Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Riverbench Wines Sing to Me 
by Fred Swan
Credit Jeremy Ball of Bottle Branding People often ask me what kind of wine I like. I taste so many different ones, very good ones, that I can’t narrow answer with a particular variety, region or style. In the end, the wines I gravitate toward and really want to drink are those that sing to me. They tell me a story about a place, a time or a person in a clear and melodious way. They pull me in, make me want to hear (have) more.

When I first visited Riverbench in Santa Maria Valley a few years ago it was in transition. GM Laura Booras and the new winemaker Clarissa Nagy were in the first phases of a sparkling wine program. The current Pinot Noir and Chardonnay releases were well-made but largely produced by the previous winemaker in a style traditional to California over the past couple of decades.

This month, I was able to go back and try the newest wines. And now, with Clarissa having been working with Laura at Riverbench for about five years, the wines are singing. Every sparkling wine, every Chardonnay and every Pinot Noir is a bottle I highly recommend.

The songs vary based on vintage and vineyard site, as they should. But they also have a common voice, a voice that is pretty and gentle but also precise and confident. Riverbench and its lovely wines should be on everyone’s list of places to visit in Santa Maria Valley or wines to try at a restaurant or bottle shop.

Read my reviews of Riverbench wines here:

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Prime Women, March 19, 2016   Food & Wine
by Tricia Conover

The First Women-Led Wine Rating Panel Aims to Take the Guesswork out of Wine Purchasing

(KA-thuh-rin FAH-lis) Catherine Fallis, MS, the 5th woman in the world to be named a Master Sommelier, has launched a new women-led wine-rating panel. In a Q&A last week, we discussed the advantages to the consumer of her Wine Review launch. Given Catherine’s background as a woman pioneer in the wine industry, you get a sense of Catherine’s understanding of Prime Women wine consumers everywhere. Catherine is known as the “Grape Goddess,” a memorable name that reflects her relaxed, down-to-earth approach to wine and her extraordinary wine expertise.

Catherine Fallis, MS has announced the launch of Planet Grape Wine Review – the only woman-led wine rating panel in the USA. Leading a tasting panel of highly accredited beverage professionals, Catherine will employ the 100-point system to evaluate and score wine, spirits, beer, cider, and gourmet products from around the world. The use of numerical scores coupled with her clear, concise verbiage is aimed at bringing a sensible, practical approach to wine reviews and providing a trusted resource for today’s wine drinkers. In addition to the weekly blog and educational components that Planet Grape is known for, wine drinkers can access these expert reviews on the Planet Grape Wine Review website, as well as access them with major retailers through her partnership with Drync, a top commerce app for wine, spirits and beer.

Along with Catherine Fallis, MS the rating panel includes contributors and guests such as Dr. Liz Thach, Master of Wine and a Professor of Management at Sonoma State College, Deborah Parker Wong, WSET, Diploma of Wine and Northern California Editor of The Tasting Panel and SOMM Journal, Fred Swan, WSET, Diploma of Wine and wine writer, Lisa Granik, Master of Wine, and Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone & Brewmaster.

The simplicity and usefulness of Planet Grape® Wine review is discussed below in our Q&A. A recent example is of the wine review style:
Rombauer Cabernet wine review Fallis

Grape Goddess Champagne & Sparkling wineCatherine Fallis, MS is the author of leading publications including: Champagne & Sparkling Wine, the Grape Goddess guides to good living.
In 2014, Catherine gave PRiME Women tips on Sparkling Wine: “Affordable, Festive Sparkling Wine and Champagne”

Catherine Fallis is a well-know educator and consultant to restaurants, retailers, distributors, wine collectors, and sommelier students. One of Catherine’s most celebrated services is her Champagne Sabering for special events, a tradition started by Napoleon’s soldiers that Catherine continues today.
Catherine Fallis sabering picture ppThis Wine Review website is the first of its kind. “The goal at Planet Grape is to provide a trusted resource for consumers who enjoy wine, who are excited to be more adventurous with their choices and who are looking for some guidance,” says Catherine. “We put our palates on the line so you don’t have to!” Although in the past Catherine eschewed the 100-point system when she was creating restaurant wine programs while choosing to rely on her own palate, Planet Grape assigns a numerical point score to each product. After being asked by numerous clients to evaluate and score private library collections as well as new releases, she has seen how useful the numeric ratings are for consumers. In her role as a consumer advocate, she has become a convert.

Q&A with Catherine Fallis, MS

Question (Tricia Conover): Tell me about the new numerical scoring system you have announced?

Answer (Catherine Fallis, MS): We are using a 100-Point systems because everyone is used to it from Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and others. But the difference is we are a women-led team and our comments are about the size of a Tweet and a half at 220 characters. No technical terms are allowed. This is aimed at the wine consumer and our comments capture the personality of the wine. For instance, one of our recent reviews of Bollinger Brut Rosé Champagne was clear and concise:

Question (TC): Tell me about your evaluation process.

Answer (CF): Acknowledging that it is impossible to capture the heart and soul of a wine in a quick 5-minute evaluation, my fellow panelists and I employ the “grape goddess 3-day rule.” Wines are reviewed several times over the course of three days without the use of any preservation system to see how they evolve, change and open, allowing them to show their full personality. When possible, the wines are tasted with food. What we have found is that the screw cap wines have gotten better because they have been oxygen deprived. Drink them for two to three more days. Well-made younger wines tend to be taught and “closed”, so by the second or their day, they open up and get better. We have found that the inexpensive, commercially made wines fall apart even more over the course of three days. Those are the so-called “manufactured or industrial wines.”

Question (TC): How does your scoring work on “Value Wines?”

Answer (CF): We have a built-in “Good Value” proposition. If wine is a good value, the point score gets better. There is a value algorithm built right in. If a wine is in $10 range and is delivering a $20 value, we will bump it up a point or two.

Question (TC): How have you seen the adoption of this program?

Answer (CF): We are early in program but so far adoption is good. There has been a positive reaction from the press and from the trade and retailers. Now, we are focused on reaching the consumer. There is no club and you do not have to subscribe to our website. It is a free service for consumers.

Question (TC): What else would you want the PRiME Woman to know?

Answer (CF): We are an educational resource. Think of us as an “Somm…in your pocket.” Our short reviews are a credentialed voice but stated in everyday language. We take the intimidation out of buying wine and want to give the consumer a sense of comfort in making wine choices.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


A Message from Paul Wagner, President, Balzac Communications
Debra Sommerfield, President, Lake County Winegrape Commission

We’d like to ask a favor of you—in the hopes that you might be willing to help the people of Lake County whose homes and families were destroyed by the Valley Fire.  Would you please check out this link and look at all the amazing culinary, wine and travel lots available at the #LakeCountyRising Valley Fire Relief Charity Auction at the Vintners Hall of Fame at the CIA Greystone Napa Valley this Sunday.

We thank you.  More importantly, the more than five hundred families who lost their homes in the fire also thank you!

Here are more details:

Lake County, Calif. – Congressman Mike Thompson and grape-grower Andy Beckstoffer have agreed to assist legendary auctioneer Fritz Hatton as he manages the #LakeCountyRising charity wine auction to be held on March 20, 2016, in St. Helena at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to support the long-term rebuilding efforts after the devastating Valley Fire in southern Lake County. “Think of us as the three auctioneers” says Hatton of the trio’s presentation of the collaborative fundraising effort of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, Lake County Winery Association and Lake County Wine Alliance.

Seating for the event is limited and advance registration is required. Tickets are $150 and may be still purchased online at, but a few tickets are being reserved for sale at the door. “We promise not to turn any bidders away!” says Beckstoffer.
The auction has assembled a remarkable collection of lots and experiences, led by the Napa Valley Vintners, Lake County Winery Association and other wine region associations around the state.
  • Winners of a Michelin 3-Star live auction lot will indulge in a dining experience for three couples at The Restaurant at Meadowood, Napa Valley. They will enjoy six sumptuous full tasting menus with wine pairings (inclusive of tax and service). Winners will also take home three bottles each of sought-after Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons from the renowned wineries: 2011 Harlan Estate Red Wine, 2005 Heitz Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2012 Scarecrow Wine Mt. Etain Red Blend.
  • A personal barrel lot by Beckstoffer Vineyards will provide a half ton of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the 2016 harvest of the Georges III Heritage Vineyard in Rutherford and includes the expertise of the winemaking team at Sinegal Estate who will custom crush, craft, barrel, age, bottle, and label the finished wine specifically for the successful bidder.
  • A 2016 Polaris Ranger EV is being offered as the “green” live auction lot and comes fully loaded with 100 bottles of the finest Napa Valley wines. This environmentally-friendly electric off-road utility vehicle is known for its smooth ride and quiet operation. The wines are from Napa Green Certified vintners: Benessere, Charles Krug, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Clos Du Val, Davies Vineyards, Franciscan Estate, Frank Family Vineyards, Frog’s Leap, Gamble Family Vineyards, HALL, Heitz Wine Cellars, Jones Family Vineyards, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Keenan Winery, Laura Michael Wines, Merryvale Vineyards, PEJU, Raymond Vineyards, Robert Mondavi Winery, Saintsbury, Salvestrin, Signorello Estate, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, Starmont Winery & Vineyards, Swanson Vineyards, The Hess Collection Winery, Trefethen Family Vineyards, Truchard Vineyards, Vineyard 29 and ZD Wines.
  • An ultimate San Francisco Giants game experience at AT&T Park has been created for another lucky live auction winner. With luxury transportation to the ball park, 12 guests will luxuriate in a private VIP Suite filled with gourmet food and Napa Valley wines, and will take home a signed baseball from Barry Bonds to remember the day.
  • Another live auction lot includes four magnums of wine from several of Beckstoffer Vineyards’ Heritage Vineyards and the opportunity for two couples to join Andy and Betty Beckstoffer at PRESS Napa Valley in St. Helena for a curated dinner complemented by several To Kalon wines. Each couple also will receive a signed copy of sommelier Kelli White’s new book, Napa Valley Then & Now.
  • A silent auction item from the “Heart of the Valley,” includes dinner for four at Mustard’s Grill in Yountville and a mixed case of Napa Valley wine including: two bottles Far Niente 2013 Chardonnay; two bottles Joseph Carr Wine 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon; two bottles Tom Scott Vineyards 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon; two bottles Grgich Hills Estate 2012 Chardonnay; two bottles The Prisoner 2014 Red Blend; one bottle Faust 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon; and one bottle Silver Trident 2012 Red Blend.
  • The “Hillside Heaven” silent auction item features lunch for four at The Bistro & Bar at Aubérge du Soleil in Rutherford, and a mixed case of Napa Valley hillside wines including six bottles of 2013 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, and six bottles 2013 Viader Vineyards & Winery Tempranillo.
  • “Northern Exposure” is a silent auction item of dinner for four at Sam’s Social Club in Calistoga and a mixed case of wine from the northern end Napa Valley, including: one bottle Arietta 2013 White Blend; one bottle Behrens Family Winery 2012 Homeland Cabernet Sauvignon; one bottle Behrens Family Winery 2011 The Collector Red Wine; one bottle Bridesmaid 2012 White Blend; one bottle Bridesmaid 2012 Red Blend; one bottle Clark-Claudon Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon; one bottle Markham Vineyards 2013 Merlot; one bottle Saint Helena Winery 2008 Red Blend; two bottles Ballentine Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel; and two bottles Castello di Amorosa 2012 Sangiovese.
  • From the Napa Valley’s southern end comes a silent auction item named “Distinctly Southern” and includes dinner for four at Cole’s Chop House in downtown Napa and a mixed case of Napa Valley wine, including: five bottles Arrow & Branch 2013 Sauvignon Blanc; five bottles Jamieson Ranch Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon; and two bottles Rocca Family Vineyards 2011 Red Blend.
  • For the silent auction bidder who has an alternative mind-set, “Riveted by Reds,” includes a copy of the fine art photography book Perspectives Napa Valley, and a mixed case of Napa Valley alternative red varietals, including: two bottles Mira Winery 2011 Syrah; two bottles Castello di Amorosa 2012 Sangiovese; two bottles Viader Vineyards & Winery 2013 Tempranillo; two bottles Kenefick Ranch 2011 Cabernet Franc; one bottle Cornerstone Cellars 2012 Cabernet Franc; one bottle Madrigal Family Winery 2012 Petite Sirah; one bottle Humanitas Wines 2012 Cabernet Franc; and one bottle Joseph Carr Wine 2012 Merlot.
  • A “Napa Valley Cabernet Fest” is a silent auction lot which includes a mixed case (one bottle each) of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Chateau de Vie 2009 Calistoga; Cimarossa 2011 Howell Mountain; Corison Winery 2013 St. Helena; FARM Napa Valley 2013 Napa; Faust 2012 Rutherford; Reverie Vineyard & Winery 2010 Calistoga; Lamborn Family Vineyards 2011 Howell Mountain; O’Brien Estate 2012 Napa; Joseph Carr Wine 2012 Rutherford; Silver Stag Winery 2012 Napa; Tom Scott Vineyard 2012 Yountville; Rudd Oakville Estate 2011 Oakville; and a copy of the fine art photography book Perspectives Napa Valley.
Those who would like to bid but aren’t able to attend can check the web site after March 1 for lot descriptions and advance bidding details.

Those who aren’t able to attend but want to help can click the “Get Tickets” button, and then choose “Donation” instead of the “Live Auction” ticket to make a donation in any amount. Donations are tax-deductible.
#LakeCountyRising presents


Sunday, March 20, 2016
2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The Vintner’s Hall of Fame at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA)
2555 Main Street, St. Helena, California 94574

About #LakeCountyRising and the Valley Fire Relief Charity Wine Auction
The Valley Fire Relief Charity Wine Auction is presented by #LakeCountyRising, a collaborative fundraising effort of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, Lake County Winery Association and Lake County Wine Alliance to support long-term rebuilding in response to the devastating Valley Fire.

#LakeCountyRising would like to extend a special thanks to the communities in Napa, Sonoma and beyond for their generous support; to Thomas Bensel and the staff and students at the Culinary Institute of America; to Paul Wagner and the team at Balzac Communications; to Fritz Hatton; and to Linda Reiff of the Napa Valley Vintners Association for her guidance from the start.

For information, visit

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


RudiPichlerVineyardOverview Austria
Planet Grape  The SOMM Journal February/March 2016
Benchmark old world Riesling is one of the world’s great vinous treasures, and Austria delivers it in spades. Supremely intense, rich, pungent and dry, quite different from the lacy, low alcohol, delicate, minerally, acidic and lightly to very sweet German Rieslings, and the corpulent, tangy, often sweet Alsatian ones, these Austrian beauties have the concentration, personality and stamina to showcase the richest of dishes, making them a slam dunk for your wine program.

Riesling, the world’s greatest white variety, has very vibrant natural acidity, giving it the potential to make a very balanced and long-lived sweet or dry wine. Misunderstood and for the most part unappreciated, brilliant Riesling is a tremendous value for those who appreciate it, or for those who are lucky enough to discover it. With its characteristic notes of green apple, peach, and when mature, petrol, it is a tremendous resource for the savvy sommelier.

In Austria, the steep terraced slopes of the Wachau, overlooking the lovely Danube below, provide the country’s finest dry Rieslings. Producers like Hirtzberger, Rudi Pichler and Alzinger, whose wines are widely available on the US market, are must haves for any well-rounded wine program. They are the kind of wines that please everyone – the guest, because they are delicious and full and dry, the chef, because they make the food taste better, the somm, who can geek out on how cool they are, unlike those stodgy old fashioned French or German wines, and the number crunchers because they represent such outstanding value.

By the glass, rich, dry and slightly herbal Austrian Riesling presents an excellent alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. By the bottle, it can go just about anywhere. Take a rich, flavorful clove-studded ham for example. The wine can stand up to the boldness of the clove while refreshing the palate from the salty, fatty ham. Grilled pork belly, pork chop, pork loin or anything with bacon would pair beautifully as well. Braised lamb shanks are another example of a meat-based main course to pair with these beauties.

On the lighter side, fish dishes, such as seared scallops (bacon-wrapped or not), or the Hawaiian Ahi salad, Poke, would be ideal, as would a classic Miso glazed salmon. While pasta dishes are a natural with Italian selections, try pairing an Austrian Riesling with Pumpkin Ravioli with sage brown butter sauce. The fruitiness of Riesling makes it ideal for Acorn or Butternut squash dishes, and it is a nice foil for roasted winter vegetables. Pair it with a meaty but vegetarian kale salad with Parmigiano Reggiano at the beginning of the meal, or with your cheese plate at the end. Austrian Riesling will waltz effortlessly throughout the meal, leaving everyone a little lightheaded and more than a little satisfied.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Gambero Ross Vini2016

Gambero Rosso, the 29-year old multimedia firm serving as a direct filter to the best of Italy’s food and wine, selects the countries best wines each year with its Tre Bicchieri ratings (three glasses) and guide book, Italian Wines. The guide includes reviews of 20,000 labels from over 2,400 wineries, and was compiled from the work of over 60 experts. This year 421 wines earned three glass, or Tre Bicchieri ratings, and an additional 9 wines earned “Special Awards.”


Sparkler of the Year
2006 Ca del Bosco Dosage Zero Noir Collection Franciacorta  PG 97 pts

Best Value for Money
2014 Terre Stregate Svelato Falanghina del Sannio Campania  PG 93 pts

White of the Year
2014 Schiopetto Friulano Collio  PG 90 pts

Award for Sustainable Agriculture
2013 Manincor Tannenberg Sauvignon Terlano Alto Adige  PG 90 pts

Red of the Year
2012 Pietradolce Vigna Barbigalli Etna Rosso  PG 92 pts

Grower of the Year
2012 Ca’ del Baio Barbaresco Asili  PG 90 pts

Up-and-Coming Winery
2012 Guado al Melo Atis Bolgheri Rosso Superiore  PG 91 pts

Winery of the Year
2011 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico  PG 95 pts

Sweet of the Year
2013 La Crotta di Vegneron Moscato Passito Prieure Valle d’Aosta  PG 92 pts

Click on links above for our expert Planet Grape Wine Reviews, or here

Thursday, March 3, 2016


Segura Viudas Gran CuveeGlass of Bubbly
August September 2015 Issue 8
Catherine Fallis Master Sommelier

Cava, Spain’s excellent contribution to the world of sparkling wines, is a no brainer when looking for bubbly at bargain prices. They range in quality from manufactured, mass produced and non-descript to artisanal and world class in quality. For me, the secret is finding old school quality and high class bottlings at mass-produced pricing. In other words, I want a lot for my money. So it was with great pleasure I discovered a new wine from Segura Viudas, owned and operated by the Ferrer family of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, near Barcelona.

The Segura Viudas Gran Cuvée Reserva Brut Cava, $14 (US) was recently launched in the US market. It is a new venture for their winemaker Gabriel Suberviola, blending old vine Macabeo and Parellada with more recently planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Soft and savory with notes of lemon, pear, custard, white flowers and ginger, it takes its place above the entry level Brut, Brut Rosé and Extra Dry tier (all $10 US) and the estate’s top cuvée, Reserva Heredad ($25 US).

According to Janet Kafka and Associates, their US marketing firm, “the launch of Segura Viudas Gran Cuvée Reserva is concurrent with a significant repackaging of the Segura Viudas line. The bold new packaging introduces warm chestnut undertones to create a look that is elegant yet masculine. The stately Segura Viudas crest figures prominently in the new design, creating continuity with the top-of-the-line Reserva Heredad, known for its impressive, pewter-embellished bottle. The modernized packaging creates a unified family of wines that celebrates the winery’s history, while appealing to a consumer audience that values authenticity, individuality, and adventure.”

Check out our reviews of Segura Viudas Cavas here: