Thursday, December 15, 2016


Last weekend I selected Champagne Pol Roger for the Bubbles Bar at a huge Tech party in San Francisco, where we also built and filled a Champagne Tower!
Pol Roger is an iconic house that has maintained a level of quality that very few have.  Pol Roger retained 3 stars by Le Revue Des Vins de France in 2015, France’s most important and respected wine publication, and is one of only 7 Champagne houses to be awarded 3 stars. The Houses are evaluated based on the integrity of the entire portfolio and not simply the Tête de Cuvée of the House:

Pol Roger

Look for these and other sparkling wine recommendations here:

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


D.O.C. – F.V.G. Consortium Press ReleaseA long journey that began with plans, ideas and hopes, which lasted several decades, has finally culminated in July with the creation of Friuli Venezia Giulia D.O.C. The first bottles bearing the new denomination will hit the shelves in early 2017 as the 2016 harvest was authorized to be labelled. An organic Pinot Grigio, certified by Ceviq (Certification of quality Italian wines and products) of Udine, has been selected to premier as the first wine of the new denomination.

 Thanks to the 1,700 wine growers and producers, along with the vital support of the regional administration which was determined to attain international recognition in terms of image, marketing and sales, the outcome was achieved. In the midst of various denominations which remain the pride and express the authenticity of the region’s characteristics, the Friuli Venezia Giulia D.O.C. will present a unique reality as a substantial, recognizable presence within international markets.

The new D.O.C. will be a crucial aid for the Friuli Venezia Giulia producers to approach national and foreign markets, acting together as a team creating an easily identifiable brand that possesses remarkable appeal.

The “Friuli Venezia Giulia” label will be a guaranteed endorsement allowing the industry to speak with a single voice, even if there are differences that bring out the beauty of the wine production in Italy. It will provide trade and consumers with an overall picture, which will have an impact from all points of view, of the outcome of production that is complex and all-embracing at the same time.    “Joining the denomination will be voluntary,” underlined Pietro Biscontin, Chairman of the DOC-FVG Consortium. “But the first responses are positive and we are certain that Friuli Venezia Giulia D.O.C. will be a great opportunity to re-launch the Friuli economy, starting with the wine production division. In this regard, we would like to thank the regional institutions, starting with Cristiano Shaurli, the Agricultural Resources Director, for believing in the project and for the commitment in making this dream finally come true.”

For information: D.O.C. – F.V.G. Consortium

Thursday, December 8, 2016


Simple Winter Sangria & Mulled Chardonnay Cider from Adirondack Winery in New York

Simple Winter Sangria
Recipe Date:
November 21, 2016
Cook Time:
Imperial (US)
This simple winter sangria is sweet and spicy and perfect all year round! Best of all, you can make it white or red!
  • 1 bottle Adirondack Winery Wild Red or Pinot Gris
  • 1 Apple
  • 1 Pear
  • 1 Orange
  • 1 Lemon (optional)
  • 3 Cinnamon Sticks
  • Lemon Lime Soda
Just about any wine will taste great in this simple sangria made with fresh fruits that you can find all winter long. Wild Red & Pinot Gris are 2 of our favorites … and it’s so easy to make you can try it again and again with different wines to see what you like most!

Microwave lemon and orange for 20 seconds and roll on counter to loosen juices.  Puncture skin slightly all over with fingernails to release oils. Slice into ¼ inch rounds. Core apple and cut into ¼ inch slices. Place lemon, orange, apple and cinnamon sticks into pitcher. Cut pear into slices, or if using canned pears, drain most of syrup out and pour into pitcher. Pour wine over fruit. Muddle contents of pitcher with a wooden spoon and mix. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Top with soda (to taste) immediately.

Citrus Mulled Chardonnay
Recipe Date:
March 1, 2016
Serving Size:
Cook Time:
Imperial (US)
  • 1 Bottle of Chardonnay
  • 1 Orange, sliced (plus extra for garnish)
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1/2 cup Honey
  • 1 1" piece of fresh Ginger (peeled and sliced thin)
  • 3 Whole sticks of Cinnamon
  • 6 Whole Cloves
  • 1/2 cup Cranberries (optional)
1. Combine the fruit, water, honey, ginger, cinnamon and cloves in a saucepan and simmer over
medium heat for 10 minutes Stir gently to dissolve the honey.
2. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the Chardonnay to the spice and fruit mixture. Cover the pan and allow the wine to mull for half an hour.
3. Strain the mulled wine through a mesh strainer to remove the cooked fruit and spices.
4. Stir and ladle your hot mulled wine into mugs or wine glasses. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and a slice of orange and serve!

* Not ready to serve? Your mulled wine can also be refrigerated overnight! Before serving, reheat the mulled wine at a low simmer on the stove or in a slow cooker. If you want a stronger flavor, throw in a few more cinnamon sticks, cloves, and another piece of ginger while you reheat. Be sure not to cook the wine too long or too hot, but you may keep it warm to serve throughout the evening.

* If you're not a fan of Chardonnay, or want a sweeter mulled wine, we suggest substituting "White Diamond" or "Prospect Mountain White."

This recipe was adapted from “Cranberry Citrus Mulled Chardonnay” on by Theresa Sinclair. 

For more information on Adirondack Winery:

Check back soon for our reviews of Adirondack wines

Sunday, December 4, 2016


It’s here! Holiday shopping, festive parties, and the time of year to rock the ugliest sweaters ever made. I have selected some of my personal favorites wines and spirits of 2016 to assist you with your holiday beverages and up your game. These are all value-priced and easy to find online @drync or @eBay wines, or at your favorite shop.

Bubbly Personality
nv Chloe Prosecco Veneto

Crowd Pleaser
Monteviejo Festivo
2014 Monteviejo Festivo Malbec Valle de Uco Mendoza

Sweetie Pie
2015 Gundlach Bundschu Gewurztraminer Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast

Your Favorite Wine Snob
2011 Chateau Lafite Monteil Bordeaux Superieur

Hipster Cool
Margerum AMARO
Margerum Amaro Santa Barbara California

Happy Holidays from Planet Grape Wine Review!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


What wines go with Turkey? That also pair nicely with all the sides? Now that is a bit complicated. So why don’t we reverse engineer this scenario and start with, what will my friends and family enjoy, that won’t steal the show or dent my budget? Check out this eclectic Italian duo.

I recommend this Central Italian white, the Casal Thaulero Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, which toes the line between a rich Pinot Grigio and a light Chardonnay, and a Tuscan red, the Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano, richer than Pinot Noir but not as heavy as a Cabernet. Both are just right for those who like to sip throughout the lengthy meal.
Happy Thanksgiving!

2015 Casal Thaulero Borgo Thaulero Trebbiano d’Abruzzo

2014 Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano

Thursday, November 17, 2016



Each year for the past 30 years, Beaujolais Nouveau makes its debut across the world on the third Thursday of November, just in time for the holiday table, when cheap and cheerful red is just the ticket.

This year is no different, though some palates are fatiguing of the banana/tutti frutti and bubblegum flavors often present in these light, tart Gamay wines.
2016 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

While Nouveau is fun and easy going, I highly recommend you venture out into the category known as Cru Beaujolais, where for a little bit more money you get an exponentially better wine:

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


by Dorothy Gaiter, Grape Collective

"First," Kevin Zraly explained in that calm way of his, “I’m not retiring.” Forget the headline, “A Heralded Wine Instructor’s Last Class Before Retiring. “Let me tell you what’s going on,” he offered, and so I stopped hyperventilating. Thank goodness! The world’s most famous wine educator, an early advocate of American wines, the guy who nurtured America’s first generation of sommeliers and helped conceive of what is now the Wine Spectator wine experiences, wasn’t putting away his tastevin.

Given what Zraly, 65, has gone through and accomplished, it certainly would be understandable if he wanted to take a breather
Fifteen years ago this Sunday, September 11, 2001, terrorists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, killing thousands. Zraly was wine director of the fabled Windows on the World restaurant in the North Tower from its opening in 1976 until its destruction that terrible day. Among the dead were 72 of his colleagues at Windows and its ancillary dining spots on the 106th and 107th floors. John and I, who had met Zraly in the ’70s at Cellar in the Sky, the elegant, 35-seat, wine-centered restaurant in Windows, lost a dear friend, Cathy Chirls, who was working at a financial services firm with offices below Windows.

“I have to let go a little bit of the name, Windows,” Zraly said, explaining, “Windows Wine School will no longer exist after the fall of 2016.” Zraly says he’ll continue to update his book, “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course,” keeping “Windows” in the title. It has sold more than 4 million copies and the 31st edition was just published. At the time of the attacks, Zraly, the father of four, was at his home in New Paltz, N.Y., preparing for his son Anthony’s 10th birthday the next day.
Stepping away from the Windows on the World Wine School, which he founded 40 years ago and through which he taught more than 20,000 students, doesn’t mean he’ll stop teaching about wine, he said. He is a self-taught wine expert, starting at 19. His college degree is in education and it seems to be in his DNA. He has prestigious awards to show for it.
Kevin Zraly
Instead of the Windows classes, which consisted of eight two-hour sessions, at one point four times a year, he will continue teaching master classes through his partnership, begun in 2002, with legendary wine store Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits. He is director of the Sherry-Lehmann/Kevin Zraly Master Classes and Wine Club (begun in 2010) and he has conducted more than 60 master wine classes there in a classroom that he helped designed for 40 students. Zraly told me that he guides the proceedings, giving the floor to some of the world’s most respected winemakers and winery owners — not salespeople -- who pour and discuss at least 10 of their wines.

In terms of more control and less wear and tear on Zraly, who commutes from New Paltz for the many moving parts of his life in wine, this arrangement sounds like a huge plus, economically and logistically. For instance, he won’t have to pay hotel markups for the wine or supplement what he buys with wines from his own cellar. He’ll also be able to use his own pourers, not hotel employees.
It’s a big leap to take, since so much of his life has been entwined with the Windows name. He had resumed teaching the Windows courses at a Marriott on his therapist’s advice about a month after 9/11. He’s most recently taught that class—the last ones are sold out now, with a waiting list-- at the JW Marriot Essex House on Central Park South.

This fall also marks the 45th anniversary of the first wine class he taught, in a continuing education program at Ulster County Community College. When Zraly was 19, John Novi, the owner and chef of the DePuy Canal House in upstate New York, hired him to be the bartender after the New York Times gave it four stars. Zraly was tasked with putting together a wine list. So he flung himself into learning about wine, which meant French wine primarily back then. In 1973, when he was a junior, he persuaded administrators at New Paltz State University to allow him to teach seniors an accredited wine course.

I don’t think any of us can appreciate how, more than most people, Zraly probably believes anything, anything, can happen in a moment that changes your world cataclysmically. The deaths and destruction on 9/11 set off a period of crippling physical and emotional illness for him. Within five years of the 9/11 attacks, Zraly’s youngest child and only daughter, then 4-year-old Adriana, was diagnosed with leukemia. Then, the family’s home burned to the ground on an Easter morning. Five years ago, doctors removed a cancerous tumor from one of Zraly’s legs and that ordeal shredded his marriage, he said. About 18 months ago, he and his wife of 25 years, Ana Fabiano, an expert on Spanish wines, divorced.

When Adriana lost her hair to chemotherapy, Zraly shaved his off. When he told us she liked hats, our daughters, Media and Zoë, found the perfect one for her when we were at Disney World that summer. The Zralys built a new home, and Adriana is now 17 and well. He’s been through a lot, his family has been through a lot, but he sounds excited about the future. “I don’t want to be a has-been. The classes have always sold out—that’s without advertising--and I’ve never missed a class,” he said, “but there are other things I want to do.”

Zraly’s also working on more books, some with Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, known as World Wine Guys, who have taught Windows classes with him. He also plans to hold one-offs, he said, pop-up classes and continue his popular lectures. There’s also the screenplay he wants to finish about Joe Baum, who created Windows, The Four Seasons, and The Rainbow Room restaurants.
Kevin Zraly
Baum was looking for an American with wine knowledge when he hired the 25-year-old Zraly in 1976. At the time, Zraly was selling wine and had come to him to try to make a sale. By the time he was hired, he said, he’d logged in 10,000 hours educating himself about wine. Baum, Zraly told me, insisted on the term “cellar master,” instead of the French “sommelier,” which he considered pretentious. When Windows was destroyed, it had the highest volume of wine sales in America, he said.

So with the impending closing of the Windows wine school, I thought it a good time to look at his impact on America’s wine culture. He was an early champion of American wines, here and abroad. When Hilton International operated Windows on the World, Zraly traveled the world to the company’s properties and saw to it that American wines did, too.

“Hilton International was the first hotel chain to create an American wine program outside of the United States,” he told me. “I literally placed Robert Mondavi’s hand into the hand of Chuck Bell, Hilton International’s president. I helped get American wines into hotels and restaurants in the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and other countries. And because Robert Mondavi was the man that he was, it wasn’t just about his wines, but the wines of California. And of course, after our success, all the other major hotel chains followed.”

Although he gives Baum credit for the next couple policies I’ll mention, Zraly at the very least embraced them with verve. He hired and promoted women and he trained his people to ask who would like to see the wine list, not automatically giving it to a male guest. Baum studied at Cornell and insisted that Windows employ the “Cornell method” of pricing wines, which was “double what you paid for it and add $1,” Zraly said. This made wines so affordable, “outrageous prices,” Zraly recalled fondly.

Zraly does take credit for inventing the use of progressive markups on wine in restaurants, charging a higher markup for less expensive wines and a lower markup for more expensive wines. “If I buy a wine for $100, I’ll charge $125,” he said. “If I buy a wine for $50, I’ll charge $75.”

Baum told him to put together the best wine list in America and to ignore what it cost. Because the economies of the U.S. and France were suffering back then, he was able to buy amazing French wines. “I wanted wines from all over the world, so there were some from Yugoslavia, but French wines dominated the list. I tried to reverse that slowly, to have more wines from America than France, but it happened quickly. The Bicentennial helped,” he said, as did probably the Judgment of Paris, which created tremendous interest in the fledgling wine industry in California when two wines from Napa bested the best from France in a French-judged blind tasting.

“We always had Dr. Frank’s wines [Dr. Konstantin Frank from the Finger Lakes region of New York] and some from California, but we started adding Oregon and Washington wines. Within five years we went from 75 percent French to 75 percent American wines.”

Unlike today, when even casual places have sommeliers, in 1976, Zraly said, there were only two sommeliers in New York City, him and Renzo Rapacioli. Rapacioli, 72, and now nearing his sixth decade as a sommelier, is at Barbetta restaurant.

More than 100 wine lovers who learned from Zraly as cellar rats, captains, cellar masters and yep, later sommeliers, at Windows, fanned out into the world, populating every corner of the industry. People like Andrea Immer Robinson (, a master sommelier and the first woman named “Best Sommelier in the United States” by the Sommelier Society of America; Catherine Fallis, the fifth woman in the world to become a Master Sommelier (; Michael Skurnik, of Skurnik Wines, an importer and distributor ( ); Winnie Burwell, wine consultant, (; Jan Petrow, a s‎enior vice president at importer-distributor Vineyard Brands ( ); Jay Wolmer of Terroir Selections Florida, an importer and distributor of boutique wines (; and Ralph Hersom, who was Wine Director of Le Cirque 2000 from1997 to 2005 and is now managing beer, wine, and spirits for the Hannaford supermarket chain in the Northeast.

Graduates of the Windows wine school have gone far, too. One of them, Laura Maniec, in 2009, at the age of 29, became the youngest female to be certified a master sommelier. She is co-owner of Corkbuzz restaurants and wine bars, which devote a lot of energy to wine education (
Kevin Zraly
In 2003, John and I celebrated Open that Bottle Night at Le Cirque with Zraly, and his then-wife, Fabiano; and Andrea Immer and her guest, Cynthia Renzi, from the French Culinary Institute in New York. Hersom allowed us to bring our own wines and looked after us. All of the wines were amazing but Zraly’s was the most stunning for its memories. It was a 1966 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, bought for the original wine cellar of Windows when it first opened. The late Alan Lewis, Windows’s general manager who befriended us our first time at Cellar, had given Zraly the bottle after the first bombing of the Twin Towers in 1993.” It was probably a bit past its prime, but still lovely and full of fruit,” we wrote in our notes. “We compared it to dried roses.”

For this article, I reached out first to Andrea Immer Robinson, who, while an investment banker at Morgan Stanley, first volunteered as a pourer at the wine school at night “so I could take the class for free,” she said.

“I remember him teaching us to present and serve every wine like it was 1976 Château d'Yquem (which we carried on inventory for $17/375 ml because he had purchased it and many other collectibles at the Heublein wine auctions of the late 70s/early 80s).

‘“If table 72 wants their Pinot Grigio decanted, you decant it--joyfully. You are a part of a very personal, and possibly very important, moment for every guest. That’s a huge deal. They chose us,”’ she recalled he would say. “He wanted wine prices to be a reward for people having chosen us, and ridden a-quarter mile in an elevator, too. Wine was part of Windows' DNA, and he wanted every person on the team on-board, so we had banquet setup, reservations sales, washroom attendants, accounting, everyone--sitting in on and working the classes and staff training tastings.”

“I worked at Windows in 1980 and 1981 as a wine steward,” Petrow wrote.  “I always loved Kevin's philosophy regarding wine lists -- it was very democratic and the list at Windows and his classes reflected that: Introduce wines from around the world, be adventurous, but also list known brands to give guests a sense of comfort in case they might feel intimidated by asking for the sommelier.
“As a woman, I was given an unprecedented opportunity by Kevin: A tuxedo was made for me and I was sent out on the floor to work as a sommelier, in addition to doing the staff wine classes. In 1981 this was a bold move -- there were no women working on the floor as somms in New York: another crack in that glass ceiling.”

Michael Skurnik was among several people employed in other jobs at Windows, in his case waiting  tables, who took pay cuts to work in the 50,000-bottle cellar because they could see an amazing future in wine.

“I saw my calling in the cellar, I guess you could say, and Kevin was all too eager to take on a low paid, minimum wage, hard working, 65 hour/week employee, to teach, and be his assistant,” Skurnik, who founded his company in 1987, wrote me in an email. His brother, Harmon, and their friend, Tom Lynch, also worked at Windows. Now Harmon is a partner at Skurnik and Lynch is an account specialist there.

“I stocked the cellar, along with my other more mundane daily routines, and to my amazement, Kevin made it possible for me to practically taste every single bottle in that famously deep, deep cellar,” Michael Skurnik recalled. “All the Bordeaux vintages were procured by Kevin through Alexis Lichine personally so all were in perfect pristine cellar-aged conditions, as were all the other wines from around the world. A truly once in a lifetime experience for me.”

“They trained us for a period of months before the restaurant opened in 1976,” Jay Wolmer recalled. “ If you worked in the dining room, you were required to sell a bottle of wine to every table. They watched you.

“I think the master sommelier thing is good. It’s an interesting thing, except guys like Kevin and I are more home-grown, rudimentary. We’re good with people at the table, finding out in a busy restaurant in a short time the right wine for people,” Wolmer said. “I don’t know that a lot of young sommeliers know how to interview people in a busy restaurant setting. We weren’t so technical at the table, not so overblown. People trusted us and liked us and we didn’t have much of an ego.
“But now there are so many different wines and grape varieties and things being offered now. Some in the current generation of sommeliers are trying to outdo each other and be more esoteric. Many are knowledgeable and have experience. It’s a passion, it’s connective, it’s individual.
Kevin wants people to experience and taste wines on their own terms but give them the background to legitimize how they feel about wine and relate to wine. He’s at the top of the wine game. I try to emulate him when I teach.”

Fallis sent an excerpt from something she’s writing about Zraly. “I learned how to run a wine class for twenty, or for 200, up to Kevin’s exacting standards—he would walk through the classroom before we opened the doors and if a single tablecloth was out of alignment, if a chair was an inch off the mark, if a drop of wine was spilled, or a glass rack still visible, we would have to fix it before the public came through those doors.”

Harriet Lembeck’s Wine & Spirits Program in downtown Manhattan was started in 1940 by the late Harold J. Grossman and taken over by her in 1975. She and her husband, Bill, an engineer who calculated the number of bubbles in a bottle of Champagne at 49 million, met Zraly when they were all students at Grossman’s class at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. At the time, it was taught by Professor Henry Barbour, who went on to be the President of the Culinary Institute of America, she wrote me. (

Zraly “is very engaging and friendly, and his students have fun while learning,” she wrote.
Robin Kelly O’Connor, a longtime Bordeaux expert and wine educator, told me he traveled the world with Zraly, 25 countries, 80 wine regions, 500 appellations and tasted 7,500 wines, for the 25th anniversary edition of the Windows book. Before that, when O’Connor took over the Bordeaux Wine Bureau in 1989, charged with creating an education program for American distributors, importers and wholesalers and later stores and restaurants, he needed, he said, “ a high-profile speaker.”

So, O’Connor said, “I wrote the materials and Kevin did the delivery in 85 cities and around Canada for years. He taught me public speaking. No matter the size, the audience, the country, you can do it. You can get up in front of them and do it. He made me the educator I am today.” (
Zraly also takes justifiable pride in having helped create what he calls “the best wine event in the world,” Wine Spectator’s New York City Wine Experience, now in its 36th year, and its sister event, the California Wine Experience. Zraly told me that he had enjoyed the Monterey Wine Festival in California and around 1980, shared with Marvin Shanken (M. Shanken Communications) the idea of such a festival in Manhattan. Shanken, whose now famous publication Wine Spectator was in its infancy, said he’d like to be part of it, Zraly told me.

Because Zraly had taught at Cornell and was on the board at the Culinary Institute of America, he urged that the event be incorporated as a charitable organization, giving money to those institutions for wine education. Thus, the events in New York City and San Francisco are sponsored by the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation. The first one was held at Windows on March 21, 1981 and was called “The First Annual Grand Awards Wine Seminar,” a one-day affair, with maybe 100 people. How they have grown!

For 10 years, “I got the wine, I arranged the speakers, I designed the floor plan. I put together 25-page manuals of what’s going to happen on this hour and this day,” Zraly said. “But I don’t know if it would be as successful as it is, I don’t know, if it hadn’t been for Marvin’s chutzpah.” When it began drawing 1,200 people, Zraly said he decided “enough is enough.” The master classes are a condensed version of the wine experiences, he said. “They’re my speed,” with 40 participants.
Kevin Zraly
“We began collaborating on the very early wine experiences where he was the first event master of ceremonies,” Shanken wrote to me in an email about Zraly. “He played a major role in its early development. Later on he moved into new directions with his career. He remains a guiding light in the wine sky.”

Zraly is also grateful. “I had 15 more years of teaching the wine school since September 11,” he told me. “I’m blessed that people supported and helped me.”

Dorothy J. Gaiter conceived and wrote The Wall Street Journal's wine column, "Tastings," from 1998 to 2010 with her husband, John Brecher. She has been tasting and studying wine since 1973. She has had a distinguished career in journalism as a reporter, editor, columnist and editorial writer at The Miami Herald and The New York Times as well as at The Journal.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Press Release

Sebastopol, California, October 18, 2016 – Dutton-Goldfield Winery is pleased to announce their upcoming wine and cheese pairing class with award winning cheese expert Laura Werlin on Saturday November 12 at 3pm. In this rare opportunity, guests will taste limited production, single vineyard Dutton-Goldfield wines alongside some of America’s greatest cheeses in a sit-down tasting seminar with Laura, and discuss the ins and outs of pairing their own cheeses and wines at home. Seats are limited to forty guests and include a wine and grilled cheese reception afterwards, along with an autographed copy of Laura’s book “Grilled Cheese, Please” or “Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials”. Tickets are $95 for members, or $115 for non-members.

For guests who can’t make the seminar, Dutton-Goldfield’s Wine and Cheese Experience has been updated with their latest wine releases, and features exciting local cheeses made from cow, goat and sheep milk. One of their favorite pairings is the wonderful Valley Ford Cheese Company’s Estero Gold Reserve, aged for over 18 months, paired with their outstanding 2014 Walker Hill Vineyard Chardonnay. The crystalline saltiness of the aged montasio style cheese dances spectacularly with the crisp citrus notes, creamy mid-palate, and structured nuances of this small production chardonnay.

Laura Werlin is one of the country’s foremost authorities on cheese. She is a James Beard award-winning author of six books on the subject, a sought-after speaker and spokesperson for consumer and trade organizations, and a frequent television and radio guest. Laura has been featured on numerous television and radio segments across the country including Fox & Friends, CNN, QVC, the Martha Stewart Show, the CBS Early Show as well as many local television and radio shows. In addition, she has been the subject of instructive yet fun cheese-related videos on the popular website She also writes for national magazines including Food & Wine, Sunset, Everyday with Rachael Ray, Culture, Saveur and Cooking Light. In addition, she serves as the President of the American Cheese Education Foundation and is a member of the American Cheese Society and Slow Food USA.

Dutton-Goldfield Winery is the partnership of grape grower Steve Dutton and winemaker Dan Goldfield. The winery began in 1998 when longtime colleagues and friends Steve and Dan recognized a shared vision between them—to craft wines that express the personalities of their vineyards, and which they’d enjoy drinking at their own dinner tables. Their mission is to produce world-class wines that display the brightness of fruit, complexity, structure and balance that are reflective of our cool coastal home.

For information about this and their other events and visits, go to

For our reviews of Dutton Goldfield wines, click here

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Press Release

The Wine Scholar Guild’s Italian Wine Scholar Program received official endorsement from the Italian Trade Commission (ITA).

The Italian Trade Commission is a governmental body whose role is to promote the internationalization of Italian companies in line with the strategies of the Italian Ministry for Economic Development. It identifies and connects Italian and foreign businesses and provides support and advice to both.

Wine Scholar Guild President, Julian Camus, stated, “The Italian Trade Commission works to position Italy in a bestfoot-forward framework and we are proud that our Italian wine education program has made the cut. Having an official endorsement from this governmental organization is a wonderful reward for all of the hard work we have put into this program.”

Maurizio Forte, Trade Commissioner and Executive Director for the ITA in the USA stated, “We are delighted to support the educational program dedicated to the wines of Italy whose study manual, reviewed by industry leaders and wine professionals, was praised for its comprehensive coverage of the diverse wines and wine regions of Italy, its well thought out structure and its easy-to-follow format.”

“To show our support for this endeavor,” continues Forte, “the Wine Scholar Guild is authorized to proudly display the Italian Trade Commission logo (ITA) on all materials relating to the promotional and educational activities that will be carried out by the Wine Scholar Guild in connection with the Italian Wine Scholar program.”

This endorsement follows the official support and endorsement of three wine consorzi: Consorzio Vini Alto Adige, Consorzio di tutela vini del Trentino, and Consorzio Barbera d'Asti e Vini del Monferrato.

The Italian Wine Scholar: Wines of Northern Italy program launched in May of 2016 to the Wine Scholar Guild program provider network around the globe. Unit Two, Italian Wine Scholar: Wines of Central/Southern Italy will launch early in 2017. 

The Wine Scholar Guild offers wine study and certification programs for serious students of wine. These programs are offered by 50 program providers in 15 countries on 5 continents. Educational programing is also available in distance learning formats. 

About the Wine Scholar Guild: The Wine Scholar Guild ( provides outstanding educational programming for the professional development of wine industry members and committed students of wine. It offers innovative and multi-faceted instruction through print, webinars, study trips and classes with tutored tastings.

To learn more about Italian wines to try, check out our Planet Grape Wine Reviews here:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Hotelie Magazine, Fall 2016
By Sherry Negrea
Read this interview with Planet Grape's trailblazing Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis here:

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


bay-area-women-in-wine-media-boarding-the-eldoradoLast Thursday a small group of wine merchants, wine writers and wine bloggers was invited aboard the Eldorado, a luxury yacht belonging to the Ferrari-Carano winery in Sonoma, to celebrate the winery’s 35th anniversary. We set sail for a two-hour tour from Schoonmaker Marina in Sausalito, and made our way into the San Francisco Bay under sunny skies.
blue-angels-practice-run-in-sf-bayAs it was Fleet Week in San Francisco, the Blue Angels, the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, soared overhead, cavorting and frolicking dangerously to the delight of us all. It was hard to concentrate on the bevy of beautiful wines being served, or the lavish array of appetizers, with so many distractions, not the least of which was quality conversations across the diverse
Planet Grape Wine Review panelist Deborah Parker Wong, @winesavyy, brought her husband Robert along to help celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. I had the pleasure of seeing my former student Emily the Jetsetting Fashionista, @JSFashionista, and Ziggy the Wine Gal, @ZiggyTheWineGal, and meeting Amy Lieberfarb, @amylieberfarb, who hosts #SonomaChat on Twitter and Instagram and blogs at Sip On This

Here are reviews of the wines I actually took notes on, a major coup in that setting:
2015 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc Sonoma

2014 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Sonoma

2013 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Reserve Napa Valley-Carneros

2014 Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir Anderson Valley

2013 Ferrari-Carano Siena Red Wine Sonoma

2013 Ferrari-Carano Merlot Sonoma

2013 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley

Thank you so much to Chelsea Kurnick, Account Specialist, McCue Marketing, to Cheryl McMillan, Director Marketing Communications, Ferrari-Carano, and to the crew and Captain of the Eldorado, who didn’t toss me overboard after I was double-dared to toot the ship’s horn.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Press Release
Charles Communications Associates San Francisco
Wednesday October 5, 2016

Taste 26 wines representing each letter of the alphabet from A-Z at Bonny Doon’s
Popelouchum Estate Vineyard in San Juan Bautista

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Swirl, Sniff, Savor. Repeat x 26.

Bonny Doon proprietor Randall Grahm invites you to stroll the vineyards, enjoy a harvest feast and taste the world via 26 wines representing each letter of the alphabet from A to Z – most of which you’ve never tasted before and might never taste again.

Oenophiles are eager to explore not only what’s new, but what’s rare, obscure or well under the radar. Bonny Doon Vineyard’s founder, winemaker and resident philosopher, Randall Grahm, and his very special guests will guide you from Albariño to Zibibbo in a sumptuous afternoon of sipping, feasting and vitaceous fellowship.

Featuring Master of Ceremonies, acclaimed epicurean author Jason Tesauro (bio below), and Dr. José Vouillamoz, the internationally renowned Swiss botanist, grape geneticist and co-author of Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours, who is traveling from his home in Sion, Switzerland for this exclusive event (which is based on his monumental tome).

Grapetionary is equal parts discovery and decadence, a bucket list event for every level, from novice to Master Sommelier. Paired with this eclectic assemblage of wines is a multi-course farm-to-table feast prepared by Chef Alexander Ong (of San Francisco’s acclaimed Betelnut), according to seasonal bounty and the sun-kissed gardens at Popelouchum.

Forbes called Grapetionary “The Most Unique Wine Event I’ve Ever Experienced.”  Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine said of this event: “Looking at the list of wines Jason has assembled, I’m hugely impressed by the breadth of the selection.”


Dr. José Vouillamoz trained in grape DNA profiling and parentage analyses in the world-famous laboratory of Professor Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis. Since 2004 he has been an independent researcher at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. He was the first to establish the DNA profiles of Near East grape varieties and to tackle grape domestication from a genetic point of view.

Randall Grahm is the founder, chief-winemaker and “philosopher king” of Bonny Doon Vineyard. He is perhaps best known for his pioneering work with Rhone varietals in California as the original “The Rhône Ranger,” and for his award-winning book, “Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology.” Grahm was an early proponent of transparent ingredient labeling on bottled wines, and has been a prominent advocate of terroir-driven wines and biodynamic practices. Most recently Grahm has focused on his project at Popelouchum Estate Vineyard to discover a new world Grand Cru.

Jason Tesauro is an author/sommelier/raconteur. He’s the recipient of two national writing awards, author of three books and father of five children. Tesauro co-authored The MODERN GENTLEMAN series and currently contributes booze / food/  culture journalism to The New York Times, Travel+Leisure, Men’s Journal and others. His latest feature was selected for Best Food Writing 2016.


Saturday, October 29, 2016, 12:00 – 5:00pm

Popelouchum Estate Vineyard
543 Mission Vineyard Rd., San Juan Bautista, CA
(90 minutes from San Francisco or Oakland; 45 minutes from Santa Cruz, California)


Tickets are $250 per person (Inclusive of sales tax & gratuity). 21+ years old only, please. To purchase tickets, please visit the Bonny Doon Vineyard store HERE.
(Wine club members receive 15% off the ticket price). Email or call 888-819-6789 and select option #3 for any questions.

Full details at
Read our reviews of Bonny Doon Vineyard wines here:

Thursday, September 29, 2016


San Francisco, September 2016

At a tasting recently organized by the Barossa Grape & Wine Association we had the opportunity to learn more about this high-powered Australia appellation and it’s wines, especially those savory signature Shiraz reds. According to the group:

“Geographical Indication (GI) is an official description of an Australian wine zone, region or sub-region. The GI system is designed to protect the use of the regional name under international law and is governed by the Geographical Indications Committee, overseen by Wine Australia. The Barossa (zone) is located north of the city of Adelaide in South Australia. It comprises two distinct and complementary regions, Barossa Valley and Eden Valley, which were formalised in 1997. High Eden is the only officially declared sub-region. The GI is purely geographic in concept, similar to the European Designation of Origin system.
The Barossa Zone has 13,634 hectares under vine.
  • Barossa Valley = 11,370 hectares under vine.
  • Eden Valley = 2,264 hectares under vine.

Barossa Old Vine Charter

Barossa is home to some of the oldest continuously producing vineyards in the world.
In 2009, the Barossa Old Vine Charter was instituted to register vineyards by age, so that older vines could be preserved, retained and promoted. Under the Charter, vines are grouped into four categories by age: (in ascendant order) Old; Survivor; Centenarian and Ancestor.
The Barossa Old Vine Charter makes a strong stand about protecting these gnarled old vines so that no one considers pulling this priceless treasury of viticultural heritage from the ground again.

Barossa Old Vine

Barossa Old Vine – Equal or greater than 35 years of age

These old vines have grown beyond adolescence and are now fully mature. They have a root structure and trunk thickness that encourages diversity of flavour and character. Their worthiness has been proven over many vintages, consistently producing the highest quality fruit for Barossa wines of distinction and longevity.

Barossa Survivor VineBarossa Survivor Vine -Equal or greater than 70 years of age

These very old vines are a living symbol of traditional values in a modern environment and signal a renewed respect for Barossa old vine material. They have weathered the worst of many storms, both man-made and naturally occurring, including the infamous 1980s Vine Pull scheme. A Barossa Survivor vine has reached a significant milestone, and pays homage to the resolute commitment of those growers and winemakers who value the quality and structure of old vine wines.

Barossa Old Vine Charter - Centenarian Vine

Barossa Centenarian Vine – Equal or greater than 100 years of age

These exceptionally old vines serve as a witness to Barossa’s resilience in the face of adversity. Barossa, unlike many other of the world’s great wine regions, is phylloxera-free, which allowed these vines to mature into their thick, gnarly trunks and naturally-sculptured forms without interference.
Noted for their low yields and intensity of flavour. Planted generations ago – when dry-farming techniques demanded careful site selection – Centenarian Vines have truly withstood the test of time.

Barossa Ancestor Vine

Barossa Ancestor Vine – Equal or greater than 125+ years of age

An Ancestor vine has stood strong and proud for at least one hundred and twenty five years – a living tribute to the early European settlers of Barossa. Their genetic material has helped to populate this region with irreplaceable old stocks that underpin the viticultural tradition. Tend to be dry-grown, low-yielding vines of great flavour and intensity, and are believed to be among the oldest producing vines in the world.”

Read our reviews of Barossa GI wines here  –
2013 John Duval Wines Entity Shiraz Barossa

2013 Robert Oatley Signature Series Shiraz Barossa Valley

Read more about Barossa GI – visit Wine Australia website.

Friday, September 23, 2016

LABOR OF LOVE - Wine Family Women of Piemonte

Photo credits: Elisabetta Vacchetto, Pierangelo Vacchetto Designer: Cindi Yaklich, Epicenter Creative
Photo credits: Elisabetta Vacchetto, Pierangelo Vacchetto
Designer: Cindi Yaklich, Epicenter Creative


Suzanne Hoffman first visited the northern Italian region of Piemonte with her second-generation Sicilian mother, Frances Castrogiovanni Manale, in 1999 while her husband was away in China. Upon arrival, they found it cold, wet, foggy and not very inviting. At table, however, the real pleasures of this region unfolded, with the discovery of local specialties  vitello tonnato (poached veal with tuna sauce), carne cruda (raw chopped Fassone veal) and tajarin (thin, egg-rich ribbons of pasta) with brown butter and sage, all paired with Barbera and Nebbiolo-based wines.

On a visit in 2000 with her husband Dani she had the good fortune of being advised to visit Jeffrey Chilcott, the English speaking winemaker at Marchesi di Gresy. Not only did he educate the couple on the local wines, he set in motion the 14-year exploration and discovery of 22 local families who are featured in this book.

The emphasis is on the local women, much admired by Alberto di Gresy, who says, “I believe greatly in women; they know how to be tough and gentle, and when they want to, they have more insight and are more quick-thinking than we men.”

Aside from the gritty and heartwarming stories, the lavish artwork and photography makes this a must have coffee table book as well.

Labor of Love, Wine Family Women of Piemonte by Suzanne Hoffman, with forward by Maurizio Rosso, Under Discovered Press, Vail, Colorado, Hardcover, 298 pages, $55

Read our reviews of Piemontese wines here:

and our grape profiles of Barbera and Nebbiolo here:


Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Kick starting the week was a delicious and informative tasting with Chateau la Nerthe Export Manager Christophe Bristiel and Pasternak Wine Imports West Division Manager Ben Cuaresma at the San Francisco home of Planet Grape Wine Review co-panelist Deborah Parker Wong.

Christophe explained that Chateau la Nerthe owns Prieure de Montezargues and Domaine de la Renjarde as well, and that all three wineries produce Certified Organic wines now. Wines tasted included a Tavel Rose, a Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, and several Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, both red and white, including a stunning 2006 Chateau la Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape which was so beautifully open, expressive and seamless with its ten years of bottle age.

I asked if I could enjoy the leftovers with the 49ers vs Dodgers football game that night but unfortunately was turned down. What is one to drink after tasting something so lovely first thing in the morning? I suppose its like the restaurant guest who after ordering Rombauer Chardonnay and being told there wasn't any decided to have Jack Daniels instead.
Bristiel explained the different grapes used so often in Rhone wines, Grenache being the easiest to grow and transform into delicious wine, adding, "Where olive trees stop, Grenache stops." Tavel AOP only produces Rose, with 8 grapes allowed, while Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOP allows 13 grapes and can be red or white. Chateau la Nerthe works with Grenache vines that are up to 120 years old, giving incredibly expressive wines at below-market pricing. Other grapes used include Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan, and for whites, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette and Bourbolenc.

Read our reviews of these wines here:

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


By Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis

Last week the Planet Grape Wine Review team attended a tasting of New Zealand wines at 1760 in San Francisco hosted by Chuck Hayward with Marcel Giesen and Giesen's Chief Winemaker Nikolai St. George. The title was "Searching for the Crus of Marlborough" and through four flights of wines it was clear that the focus on sub-region and vineyard (cru) was the way forward, not only for the iconic Sauvignon Blancs, but for the elegant, expressive, fruity and balanced Pinot Noirs.
img_1324Like other wine regions moving towards protecting their regional names, New Zealand is in the process of launching their own Geographical Indication system, so that other countries may not use them. They look at this as more of a trademark protection than appellation system.
The wine industry there, as well as the government, business communities and society practice the concept of kaitiakitanga - guardianship, started by New Zealand's original settlers, the Maori, to protect the resources of their small island. Today there is nearly universal adoption of the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand program.
Check out our faves from New Zealand here:

Kia ora, be well!

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Rich Higgins Consultant a la Biere

Meet Planet Grape Guest Panelist/Contributor Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone and Brewmaster.

Rich was the third person in the world to earn the Master Cicerone distinction, the highest of four levels of certification. He is also a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers.
His consulting practice includes Restaurant Beer Program Implementation, Beer Dinners and Guest Sommelier Events, Brewery Consultation, Retail Beer Store Consultation, Distributor And Sales Staff Trainings, Teaching, Judging, and Corporate Events including Team-building seminars.

Read Rich’s latest beer reviews for Planet Grape here:
2016 The Bruery Poterie Placentia California

Rodenbach Grand Cru Flanders Red Ale Roeselare

Firestone Walker Opal Farmhouse Ale Paso Robles

Duvel Moortgat Duvel Breendonk Antwerp Province

AleSmith San Diego Pale Ale .394 San Diego

Pelican Kiwanda Cream Ale Pacific City

Anchor Porter San Francisco

Anchor Go West! IPA San Francisco

nv Pilsner Urquell Plzen Czech Republic

2013 North Coast Brewing Company Old Stock Ale Fort Bragg California

nv Devils Backbone Vienna Lager Lexington Virginia

@planetgrape  @maltyrich