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Santa Lucia Highlands AVA and Pinot Noir

June 16th, 2014 No comments

Santa Lucia Highlands AVA and Pinot NoirAs most wine connoisseurs are well aware, the Santa Lucia Highlands have been receiving a great deal of positive attention over the last ten years in spite of the fact that the region is a relatively small part of California’s immense AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).

The Santa Lucia Mountains separate the Salinas Valley from the Carmel Valley within sight of state Highway 101 and the Santa Lucia Highlands consist of a narrow strip of around 5,900 acres of vineyards and 34 growers. The vineyards are centered around the picturesque town of Soledad and the region was awarded AVA status in 1991. The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA area has received most of its recent attention for its Pinot Noir, which happens to be the area’s most dominant grape.

Exciting Pinot Noir Flavors

Many wineries outside of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA which focus on Pinot Noir have been buying grapes from this region in light of their excellent quality. In addition, many of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA vineyards have become well known to connoisseurs and have been producing wines which score extremely high with many major critics. A number of high-ranking wineries have grown up in the region, making it a source for some of the best Pinot Noir grapes as well as an intriguing and attractive wine tasting destination.

Californian Pinot Noir has a great price point when compared to the burgundies of the Côte de Beaune or Côte d’Or.   Santa Lucia Highlands AVA  Pinot Noir is known for its big, full-bodied fruitiness, with cherry and red fruit overtones.   The majority of the Pinot Noir from the region is lively in the mouth, the main flavor being cherry,  with mixed secondary flavors of chocolate and vanilla.

Some favorites from Santa Lucia Highlands AVA

2010 Lucia Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, at around $40 per bottle, sourced from Gary’s Vineyard and Pisoni Vineyards fruit.   It has a depth of  cherry and black berry fruit, gripping tannins and secondary spice notes, in particular, cinnamon and cardamon.

Pisoni Vineyards’ 2010 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, at about $65 a bottle, is a darker, deeper ruby red with crushed black cherry overtones, with just a hint of fresh flowers and vanilla. This Pinot Noir tastes lively and would benefit from decanting, as it is a bit tight straight from the bottle, even after being chambered.

2010 Testarossa Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir at around $39 really hits its mark.  Again, a deep ruby glassful with overtones of ripe cherry, herbal notes, and light spice for a balanced juicy finish underscored by cinnamon and leather.

Roar Gary’s Vineyard is a small-lot specialist with a single Santa Lucia Highlands AVA vineyard and their 2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir  can be found at about $52 a bottle.  Deep ruby red, a big black cherry nose, with berry undertones, this strong and supple wine has subtle flower and herb notes, even a touch of woody mushroom.  Well worth seeking out.

Something special at any time of the year

Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir wines are amongst our favorites  for their robust flavors, and their ability to surprise us with subtlety and wit.  These are wines that you can select without hesitation to accompany rich, flavorsome foods such as beef and duck – they will more than stand their ground.  We love them also for their understated class.  In the summer we are often drawn to frivolous whites and frolicsome roses.  How nice it is, in the evening, to pour out a glass of one of the many choices of Santa Lucia Highland Pinot Noir.   To slowly savor the complexities of a truly rewarding glass of outstanding red wine.

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Wine Review: Frey Pinot Noir 2009

October 20th, 2011 No comments

It may be September, but it’s not too early to start planning your trip to the 2012 Millésime Bio, Europe’s largest and most impressive organic wine conference that takes place yearly in Montpellier, France.  Among the winning wines from 2011 was a curious 2009 Pinot Noir from Frey Vineyards.  (It won a bronze medal.)  What is most interesting is that this wine hails from America’s first organic winery.  That’s right… it’s an organic wine from a “recent” American company founded in 1980!  With no added sulfites, this wine came in 3rd at a French wine competition.  Given that the conference featured over 500 organic winemakers, this is quite impressive.  So of course we had to try it!bottle of Frey Pinot Noir 2009

With flavors of strawberry, raspberry, pomegranate, and a hint of unsweetened jam, this very smooth wine is sure to make your tastebuds happy.  It’s a great fall wine, perfect for accompanying chicken, duck, goose, and even turkey meals.  (If pairing with turkey, for best results place a bit of sausage alongside the turkey meat; the sausage helps bring out the wine’s unique French oak flavor.)  This 2009 Pinot Noir also pairs well with flavor-rich fishes like salmon or red snapper.  Try a glass, and see what the French critics found so delightful!  You may be surprised an organic wine can taste this good!

