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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A contingent of Portuguese vintners came to San Francisco recently with facts (that aren’t trivial) and a delicious collection of new wines from old vines.

  • Four Portugal’s can fit into the size of California.
  • There are 250 grape varieties native to Portugal.
  • Portugal ranks ninth in most planted vineyard acreage in the world.

Here is a guide when you want to try unfamiliar Portuguese varietals:



Alvarinho: if you like dry Riesling or Pinot Gris

Arinto/Pederna: If you like Pinot Blanc Chenin Blanc or dry Riesling

Enceuzado: If you like White Burgundy

Fernao Pires/Maria Gomes: If you like Viognier, Rousanne or Torrontes

Aragonez/Tinta Roriz: If you like Tempranillo, Sangiovese or Carignan

Baga: If you like Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir

Castelao: If you like Barbera, Cabernet Franc or Tempranillo

Touriga Franca: If you like Malbec, Merlot blends or softer styles of Zinfandel

Touriga National: If you like Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Petite Sirah or fuller bodied Syrah

Trincadeira/Tinta Amarela: If you like Carignan, Grenache or Dolcetto


Even though Halloween is past, tonight would be the night to “treat” yourself to a seductive Barolo ($45) from Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’ Alba.

This Italian import is a Nebbiolo-based selection known to its rich and full-bodied characteristics. Garnet-red with ruby highlights, this wine has a clear, intense nose with overtones of vanilla, spices and dried roses. On the palate, it is dry but soft, velvety and well-balanced.


Because it was historically highly cherished by Italian nobality, Barolo is often considered the “King of Wines.” But Fontanafredda Winery, founded by Italy’s first king in 1858, can truly be considered the king’s wine.

Barolo is located in the Northwestern area of Italy’s of Piedmont region, where these outstanding wines are produced. The grape thrives in the often foggy conditions of the area. The wine has a very versatile flavor profile, with concentrated flavors of tar and rose, which pairs perfectly with a range of different cuisines.

Pour this muscular wine with red meat dishes and medium or mature cheeses. It is excellent with savory vegetables and it can also serve well as an after-dinner wine or simply on its own.


Here’s a suggestion to make your Halloween haunt a deliciously screaming night to remember.

Sure, you hired the zombie bartender, whipped up the eye ball canapes and fried bat wings but what about some salacious wine?3e078dcb-f3ca-4a75-859a-c2cff6cd1e17

The limited edition HobNob Wicked Red Blend ($11) is waiting to be invited. It’s easy to spot at the market with its sugar skull label and fun-loving skeletons created by French ghouls.

This blood-red brew is a fruit forward blend of grenache (for screaming spice), cabernet sauvignon (for mysterious black currant) shiraz (for un-dead blackberry) and pinot noir (for scary strawberry).

This devilishly, naughty blend brings forth whispers of oak, hazelnuts and mocha with an eerily smooth finish.

Be sure to open several bottles during the witching hours, if not the goblins could stick around all year.

That dark, bewitching night is fast approaching so it’s time to plan parties and pairings – with Halloween candy, of course.

Moscato – a wicked blend of orange muscat and muscat canelli – has apricot and peach notes with well-behaved little bubbles. In addition to traditional pairing like Thai and cheese dishes, “Starburst” and “Nerds” are the perfect match. Each are fruity and will match the wine’s sweetness.67a8796e-a078-4f32-8ca9-1d14879af350

Barefoot Cellar’s Riesling is a fragrant white wine brimming with explosive ripe stone fruit aromas and juicy nectarine. The seductive selection is fruity, bold and aromatic so pick the “Skittles” and “Sour Patch Kids” candy treats out of the Trick or Treat bags and pour a glass.

Looking to have a glass of wine to compliment the perennial favorite “Candy Corn”? Look no further than Barefoot’s Chardonnay. This varietal combines a smooth, creamy mouthfeel with crisp apple, ripe pineapple and a whisper of citrus on the finish. This fruit-forward wine has beautifully integrated oak and creamy notes that Chardonnay lovers love. The candy’s buttery vanilla flavor will be perfect for your nocturnal haunting.

Do you hear a knock on that creaking door?



It’s unavoidable. There is a change in the seasons and you can feel the excitement. The days are shorter with a hint of chill, leaves are changing to burnished russet and little deep golden pumpkins are popping up on grocery shelves.


Celebrate the season

It’s time to uncork a big red and gather some wood for a fire.Tabarrini Montefalco Rosso ($23) is a perfect choice.

This deep ruby, muscular wine is an exceptional blend of Sagrantino and Sangiovese with a bouquet cascading with wild fruit, plum and toasted aromas. The fusion of these two grapes with a dollop of Barbera is excitement in a bottle.

Each varietal brings its own characteristics to the table:  Sagrantino provides depth and structure and stands up to heartier dishes such as ham, goat cheese stuffed mushrooms and aged cheeses.

The Sangiovese lends brightness and fruitiness to pair with lighter fare such as turkey, apple pie and fall salads.

Celebrate the season tonight.


Just in time for menacing tales and spirits, Flora Springs Winery and Vineyard brings forth two wines to coincide with Halloween.

The Napa Valley winery has the distinction of being home to one of the regions original “ghost wineries.” These were built between 1860 and 1900 but abandoned in the early 20th century due to three “curses”: the vine disease phylloxera, the Great Depression and Prohibition.

Lift your spirits
Lift your spirits

Some remain shuttered but Flora Springs was restored and produces wickedly delicious selections.

Its 2014 small production Ghost Winery Malbec ($55) exudes chocolate, ripe plum and blueberry notes followed by thrilling spice, cedar and white pepper flavors. This is a muscular wine not meant for the faint of heart; but for those who dare to sip in the dark. Serve this with sauced ribs or roasted bat wings.

Behind the label by iconic artist Wes Freed, are haunting figures of a ghastly zombie picnic cursed by hovering, hungr

y crows and two menacing eyes watching from a hillside. The Flora Springs Ghost Winery Red Blend ($40)is meant for seductive sipping. But, don’t be afraid. Aromas of clove and sage gently tempt the senses as haunting flavors of cinnamon, dark cherry and strawberries seduce the palate. Pour this spirited selection with boned chicken with red reduction or eye of newt.

So, light the candles and let mysterious forces bring magic into your glass.





When the Gallegos family immigrated to California they brought an intimate understanding of agriculture and a love of fresh, locally-grown foods.

Ignacio Gallegos Sr. immigrated to the United States in 1950 udsc01509nder the government Bracero guest worker program, and the rest of the Gallegos family later followed in 1966, settling in the town of St Helena. The Gallegos family was among the first Mexican farming families to settle there. The patriarch began in the vineyards of Beringer Brothers Winery, where he spent his next 30 years and retired as a supervisor in the winery. His son, Ignacio Jr. learned the basics of grape growing and vinification from his father. Ignacio Jr. raised and instilled a passion for agriculture and the basis of grape growing in his own sons, Ignacio III and Eric. In 2008, Gallegos Vineyards was created.

The wines in the portfolio showcase the family’s passion and respect for the land.

The 2014 Pinot Noir ($44) is velvety and bright with strawberry, cranberry and cherry aromas. Ripe with red fruit on the palate, this outstanding selection has layered tannins and a silky finish.

Dos Hermanos 2013 red blend ($42) is a combination of 50 percent merlot and 50 percent Petite Sirah. The opulent selection explodes with plum, blueberry and black raspberry flavors. This dark, brooding blend is capable of aging for 20 years.

Red and purple hues show Gallegos 2013 Merlot. This opulent varietal exudes a rich, floral, earthy bouquet with soft, lingering tannins.

All are available for sale online at www.gallegoswines.com.


You get more than you wished for with the fun, hardworking and educational “WineBuff.”dsc01502

Don’t let the funny name fool you. Although it is sold as a microfiber towel for glassware, the innovative product ($18) offers much more.

The custom woven, unique towel not only buffs wine glasses crystal clear, it also polishes your knowledge of regions and wines. Each towel has winery maps of Napa Valley and Sonoma along with sommelier-written educational notes. There are over 200 wineries on each map, American Viticulture Area (AVA) regions and detailed typography of each region. Wine lovers can study while they sip and make each experience an education and a lasting memory.

WineBuff is one of those unique little things you see in a tasting room or wine bar and say, “That’s so cool and smart, I need that.”

It is available online www.soireehome.com.

Casal Thaulero Wines of Abruzzo, Italy visited San Francisco recently and thirsty throngs cheered.

The wine house name dates back to the 16th century when the noble Thaulero family first planted its roots in the heart of Italy: the Abruzzo region. The company, under the guidance of winemaker Lino Olivastri, remains committed to its time-honored winemaking practicing today, continuing to marry traditional with modernizationThe wines paired beautifully with an assortment of dishes.

Winemaker Lino OlivastriWinemaker Olivastri

Borgo Thaulero Pecorino 2015, a bright straw yellow wine, enticed the senses with peach, apricots and white flowers and was perfect with a savory artichoke flan with creamy cheeses.

Three deep straw yellow Thale Trebbiano vintages display fruity pear and cedar notes with hints of honey and balsamic on the finish. These selections show vibrancy when matched with tonnarelli with black pepper and olive oil and pan-roasted garlic chicken marinated in mustard, lemon and thyme.

Montepulciano D ’Abruzzo glowed with intense purple red and violet shades and an intense bouquet of red fruit, vanilla and spicy notes. This beautiful wine is full-bodied with well balanced tannins. The piece de résistance pairing was a short crust pastry with sheep’s milk ricotta and dark chocolate.


Every wonder why something that causes such pain is so beloved by so many?

Yes, it’s those little bottles on most restaurant and café tables… hot sauce.

Denver Nicks’ new book “Hot Sauce Nation” – American’s Burning Obsession – has all the answers as he pursues the history and scientific lines to understand how the fiery craze conquered American’s taste buds.

Be careful, it's hot

The author asks the question, “When did the country’s love affair with capsaicin (the searing substance in chili peppers and the hot sauce it derives from).

Nicks traces the history of chili from its likely origins in a small area of Bolivia to its introduction to Europe and the rest of the world by way of Christopher Columbus. In one chapter he even dares to sample some of the hottest varieties in the world, including a scorpion-pepper tincture that tops out at 3.3 million heat units.

Adding so much heat to the dinner table, presents a special pairing quandary for wine drinkers.

Master Sommelier Steve Morey has some suggestions and explanations.

“These food items are a problem for most wines,” he said. “The biggest problem with most wines would be higher levels of alcohol, tannins and oak treatment. This eliminates a large segment of California wines.

“At the very extreme, if you had to shoehorn a wine into pairing with hot peppers, you may choose a Beaujolais, with a little chill. The Gamay grape is high in cleansing fruit acidity, low in tannins and alcohol. A refreshing beer would be my first recommendation, but if you had to choose a wine, this may be it.

“I should mention that a wine with high fruit character may be a candidate, but typically a wine with high fruit extraction, Zinfandel, Malbec or Syrah, would also be high in alcohol. This would truly be a case of fanning the flames.”