September Domestic Wine: 2010 Picket Fence Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, CALIFORNIA

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”-John Ed Pearce

Picket fences expand across the Sonoma and American landscape signifying home in its many forms. Picket Fence Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, is grown on the slopes and hillsides of Sonoma’s prized Cabernet Sauvignon growing region on family-farmed vineayrds. Rich aromas of blackberry pie, strawberry and black currant play against chewy tannins, ripe fruit flavors and a satisfying finish of French oak layers on vanilla and spice, creating a complex, mouth-filling wine from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley.

Vineyards: The Alexander Valley AVA sits at the top of Sonoma County with about 15,000 acres of much prized vineyards. Within the 76,000 total acres of this AVA, there are a variety of microclimates supporting a substantial range of grape varieties. While Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme on the gravelly terrain of the valley floor, the Alexander Valley AVA also produces notable Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Just enough coastal fog finds its way up the Russian River Valley to create cool evening and morning conditions. This, however, gives way to hot mid-day temperatures in what is overall a relatively warm growing area.

Fermentation and Aging: After a short cold soak and a warm 10-day fermentation, the must was pressed and settled. We chose medium toast, 100% French oak for this wine and aged it for 19 months. The French oak helps tame the sometimes-rustic tannins which come from Alexander Valley Cabernet while contributing to the round, flavorful finish.

Varietal: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Alcohol: 13.5% by volume

Tasting Notes: “This wine has classic Sonoma Cabernet characteristics of cassis, green olive and hints of chocolate. French Oak aging contributes vanilla, clove and hazelnut aromas which create a unique foil for the robust blackberry and raspberry fruit flavors leading to a round, flavorful finish. Pair with aged and semi-hard cheeses, or try lamb with a dry rub of rosemary, shallots and fruity olive oil.”— Alison Crowe, Winemaker

Food Pairings: Pair with aged and semi-hard cheeses, or try lamb with a dry rub of rosemary, shallots and fruity olive oil.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “This Cab is ripe and rich with bold layers of intensity. A strong, firm structured wine here. Picket Fence truly packs a punch, and over delivers in terms of quality! Perfect with grilled meats, especially lamb or any other protein on the barbeque. You will start the fall season off right with this wine. Enjoy!”-JL

July Domestic Wine: 2012 Pietra Santa Pinot Noir, Cienega Valley, CALIFORNIA

Pietra Santa and its History: “Pietra Santa is a family-run estate producing artisanal wines and olive oils in California’s Central Coast. The site was planted to winegrapes in the 1850s by Frenchman Theophile Vache who chose the location because of the maritime climate and unique soils.

Pietra Santa is 25 miles from Monterey Bay and benefits from cool coastal breezes that allow for a long growing season. The estate’s location on the San Andreas Fault creates soils rich with granite and limestone that naturally lower yields and add distinctive flavors to the wines. The winery was named PIETRA SANTA, Italian for SACRED STONE, in honor of these exceptional soils.

In 2005, the property was purchased by the Blackburns, a family dedicated to preserving and building upon this magnificent winemaking history.”-pietrasantawinery.com

The Estate: “Due to the mountainous terrain, only 120 of the estate’s 450 acres are planted with wine grapes. An additional 25 acres are planted with olive trees. The oldest vines consist of a treasured block of Zinfandel planted in 1905. Completed in 2000, the Mission-Style Winery was designed for fine winemaking combining traditional methods and state-of-the-art technology. The winery also hosts a FRANTOIO (olive oil press room) equipped with a Pieralisi Press imported from Tuscany.”-pietrasantawinery.com

Vineyards/Winemaking: “Our Pinot Noir comes from vines that are planted in the upper valley of our estate at an elevation of approximately 1100 feet.  The grapes benefit from a maritime climate and ideal soils for growing expressive Pinot Noir.  The vineyard was planted with three Dijon clones – #115, #828, and #777 – to create the optimal flavor profile for our estate Pinot Noir.”-pietrasantinery.com

Varietal: 100% Pinot Noir

Alcohol: 14.5% by volume

Food Pairings: Great with spring chicken, slow cooked pork shoulder, pan seared duck breasts, and shaved raw asparagus with fennel. Enjoy.