Wine Review: Block Nine Caiden’s Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009

October 11th, 2011 No comments

Wine bottle of Block 9 Pinot Noir 2009

This relatively inexpensive Pinot Noir is quite a treat!  Beautiful garnet in color, its nose consists of violet, iris, strawberries, and black cherries.  Its velvet-like texture is soothing to the tongue, and its body is solid.  For fans of sweeter Pinot Noirs, the Block Nine 2009 is a good find; the typical earthiness that turns people off from many Pinots is very subdued in this one.  Flavors of semi-sweet black cherries delight the tongue, and the spicy finish is very satisfying.  Though not an extremely complex wine, it is incredibly well-balanced (which is quite nice, considering its low price).  Because of its well-integrated taste, plus its balanced tannins and acidity, this is a wine that really “works.”  It’s a sure winner, and is guaranteed to please most wine and non-wine drinkers, alike.  Consider storing a few bottles in a 23-Bottle Wine Grotto Wine Cellar, or an elegant Vinotheque Boxed Up-3 Door Double Deep Credenza, to pull out for unexpected company.  No matter the occasion, this wine will help make it memorable.  Cheers!

Wine Review: Le Grand Pinot Noir 2009

June 6th, 2011 No comments

This rich, dark red hails from the Limoux region of Southern France.  With sufficient aroma, the Le Grand Pinot Noir 2009’s nose consists of delightful red berries, cherries, raspberries, currants, and a note of fig.  The wine is rounded, and delights the taste buds with exploding flavors of red berries, cherries, and currants.  Its semi-spicy kick is nicely countered by its smooth, balanced, satisfying finish rich with tannins.  Though not an extremely complex wine, the Le Grand Pinot Noir 2009 is quite good considering its average low price of $8.99 a bottle.  In fact, I find the wine to be better than some higher-priced red Burgundies.  Pairing well with salads, various cheese platters, game birds, and fish dishes including salmon and tuna, this is a good wine to enjoy with light, summertime fare, as well as with hearty pork!  Although Le Grand Pinot Noir’s logo may contain a black sheep, this wine is certainly an inexpensive winner in my book!

Because this is a such an inexpensive, versatile wine, this would be an excellent choice to purchase by the case when throwing a party. To really impress your guests, store and serve from an elegant wine credenza, a combination wine storage cabinet and serving table!

Le Grand Pinot Noir 2009

Fotinos Brothers Presents the 2007 Pinot Noir, and a Sale!

April 28th, 2011 No comments

The 2007 Pinot Noir from Fotinos Brothers proudly hails from Napa Valley. (The 2007 is the second offering from the inaugural release in 2006.) For a second vintage, this wine is impressive, and Jake Austad from Vintage Cellars had the opportunity to taste and review it. “The upfront is pure cherry,” he recalls, “and a smooth mouth feel is followed by a taste of more ripe cherry and sugarplums.” The wine also possesses an enveloping, soft finish that “gives way to a secondary taste of raspberry.”

The Fotinos Brothers Vinyard

Fotinos Brothers is tucked away in the Los Carneros region of Napa.  All the fruit is entirely estate grown, hand picked, and double sorted. The family’s wine-making tradition extends back to Greece, but came to the U.S. in the early 20th Century via immigration. Thus, the family legacy continues in America!

The Fotinos Brothers Los Carneros 2007 Pinot Noir opened to great reviews, and was awarded a Gold Medal at the 9th Annual Pinot Noir Shootout. This wine will also be showcased during the annual Pinot Noir Summit in a blind tasting courtesy of Affairs of the Vine and CRN Talk Radio.

An invitation is extended to our blog readers (this means you!) to join Lot 18 for fantastic deals on premium wines, private flash sale discounts, and more. (Lot 18 is a membership-by-invitation website that features coveted wines at appealing discounts.) For a very limited time, Lot 18 members can even purchase the 2007 Pinot Noir at a discount nearing 50%. So, go ahead and try the Fotinos Brothers Los Carneros 2007 Pinot Noir. With this wine, you are in for an ambrosial treat!

Fotinos Brothers Winery - Pinot Noir

Wine Review: 2008 Les Jamelles Pinot Noir

August 7th, 2010 No comments

If you’re looking for a great red wine at a reasonable price, try the 2008 Les Jamelles Pinot Noir.  This is a wine perfect with a light summer meal or to drink on its own–preferably outside with your toes in the grass, watching the setting sun.

The first word that comes to mind when drinking this wine would have to be: smooth.  This isn’t a robust red, but that isn’t to say that it’s lacking in flavor.  It’s full of deep fruity flavors like raspberry, but doesn’t veer into sweetness–in fact, it’s a bit tart, making it a refreshing choice for hot weather.  It’s got subtle spice flavors and a distinct anise taste, which gives it an unusual, flavorful twist.  Despite its delicate nature, this wine isn’t weak on the finish–jammy and spicy, it makes you want another sip.  And for about $9 a bottle, you can afford one.

It’s a myth that all red wines should be served at room temperature, and since the 2008 Les Jamelles is an especially light red wine, it should definitely be chilled a bit.  To bring out its maximum fruit and spice flavors, we recommend serving this wine at proper cellar temperature: between 50 and 55 degrees.  Don’t have a wine cellar or a wine refrigerator with a special red-wine section?  Try putting the bottle in the fridge for about an hour.  Besides bringing out the subtle flavors, not the alcohol fumes, chilling this wine a bit amps the refreshment factor, making it a perfect way to cool off a bit when you’re still sweating by cocktail hour.

This wine would be great with pan-fried pork chops or a simple roast chicken.  It would also make a perfect picnic wine: pack up a basket with your outdoor-eating favorites (mine are cold grilled chicken and pasta salad) and enjoy the summer from your local beach, park, or hilltop.  Cheers!

Check out other posts about Pinot Noir.

Wine Profile: Pinot Gris/Grigio

April 3rd, 2010 No comments

Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris, but more on that later) has long been a wine scorned by experts.  It is thought to be a wine easy to drink—light on acidity, structure, and aroma; in other words, only good for those whose palates aren’t sophisticated enough to enjoy the truly great things about wine.  But is this reputation deserved?

First off, let’s clear up the name issue: Pinot Gris is a long-grown grape varietal nearly genetically identical to its red cousin, Pinot Noir (the color difference between the two is due only to a genetic mutation, and in fact, the leaves and vines of the two plants are so similar that the color is the only way to tell them apart).  In Italy, clones of Pinot Gris are called Pinot Grigio.  In California, many winemakers copy the Italian style and also change the “gris” to “grigio” because of their wines’ similarities to the Italian style.

“Pinot” means “pinecone” in French, and might reflect the fact that Pinot Gris/Grigio grapes grow in pinecone-shaped and –sized clusters.  “Gris” means “grey,” and is so called because the grapes are usually bluish-grey (but can often be brownish, pinkish, or even almost white or almost black).  The wine produced from the grapes can be a variety of yellows, from copper to gold to pinkish to almost clear.

Pinot Gris most likely spread from Burgandy along with Pinot Noir about 700 years ago.  Since 2005, it’s been one of the most popular wines with consumers (if not with critics), and today is sold in competing numbers with Sauvignon Blanc, a wine so popular that it is grown in almost every location in the world that will support it.  But despite its growing popularity among casual drinkers, Pinot Grigio has kept its poor reputation with serious drinkers.

Most Pinot Grigio deserve its stigma.  It is often an unimpressive wine, without much flavor or aroma to speak of.  But with its increased popularity has come some increase in quality.  A good Pinot Grigio will be a highly acidic wine, perfect for light summer foods, especially those prepared on the grill.  It can be highly mineral-tasting, a clean, crisp backdrop to the terroir, an honest reflection of the soil in which it was grown.  A good Pinot can have a pleasant aroma of pears, apples, or flowers.

If you’re willing to give Pinot a second chance, start with the Italian and Californian Pinot Grigios, as their flavors are usually superior.  Another great region for Pinot Gris is Alsace, France, which grows the grape on nearly 14% of its available vineyard space.  The cool climate, warm, volcanic-rock soils, and long, dry fall seasons, which allow the grapes plenty of time to mature on the vine and develop the deep flavors that many Pinots lack, is the perfect environment for the Pinot grape.

Pinot Gris or Grigio is a perfect example of a wine in which reputation should not play too strong a role in your opinion.  Go out and try Pinot for yourself—you might be surprised with what you find.

Wine Profile: Pinot Noir

February 15th, 2010 No comments

Maya: You know, can I ask you a personal question, Miles?
Miles: Sure.
Maya: Why are you so into Pinot? I mean, it’s like a thing with you.
Miles: [Laughs softly] Uh, I don’t know, I don’t know. Um, it’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It’s uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.

