I don’t think there is a better way to describe Masquerade’s Moscato than by calling it a treat. Seldom have I tasted a more delicious, uncomplicated and appealing wine. Sure, it’s not challenging. Sometimes you don’t want to be challenged. Sometimes you just want a treat, a caramel instead of a piece of chocolate, and this wine delivers.
I hadn’t had a Moscato Spumante – a sparkling muscat – before, so I can’t really compare Masquerade’s version to others. So let me describe it. It tastes like a regular muscat, only lighter and less sweet and full of bubbles. As I find muscat too heavy and too sweet, and I love bubbles, this is pretty much perfection for me. The only problem with this wine is that I just couldn’t stop drinking it. It was light enough to fool me into believing it’d quench my thirst, but sweet enough to not actually deliver on that promise, so I just kept drinking more. I’d say, drink a tall glass of water before you start with this one.
I couldn’t find anything online about this wine. It’s made in Italy and that’s about all I know. I bought it at Grocery Outlet, don’t remember for how much, but certainly at a price worth stocking up on.
Last night, for our Xmas Eve dinner, we cracked opened a bottle of Chateau Souverain Estate Bottled 2003 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. We had bought the bottle at the winery’s tasting room back in 2008 for $25, and it’d been kept in my bedroom dresser drawer since. I had been so busy preparing dinner that I hadn’t had the opportunity to chose a wine to serve with it, and this one was the first one I could reach. It proved a good choice.
I liked the wine quite a bit. The tannins had actually softened with time, and I found it less bitter than my notes from 2008 indicate. Indeed, it might have been right at the point when it was ready to turn because it was almost sweet. It was balanced and easy to drink, perfect as a sipping wine but with enough fortitude to compliment the ribeye roast.
In all a good wine, but if you still have one around, you probably don’t want to keep it around for much longer.
Mike won this wine (along with a 2010 Goyette Pinot Noir) at a school auction Friday night (yay for Mike!). I opened it last night for a small get together, and I was very, very pleased. The wine was very smooth, with soft tannins but a deep body, perfectly balanced and just yummy. It went great with the bread and Bavarian brie I served it with. I haven’t found much about this wine online – most references are to the Napa Valley cab – so I don’t know how much it retails for, but it’s definitely a great wine if under $20.
As I mentioned in my last post, last weekend I went wine tasting in the Santa Clara Valley. A couple of the wineries I visited had very good sales on wine they’re trying to get rid of, and I thought I’d mention them in a separate post in case you’re looking for something to serve at an event.
Sycamore Creek Vineyards has cases of their 2007 Merlot for $100, making the wines about half their usual price. This is a perfectly good wine, specially to serve a crowd, as it’s smooth, balanced and tasty, but not particularly challenging. They said they have 24 cases of the same.
Hecker Pass Winery has their Quintetto Rosso for $70 a case, less than half the individual bottle price. This, again, is a perfectly nice wine for a crowd. Stay away from their Grenache Rose, also on sale, which seems to be going bad.
It’s Winter Break, which means the kids are once again spending time with their nonos. It also means that Mike and I got a whole weekend alone together. We spent Saturday wine tasting in the Santa Clara Valley (or rather I did, Mike drove) and Sunday relaxing at home.
Even though I’ve lived in the Bay Area for most of my life (which just means I’ve gotten pretty old) and I love to go wine tasting, I had no idea there were wineries in Gilroy and thereabouts. But I wanted to go wine tasting somewhere new, and thus decided to look up all nearby wine-growing regions. Given that the Santa Clara Valley is pretty much the closest winery region to my house that I haven’t yet explored, that’s where I decided to head.
It was a good choice, I found the wineries to be quite good. None of them were amazing, but many were reasonably priced and the wines all seemed to have a grown-up quality to them. Wines were smooth, balanced and easy to drink. The wineries we visited were mostly pretty small, but quaint, and we got very good service from everyone (despite my concerns after reading some Yelp reviews).
I definitely want to go back to this wine growing region, and this time explore the wineries east of 101 (we only hit the ones on the west side).
Caveats to my winery/wine reviews
I generally prefer bold flavored wines and lots of oak. I like my white wines on the sweet side, I usually prefer oakey Chardonnays, and my red wines heavy. I used to be almost totally into Cabernet Sauvignons, but in recent years I’ve started to prefer Zinfandels. I like Merlots and Malbecs, but I usually find them too mellow for my taste buds. I’m usually not a fan of Pinot Noirs, and I used to really dislike Syrahs, but they’ve been growing on me lately. Finally, I don’t like fortified wines.
