbar was kind enough to share the recipe below:

Orange Is The New Black Recipe

Ingredients:
.75 oz Rhine Hall Mango Brandy
.5 oz grand mariner
1 oz salted sweet potato syrup
.75 oz lemon juice 
Dash angostura bitters
Dash Thai spice bitters

Instructions:
Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin (aka cocktail shaker), shake and then strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice. 

Rhine Hall is a distillery located right in Downtown Chicago.  Small batches  of fruit brandies made with quality ingredients are the hallmark of the brand.  

It sounded so delicious I gave recreating it a shot and was delighted.  I paired it with a show called "The Code" and some Pumpkin Spice Mochi.  Hibernation comes naturally to me---especially after a couple of these boozy treats.  The sweet potato gave it a roundness, the spice and heat piqued my taste buds and my housemade mango-whiskey elixir was Taystee.

As the season for celebrating gets underway for everyone, not just Cubs fans,  sharing a cocktail and an episode or two (or four) with friends who finally have time, is a great way to make an event out of a rainy Wednesday.  Many thanks to Drumbar for the inspiration, recipes and invitation to experience these cocktails by your crackling fire.  I might just take you up on it!

02 November, 2016

Boozy Frozen Sabayon

Frozen Sabayon paired with Dessert Wine



When I have people over, I love making home made ice cream.  It's easy to make in advance and adds a special touch.  I can try exotic options like Rose Petal, Heritage Peach, Dried Cherry and Port, the list goes on.

My go-to ice cream base takes two days to make, what with the custard making, base chilling, etc, so I  experimented with a quicker recipe that lets me go from cravings to savorings in about an hour.

The hardest step of this recipe is tempering the eggs, which requires beating the yolks over a double boiler enough to make them safe but taking care to prevent scrambling.  This step is a pain but necessary as home made ice cream can present a Salmonella risk otherwise.  More about that here

At this summer's International Food Blogger Conference, I met the great team from Davidson's Safest Choice Eggs.  Their wonderful product makes my recipe easier, safer and faster. Now I have more time to come up with cool flavors.  One of my favorites is adding a white dessert wine and Tawny port, so a natural food pair is made when you serve the dessert with the remaining wine.  The alcohol helps keep the texture of the gelato super soft


Frozen Sabayon
6 Davidson's Safest Choice Egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar separated into 2 tbs and 4 tbs
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp (separated)  sweet white dessert wine like Sauternes or Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc
1 tbsp tawny port (you could also use an orange liqueur if you want to bring up orange notes)
1 tsp finely chopped orange zest
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

Beat 6 eggs yolks with 2 tbs sugar with an electric mixer until the mixture is pale yellow and very thick...about 4-5 minutes. Whisking vigorously with a wire whisk, add the 1/4 cup of wine  into the egg yolk. Then add, the orange zest and the remaining wine as well as the port.  Add the liquor slowly while whisking continuously.  When the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon it is done.

In separate bowl, whip cream into soft peaks. Add remaining sugar and continue beating until well mixed but stop before the cream gets too stiff or turns to butter. Once sugar is mixed in, fold in sabayon. Once the two mixtures are loosely incorporated, pour into ice cream maker and process according to manufacturers direction. I usually take it out of the ice cream maker at a soft stage and place it in a freezer container to set.  The texture will be softer than commercial ice cream.

Use the leftover Davidson's Safest Choice Egg whites to make meringues.  For an exotic flavor already in your pantry flavored them with Cracked Black Pepper.  These are easy, fun treats and you can have 100% confidence they are as safe as they are tasty.

I am posting this as an entry for a Davidson's Safest Choice Egg recipe contest that has a $4,000 prize, but I already feel like a winner with even more food safety and time savings when I make my boozy gelati!

28 October, 2016

What to drink with Your Halloween Candy? Be Late. Late Harvest Riesling



Pairing Halloween Candy with Wine
Two confessions: First, I never buy Halloween candy until 10/31 otherwise I just have to buy it twice .  Okay, there was that low point in 2012 where I might have made three trips to replace some very bad food choices.  And second, likely a moot point now:  I love Halloween candy.

