Julia has been swirling, sipping and swilling wines throughout California and beyond for more than two decades. Her passion is discovering big wines in small places. So, come with her and fill your glass.

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The next time you visit the Livermore Valley’s Wine Country on weekends; there is a must stop on the wine road.

At the Singing Winemaker, yes, that’s the name, enjoy sipping plus live entertainment at no extra charge.

“Out of 3,800 wineries in California, this is the only one with a winemaker that sings in the tasting room,” said troubadour and winemaker Steve Powell. “I have entertained professionallyThe Singing Winemaker at work all over the world but this venue is special.”

The winery- part of Tesla Vintners- pours a list of unique wines: flavored sparkling wines, white and red wines to port and chocolate.

“I have around 200 songs in my repertoire and sing mostly music from the 70s. The list includes, the Eagles, John Denver, Rolling Stones and more.” Powell said. “Most of the time the whole tasting room is singing along.

“I just want to bring joy to life and bring it home.”

The folks at Barbed Wire Wines don’t mind getting a little dirty to make great wine and two recent releases showcase that mission.

“For over 20 years, the team and I have been making wine in California’s North Coast, but just recently Barbed Wire has become a passion project,” said lead winemaker Seth Turbow. “These wines represent the best reflection of the North Coast AVA we all love most: Napa Valley, Sonoma, Lake and MThe wines are big, the price is smallendocino Counties. In the rugged and rural part of this area, we know the most interesting vines are usually behind the gnarliest barbed wire. We’re not afraid to follow that wire, jump the fence and get right up close to the grapes.”

The 2014 Red Wine Blend ($12) is big and robust as the North Coast. The red garnet hue in the glass bursts with inviting scents of ripe berries and warm spices. Juicy plum, crushed cherry and blackberry dance with hints of herbs and vanilla. Barbed Wire Red is delicious anytime but really shows off with paired with grilled salmon and pizza topped with spicy sausage and mushrooms.

The winemaking team sent scouts out on a mission to find the best grapes in Sonoma, Napa and Lake County and discovered an incredible block of cabernet vines in the Alexander Valley and blended it with a tough of merlot. The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) is dark ruby hued with intense black cherry and mocha aromas. Black cherry and blackberry flavors explode on the palate with a hint of bittersweet chocolate. Pour this exciting selection with smoked ribs and blue cheeseburgers.


Flora Springs Family Estate has created a cabernet sauvignon and a red blend that celebrate winemaking skills and define elegance.

Your time swirling and sipping these incredible selection is long past due.

The original “Trilogy” – a combination of Bordeaux varietals cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc – goes back 32 years ago when Flora Springs Estate set out to craft the best wine possible from wine lots selected from its vineyards.  Over the years their wine wizards have added other Bordeaux varietals to the original blend that displays huge structure and rich fruit.

Here are two to enjoy

Its 2013 Trilogy ($80) combines cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and petite verdot from  estate vineyards in Rutherford and Oakville appellations in a heady, muscular wine. (Warning: this “big boy” is not for newbies. It is ferocious and, albeit, subtle.) It is a bliss in a bottle.

Open this seductive wine about 20 minutes before serving to allow aromas of Bing cherries, sweet cassis and blackberry to start the show. Then swirl and sip dark licorice, mocha and dark chocolate flavors that explode on the palate and exit in a long, luxurious finish.

Pour this “big” wine with “big” foods such as prime rib, bold burgers and meat laden pastas.

Winemaker Paul Steinauer says this enticing, robust red wine can be enjoyed through 2025; but why wait?

Grapes for Flora Springs’ 2013 cabernet sauvignon ($40) were sourced from mid-valley vineyards in Rutherford and Oakdale. The fermented wine slept 18 months in small French and American barrels. Small portions of merlot, malbec and petit verdot added complexity and color to the completed wine. This muscular deep purple varietal opens with enticing blackberry and cassis aromas and set the stage on the palate for blackberry, currant, licorice and spicy flavors.

Enjoy this muscular wine with lamb, portabella mushrooms and a fall fruit pie.


