Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Glass of Bubbly, Champagne & Sparkling Wine Magazine
Issue 5, February/March 2015

Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava, or “Black Bottle Bubbly,’ is the world’s number one imported sparkling wine. And for good reason – it is easy on the wallet, available everywhere, and has the recognizable and innovative black glass bottle.

In a similar vein, the slightly more upscale Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad Brut Cava, with its signature thick green triangular bottle atop an ornate silver crown, is equally recognizable, available, and memorable. I still try to untwist the crown, hoping this will be my lucky day. These two bubblies are bringing home the bacon -  Freixenet represents 80% of the export market of all Cava.

But this family firm is actively reaching out to an ever changing marketplace with updated releases including the easy going Mia Moscato “Fruity & Sweet” Sweet Sparkling Wine of Spain, a category that is exploding in the USA currently. And,  to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first bottling of Freixenet, they have released a luxury, hand-crafted release, the 2006 Freixenet Casa Sala Cuvee de Prestige Brut Nature Cava.
Jose Ferrer Sala, President of Honor of the Freixenet Group, pioneered this project, re-introducing all aspects of a hand-crafted Traditional Method sparkling wine. This release is even riddled by hand. And it pays off. The cuvee is at once chalky, briney, tropical, bitter, nutty, gingery and floral. On the palate it is elegant but not understated, like the locals themselves. There is a definite sense of flair, of personality here. Layers of lemon zest, lemon bar, quince, starfruit, apple cider, pear, crushed pistachio, Marcona almond, Manzanilla olive, quinine, mineral and Bermuda buttercup keep things interesting. The wine finishes bone dry and slightly bitter. It is tart yet mellow, pleasing the palate and encouraging a nibble of something more complex than every day Tapas. This is a serious wine suitable for a main course such as the Basque Cod al Pil Pil, Hake with Clam and Parsley Salsa Verde, or Pork with a buttery, smoky, nutty Idiazabal Cheese Sauce. Let’s toast to Freixenet’s next 100 years!

Please visit for wine notes and pricing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Elegant, regal, and silver haired Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, owner of Col d’Orcia in Montalcino, Tuscany, greeted a small group of San Francisco area wine experts, reviewers, sommeliers and press as we sat down in Sociale’s private dining room last Thursday. Sociale is a gem of an Italian bistro hidden down a narrow alleyway in San Francisco’s prestigious Laurel Heights neighborhood. Amongst the group of guests were Sonoma Celebrity Sommelier Chris Sawyer, Tasting Panel editor Deborah Parker Wong, Acquerello Wine Director Gianpaolo Paterlini,’s Chief Storyteller Wilfred Wong and Wine Oh TV’s Monique Soltani.

Count Cinzano was pleased to announce that his estate is the largest certified organic vineyard in Italy. Italy has the highest number of organic vineyards in the EU, with Sicily taking the lead, and Tuscany is in second place. He also explained that while there are 290 producers of Montalcino wines, Col d’Orcia wines are reserved upon release and should be decanted, or even double decanted for aeration. Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino wines must be 100% Sangiovese and have minimum aging requirements. Sant’Antimo wines are free to use a long list of approved grapes including international varieties. The star of the region is Brunello di Montalcino, but we learned that in the middle ages, the sweet Moscadella di Montalcino was so renowned it was already being exported. There is even a French chef who pairs this Italian dessert wine with his Foie Gras at Lucas Carton in Paris. In Tuscany, it is enjoyed with cheese, or with cantucci – biscotti with pine nuts, hazelnuts, or almonds.

Francesco’s sister, Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano, co-owns Bodega Noemia de Patagonia in Rio Negro Valley, Argentina with Danish winemaker Hans Vinding-Diers. Cousin Piero Incisa della Rochetta of Tenuta San Guido, producer of famed Super Tuscan wine Sassicaia, set up a winery nearby in northern Patagonia, Bodega Chacra.

The luncheon was organized by Palm Bay International to showcase a line up of wines from the estate going back to 2001. Flutes of the creamy, lemony and tangy Ferrari Brut Trento DOC were passed and we were off to the races.

with shallots, chives, almond cracker

2012 Col d’Orcia Rosso di Montalcino DOC
2010 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

with veal, pork and venison Bolognese, Parmigiano-Reggiano

2006 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio al Vento DOCG
2004 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio al Vento DOCG
2001 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio al Vento DOCG

stuffed with chicken mousse and Portobello and asparagus

2010 Col d’Orcia Nearco Sant’Antimo DOC
2009 Col d’Orcia Olmaia Cabernet Sauvignon Sant’Antimo DOC

2008 Col d’Orcia Pascena Moscadello di Montalcino DOC

Please visit for wine notes and pricing.


