Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

The Wines of Montefalco

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Montefalco is the key region for Umbria’s great wines. Their claim to fame is the Sagrantino grape; which is bold and flavorful. Sagrantino maybe my favorite Italian varietal; but you need to enjoy powerhouse reds to appreciate it.

The two best know producers of Sagrantino are Arnaldo Caprai and Paolo Bea. I had the opportunity to visit the Caprai winery a few weeks back and really enjoyed it. I was surprised how modern the winery and the tasting room were.

Caprai Tasting Room

Caprai Tasting Room

We went on a tour of the winery and then returned to the tasting room. Chaos might be the best way to describe the wine tasting; but that actually turned out to be an advantage. Rather than tiny sips of wine accompanied by a long lecture on each, we got huge pours of wine accompanied by a platter of cheese. The most impressive wine we tasted was a 2005 Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni DOCG which is 100% Sagrantino grapes. This wine is huge and needs to rest for at least 5 more years. The wine is complex with layers of flavor that are perfectly balanced. This wine is a must for anybody collecting great red wines, but know that the wine costs about $90.

I’m not patient when it comes to letting wines rest. therefore my pick is the Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso, which costs about $20. This wine is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, and 15% Merlot. The wine tastes like a good Chianti but with a bit more structure due to the Sagrantino grape. I think this is a perfect everyday wine that will pair nicely with almost any meal.

One night we at dinner at Pane & Vino, a restaurant in Todi. The owner recommended a bottle of the 2005 Perticaia Sagrantino di Montefalco, and it was delicious. It was a big, bold red, but far more approachable than Arnaldo Caprai’s wine.

Perticaia Wines

Perticaia Wines

The Perticaia Sagrantino was a full bodied wine that exhibited great flavor, significant structure, and yet was elegant. This wine retails for just under $50, which is very reasonable for a Sagrantino.

I know you can purchase great wines from the Montefalco region in New York City, as well as online. Hopefully we can all work together to get some of the other retailers around the country to carry these great wines.

Renting in Todi

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Sunrise in Todi is gorgeous; as dawn breaks, clouds and fog envelope the valleys. The fog was quite mesmerizing, I would stare at the valley for hours watching the terracotta roofs poke their heads through the clouds. We recently rented a renovated farmhouse called Pergolaccio on the outskirts of Todi, Umbria. The terrace overlooked the rolling countryside, which provided the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening.

Dawn in Todi

Dawn in Todi

Terrace View at Sunset

Terrace View at Sunset

You may wonder why I would rent a house rather than stay in a hotel. Well, there are many advantages. If you are traveling for more than a week, it can be tiring eating three meals a day in a restaurant or a hotel. Having a refrigerator, stove, and microwave allows you to settle into an environment rather than just feeling like a tourist. Renting can have financial  advantages also; room service and restaurant costs can really add up. I have found that renting allows you to get more space when compared to a hotel, which is a real advantage for longer stays. If you rent a larger apartment or a house, you can share the space with friends, which can further reduce costs. Lastly, we were traveling with our dog Buddy, so a backyard was a real plus.



Renting a house or an apartment has become very easy with the internet. Sites like vrbo and homeaway have thousands of places to choose from. Many of the units for rent will have dozens of pictures so you know what to expect. Some sites also have reviews by former renters, and that can be a real plus.

The next time you travel, you may want to consider renting an apartment or a villa; it will certainly give you a different perspective.

Penner – Ash – A Willamette Valley Gem

Friday, August 20th, 2010

The Willamette Valley is a great Oregon wine region that showcases Pinot Noir. Known to have many of the attributes of Burgundy, this wine region has really blossomed over the last ten years. Last week I had the opportunity to visit it for the first time. The Willamette Valley is about 45 minutes south of Portland and spans about 60 miles. There are over 200 wineries in the Willamette Valley, most specializing in Pinot Noir.

Penner Ash Wine Cellars is a small winery in northern Willamette Valley. Lynn & Ron Penner-Ash started the winery in 1998, producing only 125 cases of Pinot Noir. Today they produce about 8,000 cases of wine, and the quality is outstanding. The winery is located on the top of a hill, and the views will leave you breathless.

The Views from Penner-Ash

The Views from Penner-Ash

Most wineries are quite pretty, typically located amongst acres of vineyards. What caught my attention as we walked to the Tasting room was the abundance of flowers: lavender, cone flowers, black eyed susan to name a few. That jolt of color woke up my senses; I was ready to taste some wine. Since Pinot Noir is their specialty, we focused our tasting on four Pinot Noirs: ’07 Palmer Creek Vineyard, ’08 Elevee Vineyard, ’07 Dussin Estate, and ’08 Willamette Valley. All four wines were excellent. They were medium bodied with layers of fruit and spices. The wines stood out because they were perfectly balanced and had an incredibly long finish. I though Palmer Creek and Dussin needed a bit more aging to reach their full potential. My favorite wine was Elevee because it was complex, smooth, and ready to  drink now. This wine was lively, yet very elegant. The Willamette Valley Pinot is another great pick. It’s a blend from about ten vineyards, and the result is superb.

