All my wine blogs, All wine reviews, Argentina, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Mendoza, Red wine, Sonoma

My daughter’s birthday dinner

This blog was originally supposed to be about one bottle of wine, that I received on a special occasion. But I started to write about something much more important. About the special moment that was born around that bottle of wine. But let me start from the beginning:

When I got married in 1992, aside of exceptional husband (yes, I am saying this after all those years), I also gained 2 fantastic step-daughters. Recently, when my husband had a surgery, one of our daughters (Janine) gave him flowers with the wishes for the speedy recovery, and gave me a bottle of Christine Andrew Cabernet Sauvignon. Supposedly, for all the trouble I had, taking care of dad. But he was the one being sick!!! Didn’t I say we had fantastic daughters??? She also jokingly added: “Wait for me to open it”. And I did.

Christine Andrew Cab 2007 label

The truth is, we don’t drink a lot of Cabernet Sauvigon in our household anymore. It would require a good steak or burger dinner to enjoy it. And, honestly, that’s not on our menu very often. In the never ending effort to loose weight, we lately eat larger meal at noon (well, larger, about 1/2 of our normal portions), and a cup of soup in the evening. We try. So far it sort of works for us and I have lost some weight. Thankfully!

So you can imagine that with a regime like that, there isn’t much space to enjoy a good, big Cab. But there was a special occasion around the corner – Janine’s birthday. I have invited her and her husband for a birthday dinner and planned to open that bottle she gave me. Both of us never had it before, so it was a good way to try it out. The dinner was planned for just four of us. It would give her a chance to get away from her daily routine, taking care of their sweet child, away from stress – just to enjoy herself in the privacy of our home.

IMG_2774FOf course, she could have had a party, or a special dinner out with her hubby and friends, but she chose me. My little private “restaurant”.  I was thrilled. Therefore, I started to compose the “special birthday menu” around the wines, I was planning to open that evening. As we all like it spicy, I knew exactly what I am going to make.

I usually like to start with some light and crisp white wine, but I knew that both Janine and her husband really enjoy reds more, so I skipped that. We will start with red wine and continue with even bigger reds….

My husband took time to decorate the whole place with birthday balloons and other cute stuff we knew that she enjoys. We even put a birthday sign on the door, and noticed that her husband was taking a picture of her with that sign, before they rang the bell 🙂

Janine came dressed in a simple black long dress, so her jewelry, she just got from her girlfriend, could shine. It did, and so did the birthday girl. She looked stunning that night. Just for the private diner with her husband, dad and wicked step mom. I immediately felt like I should go and change. Before we even started to eat, she gave me the sweetest compliment without even knowing it. She said: “The neighbor asked me, seeing me dressed up, where is my husband taking me for the birthday dinner. And I said – we go to my dad’s and step-mom’s house! The neighbor looked surprised, so I explained: But she is a personal chef!!!”

We started the evening with mushrooms, stuffed with spicy Italian sausage, and roasted eggplant and peppers dip, spiced up with my own grown jalapeño pepper from the garden. The bottle of Christine Andrew Cabernet 2007 was already decanted.

100_7708 FIT

Christine Andrew Cab 2007 bottleWell, the 2007 Christine Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon was nice, I must say. When I did my research, I  found out that it was Kautz Family’s effort, a project that is a part of their Ironstone vineyards. The wine paired well with the appetizers, just as planned… It showed a nice, balanced dark fruit, velvety tannins, a little spice encouraged by the spicy food we had, and pleasantly long finish. A pretty wine.

Then we moved on to a dining table, and continued with Clos de Los Siete – in my opinion some of the best bargains out there. Superb red, made by the group of winemakers in Argentina, who are led by famous French winemaker Michel Rolland. For that wine, I have prepared a real treat:  slowly smothered steak tips in thick red wine sauce, seasoned with wild and shiitake mushrooms. All that was wrapped in potato pancake and decorated with little arugula salad and eatable flowers on top.

IMG_2767This really hit the bank! All four of us enjoyed it very much. The wine paired fantastic with the deep, rich flavors of the beef and medley of mushrooms. Of course, it wouldn’t be a birthday dinner without a birthday cake. As passionate as I am about cooking, I must say that I am not big on baking. I do it when I must, but this time I imagined that I wanted something petite, very chocolaty (that Janine loves), and something cute for her. I found it at WholeFoods bakery – exactly what I imagined. A tiny little espresso cups made of chocolate, filled with fluffy, dark, chocolate mousse goodness. Yummy!

My mouth is watering even when I write this. I so wanted to share this with you. Sometimes it isn’t just about the wine or food. Sometimes it is about the people you share it with.

Although it was my step-daughter’s birthday, and I cooked, I felt like I was the one who got all the gifts. The most important ones. Gifts of love, happiness and a great family.