Pizzorno Family Estates representatives came to San Francisco recently to spread the word about their legendary big wines from Uruguay.

The small country on the Atlantic coast boasts great wines and white beaches. It’s also home to one of the rarest grapes: Tannat. (In fact, it is the main producer of Tannat in the world.)

Pizzorno Family Estates and its Don Prospero label have several reds to get your attention and provide education about the country’s famed grape. Basque immigrants took the robust grape to Uruguay in the 19th century where the locals claim, “It has kept our blood red and our insides cleaned.”  Tannat grapes produce a wine with deep red color, wild berry flavor with tannic qualities.

Pizzorno wine associates Andrew Allen, left, Jemma Jorel Lester and Francisco Pizzorno introduce wines of Uruguay
Pizzorno wine associates Andrew Allen, left, Jemma Jorel Lester and Francisco Pizzorno introduce wines of Uruguay

Don Prospero Tannat-Malbec is a rich blend of 50 percent tannat and 50 percent malbec that showcases both varietals. Spicy aromas cascade from the glass with cassis, plum and chocolate flavors. The malbec contributes a fruity character and the tannat provides a firm tannic structure.

Pour this robust blend with roast beef with autumn vegetables and grilled steak.

Tannat shares the spotlight with a fruity and refreshing sauvignon blanc. It bursts with tropical fruit aromas with peach, kiwi and stone fruit flavors.

Serve this chilled with grilled or marinated white meat fishes.

Pizzorno wines range in price from $15 to $50.

Three Sonoma County wines announced their arrival recently with fall fanfare and a dollop of history.

Madrone Estate Winery is one of Sonoma Valley’s most historic estates, the longest operating facility in Glen Ellen. Grapes have been growing on this site for over 150 years. The first commercial wine business was established here in 1863.

Fast forward to today and that same sense of place is reflected in two varietals.

Sonoma County’s Mediterranean climate and plentiful sunshine drove the enviable style of the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($22). This opalescent hue shows scents of white peach, papaya and soft honeysuckle on the nose. On the palate, peach follows ripe melon and lemongrass. Pour this slightly chilled with salty cheese or chicken Marsala.

You can't just pick one

Bright red fruit and hints of white pepper highlight Madrone Estate winery’s 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel ($35). Aromas of sweet, red berry fruit, white pepper, anise and brown sugar entice the senses. Cinnamon, allspice and cherry cordial linger on the palate. Enjoy this dynamic selection with barbecued foods like chili burgers and fried chicken.

Lake Sonoma Winery’s 2014 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($30) is 40 percent oak barrel fermented with partial stainless steel fermentation. This varietal highlights the Valley’s cool climate with candied ginger lemon rind, orange blossom and lightly seasoned oak aromas. Rich, lemon cream embraces the palate with lingering toastiness and a satisfying finish. Pair this opulent wine with strong cheeses and any poultry.



If you are ever on the TV show, “Jeopardy” and the questions is: “The most prominent peak in the Napa County.”

Push your buzzer and yell, “What is Atlas Peak!”

Yes, that is correct. Located high above Napa Valley, the Atlas Peak Appellation is home to Napa Valley’s most elevated, rugged and stunning landscape. Not for the cautious or faint of heart, this challenging region of Northern California wine country has been producing fine wines since 1870.

Known as a mountain appellation, the region ranges in elevation from 780 to 2,663 feet.

There are 15 member wineries tucked into the rocky landscape. Hidden within Foss Valley or perched in and around Atlas Peak itself and they all love to entertain visitors.

The views are stunning too
The views are stunning too

They include 4088 Winery, Acumen, Alpha Omega, Antica Napa Valley, Dos Lagos Vineyards, HALL Wines, Hill Family Estate, Krupp Brothers, Lagniappe Peak Vineyards, Lobo Wines, Ripe Peak Winery, Rivera Vineyards, Stonum Vineyards, Trinchero Napa Valley and VinRoc Wine Caves.

Once known primarily for zinfandel, the Altas Peak appellation produces top varietal used to create Bordeaux style wines: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, Malbec and merlot. These reds showcase concentrated berry and cherry fruit with firm, supple tannins. The chardonnay is crisp, aromatic with stone fruit and distinctive pear-mineral flavors and bright acidity.