-Sideways, 2004

Miles’ obsession with Pinot Noir in Sideways has given the fruity, subtle wine a renewed popularity in recent years.  But what is it about this wine that’s just so good?

The most appealing aspect of Pinot Noir may be its soft and velvety texture.  Its flavors are invariably delicate and complex, but subtle.  It is a smooth wine, easy on the palate.  Pinot Noir varies greatly from bottle to bottle, but it generally falls into one of two categories: Old World and New World.

Old World Pinot Noir is light-bodied, with fruit flavors taking a backseat to earthy ones.  Common flavors are mushroom, smoke, spice, and tart red fruits, like cranberry.  New World Pinot Noir is full-bodied and fruit-forward.  It often has flavors of juicy fruits, such as strawberries or raspberries, and also flavors of flowers, toast, or red meat, particularly bacon.  The two categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive, so certain Pinot Noirs can exhibit flavors form both styles.  Also, “Old World” and “New World” do not refer to regions; wines from America, for example, can follow the Old World style.

Pinot Noir is a particularly good wine to pair with food.  It is flavorful enough to stand up to  rich flavors, and smooth enough to not interfere with more delicate ones.  It pairs well with fishes and leaner meats, but can go well with red meat provided the dish isn’t overtly heavy.  Spicy or strong-smelling foods also go well with this subtle wine.

In Sideways, Miles is absolutely telling the truth when he waxes poetic about how difficult Pinot Noir grapes are to grow.  They are unusually fickle, requiring warm days and consistently cool nights.  The classic region in which to grow Pinot Noir grapes is Burgundy, France.  This two mile-wide, thirty mile-long stretch of gentle hills has produced the best and tastiest Pinot Noir grapes since the beginning of of winemaking.  Burgundy’s hills slope towards the East, providing its vines with many hours of sun exposure each day but protecting them from the intense afternoon heat.  The soil is also high in calcium carbonate (this kind of soil is often called “chalky”), which means that the soil drains easily and retains a higher average temperature, making it conducive to ripening.

Pinot Noir seems to reflect more Gout de Terroir, or flavor of the soil, than other types of black grapes.  The ideal soils of Burgundy make for a great product.  But grown in inferior regions, Pinot Noir can easily be flat-tasting and flavorless.  Although for many years a good Pinot was hard to find, now impressive vintages can be found all over the world, not just in Burgundy.  Oregon, California, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and Italy have all produced quality Pinot Noir.

So the next time you’re sipping a glass of Pinot Noir, enjoying the smooth texture and the complexity of flavors, consider how much expertise went into growing the perfect Pinot Noir grapes.  And if you’ve never really gotten to know Pinot Noir, now is the perfect time to swing by your local wine shop and extend your hand in friendship.

In The Mood For Wine? Chill Out

October 23rd, 2014 No comments

Chill OutThere is nothing more decadent than enjoying a glass of wine, paired perfectly with a scrumptious meal. Wine has an indescribable way of extricating the most subtle flavors from the cuisine you’re enjoying and from the spirits themselves. Traditionally, white wine is served chilled, whereas red wine is presented at room temperature. Red wines don’t typically fall under the umbrella of refreshing, chilled beverages. But did you know that some reds actually benefit from being chilled? Some reds, such as Pinot Noir, Boujulais, and some Zinfandel’s taste wonderful and more robust when sipped chilled.

Years ago, wine cellars and natural room temperature is what determined the febricity of wine. White wines were served at cellar temperature, or perhaps chilled in an ice bucket just prior to drinking. Reds were served as is, without tampering with their temperature. However, today castles and wine cellars are few are far between. Consequently, white are served at refrigeration climate, which is generally in the 40s. On average, a centrally heated apartment or home is likely to be in the mid-70s range, so most red wines end up being too warm and white are too cool.

Why not enjoy both reds and whites chilled? Chilling both wines can bring out luxurious flavors and enhance your wine drinking experience. But careful, you don’t want to get them too cold, or it can kill the flavor. Follow these steps for chilling your wines for the ultimate in wine satisfaction!


Red WineFull-bodies reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Bordeaux exhibit their flavors well between 60° and 65 °, however, if you serve it a bit colder, the acidic and tannic flavors surface even more, releasing all kinds of hidden flavors. Store your red wine at room temperature, but simply lay it in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving to enhance the flavors. More tannic reds like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon should be a bit warmer, but with Pinot Noir and Merlot, go ahead and chill them down an extra 15° to 20°. Don’t fret if the wine gets chillier than you intended because it will warm slightly as you hold it in your hand. If you’re serving chilled red wine at a party or dinner, just lay it on top of an ice bucket in between drinking, but not plunged into the ice. This will keep it relatively cold, without dropping its temperature too far.


