A non-tannic Howell Mountain Cabernet

Many think that Howell Mountain is synonymous with Dunn’s big, tannic wines – Wrong! Our friends at Spence have again produced another gem of a (elegant) wine. The 2014 vintage was sourced from their “tiny” 3 acre vineyard on Howell Mountain. With a little bottle aging time, this has turned into a real gem!

Spence 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain “Estate” Napa Valley
Retail 109.99 —  GGWC 94.99 
Use code SPENCE during checkout

It is 100% Howell Mountain, but not a 100% tannic monster!  The aromatics and flavors are delicious at impact!  Black stone fruit with a hint on minerality jumps out of the glass.  At impact one is greeted by (almost) sweet black currant fruit which are powerful, yet extremely elegant and refined. Winemaker Marco DiGiulio at his best! Very well-structured and balanced, with the right touch of acid meeting the right balance fruit at its equinox.  This is a stunning vineyard, a stunning wine and with a production of 200 cases it will be gone in no time!

Winemaker Notes: “This 2014 SPENCE Cabernet boasts deep, inky color and a cornucopia of highly aromatic black fruit encompassing wonderful rich berry and spice overtones that we on Howell Mountain are known for. Elegant, with a nose that eagerly leaps from the glass and a solid mid-palate loaded with fruit and subtle notes of spice. This 2014 Cabernet is balanced and seamless with abundant lushness and density. Drinking lovely now and aging will only continue to enhance your drinking pleasure.”

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Has the Debate Between Terroir vs. Varietal Been Settled?

Has the Debate Between Terroir vs. Varietal Been Settled?

Contributed by Dwight Furrow
in Edible Arts

In going through some notes for a book on the philosophy of wine I’m writing, I came across an old debate that once defined the difference between new world and old world wines—the relative importance of terroir vs. varietal in explaining the character of a wine.

For much of wine’s history in Europe, especially in France, Italy and Spain, wines were labeled with the region and sometimes the vineyard from which the grapes were harvested. A varietal was never mentioned (except in Alsace) and many of the wines were blends of many varietals. But that presented marketing problems for European wines in the U.S. where Europe’s geography was not well known and the names were hard to remember. As the U.S. began to make its own quality wine in the mid-20th Century, wineries began listing the varietal on the label along with the region, and the rest of the new world followed that practice. The consumer might not know much about geography but at least she knew she was buying Cabernet or Chardonnay. Today even Europe is labeling their wines with the varietal at least for their less expensive bottlings.

Thus, a debate ensued about which was more important—varietal or region? Has the debate been settled? In a word, Yes! Both varietal and region are equally important.

Everyone knows a Pinot Noir from Michigan will taste differently from a Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Even Pinot Noir from Santa Cruz will be quite different from SLH even though it’s just down the freeway. Famously, different blocks within Burgundy’s Clos de Vougeot Vineyard make quite different wines. All the evidence suggests that site matters. However, if Chablis were to plant Riesling instead of Chardonnay it wouldn’t taste like Chablis (as we know it). Plant Syrah in Napa and you might get a nice wine but it won’t taste like Cabernet. Most varietals have distinctive characteristics that when properly grown and vinified show their character even when subject to different interpretations.

Of course things are not quite this simple. Production and viticultural decisions from crop load to aging regimen matter as well. You can erase the signature of terroir and with enough effort erase the varietal character as well. Thankfully most artisan winemakers think it’s important to preserve both.

The old world practice of labeling by place rather than varietal was sufficient to sell wine because regulations (when they were followed) guaranteed only certain varietals could be used in specific regions. The consumer didn’t need to be informed that a red wine from Chambertin was Pinot Noir because it had to be by law. That method of marketing would not work in the new world where such regulations are non-existent. But these peculiarities of labeling and regulation tell us little about the relative importance of terroir and varietal. The fact that France, the standard-setter for fine wine for centuries, ignored varietal labeling doesn’t make it a superior practice—it was fine for the French context but inappropriate elsewhere.

As with most things in wine, everything matters at least potentially

White Burgundy from the Russian River Valley

Kanzler is still a winery floating below the radar, but that will chance soon!.  As you might know Kosta Browne received Top Honors a few yeas ago WINE OF THE YEAR in the Top 100 of Wine Spectator with their Pinot Noir, and the fruit was sourced from…. You guessed it KANLZER!  That said, the Kanzler folks are not walking in the clouds after that review but have been acknowledged as one of the best growers of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay in California.  Their latest bottling is truly amazing and a fraction the cost of Kosta Browne!  

Kanzler 2017 Chardonnay “Walker Station”  Russian River Valley
GGWC 64.99
Use code KANZLER during checkout

The wine opens with complex aromatics of meyer lemon, flint, lotus flower and hazelnut accented by fruitier tones of papaya, honeydew melon and yellow peach; with a touch of powdered nutmeg around the edges. Vivid but soft acidity carries the wine through the palate with nuanced fruit flavors of Bartlett pear and coconut oil. The finish clamps down with soft oak tannin and fresh acidity for a lingering, fresh finish. Refreshing, classic chardonnay with complex aromatics and a structure built for the cellar.

Winery Notes: “The  Walker Station Chardonnay builds on the success of our 2015 inaugural vintage. The fruit from this site really harkens back to an old world style of chardonnay featuring crisp flavors, fresh acidity and the distinct round, smooth and nuanced textures that have made chardonnay the principle white wine grape of the world. The 2016 was fermented in large format oak barrels (450 liters instead of 225 liters) allowing it to use more new oak but with better integration of oak in the finished wine. This wine is young, taunt and vibrant and the flavors take a while to unfold so swirl it extensively in the glass and the wine will continue to develop as it aerates and warms from refrigerator or cellar temperature. Additionally, with the bold acid profile and quality fruit, this is a wine that should gain in the cellar for the next 5-7 years.”

Click here or on the links above to order!

Scarecrow Winemaker’s other HIDDEN (96 Point) GEM

Celia Welch Tasting Notes: “This rocky, hillside vineyard is quite consistent at producing wines of tremendous concentration both in flavor and texture, and the 2016 vintage is a delicious example of this.  The dark berry and cocoa notes in the aromas foretell the intensity of flavor at first taste.  With blackberries, cassis, chai tea, and cocoa powder flavors completely intertwined, the texture is surprisingly approachable even at release.  Midpalate structure and concentration melt into supple tannins as the fresh fruit and spice flavors carry the finish with a sense of lush, juicy red cherries.”

Lindstrom 2016 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap Napa Valley
GGWC 154.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code LINDSTROM at checkout

Jeb Dunnuck 96 Points: “Made by the incredibly talented Celia Welch, the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a rocky site located just above Odette, in the Stags Leap District. It’s an ethereal, elegant expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and boasts a vivid purple color as well as medium to full-bodied notes of crème de cassis, dried flowers, cedarwood, and spice. With integrated acidity, fine yet present tannins, and nothing out of place, it should evolve beautifully for two decades or more. Anticipated maturity: 2020-2040”

Robert Parker 95+ Points: “Very deep purple-black colored, the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District sings of fragrant earth, truffles and wood smoke notions with a core of preserved plums, black cherry compote and peppered salami with a waft of potpourri. Firm, grainy and packed with tightly wound, muscular black fruit, it has stacks of earthy layers and a very long mineral-tinged finish.”

Vinous 96 Points:Lindstrom’s 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is superb. Rich, explosive and dense, yet also light on its feet, the 2016 captures all the best qualities of this rugged Stags Leap site. Inky red and purplish berry fruit, lavender, spice, and mint are all woven together in an utterly exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon. Like so many wines in this vintage, the Lindstrom Cabernet is driven by a palpable sense of energy.”

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Underground & Below the Radar Cabernet

Obsidian Ridge Vineyard is planted at 2,640′ atop the Mayacamas range just a hop sip and jump north of the Napa Valley. This is one of the newest American Viticultural Areas, named Red Hills Lake County for the distinctive volcanic soils that define this remarkable mountain appellation. The vineyard’s red soils are shot through with obsidian rock — this steep, sloping terroir of obsidian gravel is all that a winemaker could hope for. The unrestricted drainage and meager soil fertility produce wines with great tannic structure.

