Lower alcohol Cali Cab? Been there Dunn that…

2004Dunn_front 2004Dunn_HowellSorry for the cheesy article title, I couldn’t resist. Many of my wine aficionado friends have an affinity for top tier (cult) California Chardonnay and Cabernet.

California cult wines are usually very tannic upon release, heavily oaked, and highly extracted (they are a mouthful). The term coined for this type of wine is “cocktail cabernet”.

I tend to prefer European wines as they are generally higher in acid and lower in sugar (alcohol), therefore pairing better with food.

One alternative to the standard California Cabernet “recipe” is Dunn Vineyards.

Although Dunn wines can be very tannic on release, they purposely keep the alcohol low in their wines. They are so adamant about their wines being below 14% that they often “dealcoholize their wine.

There are two main ways to reduce the amount of alcohol in a finished wine:

1. Add water (secretly known as Jesus units).

2. Use technology (like reverse osmosis).

There is some debate as to whether this produces “better” wines. Father and son certainly disagree. Many believe that this conviction has cost Dunn Vineyards favorable reviews from wine critics.

I was fortunate enough to sample a 2004 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet from Imperial (Imperial=Quadruple Magnum or 8 bottles of wine). A limited release- only 100 of these were produced (see the bottom of the bottle above). This wine was dealcoholized when it came in at around 14.3 percent.

But, is it good…now?

After 10+ years it is still primary and “hot”.  If I didn’t know it was held to 14% alcohol I would swear it was 15%+. Ripe Dark fruit, vanilla and still some apparent oak. It changed/evolved in the glass which is a sign of a great wine.

Yes, it is very good but will keep getting better. Try and hold off on drinking this wine. If you can’t wait- decant it for a few hours…or a few days…seriously.

redwine_invisalignWarning: BIG red wine will stain invisalign.

For more related reading…

Introducing…WTF wines

Dogliani1Assuming you know what WTF stands for…

I consider WTF wines to be wines that:

• contain an obscure (less common) wine grape… and/or

• are produced in an unusual region…and/or

• are created with an unorthodox method

Most importantly, when you look at the bottle containing a WTF wine it is extremely difficult to determine what is actually in the bottle OR if you will like it.

Because I am not afraid to try new things I will highlight these wines but only my recommend ones. I will give you some solid information about them and hopefully you will find something NEW and delicious.

Dogliani2My first WTF wine has a simple label that tells the average consumer very little. This wine is made from 100% Dolcetto grapes from Piedmont Italy. It doesn’t say either anywhere, on the front or back label, so you will have to trust me. Dogliani is the region and it is has achieved the top quality level (DOCG). The laws from this region insist that the wine is made from 100% Dolcetto. Oddly enough, Dolcetto means “little sweet” in Italian but Dolcetto is usually used for dry (not sweet) wines. Although Nebbiolo (Barolo/Barberesco) and Barbera (d’Asti/d’Alba) are probably better known, outside of Italy, Dolcetto is a very popular, “goes with anything” wine for Italians. And it is enjoyable young so you can drink Dolcetto while your Barolo’s and Barbaresco’s are aging for the next 10-20 years.

If you can’t find this wine try another 100% Dolcetto from these denominations:

Dogliani DOCG

Dolcetto d’Acqui

Diano d’Alba DOCG

Ovada DOCG

More to come…


Summer wine pairing

pesto_roseOne of my favorite (easy) fresh summer appetizers is Basil Cream Cheese pesto with tomatoes.

The fancy version involves making an “X” shape in the end of a cherry tomato and stuffing the tomato with the pesto filling.

I prefer to spread it on grilled bread and top with chopped fresh garden tomatoes to make bruschetta.

Pesto_ingredientsHere is my version of this summer favorite:

8-12 basil leaves (around 2 cups)

2 or 3 cloves garlic (depending on size)

1/4 c. pine nuts (toasted preferably)

1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

6 oz. low fat cream cheese (or Neuchâtel preferably)

1/2 c. Olive Oil

Pulse all solid ingredients together in a food processor while drizzling olive oil into the mixture. Blend until smooth.

Brush fresh bread with olive oil and grill or broil.

Spread pesto mix onto bread, top with chopped tomatoes and extra cheese if desired.

Enjoy with a low-tannin light red, or rosé wine.