Tasting Notes: Their Estate Pinot Noir is an ideal reflection of their terroir, renowned for growing this finicky varietal. This wine has a beautiful bouquet of subtle lavender and elegant fruit flavors of wild strawberries and raspberries with hints of cola. The wine finishes with white pepper and an earthiness that is synonymous with the Cienega Valley.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Real Pinot here. A wine that is loaded with rhubarb and raspberries, and ends with a long clean lingering finish. A true overachiever. Best served with duck, oily finish and any game!”-JL

June Domestic Wine: 2010 Clayhouse 'Adobe Red', Paso Robles, CALIFORNIA

“Our label and brand celebrate a historic home at our estate vineyard near Paso Robles. That 150-year-old adobe structure – the Clayhouse itself – still reminds us of the time when grapes were first planted in this area. The Clayhouse, which we’ve carefully restored, is really the ideal symbol for our vineyard and winery. After all, like the adobe, our wines are created from the earth, cultivated by hand, and nurtured by family traditions.

For the Middleton family, those traditions and deep passion for agricultural businesses go back more than four generations.

Today, Clayhouse Wines extend that proud family legacy with a selection of exceptional wines, all crafted by hand in a refined, elegant style that reflects the unique character of Paso Robles and the depth of flavor that the Central Coast imparts.”-clayhouse.com

About ‘The Clayhouse’:  “The 150-year-old adobe structure — the Clayhouse itself — really is the ideal symbol for our vineyards. After all, like the adobe, our wines are created from the earth, cultivated by hand, and nurtured by family traditions.

For the Middleton family, those traditions and deep passion for agricultural businesses go back more than four generations. Today, Clayhouse extends that proud legacy with its selection of exceptional wines, all hand-crafted in a refined, elegant style that reflects the unique character of Paso Robles.”-clayhouse.com

Vintage Description: Even fairly mild summer for Paso Robles. Yields were average producing a good well rounded vintage with expressive fruit flavors.

Varietal: 33% Zinfandel, 32% Petite Sirah, 20% Syrah, 13% Tempranillo, 2% Tanat

Alcohol: 13.7% by volume

Tasting Notes: Sweet ripe red cherries aromas. Jammy strawberry preserves and spice combine in the mouth in this complex blend of fruit flavors. Tannins are soft and rounded with a rich mouthfeel and warm toasty vanilla laced finish.

Food Pairings: This wine is a reliable Jack of all trades, made for cheeses, meat and red sauce based pastas, bbq, pizza or just sipping with friends.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “A great blend! Tons of concentration and flavor. A wine that will make you stand up and take notice. A wine that is a perfect summertime sipper! Drink with rich cheeses and hardy meats!”-JL

March Domestic Wine: 2011 Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, CALIFORNIA

Sebastiani’s first century in Sonoma winemaking began when Samuele (pictured right) emigrated from the Tuscany region of Italy in 1895 and started Sebastiani nine years later. A stonemason by trade, he quarry-mined the Sonoma hills for cobblestones that were used to build the streets of San Francisco. He worked long hours and saved carefully to buy land in Sonoma County, from which he would make wine for the Sonoma community and San Francisco’s restaurants.

About Mark Lyon, Winemaker at Sebastiani: Mark Lyon’s career in winemaking spans over 30 years of distinction and achievement. Mark graduated with a B.S. in Fermentation Science from the University of California at Davis in 1978 and was hired by Sebastiani Vineyards one year later. In 1985, he was put in charge of harvest at the winery and was instrumental in making the inaugural vintage of Sebastiani’s famed Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon. He has since focused exclusively on producing the best quality wines sourced throughout Sonoma County.

In 1980, Mark and his father bought a 122 acre vineyard in Alexander Valley. His hands-on management of the vineyard has allowed him to develop a tremendous knowledge of winegrowing, particularly in Bordeaux varietals. In 2005, Mark was awarded the “Distinguished Alumni Award” by U.C. Davis for his community service and his development of joint research projects with the University. A biannual recognition, the award has been given to such prominent industry leaders as Robert Mondavi and Justin Meyers. Mark has also been named “Winemaker of the Year” by Restaurant Wine Magazine and was included in “Winemakers to Watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Varietals: 81.7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10.7% Merlot, 4.5% Syrah and 3.1% Mixed Reds

Alcohol: 13.75% by volume

Tasting Notes: The 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet is dark garnet in color with lovely aromatics that range from dried herbs, tea and black cherry to coconut, vanilla and cocoa powder. The flavors are typical of cooler climate Cabernets including black currants, red licorice, earl grey tea and toasty oak. This medium-bodied wine closes with well -rounded tannins and a long lasting finish.

Food Pairings: This wine pairs well with almost anything. Think about bolder flavors and richer foods. Try short ribs, grilled steak, and roasted veal. Enjoy!

