Wine Dinner Series at Arizona’s Wigwam Resort

Last month I had the pleasure of sampling some of Arizona’s best cuisine, in one of Arizona’s most enchanting settings: The Wigwam Resort.wigwam resort arizona

The Wigwam first opened in 1929 as a guest ranch with enough room for 24 guests.  Today the resort features 331 rooms, and 3 championship golf courses.  Some of the rooms are “casitas”  Little stand alone houses/rooms, that have their own private entrances and patios.  They’re really great if you’re looking for a romantic weekend getaway.wigwam resort arizona-2

But I digress..  The reason I headed out west was to see what the chefs could come up with to pair with the amazing, award winning wines of Grgich Hills Estate.  While I came for the food and wine, I always forget and then am pleasantly reminded that I meet some really interesting characters at these events.  People coming together to experience the craft and finer things in life come from all backgrounds.  You don’t have to be Monte Burns to enjoy wine.  I was seated at a table with a successful accountant who looked the spitting image of Dennis Hopper.  The conversation was lively among the guests, and it got livelier as the evening went on!wigwam resort arizona-4

First we were treated to a history of how Grgich Hills came to be, a fascinating story.  After that, the food and wine pairings began.  Refer to the pic below for the menu

wigwam resort arizona-10


I found the Spanish Octopus really interesting.  wigwam resort arizona-5

Also the Yellow Fin Tuna with forbidden rice.wigwam resort arizona-6

But what really stole the show was the Berkshire pork and the Prime New York.


The $89 per person this 5 course meal with very generous wine pours from one of Napa Valley’s most prestigious wineries, was actually quite a deal.  Try going to Vegas and finding a deal like that!

Now the thing I highly recommend if you really want to enjoy the wines is to book a room at the Wigwam.  It’s a bit of long drive later at night, and plus its a nice place to stay.  As a wine blogger I’ve seen too many people over indulge and then nothing good comes from that, so I recommend staying the night, waking up and going home nice and safe 🙂wigwam resort arizona-3

Weekly Wine Journal | Best of 2014 List

Weekly Wine Journal best of 2014

2014 was another great year for The Weekly Wine Journal.  Traveled to Napa for the Taste of Howell Mountain again this year.  Also attended the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association Festival on the Farm at South Mountain.  Dined at a lot of nice restaurants with great wine lists and also met a lot of wonderful people in the wine industry.  It was very difficult to choose the best of the best, but after much consideration, here it is, the list

Best Red Wine


This year for the first time there is a tie.  Both of these wines were exceptional.  Beyond exceptional, truly great.  And for completely different reasons.  If you can find either of these wines prepare to have your mind blown.

Best White Wine


This is an interesting one.  Paul Dolan underwent some big changes recently, but the quality still remained.  This wine shows that California can produce Sauvignon Blanc that people who don’t like Californian Sauvignon Blancs might like!

Best Wine Restaurant


This restaurant has an extensive wine list, with a good range of wines from affordable to “Hey let’s buy a few $3000 bottles of wine!”  Known for their seafood, it turns out their NY Strip and Rib Eye are easily the best I have ever tasted.  And that’s saying something considering how much steak I eat.

Best Wine Tasting


Year after year The Taste of Howell Mountain wins best wine tasting.  There is just simply not a better collection of high end wines for such an affordable price, AND a friendly laid back atmosphere

Best Winery Experience


Red Cap Vineyards does not have a tasting room and is not open to the public.  I was invited there as a friend and guest and really had a blast hanging out with husband & wife owners Tom & Desire Altemus.  Also present was social media/marketing manager Michael.  I spent the afternoon sipping wine chatting listening to stories, telling stories and getting ridiculous with some Grappa made by Rebekah Wineburg.




Holiday Gift Guide

With Christmas rapidly approaching and only a few weeks left to shop, you might need some ideas..quick!  Here’s a short list of the most interesting things public relations firms and advertising agencies have emailed me over the last several month:

Wine of the Month Club Membership

wine of the month club boxThe “Original” Wine of the Month Club, founded in 1972 (the best year ever in my opinion) Wine can be a difficult thing to buy for other people, so this is a gift that takes that pressure off.  Each month Wine of the Month Club tastes over 400 wines with only about 60 making the potential selection list and only about 4 making the actual selection.  And they’ve been doing this for a long time, so they know what to look for.  They’re not looking for the brands that anyone can buy anywhere.  They’re looking for hidden and undervalued gems in the $10-$20 range, and you only pay $21.95 a month for 2 bottles, every month!  And that’s just the standard membership.  There are several different tiers of membership and you can choose to receive 1 red 1 white, or 2 of each.  The top tier is about $40 a month and for that members receive 2 bottles a month of wine that retails for $25-$30 a bottle.  There’s just too many exciting options to put in this article, head over to  for all the information.


