Sunday, February 22, 2015

Five Best Wine Tasting Scenes on Film

From the absurd to the sublime, wine so often plays the straight man in movies. Here are the five best wine tasting or wine related scenes on film.

1. Sardine Liqueur -- Alan Arkin and Peter Falk with Italian subtitles no less.

2. No F***in Merlot!

3. This is pretty much what happens during speed tasting at WBC. (Wine Bloggers Conference)

4. There’s always “the one” on a press trip. Or “the two"...

5. Inspector Jacques Clouseau: Master Sommelier!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cuscó Berga: Transformed by Cava

This past October I was in Spain visiting Cava producers as part of the sponsored 50 Great Cava's Tour. One of the wineries we visited, Cuscó Berga, has been on my mind ever since.

Located in Les Gunyoles d’Avinyonet in the Penedès wine region of Catalonia, Spain, Cuscó Berga is owned and operated by three brothers—twins Joan and Lluis, and their younger brother Jordi.

From the back balcony of Cuscó Berga views of the countryside are expansive, but there were no vines to be seen.

“Where are the grapes I asked?”

No sooner had I asked the question, we were off in a vintage Land Rover for a tour of the vineyards. As we drove down the narrow street, gears grinding loudly, I noticed three women give us the eye as we whizzed by. I imagined their conversation: There go the village winemakers! Again!

We drove for about fifteen minutes and then abruptly turned off the main road onto a dirt road. The Land Rover lurched and heaved over a deeply rutted track that snaked through dense wood and shrub filled land and past blocs of vines, some more than 40 years old, planted in a rocky mixture of sand, gravel, and clay soils. Lluis drove the Land Rover with absolute joy and abandon. I’ve never met anyone with a greater sense of glee behind the wheel.

We stopped to examine a few of the vineyards and look through a refractrometer to gauge the brix (sugar content of the grapes), while at the same time, enormous mosquitoes tested our blood sugar content via our exposed skin. 

As the light began to fade, we drove past more vines until we come to a fork in the road. In the distance we could see a clochán perched up above the dirt path. The clochán, a stone hut used as shelter from the elements, was hand built by the brothers' grandfather.

We pulled up in front of the beehive shaped structure and the brothers hurried in telling us to wait outside. A few minutes later, we were beckoned to enter. Inside we found sheets of newspaper carefully laid out around the perimeter for seating, along with several bottles of Cava, and bowls filled with chocolate pieces. It was like a clubhouse, albeit a very tiny one, for Cava Connoisseurs. The cool air inside smelled like petrichor--earthy and damp with a hint of limestone, and was a welcome relief from the muggy heat outside.

The ten of us squeezed in hip-to-hip, kneecap-to-kneecap and I began to feel claustrophobic. I mentally tallied a list of all the things that could go wrong and tried to dismiss each one in turn as I ticked them off. Spiders? None that I could see. Bats? Not yet. Snakes? Let’s hope not. Sudden earthquake and hut collapse? Well, that was a possibility. But I could not shake the feeling that a bear, out gathering berries, might return any moment and not be thrilled to find Goldilocks drinking his Cava.

Fortunately, I was snapped out of my fears when a bottle of Cuscó Berga Brut Nature Reserva Eco, was popped and our glasses filled with a blend of Macabeu, Xarel•lo and Parellada.

I watched the bubbles race to the rim of the flute in the flickering light and tasted the Cava’s fresh mineral notes of limestone, peach and touch of pineapple.

After my third glass of Cava I was no longer claustrophobic. I detected a powerful harmonic vortex around us and sensed the pulse of the land as it emanated up from the earth, a singular vibration coursing through my Cava addled brain, and I liked it.

I’ve tasted wine in rustic places and very swanky places but never in so magical a place. Outside the hut I felt transformed, spiritual like, and it wasn't just the fresh air. I emerged from the hut with an incredible lightness of being, positively buoyant. I don’t know what the others in the group experienced, but they seemed less gobsmacked than I was. Oh well, some of us have more finely calibrated sensibilities for the energy of the land I guess.

