3 Amazing Dessert wines for the Holidays

We all know that wines can be enjoyed with or without food.  And we know that wines can be paired with food.  But can wines be considered food?  In the case of dessert wines, I think the case can be made.  Instead of eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream and apple pie, try some or all of the following wines as an after dinner dessert, or as an aperitif(before dinner)- and as a wine!

chateau guiraud 1996.jpg

Chateau Guiraud, Sauternes.

Chateau Guiraud is classified as a Premier Cru or “First Growth” in the Bordeaux classification of 1855.  Normally you can expect to spend part of your children’s inheritance for a chance to taste a Premier Cru, but not so with Chateau Guiraud.  I picked up the 1996 vintage at Costco on mark down for about $15!  But that is a ridiculous price.  The 2009 vintage retails for $60 but even that is a steal.  The ’09 was ranked #5 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2012 and received 96 points.  A 96 point Premier Cru for $60 a bottle?!


muscat de beaumes

Paul Jaboulet Aine “Le Chant des Griolles”

This wine can be enjoyed before dinner.  At about $20 – $40 for a 375ml bottle this wine is also a ridiculous deal.  Other than the wine I am about to review next, this is my favorite dessert/aperitif wine.   Something I’ve really gotten into lately is enjoying these dessert wines at the beginning of the evening and at the end.  “Book-ending” your evening with these wines is a very interesting experience.  By saving half of the bottle for the end of the night, you really get to see how the wine evolves, not only from being open, but because of the interaction with your changing palate.  After you’ve eaten a variety of foods and consumed a variety of beverages, returning to the wine you started with will be a very interesting experience.  You may still recognize the wine, but you’ll definitely notice significant changes.



Chateau d’Yquem

Last, but not least, Chateau d’Yquem,  a.k.a. “The Nectar of the Gods”   This is the most amazing thing I have ever consumed, let alone wine.  And “thing” is a terrible way to describe it, but I’m a blogger not a poet laureate.  The critics including Wine Spectator and Robert Parker consistently rate this wine in the 95+ point range.  In fact Robert Parker gave the 2009 vintage a 100 point rating.  But wait there’s more… Wine Spectator rated the 2001 vintage 100 points, the 2011 vintage 99 points and the 2009 vintage 98 points.  Everyone who’s serious about wine knows that points are not the be all and end all, but these ratings are hard to ignore.  But don’t rush out and buy the wine just yet….get ready for some serious sticker shock.  You can expect to pay well over $500 for a half bottle (375ml) for some of the better vintages.  Or you could pick up the 2002 vintage which was only rated a measly 94 points for a meager $150+ per half bottle!




A Visit to Cain Vineyard and Winery


 Cain Vineyard and Winery

Last June I spent five days in Napa Valley and decided to venture off the beaten path to see what I could find.  I looked at Google Earth as I was planning my trip and came across Cain Vineyard and Winery.  It looked pretty far off the beaten path, so I contacted them for a tour and tasting*

Cain is located in the Spring Mountain district towards the north end of Napa Valley and east of St Helena.  Cain is located about as close to the summit as you can get, although there is no summit and no particular mountain named “Spring Mountain”.  Spring mountain refers to a geographical area in the mountains and hills to the east of St. Helena.

I was greeted by Operations Manager J.J. McCarthy and whisked out the front door on a wonderful walk through the oak trees.  The mottled sunlight played on the path and sparkled through the gaps in the canopy of the trees.  We came out on the other side of the trail to an absolutely spectacular view.  I was looking South East over hundreds of acres of vineyards in blocks on the steep slopes.  Some of which appeared to be close to a mile away.  Far in the distance I could see the valley floor.  If you look at the top of this post, that’s the view I was looking at.  The vineyard ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to a little over 2,100 feet above sea level.

The land that Cain Vineyards is on can trace its roots back to the 1870’s.  It was once a ranch that grew to over 3,000 acres.  Unfortunately after over 100 years of farming and grazing the operation was no longer viable and the family was forced to abandon operations.  They donated the majority of the land to create the McCormick Sanctuary which is part of the California Park System.

In 1980, the Cains (Jerry and Joyce) purchased 550 acres of the remaining land and began planting vines.  Their vision was to create wines using the traditional Bordeaux varieties.  5 years later, they released their first vintage.  Eventually the Cains retired in 1991 and sole ownership was passed on to their business partners, Jim and Nancy Meadlock.

During the tour J.J. was able to provide some interesting information.  The men who tend to the vineyard are each given their own blocks, which they are responsible for rather than have the group responsible for the entire vineyard.  This way each block is looked after by a single person, who can focus specifically on the unique aspects of the soil, the slope, the drainage, and any challenges and opportunities.  In the mid 1990’s almost the entire vineyard had to be torn up and replaced due to the risk of phylloxera.  The process took 4 years to complete, however there is still one small block that still remains of original root stock.

After the tour we headed back to the winery and took a quick walk through the production facilities and then headed into the tasting room.  There I tasted through Cain’s current offerings as well as some library selections and had a great conversation with J.J.  We talked about all kinds of things, not just wine.  But mostly wine.  If you’re considering heading up to Cain for a tasting or tour try to get J.J. as your host.  He’s warm and friendly, has a great sense of humor and he really knows everything there is to know about the history of the vineyard and the wines.  But mainly he’s just a down to earth humble guy.

The Wines

cain wine bottles

Cain Cuvée, Non Vintage 10, Napa Valley

I lost no time in asking J.J. about non vintage wines.  Usually the hallmark of cheap wine, he assured me that this was not cheap and what the concept is.   The concept is Cain has been working with the same vineyards and same vines, exact same rows for over 20 years for this wine.  “Each year the vines are a year older…”  according to the Cain website.  The NV10 version is a blend of 51% 2010 and 49% 2009 vintages with a mix of 48% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot.  The fruit was sourced from Gallegos in Rutherford, Stanton in Oakville, Nord-Trio C in Yountville, York Creek from the Spring Mountain District and Truchard in Los Carneros. The alcohol weighs in at 14.1% and the retail price is $34 a bottle.  11,230 cases were produced, but all of that appears to have already been allocated on the Cain website, you’ll have to track it down through wine retailers.

Cain Five, 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley

Cain Five has a smaller production run with 4,331 cases produced for the ’09 vintage.  The first interesting thing I learned about this wine is that even though it’s the 2009 vintage, it was only released in 2014.  After aging in oak for an undisclosed period of time, the wine was aged a further 2 years in the bottle before being released.  This would be an incredibly difficult thing for a young winery to accomplish, having wine in the bottle ready to sell but not ready to drink and having the discipline to not sell it right away.  The ’09 vintage is a blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot.  All the fruit comes from Cain’s Spring Mountain Estate.  This wine is still young and has at least another 10-15 years left in it.  If you’re drinking it any time soon I suggest decanting for an hour, but more importantly drink it slowly over a longer period to see how it changes after opening up.  It’ll be quite rewarding

Cain Five, 2004,  Napa Valley

The most obvious difference between the ’04 and ’09 is noticeable even before you taste the wine.  The labeling.  For some reason the ’04 does not have the Spring Mountain District sub AVA on it’s label.  The fruit is sourced from Cain’s Spring Mountain Estate, it just wasn’t labeled so at the time.  This wine also saw a release date long after the actual harvest.  The wine saw 22 months in oak and a further 2 years in the bottle before being released in 2008.  4,623 cases were produced but this wine is now considered a “Library release”  meaning it is only available on site at the winery itself.  The blend on this wine is 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot.  It was very interesting to be able to compare this with the ’09 vintage and see how aging works on the wine.  The wine had calmed down considerably.  Very refined, classic Napa mountain fruit.  A quick 10 minute decant is all that’s needed, and if you’re visiting the winery you can rest assured they’ll do that for you.

Cain Concept “The Benchland”, 2009 Napa Valley

According to the folks at Cain, “Concept” is “about Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the classical Benchlands of of Napa Valley”.  The fruit is sourced from Oakville:  Beckstoffer’s Missouri Hopper vineyard, Rutherford: Beckstoffer’s George III, Morisoli Borges and Hudson vineyards, Carneros: Hudson vineyard, Atlas Peak: Stagecoach vineyard and St. Helena’s Stanton vineyard.  The blend is 46% Cabernet, 26% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 13% Petit Verdot.  Although they just stated that this wine is all about the Benchland cab, there is a significant amount of blending going on here.  The simple purpose of doing this is to add complexity.  They’re going for a concept here, the concept – extremely refined and complex Napa Valley Cabernet based wine.  This wine hits on all marks.

Of all the places I’ve visited in Napa Valley over the last several years, the Cain estate was one of the most interesting.  Not only for the spectacularly beautiful scenery but for my one on one tasting withing J.J.   The thing that we tend to forget when trying to enjoy wine is that it’s made so much more enjoyable by drinking it with interesting people.  If you’re considering taking a visit to Cain I recommend requesting a tour with J.J. (I hope he still works there when you do!)