White WineWhite wines are a smorgasbord of flavors when they are served chilled. They pair harmoniously with lighter fare, such as chicken, turkey and fish. The best way to chill white wine is to fill a bucket ¾ full of ice mixed with water. Simply bury the bottle into the ice, base first, and let it sit for 20 minutes. Whites can also be chilled in the refrigerator but it will take a solid three hours to get cool enough. Never put a bottle of wine into the freezer thinking that you’ll speed up the chilling process. The freezer will alter the flavor of the wine, essentially ruining it. Place the bottle back into the ice bucket in between serving to maintain its temperature.

Whether you’re in the mood for light and fruity white, or robust and bold red, you can enjoy the opulence and richness of either wine, chilled to perfection! View our info-graphic on chilling both red & white wines and visit us as, contact us or call 800-876-8789 for personal

Which Wine Goes With Chocolate?

August 19th, 2014 No comments

It’s a common dilemma. Your wife has planned a special meal, and is determined to offer her famous Chocolate Truffle Surprise for desert. Or you are dining at a great restaurant, and you just have to try their renowned chocolate mousse. You want to carry on drinking wine through the desert course and on to the cheese, but, wine and chocolate fight, right?

Well, yes and no. Wine and chocolate can be an exciting and intriguing pairing, but you need to choose the right wine. A delicate flowery white is going to be crushed, as is even the most well-muscled dry red.

The Chocolate Must Be GoodWine2

Start with the chocolate. That stuff Hershey makes is a confectionery, it isn’t chocolate. Also, white “chocolate” doesn’t contain cocoa. Good white chocolate has its place, but for the purposes of this article we are just looking at milk and plain chocolate.

In your home, and at a fine restaurant, chocolate used in cooking is likely to be real chocolate, organic, and with a high percentage of cocoa; not loaded with cocoa butter, sugar, or heaven forbid corn syrup. If it contains milk, it will be good quality whole milk.

At home, you have the benefit of forward planning, so you can taste the chocolate in advance, and gauge the sweetness of the finished dish. Then select a wine which is sweeter than the final desert will be. At a restaurant, ask the commelier for his advice.

Your search will very likely send you to fortified wines, port, sherry or Madeira, and to high octane sweet red, perhaps one with some sparkle, for example, a Moscato d’ Asti, as well as to your favorite desert wines.

Milk Chocolate

Generally an altogether milder, sweeter taste and a smoother feel in the mouth than a full on dark and bitter chocolate, milk chocolate and milk chocolate confections call for the sweetest wines, but ones with a yielding quality which matches the gentleness of the milk chocolate’s taste profile. You could experiment here with a Pinot Noir or even a Riesling.

A favorite desert in our house is fresh garden picked strawberries dipped in melted Goss milk chocolate, which we get from Belize, and which is then cooled in the fridge. The chocolate dipped strawberries are served with a glass or two of Bollinger. Sybaritic luxury.

Plain Chocolate

This is really the king of chocolate, and must contain a minimum of 35% cocoa to qualify as dark, although I prefer around 50%. The more cocoa, the less sweet and more complex, is the flavor of the chocolate. You don’t need sweet wine to drink with truly dark chocolate, but you should choose wine with a truly robust complexity of flavor and plenty of tannin if the multiple layers of flavor in the chocolate won’t simply swamp your taste buds.

Select a Californian Zinfandel with plenty of fruit, high alcohol levels and lots of spice, and just see how the wine and the chocolate sing to each other. Pinot Noir and Merlot can also come into their own here, but again, choose one with plenty of fruit and structure.

Perhaps the very best wine of all to pair with chocolate is Banyuls, from the south of France, made from the Grenache grapes. This delightful wine has hints of chocolate in its own flavor, and is possibly the ideal pairing with chocolate.

It’s fun to spend time figuring out your own favorite wine and chocolate pairings. Remember, for this exercise, you shouldn’t be eating ordinary mass produced chocolate. Instead choose brands such as Lindt, Green and Blacks, or seek out chocolate from small artisanal makers such as my favorite, Goss from Belize.

Categories: Wine & Health, Wine Blogs, Wine History Tags: