Verona ~ Amarone: peeling away the layers in my mind ~ parte terza

Amarone della Valpolicella is the long of it; Amarone is the short version. It’s an Italian, dry red wine that’s typically rich in flavor. “Amarone,” in Italian, translates to “the Great Bitter.” This is to distinguish it from Recioto, which is produced in the same region.

  • Passito ~ This is a generic term for wine that is made from dried grapes. It’s typically sweet, but it can also be dry.
  • Recioto ~ This one is a sweet red or white wine that is made from dried grapes. It’s a form of  passito, but it is sweeter.

The recipe blend (if you can call it a recipe) is to make this wine in the following way:

In December 1990, Amarone was assigned its Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status. On December 4, 2009, Amarone and Recioto della Valpolicella were promoted to the status of Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).

What does this wine taste like? Never having tasted it, I can’t even begin to tell you, yet. So, now what I’m going to do is gather some great resources that have explained their experiences. Let’s whet our palates together, and in my next #IAMarone story, I will have tasted it and be ready to “tell all.”

For now… my sources. What you’ll see is consistently great scores, too. I’m going to stay with the same brand, since it was Cesari Fine Wines of Verona that encouraged me to learn more about Amarone. I’ve since learned that they are a leader in this area of wine.

2005 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Bosan – Score 94 points

The Wine Advocate

Another monumental achievement, the 2005 Amarone della Valpolicella Bosan shows just a glimmer of its age with aromas of tobacco and root beer that segue to dark fruit and spice. The Bosan vineyard is planted to 80% Corvina and 20% Rondinella with the Pergola training system on clay and chalky-alluvial soils. It sits tight on the palate with thick extraction and a touch of sweetness followed by savory spice. Polished tannins stand at the back. Bosan can be consumed now, or you could wait ten years or more. Drink 2014-2025.

I am surprised to discover that Cesari has not been previously reviewed in The Wine Advocate. Deborah Cesari and her father Franco now run the company founded by grandfather Gerardo Cesari in 1936. They own vineyards in Valpolicella and Lugana with four historic single-vineyard sites: Bosan, Bosco, Jema and Centofilari. They just bought three more hectares in San Ciriaco Negrar. The house style, executed by enologist Luigi Biemmi, definitely veers toward the international side of the Amarone spectrum (medium-toast French barrique is preferred). But their wines are exceptionally clean and balanced, revealing unique personalities across the board. In the ten years I have tasted Cesari, I don’t remember finding the overtly raisiny or oxidative qualities you sometimes get with Amarone. This flight with excellent picks from the 2010, 2009, 2007 and 2005 vintages make for an impressive debut in these pages.

–Robert Parker

Well, that sounds yummy and promising. Let’s find another…


2006 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classic0 – Score 92 points

Wine Spectator

This fresh, juicy red is driven by a rich note of black licorice snap, mixed with damson plum and crushed currant flavors that show accents of freshly ground spices—anise, clove and cardamom. Features fine balance and polish throughout, with a sweet smoke note and subtle tannins that build on the finish. Drink now through 2026. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. 1,500 cases imported.

–Alison Napjus

Again, very tempting… I’m ready for a black licorice snap. How about you? Another one…

Wine & Spirits

2001 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – Score 90 points

This wine’s black cherry flavors are distinctly Veronese, a clean line running between black mushroom and rose perfume. The texture is built on tannins as fine as cocoa dust, a contrast to the voluptuous fruit. Serve it with roasts, particularly wild boar.
Opici Import Co., Glen Rock, NJ

2000 Cesari  Amarone della Valpolicella Il Bosco – Score 93 points

A big, delicious Amarone, this builds dense and luscious cherry flavors into a modern, approachable style. Impressive in its balance of fruit and mineral tannins, this is ready to drink with pasta in a meaty wild mushroom ragù. It will thrive over the next several years.

–No author listed

The Final one, Wine Enthusiast

2006 Cesari Il Bosco (Amarone della Valpolicella Classico) – Score 94 points

The Cesari family has perfected its formula for achieving pure pleasure in liquid form. This is superstar Amarone, with loads of chewy, ripe fruit, decadent dark chocolate, leather, moist pipe tobacco and candied raspberry flavors. Even with all of the richness, extraction and deliciousness, this is an elegant wine. Drink after 2018.

Certainly, this is a delicious brand, when comparing the thoughts of my wine colleagues. Not, I must learn for myself. How about you? Are you down with that?

