Weekend Winos

Enthusiasts in search of quality libations to enhance weekends.


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Olympic Gold – 1999 Zin Rules!

This weekend a few of the winos gathered to celebrate the athletes and events of the 2014 Winter Olympics.  With temperatures in the 70s in California and 60s in Sochi it just did not feel like winter, and the slushy snow and tourists in short sleeves confirmed that. What happened to the ushankas (Russian fur hats)?

Starting off a bit unenthusiastically, have no fear, once the wine bottles were opened the group fully enjoyed the grace and skill of the ice skating competition taking place in the background.  The plan was to focus on red wines, in no particular order, and enjoy some appetizers typical of different countries – spanakopita, empanadas, meatballs, tomato-basil crostini and a large platter of charcuterie.

photoThe top four, we could not agree on three, included some very diverse wines.

  • 1999 Zinfandel, Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley: Bold, red color and complex cherry and spices aromatics. This was a pleasant surprise for the Zinfandel novices in the group and the overall winner.
  • 2004 Syrah, Midlife Crisis Winery in Paso Robles: This winery closed in 2009 with only 800 total cases produced. It was the short-lived dream of a Hollywood couple who bottled their first wines in 2004, a total of 80 cases.   The wine was very smooth and easy to drink.  The fact that we would probably never have it again, and the name, gave it an extra edge.
  • 2008 Pinot Noir, Pichetti Trouchard Vineyard in Napa Valley: A favorite winery of one of the weekend winos, we can always count on them to bring a bottle from Pichetti.  Fruity and spicy the French barrel oak comes through.
  • 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Zolo Gaucho Select from Mendoza:  Yes, this was a Cabernet, not a Malbec and it was rich with hints of chocolate and black berries.  Perfect with the meat empanadas and something I will buy for my next steak dinner.

Only one person in the group had been to Russia, some questioned the politics and leadership, but we all agreed that the history, art and the vodka would all be good reasons to visit some day.  Wine in Russia?  We’ll have to look into that!

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Napa Art and Wine

Napa here we come, pack a bag for an overnight trip.  Although Napa is not far from where most of the weekend winos live, a few of us decided to spend the night which requires a little more planning than the usual weekend adventures. First we picked where we would go tasting and everything else (hotel, restaurants, etc.) followed.  Interestingly, there was an art element to each of the winery picks.

NapaPEJU in Rutherford: The Peju Winery Art Gallery had just rotated their exhibit to An Artful Pairing with The Christopher Hill Gallery (through April 23, 2014).  We went to Peju specifically for the Cabernet Franc and it was as good as we remembered or better.  To our surprise, the less expensive wines we tasted were also excellent.  Provence, a red and white blend, is light yet complex and surprisingly good.  One of the winos was so impressed by all the wines, she joined the Peju Club.

Del Dotto Estate Winery and Cave in St.Helena: We were immediately transported to Italy via the architecture, music and the barrel tasting. Our host was very well informed and tasting the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon from French and American oak barrels side-by-side, straight out of the barrels was a great experience.  The Ca’Nani label made us all smile.  Ca’Nani translates from Italian meaning “House of the Dwarves”, it comes from a Venetian fairy tale from the Grimm brothers in the late 1800’s.  The port with dark chocolate, that we enjoyed after some pizza and prosciutto made on site, was a favorite for most of us.

The Hess Collection Winery and Art Museum:  This was our last stop and in my personal opinion, the art gallery was just as impressive as the wines we tasted.  From 16 different options ranging from Gewurtztraminer to Malbec,  the 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay and the 2010 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon were clear winners for all the winos.  At Hess they “support responsible hospitality”  just like our group “supports responsible drinking”.

We stayed at the Napa Valley Lodge in Yountville which had been recommended by many in the group. The rooms, staff, complimentary wine tasting Friday afternoon and breakfast in the morning made us feel right at home (no better compliment than that for a hotel).  After dinner we returned to the room to find the perfect saying on our pillows:  Wine is one of the agreeable and essential ingredients of life –  Julia Child. 


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Mulled Wine – a Star is Born

mulledwinecooking1It is cold outside, the first really cold weekend this winter – perfect weather for mulled wine.  The winos met equipped with recipes to share, spices to toast, fresh baguettes, cheese and charcuterie.   We discovered that this warm wine is traditional during the cold winters around the world. Called glogg in the Nordic countries, Gluhwein in Germany and Austria,  vin chaud in France, vinho quenete in Brazil and Portugal, vine brule in Italy, Glintwein in Russia and the list goes on.

