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.


All wine reviews, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Red wine, Sonoma

2006 Moon Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Produced: Moon Mountain
Grape: 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot
Region: Sonoma County, California

From vineyards, located in the Mayacamas Mountains, on the western side of Mt. Veeder – this wine could be considered as one of the best values known.

Moon Mountain vineyards, spread high above the fog line, (at nearly 2,000 ft elevation) are overseeing Sonoma Valley. It would be fair to say that they have some of the most difficult wine growing conditions in California.  Vines are growing on the steep, south-facing slopes, in a very unique soil punctuated by volcanic rock outcroppings, consist of thin, well-drained soils derived from volcanic ash and lava.

The combination of soils and more than generous sunshine stresses the vines to produce small crops of superbly concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes. Vines are farmed organically and get as much personal attention, as possible.

Grapes are harvested by hand, in early morning hours, before the heat kicks in to preserve the rich flavors. After crushing the whole berries it underwent a hot fermentation to better extract color and rich tannin from the skins.

The wine was aged for 18 months in small, medium toast American and French oak barrels deep in the winery’s caves. It’s constant temperature of 60°F and very high humidity enhance the concentration of fruit flavors.

Tasting notes:
One of my colleagues used to call wines like this PRETTY. That’s what came to my mind, when I first tasted Moon Mountain. Wine, that makes you smile.

A beautiful dark ruby color in the glass, and sweet aroma of ripe dark berries. In my mouth it was a superb, impressive but silky wine, full of concentrated rich flavors.

It reminded me of sweet black currant, my mom grew in our backyard. The rich fruit flavors were gently dusted with cocoa and light spices of the oak. I loved the sweet mouthfeel of this wine, with never ending, generous finish.

I would say this is a very unique Sonoma Cabernet that would impress a lot of wine lovers. Approachable right now, but it can also improve with 3-5 years in the bottle.

No, this wine is not a collectible, it wouldn’t last for 10-15 years (my guess), but it also doesn’t cost $80-$100 per bottle. You can get this superb Cabernet Sauvignon for around $15 or less. Isn’t that an incredible value!

I just recently learned that Moon Mountain winery operates under the new management. I only hope that they will take full advantage of that unique place high in the mountains, and keep producing the same high quality, amazing wine.

Dry – Off dry- Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $15.00

Suggested food pairing:
Not so Greek Musaka,Beef Brisket with roasted grapes, Flank steak with shitakee sauce, Pistachio crusted leg of lamb, Beef Bourguignon and many more

Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Napa, Red wine, Sonoma

Artesa Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Napa/Sonoma

Winemaker:Mark Beringer
Grape:88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, Syrah, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc
Region: 56% Napa County, 44% Sonoma County

See other wine from this producer:
Artesa Elements

This wine is quite interesting for at least three reasons:
First – does the name of the winemaker sounds familiar? Yes, Mark is the great, great grandson of an iconic Beringer Winery co-founder, Jacob Beringer. He is proud to continue the long family tradition as he was raised working with vines from the early age.

Second – I didn’t have the pleasure to visit Artesa Winery and its visitors center yet. But I have seen pictures and heard that this place was probably one of the most beautiful in Napa. It was designed by renowned Barcelona architect Domingo Triay and built in the early 1990’s.

Its owners, Roventos family of Spain, were expressing their heritage as well as their passion for art and nature. Their family’s winemaking history goes back to the mid-sixteenth century!
Gordon Huether, an artist with his studio in Napa, has previously created some beautiful pieces of sculptures and large scale glass-installations for Artesa. Eventually he became an artist in residence.

His expositions and a very personal artistic work are influencing significantly the overall impression of winery.

The name ARTESA was inspired by the Catalan word for “handcrafted.” And that’s how this winery was build – in perfect harmony with nature, with a breathtaking view of San Francisco skyline.
And third – this wine is not only blend of grapes (a traditional Bordeaux varieties) but also blend of regions – Marc decided here to pick the best fruits from Napa and Sonoma, and blend them together to add an extra complexity thanks to both region’s characteristics.

I have always tasted Artesa wines young – just released, so I was excited to try this bottle that have been aged for an additional few years. Does it hold its fruit? Artesa reds are being produced in more modern style – bigger, impressive and could be drank young. Sometimes, that’s not a recipe for long time in the cellar.

The grapes for this Cabernet Sauvignon came from the following Artesa’s vineyards: Foss Valley (Atlas Peak, Napa), Oak Knoll District (Napa), Ridgeline Vineyard (Alexander Valley, Sonoma) and Knights Valley (Sonoma). After harvesting the perfectly ripe grapes, the berries were kept whole, just de-stemmed. Yet, the grapes from different lots received a different treatment.

After fermentation, most of the lots were pressed directly to the barrel, where they finished a malolactic fermentation. Selected fruit from certain lots received an additional maceration to extract more color and density of flavors. Final blend then aged for 21 months in 40% new, 60% used oak barrels (85% French Oak, 15% American Oak).

Tasting notes:
Familiar and very nice aroma of dark fruit, with addition of spices from the oak. On the palate the wine was much softer than I remember when tasted  back in 2007.
Fruit was nice a bright – hints of blackberry, dark plum mixed with a delicate spices such as glove, cinnamon or nutmeg.Intense wine,with perfectly velvety tannins was a great compliment to a piece of steak I was having with it.Some wines, opened too early, have this sharpness about them (harsh tannins) that some admire, I not so much. It could be overpowering. Not just food, but sometimes the fruit it selves.
Artesa was nothing like that. I loved it, it held up to the expectations.

Also, since it’s not just Napa fruit, the price tag is slightly more friendlier. Therefore, I would call Artesa Napa/Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon a great value!

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 25.00

Ideal food pairing:
Flank steak Fajitas, Beef Brisket with Roasted Grapes, Beef Bourguignon, Beef Chorizo, and many more…

Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Great wines under $10, Napa, Red wine

Grayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Winemaker: Larry Levin
Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: California

There aren’t many family owned wineries in Napa, that would produce wines at this price point. And if there are some, are they also getting consistently “Best Buy” ratings from Wine Advocate? Grayson Cellars is owned by O’Connell family and their mission is to search for the finest fruit in California, and craft  wonderful wines in a very attractive price point.

I didn’t expect much when I first tasted this wine. I have tasted quite a few Cabernet Sauvignon wines, without an appellation,  from “California”, under $ 10.00. I didn’t find many that would impress me. I get it – quality fruit, the land, the equipment – all that became very expensive in California. So almost exclusively, the mass production companies could still keep the price in the reasonable range.

O’Connell family doesn’t fit this scenario. They buy fruit from all the great regions of California, but without that pricey overhead. Larry then hand-crafts high quality wines in his Napa facility, and all that personal attention pays off. His wines always over-deliver. You can buy Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir in the same price point from Grayson Cellars, and they are truly exceptional wines.

They also produce Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, but I didn’t have a chance to taste those yet. I enjoyed selling this wine. When you have value like this in your hand, it makes you proud. I usually took another, let’s say $ 24.00 bottle of Cabernet from the shelf, and tasted it with my customer side by side. Guess who won?

Tasting notes:
Dark ruby color and a lot of ripe plum and blackberries fruit aroma. Rich fruit in your mouth, full body red with notes of spice and soft tannins. Aged in French Oak, it shows a hints of toasted oak on the palate. Pleasant, long finish that you don’t expect from wine in this price range. Seriously, this wine is a steal!
Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: about $ 9.99

Ideal food pairing:
Barbeque,  anything from the grill,  Not so Greek Musaka, Lamb burgers with Relish Mayo, Flank Steak Fajitas, Beef Chorizo

California, Pinot Noir, Red wine

Acacia Pinot Noir Carneros 2007

Winemaker: Matthew Glynn
Grape: Pinot Noir
Region: Carneros, California

See other wines from this producer:
A by Acacia Pinot Noir
Acacia Chardonnay Carneros

I always considered Acacia to be a pioneer when it comes to Carneros and Pinot Noirs.  Founded in 1979, this winery specializes in two Burgundy varieties: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

For more than 3 decades they produce consistently high quality wines thanks to their attention to the details (in the vineyard and in the winery) and perhaps also thanks to their winemaker’s background.

Matthew gained his experience in numerous wineries in California, New Zealand, but most importantly in Burgundy, France – where he learned the traditional techniques of Grand Cru and Premium Cru wines. No doubt that the great potential of Acacia estate vineyards plays a significant role as well.

Grapes for 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Carneros were harvested by hand when perfectly ripe, and underwent careful selection to assure that only ripe, undamaged grapes made it to the fermentation tanks. Grapes were de-stemmed and cold soaked for a few days. Grapes were punched to extract the most flavor, color and character in the stainless steel fermentation tanks for about 3 weeks.

After that time, the wine was pressed and transferred to oak barrels. Pinot Noir Carneros 2007 aged in mainly French and Hungarian oak barrels for 7 months.

Tasting notes:
Dark ruby color and lovely aroma of exotic flowers, dark cherries and plums. On the palate it was silky, medium body Pinot Noir with lovely expression of ripe fruit, notes of wild blackberries, cherries and baked plums. Light hints of cacao and vanilla. Very smooth tannins and great acidity.

Acacia Carneros Pinot Noir to me is the textbook Pinot Noir, as close to Burgundy style as Carneros appellation allows it.  Based on the quality of this wine, it must be considered a great value as well!

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: about $ 24.00

Ideal food pairing:

Warm mushroom gourmet salad, Roasted salmon with spring spinach,  Shish kebab with eggplant hash and Tzaziki sauce