Author: emily (Page 2 of 20)

Heard Through the Grapevine: interviews Western Wine Awards Finalists

Hey there wine-lovers (or those of you who are trying to determine whether or not we are bat-s#&! crazy)! We’re back with our next installment of interviews with Sunset Magazine’s Western Wine Awards Finalists. That’s right, we’re interviewing the wines themselves. This process started off quietly, but after a few bottles, the conversation flowed freely. Good thing we took notes because we barely remember this particular press junk-it…




Our next Category is Connoisseur –  those middle-of-the-road wines hitting you up for $26 to $40 per bottle.

Abraxas Vin de Terroir

Welcome.  How are you today?


In a world where so many struggle with self-image issues, it’s refreshing to meet someone without a problem. Did you want to tell us a little something more about you?



Stop calling me Wine!!!!

OK – can I call you Abe?  I tend to shorten names, especially when I’m writing

Yea, alright.

So, Abe, it might be easier for you to explain yourself and your characteristics in some choice describing words.  Can you do that for me?

YES!!  I explode. I am pure. When you swirl me I become beguiling.  I am crackling energy, ethereal, vivacious and luscious.  I taste pretty damn good, too.

Looking forward to experiencing that.

If you’re lucky, heathen.  I AM A GOD!!!! Oh and I’m also made up of 43% Pinot Gris, 32% Pinot Blanc, 15% Gewurztraminer, and 10% Riesling.

I’m wondering if we should warn the others so they can avoid the rogue lightning bolts.


And now, a few words from one of the red finalists…

Andrew Murray’s 2008 Esperance Grenache Blend

That’s a unique name – where did it come from?

Well, Andy is kind of a HOPEless romantic.  In fact, he’s a huge HOPEless romantic and that makes him really special and quite HOPEful, in my mind.  I HOPE I don’t mess up this interview.

Hey, you’re doing really well.  So, really, what’s the deal with your name?

You’re kind of slow aren’t you?  “Esperance” is French for hope.

Oh, I knew that.  By the way, I love your outfit.

Yea, it’s pretty badass, right?  I’m 60% Grenache which rhymes with badass if you put the right stress on the word.  The bottling reflects that through the black and red labeling, and Andy says that I’m a hedonistic pleasure – which rhymes with leather.  So, there you go.

Well, just to cover mine, I’ve also been told that you are a rich, concentrated wine with aromas and flavors of ultra-ripe strawberries, black cherries, and blueberries, mixed with the spiciness of cinnamon and vanilla from the toasty new French oak. Your cap is a Stelvin ScrewCap to preserve the freshness and avoid ‘off’ flavors. Along with the Grenache, you are blended with 25% Syrah, and 15% Mourvedre and that is 100% delicious which rhymes with – darn, I need my rhyming dictionary.

OK – I guess you’re not that dumb but you probably shouldn’t write poetry.  Can I go now?

Sure, see you at the show.


Here it is, folks–the “deep pockets” category for all you big-spenders. These are wines in the $41-$60 price range.

Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 2009

Truth be told, it’s not every day that I get to have a meet and greet with wine in your price ra—I mean of your caliber. Please excuse my shaky hands.

Oh, honey—it sounds like you just need a little glass of me! I’m never shaky –though at 14.9% Alcohol, I’m on the verge of a nap most of the time.

Wow, that’s pretty high for a Chardonnay, isn’t it? Your berries must be very ripe at harvest.

Absolutely, darling! I hope you don’t think me vain, but my winemaker thinks that my vintage (2009) might be THE vintage of the decade. It was a long, cool summer so all of our grapes were able to hang and ripen in near-perfect conditions for an extended period of time.

Sounds like you had a beautiful childhood and you’ve aged so well!

Thank you, I would have to agree. 14 months on the lees have definitely made me a more complex wine. I keep trying to tell people that those bargain-bin wines are great if you want to crack something open and mindlessly slug away, but for dependable quality and that “je ne sais qua” that  makes you sip, savor, and pause for few seconds with your eyes closed, you have to dig a little deeper into those pockets.

I wouldn’t know anything about mindlessly slugging away…That’s simply irresponsible wine consumption!

Please! I had my people do a background check on you. You need to cool it with the 2-buck chucks. Imagine for a moment, enjoying “lush, luxurious aromas and flavors of melon, honeysuckle, apricot, pineapple and flint all held together with bright acidity, good structure and elegant balance.”