XXIV Karat Sparkling Wines

24 Karat wineInvented by two Arizona State Grads in 2012, and sourced with wine from Mendocino County this is one of the most unusual wine products I’ve ever seen.  The wines retail for about $40 a bottle.  How do they taste?  These are crowd pleaser wines.  They’re not complex and don’t need to be decanted and sniffed and analyzed.  Just drink the wine.  They taste good.  The novelty is interesting and this is sure to add some excitement to your new year’s celebrations.



Kiwi WoodKraft recycled wood

wine-bottle-holderKiwi WoodKraft uses recycled wine barrels and Arizona mesquite to make wine bottle holders, candle holders, chairs and tables and a number of other interesting products.

*product samples were provided for review





Arizona Wine Grower’s Association Recognizes Excellence

arizona-wine-2014-14You’ve heard of pairing wine with dessert, but have you heard of wine from the desert?

Over the last 5 years areas other than California have stepped into the national spotlight as wine producing regions.  Washington State, Oregon and the Finger Lakes region of New York State have earned solid reputations for high quality fruit and wine making.

Arizona’s entrance into the wine world started a little more recently.  Pioneers like Al Buhl and R.W. Webb began developing vineyards and producing wine 25-35 years ago in South Eastern Arizona.  In the last 5-6 years the Arizona Wine industry has seen explosive growth, almost doubling in size.  This is due in large part to the increased notoriety brought to the region by rock stars like Maynard James Keenan ( Tool, A Perfect Circle,Puscifer) as well as rock star wine makers like EricGlomski.

Arizona Judgment 2010 Judges

Arizona Judgment 2010 Judges

Let’s not forget the contribution made by rock star restauranteurs Pavle Milic and Charlene Badman, owners of Scottsdale’s restaurant FnB.  These two pioneered Arizona wine in a big way back in 2010 when their restaurant featured an all Arizona wine list.  In the summer of 2010 they organized “The Judgment of Arizona”.  They brought in major wine personalities from all over the United States and had them blind taste Arizona wines and major wines from around the world, reminiscent of 1976’s Judgment of Paris.  The consensus at the time was that there were some world class wines being produced in Arizona.  Unfortunately, there were also some wines that were not world-class.  Gary Vaynerchuk noted that (I’m summarizing) that in order for the region to be taken more seriously, the consistency of  quality in the region would have to improve.  That was over 4 years ago, and in that time huge strides have been made.  Arizona is now recognized as a region capable of producing world-class wines, it’s not just a novelty “wine from the desert”.

But the growth can’t all be credited to just two wine makers, a chef and a handsome Colombian from Brooklyn. The industry as a whole, and all the wine makers have really worked hard to increase the reputation of the region.  They’ve done this by focusing on quality not quantity.   Although the quantity has definitely increased, this is a by product of producing superior wine.

Each November since 2009 the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association (AWGA) and the Arizona Republic have teamed up to recognize excellence in Arizona wine making.  Every November, for the past 6 years “The festival on the farm at South Mountain” has allowed the public to taste 30-40+ Arizona wineries all in the same place.  The night before the festival there is an exclusive awards banquet held at Quiessence restaurant (on the farm as well).   The Arizona Republic Wine competition is held in private in October, with the results released to the public on the night of the Awards banquet.  This year is different, however as the award winners have been announced over the last several weeks.


Stone Grove

This year’s Awards Banquet featured a little change in venue as well.  The banquet was moved to “Stone Grove” instead of Quiessence.  Stone Grove is located right next to Quiessence, so it’s really the same place, just a bigger more open setting.  With all the interest in Arizona Wine these days, the logistics of hosting this event in the little farm house that is Quiessence were becoming difficult.

I talked with some of the wine makers including Kent Callaghan, winner of this year’s “Best in Show” and first place “Grower’s Cup, Red” for his 2012Tannat.  I asked Kent about his Tannat and Tannat in general.  He said it’s a pretty interesting grape.  Good yield, but a little difficult to work with.  He’s tried blending it with other grapes but the result was a “dumb wine” as he put it.

Kent Callaghan

Kent Callaghan

He said it would be interesting to see how it turns out in a few years, but his immediate impression was that it wasn’t working.  Callaghan Vineyards only has a half acre of Tannat planted and only 60 cases of wine were made.  The wine is sold out, mostly to Callaghan’s wine club members.  Luckily for wine lovers Callaghan’s “Padre” which tied with Dos Cabezas Wineworks for 2nd place in the Grower’s Cup Red is still available.  See the link at the bottom of the article for Callaghan’s website.