IRDC_LaSpinettaMy wine pairing suggestion is a pink Sangiovese like this one. Il Rosé di Casanova- La Spinetta. Around $15.

Loire Valley Blind Tasting

blindtastingbagsBlind tasting is a method of tasting wines when you cover, or bag, the wines to see if you can identify them. Blind tasting is a key component of many wine certifications.

Single blind is when you can see the wine being poured into your glass. You know whether it is white, red, rosé, and whether it is still or sparkling from the appearance. Also, you know something about the wine (the region, the grape or the vintage) but you can’t see the bottle label.

Double blind is when you don’t know anything about the wine other than the appearance (white, red, rosé, still or sparkling).
BlindglassesTriple or Fully blind tastings use black glasses so you don’t know anything about the wine. For wine professionals, who think they know a few things about wine, this is a truly humbling experience as it is much more difficult than you would think.

There are many different styles of wines and most wines are a blend, of more than one grape, so it is not as easy as identifying apple juice from orange juice.

Recently I attended a Loire Valley blind tasting with some wine friends (Elizabeth Miller, CSS, CSW, Margot Redmond, Gawain de Leeuw, CSW) to test our knowledge about wines from this region.

At most blind tastings I am about average identifying the wine but since I have been to the Loire Valley I hoped that I would do better than 50% (coin toss).

The wines…

Flight 1- Identify a white wine vs. red wine.

1. 2014 Coteaux du Vendomois Blanc Lieu-Dit Cocagne – Chenin Blanc

2. 2012 Pensees de Pallus Chinon– Cabernet Franc

These wines have very different (distinct) aromas so this one was easy.

Results: Everyone guessed correctly.

Flight 2- Loire Valley Whites- only Sauvignon (Blanc) or Chenin Blanc- which wine is which grape?

1. Domain Curot Sancerre– Sauvignon Blanc

2. Dame de Jacques Coeur Menetou-Salon- Sauvignon Blanc

3. 2014 Domaine de La Coche Sauvignon

4. 2011 Les Choisilles Montlouis Sur Loire– Chenin Blanc

Results: Misidentified #2 as Chenin Blanc but 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. I’ll take that.

 Flight 3- 2 Loire Valley Reds- only Cabernet Franc- could we identify the region?

1. 2010 Domaine Durand Les Coteaux Saint-Joseph (100% Syrah from the Rhone)

2. 2014 Domaine Des Deux Arcs Anjou-Cabernet Franc

3. (Bonus wine) Coulee de Serrant- Chenin Blanc- this premiere wine from Biodynamic proponent Nicholas Joly is barrel aged (most Chenin is not) so this one was very different. It would have been interesting to have this in the white wine lineup as one of the tasters thought it was an aged Chardonnay.

TastingNotesResults: Margot threw us a curve ball and inserted a wine that didn’t belong (Syrah from the Rhone valley). Although I didn’t specifically guess that there had been an imposter I wrote “Black olive, white pepper” and kept shaking my head and comparing the two wines because they were SO different.

I give myself partial credit for this one.

Flight 4- Loire Valley Reds- only Cabernet Franc- could we identify the region?

1. 2012 Pensees de Pallus Chinon- Cabernet Franc

2. 2014 Domaine Des Deux Arcs Anjou-Cabernet Franc

3. 2010 Samur Champigny “Millesime”

We had already sampled 2 of these earlier but having a complete lineup clearly demonstrates how a single varietal (Cabernet Franc) wine changes when it is from different regions. I could certainly taste the difference…but I guessed none correctly. 

Blind tasting is a fun thing to do with friends/family and is an excellent “game” for paying close attention to what is in the glass to learn about wines. If you don’t do well, don’t feel bad most wine professionals aren’t that great either.

Tips for setting up your own blind tasting from Wine Folly.

A few of my favorite things…

Summer Edition:

Here are a few of my favorite wine accessories for the summer:

• Stainless flasks

I purchased the Klean Kanteen Wine Karafe a few years ago. It is the perfect size (800mL fits 1 bottle of wine), chills quickly, and is more practical to put into a cooler than a standard bottle of wine. This became a popular gift for me as everyone I know travels with wine.

For some reason, it isn’t manufactured (branded as a wine carrier) anymore??? Strange because they now have beer specific containers. Also the original lid was made of the same material as the neck it screws into 18/8 stainless.

Others I recommend:

Klean Kanteen (general purpose) 27oz.Note: the lid is now made of plastic (harder to seal than the original Wine Karafe).

Hydro Flask- 24oz. Note: A standard bottle of wine is 25.4 oz. Not sure why they chose to manufacture this size?? You can pour a small overflow glass to “check” the wine before you pack it for the beach.

Since wine is acidic be careful not to use inexpensive “knockoffs” and especially NOT plastic or aluminum which can leach into your drink.

NEW PRODUCT: Corkcicle 25oz.– a new entry in the wine canteen business. I have not tried this but it seems very promising- “keeps drinks ice cold for up to 25 hours.”


Rabbit® wine stoppers

Wine stoppers…I have tried them all. These are brightly colored (fun) and with the flanged ridges provide a really good seal for your wine. Since they are flat on top they don’t make the bottle significantly taller which helps if you are going to put the wine back into the fridge.

The BEST German wines 2015…

These recommendations come from the Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland, which is the leading wine guide for German wine- via Schiller-Wine.



* recommended producer(s)



Bernhard Huber


Rudolf Fürst

Hessische Bergstrassenone

Mittelrhein none

Mosel (Mosel – Saar -Ruwer)

Fritz Haag

Egon Müller

Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm

Schloss Lieser (Thomas Haag)- 2015 addition to list.



* Hermann Dönnhoffnot on the 2015 list but one of my favorites.



Ökonomierat Rebholz


Robert Weil



Saale-Unstrut none

Sachsen none


Learn how to read a German Riesling label

Anything, but Santa Margherita

WineTastingMemorial Day Italian wine tasting- anything but Santa Margherita.

SantaMargheritaFor 14 years in a row, from 1995 to 2008, it was the most popular imported wine in Wine & Spirits magazine’s annual restaurant poll. And as a popular Wine Blogger Blake Gray reports “With 2.5 times the sales of the next-most-popular wine over $20, this is easily America’s favorite wine splurge. It tastes like nothing, and the logical conclusion is that’s what many Americans are looking for.”


WIneLineupWe tasted 4 alternatives against Santa Margherita Pinot Grigo:

This was an informal tasting, on the beach, so we used my favorite summertime wine accessories: stainless carafes.

ORANGE• Santa Margherita Alto Adige Pinot Grigio 2013- This wine needs no introduction, as Santa Margherita is the standard for the crisp, refreshing notes of Italian Pinot Grigio. Your Price: $19.97

Villata_ArneisAQUA• Villata Arneis Terredavino- Piedmonte NW Italy- Generous, crisp, and refreshing, releasing aromas of blossoms and green apple

$8.50 on sale grape varietal Arneis means “little rascal” in Italian. Difficult to grow.


AloisLageder_PGBOTTLE (covered in foil)• Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2013– Crisp, mineral driven, lively, delicious. The perfect summer sipping beverage, and a killer pairing for seafood. It’s cheaper, and better than SM, and just a fantastic wine period. – PJ Wine: $12.97


DelSannino_FalanghinaGREEN• Mastroberardino Sannio Falanghina –Campania Italy. The tongue of the boot. 2013- The nose whacks you with a cool sea-breeze of peach, pesto, and salt. It’s also got this fantastic fennel thing going on and smells like sweet basil being extracted by the mid-day southern Italian sun. PJ Wine $16.97


Luisa_RibollaGiallaSTAINLESS• Ribolla Gialla is a signature varietal of Friuli Venezia Giulia. The origins of this varietal are uncertain, but some have identified its ancestor as Avola, a varietal brought to Friuli during the occupation of Friuli by the Romans. However, others say Ribolla Gialla is a native varietal of the region. Record of its existance in the region goes as far back as the 12th century. This is a fine and pristine expression of Ribolla Gialla, with bright fruit aromas of peach, citrus and pear. There’s a touch of dusty mineral at the back and the wine is fresh and tart on the close. $17.95

CONCLUSION: The Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio was the most expensive and least favorite of the group.

The main reason Santa Margherita is so popular is because the advertise/market heavily. As I have stated in the past, I would rather have the cost of the wine go to the actual product IN the bottle, not toward magazine ads and in store displays.