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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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.

 

 

Oregon is experiencing a renaissance for chardonnay Oregon emerges with these wines and StollerFamily Estates in the Willamette Valley is leading the charge.

“Chardonnay had a rocky start here,” said director of winemaking Melissa Burr. “The first chardonnay vines were planted alongside the first pinot noir vines here 50 years ago. Pinot flourished while chardonnay floundered, mostly due to planted clones not begin a good match for our climate. Today, we have planted clones that suit our region, gained an enriched understanding of the soils and benefit from our cool climate.”

Winery founder Bill Stoller had a vision to showcase Oregon chardonnay someday. In 1995, half of the 20 acres planted in the vineyard were planted to chardonnay. Today, chardonnay has moved to the front with 50 planted acres.

The 2015 Dundee Hills Chardonnay ($25) is 100 percent unoaked and spends six months in stainless steel tanks. White flower and grapefruit aromas open this exceptional selection. Green apple, kiwi and pineapple flavors finish with a  slightly dry bite.

The 2014 Reserve Chardonnay ($35) spends 12 months in French Oak barrel, about 20 percent of which are new. There are remarkable differences between the two varietals. Freshly baked croissant aromas mingle with ripe apple before an avalanche of butter, yeast and vanilla flavors.

 

“I’m eager to see where Oregon can take this grape,” Burr said. “I think it will increase quickly in acreage and production and bring balanced, cool climate chardonnay to many more tables.”

Try both tonight
Try both tonight

Give your palate something to sing about with a slightly chilled sip of 2014 Grechetto dei Colli Martani white wine from Italy.

Beat the heat with this stunner
Beat the heat with this stunner

This exceptional wine is crafted from luscious Grechetto and Trebbiano grape varieties sourced in the Montefalco region. Although this area is better known for its excellent winter reds, these two varietals marry with delicious results in the bottle.

Grechetto contributes refreshing notes of peach, pear and citrus and is fresh and intense but with a surprise: a savory finish on the palate.

Perhaps more widely known, Trebbiano has a long history from medieval chronicles. In Roman times, Trebbiano was known as “The Soldiers Wine”, being very popular with the army while held in low-esteem by the upper classes. Time changed its popularity. This invaluable grape probably produces more white wine than any other varietal in the world.

This light straw-hued wine, Grechetto Colli Martani ($20) showcases Trebbiano’s full-bodied tropical fruit and yellow flower aromas with whispers of white flowers and a dry finish.

Both bouquets help to weather heat waves on the beach or in your sun-splashed patio.

Pour this summer surprise as an aperitif or with pan fried white fish, creamy tomato soup and fresh sheep cheeses.

Indulge yoursel

Flora Springs must have a crystal ball in the wine cellar to predict wines that excel.

From sustainable grown grapes from the Napa Valley, the 2015 sauvignon blanc ($25) is perfect way to relax in these “dog days of summer.”

(Here’s the fact about that term: the phrase doesn’t refer to languid days lying in the hot sun. It comes from the ancient Greek’s beliefs about a star. These “dog days” refers to the period roughly between July 3 and August 11 when Sirius (the dog star) and the sun rise at the same time.”)

But, here’s more about the fresh, crisp sauvignon blanc that evokes those lazy summer afternoons with the fragrance of fresh mown grass wafting in the air. This opalescent wine with just a hint of green tempts with minerality, white flowers and citrus aromas. Pink grapefruit, lemongrass  juicy citrus and zesty kiwi flavors add to the excitement.

Many argue they are the best California whites for serving with food because of their freshness.

Pour this selection slightly chilled with any shellfish, sushi and grilled white meat fish.

For a robust addition to your summer fun open a bottle or two of Floral Spring’s exceptional merlot ($30). The grape is thinner-skinned and more fruit forward than its famous cousin cabernet sauvignon. It has a lush floral bouquet with vibrant red to purple hues. This rowdy grape opens with enticing blackberry, cassis and plum aromas followed by robust baked cherries, licorice and dark chocolate flavors.

Pair this merlot with Mexican food and loaded burgers just off the barbecue.