All posts by Edgar Solis

Six wine reasons to visit Santa Maria Valley


Santa Maria Valley is nestled between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Part of the Central Coast of California, within Santa Barabara County. The Santa Maria AVA (American Viticultural Area), runs east to west. Delimited by the San Rafael Mountains/Los Padres National Forest to the east, and by the Solomon Hills and the city of Santa Maria to the west. The Opening to the Pacific ocean allows for the fog and coastal breezes to pass through the valley, providing for a longer growing season. It is the northernmost appellation in Santa Barbara County, and the region’s first officially approved AVA.

The Santa Maria Valley has recognition for high-quality grape growing and winemaking. With just over 30 established wineries, their vineyards, owners, and winemakers gained respect statewide. Due to their cold climate, a high percentage of the 7,500 acres planted to vine are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a lesser amount of Syrah. They also grow Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Grenache, Merlot, Roussanne and Cabernet Sauvignon. The three more famous vineyards in the region are, Tepusquet, Sierra Madre, and Bien Nacido. There are three predominant soil types in the area, well-drained sandy loam, clay loam soils and alluvial soils. The terrain has slopes with elevation variations from 200 to 800 feet.

The three more famous vineyards in the region are, Tepusquet, Sierra Madre, and Bien Nacido. There are three predominant soil types in the area, well-drained sandy loam, clay loam soils and alluvial soils. The terrain has slopes with elevation variations from 200 to 800 feet.

Over our four-day visit to Santa Maria Valley, we had the fantastic opportunity to visit small family own wineries and bigger corporate operations. All of them have something in common, flavorful well made quality wines that represent the soil and climate that surrounds their vines.

Picture by Edgar Solis Photo

Great Quality Wines

What a delight to share quality wines with Dave Corey “Mister Moreved,” owner and winemaker for Core Wine. Dave poured many of his well-crafted wines at his beautiful tasting salon at Oldtown Orcutt. Dave does not grow any grape vines, but source grapes from several grape growers. He maintains solid relationships with local grape farmers and produced outstanding wines. Among the well-crated wines we tasted with Dave, we enjoyed 2007 Cuvée Fletcher and 2008 Mister Moreved, both made with fruit from Alta Mesa Vineyard. Core wines are well balanced, showing intense fruit flavors, pleasant acidity and restrained oak nuances.

Photos by Edgar Solis Photo

It was a real pleasure to chat with Dave, it was like talking to an old friend. He is very knowledgeable about wine and willing to share his vast knowledge with us.

2. Also located in Oldtown Orcutt is Nagy Wines tasting room. Winemaker and owner Clarissa Nagy greeted us in her eclectic and charming space. Clarissa shared with us her passion for wine and how she started in the wine industry.

Photos by Julie Santiago

“It was never my plan to make wine. My original plan was to work with food. Fortunately, food and wine go together. Through that means, wine found me. I met my husband while working at Byron Vineyard. We made a barrel of 2002 Viognier as a wedding favor.  I do not grow grape vines but work with several vineyards, mainly in the Santa Maria Valley AVA, to get the best fruit expression. In the course of my career, I have been blessed to work with some amazing people and vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Our region and specifically Santa Maria Valley has captured my heart and my palate. I balance my time between family and winemaking.”

Clarissa Nagy, Photo by Edgar Solis Photo

Clarissa poured a delicate and flavorful 2013 Nagy Pinot Blanc, made with grapes from Bien Nacido Vineyard. Lemongrass and honeysuckle aromas, with crisp acidity and flavors of tangerine, ripe Anjou pear, and notes of tamarind. We followed with an elegant and crisp Viognier, two distinctive vintages of Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir (2011 and 2012) and an oak restrained yummy Syrah.

The white and red wines at Nagy wines showed intense fruit flavors, pleasant acidity, and judicious use of oak contact on the red wines. Clarissa believes in minimal  intervention during the winemaking process, allowing the grapes to express the character of their place of origin.

Photos by Edgar Solis Photo

3. Cambria Estate Vineyards and Winery its own and run by the Jackson family. Tasting Room Manager, Nate Axline shared with us the history of the property. For the last 30 years, the Jackson family has farmed the property with sustainable practices, respecting the land and allowing the grapes express the crushed seashells in the alluvial soils and climate conditions around the vineyards.

Photo by Edgar Solis Photo

The cold weather, temperature fluctuation and the fog that lurks in from the ocean at night; creates the perfect conditions at Cambria’s estate vineyards to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A highlight of the visit was trying four clones of Pinot Noir side by side. We tried Clones 2A, 4, 23 and 115. We enjoyed the experience of identifying the difference between the various clones; more or fewer fruit flavors, earthy notes, mineral properties, texture differences and more.

Edgar Solis Photo

4. Riverbench Vineyard located on the southeastern edge of the Santa Maria Valley specialized in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They started planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines in 1973. Riverbench Estate vineyards consist of 107 acres planted to Pinot Noir and 77 acres of Chardonnay grapes. After decades of selling grapes, they produced their first wine in 2004. At the Riverbench tasting room, your furry four-legged family member is welcome, and you can even buy a sparkling squeaky toy bottle. We enjoyed four delightful Pinot Noir wines and a Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rosé sparkling wines. Their winemaker Clarissa Nagy achieved well balanced elegant wines that entice you for more.

Photos by Edgar Solis Photo

At the Riverbench tasting room, your furry four-legged family member is welcome, and you can even buy a sparkling squeaky toy bottle. We enjoyed four delightful Pinot Noir wines and a Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rosé sparkling wines. Their winemaker Clarissa Nagy achieved well balanced elegant wines that entice you for more.

