2014 Testa Vineyards Black Sette Blend

Year: 2014

Producer: Testa Vineyards

Region: Redwood Valley and Mendocino AVAs, Mendocino, California

Grape(s): Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Charbono

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Medium+

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Blackberry jam, raspberry, blueberry, spice, damp earth, vanilla

Pairings: Barbecue! [burgers with bacon, barbecue chicken], lasagna, braised oxtail

Price (approximately): $25


My Musings:

This “black wine”, so nicknamed for the dark-colored grapes that comprise the blend, is fruit-forward, presenting a bright and expressive bouquet of baked red and dark fruit, including blackberry, strawberry rhubarb and blueberry. The palate is greeted with jammy fruit of raspberry, boysenberry and blackberry, balanced splendidly with spice, damp earth and vanilla. Bright acidity and smooth tannins balance the palate and provide finesse and structure. The finish possesses strong acidity when first uncorked, but pleasantly mellows with time, so decanting prior to serving makes for the best tasting experience.

Mendocino County - the Northern Limits of California Winemaking

Driving north from San Francisco through Sonoma County, one will eventually come across Mendocino and Lake County, the northernmost vinous regions in California. Although Mendocino was established relatively recently (in 1984), its viticultural origins extend back nearly 160 years. In the 1850s, down-on-their-luck prospectors whose hopes had faded in the gold rush disavowed a laborious life in the coal mines and traversed north to the beautiful, untamed wilderness of northern California. Although the rugged, picturesque Pacific coastline and altitudinous redwood forests brought fame to the region, it was Mendocino’s climate and terroir, demonstrating an efficacious agricultural haven, that interested its early residents. Soon thereafter, vineyards were established. Although the County is blanketed in redwood forest, farmers and vintners made good use of the rest. Where there is a way, there is a wine.

The majority of wineries in Mendocino are family owned, and many can trace their origins back to the founding prospector families of the 1850s and Italian immigrants that arrived in the years thereafter. Indeed, it was Italian families that planted the earliest vineyards in Mendocino County in what is now designated as the sub-appellation of Redwood Valley. One can always rely upon the Europeans for vinous inspiration.

The climate of this upland Redwood Valley is cooler than surrounding appellations of Mendocino due to higher elevation and a penetrating Pacific breeze that navigates through a gap in the coastal ridge. Italian heritage is still well-represented in the varietals that thrive here, such as Barbera, Carignane, Charbono and Dolcetto, which grow alongside California mainstays Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. The climate affords a long, consistent growing season and its unique red, volcanic soils combine to produce a wine with character, complexity and elegance.

The family-driven, inter-generational stewardship of the land has emphasized ethical farming practices that strive to preserve and protect the natural landscape. As we say in Hawaii, keep the country country. This has resulted in a regional commitment to organic and sustainable farming systems. Mendocino County is the largest aggregation of organic-certified vineyards in the country.

Waves, Wilderness and Wine

This strategy has also facilitated the promotion of the region as a tourist destination. Mendocino entices nature enthusiasts with the spectacular scenic coastal drive, a host of outdoor activities (camping, hiking, etc.), fresh seafood, national parks and, of course, wine. Rugged, remote, adventurous. There is much to love in Mendocino.

Testa Vineyards finds itself in the middle of it all. Farmed by six generations for over 100 years, Testa Vineyards has a long and proud heritage in Mendocino County. Committed to ethical and sustainable farming techniques, Testa Vineyards ensures that its indelible legacy in the region is maintained and expanded. Staying true to its Italian heritage, Testa Vineyards grows Carignane, Barbera and Charbono, in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.

Testa Vineyards throws in a bonus - a wonderfully charming 3-bedroom farmhouse, built in 1927, for your next vacation getaway. The Testa family, both human and canine (English Springer Spaniels Patsy and John - named after Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash - are eager to welcome you) invite guests to unplug and relax, meander the gorgeous property or grab a pole and head to the fishing pond. Utilize the vineyard as your home base while you peruse the Pacific coast, visit the redwood forests and enjoy delicious farm-to-table cuisine from the local restaurants. At the end of a long day, a beautiful, rustic farmhouse and abundance of hand-crafted wines await you. Inebriated outdoor adventures and vinous relaxation are inevitable.


Maui Wine Hula o Maui Pineapple Sparkling Wine

Year: Non-Vintage

Producer: ‘Ulupalakua Vineyards and Maui Wine

Region: ‘Ulupalakua AVA, Maui, Hawaii

Grape(s): Pineapple

Alcohol: 12.5%

Body: Medium

Dry/Sweet: Brut

Tasting Notes: Pineapple, cream, tropical citrus

Pairings: Spicy Asian Cuisine, Mimosas, New Years Eve

Price (approximately): $20


My Musings:

Special New Years Edition! Want to try something a bit different this New Year's Eve?  Yes, toasting with Champagne is the gold standard, as it should be, and Cava is the bubbly bargain man's best friend. The tropical shores of Maui, however, present an intriguing sparkling intoxicant that should not be overlooked. Want the best? Go with Champagne this New Year, and the $50 plus price to tag to match. Want to try something a bit more unique with a fun story? Read on...

