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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.

Pina, Napa Valley and Grgich Hills Estate

28 May

We heard about Pina, Napa Valley from a customer a little over a month ago, who was looking for this wine they’d bought in Napa. I tracked it down, and found out a little about this boutique winery, and had a chance to taste their wonderful wines. Pina, as a company, survives by doing vineyard management, which gives them access to some exceptional grapes.

AT Pina

Clair Palmer, a 20 yr retiree gave us a thorough explanation of their wines, including many statistics on wine and the area. They do only 2000 cases, with 90% sold in tasting room or wine club, so it’s in very limited supply. All of their 6 cabs are 100% cabernet sauvignon and single vineyard, which is very unusual for Napa (where most wines are blends, even if they’re called cabernet sauvignon). The first wine, Cahoots, is very nice, but the next two, which probably are available in MA, are fabulous. We look forward to have them again. Here are notes taken during the tasting.

D’Adamo Vineyard 2007 – (decanted) $75; Intense black fruit with expresso on the nose; delicious and lush; fresh and long; lovely

Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyard 2007 –(decanted) $85, Wonderfully intense nose with coffee, leather; decayed volcanic ash; beautiful on the palate, complex and very long.

The also have a chardonnay which is sold out (said to be unique) and a late harvest chardonnay that we tasted and loved.

Grgich Hills Estate – Next we headed over to Grgich

Cheesemaker from Beehive at Grgich

Hills, since we carry a chardonnay and cabernet from them that are popular at the store. We’d never visited and wanted to check them out. It’s on the busy side of Napa, and, being Sunday, it took a few minutes to make a right hand turn onto the main drag. They are smaller than you might think, at 30,000 cases per year, and both organic and biodynamic. We were happy with the quality of the wines, but they have a name and aren’t inexpensive, ranging from $35 for a zin up to $150 for a cabernet sauvignon, of the ones we tried during the visit.

We were happy to find out that they were having their 2nd annual Wine and Cheese Festival, with many cheese-makers on hand to present their cheeses. There were five tables, each with a different wine and cheese company. This was lunch….and a lot of fun…and we expect you will get to try some of these exceptional cheeses. Our favorite was BeeHive Cheese company; their Tea Hive (coated with bergamon…much better than it sounds), Barely Buzzed (hand rubbed with expresso and lavender) and Sea Hive (hand rubbed with local honey and sea salt) are unusually delicious. That’s all for today.

Cheese-fest at Grgich

AVV, Trentadue and Valdez Family(!!!)

28 May

Alexander Valley Vineyards (AVV) was our first stop of the day. We carry several of their wines because of their exceptional value to price ratio. Even though they’re on the large side at 150,000 cases per year, they’re family owned and maintain control. We visited them in 2004, and the tasting room is still the same friendly place it was then, and the wines are even better.


Lori, Jacob and Ray

We arrived right after opening and we had a nice visit with Jacob, energetic and friendly and a wine geek like us (see picture). We got to talking about pairing and one of Jacob’s cohorts brought out some cheeses for us to try….what fun. One of the cheeses was coated with coffee and lavender, from the Beehive Cheese Company, was a perfect pairing with their Cab. We re-tasted some of the wines that we have at Pairings, being reminded of how good they are for the price, along with some reserve and wine club wines that aren’t generally distributed. The Cyrus, a Bordeaux blend we have is superb. Their “primitivo” has 25% zinfandel, pointing out that although Primitivo is genetically the same as zinfandel, there are different clones.


Outside at Trentadue

Our next stop was Trentadue, which also is family owned and has been around since being bonded in 1969. They hand-pick all their grapes, with production of about 25,000 cases. Trentadue made their name with “Old Patch”,  a jammy, spicy, inky, chocolatey, delicious blend of old vines zinfandel, petit syrah and carignan, a very popular wine at Pairings. We started with a fresh Viognier, and ended with their upper level of “La Storia” wines. We carry the La Storia zin, which has a huge jammy nose and palate. We also like their “supertuscan”, petite syrah and cab. They also make several ports, which, now that we’ve tried 5 of them, we’ll look to bring into Pairings. Their Angelica (made with mission grapes, which aren’t good for dry wine but are excellent for port, which we didn’t know), Viognier, zin and petite syrah “ports” are excellent. Trentadue also caters to the college crowd, labeling wines with the symbol from most NCAA colleges.


Mauricio and Ray

The find of the day was Valdez Family Winery, north of Healdsburg in Cloverdale. We’d had their wine at the restaurant Zin the previous night. It was the best of a line-up of zins we tried…wonderful. Mauricio, the winemaker, led us through the tasting. The Valdez family started out as viticulturists, and manage many vineyards. In 2004 they started making wine themselves, with help from some of their famous customers (e.g., Paul Hobbs, a winemaker from Jordan, etc.). Whatever they did, it turned out great! These wines are fabulous, and we’re going to see if there’s any way to bring them into MA. The Sauvignon Blanc is awesome, as is their chardonnay (which has been served at the White House, amazing for such a small winery), the Pinot Noir, 2 zinfandels, petit syrah…all exceptional. During our discussion about many things wine we found out that Maricio loves Enkidu, which we’d visited recently (see previous blog) and also love. What can we say but “awesome tasting”.

Bald Mountain and Enkidu

23 May

Group at at the top of Bald Mtn


Wild Turkey

Day 2 was a “recovery” day, sleep in, exercise and visit a couple of wineries. After a nice breakfast and some blogging, we headed up the road (Adobe Canyon Road) to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park…wonderful hiking with great views in all directions, views of Napa and Sonoma Valley….highly recommended if you’re in the area and like to hike. Hikes can be tailored to different lengths and difficulties. The shortest route to Bald Mtn is about 2.5 miles and well worth the effort…you’ll get those views, and probably see some interesting wildlife. We saw deer, lizards, lots of wild turkeys, road runners and snakes (one a rattler).

Bring lots of water, per the usual. We did a little extra, making a loop that was between 6 and 7 miles….then back to the house, a dip in the pool, lunch, a shower and already it was almost 3pm. The day just flew by as we all enjoyed the exercise, the venue and each other. We had a few wineries in mind, but the main objective was –


Group at Enkidu

Enkidu, which is only a few miles from the house. We’d “discovered” Enkidu just about a month ago, loved the two wines we had a chance to taste, and now have them at Pairings. You can try them this coming Saturday (May 26, 4-7 pm) at Pairings Wine and Food. We wanted to be at Pairings for the tasting, but going to the Tasting Room in Kenwood is way more than sufficient compensation.

Enkidu is a small boutique winery, making only 3,500 cases per year, from sourced grapes. The quality is outstanding with super value. We tasted several more wines at the tasting room and will be looking into additional wines to carry at Pairings Wine and Food. Go to to read the story about the name, coming from an ancient story of Gilgamesh. Some of the names (see below) are from that story. Paul checked our ID’s (first time in 30 yrs for me), lead us through the wines and took our picture.

The Kick Ranch Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County) has honeydew on the nose; it sees some oak, has nice acid and is very long on the palate.

Shamhat Rose of Syrah is delicious, full bodied for a rose, but good acid. You can have it with dinner, but we bought some and tonight we’re having it with apps.

The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (which you can try Saturday) has lovely balance of fruit, spice and minerality…dustiness and chalkiness coming from the inclusion of some whole clusters. A touch of earthiness, with raspberries and cherries.

Odyssey Syrah – is very different, with dried herbs, “brown spices” and hints of expresso. The taste is influenced by eucalyptus trees growing next to the vineyard.…the oil from the Eucalyptus trees blows onto the vines, leading to notes of “camphor” on the palate. This is a unique Syrah, and was the favorite for two of the tasters…very different; dried herbs and long, with integrated tannins.

Humbaba is a Rhone Blend (also at Pairings and open to taste on Saturday), with lovely fruit and minerality at the same time – blueberries, blackberries and a hint of olive…balanced in the mouth – delicious.

Enkidu Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Petit Syrah, is inky and big, but at the same time has finesse, with plum and coffee notes – delicious – I’ll see if we can get it in at Pairing.

Paul told us about a 2nd level wine “E”, which he said is a fabulous value…we bought the Napa and the Sonoma “E”, a regular Enkidu cab and will compare them all in a tasting.

Paul recommended Audelssa as a small winery not to be missed. They are very small and sell all the wine to club members and out of the tasting room…an interesting business model as they get a full mark-up….and the wines are expensive.

Steak dinner with the MacRosti Syrah (peppers and spices) was a great match.

Wine and Food Pairing Guidelines

29 Nov

Pairing wines and food certainly is individualistic with endless variations, but a few basic principles can help guide you to good pairings. This article summarizes several of these principles, with examples, and future articles will go into more detail. In the meantime, you can experiment with these guidelines and the examples given below. Also, at Pairings Wine and Food we offer 6 wine and food pairings every Saturday from 4-7 pm, free.

Pair acidic foods with acidic wines. If the food has little or no acid, the wine will taste even more acidic, trending toward a vinegary or sour taste. As an example, goat cheese (an acidic cheese) pairs well with Sauvignon Blanc (an acidic wine).

Pair foods and wines with the same “power” (e.g. light wines with light foods). Pairing foods with contrasting “power” (e.g. a light wine with a heavy food), makes the tastes out of balance, and one will tend to dominate the other. An example at a recent Pairing, simple ham and cheese squares paired well with Pinot Noir. Both have “medium” power, and are  in balance. Tip 1: Pinot Noir is one of the most versatile red wines for food pairing.

Pair the wine with the most assertive taste(s) in the food. For instance, the protein may be dominated by a sauce. For example, a mushroom sauce will dominate roasted chicken, so that a Pinot Noir (for the mushrooms) may be a better pairing than a chardonnay (for the chicken). A recent example at one of our Pairings, curry was the most assertive taste in a Curry-Cashew Popcorn, and paired well with Chardonnay because the Curry isn’t spicy hot.

Pair meaty, rich and heavy foods with tannic wines (i.e., wines that engender some “pucker” in the back of the mouth). If the food is light, on the other hand, the wine will taste even more tannic, possibly becoming unpalatably bitter. Crispy Sausage at a recent Pairing went well with the big red tannic wines being tasted (e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Syrah). Tip 2: The strength of tannins in a wine can be reduced by decanting it (i.e. pouring from the bottle into another container). Tip 3: Adding salt to a dish will help tame tannins.

Pair sweet foods with sweet wines. Sweetness in a dish can make the wine taste sour or more tannic. This principle isn’t just for desserts. For instance, honey glazed ham may pair better with a wine that’s slightly sweet (e.g. a Riesling or Gewurtztraminer). Tip 4: For dessert, the wine generally should be at least as sweet as the dessert.

As for all general principles, exceptions abound and, in any case, individual tastes will trump principles. Experience is the best way to discover what types of pairings work for you. Come any of our Pairings to get more experience.