That sounds simply beautiful, but isn’t there usually at least a hint of oak and butter in you Chardonnays?

I was aged for 14 months in French oak (75%) and stainless steel (25%). This means I have a lighter, brighter flavor than those Chards that are aged in American oak, making me more climatically versatile.

Ms. Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, it was a pleasure. Best of luck to you!

Moving on to our red contender…


Peay Syrah “Les Titans” 2008

I just finished interviewing a finalist from the white wine category who may just be your polar opposite. She was floral and fruity with a hint of minerality, whereas you have been described as “meatier and masculine.”

 Yes, I’ve been compared to a “rosemary, lavender, black pepper and garlic-encrusted beef roast”, but with “an intense lilac quality dancing gently around a blue fruit, roasted meat and blood core” in the nose. I call it my “Man-musk” and let me tell you, it really gets the ladies.

Ahem. That’s quite a profile you have going on there. Are you on Facebook?

I’ve been considering a fan page, but I feel like that would lump me into the masses. I’m a unique syrah, different from the more traditional Rhone variety. As a new-world Syrah, I’m more fruit forward and intense, but perfectly balanced by the meat, blood, and white pepper aromas of old-world Syrah.

You really have a lot of personality. Do you only grow better with time, or would you call this your peak?

Absolutely not! If we’re talking actors, I feel a certain kinship with Jeff Bridges. I’ve got staying power, baby. I’ll mellow with time, but keep the edge that you love so much.

Wow, Jeff Bridges? Excellent! Just a quick word of advice though: Try to keep it more “True Grit” and less “Tron”, deal?

I’ll think about it and I’ll catch you at the Western Wine Awards Dinner and Gala. I’ll be the guy surrounded by all the ladies.

Stay tuned for the final installment of this series!

Join Sunset Wine Editor Sara Schneider and Sunset Editor-in-Chief Katie Tamony for one of the weekend’s most anticipated events. The Sunset Western Wine Awards are recognized as the highest honor for Western winemakers and focus solely on wines produced in the Western United States. Sunset’s panel of professional judges includes Western wine writers, sommeliers, and winemakers.

Click here for a complete list of selected finalists and come try each and every one of them, paired to perfection, at the Sunset Western Wine Awards at Pismo Beach Pier on the Central Coast of California September 30th, 2011. We’ll save you a glass.

Click on the logo below for more information on this fabulous, 4-day event.











Heard Through The Grapevine: interviews Sunset Magazine’s Western Wine Awards Finalists

The finalists for the Sunset Western Wine Awards have been announced, and lucky us! We got the opportunity to sit down with some of them to discuss this coveted distinction. The tiara (or septor) will go to only one of each of the reds and the whites in the 6 categories (based on price range). The titles will be presented on Friday, September 30th as part of the Savor the Central Coast culinary event at Pismo Beach Pier. This is personification at its finest, folks! Remember–we’re a little bit fruity.



Our first category is “Steal” : Bottles $15 and under 



Liberty School 2009 Chardonnay (Central Coast)


Nice to have you with us.  You’ve got a great looking label. Can I buy you a drink later?



Just because I’m a steal doesn’t mean I’m cheap…or easy.



You’re absolutely right. Please excuse me. Why don’t you tell us a little more about yourself and what makes you unique?



Well, OK, let’s see. I was born and raised in Paso Robles, and I think my uniqueness stems from how well I was taken care of during my infancy. 



What do you mean by that?



My grapes were picked when the flavors were ripe and before the essential acidity dropped too far.  My creators drove back and forth from the vineyards over and over again as harvest drew near to make sure my fruit was picked at the peak of its perfection. I’ve been told I’m kind of high maintenance.



Sounds like a lot of work!



…right, and care and compassion.  You see, they made sure I wasn’t inoculated with bacteria, which would cause malolactic fermentation and totally overwhelm me!  In addition, I was kept in a separate barrel room in order to ensure that not a single one of those red guys tried to spontaneously inoculate me without my permission.



Yes, those big boys can be quite persistent.



Yea, my creators are pretty protective. I’m not allowed to get my ears pierced or that butterfly tattoo. I’m also pretty germaphobic now because my personal space was always sanitized with ozone – no big, bad bacteria getting’ in here, and I never missed a day of school.



We’re big Chardonnay lovers here at into the Soup and can’t wait to give you a try at the Awards Dinner. You are unmistakably Chardonnay.



Oh, how sweet of you to say! Um, and I’ve had a change of heart; I might just take you up on that drink-offer if we can hit the “Deep Pockets’ table.