Visit Cain HERE








40 years of friendship in a bottle

Villa San-Juliette

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon | 2013 Sauvignon Blanc


I received a small box containing two bottles of wine one day.  I didn’t know who it was from, the winery didn’t seem familiar and I didn’t remember talking to anyone about these wines recently.  I decided to give them a try, knowing nothing.  I didn’t look up the wines website, just poured and decanted for 30 minutes at 68F, starting with the Cabernet. After tasting both wines, each over a 3 day period and with my tasting notes complete I ventured onto the Villa San-Juliette website.

I was very surprised to see a photo of Nigel Lythgoe laughing, holding a glass of wine, to say the least.  Nigel Lythgoe is an international superstar.  He developed and produced “Pop Idol” which was created by Simon Fuller.  Pop idol became a global television show, and in 2002 Nigel moved to the U.S. to develop and produce “American Idol” and he became a producer and judge on “So You Think You Can Dance”.

40 years ago Nigel met Ken Warwick at school and they became friends. Both ended up in the entertainment industry as producers and both moved to the U.S. in 2002 to work on American Idol.  Ken was a producer of the show from 2002-2013 and more recently he has been producing “America’s got talent”

So according to the info on the website, these two guys were having dinner in Vegas back in 2004 and they asked the sommelier to surprise them with a Cabernet.  The Som brought out something that apparently caused them to purchase a 168 acre vineyard in Paso Robles!  That’s probably not exactly how quickly it happened. In my mind’s eye I can see a hilarious scene where the two super stars and their British Accents sounding like judges on So You Think You Can Dance and getting really excited about the wine suddenly declare “We must buy Paso Robles at once!”

The pair bought the vineyard and immediately set about a major overhaul and renovation.  The 168 acre property now has over 130 acres under vine with 11 varieties.  The vineyard also received SIP certification in 2013.  SIP is a very rigorous “Sustainability In Practice” certification and is much more holistic than simple “Green” or “Organic” certifications.

Also in 2013,Matt Ortman was hired as wine maker.  Matt has a long background in wine that comes from his father, who was wine maker at Spring Mountain Vineyards, and a consultant at Cain, Far Niente and Shafer.  Matt auditioned for the “role” of wine maker at Villa San Juliette.  Nigel and Ken and a bunch of wine makers present their wines for a blind tasting and in a scene rather like one of their TV show’s they picked the top contestant!  Matt’s wines took first and second place.

Villa San Juliette 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles

Villa-San-juliette-sauvignon-blanc-bottlePale straw in color with lychee and a bit of honeysuckle and melon on the nose.  The palate is dominated by citrus and searing acidity with notes of lemon grass.  If you like your Sauvignon Blanc to have some kick to it, then this is the wine for you.  The alcohol weighs in at 14.4% and although not over bearing there is a warm glow from the alcohol that manifested itself more on the 2nd and 3rd day of the bottle being open.  Retail price is $14.  A decent wine though not terribly complex, a basic summer wine.  Weekly Wine Journal rating: 86 points.





Villa San Juliette 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles

Villa-San-Juliette-Cabernet-bottleDeep purple in color, with a nose of blackberry and rose petals.  The palate is nice and smooth, rich with currant and black cherry.  The alcohol comes in at 14.5%.  This wine drank nicely all throughout the 3 day tasting period.  The blend on this wine is quite interesting with 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Alicante Bouschete, 9% Syrah and 3% Cabernet Franc. There is a texture and mouthfeel to the wine vaguely familiar, a little like “Rutherford dust”.  This fine dust like texture is nice, gives the weight a more weighty feel.  This wine would pair equally well with steak as with a meaty tomato based pasta.  The retail price is about $20 but if you can get the wine for $15 this would be an exceptional value.  Weekly Wine Journal Rating: 88 points




*wines provided by the winery for review


OZV | Old Zin Vines

2012 OZV | Old Zin Vines

The oldest continually operating winery in Lodi California was purchased by Rudy Maggio and the Reynolds (Don and Rocky) back in 2001.  Lodi, in case you are unfamiliar, has been referred to as “The Zinfandel capital of the world.”  I found that quote on Wikipedia, but the footnote link is broken.  Even though, the description sounds good to me! Currently there are over 80 wineries and over 100,000 acres of premium grapes planted in the Lodi A.V.A.Old-Zin-Vines-bottle

Lodi received its official American Viticultural Area (A.V.A.) status in 1986, and is located at the east end of Sacramento/San Joaquin delta.  The town of Lodi itself is located about 15 miles north of Stockton.  Now that you know where, here’s the why.  The Lodi AVA’s primary characteristics are:  A long growing season, distinctive sandy soils, and cool ocean breezes coming from the San Francisco area which produce a “Mediterranean” Climate.

After Rudy & the Reynolds purchased the Oak Ridge Winery they set about a major transformation starting in 2002.   They rebuilt the winery and today, in addition to making their own wines they operate, custom crush, bottling, labeling, marketing and wine storage facilities.  Rudy and Rocky didn’t start their adventures in the wine business with the purchase of this winery.  In fact, their family farming histories span 5 generations.  In addition to the Oak Ridge Winery they have an impressive collection of heritage vineyards (more on that in future articles).

OZV-wine-labelSo, how about that wine?  The 2012 OZV Old Zin Vines is a simple straight forward wine.  It’s a big ripe jammy Zinfandel.  The palate is dominated by blackberry jam, blackberry compote and blackberry pie filling.  The wine is pleasantly light on the alcohol (13.95%) and doesn’t show any alcoholic “heat” typical of higher octane wines. Although not terribly complex, the wine is a crowd pleaser and at a suggested retail of under $15 it’s a great deal.  Weekly Wine Journal rating: 89 points

Technical Data:

Ph/Ta 3.52/6.8g/L

Blend: 96% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Sirah.



2 Great Cabernets from B.R. Cohn


I had a chance to meet Dan Cohn for dinner earlier this fall.  We met for an old school steak dinner at the famous Durant’s steakhouse in Phoenix Arizona and of course to taste some wines.

Dan, is the son of Bruce Cohn, founder of the winery.  Bruce is also the manager of a band called The Doobie Brothers, and has been since 1970.  Bruce founded the B.R. Cohn winery in 1984, but he had already been running a vineyard and selling grapes for 10 years by that time.

I sat down in one of the booths at Durant’s and waited for Dan.  He arrived a few minutes after me and greeted me warmly.  The first thing I noticed about Dan is that he is a straight forward completely un-shy (if that’s even a word) kind of guy. Or at least that is how he comes across.  He gets straight to the point, he’s confident but has a sort of boyish sense of humor.  In talking about how he currently runs the whole show for B.R. Cohn, he almost laughed:

“My office is the bedroom I grew up in, like literally the tasting room and offices is the house I grew up in.”   Suddenly he stood up and walked over to another table and greeted the guests.  They had just ordered a bottle of B.R. Cohen with their dinner and he quickly went over and thanked them personally.  The guests were quite old and I could tell they didn’t quite know what to make of this guy.  He was wearing a purple corduroy type blazer and had a paisley shirt and a fat tie on.  He looked like a rock star.  A little later on at another table a young couple also ordered some of his wine and he raised a glass to them, their waiter let them know who he was and they were definitely interested.

Dan talked a little bit about winery life, but for the most part he was persistent in asking me questions.  While not the greatest for pulling information, I did find it flattering and interesting.  Not a lot of wine makers and people in the business want to know about the details of wine blogging.  His interest was genuine and I appreciated that.

When it came time to order, of course we had steak, and paired it with B.R. Cohn’s Olive Hill Estate Cabernet.

B.R. CohnBR-Cohn-olive-hill-bottle 2010 Olive Hill Estate Cabernet, Sonoma

This wine is 100% Cabernet, aged 24 months in French Oak.  The flavors of anise and mint dominate the palate.  This wine would pair very well with Lamb, although it did go quite nicely with the steak as well.  3,000 cases were produced and the suggested retail is $55.

B.R. Cohn 2012 Gold Label, Cabernet SauvignonBR-Cohn-Gold-Label-Bottle

I was surprised by how different the Gold Label is to the Olive Hill.  This wine is solid, still young and will benefit from several hours of decanting in the near future.  The blend is 67% Napa County and 33% Sonoma County, all Cabernet.  Each lot is aged separately in French Oak.  4,800 cases were produced and the suggested retail is $40.  I was surprised to see the price at only $40. This a really good deal for that price.  The wine is ideally suited to prime cuts of beef grilled over an open flame.

B.R. Cohn Website

Durant’s Steakhouse Website

*These wines were provided as review samples

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