Nothing made me happier as a child than a pillowcase full of sugary loot. The handles on those plastic pumpkins were never sturdy enough to accommodate my sugar crazed zeal as I tramped through our very hilly and drizzly San Francisco neighborhood trick-or-treating.

 Pairing candy with wine?  Not my favorite thing.  The first two rules of wine and food pairing will explain why pairing wine with candy is hard.  Rule #1 is that food sweetness should be less than or equal to wine.  Candy lands on the intensely sweet side of the food spectrum.  It is further complicated in that sour-sweet candies, which are by nature less sweet, can  have a rampantly acidic character if they are flavored by citric acid.  This wreaks havoc with Rule #2: Food acidity should be less than or equal to wine.

Samwell Tarly and I felt Funko POPped
So where do you start your Monster Mash?  It may have been ill advised, but I started mine where the best bet for pairing wine with anything starts: Experimentation.

I selected a wine with more than moderate sweetness and also, with a good amount of acidity.  In my wine stash I found a bottle of  Talbott R & V  Late Harvest Riesling  from the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County in California.  This golden colored wine has aromas of stone fruit, vanilla, white flowers and subtle tropical notes.  Flavors of apricots, honey and vanilla nestle in its silky texture.  It's sweet, but enlivened by bright acidity, so doesn't taste cloying.

 It really all went downhill from there.

There were miniatures of all kinds and some full sized bags. Most of the candy overpowered the wine with intense sweetness. Or lacked a bridge flavor to hook with the wine, so never became a  harmonious match.  I perservered.

Best Pairing: Kit Kats and Late Harvest Riesling
As luck would have it, I soon found a tasty match in my candy grab bag.  Kit Kat candy bars have a vanilla top note to their chocolate coating as well as a touch of salt, so the candy matches the vanilla and pairs well with the caramel-touched apricot tones of the wine.  Additionally, the crispy wafers decreased the sweetness and increased the crunch, which proved an interesting textural note against the unctuous wine.  Sadly, the old Riesling vines used to conjure up this delicious elixir have been replanted, so this pair is as ephemeral as childhood itself.  But I sipped, crunched, reminisced and dreamt of more Late Harvest Rieslings in my future.  Bring on the Trick or Treaters--just don't expect me to share my KitKats!

Moral of the story: You can't go wrong pairing food with Riesling





17 October, 2016

"But First Champagne" Talking with Author David White

BUT FIRST, CHAMPAGNE. is a new book out October 18th by author and blogger, David White.  David, in real life, works in DC and is as close to a "Scandal" character as I know.   He founded the blog Terroirist, which he currently writes and edits.  He is also a contributor to Grape Collective and keeps busy winning awards and wine writing for dozens of publications, including The World of Fine Wine, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.  Now, David inspires us with words on a favorite subject: Champagne

"From dinner with friends to a child's laughter or a lover's embrace, every day has moments worthy of a toast."...

..is a quote from a recent interview with NPR's The Salt.   Which as we all know is so appropriate for food and wine pairing as salt is ameliorated in a wine pairing with effervescence

I had the chance to catch up with David, to assuage my curiosity about Champagne:


BCL: I recently tasted Chateau Palmer that does higher chardonnay than pinot noir in their blends.  Would love to hear an expert opinion on the characteristics both those varieties bring to blends?


DW: In blends, Pinot Noir is credited with providing backbone and structure and offering aromas and flavors of red berries. Chardonnay is credited with providing finesses by imparting acidity, floral aromatics, and flavors of green apples, citrus fruits, and hazelnuts. And don't forget about Pinot Meunier, which accounts for 32 percent of Champagne's plantings. It's credited with rounding out wines by offering moderate acidity, unctuous aromatics, and bright fruit flavors.

  
BCL : I love all kinds of sparkling wine, but always come back to champagne for special occasions.  What do you think about others sparklers like Cap Classique, Sekt, etc.?


DW: Other bubblies can be "just as good," to be sure, but they're different. Just as an apple grown in Virginia tastes different from an apple grown in Massachusetts, sparkling wines from, say, Sonoma will always taste different from Champagne.
For me, Prosecco and Cava, even at their finest, always lack the depth -- and complexity -- of great Champagne. Franciacorta can be exceptional, but such examples are few and far between. There's plenty of great sparkling wine from the United States, Canada, and elsewhere in Europe – and I tasted some great Cap Classique when I visited South Africa a few years ago – but Champagne just has a perfect terroir for sparkling wine.


BCL:  BrixChick Heidi is getting married in January.  What does every bride need to know about champagne?


DW:  You can never have too much! In all seriousness, though, I've long been baffled by the fact that Champagne and its alternatives are typically an afterthought at most weddings – it's the very first beverage you're celebrating your union with. Don't you want something delicious?!


BCL:  I love the title and have that art in my home.  What does " ..but first, Champagne"  mean to David?


DW:  Champagne carries an emotional charge. So every time a cork is popped -- no matter the occasion – it feels special. So for me, "but first, Champagne" is a great catchphrase for those first few minutes at home after a long day at the office. Sure, maybe you're putting on your pajamas and eating takeout – but having a glass of Champagne while doing so can sure brighten the day.

BCL:  I met David in London in 2011 at the Cape Wine event.  Now that the book is finished, what is next for the Terroirist? 

DW:  Terroirist.com continues to publish every single day, thanks almost entirely to the efforts of my team – Shelby Vittek handling the daily wine news, Isaac Baker handling the reviews, Eric Annino with book and movie reviews, and others. I love that we continue to provide such great content to the wine community. 

We appreciate the efforts of this team to bring us sparkling news and, of course,  it's the season for everything we can literally and figuratively drink in about Champagne.  The book will make a great gift!

Here is the link to the interview on NPR's The Salt for more Champagne news:
 A Growing Champagne Trend Is Uncorking More Ways To Celebrate featuring David White's forthcoming book 
 Or if you are more visual, here's a clip of him doing Wines.com TV here: Terroirist David White on the Next Big Things - w/ Bill Elsey.

11 October, 2016

Combining Tradition, Terroir and Technology- My Visit to Palmaz Vineyards

Palmaz Vineyards: Beautiful vista and deliscious wines
Nestled within three different elevations of Mt. George in Napa, California, lies the historic nineteenth century Henry Hagen estate. Now owned by the Palmaz Family, (Julio, Amalia, Christian Gaston and Florencia) it has been restored and designed into a twenty-first century state-of-the-art vineyard and winery, while continuing to hold on to the tradition of producing great vintages. Palmaz Vineyards produce their selection of wines using the following techniques of organic, biodynamic and erosion-control philosophies. The Palmaz's son, Christian Gaston's book " Tradition, Terroir and Technology" chronicles the history and workings of the family vineyard and winery.








Palmaz offers the following wines:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Gaston Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Brasas - Mountain fruit with a little Malbec blended in 
  • Amalia Chardonnay
  • Louisa Riesling
  • Florencia Muscat


The Palmaz family decided to bring the vineyard and winery into modern times by creating the winery Cave.  This stunning site truly follows Bauhaus' principle of "form follows function". Its maze of tunnels and dome were carved into Mt. George, eighteen stories deep. This engineering marvel provides gravity-flow winemaking in addition to the natural temperature controlled cave setting. At the winery's core the fermentation dome sits center stage . The Dome holds 24 tanks that are all controlled by Palmaz's sophisticated monitoring system. Technology and the art of wine making pair perfectly together, like Palmaz's 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon savored with earthy, spiced-up Argentinian beef empanadas.

During my visit, which was graciously hosted by the Palmaz family members, we were treated to an exceptionally beautiful view on the winery's stone terrace overlooking the gorgeous Napa Valley. Enjoyed was a lovely Louise Riesling, with its high acidity, exotic aromas and food pairing versatility. An additional offering of the oak fermented, opulent yet refreshing, well balanced Amalia Chardonnay was also enjoyed. Our food pairings with the Louise Riesling and Amalia Chardonnay included: smoked salmon with wasabi caviar stars, Vineyard Twigs (delicate puff pastry filled and rolled with green olive, roasted garlic and Parmesan), Green Eggs and Ham pizza (smoked duck breast, scallion, gruyere, topped with the most perfect soft cooked runny egg) and pancetta, fig and arugula pizza, with a touch of truffle oil.