Two very different French wines celebrate the lingering splendor of summer with crisp bouquets and unique characteristics.

You don't need a passport

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Blanc is crafted from white wines from the south west region of France. This fortified wine is crafted by mixing fresh grape juice and cognac and a composition of curated botanicals.

Initially created for its medicinal properties, Vermouth first appeared in Italy in the mid-16th century. Around the same time in France, the selection was born from an accidental mix of grape must and cognac. The white wines include ugni blanc, colombard, muscadelle, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. A base of 12 plants and spices make up the palette: wormwood, vine flowers, angelica, orris roots, cardamom, cinnamon, quinine bark, bitter orange, ginger, licorice, nutmeg and quassia amara.

Light gold in color, the wine entices with floral, licorice and spice aromas with floral and citrus flavors on the palate.

Tariquet Classic from Domaine du Tarquet is a delightful blend of ugni blanc and colombard with hints of sauvignon blanc and gros manseng. It is dry, fruity and boasts outstanding intensity and fresh floral and citrus aromas and surprises on the palate. Pour this selection thoroughly chilled with oysters, sushi and fresh goat cheese.

Author Alain Aviotte described Tarquet best, when he said, “It cries out for a glass and savouries that we nibble before dinner. It makes us salivate; jovially preparing the taste buds, encouraging us to raise our glasses to salute an unexpected guest.”


Everyone has their own idea and formats for tasting wine.

The most common is the three “Ss”: sniff, swirl and sip. Breathing and temperatureHere's another method are paramount in some circles as well as age and hue.

However, the funniest I have seen and read was posted at Plump Jack Wine Merchant window in San Francisco.

“The Key to Enjoy Wine:

  • Open a bottle and let it breathe
  • If you don’t see it breathing give it mouth to mouth!”


It's sexy too
It’s sexy too

If you look up “Bodacious” in the dictionary there are several meanings: bold, audacious, brazen and often attractive and sexy.

These also are perfect descriptions for Jon Nathaniel Wines’ 2013 “Bodacious” red blend ($60).

The name – Jon Nathaniel — is the project of father and son: John Komes, founder of Flora Springs Winery in the Napa Valley and his son Nat who oversees the winery’s operations. Jon Nathaniel celebrates small production and the wine-without compromise method that defines artisan winegrowing.

“Bodacious” is a brooding, muscular blend of 59 percent cabernet sauvignon, 29 percent malbec, 6 percent petit verdot and 6 percent cabernet franc.

The deep purple, multi-layered selection opens with strong notes of black currants and black fruit. Swill and wait for chewy flavors with notes of leather, blackberry and chocolate. Petit verdot contributes earthy, dignified characteristics and beautiful color.

Pour this outstanding blend with gumbo and jambalaya, grilled meats and braised lamb.


Tonight, if the moon glows with exceptional allure, it could be you are sipping Valley of the Moon wines from Madrone Estate Winery.

But why wait until tonight? There are two exceptional varietals ready now.

Established in 1941 on Madrone Estate in Sonoma Valley, Valley of the Moon wines showcase a true sense of place, delivering exceptional quality and characteristics. The winemaking philosophy is focused on revealing the distinctive varietal personality of the grapes grown in the outstanding vineyards.

The 2014 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($19.99) illustrates this passion; and is a tribute to the harvesting process of picking at just the right amount of ripeness. Opulent flavors of guava and kiwi highlight this classic varietal. Hints of caramelized oak and vanilla flavors make for a well- rounded chardonnay with great balance and lingering viscosity.

Enjoy this with cracked crab and salty hard cheese.Grab some moonglow

Valley of the Moon 2014 Carneros Pinot Noir ($22.99) is elegant and food friendly. Soft notes of strawberry and cherry excite the senses with a touch of spice and sweet cherry. Cinnamon stick and toasted oak flavors showcase the mid-palate leading to a well-balanced and an exquisitely smooth finish.

Pour this selection with roast chicken and mushroom risotto.