Summertime in a Glass Resident Master Sommelier, Catherine Fallis (a.k.a. grape goddess), gives us a nice overview of the Sauvignon Blanc found in the Arroyo Seco AVA located on California’s Central Coast in Monterey County. Here, some world-class Sauvignon Blanc is being produced in this unique, cool climate growing region. She explores several excellent wines and notes two distinct styles, but with a great deal of diversity found within those…
Arroyo Seco is located in the Central Coast area of California.
Arroyo Seco is located in the Central Coast area of California.
Monterey’s Arroyo Seco has long been revered for its pineapple flavored Chardonnays. It is warm enough here to get fruit fully ripe, and for whites that means from citrus all the way up to the tropical spectrum. This AVA, or American Viticultural Area, was formed in 1983, and is located between Soledad in the Salinas Valley and Greenfield. A narrow strip of the appellation runs from the end of Carmel Valley east, until it meets the wide, open, and windy Salinas Valley, where it forms a large triangle. Features of a seasonal creek, “Arroyo Seco,” formed the original boundaries of the appellation.
While Chardonnay is still the most widely planted grape here, Sauvignon Blanc is on the rise. This part of California’s Central Coast is sunny and warm, though cooling winds from Monterey Bay funneled through the wide Salinas Valley slows down ripening to a steadier pace. What this means is that wines give both rich, ripe fruit characteristics but they also are able to preserve their natural acidity – the wines are beautifully balanced and have staying power both at the table with food, and in the cellar.
I found two styles here, beautifully rich and ripe with tropical fruit notes, or the combination of tropical and grassy embodied by New Zealand producers and embraced by thirsty consumers around the globe. Both styles had a creaminess due in some part to the Musqué clone, which gives a rich mid-weight to the palate.
Vines in the spring in Arroyo Seco. Photo courtesy of Mercy Vineyards.
Vines in the spring in Arroyo Seco. Photo courtesy of Mercy Vineyards.
The 2012 Martin Ranch Sauvignon Blanc Therese Vineyard Griva Vineyard Arroyo Seco $28 is one of the ripest Sauvignon Blancs I have tasted in a long time. From a plot within the notable Griva Vineyard, it has notes of canned pineapple, fresh pineapple cubes, Roses Lime Juice, Kaffir lime, strawberry, guava, and quince. It is full and creamy with a white chocolate richness and a long flavorful finish. The 2012 Chesebro Sauvignon Blanc Cedar Lane Vineyard Arroyo Seco $18 from another notable vineyard also offers up lots of fresh, ripe pineapple along with guava, peach, chalk, lavender, and the tiniest hint of greeness, with a touch of crumbled sage leaves and soft, spring sweet pea. It is a full degree lower in alcohol than the Martin Ranch and therefore less intense and more refreshing.
Both the 2012 Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc Monterey County $18 and the 2012 Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc Griva Vineyard Arroyo Seco $24, both made with fruit from within this AVA, fell squarely into the New Zealand style that has enchanted the world, with the first offering soft ripe cantaloupe and honeydew melon, Midori liqueur, peach, guava, and starfruit, with a contrasting note of fresh thyme branch creating a tangy, sweet-tart contrast on the palate, and the second more overtly green, with notes of cucumber, jalapeno, asparagus, tarragon, and zucchini skin marrying with violet, rose petal, and nectarine. Taking a sip was like biting into a perfectly ripe watermelon – tingly, juicy, vibrantly flavored, and refreshing.
The 2011 Mercy Sauvignon Blanc Arroyo Seco $16 shows the Musqué clone creaminess right away, and is so tangy it had me thinking of sweet and sour chicken. I loved the notes of starfruit, grilled pineapple, mango, butterscotch, and lively contrasting notes of dill, spearmint, and rhubarb. One of the nicest surprises of this flight of wines was the sexy, smoky, and spicy 2012 J. Lohr Sauvignon Blanc Flume Crossing Arroyo Seco $14. With notes of gooseberry, tarragon, asparagus, guava, kiwi, apple, pear, pink peppercorn and white pepper, a lively, zesty but understated palate, and a long, zesty finish, this is one to buy by the case.
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This project is made possible, in part, by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA)
CF at Lookout Ridge~ Master Sommelier at Planet Grape® LLC –, a wine consulting firm providing reviews, content, education, entertainment, 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.

- See more at:


SIAG Resident Master Sommelier, Catherine Fallis, aka grape goddess®, explores the Sauv Blanc from one of the New World’s oldest wine regions, Livermore Valley. Though it’s place in history undeniable, many have not had the good fortune of tasting and exploring this important wine region. It’s profound connection with Sauvignon Blanc dates back to the 19th century and the wines made from the grape there reflect this experience and depth of tradition…