  

I had a wonderful visit with Florencia Palmaz who created all of the evening's tasty food pairings. So many creative recipes that inspired her book, "At the Table and Around the Fire". ($130 and available here.  This gorgeous book captures the lifestyle and philosophy of the Palmaz family:  Delicious and soulful, like the Palmaz wines.
          
 

As the evening continued on, we moved into the caves and headed to the Fermentation Dome. There we enjoyed the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, with aromas of fresh blackberry and fine-grained tannins that gave way to a precise finish. A 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon was equally enjoyed. Earthy and peppery with aromas of pomegranate and notes of cedar. Food pairings so perfectly prepared were: sweet corn bisque, pea and poblano bisque, chicken empanadas, Humita (roasted vegetable) empanadas and beef empanadas. A delicate Cabernet beet bouchon sweet bite was enjoyed as well and work quite nicely with the Cabernet Sauvignon. Time for dessert, in addition to the Cabernet beet bouchon, a rosemary shortbread with myer lemon cookie was an excellent finish with the Florencia Muscat.

        

"Two generations of The Palmaz family have sought to bring innovation and invention to the ancient art of making wine. Their background in the sciences, passion for living life to the fullest and years of backbreaking work have resulted in a unique winery situated inside an 18-story cave that combines cutting-edge technology with a respect for winemaking tradition."

 

If Napa beckons to you as you plan your holiday calendar, I suggest you make plans to visit.  Palmaz pairs their lovely (and allocated)  wines with a small bite as they introduce you to the special world of Napa Valley winemaking.  It's $80 and done by appointment only
More info here:

Many thanks to Palmaz Vineyards who hosted me at the wonderful event as well as Laura Baddish and the Baddish group for the invite


07 September, 2016

Deliciousness in the Delta - Favorite Things from #IFBC16

Gowan's Cider = fun
This summer's International Food Blogger's Conference was as tasty as it was fun.  Joining about 300 fellow writers in the Sacramento area was a great way to discover wonderful things I had been passing by in my day-to-day life, since I travel to SMF at least once a week.  The keynote by John Ash was inspiring as he shared insights from his friendships with Julia Child, MFK Fisher, Wendell Berry and his own experience. Julia's advice to "Chew with your mouth open" might not be acceptable in all social settings, but her example of connecting with food, with people and with her passion were great tips.

Here are my top 10 Favorite Things in no particular order (because it would be too hard to stack rank this rich and wonderful experience)



Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates
Care and artistry goes into the products at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates.  Headed up by the wonderful Ginger Elizabeth Hahn, those silky chocolates make great gifts or just a luxe indulgence for yourself.  The Parisian Macarons were insanely delicious with vivid flavors and a tender perfect texture.  The Ladureé cart at CDG has nothing on the SMF.  When made into a salted caramel ice cream sandwich, the flavors were amazing. Care is also taken that producing these heavenly treats is managed sustainably and responsibly.  So you are doing good supporting this delightful purveyor of yumminess

Hyatt Regency Sacramento
The view from my room was postcard perfect of the State Capitol, but the view I will remember is plate after plate of amazing food at our dinner.  The Hyatt transformed J Street into a flower filled garden party.  Celebrating the theme of Farm-to-fork, the catering staff took fresh ingredients and summoned the magic necessary to transform them into perfect dishes for 300 and drop them on a table simultaneously. Perfect Black Prince tomatoes, juicy chicken and polenta and the crescendo of white peach shortcakes for dessert.  Elegant, yummy and an example of perfect hospitality

California Produce
California figs are the most photogenic, but California Peaches, California Almonds and a host of fresh, delicious everything made eating a joy at every meal.  I got to meet producers of California Endive and learn how they are grown.  I came away with a surprisingly easy salad recipe made from canned peaches, mozzarella and basil.  The California Almond folks provided a cool single portion tin I keep with me to do quick, healthy snack/meals on the go.  Figs inspire me to grill and put in salad or make into ice cream for a fresh, creamy dessert.  Meeting all the producers and hearing their stories was amazing.


