The 12 drinks of Christmas: Delicious libations for boozy holiday entertaining

I love the traditions of the holidays. The Trail of Lights, the decadent treats, spending time with family around the Christmas tree, sitting on Santa’s lap, and sometimes even Christmas carols.

But not all Christmas carols. The indomitable repetition of that seemingly endless cumulative carol “The 12 Days of Christmas” is as maddening as it is catchy. It may draw on your nostalgic heartstrings, convincing you to sing along the first time you hear it each season, but after that …

Back in 1982, the Canadian comedy couple Bob and Doug McKenzie created a fantastic parody of the “12 Days of Christmas” that gleefully declares, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, beer.” To honor that sentiment, here are 12 festive drinks to have at home or a party to help you start new holiday traditions.

1. Beer is the right thing to have on the first day of Christmas in a nod to Bob and Doug. A good choice is Rahr & Sons Winter Warmer, a dark English-style ale with dried fruit and chocolate flavors. These guys in Fort Worth know how to make a solid brew. It’s great on its own and pairs incredibly well with gingerbread.

Rahr and Sons Winter Warmer
Rahr and Sons Winter Warmer


2. The second day calls for a delicious holiday twist on a classic cocktail, a perfect way to prep your appetite for a big holiday meal. The boozy Cynar Manhattan made with double-proof Cynar 70 is one of the best tasting versions of a Manhattan you’ll ever have. The newly introduced big brother of Cynar has the same balance of bitter and sweet flavors with festive hints of spice and herbs.

Stir the ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with maraschino cherries.

Cynar Manhattan
Cynar Manhattan


3. The third day deserves a classic wine to celebrate the holidays: a stout cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet is a bear skin rug in front of the fire. To really wow your holiday guests, grab the 2012 Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown cabernet sauvignon single vineyard, a Sonoma County beauty bursting with the lovely smell of plum and chocolate and powerful blackberry, black cherry, licorice, and dark chocolate flavors with a bit of cedar lingering on the finish. Whether you serve this with a sumptuous beef Wellington or on its own, it’s sure to dazzle for $75.

Alexanders Crown Cabernet Sauvignon
Alexanders Crown Cabernet Sauvignon


Another choice is the 2012 Experience Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with viscous flavors of spiced black currant, jammy plum, and dried strawberry. It’s great with rib roast for $25.

Experience Napa Valley Cabernet
Experience Napa Valley Cabernet


The third day calls for a third bottle of wine. An easygoing and unpretentious choice for the neighborhood party is 2013 Sterling Vintner’s Collection cabernet sauvignon. This Central Coast cab packs in a load of blackberry, ripe blueberry, dark chocolate, and vanilla flavors with a sprinkle of baking spice. Pick it up for $27.

Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon
Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon


4. The fourth day warrants a lush wine. Merlot is the Snuggie of the wine world: soft, cuddly, and oh so comforting. An incredibly elegant merlot for the holidays is the 2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Jackson Park Vineyard merlot. This Sonoma County vineyard is planted with the same grapes as one of the most famous Bordeaux wineries, Petrus. It’s velvety smooth with plum, blueberry, and boysenberry jam flavors and a bitter-sweet chocolate finish. The Matanzas Creek merlot goes incredibly well with roasted duck and sells for $60.

Matanzas Creek Merlot
Matanzas Creek Merlot


5. The fifth day asks for a slightly more rustic wine. Syrah is a walk through the woods to find just the right Christmas tree. The 2012 Qupé Santa Barbara County syrah ($30), made with biodynamic or organically grown grapes from the cool climates of the Santa Maria Valley and the Edna Valley in California, is as wild, funky, and brambly as any French Rhone wine. This little number is bounding with blackberry, cranberry tarts, and spiced with herbs and pepper. Serve it with a festive grilled lamb for the holidays.

Qupe Syrah
Qupe Syrah


6. The sixth day requires a playful wine. Petite sirah is a kiss under the mistletoe. For one big, bold kiss go with the 2013 Parducci True Grit Reserve petite sirah from Mendocino County, California. It has dusty raspberry scents, tart raspberry, Luden’s cherry cough drops, and blueberry pie with a healthy dollop of tannin. Yum! It is a great wine with steak and sells for $30.

Parducci True Grit
Parducci True Grit


7. The seventh day is a good time for portable wine. Grab a can of Underwood rosé from the Union Wine Company of Oregon to sip while you look at holiday light displays. The half-bottle size can be enjoyed in a crowd, and the fresh watermelon, strawberry, and tart lemon flavors pair resplendently with funnel cake. Pick up a four-pack for $24.

Underwood Rose Wine
Underwood Rose Wine


8. The eighth day is all about cuddly comfort. Pinot noir is the purr of a snuggly kitten, velvet furred and wispy tongued. A classic from the Eola-Amity Hills in Oregon, the 2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate pinot noir gleams like Dorothy’s ruby slippers with aromas of wet leaves, Bing cherries, and mocha. It has bright black cherry, raspberry, and chocolate flavors that give way to an earthiness characteristic of Oregon pinot noir. It is great with salmon and sells for $30.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir


9. The ninth day is a little naughty. Cinsaut is a tryst at the office Christmas party. Emblematic of a night of debauchery is the 2014 Bonny Doon cinsaut counoise from vineyards in California’s Paso Robles, Mendocino, and Lodi. Its looks are deceiving. The light ruby color of this wine is as delicate as the newest Beaujolais Nouveau, but its taste is anything but subtle. Wild strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry scents endorse the red berry, satiny chocolate, and herbal flavors. It pairs exceedingly well with quail and sells for $35.

Bonnie Doon Cinsault
Bonnie Doon Cinsault


10. The 10th day is sophisticated. There is nothing as erudite as a snifter of brandy. A Spanish delight, Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva is made from Palomino grapes and aged for 15 years in the same intricate fashion that sherry is made. The century-old oak casks used in the aging give it vanilla and honey flavors that envelop a bourbon-esque core like a velvet smoking jacket. Serve it at room temperature to savor the unmistakable imprint of sherry with its telltale oxidized sea-breeze taste. I could sip this all night after opening gifts. Deelish. It goes for $46.

Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva
Lepanto Brandy


11. The 11th day wakes up early for a cup of coffee. Coffee with a dose of cheer, of course. Coffee with liquor is the next best thing to snuggling with a ski bunny. Pour a couple ounces of Frangelico into your cup. The sweet hazelnut and vanilla flavors will perk up any morning. Pouring from the distinct bottle with the rope belt is a lot of fun too. Be careful not to overdo it because even in coffee it can get you drunk as a monk. Grab a bottle for $25.

Frangelico Coffee
Frangelico Coffee


12. By the 12th day you are bound to be in need of a tummy soothing digestifAmaro Averna soothes the flames of holiday indulgence with a luxurious blend of honey and bitter-sweet chocolate flavors. Sip a small glass neat or with an ice cube and let the sweet, thick herbs and citrus do their trick. It’s a lovely way to wind down the holidays for $30/bottle.

Amaro Averna
Amaro Averna


If you must sing a Christmas carol while enjoying any of these drinks, please make it “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Cheers to a happy holiday!

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: I received samples to review of most of the products included in this post.

What are you drinking?

The Right Wines for Summer Grilling

Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013
Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013

Summer grilling season is in full swing, which is a perfect opportunity for us to try different food and wine pairings. Wine as a whole goes better with food than any other beverage and with so many varieties to choose from, there are numerous pairing options with grilled food. The naturally occurring sugar, acidity and alcohol in wine to complement almost anything cooked with flames.

The general principles for selecting a wine for summer grilling is the same for any wine and food pairing. The goal of the pairing is that both the food and the wine taste better when properly harmonized. Start by matching the weight of food with weight of wine. The delicate flavors of vegetables, seafood and chicken are lovely with lighter wines. Fattier and denser varieties of fish, like salmon and swordfish, pair well with a medium-bodied wines like Merlot. The flavors in most types of hefty meat, like burgers, steaks, lamb and barbeque are enhanced by intense, full-bodied red wines.

The good news is that we have a long summer in Texas that gives us plenty of time to try numerous wine and grilled food pairings.


Grilled Veggies

Summer is the perfect time for grilling a bounty of seasonal vegetables like asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant and corn. Whether veggies are your main course or a side dish, picking the right wine can turn it into the star of the show.

A wide variety of vegetables allows for a wide selection of wine pairing options.

Lighter style and green grilled vegetable call for white wines like unoaked Chardonnay, Chablis, dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc and dry rosé. The fire-roasted char and caramelization of grilled vegetables beg for fuller-bodied whites, dry rosé and even lighter reds, particularly those with mild tannins. For the other dark vegetables like squash, Portobello mushrooms or eggplant, reach for light style reds like Pinot Noir and Barbera.

Rosé to try: Commanderie de Peyrassol Côtes de Provence 2014, France ($20). A classic rosé with a delicate lilac, strawberry, lemon zest nose and fresh biscuit, strawberries and crisp lemon flavors and good minerality.

Chardonnay to try: Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2013, California ($22). The dynamic fruit flavors of lime, cantaloupe, and pineapple make this wine an excellent accompaniment with eggplant or grilled zucchini.

Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2013
Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2013

Grilled Fish  

Selecting the right wine to pair well with grilled seafood is probably easier than grilling the fish itself. A range of wines with high acid are great with grilled seafood. Think of the kind of wines that make you pucker a little bit like lemony Pinot Gris, briny Albariño, vibrant Sauvignon Blanc, ripe fruit Chardonnay, or minerally dry rosé. These types of wines go well with any type of seafood that you normally squeeze a little lemon onto.

Don’t shy away from a fruity red wine with a smoky oily fish.  Meatier or fatty fish like swordfish and salmon love Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Pinot Gris to try: Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2014, California ($15). Made with a blend of grapes grown in the cool climate of Monterey, including Roussane, Viognier, Grüner Veltliner and Albariño, this wine has a lively blend of citrus and mineral flavors. Its tropical fruit, melon and peach flavors love sea bass.

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2014
Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2014


Albariño to try: Wedding Oak Winery Albariño 2013, Texas/California fruit ($23). This fresh, dry and versatile Albariño has distinctive aromas of peach and apricot along with bracing sea spray, lemon and mango flavors. The unoaked wine pairs with incredibly well with shellfish.

Wedding Oak Winery Albariño 2013
Wedding Oak Winery Albariño 2013

Sauvignon Blanc to try: Matanzas Creek Winery Helena Bench Sauvignon Blanc 2013, California ($40). This Knights Valley wine has floral and minty aromas and bouncy flavors of white peach, nectarine, grapefruit and lemon zest. It’s an excellent match with Gulf black drum.

Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc

Pinot Noir to try: Vineyard 29 Cru Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013, Oregon ($54). This Old World style Pinot has delicate floral fragrance and spicy earthiness with lush flavors of wild strawberry, cherry, dark plum, nutmeg and vanilla. The velvety texture and smooth tannins make it a classic pairing with salmon.

Vineyard 29 Cru Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013
Vineyard 29 Cru Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013

Grilled Chicken

Grilled chicken always makes me think of carefree days and picnics by the lake. The hot coals bring out the best in this bird. The sweet caramelization and bitter char from the grill make it an excellent partner with buoyant white wines. Citrusy Sauvignon Blanc, aromatic peachy Viognier and tart, tropical Chardonnay are all excellent choices to pair with grilled chicken.

Sauvignon Blanc to try: Vineyard 29 Cru Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013, California ($54). This limited production wine aged in a combination of French oak, concrete and stainless steel is an absolute delight. True to the Sauvignon Blanc style, it has zingy citrus flavors of lemon and green apple and layers in luscious toffee and butterscotch. The bright acidity is excellent with chicken thighs.

Vineyard 29 Cru Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Vineyard 29 Cru Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Viognier to try: Pedernales Cellars Texas Viognier Reserve 2014, Texas ($40). Floral scent with honey, and bright white peach, citrus, vanilla and toast flavors coming alive on the palate. This is an amazing wine that is versatile enough to pair with almost any style of grilled chicken.

Pedernales Cellars Viognier
Pedernales Cellars Viognier

Chardonnay to try: Flowers Vineyards & Winery Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, California ($50). Bliss.  The barrel aging in mostly neutral French oak gives this wine roundness without letting the oak obscure the fruit. Lemon zest and white flower scents mingle with pear, green apple and melon flavors with a solid structure of minerality and acidity.