I usually cannot identify specific flavors in wine. A wine may taste flowery or fruity to me, but don’t ask me which flower or which fruit it is. Mostly I concentrate on the things that scream to me: how balanced the wine seems, how full, how alcoholic/tannic/acidic, basically, how much I enjoy drinking it 🙂
J. Lohr makes wine from grapes grown in Monterey County, Paso Robles and Napa, and they have tasting rooms in both Paso Robles and San Jose. The one in San Jose is quite nice, though the wine counter is *really* tall. I’m 5’1″ and it was almost as tall as my neck. On the plus side, they have purse hooks underneath it, so my husband didn’t have to actually hold on to it while I wrote my notes 🙂
Tastings of up to 6 wines (from the 20 or so they offer) is complimentary. I started with their 2010 Estates Riverstone Chardonnay ($14) which wasn’t bad for the price. it was somewhat bright and slightly sweet and oakey, with a pretty smooth texture. Their 2010 October Night Chardonnay ($25) was much more expensive and not as good. It was very floral, but too light and it felt empty. I also wasn’t too big a fan of their 2009 Estates Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon ($17). It was fruity, somewhat sweet and easy to drink, but it sort of fell flat towards the middle. Their 2009 Gesture Mourvedre ($30) had a wonderful earthy aroma and deep edges, but it felt hollow. I wouldn’t buy it. I found their 2007 Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) much more interesting. It as a fairly light wine with an intriguing fruit flavor in the center. It reminded me of a less-sweet grilled peach. I don’t think I’d ever tasted anything quite like it. Finally, their 2008 Carol’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) is made from Napa Valley grapes and it tastes just like a typical Napa cab . It was tannic, spicy and yet a bit fruity. Quite nice, but overpriced.
The staff was very friendly and knowledgeable and it was a good tasting experience.
Once properly in the Santa Clara Valley region, we started with
This is a very pretty family-owned winery, with an upscale tasting room. They offer $5 and $10 tastings from their different lines, but the former is free if you mention Yelp. We went for the free tasting, and were pleased by the offerings, though I think the wines are overpriced.
One thing Clos LaChance understands, and that many wineries don’t, is how important it is to serve white wines cold. I’m not a huge white wine drinker, but I enjoyed both their 2010 Viognier ($22) and their 2007 Chardonnay ($22). I found them fresh and crisp, smooth and easy to drink, but I think the temperature influenced my enjoyment as much as the quality of the wine.
I was not a fan of either the two Pinots I tasted, but then again, I’m not a big pinot fan to begin with. Both the 2008 SCM Pinot Noir ($32) and the 2008 Erwin Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50) felt like small wines to me, very self-contained, with bright, rich edges, but a hollow center. Not surprisingly, I enjoyed the 2008 Estate Zinfandel ($20) and the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) more. They were both fuller, the zinf was particularly spicy.
Service was nice and friendly.
Very close to Clos LaChance, Sycamore is more of a “working” winery. The tasting room is a in a large barn/barrel room. The people pouring were very knowledgeable, and we learned quite a bit about barrels (my husband was pointing out how amazing it was the wood slabs would have a leak-proof seal, in the absence of any adhesives between them). For example, I hadn’t realized that an oak barrel will only be able to impart its flavor to up to 3 batches of wine, as each barrel holds about 500 bottles, that means that oak-aging ads from 30cents to over $1 per bottle (depending on whether you use American oak or French oak barrels). New barrels can also make the wine too oakey (as if that was possible!), in which case they mix that wine with wine from the same vintage that has not been aged in barrels, so that they get just the right amount of oak.
In any case, the wines were definitely pleasant and well priced. They offered a complimentary tasting and a reserve one for $5, I went for the former. Their 2010 Naked Chardonnay ($18) was nice and crisp, a tiny bit sweet and, as it’s aged in steel barrels, not at all oakey. I’d drink it but not buy it, at least at that price. Their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($17) was more interesting. It had a fun combination of earthy and bright fruity aromas and flavors and was light and fun. But it also felt like a tease, like it should be followed by something more substantial. I think it’d be a good wine to serve before dinner or with a first course.
The next wine on the list was their 2007 Merlot. It sells for $19, but they’re getting rid of their unsold inventory at a price of $100 per case (12 bottles). A great deal if you’re looking for a good wine for a function. I found this merlot quite good, oakey and with a medium body, pleasant to drink. Their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) shared similar qualities. At last, Rosé wine can sometimes be a guilty pleasure – a completely meritless wine, only made palatable by lots of sugar – but here it wasn’t sweet enough to amount to anything. At $17 a bottle it was ridiculous overpriced when you consider that Rosé is made with grapes that would otherwise be thrown away.
