Enjoying a taste of the Belle Ambiance

“We all have a place to relax and unwind, to enjoy and forget about the world, if only for a little while…” This is line that greeted me when I opened the box from Belle Ambiance Family Vineyards. Oh man, relax and unwind? Forget about the world? Sign me up!

Since life’s pleasures are best when shared, I took a bottle of Belle Ambiance 2013 Pinot Grigio to my sister-in-law’s house for Easter. While the kids dyed eggs (and their fingers… and probably the couch… and maybe the dog) we enjoyed a cold glass of this delightfully fresh white wine.

ImageThe pinot grigio has a delicate balance of honeysuckle and melon, cucumber and a blade or two of green grass. The light Imageeffervescence made it feel like a guilty treat that we probably didn’t deserve while the husbands were cleaning up egg shells and dye, but we didn’t really care. The cares of the world are not match for springtime sun and a cold pinot grigio!

The soft pink label only added to the feeling of serenity, and belied the very affordable retail price of $9.99. This is a wine I’d feel  confident bringing to a brunch with the aunts and mother-in-law or sharing with my wine-snob friends.

While Belle Ambiance is a new line of wines, it comes from the well-established Delicato Family Vineyards in California, which has been producing wines since 1924. It strives to bring premium, responsible wines to the Millennial market. Belle Ambiance means “beautiful place,” and I like that it’s striving to make this world a more beautiful place by producing certified-sustainable wines in my budget. I can feel good about taking a few minutes to myself to enjoy the sun on my shoulders and the crisp bite of wine on my tongue. Cheers to my own belle ambiance!

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Rock and Vine: a peek at new Napa winemakers

I recently had a chance to preview a new book called “Rock and Vine,” and you, Image
dear readers, have a chance to win one of your very own! Leave me a comment by midnight PST on Feb. 3 about your favorite Napa winery, and I’ll randomly select two winners to receive a copy of the book! Easy!

So what is this book, you ask? It’s a beautiful coffee table tome from Chelsea Print and Publishing about the new generation of Napa vintners – a generation that has learned from its parents and friends and is infusing tradition with innovation.

Through photography, interviews, and the author’s insight, we learn about this new generation of winemakers that has spent a lifetime learning from the masters and is bringing a fresh face to the wine industry. We learn how their parents pioneered grape growing in California and turned a sleepy California town into the most famous wine region in the country. And we see that the pioneering spirit lives on in the now-grown children who are applying new techniques and innovative marketing to reinvent the region.

What is perhaps most inspiring to this writer is that the new generation is not trying to compete with the older. They are creating something new – another layer to the rich culture of Napa to be explored and enjoyed.

While I call it a coffee table book, “Rock and Vine” is really a fascinating read and not one that should collect dust on your table. You’ll gain insight into wine making and learn about a plethora of new wineries to be explored in California.

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Christina Turley of Turley Wine Cellars

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L-R: Ben Flajnik, Mike Benziger, Danny Fay, childhood friends and partners in Envolve Winery.

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Jordan Kivelstadt, right, oversees the winemaking process at Free Flow Wines, which kegs its wine rather than bottle it.

Crushing on the Dreaming Tree

Is there anything smoother than Dave Matthews on a warm summer evening? How about wine from Dave Matthews on a warm summer evening? Yep, the musical master is lending his golden touch to wine with the creation of Dreaming Tree Wines.

I found The Dreaming Tree Crush (North Coast red blend, 2009) on sale at Safeway for about $9, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Winemaker Steve Reeder paired up with Matthews to make wine as accessible as music, something everyone can enjoy on any night of the week. As Reeder describes it: “I make wines for people to drink. I don’t make wines for people to put in their cellar.” (Dreaming Tree website)

Indeed, the Crush blend is about as drinkable as you’ll ever find – it’s like crushed velvet, as smooth as the real thing without the restrictive weight. Hell, I tasted it with a veggie stir-fry tonight, and I think I’ll pair it with hamburgers tomorrow.

The tannins are present without being oppressive. There are hints of coffee and tobacco (love!) but you won’t feel the need to rinse with water after a swig. Crush is a wine you’d want to take on a picnic and savor while lying in the grass under a big willow tree, listening to the rustle of leaves in the breeze and the trickle of a stream nearby. You might watch the clouds pass overhead while you unwittingly hum “Satellite.”

