Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Last weekend after serving white, red, and sparkling wines along with classic martinis at my friend's Mad Men-themed cocktail party and the house was mostly back in order, we sat down with leftover catered platters and a bottle of Champagne I had gifted her earlier this year. After I poured it into her Waterford Champagne flute, she took a sip.

I was expecting the clouds to burst open and the angels to sing. What I got, instead, was a face registering dislike and disappointment. Ah. Well. Not the look I was going for. But I wasn't surprised. The wine was the 1999 Salon Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne, and while most critics agree it is in its drinking window, it is clearly a wobbly toddler at best.

Salon is one of the only Champagnes produced that is not ready to drink upon release. The grand cru vineyard with old vine Chardonnay produces fruit with even more acid than is typical for Champagne, and nothing is done in the winemaking process to soften it.

As the wine opened up in the glass, it began to show the character of the fruit and its cool chalky vineyard. It also went flat quickly, as the bottom of the Waterford stems was flat, not  inverted like an upside triangle, a design  that allows the natural effervescence to bubble up continuously.  So there we were, with a pricey bottle, hefty expectations, and flat wine.

The last time my friend had Salon was a decade ago, 2005, in my Champagne class at the CIA Greystone Rudd Center for Professional Development. It was the 1985 vintage, and that wine at 20 years old was in its prime, all honeyed and nutty with a soft minerality and an ethereal, fine bead (sparkle). So that is what she was expecting. Instead she got austere texture, sour green, pungent mineral and funky flavors ramped up even more by its prevalent and keen acidity.

We vowed to make the tasting of 1999 Salon a new holiday tradition. This time around, at 16 years in, the experience was interesting. We're hoping for a bit more maturity at year 20.
1999 Salon Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne  12% $350
PG 97

Elegant, fine and lean with smoky, chalky, tarry mineral notes, feral, nutty, mushroomy Meursault-like notes, and citrus and green apple on the long, expressive finish. This is not a showstopper but rather an incredible expression of one of the best Chardonnay vineyards in Champagne.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis sabering Laurent Perrier Champagne
Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis sabering Laurent Perrier Champagne
It’s time to break out the bubblies. Here are some of my favorites from $15 to $79 to ring in the new year in style.

Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley California USA  PG 90 $23.99
Elegant, understated and dry with a fine mousse (tiny bubbles) and notes of lemon tea, granny smith apple, asian pear, and sugar cookie.

Scharffenberger Brut Mendocino California USA  PG 90 $19.99
Zesty, lively and fine with notes of lemon drop, ginger ale, butter cream frosting and rising bread.


Ruffino Prosecco DOC Veneto Italy PG 89 $15
Fresh white peach and apple notes. Dry, light, and crisp sparkler.


Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad Brut Cava Catalonia Spain PG 92 $25
Powerful, lively and crisp with notes of lemon, tangerine, quince, starfruit, pine, and chalk.


Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne France PG 92 $40
Feminine, elegant, fully sparkling and dry with notes of lemon bar, toasted rye, croissant, biscotti and chalk.

Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut Champagne France PG 92 $79
Rich and bold with notes of tar, mushroom, roasted meat, cashews and lemon zest.

Check out more of our sparkling wine reviews here:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Anna NY by Rablabs
A riff on Whisky stones, this shareable set of six fluorite stone wine gems - they look like oversized marbles - is a chic way to keep your white wine chilled without diluting it. Place in the freezer for a few hours then set three in each glass. When done, rinse with warm water and pat dry. $76 for the set of six.

PG WINE REVIEW 90 points

Thursday, December 3, 2015


A Scent of Champagne, by Richard Juhlin, is by far the greatest reference book on the topic. Juhlin is the world’s foremost Champagne expert and has compiled close to 10,000 tasting notes, 8,000 of which are included in this seventh of his works. (Skyhorse Publishing, Hardcover, 396 pages, 2013, US $75). He is gifted with a photographic scent memory, but more than that, is so deeply passionate about the chalky hills of Champagne and its sensuous wines that his book is truly addictive.

As a long-time student of wine with at least seven dog-eared editions of the Sotheby’s Encyclopedia of Wine by Tom Stevenson, I of course had to add his Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine. The book has been thoroughly updated and expanded by Tom as well as new co-author Essi Avellan MW (Sterling Epicure, Hardcover, 528 pages, 2014, US $40).
I love the female perspective and in-depth producer profiles brought by Master of Wine Serena Sutcliffe, in her Champagne, The History and Character of the World’s Most Celebrated Wine (Mitchell Beazley Publishers Hardcover, 223 pages, 1998, US $29.95).

An excellent online source of up to the minute information is Peter Liem’s Champagne Guide, Peter lives in the region, writes in English, and has the kind of firsthand knowledge only possible with such close and frequent contact.

Finally, for a quick tutorial, Champagne Bureau USA reports that Comité Champagne has launched an e-learning program called Champagne Campus, which consists of an online resource hub and a mobile app quiz. Visit the website at to learn about the region and its wines or download the app at Apple Store or Google Play to access a fun quiz game about Champagne.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


#PinotFest #FarallonSF
Billed as "The Great Big Bacchanalia," Pinot Fest is one of the most anticipated wine tasting events of the year. It is rare to have winemakers and winery principles from some of the top names in California Pinot Noir in the same room (technically 3 rooms, but still). Fifty-eight wineries were present.

Organized by Pat Kuleto Restaurants Wine Director Peter Palmer, and held at Farallon Restaurant with the help of their Wine Director Luke Kenning -  the event was a huge success. Overall it was refreshing to see lower alcohol levels and much less toasty new oak than in the past.

Highlights for us here at Planet Grape Wine Review include:

2013 Domaine de la Cote Pinot Noir Bloom's Field Sta. Rita Hills Santa Barbara California USA  95 12.5%, $70
Gorgeous, inviting, and Burgundian in weight and feel, with notes of cranberry, raspberry, blueberry, Herbs de Provence, and lightly salted beef carpaccio. Organically farmed.

2013 Domaine de la Cote Pinot Noir La Cote Sta. Rita Hills Santa Barbara California USA  96  12.5%, $90
Stunning, seductive and fresh with notes of pink grapefruit, raspberry, cherry, tar, mushroom, and nutmeg. Still developing, so age or decant for aeration. Organically farmed.

2013 Failla Pinot Noir  Sonoma Coast California USA  91  13.9%, $34
Silky, delicate and tart with notes of lemon, cranberry, and wild strawberry.

2013 Failla Pinot Noir Hirsch Sonoma Coast California USA  94  13.4%, $70
Silky, tart and juicy, this layered, complex Pinot Noir has notes of raspberry, blueberry, red rose, and dried sage.

2013 Freeman Pinot Noir  Sonoma Coast California USA  91  14.2%, $68
Full, silky and fresh with notes of cranberry, cherry, red plum, white rose, sage, and cedar.

2013 Foxen Pinot Noir John Sebastiano Sta. Rita Hills Santa Barbara California USA  91  13.8%, $48
Fresh, tart, and slightly chewy with notes of blueberry, plum, fig, porcini dust and cedar.

2013 Flowers Pinot Noir  Sonoma Coast California USA  92  13.5%, $50
Delicate and juicy with notes of raspberry, pomegranate, plum, fig, sage, bay leaf and sea spray.