All in all, this was a nice winery to visit and I’d like to go back and taste their reserve offerings.
I have to admit it, I only stopped at Kirigin Cellars because the wine tasting was free and because they had a dog. Their wines were not very well reviewed on Yelp, but their dog was. I don’t like dogs but my husband does – and I figured, given that he wasn’t tasting (as he was driving), at least I could give him a pooch to play with. As it turned out the dog was too busy playing with a kid (he was a cute and friendly dog, indeed), but the wine turned out to be pretty good.
I started their complimentary tasting with their Champagne ($18). It’s not made by them, but I imagine they figured that nobody else in the region is making/selling sparkling wines, so they might as well have one. I have to admit that it was actually very good. Yeah, it was very sweet – I have started to prefer my champagnes on the sweet side – and very bubbly, and probably not sophisticated, but mighty nice to drink.
Though I find that drinking regular wines after champagne is a mistake – as the latter makes the former taste, well, flat, their Sauvignon Blanc ($15) was actually quite nice. It was sweet enough, without going overboard, very smooth and just pleasant. For the flower lover, their Malvasia Bianca ($18) offers a full bouquet in a glass. The flavor doesn’t last long, but it can be quite fun if that’s your type of thing. I did like their Estate Red ($15), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. It was balanced and smooth, with a medium body. Their Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) was even better, though it probably needed a bit more oak and tannins. It was nicely spicy, though, with earthy undertones.
The favorite of the bunch had to be the Vino de Mocca ($20), however. That’s sad because this is basically a cheap wine flavored with chocolate and coffee. Still, if it tastes good, it tastes good. Dessert on a bottle, what can I say?
The tasting experience in the small tasting room was pleasant enough. The servers weren’t the most engaging people in the planet, but they were nice enough. I’d go back.
Our next stop was Fortino, but we run into a very nice guy with a 1991 Lamborghini Diablo outside and stayed talking to him for a while, and by the time we were done the tasting room was closed (they close early on New year’s Eve), so we went on.
Hecker Pass was my fifth winery of the afternoon, which meant I was a bit tipsy by the time I made it here. I found the little winery cute cute and our attendant, Stephanie, was friendly and knowledgeable. Tasting from their very long wine list is free, and you get to chose which wines you want to taste. I started with their Grenache Rose ($15, cases on sale for $60) which I did not enjoy. The alcohol in the wine had too prominent a flavor, and the wine itself tasted as if it was going bad. I would not recommend it even on sale. Their Quintetto Rosso ($15, cases on sale for $70) is a much better choice. It’s your basic red table wine, with bright, clear flavors though pretty much one-tone. Not a wine you’d buy for $15 but perfectly acceptable to serve an event for $6 a bottle.
The funnest part of their Uva Nera ($25) is guessing what grapes it’s made from. The wine is rather weak and hollow, and I wouldn’t bother serving it, specially at that price. Mike guessed that it was Cabernet Franc, but he was wrong. It’s a combo of two grapes, and I won’t spoil the surprise, but thinking back I wouldn’t have expected such toothless wine from those two grapes.
I enjoyed their Carignane ($22) more, but by that point I had ceased writing detailed notes, and really liked their Petit Sirah ($22).
On to their dessert wines, Mike found their Ruby Port ($22) very “yummy” but was less impressed with their Dolcetto Rosso ($22), which I don’t think is fortified. Not surprisingly he found it lighter and not as fruity. I did like their Cream Sherry ($22), it had a nutty maple flavor that would go great with ice cream.
Note that the prices at the winery are a few dollars higher than those they list on their online wine store. If you visit the winery you may want to ask them to match their online prices.
Solis was my sixth and final stop of the afternoon. Before coming here I had signed up for their mailing list, and had gotten a “50% off any bottle of wine” coupon (available to first time visitors, only) so I was hoping I could find something I liked. Of course, with five wineries and probably 30 tasted wines under my belt, I was probably not too picky by that point.
Tastings here are $5 and you get a coupon for the same that you can use towards the purchase of any wine. The first one on the list was the 2009 Chardonnay ($24), a very nice wine with a slight oak flavor, if I was much of a white wine drinker I might have gotten it. Their 2010 Fiano ($24) was like a bowl of fruit in a bottle and surprisingly refreshing. Solis is the only winery growing fiano, an Italian white wine grape, in the area and one of the very few outside Campania. It’s definitely worth a try, though it seems different from the wines usually made with this grape.
Going into the reds their 2008 Seducenten ($30) is a very nice blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. While it was lighter than the wines I usually enjoy, its velvety feel won me over. It offers a hint of spice and butter. I didn’t like their 2007 Merlot as ($20) as much. It had a sharp start and a smooth finish with hints of oak, but it didn’t work as well for me. I wasn’t a fan of their 2001 Reserve Merlot ($28) either. I thought it was a bit passed its prime, all the flavors had combined into a one-tone mess. Mike liked it, though.
Their 2007 Syrah ($30) tasted like a typical good Syrah while their grown-up 2003 Syrah ($28), was good in itself but would great with chocolate.
And that was it for my afternoon of wine tasting. I managed to remain fairly coherent while tasting (at least as much as I can remember and I can see by my notes), but six wineries was certainly too much and I fell asleep as soon as I got home. I ended up missing my planned New Years Eve celebration and welcomed the new year in bed with a headache, but it was still worth it 🙂
The kids are out of town and I figured it would be a great opportunity to go wine tasting, something we haven’t done for a couple of years. Livermore is the wine growing region closest to us, so that’s where we headed last Saturday. Mike drove, I tested. For this trip I concentrated in smaller wineries – and in particular, those that offered free tastings. It ended up being a good strategy, I was surprise to find how good the wines from these little wineries were. Indeed, I think the whole quality of Livermore wines has gone up considerably.
We started out wine tasting at Wente Vineyards, the only large winery that offers free wine tasting. Alas, there free wine tasting includes only their 2 most popular wines: their 2009 Riva Ranch Chardonnay ($20 at Wente, but as low as $12 elsewhere) and their 2008 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon ($25). I liked both wines, they were both very drinkable, low in acidity, well balanced and just nice. You won’t go wrong buying a bottle of either.
Wente also offers tastings of 5 wines for $5 or $10 (depending on the wines). I think it would be worth trying them. I didn’t this time because I wanted to be able to taste at other wineries as well but I will next time. Wente has a very nice tasting room, heavy on wood, with a central, circular wine tasting area and a largish shop. It was very busy.
Our next stop was Cedar Mountain Winery, a mom & pop operation with a tiny tasting room. Tastings here are $5 or $10 for 5 wines, refunded with purchase. I’d gotten a coupon for a free tasting, however (search online). I started my tasting with the 2008 Pinot Grigio ($13), which was very sharp, a bit bitter but still buttery without being oaky. It was nice and simple and I enjoyed it. It was a good wine for the price. The 2008 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($14) was even lighter, quite summery, with a stronger after taste, I liked it as well. After that, the 2008 Duet ($22) was an unexpected burst of flavor. This is a very punchy, very earthy, front-flavored wine, definitely very rustic. I rather enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I’d buy a whole bottle of it. The 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) that followed it could not compete with the Duet for flavor, and pretty much disappeared in my mouth.
We then moved on to the Ports, which I’m not too fond of, but Mike is. Their Viogner White Port ($20 for a 1/2 bottle) tasted like your typical dessert whine, it didn’t feel fortified at all and it was quite sweet, pretty much like grape syrup. We both liked it. Mike was even fonder of the Tortuga port ($25 for half bottle), which contains 70% Scharffen Berger cocoa powder. To me it tasted like port mixed with cocoa powder, but Mike really enjoyed it and actually bought a bottle. I did like their 2000 Late Bottled Vintage Port ($40), made from 3 Portuguese varietals. I found it very balanced and not very alcoholic. Mike liked it too, but not as much as the Tortuga.
Cedar Mountain only sells their wines at the winery, so if we ever want more Port we’ll have to head over there.
We then headed to Eagle Ridge Vineyards. This is a cool winery with a tasting room located in the front of a large barn. It was pretty crowded when we got there, so it’s probably best to head here early. I liked their wines all in all, but what I particularly liked was the herbed cheddar on crackers they offered. I’d like to find some more!
As to their wines, their 2010 Pinot Grigio ($20) was nice and easy to drink but overpriced. The same can be said about their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28). Definitely good wines at a lower price point. I found their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28) too shallow, though it had an interesting chocolaty essence. Mike liked it but I found it just OK. Their 2006 Zinfandel ($25) was too front-loaded for my taste, it sort of disappeared after a burst of flavor. Finally, Mike liked their port ($25) but I found it too alcoholic, and preferred the one at Cedar Mountain.
Charles R Vineyards, our next stop, had a cute, sunny tasting room and a small outside patio with chairs for those looking for a picnic spot. The small winery, they do 2,000 cases a year, has been in the family for three generations. They only sell their wines at the winery and they don’t ship. I started with their 2009 “Sur Lies” Chardonay ($20). I thought it was nice, easy to drink with some hints of sweetness. Mike didn’t like it, however, and I wouldn’t pay that much for it either. Their 2007 Syrah ($23) was just OK for my tastes, but I’m not a big Syrah fan. It was easy to drink, balanced, but would have been better served at a lower temperature. I’d drink it, not buy it. Their just-released 2008 Petit Sirah ($28) was bolder, with a medium body and again, perfectly acceptable without being remarkable. The same can be said about their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) and their 2007 Zinfandel ($28) These are good, adult wines, just not outstanding ones.
Charles R. offers a brownie-with-port tasting for $2, and Mike definitely had to do it. He found their 2006 Vino de Amor Port ($28 for a 1/2 bottle) to be well balanced, sweet with a subtle alcoholic note.
We also stopped at Eckert State Winery, another tiny family owned winery that only sells at the winery. Here I had a very nice, refreshing and simple 2008 Simillon ($15) and a 2004 Dolcetto ($16) which was passed its prime. Their 2008 Ensemble, a blend, is a reliable table wine for only $10: nice, simple but easy to drink. Their 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($13.50) was also passed its prime, with a very blended flavor and too much alcohol. Their 2006 Malbec ($16) was better, a bit too old but still perfectly drinkable.
Bent Creek, a slightly larger winery at 3400 annual cases, was bursting with activity when we got there around 4 PM. The fact that they offer snacks and the tastings are free, probably help to attract visitors. The tasting started with a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($15), which tasted very much like white grape juice. If you want some alcohol on your grape juice, this is the wine for you. The 2009 Chardonnay ($19) was very light and lacked flavor, you can drink it but you’d ask yourself why. The same can be said about the 2008 Cabernet Franc ($27). This wine was just released and it’s not yet ready for consumption. Its notes were too sharp, it’s not yet balanced and it leaves you empty. Much better is the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25), and nice, simply balanced wine, without too much oak or tannins. I found their 2008 Red on Red ($25) both edgy and full bodied, a good BBQ wine. It was vibrant and yet had a smooth finish. It was probably my favorite at this winery.
Finally, we visited El Sol vineyards, where tastings are $5 to $10 per 5-wine flight. You sit down at a table in the large winery room and tell an attendant which wines you want to try. Pretty much all of El Sol’s wines are old and, to my taste, well past their prime. The flavors in all the wines I tasted had blended together, in almost a brandy-like mess. The only wine I actually enjoyed was their Grand Cuvee Champagne ($14) and then only because it was the bubbliest wine I’ve ever tasted. It had no flavor whatsoever, it works great as a palate cleanser, but the bubbly sensation was great. I might buy a bottle next time. The other cool part about this winery is that you get to taste two different wines directly from the barrel. Now, both wines also suffered from a uniform, too alcoholic flavor, but clearly that’s what the winemakers like. We also got to taste a 2009 Zinfandel made from a variety of grapes from backyard growers in Contra Costa County which would make a perfectly good dessert wine if served today. However, the winemaker seems to want to keep it until it goes bad as well. Needless to say this is not a winery I recommend unless you like one-tone wines.
I had a lot of fun wine tasting in Livermore, and I’m planning to go again soon. Alas, I’ve hit most of the free wineries so it won’t be as cheap an adventure.
For my older notes on other Livermore wineries, see:
My friend Mauro brought this wine to my Hanukkah party last night, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It has a fresh, crisp flavor, somewhat bitter, and yet it managed to be fruity as well. Very easy to drink. I’d buy it.
I “won” this wine at a silent auction a couple of years ago (along with three other Bink bottles) and decided to bring it to Thanksgiving dinner. Most of the other wines I have are cabs, and I thought they’d be both too hearty for the turkey and the other guests. It was a good choice. The wine was very good, hearty yet crisp, well balanced, perhaps with a little bit too much alcohol for my taste (but that may have been the result of less than optimal storing conditions) but all in all a mature and refined wine. It went well with the turkey and by itself, and definitely called for a second glass. I’m looking forward to enjoying the other Bink wines I still have around.
I’m not sure how I got this wine but I took it today to a pic-nic and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s deep, but easy to drink, somewhat fruity. Very light tannins. Just nice 🙂
I bought this wine at Grocery Outlet a few weeks back, mostly because it was Argentinian. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s not a big enough reason to try a wine, but I’d been wanting to give Grocery Outlet wines a chance for a while. Baaaaad Idea. I’ve drank a lot of bad wine in my life, but this one seemed to be spoiled. It tasted sour and well, spoiled. I don’t know if Grocery Outlet will take it back (I’ll check next time I go), but I will take this as a warning against buying wines at Grocery Outlet.