The Best North American Wine Destination

Vineyard_HillsideIn late 2009, we counted down the Top 10 North American Wine Destinations on this blog.

And the winner was (drum roll, please) the Rutherford district of California’s Napa Valley.

The list was maybe 1% objective and 99% subjective. We made no bones about that in the countdown. These were places that I had visited, and I put the list together in an order that reflected my personal tastes and preferences.

The wines made from Rutherford grapes are truly world-class. But I’m not ashamed to admit that a big part of that district gaining the No. 1 spot was the presence of my favorite restaurant on the planet: the Rutherford Grill. You can read why that dining spot is so special in the blog, which is linked above.

While the district provides exceptional dining and accommodations, Rutherford earned the No. 1 spot on our list because of the wines it produces.

Today, I thought I’d share some information about the appellation — in other words, what makes Rutherford special from a grape growing and winemaking perspective.

The Rutherford district first gained worldwide recognition in 1939 when Georges de Latour won a gold medal at the Golden Gate International Exposition for his 1936 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Since then, BV’s Private Reserve wines have set a standard for many of the appellation’s wineries. While several other varietals, such as Sauvignon Blanc, grow well there, Cabernet Sauvignon performs best in the vineyards of Rutherford.

The Rutherford viticultural area covers approximately six square miles, beginning just south of Cakebread Cellars and BV Vineyard #2 along Highway 29. It ends at Zinfandel Lane, 3.3 miles to the north, and stretches across the valley (two miles at its widest point) from Mt. St. John on the west to the Vaca Mountain Range on the east.

Soils from three alluvial fans are primarily gravelly, sandy and loamy. The fans are formed from shattered, well-bedded sandstone, and their deposits are high in gravels. Deep and well-drained, the fans have pockets that allow runoff to easily flow to the streams and Napa River. Rutherford soils are dominated by Franciscan marine sedimentary materials with some volcanic deposits (primarily Bale, Pleasanton and Yolo loams).

Rutherford has a higher radiant value than other parts of Napa Valley. Because the area is located at the valley’s widest point, it spends more time in the sun.

Warm summer days ripen Rutherford grapes, giving way to cool evenings. An average summer day may drop 12 degrees immediately after sunset. This fluctuation allows the fruit to ripen at a steady pace; temperatures north and south of Rutherford can vary as much as 10 degrees.

Rutherford has an average rainfall of 26-36 inches per year. Although typically mild, spring can bring freezing temperatures at night during March and April. Growers and vintners know this, and are ready with big fans and heating- lamp-like devices to protect the vines.

Although bordered on the west and east by two mountain ranges, the Rutherford viticultural area does not extend above 500 feet in elevation. Regardless, the elevation is quite pronounced. Vineyards creep up the nearby hillsides from the Napa River in the center of the appellation, which lies just 172 feet above sea level.

All in all, Rutherford is both distinctive and special. That’s why it was No. 1 in my book back in 2009, and why it remains so today.

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

No. 1 in Wine Consumption… But for How Long?

iStock_000001609951SmallSimply by virtue of its sheer size and massive population, the United States leads the world in consumption of a lot of things.

But through the years, France has led the U.S. — and all other nations — in wine consumption.

That changed in 2013, when the U.S. topped France for the first time since records have been kept.

The final tally for the year: 770 million gallons of wine consumed in the United States, 745 million gallons in France.

Those two countries are far and away the leaders, followed by Italy at 576 million gallons and Germany at 536 million gallons.

Rounding out the top five, and poised to change the wine marketplace forever because of its emerging middle class, is China. Its citizens consumed 444 million gallons of wine last year, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine.

As more Chinese people earn more money, they’ll be drinking more wine. From that growing group, quality-focused palates will be developed, and those people are likely to seek out wines of higher quality — thus creating more demand and, some analysts predict, pushing prices skyward.

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Posted in The Wine Business

Spain’s Bodegas Muga: Even the Barrels Are Made On-Site

Fotolia_39774457_SThere are countless wineries around the world that grow their own grapes, thus controlling the process from vineyard to bottle.

But Bodegas Muga, situated in the famed Rioja Alta region of Spain, takes things a step further. It actually has coopers on staff to build the estate’s oak barrels and vats.

There are 14,000 barrels made out of different types of oak, including French (Allier, Tronçais or Jupilles), American, Hungarian, Russian and even a small consignment of Spanish oak.

One of the most traditional wineries in La Rioja, Bodegas Muga is located in the historic Barrio de La Estación — the railway station district — in Haro. The facilities, spanning some 270,000 square foot, are two centuries old, built mainly of stone and oak.

The winery was founded in 1932 by spouses Isaac Muga and Aurora Caño. Today, it’s run by the third generation of the family.

“We are obsessed with quality,” says Juan Muga, one member of that generation. “Everything we do is about continuously improving our vineyards, our winemaking and our people.”

The Bodegas Muga vineyards cover 620 acres at the foot of the Montes Obarenses. The site’s climate is exceptional due to the geography and orientation of the vines, as well as the surrounding climate — a mix of Mediterranean, Atlantic and Continental that combine to provide a most welcoming environment for growing wine grapes.

The soil consists mostly of clay and limestone, and a number of small terroirs, better known as microclimates, accommodate the growing of numerous varieties —

Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano among the reds, and Viura and Malvasia among the whites.

There are both “regular and “Reserva” bottlings offered, and many consider the “star wine” to be the Seleccion Especial. The 2009 vintage is a sublime blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano that’s aged for 28 months in oak casks crafted especially for the cuvee.

While New World technology is used to ensure quality in every bottle, the style of the wines is Old World, showcasing distinct minerality and earthiness. To experience the essence of Bodegas Muga, one need simply pour a glass of Muga Rosé and serve it alongside Marcona almonds and slivers of Manchego cheese.

Tours of the estate are offered, and include up-close looks at the imposing wooden tanks, the calmness of the aging rooms, and the heat and aroma of the cooperage. Tours last anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes and include tastes of two wines for an 8-Euro fee. To ensure a positive guest experience, advance reservations are required (+34 941 30 60 60).

From vineyard to barrel to bottle, few wineries control every aspect of transforming grapes into world-class wines. Bodegas Muga is one, and the wines provide a true taste of Rioja Alta.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction

Extending the Weekend With Grilled Chicken Breasts and Pinot Noir

Red_Wine_GlassI woke up this morning with the blahs. Not the blues… the blahs.

I’m not a doctor, but I have nonetheless diagnosed my condition even more specifically: I have the Monday Morning Blahs.

This affliction tends to occur following a weekend of either exhilarating adventure or pure relaxation. For me, it was the former, and I’ll be sharing some of my weekend wine adventures with you in future blogs.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking that a good cure for the Monday Morning Blahs would be an easy-to-prepare Monday evening meal, accompanied by a good glass of wine. So rather than doing a lot of chopping, measuring, basting and other prep work, I’m going to simply fire up the grill when I wrap up work for the day.

Chicken sounds good, and so does a glass (or two) of Pinot Noir.

Because of the ingredients and the cooking process, the dish I have in mind pairs beautifully with red wine, especially Pinot Noir. And this recipe yields 4 servings, which means I can invite a few friends over and extend the weekend.

If I keep this up, Monday just may become the new Sunday…

 

GRILLED CHICKEN BREASTS

 

Ingredients

• 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

• 1/2 cup lemon juice

• 1/2 teaspoon onion powder

• Ground black pepper, to taste

• Seasoning salt, to taste

• 2 teaspoons dried parsley

 

Preparation

 

1. Preheat outdoor grill for medium-high heat. Lightly oil the grate.

2. Dip chicken in lemon juice. Sprinkle with the onion powder, ground black pepper, seasoning salt and parsley. Discard any remaining lemon juice.

3. Cook on the prepared grill for 10 to 15 minutes per side, or until no longer pink and juices run clear.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Dining Decadence, Italian Style, in the Windy City

EatalySignI lived in Chicago for 14 years, leaving in late October of 2013 after completing an all-consuming, sleep-depriving special project in the publishing industry — editing (and writing much of) a 300-page magazine.

I got out just in time, too, as I’m pretty sure this born-and-raised California kid would not have survived the Windy City’s brutal winter of 2013-14. Friends tell me the combination of cold and snow over such a prolonged period of time was unmatched in their memories.

I paid a visit to my old stomping grounds earlier this month, en route to an annual music event in St. Joseph, Mich., called Smooth Jazz at Sunset.

My lady and I flew to Chicago on the redeye so I could work in a morning visit to my dentist’s office before heading out of town. While I sat in “the chair” with my mouth wide open, Michelle made a beeline to an Italian market we’d heard about called Eataly.

