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This week I was thrilled to visit B Cellars Vineyards And Winery in Napa Valley (Oakville). The winery specializes in fruit-forward blends and single-vineyard Cabernets made with grapes from prestigious Napa Valley sources. To emphasize the wines' food-friendly qualities, all visits revolve around intricate small bites prepared in an open-hearth kitchen in their Hospitality House.


Hospitality is the name of the game here. Guests are treated with great care and respect. They even made me feel special!
ALL wines shown above were excellent. On the day of my visit I particularly enjoyed the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and the Oakville Cabernet.


Chef Derick Kuntz (shown above) is clearly passionate about his work. He designs each small bite with the goal of creating morsels that never overpower the wines with which they are designed to pair. Rather, they enhance each wine. Bravo Chef! I have done this tasting twice over the past several years and have found it to be one of the best in wine country.


All small bites were very good. But these housemade chips and gourmet dip were addictive! (When he heard me raving, Chef Kuntz even handed me the recipe.)


I also loved the fig flatbread -- hot out of the oven. Delicious! And a perfect treat to go with their soft and feminine Pinot Noir.


Great staff, festive and friendly vibe, a simple yet elegant tasting space, and of course, sumptuous wines. B Cellars Vineyards And Winery is a tasting experience that both visitors and locals will enjoy.


SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Go ahead. Try to prove me wrong. But, try as you might, I suspect that you’ll find yourself confounded by the mischievous little grape called Zinfandel. Wines made from Zinfandel can be glorious, delicious and, quite frankly, superb. These wines are sometimes tender and decidedly feminine with layers of complex flavor. But on the flip side the same grape can produce wonderful wines that are hearty, muscular and almost viscous. How can a grape reveal itself within such a broad spectrum? Therein lies the fun. Somehow top winemakers are able to enter Zinfandel’s magical realm and apply just the right amount of know-how to coax each harvest toward their personal ideal and vision. This grape, through its many vinifications, is most expressive. As many wine aficionados will tell you, the real fun in drinking Zinfandel comes through tasting and exploring its tremendous versatility.

My recommendation is to shoot for the high-end. Experience well-made Zinfandel from top quality grapes. No doubt you’ve seen the slogan: “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” With this I agree. But there is just one problem for most of us. Well-made wine can be expensive and current tasting room fees at many California wineries where you might go to determine which wines taste best are fluctuating between $20-$65 per person. Ouch! That’s not only a huge hit to the wallet but it could take the average wine consumer a very long time to learn, through tasting, how to recognize favored traits in Zinfandels.

For this reason, not to mention that it is lots of fun, I often urge readers to seek out and attend annual wine tasting festivals. The benefit is clear. For one set price, as long as you pace yourself wisely (by not actually swallowing) and take full advantage of “spit buckets”, you’ll have the opportunity to taste and discover many wines produced in the widest variety and styles, all in one day, under one roof. The more examples of a specific wine varietal available to taste and compare, the faster you’ll be on your way towards determining the flavor profiles you like best.


The exciting news is that ZinEx Week is finally here again and it all begins Jan. 17, 2019. There are multiple Zin-centric events tasting place in San Francisco during the week; however, among the most anticipated is the Grand Tasting. This is the main event and it will be held on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019 from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. at Pier 29 (San Francisco Embarcadero). Attendees will meet winemakers and taste reserve and limited production wines during one of the most comprehensive showcases of Zinfandels and blends in the world. Over 110 wineries will be there to serve their finest wines. Also included will be a selection of sumptuous culinary samples from restaurants and winery chefs.


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Among the dozens of highly-regarded wineries in attendance will be such Napa Valley and Sonoma County favorites as: Alexander Valley Vineyards, Ballentine, Bella Vineyards, Chase Cellars, Chateau Montelena, DeLoach, Dry Creek Vineyard, Grgich Hills, Hartford Family, Martinelli Winery, Pedroncelli, Ravenswood, Rombauer Vineyards, Saddleback Cellars, Sbragia Family, Seghesio, Talty, and Zialena. These are just a few whose fine wines I am well acquainted and can certainly recommend. But there will be plenty more there to be discovered. At this writing, tickets are still available. If you go, it is my wish that, after you explore and taste throughout the event, you too may fall under the magical spell of Zinfandel.

