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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Ever wonder why some wines have a rich, buttery taste similar to popcorn topping?

Well, the answer is surprisingly simple. Both have diacetyl, which during a wine’s milolactic fermentation, creates the same buttery flavor as in popcorn and margarine. This by-product occurs naturally in alcoholic beverages and is added to some foods to add buttery flavor.

Who knew?

According to a winemaker in the know, Chardonnay winemakers especially promote diacetyl as a “Butter Bomb” in their wine. When you are fermenting or aging in barrels this (malolactic) bacteria may or may not be present. So, winemakers have a choice to allow it to stay, introduce the bacteria or try to prevent it from happening.

For example, with the Sauvignon Blanc in barrels the goal is to put softness and roundness in the wine and avoid malolactic fermentation. With a red wine, winemakers want this to happen so many choose to add the bacteria in a controlled way.

But, white wine tastes have changed in the past years and balancing the fermentation has gotten a little tricky.

In the past, big buttery, oaky ‘California style’ Chardonnays were in vogue. Now many consumers are leaning toward a cleaner style of wine with more emphasis on fruit and away from the butter. The pendulum seems to be swinging back to a leaner style of wine.





This is the day Flora Springs Chardonnay wine lovers wait for all year; most take a personal day or make up outrageous excuses for missing work.

After all, celebrating the most popular and most planted grape in California –96,819 acres – is a big deal. Most California wineries produce this varietal.

Flora Springs’ Chardonnays are outstanding, rich and elegant.

The winery’s 2016 Family Select Chardonnay ($35) tempts with pale straw in the glass

that beckons with aromas of lemon rind, juicy apple and warm almonds. Bright flavors of honeydew melon, guava and pineapple linger in a hint of honey finish.

Pour this with grilled sand dabs and avocado and chicken salad.

Reward your accomplishments with a bottle or two of Jon Nathaniel Lavender Hill Vineyard Chardonnay ($75) from vines that produce low yields of concentrated fruit. This varietal seduces with layers of honey, vanilla, spice and pear. Wait a moment for Act 11 as toasty oak, Granny Smith apple and toasty oak flavors emerge.

Enjoy this exceptional Chardonnay with crab cakes with Remoulade sauce and roast chicken with fresh herbs.


Fill your shopping cart with delectable surprises from a surprising source: New Zealand. Pacific Resources International’s warehouse is brimming with exotic, natural and yummy products that might surprise you.

Proper brand hand cooked potato crisps are real food with unique tastes. The “Potato Wizards” decided to call them “crisps” instead of “chips” to make the distinction  between  their hand cooked crisps and mass produced chips.

The list of delicious selections is long: crisps with rosemary and thyme, with cider vinegar and sea salt, with smoked paprika, and natural crisps with Marlborough sea salt. Pour a chilled glass of unoaked Chardonnay, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or a flute of sparkling rose for a delicious pairing with the salty treats.

Wait, there’s more.

Manuka Honey Chocolates are crafted in the U.S. with New Zealand Manuka honey. There are only three ingredients: dark chocolate, Manuka honey and mint or ginger. No artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Pour a glass of tawny port with these decadent candies.

Visit  www.shoppri.com

Charles Smith Wines has five great reasons to sip his Washington State varietals.

Oh, and the labels are creative and fun too.

“Eve” – the 2014 Chardonnay ($12.99) with the bite out of the apple – offers a seductive reason to have another sip. Ripe pear, Mandarin orange notes are true to the grape characteristics.  It is silky and bold with a long finish. Pair this with roast chicken and rosemary and white fish.

The 2015 “Kung Fu Girl” Riesling packs a punch with a gloved hand. This $12.99 varietal is elegant with juicy citrus blossom, white peach, hints of kumquat and pleasing minerality. Pour this chilled with smoked oysters and sushi.

If a wicked Merlot is your pleasure then “The 2014 Velvet Devil” ($12.99) selection is for you. The wine wizards at Charles Smith Wines describe the wine: “A little devil wrapped in a velvet robe and

bursting with flavor with dark fruit, cherry and blackberry on the palate.” It is 94 percent merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Enjoy this with Mexican dishes and coconut curries.

“The 2014 Boom Boom! Syrah” ($17) is as rousing as a Fourth of July parade.  It is intense with dark red color and powerful flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and white pepper. Pair this selection with barbecued meats and pork.

The “2014 Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) has been described as a ‘sexy beast.” This varietal is dark and brooding with flavors and aromas of plum, chocolate and ripe cherries. Pour this with rich roast beef and loaded blue-cheese burgers.


Luce della Vite’s new winemaker came to San Francisco recently to share a story of the past, an optimistic look to the future and some extraordinary vintages.

(The vineyards in Montalcino in southern Tuscany– where the story begins – enjoys a Mediterranean climate 35 miles from the sea.)For the first time in 20 years the separation of Luce della Vite from the Castelgiocondo estate takes place. The new facility is set to open in November.

“The Luce 1997 Sangiovese and Merlot is a firm and distinctive wine, yet refined and elegant,” said winemaker Stefano Ruini. “Aromas of black currant and raspberry tempt the palate with vanilla and clove. You could lay this wine down for a few years; but I would advise anyone to live in the moment and drink it now.

“I hope I will age like this wine.”

The Luce 1999 Sangiovese and Merlot blend shows dense aromas of blackberries and plum with a seductive finish of cinnamon and clove.