Cheese
 Marin French Cheese has been in business since 1865 producing award winning cheese like their famous Breakfast Cheese.  It was delightful to try at the opening reception.  Laura Chenel with the marinated Cabecou was something I hadn't tried, but now keep in the fridge.  Laura Chenel cuts their fresh goat cheese into disks, then dries them for about a week.  Then they are packed in tubs with infused olive oil. The disks soak up the great flavor of the oil.  Seasoning the oil enhances the delicious cheese even more.  Bonus for us busy hostesses:  the disks come out of the container ready to delight your guests. No last minute slicing.

About a Bite Bakery
Bars, bites and sandwich cookies.  Each more temptingly delicious than the one before.  I am a little ashamed how may of these I packed away, but to my credit, they are all amazingly tasty.  The bakery's philosophy that variety is the spice of life is aided and abetted by their smart portioning.  These tiny treats make amazing gifts,



The Old Sugar Mill
Eleven wine producers have tasting rooms in this lovely brick building in Clarksburg.  I wrote about the wine more extensively yesterday, however I have to claim it as a favorite. Especially because I really want to go do a comparative tasting of wine slushies, which, given my predilection for frosé, is way overdue.  Only fifteen minutes from Downtown Sacramento, yet in the heart of a fun American Viticultural Area, it's a great place to visit and get a survey of what the AVA has to offer.  Bring a picnic lunch, a friend and even your canine companion


Gowan's Heirloom Ciders
Gowans have been growing wonderful apples in Anderson Valley for 140 years.  In 2015, they started making hard cider with a farmer's dedication and ciderist's expertise.  Our founding fathers drank this frizzante beverage for breakfast. Lovely apples make this refreshing drink with a sense of place delicious.  Sierra Beauty, Gravenstein and 1876 Blend are three varieties that I tried.  I liberated about a dozen Gravenstein apples and enjoyed their perfumed aromas all conference long.  Now I seek out Gowan's  Cider every chance I get


 Jimboys Tacos
Jimboys have been serving tacos in the Sacramento area since 1954.  Why I never had one till 2016 at #ifbc, I cannot explain.  Their tag line is "Get out of your Shell" urging you to try their exotic flavors, which are tasty.  However, the powerful allure of the Classic ground beef taco, is one that entranced me.  Rich and flavorful the taco had a homemade taste that reminded me of tacos we made when I was a child.  And paired with a Due Vigne Nebbiolo, it was very tasty.
Mother - Sacramento
"Serving Southern style American food that happens to be meatless" is how the restaurant describes themselves.  When I tasted the plum farro salad I was blown away by the freshness and balance of the flavors.  I did not miss the meat and am always on the prowl for new places to go.




Vanilla Garlic and BCL
Camaraderie
Okay, so I misled you.  With the plethora of wonderful food and beverage, interesting historical and social perspectives at the sessions, and luxurious surroundings, I have to say I did have a favorite favorite thing and that is getting to hang out with other bloggers. This conference was so friendly and I learned so much.  Learning is always more fun when you are accompanied by other kindred spirits and IFBC was packed with those





Many thanks to the organizers, Foodista and Zephyr, as well as all the attendees and presenters.  You made my IFBC16 experience memorable and productive.  See you next year when I will again enjoy the reduced conference rate for writing about the conference! #Whatadeal