I also had a chance to follow Todd and KellyBostock from DosCabezas Wineworks around.  Todd and Kelly were featured in an independent film about wine titled “American Wine Story”.  Todd has recently discovered the concrete slabs around the winery make an awesome street hockey surface and has developed what he believes to be the best family hockey team in Sonoita.  Dos Cabezas Wineworks did exceptionally well this year, winning 3 first place awards for their Rose, Syrah and Rhone Style blends.

Todd and Kelly Bostock

Todd and Kelly Bostock

Finally I chatted briefly with Patti King, executive director of the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association.  She was very pleased with the turn out and said that the Festival on the Farm (nov 15th) sold 300-400 more tickets this year than last year.  This represents about a 30% increase!

In recognizing excellence, the AWGA and the Arizona Republic have really helped to create a sense of community and raised the local profile of Arizona Wine.  Just a few years ago, even Arizonans were skeptical of Arizona Wine.  Today the industry has a solid reputation for producing world class wines.  The consistency that Gary Vaynerchuk talked about 4 years ago has really come a long way.  It would be interesting to gather together the judges from Judgment of Arizona and try again.



2014 Arizona Republic Winners List

AWGA website

Stone Grove/Quiessence

The Farm at South Mountain

Callaghan Vineyards

Dos Cabezas Wineworks

2014 Arizona Republic Wine Competition Winners List

2014 Arizona Republic Wine Competition Winners List


Best in Show

Callaghan Vineyards Tannat 2012.

Growers Cup Red

First place: Callaghan Vineyards Tannat 2012.

Second place (tie): Callaghan Vineyards Padres 2012 and Dos Cabezas WineWorks La Montaña 2011.

Growers Cup White

First place: Caduceus Cellars Dos Ladrones 2013.

Second place: Sand-Reckoner Malvasia Bianca 2013.

Third place: Alcantara Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

Growers Cup Rosé

First place: Dos Cabezas WineWorks Pink 2013.

Second place: Caduceus Cellars Lei Li 2013.

Third place: Caduceus Cellars Nagual del Marzo Rosé 2013.

Growers Cup Dessert

First place: Pillsbury Symphony Sweet Lies 2013.

Second place: Carlson Creek Sweet Adeline Riesling 2012.

Winemakers Medal Red

First place: Merkin Vineyards Tarzan 2013, New Mexico.

Second place: Aridus Wine Co. Syrah 2012, Russian River, Calif.

Third place: Caduceus Cellars Anubis 2012, New Mexico.

Winemakers Medal White

First place (tie): Aridus Wine Co. Chardonnay 2012, Santa Maria, Calif., and Aridus Wine Co. Malvasia Bianca 2013, New Mexico.

Second place: Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Chardonnay 2013, New Mexico.

Best Chardonnay

First place: Carlson Creek Chardonnay 2012.

Second place: Jerome Winery Chardonnay 2012.

Best Chenin Blanc

First place: Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Chenin Blanc 2013.

Second place: Passion Cellars Jerome White 2013.

Third place: Carlson Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2011.

Best Malvasia Bianca

First place: Sand-Reckoner Malvasia Bianca 2013.

Second place: Arizona Stronghold Site Archive Malvasia Norte 2013.

Best Pinot Grigio

First place: Passion Cellars Pinot Grigio 2013.

Second place: Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Pinot Grigio 2013.

Best Sauvignon Blanc

First place: Alcantara Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

Second place: Sonoita Vineyards Arizona Fume Blanc 2013.

Third place: Zarpara Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

Best Viognier

First place: deep sky vineyard Aurora 2013.

Second place: Jerome Winery Viognier 2013.

Third place: Zarpara Viognier 2013.

Best White Blend

First place: Caduceus Cellars Dos Ladrones 2013.

Second place: Sand Reckoner w 2013.

Third place: Dos Cabezas El Campo Bianco 2012.

Best Cabernet Sauvignon

First place: Golden Rule Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.

Second place: Arizona Stronghold Site Archive Bonita Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Pick 4 2013.

Third place: Javelina Leap Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.

Best Merlot

First place: Freitas Vineyard Merlot Private Reserve 2011.

Second place: Arizona Stronghold Bonita Springs Old Vine Merlot 2012.

Third place: Rancho Rossa Vineyards Merlot 2009 and Carlson Creek Vineyards Merlot 2012.

Best Shiraz/Syrah

First place: Dos Cabezas WineWorks La Montaña 2011.

Second place: Keeling Schaefer Vineyards Home Place Reserve 2012.

Third place: Golden Rule Vineyards Syrah 2012.

Best Petite Sirah

First place: Freitas Vineyard Petite Sirah 2011.

Second place: Pillsbury Wine Co. Petite Sirah Special Reserve 2012.

Third place: Lawrence Dunham Vineyards The Signature Petite Sirah 2011.

Best Sangiovese

First place: Flying Leap Sangiovese 2013.

Second place: Golden Rule Vineyards Sangiovese 2012.

Third place: Caduceus Cellars Kitsune 2012.

Best Zinfandel

First place: Golden Rule Vineyards Zinfandel 2012.

Second place: Sand-Reckoner 3 2012.

Best Rhone-Style Blend

First place: Dos Cabezas WineWorks El Norte 2011.

Second place (tie): Callaghan Vineyards Back Lot 2012 and Golden Rule Vineyards Commonwealth 2012.

Best Bordeaux-Style Blend

First place: Saeculum Cellars Gallia 2012.

Second place: Alcantara Vineyards and Winery Confluence VI non-vintage.

Best Super Tuscan Blend

First place: Caduceus Cellars Nagual del Marzo 2012.

Second place: Dos Cabezas Toscano 2012.

Best Red Blend

First place: Callaghan Vineyards Padres 2012.

Second place: Sultry Cellars Top Hat non-vintage.

Third place (tie): Los Milics Oliver’s 2012 and Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Primer Paso 2012.

The judges

Here are the judges in the 2014 Arizona Republic Wine Competition and their favorite wines.

Mark Tarbell: Owner of Tarbell’s restaurant. No favorite.

Richard Betts, Napa Exclusives: Los Milics Hannah’s 2013, Callaghan Vineyards Padres 2012, Sultry Cellars Top Hat (non-vintage), Caduceus Cellars VSC Primer Paso 2012.

Kim Casale, fine-wine manager, Southern Wine and Spirits: Merkin Vineyards Tarzan 2013.

Dante Fiorenza, fine-wine specialist, Action Wine & Spirits: Sand-Reckoner w 2013, Caduceus Cellars Dos Ladrones 2013.

Conor Favre, executive chef, Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa: Pillsbury Wine Co. Symphony Sweet Lies 2013.

Jeff Grenfell, sommelier, Cheuvront Restaurant and Wine Bar: Freitas Vineyard Merlot Private Reserve 2011, Callaghan Vineyards Petit Verdot 2012.

Josh Herbert, owner and chef, Posh Improvisational Cuisine: Sand-Reckoner Malvasia Bianca 2013.

Regan Jasper, corporate sommelier and vice president of beverage, Fox Restaurant Concepts: Dos Cabezas WineWorks La Montaña 2011, Keeling Schaefer Vineyards Home Place Reserve Syrah 2012.

Damien Kanser, Vias Imports LTD, certified specialist of wine: Callaghan Vineyards Padres 2012, Zarpara Vineyard Odisea 2012.

Brent Karlicek, beverage director, Upward Projects: Caduceus Cellars, Nagual del Marzo Rose 2013, Dos Cabezas Pink 2013, Carlson Creek Chardonnay 2012.

Kevin Lewis, wine director and certified sommelier, Kai restaurant at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa: Callaghan Vineyards Back Lot 2012.

Patrick Norton, general manager, J&G Steakhouse: Callaghan Vineyards Tannat 2012, Caduceus Cellars VSC Chenin Blanc 2013, Sand-Reckoner Malvasia Bianca 2013.

Jared Sowinski, director of beverage, the Phoenician: Saeculum Cellars Gallia 2012.

Katie Stephens, general manager and certified sommelier, Beckett’s Table: Saeculum Cellars Gallia 2012, Callaghan Vineyards Petit Verdot 2012, Rancho Rossa Vineyards Merlot 2009.

Scott Stephens, general manager and certified sommelier, Southern Rail: Dos Cabezas WineWorks El Norte 2011.

Greg Tresner, court of master sommeliers, the Phoenician: Dos Cabezas El Campo Blanco 2012.

Alec van Dobben, beverage manager, El Chorro: Dos Cabezas Pink 2013, Callaghan Vineyards Padres 2012, Sultry Cellars Top Hat (non-vintage).

Noelle M. Waite, division manager and certified specialist of wine, Southern Wine & Spirits: Dos Cabezas WineWorks El Norte 2011, Dos Cabezas WineWorks La Montaña 2011.

Michael West, hotel sommelier, the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain: Sand-Reckoner Malvasia Bianca 2013.

Ryan Wolf, assistant general manager, J&G Steakhouse: Golden Rule Vineyards Zinfandel 2013, Saeculum Cellars Moscato 2013, Pillsbury Wine Co. Symphony Sweet Lies 2013.

Gold, silver, bronze rankings

These wines were ranked gold, silver or bronze based on judges’ scores on a 100-point scale. Gold wines earned above 90 points, silver scored 85-89 and bronze scored 80-84.