–No author listed




France,Malbec,Movie,Wine,Wine of the Week

Wine of the Week ~ 2011 Domaine du Théron Cahors Malbec Cuvée Prestige

2011 Domaine du Théron Cahors Malbec Cuvée Prestige

I popped the cork and sweet cherries filled the air. The color that I poured into my glass was purpley black. I’ve never seen one this color before… Intriguing, really intriguing. Definitely Old World in nose. This one is making me smack my lips before I even taste it. I believe I’ve begun yearning for Old World wines. A touch of earth, not sterilized from the New World over filtering/fining processes. The familiar aromas; a touch of barnyard, lots of ripe plums, and low alcohol… Yes, only 13 percent. I don’t like being overwhelmed by high alcohol. I like a kinder, gentler touch in reds. This is a 2011 Domaine du Théron Malbec, now nearly six years old. Pinch me…

Purchased Photo: Copyright: pase4 / 123RF Stock Photo ~ Autumn view from above to Pont Valentre, Cahors, France

HISTORY: Founded by the Romans in the heart of a meandering Lot River, and protected by high hills, Cahors, is as picture perfect was is was in the Middle Ages. It’s developed into a flourishing city of commerce and crafts.

SAMPLE: HB Wine Merchants

Cahors France: Located in the southwest of France, Cahors is on the Lot River in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. It’s a region east of Bordeaux and known as the birthplace of Malbec. This wine is 100 percent Malbec from Cahors, and is a reserve wine called Cuvée Prestige. It’s made by a small estate producer founded in the mid 1970s. HB says, “This wine has a unique style and is a bit softer and more accessible that the traditional Malbec from this area. This means it brings immediate drinking pleasure to the consumer without the need for five extra years of bottle aging and softening.” I agree.

I tasted it and immediately got the dry cherries, the long, toasty finish of French oak, and that the tannins had softened significantly. There’s still a lot of life left in this wine. It has no telltale color change from age around its edges. Get your hands onto this wine for a real European treasure, notably from France.

This one deserves a movie. It’s going to 100 degrees in Russian River Valley today, so I’m going to take my cue and pair this experience with something from France. Cahors is considered one of the most beautiful villages of France. What I found…

The Hundred-Foot Journey: What a fun movie…

Starring the very gifted actress Helen Mirren, along with Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon… The story begins in Mumbai, where the Kadam family is running a restaurant. The second-oldest son Hassan (Manish Dayal) was getting ready to replace his mother (Juhi Chawla), as the restaurant’s main cook. Unfortunately, a mob attacks with firebombs (over an election dispute), and their restaurant is destroyed. Father Kadam (Om Puri) and his family evacuate the guests, but the mother is killed. They begin a journey seeking asylum in Europe. Failed attempts have them finally arriving in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the Midi-Pyrénées. The father learns of a restaurant that’s availble, directly across the street from Le Saule Pleureur. The owner Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) is the owner and asks the Kadams to leave the private property. The father buys it, against he wishes of his family, and names it “Maison Mumbai.” What evolves is completely delicious served to all of us watching the movie’s story evolve.

What struck me most were the colors in this movie… As Joyful and intoxicating as this picture I found to represent the story.

Three cheers for a great wine and moving pairing… Bringing in the Old World (India) to a new world (France), when the “New World” (France) for us, is considered the “Old World” when it comes to wine. It’s all relative, n’est ce pas?


Oregon,Oregon Pinot Gris,Pinot Gris,Wine

Oregon Pinot Gris ~ Oregon’s Second Largest Grape Crop

IMAGE Copyright: rfoxfoto / 123RF Stock Photo

Pinot Gris is a mutation of Pinot Noir. In a blind tasting, when placed with other white varieties, look for the telltale pink rim around the edge of the glass. You’ll guess this one correctly every time, and people will think you’re a genius for being spot on.

Harvey Steiman, of Wine Spectator magazine, refers to as Oregon’s “unsung hero.”

Robert Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, “This is the hardest wine to find, as virtually all of it is snapped up before it has a chance to leave Oregon. Fruitier and more floral than chardonnay, Pinot Gris, from the world’s most underrated great white wine, can be a delicious, opulent, smoky wine with every bit as much character and even more aging potential than Chardonnay.”

It’s Oregon’s second largest grape variety, pulling up the rear as a white wine offering. It’s not Chardonnay, as some would imagine, given Chardonnay’s white grape singular popularity… Nope… not in a heartbeat. Oregonians have been pursuing Pinot Gris since its earliest days of planting Vitis vinifera. Today, many, many vintners in Oregon craft this genetic mutation of the Pinot Noir grape… Pinot Gris, as it’s called in Oregon and France, and rare Pinot Grigio examples, as it’s called in Northern Italy, while others call it Grauburgunder and Ruländer.

At the 2011 Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium at Oak Knoll Winery, Keynote Speaker Paul Gregutt of Wine Enthusiast magazine said, “Stop with the Alsace and Italy comparisons. It’s time to talk Oregon!” That got me to thinking that I needed to study both first, in order to know how to move the comparisons away from both regions as a point of similarities… Hence the first understanding of position.