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Steak and Burgers

It’s hard not to have a beer in hand when you are standing over the grill, but once the meat is done, pick full-bodied wines with dark berry fruit and some tannin to pair with grilled beef. It’s a tried and true practice to pair red wine with steak because the fat and protein in beef lowers the impact of tannin. It’s simple chemistry. Don’t mess with a good thing.

Lightly seasoning any steak or burger and grilling it to a rare to medium temperature lets beef sing. The char on the meat goes well with the tannins in red wines such Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varieties. Meat with a heavier char and cooked medium-well to well-done pairs better with softer, less tannic red Rhone grape varieties like Syrah and Grenache, or Pinot Noir.  If you prefer to keep it local, grab a delicious Texas Tempranillo. The bright fruit and high acidity cut right through that fatty beef.

Pinot Noir to try: Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013, California ($50). This luscious wine has vivacious scents of wild strawberry, cranberries and herbs layered with black cherry, raspberry and thyme flavors. It is an elegant and refined wine that will dress up any meal.

Grenache to try: Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache 2012, Australia ($32). The old vine Grenache was planted in 1946 and produces wine with powerful raspberry, cherry and red plum fruit flavors with peppery spice, licorice and chocolate. It is excellent with grilled lamb.

Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache 2012
Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache 2012

Petite Sirah to try: Edmeades Mendocino County 2012, California ($35). This limited release wine is absolutely perfect with grilled beef. Its smoky and spicy nose with loads of blackberry, plum, vanilla and coffee flavors and firm tannins will have you taking a drink with every bite of steak.

Edmeades Petite Sirah Mendocino County 2012
Edmeades Petite Sirah Mendocino County 2012

Tempranillo to try: Spicewood Vineyards Estate Tempranillo 2012, Texas ($45). This wine has bright acidity and firm tannins along with tart cherry, leather and tobacco flavors making it a perfect pair with grilled beef.

Cabernet Sauvignon to try: Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Argentina ($15). This is a perfect backyard wine; easy on the wallet and big on flavor. Bold bouquet of blackberry jam and smoke accompanies a bounty of blackberry, raspberry, fig, chocolate and herbal flavors that are great with a burger.

Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Cabernet Sauvignon to try: Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, California ($65). Indulgent as a velvet smoking jacket, the Melka Cab is packed with ripe plum, black cherry, cassis and mocha with baking spice and tobacco. The silky tannins are soft as a kitten purring for another bite of your steak.

Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012


Sure it’s easier to grab a beer to go with the smoky, rich flavors of saucy slow-cooked meats like ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, but it’s not impossible to have stellar wine pairings with barbeque too. A rule of thumb is big, intense flavors go well with big wines.

Dry rubbed barbeque can sometimes be salty. That style loves Champagne and sparkling wine. A sip of bubbly after savory barbeque makes the salt pop and lowers the tartness of the wine. Sparkling wine tastes less tart with salt than it does by itself. It’s best to avoid big tannic red wines with this style of barbeque, as salt makes tannins taste more bitter and intensifies the alcohol.

Slow cooked, straight forward brisket is excellent with a high acidity, low tannin Cabernet made with mountain grown fruit.

Sauces and glazes introduce sweet and spicy flavors that call for different styles of wines. Fruit forward, full bodied wine like big, jammy Zinfandels and bold Syrahs are an excellent complement to sweet sauces. Barbera, Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Grenache and rosé are excellent with either sweet or spicy barbeque. The soft tannins and impression of sweetness keeps the wine from tasting sour with a heaping plate of barbeque.

Sparkling Wine to try: Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2011, California ($37). The vibrant, fruity and creamy sparkling wine dances with delicate strawberry and raspberry flavors with a hint of apricot. Made with a blend of 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay grapes, this peppy, bubbly wine is an absolute stunner with barbeque.

Domaine Carneros Wines
Domaine Carneros Wines


Zinfandel to try: Quivira Vineyards Reserve Zinfandel 2013, California ($42) Stick your nose in the glass and fill it with the scent of blackberries ripening in the sun. The clean, bright wine has mild tannins that let the bold fruit shine through with red raspberry, black cherries and “that classic Dry Creek spice.” It’s a great accompaniment to ribs.


Pinot Noir to try: Kendall Jackson, Jackson Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013, California, ($30). The coastal influences of the Anderson Valley creates wines with bright acidity to balance fruity black cherry, blueberry, chocolate and cola flavors. The silky tannins and lingering smoky, spicy flavors are a dream match with barbeque.

Kendall Jackson, Jackson Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013
Kendall Jackson, Jackson Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013

Cabernet Sauvignon to try: Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder Napa Valley 2011, California ($75). When you order fancy BBQ, like the award winning brisket from Franklin Barbeque, you deserve a wine that is equally as good. A stand-out wine with energetic blueberry, black currants, anise violet and coffee flavors. This graceful Bordeaux blend has relatively soft tannins that will dress up any smoked brisket.

Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon
Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon
No matter what you choose to grill, use the opportunity to try a variety of wine pairings to discover which ones you like most.
This story was originally published in the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas newsletter, The Crush, “Jump Into Summer.”
Disclaimer: Several wine producers provided samples that were reviewed for this article at no charge. 

Turning up the Volume at Cliff Lede Vineyards

Beautiful Wife at Cliff Lede VineyardsPart III in the blog series, “Our Anniversary Trip to California Wine Country.”

When you imagine Napa Valley, what is the first thing that comes to mind? I think of gracious winery tasting rooms with spacious outdoor seating areas to take in the picturesque views of the vine covered hills. That’s exactly what Beautiful Wife and I experienced while sitting in the courtyard at Cliff Lede Vineyards (pronounced LAY-dee sorta how Styx would sing it) on a gorgeous October day.

The winery has a small art gallery and its spacious tasting room opens onto a covered patio and courtyard bedecked in flowers, vines sculpture and an outdoor fireplace. It was a casual and idyllic setting to taste through the winery’s line-up. Our host gave us a bit of a history lesson as he poured each wine.

Canadian wine collector, Cliff Lede, had such an intense passion for Bordeaux wines that he decided to try his hand at making his own Cab-based wines in the Staggs Leap district. He bought the winery property in 2002, fired up the winemaking equipment in 2005 and hired a top notch winemaker, Chris Tynan, from Colgin Winery in 2012. Cliff Lede Vineyards now makes Sauvignon Blanc and seven styles of Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery also purchased Anderson Valley Pinot Noir producer, Breggo Cellars in 2009 to round out its portfolio.

Four years ago, we spent our tenth wedding anniversary visiting wineries in the Anderson Valley. We spent the better part of an afternoon in the Breggo tasting room in Mendocino sipping on lush Pinot Noir and chatting up jazz musician, Joshua Redman. Waves of nostalgia washed over me when we saw the Breggo on our tasting menu. Another fine anniversary trip.

Mr. Lede’s love for the arts is on display beyond the paintings, sculpture and poetry in the Poetry Inn. He is also a big music buff with an affinity for classic rock. His love for music spills into the vineyard blocks, which are named for his favorite songs. These names in turn show up in the names of wines like Songbook, High Fidelity and Landslide Fire with a Spinal Tap-esque Marshall double stack amp on the label and a volume knob that goes to 11 on the foil capsule.

A taste through the Cliff Lede wines showed that many of them go to 11.

Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc2012 Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley

Bright as an autumn day in California, this Sauvignon Blanc twinkles pale sunshine in the glass. It’s a floral scent and crisp citrus flavors are accompanied by melon, green grass and seashell. It begs for a buttery croissant to start off brunch. It sells for $23.

2012 Breggo Pinot Gris Anderson Valley

The Pinot Gris had slightly more heft than the Sauvignon Blanc and was broader on the palate. It had zippy acidity with plenty of lemon zest, grapefruit and green apple flavors accompanied by almond and yeast. I wish I had a plate of oysters to go with it. The Pinot Gris cost $25.

2011 Breggo Pinot Noir Anderson Valley

Anderson Valley is known for its cool climate Pinots and 2011 was a particularly cool growing season. It brought out high acidity that punctuated the red cherry and tart plum flavors. I could mistake this for an Oregon wine with its mushroomy, dank forest undertones. I’m a sucker for this style of Pinot and would serve it with roast duck. It goes for $38 a bottle.

Breggo Pinot Gris2011 Cliff Lede Vineyards Claret Napa Valley

Our first Cabernet of the session, the Claret, is made from a blend of 32% Merlot, 18% Petite Verdot and Cab Franc. It has a fresh, herbal nose and brings a big dollop of stewed fruit up front with plum, cherry Coke with violets and cedar. It’s a bold wine that would go great with smoke ribs. It runs $45.

2010 High Fidelity Napa Valley

All I could think about when this wine was poured was Jack Black belting out “Let’s Get it On” in a Chicago bar in the movie High Fidelity. And get it on, we did. Merlot is dominant in this Bordeaux blend, bring abundant blueberry, blackberry, plum and cassis flavors balanced with chocolate and baking spice. The tannins are smooth and velvety. After a few sips I wanted to upgrade my soundtrack to Marvin Gaye. Grilled lamb would cuddle well with this wine. I will set you back $80.

2010 Landslide Fire Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District

Cliff Lede Landslide Fire

This predominantly Cabernet wine is made with grapes from the Landslide and Light My Fire blocks with a compliment of other

Bordeaux blend grapes including 13% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. The Marshall amp label is a good indication of the power inside the bottle. It has full throttle blackberry, plum cassis, licorice, violet, mocha and tobacco flavors with earthy minerals and firm tannins. It was approachable now, but it definitely has potential to rest for eight to 12 years. Only 822 cases were made of this limited production wine. It sells for $95 a bottle.

2010 Cliff Lede Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District

This is the bread and butter wine for Cliff Lede with more than 5,000 cases. It’s the one you’ll find readily at wine shops. It’s the wine I’ve had several times and ultimately seduced me into scheduling a visit to the winery. The Cab is blended with 11% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot giving it round, yet elegant fruit flavors of black currant, plum and blackberry along with tobacco and dark chocolate all set on a fine mineral backbone. Throw a few thick steaks on the grill to pair with this wine. It sells for $70 a bottle.

We spent a good portion of the afternoon letting the sun warm our faces and the wine warm our hearts. Cliff Lede is a fantastic place to lose yourself in art, music and wine.

The winery is located at 1473 Yountville Cross Road in Yountville. It’s about a quarter mile west of the Silverado Trail on the south side of the road and about a mile and a half east of Highway 29. Its open daily from 10am to 4pm and no appointment is necessary. If you want a tour and tasting program where you sit on the patio and taste through the whole line-up, you’ll need an appointment. Call the tasting room 1-800-428-2259 or email to set it up.

Disclosure: we were provided with complimentary tasting arranged by C. Milan Communications. We purchased bottles of wine at full price.

What are you drinking?


Tasting Mountain Wines at Cardinale Estate

It’s a pretty special thing to taste through the various creations of Chris Carpenter, winemaker for Cardinale Estate, La Jota Vineyards, Lokoya and Mt. Brave Wines. That’s exactly what Beautiful Wife and I did on a gorgeous October morning as harvest wound down around us in Napa Valley.

Cardinale was our first winery visit of our 14th anniversary wine country trip, and it was a magnificent way to kick it off. Four jewels of the Jackson Family Wines portfolio in one place. We were greeted with sweeping views of the valley, the heady perfume of fermenting grapes and a squadron of seven wines in formation in an elegant great room reserved just for us. Our host, Kristen, kept us smiling with wit, charm and insightful stories.

Carpenter, a former football star at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, earned his master’s degree in the Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. He started at as the enologist at Cardinale in 1998, became assistant winemaker in 1999 and was promoted to winemaker in 2001. Kristen described him as a “master of the mountains” coaxing expression of the terroir from the various appellations of Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, Mt. Veeder and Spring Mountain.

We stuck our noses deep into our glasses to find out what she meant.

First up, we taste the 2010 Mt. Brave Merlot. This wine tugged at our heart-strings a bit as the Mt. Brave winery, named in deference to the Wappo Indians, “the brave ones”, who were the original inhabitants the area on Mt. Veeder, is the former property of Chateau Potelle, a winery we visited on our honeymoon 14 years earlier. Carpenter created a velvety, dark wine with ripe blueberry, plum and black cherry flavors brought to life with a pop of acidity. There were only 200 cases of this wine produced and it’s sold on allocation for $75 a bottle.

Next we tried 2010 La Jota Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard was first established in 1898 and is one of the oldest vineyards in the area. The cool climate and volcanic soil mixed with granite and chalk produce an approachable wine. This Bordeaux style blend of Cab and Merlot has powerful blackberry, cassis and fennel flavors on a backbone of soft tannins. It’s available for $75 a bottle.

On to the Lokoya. It was quite a treat to taste all four mountain wines side-by-side. These wines let Carpenter showcase the distinct characteristics of the fruit from each mountain. His approach is, “don’t mess with the fruit from the mountain to the bottle.”  Less than 500 cases are made of these wines and they are sold on allocation.

2010 Lokoya Diamond Mountain, as the name suggests, is made with 100 percent cabernet grown on Diamond Mountain, just north of Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas Mountains. With vineyards reaching to 400 feet in elevation, the vines planted in volcanic soil get plenty of sunshine. This wine starts with a big wet kiss of blackberry and black currant with undertones of tart cranberry. The fruit is punctuated with vanilla and anise. It runs $250 a bottle.

2010 Lokoya Spring Mountain is made in one of the coolest and wettest districts of Napa Valley with significant influence from coastal currents. The cool weather and elevation make an elegant yet intense wine with plenty of floral scent mingled in layers of fruit. Its blackberry, blueberry and plum flavors are draped with violet and lush chocolate flavors. It is velvety smooth with soft tannins. It will dent the wallet at $350 a bottle.

2010 Lokoya Howell Mountain is one big, bold wine. With grapes grown way up in the 1,400 to 2,200 feet in elevation range, they get the cold night air and direct sun tempered with plenty of fog. The Howell Mountain is brawny with blackberries, plum, chocolate, fennel and baking spices. It’s a damn fine California cab. It will set you back $350 a bottle.

2010 Lokoya Mt. Veeder is planted on the steep slopes allowing for the sun to ripen it above the fog. Elegant with rich fruit layered on stout minerals, it is a stunner. Blackberries play with leather, black currant frolics with cedar and spicy licorice. As intense and brooding as Brando, this wine is $350 a bottle.

Our final sip of the morning was the 2010 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon. Cardinale Estate was established in the late 1980s and purchased by Jackson Family Wines in the 1990s. Less than 1,000 cases are made of this blend of cab grapes from all four Napa mountain appellations — Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain and Diamond Mountain. It’s concentrated with ripe fruit and firm tannin. Fragrant rose petal layers onto blackberry, blueberry, vanilla and stone. It has a smooth lingering finish that begs for a steak. It runs $250 a bottle.

I can’t say that I had a favorite among them. That’s like picking your favorite child. I was smitten with the setting, the experience and each of the wines. We left with a selection of various wines to cellar and to uncork on anniversaries to relive memories of this anniversary.

You should go here. Cardinale Estate is in the heart of the Oakville District, 7600 St Helena Highway. Wine tastings are available by appointment only, so call ahead: 707-948-2643.

Disclosure: we were provided with complimentary tasting arranged by the Jackson Family Wines PR team (normal tasting fee is $50). We purchased bottles of wine at full price.

What are you drinking?

Charles Krug Winery, a Family Affair

What are your favorite childhood memories? Do they have anything to do with your current job? In a conversation with Peter Mondavi, Jr., co-proprietor of Charles Krug Winery, he reminisced about doing odd jobs around the winery in the mid-60s when he was 8 years old. His grandmother lived on the property, and after a long morning of work Peter would come home to her house to a lunch feast of homemade pasta, roasted chicken and other delights. He also remembers celebrating Easter at the winery with his cousins. One year they held an Easter egg hunt in the bottling line because it was raining outside. During the following days, unfound eggs turned up in cases of wine and in other unexpected places. 

Fond family memories have turned into celebrated family accomplishments. California Governor Jerry Brown has proclaimed September 10 “Charles Krug Winery Day.” This isn’t because Gov. Brown is angling for a free tasting and a private tour of the venerable winery. No, it’s in honor of the 150th anniversary of the starting point for Napa Valley wine and the advances that Founder Charles Krug and later, Peter Mondavi Sr., have brought to the industry. They’ll celebrate the proclamation and the anniversary with a big bash on the winery lawn, pouring library wine for guests on Saturday, September 10.

Founded in 1861, Charles Krug Winery is the first commercial winery in Napa Valley. The Mondavi family has owned it since 1943 when Cesare and Rosa Mondavi bought it and took it out of the post-prohibition moth balls. Peter Mondavi Sr. has been at the helm since 1966, a year after a nasty spat with his brother Robert Mondavi led to his departure from Charles Krug to found his own winery down the road. Peter Sr., who will turn 97 in November, still comes to work every day, but he has turned over the day-to-day operation to Peter Jr. and his brother Marc. Now some of the fourth generation Mondavis are joining the party.   

In an era of when the wine industry is dominated by corporations consolidating smaller holdings, the independent family winery has gone the way of the cassette tape. The way of life is slowly eroding away. How do the Mondavis continue to succeed as a family venture? Peter tells me, “It’s in our blood. We love it. It’s a wonderful lifestyle. I love wine-making and everything that goes around it: The great people, the great food. Having a legacy of family is important. Maintaining a family winery ownership is a priority over all else. It’s a priority over profits and everything.”

A sesquicentennial celebration is a great indication that the blood line commitments are working.

One of the fun things they are doing to celebrate the 150th anniversary is a search for the oldest bottle of Charles Krug wine. One of the oldest bottles submitted on the winery Facebook page is from 1947. Can you imagine what one of the pre-prohibition, pre-Mondavi wines might taste like? Back then Napa Valley was dominated by different varietals like Muscatel and other sweet wines. The original grapes were mission grapes, and not Bordeaux blends despite the significant European influence, of pioneers such as Charles Krug and Gustave Niebaum.

Not only have the varietals evolved, but so have the technology of wine production and the viticulture. Krug was an innovator in 1861, introducing a cider press to crush grapes instead of crushing with feet. Peter Mondavi Sr. pioneered temperature controlled fermentation that is now a standard. He also introduced the first barrel aging in Napa in 1968. The vineyards root stock has changed dramatically, with vines tailored for specific soils and micro-climates. In addition, vine density has increased three-fold and pruning techniques have improved.

More recently the winery has undergone a significant refurbishment of the buildings. The historic Carriage House was restored and the Redwood Cellar, built in 1872, now holds the reserve barrel aging in a temperature controlled environment. They built whole new winery with smaller barrel fermentation and a temperature controlled environment to enhance fermentation. Charles Krug also brought in new grape presses from Switzerland to get the finest juice possible. The multi-million dollar renovation of the historic properties and the introduction of new technology shows a commitment to legacy and to continued quality improvements. 

Charles Krug Winery produces three lines of wine – the Napa Valley and Carneros Appellation Wines, the Family Reserve and the Limited Release – using six varietals. Within that line-up, Cabernet Sauvignon is the mainstay. The 2008 Cabernet Napa Valley is blended to achieve a good balance of moderate alcohol, fruit and tannins. The Mondavis strive for food friendly wines that don’t over power and are subservient to the food.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Look It is a glimmering jewel in the glass. Opaque garnet, with a bright heart and brick red at the edges. Slowly stretching legs cling to the glass with silky viscosity.  
Smell The ’08 Cabernet is has lush scents of blackberry, plum, anise and smoky cedar.  
Taste Velvety black cassis and blueberry coat the mouth followed by bitter dark chocolate and firm tannins. It has a smooth, long finish of stewed plum, charcoal and tobacco
Price $27


I also tried the Merlot. Charles Krug blends 79% Merlot with Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon and ages it for 20 months in French oak to achieve a quintessential California Merlot style. 

2008 Merlot Napa Valley

Look It is a polished aubergine shining with opaque mystery and depth.   
Smell The 2008 Merlot has a lively scent of black cherry, ripe plum and spiced chocolates.
Taste Its like a big mouthful of blackberry jam and violet blossoms, balanced with a touch of minerals and a smooth smoky, persistent finish.  
Price $24


Peter Mondavi Jr.’s favorite way to enjoy a glass of Charles Krug wine is with family and good friends while sharing a great meal. That’s exactly how I enjoyed these two wines. Open a bottle or two with your friends.  

What happens after “Charles Krug Winery Day” and the big anniversary bash on September 10? Peter Jr. plans for continued success with the winery as a family business. Staying an independent, family winery is paramount. He hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps and work for quite some time yet to come. I’ll raise a glass to those honorable goals, and to the prestigious honor from Gov. Brown. Cheers.

Charles Krug Winery provided samples of both wines for review. Photos provided by the winery.

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Mandolin Wine, Affordable Luxury

I have friends that are completely without pretense. You know the type. Nothing seems to get in the way of a free-flowing good time. Conversations come easy and linger only as long as they are interesting. With them, laughter isn’t punctuation to sentences, but full exchanges of dialog. These friends deserve a good bottle of wine, but don’t expect me to break out the $100 bottles. In fact they prefer the less expensive wine so we can drink more of it.

Luckily there are many quality, affordable wines on the market to share with friends like these. I was recently introduced to a perfect example of this, Mandolin, a California winery. The wine makers at Mandolin have the motto of creating “affordable luxury.” How is that possible? I spoke with Brent Shortridge, co-founder of Mandolin to find out how they produce good juice at a great price.

Brent had been in the wine business in Napa since 1984 before he met winemaker, Philip Zorn, over lunch in 1999. The two hit it off right away, sort of the same way you and I make friends without pretense. They had similar palettes and a passion for lunch. Right then and there, they crafted biz plan to sell wine as a négociant. They started off buying finished wine and taking it to market under the Waterstone Winery brand. They discovered that this was a good model to bring quality wine to market more efficiently to keep affordable prices.

Brent and Philip gained traction and realized to continue their success they had to develop consistency in their wine and lock down the sourcing of the grapes. They evolved to actual wine producers in a virtual winery set-up, leasing winery space, barrels and equipment. Mandolin was launched in Monterey, where in grape production was exploding in the coastal climate and land prices hadn’t gotten out of control like they had in Napa and Sonoma. These conditions, and the lack of the ball and chain of owning a winery and vineyards, make it possible for Mandolin to make affordable wine that appeals to people with a sophisticated palate.

Through long-time relationships with various vineyards, they were able to strike long-term contracts on specific lots of grapes. The contracts allow them to set the brix and acid levels to in a certain range at harvest, allows them access to vineyards year round and lets them work closely to manage crop yield. That level of control over the same source of grapes year after year allows for consistency and quality.

The Central Coast AVA has micro-climates and terroir that are well suited for a variety of noble grapes. Mandolin selects its grapes from the areas that are most suited for growing. The Santa Lucia Highlands is well suited for Burgundian varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as Riesling with it east facing benchland that gives it cool evenings, good afternoon sun and fog in the morning. Syrah grows well in the Arroyo Seco AVA, dominated by an old river bed with plentiful rock and gravel. It holds the heat even as the fog rolls in in the evening.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot sometimes doesn’t get the heat and sun to fully ripen in Monterey. However, Bordeaux varieties grow well in Hames Valley, which became an approved AVA in 1994. The warm air in the extended valley along with loamy shale soil allows for full ripeness to produce the rich wines for which California is known.

Once they source the grapes, they don’t take any short cuts in the cellar Mandolin ages the wine for 14 months in one and two year French oak. The result is smooth, balanced wine that food friendly and isn’t over oaked.

Here is a look at two of the wines.

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast

Mandolin Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon
Look Brick red at the edges to deep garnet at the depths. The Mandolin Cab has good clarity and viscosity.
Smell It fills the snout with bushels of black currant, black tea and spicy cherry tobacco.
Taste This doesn’t taste like an inexpensive wine. It has nice structure and balance of fruit, acid and grip. Black cherry and cola blend with pepper and understated oak at the front followed by a long, mildly tannic finish.
Price $12


2009 Syrah Central Coast

Look The ’09 Syrah is vibrant blood red and amethyst like a passionately artistic mood ring.
Smell It smells of lively rhubarb pie and blueberries served at a summer picnic.
Taste The approach is saline blood fresh from the hunt playfully splashed on a Pillsbury blueberry fruit pie. The soft, tart fruitiness pairs well with white pepper a tannic clutch and mild acidity for a lush, pleasant wine.
Price $10


Brent recommends trying the Cabernet with a bone-in rib-eye with plenty of marbling is ideal. The tannins work well with the rich fats. He also likes it with a roasted chicken from the supermarket goes well. For Brent, the best way to enjoy Mandolin wines is with friends. He likes to get away from the dining table and enjoy a glass of wine outside in the mountains or on a boat.

I completely agree with him. These are wines won’t intimidate you and are perfect for those relaxed times with friends without pretense.

Mandolin Wines are sold in more than half the states including Texas, as well as several countries worldwide. Ask for it at your favorite wine shop or order it online.

Mandolin provided samples of both wines for review.

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Chasing the Dream: Razor’s Edge Wine

The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.” In the 1944 novel, The Razor’s Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham, the main character Larry Darrell eschews a traditional lifestyle for a nonconformist and less financially rich life. He gives up his fiancé, his lucrative stockbroker job to search for meaningful and spiritual experiences in a wandering journey through post WW II Europe.

Have you ever felt like doing that? Have you felt like throwing away the traditional life and a comfy career to follow your dreams? Michael Opdahl, winemaker for Razor’s Edge Wine, did just that. In a recent conversation with Mike, he regaled me with a story of a young, whiskey and beer drinking man from the Midwest who strayed from his path into the unknown to chase a passion.

Mike got involved in the wine industry after a casual encounter with wine. After one glass, wine turned into a hobby, wine became a passion, wine grew into a part-time job and then then wine became his life with a full-time career as a winemaker. Back in 1997, he moved to California for a rewarding job in finance. While at a party, the owner of the company he worked for gave him his first taste of quality wine; an Australian Shiraz. Mike fell in love and by the next day he was off on a buying spree that turned into a serious habit. He was soon buying 10-20 cases a week and stocked a respectable cellar of Australian wines.

After famed wine expert, Robert Parker, published his first reviews of Australian in 1999, Mike realized he had a business opportunity to resell the oodles of cases of high scoring wine. He did that for a while and then got an import license to really get the business rolling. He soon became an importer for Two Hands Winery and built a successful wine importing business. That wasn’t enough to slake his thirst for the wine industry.

In 2004 he embarked on his Razor’s Edge moment and started Razor’s Edge Wines and Fetish Wines (more about Fetish in this blog post). He set out to make affordable wines with top quality grapes from McLaren Vale. Razor’s Edge produces about 50,000 cases at a co-op winery in McLaren Vale, Australia. The grapes are sourced from a select group of small growers that farm the Willunga, Padthaway and other sub-regions of McLaren Vale.  Mike has a close relationship with the growers and the Razor’s Edge vineyard manager works with them to determine the right time to harvest and quality of grapes for each varietal.

Razor’s Edge wines are barrel aged in both French and American for varying lengths of time depending on the varietal. The Cabernet is aged in French oak, and the Grenache is stored in neutral barrels to let the juicy fruit flavors shine through.

Here is what you can expect from them.

2008 McLaren Vale Shiraz Grenache

Look The satin lining of a smoking jacket: translucent, bright, Bing cherries with dried cranberries at the edge.
Smell A bowl of boysenberries, raspberry brambles and fresh strawberry preserves.
Taste The ’08 Shiraz Grenache blend comes on like a black cherry Jolly Rancher, powerful, tart and fruity. The mid-weight body has a light mouth-feel and eases into an intermediate-length finish filled with anise, cedar and blackberry. This wine is fruit forward but doesn’t get all Carmen Miranda on you. Drink it with a meal or on its own.
Price $12

2008 McLaren Vale Shiraz

Look Like a surrealist’s interpretation of a razor cut; violets and blood, deep reds and purple, translucent bordering on opaque.
Smell A big nose of zippy blueberry juice and tart blackberry.
Taste This is a signature McLaren Vale shiraz style with lush plum, jammy blackberry, vanilla balanced with mild tannins and zippy alcohol. It has a nice, long finish framed in oak. It is approachable on its own, yet big enough to stand up to a steak dinner.
Price $10

2008 McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon

Look A vivid glass of ripe mulberries, both translucent and bright.
Smell The ’08 Cabernet has a full aroma of tart dried cranberries, and spiced blueberries.
Taste It tastes like a blood red meat served with a peppercorn, baker’s chocolate and blackberry reduction sauce. It is balanced with hints of glycerin and just enough tannins to give it depth. Its finish lingers with oak, but politely doesn’t over stay its welcome.
Price $14

Razor’s Edge wines are distributed in 47 states. If you live in the Dakotas or West Virginia, you are out of luck. It is also distributed throughout Europe, Canada, China and Singapore.

The conversion from Mid-western financier to Aussie winemaker probably wasn’t easy, but these affordable, award-winning wines certainly don’t reveal the winemaker’s background. Mike Opdahl has captured the spirit of McLaren Vale with fine, hand-crafted wines in a boutique winery.

Razor’s Edge Wine provided samples of each wine for review.

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Is China Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon Great Wine?

When you order wine in China, be specific. You may get a glass of high alcohol distilled liquor, such as rice wine, rather than fermented noble grapes. But never fear it is possible to get a decent glass of Chinese red wine. Modern wine production has been going on in China for more than 100 years, but I took an incursion from the French in 1980 when Rémy Martin set up a joint venture for wine production to flourish. And flourish it has. Chinese grape wine sales revenues were approximately $2.8 billion in 2008, a growth of 20 percent over 2007.  Domestic consumption has grown rapidly in the past decade and it is now the fastest growing wine market in the world.

 There are now hundreds of vineyards producing wine, including Grace Vineyards, which I reviewed in September 2010. This month I went back and tried Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon. China Great Wall Wine Company, a subsidiary of COFCO Wines & Spirits Co. Ltd., is one of the top three largest wine producers in China along with Changyu Pioneer and Dynasty, and is the largest exporter. It was established in 1983 and has vineyards in the Shacheng region of China. In addition to making distilled spirits and off-dry wines, the company makes red and white table wine using state of the art wine producing equipment imported from France, Germany and Italy. Great Wall wines have gained notoriety in China and it has been named the official wine products of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and is the provider of the only designated wines for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

Does that mean the wine is any good? Here are my tasting notes.

Look Here is the first clue that this Cabernet is not going to beat premium wines from established wine regions in blind tastings. It looks more like a Pinot Noir than a Cabernet. It is bright, translucent garnet rather than inky, midnight eggplant.   
Smell Great Wall has a timid nose. I had to snort deeply to get a whiff of boysenberry, plum, hickory smoke and bacon.    
Taste It has gentle fruit musings of strawberry and cherry overlaying saline red meat on the mid pallet and then finishes quickly with charcoal and light tannins. Its light bodied and mellow: much less robust than a California Cabernet or a Cab driven Bordeaux.

 Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t readily available in the U.S. I wasn’t able to find it for sale on any of the large online retailers like or It’s certainly not worth the price of a plane ticket to go and taste it in China. But, if you find yourself in China, give it a try to get a baseline measure of where Chinese wine is today. Great Wall Cab is reasonably pleasant and drinkable. Chinese wine producers have a way to go to catch up with the established wine industry, but I don’t doubt they will. Try it again in five years and let me know if I’m right.

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Oscar Worthy: Rubicon Estate CASK Cabernet Sauvignon

Translator: The general would like to know if you will drink a toast with him.

Patton: Thank the general and tell him I have no desire to drink with him or any other Russian son of a bitch.

Translator: [Nervous] I can’t tell him that!

Patton: Tell him, every word.

Translator: [In Russian] He says he will not drink with you or any Russian son of a bitch.

Russian general: [In Russian] Tell him he is a son of a bitch, too. Now!

Translator: [Very nervous] He says he thinks you are a son of a bitch, too.

Patton: [laughing] All right. All right, tell him I’ll drink to that; one son of a bitch to another.

Francis Ford Coppola has made a ton of great movies like Patton, The Godfather trilogy, Virgin Suicides, American Graffiti, etc. He also makes some kick ass wines. The Niebaum Coppola Estate Winery (they changed the name to Rubicon Estate in 2006) has been around since 1975 when Coppola bought the Inglenook winery, and makes both prestige and affordable wines.  He borrowed part of the name from Gustave Niebaum, the founder of Inglenook. I’ll drink to that.

Beautiful Wife and I visited the winery several years ago. It’s a gorgeous estate and worth a visit the next time you are in the Napa Valley. We brought along Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir that I bought with my employee discount to trade for some excellent Niebaum Coppola wines. With a trade, we were lucky enough to score a bottle of 1998 Rubicon Estate CASK Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the prestige wines.

The wine stands out with the 1800 style label printed on thin cork. Pretty cool. Coppola first made the CASK Cabernet Sauvignon in 1995 as a wink and a nod to the hearty Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon. CASK Cabernet is made from 100% organic Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in the storied Rubicon Estate vineyards, Cohn and Chateau, in Rutherford, Calif. These vineyards first started producing fat Cabs in 1871. CASK is aged for 28 months in 500-L American oak puncheons to round out the hearty fruit.

We opened the ’98 CASK to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary and drank this as the sun quietly set over our little rental house on Lake LBJ. We felt a little sentimental drinking it as this wine was bottled the same month we met, 12 years ago and we had also honeymooned in Napa. Ah love. It goes well with a great wine. Ah wine. It goes well with a great love.

Look Dark, inky purple as dark as the Nung River just after sunset in Apocalypse Now.
Smell Fragrant blackcurrant and rosehip like a Sicilian vineyard in late fall in The Godfather.
Taste Big dollops of black cherry jam, raisin, tobacco and cocoa came on as seductively as Johnny Depp in Don Juan DeMarco. It had a nice long finish with smooth tannins and gentle oak.
Price $70 (a hell of a lot cheaper if you can trade for it)

This was a fitting wine for a special occasion. While I like Coppola’s films, I’d choose this over any of them any day.

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Red Wine from Red China: Grace Vineyard

Wine is made in most countries in the world that can sustain grape vines. Those gnarly creepers are pretty hardy, so there aren’t many places that can’t produce wine. I’ve never seen Chinese wine in the shops in the U.S., but in fact there are about 400 wineries there. The Chinese like their drink as much as anyone, so of course there is a market for fine wine. Some estimates suggest that China is the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, with the vast majority of it consumed in the country.

I had the opportunity to go to Beijing this week and of course I had to try the local wine. I ordered a couple glasses of 2008 Grace Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany my lunch.

Grace Vineyard is a family-owned winery, based in Shanxi province, south of Beijing. It was started by Chan Chun Keung with the first plantings in 1997 in 168 acre vineyards and the first vintage was 2001. It is now run by Chun Keung’s oldest daughter, Judy Leissner, who studied at the University of Michigan – and I hold that against her. The winery produces Bordeaux style wines which are aided by its location in spirit at least as its situated approximately on the same latitude as Bordeaux.  OK, so they don’t speak French to the grapes, the climate is cold in the winter and hot and wet in the summer, and the soil is more loamy, but they at least grow some of the same grapes that are prominent in that famed French region including Cabernet Franc (24%), Merlot (30%), Cabernet Sauvignon (38%), oh and also Chardonnay (8%).   

Grace bottles nine wines categorized in three quality levels: Flower Series, aka Vineyard Series (Rosé, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon); Bronze Series (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Winemakers Selection – a Bordeaux blend); Gold Series (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot). They produce about 700,000 bottles a year. I tasted the ’08 Vineyard Series Cab, which is made to be drunk young. Hmm, young and drunk. Rings a bell.

Look Dark ruby with a tinge of age at the edge like the smoggy midnight sky in Beijing.  
Smell A box of raisins left in the sun a lunch box for a few days: warm with aged sweetness.
Taste A front of soft plum, quickly followed by prune on the mid-palette and slipping away in a fast finish with mild insinuations of oak.  
Price 45.00 RMB/ glass or about $6. Bottles go for about $28 retail.

Did I buy a few bottles to bring home with me? Nope. Would I drink it again in my next visit to China? Yep.

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