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “A very rich, dark and concentrated Red wine. Loaded with fruit and a firm dense structure. 2011 was a very tough vintage in California, particularly in Napa and Sonoma, and this wine truly overachieves. Sebastiani screams Cabernet Sauvignon! A big glass of Cab for the money. I picture drinking this wine with a great steak. I hope you enjoy as much as I do! Cheers!”-JL

December Domestic Wine: 2010 Lange Twins Zinfandel, Lodi, CALIFORNIA

For five generations, the Lange family has been growing sustainable winegrapes in the Lodi Appellation, and in 2006 they opened a winery to showcase their passion for growing winegrapes – because great wine starts in the vineyard.

Building on their successes as a vineyard management company, the winery was their first step into crafting wines made solely from their estate vineyards.  Since opening in 2006, they have continued to expand their state-of-the-art winery to keep up with the demand for their Lange Twins wines as well as private labels and custom winemaking services.

Although they have the latest winemaking technology at their fingertips, they never lose sight of the fact that only great wine can be made from great winegrapes.

About the Winemaker: David, a second generation winemaker who graduated from University of California, Davis, is a 25 year veteran winemaker from Robert Mondavi. As Director of Winemaking at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, he led a team of enologists in creating and evolving their wine style to improve the quality of Woodbridge wines. He helped pioneer winegrower lot processing for direct wine quality feedback, supported barrel aging of premium wines for enhanced quality, and drove stylistic winemaking for hundreds of different wines. His winemaking philosophy stems directly from Robert Mondavi himself, driving continuous improvements while nurturing a respect for both grape and wine.

Varietals: 100% Zinfandel

Alcohol: 14.9% by volume

Tasting Notes: The 2010 Zinfandel has an aroma of bright crushed blackberry and blueberry fruit. On the palate, loads of fresh vibrant blackberries meld with notes of spice and are balanced by a touch of vanilla oak and soft tannins. It is a luscious wine!

Food Pairings: Zinfandel is a great wine for the cold weather months. Pair this wine with richer foods like braised meats or even with heavy cheeses. Zinfandel can also be a great dessert pairing, especially with chocolate and fresh berries.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Rich, flavorful, and spicy…loaded with flavor. A great wine for this time of year. Enjoy at home, by the fire, with some hearty soup or chili. The wine will warm you up!”-JL

November Domestic Wine: 2012 Bonny Doon ‘A Proper Claret’ Red Blend, CALIFORNIA

Bonny Doon Vineyard is a winery based in the city of Santa Cruz in the central coast of California. It was started by Randall Grahm in 1983. Bonny Doon was amongst the first Californian wineries to embrace Rhone varietals, giving Randall Grahm the nickname “The Rhone Ranger“. The winery is known for its untraditional labels, including illustrations by Ralph Steadman, Bascove, Grady McFerrin, and Gary Taxali. In recent years, the winery has embraced some slightly obscure Italian varieties, screwcaps, and biodynamic production.

History of Claret at Bonny Doon: Some cautionary words: Bonny Doon Vineyard is, as we all know or should know, a strictly cabernet-free zone, at least it has been for the last twenty-eight years. The last “Claret” produced at Bonny Doon Vineyard was in 1985 from grapes grown at their late Estate in the eponymous hamlet of Bonny Doon. It was a blend of approximately equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec, and against all expectation, it was actually pretty damn good. Randall Grahm, owner and winemaker, has expressed opprobrium, occasionally bordering on amused disdain, for this popular grape variety. They are not really at liberty to say how Bonny Doon Vineyard has come to be entrusted with the distribution of a wine made from such improbably alien grape varieties, but suffice to say that the deal was doon grudgingly and harumphingly.

Varietals: 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 8% Tannat, 1% Petite Sirah

Alcohol: 13.2% by volume

Tasting Notes: So, with these caveats listed above, the sentiment at Bonny Doon Vineyard is that if you ever were to drink a cabernet-based blend, this would be one that would serve quite well. It is lean, neither overly alcoholic (weighing in at 13%), nor overly extracted; it is precisely as one would imagine ‘A Proper Claret’ to be. The wine contains a substantial dollop of petit verdot (22%), which adds a silky note of violets and textural elegance, in precision counterpoint to the lead-in-the-pencil firmness offered by the inclusion of the manly tannat (8%). There is a lovely suggestion of cedar and mint, in the nose. The wine has medium tannins, nice acidity, and finishes cleanly.

Food Pairings: Proper (British) mutton, proper leg of lamb, (ideally served with proper Yorkshire pudding).