We agreed to read each of the recipes while sipping champagne with a grandiose cheese and charcuterie platter.  Then we improvised.  We knew we had a winner right away, the rich licorice-like aroma of the star anise started filling the room as we were toasting the spices.  Near the end the apricot brandy (I know we added more than 1 tablespoon) was a good finishing touch.  This is how we combined various recipes:

  • In a skillet we toasted 1 star anise petal, 4 crushed cardamom pods, 6 allspice berries,  1/2 teaspoon coriander seed and a touch of mulledwinenutmeg.
  • We then took the spices and the zest from an orange (no rind) and wrapped them in a square of cheesecloth, tied up the corners creating an infuser bag.
  • In a big soup pot, we brought to a simmer a bottle of cabernet sauvignon (it was a cheap bottle), don’t let it boil, and added the juice of one orange, the spices in the cheesecloth.   We transferred it to a crockpot and let it mull for 2 hours on very low heat.
  • At this point we added 1/4 cup maple syrup (a Canadian in the group insisted we use syrup), 1 tablespoon apricot brandy and we let it steep for another 30 minutes before drinking

Yummy, warm and cozy.  Unfortunately there were no to-go cups.  I know I’ll make it again for the Holidays.


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Friends, Turkey, Bubbles and Pinot Noir

pichettipinotA few of the winos gathered on Thanksgiving grateful for our families, friends, pets and looking forward to some delicious food and libations.  It was a smaller group so we started with a champagne toast to all the weekend winos and our host/chef and then proceeded to plan how we would approach tasting the four different Pinot Noirs.  The host had the Thanksgiving meal well under way so we continued with the bubbly telling childhood stories about Thanksgivings past.  We all agreed that this was one of our favorite Holiday gatherings and when it came to the wine, we also agreed that the 2011 Picchetti Pinot Noir stood out from the rest.  The grapes come from Los Carneros in Napa (the winery states this is a region with ideal growing conditions  for Pinot Noir) and it is aged for 12-months in French Oak.  With berry tones, this was a silky, smooth wine.  Our only regret is that we had just one bottle.

We continued with the tasting much to our surprise the 2009 Craftwork from Monterey photo-1was a very close second.             And lucky for us we had more than one bottle!

The other two we tasted – Irony from Russian River Valley and Quimay from Neuquen, Argentina –  just did not compare, extremely jammy and very light.  Same 2011 as the Picchetti, but unfortunately no comparison.  For dessert, we enjoyed the Angelica, which we already knew from previous weekend excursions would be the perfect ending to this wonderful occasion. Looking forward to reconnecting with the larger group to see what they discovered during their Thanksgiving feast.


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Ribera del Duero vs. Rioja – The Lady Winos Choose Rioja

Still on vacation the weekend winos enjoyed a week in Spain split between Madrid and Barcelona.  FreixenetHalf the group had not been to Spain before and were looking forward to the adventure.  We were also lucky to have some seasoned travelers, fluent in Spanish, who quickly helped us find our way around.  It was still very hot in September so the refreshing citrus and fruit sangria (red and white wine) and Cava (sparkling wine) were the most popular choices in our frequent stops between museums, churches and parks.  Freixenet which many of us recognize in the US as the “black bottle bubbly”  Cordon Negro is a family owned company that today is the world leader in méthode champenoise sparkling wines.  As is the case with many wines, the beauty of visiting the country of origin is that you have the opportunity to taste the different varieties which are not exported to the US.  Cava, in contrast to Vinos de Pago where the location is very strict, is produced in several of the 17 Autonomous Wine Communities of Spain.  In Madrid, the iron-and-glass Mercado de San Miguel, just outside Plaza Major, gave us ample opportunity for tastings.  What a great concept, a market by day where locals shop for vegetables, fruits, olives, meat and fish, turns into a tapas, wine and beer destination at night. Pinkelton & Wine at the Mercado became one of our favorite destinations.

Rioja vs Ribera del DueroIt was at dinner time in Madrid, that the Ribera Del Duero vs. Rioja debate started.  A few of the winos had read a lot about Spanish wine, but the majority were happy to ask the server for their recommendation and when it came to red wines, we found that many had strong opinions about Rioja and Ribera wines.  We were a large enough group that we had the opportunity to taste many wines from these different regions.  Ribera del Duero, north of Madrid, is from the autonomous community of Castile and Leon, a producer of high quality red wines primarily from the Tempranilo grape.  The wines are aged in oak and that comes through in the profile with some blackberry and licorice overtones; darker in color but not heavy, it paired well with meats. The men winos consistently preferred Ribera.   On the other hand, the lady winos were drawn towards the Rioja wines, from La Rioja, also based on the Temperanillo grape, aged in oak. Lighter in color, with strawberry and cherry overtones and a touch of vanilla, we found ourselves drinking the Riojas with most everything we ate.

Marques de Grinon

On our last day in Barcelona we stumbled upon Vila Viniteca as we were walking around the Barri Gòtic.  What a great find!  The store has been around since 1932 and was stocked with thousands of different Spanish wines and cavas with some Italian and French wines sprinkled in.  Our plane did not leave till late in the day, so we had time for a few more tastings. That is where we discovered the Marques de Grinon 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Dominio de Valdepusa, the first estate to receive Vinos de Pagos status, reserved for estates that consistently produce high-quality wines.  Not inexpensive, deep red in color with a profile of spices and red berries, this wine was without a doubt the best we had in Spain. It tasted like a great California cabernet – maybe we were ready to head back home.


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Red, White — It’s All Greek to Me!