2012 Flowers Pinot Noir Sea View Fort Ross-Seaview Sonoma Coast California USA  94  13.9%, $65
Seductive, smoky and youthful with notes of raspberry, cherry cola, bay leaf, sorrel and mushroom.

2013 Hitching Post Pinot Noir Highliner Santa Barbara County California USA  92 13.1%, $45
Ripe, round, silky and beautiful with notes of lemon zest, cranberry, strawberry, and cherry.

2013 Sinor-LaVallee Pinot Noir Bassi San Luis Obispo California USA  89  13%, $45
Rich, ripe, and opulently oaky with notes of morello cherry, mocha, and vanilla bean.

2013 Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Arroyo Grande Valley California USA  92  13.8%, $36
Ripe, soft, and delicate with notes of cranberry, cherry, raspberry, red rose, and vanilla.

2013 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Calegari Russian River Valley Sonoma California USA  92  13.8%, $59
Lavishly rich, round and ripe with notes of dark cherry, cherry cola, vanilla bean, chocolate and cedar.

Visit us at
#‎PinotFest‬ ‪#‎FarallonSF

Thursday, November 19, 2015


(1) Lodi Vineyard. Photography by Goff Photography.Zinfandel Grapes, Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi. Photography by Randy Caparoso.
Lodi is known for many things, high quality wine not amongst them. Things are changing, though, as a group of local winemakers inspired by sommelier/writer Randy Caparoso have looked to their cherished old vine Zinfandel vineyards, many over 100 years old, to produce pure, unadulterated wines which showcase the personality of the land and grape plant vs. winemaker style and technique.

This collaborative project, known as Lodi Native, is focusing on old vine, certified sustainable heritage vineyards, many of which are multi-generational family owned sites, including Wegat, Soucie, Trulux, Schmiedt Ranch, Noma Ranch, Century Block and Marian's on the West Side (Mokelumne River AVA) and Stampede on the East Side (Clements Hills AVA). The six founding winemakers, Stuart Spencer of St. Amant, Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Wines, Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines, Micheal McCay of McCay Cellars, Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers, and Layne Montgomery of m2 Wines, agreed to a strict, non-interventionist protocol beginning with native yeast fermentation and the use of no new oak. In other words, pure, unadulterated, exquisitely expressive old vine Zinfandel so full of personality they can never become mainstream wines. This is the discovery of real treasure, Grand Cru American Zinfandel, pure, simple, unadorned, yet rich, complex, layered, and so beautifully balanced they glide across the palate like World Champion Tango dancers.

Upon first sniff, they may not be for everyone. There is something more here than super-ripe, squeaky clean and hyper oaked, and something less. Think of Justin Bieber singing without Auto Tune - he is vulnerable, fragile, real, more human than super human. Though I would compare Lodi Native wines to a seasoned, world class talent such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, or Nina Simone.  I have new found respect.

While each of these wines is unique, as you can tell by our reviews below, they do share similarities. Lodi's West Side Zins. those from vineyards in the Mokelume River AVA, or American Viticultural Area, are deeper, richer, with notes of blackberry, earth, tobacco and herbs, while those from the East Side, Clements Hills AVA, are more perfumed, racy with bright red fruits and not as much intensity of structure. Overall the climate is more Mediterranean than Central Valley as Lodi enjoys breezes off the San Joaquin River Delta. The West Side gets the breezes first. It is also sandwiched between two deep sea ports, to the North and South, and enjoys the insulating influence of these bodies of water.

LODI NATIVE 2013 series reviews here:

LODI NATIVE 2012 series reviews here:

Lodi Native wines are available in a 6-pack wooden case for $180 here:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Hugel LogoFamille Hugel
This Saturday, November 14th, is National Hugel Day, self-proclaimed by this traditional Alsatian wine family to shed light on their new releases, a dry white blend, a dry Riesling, dry Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, all  of which are ideal for the Thanksgiving table.

Planet Grape Wine Review Recommends:

2014 Hugel Gentil Alsace $15  PG 89 points

2012 Hugel Pinot Gris Alsace $24   PG 91 points

2013 Hugel Riesling Alsace $24   PG 92 points

2012 Hugel Gewurztraminer Alsace $28    PG 91 points

On November 14th top wine retailers across the nation will offer FREE IN-STORE WINE TASTINGS & “a little something extra”... to get everyone started. Exact times for times and locations will be listed on:
Hugel Family Wines are imported by Frederick Wildman and are available nationally.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015



Planet Grape  The SOMM Journal  AUGUST  SEPTEMBER 2015
It is time to take a look beyond the quaffable Vin de Pays wines of sunny Sud de France. Languedoc Roussillon is a treasure trove of clean, fruit-forward, food-friendly, value-priced wines to pour and to offer by the bottle well below $100. A common thread of rosemary, thyme and lavender runs through them, highlighting their fresh clean fruit. There is little to no oak in most instances.

Wines to Pour
nv Jean-Claude Mas a St. Hilaire Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose AOP Languedoc France 12%, 750 ml, $18.99

Elegant and lively.

2013 Domaine des Cantarelles Viognier Vin de Pays du Gard IGP Languedoc France 14%, 750 ml, $14

Perfumed, fruity, and soft.

2013 Le Jade Pays d’Oc IGP Languedoc France  13.5%, 750 ml, $9.99

Creamy Chardonnay mingles with exotic Viognier.

2014 Domaine Sainte Croix Cuvee Montlaures Rose Languedoc AOP France  12.5%, 750 ml, $16

Dry subtle Provencal style Grenache-Cinsault Rose.

2013 Beauvignac Syrah Rose Pays d’Oc IGP Languedoc France  12.5%, 750 ml, $9.99

Light, dry and tart.

2012 La Maroutte Syrah Vin de Pays d’Oc Languedoc France  13%, 750 ml, $13.99

Soft and pretty.

2012 La Marouette Cabernet Sauvignon VDP d’Oc IGP Languedoc France  13%, 750 ml, $13.99

Sunny, plump, easy-going Cabernet made with organically grown grapes.

2010 Domaine Cazes Muscat de Rivesaltes AOP Roussillon France  15%, 375 ml, $24

Clean, rich, bright, sweet and balanced.

Wines To List

2014 HP Picpoul de Pinet AOP Coteaux du Languedoc France  12.5%, 750 ml, $9.99

Bone dry, crisp, and light.

2011 Domaine Sainte Rose La Marin Blanc Marsanne-Roussanne Pays d’Oc IGP
Languedoc France 13.5%, 750 ml, $19.99

Soft, fresh and juicy.

2011 Clos du Gravillas Minervois AOC Languedoc France  14%, 750 ml, $40.99

A baby Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc.

2009 Domaine Sainte Rose La Garrigue Cotes de Thongue IGP Languedoc France  14.5%, 750
ml, $17.99

This GSM blend is ripe and juicy, and lightly oaked.

2013 Castelmaure Col Des Vents Corbieres AOP Languedoc France  13.5%, 750 ml, $11.99

Juicy, balanced Carignan/Grenache/Syrah.

2011 Chateau de la Negly La Cote Coteaux du Languedoc La Clape AOC France 14.5%, 750 ml, $15

Soft, rich and fruity.

2012 Clos du Gravillas Rendez-Vous Sur La Lune Minervois AOP Languedoc France  14%, 750 ml, $18

Firm, tank-fermented Carignan/Syrah.