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Rich and vibrant! Loaded with flavors of hickory, cedar, and smoke. Gorgeous weight on the palate, with a long and elegant finish. The unique blend is a trademark of Bonny Doon. This is a new wine for us at FWS, and I am happy to share it with you. Enjoy!”-JL

October Domestic Wine: 2010 Viña Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, CALIFORNIA

Viña Robles crafts wines that represent a stylistic bridge between the Old and New worlds, capturing the finesse associated with European wines, while celebrating the bold natural flavors of their estate vineyards in Paso Robles.

Here, proprietor Hans Nef and managing partner Hans – R. Michel bring their Swiss heritage to California’s Central Coast, where they aim to unite the best of both experiences.

“I want Viña Robles to express a unique balance of European heritage and American opportunity. As individuals, we are rooted in the Old World. As winemakers, we are empowered by the New World. But both worlds bring value to what we do, and we endeavor to capture this distinction in our wines.”-Proprietor Hans Nef

History of Viña Robles in Paso Robles: They first discovered Paso Robles in the early 1980s and became enamored with this emerging wine country. Along golden slopes, where the Pacific coastline unfolds into rugged ranchlands and cowboy ambiance, a new generation of California winemakers was turning Paso Robles into one of the world’s most dynamic winegrowing regions.

In the mid 1990s, they planted their first estate vineyard and established Viña Robles as a family winery specializing in varieties that excel in the region’s diverse terroir. The vision for Viña Robles is summed up by their motto: European Inspiration – California Character.

Varietals: 81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Petit Verdot

Alcohol: 14.1% by volume

Tasting Notes: “The fruit for our 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was selected from four of our estate vineyards in Paso Robles. It was handpicked at night in small lots to ensure perfect quality and ripeness. Afterwards, the fruit was destemmed and gently crushed into temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. Pump-overs took place regularly to enhance color and help extract tannins from the skin. After pressing, the wine was racked into barrels to complete malolactic fermentation and aging. Before bottling, we blended in 19% Petit Verdot from our Huerhuero and Adelaida Springs vineyards to round out the blend. The Petit Verdot enhances mouthfeel and structure.”-vinarobles.com

Food Pairings: The wine pairs well with richer foods. A great wine for grilled meats, heavier pasta dishes, and barbeque. Also a great match with salty cheese!

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Rich and deep, with a lavish style. Layers of flavor and complexity here. In perfect harmony of red and blue fruit here. The wine has great intensity and a supple soft finish. Flavors of cassis, raspberry, and cedar are all intermingled. I love it!”-JL

September Domestic Wine: 2012 Elizabeth Spencer Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, CALIFORNIA

Elizabeth Spencer’s belief is that wine should be delicious and representative of its appellation of origin. They make wines to drink — inviting wines that we and our friends (and by extension, our customers) truly enjoy. The model for all of the Elizabeth Spencer wines is intensity without excess weight, purity, persistence and length.

History of Sauvignon Blanc and its Relation to Elizabeth Spencer: Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape variety that originates from the Bordeaux region of France. The grape most likely gets its name from the French words sauvage (“wild”) and blanc (“white”) due to its early origins as an indigenous grape in South West France. It is possibly a descendant of savagnin. Sauvignon Blanc is planted in many of the world’s wine regions (including Mendocino), producing a crisp, and refreshing white varietal wine. The grape is also component of the famous dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Sauvignon Blanc is widely cultivated in France, Chile, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Moldova, and California. Some California Sauvignon Blancs are also called “Fume Blanc”, though this is often perceived to be a different type of wine.

Depending on the climate, the flavor can range from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical. Wine experts have used the phrase “crisp, elegant, and fresh” as a favorable description of Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, New Zealand, and sometimes, California.

Varietals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc

Alcohol: 14.0% by volume

Tasting Notes: “Hay and quince and a touch of Sugar Snap pea on the nose. These fresh qualities are countered by delicate honeysuckle and apple, with a crisp finish of citrus fruit and a smidgen of cut grass. A fresh, crisp Sauvignon Blanc with a vibrant intensity that is well-balanced with good acidity and a lively, refreshing finish.”-Spencer Graham, Winemaker

Food Pairings: This wine pairs well fish, cheese, particulary Chèvre, and salads.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “What a wine! Loaded with apples, pink grapefruit, and a honeyed dry finish. This is a stunner! A very pleasant white wine for this time of year. One of the best domestic Sauvignon Blancs I have ever drank. It is lip smacking good!”-JL

August Domestic Wine: 2012 Birichino Malvasia Bianca, Monterey, CALIFORNIA

Birichino is committed to producing distinctive, harmonious, highly energetic wines which transcend the casual wine drinkers’ typical realm of experience. Founded in Santa Cruz in 2008, and drawing on a combined 35 years making and selling wine in California, France, and Italy, owners and winemakers Alex Krause and John Locke are focused on attaining the perfect balance of perfume, poise, and puckishness with a particular fondness for varieties that provide enormous pleasure and reestablish a direct connection to the sensual world.

