Three Lab Cab

A doggone good spaghetti red!

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Hey! Finally getting around to some samples.

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Apologies to the supplier of the sample for the late review, but hey…  Sometimes you just got to lay down some wine!

That being said, this is a fine wine at a great price.  Unfortunately it seems the ’09 vintage may be unavailable, but it was a good’n.  A great fruit forward Cab, with balanced tannins and length.  All-in-all, I’m going to give this one a solid thumbs up, let’s try the ’10 and see if they have a winning record.

On the up-and-up, this was provided as a sample (at some point in the past), regardless…  it’s good.

Drink up!

Not Bad – Christmas Redux – Prime Rib

Ah nothing says holidays like drinking yourself silly to accommodate tolerance for extended family.  Well that and huge cuts of meat cooked to perfection.  And I’m an equal opportunist so a little of both makes for even happier holidays.

I had a revelation (no not in the biblical sense — you have to be careful what you say this time of year — ) rather a seasoning one for cooking one of the most glorious meals of the season.  I recall that I saw some cooking show that touted the best seasoning for prime rib was a rather simple one, and I’m a sucker for easy.  Four little ingredients to season up that chunk-o-meat.

1. Salt
2. Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
3. Garlic
4. Thyme

Wow, fortunately I have been thinking about cooking this roast beast for many months and started up a nice little herb garden including that little leaved wonder, thyme.

Additionally I am lucky enough to have a great grocer in town, Oliver’s Market, with whom I placed an order for a five-bone prime rib last week.  I awoke this morning with visions of (no not sugar plums) but juicy, succulent, and mouth-watering beef!  I reread the chapter in “Keys to Good Cooking, A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes” by Harold McGee on Meat.  A very good book, not a recipe book, but a great reference in best practices on cooking in general.  I highly recommend anyone who enjoys cooking pick this up!  Anyhow, back to the beef…

My roast was delivered home by “the wife” at around 10:45 am and I immediately began the preparation.  The butcher is awesome, the bone is already cut nearly through, but still attached and the roast is already tied.  I have milled about 3 tablespoons of black pepper which I rub over the entirety of the roast.  I have also cut a large bunch of fresh thyme from my herb garden and have separated out the leaves from the stems.  I then rub about 5 tablespoons of kosher salt all over the roast.  Now, the revelation…

Last time I prepared one of these I think I just used some oil and rubbed the thyme leaves on the roast with the oil to afix them to the roast.  This time, I thought, why not make some paste with the thyme and garlic.  So I cut up a cube of butter, placed three large cloves of garlic and the thyme into the mixer and blended them all together until it became a smooth paste.  It was almost like icing a meat cake!

Into the oven which was pre-heated to 525F for a quick searing (NOTE:  I wasn’t really thinking and didn’t have the hood fan blowing so the damn smoke detectors started screaming about 5 minutes after starting).  After searing for about 10 minutes, I turned the beast down to 250 and will cook it 30 minutes per pound (11 x 30 = about 5 hours).  I’ll keep tabs on the internal temperature of the meat and pull it out at about 125 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which should leave me a great medium-rare roast!

Prime Rib slow roasting

I’ll report back on how well this endeavor turned out and update you on the wine pairing (yet to be determined, but I’m thinking Stags Leap Cab for me) let the uninterested drink the cheap plonk.

Merry Christmas to All, and to all a sharp knife!

NorcalWingman

Not Bad, no wait, About par for a Valentines Day!

Obviously the big V-Day is a very important day in the annual cycle of days, and is especially crucial to maintaining happiness around the home.  All this aside, it’s another good day and excuse to open a really good bottle of wine and cook some decent grub to boot!

Now I know that it may seem unoriginal, uninspired and otherwise rote, but Fillet Mignon really does make a great dinner on Valentines day.