Your memories of that day will be of the breeze and the clouds and the absence of time, and you’ll remember that delicious red wine that paired as perfectly with your deli sandwich as it did with your chocolate-chip cookies. So you’ll pick up another bottle for the Friday night dinner with friends, and probably another bottle to sip with your partner by the fire pit on your patio.

The wine will become a welcome guest in your home, but never the centerpiece. It’s not meant to steal the show, but its presence would be missed should you forget to invite it.

And The Dreaming Tree has a certain personality trait that ensures it a permanent place in my wine rack: sustainability. This line of three wines – Crush (red blend), Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon – is produced with sustainable practices, from the lightweight glass to the recycled paper for its labels and its sustainable natural corks. And the winery even partnered with The Wilderness Society, working to conserve public lands.

So what are you waiting for? Go grab your most broken-in Levis, round up some friends to meet you at the beach, and bring  a bottle of Crush to complement your spread of artisan cheeses. And enjoy the night.

Kendall-Jackson Summation Red

Today I found a Kendall-Jackson red on sale – $9.99, originally $16.99 – so I thought I’d give it a try. Kendall-Jackson is reliably good, but usually out of my  weeknight wine budget, so this was a treat!

The 2008 Vintner’s Reserve Summation is a blend of red varietals, “inspired by Bordeaux style wines,” according to the label. It also purports to be “smoother than cabernet sauvignon, richer than merlot, more balanced than zinfandel.”

I will attest to all these claims and more. I poured it alongside a heaping dish of savory pot roast with vegetables and garlic bread. This pairing was perfect! A buttery quality of the wine balanced well with onion and garlic in the pot roast and with the weight of the gravy. The meat’s natural smokiness brought out a hint of tobacco and chocolate in the wine.

This Summation is a wine I would gladly drink by itself, but that would be doing it an injustice. It is the perfect complement to a hearty meat dish. I’d like to try it again with an antelope meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I think I’d steer clear of spicy rubs or marinades and stick with savory, herbal pairings.

The 2008 Summation red is on sale at CVS, snatch it up while it lingers in the under-$10 crowd.

Everyone needs a friend… called petite sirah

My last entry was about pairing wines with emotions or situations rather than foods. Tonight is more of the same. I had a rough day at work and eagerly looked forward to a glass of wine. But what wine could properly comfort me? And without hesitation, my mind settled on Le Lapin Petite Sirah (Rabbit Ridge Winery, Paso Robles, $8).

Le Lapin Petite Sirah: A girl's best friend!

Tonight I’m in no mood for a spirited zin or a light and flaky pinot noir. The chardonnays on my rack will take too long to chill, and I need an instant friend. The cabs and merlots aren’t dependable, sometimes there for me and sometimes aloof. Ahhh, petite sirah. It’s the one wine I know is strong enough to handle my problems.

Petite sirah is the perfect wine in a crisis. It’s dark and throaty and just the kind of friend to sit with you and listen to your problems. It’ll hold you and rock you and tell you everything will be alright. It’ll wrap you in velvet and ooze a black cherry salve on your wounds. Hints of comforting cigar smoke will blend with espresso as it sagely breathes comfort: “This, too, shall pass., baby doll.”

And when you’re done crying, it’ll say in the most deceptively silky voice, “OK, that’s enough now. Quit your whining and suck it up. You’re being a baby, and self-pity is NOT a good look on you, missy!”

Thanks to your muscular purple friend who is as strong on taste as she is on advice, you’ll remember that life comes a day at a time, and things will surely look cheerier in the morning. Life is full of ups and downs, and we are lucky if we can surround ourselves with friends who can comfort, inspire, and commiserate. And God bless the friends who can do all three. (You decide who that friend might be!)

Tonight’s homework: Enjoy!

I’m stumped tonight. I opened a Beringer 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon with every intention of reviewing it. But I just don’t have it in me. (Well, I suppose I can at least say that it has a slightly mocha flavor with soft tannins, a perfect match to my dessert of chocolate chips.)

Yes, you read that right. Chocolate chips for dessert. It’s the only chocolate I could find in the house, and I even raided my daughters’ nearly year-old Easter candy. I almost wish I were pregnant so I could send my husband to the store for ice cream and he’d have to say yes. But then I’d be pregnant, and craving chocolate ice cream, and not able to drink the open bottle of cab in front of me.

But I digress. I’ve spent quite a bit of time tasting and reviewing wines for this blog, which I love to do. But I haven’t spent much time writing about why I like tasting wine. I have great dreams of writing something truly significant about wine. Something that winemakers, tasters, writers and housewives will read and say, “Wow, that Beth chick just GETS it!” (you’re an eloquent bunch, aren’t you!)

But sometimes, the wine just needs to be about the experience, not the taste. Some wines pair perfectly with an aged steak, a seared tuna or a even a bowl of chocolate chips. And some wines pair perfectly with a lazy Saturday night. With settling into the couch, feet up and toes snuggly under a warm afghan. With turning on a classic Cary Grant flick, popping a bowl of popcorn and appreciating the sub-freezing weather outside because I’m warm and happy inside.

Yes, tonight’s Beringer is one of those wines. On another night I might comment on its peppery bouquet and smooth, coffee finish. I’d remark that it’s quite a steal, on sale this week for only $8.99 at Smith’s/Kroger. But not tonight. Tonight I am going to join my husband on the couch and see what’s on Netflix. I’m going to sip my wine and appreciate its tingly warmth and the slight grogginess it will bring as I near my bedtime.

Enjoying a Beringer 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, cozy in my homemade afghan.

So with that, I bid you goodnight. Turn off your computer, pour a glass of your favorite wine, and dig out that book you’ve been meaning to finish. Enjoy the purely hedonistic quality of the wine without nary a thought to bouquets, aromas or mouthfeels. For goddsake, don’t even think the words “fruit forward”! (If you want to decant before you pour, though, go ahead. That’s just good taste.) Cheers!

Bond… Double Bond

A good friend invited me over to try a new wine today. Enter Double Bond. She poured a glass of what I expected to be  just another good red wine. I was wrong. This was a great red wine!

The 2009 Pinot Noir is fantastic. It’s so smooth, light silk rather than heavy velvet. I asked her what it sells for and she said “$45 or so.” And I have no doubt that it does. It tastes like $45. It’s no wonder I fell in love at first sip.

It’s a dark cherry color, not watery as so many pinot noirs can be. The aroma is a blend of fruit, clove and vanilla. Lest you be fooled into thinking this smooth drink is weak, let me argue that it’s complex in its simplicity. This is the Harry Connick Jr. of  red wines – disarmingly charming, full of finesse, yet obviously deeper and more complex than just a pretty face (and a voice like butter). You could drink the entire bottle without giving it a second thought, or you could spend an entire night studying its nuances and tones.

The winery sources its grapes from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo in California. The whole Central Coast region is known to produce excellent pinot noir, thanks to the cool nights.

Double Bond gets its name from chemistry – the state of molecules forming two bonds rather than one, creating a stronger, more complex bond. The winery and winemaker pride themselves on marrying biology and art, creating the best wine based on both the science of vinification and the non-science of good taste. Quoting the website: “Science and art; both are required to make fine wines and they define our connection to the craft.”

While this wine is certainly out of my usual $10 budget, I thought it worthwhile to mention because it is a reliable pick for a special occasion (unless $45 is your everyday price point, in which case, bottoms up!). And let’s be honest, since “Sideways,” every Central Coast pinot noir purports to be The Best. But this is one I’ve tasted and can say it truly is a fantastic wine.

Follow what the winery is up to or to find out where to get it through its Facebook page or on Twitter @DoubleBondWine. It’s available in most well-stocked wine stores. Get shopping!

Chardonnay and stroganoff

“Which white are you drinking tonight?” my husband asked oh so innocently.

“Huh? I’m not drinking white,” I replied, not so nicely. (hey, it’s been a long day and I’m cranky and CLEARLY the wine in my glass is not white)

“Yes you are, because I need some for my sauce, so which one do you want to open tonight?”

Oh dear. Now THAT’S a good question.

You see, opening a bottle for both cooking and drinking is not as easy as it seems. I use cheap wine in cooking, but no one wants to drink cheap wine. (Readers, I know you know the difference between cheap and inexpensive.) So that rules out my cooking-only wines. And if I were to give my husband a pinot grigio that I don’t especially like, then I’m left with a half-bottle of wine I don’t really like. (basic logic here, folks)

This warm evening calls for a glass of refreshing sauvingnon blanc, but that’s much too fruity and tangy to use in a stroganoff sauce. That leaves me with chardonnay. But chardonnays can be very oaky and buttery and I’m not sure I want to pair that with a heavy cream sauce and beef.

What to do? What to do? (Hey, this is serious business!)

I decided to open a Hayton 2009 Family Reserve Chardonnay* from Cannery Row Cellars. It was part of a Wine Insiders shipment (currently $14.99 on the website) I recently received and not a wine I was familiar with. I took a gamble, knowing it could turn out to be oaky and heavy, so I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth and light it was.

The flavor is mostly apple and lime but it not biting or tangy. The acidity is perfectly balanced to be smooth yet refreshing. This chardonnay made an incredible stroganoff sauce and was a delicious wine to pair with the dish. And since it didn’t start out too tart, I feel like I can drink a glass and  put the rest in the fridge until tomorrow without running the danger of it turning into vinegar.

Moral of the story: Take a chance on cooking wines – you might be surprised. Bonus lesson: Don’t worry about cooking wines – your HUSBAND is COOKING after all!

* The 2009 is not on the Wine Insiders website right now, so the link is to the 2008.

Celebrating #CabernetDay

Happy #CabernetDay! Yes, if you’re a Twitter nerd, you’ll hear that name screaming “social media event!” But hey, social media and wine — what could be better? All around the Twitterverse and blogosphere, and all around the physical world too, people are drinking cabernet sauvignon and tweeting, blogging, Facebooking and maybe even Google+ing about it.

My pick tonight is a 2008 Louis Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a mossy aroma with a hint of black cherry. It’s earthy but not heavy. While the initial mouthfeel is thick and smooth, the taste is a fresh mix of black cherry and green beans. There’s also a toasty quality, that lends a beautiful balance to the cherry and bean flavors.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to plan a gourmet dinner to complement this wine, so I threw together some pasta, parmesan and broccoli. Not gourmet, but damn tasty. The cab went well with the pasta, but absolutely rocked with my ice cream sandwich dessert! Believe me, I never claimed to be a chef, and with two young kids swarming me as I made dinner, pasta and ice cream were about all I could muster. Thank god for good wine on nights like this!

Ok, enough about the chaos… back to the wine. This cab sells in the $15 range, so it’s a tad more than my usual weeknight wine, but won’t break the bank. It’s a bottle I’d serve to guests, and perhaps keep a bottle on hand for myself.

Happy #CabernetDay!

Waving the Bear Flag on the first day of summer

The first day of summer warrants a crisp, fresh white wine. From the girl who prefers reds, it takes a really hot day to make me crave a fruity white. Enter Bear Flag Bright White Wine Blend. I made salsa chicken, which is basically salsa (homemade and home-canned, in this case!) poured over chicken breasts and baked until done, Mexican-style Rice-a-Roni and green salad. I needed a spry, crisp white, nothing woody or heavy to complement the spice in this dish.

The Bright White is a dry blend of chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and gewurztraminer. I like each of those on their own, so blended together they make a dynamite combo of mellow fruit — pear and melon, perhaps — with a hint of fizz. There are no oaky or vanilla-y flavors here, and no detectable sugar. The fruit is naturally sweet but not syrupy.

A friend recently turned me on to adding a splash of San Pellegrino to white wine, and this is a perfect wine for that. I wouldn’t adulterate it with 7-Up, c’mon, I’m not a barbarian! But a splash of Pellegrino plays up the natural fizz of the wine without diluting the crispy flavor.

This wine would also be an excellent complement to a citrus-marinaded fish or a light lemon-tinged chicken alfredo. I found the Bright White on sale at Trader Joe’s for around $8, a steal for a weeknight meal! Pair it with an easy zesty dish like I made tonight and enjoy! (If you enjoy this wine, check out the rest of Bear Flag’s Modesto, Calif., wines – very approachable table wines that can be respectably served any night of the week.)

By the way, spend some time studying the wine-label art by Eduardo Bertone, an artist with a distinctive style of refined mania. His illustrations are almost graffiti-like, but that is an injustice to his art. Check out his website and come to your own conclusion of what he represents.