Obsidian Ridge 2017 Cabernet “Half Mile” Estate
GGWC 74.99
Use code HALFMILE during checkout

Winery Notes: “Half Mile is the darkest and richest wine we make from Obsidian Ridge Vineyard. The 2017 vintage is no exception; it is perhaps even darker and more brooding than usual. Shy and reserved when first opened, it should be decanted for best results. You’ll be rewarded with aromas of fresh blackberries, dried cherries, licorice and a gentle pine forest lift. Flavors of cocoa powder, espresso and blackberries fit neatly within the taut tannic structure that teeters on a balanced edge. The 2017 has an earthy element, and an endurance that may prove it to be the longest-lived vintage of Half Mile.”

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Time flies, as this is the 22nd  release of DUMOL!  I remember meeting Kerry Murphy way back when he started DuMOL and tasting through the first bottles of what has now turned into a real success story.  The “Designated” releases are always something special, and this year is no different.  Andy Smith rolled up his sleeves and put together an amazing selection of limited production wines.

With still lower than normal production levels this vintage will sell out in no time! The 2017 DuMol releases are turning out to be quite spectacular! I would say that several of these may the best ever from this winery. Look for some rave reviews from the wine critics! As you know DuMOL is always in high demand, you can bet that this means the allocation will sell out quickly.

DuMOL 2017 Pinot Noir “Ryan” Jentoft Vineyard ~ 97 Points
GGWC 94.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

Vinous 97 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir Ryan Jentoft Vineyard is a stunner. Sweet, rich and explosive, the 2017 boasts striking inner perfume and fabulous balance. Sweet purplish berry fruit, lavender, spice and mint all lift from the glass in this vivid, exceptionally beautiful Pinot Noir. All the elements fall into place.”

Jeb Dunnuck 97 Points: “From a Russian River Valley site planted in 2007, the 2017 Pinot Noir Jentoft Vineyard Ryan is a selection of Swan and Calera clones and sees 15 months in 45% new French oak. This brilliant wine knocks it out of the park with its complex bouquet of darker fruits, smoked earth, and spice. Medium to full-bodied, incredibly layered and multi-dimensional on the palate, it’s a complete, flawless balanced, incredibly impressive wine that will benefit from 2-3 years of bottle age and cruise over the following decade. This lineup is stacked with terrific wines, but this is one of the standouts.”

Winemaker Notes: “The wine opens with a sense of tiny dark intense wild berries, tart and explosive, pine needle freshness and hints of cedar amplifying the aromas. The palate is sappy, dark and elevated with Rainier cherry, cassis and huckleberry fruits. There’s laser-like intensity to the wine’s driving flavors as they expand along the dry, firm palate, exotic floral, gravelly nuances extending the lingering finish. No need to decant. Drink between 2020 and 2027.”

DuMOL 2017 Chardonnay “Chloe” Ritchie Vineyard ~ 95 Points
GGWC 74.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

Vinous 95 Points: “The 2017 Chardonnay Chloe Ritchie Vineyard is another super-impressive wine in this range. Creamy and voluptuous in the glass, with lifted aromatics, the 2017 has so much to offer. Today, it is remarkably complete for such a young wine. Yellow orchard fruit and lifted floral notes add shades of nuance. The wine’s total sense of poise is remarkable.”

Jeb Dunnuck 95 Points: “Lemon curd, chamomile, orange blossom, and a touch of tropical fruit emerge from the 2017 Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard Chloe, an exotic, full-bodied effort that offers a singular character. Upfront and with a big, mouth-filling texture, it shows a terrific sense of salinity and minerality on the finish and shows a more Burgundian side to this Grand Cru site.”

Winemaker Notes: “The wine shows aromas of orange blossom, mixed stone fruits and honeysuckle. Thyme leaf, wet stone and almond paste notes lend complexity. The palate is immediately broad and mouth-filling with tangerine oil and orange sherbet flavors. The wine’s center is rich in extract—deep and almost chewy. It finishes with mineral signatures and a lingering citrus zest note.”

DuMOL 2017 Chardonnay “Isobel” Charles Heitz Vineyard ~ 95 Points
GGWC 74.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

Vinous 95 Points: “The 2017 Chardonnay Isobel Charles Heintz Vineyard beautifully expresses the personality of the vintage in its rich, viscous feel. White flowers, mint, chalk, white pepper and chamomile all grace this vivid, pretty layered Chardonnay. I can’t wait to taste it from bottle next year.”

Jeb Dunnuck 95 Points: “I loved the 2017 Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard Isobel, one of the standouts in the lineup. Named after winemaker Andy Smith’s daughter and from a site far out on the Sonoma Coast, it has a beautifully rich, layered, textured style as well as impressive notes of white peach, white flowers, and honeysuckle. With plenty of fruit, an awesome texture, great balance, and a singular character, it will be better in another year and I suspect will keep for upwards of a decade.”

Winemaker Notes: “Pungent lemon curd, honeycomb and ginger aromas open the wine as lemon verbena and white flower blossom notes add intrigue. The oily glycerol intensity is immediate on the palate with grapefruit, lemongrass and a hint of tropical fruit leading to a round and full mid-palate before saline oyster shell acidity takes hold. The exotic tangy citrus oil finish is mouthwatering and long.”

DuMOL 2017 Pinot Noir “The Estate” Vineyard  ~  95 Points
GGWC 99.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

Vinous 95 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard is powerful and also very tightly wound. In fact, the Estate is the least expressive of these Pinots today. Black cherry, lavender, spice, menthol, licorice and dried herbs open up, but only with great reluctance. The tannins remain forbidding at this stage, but it is very early days here.”

Jeb Dunnuck 95 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir DuMol Estate Vineyard is more earthy and savory, with a concentrated, foursquare style that’s going to benefit from short-term cellaring. Notes of black cherries, bouquet garni, earth, and chocolate all define the bouquet, and it has building tannins, a great mid-palate, and impressive length.”

Winemaker Notes: “In its youth, the wine is dominated by spicy red fruits and complex savory herbal notes: red currant and underbrush elements. As the wine ages, its inherent dark character begins to evolve and take center stage: black raspberry and dark cherry with woodsy terroir signatures. In whichever phase of development you catch the wine, it always delivers an elevated site signature, the taste of the place, and that’s the highest calling of any great vineyard.”

DuMOL 2017 Syrah “Eddie’s Patch” ~ 96 Points
GGWC 94.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

Jeb Dunnuck 96 Points: I also loved the 2017 Syrah Eddie’s Patch, which has more of a Côte Rôtie vibe in its spring flowers, black raspberries, and dried earth-like aromas and flavors. Coming from pure volcanic soils and brought up 40% new oak, it’s medium to full-bodied, has lots of tannins, terrific fruit, and a seamless texture. It’s certainly impressive today yet will benefit from 2-3 years of bottle age and keep for 10-15 years.”

Winemaker Notes: “Deep inky aromas of boysenberry and black cherry meld with crushed stone and cracked black pepper. Red and black wild mountain berries are intense and vibrant while an edge of game and rosemary adds nuance. The silky mouthfeel reveals deep succulence and broad supple tannins, aromatic and finesse-driven through the long, detailed finish. Drink between 2020 and 2030 and gently decant for an hour in its youth.  50% Greywacke & 50% Timbervine.”

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Turning up the Heat on “Brett”

Turning up the heat on ‘Brett’

By Brandon Schrand

If you’ve ever had a red wine that smelled “off,” like gym socks, Band Aids, or farmyards, then you’ve likely encountered a wine affected by Brettanomyces bruxellensis (“Brett” for short)—a barrel-dwelling spoilage yeast that can taint the wine, often imparting undesirable aromas and flavors. 

Charles Edwards

While not all Brett is bad (to a few winemakers, it lends desirable flavors), the yeast has vexed vintners for generations because once it infects the barrels, it is next to impossible to eradicate from the vessel wood. Although a definitive “cure” still eludes winemakers, Washington State University’s Charles Edwards, a professor in food science, has devised a treatment for the rogue yeast, giving winemakers another way to combat the problem.

Once described by Linda F. Bisson—a former UC Davis professor—as “a yeast which is nowhere, yet everywhere, all at the same time,” Brett is particularly pernicious because infections can and often do break out suddenly and without warning.

“While there are many approaches to dealing with a wine spoiled by Brett,” Edwards said, “we wanted to know if there are protocols where infected oak barrels can safely be reused.”

Sanitizing methods for treating infected barrels have ranged from the application of chemicals like ozone to the use of “microwaves or high power ultrasonics,” according to Edwards. But these techniques ultimately fall short because Brett can penetrate so deeply into the porous barrel staves. Moreover, there is cost to consider.

“Some of these methods require substantial investment into equipment which may or may not be readily available or financially accessible for many wineries,” Edwards noted.

More conventional approaches to dealing with Brett involve the application of heat in order to reduce microbial populations.

“These methods,” Edwards pointed out, “include filling barrels with heated water—50 to 70 degrees Celsius—or using wand-type systems to apply steam for various amounts of time.” But Edwards wanted to create a more rigorous framework for these management techniques.

With funding from the Washington State Grape and Wine Research Program, Edwards and his team set out to “determine specific conditions for using steam or hot water as means to eliminate B. bruxellensis from oak staves.”

To begin, they used 16 oak barrels (American and French) of varied toasting levels, ranging from light to heavy. Next, the team filled the barrels—half of which were infected with Brett—with Cabernet Sauvignon wine, and let them set for 28 weeks. Following the incubation period, Edwards’ team rinsed the vessels, air-dried them for seven days, and sawed barrel staves into 3 X 10 cm rectangles measuring 4mm in thickness. Using these blocks cut from the staves’ midsections, the team applied steam and hot water to determine specific conditions, protocols, and effectiveness of eliminating yeast populations.

Overall, these studies showed that yeast populations were higher and at greater depths for staves having more extensive contact with infected wine, such as those located toward the bottom or at side areas, as well as those from older barrels.   The application of steam and/or hot water can be effective against the yeast, Edwards added. But for deeply penetrated infection, the steaming process had to range from nine to 12 minutes to kill the yeast. That’s a lot of steam.

Edwards also added that “any impacts of using steam or hot water on barrel quality remain unknown and therefore requires further inquiry.

When it comes to a general philosophy for guarding against spoilage or tainted wine, Edwards likes to quote the late Dr. Ralph Kunkee who said, “Vigilance and discipline are the winemaker’s best friends to limit spoilage.”

By adding steam or hot water to vigilance and discipline, vintners “now have another tool to combat the potentially destructive nature of an infection by B. bruxellensis in barrels.”


Walter Hansel has been synonymous with great quality at a great price!  Year after year these wines impress me and my clientele alike.  The first vines were planted in 1978 just a up the block from Kistler!  The first vintage they produced 3 barrels of Pinot Noir and 10 barrels of Chardonnay, and the rest as they say, is history!  Stephen Hansel (Walter’s son) had one of the best winemakers as his tutor (Tom Rochiolli) so it is no surprise that they are still putting out great wines decades later.  Year after year this winery produces amazing “Dollar Cost Average” under priced over delivered in quality wines!

Walter Hansel 2017 Cuvee Alyce Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
Buy 1 case (mix & match OK) and the shipping is on us! Use code HANSEL17 during checkout

Robert Parker 94 Points: “The 2017 Chardonnay Cuvée Alyce opens with new oak aromas of toast, smoke, nutmeg and a gunflint hint with pie crust, spiced red apples, warm yellow peaches and loads of savory nuances—honey, hazelnuts, dried hay—at the core. Medium to full-bodied, it packs a wallop of flavor in the mouth, giving up oodles of warm fruits, spices and savory flavors, with great freshness to lift the very long, layered finish. This is fabulous! Give it another couple years in bottle.”

Vinous 94 Points: “The 2017 Chardonnay Cuvée Alyce is dense, powerful and creamy, delivering tremendous textural richness and resonance. Apricot, orchard fruit, dried flowers, chamomile and mint all flesh out in this deep, beautifully layered Chardonnay. Today, the 2017 is quite closed, but that should not be an issue when the wine is eventually released in a few years’ time.”

Also check out these other amazing Walter Hansel wines (they assort for FREE SHIPPING!)

Walter Hansel 2017 North Slope Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Buy 1 case (mix & match OK) and the shipping is on us! Use code HANSEL17 during checkout

Vinous 94 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir The North Slope Vineyard is one of the more voluptuous, racy wines in this range. Ample and creamy, with tremendous resonance, the 2017 has a lot to offer. Plush fruit and silky tannins add to the wine’s considerable immediacy and overall appeal.”

Walter Hansel 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Buy 1 case (mix & match OK) and the shipping is on us! Use code SHIPFREE12 during checkout 

The 2017 Pinot Noir Estate has an extra gear to it because of the tiny yields. It exhibits loads of rich black raspberry and blackcurrant fruit, a lush, sweet, spicy mouthfeel with full-bodied, intense concentration and a long finish that has energy from the vibrant acidity. Drink it over the next decade or more. Dark ruby/purple, the wine offers plenty of spring flower garden notes intermixed with blueberry and blackcurrant fruit. It is rich, textured, builds incrementally on the palate and finishes after a good 35-40+ seconds. This is a beauty and should drink well up to a decade or more.

Vinous 94 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir The Estate Vineyard offers an intriguing combination of the raciness of the vintage, but with plenty of underlying structure and more than enough freshness to keep things in balance. Dark cherry, plum, spice and floral notes are all nicely delineated in this vibrant, super-expressive Pinot Noir from Hansel. I really like the energy here.”

Walter Hansel 2017 Estate Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
Buy 1 case (mix & match OK) and the shipping is on us! Use code HANSEL17 during checkout

The 2017 Walter Hansel “Estate” Chardonnay is pretty, understated and polished, with all of the signatures that make these wines distinctive.  Medium to full in body and very gracious, with lovely aromatic lift and balanced from start to finish.  The grapes from the estate part that was planted between 1976 and 1988 and is a blend of Dijon Clones 95 & 97 and a Hanzell clone.

Vinous 94 Points:  “The 2017 Chardonnay The Estate Vineyard is fabulous, and also one of the very finest values in California wine. In 2017, I am especially impressed by the wine’s energy and tension, both of which are remarkable given the hot, dry conditions that marked so much of the year. Dried apricot, flowers and mint are all nicely delineated in this vibrant, super-expressive Chardonnay from Hansel.”

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Celia Welch does not need an intro, but in case you wouldn’t know who she is – She’s the brainchild behind many highly rated and highly regarded wineries including Scarecrow, Corra, Barbour,  Keever, 2480, Kelly Fleming, Rewa, Castiel, etc.  For the past couple of years she’s been involved with a new project called YOUNT RIDGE. The property is based in Oakville, I know with a name like Yount Ridge, you’d think Yountville!  I was excited to taste the latest release and was completely infatuated by the wine.

Yount Ridge 2016 Proprietary Red Estate, Napa Valley
GGWC 97.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code YOUNT16PR during checkout

Goregous dense ruby/purple color. The wine has a lovely nose loaded with dark fruit, plum and blackberry.  On the palate you are greeted by fresh, deep, dark and rich black stone, dark chocolate, anise and a touch of spice  flavors that roll over your tongue.  The wine is robust in body, yet very-well put together, well-balanced fruit to acid ratios. The Yount Ridge Cabernet is a very sophisticated wine that show class, balance and finesse!  This is Celia at her best’ wine!  The wine finishes with seductive and silky grained tannins.

Winemaker Notes: The 2016 Yount Ridge Proprietary Red is a blend of 30% Petite Verdot,  30% Merlot, 25% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It offers up dark chocolate mocha, earthy and incense notes on the nose.  The full body red shows of plenty of red raspberry and black fruit. Cocoa powder entry, with blackerry and vanilla notes. The wine is a medium-full bodied blend that is loaded with bold and bright fruit that is extremely well-balanced and sophisticated. I’d call it exotic, perfumed and complex, and suggest do lay it down for a few years. If you plan to drink it young, give it a good decant for 2+ hours.

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Out of grapes? Use Potatoes to make wine instead…

Out of grapes?
Use Potatoes to make wine instead…

by Kelly Magyarics


The Peruvian Farmer Crafting ‘Wine’ From High-Altitude Heirloom Potatoes

There are high altitude vineyards, and then there are the fields on Manuel Choqque’s farm.

Twelve thousand feet above sea level in Peru’s Sacred Valley, Choqque grows a dozen or so varieties of oca, an heirloom potato that thrives in the low-nutrient soils and harsh climate high up in the Andes. Choqque, the so-called “potato whisperer,” is the country’s most renowned farmer of these beloved native crops, which are called “uqa” in the indigenous Quechua language.

Varying in size, shape, and color from bright yellow to deep purple, oca can be sliced and fried into addictive potato chips, simmered in stews, and slow-cooked with corn to make a sweet and creamy dessert custard. But beyond their expected culinary applications, oca are now finding their way into the glass, as enterprising farmers like Choqque use their crop to create wine-esque beverages called vino de oca.

As with grapes in many wine-growing regions worldwide, there is one oca harvest per year. Choqque’s team plants 10 hectares of seeds in November and harvests the tubers in May or June, depending on the weather.

“For that reason we produce alcoholic beverages based on oca once a year,” he says. “It is a process very similar to that of grapes — fermentation, clarification, aging, and finally bottling.”

Packed into 200-milliliter bottles, Choqque’s four types of organic vino de oca are labeled Miskioca. “Miski” is the Quechuan word for “sweet,” but the name is a bit of a misnomer, as not all tout a high amount of residual sugar.

Miskioca’s juicy rosé is made from Black Oca, a long, slender variety that releases a red fruity sweetness reminiscent of strawberry, cherry, or raspberry. Another Miskioca variety is a red wine that features Mashua Negra, a black-skinned oca whose ends resemble the tightly wrapped petals of a flower; fermenting them results in an off-dry wine that’s almost a dead ringer for Malbec. (Choqque says that sommeliers in blind tastings have actually mistaken it for a fruity, red-grape-based wine.)

Yellow oca, whose flesh looks similar to Yukon Gold potatoes, goes into both a sweet and a dry white liqueur with notes of apples, peaches, and white fruits. The former three undergo an eight-month fermentation process while the dry style takes four months.
This year Choqque produced around 1,500 bottles of Miskioca; next year, he hopes to ramp up toward 10,000. Right now he partners with Central Restaurant in Lima’s Barranco District as well as Mil Centro in Moray-Maras, Cusco. Both list vino de oca on their menus and recommend it with their acclaimed Peruvian fare.

Choqque also has his own pairing suggestions. “I usually combine cocoa-based desserts with rosé or white liquor, [and] eat white meat such as fish, chicken, or seafood with the liquor produced with white oca,” he says. “And grilled or roasted red meat is delicious to combine with the semi-dry liquor made with Black Mashua.”

Guests who visit Choqque’s farm via a new excursion available through Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel can tour the fields and then sample the wines over a three-course lunch comprised of oca dishes, and they also make their way into dishes at the hotel’s restaurant, Qunuq, for special menus like Munayki, a romantic dinner for two, and Apucc Mikhuna, Flavors of the Andes.

“They are [good] pairings for desserts or light appetizers, [like] salads with sweet flavors — or as the appetizer itself,” says Carlos Pardo Figueroa, executive chef at the Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel, which offers excursions to tour Choqque’s fields and three-course meals comprised of oca dishes.

As for whether they are a niche offering or a growing category, Figueroa believes the answer is neither. “They are completely new on the market, so they are still adapting,” he says.