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Bressan in Friuli – The Wine, the Food, the Passion

16 Oct

Awesome! Lori and my visit to Bressan was one of the highlights of our research trip to Northern Italy. Fulvio Bressan, the winemaker is quite a character and his wife Jelena is his partner in their way of life, which is about making great wine and finding “balance”.

Fulvio is a man of many details and with reasons for what he does (for more on that, see companion blog Bressan in Friuli – “Ingredients” for Making Great Wine ”). He is passionate about life and winemaking, and lives life on his own terms. He is opinionated, but at the same time has logical reasons for his viewpoints. We personally agree with their philosophy which resonated with us during the visit. They don’t (won’t) provide wines for evaluation by the so-called “pros”. At times, Fulvio hasn’t allowed wine critics/writers to visit his winery and taste the wines. Fulvio said that the two wine evaluating groups in Italy are run by “mafias”, not to be believed or trusted.

Fulvio studied in France, Bordeaux, with the director of Margaux his mentor. He told Fulvio that he “must think like a vine” in order to make great wine. Fulvio also spent time in Burgundy and loves Pinot Noir. He says that 8 or more clones are needed to make good Pinot Noir – he uses 10. Napolean brought Pinot Noir to Friuli, so it’s been in Friuli a long time, not to be considered “international”.

Lori, Jelena, Mr. Pink, Fulvio

Fulvio will not sell his wine to those who want it for the wrong reasons, such as because it’s famous or because it’s the right price. In our opinion the Bressan wines are special and deserve appreciation. As Fulvio said, he makes wine the way he wants to, and if others like it, fine, if not, fine as well. Lori and I love it.

In the winery we had a spectacular barrel tasting of Pignola 1997, from acacia barrels, complex on the nose and the palate and very long. It’s still “young”, with significant tannins. Pignola is even harder to handle than Pinot Noir, but it’s a passion of his, the “Friulian Barolo”. Next was a Pignola from the same year but from a white cherry barrel. As Fulvio said, it’s “too arrogant”, with a little sweetness on the nose. Then he blended the two Pignola’s together in the glass and Voila!…even more wonderful than the first one. Wow!


Fulvio’s father appeared (in a hot pink shirt – see pic), and it was apparent where Fulvio’s passion comes from…..”he’s a philosopher”. Even without a language in common, the father was charming and expressive. He invited us to lunch and insisted that we choose whether to have fish or meat with the pasta. We chose fish…he went off to make lunch saying that everyone should be ready to drop everything and come to lunch when he called…which sort of happened. Lunch was outside under a canopy in a pleasant little area (see picture of Lori,

Lunch at Bressan

Jelena and Fulvio), with much food and a continuation of wine tasting (actually, drinking, since it was lunch).

The pasta with fish was fabulous, paired first with Carat 2006, a field blend of Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Malvasia, golden in color, since that’s the color of the grapes. Fuvio says the field blend gives a different result than blending wine from the grapes separately….blending causes a reaction that changes the taste. Carat is macerated with the skins to give it more flavor and body, which requires healthy grapes. This wine’s complexity and flavors evolved in the glass, hard to explain, as are all the Bressan wines we tasted. A plate of tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil and spices, and another plate of “pepperoni” (roasted orange peppers, also in oil and flavored) were simple and delicious as well. The father makes his own prosciutto (he was a butcher for 40 years), and

Two Prosciutto’s, Lori and Bressan Wine

he served two types, both tender and delicious ( in the picture with Lori and 2 Bressan’s).

The second wine with lunch was Pinot Noir 2006, which Fulvio makes because he loves Pinot Noir and wants to make it “the right way”. This is a Pinot to be experienced first-hand, unlike any we’ve had. The nose is mindful of Pinot Noir, yet has an earthiness and other magical qualities on the nose and in the mouth that, again, are difficult to explain. As Fulvio pointed out, this wine goes with all the foods.

Next was a peppery Schioppettino 2006 that paired wonderfully with desserts. We loved both a special bitter dark chocolate with grainy sugar and a dried sweet orange peel, from a friend in Sicily. Fulvio called the importer and gave us contact information for us to be able to get these products….stay tuned.

After lunch Fulvio took us back into the winery for one more wine, Moscato Rosa, a rare and hard to grow grape that we’d experienced in the Alto Adige for the first time as a dessert wine. Fulvio said that if one waits one day too long to pick, the vines fall down and the crop is lost….he did that one year and his father, who usually wants to pick before Fulvio chooses to, “broke his legs” for a year. This Moscato Rosa is dry, with elegant nuances of rose petals and orange peel. “One more thing” he said and he led us back into his wine bins and pulled out a dust covered 1997 Pignolo and a 2003 EGO Cab Franc/Schioppettino (50/50), Fulvio’s signature wine, which in fact he signed….looking forward to drinking them. What a great experience….we left having new friends (see “family pic”)!

For more on Bressan, go to


Bressan in Friuli – “Ingredients” for Making Great Wine

16 Oct

The philosophy/approach to wine and life at Bressan (Friuli, Italy) includes always striving to make better wine. In principle, this is simple…grow good grapes and turn them into good wine. On the other hand, many details go into making great wine. During our visit to Bressan, Fulvio explained many things they do that not only are different from most wineries but also make a lot of sense. What follows is a few of the things we gleaned during our visit, for those of you who are interested in some of the arcane details of wine making.

The winery has been in the family for 300 years. Bressan has land in the Collio (“ponka” soil with calcium) where we visited, and other land with iron in the soil (”ferrettizzato”), which Fulvio says is good for red wine.

We walked among some Pinot Noir vines (see picture of Lori and Jelena between vine rows) and tasted the fruit….the seeds

Lori and Jelena in the Vineyard

were brown, indicating the grapes were almost ready to pick…the seeds shouldn’t taste green. They use both sensory and scientific means to decide when to pick the grapes.

As you can see, grass is not allowed to grow in the rows between the vines because after 4-5 years it becomes a carpet that absorbs water, keeping it near the surface. This would cause the roots to grow toward the surface, which would be dangerous to the vines in a dry year. The roots should be encouraged to grow deep into the ground. Also, Bressan trims the vines early before the grapes grow, so there’s no need to green harvest…”do it right the first time!” Also, the vines live longer if the harvest is kept small….it takes up to 25 years for a vine to produce good grapes, and their vines are up to 120 years old.

To protect the plants, they use natural types of sulphur and copper that only are on the surface of the leaves. In contrast, most wineries use systemic materials that are absorbed into the plant/vine, into their “blood”. Also, they do all the picking by hand, selecting the grapes to be used in the wine as they pick….”It’s stupid to divide it into two steps, picking and then selecting later.”

Their vines have only two branches, one with the grapes for the current year, which will be removed after the harvest and the second one for grapes the following year, with a new branch kept for the ensuing year. Every 5 years they put horse manure in the ground in the middle half way between the rows….it trickles slowly in either direction to fertilize the vines over time.

The ceiling in the winery is painted (by hand) with products from macerated grapes. Bressan uses only indigenous yeast, and the yeast in the paint on the ceiling promotes the generation of the desired. The painting is done by hand since spraying would kill the yeast.

They use stainless steel for fermentation, as wood breathes too much – in typical winemaking a dried barrel from a previous year will cause a reaction if used to make more wine. He feels barrels are a vehicle for oxidation, and uses a saline solution in new barrels to season them. He also uses glass lined cement containers instead of barrels for some of his wine. On the other hand, Fulvio believes wood barrels can be used to add/influence the taste in a wine. For instance, he uses a specific type of cherry barrel for his unusual Pignola wine, and uses acacia barrels mostly for white wine (acacia is used in making sauternes). Mulberry barrels are versatile, finding use in both red and white wines. Silk was once produced in Friuli, with Mulberry leaves the food, so barrels were plentiful. Not any more; Fulvio has barrels made especially for Bressan. The wood for the mulberry barrels is cut with an axe along the direction of the grain…cross-cutting with a saw would close the grain. Fabrication of the Stainless Steel tanks is with cold welding to eliminate possible effects from hot welded metal, and the feet of the tanks are insulated to prevent galvanic effects….talk about attention to detail! The result is great wines!

For more on Bressan, go to

Manincor Wine Estate, Alto Adige, Italy

2 Oct

Our recent visit to Manincor was impressive, to say the least. (for more information, go to The wines are clean and precise with a beautiful elegance and complexity, just like Michael, the owner and winemaker who spent 2.5 hours with us explaining his approach and philosophy. He strives to be in harmony with life, and does everything biodynamically and sustainably.

All the grapes are harvested by hand and the vineyards are managed with nature in mind. For instance, insects are encouraged to live in harmony in the vineyards. This is depicted by symbolic ants on one of the walls at the winery (see picture).

Their quest towards harmony has many aspects. For example, a tall cement/gravel wall (Michael could have sold for “good money”) next to his underground winery provides a thermal mass to help keep the rooms at the right temperature without using electricity. During dry weather, water is trickled down along the wall to increase humidity, again without using electricity. This is just one of the many ways Manincor is organized to make the most natural and efficient use of the environment.

Manincor also makes some of barrels for winemaking. They harvest oak from a forest they own, and make oak barrels. The picture shows both a trunk of oak as well as oak slats that are drying for later use to make barrels.

Manincor also purchased new unlined cement tanks to have a means of supplying oxygen to wines in a way similar to oak but without the wood. Although Michael uses oak in some of the wines, the cement tanks provide another tool to make wines precisely the way he wants. He can let wine evolve naturally, without the influences of wood on the taste.

Art is a part of their culture, and they support a local artist who uses recycled materials (see picture, with vines and the background)…reminding us of our local friend and artist Madi Lord.

At the end of our visit Michael poured us 14 Manincor wines, a real treat. Unlike most tastings, we liked all of the wines (brief notes here).

  1. Moscato Giallo (yellow) – floral & lovely (already at our store, Pairings Wine and Food)
  2. Riserve della Contessa –Pinot Binaco, Chardonay, Sauvignon Blanc – bright and delicious, already at Pairings
  3. Eichhorn Pinot Bianco – sunny green apple notes, with intense minerality and persistence
  4. Tannenberg Sauvignon Blanc – delicious, intense minerality, kiwi and kumquats
  5. Sophie Chardonnay with a hint of Viognier, SB, and Semillon (as seasonings), lovely nose with complexity; will age well; nice persistence; named after Michael’s wife.
  6. La Rose de Manincor – 6 red varietals – lovely in the mouth – delicious;
  7. Kalterersee Keil – strawberry, red cherry, almond notes, elegant – nice persistence
  8. Reserva del Conte Lagrein-Merlot-Cabernet– beautiful on the nose, fresh luscious red fruit; (at Pairings)
  9. Lagrein –powerful red and black fruit nose; full, black pepper, nice tannins
  10. Cassiano a blend of 5 reds; fragrant red fruit on the palate; hints of pepper; black fruit and minerality –elegant and layered – can age 6-10 years;
  11. Mason Pinot Nero  – pretty on the nose and in the mouth
  12. Mason di Mason 2009 Gran Cru (1 hectare) – only in some years – longer – pretty and full on the nose – fresh and long.
  13. Canstel Campa Merlot (hint of Petit Verdot and Cab Franc) –“dense”; beautiful full bodied black fruit on the nose; delicious, balanced, complex and long;
  14. Le Petit Manincor- Petit Manseng–late harvest, apricot notes – balanced sugar & acidity

Michael also made stellar restaurant recommendations. One was for lunch at Gretl Am See near the winery, which overlooks the same lake we saw from Manincor. The other was “Zur Rose”, where we had a nice dinner the next night.

Anna Maria Abbono

17 Sep

Our visit to Anna Maria Abbono was one of the many highlights of our research trip to Northern Italy. We’d met Anna a couple of years ago in the Boston area and brought several of her wines in to Pairings…her Barbera is our favorite in the store and her Dolcetto’s have been impressive as well.

Anna’s winery is located near Dogliani, in the Langhe area of Piedmont, on a dead end road up Imagehigh where the view is spectacular. It’s wonderfully quiet and the life is a balanced multi-culture. They grow hazelnuts and have geese and various vegetables. Anna is in the fourth generation of a small family winery and where they continue to develop new wines. Their small Imageproduction of 70,000 bottles includes 10 types of wines (see picture of Lori behind the wine bar) because they like to experiment. They’ve bought some property in the Barolo area, so in the future we can also drink Barolo from Anna.

The wines are grown sustainably, exceeding requirements for organic. For instance, their wines are very low in sulfates (a preservative in all wines), 40ppm where the organic requirement is being under 80ppm. This low level eliminates the headaches that Anna gets from many other wines. It was interesting to hear her talk about sulfites and how whites tend to need more than reds since the tannins, acidity and alcohol in reds are natural preservatives.

We started with a new line of white wines, which make sense because of the high altitude, large daily temperature changes and wind. One is Nechetta (yes, that’s the grape), which we never heard of before this trip and a Riesling, very unusual for the area…both fresh and nice….and they’re still experimenting with these wines.

Next was an unusual rose of Nebbiolo, lovely and fresh with big acidity and notes of strawberry rhubarb. The grapes are pressed and the skins immediately removed because of the tannins in Nebbiolo.  This rose was complex on the palate and long, and changed in the glass as we sipped.

San Bernardo is a special single vineyard Docetto that Anna makes only in the best years….awesome! The line-up of wines is excellent, but this was Ray’s favorite. Before leaving, Anna Maria gave us two bottles of this, one perhaps to drink during the trip…we’ll see. I hope you will have the chance to try this wine (at Pairings or elsewhere).

The 2007 and 2009 Dolcettos, the Barberas, the  Cado (this means gift) Langhe Rosso (Barbera and Nebbiolo),  and her Nebbiolos are impressive as well. Perhaps we should have a (blind?) tasting of her reds?


After going through the wines Anna brought out three cheeses and salamis for lunch and we continued the wonderful friendly visit with Anna and sipped some wine. We especially liked trying cheeses from very nearby. Bra, a hard cheese from the town of Bra a few kilometers away, a Morazano, like the Robiola due Latte we have in the store but firmer, and a Castelmano which was crumbly and assertive at the same time.  The graciousness and hospitality is definitely something we try to emulate in the store – great reasons to travel to learn about wine, foods, and how to live life.

Buonocristiani, Bell, Hollywood & Vine, Raymond and Goose Crossing

3 Jun

Today (5/30/12), our last day visiting wineries in CA, was a quite varied line-up, from Buonochristiani, a

Lori and Ray at Caves

small cult winery that took us up into the hills to see a new Caves-Site in progress, to Bell, a medium-sized winery with wonderfully restrained terroir driven wines (and a unique Clone 6 Cab), to Hollywood and Vine, with Hollywood roots (truly boutique), to Raymond, which has a good name, value wines, and is dedicated to education and biodynamic wine-making. We finished this trip to wine country at Goose Crossing, which doesn’t distribute (but can mail to MA).

View to Soda Canyon

Buonocristiani – is run by four brothers. Jay-Bone (as he’s called) came into our shop about a year ago. I wasn’t interested in bringing in another Cab or Merlot from CA at that time, but after tasting his wine, immediately brought in their OPC Cabernet blend and Osso Anna Merlot. When the OPC ran out, we brought in the Osso Anna Cabernet. They all become favorites for several customers (most everyone who tried them). Jay invited us to meet the next time we visited Napa…so there we were. Jay was busy with the Napa Auction, so brother Matt “showed us around”. That meant driving us up Soda Canyon and up to a perch where caves are being dug into the mountainside, to hear about the winemaking/storage/offices/wine tasting/event venue which 3 small

View of Napa Valley

wineries will share. As we approached, several deer curiously checked us out before taking off. The view in one direction is of Soda Valley and of Napa Valley in the other direction. Along the way Matt opened up several of their delicious wines, a sauvignon blanc, rose, the Osso Anna merlot and OPC cab. When completed, the facility will be fabulous…a destination. We found at that there’s a glitch in the distribution of Buonocristiani wines in MA, so we’re going to do what we can to find a way to continue having their wines in MA.

Bell Wine Cellars
We tasted Bell wines shortly after opening Pairings, and love their flavor, restraint and, in the case of the Clone 6 Cab, uniqueness. We carry 5 of their

Bell Vineyards

wines…unusual to have so many wines from one winery. Sandra Bell presented her wines at one of the special Tuesday Pairings, and kindly hosted us at the winery in Napa. Sandra poured us a glass of lovely chardonnay (which we have at Pairings) and toured us around the facility and to the edges of the vineyard, explaining the rationale for how the vines are handled, based on the local weather and geography.

Bell does a wine and cheese pairing, which I recommend. It includes 4 cheeses (all of which are at Pairings – Humboldt Fog, Beemster XO, Grafton Cheddar, and Fourme D’Ambert Blue) and five wines, including their famous (and special) Clone 6 Cab (their web site has a great explanation about Anthony Bell’s research that lead to the Clone 6 wine . We finished up with a restrained Syrah (available at the Tasting Room), different from the one at Pairings, which is more fruit forward and lush. It seemed surprising that the Syrah would come last, after the two cabs, but we saw why when we re-tasted the Cabs again after the Syrah…for me they tasted more acidic and minerally. As Sandra said, they just don’t taste as good. One of those examples of how much the order of tasting wine (and food) can matter. Bell is doing an amarone style version of Clone 6 that would be fascinating to try.

Hollywood and Vine Cellars is so small it not only doesn’t have a tasting room, it doesn’t have a winery (3000 cases total). We met with Bev Brown outside on the deck at the Laird Family Winery, a facility where 60 different organizations do some part of their winemaking. The owner of Hollywood and Vine writes and directs made-for-TV movies and was an actor (the Fall guy, Designing Women…), and the winemaker is a famous woman consultant. A few weeks ago we tasted their 2480 chardonnay, which is truly unique….really. It’s hard to describe, with delicious tropical fruit, complexity with suppleness, a good mouth-feel, both full-bodied and long….You can taste it a Pairings in the evening on Tuesday June 12. The 2480 comes from the address of the property that got the owner started in the wine business. In addition, we tried the entry level, Short Ends cab and then their fantastic 2480 Cabernet, chocolate with hints of black fruit; delicious, fresh, long and bold. We’ll see about finding a spot for it at Pairings.

Raymond Vineyards has been bought since we first visited it about 10 years ago. My original interest stemmed from the name, Raymond, but I found the wines to be good. Since then the wines have improved and the price decreased…the two we have at Pairings (a chardonnay and a red blend) are great

Barrel Concept

values. The new owners are dedicated to education, organic and biodynamic methods. An outside area (more like a park) has exhibits demonstrating the different aspects of biodynamism and how it impacts the environment and, of course, wine. Inside are 2 interactive areas, one with different material to experience different feels (e.g silky) and another for experiencing difference fragrances. There’s also a crazy, dark, night club kind of room for tasting their high end wines. The wines we tasted, as expected, are exceptional values. In an interesting innovation called Barrel to Barrel, essentially bag in a barrel, one can have 3 or 10 liter barrels for serving wine aimed at glass pours in restaurants, but 3 Liters (i.e. equivalent to a case of wine) could easily work in the home or for parties. Also, anyone named Raymond (aka me), can pay a dollar to join the Raymond club and get a ½ bottle of Cab, which I did.

Goose Crossing – was our last winery of this trip to Wine Country.…on a whim, because of a recommendation at breakfast. Goose Crossing isn’t distributed, selling all 9,000 cases to club members and out of the tasting room, which is a good business model and impressive. However, Adam says they can ship to MA. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a visit. The wines are nice and somewhat different from most wineries in the area, as they are known more for their whites. The chenin blanc is outstanding, along with the orange muscat dessert wine. Their Howell Mountain cab had been decanted for many hours and still needed time…a very big cab….a nice end to our research trip to Sonoma and Napa.

Etude, Stags’ Leap and Hall

2 Jun

Today continued the visits to Heirloom wineries (see St. Clement and Beringer in previous blog), Etude and Stag’s Leap, and finished up with Hall, a small winery that’s coming on strong.


Lori at the Tasting Bar

Etude – The tasting room is beautiful, designed to mimic various aspects of wine making with many recycled materials. Etude is especially known for Pinot Noir, and their Cabs are excellent as well. Angel met us and took us to a private tasting room where we tasted an impressive line-up. The 2011 Rose of Pinot Noir is one of our favorites…we had it at Pairings last year but weren’t able to get it this year. It’s small production and sells out quickly. Next were two single vineyard Pinot Noirs, very different because of the different locations of the vines and different clones. We had them side by side…fun to go back and forth between them. These are serious PN’s. The Deer Camp is powerful and concentrated with lots of blue fruit, whereas the Heirloom is more complex, with baking spices and a velvety feel. Similarly, the two cabs are very different, with the one from St Helena having lots of dark fruit and smooth cocoa, and the Oakville Cab with more cherry liqueur and graphite. The wines live up to their reputation. Etude is very involved with wine and food pairing, a bonus to us, of course. Maybe one of these days we’ll try some of their suggested pairings with Etude wines.

Stags’ Leap Winery


House at Stags’ Leap

Not to be confused with Stag’s Leap (note apostrophe placement). This is the more exclusive of the two Leaps….no road signs at all….and about a mile up a back road/driveway…thank you GPS. Tours are limited and by appointment only. The property is incredible, with gardens and homes (a guest home that some customers were staying in), a beautiful view….


Lori and Ray with David and Tour Group

This visit was different from all the others in that David Meagher poured us several different wines as we walked around the estate, starting in the main house, going to the old winery (now a back-up to the new one), a room that used to be a speakeasy, and the vineyards. We were regaled with various stories, such as about a previous woman owner who ran the speakeasy, the effect of the Judgement of Paris on Napa (as opposed to Sonoma, i.e. “not so much”), the estate as a resort (at one time), even about the wines themselves… We learned that Stags’ Leap is best known for Petit Syrah, which is excellent.  We were “paired” with a group from PA, one the distributor for Stags’ Leap, a restauranteur and 4 customers (who were staying at the estate).

We started out with the excellent Viognier (is at Pairings) as we walked around the main house before the tour started, seeing art in the upstairs. Stags’ Leap sponsors artists, giving them time at the estate to work on art, and the artists leave something behind. It was a fun tour, with lots of joking and pouring of wines…we didn’t spit as much as usual. The tour finished up back at the house with two wines…I’d mentioned to David that Philipe (Beringer) had said to make sure we tried the rose…and we had a chance…lovely:

2011 Amparo Rose – lovely strawberries and white peaches, refreshing, crisp, with nice persistence, Primarily Grenache, 14.1%

2008 The Leap, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – lovely intense nose; cocoa, hints of leather, with delicious black fruit & brambly, hints of coffee. Absolutely delicious! (we have it at Pairings).

Hall Napa Valley

We stopped at Hall because I’d tasted a Cab at a distributor tasting last year and remembered being very impressed. This visit not only confirmed that impression but extended it. In addition to impressive wines, Hall also is very environmentally conscious. For instance this is the only winery we’ve ever visited that has a special parking area for electric vehicles along with a station to re-charge the batteries. Katherine Hall was the US ambassador to Austria, once upon a time. The production, about 35,000 cases is on the small side, and a separate “Walt” brand (Katherine’s maiden name) is on the boutique scale (about 5,000 cases).

We had a good time talking and tasting with Zeke; he’s passionate about wine and food, as we are…a Imagenice geek to geek interaction. Some of the highlights were the T Bar T Ranch Sauvignon Blanc with 9% Viognier; “spring time in the bottle”; it sees some oak, has lots of tropical fruit and is absolutely delicious. The Walt Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines are exceptional. The Napa Valley Cab Sauv was as luscious, as I remembered. The 2006 Diamond Mtn. Cabernet is like “jumping off a high dive into a pool of satin” (from Zeke), with lavender notes; brambly and dark fruit on the nose with hints of coffee and nuts; complex, layered and delicious; awesome!

The 2009 Malbec was a surprise…expresso – smooth, more mocha on the palate. As usual, many of the wines are available only in the tasting room…Hall is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

St. Clement and Beringer

1 Jun

Today we had two appointments, at St. Clement and Beringer, both with the same owner. Their cabs were included in an all cab event at Pairins (see previous Blog, Good Wine is Where You Find It). We were surprised by the wines, how good they are without being over the top…lots of balance, integration with oak, and persistence…even minerality and acid for big reds. As a warm-up for the cab tasting, Michael Meagher brought a Sauvignon Blanc from St. Clement, which we love and brought into the store (though supply is limited). So for this trip we wanted to find out more about them first hand (this extends to Etude and Stags’ Leap tomorrow).

St. Clement is in a beautiful house, and on the small

St. Clement

side in terms of volume, with only 5 of their 13 labels distributed. You’ll have to go to the tasting room to taste and possibly purchase the other 8 wines. The Sauvignon Blanc we have at the store is not available for tasting or purchasing at the tasting room, a first in our experience (you have a good chance of finding it at Pairings, although we can’t always get it…tropical fruit, rather than citrus, is dominant for this wine…the type we like the best….but many people prefer the citrusy style of their other SB (Bale Lane), which we tasted during the visit.

Mariah was very gracious and friendly during our visit…a wine and food aficionado like ourselves. The Napa Valley Chardonnay (Carneros) is found in many restaurants, delicious and long – well balanced – 20% new oak, 80% used, and 8 months in the barrel.

Interestingly, all the reds see 19 months of oak, but the proportions of new and old oak vary among the wines. The merlot, which is distributed, has wonderful aromas, red raspberries and is nicely balanced on the palate. The 2009 Cabernet, also available in stores, is excellent. The 2008 Oroppas, which we have at Pairings, is a special wine, deep and complex, with blueberry jam, clove, cinnamon, etc. – drinking very well now. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, it has a bit of merlot, cab franc and petit Verdot. The name is Sapporo backwards (from the oriental beer company that used to own St Clement). We also tasted 3 wonderful single vineyard cabernet sauvignons (100%), finishing up with the Steinhauer Ranch from Howell Mountain that was too good to dump (to explain…in order maintain ourselves, Lori and I spit and dump almost all the time, but some wines are just too good….).

Philipe hosted Lori and I in a scheduled private visit to Beringer. He’s been in the business a good while, with experience in various different jobs. Originally from France, we got to practice speaking French a little.

Philipe took us on a tour, in the old caves (now only a museum). Back in the day the winery got started by the Beringer Bros, one very into wine and the other who became rich as an industrialist and funded the winery. This allowed them to concentrate on quality, without having to worry about finances. Their approach was to use the best of everything. Many of you know Beringer primarily for their white zinfandel, which is a big financial success (which we have in the store because of customer requests but didn’t taste). In addition, they make several superb wines, which is the reason for the visit.

Later on, they were the first in CA to open up the winery to the public and promote Beringer with tourism. The brothers were originally from Germany, and built the Rhine House (see picture) in a German style….where we had a private tasting. Because they are known for their cabs, the surprise of the tasting was an excellent Pinot Noir, made in a true Burgundian style, elegant and spicy, balanced and complex. We re-tasted the Knights Valley and Private Reserve Cabernets, which are at Pairings. Both were featured in an all Cabernet tasting at Pairings. We finished up with Nightingale, a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc botrysized dessert wine, a delicious alternative (at lower cost) than sauternes (which also is at Pairings).

Today’s activity was a hike in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, located a little north of St. Helena. If you have a chance, hike up to Coyote Peak for views of Napa Valley as well as huge redwoods on the hike. We were happy not to see any dangerous wildlife this time.