Riverbench Vineyard and WineryPet Friendly Winery – Edgar Solis Photo

5. Built into a hillside, Presqu’ile Vineyard sits in a privileged location with ocean and vineyard views all around. Estate Manager Cameron Porter walked us trough the state of the art production facility, caves and welcoming tasting salon. Cameron shared with us:

“The Murphy family, from Louisiana, bought the property in 2007. 200 acres, sixteen miles from the Pacific Ocean with 11 acres planted to Pinot Noir grapes. They called the estate Presqu’ ile (the Creole word for “almost an island”), honoring a dear Gulf Coast family gathering place lost to Hurricane Katrina, and because they envisioned the property as an island-like haven among the vines.”

The Murphy’s planted sixty more acres of vines. With the help of a Santa Maria Valley vineyard expert, they designed the new vineyard as a mosaic of various blocks ranging in elevation between 700 and 1,000 feet. The vineyard estate features 32 acres of several clones of Pinot Noir, 17 acres of Chardonnay, 16 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and small blocks of Syrah and Nebbiolo.

Cameron offered us several wines while walking trough the multi-level modern style building. We tried a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, well-balanced Chardonnay, several expressive Pinot Noirs and elegant Syrah. We also tasted older vintages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, confirming our opinion about how well crafted these wines are. Presqu’ ile produce 85% of their wines with their estate vineyards but also make a small production from some of the premium vineyards in the area, including Rim Rock, Steiner Creek, and the famous Bien Nacido Vineyard.

6. Under heavy rain, we arrived at Foxen Winery and Vineyard. We started our visit on their newest solar-powered tasting room and winery estate. In this property, you can taste their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rhône-style wines. Great hospitality at arrival, we stood at the bar. Our host was a local woman with family history back to the early 1800’s. She shared with us the winery history, “Bill Wathen and Dick Doré started the winery back in 1985 at the historic Rancho Tinaquaic. The winery is named in memory of William Benjamin Foxen, and English sea captain and Dick’s great-great grandfather. Captain Foxen adopted the distinctive anchor as his ranch cattle brand, which became the trademark of the Foxen Vineyard & Winery.”

Foxen Vineyard
Edgar Solis Photo

Our first wine, an elegant 2014 Chenin Blanc from old vines, Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. Elegant wine with ripe yellow fruit flavors, bright acidity, and pleasantly dry finish. We tried several delicious Pinot Noirs and Syrahs, all of them had a particular intense fruit character. Some of the Pinot’s a bit more earthy, spicy, little more acidic; all of them truly representing the nuances of the soil where they grow and the pleasant cool climate of this blessed Santa Maria Valley.

Edgar Solis Photo

Still, under torrential rain, we stop by The Shack Built in the 1860’s as a blacksmith shop. In 1987 it became Foxen Vineyards first tasting room. Today you can taste Bordeaux and Italian-style wines. We tasted robust Sangiovese, Sangiovese blend, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Edgar Solis Photo

Santa Maria Valley offers an excellent selection of places to stay, from B&B’s to chain hotels. We enjoyed our stay at the historic Santa Maria Inn Hotel, located in the middle of town in Santa Maria. The hotel is close to many great restaurants and over 50 wineries and vineyards. The hotel itself has a highly rated restaurant that serves contemporary California cuisine, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you happen to visit in Christmas time, take advantage of their famous Christmas day brunch buffet.

Edgar Solis Photo

Santa Maria Valley BBQ

Santa Maria Valley is known for their traditional style of BBQ. Their particular flavor profile comes from a dry rub that includes salt, granulated garlic, black pepper, and herbs. According to local barbecue historian R.H. Tesene, “The Santa Maria Barbecue grew out of this tradition and achieved its ‘style’ when residents began to string cuts of beef on skewers or rods and cook the meat over the hot coals of a red oak fire.” The origins go back to the mid-1800’s when cowboys from the local ranches met to have a meat feast over open fire pits. The tradition is to serve the meat with sides of pinquito beans, fresh salsa, vegetables, tossed salad and fresh grilled bread.

Courtesy of Santa Maria

On the early days, the favorite cut of meat for BBQ was the Top Sirloin. Back in the 1950s, a local butcher named Bob Schutz accomplished mastery in cooking the tri-tip cut, rapidly becoming a staple of Santa Maria Style Barbecue. The grilling method is an open pit, fired with red oak wood. The grill, usually made of iron, has a hand crank device that allows for lifting or lowering the grilling grid to the desired distance from the coals. We enjoyed dinner at three BBQ staple restaurants.

Our Introduction To Santa Maria Valley BBQ happened at Shaw’s Steakhouse, established in 1953. This restaurant located in downtown Santa Maria was at walking distance from our hotel. The first thing they served us was a small dish of raw vegetables, with a side of homemade salsa, something new and unexpected for us but very common here. We decided to go with pork instead of the traditional beef cuts. Both the baby back ribs and the pork chop were cooked properly and full with flavors.

Edgar Solis Photo

Our second exposure to Santa Maria Valley BBQ was at The Hitching Post, featured in Forbes Magazine as one of the 10 Great BBQ Joints in the USA. Located at Casmalia, just a ten minutes drive from downtown Santa Maria. This restaurant feels welcoming with a lot of old western town character. What about the delicious grilled artichokes, everyone should start with this appetizer.

Edgar Solis Photo

We are not red meat eaters, but we venture to try the fillet mignon and quail and the prime rib. Both dishes cooked to perfection with excellent seasoning and a pleasant note of red oak smoke. The red meat cuts showed a nice crust and very juicy inside. The quail was tender, juicy and full of flavor. We enjoyed dinner with a bottle of a local Bubbly. 2010 Blanc de Blancs Goat Bubbles-Sierra Madre Vineyard. A clean, refreshing sparkling wine with Brioche, green apple, and hints of citrus.