Gold Medal Winners

Alcantara Vineyards and Winery Confluence VI non-vintage

Alcantara Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

Aridus Wine Co. Chardonnay 2012.

Aridus Wine Co. Malvasia Bianca 2013.

Arizona Stronghold Vineyards Bonita Springs Old Vine Merlot 2012.

Caduceus Cellars Lei Li 2013.

Caduceus Cellars Nagual del Marzo 2012.

Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Chenin Blanc 2013.

Callaghan Vineyards Back Lot 2012.

Callaghan Vineyards Padres 2012.

Callaghan Vineyards Petit Verdot 2012.

Callaghan Vineyards Tannat 2012.

Carlson Creek Vineyard Carlson Creek Chardonnay 2012.

deep sky vineyard Aurora 2013.

Dos Cabezas WineWorks El Campo Blanco 2012.

Dos Cabezas WineWorks El Norte 2011.

Dos Cabezas WineWorks La Montaña 2011.

Dos Cabezas WineWorks Pink 2013.

Freitas Vineyard Merlot Private Reserve 2011.

Freitas Vineyard Petite Sirah 2011.

Golden Rule Vineyards Commonwealth 2012.

Golden Rule Vineyards Zinfandel 2012

Keeling Schaefer Vineyard Home Place Reserve Syrah 2012.

Merkin Vineyards Tarzan 2013.

Passion Cellars Pinot Grigio 2013.

Pillsbury Wine Co. Petite Sirah Special Reserve 2012.

Pillsbury Wine Co. Symphony Sweet Lies 2013.

Saeculum Cellars Gallia 2012.

Sand-Reckoner Malvasia Bianca 2013.

Sand-Reckoner w 2013.

Sultry Cellars Top Hat non-vintage.

Silver Medal Winners

Aridus Wine Co. Syrah 2012.

Aridus Wine Co. Viognier 2013.

Arizona Angel Red Blend non-vintage.

Arizona Stronghold Bonita Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Pick 4 2013.

Arizona Stronghold Site Archive Malvasia Norte 2013.

Bitter Creek Winery The Devil non-vintage.

Caduceus Cellars Anubis 2012.

Caduceus Cellars Dos Ladrones 2013.

Caduceus Cellars Le Cortigiane Oneste 2012.

Caduceus Cellars Nagual del Marzo Rose 2013.

Caduceus Cellars Sancha 2012.

Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Aglianico 2012.

Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Chardonnay 2013.

Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Pinot Grigio 2013.

Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Primer Paso 2012.

Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

Callaghan Vineyards Al’s 2013.

Carlson Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2011.

Carlson Creek Vineyard Merlot 2012.

Carlson Creek Vineyard Rule of Three 2012.

Carlson Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2012.

Carlson Creek Vineyard Sweet Adeline Riesling 2012.

Dos Cabezas WineWorks Aguileon 2011.

Dos Cabezas WineWorks Meskeoli 2013.

Dos Cabezas WineWorks Toscano 2012.

Fiddlebender Cannonball non-vintage.

Flying Leap Vineyards Sangiovese 2013.

Golden Rule Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.

Golden Rule Vineyards Sangiovese 2012.

Golden Rule Vineyards Syrah 2012.

Javelina Leap Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.

Javelina Leap Vineyards & Winery Chenin Blanc 2013.

Jerome Winery Charbono 2012.

Jerome Winery Chardonnay 2012.

Jerome Winery Viognier 2012.

Keeling Schaefer Vineyards Schaefer Boys Mourvedre 2012.

Kindred 2011.

Lawrence Dunham Vineyards The Signature Petite Sirah 2011.

Lightning Ridge Cellars Montepulciano 2011.

Los Milics Hannah’s 2013.

Los Milics Lorenzo’s 2012.

Los Milics Oliver’s 2012.

Merkin Vineyards Shinola Bianca 2013.

Passion Cellars Jerome White 2013.

Passion Cellars Love Rosé 2013.

Pillsbury Wine Co. Roan Red 2012.

Pillsbury Wine Co. Diva 2012.

Pillsbury Wine Co. Symphony Goddess 2012.

Rancho Rossa Vineyards Merlot 2009.

Saeculum Cellars One Stone 2012.

Sand-Reckoner 3 2012.

Sand-Reckoner a 2012, New Mexico.

Sonoita Vineyards Petite Sirah 2012.

Sonoita Vineyards Arizona Fume Blanc 2013.

Sonoita Vineyards Arizona Mission 2013.

Su Vino Winery Chardonnay Unoaked non-vintage.

Su Vino Winery Sparkling Moscato non-vintage.

Zarpara Vineyard Odisea 2012.

Zarpara Vineyard Sangiovese 2012.