Category - General
Posted - 11/09/2018 11:31pm
JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset: The Healdsburg Salon Tickles The Senses
HEALDLSBURG, CA—The passion that resides within visionary winery proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset (aka JCB) is infectious. Over the years, I’ve watched this playful showman, whose energy seems boundless, grow his wine country empire. At last, I have extracted his secret for success. It is clear that he derives great pleasure, and is in fact recharged, from delighting his guests with exceptional wines while saturating visitors with the sensual trappings of luxury and sophistication. His goal is to fully activate multiple senses by taking wine tasting into another dimension. Environment and attitude are as much a part of the wine tasting experience as the grape. The Boisset Collection of historic and unique wineries is committed to this philosophy through stunning interior design and the use of richly textured fabrics, grand furnishings, and stately accoutrements. The newly expanded JCB Tasting Salon in Healdsburg, California, is a smart and compact version of this doctrine. It invites visitors into another world – the enticing world of JCB.


The salon is open daily and features the critically acclaimed wines from the JCB collection, including Sonoma wines crafted just for JCB Tasting Salon – Healdsburg and, of course, the JCB flagship wines.


On my recent visit to the salon I was welcomed with a glass of 2008 Tete de Cuvee GALA label Brut Champagne ($95/bottle). This was quite a delicious way to begin my visit. I was curious to see how the original salon, situated across from the park on Healdsburg’s charming plaza, had been expanded to include a second room. I had heard that the space was redesigned to capture the JCB flair in a luxurious lounge.

Credit: Alex Rubin

As I entered the room I was struck by the vivid décor and saw that the table was already set for my seated tasting. The blue velveteen chairs were timeless and comfortable. I was told that the menu offered a choice three tastings: all sparking wines; an intro to their portfolio; and a top tier tasting with food pairing that was predetermined for my small group.


Here’s my report:

2016 JCB #33 Chardonnay; 100% Russian River Valley fruit ($75/bottle)
Paired with Los Cameros cheese on crostini with Atelier stone ground pale ale mustard.
This wine was not vineyard specific but, rather, I was told, focused on style. It was heavenly; complex and fully satisfying. I loved it!

2015 JCB #7 Pinot Noir; Sonoma Coast ($55/bottle)
Paired with locally made Oakdale aged Gouda.
An enjoyable, fruity Pinot!

2012 JCB #3 Pinot Noir; Russia River Valley & Burgundian fruit ($125/bottle)

Paired with Calvisius Royal Oscietra Caviar over a Gougère puff with egg salad.
I was told that this was the first time a burgundy wine had ever been blended with a Russian River Valley wine. Very well balanced to my taste!

2014 The Surrealist by JCB Red Blend; Napa Valley (75% Cabernet, 25% Petit Verdot) ($350/bottle)
Paired with Coppa Stagionato
Thick, rich; most certainly age-worthy and a good choice for special occasions.

Overall experience: I loved all the above wines and found the food pairing to be well thought out and on target. The bites were not overpowering and each allowed the wines to shine. The Boisset brand is known for its attention to detail. That’s just as it should be.
A visit to the JCB Tasting Salon – Healdsburg will emphasize education and seduce you into the romantic culture of wine. I wholeheartedly recommend that you stop by to taste these fine wines and dive into the refined atmosphere that JCB continues to cultivate so well. —TS



Category - General
Posted - 03/26/2018 11:47pm
Taste of Mendocino 2018 Returns to San Francisco on Saturday April 7

Brutocao Cellars is just one of the many Mendocino County
wineries that will be pouring at Taste of Mendocino on April 7.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Mendocino’s dramatic coastline has made it famous all over the world, but the County offers a lot more than ocean views and rustic coastal inns. Now inland Mendocino is getting it’s due, thanks to local winemakers who are proving that their grapes are on a par with those of nearby Sonoma and Napa.

On Saturday April 7, 2018, one of my not-to-be-missed wine tasting events returns to San Francisco. Taste of Mendocino 2018 takes place from 1-5 pm at Fort Mason Center, Gallery 308. This intimate wine tasting event will showcase the people and products unique to wild and rustic Mendocino County.

More than 30 wineries will be pouring their best wines, and numerous Mendocino County artisanal food producers will be serving up delicious gourmet bites too. This is a great way to taste back-to-back and determine your favorite producers.

Taste of Mendocino attendees will be able to purchase wine and artisanal foods at the event. Tickets are just $60 and still available. For more information visit or call 707-901-7629. I love the many family-owned wineries that participate at this event. If you go, be sure to taste Brutocao Family Vineyards, Frey Wines, Handley Cellars, and Maple Creek Winery. Highly recommended! —TS


RUTHERFORD, CA — Few people driving along Highway 29 in Napa Valley recognize both of the red white, and blue flags flying in front of this winery. They certainly know one, the American flag. The other represents Croatia, the native country of winemaker and co-owner Miljenko “Mike” Grgich.


The simple red-tile-roofed, white stucco building may not be as flashy as those of nearby wineries, but as the saying goes, it’s what’s inside that counts. Here you will find “Old World style wines” -- and the flavors --- well, they are what Napa Valley is all about. Tastings start at $25. Rule of thumb at Grgich Hills Estate: if you purchase 2 bottles they will waive the tasting fee.

Below is what I tasted during my recent visit. All wines were very good to excellent. A highly recommended, family-owned winery for visitors to California wine country.


2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Grown

Just released

-Wide national availability

-Just over 15,000 cases produced

-Blend: 79% Cabernet Sauvignon

14% Merlot

4.5% Petit Verdot

2.5% Cabernet Franc

-Retail: $72


2014 Miljenko’s Selection Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Grown

-Less than 1100 cases produced

-100% Cabernet

-Retail: $100


2010 Yountville Selection Old Vine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Grown

-Only 500 cases produced (Made from old Cabernet vineyards. The 2nd oldest in Napa Valley planted in 1959. This one is not on their website and so I suspect there is very little left to purchase. I felt fortunate that they were able to pour this classic wine for me.)

-100% Cabernet

-Retail: $215

2015 Miljenko’s Selection Napa Valley Essence Sauvignon Blanc, Estate Grown

-646 cases produced

-100% Sauvignon Blanc (Has a very bright taste with grapefruit & tropical lime zest. Neutral oak for 6 months rather than stainless steel tanks)

-Retail: $55


2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay, Estate Grown

-Widest national availability

-Just over 23,000 cases produced (If you’re not familiar with their wines, this is a great place to start.)

-100% Chardonnay

-Retail: $43


2015 Miljenko’s Selection Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay, Estate Grown

-875 cases produced

-100% Chardonnay

-Retail: $60


2014 Paris Tasting Commemorative Napa Valley Chardonnay, Estate Grown

-942 cases produced

-100% Chardonnay (The winery wanted to reproduce their wining wine from the famed 1976 “Judgment of Paris Tasting”. Wow! This wine is exquisite!)

-Retail: $94

Grgich Hills Estate is located at 1829 St. Helena Hwy, Rutherford, CA. Phone: 800-532-3057.  It is a must-see destination for wine tasting. One of Napa Valley’s iconic landmark wineries. —TS






Category - General
Posted - 01/14/2018 07:37pm
Drinking The REAL Zinfandel at Zin Ex San Francisco, 2018


SAN FRANCISCO, CA — For the novice, drinking wines of inferior quality will often sour a person’s viewpoint of wine right from the start. As with anything else, when learning about the pleasures of wine, it’s important to start off on the right foot.

I wish I had known this back during my college salad days when the only wines I usually had the chance to try were at backyard barbeques. It was at these regular party-hearty events that I was first introduced to Zinfandel. Though I don’t remember the labels, the low priced Zins being served could have easily sported brand names such as “Firewater”, “Rot Gut Chuck” or “Acid Reflux Buzz”. These wines were, for the most part, harsh concoctions that had more burn and bite than flavor. For years afterward, I was certain that the varietal was at fault. Whenever offered a glass of Zin, I would recoil and offer a polite decline. Ah, the folly of youth.

It wasn’t until I began my journey into the world of wine over 20 years ago that I was reintroduced to what I must refer to as the real Zinfandel. At long last I was able to drink the good stuff -- the well-made, serious wines that ignited my lifelong love affair with Zin. The true character of this grape can emerge as a delicate ballerina with dancing flavors almost lighter than air or, it can charge forward on the palate like a robust bullfighter showing off to a roaring crowd. The versatility of this varietal doesn’t stop there. I have found more winemaker-induced versions of Zinfandel than any other wine. It is the chameleon of grapes able to manifest as dry, delicate, fruity, jammy, bold, or thick and sweet as when Zin is made into late harvest dessert wines or port. And I love it in all its mystifying and multiple states of being.

The secret to falling love with Zin is simply to discover the style that you like best.  The means to this end is to taste, taste, and taste again. There is no better way to do this than by attending a varietal specific event such as the upcoming Zin Experience, a three-day wine and food festival in San Francisco, that runs from Jan. 18-20, 2018.

The convenience of tasting dozens of Zinfandels under one roof during a single afternoon is a crash course of sorts in the many faces of this much cherished varietal. It’s where I return year after year to reward my palate with luxurious Zinfandels by top-notch producers.

Tickets to the Grand Tasting on Saturday Jan. 20, 2018 are still available. If you go, here are some Northern California producers who will be pouring that I highly recommend: ACORN Winery, Ballentine Vineyards, Carol Shelton Wines, Dry Creek Vineyard, Frank Family Vineyards, Grgich Hills Estate, Ravenswood, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Rombauer Vineyards, Zialena Winery. Of course, many other well-regarded wineries will be pouring so I encourage you to explore unfamiliar names. I promise that you will be rewarded with new favorites! —TS

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