Our last dinner on this memorable trip to Santa Maria Valley Wine Country was at Far Western Tavern. Located in Oldtown Orcutt, this restaurant looks beautiful, classy and welcoming. Excellent service from start to finish. We felt welcomed from the moment we entered until the hostess greeted us on our way out. Exquisite food,  we started with sweetbreads and grilled artichokes as appetizers. For entree, we order from the classics. Bulls Eye, a 14 oz. Signature boneless rib eye and the 12 oz. fillet mignon with the Pinot Filet Option (Pinot Noir Mushroom Reduction Sauce, Tobacco Onions). We also had their classic salsa with a side of beans and an order of grilled vegetables.

Photos by Julie Santiago

The fillets, cooked as we order, medium. The seasoning was just right, nice texture on the meat and very juicy. The vegetables were tender and tasty. To complement dinner, we ordered a bottle of 2014 Rancho Sisquoc Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine showed intense dark fruit flavors, mild spiciness, moderate oak and firm tannins. A great wine selection for steak dinner. We finished the Rancho Sisquoc Cab Sav with dessert, a delicious dark chocolate brownie topped with vanilla bean ice cream.

When thinking in a new California wine region to explore, take advantage of all Santa Maria Valley has to offer:

      1. Excellent quality wines
      2. Beautiful scenery wine country
      3. Their proprietary BBQ style and superb restaurant selections
      4. Wide variety of accommodations
      5. Hospitality wherever you go


Stags Leap District extraordinary Cabernet

House of Cab Stag's Leap District

Stags Leap District winemaking history goes back to mid-1880’s with the establishment of Occidental Winery off Silverado Trail. Today is home to Regusci Winery. The Phylloxera outbreak and Prohibition killed the booming wine industry in the region. By 1961 pioneer Nathan Fey planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the in Stags Leap District. From 70 acres jumped to over 34,000 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in California today. In 1973 the Judgment of Paris exposed Stags Leap wines to stardom. In a blind tasting, nine renown French wine judges choose the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon over well known French producers as Mouton-Rothschild and Haut Brion.

Vertical Blind Tasting
Stags Leap District Winegrowers  celebrated House of Cab Library Blind Tasting event at Jardinière Restaurant in San Francisco. What a treat to try Cabernet Sauvignon (1991 to 2010) in a blind side by side tasting, from this unique winemaking region. The tasting experience demonstrated the longevity and the sense of place of these exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines revealed a great balanced between acid, fruit, and tannins. Great fruit character, pleasant spiciness, wood nuances, velvety texture and a long finish.

From the blind library tasting some of my favorites are, 1992 Clos Du Val, 2007 Terlato Family Vineyards, 1995 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, 2005 Isley Vineyards, 2008 Baldacci Black Label and 2008 Quijote SLD.

Pictures by Edgar Solis Photo

Walk Around Tasting
At the walk around tasting, the participating wineries shared a variety of wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Petit Syrah.

A unique chance to talk to vintners and winemakers about how they grow and craft their wines. From Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Director of Vineyards Operations, Kirk Grace shared how they achieved green certification on their 142 acres of Estate vineyards by adhering to sustainable practices. “At Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars we put quality vs. quantity. Numbers are significant, but growing quality grapes and making exceptional wines is all about being in tune with the vines and down on the dirt”.

Kirk Grace, Director of Vineyards Operations For Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
Kirk Grace, Director of Vineyards Operations For Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Marcus Notaro, Winemaker for Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, shared his thoughts about the 2016 harvest. “Bud break was early in Napa Valley this year and a cold season. We didn’t achieve the normal high temperature in July and August, which allowed for a prolonged hang time of the fruit. Overall, high-quality grapes in our vineyards. The grapes ripened evenly with lower than normal yield, but tasty berries. An interesting fact for this harvest is that the grapes from the cooler areas like Coombsville ripened at the same rate than the warmer areas like St. Helena.”

Marcus Notaro, Winemaker for Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
Marcus Notaro, Winemaker for Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Michael Beaulac, Winemaker for Pine Ridge, shared the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap District, the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, and 2014 Carneros, Napa Chardonnay. All well balanced outstanding wines. Michael has 25 harvests under his belt, he joined Pine Ridge back in 2009, he came aboard with hi expectations of showcasing the 200 acres estate vineyards, 12 properties within five Napa Valley appellations. He enjoys creating wines that are unique to their terroir, as well as combining the various qualities of several vineyards into a harmonious blend.

Michael Beaulac, Winemaker for Pine Ridge Vineyards
Michael Beaulac, Winemaker for Pine Ridge Vineyards

Pictures By Edgar Solis Photo

Overall, The House of Cab Stags Leap District tasting event showed that top quality grapes treated with respect produced formidable wines for every taste. I share my experience with some favorite wines bellow.

  • 1992 Clos Du Val Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon: Still going strong, with aromas of ripe red fruit, vanilla, allspice, leather and hints of rose petals. On the palate, feels luscious with an elegant texture and flavors or ripe dark berries, dark cherries, brown spices and touch of sweetness and green tea. Suggested retail price $70.

  • 2015 Stag’s Leap Winery Viognier: Bright acidity with ripe stone fruit, honeysuckle and kiwi. This Viognier finished clean with hints of passion fruit and guava. Suggested retail price $32.

  • 2011 Quixote Petite Syrah: This wine shows Star Anise, ripe plum, dark berries and coffee bean aromas. On the palate, this Petite Syrah feels full body with substantial but smooth tannins. Suggested retail price $80.

Discover Clarksburg Wine Country

Clarksburg Wine Country

Clarksburg Wine Country, established in 1987, represents forty-six growers, twelve wineries, and forty-eight associate members. This passionate group of grape growers and winemakers is devoted to growing quality grapes following sustainable practices. They are creating awareness of the unique sense of place on the wines, characterized by the maritime influence of the Sacramento Delta.

