In the Land of Whiskey, a Wine Festival Beckons


photo by Beth Sachan

If we were to play a game of “beverage word association,” and I were to say, “Wisconsin,” your response likely would be, “Milk.”

After all, Wisconsin is the “Dairy State.”

(Alternately, you might offer, “Beer,” since Milwaukee is the home of the Miller Brewing Company.)

Okay, let’s play that game with another locale. Are you ready?


I’m guessing your first reaction was, “Whiskey.” Which would make sense, since Tennessee is home to Jack Daniel’s.

So it may come as at least a mild surprise that on the weekend of September 20-21, Nashville will play host to the Music City Food + Wine festival.

It will feature the usual array of culinary and wine-tasting opportunities, and its “main event” — dubbed “The Grand Taste” — has been described as “a tour of flavors featuring Nashville’s finest.”

That’s hard to argue, given the all-star lineup of chefs scheduled to participate:

* Sean Brock

* Tyler Florence

* Amanda Freitas

* Mike Lata

* Tim Love

* Masaharu Morimoto

* Aaron Sanchez

* Frank Stitt

* Michael Symon

* Jonathan Waxman

* Tandy Wilson

* Trisha Yearwood

*Andrew Zimmern

It promises to be a memorable weekend of food and wine adventures. And since it’s Nashville, chances are you’ll get to hear some great music, too. Much like Austin, Nashville is known for its abundance of live music venues.

To learn more about Music City Food + Wine, click here.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Wine Buzz

Pinquito Beans: A Key Part of a Santa Maria-Style Barbecue Feast

In yesterday’s blog, we shared the history of the Santa Maria-style barbecue, as well as my favorite place to partake of this unique regional cuisine — a restaurant just north of Santa Maria called Jocko’s.

Today, we share a recipe for one of the key ingredients of a Santa Maria-style barbecue meal. It’s a popular side dish for grilled tri-tip steak, and we suggest serving it all family-style with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel.



  • 1 lb. Pinquito beans
  • 1 strip diced bacon
  • ½-cup diced ham
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • ¾-cup tomato puree
  • ¼-cup red chili sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard


1. Cover beans with water and let soak overnight in a large container.

2. Drain, cover with fresh water, and simmer 2 hours or until tender.

3. Sauté bacon and ham until lightly browned. Add garlic, sauté a minute or two longer, then add tomato puree, chili sauce, sugar, mustard and salt.

4. Drain most of liquid off beans and stir in sauce. Keep hot over low heat until ready to serve.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

What to Drink With Santa Maria-Style Barbecue

jockosThe roots of Santa Maria-style barbecue date back to the mid-1800s, when massive ranches occupied the hills of California’s Santa Maria Valley.

Local ranchers regularly fed their ranch hands by barbecuing meat over earthen pits filled with oak wood coals. According to one source, “The Santa Maria barbecue grew out of this tradition, and achieved its ‘style’ when local residents began to string cuts of beef on skewers or rods, and cook the meat over the hot coals of a red oak fire.”

In 1931, the Santa Maria Club introduced a “Stag Barbecue,” held on the second Wednesday of each month, with up to 700 patrons attending. Over the years, the legend of the Santa Maria-style barbecue grew, transforming a local treasure into a major attraction.

The signature cuts for Santa Maria-style barbecue are top block sirloin and the triangular-shaped bottom sirloin known as “tri-tip,” a cut that originated in the Santa Maria Valley. The meat is rolled in a mixture of salt, pepper and garlic salt just prior to cooking. The red oak, a species of oak native to the region, contributes a hearty, smoky flavor.

Once the meat is trimmed and sliced, the only condiment needed is fresh salsa. The traditional menu also includes French bread dipped in sweet melted butter, tossed green salad and slow-cooked pinquito beans. The pinquito is a small pink bean grown exclusively in the Santa Maria Valley.

Today, Santa Maria-style barbecue is enjoyed across the region at restaurants, events and celebrations, the barbecue pits often staffed by members of local service organizations conducting fundraisers.