06 September, 2016

Winetasting in California's Clarksburg AVA - #ifbc16


Phil (L) & Dave Ogilvie 4th gen Clarskburg Farmer/Vintners
The Clarksburg AVA or American Viticultural area is tucked into three counties (Sacramento, Solano and Yolo) near California's capital, Sacramento.  It quite literally nestles into the freeway system as a heart is surrounded by veins and arteries.  Well, that's the view you see on a map, however in person the AVA is the heart of the Delta region.  Hidden off those bustling highways,  is a bucolic countryside where delta breezes tame the valley heat and grapes have become a major crop in the clay and loam based soils.  Delicious Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay wines are made here.  Other kinds of grapes are cultivated by the 17 producers located in Clarskburg, however, you may find wonderful examples  of Clarksburg grapes used by  winemakers in other regions, like Napa.  Excellent quality and great value drive experimentation.  The AVA has one large producer, Bogle .  However there are sixteen other producers in the AVA doing interesting things and best of all creating delicious wines

During my excursion at the International Food Blogger's Conference held earlier this summer in Sacramento, I was lucky enough to be part of a wine safari to Clarksburg that opened my mind to this great region right under my nose.  I actually had visited once before, but it happened nearly by accident on a girl's trip to Reno.  One intrepid friend insisted we exit off 80 to look for wine.  As implausible as it seemed to dart off the highway, we did find some fun wine and a great lunch.  This time, I passed through the town of Freeport in a coach full of fellow bloggers, which was led by Dave Ogilvie of Wilson Vineyards .  Along with his brother Phil, these brothers lead their family business and are part of the area's history.

Wilson Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay
Dave told us most of the fertile land in Clarksburg had been reclaimed from sloughs as part of the Arkansas Act of 1850, when Dutch engineers came in to create levees, then sold tracts of arable land.  The twins are the fourth generation of a farming family that started with onions, a crop whose first harvest paid for the land.  In the late '60's, the Ogilvie family started growing grapes.  Taking advantage of the cool air generated from the Sacramento river as it wends its way to the San Francisco bay,  the climate is able to produce delicious wine grapes.

We tried the Wilson Vineyards  wines in a lovely special events facility famous for its parties and weddings.  A rustic space set in leafy riverside garden, it was a fun place to try the wines. I particularly enjoyed the Wilson Vineyards, 2014 Chardonnay ($14.99) This unoaked Chardonnay. has an almost creamy texture; Phil uses a  batonage technique to clean up the  wine , making it crisp and fresh, at the same time as it holds a lovely body.  The pale lemon color lets you know it's unoaked.  It had nice balance and a long vinous finish.  This wine is made at the Old Sugar Mill, which hosts the Clarksburg Wine Company's custom crush facility as well as the location of 11 tasting rooms and was our excursion's next stop.

Clarksburg Wine Company's Custom Crush
A custom crush is a place that offers winemakers a shared space and allows winemakers to get up and running quickly and make use of the specialized equipment needed to make wine without having to invest in it all on their own.  The Old Sugar Mill is a historic brick building that has found a new career after being decommissioned from producing sugar.  The structure now houses not only the custom crush facility, but also twelve great tasting rooms.  Much as I love touring wine regions, I also appreciate a place where you can get a great survey of different producers.  This is an easy day trip from the Bay Area and I can't recommend it highly enough.  Your hardest act will be finding a designated driver. Or a better suggestion is to factor in sobering up time and bring a picnic
Delta produce at catered lunch

Clarksburg Wine Company's  custom crush follows the Lodi Rules protocol.  Since lots of people and fruit come through, they are meticulous about cleaning and maintaining to avoid contamination and its spoilage issues.  This facility balances overhead costs for small producers.

Things get busy at the custom crush about two weeks or so after harvest.  Then, the loads of grapes start to come in.  It usually starts with Chardonnay for sparkling wines. Then come the Rieslings and Chenin Blancs, and finishes with the reds in order of phenolic ripeness.  The delivery vehicles range in size proportionate to the size of the producers, so you see all kinds of trucks from giant tankers to a single Ford F150.  The dedicated workers at the custom crush make sure they defy Murphy and his law and maintain the equipment carefully.

Visit to see and taste for yourself.  The Old Sugar Mill is only  fifteen minutes from Downtown Sacramento and opens from 11 am to 5 pm all week.  It's a dog friendly place with a picnic space available.  Hosting 11 wineries, The  Old Sugar Mill is also a wine mall where novice wine tasters will feel confident and experienced wineaux can try new things.  Here are some of my favorites:

Three Wine Company
Headed up by a familiar name: Matt Cline (we love his Mourvedre!), this label celebrates the serendipity of the number three in Matt's life.  His serendipity of threes includes a 3rd winery,  3 daughters and 3 grape blends.I tried a red blend called Established 1885 Red Blend, Three Wine Company ($38)  This blend of 31.6% Carignane, 28,5% Zinfandel, 23.8% Mataro (the Italian name for Mourvedre )  9.8% Petite Sirah and 2.9% Black Malvosie combine to produce a lovely wine with deep red fruit, undercurrents of forest and herb and a solid feel.  120 year old vines in the Spinelli Vineyard grow fruit described as "ethereal" which are combined in this luscious wine

Elevation 10 at The Old Sugar Mill, Clarksburg 
Elevation Ten
is named for Clarksburg's position above sea level, which is ten feet.  Led  by winemaker Marco Capelli,  here three families strive to make wines they love in a place they love. They buy fruit and vinify at the custom crush.  I tried the Elevation 2014 Reserve Chardonnay ($34) and found it delicious. 14 months on the lees in 49% new french oak makes the most of this natural yeast whole cluster wine.  It had nice acidity as well as savory and citrus notes.

Due Vigne
Haunting cherry luscious DueVigne Barbera, 2014, El Dorado County ($? Wine Club Member Only) was a dark yummy wine with mouth watering acidity that made me glad I had some meat and tomatoes to pair with it.  The Barbera grapes are grown in nearby El Dorado county in a vineyard named La Colima, which means "high hill" in Spanish.   In fact, the vineyard is so steep. if you let the clutch out on a tractor it would fly down,  They use a Barbera clone from Asti Italy, which delivers warm, old world-ish aromas and luscious red fruit flavors.  "Wines sing when you have total control over the fruit", I was told.  I also tried their Nebbiolo at the IFBC event the next day and made a very satisfying pair with a classic Jimboy's taco.  These wines love food almost as much as I do.  Started by a retired firefighter whose family has strong ties to San Francisco, these are delish wines worth seeking out.

Clarksburg Wine Company Cab Franc
Clarksburg Wine Company
Clarksburg Wine Company claims to have America's favorite Chenin Blanc.  I had sourced several bottles in anticipation of my visit.  Lucky me as I got hold of the sold out Chenin-Viognier blend and can vouch for the tastiness of their Chenins.  At lunch, I got to try the Clarksburg Wine Company 2013 Cabernet Franc, Clarksburg ($29).  Redolent with dark fruit aromas, and a touch molasses set off by a hint of salinity in the flavors, I enjoyed this wine and its lovely tannic structure.  Vinous led fruity notes in finish with touch of vanilla celebrated a Bordeaux influenced style of California winemaking. My favorite part was the hint of jalapeño. Their 2013 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg ($18) was great with cheese, since the flavor is so fruity I thought there might be that touch of residual sugar, which contrasts so nicely with cheese.

Muddy Boot Wines

Muddy Boot
The name Muddy Boot Wines connects their brand to farming, which they believe is the  key to quality wine.  The three principals, twins Phil and Dave Ogilvie along with lifelong friend, Tom Merwin , all returned to their Clarksburg farm roots to continue farming tradition through wine.  They capture the deliciousness of the area.
Photo Credit David Ogilvie, Facebook
The Muddy Boot Red Blend  uses a blend of 45% Syrah, 35% Petite Sirah, 11% Merlot, 5% Cab Sauv and 4% Cab Franc to blend a red wine that is fruit forward, but not sweet or stewed. It has a touch of baking spice in the aroma and juicy red fruit in flavor and more spice on finish.  The 2013 Muddy Boot Red Blend, Clarksburg/Lake County California never loses its vinous character though fruit led.  The only note I have for their Chenin Blanc is "yummy".

Follow their exploits on Facebook at Muddy Boot for great pictures like the sunset above and a glimpse into farming life

Many thanks to all the wineries that hosted me at this wonderful event as a part of the International Food Blogger Conference.  I can't wait to return to Clarksburg!