EatalyCheeses“Italian market” doesn’t even begin to describe this place, conveniently located downtown, not far from Michigan Avenue. It features two floors packed with purveyors of Italian delicacies, including hand-stretched mozzarella made fresh daily.

The “fresh departments” also include a bakery, butcher, fishmonger, pasta, salumi and a wide range of formaggi.

There are small restaurants offering sit-down and stand-up dining, two coffee bars and, of course, a wine bar.

Fruit? Fresh.

Vegetables? Vibrant in hue.

Sweets? Sinful.

Michelle spent three hours there, rounding up salumi, cheese, bread and dark chocolate for a feast that night in St. Joe. She said she easily could have spent twice as much time, as each stand or kiosk offered something enticing to taste or inquire about.

When I attended summer concerts at Chicago’s Millennium Park, I typically picked up a barbecue chicken pizza to accompany a bottle of Vinesse wine while I listened to the music.

Were I still living in Chicago, my before-concert stop would now be Eataly and its two floors of Italian culinary decadence.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Bite This! Reno Plans a Wining and Dining Spectacular

Red_Wine_CheersLas Vegas is the undisputed casino gambling capital of the world. The famed Las Vegas Strip is lined with hotels that house restaurants developed — and sometimes even staffed — by celebrity chefs.

That makes Vegas a culinary capital as well. No wonder Wine Spectator Magazine has staged numerous consumer wine events there, and an annual fundraiser for the University of Nevada Las Vegas dubbed “UNLVino” has emerged as one of the most-talked-about wine events in the country.

But not all great meals consumed in Nevada are cooked in Las Vegas. The Silver State’s northern gaming mecca, Reno, also offers a number of destinations for foodies.

Beaujolais Bistro, for example, has emerged as one of the finest French restaurants in the West. After 10 years in its original location, the bistro shut down for a while as it relocated to new digs along the Truckee River — appropriately enough, on Riverside Drive.

A renovated Craftsman cottage houses the new dining room, and the new bar is filled with light (during daytime hours) and offers ample elbow room. It’s much more inviting than the original location, and that is by design.

Chef-proprietor Bill Gilbert appreciated the fact that locals considered Beaujolais Bistro a “special occasion” restaurant, but he wanted V.2 to be more accessible — both in design and with the menu. Old favorites are still offered, now complemented by casual dining options — marinated olives, mushroom cigars, scallops, carpaccio, oysters on the half shell, et al — at the bar, as Gilbert hopes locals will stop by more often.

Then there’s the wine list, hands down the best in Reno, and every bit as comprehensive as many in Las Vegas. Of course, there’s a big selection of food-friendly wines from Burgundy, but other French regions also are well represented. And that’s how the list is organized: by appellation.

Gilbert is proud of the fact that the list includes a number of rather obscure selections that no other Reno restaurant carries. His goal is to offer at least one wine to complement each menu selection. Each time I’ve visited, the suggested wine pairings have been spot on.

Another excellent dining spot in downtown Reno is Sterling’s at the Silver Legacy — particularly noted for its Sunday brunch. The selection of food items is… well… sterling, and each diner gets their choice of Domaine Ste. Michelle sparkling wine, Bisol Jeio Prosecco, a mimosa or a Bellini.

If we’ve tantalized your taste buds with this blog post, you may want to consider visiting Reno when the 3rd annual “Reno Bites” restaurant week takes place, this October 13-19.

That’s when local chefs pull out all the stops, creating specialty dishes, signature events and prix fixe menus that show off their considerable talents. Reno has long embraced the slogan, “the biggest little city I the world,” and when “Reno Bites” is on, it takes a culinary backseat to no other city, including Las Vegas.

To learn more about the 2014 edition of “Reno Bites,” click here.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Under-the-Radar Wine Pairings

Pie and ice creamBlink an eye, and the month of July is half over!

July is packed with “food days” — those official (or otherwise) celebrations of everything from (in the case of July) corn fritters to jelly beans.

In fact, there is not a single day in July that is not devoted to at least one type of food. Several days have two concurrent celebrations, and two — the 14th and the 20th — have three.

July 14 was Macaroni Day, National Grand Marnier Day and Bastille Day, while July 20 is a dream for anyone with a sweet tooth: National Lollipop Day, National Ice Cream Soda Day and National Fortune Cookie Day.

Obviously, not all foods are great pairing partners for wine, but perusing the list of July food days — some that have come and gone for this year, one still so come — reveals a few possibilities that aren’t exactly top of mind…

• July 4 — National Barbecued Spareribs Day.

If you go beyond burgers and hot dogs on Independence Day, spareribs are a tasty treat and Zinfandel is the wine to serve. Its luscious fruit flavors meld nicely with the sweetness of the barbecue sauce. We have an array of wines selected specifically to pair with the bold flavors of barbecue and you can order together at a discount for a limited time.

• July 11 — National Blueberry Muffin Day.

A number of wines suggest blueberry in their flavor spectrum, including Malbec (particularly renditions from Argentina), Mourvedre, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. But with a just-out-of-the-oven blueberry muffin, nothing beats a fruit-forward Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah) from Australia.

• July12 — National Pecan Pie Day.

Among the wines that exhibit a general “nuttiness” (i.e., not necessarily a pecan-like flavor) are Pinot Blanc, Roussanne, Semillon and Verdejo. But when you add sweetness to the equation, the best pairing partners for pecan pie are Cream Sherry or Port.

• July 17 — National Peach Ice Cream Day.

Some “late harvest” dessert wines are so sweet and so “thick” that winemakers often suggest pouring them over vanilla ice cream for a unique sweet treat. Think of it as a sundae for adults. Well, it just happens that there’s also a wine that can be poured over peach ice cream because it exudes a peachy impression of its own: Moscato. And unlike dessert wines, Moscato often adds another fun dimension to the ice cream dish: bubbles.  If you really enjoy the combination or just like sweet, bubbly wines, join our Light & Sweet Wine Club. You’ll save time and money by having wine selected just to your taste and delivered right to your door. For more frozen fun like Strawberry and Sparkling Rosè Pimms Sorbet, check out Ice Cream Magazine.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

A ‘Big World’ of Wine Bars in Orlando

iStock_000010993531XSmallOrlando is the amusement park mecca of America, with Disney and Universal operating multiple parks and others offering dozens of stand-alone attractions.

Fortunately, when wine drinkers need a break from all the “excitement,” three outstanding wine bars offer a relaxing vinous respite…

1. Eola Wine Company

Designed to be a place where people could hang out with friends and share some laughs… not to mention good wine. It offers more than 70 wines by the glass, as well as creative wine flights. An assortment of flatbreads, cheeses, charcuterie, appetizers and desserts complement the wines, and there even are craft beers for the non-wine inclined.

Two locations: 430 East Central Blvd., Orlando, 407-481-9100; and 136 Park Ave., Winter Park, 407-647-9103.

2. Funky Monkey Wine Company

“Stylish yet unconventional.” That’s how this wine bar’s website describes the vibe and vision of Funky Monkey, which offers Asian-influenced dishes to complement its selection of wines. The Stuffed Avocado, for instance, is like none you’ve ever tasted, filled with spicy ahi tuna, cream cheese, spicy mayo, masago, sriracha and eel sauce. The focus is on fresh ingredients, essential for a menu so heavy on sushi. Wine dinners are held regularly.

Two locations: 912 N. Mills Ave., Orlando, 407-427-1447; 9101 International Dr., Orlando, 407-418-9463.

3. The Wine Room

For those who want to sample a lot of wines, this is the place to go. It offers more than 150 choices in 1-oz., 2.5-oz. and 5-oz. pour sizes, along with an array of artisan cheeses, flatbreads, wraps, small plates and sweets.

270 S. Park Ave., Winter Haven, 407-696-9463.

Check out one of these wine bars after your visit to the Magic Kingdom, and it just may help you get that “Small World” song out of your head.

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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log

A Tasty Dish to Serve With Sauvignon Blanc

SauvignonWhite_Wine_Poured Blanc is among the most flavorful and refreshing wines on Earth.

But the characteristics that make it unique — its relatively high acid level, its “grassy” impression in the nose, its mild herbal flavors in the mouth — also render it somewhat of a challenge to pair with food.

But we’ve found a recipe that works beautifully, primarily because of one ingredient: basil. The recipe will serve two to four people, depending on your appetites… and your willingness to share.

 

CITRUS ROASTED CHICKEN WITH BASIL CREAM

 

Ingredients

• 1 whole roasting or frying chicken

• Salt and pepper, to taste

• Juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1 lime and 1 orange

• 1 tablespoon garlic

• 1 stick butter, softened

• 2 cups heavy cream

• 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil leaves

 

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Rinse and dry chicken, and prepare for roasting.

3. Mix butter, juices, zests, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Brush or rub over entire chicken.

4. Roast in oven until temperature is 165 degrees internally. Remove from oven, move chicken to a cutting board, and let rest.

5. Strain pan juices into small heavy-bottom sauce pan. Bring juices to a boil and reduce by one-half.

6. Pour cream into sauce pan and add fresh basil. Bring to a boil and reduce until sauce coats the back of a spoon.

7. Check seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper, if needed.

8. Divide chicken into desired portions and serve with basil cream… and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

5 Wineries to Try in the Temecula Valley

iStock_000017467842SmallIn 1968, the planting of substantial vineyard acreage in the Temecula Valley sparked a revival in Southern California winemaking.

The first wines from the new vineyards were produced many miles away by Brookside Winery in Cucamonga. But in 1974, the founding of Callaway Winery marked the beginning of winemaking in Temecula. Since then, numerous wineries have been built, some with restaurants and overnight facilities, including luxury resorts.

Here are five to try on a Temecula Valley wine getaway weekend…

1.  Baily Vineyard & Winery was established in 1986 by Phil and Carol Baily, with the goal of producing a small amount of excellent wine from their own grapes, and the bulk of the fruit being sold to others. Since then, Baily wines have won gold medals at all of the major wine competitions in the state.

The Bailys believe that good wine tastes better with food and food tastes better with wine. In that spirit, they, along with their sons Chris and Pat, opened Baily Wine Country Cafe in 1992 (now owned by Chris and his wife Kim), and more recently Carol’s Restaurant at the new wine tasting facility.

Also available at the tasting room is a nice selection of wine and cooking related gifts.

Getting there: 33440 La Serena, Temecula; 951-676-9463

2. Located at the far end of Rancho California Road, Chapin Family Winery offers the ambiance of a small producer with an inviting country setting.

The Chapin family has owned the property since 1987, and began planting the first vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot in 2002. By 2006, the first vintage of Cabernet was released to restaurants. Since then, additional vineyards have been planted to Montepulciano, Aglianico and Viognier.

The tasting room opened in 2011, and offers a beautiful view of the vineyards and Temecula Valley. The Chapin family believes in small lots of handcrafted wines that offer intense flavor with depth and balance that best represent the Temecula Valley appellation.

Getting there: 36084 Summitville St., Temecula; 951-506-2935

3. Frangipani Estate Winery overlooks the DePortola Wine Trail. Guests are treated to breathtaking views of the estate vineyard and surrounding valley from either the boutique tasting room or a patio adjacent to the vineyard.

Don Frangipani has taken French varietals Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot and melded them with old Italian style to create unique wines. Family owned and operated since 2006, Frangipani Estate offers a dynamic selection of wines, with a passion for reds.

Getting there: 39750 De Portola Rd., Temecula, 951-699-8845

4. Ponte Family Estate Winery is located in the heart of wine country on a 300-acre vineyard.

Conceived and built by the Ponte family — grape growers in Temecula since 1984 — the winery caters to visitors with a large tasting room, an award-winning restaurant, ample parking and world-class gardens designed to enhance the quality of one’s visit. The Pontes believe that, “If you like it, it’s good wine.”

Most of the 40-year-old vines on the property produce Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay. However, the family also farms Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Muscat, Pinot Grigio, Vermentino, Nero d’Avola, Grenache, Montepulciano and other Italian varieties.

Ponte Winery offers a charming and comfortably sophisticated atmosphere.

Getting there: 35053 Rancho California Rd.; 951-694-8855

5. Thornton Winery understands the formula for creating a premier estate that satisfies wine enthusiasts who are looking for award-winning wine, gourmet cuisine, live music, and beautiful grounds for wedding and banquet facilities.

The philosophy of owners John M., Sally B. and Steve Thornton has been recognized, as Thornton Winery garners more medals than any other sparkling wine estate in major competitions throughout the United States.

The winery, an elegant French-style chateau overlooking the graceful vineyards of the Temecula Valley, highlights Cafe Champagne, an annual Champagne Jazz Series, a breathtaking fountain terrace, herb gardens, gift shop and the Champagne Lounge.

Getting there: 32575 Rancho California Rd.; 951-699-0099

You can learn more about these five wineries and all the other estates in Temecula by clicking here: http://www.temeculawines.org/

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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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