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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Pairing wine and chocolate has always been a dilemma; until now.

Cailler Chocolate, from the iconic Swiss brand, has a new bar –  L’Ecorce – with dark chocolate, cocoa and salted caramel and San Francisco Master Sommelier has the perfect wine accompaniment.

“I’d choose the finest Bual Madeira affordable,” said Steve Morey. “This is a match made in heaven. However, I’d also be tempted to move in a different direction with a vintage Armagnac and a cup of espresso. This is a distinctive combination which I’ve often found successful.”

According to Morey, chocolate is known to work well with fortified wines and is a match in intensity. Chocolate is a common match with Port, Vin Doux Naturels and to include the empyreumatic (flavors that come from the fire, like smoke) qualities of Madeira. Empyreumatic flavors would include coffee, toffee, caramel, toast, etc. Because of the richness of alcohol and chocolate, Madeira would offer the contrast of bracing acidity and cleansing green apple flavors.

“Thus, Madeira provides a similarity of flavor (caramel), texture (richness) and intensity,” he said. “Yet, the same wine would offer a contrast of high acidity, scrubbing a palate clean from richness and intensity and a contrast of flavors with crisp green apple balancing the fullness of chocolate and caramel.”


Did you know the wine that celebrated the independence of the United States of America in 1776 wasn’t Chardonnay or Sangiovese? Give up ?

It was Madeira.

Yes. According to history books, Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner while slurping Madeira and Betsy Ross enjoyed a glass or two of Madeira while sewing the American flag.

Madeira is an island (off Portugal) and a wine. The island also has more five star resorts than any place in the world.

Madeira wine offers several possibilities with food pairings with four types of wine:

Sercial or dry wine is light color, full-bodied and perfumed is perfect as an aperitif and goes with olives and caviar. It is equally delicious with smoked salmon, sushi and fresh goat and sheep cheeses.

Madeira Verdelho or medium dry wine with a gold color pairs well with toasted almonds and dried fruit as well as onion soup au gratin, mushrooms with garlic and goose pate de foie-gras.

Boal or medium rich wine, is harmonious with fresh tropic fruits and tarts. Young Boal is perfect paired with soft cheese while the older wine goes well with mature cheeses. Pour it with milk chocolate, cream cakes and pralines.

Madeira Malvasia or rich wine is dark hued, full-bodied and aromatic. Pair this intense wine with walnuts, fruit cakes, Danish Blue, Stilton and Gorgonzola cheeses.



After the weary 2016 collects its good and not so good memories and shuffles out the door, here are some old and some fresh toasts for the 2017 New Year.

According to  historian Sarah Bond, just before the clock strikes twelve this New Year’s Eve, the ritual of the toast can serve many purposes: as an act of remembering, as a look toward the future, as an exclamation of hope or as a means of courting divine favor before you take that first sip. Try out a few of these historic toasts as you usher in 2017.

Some Irish toasts:

  1. May your giving hand never fail you.
  2. May we all be alive at this same time next year
  3. May the Lord keep you in the palm of His hand, and never close His fist too tight!
  4. May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live!
  5. May your troubles be less, and your blessings be more. and nothing but happiness come through your door

May the Best of 2016 be the Worst of 2017.



You woke up with a slight problem: After indulging in a few egg nogs and other assorted cups of cheer, you invited all the gang plus friends of friends for a New Year’s Eve bash. Everyone accepted.

You slowly realized your Christmas budget has long since hitched a ride with Rudolph and Frosty drained all the bubbly. Relax, Barefoot Cellars has you covered with sparklers at only $10 each.

Barefoot Wine solves two problems facing sparkling wine sippers: affordability and delicious flavors.

Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee – crafted from 100 percent chardonnay –is the driest selection offering vibrant and crisp character on the palate. Aromas and flavors of green apple and fresh peach meld with notes of fresh citrus opening the stage for a crisp, dry finish. This classic sparkler pairs beautifully with cocktail cheeses and crackers and jalapeno loaded nachos.

Barefoot Bubbly Extra Dry offers aromas and flavors similar to Brut Cuvee although creamier and rounder on the palate and a hint sweeter. Forward ripe apple and citrus aromas dance on the palate with toasty flavors on a creamy finish.

Pour this with oysters, stuffed mushrooms, white cheeses and buttered popcorn.

So, blow up the balloons and get ready to welcome 2017!


A walk in the San Francisco Marina district is filled with blocks of bright Christmas decorations and some “thoughtful” messages of the season outside its stores.

