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Korbel’s special Inaugural-labeled edition of their Russian River Valley California Champagne, gracing Inaugural Luncheon tables for the 8th time, is raising the ire of the Champagne lobby who insist “Champagne only comes from Champagne, France” in this article from Wine Spectator. Do you agree? Or do you think the French should kick back with a glass of whichever sparkling beverage they like, preferably with a chill pill chaser?

Here’s a link to the 2013 Inaugural Luncheon Menu if you care to whip up some steamed lobster with New England Clam Chowder Sauce, pop open a bottle of Korbel and celebrate Beyoncé style!

Congratulations Mr. President and Korbel for representing Sonoma with style!

WTF Bon Appétit???!!!

The Sonomaist makes no bones about being a lover of fine food and wine. I’m certainly not above spending a little extra for the farmer’s market oyster mushrooms or the organic kale every now and again. But reading the latest issue of Bon Appétit, this morning I nearly choked on my Trader Joe’s Brazillian Peaberry (Great coffee, $6.99 a can!)

It was an article about making your own vinegar at home. A noble pursuit to be sure, but not when you’re using an AMAZING Merry Edwards pinot noir to do it…Not once but twice!!!  I quote –

“We got started when a friend gave each of us a piece of “mother,” which resembles the Absent-Minded Professor’s flubber, a blob floating in jars with a little wine and water. It’s this mother, the live starter, that transforms wine into vinegar (acetic acid) through alcoholic fermentation and bacterial activity, with an assist from good old oxygen.

We swapped out the canning jars for gallon crocks draped with cheesecloth, which allows air in but blocks out light. Then, with a flourish, we poured a bottle of 2007 Meredith Estate Pinot Noir into each. The more delicious and aromatic the wine, the finer the vinegar, so whatever we’re drinking, we share a glass with our fermenting vinegar.”

This is a $64 (average) bottle of incredible wine.  Am I wrong to hate B.A. more than a little right now? Are you with me? Or maybe we should all go back to lighting our Cohibas with 100 dollar bills…

It almost sounds like a set up for a bad joke, “What happens when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a segregationist governor walk into a bar?” But it’s actually a great story, and I’ve included a link for your to enjoy it yourself this holiday, recounted in Doc Lawrence’s “pull up a log and set a spell” natural storyteller’s voice.

From: “A WINE TASTING FOR THE AGES: DR. KING AND FINE WINE: A HISTORIC MEETING”  by Veteran Atlanta journalist and broadcaster DOC LAWRENCE and his wonderful Sips Across America column and blog.

 

“On a rainy night in Atlanta, four men met somewhat accidentally in a wine store with a rear lounge. One was the great Civil Rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Another was the segregationist governor of Georgia. They were joined by the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper editor Ralph McGill and the store owner, Jim Sanders, the foremost wine importer in the South at that time. Sanders, a gifted writer, recorded the events of that evening, typing everything on his ancient Underwood typewriter.”

As he approached death in 1999, Sanders told me the story and entrusted me with his manuscript. I promised to share it with the world and to this day believe it to be one of the most fascinating tales involving wine and its potential for peacemaking.

I read Sanders’ transcript of that historic evening on my Atlanta radio show and proudly share it as Jim Sanders intended. I hope you join in sharing this with others.

There are many things to love about this odd evening of wine and conversation, and how, in a small, intimate moment over fine wine (a rosé, a sauternes sampling and a 1957 La Tache –Now selling for $3000-4000 a bottle, if you’re having a REALLY festive MLK day) these four men from very different perspectives and walks of life were able to civilly converse, and put aside their differences if only for a moment. One of Dr. King’s gifts to this country is, he helped get us to a place where the conversation lasted a lot longer and the civility took root in our hearts not just on the surface. In the spirit of a life well-lived and a philosophy of which we are the lucky recipients, here’s some ideas for wine and food pairings you can try for Martin Luther King Day.

If you’re feeling expansive (and fully recovered from Christmas and New Year’s excess) by all means, follow Dr. King to the mountaintop of deliciousness and indulge in a Southern feast fit for a King (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

This is a great post from RJ Reeves Jr. in Scrumptious Chef “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Favorite Foods: Celebrating The Great Man On His Birthday.”

However, The Sonomaist is endeavoring mightily to keep up her New Year’s Resolution of simpler and lighter, so y’all will have to let me know how those southern fried delicacies worked out! As an alternative to RJ’s righteous blowout, here’s an easy, light Southern Butter Bean Soup Recipe from Elizabeth Kelly that is both a tribute to Dr. King, and, bonus, a great pair with an “unassuming and flavorful little rosé”  of the type that was on the menu at Jim Sander’s wine shop that fateful evening. Since the name of that particular wine has been lost to history (and let’s face it, do you really want a 50 year old rosé? Didn’t think so.) Here are three choices from blowout to bargain –

2010 MacPhail Pinot Noir Rosé ($20) Crisp with a funky, barnyard-y strawberry nose. Nice barnyard finish that pairs well with the earthiness of the butter beans. (87 pts.) * Link is to the 2011 vintage.

N.V. Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé ($33) OR the 2007 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé  ($42) Both are toasty bright strawberry inflected sparklers, but the 2007 vintage has a bit more gravitas than the more straightforward but perfectly enjoyable non-vintage offering which tends more towards the berry and less towards the rose petal and smoke of the 2007. Let’s put it this way, the N.V. is brunch and the 2007 is dinner. (N.V. 86 pts./2007Vintage 89 pts.)

2009 Inman Family Brut Rosé Nature Sparkling “Endless Crush” ($68) If you really want to blow it out big (It is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, after all) you can’t go wrong with this incredible 100%  Russian River Valley Pinot Noir stunner. Bone dry but with beautiful mineral, yeast and raspberry notes, followed by a bracing key lime acidity on the back. This is a gorgeous wine to cellar for a few years, or, break out this MLK day, even better! (94 pts.)

It is well-documented that Dr. King’s absolute favorite food was pecan pie, a difficult food to pair with wine to be certain, but I think it’s interesting that Mr. Saunder’s recounts in his memoir that Dr. King came to the wine shop searching for Sherry and ended up sampling three Sauternes, both a bit off the beaten track, but great matches for, you guessed it, pecan pie! Here’s a great post from Wine Peeps with some fantastic pairings (Sherry and Sauternes, natch) for that most quintessentially Georgian desert.

I find that legendary historical characters are far more interesting when we can look at them as ordinary people who did extraordinary things (doesn’t that make them even more extraordinary? If they don’t have capes and still perform amazing feats of strength?) That’s what I love about Saunders’ tale, it was a small intimate moment in a larger-than-life man’s existence. I like to picture Dr. King checking his watch and hurrying home after this strange evening at Sanders’ wine shop and recounting to Coretta the crazy night he had, perhaps over a nice glass of Sherry and a generous slice of  homemade pecan pie. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day everyone!

In keeping with my New Year’s resolution I’m going to endeavor to make more easy healthy dishes and pair them with weeknight wines that won’t break the bank. Since I’m an avid cook, but certainly no recipe writer, I get by with a little help from my fellow bloggers. One of my absolute favorite blogs is Homemade With Mess. What better way to recover from holiday excess than with her light and easy take on a creamy Indian curry, Healthy Chicken & Butternut Squash Korma

The korma was easy to prepare and lightened up considerably with yogurt replacing cream and butternut squash in the place of some of the meat.

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The wine I chose to pair was a Trader Joe’s 2010 Cosmia Sonoma County Chardonnay ($5.99) It opened with a bright lime zest nose leading to a light body and tropical fruit flavor more akin to a warm climate Sauvignon Blanc than a typical “large and in charge” California Chardonnay. Pineapple, green mango and a bracing acidic green apple back. This was simple, easy to drink and would pair nicely with even spicier Asian foods (the curry was quite mild.) The tropical notes of the wine married well with the sweetness of the butternut squash, while the generous acidity was a good counterpoint to the creamy sauce and almonds.