Back at the winery we enjoyed more Cava including the Cuscó Berga Brut Rosé made of 100% Trepat, the Brut Nature Tradition Reserva Cava DO, and Brut Gran Reserva both made of Xarel•lo, Macabeo and Parellada. The wines reflected the brothers unpretentious zest, sincerity and enthusiasm, giving each Cava an inner sparkle.

If you are planning a trip to the region I highly recommend you put Cuscó Berga on your list. I dare say I’ve never had more fun fending off claustrophobia, swatting away mosquitoes, or getting thrashed around in a Land Rover.

I’m not sure if the vineyard tour is available to all visitors at the winery, but if you find yourself there and hear the jingling of keys, ask if you can ride along. It may just be the most transformative vineyard tour you ever take.

Here is a short video slideshow of the visit:

*NOTE I delayed this story way too long while awaiting some photos from one of the photographers on the trip, but I never got the pictures he took, so you’ll just have to imagine how beatific I appeared emerging from the Cava hut. 

Cuscó Berga
Esplugues, 7
08793 Les Gunyoles (Avinyonet)
Alt Penedes, Barcelona, Spain

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wines of Croatia in NYC February 24th

If you are a regular reader of this blog you are well aware of my obsession with the wines of Croatia. And slowly but surely the country and their wines are getting noticed and receiving more coverage every year including a listing in the February edition of Wine Enthusiast as one on the top wine travel destinations for 2015. But heck, I told you Croatia was the happening place to visit and one of the top emerging wine destinations back in 2011. {You heard it here first friends!}

Anyway, if you’d like to learn more about the wines of Croatia and you are a member of the trade or media (especially if you live on the East coast)—you are in luck!

On February 24th, at the Astor Center in New York City, Vina Croatia will host a presentation of Croatian wine with over 24 wineries represented including my beloved Bibich. In addition to the walk around tasting there will be two seminars:

Taste Croatia (11:00 am - 11:45 am)  - Discover Croatia and its diverse range of terroirs. Learn about the leading grape varieties and taste selected wines representing the characteristic styles and flavors of  Croatian wines.

American Winemakers Who Fell in Love with Blue Adriatic  (12:30 pm - 1:15 pm)  - Meet the successful Americans who invested in the Croatian wine business and are standing behind Grgich, Korta Katarina and Benmosche Family Vineyards.

Registration is complimentary and exclusive to members of the wine trade and press. For more information please email Tatiana Reif at

Friday, January 23, 2015

2015 Travel Guide to California: Featuring Wine Festivals

My feature article on California wine tourism and wine festivals is now out in the 2015 Travel Guide to California. You can click to enlarge the individual pages below or read the full article here:


Flavor! Napa Valley –November 18-22 Check site for dates

Auction Napa Valley – June 4-6

Taste Alexander Valley – May 16-17 ,2015

7% Solution - MAY (Healdsburg) May 6, 2015

Winter WINEland - January 17-18

West of West Wine Festival -August 1-2 2015

Hopland Passport – Spring  May 2 - 3 , 2015 & Fall October 17 - 18 2015

Anderson Valley Pinot Fest – May 15-17

The International Alsace Varietals Festival – February 7

Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend – March21-22

Rocks & Rhônes Weekend – May 23-24

The Barbera Fest –June 13, 2015

Pebble Beach Food And Wine Classic - April 9-12

BUBBLYFest by the Sea – (Pismo Beach) October 2-4, 2015.

Garagiste Festival Paso Robles – November 5th-8th 2015

Santa Barbara Celebration of Harvest— October 9 – 12, 2015

Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine – May 29 -31

San Diego Zoo Wine and Food – September 26, 2015

Bacon & Barrels – (Los Olivos) July 17-19

Zin Fest –Lodi Lake –May 15-17

Friday, December 5, 2014

2014 Wine Book Gift Guide and Wish List

Aside from wine, books are my favorite thing to give as gifts. Here are my top picks for a wine centric book giving. I wrote this post a few weeks ago, before Eric Asimov’s book suggestions appeared, but glad to see we have some selections in common. Note: I purchased all of the books below myself except where noted.

Jura Guide by Wink Lorch
I was a Kickstarter sponsor for this book last year and its format as a hybrid travel guide and definitive wine resource is exactly the type of book wine travelers need. I’ve never visited the Jura, but this book has moved it to the top of my wine travel list.  

Wines of California: The Comprehensive Guide by Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen
My home state has a lot to cover, but Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen manage to give every region its due in this comprehensive ode to Calilfornia Wine.

Windows on the World Course in Wine 30th Anniversary Edition by Kevin Zaraly
Windows on the World in Wine was one of the first books I purchased when I became interested in learning more about wine. The 30th Anniversary Edition offers the same approach to learning about wine in a new accessible design and layout with updated vintage notes, maps, and charts. Note: I received the new edition of the book as a review copy.

Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz
This definitive tome came out in 2012. It’s pricey but worth it and makes a great gift for someone special you want to splurge on.

WISH LIST -- What I’m asking Santa for this year.

Native Wine Grapes of Italy  – by Ian D’Agata
Italian wines have always held a special place in my heart and on my palate. My deep interest in wine really began after I lived and worked in Italy and I think this book looks like a great way to fall in love with Italian wine all over again.

Madeira: The Mid-Atlantic Wine by Alexander Liddell
I’ve always been intrigued by Madeira, that tiny spec of an island out in the Atlantic.  I’d like to plan a trip and to hike around the island on the levada trails by day and sip Madeira by night.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

6 Thanksgiving Wines You Probably Won’t Be Able to Find But Would Go Great with Your Meal

Thanksgiving Wines to Grace Your Table From Around the World

Why all the fuss about Thanksgiving wines every year? Well, I think it all comes down to fear and perfection. People have wildly high expectations and this leads to fear that their choice of wine will not be perfect. 

Here is my annual Thanksgiving advice:  Relax!

Perfect is not all it’s cracked up to be. Choose wines you like and let the day unfold. Odds are, unless your family and guests are extremely wine centric, no one will be talking about the wine served. Just have plenty of it, whatever it is, and everything will be just fine.

Wine is Travel in a Bottle -- so this Thanksgiving I offer you six selections from a few of the places, near and far, I visited this year. 

1. Canals & Munné Brut Nature Grand Reserva Cava-- Spain
Aged for 48 months, this blend of Macabeu, Chardonnay, and Parellada is dry and elegant, well suited to appetizers such as crab cakes or blini with caviar or smoked salmon.

2. Törley Hungaria Extra Dry Rosé -- Hungary*
Turkey or Tofurkey? Törley is the answer. This wine is Thanksgiving in a bottle! Dry and balanced with a hit of tart cranberry and pomegranate flavor that floats across the palate in a parade of tiny bubbles. 

3. Pentâge Pinot Gris 2012-- Canada
A light, bright, delight -- I had this Pinot Gris for the first time at a restaurant outside of Vancouver and could not stop craving it. I finally had to go back to B.C in person to get some, and I’m glad I did. It’s luscious lychee, peachy flavors, and zesty acidity could pair well with anything from oysters to sweet potatoes.  

4. Liquidity Viognier 2013 -- Canada
This is one of the most delicious Viogniers I’ve ever had--completely captivating with a fabulous apricot and floral bouquet, followed by peaches and cream on the palate with citrus and green apple notes. This would pair nicely with a mushroom risotto.

5. Piquentum Terre Refosk 2011-- Croatia*
Dark and griping with a flourish of full flavor, this would be excellent with duck or sausage stuffing, also good to drink alone outside as you count your blessings and hope no fights break out before dessert.

6. Tinhorn Creek Cab Franc 2011 -- Canada*
This Cab Franc is one of my favorites-- bold, balanced and enough body for any dish your casserole crazy Aunt Emma brings, as well as a great accompaniment to turkey or squab and other birds you might have flying around the house.

Okay, so you probably won’t be able to source most of these in the states, except for the * starred selections, which I purchased through Blue Danube Wine at, and the Tinhorn Creek can be ordered in the US via http:/

NOTE: I tasted all the above (except for the Törley) in their country of origin and encourage you to do the same. I also bought all the wines with my own wampum, and despite rumors to the contrary... I DO NOT work for Blue Danube Wine, I just really like and appreciate their offerings.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Adernats Cava Cathedral - Come for the Wine Stay for the Hazelnuts

As I mentioned previously, here in this post, I was part of a hosted team that toured the Cava region of Spain last month for the 50 Great Cava’s Tour in the Penedès.

Above right, Lara and Kathy “lean in” for more information
Our first stop was at Adernats Vinícola de Nulles where we discovered the César Martinell designed wine cathedral--an homage to modernism with a hat tip to Antoni Gaudí. This is the place to taste Cava and ponder the elements of architecture and structure in wine.

We walked the grounds around the vineyards and examined the rocky clay and limestone soil. The vineyards have little change in temperature from day to night, but a sea breeze gives respite from the heat, and allows for good acid and sugars to develop.

Adernats is part of a co-op that was formed after the phylloxera devastation in the region. Adernats also produces other products within the co-op including a superb olive oil, honey, fruit jams and hazelnuts.

Confession: I hate hazelnuts. I think Nutella tastes like poison. The smell of hazelnut flavored coffee makes me recoil. In short; I've never met a hazelnut I liked. But my abhorrence of hazelnuts came to an end at Adernats. Cava and hazelnuts might just be the perfect pairing.

Maybe I've just never had a good hazelnut before or all the previous ones were rancid, but the nuts at Adernats were a revelation. The slightly oily and full rich flavor of the toasted hazelnut was a sublime pairing with the crisp dry Cava. Perhaps the winery should be called Adernuts!

Cavas tasted:
Reserva Brut Nature Cava DO
Reserva Brut Cava DO
Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava DO (bottled fermented 40 months)
All were a blend of Macabeo, Xarel•lo and Parellada grapes.  

We also tasted one of the 50 Great Cavas -- The XC Gran Reserva Cava DO crafted from 100% Xarel•lo grapes and barrel fermented for five months, followed by 45 months of secondary fermentation in the bottle. 

This was my favorite Cava of them all. It had a lightness of being, yeasty with notes of spiced pears and apples and grounded with wonderful minerality. 

Our host looks a bit like Sergio Garcia here, no?  

As we popped nuts, sipped Cava and contemplated the architecture, I chatted with Ms. Lara Dunston of Grantourismo and noticed her pockets were stuffed with nuts. How they got there is anybody's guess. I suppose good hazelnuts are hard to come by in Cambodia.  

After the Cava tasting we were led up to the top of the winery for an outstanding dinner in the rafters above the tanks.

Watermelon anchovy gazpacho? Yes, Please! Watermelon and anchovy may sound weird but I loved it. I love anchovies with everything so this was a special treat, there was also some olive oil and tomato in the gazpacho to round out the flavors.

During the meal we donned blindfolds which added to the heightened sensory experience and gave the evening a slightly naughty Eyes Wide Shut tinge. While blindfolded we were given several food items on a wooden skewer including a cherry tomato, watermelon, and pineapple and asked to identify what they were. I must say trying to eat anything off a skewer while blindfolded is an accident waiting to happen. Fortunately the blindfold served as protection from getting poked in the eye.

I’m not sure what the above dish was called but it was AMAZING - a mélange of flavors with pine nuts, salmon, cream, balsamic vinegar, and my new best friend, hazelnuts. 

The winery holds dinners once a month that are open to the public. If you are going to be in the area, contact the winery and make plans to attend. The inspiring surroundings, fine fare and excellent Cava's make for a notable evening.

Adernats Vinícola de Nulles


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