The weekend winos finally made it to Santorini!  Let me first start by saying, what started as a novice adventure into the world of Greek wine turned out to be a really fabulous experience — on multiple fronts.   We tasted an array of refreshing whites and some very unusual reds.  All proved to be quite good and paired wonderfully with the Greek cuisine.  Many of our meals incorporated their sweet vin sant (which is typical of the area) into the cooking as well.  But let me start from the beginning . . .

Greek red and whiteTruth be told, it was an interview that American journalist Lisa Ling gave several years ago that first caught my interest in Santorini.  She stated unequivocally that of all the places she has traveled throughout her career — Oia in Santorini was the most spectacular.  I quickly penned a note to myself and years later, finally set sail for a new adventure.

Upon our arrival, the locals schooled us in Santorini history and told us that wine was born in the island of Santorini more than 3500 years ago.  A few of the oldest vineyards in Europe are here in Santorini, where the vines grow in curls, low to the ground to avoid the strong sea winds. The volcanic soil would lead you to believe that nothing could grow on this terrain, but the Santorinians combine modern technology with tried and true techniques from the past to produce amazingly good quality wines.

Wine tours can be easily organized and the wineries are extremely welcoming.  It is openly acknowledged that the Greek wines are quite difficult for foreigners to learn about, given the language and alphabet barrier.  The grapes  have different names like assyrtiko, aidani and athiri.  Since the language was not recognizable, we found ourselves at the mercy of our various hosts’ recommendations regarding which wines would pair best with our selected meals.  Despite the various challenges, we unquestionably had one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.

Oia, SantoriniThe town of Oia is charming with many art galleries and some fantastic jewelry. There’s only one word to sum it up — WOW!   If you can swing it, definitely splurge and book one of the Canaves Oia Suites (preferably the one with its own infinity pool!) and you will experience one of the most serene and tranquil time of your life.  They provided us a refreshing bottle of white Assyrtiko Santorini in our room upon check-in, which definitely kicked off the experience!

Known for its fabulous sunsets, the town can get flooded with tours buses from time to time — but go for a stroll prior to 9 am and you will have a very different experience and discover an entirely different town.  Both the crowded and serene versions of the town are incredibly enjoyable though.  The buzz is exciting and the merchants are all welcoming — then when everything is closed, it’s something straight out of a quaint date movie.  Volcanic rock lines the streets and hundreds of steps will entice you to explore.  From the famous windmill to the taverns down by the sea, it is nothing short of a piece of paradise.  Weather-wise, It was hot — even in mid September.  The sun is so bright it is blinding, so this is the perfect time to sit back and enjoy the white wines —many similar to Chablis — and wonder how such beauty resulted from a volcano eruption.

Most of the weekend winos were just delighted to have experienced Oia;  I am genuinely energized to learn more about Greek wines, in hope that when I return I will retain my appreciation and interest in these wines that are difficult to find, but worthy of the search!


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Wine Flight – First Class Tasting Across Time Zones

Last weekend a few of the weekend winos set off  for a well deserved wine tasting experience in Spain and Greece.   With much anticipation about the Spanish reds and no knowledge of Greek wines at all, little did we know that the adventure would begin on American Airlines.

AA First Class Wine List

AA First Class Wine List

At 7:00 am en route to a layover in  NYC (First Class upgrade) we started with a Valdo Prosecco Brut.  They describe it as well-balanced, flavorful and aromatic — I say let the vacation begin!   We reached our cruising altitude and soon discovered that we were  just at the start of a tasting adventure in the skies

  • Ardenwood Chardonnay
  • Turi Sauvignon Blanc
  • Castle Rock California Cuvee Pinot Noir
  • Viansa Vino Rosso

After a couple of rounds to “make sure” we had a well formed opinion, the Pinot Noir stood out as elegant, smooth, medium-bodied with aromas of cherry, tea and spice.  Note:  for proper context, these were true tasting size pours, the flight attendants were delightful and in no way did we over imbibe.  Nothing worst than a drunk passenger on a long flight, except maybe a screaming baby.

AA Business Class Wine List

AA Business Class Wine List

Before we knew it, we arrived at JFK and looked forward to our next wine flight to Spain.  Grateful for the upgrade to Business Class we were greeted with a lovely Gosset Brut Excellence glass of champagne.  The original plan of a good night’s sleep was quickly replaced by a lively discussing of what to taste next from the 7 options available:  2 white, 2 red, 2 dessert wines and a special selection from Ken Chase, the AA Consulting Enologist/Viticulturalist.

  • Villa Solais Vermentino di Sardegna DOC
  • Domaine de Martinolles Cuvee Saint-Hilaire
  • MontGras Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva
  • Spotted Owl Vineyards
  • Bodegas Lustau Sherry, Jerez
  • Senhora do Convento Vintage Port

The champagne was the best match for the smoked salmon with blinis and cream cheese starter, and the MontGras Cab for the grilled fillet of beef crusted in Boursin cheese served with spinach, balsamic grilled tomatoes and whipped potatoes.  Unfortunately, exhaustion took over and I was asleep before the dessert cart arrived.  I missed the last leg of my “flight”, I guess you could say . . .

A few hours of sleep was enough to rejuvenate, however, and begin the search for Spanish reds!