The Trader Joe’s write up describes it as “oaky and buttery” but I didn’t get a lot of that on the bottle I tasted. I will admit though, that there can sometimes be larger variations between TJ bottlings than those of more mainstream wineries. This was a decent (82  pts.) wine  at a great price point! And the Korma was fantastic!

IMG_2213The time-space continuum was definitely a wee bit out of wack that afternoon. One minute we were in downtown Healdsburg, the next, a Tuscan olive grove. Strange, yes, but not in the least bit unpleasant. We decided to explore.

DaVero is a beautiful olive ranch and biodynamic farm in the Dry Creek Valley. Not only do they produce amazing oil, but the rich, buttery green Manzanilla olives haunt me to this day. They also farm herbs and Meyer lemons (some of which make their way into a lovely Dry Creek Vally Estate Meyer Lemon Olive Oil that is phenomenal on fish, and even more of a revelation on simple steamed veggies. In fact, their regular Extra Virgin Olive Oil on steamed veggies takes the edge off the “greenness” making a steamed vegetable side more compatible with dry white wine, which can be challenging!)

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They also do a range of estate wines, mostly Italian varietals as well as Cabernet Sauvignon. For the most part (some exceptions) these are mid-priced ($22-$30) wines easy drinking, nothing too complex. The revelation, however, hailed from Portugal, the 2011 Tinta Cao ($28) with a Zinfandel nose but a Chianti palate. Tinta Cao is made from the same grapes that are used for Port, but isn’t at all heavy or Port-y, it’s more port as a young lass, all red cherry life saver sass and a kicky black pepper back. And at a relatively tame %11.7 alcohol, it’s perfect for a weeknight red sauce pasta dinner.

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Wandering out onto the patio with a glass of the DaVero Estate Sangiovese ($45) taking a snoot-full of the rich petrol nose followed by rich black raspberry and tar and a long, acidic, cayenne pepper finish, my thoughts turned to food. Hearty, Italian food. At that moment, another apparition appeared. A wood burning oven, rich, yeasty dough. The Rosso Pizza truck was there! Marone! I will get into a more detailed ode to Rosso in the coming days, but for now, just know there was much weeping, long stretches of blissed out chewing, and maybe, just maybe a little smooching of the biodynamic ground that made this perfect Tuscan afternoon in NorCal possible.

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The rustic tasting room is a lovely spot to try both the wines and the oils (and those incredible olives, if you’re lucky!)  So, if you should find yourself stepping through that tear in the fabric of space and time and wandering into Chianti, or even on the Westside Road, DeVero is definitely worth a stop.

DaVero Tasting Room
766 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
 
Open 10-5 daily
davero.com

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New Year’s resolutions tend towards the simple. Rarely do people stuff their January 1st intentions with closets full of Birkin bags, Lamborghinis or vows to best Kobayashi in competitive eating endeavors. The vast majority (and easiest to keep) are the basics, eat a little less, spend time and money more wisely. An extra hour on the treadmill, ten more bucks a week to the 401k. Make time to slip out early as to not miss that dance recital or Pop Warner game.

In this spirit of simplicity, one of my resolutions is to include more “weekday/weeknight” recipes and tips. Ideas that can be integrated into the routine to compliment the more fanciful entries about Sonoma travel and tastings. Of course, there will always be the whimsey…So in the spirit of both simplicity and fancy, let’s talk about Arista Winery…

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Tiny waterfalls, mossy rock formations and stunning Japanese Maples placed with a minimalist’s eye combine to create this serene, Zen retreat overlooking valley vistas. You can rest your weary mind and even picnic here (customers only, please.) It’s a beautiful spot to slowly exhale…That is, once you’ve inhaled the gorgeous aromas of their impressive slate of reds that echo the elegant simplicity of the physical plant.

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Belly up to the small and often crowded tasting bar in a spartan converted farmhouse and enjoy the warm, laid-back hospitality of the McWilliams family who are often on hand to pour and talk about their wines, and always eager to point visitors in the direction of local tasting rooms with similar concepts (the fine folks at Arista are responsible for hipping me to Benovia, C. Donatiello and V.M.L. in the past, as well as others yet unvisited that are at the top of my wish list since they’re batting .1000 in their advice!)

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While the entire tasting is really fantastic, standouts included the 2010 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge ($52) The Mendocino Ridge is more than 1500 feet above sea level, so the grapes grow above the fog line, offering constant sun exposure, yet, it’s still cool enough because of the elevation that they get the slow, gentle ripening that yields exceptional pinot noir. The Perli opens with a full nose of farmyard and Bartlett pear, a medium body full of raspberry, licorice and wet concrete dusted with white pepper and a whisper of French oak. This is drinking beautifully now, but hints at an even more auspicious future given a few years of cellar time. It would be an amazing pairing for salmon in a potato crust.

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Having long been a fan of Arista’s pinots, I sometimes forget that they do a wonderful “pinot take” on what I consider a difficult to love varietal, zinfandel…

Their 2010 Smokey Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($36) is one of those zin exceptions that, for the most part, defies my low expectations of the grape. The huge nose of black pepper, Smuckers strawberry jam and lime rind are certainly zin-ny. As is the “drink on a weeknight at your own risk” 15.9% alcohol content. But on the palate is where it diverges from its peers. The strawberry fruit is bright and fresh, not dense, jammy and cooked like many zins. And the slightly tannic cocoa powder finish gives it gravitas to balance out the mouthwatering berries.  This is a zin touched with Arista’s zen. A lucky wine indeed!

RATINGS 1-10 (1 = Give it a miss. 10= Move heaven and earth to make this a part of your journey!)

INTERIOR = 6  EXTERIOR/VIEW = 9.5  WINE QUALITY = 9

OVERALL RATING = 9.2 *

 
Arista Winery
7015 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 473-0606
 
Open Daily 11-5
Tasting Fee $10
 
*Dogs are welcome, bachelor and bachelorette parties are not. That alone gives them an extra bonus point in my book!
 

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De Loach Winery is always a tasting room stop we make. It’s a testament to their consistently well-made wines (The legend, Greg La Follette, was their winemaker for many years and since 2008 his protégée, Brian Maloney has been at the helm.) The tasting room itself hits all the “correct” notes, some library bottles and chachkis, but there is a bit of a coldness there. I don’t know if it’s because DeLoach is under corporate ownership (Boisset purchased the winery in 2003) or if the tasting room had a stand-offish vibe even back when it was family owned (all that wine has dulled my memory!)

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I am certainly not one who revels in the “Party Bus” experience in a tasting room (to get a taste of that, try Merryvale in Napa after 6pm.) But I always find it pleasant when the employees seem engaged and interested and/or there has been some thought put into the layout of the tasting room, an attempt to infuse some personality into the experience. Unfortunately (and it really is, because the wine is terrific) the De Loach tasting room seems to be simply “going through the motions” on every level.

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The wines are what bring us back, and if you have time and aren’t just trying to hit a “best of” list, then De Loach is definitely worth a stop. Their Pinots are exceptional, from the rich, voluptuous, 2010 De Loach Estate Collection Pinot Noir to the 2008 De Loach Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir on the other end of the spectrum with its more austere profile wrapped in yeasty smokiness. See more DeLoach wine reviews here.

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Some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had has been served under flickering fluorescent lights on chipped formica tables. Would I have preferred linens and low lights? Of course. Do I wish De Loach Winery had a tasting room personality that matched the magic they’re putting in their bottles? Sure. But sometimes, you just have to close your eyes and enjoy the moo shu in front of you.

RATINGS 1-10 (1 = Give it a miss. 10= Move heaven and earth to make this a part of your journey!)

INTERIOR = 5 EXTERIOR/VIEW = 7 WINE QUALITY = 8.5

OVERALL RATING = 6.8

De Loach Winery
1791 Olivet Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Phone: 707-526-9111
 
Taste 5 wines for $10
Picnic basket for two $30
Vineyard designate wines by the glass $12
Wine and cheese plates, tours and special experiences available to book online.
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