Old Sugar Mill

As part of the International Food Bloggers Conference, we attended the Excursion to Old Sugar Mill, Clarksburg. Five wineries, Clarksburg Wine Company, Due Vigne Winery, Elevation Ten, Three Wine Company and Muddy Boot Wines; shared their wines paired with lunch. Over 35 bloggers participated in this event, from the 300 plus writers that took part in the 3-day conference.

We enjoyed ten delightful dishes from Chef Chris and Chef Jackson – Jackson Catering, paired with wines from the five sponsor wineries. On a fun speed tasting, each vintner sat down at every table for few minutes to present two wines and share their story with us. Great opportunity to learn about the Clarksburg AVA, a lesser known wine region of California with over seven thousand acres planted to thirty-five grape varieties. The most regarded grape varieties are Chardonnay, Merlot, Petite Sirah, and Sauvignon Blanc; Chenin Blanc showed a notable sense of origin. The vintners presented well-crafted wines that paired appropriately with Jackson Catering culinary creations.

Agriculture in Clarksburg goes back to the first settlers in the 1850’s. Most of the original families that started growing grapes in the late 1880’s are still present, among them Bogle and Heringer. Also, Peter Marks, proprietor of Six Hands, is the great grandson of Joseph Machado, who grew grapes and made wine in Clarksburg in the 1890’s.

Among the many well-made wines that we tasted, we shared our thoughts on some favorites:

2013 Clarksburg Wine Company Chenin Blanc

  • 2013 Clarksburg Wine Company Chenin Blanc: (100% Chenin Blanc) Intense aromas of lily of the valley, honeydew, stone fruit and hints of honey and wet river stones. On the palate, this wine feels medium-bodied, moderate acidity and has a slightly oily texture. Pleasant flavors of green apple, citrus, guava, passion fruit and mineral notes. Have fun with this Chenin Blanc paired with grilled trout, scallops, shrimp, chicken, turkey and your favorite pasta dish with a light sauce. Suggested retail price, $18.

2015 Muddy Boot Chenin Blanc

  • 2015 Muddy Boot Chenin Blanc: (100% Chenin Blanc) This wine is playful on the nose, with aromas of ripe peach, freshly squeezed Meyer lemon and pineapple. On the palate, this Chenin Blanc feels bright and refreshing with pleasant acidity. Enjoy flavors of ripe watermelon, tangerine, quince with hints of Asian pear and Marcona almonds. Be adventurous, try this wine with medium spiced Thai Noddle dishes, Indian cuisine or your favorite white fish grilled on a cedar plank. Suggested retail price, a steal at $13.

2015 Three Wine Company Old Vines Rosé

  • 2015 Three Wine Company Old Vines Rosé:(A blend of 41.6% Zinfandel, 24.5% Mataro, and 33.9% Carignane) A refreshing Rosé with vivid aromas and flavors of ripe strawberry, watermelon, pomegranate and hints of tamarind. A youthful wine with bright acidity that you can enjoy with an ample variety of cuisines. A great companion for Caribbean Cuisine, jerk chicken from Jamaica, “mofongo” or “pińon” from Puerto Rico, “mangú” from The Dominican Republic or “picadillo” with rice and black beans from Cuba. Suggested retail price, $18.

2014 Elevation Ten Reserve Chardonnay

  • 2014 Elevation Ten Reserve Chardonnay: This elegant 100% Chardonnay has gentle aromas of freshly baked apple pie, lemon, toasted marshmallow and hazelnuts. On the palate, this wine feels medium-bodied with a creamy texture. Intense flavors of caramel, ripe pear, kiwi and hints of vanilla. This wine will be the perfect companion for a pasta dish with chicken, lobster or pork with a creamy sauce with a touch of fresh herbs. Suggested retail price, $34.

2014 Due Vigne Barbera La Collina 115

  • 2014 Due Vigne Barbera La Collina 115: This Barbera shows aromas of black cherries, ripe plum and lavender; finishing with earthy notes. On the mouth, this wine feels medium-bodied with smooth tannins and medium to high acidity. This Barbera shows flavors of ripe cherries, figs, baking spices and hints of mushroom. This wine will be a perfect choice to have with pizza, pasta with red meat sauce, grilled hamburgers and mushroom risotto. Suggested retail price, $40.

Photography by Edgar Solis Photo


With Steven Kent tasting Livermore best

Steven Kent Mirassou is the six generation of winemaking in his family; we shared a pleasant early afternoon tasting wines at Steven Kent Winery, Livermore Valley, CA.

Steven, What is the history of winemaking in your family?
“The Mirassou family history of grape growing and winemaking goes back to 1854. We are America’s oldest winemaking family. We came up to Livermore in 1988; My father sold his share of the family business back to his cousins. He started a new brand Ivan Tamas in association with Ivan Tamas Fuezy, where Steven Kent was a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon program”.

“In 1996, I joined my father and Steven Kent became our brand. Steven Kent is our first, and middle name, Mirassou as a brand sold to Gallo in 2003. I am the only one in the family still making wine as a brand, 160 years of family wine history fell into my shoulders. I never thought I was going to be involved in the winemaking industry. I went to the East coast where I did a literature major and graduate school, with the goal to go to study law and write the great American novel”.

How did you learn about the winemaking business?
I moved back to California in 1992. I learned about winemaking from my father, and hands on as I went along. For the past ten years, I have been responsible for winemaking with the help of my team”.

How do you describe your winemaking style?
“Beauty, elegance, and complexity. It is not about the intense amount of tannins, is more about the depth of fruit and structure. I try to be faithful to the fruit, Is about the wines I love to drink. We grow about 90% of the fruit for our wines and source about 10% from various growers”.

 What was your plan for the Steven Kent brand when you started this project with your dad?
When we have begun back in 1996, my dad and I, we though in one wine; Cabernet Sauvignon. Our feeling was then, and I feel even more strongly now, that Livermore Valley can compete with any wine region growing up Cabernet Sauvignon and any of the Bordeaux varieties; given the temperature, the diurnal temperature range, the elevation, the variety of soils and the history of the valley. Our Livermore Cabernet Sauvignon is our biggest production, about 1,000 cases. We have about 40 acres planted with Cabernet, four different clones”.