A favorite restaurant among locals is Jocko’s in Nipomo, a town just north of Santa Maria. It’s my favorite restaurant in the region, too. There, the oak-cooked meats are served in large cuts, and the well-selected wine list offers three types of red wine to accompany the beef dishes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.

When concentrating on just the meat, we opt for Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. When inhaling an entire Santa Maria-style barbecue meal — complete with pinquito beans — Zinfandel makes an excellent choice.

Other wines that match nicely with this style of sauceless barbecue are Chianti (Sangiovese), Syrah and Bordeaux-style red blends.

- – – – -

Tomorrow: a recipe for Santa Maria Style Pinquito Beans.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

3 Tips to Help Keep Your Wine Collection Safe

iStock_000015072671SmallIf you live in an earthquake-free zone, you can store your wine bottles pretty much anywhere and not give them a second thought.

They should be kept away from direct sunlight, of course, and at a relatively cool temperature. But that’s about it; you probably don’t need to worry about their “safety.”

However, if you live in California or anywhere else earthquakes are a possibility, then it’s advisable to give your “storage system” some thought.

As the pictures from the aftermath of Sunday morning’s earthquake in California’s North Coast wine country have shown, the worst damage occurred in home storage rooms and winery cellars where the floors are made of hard substances — wood or, worse, cement.

Which makes sense: When you drop a glass bottle on a hard surface with no “give,” that bottle is likely to shatter.

Most California winery owners understand this, and many have invested in expensive “shelving” systems for both their bottles and barrels — systems that are designed to withstand shaking. So, when you see barrels strewn across cellar floors, some of them shattered, you know this was no small quake. It may not have been THE big one, but it certainly was A big one. And the bigger the quake, the less likely even well-thought-out shelving and stacking systems are to hold up.

Personal wine collections, of course, are much smaller than winery inventories, but many of the bottles we keep at home are precious for one reason or another. Precious or not, we eventually want to be able to drink and enjoy each and every one of those bottles, so we need to keep them all safe.

Here are a few tips for doing just that:

1. Invest in wine racks. Even low-tech, assemble-yourself wooden racks are better than no racks at all, because they help keep bottles in place.

2. Don’t build racks too high. My home rack is four rows high — which means if a bottle is shaken loose by an earthquake, it doesn’t have far to fall. The farther a bottle falls, the greater the velocity when it hits the floor, and the more likely it is to break.

3. Provide a soft landing. I’ve never understood why so many wine collectors opt for wooden floors in their home “cellars.” It’s most likely a design decision, because wooden floors are attractive and fairly easy to keep clean. But they provide no “cushion” for a falling wine bottle, as so many post-earthquake Facebook postings have demonstrated. If bottle safety is a concern, it’s a good idea to install nice, thick carpeting in the wine storage room.

We native Californians have grown up with earthquakes and tend to take them for granted — until a big one hits, like the one that shook up North Coast wine country early Sunday morning. That quake provided a reminder that the more we invest in wine, the more we should do to protect it.

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Wine Tips

The Napa Earthquake: It Was Bad… But It Could Have Been Worse

We native Californians know that when an earthquake hits, it can take days and sometimes even weeks to fully grasp the extent of the damage.

Today, social media can further muddy the waters as thousands of people post and tweet their initial impressions — impressions that may or may not prove to be accurate.

But long-time wine industry colleague and friend Jim Caudill of The Hess Collection winery in Napa Valley nailed it just minutes after a magnitude 6.0 or 6.1 quake (seismologists probably won’t have a definite “number” for a few more days), centered in American Canyon, shook up the valley early Sunday morning.

The adjective he used to describe the quake in his first Facebook post was “gnarly.”

Because of the timing of the earthquake — the largest to hit the San Francisco Bay Area since the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 — it was impossible to assess the damage quickly. It wasn’t until the sun came up that blocks of downtown Napa were revealed to look more like pockets of modern day Iraq.

Buildings damaged… streets littered with debris… water mains broken… streets buckled.

And inside the valley’s wineries, bottles were shattered, stacked barrels were thrown to cellar floors and historic buildings were badly damaged.