Plump Jack, the popular wine and spirit merchant on Fillmore offers one such greeting:

“The answer may not be at the bottom of a bottle of wine,


But you should at least check.”

Wente Vineyards’ Murrieta’s Well Winery in Livermore shared some of its favorite pairing recently; just in time for Christmas feasts.

Pair polpettines (tiny meatballs made with beef, veal and pork) with the Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Merlot. Its dark red and fruit flavors are an excellent contrast to the meaty, dark, rich flavors of beef. It’s a fun start to any holiday meal.

Whip up some Butternut Squash Risotto with cremini mushrooms, brown butter and fresh herbs with the Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Chardonnay. The varietal can stand up to the richness of a risotto.

The creamy vanilla notes of the wine create a link to the creaminess of the risotto, while the wine’s bright acidity keep it from becoming overwhelmingly rich.

Oven roast a smoky glazed ham with pepper jelly and

pour Murrieta’s Well, “The Spur.”  The combination of fruit and spice are flavors that bring together this food and wine pairing perfectly. It is a classic for the holidays.

Bon Appetit !


“Buon Natale” (Merry Christmas) from two Italian wines that will add a festive flair to any holiday feast.

The two selections come from of Ciu Ciu iconic wine house that bottles history as well as quality grapes.

Gotico, crafted from 70 percent Montepulciano and 30 percent Sdsc01630angiovese, is a deep ruby selection with purples hues. The aging 12 months in oak barrels gives the wines excitement and smoothness. Aromas of spice and vanilla make way for a smooth, fruity full-bodied finish.

For a lighter wine to add a lighter touch to the party, Falerio is a perfect choice.

This delicate straw colored wine is produced in the hilly climes above sea level. Trebbiano, Passerina and Pecorino marry beautifully to make a wine that exudes light acidity and freshness. The bouquet is sweet with a fruit and white flower perfume.

Flora Springs has a dynamic 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Red Blend ($57) in an etched, hand painted bottle that will make the giver the toast of the season.

But, that’s if you really want to share this festive selection.

The wine comes from the Komes and Garvey families who selected grapes from special vineyards on the estate. (No need to wrap this gift.)dsc01622

Open this wine about five minutes before serving. Rich, juicy blackberry and blueberry fruit send cascades of enticing aromas that alert the palate that something very special is on its way. Whispers of licorice, cola and dark chocolate seduce the taste buds with rounded texture and decadent tannins that linger on the lush finish.

Pour this with “big” holiday fare such as prime rib, Yorkshire pudding and chocolate pecan pie with bourbon whipped cream.

Now wine drinkers have another reason to open Red Truck: the world’s first cork stopper and glass bottle with new Helix technology.

The new twist-to-open concept, announced by Bronco Wine Company, combines an ergonomically-designed stopper made from cork and a glass bottle with an internal thread at the neck. It is user-friendly, twist open and re-sealable convenience.

“Wine consumers in American have a growing understanding of the role quality cork dsc01573and quality wine play in delivering their wine in a sustainable, premium format,” said Bronco’s CEO Fred Franzia. “We have been doing that for many years, but with now the U.S. market will enjoy the convenience of an easy-open, and easy to reclose bottle.  We are proud at Bronco to be the first winery in American to deliver this incredible innovation.”

The reward is in the bottle. This 2014 red blend is a bright, medium bodied wine that delivers rich, berry flavors and aromas that compliment any cuisine.

So turn off your engine, relax and enjoy the ride.

It’s OK to be a little selfish this time of year. So, ignore the guilt and open two decadent wines from Beringer Vineyards’ Regional Estates.

Since 1876, the iconic winery has been producing quality wines from vineyards across Napa Valley, Sonoma, Knights Valley and Paso Robles.

The 2014 Waymaker Red Wine from Paso Robles ($28) is composition of 56 percent syrah, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent petite syrah, 6 percent malbec, 3 percent moudsc01559rvedre, 2 percent petit verdot and 1 percent tannat. The mountainous growing area protects the valley and allows for even ripening with hot daytime temperatures balanced with cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean.

The resulting blend opens with dazzling aromas of blueberries, cherry and pomegranate with cascades of ripe plum, cocoa and spicy flavors.

Beringer’s 2014 Pinot Noir ($25) from the Sonoma Coast is a feast for your taste buds. Red cherry, strawberry and black tea – the hallmark aromas of the varietal – open the curtain to flavors of juicy red fruit with complex hints of clove and allspice.