Thanksgiving wine pairings

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Uh oh. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and people are already asking us:  what should we pour?

Which wine goes best with turkey?

People are asking because Thanksgiving can be a problematic food & wine pairing.  Why?  One dish: cranberry sauce.

Cranberry sauce is delicious with turkey and stuffing.  However, its boisterous personality is a tough customer with wine.  Seriously, have you ever met a cranberry and a wine that got along really well together?  If so, let us know.

Meanwhile –

Here are three wines that might carry you through the entire feast and pumpkin pie, too:

  • Sparkling wine. We have always said it’s versatile—Thanksgiving is its ultimate test.
  • Zinfandel: Bold, red and has the chutzpah to stand up to a spicy stuffing or dare we say, a cranberry?
  • Viognier: A subtle white that will blend in with the elements of Thanksgiving, in a lovely, polite way–the perfect holiday guest, no?

Sonoma Plaza after harvest

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Some places in wine country have certain seasons that we really love.  Sonoma Plaza after harvest is one of them.

At this time of year, the pressure is off the winemakers and workers — the wine is in the barrel — and it’s time to take a stroll among the huge trees of the plaza’s 8- acre park, breathe in the cold fall air and drop by one of many great (and affordable) restaurants (Harvest Moon Café, Red Grape Pizzeria) for a meal and fabulous local wines.

Sure, there’s festivities upcoming, like the Lighting of Sonoma Plaza on Nov. 14th, the Olive Festival in January and the International Film Festival in March.  But right now, it’s the plaza’s ambiance that most attracts us.

This town square is downhome.  Small town.  It’s a contrast to Healdsburg Plaza further north.  Sonoma  Plaza seems more community-oriented. You’ll see more  families walking the dog (or their miniature horses!) than limos.  Joggers with baby buggies, school kids racing through the shops (lots of fun, artsy, trendy stores here) — it’s a warm, lively vibe of locals enjoying one of California’s best wine regions.

And it’s got history.  Tons of it.  Here is the birthplace of the State of California, the site of the Bear Flag Revolution; the home of General Vallejo; original barracks; and one of California’s oldest missions.

It’s all good in Sonoma Plaza…do you have a wine country “fall favorite”?

What would Dracula drink? (Besides blood)

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We just know Dracula loved a glass of wine when no one was looking.  It was an image thing, all that blood on his chin.  Come midnight, even he couldn’t resist a tender steak with a rich red Cab.  If anyone asked, he could say it was blood, and no one ever did, because they just assumed … he was Dracula, after all. Continue reading

What’s with the Fearsome 14%?

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14%!  The number strikes fear into the hearts of wineries everywhere, and for good reason.  The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) requires U.S. wineries to pay a higher excise tax for wines with alcohol levels above 14% than those below.

This higher tax for 14% alcohol wines dates back to the early 1950s.  The current rate is $1.57 per gallon for wines above 14% and $1.07 per gallon for those below.  That rate has held steady since 1991.

We suggest a toast to all those hard-working, tax-paying high alcohol California wines — there are more and more of them, which should make the TTB number crunchers very happy.

Mother Nature’s Tricks and Treats

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No doubt about it…Mother Nature loves Halloween.   Why?  Because she can be a major trickster.  Sometimes it’s hard for grape growers to know if what she’s delivering is a treat — or a trick.

Take water, for example.  She’s pretty much taken it away from California wine country.   In years when the water is flowing, however, it can become a trick if the timing is off, as in, a deluge in the middle of harvest.   As Napa’s top viticulturist Andy Beckstoffer told us, rain might not damage the fruit, but it can make it impossible for crews to truck the fruit out of the vineyard.

Fog can be a treat if it cools the grapes down at night.  But if it lingers day in and day out, you’ve got the chance of mold — trick!

Fertile soils are a gift from Mother Nature, and vines will grow like crazy.  But it’s a trick–those vines aren’t concentrating their efforts into their grapes, so the fruit is likely to be less flavorful than that of more rugged terroir.

Mother Nature planted a beautiful forest right next to the best site for your vineyard.  Thanks mom!  Except the forest is home to a slew of birds, and every year you try everything  from booming noisemakers to netting as you try to protect your grapes.  Welcome to Halloween in the vineyard!

Mountain wineries are IT in fall

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Any time of year, mountain wineries are cool.  Whether they’re on Howell Mountain above Napa Valley, in the topsy-turvy Santa Cruz Mountains perched over the Monterey Bay or high in the Sierra Foothills around Placerville near Lake Tahoe, they have their own special character.

Being at higher altitude, the air is usually a bit brisker.

Often, you’ll notice species of trees and shrubs you didn’t see on the valley floor.  And if you visit during harvest,  you’ll find the grapes hanging out a bit longer at the higher elevations.  Winemakers love this hang time for it brings voluptuous fruit flavors.

You’ll also find some heritage wineries dating back to the late 1800s up on the mountains in Napa.  Their old stone walls can’t tell tales, but the winery staff make do with the historic record.

Though mountain wineries are a great destination year-round, we think they outdo themselves in the fall.  The air is even brisker and clearer than at other times, and the wineries are decked out with harvest and Halloween themes.

Even more enchanting is the show Mother Nature puts on with the changing colors of her leafy trees.  Bursts of gold and red seem even more intense in the mountains.  It’s just another great excuse to visit these wineries and sip their best as a bright sun holds off winter’s deepest chill.

Our favorites?  Madrona in El Dorado County; Ladera on Howell Mountian, Pride Mountain Vineyard on the border of Napa/Sonoma, von Strasser on Diamond Mountain … and you?

• So–What’s your favorite wine with candy corn?

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It’s almost here.  Halloween.  Wine gifts come in all seasons and during this ghostly season, we say, give yourself the gift of Merlot.

Yes!  We confess!  We love Merlot with candy corn, not to mention chocolate kisses and those mini-tootsie rolls.

Call us weird.  Call us spooky!  But we think the ghouls and goblins out there would agree that Merlot is the fang-tastic wine choice with  your Halloween candy.

So– what do you love with mini-Snickers?