2010 Les Villages de Terroir Cotes du Roussillon Villages Caramany AOC Languedoc
Roussillon France 13.5%, 750 ml, $18

Complex, taut, and meaty.

2013 Chateau Paul Mas Coteaux du Languedoc AOC France  14.5%, 750 ml, $23.99

Dark, sultry and juicy.

2013 Michel Chapoutier Bila Haut Occultum Lapidum Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France AOC Languedoc Roussillon France 14%, 750 ml, $30

Deeply fruity and reflective of its sunny origin.

High Volume Chain/Club

2013 Maison Cubi Syrah Carignan Vin de France 3L Bag in Box $33

The source is Corbieres but this is heavier, darker, and richer than what is typically found there.

For full reviews visit

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis with Italian Winemakers
Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis with Italian Winemakers
"For 30 years we came to you with wines similar to yours. Now we are bringing you wines that are easy to recognize as being from their particular region," said Niccolo Petrilli, Ambassador for Italian Wine & Style Promotions and Area Manager Americas & New Markets at La Collina dei Ciliegi, a winery in the Veneto known for its delicious, well-priced and widely available Valpolicella. The point of the luncheon was to showcase wines that while perhaps not top in their class, where true to their roots. This was the case with not only his Valpolicella Superiore from the highest elevation vineyard in the appellation, but also with a Barolo, an Amarone and a Moscato d'Asti.

Niccolo recounted how it took him nearly 15 minutes to drink a 2-ounce taste of Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc Napa Valley. For an Italian used to high acid, often bitter and tannic wines that refresh the palate and enhance the meal, it was "dense, heavy, too oaky and rich." Which is of course the great divide. Cocktail vs food friendly. Approachable vs. mysterious, unusual, or downright weird. This is nothing new, and with the latest releases of Brunello di Montalcino's coming in at a whopping 15% alcohol by volume, it is certainly not a country wide effort. But it was very refreshing to hear.

The winemakers present also touched on Italy's hidden treasure - thousands of native grape varieties. In fact, the first wine served, the 2011 Monti Lessini Durello DOC Metodo Classicoo Cuvee Brut, illustrated that point perfectly. It was a blend of 85% Durella (not to be confused with the DOC, Durello) and 15% Incrocio Manzoni, a Riesling/Pinot Bianco cross. This is stuff of SOMMGEEK dreams!

Marina Orlandi Contucci, owner of Colle Manora, a producer of Barolo in Piedmont, recounted this:  A French vigneron was visiting us recently and he said, "In Italy you make Silver wine with Gold grape varietie. In France we make Gold wine with Silver varieties." Well that sounds French to me, and all is as it should be. I for one am so glad to hear things are going back to the way they were before Robert Parker discovered Bordeaux in 1982. The weirder the better I say.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Glass of Bubbly featuring Columnist Catherine Fallis MS of Planet Grape
Glass of Bubbly featuring Columnist Catherine Fallis MS of Planet Grape

Summer goes so quickly. Why not extend the feeling with a little pink fizz to keep the mood sunny? It is highly appropriate for Fall too, as it is one of the richest styles of bubbly and pairs well with meat dishes such as Lamb or Pork.

Here are some top picks from our expert panel at Planet Grape Wine Review, the only woman-led wine rating panel in America, and this woman is a Master Sommelier (the author).

2012 Krone Twee Longe Gezellen Vintage Rose Cuvee Brut Methode Cap Classique Pinot Noir Chardonnay  Western Cape WO South Africa  92 points 12%, 750 ml, $26 Elegant, soft and yeasty with notes of strawberry, cherry, pink rose, pink grapefruit, tangerine, honey and ginger. Beautifully balanced.

nv Scharffenberger Cellars Brut Rose Excellence Pinot Noir Chardonnay  Mendocino California USA  90 points 12%, 750 ml, $23 Delicate, fresh and dry with notes of raspberry puff pastry, strawberry, creme fraiche and citrus.

nv Roederer Estate Multi Vintage Brut Rose Pinot Noir Chardonnay Estate Anderson Valley California USA  89 points 12%, 750 ml, $28.99 Delicate and fine with notes of lemon creme, pink grapefruit, rasperry, cherry, and brioche.

2008 Ferrari Perle Rose Brut Trento DOC Trentino Alto Adige Italy 94 points 12.5%, 750 ml, $59 Fine and creamy with notes of lemon drop, wild strawberry, pink rose, Bear Claw pastry, rising sourdough bread, and cashew.

nv Scacciadiavoli Vino Spumante Metodo Classico Brut Rose Montefalco Umbria Italy 92 points 13%, 750 ml, $30 Bone dry, dark earthy fruit, crisp, taut, and pithy with robust Sagrantino skin tannins.

nv Bollinger Brut Rose Champagne AOC France 94 points 12%, 750 ml, $110 Classic rich yeasty Bolly style but with raspberry, strawberry and cherry notes.

For more reviews and news in the world of wine, visit us at

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Jim Smith of Bercut Vandervoort and Catherine Fallis MS of Planet Grape
Jim Smith of Bercut Vandervoort and Catherine Fallis MS of Planet Grape

Bordeaux and Port are the most significant benchmark wine regions of the world, both created by a thirsty U.K. market and waterways providing access to that market. While Port consumption remains steady, Bordeaux is enjoying another Golden Era, the first since Robert Parker “discovered” the stunning 1982 vintage. Over 685 million bottles of Bordeaux wines are sold annually, 58% of which is consumed in France. Of the remaining 42%, the first customer is China, followed by Germany, Belgium, U.K., U.S.A, and Japan.

Vins de Bordeaux/CIVB, in partnership with SOPEXA, is touring the U.S. market now with its Bordeaux Under One Roof presentation, including a Master Class with Tim Marson MW, and a walk around trade tasting. On October 28th I attended this event at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco’s Presidio. Tim pointed out the while the 2014 vintage was very good if small in quantity, the 2015’s will be both very good and more widely available.

Of the wines presented in the Master Class, the highlight was a 2010 Chateau Lafleur-Gazin Pomerol $54 (review here: and from the walk around, the 2012 Chateau Cantermerle Haut Medoc $56 (review here:

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Deborah Parker Wong in her light-filled kitchen.
Deborah Parker Wong in her light-filled kitchen.

Bodegas Salentein honored winemaker Jose "Pepe" Galante at a private luncheon in the home of Deborah Parker Wong last week here in San Francisco. Galante was the long-time winemaker at Catena Zapata, one of the country's other big names in wine, and has only just recently joined Bodegas Salentein, completing the 40th harvest of his life earlier this year.

Deborah prepared a multi-course gourmet meal paired expertly with a flight of Bodegas Salentein wines (read our reviews of the wines here including a delicious Terrine of Summer Vegetables and Venison Chop with dried blueberry jus that was the best pairing I've ever had with Malbec outside of Mendoza.

"Pepe" is also known for his crisp style of Chardonnay coming from the San Pablo Estate, at 5500' elevation in the Valle de Uco.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


20150929_133518 (1) 20150929_140713
Ca di Rajo Export Manager Luca Ortoncelli and I dined at San Francisco’s Sociale this afternoon. He is in the USA to meet with his importers, journalists, bloggers and friends, like actress Debi Mazar. You see, before he worked in the wine industry, he made films. Hoping to keep his toes in cinema, he has visited Hollywood movie lots with cases of Prosecco, and even appeared in Uruguayan Sommelier Charlie Arturaola’s film, El Camino del Vino.

