Wine Wizard: Napa Valley & Lodi

Our last Wine Wizard found us travelling to France to learn about Old World wine making. Now, we are headed back home and focusing on two of our favorite California wine regions: the Napa  Valley & Lodi.

With a great featured Chardonnay from Napa winery Mi Sueno and a fantastic Cab-Shiraz blend from Lodi producer Van Ruiten Family Vineyards, we can’t wait for Gold Series members to get the holidays started with these awesome wines. In the meantime, learn a bit about the history and wine making practices of these two wine regions.

What is Lodi’s most popular grape varietal?
grapesLodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel capital of the world, producing over 40 percent of California’s Zinfandel vines. Many of the region’s wines come from the thousands of acres of “old vines” – some dating back to the 1880’s. Growers, vintners, and consumers from around the world are quickly discovering the great Lodi Zinfandel.

What was the first AVA to be designated in California?
Napa Valley was the first American Viticultural Area, or AVA, to be designated in California in 1981. Though just 30 miles long and a few miles wide, Napa Valley is home to diverse micro climates and soils uniquely suited to the cultivated of a variety of fine wine grapes. Napa Valley accounts for only 4% of California’s wine grape harvest and is best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Franc.

When are sparkling wine grapes harvested?
In California, sparkling wine grapes are typically harvest in late July to early August (earlier than the majority of harvest seasons that occur in late August through early October). The reason sparkling wine grapes are harvested early at a slightly unripe point is to help maintain acidity in the finished wine.

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With the holidays just around the corner, now is the perfect time to impress your family members with some wine country knowledge. It will be hard to not be impressed when you flaunt your familiarity with California AVA history Lodi grape varietals. We hope you enjoy being a Wine Wizard this holiday season!

Harvest 2014: Napa Valley

The 2014 harvest is coming to a close and we can’t wait to try some of the great wines that are headed our way. We get to hear from our great customers every day and more and more we find that many of you are curious about our friends in the Napa Valley after the earthquake. While the damage was large, our favorite wine region is chugging way and just had another “exceptional” harvest.

Courtesy of our friends from the Napa Valley Vintners, here is a quick rundown on Napa’s 2014 harvest:

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When did harvest begin?
The first sparkling wine grapes were picked on July 30; however, for most vintners and growers, harvest didn’t really kick into high gear until the third week in August.

How many grapes were picked?
It looks like 2014 will be the third abundant harvest in a row for the region, but no one is expecting any records to fall.

Has the drought impacted this year’s harvest?
Quality was not affected. Perfectly timed, heavy rains came just prior to bud break, and a warm spring allowed vintners to save water that would have been used for frost protection.

What about the August 24 earthquake?
The earthquake did not affect the grapevines or the fruit, and even the most significantly damaged wineries were still able to proceed with “harvest as usual” in spite of the quake.

How are vintners and growers summarizing the 2014 Napa Valley harvest?
Early, excellent, quality, demanding but fruitful, and another great year are just some of the words and phrases we are hearing.

We’re excited about the good news coming from Napa and we look forward to all the great wines heading our way soon. In the meantime, checkout some great wines from Levendi Winery and Revolver Wine Company. Visit our Gold Medal Wine Store for more Napa wines!

Fall into Fall With Fess Parker Ashley’s Chardonnay

Finally, fall has arrived! The leaves are changing, the mornings are crisp (unless you’re with us on the sweltering California Central Coast) and most importantly, it is time to harvest grapes for the wines we all know and love. Harvest is a merry time for all members of a vineyard or winery. Finally, after a long season, the fruit of everyone’s labor can be plucked, tasted, and celebrated!

Harvest is one of the most crucial times in the entire wine-making process. Typically, harvest in the Northern Hemisphere occurs between the months of August and October. What growers attempt to accomplish during this time is to pick their grapes at exactly the right time in order to achieve the perfect balance of sugar and acidity levels in each ripened grape.

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Luckily for Gold Medal Wine Club members, one winery has achieved this level of perfection and was gracious enough to share the product of one of their best harvests with us. Please welcome our Fall Special Feature:  the 2012 Ashley’s Estate Chardonnay from Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills.

One reason that the Ashley’s Chardonnay is particularly outstanding is that the 2012 harvest was exceptionally good. Wine enthusiasts have praised the moderate California weather that put little pressure on vines and as a result produced complex, vibrant, and well-balanced grapes. 2012 boasted nearly 3.3 million tons more ideal harvestable grapes than the 2011 harvest; what a huge success!

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The 2012 Ashley’s Chardonnay is completely sold out at the winery which is no surprise to us as the wine has received such outstanding ratings. With a 94 rating and Editor’s Choice from Wine Enthusiast, a 92 from Wine & Spirits, a 91 from Stephen Tanzer and a Gold Medal from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Fess Parker has seamlessly continued its legacy for receiving ratings of 91 and above for all their Chardonnay vintages since 2008.

We can only hope the 2014 harvest is as favorable for winemakers and wineries as the 2012 harvest was for Fess Parker. Head to our wine store today and order the 2012 Ashley’s Estate Chardonnay for nearly 25% off the winery direct price. Cheers to Fess Parker, this year’s successful harvest and many more to come!

Wine Wizard Abroad: The French Files

A new month means a lot of different things. New plans and new projects, but most importantly: new wines in your Gold Series wine club shipments. But, that’s not all that Gold Series members get to enjoy. Sure, they get wonderfully hand-crafted wines from small boutique wineries, but they also get an awesome newsletter featuring one of my favorite things: The Wine Wizard!

For the September edition of The Wine Wizard, we are going to be travelling abroad to wine making’s oldest region: France! Come and join us on this informational journey into French wine country.

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What does a red Bordeaux-style blend consist of?
A Bordeaux-style blend is a wine based on the major grapes grown in the Bordeaux region of France. These varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. A blend can include all five of the major red varietals, or just a few. Some of these wines may be given the name “Meritage” if they are made and recognized by the Meritage Alliance.

What does a red Rhone-style blend consist of?
A Rhone-style blend is a wine based on the four major Rhone grape varietals – Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault. A popular Rhone blend known as a “GSM”, is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

Which varietals are most commonly associated with the Burgundy region of France?
The most wines produced in Burgundy are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Small amounts of rose and sparkling wines are also produced in this region.

Our travels into French wine country are over, but don’t fear, next month we will meet again for yet another Wine Wizard adventure. Au revoir France! Until we meet again.

Wine Wizard: AVA!

One of our favorite things about the Gold Series membership is the great color newsletter that is included with every shipment, The Wine Press. With loads of great information about the monthly featured wines, there are even a few sections with recipes, wine history and information on the featured wine region.

But, our favorite section is on the last page, the Wine Wizard! A great way to keep our minds sharp and our wine knowledge full, the Wine Wizard gives us those little bits of wine trivia that are perfect for family hang outs, parties and other social gatherings. Because, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to be the Wine Wizard of your friend group?

This month, our Wine Wizard is all about AVAs. Don’t know what an AVA is and you’d like to find out? Well, look no further as we dive into August’s Wine Wizard!

CA AVAs

What is an AVA?
An AVA is an American Viticultural Area – a designated wine grape growing region in the United States that is distinguishable by its geography. AVAs range in size from the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA at 29,900 square miles across four states, to the Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino County, California, at just 189 acres.

How many AVAs are there in California?
As of 2012, there were 206 recognized AVAs in California. This large number is a testament to the variety of micro climates in the state. California’s largest AVA is the Central Coast AVA and its smallest is Cole Ranch in Mendocino County.

What was the first AVA recognized in the United States?
The Augusta AVA, surrounding the area around the town of August, Missour, was the first recognized AVA in the United States. It gained the status on June 20, 1980.

Now, the next time you are at a friend’s house and you open a bottle of our newly featured Westerly 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, you can impress the entire room with your wealth of AVA knowledge. Until next time Wine Apprentices!

Barbecue with Gold Medal Wine Club

Earlier this week we were lucky enough to receive a visit from local Nick Morello of Morello Wines and we got a chance to catch up. Not only does Nick make amazing wines (Gold Members may remember his delicious Syrah, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir from April’s shipment) but he also has an incredibly vast knowledge about pairing wine with food.

As a recently converted vegetarian, I was worried I would no longer be able to pair my favorite wines with my meals the same as I always did. With less food options to choose from, I was afraid that the wines I usually reached for would no longer compliment my meals quite like they once did. While it of course does depend on the specific varietal, meat with wine is practically a match made in heaven. I voiced my concern to Nick and with five simple words he made my worries fade away: “it’s all about the sauce”.

Now, sauce is the easiest way transform a meal, but the ‘sauce’ is also a broad term meaning the many different factors that can affect the pairing of food and wine. Little did I know there is much more that goes into pairing wines with meals than the food items used. Everything from food preparation, to the method of cooking, to the sauces and spices used can make all the difference and still make any meal, meaty or not, come alive.

It’s time to fire up the grill; below are some featured Gold Medal wines to pair with your next barbecuing adventure for carnivores and herbivores alike.

Bold Red: Nadia 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Try a steak sprinkled with salt and pepper, grilled, and topped with a hearty peppercorn sauce. Vegetarian? Opt for grilled vegetable kabobs sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Light Red: Handley 2009 Pinot Noir. Grill a rack of lamb & sprinkle with thyme and rosemary. Vegetarians can try a grilled Portobello Mushroom Burger topped with grilled red pepper, onions and a fresh slice of tomato.

Rich White: Ledgewood Creek 2010 Chardonnay. Grilled Salmon with Creamy Pesto Sauce (check out a full recipe here!). Our veggie option of choice is a foil-wrapped grilled baked potato with crème fraiche, butter and chives.

Light White: Heritance 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. Grill halibut & top with salt, fresh mango salsa, and a lemon wedge. If you don’t eat fish try a veggie patty topped with fresh avocado, lettuce, finely chopped cilantro with a splash of lime.

The best part? These award winning wines are available in our summer wine sale with savings of up to 74%. It’s a 6 bottle minimum per bottle when you purchase, but at these prices, you’ll certainly want to get them while you can! Be sure to check out the rest of our summer sale wines and recipes. Now, who’s hungry?

Visit a Winery in June!

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Visit the Santa Ynez Valley

June is the most wonderful month of the year. It’s sunny and warm during the day while the evenings are still a bit cool; the perfect weather for outdoor activities! Here at Gold Medal Wine Club, one of our absolute favorite activities is touring real working boutique wineries. It is at these wineries that we select the award winning wines included in our monthly wine club shipments. It gives us a chance to view the winery and select the best wines to offer to our customers and we never feature bulk, private label or closeout wines. To learn more about our wine club check us out on wine club guide.

Many wineries start their events in June and what better way to spend a warm sunny day then at a winery tasting wines and enjoying sweeping views of vineyards. You don’t need to be in the wine business to tour a winery; many wineries are open to the public for tours, wine and food tastings, and live concerts.

Wineries used to be few and far between but now there are more wineries in more locations around the United States. California was always a well-known wine producing region but now New York, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington State are producing high quality wines as well. Be sure to check out the offerings from your local winery or our wine store

Wine Country Chef: Grape Leaves

Inspired by the springtime growth that is happening all over wine country this month, we decided to take a dive into the world of wine country cooking. Oftentimes, when we think of vineyards and wine grapes, we tend to forget about an equally important product of the winemaking process: wine leaves! Typically, grape vines are harvested during the mid-summer months and can be harvested all the way into late fall. Lost in the shuffle and excitement of the grape harvest is the poor, little grape leaf! We think it is a perfect time to celebrate the grape leaf and its use in the kitchen.

Grape Leaves

Used heavily in Greek, Persian and Armenian cuisine, grape leaves are often picked fresh from the vine and stuffed with a mixture of rice, meat and spices. Rich in essential nutrients such as Fiber, Vitamin A and Calcium, grape leaves are a great addition to any culinary maestro’s closet of ingredients. Grape leaves are the perfect appetizer ingredient. While they are traditionally boiled and stuffed with meat and vegetables, experimental home chefs might try substituting tofu or tempeh for a great vegetarian option.

Stuffed Grape Leaf

Found locally at farmer’s markets and grocery stores, grape leaves are a great and often underrated kitchen ingredient. Impress your next dinner guests with the very exotic and rarely used grape leaf. That and a glass of some Gold Medal Wine Club wines, like our recently featured Gold Series Morello Chardonnay and Syrah and you are sure to have a hit on your hands!