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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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.



They are affordable too.
They are affordable too.

Washington State winery founder Arvid Monson was looking for a perfect spot for his vision for a new vineyard. One night, over a campfire and wine, his friend and leading authority on Washington viticulture had some advice.

“Wherever you find tall sage, you will have a place that will sustain superior grape vine,” Walter Clore said, “A tall sage plant develops deep tap roots and sustains the life around it.”

Monson relayed this valuable information to Tall Sage winemaker Andrew Wilson who selected a few blocks with unique characteristics and intricate contributions for the wines.

The two 2015 varietals – both affordable at $10 each – reflect the Columbia Valley and the stewardship of this family – owned and operated vineyards.

The Tall Sage Chardonnay is clean and refreshing with enticing lime, jasmine and baked apple aromas. With a hint of sage, green apple, pear and pineapple flavors mingle with minerality and an apricot finish.

Pour this with a summer salad dressed with avocado wedges, feta and olive oil.

The hot growing season proved perfect for the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. It allowed an extended hang time in the vine and remarkable flavor development without over-ripening. Malolactic fermentation finished on oak to soften the wine. Elegant aromas of dark fruit combine with whispers of herbs and smoke. Dark red cherries and plums mingle with licorice and cedar for a lasting finish.

Enjoy this cab with grilled steak and loaded turkey burgers.





Before hearing about two delicious blends from Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard in Livermore, here’s is some background about the vineyard’s storied history.

The namesake of the property is Joaquin Murrieta, dubbed the “Robin Hood of El Dorado” during California’s Gold Rush. Legend has it that Murrieta and his notorious band watered their horses at an artesian well on the grounds. Louis Mel purchased the land and built a gravity flow winery into the hillside and planted a vineyard.  Mel sold the property to Earnest Wente in 1930 and the property has been part of the Wente Family ever since.

In 2010, two blends – the “Whip” ($24)   and the “Spur” ($30) – became legend too.

“We believe in the art of blending,” said winemaker Robbie Meyer. “We have a small lot approach to growing and making our wines. All of our grape varieties are sourced exclusively from our estate; the composition of our wine blends will change year each to reflect this.”

The 2014 “Whip” add a subtle twist to the traditional white wine blend – a touch of sweetness from 29 percent Semillon. Other varietals in this succulent blend are 27 percent chardonnay, 18 percent sauvignon blanc, 12 percent orange muscat, 8 percent muscat canelli and 6 percent viognier.

The result is a bright, elegant wine that showcases juicy white peach, pear and melon notes with a creamy, toasty oak finish.

The other end of the spectrum is the 2013 “Spur”, a rowdy red wine blend of 40 percent petite sirah, 26 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent petit verdot, 8 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc and 8 percent Malbec.

Hold onto your hat before swirling and allow black cherry and brooding blueberry aromas to transport you back in time of Early California with sweet oak and earthy spice on the palate.