I’m lucky enough (as I’ve mentioned on several previous occasions) I have a killer market, with an outstanding butcher.  It just so happens that I got a call from “the wife” today prior to leaving the office that I should swing by the store on the way home to pick up something for dinner.  Without to much grousing, I agreed and on my way home stopped in at our Oliver’s Market.  Fortunately for me, being the day that it is, the best cut of steak was available on sale.  With an ample selection of sizes and ages I picked two of the darkest selections of Fillet, knowing that they would be the most tender and tasty!

So blah blah blah, who cares, right?  Fillet Mignon finished with blue cheese, fresh, thin asparagus, and fingerling potatoes sauteed in evoo, herbs, and garlic.  Yummy, n’uff said.

Here’s the best part, the wine.  We always put off drinking that “good” bottle for that “special” occasion.  So, today has to be one of those, right?

In case you are not interested in saving that special bottle, there’s a cool site you might be interested in: http://www.openthatbottlenight.com/  This is a great idea since we all probably have one, two, ten, twenty really kick-ass bottles that we’re “saving for a special occasion.”  This site says buck that trend and just do it.  I guess they’re the Nike of wine or something!

Okay, back to business.  “The Wife”  picked out a really decent bottle of Geyser Peak Cab, a reserve from 2007, given to her by their winemaker, and  no doubt that it would be a seriously good bottle of grape juice, but…  I wanted to kick it up a notch, Emeril style.  So I put her completely decent selection back, and grabbed a bottle that I’ve been sitting on for quite some time.  A 1999 Alexander Valley, Silver Oak, Cabernet Sauvignon.

So here’s the details:

1999 Silver Oak Cellars, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon
12.9 % ABV
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Release Date: August 1, 2003

Tasting Notes:  Herbaceous and earthy, reminiscent of many AV cabs, great fruit character, a blackberry jam (fresh, not cooked) on the mid-late palate.  Outstanding length of finish.  The color, brick to garnet.  Concentration is noticeable, but for a wine of this age very youthful.  The tannins have softened and mellowed, I would say this wine is in its prime.

Current Retail looks like $100/750ml

Again, we always save these great wines for that special moment, I’m guessing that we should be drinking these way more often!  Make yourself a great dinner and pair it up with the best you’ve got in your cellar.

Cheers and Happy Valentines Day!

Norcalwingman

2007 Peterson, Il Granaio, Sangiovese, Dry Creek Valley

Summer has pretty much passed us by without providing us the much needed heat that would be preferred to ferment those little grapes of the vitus vinifera that we love so much.  But here in Sonoma County we have this little thing we call “Indian Summer,” I’m sure this is similar to the “Indian Summers” across our great country, but let me tell you…  It was friggin’ hot this last weekend!  Especially in Dry Creek, just outside of Healdsburg, where it’s normally warmer than the majority of Sonoma County.

Family Wine Tasting
Family Wine Tasting

Anyhow, aside from the hot weather, this last weekend was really great because I got to meet one of the great celebrities (at least from my perspective) of the wine blogging world, Mr. Joe Herrig of Suburbanwino.com.  Along with Joe I met his lovely wife Heather and their beautiful 3-month old daughter Olivia.  We met up at the Family Vineyards tasting room area (or whatever you call it) where there’s five wineries tasting rooms: Family Vineyards, Papapeitro Perry, Amphora, Kokomo, and Peterson… oh and we can’t leave out Dry Creek Olive Co. {great olive oils BTW}.  We visited three of these and spent a couple hours chatting about wine and baby diapers, The NPA, Ben Simons, Ed Thralls, Tamara Belgard, WBC10 & 11, Atlanta and of course BBQing.  It was a great afternoon and I owe a very big special thank you to my 2 1/2 year old son for being a great sport, cooped up in his stroller and happy to watch the forklift in action as some of the wineries received their harvests.

Out of this whole thing I did buy some wine from one of my new favorite wineries, Peterson.  They were nice enough to open up their new release of Sangiovese, after I begged and gushed over their 2007, which I recently reviewed here: http://norcalwingman.com/2010/06/24/2007-peterson-sangiovese-dry-creek-valley/.  We said hey to the winemaker and the other staff in the tasting room and enjoyed a sample of most of the current releases there, but this one caught my attention.

2007 Peterson, Il Granaio, Sangiovese, Dry Creek Valley

2007 Il Granaio
2007 Il Granaio

The Nose: Black cherries and nutty, savory hard cheese are herded together with some of “The Barn” funk (that’s what Il Granaio means in Italian).  Perhaps the goat on the label is influencing my olfactory senses.

The Taste: Tart and savory cherry fruits and spices predominate, sage and cedar come through thanks to the Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvigon in this blend.

The Mouth Feel: Smooth and pleasant front and mid palate.  Tannins and acid kick in mid and follow through the in the finish where Dry Creek river stone minerality lingers.

The Color: Deep and Dark!  Clearly a long extraction on this “Zero Manipulation” wine.

2007 Il Granaio
2007 Il Granaio

The Nitty Gritty:
Composition:
Varietal / Vineyard Breakdown: Harvest Dates:
82% Sangiovese – Teldeschi Vineyard Sept. 1, 2007
18% Cabernet Sauvignon – Enos Vineyard Sept. 14, 2007
Appellation: Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
Alcohol: 15.7%
pH: 3.51
TA: 0.726g/100ml
Barrel Aging: 23 months
Type of Oak: 18% new French oak barrels
82% older French & American oak
Bottling Date: August 11, 2009
Production: 150 cases
Release Date: July 2010
$28.00 at the Tasting Room

The Verdict: I think that the events of the weekend made this wine taste great, but as I’m sitting here, writing this review, sipping this wine, I have to say I dig it.  It’s a bit on the funky side.  There’s some barn characteristics, I’m not sure if it’s brettanomyces, or if it’s that this is a “Zero Manipulation” wine and the unfined and unfiltered thing gives it some gameyness.  I’d recommend you just get out there and buy a bottle, or at least give it a taste (if they’re still tasting it, it was down to slim pickin’s when I was there last weekend).  It could also just be that I’ve been on this Sangiovese kick lately, who knows!?

In vino veritas: Nitty Gritty Notes taken from Peterson Winery Tasting notes at http://www.petersonwinery.com/pdfs/Il%20Granaio%202007-1B.pdf

2002 Deerfield Ranch Winery, Super T Rex – plus Soiree

I have a little history with this wine.  The first time I had the pleasure of drinking this wine was at a great Italian restaurant in historic “Railroad Square” in downtown Santa Rosa, CA, named Portofino’s.  Unfortunately, Portofino’s is no more, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find some of this wine left over at a “meet-up” hosted by William Allen of Simple Hedonisms at Deerfield Ranch Winery on August 26, 2010.  It was a fantastic event, for multiple reasons, first off I got to meet a ton of folks who I interact with on twitter and facebook.  I was super excited to meet Ben Simons and Ed Thralls of vinotology.com and winetonight.com respectively.  Two great guys who inspired me to kick my blogging up a notch and who just happened to be in my neck of the woods!  Oh, and to top it off, my birthday was the very next day.  Enough of the intro, let’s get down to business, here it is:

2002, Deerfield Ranch Winery, Super T Rex, California North Coast

2002 Deerfield Ranch, Super T Rex
2002 Super T Rex

The Nose (without soiree): A little hot off the bat, but followed quickly by a sugar-plum cherry, Tuscan flavored pipe tobacco humidor with saddle leather and sage brush.

The Nose (with Soiree): More of the same but the heat is not predominant and other notes are slightly subdued.

The Nose (with Soiree): I roped the wife in for one!  “Baked plum pie, sweet caramelized wood, yeasty, hints of tire rubber, specifically ‘bicycle tire’.”

The Taste: Spicy plum fruits backed by cedar wood overtones, creamy vanilla finish.

The Mouth Feel: Mild acidity and medium tannic structure, lingering a tad but fleeting.  Finish has nice viscosity and leaves dry.

The Color: Brickhouse Red, the wine is clearly concentrating, thin clear edges.

The Nitty Gritty:
Varietal Makeup – 43% Sangiovese, Sonoma; 28% Sangiovese, Lake County; 15% Cabernet Franc, Lake County; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County; 4% Dolcetto, Sonoma
Residual sugar: 0.0%
Barrel aged for 32 months in 80% French an d
20% American oak, 35% new
SO2 (sulfite) at bottling: 18ppm, SO2 at release: less than 8ppm1500 Cases Produced
ABV – 14%
$27 Retail/Online

The Verdict: As this wine opens up, it grows closer to my heart.  It is moving closer to resembling what I consider a true Tuscan wine.  It has many of the desirable characteristics that remind me of my trip to Italy and more specifically, the Tuscan countryside!  I’m still a big fan of this wine, it’s a bit spendy but there aren’t many super Tuscans available from Sonoma County and Deerfield does a good job with this wine.  They have a new Tuscan blend that’s available, but I didn’t buy one while I was at the meet-up and I don’t specifically remember any of my thoughts on the wine (but I’m sure I’ll have it in the future).  It was a great time, so many of the Sonoma county Social Media crew were out socializing face-to-face, so I was more into having a great time with great people.  It was awesome to finally meet both Ben and Ed in person, Cheers to both of you!  If you get a chance, you should stop by the Deerfield Ranch Winery, their cellar was beautiful and their staff were gracious and accommodating.  Oh, and if you’re lucky, they may have a few bottles of this wine left.

On the Soiree:  I’m still a bit of a skeptic of the “instant decanter” but this device does seem to be helping this wine open up and live up to the name “Super.”  I had “the wife” take a video of me showing how to use the Soiree to open up the wine, so check this video clip out on how to get the most aeration out of your Soiree decanter.

* Some Nitty Gritty Details provided by Deerfield Ranch Winery Website

Have you had wine in China?

Dateline: Nanjing, China

In a “5 Star” Hotel, in the capital city of Jiangsu Province, the Sheraton Nanjing Kingsley Hotel & Towers, one might expect to be able to find a drinkable wine, however, you would be mistaken.

Sheraton Nanjing Kingsley Hotel & Towers
Sheraton Nanjing Kingsley Hotel & Towers

I had the fortune of having my first visit to the country of China a few weeks back.  I have heard much about China becoming one of the largest markets for fine wine, and thus, was unconcerned that I would be able to find something to drink for the #Cabernet day being put on by Rick Bakas on September 2nd.  I had even seen a review of one of the other Sheraton hotels on the “SPG” channel where the host had a chat with the hotel sommelier and they discuss how outstanding the wine selection is and enjoy a glass over some conversation and gourmet snacks.  So when the evening of September 2nd rolled around, I happily boarded the elevator, bound for the forty-first floor (where the cigar and wine bar are located) and marched in.  I found myself a spot at the bar (which was completely empty BTW) and asked for the wine list.

Now, a side note.  The girl working the bar this particular evening had waited on me on previous evenings at the hotel’s Irish Pub, and she was always exceptionally helpful and courteous.  There was clearly a language barrier but she was always willing to try her hardest to serve the customer properly.  Her English name is Cassy.  Now back to the story.

I looked over their wine list; which for being touted as an extensive list was seriously lacking, but anyhow… I chose a Chilean Cabernet, which I know to be one of the best value Cabernets in the marketplace.  After all, I didn’t really want to blow my expense reports out of the water by picking a super expensive wine.  No luck!  The bartendress said it was out of stock…  Okay, back to the list for a second choice.  Since that Cab wasn’t available, I thought I’d keep it in the Bordeaux varietal club.  There was an Argentinian Malbec on the list and I’d had some good Malbec on my flight over from the states, so I thought I’d settle for this.  I happily ordered up a bottle of that, again, I was dashed.  This too was out of stock.  Slightly more dejected this time I buried my nose back into the wine list.  By this time I had eliminated most of the less expensive options and was down to some seriously expensive French Cabs and a few Californian Cabs.  Now, I don’t know about you but I thought that it would be ridiculous for a guy, from Sonoma County, to travel Six Thousand miles (A 12 Hour Flight) and order a Cabernet from less than 20 miles from his home.  But, it was either that, or order some seriously expensive (even for Chinese standards) French stuff, so, I did it.  I found a Sonoma County Cab that was on the list and ordered away.  The Barkeep checked her list and confirmed, it was available…  or so she thought.  She pulled down bottle after bottle from her wine rack, she showed me the ones she couldn’t read and asked if that was okay, none were what I had asked for.  She finally came back with one, a Napa Cabernet.  2001 Beringer, Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Now, here’s the funny part.  The wine list showed only a 2005, but I figured if she was willing to give me the 2001 for the same price, it was either that or forget #Cabernet Day, so I bit.

Table Tent featuring some interesting wine reviews
Table Tent featuring some interesting wine reviews

Cassy opened my wine and poured me a glass.  As usual I gave it a whirl and a sniff… eh, cough.  Well, it smelled a bit off but, again, it was #Cabernet day so it was my duty to drink some damn Cab on this day or die trying.  I muscled through about 1/2 of the glass before I couldn’t drink any more.

Now I’ve heard from my friend, Dominic Foppoli of Foppoli Wines, that the Chinese wine palate is very “young” and “undiscerning,” that they usually mix their wine with cola or 7-up, even really expensive Bordeauxs.  That drinking expensive wine is just a status symbol and that they don’t actually enjoy wine for its intrinsic characteristics, yet…  So this wine was spoiled.  It was terrible at best, and disgusting at face value.  I imagine that it had sat on some customs dock, in the sun, cooking in its own bottle.  Disappointed, I gave up on having a good #Cabernet day.  But, somehow, a little part of me was glad for the experience.

Now, here’s where the rubber should meet the road.  An open comment to the management of the Sheraton Kingsley, Nanjing, China.  Your wine selection seems decent, however, your staff are untrained on wine and if wine is spoiled, you should not charge your customers for it!  You should not advertise on your “Starwood Preferred Network” that your Chinese based hotels offer an excellent wine experience.  They do not.  I’m disappointed with your wine list not being up to date with what you actually have in stock and perturbed that you boast about your wine offerings.

I know that at some point, trade with China will become simpler.  That fragile agricultural products will not have to rot on some customs dock, while someone waiting to be bribed sits on product bound for eager consumers, and that the palate of the new generation of Chinese young urban professionals will grow to appreciate wine for its multifaceted character.  Until then I will stick to Chinese Budweiser…  Sad, I know.

The King of Beer
The King of Beer

2004 Smith-Madrone, Napa Valley – Spring Mountain District, Cabernet Sauvignon

After my terrible September 2nd experience in China, my hopeless and fruitless search for a #Cabernet worth drinking, I was exceptionally exited to be home, knowing that I had many options for good red wine drinking.  I recently received a sample set from a winery in St. Helena including a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay.  Now, I have had  a recent change of opinion on Napa Valley Cab and was super stoked to be provided a cab for sample, needless to say one of the better samples I’ve yet to receive in my wine blogging experiment.  I hope (yet am open to admit) this cab can only be better than the screwed up wine I had in China.

Let us begin:

2004 Smith-Madrone, Napa Valley – Spring Mountain District, Cabernet Sauvignon

2004 Smith-Madrone, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvigon
2004 Smith-Madrone, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvigon

The Nose: Cassis and Black Licorice are all over this nose!  Cedar and spice are hanging around and making themselves known.

The Taste: The taste is not disappointing.  Everything represented in the nose is represented with some extras.  Black Cherry and more spice are present; mostly black pepper.

The Mouth Feel: Velvety kick off (it is football season now) with big chewy tannins kicking in mid-palate and following through all the way down to the finish.

The Color: Inky and deep dark ruby-garnet, looks very youthful for a 20o4!

The Nitty Gritty:
Varietal Content: Cabernet Sauvignon 82%,
Merlot 8% & Cabernet franc 11%
Time in oak: 22 months in new American
oak barrels
Alcohol: 13.9% Unfined and unfiltered
$45 per 750Ml Bottle, discounts for multi-bottle purchase on Smith-Madrone website http://www.smithmadrone.com/order.htm
90.7 Avg. Score on Cellar Tracker

The Verdict: This is exactly the wine I needed on September 2nd for #Cabernet day.  Alas, it was here in California and I was 6000 Miles away in China.  I have to say though, this Cabernet Sauvigon really reminds me more of a Sonoma County Cab, rather than a Napa wine.  This has great “old world style” not that big Napa fruit bomb, it has great structure and complexity.

This wine was good with my filet mignon but I would say is better on its own, with nothing but glass to pair with!  Go find this wine and get some, its a value at the price point (for a Napa Cab).

2004 Smith-Madrone, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvigon
2004 Smith-Madrone, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvigon

In Vino Veritas:  This wine was provided as a sample

Nitty Gritty details obtained from”http://www.smithmadrone.com/downloads/combo_winesheet/cab04_final2.pdf

Why is Cab King?

Cabernet Sauvigon Cluster - Sonoma Valley
Cabernet Sauvigon

Why indeed!  My personal journey with wine began with this king of wine grape varietals.  I was seduced by its sultry and supple twisting of my taste buds.  I was introduced to really good wine early on as a waiter at a semi-fancy steakhouse back in 1994.  I became acquainted with a little cab from Alexander Valley called Silver Oak.  It has long since been my favorite Cabernet and only until recently it has remained atop my list of sinful pleasures.

I have had a fun journey with wine and spent time pooh-poohing white varietals, and passing other reds, eschewing them as crap and pining for that king of wine, Cabernet Sauvignon.  So what is it exactly that makes this one grape so captivating?

I guess there are many reasons.  First of all the, I would say, the best known wine region (historically) would be Bordeaux, France, the centerpiece of which is our King, Cabernet Sauvignon, with its cohort of Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot, and to a lesser extent Carmenere.  These wines demand the highest prices and receive the highest praise.

Secondly, there must be something more to it than just the praise and history.  It must have something that connects with humans.  Perhaps the taste.  Perhaps the physiology of the grapes themselves.  Big, tight, juicy bunches with thick skins.  Is it that Cabernet Sauvignon is just a great growing fruit, and over time we have evolved alongside this grape and due to survival of the fittest, Cab Lovers dominate?  Well, I don’t know about such things, but hey…  It’s a theory.

King Cabernet
King Cabernet

Regardless of this, Cabernet Sauvignon continues to dominate the wine industry and demands respect from the lesser varietals.  We all know and love this king of the vinifera, and can’t wait for the next report from the wine writing gods, pontificating the 100Pt monster.

So Join us in celebrating its reign, this September 2nd in the #Cabernet Online twitter tasting.  You can sign up for free at http://cabernet.eventbrite.com/

What’s your King Cab of choice?  Is Cab King for you?

Cheers,
Brian

Tom Simoneau, “The Wine Guy” – A Make-a-Wish Charity Auction Lot

A few months back I attended the annual Make-a-Wish event at the Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards and was lucky enough to win one of the live auction lots, the Wine Experience with Tom Simoneau “The Wine Guy.”

Make-A-Wish May 2010
Make-A-Wish May 2010

The stars aligned and we were finally able to schedule this event and get together to taste some great wine, eat some great food, and have some amazing conversations about the juice we all love.

Here’s a little background on Tom, I snagged this clip from his website, http://www.tomsimoneau.com/ (I’ll add some personal color from our experience).

Tom Simoneau, the KSRO Wine Guy for the past thirteen years, knows the wine business. A grape grower, a winemaker, a wine marketer, wine educator, wine judge and wine critic, Tom Simoneau is the walking definition of “Wine Guy”.

Born in Maine and educated in Boston, Tom shunned graduate school at Boston University to form a country rock and roll band. It was his musical career that eventually placed Simoneau in wine country. “We based our California operation in Healdsburg because it reminded us of Maine and it was close enough to San Francisco, so we could pursue our dream of a record deal.”

Since Tom is “The Wine Guy” here is a his syndicated wine minute from our Make-A-Wish Event:  Click Here to play audio – Make-A-Wish072910.

Tom Simoneau - The Wine GuyNorcal Wingman on-air Live this Thursday!

I will be on the radio with Tom Simoneau this Thursday, July 29th around 4:30 PM, on KSRO’s The Drive with Steve Jaxon.  You can listen live by visiting KSRO.com and clicking on “Listen Live” or tuning into 1350 AM, if you live in the greater Sonoma County area.  The Drive is on daily, from 3:00PM to 6:00PM (Pacific Time of course) and usually features local Sonoma County luminaries, of a much higher caliber than myself.  Check it out HERE.

Tom and his wife Brenda really put out the red carpet for us. We decided upon a Cabernet Sauvignon tasting and Tom said he had something creative he’d put together for our group.

Our group, was not an ordinary tasting group, I can’t remember what Tom said exactly, but he said he was going to really have to put something special together.  Included in our tasting crew were Sonoma-Cutrer’s new winemaker, Mick Shroeter (formerly of Geyser Peak & Penfold’s) his lovely wife Linda, my wife’s Aunt and Uncle who are also wine grape growers and home winemakers, and me and “the wife.”

TastingCrew
The Tasting Crew - Pictured (from left to right): Brian & Michelle Wing, Mick & Linda Schroeter, Sharon & Bob Duste, Brenda & Tom Simoneau

Upon our arrival we were greeted with glasses of Chandon bubbly and we began getting acquainted over some fantastic hors d’oeuvres, prepared by Tom’s wife Brenda.

Chicken Salad on Fresh Cucumber
Chicken Salad on Fresh Cucumber

Now, just to be clear, Tom and Brenda’s house, “Simoneau Ranch,” has one of the most spectacular views of the Alexander Valley that I’ve ever seen.  They’re located just east of Hwy 101 in Healdsburg and the view from their back porch looks across the Simoneau vineyards, and up toward the Geysers and off to the right in the distance you see Mt. St. Helena, a truly stunning spectacle!  Anyhow, I digress.  We chatted about wine and toured the property.  Tom showed us his vineyards and gave us a nice look at his cellar where he has cases upon cases of wines stacked to the ceiling, ribbons and awards for his wines, and some empty bottles, “trophies” of past experiences, each with a story.

After the tour it was back up to the house where we enjoyed some more snacks and tasted Tom’s two wines, a Chardonnay, “Brenda Lee’s,” a lovely, lightly oaked Chard, with about 10% malolactic fermentation, and his Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Oh, I forgot to mention, Tom used to sell his grapes to Silver Oak up until recently when the economy tanked so now he just makes his own Cab (it’s great by the way).  Well after some tasty snacks, a goat cheese flan (see recipes below) and some bacon wrapped figs stuffed with blanched almonds, we got on with the main event.

Tom and Brenda had set up a double-blind, Sonoma versus Napa, no-holds-barred Cabernet Sauvignon battle royale!

Double Blind
Six Cabernet Competitors

The Cabernet Contenders:

From the West (Sonoma County):

2005, Jordan, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvigon, $52
2005, Chateau St. Jean, Cinq Cepages, Sonoma County, $75
2004, Robert Young, Scion, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, $58

From the East (Napa County):

2006, Oakville Ranch, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, $60
2006, Swanson Vineyards, Alexis, Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
, $75
2005, Revana Family Vineyards, St. Helena, Cabernet Sauvignon, $149

All Set for a great Tasting
Table for 8 with 48 Glasses

We each tasted though the wines together and discussed the characteristics and qualities we saw, smelled and tasted.  It was quite an educational experience for me.  Having both Tom Simoneau (who also teaches wine tasting/judging at the local community college) and Mick Schroeter discussing and dissecting the wines and then sharing what they experienced and comparing that to what I was getting out of them was really cool.

A Great Tasting
Blind Tasting Crew at Simoneau Ranch

It gave me insight into what a world-class wine maker looks for when tasting and judging wines.  It also made me feel pretty good about my own palate and overall sensory capacity for wine, I’m making some incremental improvements (if I do say so myself).

So when it was all said and done, we had a clear winner and two wines that were so close that second and third place could have been combined into a tie for second.  Here are some of the scoring details:

First Place: 2006, Swanson Vineyards, Alexis, Oakville, Cabernet Sauvignon. Big and Juicy with grainy tannins, hints of licorice.

Second Place: 2004, Robert Young, Scion, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Coffee and Cocoa cover this Alexander Valley beauty, great tannic structure that is well representative of the AVA.

Third Place:  2005, Chateau St. Jean, Cinq Cepages, Sonoma County Red Wine.  Soft and supple, ripe red fruit and easy drinking tannins make this Sonoma Valley Red shine.

And the Winner is...
The Favorite Cabernet Is...

A great time was had by all and I can’t wait for next year’s Make-A-Wish event so I can try and win again.  Not only did we have some great wine and great conversation but the money made from Tom’s donation and my winning bid goes to help out a great cause.  The Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation® grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy.  Please support them if you can, it’s an amazing organization.

Again, I want to extend a heart felt thank you to Tom and his wife Brenda for being such gracious hosts.  This was truly an exceptional experience and it could not have been possible without their generosity to both the Make-A-Wish foundation, and to us.

Cheers!
Brian
norcalwingman

Below are the recipes of a few of the outstanding treats Brenda Simoneau prepared for us, Enjoy!  Be on the lookout for a cookbook by Brenda in the not to distant future.

Savory Goat Cheese Flan

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 cup half-and-half
8 oz. sour cream
3 eggs
1 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. Bucheron goat cheese
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp. of unsalted butter at room temperature

Depending on the size of your ramekins (custard cups) generously butter 6 – 8.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

While the goat cheese is cold remove the rind, place goat cheese in your mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it come to room temperature. Once at room temperature, mash with a fork. Add one egg at a time mixing well. Add the sour cream and mix well. Finally, add the salt, thyme, and half-and-half. Mix well.

Divide the custard among the ramekins, place them in a baking dish, and add very hot water to the pan so it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake until the custards are set, about 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Place the ramekins on a cooling rack and let sit for about 5 minutes.

Serve warm in the ramekins or run a knife around the edge of each ramekin, turn them out, and serve with a simple green salad.

Kalamata Olive Breadsticks

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 tsp. active dry yeast
5 oz. warm water
1 tbs. olive oil
2 cups of flour
1 tsp. salt
30 pitted kalamata olives roughly chopped

This recipe makes about 76 skinny breadsticks. You’ll want to set up more than one baking sheet, so you can quickly rotate them in and out of your oven.

Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. Stir in the olive oil.  Add the salt, chopped olives, and 1 cup of flour. Stir until everything comes together. Add half cup flour and stir until the dough comes together. Add a ¼ cup of flour and stir until the dough comes together. Lightly sprinkle some of the remaining flour on your work surface and knead the dough. Sprinkle and incorporate more flour as needed until the dough is smooth and soft.

Pat the dough into a rectangle (roughly 6” x 14”) on a surface that you can use a knife on. Lightly brush with olive oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.

The dough should be very elastic now making it very easy to shape your breadsticks. Cut off a piece of dough about as thick as a finger. Lay it on your work surface, roll back and forth as your hands work out to the ends. This stretches out the dough to the desired length. Remember they will puff up in the oven to about twice the thickness that you rolled them out to. Lay them about an inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the pan and bake for 10 more minutes. Continue baking and checking every 3 minutes or so until they’re crisp and golden.

Chicken Salad

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 poached boneless, skinless chicken breast
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup chopped pecans
2 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
½ tsp. salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ sour cream

Slice the chicken against the grain, and then chop into small pieces. You want about one cup. Place the chopped chicken and all other ingredients in a bowl. Mix together. Taste and then adjust the salt and pepper.

Serve on cucumber slices, crackers, or toast.