Known to flourish in cool climates and high altitudes, first latitudes:

  • Oregon ~ Willamette, 45 degrees
  • Alsace ~ 48 degrees, 30 minutes
  • Northern Italy: Friuli-Venezia Giulia ~ 46 degrees latitude

Next, elevations:

  • Oregon~ Has definitely got the cool climate thing going on, and in some places also has some of the higher altitudes, but Willamette Valley does not have high elevations. Perhaps its closer proximity to sea level is one of the defining elements for Oregon’s Pinot Gris’ terroir differentiations; i.e., being able to thrive without extreme high altitudes, gathering more earth notes perhaps? Portland’s elevation is only 20 feet above sea level, for instance, and Willamette Valley is only a 20 minute drive to the west.
  • Alsace ~ 574 to 702 feet
  • Northern Italy/Friuli ~ Starting elevation is about 2,000 feet.

Where most Pinot Gris is produced in Oregon is about 20 feet above sea level (example: Oak Knoll Winery in Hillsboro, the first winery just outside of Portland traveling eastward), to 400 feet at Christopher Bridge Winery in Oregon City (36 miles southeast of Hillsboro).

The above numbers tell me that while in the neighborhood of other Pinot Gris wine grape growing regions, Oregon is the highest latitude and the least elevation. So, Paul Gregutt is right… Comparisons won’t do anything but hold Pinot Gris back from its own definitions.

From www.City-Data.com: Oregon – Topography

At the state’s western edge, the Coast Range, a relatively low mountain system, rises from the beaches, bays, and rugged headlands of the Pacific coast. Between the Coast and Cascade ranges lie fertile valleys, the largest being the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s heartland. The two-thirds of the state lying east of the Cascade Range consists generally of arid plateaus cut by river canyons, with rolling hills in the north-central portion giving way to the Blue Mountains in the northeast. The Great Basin in the southeast is characterized by fault-block ridges, weathered buttes, and remnants of large prehistoric lakes.

Oregon Pinot Gris… I’ve not really had the pleasure as a singular focus until now; but here it is, and here I am truly discovering it for the first time, from the generations that know a lot more about you, Gris, and who have come before me. I’ve not had a Northwest assignment of this magnitude before, and yet here I am, Peter Mitham saying that “ Jo Diaz might be called the éminence Gris .” What a lovely crown. May I wear it with the dignity that it deserves, and now the glasses we’re asking others to put on… The Gris glasses. Gone are the rose colored (right here by my heart, though, because any minute they could be calling me), but the Gris are for here and right now for this Gris moment. Time to get really serious with another variety.

THE WINE: Pinot Grigio can be light and lively, or it can even be robust… All in the hands of able winemakers… For me, from the ones I’ve tasted during these winter months, it’s the hope of spring, and I can only marvel how a variety so ready to refresh – and it does, believe me, regardless of the weather – Pinot Grigio really does awaken my taste buds. It’s got Northern Italian latitude (46 degrees for Friuli and 45 degrees for Willamette Valley), blended with Oregon’s overhanging, moist terroir and attitude. It only hints at Oregon’s earth notes of fog and damp forests, while showing off its creatore di vino. The range is from light with lots of minerality, to medium bodied and fruity.


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Wine, Women, and Songs

If you’ve got the wine and you’ve got the woman, what are the songs that get it all in the mood?

Well, this all began with Let It Wine (from Italy = IT) contacting me in newsletter form. Their tagline: Dedicated to anyone in love with or just curious about the vast universe of wine! One of their stories is “Songs Dedicated to Wine.” I thought, that’s cool, and have now followed it through as a good topic. I’ve taken a few of their suggestions to pique your curiosity, but I also took it a bit further searching on “songs about wine” on YouTube. Then, I hit a compilation, created by Rebecca Litovsky. It’s the last YouTube connection at the bottom of this page. Well worth your time, it’s just over a half hour of listening, with some really great stuff.

Rebecca Litovsky wrote about her video

A compilation of my favorite wine songs from different genres, with my own photos from Napa Valley, California; Tuscany, Italy; and Mendoza, Argentina. The perfect video to watch and listen to, wine glass in hand. For travel tips, visit my blog: Rebecca’s International Kitchen

Wine, Women, and Songs…

I’ve found ones on YouTube without ads to start the video. I don’t enjoy having to wait. So no having to wait…unless YouTube has changed the conditions. (I apologize, if that’s happened.)

My first one, because I’ve got the man, and I know this one to be personally true, is

  • Joni Mitchell, I Could Drink a Case of You

  • Marvin Gaye, I Heard It Through The Grapevine

  • UB40, Red, Red Wine

  • Eric Clapton, Bottle of Red Wine

  • Franz Ferdinand, Wine In The Afternoon

  • Rebecca Litovsky’s compilation with songs of wine in them from Rebecca Litovsky, Published on Jun 27, 2014.

It includes the following:

  • Days of Wine and Roses, Frank Sinatra
  • W-I-N-E, The Hollywood Flames
  • Tiny Bubbles, Don Ho
  • Summer Wine, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood
  • A Steel Guitar and a Glass of Wine, Paul Anka
  • Strawberry Wine, Dena Carter
  • Elderberry Wine, Elton John
  • Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology, Jack Johnson
  • Two more bottles of Wine, Emmy Lou Harris

I’m ending this list at 12 minutes into Rebecca’s compilation. She’s got a (little over) a half hour production. Check it out. It’s well worth your time, even if it’s only background music. It’s all dedicated to wine, from this woman, and songs.




Imports,Italy,Pinot Grigio,Pinot Gris,Wine,Wine Making,Wine of the Week,Winemaker,Winemaking

Wine of the Week ~ 2015 Pinot Grigio Peter Zemmer

A crisp, clean, Pinot Grigio machine that’s an instant winner. Need a little chill after working in the garden, like I just did? This will straighten out all of the kinks and give you extreme satisfaction as you look over your latest seasonal developments. Moments like this put the moments into memorable…

2015 Pinot Grigio Peter Zemmer

I opened the bottle of wine, Jose came into the kitchen. “Whatcha got for a white?”

“Peter Zemmer’s Pinot Grigio,” I said.

He said, “I don’t know that one?”

“What? He defines it.”

He swirled, sniffed, and then sipped it. He easily agreed. “This is really good.”

“Yup,” I said. “It really is.”

We were home. No need for a designated driver. Need I say more?

[Purchased image: Copyright: janoka82 / 123RF Stock Photo]

Location, Location, Location ~ Alpine and Mediterranean

The 2015 Pinot Grigio Peter Zemmer comes from a region called Alto Adige in Italy. This variety defines Alto Adige as its signature white wine. An Alpine climate, Pinot Grigio experiences “many days of sunshine, cool evening temperatures, and wonderful soil to create crisp, mineral laden, citrus and complex Pinot Grigio.” According to HB Wine Merchants,  “Low yields and hand production make the difference! This wine is made from a few vineyards of differing elevations at the estate to coax even more complexity from the wine.”

Peter Zemmer Winery is located in Cortina. Cortina d’Ampezzo easily referred to as just Cortina, a small town/commune in the heart of the southern Alps, in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. Just breathe the air! Does this have something to do with the cleanliness and crispness of this white wine? You bet it does; terroir, terroir, terroir…

This story is too great not to share and would be a shame to recreate it. From the Peter Zemmer Website:


The locality of Cortina s.s.d.v. is first mentioned in a document dating back over 700 years. The settlement is probably even older as acknowledged in the document. The names Curtinego, Curtinie, or Cortine, mentioned in Latin documents from the late 13th and early 14th centuries, found their German equivalents in Curtinie or Cortinie in 1288.

The name probably stems from a corruption of the Latin curtus dominica, meaning court of the king or lord.

With only 600 inhabitants, today Cortina s.s.d.v. is among the smallest communities in Alto Adige – South Tyrol. It is the last village with a German-speaking majority before the southern provincial border with Trentino and the only village in the South Tyrolean Lowlands/’Unterland’ situated in the middle of the valley floor, surrounded by fruit orchards and vineyards near the Adige River.

Our surroundings are both alpine and Mediterranean. The cultivation and growth of a wide spectrum of vineyards is made possible by different geographical positions, fertile grounds, and various microclimatic conditions.

SAMPLE: HB Wine Merchants



Jo's World,Juicy Tale,Travel,Wine,Wine Business

What NOT to do if you’re a writer ~ A True Juicy Tale

The statement below (on Facebook within a private group) inspired the following blog story… It’s a secret that I’ve long held; and, it’s “What NOT to do if you’re a writer.” This became the title, when I thought about how to position this memory. I’ve held it too long, I need to just let it go as part of my wine journal. Some stories are simply unreal (but very real). This is one of those stories. Since the person has long since gone, I respected the privacy of this one long enough. If you’re a writer, try not to be this guy, okay?

From Monday’s Blog Story ~ This one veered to the left

Sarah May Grunwald: There is also the other side. When people are posting blogs like “How to travel and eat for free” etc.

It is one thing to invite, and keep those things in mind. But I literally get at least 5 emails a day from “bloggers” asking for free trips. These aren’t people who I have heard of half the time, and they just happen to want to come to Georgia (the country). So they think their 1200 followers on Instagram merits me spending $3000 on them.

And, this one is yet another story on “Who has the nerve to asks for trips?”

Jo Diaz: Instagram? That’s very funny. Happy I haven’t had to deal with that one.

Sarah May Grunwald (Taste Georgia): Sad but true! Anyway, I am dealing with an entirely different beast, which is travel. I could probably handle these requests for events, but with travel, as a small company I just can’t. When I work in tandem with government agencies I can.

Jo Diaz: Travel is a completely different story. That one is a tricky beast. I had one guy on a train – LUXURY… It was for five days. Cost us $35,000 for the week. We gave him the queen suite… Queen size bed, private bath with a shower included. All meals, traveled from Seattle to LA with winemakers, paid him $1,000 for joining us. A glossy wine mag was going to pay him another $3,000 for the finished story… We stopped in cities along the way and had trade tastings. After a month, I asked him how it was going. He wrote, “I didn’t find anything to write about.” “What?” Each of the six winemakers on board paid $6,000 and had expectations. Don’t get me started…

Helene Kremer (Sedulous Marketing): Jo WoW!!

Jo Diaz: Yeah, WoW is “sorta” right… I can only tell THIS side story now, feeling okay about it, since he’s passed on. The worst of it, and I’ll never understand why, Helene, is THIS story with him. We had him out to dinner at a wonderful Portland restaurant. My daughter was also working with me on this trip. He leaned over to my daughter and whispered to her, “Do you how easy it would be to ruin your mother’s reputation?” She was stunned, then she shared with me. I was stunned – and still am to this day – wondering why he had his panties in such a twist.

Helene Kremer: He sounds like he was unhinged.

Jo Diaz Yeah… Too young to die, but perhaps better for his tormented soul.

Becca Gomez Farrell (The Gourmez): OMG, that sounds wretched, Jo!

Jo Diaz: At the time, all I could do was shake my head. When he passed away, I had a sigh of relief… I try to be good to everyone. I could only imagine that I reminded him of a strong mother? Whatever it was, Becca Yeamans-Irwin, it wasn’t pretty.




Bordeaux,Cabernet Sauvignon,Education,France,Italy,Malbec,Merlot,Napa,Sonoma,Wine,Wine Making,Zinfandel

A Lesson in Old World and New World Wines

Some believe that winemakers have a sense of their wines and sommeliers have a sense of their place. Let’s explore that through wines that I tasted side by side with a group of wine pros with Old World and New World comparatives.

Old World ~ Primitivo

2008 Primitivo Rosso IGT Puglia ~ With the high altitude of the Apulia, Italy vineyard for this wine, the Primitivo produces a low harvest yield. As a result, the owner/winemaker Alberto Antonini pays very close attention and gives special care to the Botromagno vineyard’s fruit. The alcohol level on this one was 14.1 percent. Not over the top with alcohol, this classic Italian red had gorgeous – even elegant – flavors of black cherries, spice and herbs, and a hint of tobacco. A great food-friendly wine for not only pasta and antipasti dishes, but it will also do well with a grilled sirloin steak, and it’s very affordable.

New World ~ Zinfandel

2009 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel ~ Don’t let the simple appellation listing of “Sonoma” fool you, versus stating a Dry Creek or Alexander Valley Zin, for instance. This fruit is coming from both appellations, but they can’t label it that way. It must – because of the two AVAs – be labeled Sonoma County. So… get ready for a 15 percent alcohol blockbuster, and fire up the grill for tri-tips. Zin as I know it… this one is rich and jammy with blackberry fruit. I associate Zins with a briar patch, having first been introduced to Dry Creek zins, while working at Belvedere. I almost expect them to be big and bold, and this is the one red wine that, as it’s gotten even bigger over the years, I’ve not minded. (Maybe it’s because I’ve also developed a Petite Sirah palate along the way, too. So many zins get a dollop of Petite to give them more textures, flavors, and tannins.) Whatever the reason, this Zinfandel is a classic example of what it should be.


New World ~ Merlot in French oak

2008 Clos du Val, Napa Valley ~ The owner of this winery is larger than life in personality, and perhaps that’s why the flavors in the bottle probably are, too. Seriously, we are what we drink, just as we are what we eat… It’s all the same, with the difference of wine being liquid, while the other is solid. It’s all fuel for our senses, bodies, and souls. This wine is 88 percent Merlot and 12 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. It spent 17 months in French oak barrels (so, more old world charm than new world flavors). A full bodied wine with black fruit character, I really enjoyed the lingering finish of dark chocolate.

New World ~ Cabernet

2007 Lancaster Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ~ This wine has had lots of critical acclaim, doing very well, because it’s got that New World jam going on. Great nose, rich palate with black fruit, including cassis, and I loved the cigar and tobacco finish. The 2007 vintage was a classic one for California, and it was really fun to revisit a wine from this vintage. If you’re looking for a wine that’s been aging well to share with your friends, or for a meal with your best friend, find this wine.


Old World ~ Malbec

1999 Chateau Simard Saint-Émilion ~ This wine exhibited for me what I was now coming to recognize as Old World, between New and Old World styles; namely, the rich, rounded edges to the wines. I especially loved the earth note aromatics, due to climatic and/or terroir conditions. A beautiful wine, don’t even think that its age ~ a 1999 ~ has diminished it in any way… If you can find this wine, and you can as it’s now on the market, this affordable Bordeaux needs to be purchased ASAP. Have this one next to another of its New World type, and you’ll quickly get the differences between Old and New.

New World ~ Malbec

2010 Amalaya Malbec from Argentina ~ What a delight to know that my friend and winemaker Randle Johnson (The Hess Collection) is the director of winemaking for this wine. Randle is in charge of Hess’s Artezin Wine series (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignan). It makes sense to me that he’d be the one to head up this Argentine project and direct its winemaking. Spicy and bright tannins, this wine represents the unique soil, weather, and soul in Argentina’s Northern Calchaqui Valley. The grapes for the Malbec were harvested in small 30 pound boxes. This is hand crafting at its best; from the very beginning, once the growing season and viticulturists have done all that they can, winemaking continues the seamless, caring process. A very deeply colored wine, I loved the dark cherries and spicy pepper of this wine, especially on the finish. Enjoy this wine with a last cheese course (mild to medium cheeses), or fire up the grill. You won’t be disappointed with this flavorful interpretation of Malbec. (75% Malbec, 10% Cab, 10% Syrah, 5% Tannat)



For me, and this is just a personal observation,

  • Old World wines have a classic, more subtle style. They’re reserved and more conservative, pairing well with more traditional comfort foods.
  • New World wines, most especially the reds, are bright, happy expressions of their fruit. They remind me of how elated I was once I hit Portuguese soil… Loving the old, but being the new kid on the block. They seem to pair better with more daring dishes; just my humble opinion, because of their higher alcohols.

In my moods, I swing both ways, so now I know better which wine to pull from the shelves and buy from wine lists. You’ll have to also set up your own experiment, which can be great fun. Start your engines!



Historical Wine Grape Variety: Mission

The following was a final project that I wrote for my Enology class at Santa Rosa Junior College, taught by Pat Henderson, winemaker for Valley of the Moon. It was regarding the Mission Grape’s role in California Wine Viticultural history. After my presentation, which included a tasting of a light but flavorful Malvadino Mission wine, Pat asked for permission to use this piece in future classes… Permission granted. You, too, are also able to benefit from this history.

[This photo is of the famed Santa Barbara Mission, which I purchased. I’ve never been there.]

So, today, I’m not going to rewrite what I can’t improve. In reviewing my footnotes, I found a New Englander friend, Mark Miller, still very much alive and on the move. I used one of Mark’s books for historical reference with this project. He inspired me, truth be told. Mark’s most famous for his Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mark made the big “Wagons Ho” westward move years ago, and today he’s still out discovering the world. Sharing food and wine with him is a very memorable adventure. If fact, my sister Bonnie Bissonnette, who normally doesn’t taste wine, made an exception as Mark fed us and shared a couple of his personal Burgundies. Both of them came from single barrel productions that he purchased directly from wineries in France… How memorable and fitting for today. If you’re not lucky enough to grab that kind of attention from Mark Miller for an evening, then find a way to simply taste his food in one of restaurants world wide. This still proves to be a true culinary delight that will be just as memorable for you.

The Mission Period pre-California (1568-1662) – The earliest winemaking in the continental US is credited to the Spaniards of Santa Elena, South Carolina around 1568. The first wine grapes in New Mexico were planted by Franciscan missionaries at Mission of Socorro on the Rio Grande about 1626. In 1662, Franciscan fathers came from Mexico into El Paso Valley, Texas, where they established the San Ysleta Mission. They came with cuttings of the Mission grapes, strapped to the backs of their pack mules. Because the climate there was so drastically different from the United States’ East Coast, the grapes flourished under these perfect, viticultural conditions, i.e., dry, hot, stony soils. The earliest successful viticulture was established in the 17th century in the great Spanish province of New Mexico, stretching from El Paso, Texas to the Pacific Ocean.

The Mission Period in California (1769-1834) – In the 1700’s, New Spain (Mexico) was home to many Spanish missionaries who were determined to convert the new world’s heathens to Christianity. Establishing a mission had specific criteria; i.e., the site must not only be near woods and water, but it must also be on a rise of ground so that missionaries could clearly see the arrival of ships. Additionally, there needed to be open fields for both grazing animals and planting their food items. The items not only consisted of fruits and vegetables for their meals, but also included grapes for their sacramental wine and their brandy. Once fruit and vegetables were planted, and the vines were in the ground, they were tended and watered by their Indian converts.

Spaniard Father Junipero Serra had a dream of founding a chain of missions up the coast of Alta California. It is he who is known to have brought the first mission grapevines from Baja, California in an arduous, overland expedition to San Diego. Padre Serra established 21 missions stretching 650 miles along El Camino Real from San Diego to Sonoma, today’s California Coastal Highway 101. Each site was set at a one-day’s walking journey apart, and became way-stops for California’s first tourists. “To facilitate trade and communication, each mission was built the distance of one day’s ride or hard walk from the next.” *1

The mission grape is believed to be of Mexican and/or South American (Argentina) origin, related to the Spanish Criolla, and the Pais varietal of Chile. In the early 2000’s when I wrote this report, there are 36,872 acres planted to the Mission variety. Prior to being planted in California, the Mission was first grown in Mexico for 200 years. Criolla means “a New World scion of an Old World parent, adapted to the new condition.” *2 The grape flourished in California, producing a sturdy vine that didn’t require staking, and ripened well in almost any climate. The exception was Mission Dolores in San Francisco, whose climate was, and still is, consistently cool and damp.

Padre Serra arrived in San Diego on July 16, 1769, and established his first mission, San Diego de Alcala. Once the flag had been raised, the tireless Padre Serra, who was small and slight in stature, continued up the coast of California to establish 20 more missions. By 1823, 54 years later, the last of the Spanish missions had been established, stretching along the coast of California from San Diego to Fort Ross, located in Sonoma County, and under the command of Mariano Vallejo. The mission/forts were centers of civilization, trade and industry, manufacturing a wide variety of goods from wine and brandy, leather and saddles, to woolen items and soap. These commodities were traded for objects they could not manufacture; i.e., pots and pans, lighting fixtures, and musical instruments. In 1834, under duress of the padres enjoying the good life, by the provisions of the Secularization Act, missions were turned over to civil government.

In the fall of 1769 in San Diego, Indians were taught to plant, then to tend Padre Serra’s first grapevines. These vines bore abundantly in September of 1772, and the Indians were then taught to make wine. It was fiesta time at Mission San Diego with the first vintage. Mexicans and Indians hurried to press the grapes. The press was a cowhide suspended from four corner posts set in the ground. Baskets of grapes came up, balanced on the heads of scurrying Indians. When they arrived, the baskets were handed to a man on a short ladder that emptied the grapes into the cowhide. When it was full enough, two Indians with scrubbed feet began to trample the grapes. When the grapes became pulp, it was put into cowhide bags for fermenting. More grapes were then put into the press for stomping. The wine was racked into new skin bags for storage.

The missionaries’ contributions to the wine industry were many:

  • Brought the Mission vine to CA
  • Trained growers and winemakers
  • Proved that CA is a world-class winegrape growing region
  • 1986 — 1,800 acres located in CA
  • Links the modern industry to its origins
  • Likes hot country
  • Is very productive, yielding good, off-dry wine
  • The Mission grape remains a significant crop in CA, though rarely seen as a varietal name
  • Created a profitable business, a glimpse of how the future might become
  • Much easier to preserve in difficult conditions than low-alcohol dry wines

Mission wine, which has thus become practically extinct in the second quarter of the century, nevertheless had a curious survival…In the 1920’s, in Paris, an English wine lover encountered an expatriate Pole who told him at the turn of the century, at Fukier’s, the best restaurant in Warsaw, “the choicest and most expensive dessert wine came from California.” The Englishman, finding himself not long after Warsaw, remembered what he had been told, went to the famous restaurant Fukier and asked for its California wine. He naturally supposed that it must be California wine such as other restaurants had, and was curious to know how it could be both the most expensive and the best available in a distinguished restaurant. The waiter told him that, fortunately, there were a few bottles still left, some of which were brought to the curious dinner: “Imagine my surprise when I found that they were of wine from the Franciscan missions of California grown during the Spanish period, a century and a half ago. The wine was light brown in color, rather syrupy, resembling a good sweet Malaga in taste, and in good condition.” *3

Judgment of early Mission wine was harsh, as fermenting and aging in skin produced a wine of inferior quality versus the now familiar barrel and stainless steel fermenting and aging. “One judgment, expressed in 1827,” the grapes of Los Angeles, Captain Duhaut-Cilly wrote, were quite good, but the wine and brandy made from them were “quite inferior, and I think this inferiority is to be attributed to the making rather than to the growth.” *4

Famous California Mission Viticulturists:

  • In 1841, George Yount (the first white settler in Napa Valley) planted at his Caymus Rancho, among other fruit, a vineyard of Mission grapes, and made wine from them for his own enjoyment and that of frequenting guests, using the Spanish method of storing in hides. This planting was located near what later became Yountville.
  • British-born John Patchett cleared some land a mile west of Clay and Calistoga Streets in Napa, and planted a vineyard of Mission grapes for winemaking, hiring a German gentleman by the name of Charles Krug to be his winemaker.
  • Charles Krug, revered as the founding father of Napa County’s winemaking, learned the craft in the town of Sonoma from Agoston Haraszthy, personal friend of Mariano Vallejo.
  • Gottlieb Groezinger, a very prolific vintner, bought land from Henry Boggs in Yountville, which is now part of the Vintage 1870 Mall. By 1873, Groezinger was producing 160,000 gallons of wine; 100,000 of it from the Mission grape.
  • J.H. McCord, a ’49er, had a winery, Oak Grove on the corner of Highway 29 and East Zinfandel Lane in Napa Valley. McCord claimed that his vineyard of Mission grapes was the oldest in the Valley, and was producing 50,000 gallons per year by 1890.
  • Los Angeles vintners: John Chapman planted a vineyard of 4,000 Mission grapevines in Los Angeles in 1824. Dutchman Juan Domingo (a.k.a., Johann Groningen), Frenchmen, Louis Bouchet and Victor Prudhomme were among the first viticulturists of influence. One of the most important Los Angeles vintners was Jean Louis Vignes. Vignes was from the winemaking region Cadillac in France, and in 1833 imported European varietals from France, thereby laying claim to being the first American to plant vitis vinifera. Mexican viticulturists were Manuel Requena, Tiburico Tapia, Ricardo Vejar and Tomas Yorba. One estimate gives Los Angeles 100,000 vines as early as 1831: such a quantity would have yielded 30,000 gallons of wine a year.

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PR 101 – The Art and Costs of Being on “The List”

Who’s on “The List” at any wine event?

First, it’s the primary influencers. They’re invited and the hosts are happy to have them. They’ll attend, and today’s social media responses don’t even have to wait for a paper to be printed (dinosaur), or a blog story to be written (so yesterday). Today, it’s Instagram and the onus is on you, the observing world, to write the dialogue. And so, the following evolved among people related to wine.

The Art of Being on “The List”

Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley (winepredator.com): I live 60 or so miles (1-3 hour drive) from downtown LA. I am on a number of lists and get invited to events, trade and consumer alike. Tomorrow I was invited to one, a really cool Rhone wine event with seminars and more, and then I learned about another. I figured it was worth trying to do both: one trade and one consumer. A friend in the trade who helps me with food and notes for my blog is going with me to the Rhone event, and they are excited to have us. At the other event, they will admit me 90 minutes into the consumer tasting and my colleague would pay full price or I could leave her on the street while I go to the event. Am I out of line with my response? (Yes I sent it already…)

Sarah May Grunwald (Taste Georgia) I don’t know the nature of the invite, but honestly don’t know why you would think your friend is entitled to something she is not invited to. As a business owner in wine/food travel, I get media requests all the time from people who want to come to Georgia. It is expensive to organise events, let alone travel. When I did some wine tastings in the states last year, I invited a few people (some from this group) to the tastings, and then the requests came in to allow partners, friends, etc. I am just mentioning it because it is not just one person who is asking for some sort of favor, it is usually many. If they organized the event to be a consumer event and organized it in a specific way I don’t really understand why you would think that you’d get special treatment just because you traveled. See clarification from Sarah at the end of this stream, for her thinking. It’s worth it.

Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley: I think you make a good point Sarah, and I don’t usually ask for a plus one because usually no one can go. And when I have asked for a plus one, it’s never been a big deal. But in this case, the two of us were already going to be in LA a few miles away. I wasn’t going to ditch her –leave her on the street or in a bar somewhere — to go their event.

Sarah May Grunwald: It is totally understandable, I just wanted to give you my perspective from the other side.

Jo Diaz: When I put on events, I always allow a partner to attend. It’s good PR… But then, that’s my first job, and holding events is my second. Bringing someone with me to someone else’s event also allows for a designated driver. Can you afford to have a DUI professionally? I can’t. Steve Heimoff taught me that a long time ago, and I’m glad he did. I’ve always loved having you at events. I will even arrange for childcare, or send a car for someone special.

The Cost of Being on “The List”

Here’s the one thing missing from most organizers’ understanding, if they aren’t a writer:

  • Journalists
    • Paid to travel
    • Paid to write.
    • They have benefits: health care, food costs, mileage, etc.
  • Bloggers (As a publicist, I’m paid over $100/hour, so when I go to an event that’s in San Francisco, for instance, here’s what I begin to lose, with none of the journalist benefits
    • 3 hours of travel time = $450
    • Gas and mileage on my car = $30
    • Bridge toll = $7
    • Dinner = $40 (very modest, right, in SF?)
      • This is $527, so far.
    • 3 hours of the event = $450. So, before I even begin to write my blog story, it’s rounded to $1,000.
    • Then I spend 5 hours writing the story… Yes, I takes me that long to write over 1,000 words that have been researched, photos processed, story developed, links provided.
      • That’s $750.
      • Total, rounded = $1,750.

The organizers get a value of $1,750 from me. If they can’t give me a second ticket, I can’t afford to take a day off.

Clarification from Sarah May Grunwald

Sarah May Grunwald: There is also the other side. When people are posting blogs like “How to travel and eat for free” etc.

It is one thing to invite, and keep those things in mind. But I literally get at least 5 emails a day from “bloggers” asking for free trips. These aren’t people who I have heard of half the time, and they just happen to want to come to Georgia (the country). So they think their 1200 followers on Instagram merits me spending $3000 on them.

And, this one is yet another story on “Who has the nerve to asks for trips?”