I think we can probably work something out.


Next up in the “Steal” category on the red side…

Project Paso 2009 Grenache Blend by Don Sebastiani & Sons (Paso Robles)


Let me start by highlighting your blend: 37% Grenache, 16% Zinfandel, 14% Petite Sirah,11% Mourvedre, 9% Barbera, 8% Lagrein, 3% Tempranillo, 2% Sangiovese.  Wow, you’ve got a lot going on in there.  Maybe they should have named you something like “Celebrate Diversity.”



Well, they certainly could have.  I do loads of gushing with my multi-layered aromas.  I’m just screaming berries and flowers!



Is it difficult to have all those varietals vying for someone’s palate?



That can happen with some multi-blends, but we were taught at a young age to just get along and complement each other. Have you seen the Partridge Family? I can guarantee that our reality would be very different if we had some bell bottoms and a colorful tour bus.



Sounds like you’ve got some serious harmony going on!



What’s really groovy is the way our fruitiness compliments the white pepper and spice along with the deepness of the caramel and walnut we get from our French/American oak aging process.  The fresh acidity that Barbera and Lagrein bring to the team removes any wrinkles, and our low tannins help us play well with just about anything. 



Really, anything?



Well, almost. I’m fond of an intimate Bolognese for two, but if you want to crack me open for a Garden Party or a Project Runway Finale – I go great with a Hawaiian pizza or a Tim Gunn.



Thank you for your time and keep up the good…um….blending.



Toodles!!  See you at the show.



Let’s move on to our next category “Good Value.”  These wines are priced between $16 to $25. 

King Estate’s 2009 Domaine Pinot Gris


I heard your vineyard is pretty famous for Pinot Gris – what’s the secret?



Well, it’s really no secret that I’m one of America’s finest white wines and a go-to for Pinot enthusiasts in the U.S.  I’m also 100% steel tank fermented and aged for 11 months on the lees. That makes me pretty special.



If I remember correctly, on the lees (or Sur Lie Aging) is the process of leaving the lees (deposits of yeast and other solids formed during fermentation) in the wine for a few months to a year, accompanied by a regime of periodic stirring. Certain wines such as Chardonnay and Pinot Gris benefit from autolysis because they gain complexity during the process which enhances their structure, gives them extra body, and increases their aromatic complexity. Aging sur lie with stirring can result in a creamy, viscous mouth-feel.



Excuse me, I was told you didn’t know much about wine, so what’s the deal with all the lingo? Don’t make me look dumb.


Well, OK, you got me.  I ‘Googled’ it.  Truth be told, King Estates has been my go-to Pinot Gris for many years. You make me want to be a better wine drinker.



Well, that’s very Jack-Nicholson-circa-“As Good As It Gets” of you.



Do you have a brother? 



Uh, no, and now you really do look dumb.  I’m late for an appointment with Wine Spectator so for those of you keeping score at home, I’ll make it simple for you: I’m a Platinum Blond. Some say “white gold or straw,” but for me, it’s platinum or nothing, baby. You’ll notice me when I pass under your nose. You’ll be overcome with crisp aromas of pear, cantaloupe, lime zest, tropical fruit and spice. Bring me to your lips, and they’ll tingle with flavors of honey, citrus, mango, and pineapple. I’m a great weight (I work out and eat right), and the balance between my acidity and sugar is spot-on. The first taste of me will stick with you because I have a long finish, ending in minerality that will leave you refreshed, but ready for more.


Wow, are you sure you don’t want to go to dinner?



Where’s my rep?  I’m outta here.


Next in this category on the red side…

 Beckmen 2009 Cuvee Le Bec


Congratulations on your nomination – how does that make you feel?



Kind of tingly, but as my creator, Steve, would say “Dynamite!” 



Why would he say that?



It’s how he describes me! He also uses phrases like…”the aromatics JUMP out of the glass” and “enticing!” I’m easily excited! WOO! HI MOM!



Wow, we’re fond of exclamations, aren’t we? So, what’s enticing about you?



For one thing, I grew up on a hillside and the views of Santa Ynez Valley were spectacular so I was always happy. Steve and his Dad, Tom Beckman, took a big chance on the dream so I feel pretty special coming out so well. Their great care and their passion most certainly have something to do with my success! Oops, sorry. I let one slip out again.



What do you think makes you rise above your two competitors?



I kind of slap you in the face with aromatics and my white pepper-spice.  After that, I bring it back down with some plum and licorice.  At the end of the day, I display an excellent balance between acidity and tannins, so I hang right in there. I think people like that kind of dedication.



If you’re talking staying power, we agree with that assessment wholeheartedly.  From what I’ve read, it sounds like Tom is a pretty cool character!



Well, we don’t like to tell anybody, but on occasion, as he’s driving around on his tractor, he sings to us.  He’s so cute.





Stay Tuned for our next installment of “Heard Through the Grapevine”, where you’ll get to meet some of the pricier contenders for the Western Wine Awards. Until then, if you find yourself talking to your wine like us, you’ve probably had too much.

The Western Wine Awards are brought to you by Sunset Magazine’s Savor The Central Coast. For more information on this incredible 4-day celebration of food, wine, and the central coast, click the logo below.

The Weekly Whet: Burning Tree Cellars Lotus 2007 California Red

Last weekend, Heidi, Sammie and I road-tripped to Sedona to stay at the Briar Patch Inn, a gorgeous little hide-away situated along Oak Creek. We ate, drank, made merry, and met some new friends, one of which is the fantastic Chef Chris Dobrowolski of The Cowboy Club, Silver Saddle, and The Barking Frog.

This guy is going down in the hospitality books because he brought us a beautiful bottle of wine (he must have picked up on the fact that we like to drink). We cracked open the 2007 Lotus—a bold, but surprisingly smooth California Red from Burning Tree cellars, and enjoyed it with some mammoth steaks (not real mammoth—I think that’s seasonal?), baked potatoes, and grilled asparagus. It was truly one of the best reds I’ve enjoyed in a long time…and the dinner we made didn’t suck either. Thanks, Chef Chris. You’re a helluva guy 🙂

PSSST! Burning Tree Cellars has two tasting rooms—one in Cave Creek and one in Old Town Cottonwood–where you can pick up this lovely blend. It’s definitely worth the trip, and who doesn’t want to get up north?

Click here for more information on this and other Burning Tree Cellars Wines


The Weekly Whet: Bay Breeze

Confession: I kind of like country music.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not one of those CountryThunderNASCARandPBR-loving lunatics, however, I do enjoy a sappy love song once in awhile, and nobody does those better than Country artists. Take the classic ‘Strawberry Wine’ by Deanna Carter for example, It’s a lovely little ballad about getting drunk on strawberry wine at 17 and getting hot and heavy with an older dude who works for your Grandpa. It just doesn’t get much more romantic than that!

So while I hope all of us have evolved beyond picking up strawberry-flavored wine from the gas station, there’s no reason why you can’t make a similar, and I’ll venture–classier concoction. You can find Cranberry Wine and Vino Verde at liquor superstores like BevMo and Total Wine.

NOTE: into the Soup does not condone or encourage underage drinking. Just because Deanna Carter got away with it doesn’t mean you will.


  •  3 parts Cranberry wine (real wine with about 11% alcohol)
  •  1 part Vino Verde (Portuguese white wine with a bit of effervesence)
  •  0.5 part Cocchi Americano

 Shake with ice, serve on ice with a rim lime.

Macro Photography Gets Up Close & Personal

Photos and Article By Ray Pearson

In camera-speak, “macro” designates a setting for close-up photography. Some cameras have an additional setting that allows you to take super close-up (within a few inches) photographs of your subject. One of summer’s most popular subjects is flowers. Whether touring exotic locations, formal gardens, or your own backyard, macro flower photography lends itself beautifully to images that can later be turned into framed wall art.

Photographs of antiques, collectibles, jewelry, and even pets are made more special by getting in close. For insurance purposes, having a clear photo of the hallmarks on silver and pewter pieces can also be invaluable.

There are very few suggestions to follow for capturing great macro photographs:

  • Use a tripod, or other steadying device, if possible.
  • Use a slow, deliberate “squeeze” on the shutter release – not a quick “jab”
  • Have fun! Macro photography will heighten your sense of noticing details and colors


Candlestick–3.75 Inches

Hallmarks on Silver

Ernie the Cat

Even a flash bulb looks neat


A Collection of Beautiful Hawaiian Flowers

The Geographer’s Cafe: Striking Out in Paris

R.F. Burton’s third stop in a 60 country journey around the world.

Paris: It’s been called the city of lights, love, and romance by countless travelers who have experienced its magnificence, and while I can’t argue that it’s a magical place, at the end of the day, it’s still a city—crowded, inconvenient, and offline at the most inopportune times.

Due to events in Paris the week I arrived, the hotels downtown were either full or ridiculously expensive.  Surprisingly, the most acceptable rate I could find within commuting distance was at the Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles (a paltry 384 euros per night), although staying there meant a trek from Charles de Gaulle airport at the most northeastern point of the rail line to the most southwestern point.  

A taxi cost 175 euros, so that was not an option. Thankfully, Paris has a pretty robust public transportation system, so for a meager 6 euros, I could buy a rail pass and take the RER B line to St.  Michel Notre Dame, then take the RER C to Versailles.  Simple and inexpensive, right? If only.

I thought I had misunderstood the route map when the train stopped short of my intended destination, but as it turned out, I was a victim of one of Paris’ regular labor strikes, and the line was closed. It was time for Plan B—the metro line. I could feel my claustrophobic anxiety building; it seemed that the metro line had become “Plan B” for everyone. People were waiting four train loads deep and nobody could get on because nobody was getting off.

By now I was desperate and decided to fork-over the cash for a cab (Plan C). Again, my plans were foiled by a taxi-line that wasn’t budging either. It was 9pm and the last train left for Versailles at 10pm. I set out to find a better way.

My intent with “Plan D” was to walk the distance to St. Michel station, and catch the 10pm train. I could only hope that the scene at that station would be different. After an hour of wandering the labyrinthine streets, I finally managed to signal a taxi to stop. The driver assured me that I would not be able to get a train to Versailles tonight even if I made it to the station on time due to the strike. I hopped in and asked him to take me to my hotel. So much for the robust Parisian public transportation system.

Just as things were looking better, and I was satisfied that I’d be in bed soon, the driver pulled over in the right traffic lane, snapped on his hazard lights, and jumped out of the car and over the barrier separating the road from a high wall. Cars behind us slammed on their brakes to avoid the stopped taxi where I was now sitting alone. When I emerged from the car (as to avoid severe injury or death), the driver informed me that the car’s transmission had given out. We waited for about an hour for another taxi to come pick us up. The new driver connected a tow line, and we all set off for Versailles.

Trianon Palace Hotel

Finally, I arrived at my hotel, exhausted, but somewhat relieved. My 384 euros had landed me a conference center room in an annex that looked like it was built by an architect who specialized in building 1950’s high schools, and had housed every smoker who visited Versailles since. I decided to overlook the lack of strawberries, champagne, and terry cloth robes and get some sleep.

Waking up next door to the Palace of Versailles left me optimistic and ready to take on my appointments in Paris proper. Then it started raining. By the time I arrived in our offices near the Opera, I was soaked through, but still pretty optimistic. I met all of my colleagues who did their best to hold back their laughter at the large, wet American who was supposed to be an executive, but looked more like something that had crawled out of a drain. However,  I think they changed their minds when I offered to take them all out for lunch. Funny how that works.

Things really took a turn for the better when I was invited to dinner by some very good friends who live outside of Paris. It was refreshing to be greeted by the smiling face of my friend as I stepped off the train. He showed me around the grounds of Chateau St. Germaine, including the house, now a hotel, where Louis XIV was born. Our time there was wonderful but brief, as he was illegally parked.

Chateau St. Germaine En Lay

 My friends live in a small village on the cusp of rural France. The houses are old stone, farmhouse-style, and the streets snake and wind in a manner that can only be rationalized by centuries of slow, unplanned expansion.

The house where Louis XIV was born (in St. Germain en Lay)

Walking after dinner in rural France during the last hour of sun light is a once-in-a- lifetime experience. The quiet is deafening, every turn reveals another quaint cliché you hope to discover in a French provincial village, and the rolling hills look like the subjects of an impressionistic painting. We came to small pool where village women used to bring their laundry. We walked a trail through field of wheat and barley and past a World War I era aerodrome. When we turned near the top of the hill, in the final moments of sunlight, the village was visible on the next hillside.  There were no street lights, no neon, and no satellite dishes to spoil the view.  A few headlights combined with the warm glow from the windows, and the lit spire of a chapel enabling us to see outlines of the village in the dusk. We looked on for a while breathing in the fragrance of the fields, sipping wine, and taking about how lucky we were to be alive on such an evening. I thought that there could not be a more satisfying moment on my trip to Paris. The next morning, I would be proven wrong, again.

The Village of St. Germaine En Lay


Next Stop: Paris Part Deux

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