As we sipped the flagship Prosecco (see reviews below), Luca told me he was making a movie about Raboso, the local red grape which was used for Prosecco Rose. Now that the term Prosecco is strictly controlled – it is a place, a town, and the name of the appellations which produce this quintessential Italian sparkling wine – Rose is not permitted.

Prosecco the wine is made with the Glera grape. New regulations have decided on three quality levels, with the best having the highest elevation in the region. Prosecco DOC is the entry level tier, followed by Prosecco di Treviso DOC, and the highest level is Conegliano Valdobiaddene Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Since the place name Prosecco is protected, no one else may use this name (except for Australia and Brazil but this a battle being fought right now with an interim solution of the Italians going there to sell the real deal to the thirsty masses). They must use the name Glera, as we would Chardonnay. Locally the grape is referred to as Bianchetta.

Luca believes that in ten years, this Venetian region will be better known for its dry red Raboso wines, which fit into the appellation he worked with the Veneto wine authorities to create, the Malanotte del Piave DOCG. The Ca di Rajo Raboso wines, made in a dry as well as richer dry style similar to Amarone, are only in Florida and Chicago at the meantime, but will be available in other markets soon.

Check out our reviews of the Ca di Rajo wines here:

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Tejo, the wine region formerly known as Ribatejo and pronounced “TAY-JHO” is well-known in Europe but little-known here. At a tasting earlier this week organized by Joan Brower of the Dilenschneider Group and led by Master Sommelier Eric Entrikin, we learned that the region is a treasure trove of unique and value-priced wines.
Tejo Home
Made from native grapes including Arinto, Fernao Pires,  Alvarinho and Verdelho for the whites, and Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Castelao and Aragones for reds, the wines have their own unique flavors, and across the board with medium-bodied with little to no oak.
Tejo River
Winemaking began here in the Middle Ages. The lush agricultural area is also known for olive groves, cork forests and prancing  Lusitano horses. Tejo, or Tagus, is the name of the Iberian Peninsula’s largest river, which dissects Northern from Southern Portugal and empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Lisbon.

For more information on Tejo, visit
To read our reviews of the wines, visit

Friday, September 18, 2015


squid ink mezze maniche

SPQR restaurant on Fillmore Street in San Francisco was the perfect setting for a luncheon of Sicilian food and wines led by the charming and down to earth Alessio  Planeta, manager and owner with his sister Francesca and his brother Santi of the family company Planeta.

Chef Matthew Accarrino and Sommelier and Italian wine expert Shelley Lindgren are the dream team behind this popular Roman-inspired trattoria, and the family style menu, which hit it out of the park with every dish. My all time favorite was the seductive, earthy  squid ink mezze maniche with sepia, gulf shrimp, san marzano tomato and wild arugula, which paired beautifully with the 2014 Planeta Etna Bianco, a wine made with 100% of the local Carricante grape.

Palm Bay International organized the tasting, which coincided with the release of the family's new cookbook, "Sicilia - The Cooking of Casa Planeta," and both the ever-gracious Bethany Burke as well as Palm Bay's new Master Sommelier, Brian Cronin were on hand to take us through the wines and dishes.

Alessio told us, "Sicily was the center of the world. Now it is the center of the problems." Sicily has had its share of difficulties in producing fine quality wine in the past, and an easy market for bulk and inexpensive wine - which was the "energy" of the workers. Etna and other parts of Sicily were a big producer.  With the support and vision of a handful of multi-generational families including Planeta and Donnafugata's Rallo family, things are rapidly changing.

Check out our Planeta wine reviews here:

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

40 Years a Master Sommelier - Celebrating Richard Dean

Richard Dean Master SommelierOn October 13th, 1975, Richard Dean became one of America’s first Master Sommeliers. Forty years later, he still works the floor at Taj Hotel Group’s Campton Place, albeit part time. That is quite an accomplishment for a Master Sommelier, many of whom leave the floor to take high-paying jobs in wine sales and to enjoy a more “normal” schedule with nights and weekends off.

I first met Richard while living in Honolulu. He was an inspiration and true friend then as he is now. Aside from his amazing work ethic and humility, he is incredibly generous, always offering to help a friend in need. Many in the Sommelier community owe him a debt of gratitude, if not cold hard cash. He became one of Manhattan’s elite Sommelier during his tenure at The Mark, getting rave reviews for his “speed dating” wine nights, and he continues to oversee a stellar lineup of winemaker dinners at Campton Place here in San Francisco.

On November 1, 2017, I will celebrate 20 years as a Master Sommelier. Dear Richard, I am halfway there!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


The French Riviera is equally as popular with jetsetters and the ultra wealthy as it is with pale-skinned Northern Europeans seeking the warmth and pleasures of sun and sea. One thing they have in common, though, is a thirst for the local Rose wine. Chateau Saint-Maur, nestled in the mountains about six miles away from St. Tropez in what is known as Cotes de Provence, or the hillsides overlooking the sea.
Despite the fact that the French now drink more Rose than white wine, plenty of it makes its way onto the US market.
Read our reviews of these three gems and enjoy them as summer slips quietly away:

Read the original post here:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015



Pick up pointers on tasting, opening, and decanting wine:





Thursday, August 13, 2015


The wine gurus have crowned Fior d’Arancio Maeli DOCG by Elisa Dilavanzo, the only Italian wine producer honoured with the gold medal in the London event.
The opinion leaders of the sector Tom Stevenson, Essi Avellan MW and Dr Tony Jordan have, for the first time, awarded the gold medal to the Yellow Muscat sparkling wine from the Euganean Hills created by the brilliant producer and soul of Maeli, Elisa Dilavanzo.
Great satisfaction from London for Maeli and Elisa Dilavanzo: during the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships, the most prestigious world Bubbles event, Maeli’s Fior d’Arancio Spumante DOCG 2013 – 100% Yellow Muscat – has won the much sought after gold. Important recognition for the brilliant grape growing and sparkling wine making project by Elisa Dilavanzo the producer and soul of the Maeli estate immersed in the lush green of the Euganean Hills.

 The top opinion leaders of the sector Masters of wine Tom Stevenson, Essi Avellan and Dr Tony Jordan have, for the first time, chosen to celebrate Yellow Muscat, the excellent viticultural expression from the Euganean Hills, the closest hills to Venice.

 Here Maeli has taken root, overlooking the splendid Villa Vescovi that inspired Palladio and is protected by the Italian National Trust, an authentic natural oasis and terroir of volcanic origins, rich in trachyte, chalk and clay which, blended together with marl and loam in the vineyards, gives rise to the name ‘Maeli’. In particular it is the unison of marl and loam that creates the unique synergy required to produce the incredibly long-lasting, extremely fine and truly unique Muscat that results from this inimitable terroir.

 The 2015 edition of the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships saw the participation of 100 new producers as it placed the spotlight firmly on the world of international sparkling wines.
Wednesday September 2nd will see London hosting the official Award Dinner, organised by the CSWWC team and World of Fine Wine Magazine, that will present the awards to Elisa Dilavanzo and the other award-winning producers.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015



Qvevri & Stone Lids at the Alaverdi Monastery in Georgia
Qvevri & Stone Lids at the Alaverdi Monastery in Georgia, by Lisa Granik MW

By Lisa Granik, MW, Planet Grape Wine Review Guest Panelist

Ancient and modern. Traditional yet fresh and exciting. Of all of the countries whose heretofore unknown wines and varieties are thrilling wine lovers, none has an older tradition than the Republic of Georgia. A tiny country once considered the “Soviet Florida,” due to its warm climate, beautiful beaches, Georgia is now thought to be the place where wine cultivation and culture were born, 8000 centuries ago.

Georgia is an enchanting place with dramatic views: mountain gorges with snow-capped peaks; 7th century ruins scattered with clay amphorae; city homes with filagreed balconies precariously perched on cliffs; and an exuberantly warm, hospitable people, fiercely proud of their country, history and culture. It’s hard to convey how wine is so entwined into Georgian identity and culture except to note that all across the country, grapevines wind along the city streets, climbing up apartment balconies and storefronts. People have vines in their backyards and patios as just as we plant ivy.

But it’s not just vines but wines! Homemade winemaking was always the norm throughout Georgian history; there was remarkably little trade in wine because everyone or his uncle made his own. During the Soviet period, wine was commercialized on a grand scale, but everyone knew the good stuff came from the qvevri, the conical clay vessel buried in the backyard, where the grapes fermented.

Rising from the ashes of the Soviet Union, the Georgian wine industry is now experiencing a stunning rebirth. Centuries-old, traditional methods of winemaking have been revived, and clean, modern practices have been introduced. During the Soviet period, production was limited to about 40 of the over 500 different grape varieties indigenous to Georgia, but teams of researchers have been talking to villagers, combing through back yards, and trekking up mountain paths, trying to identify the once famous, now obscure wine grapes.

Georgian wines typically fall into three styles. The wines geeky people get nuts about are the so-called amber wines, made in the qvevri. These are wines from white grapes that ferment on the skins for several months, which gives these wine a chalkier, grippier mouthfeel — more like a red wine. These wines tend to have flavors of dried stone fruits: apricots, peaches, nectarines, with a nutty note, sometimes of walnut skin. Red wines, notably from the Saperavi grape variety, can be made in the qvevri, too, but the period of skin contact is limited to the period of alcoholic fermentation, just like most other red wines. These wines are deeply colored – the word “Saperavi” comes from the word “to dye” – with flavors of dark berries, licorice, and grilled meat.

Most Georgian wines today are fermented in stainless steel tanks.   Whether white, red or rosé, all of these wines capture the freshness and purity of the unique grape varieties. The white wines tend to be fresh and fruity, and are medium to light bodied. Depending on the variety, they have notes of citrus, green apple, pear, peach, maybe a floral quality, and a subtle “mineral” quality.

The third style is a semi-sweet wine, often red, which has an intense fruity, sweet attack, but a very crisp finish, as the wine is cut by fresh acidity and crisp tannins. Served lightly chilled, alone on a picnic, they are a remarkable match with curries, meatloaf, and spicy Asian fare – even jerk chicken!
Consider the following wines as a primer, and check back in for more recommendations:

Kondoli Mtsvane-Kisi 2011, $15: a blend of two varieties, this light, fresh and vibrant wine with lemon, lime and green apple flavors is a delightful aperitif or match with fresh fish dishes and salad.

Schuchmann Saperavi 2012, $15: well-tended Saperavi grapes deliver a medium-bodied wine that is packed with intense flavors of forest berries, licorice, and black chocolate with hints of spice: mouth-filling and just delicious.

LaGvinari Krakhuna 2013 $25: An amber wine from qvevri, this rare variety from western Georgia has notes of tropical fruits, grilled nectarines, and lightly sinewy tannins. (forthcoming this fall in the USA).

Lisa Granik has been a Master of Wine since 2006.  A former law professor, she taught in Georgia when it was still part of the Soviet Union. She returned 20 years later courtesy of a USAID effort to assist the Georgian wine industry.  She is an award-winning writer in both print and digital media, and is much in demand for her consulting projects, teaching and speaking engagements.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I’m a Balanced Babe and I’m a Master Sommelier…

…I’m a Wine Scholar, Keynote Speaker, Writer & Consultant: Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis

This week’s Balanced Babe,Catherine Fallis, is a dedicated and knowledgeable wine expert who holds the most coveted award in the wine industry and the ultimate credential for a wine professional:  Master Sommelier (and may we add the 5th woman in the world to obtain this title)!  She also made history by becoming the first Wine School Coordinator/Sommelier at the famous Manhattan restaurant, Windows on the World.  Catherine is known as the “Grape Goddess”  and you can find this consummate wine professional online at, a go-to source for everything you need to know about wine.

Today Catherine shares her story, what she learned from her mentors, and of course, the benefits of wine!

BB:  Tell us about your journey to becoming one of the world’s top wine experts and having such a coveted award: Master Sommelier [ səməlˈyā ]

It all started when I was galavanting around Europe with a Eurail pass, backpack, and a $5 a day budget for food and accommodations. I was amazed that I could drink wine daily!  Read this excerpt from my upcoming book:

“So, at barely twenty, we backpacked around Europe, from the beaches of Cinque Terre to the Black Forest, from Sevilla to Crete. Equipped with street smarts, wanderlust, and a keen thirst, we tried everything we could afford on our paltry but sufficient Eurail budget. From the sweet, succulent bite of my first peach in Paris, for which I gladly paid the equivalent of about $5 (so much for being a savvy, hard-bargaining New Yorker) to the bitter, intoxicating café correcto in Madrid, a much better deal at .35 cents, I discovered a whole new world of sensual pleasures. And a new sense of pride – not in myself – my self-esteem barely existed as it was – any time it came out of hiding I’d find a way to send it back to its cave – but in these French people.”  “[..] Oh, and at lunch everyone was drinking wine. Non-descript wine, in carafes, served without any fanfare in this casual bistro. Beaujolais perhaps, or Chinon – simple light inexpensive unimpressive red wine. This is what the Parisians drank? But where was the fuss, the fanfare, the typical Frenchman sneering down his nose and chortling derisively “heh heh, but this is no good.”? Why were the French typecast as snobs? Specifically as food and wine snobs? Was Julia Child the only one who could demystify the temple of French cuisine?”
BB:  Were there any special mentors that really made the difference in you pursuing the top of your field?  What advice did they give you?

Madeline Triffon MS – taught me to stand up straight at the table, be proud to be a Sommelier, and to go in and finish my exams at the 7th hour. She told me to put the blinders on, like a thoroughbred, and finish the race.

 Kevin Zraly of Windows on the World taught me everything I know about being humble and down to earth. He still wears a Timex watch and is the author of America’s best selling wine book.
BB:  We are dying to know.  What are the benefits of wine?!

Ha – well, I am not a medical professional but as a single mom running a small business I cannot imagine life without wine. It makes motherhood possible and in fact really does aid digestion.

Personally I think it works well in moderation along with a healthy plant based diet like they enjoy in the Mediterranean. Red wine in particular can be beneficial, just as the most highly colored fruits and vegetables bring the most benefits.
BB:  Can you give us a few healthy appetizer ideas that you might pair with a Cabernet or Chardonnay?

Crudité with Hummus
Grilled Corn on the Cob
Pan seared Salmon finished with a splash of the wine
Dungeness Crab

Cabernet Sauvignon
Brazil nuts, pecans or walnuts
Black Olives
Grilled pork or beef kebabs
Flank steak
Grilled eggplant with Sumac and olives
BB:  What is your daily routine like when it comes to running your company?

Some days are in the office writing, researching, advising. Others are in the field – speaking, consulting, tasting and meeting with winemakers and their importers and PR teams. Home office days are nice because I can stay in jeans all day. In public requires more effort getting out the door, but I love my work so much. It makes me so happy.
BB:  How do you maintain the Balanced Babe lifestyle?  

Lots of exercise. Biking, Kenpo Karate, walking on the beach, weight training – it all helps. Healthy diet low in meats and very high in leafy greens. Wine nightly with dinner. No work after 6pm unless absolutely necessary though I do work many weekends. Quality time with family and friends.  On occasion, if I can spare a half day, I go to Nob Hill Spa and alternate between the cold pool and hot steam room after an intense workout there.

Thursday, July 23, 2015



Kumeu River's Paul Brajkovich

Kumeu River’s Paul Brajkovic

New Zealand’s first Master of Wine, Michael Brajkovich, is also the country’s first producer of world class Chardonnay. His father, Maté (mah tee eh) moved to Kumeu, New Zealand from Zivogosce, a small village in Croatia, in 1937 and married his mother, Melba Sitich in 1958. He and his siblings Marijana, Milan, and Paul,
whom I met with at the Barrel Room in San Francisco last month, run the winery today.

While New Zealand is enjoying tremendous success as a producer of bright, fruity, appealing and consistent Sauvignon Blanc, Kumeu River Chardonnays are world classics, offering both the chalky minerality,  sexy leesy tang, and often feral quality of White Burgundy, France’s Chardonnay, with the bright, clean, opulent and expressive ripe fruit coming from the family’s well-sited North Island vineyards. While Matés , River Hunting Hill and my personal favorite, Coddington, are all released as single vineyard wines in the $40-$54 range, the $16 Kumeu Village Chardonnay is delicious and priced for everyday enjoyment.

Here is a link to our Kumeu River reviews:

Friday, July 17, 2015

New GOfermentor Technology Makes Waterless Winery A Reality

What if…
…you could eliminate oxygen and water completely from the winemaking process while, at the same time, reduce your labor costs and create better quality wines?
NEW JERSEY, JULY 18th 2015 – A new technology called GOfermentor, set to revolutionize the winemaking process in the areas of oxygen control and water waste, has been released onto the international winemaking market.
GOfermentor brings groundbreaking technology to the age-old art of winemaking, providing greater control of fermentation parameters, minimal exposure to air, minimal use of water, and an internal-automated cap management system, resulting in notably better quality wine, every time.
The technology creates a more controlled environment (which minimizes potential contamination) than fermentation in a macrobin. Moreover, the absence of oxygen allows the winemaker added direct-control over the final product.
GOFermentor Has Made The Waterless Winery A Reality
Water-usage costs are vastly reduced (90% on average), making the winery a more environmentally sound facility. No washing, no detergents, no scrubbing are needed. The system employs an internal and automatic punch-down method which ensures the cap remains moist without exposing the fermenting must to air.
Since GOFermentor requires no wash and rinse, its usage results in meaningful labor cost reductions so staff can be reassigned within the winery.
“GOfermentor is revolutionizing the fermentation process, and it affords considerably less capital than the traditional-style fermentors. The technology has garnered a broad appeal,” say Frederick Brown, Head of Business Development at GOfermentor. “Wineries in the U.S. and Europe have already embraced the GOfermentor technology, as we prepare to roll it out globally in the coming months.”
About GOfermentor
The GOfermentor was developed by Dr. Vijay Singh, a world-recognized biotech scientist with hundreds of published papers. Among his 20 or so patents, is his highly acclaimed Wave Bioreactor, a device developed in the late 1990s, which revolutionized the production of biopharmaceuticals by using a disposable cultivation bag supported on a rocking platform. Vaccines, antibodies, cytokines, proteins, are all commercially manufactured in the Wave Bioreactor, now owned and marketed by General Electric Healthcare.
The GOfermentor is the result of four years of development by Dr. Singh to develop better winemaking technology that uses no wash water, excludes damaging air from the process, has integral cap management and pressing capabilities, and yet is cost-effective. Extensive trials and product development were performed at his own Sky Acres Winery in New Jersey.
Media Contact: Swords PR
Name: Natasha Swords
Phone: 310.422.9173
Email address:

Friday, July 10, 2015


OV 03b Iconic and well-known Dry Creek Vineyard of Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, has released their 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel with a new packaging twist – a label harking back to steamship travel in honor of the age of the vines (95-110 years old), and a cork from the future.

According to winery President Kim Stare Wallace, ” The winery laser printed detailed information about the cork directly onto the closure. Data such as the age of the cork forest, the harvest date of the trees and detailed information about the sustainable habitat these incredible forests provide to the Iberian Lynx and Spanish Imperial Hawk are some of the details that appear on the cork.”
OV corks2
Commenting on the project, James Herwatt, CEO, Cork Supply USA, Inc. said, “We are honored to partner with Dry Creek Vineyard and their Old Vine Zinfandel cork program. We support the winery’s efforts to increase consumer awareness of the important role the world’s cork forests play in the ongoing challenge to protect the environment. We salute Kim Stare Wallace and her family and look forward to working with the winery on this important campaign.” Dry Creek Vineyard has a pending patent and copyright application on this innovative new cork concept.

Read our expert review of this wine here: PG 93 pts

Wednesday, July 1, 2015



By Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, aka grape goddess®*

CHANTICLEER wines are subtle, understated, compatible with food & capable of aging.

You’ve discovered a great wine, visited the winery, scored a spot on the mailing list, and the wines are now in your hands, ready to deliver pleasure to you and your guests. Yet it is at this very point that joy gives way to anxiety. How long should it be aged? What is the proper way to store it? When will it be ready to drink? As these questions go unanswered, it is often easier just to leave the little buried treasures behind and move on with life. The convenience of having your favorite wines at hand is forgotten.

A very basic cellar is as simple as a laying down a few boxes in an existing dark cool place in your home such as in the back of a closet or under a staircase. Wine bottles should rest on their sides, keeping wine in contact with the cork to prevent it from drying out. If the cork dries out, oxygen may get in. This would prematurely age or even spoil your wine. Ideal spots are also free from vibration and extreme temperature fluctuations. A nice homey option is to convert an existing piece of furniture. If you are thinking bigger, your options are either to convert or build a room, or to purchase a freestanding wine cabinet. 52-56° is ideal for serving whites and storing reds. Noted wine expert and gardener Hugh Johnson says “When humans need air conditioning, so does wine.”

Install a thermometer/hygrometer (about $20 at Radio Shack) in the area you are considering and check for temperature and humidity spikes at times of extreme weather in your area. Stable patterns slightly higher or lower than the target 55-65°F/65-75% humidity range are better than wild fluctuations, which are more damaging to the wines. The refrigerator is not a good place to store wine for more than a few months. Wine doesn’t like being agitated by the constant vibration, which mutes character, and may lead to premature aging.

When is the right time to open your wine? There are a few things to consider, the most obvious being grape type and color of the wine. Another is the raw quality of the fruit. A great wine comes from healthy, ripe fruit grown in an ideal environment, or “terroir”. It is easy to make great wine with great fruit, and plenty of bad wine is made with great fruit, but great wine cannot be made from inferior fruit.
Great wines will generally age longer than inferior wines. Then there are the wine’s structural elements, things like acids, tannins, alcohol, and sugar. Wines need acidity for longevity, especially whites. Tannins (components from grape skins or oak barrels that give the wine an astringent, drying quality) and pigments are preservatives as well. The best reds for long-term aging have had extended skin and/or barrel contact so that their tannin levels are initially high. Wines with high levels of residual sugar, or very sweet wines, have a very long life span.

Balance is critically important when evaluating when to open your bottle. As any fruit ripens, its acidity drops. Think about tomatoes. At peak ripeness they are so heavy with sugar they end up on the ground. They truly taste like fruit, and have little tartness left. Grapes that are allowed to ripen to such extreme have so much sugar that the yeasts, whose job is to convert that sugar into alcohol, can’t do the job alone. They need a starter, runner, and closing colony to complete this conversion. The resulting wines have low acidity and therefore are not necessarily getting better with age, but more likely are deteriorating. In this category we find many cult wines, or “big time” wines that get very high ratings from the more well-known American wine critics.

Chanticleer’s winemaker Chris Dearden has always bucked the trend of making “Big Time” wines, instead making wines that are subtle, understated, compatible with food and capable of aging. I have known and followed Chris since he was winemaker at Benessere. While I have professionally evaluated nearly every wine he has made at Chanticleer, I recently tasted the complete line-up of Chanticleer Cabernet Sauvignon, from 2000 to 2010, all at once, to see how the wines had progressed, changed, matured, and transformed over the years. I did this at my leisure, over several days. I sampled and resampled the wines over this three day period.

Wine critics, known for their fast paced, assembly-line approach, and even wine judges including myself, often create sometimes life-changing reviews based on only a snapshot of the wine, when it is in the glass in front of us. We swirl, sniff, sip, and spit, pen or tablet in hand, entering notes furiously so we can get to the next wine. I have always preferred doing only the initial tasting this way, ideally in the morning, in my lab, where the natural sunlight is ideal and the environment is free of strong odors, then tasting the wine with food later in the day. Then I simply place the cork back in the bottle and taste it the next day, and the next day again. Call this the grape goddess 3-day rule if you like.
For starters, I can see where the wine is on its aging curve, and when it most likely will show its best. Secondly, a wine that stays fresh after being opened for a few days is ideal for many people who want to enjoy only a glass or two with a meal. Thirdly, the most beautiful surprise in the world is that shy butterfly who, after a couple of days getting familiar with their surroundings, speaks up so magnificently. So it is with the Chanticleer wines.

As expected, the older wines held their own, those in the mid-range of age opened nicely, and the youngsters in the crowd showed well at first but then dramatically improved after breathing naturally for 48 hours. In fact, most young New World Cabernet Sauvignons actually get better after being opened for a few days, and doing nothing to them other than drinking the odd glass or two. The slow aeration, or oxidation – the wine is drinking it in – or technically breathing it in– actually helps to soften tannins and lift up the wine’s true character. For example, in Piedmont, Italy, the guest of honor gets the dregs of the Barolo from the night before. This is the same idea.

Despite their moderate prices, the Chanticleer wines, especially the reds, are age-worthy and may be laid down for some time with good results.

Pinot Grigio (Decanting unnecessary)
This medium-bodied dry white wine is ready to enjoy upon release, but will mellow further for another year or two.

Sangiovese (Decanting for a short time is beneficial)
So much joy is in the bottle, it is hard to resist. Go on, give in to temptation. But if you wish, the wines may be aged for up to 4-6 years.

Riserva (Decanting for up to an hour is recommended)
This nearly equal blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon tows the line between the lithe, tart Italian varietal and Napa’s showpiece, manly Cabernet Sauvignon. If it is on the menu tonight, decanting for aeration will help soften the edges. A simple carafe or pitcher will do. Otherwise, it may age well for 6-8 years.

Cabernet Sauvignon (Decanting for an hour or more is recommended)
There is no other place in the world so ideal for ripening Cabernet Sauvignon to its fullest than Napa Valley, but a sense of restraint is necessary to achieve that elusive balance, something Chris Dearden seems to do in his sleep. Chanticleer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon will absolutely benefit from decanting when young, and will mellow, soften, and come together beautifully, expressing their full range of characteristics at up to 8-10 years. If decanting older vintages, watch for sediment.

Thirteen Years of Chanticleer Cabernet Sauvignon Excellence

2012 - PG 96  May age well for 7 or more years
2011 - PG 95  May age well for 6 or more years
2010 - PG 98  May age well for 9 or more years
2009 - PG 100 May age well for 8 or more years
2008 - PG 98  May age well for 6 or more years
2007 - PG 98  May age well for 8 or more years
2006 - PG 96  May age well for 4 more years
2005 - PG 98  May age well for 2 – 3 more years
2004 - PG 98  May age well for 3 or more years
2003 - PG 92  This wine is at its peak
2002 - PG 96  Drink now or over the next 2 – 4 yrs
2001 - PG 92  Drink now
2000 - PG 98  Drink now or over next 2 years

Read recent Chanticleer wine reviews here:

*Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis is a nationally known wine judge, lecturer, author and advisor. She is Master Sommelier at Planet Grape® LLC -, a wine consulting firm providing education, entertainment, content, and sommelier services. Catherine created her alter-ego, grape goddess®, to help bring wine down to earth for consumers as well as those entering the wine industry. She is the only person in the world to hold both the Master Sommelier and Advanced Certified Wine Professional credentials, and is the world’s only Master Sabreuse, opening Champagne with a sword.

Friday, June 26, 2015


Oz Clarke and Master Sommelier Catherine FallisBritain’s most popular wine writer, irreverent Irishman Oz Clarke, led a group of San Francisco area writers and buyers including Matt Kramer, Dan Berger, Leslie Sbrocco, Richard Jennings, Rebecca Chapa, Wilfred Wong and more through an entertaining tasting of New Zealand wines this past January.

Oz Clarke, one of my favorites for his down-to-earth quotes, like “Gewurztraminer smells like the Nivea hand cream in my mum’s boudoir,” and, “Some wines ask a question, some wines answer a question,” was electric, engaging and the best presenter I have seen in a long, long time. Perhaps his time as a West End actor comes into play, a gig he quit after nailing a wine blind on live TV on a dare. His deep vein of passion for the world of wine, impressive depth of firsthand knowledge of vineyards and producers, and his knack for entertaining play together perfectly.

“You are absolutely caught at the bottom of the world,” he said, describing the natural beauty and isolation of New Zealand. “There is nothing between New Zealand and the Artic, and you are surrounded by cool seas.” New Zealand is made up of two islands, North Island, home to commercial wine hub Auckland as well as Hawkes Bay and Martinborough, and South Island, famous the world round for it’s wine producing gem, Marlborough. Martinborough on North Island gets cold cyclonic winds from Australia, while blocking these winds from Marlborough just across the bay. The southwest coast of South Island is dismally wet and windy, “the Greymouth damps” they call it. The Southern Alps however provide a rain shadow, so southeastern South Island, home to Pinot Noir producing Central Otago, and northeastern Marlborough, known for it’s “cloudburst, thrilling, shocking, lime zest, capsicum, love me or leave me” style of Sauvignon Blanc, according to Mr. Clarke, while on the margins still produce great wines. Clarke adds, “All great wines come from the margins,” giving Pauillac & St. Estephe in Bordeaux and Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy as examples.

The Sauvignon Blancs tasted, including Seifried, Ata Rangi, Nautilus and Cloudy Bay Tekoko, showed their signature vein of grassiness under a tropical fruit bowl, a style “invented” by Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd, who blended peppery stinging early pick with riper middle and tropical late picks of fruit.

While “Australia is giving us a raft of savory Chardonnay,” according to Clarke, the Chardonnays we tasted from New Zealand showed opulence while retaining crispness and brightness. Aromatic, almost feral Pinot Gris, apple pie Riesling, spice cake Gewurztraminer and fruit cocktail Viognier wines were poured, followed by flights of unique, minty , peppery and floral Syrah and classic red-berry and red-rose petal Pinot Noir. Clarke informed us that “New Zealand has thrown the gauntlet down with Pinot Noir.” He added, “The molecular structure of Pinot Noir is similar to the male sex hormone Pheromone.”

Soon-to-be proud papa Clarke was presented with a SF Giants onesie to take home to London.

Check out our expert reviews of New Zealand wines here:

Friday, June 12, 2015




by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, aka grape goddess®

Store Champagne in a cool, dark place away from heat, light, vibrations and severe temperature variations. Champagne is ready to drink upon release, and, for the most part, does not improve with age. Bottles do not need to be stored on their sides.

Before serving, chill the wine well but do not freeze it. Place the bottle in a bucket filled with ice and just enough water to make a “thick soup” for 30 minutes. Better yet, always keep a chilled bottle in the fridge just in case.

The pressure in a bottle of Champagne is equivalent to that of a bus tire, or about 90 pounds per square inch. Slant the bottle at a 45 degree angle away from guests. Put a thumb on the cork, untwist and loosen the wire muzzle. Grasp the cork firmly, twist the bottle slowly and let the pressure help ease out the cork while maintaining greater pressure on it. A maiden’s sigh is the sound to aim for, not a loud pop.

In times of triumph French officers under Louis XIV, and later, Napoleon’s gallant soldiers – the Hussars – opened Champagne with a strong blow from their swords. Napoleon is known to have said, “Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it.”​ The tradition continues, though French cavalrymen often practice on beer bottles first. Once they have mastered the technique, they show their skill by riding at full gallop past ladies holding up bottles of Champagne for them to saber.
This is a spectacular start to weddings, feasts, formal dinners, and other special occasions.​ The author is a professional sabreuse – check it out here:

Serve in tall flute or tulip glasses at a temperature of 42-47 degrees or to your liking. Pour a small amount into the glass, allow the bubbles to liquefy, then top up to about 2/3 full. An interesting custom involves drinking Champagne from a lady’s slipper or high-heeled pump.
If you enjoy coupes, by all means use them. Gas will dissipate much more quickly, but in this case the taste of the base wine comes to the fore.

What to do with Leftovers
Champagne stoppers are the only way to fully protect the gas. Interestingly, some Champagnes taste fuller and more mellow the next day.

For our latest Champagne and sparkling wine reviews, please visit

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Victory for the Godfather of Paso Robles - Gary Eberle

gary cropped
Former Penn State Linebacker Gary Eberle, fondly and accurately referred to as the Godfather of Paso Robles for his contributions to the wine industry there as well as his fundraising efforts on behalf of many local causes, youths in particular, is having a very, very good week.

Sixteen months ago, he and his wife Marcy found themselves in the line of scrimmage. Shortly after his brother Jim W. Giacobine, Jr. passed, his sister-in-law Jeanne Giacobine took over his namesake winery. The Giacobine’s held a 39% while the Eberle’s held only 35%. This was a collective blow to the local as well as global industry, as Gary Eberle is a well-recognized leader and innovator in the world of wine. How could this happen?

Fortunately Gary and Marcy were able to regain control of the winery, buying out Giacobine and other partners, retaining an 84% stake today. “We’re so happy. I can’t even tell you,” said Marcy. “We know now that no one can hurt us again. It was a very tough 16 months. This is my husband’s heart and his life and his soul, and the thought that it could be lost killed us for 16 months. Now that it’s back, we’re in a bit of shock. We’re elated, and we’re grateful with the partners who stayed with us.”

Look for our upcoming reviews of Eberle Winery releases here:

Friday, May 29, 2015

Crisp White Wines from the Italian Alps

Catherine Fallis MS

At the recent Age-Worthy Alto-Adige wine tasting put on by SUDTIROL WEIN/VINI ALTO ADIGE and moderated by the erudite and engaging Tim Gaiser MS, not a single Pinot Grigio was served, though it is their most planted white grape.

Instead, the focus was on Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir). The Alto Adige DOC appellation along with several sub-appellations produce a wide range of wines due to the enormous range in vineyard altitude. Believe it or not, this is one of the warmest places in Italy in the summer months. It was also interesting to learn that the US is sandwiched between Germany (1st) and Switzerland (3rd) in terms of export markets. We import less Alto Adige wines than Germany? How is this possible?

As it turns out, the region was under German occupation from 1943 to 1945, and German influences prevail to this day including the accents, customs, and cuisine. Tobias Zingerle of Kaltern Caldaro, when asked about the region applying for the higher DOCG status, said, "G? Garantita? What does this mean? This is so Italian."

Wines tasted included four Pinot Bianco's ranging from 2014 to 1999, proving they are age-worthy, along with four Gewurztraminers and four Pinot Nero's (wine reviews will be posted shortly). Spicy sweet Gewurztraminer and soft sexy Pinot Noir is an easy sell here, but what about Pinot Bianco? Zingerle and his fellow winemaker panelists Martin Foradori Hofstatter of Tenuta Hofstatter and Ines Giovanett of Castelfeder described Pinot Bianco as "lighter than Sauvignon Blanc and very transparent." Zingerle added, "Pinot Bianco is a natural beauty, while Chardonnay is like Pamela Anderson."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Lodi ZinFest 2015

ZinFest WineSchool Presented by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis of
Lodi, California
May 2015

Lodi Lake last weekend was transformed into the popular wine festival known as ZinFest, attended by folks as far away as Montreal and Fort Lauderdale. This is one of my favorite events of the year, as it celebrates not only the delicious, well-made, and very under-valued local wines, but it is an event that celebrates the local growers, many of whom have remained in the shadows as others - many in Napa Valley -  took the credit. The event kicks off with an outdoor dinner featuring a live band, wine tents, hearty family style platters heaping with steak, chicken and butternut squash ravioli, followed by dancing and cigars under the moonlight.

Planet Grape Wine Review panel members Catherine Fallis MS and Fred Swan DWS with his journalist friend from Seattle and LODI WINES Ambassador Randy Caparoso

Winemakers Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars & Sandlands, and Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Wines at Vintners Grille Friday Night Dinner

The next day, cooler than normal - all over the state in fact - folks tasted whites, roses, reds, and sweet wines and hob-knobbed with growers, winemakers, and producers in this homey, low key setting. The outdoor piano bar under the shade of trees was as popular as the food booths and the cooking school was as packed as the wine tents. As the event closed individual wineries reminded folks they had special events going on Sunday - such as Oyster BBQ or Jazz music with their wine tastings. After a long day of presenting and tasting we opted for the tranquility of the lovely Wine & Roses Hotel & Spa pool. Looking forward to 2016! 


The Swimming Pool at Wine and Roses Hotel and Spa in Lodi

Check out our reviews of Lodi wines here: