Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blissed Out on Portuguese Wine

It’s no secret that I think some of the most fascinating, knowledgeable, interesting and out-right fun people, are wine importers. (Frank Dietrich of Blue Danube Wine is perfect example of this.) In spite of the inherent risks, wine importers seem to possess some kind of plucky can-do attitude, compelled to carry on when others might give up. I find it inspiring to be around people who love what they do and there’s something very appealing about their enthusiasm for a region and their zest for bringing the story of the wine in their portfolios to life. Yes, I realize that a wine importer’s main job is to sell you on the wines. But the best importers seem to transcend mere sales talk and it becomes personal. The wines become a part of them and the level of excitement they generate for their “babies” is contagious.

I don’t remember how @BlissWineImport  got on my Twitter radar, but once I followed, I became instantly engaged with Alleah and Erin’s International Adventure in search of wine and their quest to become wine importers. Last year I followed along on their journey as they tweeted and blogged and made videos about their discoveries. It was like reality TV, but without the fake plot lines and bad commercials. It was fun, seat-of-the-pants, honest and un-pretentious.

So when I saw that Erin and Alleah had finally settled back in California I tweeted that we should get together. They agreed and graciously offered to bring samples of their latest imports from winemaker João Tavares de Pina of Quinta da Boavista in the Dão, Portugal.

What started out as a “come by for an hour” -- turned into a wine fueled odyssey of conversation, connection, and confessions. Well, I was the only one with the confession-- I admitted that I really wanted to back out of the invite an hour before they arrived because I’m actually a introvert of the highest order and I began to panic at the thought of hosting total strangers for an hour.

But 8 hours, 6 bottles, and 2 broken glasses later, I realized, I need not have worried. We had a blast, and carried on a non-stop conversation over our shared interests and belief in the connective power of great wine.

I’m already a big fan of the wines of Portugal and I was very impressed with the selections Alleah poured--three reds and a white all from Quinta da Boavista in Dão, Portugal. I did not take formal notes, but I found the wines tasted like pure Portugal to my palate. Hearty, rustic, full of spice, earth, red fruits, and dazzling minerality with a great depth of flavor that continued to open and evolve in the glass. The tannin profiles were robust and suited my preference for a taut backbone and structure, but were never overpowering.

First we tried the 2012 Rufia Red blend of -- 40% Jaen, 30% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Pinheira -Full minty mouthful with lots of red fruit and robust tannins.

Then we tasted the 2006 Terras De Tavares -- 50% Jaen, 50% Touriga Nacional -- Hearty, earthy flavors with a plusher mouth feel.

Followed by the 2003 Terras De Tavares - 60% Jaen, 40% Touriga Nacional. -- Deeper, more developed flavors with long lingering finish.

And finally, the 2008 Torre de Tavares 100% Encruzado that was love at first sip for me. This wine was a big OH YES! Not technically a true orange wine, but in the style I like to call the White Unicorn. Meaning it’s a rare and magical beast. Catch one if you can.

After tasting each wine, it occurred me that all together they were very much like a chord progression, a perfect harmony of flavors and structure that created a melodic sense of place. A wonderful riff, it was as if I could hear the sound of the terroir as well as taste it.

As Alleah poured the wines I could not help but notice the odd little fabric wraps around the necks of the bottles. They looked like mini ankle weights or leg warmers circa 1982 Jane Fonda ~ “Feel the burn!”~ but it turns out they were drip catchers called DripTeez. A product conceived, designed and marketed by Alleah’s mother. What an entrepreneurial-minded family! Anyway they worked great and nary a drip escaped down the bottles.

Check out the stunning Bliss Wine website designed and engineered by the talented Erin. There you can learn more about the wines, watch videos with the winemakers, and place an order for your own selections.

Bliss Wine Imports

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rhone Rangers 2015: Sipping On the Dock of the Bay

This past Saturday, March 28th, the Annual Rhone Rangers Weekend took place dockside at the Craneway Conference Center in Richmond. This is the second year the event has been in Richmond, but it was my first time there. What a venue! Bight and spacious with outstanding views of the bay.

My favorite part of the Rhone Rangers events are the seminars. I always come away from them with a greater perspective and deeper understanding regarding the many aspects of winemaking. This year the morning seminar topics were on Roses Made from Rhone Varieties and the Age-ability of American Rhones. Both were excellent.

Below is the list of the panelists and the host with quotes from the Rosé seminar. Can you match up who said what about Rose? This may prove easy for true wine geeks, and challenging for others. But give it a try.  {ANSWERS BELOW}

1. Patrick Comisky, Wines & Spirits Magazine
2. Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon Vineyards
3. Larry Schaffer, Tercero Wines
4. Ranko Anderson, Kale
5. Herb Quady, Quady North
6. John MacCready, Sierra Vista
7. Craig Camp, Cornerstone Cellars
8. Jason Robinson, Field Stone
9. Steve Anglim, Anglim Winery

A: “It started out as a way to concentrate the Reds, but evolved to a become a Rosé.”

B: “Rosé not something you really want to talk about, you just want to drink it. Talking about Rosé is like discussing the semantics of Scooby-Doo.”

C: “I am in search of getting to the ‘truthiness’ of the wine Rosé.”

D: “I make it to please my wife, to capture a happy memory.”

E: “We planted the vines specifically for Rosé. It was a marketing objective. The magic loss leader we put in front of buyers, Somms, and Wine Directors. Our grape is obscure but it has a high geek factor.”

F: “I want to approach all our wines, Red, White, and Rosé with equal respect and serious consideration to making them the best possible.”

G: “Our first Rosé started out as a Red but I did not think it was good enough as a full Red, so we made a Rosé and the customers have loved it ever since.”

H: I don’t think there is just one wine that can be called a true Rosé. There is no such thing as a true Rosé  My focus is on food wines and the acidity of Rosé pairs so well with food.

I: “Rosé --it's part of our line up!”

The line up of Rosés included:
Anglim 2014 Rose: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Viognier
Bonny Doon Vineyard 2012 Vin Gris de Cigare Reserve En Bonbonne: Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsaut
Cornerstone Cellars 2014 Corallina Rose Artist Series Rosé: 100% Syrah
Field Stone Winery 2014 “Heritage Block”Rosé: 100% Petite Sirah
Kale Wines Sonoma County Rosé: 85% Whole Cluster Pressed Grenache, 15% Saignée of Syrah
Quady North Rose Applegate (OR) Rosé: 80 % Counoise, 20% Syrah
Sierra Vista 2014 Rosé of Grenache
Tercero Wines 2014 Rosé of Mourvedre

{ANSWERS: 1B, 2C, 3H, 4A, 5E, 6G, 7F, 8I, 9D}

Stay tuned for next post on findings from the second seminar on the age worthiness of American Rhone wines.

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.


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