History of Malvasia and its Relation to Birichino: Krause and Locke, owners and winemakers at Birichino, first laid eyes on their Malvasia Bianca in the rain shadow of the Santa Lucia Mountains back in 1991. Over the decades, they’ve seen Malvasia with lots of botrytis, with gargantuan acidity; with modest acidity; vines with both under and overripe grapes; Malvasia exhibiting every variation Mother Nature can concoct. They had never seen, however, something close to perfection until 2012.

In 2012, Birichino started sourcing Malvasia from the original block they worked with from 1990-2005, which is a bit closer to the Santa Lucia Highlands and also a bit rockier soil. The soil is more decomposed granite, with less clay. The 2012 vintage is a bit more aromatic, perhaps a bit finer and more precise in the profile, where 2011 is a little broader. These are 25+ year old vines now, and they are excited to have the older block from now on.

Varietals: 100% Malvasia Bianca

Alcohol: 13.0% by volume

Tasting Notes: The name Birichino means mischievous and impish; and this white wine from the Malvasia grape certainly lives up to that. On the nose, its pure tropical fruit, with strong hints of lychee and mango which when on the palate move to flavors of ripe fruit, jasmine and elderflower, with a refreshing finish. A great summertime sipper!

Food Pairings: Because Malvasia has an interesting combination of rich and oily mouth feel, but strong acids…deep-fried foods actually pair very well with it. Try with something salty, sweet, or savory to experience the nuances of the wine!

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Rich and exotic with flavors of melon, tropical fruit, and passion fruit. An intense glass of wine! The wine is hedonistic and exotic. The finish lasts for at least three minutes on your palate. Enjoy!”-JL

June Domestic Wine: 2008 Domaine de la Terre Rouge ‘Tête-à-Tête’, Sierra Foothills, CALIFORNIA

Domaine de la Terre Rouge, which specializes in single-site Syrahs from some of the highest altitude vineyards in California, has released their own version of a self-styled ‘fun and easy drinking’ wine.  Tête-à-Tête is a blend of Côte-Rôtie classics (it’s 34% Grenache, 34% Mourvèdre, and 32% Syrah), but blended from the estate’s younger vines and barrel lots showing plenty of sweet, forward fruit.  With this particular grape trio, that means lots of dark summer flavors; boysenberry, black cherry, blackberry and currant— the style, say, of a top-end Côtes-du-Rhône Villages.

History of Rhone Reds and Their Relation to Domaine de la Terre Rouge: According to the Rhone Rangers, there are twenty-two traditional varieties grown in France’s Rhone Valley in eastern France. Twelve of these grapes are planted in the United States including the best-known Syrah and Viognier, plus Mourvedre, Grenache, Carignane, Roussanne, Marsanne and Petite Sirah. Some lesser known Rhone varietals grown in the United States are Counoise, Cinsault, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul. California has over 4000 acres of Rhone varietal grapes planted of which almost half is Syrah.

Examples of Rhone varietals include the popular Syrah, Viognier and Mourvedre. Syrah (also known as Shiraz in Australia and South Africa) is the major Rhone varietal in the United States. Syrah is a sturdy grape in the vineyard and tends to deliver dark fruits and white pepper. Viognier, the most popular white Rhone, is probably the worlds least widely planted premium grape. In the vineyard the yields are low, as is the acid. It is temperamental in the winery, but well-made Viognier delivers an exquisite, exotic bouquet of apricots, pears tropical fruits and floral. Mourvedre is a grape found in many areas, called Monastrell in Spain and Mataro in Portugal. It is often used as a blending wine, producing good acid and some astringency with blackberry aromas and flavors.

Varietals: 34% Grenache, 34% Mourvèdre, and 32% Syrah

Alcohol: 14.5% by volume

Tasting Notes: This wine is a true over achiever! Great mouth feel and texture that is eminently enjoyable everyday. The 2008 has a deep boysenberry fruit, with smoky, meaty, and gamey flavors that emphasize their terroir.

Food Pairings: The wine pairs well with grilled meats and barbeque. Throw a steak on the grill and enjoy with a glass of this wine!

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Earthy and rustic, with cedary smoky flavors. A wine that has a history…one of the most affordable and best tasting Rhone blends coming out of California. The wine has a roasted, meaty mid-palate, with a long savory lip-smacking finish!”-JL