“This wine seems younger because of its evolving aromas,” Ruini said. “There is a real sense of terrior in this selection.”

The 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012 blends of Sangiovese and Merlot were opulent and intense and mirror the stewardship and love of the land that Luce della Vite reflects in its wines.




Cinco de Mayo might be a perfect time to pass on the tequila and discover some new wines to have with your Mexican feast.

Start with a velvety guacamole: mash ripe avocados, minced tomato, grated red onion, splash of Tabasco, fresh lime juice and dash of cilantro and you are off. Snap open the bag of tortilla chips and open an oakey Chardonnay and stand back. The wine will showcase the lime and fruit of the concoction and highlight the whiff of spice.

Or if you turned up the heat in the guacamole you could pair it with a zingy Sangiovese.

 The flavors are subtle but will enhance the heat. This wine, with Chianti roots, would wake up red tomato sauced dishes such as beef enchiladas with a tangy sauce or chili con queso under a over a blanket of jalapenos.

A platter of vegetarian nachos topped with sour cream would be enhanced by glasses of a young, spicy Zinfandel.

Oh yes, if you can’t celebrate without the traditional sangria, make the wine and fruit beverage with some good wines. Purists go for the red sangria and sliced fruit while some renegades are whipping up the recipe with white wine.

As with trying new wines, don’t be afraid to experiment.

I discovered Crane Lake wines a couple of weeks ago and the low price of about $3.99 makes it easy to experiment and the wines aren’t bad. The varietals range from Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot noir, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, Merlot and Petit Syrah.

If two sips, (don’t ever make a decision about a wine until the second sip) don’t please your palate and the food pairing just open another. You can afford the experimentation.

Back to the Mexican feast: If you are planning a mole dish I would stay with a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannins in the wine will make the chocolate pop off the plate.

A sweet rose or sparkling wine would pair nicely with a caramel flan for dessert to celebrate the holiday or ignite some sparks of your own.



The wine wizards at Mendocino Wine Company knew what they were doing when they created a sexy wine label and a wine with a sexy name: Zin-Phomaniac.

The name is based on the fact Zinfandel as a category lends itself to many creative labels. The name signifies a passionate desire for great Zinfandel and the provocative imagery reinforces that message.

The 2015 vintage ($15) behind the label is seductive, flirtatious and delicious. The grapes were grown from some of Lodi’s finest 35-80-year-old vines. These produce fewer grape clusters and smaller berries that yield intense, brash wines with concentrated color. After fermentation the wine was aged for 12 months in American and French oak.

Forceful aromas of plum and dark cherry with blueberry and spice notes tempt the senses. Anticipation mounts as dark berry and red fruit flavors dance on the palate and linger with vanilla, cedar and molasses for a long finish.

This bold selection should be paired with bold dishes such as pasta with rich meat sauce and blue cheese-loaded burgers.


Gluten intolerant? No problem with these products.

Edward & Sons Trading Company has three selections from the “Let’s Do Organic” collection that can be easily paired with a wine of your choice.

Organic Green Banana Flour is a delicious alternative to grain flour and is gluten free.

The green bananas are picked and peeled before their starch has a chance to ripen into sugar. The flour imparts texture and delicious flavor to cakes, pastries and more. For recipes use 25 percent less than wheat flour. Stir the flour into sauces and gravy  with meat or fish or pasta.

Pour the chicken sauced with the green banana flour with a slightly chilled glass of chardonnay.

Other gluten free products include organic Cake Style Ice Cream cones and Non-GMO Vegetable Brown Rice Snaps. Try these delicious little crackers with your favorite dip and a glass of Zinfandel.

If you firmly believe the 1960s and the “Summer of Love” was the best era; there is good news that will blow your mind.

Mendocino Wine Company has created Tie-Dye 2014 North Coast Red Wine Blend– a lusty $14.99 selection of a radical, impudent time of beatniks, peace signs and love beads.

The Lifestyle wine evokes 60’s Flower Power and Counter Culture roots and made for people who simply love well-made, delicious wines.

Crafted from five North Coast grape varietals, each contributes distinctive characteristics to the final blend:  Syrah, structure and backbone; Petite Sirah, density, rich color and texture; Cabernet SauvignonMerlot and Grenache, add deep, dark red and black fruit aromas and flavors with a silky mouthfeel.

Robust aromas of black currant, juicy blackberries and raspberries tempt the senses to indulge in a long, sensuous sip. Blueberry, plum and blackberry flavors dance on the palate with notes of cedar and spice.

So, grab your sandals and tie-dye shirt and prepare for a “real trip.” It is sure to set the “Night on Fire.”

Santorini wines date back almost 5,000 years and vines here are trained to survive the harshest region in the world.

“Many jokingly say, ‘They are like a woman, always unstable,’” said wine exporter Yiota Ioakimoglou.(second from right) “That is their beauty, they are trained to survive.”

A devastating volcanic eruption in 1600 BC created the Santorini of today. The explosion left behind a mixture of volcanic ash, pumice stone, pieces of solidified lava and sand. Here about 3459 acres of vines

grow in soils that have little organic matter, but are rich in essential minerals and naturally low pH level, high acidity and classic mineral character. Phylloxera cannot survive in these hot and dry growing conditions.

The vines are trained into basket shapes while the Assyrtiko grapes are trained to grow inside these baskets where they are protected from the strong winds and hot sun.

“We call this the circle of life,” Ioakimoglou said.