Zarpara Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

Zarpara Vineyard Viognier 2013.

Bronze Medal Winners

Alcantara Vineyards and Winery Merlot 2012.

Alcantara Vineyards and Winery X The Lost Lot Red Dessert Wine 2009.

Arizona Angel Moscato non-vintage.

Arizona Stronghold Bonita Springs Merlot 2013.

Arizona Stronghold Dala Chardonnay 2012.

Arizona Stronghold Site Archive Viognier 2013.

Bodega Pierce Rolling View White 2013.

Callaghan Vineyards Buena Suerte 2012.

Callaghan Vineyards Lisa’s 2012.

Fiddlebender Tea Toadler non-vintage.

Flying Leap Vineyards Duet 2013.

Freitas Vineyard Dolce Vita Rose 2011.

Golden Rule Vineyards Copper Queen Rosé 2013.

Golden Rule Vineyards Eureka 2012.

Golden Rule Vineyards Manzora Red 2012.

Javelina Leap Vineyards and Winery Legacy Zinfandel 2013.

Javelina Leap Vineyards and Winery Zinfandel 2013.

Passion Cellars Late Harvest Verdelho 2013.

Pillsbury Wine Co. Rosé One Night Stand 2013.

Rancho Rossa Vineyards Rosé 2012.

Sonoita Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013.

Sonoita Vineyards Red 2012.


For the First Time Ever…Thanksgiving at Eddie V’s!

Last week I dined at Eddie V’s Prime Seafood restaurant’s Scottsdale Arizona location.  Although Eddie V’s is very well known for their prime seafood, I decided to try out the steak.  But not before trying the crab cakes.

Looking towards the bar and live music

Looking towards the bar and live music

First, I was pleasantly surprised by the setting.  From the outside it’s easy to miss Eddie V’s, even if you’re looking for it.  It is located on the very north east corner of Scottsdale Quarter, kind of in the back.  From the outside it just looks like a concrete building with nice doors.  But as soon as you walk in, a total transformation occurs.  The atmosphere is definitely that of a restaurant that serves prime seafood and steak.  The lighting is toned down, even a little dark but your eyes will soon adjust to it.

The glass walk thru wine cellar

The glass walk thru wine cellar

There is a glass wine cellar that you walk through to get to one half of the restaurant.  The other half of the restaurant is set up more like a wine bar, with live music at night.

The reason I was at Eddie V’s was to experience the dining firsthand so that I could tell you about something big that Eddie V’s is doing.  For the first time ever, they will be open on Thanksgiving day, serving traditional Thanksgiving food!

This is what they’ll be serving:

Eddie V's ThanksgivingSliced Turkey

Homestyle Green Beans with Bacon

Brioche Stuffing

Glazed Acorn Squash

Pan Gravy with Mirepoix Brunoise

Cranberry Sauce

Mashed Potatoes

Turkey Gravy on the side

AND Thanksgiving Dessert!   Pumpkin Pie with whipped cream and praline sauce

Call them right now to reserve your table as this will definitely sell out 480 730 4800

Back to my dining experience…  I have to say, that without a doubt the giant crab cake I had was the best I have ever had.  I consisted of ONLY crab meat and some seasoning.  Just deliciously juicy crab meat, with a dipping sauce on the side.  I was trying to save room for the steak, but I ended up eating the whole thing, and it’s not a small crab cake either.

I paired the crab cake with a glass of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay on the suggestion from managing partner, Richard Schumacher.  Although I am quite capable of choosing my own wine, these days I’ve actually started making a habit of going on the recommendations of the people running the establishments I visit.   Richard and I talked for a little while about the whole new idea of being open on Thanksgiving.  Luckily for Eddie V’s their sister restaurant, Capital Grille has already done this once before and Richard was able to quiz them on what they learned.  Turkey is not steak, you can’t just grille up more turkey, you have to plan half a day or more in advance to have enough food ready for all your guests.  Richard is a friendly fellow and a true restaurant professional.

For steak I tried out both the 22 ounce bone in Rib eye and the New York Strip, both prime.  Again on Richard’s recommendation I had a glass of Sequoia Grove 2010 Cabernet.  The steak was awesome.  I mean really awesome.   The steak was sizzling hot and cooked perfectly medium rare just like I asked.  The New York Strip was actually the best NY Strip I’ve ever had.  Absolutely perfect, tender, juicy with a full robust flavor.  I’m a steak connoisseur just like with wine, and I’ve eaten at Steakhouses all across the United States, and this was the best.  Look for Eddie V’s to be in my “Best of 2014” list coming out at the end of the year.  Hey, the Rib eye wasn’t bad either.  Just kidding, it was awesome as well.  I find that many times Rib eye’s can contain too many large fatty areas, leaving disconnected chunks of meat for you to dig through.   Will the marbling in this particular Rib eye allowed me to eat everything except the bone.  That’s perfect in my book.

One day I will have a wine cellar like this!

One day I will have a wine cellar like this!

The Sequoia Grove Cabernet was a nice pairing as well.  At $24 a glass it is the most expensive wine on the wine by the glass list.  Luckily there are about 400 wines available by the bottle and the by the bottle prices are a lot more reasonable.  Here’s some examples:  B.R Cohen “Silver Label” Cabernet $52, Duckhorn Cabernet $75 and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Artemis” $99.  Not bad for a prime restaurant, not bad at all.

Last but not least was dessert! Vanilla ice cream with chocolate cake just oozing with warm melting chocolate on the inside, and big enough for two.


Eddie V’s Scottsdale Arizona location

Chateau Montelena

Sequoia Grove

disclaimer: My dinner was provided free of charge

6th annual Festival on the farm

The 6th Annual Arizona Wine Grower’s Association “Festival on the Farm”

Festival on the farm

Saturday November 15th, 2014.
Wine in the desert? You Bet!

Set amongst the 100+ year old pecan groves on The Farm at South Mountain, the event will feature over 30 Arizona wineries, wine education seminars, and a live auction.  The idyllic setting is the legacy of Dwight Heard (yes, from the Heard Museum).   In addition to tasting Arizona wines, guests get a chance to meet and greet the wine makers and principals of the various wineries.  The intimate and casually relaxed atmosphere is a great way to really get to know the wines, the people and new friends!

In addition to the tastings, the festival offers educational seminars and tastings.  You might get to taste some rare wines, as the wine makers often bring wine from their personal collection, not available to the public.  Last year Maynard James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars brought a few bottles of his ’08 Judith, which had long since sold out even at it’s initial offering of $100 a bottle.

Later in the afternoon the live auction becomes the center of attention.  The real live auctioneers are very entertaining even if you’re not bidding.  If you’re bidding you could walk away with some truly amazing steals.  In years past wine maker dinners, wine collections, and amazing vacations have fetched top dollar.

If you’re looking for something more intimate you should check out the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association Awards Banquet.  This event is held the Friday night before the festival.  For $75 you’ll get to taste this year’s Arizona Republic Wine Competition winners paired with amazing dishes at Stone Grove at the Farm at South Mountain.  Stone Grove is located right next to Quiessence restaurant, nestled in  very back of the farm.  Arizona wine makers will be on hand for guests to mingle with throughout the night.  Only 100 tickets are available for the Friday night event.

Whether you’re a sommelier or just getting into wine, there is no better event than this to experience what Arizona wine has to offer.

Visit for more information and tickets

Unlimited Constructive Criticism: The New Olive Garden Policy

By now you might have seen the news about Olive Garden and the bread stick policy.  If you haven’t here’s a quick run down:  Starboard Value, which owns 8.8% of Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants released a very critical 294 page document to the public detailing the short comings of the Olive Garden brand and practices.  The part that everyone seems to be focused on is the part about “No more unlimited bread sticks”.  While this is partially true, if you read the report, what it actually says is something more like: “Don’t bring all the unlimited bread sticks out at the same time, they tend to not taste as good after they’ve been sitting for 7 minutes.  Bring them out one or two at a time and then keep them coming as requested.”   So it’s not about being stingy, it’s about serving quality food.  Another choice quote was critical of the Olive Garden practice of not adding salt to the water while boiling the pasta noodles: “If you Google how to make pasta 101, the first step is to salt the water”  the Starboard Value report said.

Another key point (of many) was the alcohol and wine in particular.  Olive Garden alcohol sales amount to only 8% of sales while other chain restaurants like Macaroni Grill are significantly higher – in the 15-20% range.  Alcohol is profitable.  There’s no getting around that. Sell more alcohol, make more money.

My insight on the low alcohol sales:  The wine list is not good.  I’ve been there and tasted the wine, and it’s almost undrinkable.  Not that Olive Garden needs to start stocking high end wine, but just a few labels that people recognize and flavor profiles that lend themselves to being paired with the food they serve would be good.  The wines I tried a few years back were terribly astringent, flat and generally very unpleasant.  There are a lot of wines out there that are rated 90 points plus which retail for under $10 a bottle.  They need not limit themselves to Italian wines, just wines that go with the food.

One last thing I wish Olive Garden, and chain restaurants in general, had more of is Gluten Free options.  It’s not like its 1999 and these products are super pricey and hard to come by.  I can get gluten free corn based pasta in Super Target, so Olive Garden and others should have the ability to prepare gluten free pasta.  Think PF Chang’s.

See the report for yourself:



San Francisco Wine School offers online classes

San Francisco Wine School online CWAS program

San Francisco Wine School

Back in May I was approached by the San Francisco Wine School and asked if I’d be interested in participating in their online California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) specialist program and I jumped at the opportunity.

At first I was skeptical, I mean how can you learn about wine online? How can you do taste testing online?  I was as interested in the mechanics of the course as the content itself.

After signing up I did my research, who runs the school, who founded it?  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are some highly credentialed people involved, not the least of which is Mr David Glancy.

San Francisco Wine School founder and CEO David Glancy

San Francisco Wine School founder and CEO David Glancy

From the website: David Glancy is one of only 135 in North America, and 211 in the world, to earn the title Master Sommelier (MS). He sits on the board of Society of Wine Educators and is one of only 12 MS in the world to also pass their Certified Wine Educator exam (CWE). In addition, Glancy passed the Certified Specialist of Spririts exam (CSS) and French Wine Scholar exam (FWS).

The San Fransisco Wine School’s online CWAS course uses the Instructure Canvas online learning platform.  This platform was founded in 2008 and launched in 2011.  Over 800 universities and colleges use Instructure.

The first thing I noticed is how easy the system is to use.  Learning how to use it was not difficult because an orientation module was provided, which explained everything.  There was also a short quiz on the orientation which a student must pass in order to proceed.  This ensures that when it comes time to learn the real content you’re prepared.

The real content is multi faceted and consists of reading content, commenting on content and other students comments, tasting wine, and of course testing.

The content is presented in a very easy to understand and consume format: video.  David Glancy talks the student through each and every section.  Each subject is broken into its own short video and you can skip between videos.  However, you cannot skip ahead to next weeks content until you have passed the weekly quiz, and until he opens that module, on Mondays.

The content is broken down by region.  Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Monterey, San Luis Obispo etc etc.  And each region is further broken down into its sub regions.  The course covers the history of each region, the pioneers, the developers and the major players.  Also covered is the history of the geography, why the land is shaped the way it is.  The defining features of the wines from each region are explained.  The climate, what makes the climate, the soil, how that soil affects the wine.  By the end of the course I knew an awful lot more about California wine than I did before.  Sure this is stuff I could have learned on my own, but not in 7 weeks.

Each week there was a writing assignment.  David would pose a question such as “How would you market such and such region, given that it is relatively unknown”  Or “What are the 3 most important sub regions of Napa Valley and why”   After completing your writing assignment you are to comment on 2 other classmates assignments and respond to people who comment on yours.  That was one of the things I really liked about the class is that you get to interact with other students and bounce ideas off each other.  Seeing other viewpoints and defending your own is a really great way to learn more.

Each week there was also a tasting assignment.  You’re required to taste 2 wines each week, then write about the wines in a standard wine critic format.  I found this very helpful.  A lot of times in tasting and writing about wines, I’ve sort of bounced all over in describing the wine.  Standardizing the way the reviewing and writing is done is helpful not only in my own mind but to you the reader of this AWESOME website ( wink wink)

I learned to start with the color. That is not always obvious.  I really had to stop my self from pouring my glass and immediately taking a sip and saying AAAHHH, and then bla bla bla.  Start with the color, and the clarity. The next section is broken down into a helpful acronym so it’s easy to remember and stay on task.  We start with the aroma.  Describe the fruit elements and the non fruit elements.  Then the taste, again the fruit elements, the non fruit elements and the wood – if any.  Finally we were to add our thoughts and give the wine a simple rating out of 5 points.  Now I suppose a person could just submit the tasting notes from the winery website, but really if you did that you’d only be fooling yourself.

Lastly, there was a weekly quiz based on the content of the videos.  Though not terribly difficult you need to watch those videos with flash cards and make notes.  You need to get 7 out of 10 multiple choice questions correct in order to pass that section and move on to the next.

Finally, the final exam consists of 100 multiple choice questions based on all the content.  You need to score 75 to pass, and you have 1 hour to complete the test.  This I found to be difficult.  Although I passed, there is a lot of content.  Without taking notes on flash cards and studying throughout the final week I would not have passed.  I suggest taking the time and care to make sure you take good notes on each section and commit the larger points to memory.  That’s what this is all about right?  Learning, so that when someone needs your expertise you can be useful.

To sum it all up it was an exciting and informative experience.  One thing that I was pleasantly surprised by is that David’s personality came through a little bit.  Sometimes people rely too much on the education and credentials and it can come across as very dry and boring.  Not that David was a stand up comedian, but there were points in the videos where I actually chuckled.  A sense of humor is an awesome trait to have especially in a world that can be all to serious.