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Heath Sparkling Wines

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Hello, and howdy from the veggie garden!

Last week, I was asked by Maureen (our marketing director extraordinaire) to write a little about pairing wine with vegetarian cuisine for Vino Visit, our website that books our really cool brand new private tastings.

I misunderstood, however, and thought I was supposed to talk about wine and Vulcan cuisine. I was deep into Vulcan food and wine lore when reason exposed my fallacy. At the same time, I realized a Tyrannosaurus Rex was more qualified to write about pairing wine for vegetarians than I was.

The only time I talk about vegetarian wine pairings is when I when I have to backpedal after making a steak pairing and sub a Portobello mushroom for a tenderloin. Aye caramba, I’m in trouble. It’s time for research...

Whew, after many exhausting hours in the library, guess what I learned? I learned the pretty obvious: the same guidelines that apply to pairing wine with a meat protein also apply to a dish without a meat protein.

First, let’s check out what types of wine pair well with food. We want a white wine with crisp acidity, and a red wine with smooth tannins. It should be dry or slightly sweet, with low to moderate alcohol, maybe 11-13% by volume. We also want somewhat subdued flavors, ruling out many of the high alcohol fruit bombs from California. Texas wines, especially Grape Creeks, are very food friendly.

The most important guideline in pairings is to match the body and texture of the wine with the body and texture of the food. We want lighter wines with lighter foods (whites with fresh vegetables and salads, for example) and heavier wines with heavier foods (reds with roasted or grilled vegetables). We never want one to overpower the other.

Keep in mind, however, it’s not just the food itself, but also its method of preparation that we must consider. Pasta, for example, is medium textured and fairly neutral in flavor. Pasta functions in a dish as a foil to showcase something else.

Let’s begin with a spicy gazpacho pasta salad. Spicy foods do well with slightly sweet, very fruity wines. A crisp and fruity rose', especially our new Grape Creek Ramato, would be a great match.

Next, we’ll elevate the texture and sauté fresh veggies in garlic, butter, white wine, and fresh herbs; all tossed with linguine. The buttery sauce is going to coat our palate with fat. A full-bodied dry white, floral and high in acid like our Viogner, would be excellent.

Finally, let’s create even more body and texture with a fettuccine Alfredo with wild mushrooms. We’ve raised the bar by adding Pecorino Romano cheese, heavy cream, a little Cognac, and earthiness from the mushrooms. Here, a light bodied red with good acidity and soft tannins, such as our GCV Rendezvous, would be outstanding.

So, it’s really pretty simple, and simple is the best approach. In reality, most wines do well with most foods. If we drink a wine we like, that matches the texture of the food, we should be in good shape.

Also, in the next week or two, some exciting new GCV wine to talk about...

Hello again!

Last week, we talked about the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in terms of its magnitude (7162 entries) and seamless organization (thanks to Directors Bob and Scott Fraser and their entire team). Today, let’s take a look at how the competition functions.

My wine mentor Bill Stevens taught me long ago that drinking wine and tasting wine is fun, but judging wine is hard work. It is, and being at the SFCWC was like boot camp for some of the best wine judges in the country.

Breakfast was from 8:00 - 9 a.m. all four days, with daily announcements given by Bob at exactly 9 o’clock. At noon, lunch began and each panel would break for 30 minutes based on their progress judging. The food was great, and there was even a cooler full of cold Lagunitas Ales for the judges at lunch!

There are three judges per panel, and I was fortunate to be matched with Mike Dunne and Andy Perdue. Andy is the wine columnist for The Seattle Times and Mike is the former food editor, wine columnist, and restaurant critic for the Sacramento Bee. We judged well together, and after three days with these guys my head was swelling with new wine info.
7162 wines were broken down into over 100 categories, and the types of categories are based on varietals (Zinfandels, e.g. ) or styles (Bordeaux-style blends, e.g.). Large categories, like Zinfandels, are further divided by price, such as $28.00-$31.99.

Judging is simple. A wine scores no medal, or a bronze, silver, or gold. A wine can also score a bronze or silver plus or minus. If a wine scores a gold from all 3 judges, it becomes a double gold. Judges can change their scores based on panel discussion. At the end of each category, wines that won gold and double gold are revisited, and only one is chosen “Best in Class” for that flight.
Categories can be large, on Wednesday I judged 64 Cabernet Sauvignons priced from $39.00 to $42.99. They arrive in flights of 12, and are set in a near perfect 1/2 circle. When I arrived back from lunch the first day, I found my napkin folded, pencil sharpened, bread refreshed, and water replenished.

This brings me to a most appreciative mention of the incredible panel crew that Andy, Mike, and I were fortunate to have assist us. Our panel monitor was Ginny Barnett. She tallied our scores, posted medals, kept us organized and on track, and pretty much spoiled us rotten. Ellen, Sue, and Gary did the trench work behind the curtains, bringing us endless wine and keeping our tables tidy.

One last THANKS to everyone, here and there...

Hello, Hello, Hello!

WOW!!! I’m hardly ever short on words, but right now I’m struggling to find any that can convey what an awesomely incredible time Kathy and I had last week in Sonoma. I had the professional experience of a lifetime judging the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competiion, but I’m not sure I had as much fun as our Grape Creek wines.
Once again GCV wines overachieved, bringing back 12 medals. Our 2013 Cabernet Trois won Double Gold (meaning all 3 judges scored it Gold), and the ’13 Serendipity and Merlot reeled in Gold medals as well.

We garnered 7 Silver medals, including our ’13 Mosaic, Bellissimo, Petite Sirah, and Rendezvous, and the ’14 pinot Grigio, Cuvee Blanc, and Muscat Canelli . Two of my favorites, the ’13 Cabernet/Syrah and ’14 Riesling brought back Bronze.

Next week, I’ll talk about the mechanics of the competition, how the judging works, and how the wines are scored. Today, however, I want to write about the competition itself.
The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (SFCWC) is the largest, most prestigious American wine event in the country. This year there were 7162 entries from at least 28 states, crushing last year’s record of 6417. Entries were divided into 100+ categories, and I was one of over 60 judges from around the country assigned the daunting task of scoring them. In 3 days, my panel judged over 300 wines.

The best medal winners from this event (including our Cab Trois, Serendipity, and Merlot) will be featured at a public tasting in San Francisco on Saturday, February 13. Tickets and more info (along with a complete list of medal winners) can be found at

The proceeds from the competition and public tasting support wine and food education at educational institutions across the country.

Here, I have to mention and extend the biggest THANK YOU possible to the Directors of the SFCWC, Bob and his son Scott Fraser. They are organizational geniuses. If there was a glitch, there was no microscope powerful enough to find it! Their hospitality and gracious warmth, not to mention the confidence they placed in me, is beyond words.

During the Sweepstakes Round, which takes place on the fourth and final day of the event,  we choose the best of the best. There are 79 wines in front of me, and I have about an hour and a half to select the best white, red, rose, sweet, and sparkling wine. Holy Guacamole!

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