scottsdale wine blog

Learning about wine | Christine Slomski

Christine Slomski

I recently became acquainted with Christine Slomski through the wonders of the Twitter machine and she expressed an interest in writing and learning about wine.  I decided to invite her and a friend down to my favorite little wine hangout on a Thursday night as they were having an interesting tasting featuring an all star list of Organic Wines.  First a little bit about Christine: She is a branding and marketing professional based in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a self-described “wine novice”, but is  eager to expand her knowledgebase—and her palate.  Here is her impression of the evening:

Arizona Wine Company holds wine tasting events each Thursday, and on March 10, I got my first taste of this tucked away strip mall treasure in Scottsdale. This particular event featured some fantastic California wines, soulful acoustic music, five-star food, and an overall delightful setting for intimate conversation and Wine Country exploration.

My favorite selection of the night was a smooth Dos Fincas Malbec, which tantalized my palate with subtle flavors of plum, raspberry and red spice—the magic elixir I had been waiting for all evening! To add to the experience, I ordered from Atlas Bistro, the small five-star (and Zagat-rated) restaurant hidden in the Wilshire Plaza next to Arizona Wine Company. Chefs Brandon Crouser and Joshua Riesner run the bistro and put me over the moon with a roasted quail entrée (at times I had to block out the images of the little quails I see scurrying across residential streets, but I managed), served alongside spicy mizuna greens and smoky lentils, laced with a sherry reduction sauce. To my surprise, a robust cheese board put together by Chef Joshua was brought out, displaying a variety of goat, cow, sheep and water buffalo cheeses (they say you can milk anything with nipples, right?). Being lactose intolerant my whole life, I was surprised to learn that most aged cheeses are lactose free. With this news, I of course tried every single one. True to Chef Joshua’s knowledge, I awoke the next morning with no symptoms of my allergy. I could get used this!

With wine in one hand and cheese in the other, my companions and I finished the evening listening to the acoustic guitarists gathered in the corner lounge, jamming to improvisation cover songs and original sounds. “It doesn’t get any more intimate than this,” said one of my friends. My eyes spanned the room; I took a sip of my wine; I felt the moment. And true to his point, it really didn’t get any more intimate or any more authentic than the people, the sounds, and the tastes in that room.

Christine Slomski on Twitter

Central Coast Chardonnay roundup #1 | Mer Soleil | Layer Cake | Chalone

Wines reviewed in this article:  Mer Soleil Silver 2008|Layer Cake 2009 Virgin Chardonnay|Chalone 2009 Monterey

Photo courtesy of Ben Ladouceur

While many parts of North America are still in the grip of winter I have been preparing for spring and summer by tasting Chardonnay.  That way, when everyone else finally thaws out ( I live in Phoenix ) they will already have some Chardonnay “inception” on the brain.  Let’s get started!

The vast Central Coast region of California  stretches 250 miles from Santa Barbara County all the way up to San Francisco .  The massive region encompasses 6 Counties and 26 different sub A.V.A’s (American Viticultural Area).  There are more than 90,000 acres of vines planted in the Central Coast and about half those acres are Chardonnay.  One of those sub AVA’s is The Santa Lucia Highlands which is located  about 30 miles east of Monterey, California overlooking  the Salinas valley, the same Salinas valley made famous in many of John Steinbeck’s novels.

2008 Mer Soleil Silver

Mer Soleil Vineyard is located on the southern end of the AVA and is named after the influences of the Ocean (Mer) and the Sun (Soleil). The Mer Soleil vineyard is actually part of the Wagner family of wines.  The Wagner family has a very long history of wine making in California, and just in case you still don’t know who they are…have you heard of Caymus? Now we’re talking!

Mer Soleil makes two styles of Chardonnay, oaked, and unoaked (Silver).  Mer Soleil Silver is fermented in cement and stainless steel tanks and does not undergo Malolactic fermentation.  The vineyard subscribes to the agricultural practice of crop rotation and according to the vineyard  nearby lemon orchards is impart their flavor profile of the wines.

Mer Soleil’s website has little to offer in terms of technicals on their wine, so I have no information on total production, brix ect.  But it does let us know a little about the style.  A mix of Chablis like minerality and tropical fruit.   I found the wine to be rich, with solid acidity, and slightly riper than I expected, which was pleasant.  Think lemon and grapefruit.  The wine is dry and has a  nice big mouthfeel.  The alcohol weighs in at a hefty 14.8% but don’t let that scare you, its really well balanced with the fruit and I didn’t detect any off putting “heat” from it.  Mer Soleil Silver retails for around $20 a bottle.

Virgin Chardonnay label Layer Cake

Are you tempted by the cake??

You might have seen Layer Cake’s eye catching label, a nice big slice of layer cake, and you might have been tempted to buy the wine purely on that association and I forgive you for that because I bought their wines for the same reason!  Laker Cake’s 2009 Central Coast “Virgin” Chardonnay’s fruit is sourced from two vineyards within the Central Coast AVA; Monterey and Santa Barbara.

Layer Cake’s  Chardonnay is quite different than Mer Soleil’s Silver even though both are unoaked.  The first thing you will notice is the difference in alcohol content, with the Virgin Chardonnay coming in at a refreshingly light 13.5%.  The wine is lighter on the palate, with less minerality though it still retains enough to make it interesting.  The fruit is more lime and pineapple than grapefruit.  This wine retails for $13.99 and was provided to me as a sample for review

Chalone Chardonnay bottleChalone Vineyard 2009 Monterey Chardonnay.  Chalone Vineyard Estate is the oldest winery in Monterey County, and is the only winery in the Chalone AVA.  Chalone received international critical acclaim in the Judgment of Paris, 1976 earning 3rd spot out of 10.   As different as Layer Cake was to Mer Soleil, Chalone is to both of those wines.  Chalone makes wine very much in the French, Burgundian style.  The grapes are sourced from the northern portion of the Salinas Valley, in the Arroyo Seco AVA.  The soil consists largely of limestone which gives us a clue to the Burgundian connection.  By “Burgundian” I mean terroir or specific place driven wine as apposed to producer driven wine such as Bordeaux.  Chalone’s Monterey Chardonnay is also relatively light when compared to the typical Chardonnays of Napa Valley, the alcohol comes in at 13.5%   This wine, in contrast to the other two, saw 6 months in a combination of French, American and European oak.  Light on the oak, but enough to soften the crispness of the mountain fruit a little, as well as add another layer of complexity not found in the other two wines.  This wine retails for around $10 which is actually an amazing deal.

These three wines should keep you busy with variety for at least a weekend.  Next week I will have 3 more Chardonnays for your consideration


Wine Review | Cameron Hughes Lot 151

Cameron Hughes Wine

Tasting Room mini bottle

Cameron Hughes Wine Lot 151

has long been a favorite of mine.  If you are looking for what I consider to be one of the best values in American wine, Cameron Hughes wine is the way to go.

I recently received Lot 151 as a sample, and was surprised to see that this wine hails from the Columbia Valley.  Cameron has been largely focused on wines from California and this is his first wine from Washington State. Let’s take a look at the technicals: Lot 151 is a blend of Riesling 70%, Chenin Blanc 30%. The alcohol comes in at 12% and the production was 2,500 cases. Lot 151 retails for about $10.

Cameron Hughes wine Lot 151 color

Pale straw in color

The color is a clean golden straw color. The nose is quite aromatic and  features ripe peach and citrus with floral notes.  The palate is somewhat more concentrated than I expected and I liked it.  Lot 151 is crisp yet sweet, the acidity is lively.  This is a very interesting for only $10.  This wine would pair well with spicy dishes and also a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Interview | Nicki Pruss, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

I recently got a chance to spend a few minutes with Nicki Pruss, wine-maker at the world famous Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

Nicki Pruss

We talked a little bit about her background and how she worked her way up into the wine-maker position at this prestigious vineyard.  Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was bought by a partnership of Marchese Piero Antinori and Chateau Ste Michelle wine estates in 2007 for a whopping $185,000,000.  Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is one of only two wines in the Smithsonian institute, based on its fantastic showing at the Judgment of Paris 1976.

Arizona Wine Week declared!

Governor Jan Brewer was unable to attend

Wine glasses cheers


and read the proclamation in person, so Rhonni Moffitt – executive director of the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association read it as it was written.  The press conference ( which The Weekly Wine Journal ACTUALLY attended!) was held at the Phoenix Public Market in downtown Phoenix.  In attendance were some distinguished guests and prominent Arizona wine-makers including  Todd and Kelly Bostock , Robert Carlson,  Sam Pillsbury, Curt Dunham, Kari Zemper and Pavle Milic.  Here is a quick video of Rhonni Moffitt reading the Governor’s declaration:

For more information on Arizona Wine Week click HERE

See more photos of this event on the Weekly Wine Journal’s Facebook Page!

Wine Review: Intaglio Bianco 2008, Trentino D.O.C.

The Blend:  47% Muller Thurgau, 45% Chardonnay, 8% Riesling.

Where from?  Trentino, Northern Italy

Production: 1,500 cases

Alcohol: 12.5%

Price: $13 at Oakville Grocery, Scottsdale Arizona

On the nose: Very aromatic, tropical fruit, melon

On the palate:  Lemon, Green Apple, creamy supple mouth feel, with light, mineral finish.

Verdict: 90 points.  Amazing wine, especially for the price.  The aromatics and the mouth feel are most impressive.

A conversation with Sommelier Dave Johnson Oakville Grocery, North Scottsdale

Dave Johnson takes care of the wine department at Oakville Grocery in North Scottsdale, Arizona.

Dave Johnson

The Store is located directly across the street from P.F. Chang’s restaurant at the Kierland Shopping Center.  Dave is a warm and friendly fellow, he is well-traveled in addition to being a Level III Sommelier.  He has worked with and trained with some of the worlds most famous wineries, wine makers, he’s been there and done that, so to speak.  He now calls Arizona home, and has lived here for the past 10 years.

This is a video of my visit.  In it Dave tells us about a wine he had a hand in creating, he has actually made 6 vintages of wine.

Arizona Judgement 2010: Arizona Wines Vs. The World

All eyes and palates will be on Arizona wines on June 2nd, for Arizona Judgement 2010. Pavle Millic, co-owner of FnB restaurant will be hosting the event.

Arizona State Flag

Note:  The event is not open to the public.  FnB can only fit about 35 people, so the event is limited to judges and a few members of the press.  This event is reminiscent of the Judgment of Paris, 1976.  The movie “Bottle Shock” is based on those events.

Here’s how it is going to work:  There will be 5 red and 5 white wines from Arizona going head to head against wines of the world.  It will be a blind tasting, so the judges won’t know which is which.  The Judges will make notes and keep score.  At the end, the wines and results will be revealed.

Who are the  Panelists?

An Arizona wine

Gary Vaynerchuk:  Host of the daily wine blog “Wine Library TV”, New York Times best seller “Crush It!”, and co owner of Vayner Media. a branding and consulting firm.

Laura Williamson:   Laura Williamson is one of only 105 people in North America who have earned the title of ‘Master Sommelier and she is one of only 15 women with the title.  Laura is also a Certified Wine Educator.  She is co-owner of Vin Tabla restaurant in Tucson where she manages the wine list.  She also lectures nationally. Check out her Bio at the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Tadeo Borchardt:  Tadeo is winemaker for Napa Valley’s Neyers Vineyards. Neyers Vineyards regularly scores 90+ points from Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.  Tadeo graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Arizona.

Anne Rosenzweig: Anne has earned not one but two elusive and prestigious 3 Star Ratings from the New York Times.  One for each of ear East Side Manhattan restaurants Arcadia and the Lobster Club.  She opened Arcadia in 1985, and the Lobster Club in 1995. Read a little more about Anne in this article from Cuisine Net’s Diner’s Digest.

Mark Tarbell:  Mark is owner of Tarbell’s restaurant on Camelback, as well as the Oven, and the restaurant Home in Colorado.  He is also Arizona Republics wine critic.  Mark’s restaurants have won dozens of awards including Food and Wine’s “Best Restaurant”.  Mark has also been a judge at The Los Angeles International Wine Competition for the past 10 years.

Chris Bianco: Chef at Pizzeria  Bianco, James Beard award-winning chef that is!  Pizzeria Bianco has been rated by the New York Times as one of the best Pizzeria’s in the WORLD!!

Sommelier Journal will be assessing the results and providing final analysis.

I recently emailed Pavle Milic some questions I had about him, and the event:

WWJ: Where are you from, where did you grow up?

Pavle Milic:  Father defected from Communist Yugoslavia (Montenegro) in 1962.  He landed in Colombia, South America where he met my mom and I happened.  I grew up in Queens, New York with a pack of Jews and Italians.  I can say Shabbat Shalom on the weekends, drink grappa and break a leg (someone else’s) all at the same time.

WWJ:  How did you end up in Arizona?

Pavle Milic: Parents moved here in 1988 to open an Italian restaurant called Franco’s Trattoria on Mountain View and Hayden

WWJ: How long have you been in the restaurant business?

Pavle Milic: 22 years

WWJ:  How did you come up with the Arizona Judgement idea?  Was there an aha! moment?

Pavle Milic:  I have tasted a lot of guests in a blind setting.  Arizona wines have always faired well. When I performed blind tastings before I decided to do the list, guests loved the wine. Now that the wines are on a printed list–assumptions are made, like the wine isn’t good.   If you are judging a wine on balance and quality I think they are great.   I thought, why not have a tasting where we pair AZ juice against other wine regions and see what happens.  So here we are!

WWJ:  You are a very enthusiastic promoter of Arizona wines, why?

Pavle Milic: It felt good. I am not reinventing the wheel. Many restaurants close to wine regions pour the local bounty of the terroir. I figure this was a no-brainer. The idea of pouring local wines was also analogous to the way Charleen(Charleen Badman Co-Owner and head Chef at FnB) sources most of the time. I also felt honored and proud to partake, even at a limited capacity, in the beginning of something special. The folks that I met were passionate, creative, irreverent and true. I remember reading about Napa and its grassroots beginnings and the pioneering spirit of its people. I felt I was rubbing elbows with people whose energy was redolent of times past. I also felt that by pouring these wines I would help the local economy and minimize carbon footprint.  I firmly believe that this is how you build community. You support each other and endorse each other for working hard and making Arizona a great place to live. It is certainly acceptable to look outside of our state for inspiration, but there is so much to be proud of here. If the wines were not balanced and quality driven, I would not have done this. BTW-I love wines from all over the world.

Women in Wine: Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, Verdad Wines

I recently met Louisa Sawyer Lindquist at a dual wine tasting at AZ Wine Company in Scottsdale Arizona. I say dual because along with her wine company, Verdad Wines, we were also tasting her husband’s wines, Qupe. A husband and wife dynamic wine duo, sounds like the perfect relationship right? Her husband is Bob Lindquist, one of the “Rhone Rangers”. Louisa really knows her stuff, she is not just a salesperson parroting the wine makers comments. At this tasting she was quizzed by some skeptical consumers and someone actually doubted her! She but it bluntly and something to the effect of “I know what I’m talking about, and I know how this wine was made, I MADE IT MYSELF”. I love it when wine snobs get put in their place.

Here is a short video of Louisa, enjoy!

Wine Review: Flinders Run, 2006 Shiraz, Southern Flinders Ranges, Australia

Where from?  Southern Flinders Ranges, Australia
How much? $25-$35
Aging: 18 months in American and French Oak, 50% new french oak.
Alcohol: 15%
980 cases imported to the United States

I am always up for trying out a new Shiraz, so when I noticed Flinders Run on the shelf at my local wine store, it caught my attention.  I always resist buying wine on the label, so I picked up the bottle looked at the interesting label and put it back down.  Well I kept seeing it sitting there every time I was in the store, just staring at me..the wine bottle with the googly eyes!   I noticed the appellation, Southern Flinders Ranges.  Interesting I thought, I am used to Barossa, Hunter, Claire, McLaren, Coonawarra, Padthaway, but I don’t often come across a wine from the Southern Flinders Ranges.  I whipped out my smartphone, and noticed a 92 point rating from Stephen Tanzer, and 91 points from Wine Spectator.  I also noticed that the Southern Flinders Ranges region is located next to the Claire and Barossa valleys and I have enjoyed a lot of wines from both those regions. One thing I couldn’t find was the winery’s website.  But I picked up a bottle anyway, let’s cut to the taste shall we?

Color: Opaque purple with a ruby-red rim
Nose:  Big, fragrant, raspberry
Palate: creamy in weight, ripe and spicy

This wine is decadent, hedonistic yet well-balanced.  If you like a big juicy and spicy this is the wine for you.  As far as complexity, this wine keeps it fairly simple, sticks to what it’s strengths are.  If you are looking for a complex one minute echo of a finish, this wine doesn’t have that, and you will probably need to spend a minimum of $50 for a Shiraz that does.  I would liken the flavor profile to the wines of the Barossa Valley, yet without the earthy component that they sometimes have.  All in all, a good effort.  I think that 91-92 points would be an accurate rating.