It’s Time to Embrace the Warm Red Wines of Autumn

fallI was born and grew up in Southern California. I visited relatives in Vermont and Wisconsin a few times during my youth, but it wasn’t until I spent 12 years in Chicago beginning in 2000 that was introduced to and came to appreciate the concept of “layering.”

For my fellow California natives, “layering” involves amassing a collection of clothing that accommodates all seasons of the year. It is particularly related to fall and winter, when sweaters and jackets of various thicknesses are needed to keep one warm and comfortable when the temperatures begin to dip and fluctuate.

Looking back on my youth and those years in Chicago, I now think about how easy it must be to be a television weather person in Los Angeles or San Diego. True, El Nino may be on the way — and we hope it is if it will help alleviate California’s drought conditions — but in most years, there is no reason for a meteorologist there to have anything other than a sunny disposition.

Even in California, though, temperatures do dip in the fall and winter months, and it can get downright cold in some areas of the state. And when the summer sun gives way to shorter days and crisper air, I find myself reaching for different types of wine.

Those light, bright, refreshing wines that I like to chill down and sip during the summer give way to wines that are fuller in body and possess more robust flavors. Just as the leaves change colors in my mom’s home state of Vermont, the wine colors I embrace change from the golds and pinks of summer to rich reds and purples.

Ironically, the wines of fall, like those featured in this collection from Vinesse, almost always come from areas that are known for their temperate climates — places like California, Australia and Spain.

The warm weather enables the grapes to ripen fully and then be picked at precisely the moment that the winemaker prefers. When the grapes are fully ripened, they possess higher sugar levels, enabling the vintner to make wines that are richer and more robust — not to mention ideal pairing partners for the heartier foods we tend to eat as the temperatures dip.

The wines of fall also are more likely to possess aromas and flavors associated with oak barrel aging. Whereas many lighter styled wines are aged in (neutral) stainless steel tanks, virtually all red wines see at least some time in oak — and that’s where the impressions of smoke and vanilla and spice and other things nice (besides fruit and earth) come from.

The late Marilyn Monroe once observed, “Designers want to dress me like spring, in billowing things. I don’t feel like spring. I feel like a warm red autumn.”

And I feel like opening a warm red wine of autumn.

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Earth-Friendly Wines

Tuscany vineyards in fallThe title is long and, to be honest, not real exciting — “Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking: Sustainable Viticulture and Viniculture” — but the content is compelling for anyone interested in what wineries and grape growers can do to have less impact on Earth.

“We constantly notice when we are out talking to winemakers in different wine regions that more and more producers pay attention to how what they do in the vineyard affects the environment,” the authors, Per and Britt Karlsson, noted in 2012, when the book was published by Floris Books.

“Many winemakers that we meet start the process of ‘converting’ to organic farming. There are rules for what that means — what an organic farmer can do and what is forbidden — rules that come both from public or government organizations and from private organizations. In addition, people also talk more and more about other related approaches: biodynamic winemaking, natural wines, sustainable farming. In this book, we explain them all.”

It’s a comprehensive book by two noted wine experts, and explains the rules of organic, biodynamic and natural wine production, both outside in the vineyard and inside the wine cellar. It sets out clearly what a winemaker is allowed to do, including processes, additives and chemicals, and looks at the potential long-term benefits of going organic or biodynamic.

As such, it serves as a detailed introduction to Earth-friendly winemaking for wine professionals and enthusiasts alike — practices that lead to delicious wines like those featured in Vinesse’s Earth Friendly Collection being offered to our email subscribers today.

The book is lavishly illustrated, and many of those pictures are worth a thousand words in explaining various concepts and techniques. It’s available on Amazon.

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The Perfect Half-time Pairing: Pork Meatballs and Zinfandel

Crostini con polpette al sugo con piselliWe close out California Wine Month with a recipe that pairs perfectly with the unofficial winegrape of California — Zinfandel.

“Aside from being my favorite grape, it’s just fun to drink!” Duane David Dappen, who makes wine under the D-Cubed label, enthuses. “It has a loose, celebratory, raucous feel about it.”

That fun aspect extends to the food-pairing possibilities. Grilled meats, barbecued fare and pepperoni pizza and among the fare typically recommended.

Pork meatballs also work very well, and represent a fun option for serving during half-time when your favorite football team is playing on TV. This recipe yields six servings, and it works beautifully with any of the Zins featured in this delicious collection from Vinesse.



  • 1-lb. ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon onion flakes
  • ¾ cup corn flakes, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  1. Combine pork, onion flakes, corn flakes, salt, black pepper and egg in a large bowl.
  1. In a small bowl, stir together ketchup, brown sugar and dry mustard.
  1. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the ketchup mixture into the pork mixture. Mix well.
  1. Use vegetable cooking spray to cover a muffin tin.
  1. Form 6 meatballs and place on muffin tin.
  1. Coat top of each meatball with remaining ketchup mixture.
  1. Cook for 30 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

Football watcher’s reminder: If you put the meatballs in the oven at the beginning of the second quarter, they’ll have time to cool a little and be ready to enjoy by half-time.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Wine, Women and Music Unite in Palm Springs

Wine and musicThe Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival unites two of the things I love most in life: music and wine.

It’s really a music festival with a few wine components — and one of those wine components involves Vinesse!

“Great music brings us together and ignites our imaginations,” says the event’s Artistic Director, Sweet Baby J’ai. “Our 2015 festival lineup of extraordinary women will be designed to fully engage you, excite you, surprise you and hopefully provide personal moments of discovery.”

The event is set for Oct. 9-11, and is nearly sold out. The Palm Springs Hyatt is the host hotel, the Annenberg Theater is the concert venue, and other events will take place at various venues around town.

Dianne Schuur — a true jazz legend who has played with everyone from Count Basie to B.B. King, and everywhere from the Kennedy Center to the White House — will kick off the festival on Friday night. Her latest CD is called “I Remember You, With Love to Stan and Frank,” so concert-goers can probably look forward to hearing a number of standards associated with Stan Getz and Frank Sinatra.

Other performers on Friday will include Ann Patterson, Karen Hammack, Nedra Wheeler, Anne King, Dawn Robinson, Kimberly Allison, Sylvia Cuenca and Sweet Baby J’ai.

On Saturday, a Latin Jazz Party will feature Sunnie Paxson, Robin Bramlett, Suzanne Morissette-Cruz, Nikki Campbell and Sarah Bauza.

There also will be a Jazz + Blues = Soul concert featuring Nona Hendryx, Jessy J, Gail Jhonson, Lynn Keller, Kat Dyson, Sascha Dupont, Sherry Luchette, Nicole Falzone, Dee Simone, Aanhka Neal and Naja Smith.

And on Sunday, the “Tribute to the Divas” features Gennine Jackson-Francis with a tribute to Chaka Kahn, Kellye Gray with a tribute to Anita O’Day, Elaine Gibbs with a tribute to Etta James, and Sascha Dupont with a tribute to Amy Winehouse. Luchette, Falzone and Carol Chaikin also will be performing.

The various events are ticketed separately, and packages also are available. But the bargain of all bargains, in our humble opinion, is the Vinesse Wine Tasting, priced at just $10. It will be held at the 360 North Club, where wine educator Chris Bauer will show attendees how to select good and affordable bottles of wine. Four wines representing high quality and moderate prices will be tasted.

To learn more about the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival and to order tickets, go to:

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How You Can Help Victims of the Valley Fire

When we started this blog lo those many years ago — it was even before the archives demonstrate — the goal was to do a bit of educating and a bit of entertaining. We wanted to make wine enjoyment more accessible to more people, to help break down the barriers that result in some people being referred to as “wine snobs.”

Every so often, however, it’s necessary to put the education and entertainment aside, and share information on an extremely important topic. And that’s what we’re doing today here at Vinesse TODAY.

Yes, the topic is related to wine, but it’s really about human beings. Specifically, it’s about the people — many of whom work for wineries — that lost everything in the recent Valley Fire, north of Napa Valley.

As we did shortly after the fire was extinguished, we’d like to turn over today’s blog to the Lake County Winegrape Commission, which issued the following media release last week…

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Beckstoffer Vineyards has announced a donation of $50,000 to the #LakeCountyRising fundraising campaign.

“We’re part of the community,” said Andy Beckstoffer, Founder, Chairman, and owner of Beckstoffer Vineyards. “We have major vineyard holdings in Lake County, and many of our people live in Lake County.”

“On behalf of the Lake County community, we are grateful for the generosity that we’re seeing from across the region,” said Debra Sommerfield, President of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, one of three organizations who have partnered to establish the #LakeCountyRising fundraising effort.

#LakeCountyRising is an effort to support community rebuilding in the areas ravaged by the Valley Fire, with a focus on livelihood, housing, and community needs. The effort was initiated by three Lake County organizations — the Lake County Winegrape Commission, the Lake County Winery Association, and the Lake County Wine Alliance, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that will manage the collection and distribution of tax-deductible donations.

“This generous donation by the Beckstoffer family is a wonderful example of how the wine industry is coming together with significant support,” Sommerfield said.

Beckstoffer Vineyards farms more than 1,300 acres in the Red Hills of Lake County, in addition to its 1,000 acres in the Napa Valley and 1,300 acres in Mendocino County.

“We hope this will motivate other people to give,” Beckstoffer said.

‪#‎LakeCountyRising aims to raise significant funds over the coming weeks and months to help members of the Lake County community cope, adjust, and rebuild after the Valley Fire. #LakeCountyRising is working with local organizations and government agencies to identify the most pressing community needs.

To donate, visit the Lake County Rising page on Facebook to make a donation online using PayPal, or send a check made payable to Lake County Wine Alliance (memo: “Lake County Rising Fire Relief Fund”) to: Lake County Wine Alliance, P.O. Box 530, Kelseyville, CA 95451

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Are There Any ‘Key Words’ to Use When Ordering Tapas in Spain?

BarcelonaFlagsQUESTION: We’re planning a trip to Spain, and hope to visit several tapas bars while in Barcelona. Only one problem: It has been a long time since I took Spanish in school. Are there any “key words” you could give us that will help in ordering good wines to go with the tapas?

ANSWER: The greatest challenge in Barcelona is that you’ll encounter two languages: Spanish and Catalan. Indeed, it’s common all over the city to see the flags of Spain and Catalonia flying side by side, especially atop government buildings. At individual homes, it’s usually one flag or the other, as most residents identify themselves as either Spanish or Catalunyan.

Nobody has more expertise in dealing with European language barriers than Rick Steves, the PBS travel host and travel guidebook author.

From “Rick Steves’ Barcelona,” we’ve selected a few terms that should help. In each case, we begin with the Spanish terminology, followed by Catalan in parentheses.

Wine — vino (vi).

Red — rojo (negre).

White — blanco (blanc).

Dry — seco (sec).

Sweet — dulce (dolc).

Full-bodied — mucho cuerpo (molt cos).

A glass of nicely aged, quality wine — un crianza (un crianca).

There is one type of wine drink in Barcelona for which the languages converge. Whether in Spanish or Catalan, a red wine with lemonade (similar to Sangria) is referred to as tinto de verano.

One more thing: Have a great time, and don’t let the language barrier stress you out. At many tapas bars in Barcelona, you’ll find at least one person who speaks pretty good English.

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The Important Role Beer Plays in a Winegrape Harvest

Pumpkin BeerCalifornia’s annual winegrape harvest typically extends well into October for certain late-ripening varietals.

This year, however, it’s looking like the harvest season, which kicked off earlier than usual in August, likely also will be over much sooner than usual. One annoying aspect of the shifted calendar for some vintners: Special events for winery fans that were planned to precede harvest, in some cases, overlapped it.

Those inconveniences aside, every harvest season not only serves to define a vintage, it serves as a reminder that it takes a lot of people and a lot of sweat to make wine.

It takes back-breaking work, specialized skills, scientific knowledge, sleepless nights and beer. Yes, beer. More on that in a moment.

The true unsung heroes of the harvest season are the vineyard teams — the men and women who have been tending the grapevines during the spring and summer months, guiding them from bud break through veraison, who suddenly are performing at Energizer Bunny speed. Once it’s determined that the grapes are ready to pick, they need to be picked — additional days on the vine can impact the quality of the finished wine, which means there is no time to spare.

Every winery handles harvest just a little bit differently. But at most of the estates, in addition to a vineyard crew, there also is a cellar crew. These are people who help de-stem the fresh grapes that have just been brought in, thus initiating the crushing process — transforming the fruit into juice.

As the various lots of juice begin to be fermented, it’s time for the enology team to swing into action. Enologists monitor the wines until fermentation is completed. They typically have strong scientific backgrounds, primarily in chemistry but also in biology.

And let’s not forget the people who get most of the credit, even if most of the work is done by others: the winemaker. That’s not to understate the importance of the winemaker. After all, it is he or she who determines the final blends for all of the wines. But if it weren’t for the vineyard teams and cellar teams, the winemaker would have nothing with which to fill those oak barrels and stainless steel tanks.

Depending on the size of a winery, jobs can overlap. At very small estates, where the grapes are grown on the property, it’s actually possible for one person to perform all of the tasks — even picking the grapes when each individual vine is ready.

But in most cases, a good number of people are involved in the process, and to all of those people, we owe a sincere thanks this and every harvest season.

Oh, and what about the role that beer plays in the process? I can’t tell you how many winemakers have told me that, at the end of a long, hard day of overseeing grape truck arrivals, crushing, initiating fermentations and other tasks, there’s nothing more satisfying than an ice-cold beer.


Or three.

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The ‘Dawn of a Beautiful Vintage’ in Bordeaux

Vineyard in FranceThose of us who have been in the wine industry for a while and “courted” by the wine estates of Bordeaux are amused by the seemingly annual claims about “vintage of the century” potential.”

Simply by definition, every year can’t be a “vintage of the century.” It’s simple mathematics — and I am an expert in simple mathematics: There can be a vintage of the century only once every 100 years, just as there can be a vintage of the decade only once every 10 years. You really can’t say for sure until the century or the decade is over.

It’s kind of like the phrase “first annual.” Until a second whatever it is takes place, a “first annual” designation is merely a hope.

But I digress. Now that the 2015 winegrape harvest in Bordeaux has been going on for a few weeks, the time has come for a prediction about the vintage. It comes from Olivier Bernard, President of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. His report is headlined, “2015: The Dawn of a Great Vintage.”

– – – – –

Located on the 45th parallel, the northern limit for the world’s great red wine regions, Bordeaux likes sunny summers to produce great vintages. The months of May, June and July 2015 were among the hottest and driest on record. Water stress, so important for stopping vegetative growth and starting the ripening process, took place early, in July, and brought on a magnificent véraison (color change) in early August. I have not seen such an early, even véraison since 2009. All our grapes were red by the 15th of August, and many of them were already deeply colored.

Fortunately, the month of August was less hot and more wet, which gave a certain vigor to the vines.

Dry white wines — The month of August enabled the grapes, especially the white wine grapes, to “breathe” and retain their freshness. The first grapes were picked at the end of August. Their juices were superb and the weather forecast for the next two weeks is looking excellent… We are thus quite confident this will be a great year!!!”

Red wines — The Merlot grapes will be harvested the last ten days of September and the Cabernets the first two weeks of October. These are showing magnificent potential, but we still need six weeks without a major disturbance.

Sweet white wines — The Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes are slowly reaching perfect ripeness. As with every vintage, botrytis will call all the shots, but the conditions conducive to its development are all there.

It has been several years since Bordeaux has seen the dawn of such a beautiful vintage. There are still a few weeks of suspense left before this promise is fulfilled.

– – – – –

Wow! Now that was an assessment almost totally lacking in hyperbole, which is something all of us should appreciate. After all, when the wines really are great, they speak for themselves.

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The Intersecting Languages of Wine and Coffee

Woman enjoying coffeeAt first glance, I thought it was another wine-related email — one of at least 50 I receive on any given weekday. (The flow slows a little on the weekends, allowing for the flow of a little more wine at my house.)

The key word in the subject line was “Bordeaux.” My initial thought, curmudgeon-in-training that I am, was, “Probably a press release declaring another Vintage of the Century.” The French are famous for that, especially those based in Bordeaux.

(Don’t get me wrong; the wines of Bordeaux are wonderful. But when seemingly every vintage is declared the Vintage of the Century, it waters down the message a bit: The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The vintage of the century! The vintage of the century!)

Then I looked more closely at the email listing. It was from the Starbucks Store. Now it was no longer just another wine email that I’d get to later. Now it had my complete attention.

I’m an unabashed Starbucks fan. I totally buy into the concept of Starbucks stores as the “third place” in my life, right alongside my home and workplace. I try every new drink that is introduced (the reformulated Pumpkin Spice Latte is really, really good, by the way). I have gone to hear CEO Howard Schultz speak, as well as one of his former deputies who was on a book tour. I have turned my fiancée into a co-dependent Starbucks addict, and now have two gold cards instead of one to reload every few weeks. Starbucks coffee (made on my Keurig machine) will be served at our wedding, along with wine.

So, yeah, when I saw “Starbucks” and “Bordeaux” in the same subject line, that email was going to be opened quickly.

The subject line, in its entirety, was, “New this month: A sweet, Bordeaux-like flavor.” The email went on to tell me that the coffee was from Tanzania’s Mount Meru, and then noted: “A rarely used sun-drying method rewards with amazing flavors of grape jam, orange marmalade and a dark chocolate finish.” Even larger type reiterated the email’s subject line: “sun-dried to a sweet, Bordeaux-like flavor.”

As coffee drinkers become more sophisticated and demanding, I expect that they will develop a language similar to that embraced by wine lovers, including many of the same descriptive words and phrases.

Some will be general (bitter, smooth, sweet), while others will be specific (grape jam, orange marmalade, dark chocolate).

When we don’t have a beverage right in front of us, with the ability to smell and taste it, we need to be able to describe it. That’s where language comes in.

And more and more, the languages of wine and coffee are intersecting.

– – – – –

Tomorrow: a report from Bordeaux. Is 2015 shaping up as the next Vintage of the Century?

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The Best Wines for Citrus-Infused Fare

Variety of fruitsWine is made from fruit, and unless its flavors are completely obliterated by oak nuances, it tastes, at least in part, like fruit.

This seemingly obvious observation is very important to remember when pairing wine with food.

“Not surprisingly,” writes author/educator Karen McNeil, “dishes with fruit in them or a fruit component to them — pork with sauteed apples, roasted chicken with apricot glaze, duck with figs, and so forth — often pair beautifully with very fruit-driven wines that have super-fruity aromas. Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Viognier and Riesling are in this camp.”

When one knows the ingredients of a specific dish, selecting a wine to drink with it is a fairly easy proposition — especially if you don’t get hung up on a bunch of other people’s rules. Generally speaking, we try to match the wine to the dominant flavor in the dish.

While McNeil likely would choose one of the aforementioned fruit-driven wines to go with pork and sauteed apples, if you were to slice up that chicken and bake it with a thick white sauce in a pot pie, the better wine choice would be Chardonnay.

As Asian, Latin and Mediterranean fare becomes more popular in the United States, we’re seeing lots of dishes that involve citrus fruit flavors. Some say citrus-flavored food demands a high-acid wine, but others opine that a buttery Chardonnay or an off-dry Riesling can enhance the overall dining experience by lending additional flavors and textures.

Dealing with citrus-infused fare is one of many topics covered in a book called “What to Drink With What You Eat.” Here are some of their specific suggestions…

  • Orange — German Riesling, Semillon, Champagne or sparkling wine, Orange Muscat, Sauternes or Sherry.

We should always drink what we like with any given dish, but these recommended pairings definitely are worth exploring.

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