Argentina, Malbec, Mendoza, Red blends, Red wine

Cuvelier Los Andes Coleccion 2005

Winemaker: Adrian Manchon (consulting: Michel Rolland)

Grape: 62% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 8% Syrah and 3% PetitVerdot.
Region: Mendoza, Argentina

This wine is only one of 3 wines produced by this Bodega. You might also want to look for:
CUVELIER LOS ANDES GRAN VIN (higher percentage of Malbec in the blend, longer aging – 2005 vintage received 94 points from R. Parker)

CUVELIER LOS ANGES GRAND MALBEC (100% Malbec, best selection, 2005 vintage got 91+ from Tanzer, 94 from R. Parker)


Bertrand and Jean-Guy Cuvelier, owners of this property, also own Château Leoville-Poyferre in St Juilen in the heart of the Mèdoc and Château Le Crock in Saint Estèphe in Mèdoc, Bordeaux. Their art of blending and an experience with high quality Bordeaux wines comes well in use in Argentina as well.

They can work here with highest quality Malbec in the foothills of the Andes, at 1000 meters above the sea level. As the season of France and Argentina are in an opposite, it is a great opportunity to produce different wine projects at two different parts of the world.

The grapes for this blend undergo extensive selection at the sorting tables. They are than led by gravity to thermo-regulated small stainless steel tanks and go through a cold maceration process before fermentation begins.

Wine aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. Cuvelier Los Andes wines are neither fined, nor filtered in order to guarantee greatest expression of the fruit and its natural potential.

Tasting notes:
Intense purple-red color coating glass, promising a big body. Very rich aroma of rip red fruit, ripe plums, red and black raspberries, and spice of the oak. To decant this baby is a must! Don’t spill any on you though… that stain may never go away.

On the palate it is generous yet smooth, strong expression of rich Malbec and Cabernet. Muscular and sexy red that will give you a seductive, lingering finish. This wine will age gracefully if you prefer to lay it down for a few more years.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 20.00

Ideal food pairing:
Steaks, Lamb burgers, dark meats as game, Beef chorizo, Flank steak with shitakee sauce

Argentina, Great wines under $10, Torrontes, White wines

Alta Vista Premium Torrontes 2008

Winemaker: Ruben Sfragara
Grape: Torrontes
Region: Salta (Cafayate), Argentina

During their stay in Argentina in the 1980’s, Patrick d’Aulan with his beautiful wife Kristen created a high quality sparkling wine. Bubbles were nothing new to this talented pair – the worldwide known champagne Piper Heidsieck also carried their name.

But when d’Aulan family discovered the beauty and potential of Argentinian varieties as Malbec and Torrontes, they decided to invest in the land and founded Bodega Alta Vista. Their new mission was to produce top quality Argentinian wines and introduce their local varieties, then not widely known, to the rest of the world.

I believe that it was also Patrick and Kristen, who originally brought famous winemaker Michel Rolland to Argentina. It started a whole new era of foreigner winemaking and investment in local vineyards. Argentina became a showcase for many talented winemakers. Besides the Alta Vista wines, d’Aulan family later became a part of Michel Rolland’s 7 winemaker’s circle, involved in a very successful Clos de Los Siete project.

Bodega Alta Vista in Argentina is only a small percentage of d’Aulan’s wine mission – they are also part of Edonia group, a French family owned company engaged in the production of high quality wines in France (Champagne, Calvados, and Saint Estephe + Saint Emilion in Bordeaux), Argentina (Cafayate and Mendoza) and Hungary (Tokaj).

The family wine experience of several generations, their passion for different styles of wines and the fact that they purchased some of the world’s highest vineyards in the northern Argentine region of Salta – all of these ingredients were a recipe for d’Aulan family’s business success.

Alta Vista was one of the first wineries to invest in this region and today they own 20 acres of 60 year old Malbec vineyards in Lujan de Cuyo, 195 acres of mixed vineyards at the same region (all 1,050 m above the sea level) and almost 370 acres of land in Valle de Uco (about 180 acres planted with vine).

The Torrontes that comes from these vineyards is considered some of the best in the world. After a brief maceration on the skins, the Premium Torrontes is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. There is no malolactic fermentation or oak aging. That allows the wine to develop rich and concentrated flavors with a very clean fruit expression.

Tasting notes:
Straw yellow wine with delicate floral, lime and honey aromas. Not that it’s sweet. This really is a white wine unlike anything you had before – fruity with perfect balance of crispy acidity. On the palate you can taste notes of peaches, lemon and honey. This is a lot of complex flavor for around 10 dollars. Nicely done! Beautiful for sipping on its own or paired with a seafood.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 10.00

Ideal food pairing:
Seafood salad, Shrimp in mustard sauce, chicken, fresh salad with balsamic vinaigrette and apples, all kinds of tapas, Chinese food, Indian food, My happy tilapia, Light quinoa salad, or our crisp pork medallions with creamy caper sauce, Grilled trout, Angel hair pasta with spicy seafood

Argentina, Malbec, Organic, Red wine

Yellow+Blue Organic Malbec

Grape: 100% Malbec
Region: San Juan Province, Argentina

This is my first and only wine I recommend here that didn’t come from a bottle. Yeah, I am one of those wine snobs that would never touch wine that came from cardboard. Well, until I tried this one. Let me explain why I liked it and what makes it so different.

When you combine yellow and blue color, you will get a green. That’s how Yellow+Blue got it’s name. Not only is this wine organically grown – which means natural, no use of chemicals, pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Yellow+Blue wines are certified organic throughout the entire growing, winemaking and packaging process — from start to finish.

If you don’t care about that, you may be interested to know that it fits more wine and weights much less than a regular bottle of wine. Therefore it also saves you money. A lot of money. That’s why you can buy it cheaper.

I don’t believe that this is the end of wine in traditional bottles, that’s a nonsense. When I first saw Yellow+Blue, first thing I thought was: Oh no, I am not tasting this…. There was no way that something good can come out of box. But than I heard the story about the founder of this project and it started to make sense.

Matt Cain worked in wine industry for 15 years, almost a decade for renowned wine importer Kermitt Lynch (who specializes in French Burgundy and Bordeaux small production wines.) Kermitt devoted his life to fine wines. That’s why I realized that Matt’s palate is going to be as spoiled as mine:). When Matt moved on to his own business, he went on the mission to find the best quality wine for the best possible price.

First he located great quality wines in Argentina that were well cared for and organically grown. These wines were meant to be bottled – and with the price of glass, corks and transportation it wouldn’t be inexpensive Malbec. So he found a company that would create a packaging using a Tetra Pak. Tetra Pak is well known material holding fruit juices, broth and other produce that needs to be preserved fresh. They created a shape of box that saves space in shipping containers and fits 1L of wine (1 third more than a regular wine bottle).

As the company explains: A case of wine in glass weighs 40 pounds and holds 9 liters of wine — close to 50% wine and 50% packaging. A case of Yellow+Blue weighs 26 pounds and holds 12 liters of certified organic wine. That’s 93% wine and 7% packaging.

When you count all these things together, you get more great wine for much less money. I don’t think there is another product like that on the market, in such packaging, at that price. Vine was treated with the highest care, harvested by hand, underwent sorting process like any high quality wine does. Since the fermentation occurs in stainless steel,the quality of this Malbec speaks for itself, the fruit expression is amazing.

Tasting notes:
Strong aroma of fresh black berries with a touch of cocoa. This ruby colored Malbec gives you taste of dark fruit, a little bit of chocolate and raspberries on the palate. Solid full body with velvety tannins and good level of acidity. Long satisfying finish that is common for much pricier wines. Definitely a keeper. Still having issue with a wine “from the box”? Pour it over to your wine decanter. Nobody would be able to tell a difference. This is fantastic value!

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Organically grown
Retail price: under $ 13.00 per 1 L

Ideal food pairing:
grilled beef, barbecue, aged cheeses, roasted lamb with rosemary, pork roast or steak

Argentina, Great wines under $10, Mendoza, Torrontes, White wines

Alamos Torrontes 2009

Winemaker: Felipe Stahlschmidt
Grape: 100% Torrontes
Region: Mendoza, Argentina

A beautiful Bodega Alamos, owned by Catena family enterprise, is located in Vistaflores, in the heart of Mendoza. Their philosophy is to make flavorful, approachable wines that represent the region. So how do they differentiate from other Mendoza producers?

The attention to every little detail during the time vines mature in the vineyard, during the harvest and wine making process assures that Alamos wines are the highest quality possible.

The harvest is done manually to assure gentle handling of grapes. When the wine arrives in the winery, the grapes undergo double manual selection and only the best grapes are chosen for Alamos wines. This process is time and labor costly, therefore usually reserved for “reserve” or top of the line wines, often double or triple the price. But in Bodega Alamos, this “special treatment” is reserved for all their wines.

To allow gentle extraction, the winery designed a special conic tanks. They are also using a small format tanks for separating a different lot selections. All these “little details” makes Alamos wines very special.

Tasting notes:
Don’t forget to sniff this wine! It has such a lovely aroma of fresh flowers and tropical fruits. Very attractive, crisp wine with lemony flavors and honey, balanced with bright acidity on the finish. This is a wonderful example of true Torrontes from Mendoza. Terrific wine for hot summer. I have to go back and get some more myself!

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 10.00

Ideal food pairing:
lovely to sip on its own, seafood salad, shellfish and white fish, summer salads with light lemon dressings, tapas