‘Ulupalakua Vineyards and Maui Wine, the only large commercial winemaker in Hawaii, was established in 1974 on the high slopes of the dormant volcano Haleakalā on the island of Maui. The vinous mastermind, Emil Tedeschi, procured equipment for the new winery that would be necessary in the winemaking process and decided to conduct a few tests to ensure that it functioned properly. Unfortunately, Hawaii had no indigenous vines, which can take years to mature. With grapes still maturing on the vine, Tedeschi turned his sights to a fruit with abundant supply on Maui: pineapple. Although pineapple wine was only intended as a testing method for the equipment, it soon became a favorite amongst tourists for its sweet characteristics and authentically-Hawaiian appeal. The King of Fruit was initially utilized for two wines: a crisp white wine called Maui Blanc and a pineapple sparkling wine. Although the Maui Blanc went on to become the winery's best selling wine, the sparkling line was quickly phased out due to difficulties in production.

The bubbles made a reappearance in 1994, initially as a friendly challenge in conjunction with the twentieth anniversary of the winery. One hundred cases were produced for the occasion, which sold out almost instantly. The winery couldn’t ignore the popularity and demand. The sparkling machine was reignited; pineapple bubbly was on the menu again. Along with Maui Blanc, the sparkling wine, named Hula o Maui, is one of the vineyard’s best sellers, and is a unique representation of Maui’s geographical location and agricultural history.

Hula o Maui is produced in the traditional methode champenois, famously and meticulously developed by the seventeenth-century Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, in Champagne, France. The wine undergoes secondary fermentation in bottle, and is then aged on the lees for 6 to 8 months to develop a creamy texture without sacrificing the bright, fresh tropical fruit characteristics.

The wine’s first impression is unsurprising, with strong pineapple and tropical aromatics. The palate is brut (semi-dry) with pleasant effervescence, balanced acidity and strong flavors of pineapple with subtle accents of tropical citrus. Not a complex wine like its sparkling counterparts in Champagne, but an enjoyable and unique wine that is accompanied by a great narrative to recount at your New Year's Eve party.

Is it Champagne or even Cava? Of course not. Pineapple is vastly inferior to the grape in terms of biochemical complexity, phenolic variation and diversity of flavor profiles. But that doesn't mean that Hula o Maui cannot be an enjoyable bubbly for a festive occasion.

As a bonus, its brut dryness, refreshing effervescence and tropical fruit characteristics make it a brilliant food pairing partner, particularly with spicy Asian cuisine (Thai food!), and as a companion for mimosas and other sparkling cocktails.

Cheers and Happy New Year!


2015 Dry Creek Heritage Vines Zinfandel

Year: 2015

Producer: Dry Creek Vineyard

Region: Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California

Grape(s): Zinfandel (79%), Petite Sirah (20%), Carignane (1%)

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Medium+

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cherry, Spice, Pepper, Vanilla

Pairings: Christmas dinner!

Price (approximately): $17


My Musings:

Christmas dinner is approaching and you need a bargain wine for the holiday table. Food friendly and fruit-forward with some spice reminiscent of the season, Zinfandel plays the role extraordinarily well.

This wine, from Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma County, has a bright bouquet of baked red and dark fruit, including blackberry, strawberry rhubarb and cherry. The palate is greeted with jammy fruit of raspberry, boysenberry and blackberry, balanced splendidly with spice, black pepper, vanilla and licorice. Well balanced with bright acidity, this wine would be an excellent addition to the holiday table.

In Dry Creek Valley AVA, Zinfandel is king. Although the appellation was established relatively recently in 1983, its viticultural origins extend back nearly 150 years. After the California Gold Rush, European immigrants, in search of farmland, were lured to Dry Creek for its rich and fertile soils. Well-drained alluvial gravel and sandy loam soils on the valley floor were also a good match for vineyards, and consequently there were nearly a thousand acres planted and nine wineries by the 1880s. Today, the remnants from this vinous tradition are still visible, with vineyards proudly touting gnarled Zinfandel vines that are over 100 years old. Want to find terrific value, old vine Zinfandel? Look no further than Dry Creek.

Happy holidays!

2015 Michael David Petite Petit

Year: 2015

Producer: Michael David Winery

Region: Lodi, California

Grape(s): Petite Sirah (85%), Petit Verdot (15%)

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Full

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Blackberry, black cherry, plum, vanilla, clove, smokiness, spice

Pairings: Red meat over an open flame (steak, lamb, hamburgers)! Braised short ribs, smoked and cured meats, aged and strong cheeses

Price (approximately): $15


My Musings:

Winter is here, and you need a wine to match and keep warm during the cold months ahead. A big, bold red wine is just the thing, and this wine delivers. The wine was dense, full-bodied and fruit-forward, with black fruit aromas of flavors of blackberry, black cherry and plum leading the way. There was plenty more than just ripe fruit, however. The oak aging shines through with cedar, vanilla and spices (clove). The tannins were textured and firm, coupled with medium acidity. Pleasant hints of licorice, pepper and smoke linger in a long, dry finish. The wine was definitely fruit-forward, in the typical Michael David fashion, but there was plenty more on the palate to maintain intrigue. At around $15 a bottle, it won’t break the bank, either.

The wine is not terribly difficult to find, available locally at Costco and Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors. 

Lodi is a little-known American Viticultural Area (AVA) with a lot of wine history, at least by American standards. Located between the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east, and the wetlands of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta to the west, the region’s climate and terroir demonstrated to its early residents an efficacious agricultural haven. By the 1880s, European immigrants had settled in and planted Zinfandel and other varietals along the banks of the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers. Old-vine Zinfandel is well-established as Lodi’s traditional strength. However, grape varietals are plentiful in this region, and the regional winemakers are always in search for the most ideal varietals to match Lodi's terroir and climate.

The rivers running through Lodi are responsible for granitic alluvial soils that are washed down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Cool maritime breezes from San Francisco Bay, most often cut off from inland appellations, reach Lodi and cool its vineyards through a gap in the Coast Ranges. These two characteristics set Lodi apart in the region as an AVA with significant potential.

If you find yourself Stuck in Lodi again, drop by Michael David Winery and drink the time away. You won’t be disappointed.


2014 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel

Musings by the Glass - Bargain Wines - Peachy Canyon Westside 2014 Zinfandel

Year: 2014

Producer: Peachy Canyon, Westside

Region: Paso Robles, Central Coast, California

Grape(s): Zinfandel

Alcohol: 14.8%

Body: Medium-Full

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Strawberry, raspberry, cherry, vanilla, white pepper, baking spice

Pairings: Venison, brisket, Mongolian Beef, Korean Barbecue (Kalbi), aged cheeses

Price (approximately): $14


My Musings:

A classic expression of Zinfandel at a bargain price. A wonderful, deep ruby color gave way to expressive aromas of ripe red fruit (strawberry, cherry and raspberry) with sweet tobacco, vanilla and baking spice. White pepper notes lingered in the nose. On the palate, ripe fruit of strawberry, blackberry and raspberry jam dominate in a fruit-forward wine, but accented nicely with sweet tobacco, vanilla and spice (allspice, nutmeg, clove).  When the bottle was first opened, white pepper was rather dominant on the nose and palate, but this mellowed over time. Medium, soft tannins provided structure and the persistent spice pleasantly balanced the palate.

This would pair excellently with most red meat, especially venison or a brisket. Grilled preparations in particular would accentuate the smoky tobacco and spice. For pasta, red sauce would hold up nicely, perhaps a lasagna or meat lover's pizza with sausage. For Asian inspiration, look to Korean barbecue (Kalbi!), Mongolian Beef, and the classic Chinese stir fry of beef and broccoli.


2014 Hānaialiʻi Merlot

Year: 2014

Producer: Smith Devereux

Region: St. Helena, Napa Valley, California

Grape(s): Merlot

Alcohol: 15.1%

Body: Medium-Full

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Black cherry, plum, chocolate, vanilla, oak

Pairings: Dark chocolate, grilled tri-tip, rack of lamb or barbecue ribs, Kalbi, aged cheeses

Price (approximately): $18


My Musings:

Named after Amy Hānaialiʻi Gilliom, one of my favorite local Hawaiian artists. She also produced one of my favorite Christmas albums, so be sure to pick that up in time for the holidays.

Wow, this Merlot is true to Napa form: big, bold, alcoholic and drinks like a Cabernet Sauvignon. Wonderful spicy and oaked flavors of black cherry, currant, blueberry, chocolate and vanilla. Velvety on the palate and a great, lingering finish. Fits the American palate brilliantly, and is great paired with grilled items (lamb, beef or ribs), Korean Kalbi, aged and salty cheeses (such as aged cheddar and Parmigiano-Regianno), or with some dark chocolate and Christmas music (stash this one away for a few months, you will thank me then). Often priced at $30, this may get lost in a sea of Napa Merlot, but at Costco's value price of $17.99, it is definitely worth adding one (or two, or three) to the cart.

The bottle design is a part of Hānaialiʻi. Literally. I will let her explain:

“The tattoo is an interesting part of my life ... This one, the one that is on my bottles, I did after my father passed. This is a growth tattoo, and you don’t normally put a growth tattoo on the left side of your body, mostly you put them on the right side. But I wanted it to look like a jewelry piece. This is the pika design, the octopus design ... It’s all significant, my father is here. It signifies growth, like the octopus going into different areas with the tentacles, like me with my music.”