Lynn Penner Ash started the winery with her husband and is the winemaker. She was the enologist at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars for 4 years.

Winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash

Winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash

She joined the Oregon wine industry in 1993 as the winemaker for Rex Hill Winery; and produced many award winning wines. At Penner-Ash she has been very successful, consistently making high scoring wines. Harvey Steiman of the Wine Spectator recently reviewed several of their Pinots, and most scores were 90+points. You may want to visit their website here. I have visited many wineries over the years, and Penner-Ash rates very high on the list. The wines are excellent, and the surroundings are beautiful,yet there was a third factor that made their winery so special – the staff. I met a number of them as they were making their way to the outdoor terrace to share lunch and some pinot noir beer. You could tell everyone enjoyed working there.

If you like Pinot Noir, then I think you need to try Penner-Ash. Cheers!

Rose – A Great Wine for Sunday Afternoons

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Do you have a favorite wine? My choice would typically be a full bodied red. However, if I was eating a plate of oysters or ceviche, I would select a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.  That being said, I have become quite fond of rose wine on a warm Sunday afternoon.

Rose is pink in color, and should be crisp and dry (not sweet). The standard was set in Tavel, a small town in the southern Rhone region of France. Rose wine is always made from red grapes, typically Grenache or Cinsault. The color is lighter than a red wine because the skins are left in contact with the fermenting mixture for only a short time, perhaps 10 – 36 hours.

There are many delicious roses made in southern France; but I live in southern California where there is limited availability of French wines. I have therefore been drinking California roses. These wines do not have the same historical reputation as the wines of Tavel, but they are fun.

How thorough and scientific was my analysis of the roses of California? I would classify my study as a fun sampling rather than an exhaustive taste test. The tasting area was a bocce court.

Bocce Court

Bocce Court

Although this venue may not be typically used for wine tastings, I found it very effective. During a typical wine tasting you might compare four to ten glasses of wine; intently analyzing the color, smell, and flavor components of each glass. The bocce court method is sightly more relaxed. First, you admire the blue sky and be appreciative of the warm weather. Next, you toss your bocce ball, hopefully with the utmost precision. And finally, you quaff your rose. Delicious.

I have sampled about a dozen California roses, and most were quite good. My favorite rose is Zaca Mesa’s Z Gris. It’s dry, crisp and rather light bodied; which makes it quite refreshing on a warm afternoon. This wine is also complex and very well balanced; making it stand out above the others. My runner up is a rose from Demetria Estate. It’s interesting that Zaca Mesa and Demetria are both located on Foxen Canyon Road in Los Olivos. Note that these wines are best served chilled.

Wine tasting is not just about ratings, it’s about fun. I think Zaca Mesa’s Z Gris is a winner; but I also realize there must be many other great roses. Have you tried a rose that you like?

Slow Food Feast @ Jaffurs Winery

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Slow Food Santa Barbara is a small but rapidly growing group of chefs, farmers, importers, winemakers, and others that are passionate about food. Last Sunday we had an event at Jaffurs Wine Cellars in downtown Santa Barbara.

Jaffurs Wine Cellars is a boutique winery dedicated to producing great Rhone varietals. Craig Jaffurs began producing wines in 1994; and the wines have been getting better every year. Dave Yates, General Manager of Jaffurs, conducted a wine tasting for the group that included: Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Mourvedre, Santa Barbara County Syrah, and a Syrah from Thompson vineyard. The wines were delicious.  More details on Jaffurs can be found on their website.

Good local wine deserves good local food. We are lucky in Santa Barbara to have farms that raise both beef and lamb. It’s great to support local farmers, especially if they provide outstanding products.

Sous chef Glenn Leopold and I set up two barbecue grills in the Jaffurs parking lot to grill burgers and summer squash.  We feasted on lamb burgers from Jimenez Family Farm (website) that were stuffed with feta cheese. Equally delicious were hamburgers from Rancho San Julian (website). Several of the hamburgers were topped with a local cheese from Paso Robles called Seascape. The lamb and beef burgers were huge hits; juicy and exploding with flavor.

Slow Food members each brought a side dish to complement the burgers. The dishes ranged from asparagus to tabouli, and all were spectacular. I can safely say, nobody went home hungry.

Great wine, great food, great friends.