What is your vision for the wine?
“I am seeking to make the most beautiful wine in the world. For me, beauty is about, purity, balance, complexity and elegance. It is not about high tannins or high PH. I am trying to make wines that are emotionally compelling. I want to make you feel something when you drink my wines: that they are alive, have great depth, and you want to keep going back to them”.

We were pleased with the quality of Steven Kent wines. We had the opportunity to take some wines home and tried with home cooked meals. Among some of our favorites are:

2013  Steven Kent “Lola” Sauvignon Blanc. This single vineyard 100% Sauvignon Blanc is showing delightful ripe stone fruit aromas and flavors. This wine shows Citrus zest and hints of lavender and lemongrass in the nose. On the palate, you enjoy pleasant acidity, and refreshing flavors of tangerine, nectarine and a hint of spice. This Sauvignon Blanc does not go through malolactic fermentation, 10% of the wine aged in new Acacia wood barrels, the rest in stainless steel. Lola will be the perfect companion for your favorite seafood pasta dish, any salad with vinaigrette dressing or chicken dish. We enjoyed it with slightly sauté “langoustine” over linguine parsley pasta with a creamy Sauvignon Blanc baby clams sauce on top. Suggested retail price, $24.

2013 "Lola" Sauvignon Blanc "langoustine" over linguine parsley pasta


2011 Steven KentCabernet Franc: 2011 was a cold year with an extended ripening period, you can’t tell by the defined red and dark berry aromas and flavors. Rose petal, fresh lavender and dark cherries aromas. Bright acidity on the palate with ripe blackberries, plum, and savory herbal notes. This well-balanced Cabernet Franc feels rich and round with an elegant fruit finish that lingers. We got a kick out of this wine paired with Pappardelle pasta topped with chorizo raggu and a side of eggplant pure. Suggested retail price, $48.

Steven Kent 2011 Cabernet Franc Pappardelle pasta

2010 Steven Kent Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon: An elegant well balanced Cabernet Sauvignon that shows delightful aromas of violets, blackberries, and licorice, with hints of cardamon and smoke. On the palate, you enjoy flavors of ripe blueberries, dark currant, sweet vanilla and notes of mint and black pepper. Pleasant restrained tannins and the long finish, with a hint of dark chocolate and ripe figs. We savored this exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a bison ribeye steak seasoned with Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, onion, and garlic granules. A tasty side of oven roasted Brussel sprouts and roasted young potatoes with bacon, seasoned with black pepper and salt, sprinkled with freshly chopped parsley. This Cabernet Sauvignon is robust but elegant; will pair well with your favorite lean cut of red meat. Suggested retail price, $65.

2010 Steven Kent Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon bison ribeye steak


Michael David Winery Lodi

Michael David Winery Lodi
Picture by Edgar Solis Photo

Michael David Winery is synonym with Lodi excellence in winemaking. My experience with Michael David wines goes back to 2011 when I met Michael and Kristy Phillips for lunch at Soho Restaurant in Vinings, GA. I was just starting writing about wine at that time, the opportunity to meet a winery owner and taste his wines paired with outstanding food was incredibly exciting and new to me. After tasting wine with Mike and Kristy, I thought, “Wow, this is cool. I want to do this again”. Michael and Kristy shared their family history and their passion for wine with me like we were old friends. That is what wine does; it makes you close by sharing and experiencing intoxicating aromas and flavors.

I remember asking Michael,  how did your family business start? “My great great grandparents established a vegetable farm on their 160 acres farm following the Civil War in the 1860′s near the town of Lodi. The Phillip’s farms evolved to include many different fruits, including fifteen different wine grape varieties, shipped throughout the country during Prohibition with instructions on how not to have the grapes turn into wine. Thereby, Prohibition was good for Lodi growers, with families everywhere keeping up the tradition of wine with meals by ordering these grapes and juice to be bottled at home.”

We tried well-balanced wines, like the 2009 Incognito white blend: (58% Viognier, 19% Chardonnay, 9% Malvasia Bianca, 7% Roussanne, 4% Sauvignon Blanc, 3% Symphony). This wine has intense white flower aromas, honeysuckle, ripe peaches and watermelon with beautiful notes of citrus lemon. Crisp and fresh with flavors of apricot, lemon, and hints of white pepper.

We enjoyed the 2008 Lust Zinfandel, 6th Sense Syrah and notably the 2008 Petite Petit (85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot). This wine was dark purple-red in color and showed intense aromas of ripe plum, dark berries and dark currants with hints of violet, sweet vanilla, and caramel. On the palate, this elegant wine felt medium to full-bodied with a soft texture and pleasant tannins.

Brothers Michael and David Phillips own the winery located in Lodi, California. Mike is a fifth generation winemaker/producer and his son Kevin Phillips is the 6th generation of the Phillips Family to farm in the Lodi Appellation and has worked for the family since 2002.

“Kevin is our only son and is currently the VP of Operations for Phillips Farms and Michael-David Winery. His duties consist of overseeing all of the farming operations for Phillips Farms that includes over 750 acres of vineyards. He runs the grape grower relations side of the business which has over 65 farmers from 7 appellations and more than 20 different varieties. He also does all of the logistics and scheduling for each harvest and works hand in hand with the talented winemaking team at Michael-David Winery.” Mike shared.

Kevin also helped in the process of making all the family properties to comply with the rigorous Lodi Rules for Sustainability Program and lead Michael-David Winery as the first winery in California to give bonuses to all of their growers who achieve certification in the Lodi Sustainability Program.” Mike added.

A month after meeting Mike and Kristy, Julie and I had the great opportunity to visit Lodi for the first time. We stayed at Bare Ranch for a couple of days and were able to wander into beautiful wine country and try new exciting wines, including Jessie’s Grove Winery, Van Ruiten Family Vineyards, and The Lucas Winery.

Later on, while visiting one of the Rhone Rangers events in the San Francisco Bay area, we discovered beautiful Lodi Rhone varietal wines from Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards, immediately felt in love with the wines of Winemaker Sue Tipton. A couple of months later we came upon Bokisch Vineyards while visiting a TAPAS event at The Golden Gate Club in San Francisco. Markus and Liz Bokisch specialized in growing Spanish grape varieties in Lodi. Thanks to Sue Tipton, in 2012 we attended the Artisan Masters event in Lodi for a full weekend. Since then, we appreciated the great variety of quality wines coming from the Lodi AVA.

The Lodi AVA was approved in 1986, expanded in 2002 and revised in 2006 with the approval of seven new sub-areas within the boundaries of the existing Lodi AVA, based upon differences in soils and geographies, “With additional evidence for historical usage of the names of the proposed new AVA’s.” The Lodi wine region is growing in recognition for its quality wines and diversity of grape varieties grown. Over one hundred vitis vinifera grapes call Lodi home, including vines from France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Portugal.

No surprise the 9th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference is happening in Lodi from August 11 to 13, 2016. A couple of hundred wine lovers will be descending into Lodi to learn, taste and share experiences with their readers about the many wine wonders that call Lodi home. It will be a warm and personal gathering of wine writers, winemakers and friends from the wine industry on a highly rated hospitable environment.



Savoring the 2015 Alpha Estate Malagouzia

Photo by Edgar Solis

The 2015 Alpha Estate Malagouzia is an outstanding Greek white wine. Delightful white from North-Western Macedonia, Greece arrived as a sample. Intense aromas of ripe honeydew melon, figs, and geranium, with hints of lemon, jasmine tea, and sweet spices. On the palate, this wine felt refreshing and loaded with flavors of ripe Anjou pear, soursop, lychee, passion fruit and hints of citrus. The bouquet on this wine reminds me of a slightly oaked Sauvignon Blanc, but it deceives you on the taste buds with a unique character and exciting flavors. This exceptional white wine is an excellent choice to have with your favorite salad, white fish, shellfish or chicken with a creamy/citrus sauce. A well balanced white wine that will pair well with many Asian cuisine dishes (Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese). We enjoyed this wine with Spaghetti “al Limone” (lemon sauce and parmesan cheese), and tender squid fillet. Suggested retail price, $22.

Alpha Estate, is located in the Amyndeon region, in North-West Greece. It is the dream come true of entrepreneurs Makis
Mavridis and Angelos Iatridis. Angelos is the winemaker, educated in Bordeaux, with winemaking training in Bordeaux, Alsace, Rhone, Champagne. He has extensive experience making world renown Greek wines. Alpha Estate vineyard, conceived in 1994 and established in 1997, completed its first stage of the buildings and mechanical installations by 2005. The winery continues evolving and improving on viticultural practices and winemaking techniques. The vine growing follows sustainable practices and put emphasis on quality vs. quantity. The estate has cutting edge underground facilities, separate cellars for barrique and bottles under controlled temperature for optimal aging conditions.

The 214-acre vineyard is adjacent to the production facility, at harvest time this guarantee minimal time from picking the grapes to the start of fermentation on the tanks. The property offers optimal soil conditions for growing grapes, low fertility, sand and sand-clay and exceptional drainage. The climate provides optimal temperature fluctuations between day and night, with constant northwest winds that contribute to the good health and longevity of the vineyard. The combination of cold winters with generous rain and snow falls in contrast with dry summers, creates optimal growing conditions.

The implementation of unified vinification practices, the hard work of the winery team members and the respect for the ecosystem around the vineyard allows for the terroir to shine through and           express itself into unique wines.

Enjoying Wente Vineyards wines

Courtesy of Wente Vineyards
Courtesy of Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards has a couple of firsts over its shoulders; the first winery established in Livermore Valley in 1883, by Carl H. Wente and first winery to bottle a varietally-labeled Chardonnay. Mr. James Concannon also founded Concannon Vineyard in Livermore in 1883. Currently, the Wente family keeps its tradition of wine-growing and winemaking celebrating its 5th generation in the wine industry. “Wente Vineyards is the oldest, continuously operated, family-owned winery in America”. The family continues to work hard and maintains its legacy as a leader in the wine industry including its excellence in hospitality wine experiences.

Other than Chardonnay, Wente produces Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, sparkling, rose and Cabernet Sauvignon; among others. Recently we were able to taste several current vintages of various Wente Vineyards wines.
  • 2013 Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc: This refreshing stainless steel fermented and aged 100% Sauvignon Blanc, shows tropical fruit aromas, passion fruit and guava. On the palate, this wine feels fresh with pleasant acidity and flavors of pineapple and lemon grass. An excellent wine to enjoy with shellfish, white fish, crustaceans, and your favorite salad. Suggested retail price, $15.
  • 2014 Morning Fog Chardonnay: (98% Chardonnay, 2% Gewürztraminer) This Chardonnay was Fermented in 25% new French oak barrels, 25% used American oak barrels and 50% in stainless steel tanks. Complex well structured Chardonnay that offers aromas of apple caramel, fresh baked brioche, pear, vanilla and notes of oak. On the palate, this Chardonnay feels slightly creamy with flavors of ripe apple, caramel, pineapple and hints of baking spices. This Chardonnay will be an amazing companion for chicken on a mushroom sauce, pork loin with roasted vegetables and popcorn. Suggested retail price, $15.
  • 2012 Riva Ranch Single Vineyard Pinot Noir: The fruit for this wine comes from a Wente family vineyard in Arroyo Seco, Monterey. The vines benefit from gravelly-loam soils, abundant in shale and limestone; responsible for the earthy and mineral notes on the wine. This Pinot Noir offers powerful aromas of strawberry, raspberry and bing cherry with a trace of earth and oak. On the palate, this wine gives you pleasant acidity and silky texture from the gentle tannins, with flavors of ripe cherry pomegranate, vanilla, and toast. An excellent wine to have with your favorite pork dish roasted chicken or turkey and fresh pasta with a meat sauce. Suggested retail price, $30.
  • 2013 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon: (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petite Sirah, 7% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot) This Cabernet blend exhibits aromas of violet, red currants and a touch of leather and cocoa bean. Pleasing palate of ripe plum, figs and ripe cherry and a hint of brown spices. Vigorous tannins up front, finishing smooth and fruit forward. Enjoy a glass of this wine with your favorite cut of red meat, roasted duck or a dark/salty piece of chocolate. Suggested retail price, $30.

Wente Vineyards offers high-quality wines made with the combined experience of five generations of winemaking traditions. An exceptional quality/price ratio on these well-crafted wines.

Anna De Codorníu exceptional value Cava

Anna De Codorníu history of winemaking goes back to 1551, with a family of grape growers and winemakers headed by Jaume Codorníu. In 1659, the marriage between Anna Codorníu and Miguel Raventós, joined forever two major winemaking families and served as the bedrock for the Codorniú brand. By 1872, Josep Raventós produced the first bottles of quality sparkling wine in Spain. Josep expended time in the Champagne region and learned from their winemaking techniques. He applied the traditional method to the local grapes, Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Parellada; creating an exceptional sparkling wine with an identity of its own. A real pioneer in the Spanish Cava industry.

By 1983 Codorníu included Chardonnay grapes on his sparkling, giving birth to Anna De Codorníu. By 2007, the Brut Rosé was introduced with the use of Pinot Noir grapes. By 2011, the Blanc de Noirs made 100% Pinot Noir grapes join the family of quality sparkling wines. 2014 marks the launch of Anna de Codorníu Blanc de Blancs and Anna Rose Brut. These last addition to the Codorníu family of sparkling wines are suited to celebrate any occasion or just to enjoy every day with your favorite dish. For $15 a bottle these well crafted Cava make for excellent value wines.

  • Anna Codorníu Blanc de Blancs Brut: (70% Chardonnay, 15% Parellada 15% Xarel·lo and Macabeo) The Chardonnay grapes come from estate vineyards located in Lleida, the Parellada, Xarel·lo and Macabeo come from various vineyards in Penedès. This sparkling shows vibrant yellow color with hues of yellow-green, with a constant flow of fine beads. On the aroma, you can enjoy Meyer lemon, passion fruit and fresh toasted bread and hints of floral. On the palate, this sparkler displays pleasant acidity, creamy texture, and refreshing finish. This wine shows flavors of tangerine, green apples and caramel and a touch of mineral water. A great value for $15.
  • Anna Codorníu Brut Rosé: (70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay) Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes come from estate vineyards located in Lleida, The Cava DOC with the most continental climate. This elegant bubbly displays a pale cherry color with raspberry overtones, with a steady stream of fine beads. On the nose, Loganberry, strawberry, and golden apples. One the palate you can enjoy a good balance between red fruit and acidity, finishing light and refreshing. Suggested retail price, $15.

Both wines are food friendly, enjoy them with salads, white fish, fresh oysters, popcorn, fried chicken, smoked salmon, or your favorite charcuterie and cheese plate. Salud!

Parducci Family Cellars True Grit


Courtesy of Parducci Family Cellars

Parducci Family Cellars is a pillar in Mendocino winemaking history, the first winery established in 1932 by patriarch Adolph Parducci. By mid-1940s brothers, John and George took over the operation of the winery from their father, Adolph. During the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s the winery flourished into a Mendocino recognizable name-brand. By mid-1990s Parduccis relationship with The Teachers Management Investment Group, which became the majority owner of the winery in 1976, was deteriorated. John tried unsuccessfully to buy back his family company and by 1996 he was out, and the company sold.

In 2004, A joint venture between local Mendocino entrepreneur Paul Dolan and the Thornhill family from Texas gave new life to Parducci Family Cellars. Today Mr. Dolan is not longer a partner on the winery, but three generations of the Thornhill family are giving new life to the property. Tim Thornhill, Chief Operating Officer, along with brother Tom and father Tommy are working hard to take this landmark winery back to its roots. Tim’s background as A landscape designer, arborist and horticulturist expert made a statement on the property. Since the Thornhill family took over the estate, quality and production improved, while reducing consumption of natural resources. A smelly retention pond is now a thriving habitat for frogs, ducks and herons. The winery can recycle 100% of the water usage using 20% of the power, also equipped with an extensive array of solar panels. A real sustainable wine growing operation.

The True Grit line up of wines are a true expression of the grape variety and the land where they grow. Each wine on the brand has a suggested retail price of $30, making for an exceptional price/quality ratio.

  • 2013 Reserve Chardonnay: (97% Chardonnay, 2.5 Viognier and .5% Muscat). Cooperage: 20% Barrel-fermented in new oak, 80% stainless steel tank fermentation. Aged in 25% new American oak, 35% new French oak and 40% stainless steel barrels. This elegant Chardonnay shows a nice balance between fruit, acidity, and wood. Green apple, lemon and caramel on the aromas. Lovely dance of ripe pears, pineapple and caramelized apples on the palate. We enjoyed this wine paired with a homemade mac & cheese (Monterrey jack, Colby, Fontina and farmers cheeses, with bacon and seafood mix (shrimps, scallops, and calamari). A spicy touch of red chili pepper flakes and sprinkled with a crust of Parmigiano Reggiano.
  • 2012 Reserve Red: (Predominantly Syrah, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah). Cooperage: Aged 29 months, 40% new French oak, 60% Seasoned oak barrels. This approachable red blend shows aromas of ripe plum, vanilla, and hints of spiced rum. On the palate, this wine feels well structured, with pleasant tannins and acidity. Displays flavors of ripe blackberries, plum, baking spices and notes of wood. We enjoyed this wine with thick pork chops seared in the pan and finished in the oven; seasoned with a rub of kosher salt, black pepper, paprika, onion powder, and garlic. We also had a side of roasted fingerling potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • 2013 Reserve Petite Sirah: (99% Petite Sirah, .5% Syrah and .5% Grenache). Cooperage: Aged 16 months, 14% new American Oak, 18% seasoned American and French oak. This wine has a very expressive bouquet of ripe raspberries, violets, sweet vanilla and notes of coffee bean. On the palate, this well-crated wine feels silky with flavors of ripe dark fruit, black pepper and sautéed mushrooms. This Petite Sirah has pleasant acidity with a deep finish of ripe fruit and toffee flavors and smooth tannins. We enjoyed this wine with a Neapolitan-style pizza topped with pepperoni, mushrooms, caramelized onions, and fennel.
  • 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: (99.75% Cabernet Sauvignon and .25% Petite Verdot). Cooperage: Aged 16 months, 15% new French oak, 7% new American Oak and 73% neutral barrels. This robust Cabernet Sauvignon shows aromas of dark berries, red currants, toasted wood and hints of eucalyptus and wet slate. On the palate, this wine feels a bit chewy and well-balanced with bold flavors of dark plums, ripe fig, dark berries, and notes of earth. This CabSav is rugged but promising, a bit young but it will develop a softer finish in a couple of years. We enjoyed this wine paired with a top round bison steak, seared on the pan and finished in the oven; seasoned with Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, coriander, cumin and fennel seeds with sauteed onions on top. We topped the dining experience up with as side of “tostones” (fried green plantains). Delicious wine and food pairing!

Courtesy of Parducci Family Cellars and Edgar Solís

Variety’s 10 to Taste at NVFF 2015

Variety’s 10 to Taste, fascinating wine and food event,NapaNapa following the opening of the Fifth Annual NVFF (Napa Valley Film Festival), with the showing of SOMM: Into the bottle, the sequel of Somm this past Wednesday, November 11. On November 12 we had the opportunity to taste trough ten distinctive bites of flavor. Original interpretations of food inspired by film scenes in iconic films such as The Godfather, Julie & Julia, Pulp Fiction and Ratatouille.

Under a tent, at the Riverfront Promenade at Napa River Inn, guests strolled trying flavorful bites from local chefs along extraordinary Napa Valley wine selections that included BeringerEtude and Brut Champagne from Pipper Heidsieck. Under a chilling, beautiful morning at Downtown, Napa guests enjoyed a variety of flavors, original interpretation from the participating chefs.

At station #9, Chef Evan Dodge surprised us with his spin of a cheeseburger tartare inspired on the Royale with cheese scene (John Travolta and Samuel A. Jackson) from the movie Pulp Fiction. A very small bite, but full of flavor. A crispy cheese nest with beef tartare, mushrooms, rock salt and crunchy seeds. We enjoyed this culinary creation with The Beringer 2012 Quantum Red Blend.

At station #7, Chef Tim Brown delighted us with his spin on the Cuban sandwich, inspired by the movie Chef. A flavorful Cuban croquette, roasted pork shoulder, black forest ham, aged Gruyere and beer mustard. A savory sample of classic Cuban cuisine with an original touch. Love pork and Pinot, pleasant on the palate paired with Etude Pinot Noir, Grace Benoist Ranch Carneros. Match made in heaven!

At station #10, Chef Heather loved inspired by the movie Ratatouille offered us her twist of Five spice pork, with Asian Ratatouille in a Macadamia nut cup. A luscious combination of flavors that paired well with the 2013 Beringer Luminus, Oak Knoll District Chardonnay. This well balanced Chardonnay was also enjoyable with the pan-seared scallop in Saffron Bisque inspired by the movie, Mostly Martha. An exquisite culinary creation by Chef Anwar Herron on station #8.

At station #4, Chef Elizabeth Binder spiced up with her Peri-Peri prawns with apricot chutney & cilantro yogurt, inspired by the movie Burnt. The Pipper Heidsieck Champagne wast the perfect match for this dish, cutting the spiciness down a bit.

After enjoying the exquisite chef interpretations from the ten movies, we had the opportunity to listen to a distinguished panel that discussed current culinary trends, opportunities and challenges in the industry today. Panelists included Chef Bobby Flay, Emmy Award-winning television personality, and NYT Bestselling author; Emilie de Ravin. Lee Schrager, Vice President Corporate Communications & Events, Southern Wine & Spirits, and founder of South Beach and NYC’s Wine & Food Festivals; Kevin Pang, Chicago Tribune food writer, and director of For Grace. Variety’s Steve Chagollan moderated the panel.

Chef Bobby Flay shared some food industry thoughts with us. When asked: What do you think the next food trend is going to be? Chef Flay,”The United States food scene has been behind on food trends for so long, but we are finally catching up. You never know what the next food trend is going to be, On my newest restaurant Gato our top seller entrée is a vegetarian dish as well as or four top seller appetizers. When asked, What is your perfect burger? Chef Flay said, “For me the perfect burger should be 80% meat and 20% fat, cooked on a sizzling griddle or pan. It should be very crispy on the outside and medium-rare in the center. It needs to have two pieces of cheese completely melted on top.”

The panel agreed on how social media dramatically changed the decision making in which restaurant to visit. Nowadays everyone is a wine critic and voice its opinion on platforms like Yelp, Open Table, Trip Advisor, Facebook, and others. Restaurants need to pay attention to the details and be sure that guests have the optimal dining experience.