The Livermore Valley AVA located in the East San Francisco Bay Area. Map courtesy of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association.
The Livermore Valley AVA located in the East San Francisco Bay Area. Map courtesy of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association.
Livermore Valley Regional Tasting Profile
Livermore Valley was once one of California’s prime sources of grapes. In 1882, Charles Wetmore planted cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from Chateau d’Yquem in his Cresta Blanca Vineyard. The 1884 Cresta Blanca made from these grapes won the Grand Prize at the 1889 Paris Expo, becoming the first American wine ever to win a prize in France. More recently, Hugh Johnson wrote about what a prime spot this valley was for Sauvignon Blanc due to its well-drained, gravelly limestone soil, similar to what is found in Bordeaux. The gravel, comprised of egg-sized stones deposited from rushing waters in now dry arroyos are easily visible. Along Tesla Road, they are as large as a melon or a basketball.
Yet with all of this early recognition, the potential of Livermore Valley wines has not been fully realized. A major challenge has been the fact that like Silicon Valley, much of Livermore Valley transitioned rapidly from rural ranchland to housing developments and strip malls. And like the Santa Cruz Mountains, many wine producers turned to Monterey County for fruit once their vineyards were gone. Today however there are 4,000 vineyard acres planted here.
Livermore is a wide spot in a long chain of identical valleys running N-S behind the East Bay Hills, and is the warmest valley from Southern Monterey to San Francisco. Marine influence is mostly blocked by the East Bay Hills and the Santa Cruz Mountains so the days are warm, but gaps in the hills allow evening cooling with fog from the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific. The Altamont Ridge blocks much of the San Joaquin Valley heat. Harvest starts and ends later than it does in Napa Valley, and there is less rainfall. Livermore is cooler than the northernmost points in Napa Valley.
Carl H. Wente founded his winery in 1883.
Carl H. Wente founded his winery in 1883.
Carolyn Wente pioneered the San Francisco Bay AVA to help the area gain worldwide recognition, which did help in export markets, but Livermore Valley only now is trying to earn a reputation as a truly fine wine destination. Joining Amador and San Ramon in the “Visit Tri-Valley California” marketing group has helped draw attention to the fact it is only 33 miles from San Francisco. This should help drive folks to tasting rooms and wineries. But what would help even more would be a focus on terroir, on specific vineyards, and perhaps a tendency towards a couple of varietals at which they excel. On that list, I would definitely include Sauvignon Blanc.
I asked respected wine writer and educator Fred Swan, owner of NorCal Wines, to comment on the local Sauvignon Blancs. He said, “My favorites, aside from Steven Kent and not in order of preference as that changes from vintage to vintage, are Wente Louis Mel, Murrietta’s Well Los Tesoros (which also comes from the Louis Mel vineyard, but is small production at just 8 barrels), Concannon Reserve Assemblage Blanc (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon), and Occasio Winery Del Arroyo Vineyard.”
In the tastings I conducted of several local wines, a signature style did not emerge. I did enjoy the diversity of the range, starting with the light, low alcohol 2013 Cuda Ridge Sauvignon Blanc. It was softly grassy, savory and juicy, like biting into those oversized grapes found in Europe in the fall, and would be easy to pair with a wide range of appetizers. The 2013 Page Mill Winery Sauvignon Blanc offered floral, peach, and banana notes along with an underlying vein of resinous scrub like lavender or thyme. The 2013 McGrail Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc was very ripe with tropical fruit, even lychee, along with tarragon and a light hay note.
One of the prized Livermore Valley vineyards, Steven Kent's Ghielmetti Vineyard, produces tremendous Sauvignon Blanc.
One of the prized Livermore Valley vineyards, Steven Kent’s Ghielmetti Vineyard, produces tremendous Sauvignon Blanc.
Vineyards such as Steven Kent’s Ghielmetti and Wente’s Louis Mel are proof that Sauvignon Blanc can excel here, especially when given the chance to fully reflect its terroir. The 2013 Steven Kent Winery “Lola” Sauvignon Blanc Ghielmetti Vineyard offered notes of green pea, basil and tomato leaf, white asparagus, yellow pear, Serrano chile, black peppercorn and peach. It was bright, electric, and punchy and had a long, clean, fruity finish.
The 2012 Wente Louis Mel Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc was beautifully balanced and complex as well, with notes of soft dried grass and herbs, pink grapefruit, lemongrass, sweet peach, apricot, honey, and lemondrop. I loved its soft fleshy texture brought to life with lively tart acidity and it had a long dried herb/pineapple tinged finish. Wente also produces the 2013 Murrieta’s Well Los Tesoros Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc – in this vintage only 3 barrels were made so it is only available at the tasting room. This was bright and punchy with notes of red delicious apple, pineapple, creamsicle, banana pudding, nutmeg, white pepper, rhubarb, and sage. The finish offered notes of mango and vanilla, though it sees no oak. They also produce a limited amount of Los Tesoros White Meritage.
~ Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, aka grape goddess®
CF at Lookout RidgeMaster Sommelier at Planet Grape® LLC –, a wine consulting firm providing reviews, content, education, entertainment, 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.
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Saturday, March 14, 2015


This is our first installment in an extensive series of “Sauvignon Blanc Regional Tasting Profiles” authored expertly by our Resident Master Sommelier, Catherine Fallis (a.k.a. grape goddess.) These pieces are meant to highlight the world’s major Sauvignon Blanc producing regions and provide you with an overview of the styles, flavors, and characteristics of wines they produce. These make for great reference sources when exploring the world of Sauv Blanc, choosing a wine for a particular meal, or understanding why a particular wine is how it is. Enjoy and share with other Sauvignon Blanc enthusiasts! Cheers, Bryan Dias, Executive Director, SIAG.


Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, aka grape goddess®
Known as Le Jardin de la France, or France’s garden, the Loire Valley is a producer of wines enjoyed often and everywhere around the globe…
Chateau de Sancerre (Photo courtesy of Terlato Wine Group.)
Chateau de Sancerre (Photo courtesy of Terlato Wine Group.)
As the cradle of French civilization, the area has long attracted nobility. French kings built summertime chateaux and hunting lodges in the 16th and 17th centuries, bringing their household staffs along, including sommeliers and chefs. The wines, as well as Antoine Careme, the world’s first celebrity chef, were discovered here.
Today the region is France’s fourth most visited, its largest white wine producing region, and its third largest producer of AOC, or Appellation d’Origine Controllee wines. A large percentage of that is Sancerre, the dry, crisp racy wine enjoyed at the start of the meal as an aperitif, or “opener” of the appetite.
Sauvignon Blanc thrives in the Upper Loire. Once planted mainly to Chasselas, and only switched over as Sauvignon Blanc was easier to graft, the wine was not considered great until Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé were discovered in nearby Paris in the 1960s. The climate is continental, as the vineyards are in the center of France, not the center of the Loire Valley, and the soils vary slightly in the different appellations, or AOC’s, but all are on a base of Kimmeridgian limestone, a unique subsoil composed of tiny fossilized shellfish bound in clay, found only in Southern England, across the channel, and into Champagne and the center of France. There is nothing like it anywhere else on the planet, and the wines grown in it, in such cool conditions, often express a flinty, stony or chalky character. Vineyards are planted near the river as a buffer from harsh conditions.
Map of the Loire Valley region of France. Sauvignon Blanc is the primary grape in the eastern reaches of the area, around Sancerre. Many feel this region represents the true expression of the varietal.
Map of the Loire Valley region of France. Sauvignon Blanc is the primary grape in the eastern reaches of the area, around Sancerre. Many feel this region represents the true expression of the varietal.
Sancerre is the largest and most significant producer of quality French Sauvignon Blanc. Vineyards are planted on steep slopes at altitudes of up to 660 feet, where vines are enjoyed sheltered, sunny conditions and the moderating effect of the river. Terres Blanches, Caillottes, and Silex topsoils impart unique minerally flavors to the better wines.
Winemakers work to preserve the taste of the soil, which is quite the feat given the star quality of the local varietal. While not a diva, cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, especially when less ripe, is pungent, herbaceous, savage even – “sauvage” in French is “wild,” and in the case of the grape, unruly and productive. When reined in and just ripe enough however, the resulting wines offer the epitome of French elegance. The terms “gooseberry” and “violet” stay in my memory banks as I had to look them up to figure out what they were talking about – those Brits. They use words that may be foreign to us. But at Cost Plus I found Gooseberry jam and in Healdsburg, a little vial of violet oil and I was on my way. The use of oak is uncommon. A recent and heart-wrenching trend across the valley has been to try and imitate the wildly popular New Zealand style which mixes tart with tropical. This is not at all classic.
Sancerre with the local Chevre, goat cheese, and a crusty loaf of bread is delicious. The cheese and the wine both have ample acidity, or tartness. Another classic pairing is with white asparagus. Here is an excerpt from an upcoming story about my travels in Europe. I am an Au Pair living in a Chambre de Bonne, or maid’s room, with a family on the Rue de Babylone in Paris, and have been invited to dine with the family.
“So we sit, and I notice different plates than usual. We each had before a plate with a built-in wedge, as if put there to hold something up. We had a weird fork I had never seen before, even in the books at the library at hotel school – and I looked at a lot of forks, even got to know what some of them were for. Within seconds, we are entranced, spellbound, as the maid serves us one by one with great reverence as if she holds the first born son of a King in her hands. She rests the tender white spears gently on the wedge of the plate, so that they sit like a see-saw tip end up. She then circles us again, offering a sauce only the French could have created – so light and delicate yet so buttery and rich- which she drizzles gently over each spear. The room is silent. Madame looks at Monsieur, they nod, and we begin to eat. With this feast – the great feast of the white asparagus – we are served a delicate, slightly herbaceous Sancerre. The white asparagus was sublime, delicate, earthy, soft, delectable. The wine was perfect. It was in the background playing a supporting role, not the star of the show, its crispness perfectly cleansing the palate of any luxurious remnants of that silky sauce.”

The famed Pur Sang label - a Pouilly Fumé wine by Didier Dagueneau.
The famed Pur Sang label – a Pouilly Fumé wine by Didier Dagueneau.
Pouilly Fumé
If Sancerre is concentrated and elegant, Pouilly-Fumè  (say “pwee –  foo-may”) across the river from Sancerre is heavier, mellower, bolder, earthier, and smokier with noticeable flint and often oak notes. The best vineyards have Silex, or flint and clay topsoils, which give a gunflint minerality. Gravelly, sandy vineyards give fruitier wines, and Sauvignon Blancs grown on clay here are creamy and round, less angular than Sancerre. Sommeliers consider Pouilly-Fumè wines more complex and long lived. Didier Dagueneau was a local, very passionate renegade, whose Pur Sang, or “pure bred” Blanc Fumé de Pouilly was a game changer for the varietal.
Chilled seafood and light fish dishes are ideal with this wine, as are light meat dishes accented with green vegetables, such as peas or green beans. A particular favorite pairing of mine is chilled foie gras torchon on toast points. Though Sauternes is more classic, I like the mirroring of creamy texture and earthy flavor plus the gentle palate cleansing of the wine’s acidity.
Menetou Salon
To the west of Sancerre, and farther from the river banks, Menetou Salon enjoys the same Kimmeridgian base soil. The wines in this often-overlooked appellation are as expressive of their varietal as they are in Sancerre, but they have a unique floral or even chamomile leaf quality not found elsewhere. Like Sancerre, these wines are unoaked, crisp, bone dry, and elegant. They pair beautifully with light fish dishes or Zucchini blossoms stuffed with goat cheese.
No one said pronouncing French wines was going to be easy. One taste of this wine, though, and it all comes together. You literally can’t see as your eyes are closed tight and tearing up from the extreme, raspy acidity. Say “can’t see.” You’re welcome. All kidding aside, the wines here, while perhaps a tad more biting due to their more remote inland location on the Cher tributary, enjoy a Kimmeridgian base and often offer floral, mint and earthy white pepper notes. Pair with grilled leeks on toast or chile-lime macadamia nuts.
Adjacent to Quincy and also on a base of Kimmeridgian soil, Sauvignon Blanc here ripens nicely and offers notes of dried herbs and white flowers. More lime content in the soil here ramps up the acidity even more though. Don’t confuse this AOC with Rully in Southern Burgundy.  Pair with citrus-marinated goat cheese, or pork, duck, or salmon rillettes with brioche.
Catherine is Summertime in a Glass' Resident Master Sommelier.
Catherine is Summertime in a Glass’ Resident Master Sommelier.
Catherine Fallis, Master Sommelier – A successful wine and service professional, Catherine Fallis, a.k.a. grape goddess® is an approachable and entertaining wine expert who brings wine down to earth. Her diverse wine background as a salesperson, sommelier, distributor, and supplier helped Catherine become the well-rounded and thorough expert she is today. She understands all facets of the wine business, and is a frequent speaker, event host, educator, and consultant for corporations, consumers and the wine trade. She is a highly sought after wine expert and spokesperson for the wine industry. Visit her site, here
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One of the many lovely vineyards in Lodi. Photo Courtesy of the Lodi Winegrape Commission.
Our second Regional Tasting Profile by Catherine Fallis, grape goddess, of Planet Grape and our Resident Master Sommelier. This time she tackles Lodi, California. Most may think “Zin” when it comes to Lodi, but like so many other varietals, Sauvignon Blanc can be found there, too. You just don’t her about it as much because Lodi is a major supplier of winegrapes (due to its favorable growing conditions and friendly prices) to many “California blends” and to other winemaking regions, altogether. That being said, there are some excellent examples of Sauv Blanc to be had in Lodi…


Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, aka grape goddess®
As an early student of wine, I learned that California’s Central Valley was for almonds, “ah-mands”, not grapes, unless you were making innocuous bag-in-box swill, not that there is anything wrong with that. A lot of folks enjoy that reliable, consistent, well-priced and convenient product. But as I dug deeper, taking trips, driving around, visiting the Mondavi Woodbridge facility and others, and talking with local growers and producers, I discovered that Lodi, with its sunny, Mediterranean climate, cooling Delta breezes, old vine fruit, and a long heritage of growing grapes was a very special place. Why was it being lumped into the Central Valley? Why hadn’t anyone been talking about the great wines being made from Lodi fruit? As it turns out, the bulk of this gorgeous fruit was being sold off and blended innocuously into wines across California, and in particular, via Lodi Lane into Napa Valley.
Lodi is known for "Zin," but also produces some terrific Sauvignon Blanc.
Lodi is known for “Zin,” but also produces some terrific Sauvignon Blanc. Photo Courtesy of the Lodi Winegrape Commission.
Before the ground broke on the swanky Wine and Roses Hotel and Spa, Lodi was Napa’s secret mistress. Today, she is well-regarded for so many things, most notably old-vine Zinfandel. As growers transition into winemakers, a rather risky business at so many turns – making the wine, bottling it, compliance, and selling it locally and beyond – dealing with distributor partners concerned about only their bottom lines in many cases – vineyards mature, and a new breed of globally-trained as well as local winemakers work together to increase quality and enhance the area’s reputation, Lodi is finally basking in its plentiful sunshine. With Lodi itself and 7 sub- AVA’s as well as the Lodi Rules – Sustainable Winegrowing program that was so well-received it was adopted statewide, we are sure to see great things continue to happen here.
As a regular speaker at Lodi Zinfest and panelist on their behalf (by my request) at ZAP, I have become very familiar with many of the families, growers who are now grower/producers, and it is nice to see their success. Even if the mass market only looks to Lodi for Zin, that is fine, as here is some of the most exquisite old vine fruit in the world. It is not unusual for a winemaker to casually proclaim, “Oh, there is some 118-year old vine fruit in the blend.” And these are the wines that are selling for $15 to $25 a bottle!
Though you may not know it, Lodi produces more Sauvignon Blanc than any other region in California.
Though you may not know it, Lodi produces more Sauvignon Blanc than any other region in California. Photo Courtesy of the Lodi Winegrape Commission.
One of Catherine's favorites - "Hybrid" Sauvignon Blanc by Peltier Station.
One of Catherine’s favorites – “Hybrid” Sauvignon Blanc by Peltier Station.
While Lodi whites and rosés are extremely popular in the warmer months, it has not become apparent that a grape such as Chardonnay for example will bring them renown. Perhaps realizing this early on, cutting edge producers looked to Spain, for Albarino, and Verdelho, grapes that would stand out in a very crowded marketplace, and they have worked very well. What about Sauvignon Blanc? Anyone who has tasted the rich, well-structured Lange Musque Clone Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc, or that of Christine AndrewTall House or my go-to weeknight white, Hybrid by Peltier Station, will agree there is a common denominator here of citrus, chalk, banana pudding, musk, slight tropical notes and a glimmer of grassiness. Even the Michael David Sauvignon Blanc, which is a California appellation as it is blended with Lake County fruit, touches on this style.
But as with Chardonnay, the bulk of Lodi’s Sauvignon Blanc still ends up being blended anonymously into wines across the state. Lodi Winegrape Commission Program Manager Stuart Spencer says, “Sauvignon Blanc production in Lodi has been relatively steady over the last decade. I’m not aware of many new plantings, but there is growing interest and success with several of the Lodi appellated wines. Lodi is California’s leading region in overall Sauvignon Blanc production, but the majority of those grapes go into $8-$10 California appellated wines.”
What does the future hold for Lodi Sauvignon Blanc? What is your experience with Lodi Sauvignon Blanc? Would you like to see more choices in Lodi-appellated Sauvignon Blanc? What would you pair with Lodi Sauvignon Blanc? We look forward to your comments.
Catherine is Summertime in a Glass' Resident Master Sommelier.
Catherine is Summertime in a Glass’ Resident Master Sommelier.
Catherine Fallis, Master Sommelier – A successful wine and service professional, Catherine Fallis, a.k.a. grape goddess® is an approachable and entertaining wine expert who brings wine down to earth. Her diverse wine background as a salesperson, sommelier, distributor, and supplier helped Catherine become the well-rounded and thorough expert she is today. She understands all facets of the wine business, and is a frequent speaker, event host, educator, and consultant for corporations, consumers and the wine trade. She is a highly sought after wine expert and spokesperson for the wine industry. Visit her site, here
- See more at:

Friday, March 6, 2015


A select group of sommeliers, wine merchants and journalists were invited to a presentation yesterday at St. Vincent Tavern & Wine Merchant in San Francisco honoring “The Ladies of Vino Nobile,” Virginie Saverys, the new owner of Avignonesi, and her winemaker Ashleigh Seymour.

Belgian Virginie Saverys was an investor in this well-known Tuscan estate since 2007, but in 2009 she fully acquired it. In addition to expanding vineyard holdings from 225 acres to 495 acres, in 2011 she and her team began the transition to biodynamic farming. If and when they are certified by Demeter, they will have the largest biodynamic vineyard in Italy. In 2012 they built a new three-level winery, and have redesigned the wine labels as well.

A Renaissance hill town in the province of Siena in southeastern Tuscany near Cortona, Montepulciano is surrounded by vineyards which fall under the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, the highest level of Italian wine appellations (Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione aside – see separate article about that). Vino Nobile must use a minimum of 70% Sangiovese, and spend two years in oak before release (three for Riserva).

Sangiovese clones are a hot topic and the focus of Chianti 2000, a project by the local Consorzio there to improve quality in Chianti starting in the vineyards. Like Chianti, Vino Nobile may blend in other grapes, but the trend is towards making pure, 100% Sangioveses. In fact, this has been the case with Avignonesi since 2010.
 In addition, Saverys has begun replacing the commonly used Prugnolo Gentile clone, chosen for its ability to grow well in the clay-heavy soils of the area, but rather the variety of Sangioveto clones used in Chianti, an area with very rocky soils. “According to Saverys, the locals are abandoning Prugnolo Gentile altogether. “As a point of reference, Sangiovese Grosso, or  Brunello, the “little brown one,” is the preferred clone in the warmer, sunnier Montalcino.

Winemaker Ashleigh Seymour commented on the tarter nature of Vino Nobile as compared with other Tuscan Sangioveses. “We are at a lower elevation than Chianti. We are less rocky (rocks absorb sunlight and transfer heat to the vine roots as it cools down). So we are cooler.” In contrast, the vineyards of Montalcino, the richest expression of Tuscan Sangiovese, are already influenced by the warm sea and lavish sun in addition to mandatory oak aging, often new well-toasted oak.
The winery’s new flagship wine, Grandi Annate, replaces their Vino Nobile Riserva, and allows them to get the wine to the market at the same time as their regular Vino Nobile.

St. Vincent owner and Italian wine expert David Lynch and his team crafted a delicious
three course menu to showcase the Avignonesi wines.

Chicories parmesan, pistachios, saba, warm pork belly vinaigrette
2013 Avignonesi Rosso di Montelpulciano DOC

Spaetzle, wild mushrooms, kale with comte fonduta
2010, 2011, 2012 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG

Bavette Steak, floriana polenta, sunchokes, spring onions
2011 Avignonesi Grandi Annati Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Winemakers around the globe look to France as the benchmark; Burgundy for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the Rhone Valley for Syrah, Bordeaux for Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, the Loire Valley for Sauvignon Blanc, and Champagne.

France encompasses an extraordinary range of terrain and weather patterns. In the north, grapes sometimes do not see enough sun and warmth to get perfectly ripe. In other years, all might be progressing well and then devastating hail tears through the vineyards, or torrential downpours arrive just before the harvest.

Bordeaux has a moderating maritime climate. The prevailing dampness means that disease is a perennial threat, but one such infestation, Botrytis cinerea (noble rot), is a boon for the sweet-wine producers of Sauternes. Burgundy, inland to the north and east, is cooler. Its continental climate, with relatively high rainfall, places it at the northern limit (in the northern hemisphere) for making red wines. But consider those wines: at their best, they have a fragrance, complexity of flavor and silkiness of texture that leaves normally voluble critics speechless. The Loire Valley lies even farther north, but vines still thrive there as a result of the moderating influences of moist Atlantic breezes and the expansive river and its tributaries. In France’s most northerly wine region, Champagne, the grapes barely ripen each year, but that’s rarely a cause for concern—high-acid, relatively low-sugar grapes are perfect raw material for the finest sparkling wines.

Climate is only one factor. Terroir, the complete package of soil and subsoil, aspect and altitude, climate and mesoclimate—and any other natural feature that might affect the vines, is what really counts. Soil types vary greatly. Burgundy and Jura have limestone, Beaujolais and the northern Rhône sit on granite, Champagne has chalk, the Médoc has gravel, and some of the vineyards in Châteauneuf-du-Pape are covered with huge, smooth stones for as far as the eye can see.
France’s finest vineyards tend to be located on poor soils where little else will thrive.

In regions such as Alsace, Burgundy and Beaujolais, the best vineyards (often called crus – as in premier, and grand) tend to be on the hillsides and the more ordinary vineyards on flatter ground. Similarly, the exciting new domaines that have made a name for themselves in Languedoc in recent years are not located on the coastal plains but on the inland coteaux, or hills.

Most of the important French wine growing areas have been divided into sub-regions based on the characteristics of their terroirs. Such distinctions form the basis of France’s national classification system, known as appellation d’origine contrôlée, often abbreviated to AC or AOC (and more recently to the EU's AOP). The appellation system was created in 1935 to protect the authenticity of wines and the livelihoods of their producers. It does this by defining boundaries and, within each area, stipulating the permitted grape varieties, yields and alcohol content; cultivation, vinification and maturation practices; and labeling procedures.

Bordeaux’s reputation rests squarely on a group of illustrious châteaux and their highly sought-after and increasingly expensive wines. Margaux, Lafite and Pétrus are considered amongst the finest of the region, yet products at this quality level represent just 5 percent of Bordeaux’s total production. About 85 percent of the region’s output is red; the rest is mainly dry and sweet white, with a little rosé, clairet and sparkling crémant. This includes good value offerings come from the petites appellations as well as a large quantity generic Bordeaux blends.

Bordeaux is in southwestern France and is crossed by the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. Bordeaux has a temperate maritime climate. Rainfall is abundant, summers are warm, and winter rarely drops below freezing. The absence of extremes means that the grapes ripen only to a certain level of intensity, resulting in wines that are subtle and reserved.

Most of Bordeaux is flat or undulating, there are no steep slopes, and generally soil types determine which variety of grape is planted. On the “left bank” (the Médoc and Graves), the soils are mainly pebbles, gravel and sand and are generally poor, but they retain heat and have good filtration properties, ideal for late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. On the “right bank” (St-Émilion, Pomerol and Fronsac), the soils are mainly of clay, limestone, sand and pockets of gravel, and are cooler, making them more suited to early-ripening Merlot as well as Cabernet Franc.

White Bordeaux ranges from the inexpensive sauvignon blanc-based Entre Deux Mers to the full-bodied Semillon-based wines of Pessac-Leogan, and include perhaps the most famous white wine in the world – sauternes. This sweet white wine, exemplified by Chateau d’Yquem, is made with semillon that has been infected with “noble rot,” or botrytis cinerea.  After selective harvesting, the grapes are pressed and then fermented, either in stainless steel, or, increasingly at the top estates, in new or relatively new oak barrels. The fermentation process is necessarily long and slow. When the wine has reached the desired alcohol-sugar balance, the fermentation process is halted by reducing the temperature, racking, and adding sulfur dioxide. Aging in barrel then continues for another two or three years.

Several classification systems are in use in Bordeaux. The most famous is the 1855 classification for red wines of the Médoc and sweet white wines of Sauternes, but others operate in St-Émilion and the Graves. Even the Crus Bourgeois of the Médoc have a grading, although it is limited by a European Union directive to the use of that term. Pomerol is the only major appellation without a classification. Each ranking has its own history and set of controls.

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Catherine Fallis, aka grape goddess®
America's premiere female Master Sommelier.


Summertime in a Glass

Resident Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis

In this Sauvignon Blanc Regional Tasting Profile, Resident Master Sommelier, Catherine Fallis aka grape goddess of Planet Grape, takes a look at the iconic Napa Valley – a terrific place for Sauv Blanc…
Sauvignon Blanc is grown in many sub-appellations around the Napa Valley. Map courtesy of Napa Valley Vintners.
Sauvignon Blanc is grown in many sub-appellations around the Napa Valley. Map courtesy of Napa Valley Vintners.
California’s premier wine growing district, the Napa Valley, enjoys its hard-earned reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon. Why not? Most industry folks, even those in Bordeaux, France – whose wines are often based on Cabernet Sauvignon – will agree there is no better place on earth to fully ripen Cabernet than this bucolic, 30-mile long valley north of San Francisco. Cabernet loves the heat and Napa delivers. Where Cabernet Sauvignon and its white counterpart Sauvignon Blanc thrive, more delicate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wilt. They prefer a cooler location, closer to the coast or higher up in the mountains.
Within Napa Valley the spectrum of microclimates runs from cool to hot, and Sauvignon Blanc ripens beautifully in all of them, so let’s look to stylistic rather than regional influences. Winemakers often have a specific style in mind, or are tasked with it, to cater to a particular audience, or even to the tastes of a spouse.
Stylistically, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs fall into three general categories: Traditional, New Wave, and Modern. Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc initially looked to barrel-aged Chardonnay as a role model. Early Napa offerings were rich, round, and fruity with an emphasis on melon and stone fruit (i.e. apricot or peach), and were lavishly oaky. These days, the style has evolved to mirror the best white Bordeaux, wines such as Chateau Haut Brion Blanc. They are rich, classy, understated, beautifully balanced, and expensive. Araujo, Rudd, Arietta and Quintessa are good examples.
The wildly successful New Zealand model – a vibrant interplay of ripe tropical and tart, grassy green notes, like that produced at St. Supéry, is the new wave. Folks love the vivacious flavors, the bright, ripe, refreshing rainbow in a glass. While this loud style works for some, it may not for everyone.
A modern style has evolved over the past few years – helped in part by a series of challenging vintages – that is lighter in alcohol and aged either in tank or concrete egg. This lively, clean, citrusy style plays down the zesty green notes and goes for a more elegant expression of the grape.
Below you will find the five local Sauvignon Blancs evaluated for this report in their respective categories. 
Sauvignon Blanc on the vine in Napa Valley.
The 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley is very rich, ripe, round, and silky, with lemon, honeydew, pineapple, honey, lanolin, vanilla and butter cream. Soft green pea, hay, and peppermint add nuance and complexity. The wine is very well balanced and has a long finish.
The 2013 Phifer-Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley is full, rich, and intense, with notes of ripe pear, mashed banana, fruit cocktail, pineapple juice, and apple skin along with soft green notes of spring onion, asparagus and artichoke, zucchini, pine needle, pine resin, and a very slight jalapeno note. A lovely violet note appears on the long, tart finish. 
New Wave
The 2013 St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, from their Dollarhide Estate Vineyard, is vibrant, layered, pithy and juicy with notes of lemon, kefir lime, green apple, apricot, peach, pineapple, hay, lemongrass, talc, rose powder, nilla wafer, and Bay Rhum cologne. It is like a trip to the tropics in a glass.
The 2013 J. Lohr Carol’s Vineyard St. Helena Napa Valley is rich and round but lively, not heavy. It has notes of yellow pear, golden delicious apple, honeydew melon, mango, guava, hay, tarragon, white pepper, and a soft hint of nutmeg, most likely from a partial contact with Acacia barrels. It is tart, pithy, and dry on the finish. 
The 2013 Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, from Herb Lamb Farms, is fresh and zesty but also mellow. It is a lighter style and one that pulls focus away from the herbaceous notes found so often these days. Notes of lemon curd, lemon tart, lime zest, quince paste, yellow plum, peach puree, peach skin, mango, bitter almond, and pine needle meld together for a very elegant expression.
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