TrefethenThey say a picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at this picture posted on Facebook by Trefethen Family Vineyards. It was accompanied by this notice:

“She may be broken but we will re-build! Our treasured historical building sustained a significant blow during Sunday’s earthquake but the Trefethen family is committed to bringing this grand Napa Valley landmark back to her glory. Your messages of love and support mean the world to our team and the family.”

Dozens of homes and other buildings in the valley have been “red-tagged,” meaning they are not allowed to be inhabited until adequate repairs are made — if repairs can be made. The estimated damage valley-wide has been pegged at more than $1 billion.

More than 200 people were treated for injuries at Queen of the Valley Medical Center, but the Napa Valley Vintners trade organization reports that nobody was injured at any of the valley’s wineries — again, thanks to the timing of the quake. Had someone been in a cellar when barrels started flying, it could have been tragic.

As so many winery owners have noted, although they may have sustained building damage and some loss of inventory, they’re grateful that there was no loss of human life. Wine and barrels can be replaced; people can’t.

In yesterday’s blog, I noted how disgusted I became when the first Facebook posting I read about the earthquake, from a “friend of a friend,” mused, “The price of good wine is going up!”

It ticked me off for two reasons:

1. It was making light of a situation that could have been truly tragic.

2. It was uninformed at best, and totally wrong at worst.

Many wineries in the valley were lucky; they lost no wine at all. There have been only a few reports of big losses resulting from broken or shattered barrels. In a lot of cases, barrels were thrown to the ground, but not damaged — a minor miracle.

Furthermore, most of the wine currently aging in barrels and tanks is from the 2012 and 2013 vintages, which the Napa Valley Vintners described as “the two most abundant vintages ever.”

Looking ahead, the association added, “While some individual wineries may experience inventory shortages as a result of the earthquake, it is not expected to have a significant impact on Napa Valley wine inventory in general.” And if the inventory is not impacted, prices will not be impacted.

Wineries work hard to protect their brands and their images, and pricing is part of that endeavor. It would be foolish for a winery to raise the price on a specific bottling to make up for a lack of inventory — and as the vintners’ group noted, even with some losses due to the quake, shortages figure to be isolated and rare.

So, that Facebook poster who was concerned about the price of wine going up can rest easily. It’s not likely to happen — not because of the earthquake, anyway.

As for the rest of us, we can breathe a sigh of relief. While buildings and barrels and bottles and other “things” may have been damaged, for the most part, people escaped with only minor injuries or no injuries at all.

- – – – -

Tomorrow: How you can protect the wine bottles in your home.

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Wine Buzz

A Rude Awakening in North Coast Wine Country

Quake1I first learned of the earthquake that struck California’s North Coast wine country early Sunday morning when I logged on to Facebook and read this post from a “friend of a friend”:

“To all my non-nor cal, wine loving peeps: the price of good wine is going up!”

It was accompanied by a picture of a private wine cellar with bottles littered all over the floor, and a shared post indicating that an earthquake had occurred.

My initial reaction was anger. How could anyone be more concerned with the price of wine than, say, whether anyone had been injured… or killed… in the earthquake?

I would have immediately “un-friended” this person except, like I said, he is a “friend of a friend”… so all I could do was navigate away from his mindless post and seek out some dependable sources.

In California wine country, there is no more dependable source than Jim Caudill, who handles P.R. for Napa Valley’s Hess Collection winery. This was his initial post on the earthquake:

“Big time earthquake 3:19… checking for damage… felt gnarly.”

Quake3Before long, Jim was re-tweeting and posting pictures from other friends in the industry: a full aisle of broken wine bottles at the Safeway store in American Canyon, believed to be the epicenter of the 6.1 magnitude quake… building damage in downtown Napa… various shots from the Napa Register.

But it was still too early to fully understand the extent of the damage. Jim had been in contact with fellow Hess employees, though, and posted this update:

“We do have some damage on Mount Veeder in our cellars, will need to wait on Mother Nature to turn on a bit more light to fully grasp the extent of our damage…updates to come. Many of our colleagues who live nearby, especially below the winery in Brown’s Valley, report extensive damage to glassware, dishes and such, but so far, all are shaken (stirred too) but fine. We’re all nervously laughing and smiling, but saying prayerful thanks that no one has been hurt. We learn to live with it, but it’s serious stuff that we plan for.”

Not long thereafter, as the light of day revealed just how much damage the earthquake had done, Jim posted this:

“As a result of damage here on our Mount Veeder home, the Visitor’s Center will be closed initially on Monday and Tuesday while we assess damage and make some repairs. Thank you for your understanding and patience, we hope to be open for your visits mid-week.”

Then came a series of stunning photos: winery artwork knocked over… a floor covered with glass — glass that used to be 300 Champagne flutes… barrels thrown off racks, some shattered.

photo“I’ve never seen a barrel shattered,” Jim posted. “This is unreal.”

By day’s end, similar stories were being told and scenes repeated up and down the valley. The biggest earthquake to hit Northern California in 25 years had, quite obviously, resulted in extensive damage — quite possibly changing the lives of hundreds of people forever.

And yet all some could think about in the first minutes after the quake was the possibility of the price of wine going up.

- – – – -

We’ll have more on the earthquake tomorrow, and we’ll explain why the price of wine is NOT likely to go up as a result of the quake. Then on Wednesday, we’ll offer some advice on how you can better protect the wine bottles you have in your home.

Meanwhile, we send good thoughts to Jim Caudill and all of our other friends in North Coast wine country. We hope your facilities escaped with only minor damage, but most of all, we hope all of you are safe.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Wine Buzz

5 Fascinating Facts About Cabernet Sauvignon

cabernet samplerWe could list a hundred fascinating facts about Cabernet Sauvignon. Really, we could.

But since it’s we’re winding down from the work week and gearing up for the weekend, let’s not go crazy. Let’s just go with five for Friday…

1. Cabernet Sauvignon is known as the “king of red wines” primarily because of its complexity — its aromas and flavors being a mix of the grape variety’s qualities and the use of oak barrels for aging the wine. Among the common descriptors for Cabernet are blackberry, plum, raisin, black currant, spice, pepper, vanilla, cedar, smoke, oak, tar, leather, earth, herbs, tobacco, coffee and chocolate. Complex? You bet.

2. The two hubs of Cabernet Sauvignon are the Bordeaux region of France (in particular, the gravelly soils of the Left Bank), and California’s Napa Valley (where outstanding wines are made from both valley-floor and mountain-grown fruit).

3. Cabernet Sauvignon shows up in places you may not expect it, and sometimes its presence is not readily apparent. For example, in Italy, the so-called “Super Tuscan” wines are blends of indigenous grapes (primarily Sangiovese) and non-indigenous grapes (often Cabernet Sauvignon, and occasionally Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc). The Priorat wines of Spain sometimes, but not always, include Cabernet. And in Australia, vintners like to make 50:50 blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah).

4. Because of its complexity, Cabernet often is consumed solo. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed with food. Among its sublime pairing partners are mushroom stroganoff, braised short ribs, a Kobe burger (or any burger with melting Gruyere), lamb chops, and Santa Maria-style tri-tip.

5. In 1996, DNA testing by the University of California at Davis, home to the most renowned viticultural school in the world, revealed a previously unknown “secret” about Cabernet Sauvignon: It’s actually a natural crossing of two other varietals: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. The crossing occurred during the 1600s, according to U.C. Davis.

You can try three great Cabernets for one low price right now, for a limited time through Vinesse. The source for Infinity Cellars Cabernet is Alexander Valley, a long-standing Sonoma appellation first planted in 1843. The largest sub-region in the county, it has long been applauded for its Cabernet, often reaching Napa-esque quality and prestige. Patagonia may not be as familiar as Argentina’s Mendoza Valley, but it consistently grabs our attention with impressively complex Cabernets like Alpataco, named for a native desert shrub. The best of California is blended into Sparrow Creek Winery, a stealth operation that has access to some of the finest vineyards throughout the Golden State.

Satisfaction is guaranteed and you can get six bottles for just $82.99 plus shipping and handling. To order now, click here.


Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Wine in the Glass

Scrabble Success on a Winery Terrace

Zin & StingersI’ve made my living as a writer and an editor for close to 40 years now. I landed my first newspaper job at age 16, and while I wasn’t exactly making a living at that time, I was gaining valuable experience that would serve me well in the years to come.

I like to think that I’m pretty good at what I do — which is important, since I don’t do much of anything else well. Yet when it comes to Scrabble, I lose regularly to friends in professions that have absolutely nothing to do with words.

So when I actually won a game a few weeks ago, it was cause for celebration. And when I managed to earn 50 bonus points with a seven-letter word, it was cause for a photo.

Why am I sharing my Scrabble adventures and misadventures in a blog devoted to wine? Two reasons:

1. Check out the three-letter word just above STINGERS. Yes, Zinfandel fans, that one was mine, too.

2. The game took place on the terrace of Villa San-Juliette, in San Miguel, Calif. — a winery that we’ve featured several times here at Vinesse.

If you’re planning a wine country vacation or weekend getaway anytime soon, take along your Scrabble board… or some other game, if you prefer. Most wineries are more than happy to have you stick around for a while… especially if you’re drinking a glass or two of their wine.

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Editor's Journal

Advice on ‘Moderation’ from an Expert

Red_Wine_Glasses2Who better to speak to the health benefits of wine than a wine producer who also works as an emergency room doctor?

Food & Wine magazine’s Ray Isle introduced us to Dr. Laura Catena — who has been called “the face of Argentine wine” — in its September issue, and Isle began his health-related questions directly. “Is wine really good for you?” he asked.

Dr. Catena’s response: “Any kind of alcohol has cardiovascular benefits as long as you drink it in moderation — its reduces your risk of heart attack, stroke, dementia. But that’s in moderation. Drink more, and you lose everything you would have gained.”

Which logically led to a follow-up question, asking for a definition of moderation.

“Different countries have different standards,” Dr. Catena explained. “In the U.S., one drink per day for women, two for men. But in Greece, it’s one-and-a-half for women, three for men. Also, you can’t squeeze all the drinks into one day and say, ‘I had seven drinks on Friday, so that’s one drink per day. Moderation, right?’ Wrong.”

Food & Wine’s website is a great resource for wine-friendly recipes. Check it out here:

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Wine and Health

What to Pair with Fair Fare

csffbIn a recent post, I told you about wine-drinking opportunities at the 2014 Orange County Fair. I didn’t get a chance to go to the California State Fair in Sacramento this year, but I did have a couple of spies there.

Their mission, should they wish to accept it (and they did): try some of the OTFF — Out There Fair Fare — and report back to me with their findings. I thought it might be fun to hear about a few of their unusual finds, and then figure out what kind of wine would match well with them.

Wish me luck! Here goes…

  • OTFF No. 1 —Chicken Waffle Tacos. They’re basically what folks in (mostly) southern states have been eating for years, except you can (should/must) pick these up with your hands. This dish calls for a white wine with a certain degree of richness, so my choice would be Chardonnay.
  • OTFF No. 2 — Bacon-Wrapped Jack Daniel’s. A churro is infused with a shot of Jack Daniel’s bourbon, then wrapped in bacon and grilled. It’s served with maple syrup and whipped cream for dipping. As long as you don’t overdo the syrup, I’d opt for a rich Port. Skip the syrup altogether, and I could see eating this with a glass of (red) Zinfandel or a GSM (a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend).
  • OTFF No. 3 — Pork-a-Bello Mushroom Kebab. White mushrooms are stuffed with smoked Gouda cheese, stuck on a skewer, then wrapped in bacon and grilled. This dish is all about smokiness, and that calls for a wine that exhibits that characteristic. The red wines of France’s Côte Rôtie and Hermitage appellations would work well, as would many American renditions of Syrah.
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes
Members-only Wine sampler specials delivered straight to your inbox via our Cyber Circle newsletter.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,300 other followers