Category Archives: Oenophile

I am a big fan of tasting wine at the winery.

Satori Cellars

In Gilroy, California there are many wineries off of Hecker Pass Highway.  These wineries are on the "main drag" of Santa Clara County wine tasting tours that travel from Morgan Hill to Gilroy.  If you are looking for a winery that is off the beaten path (and you are trying to avoid the tour buses of inebriated sommeliers-for-a-day) I recommend going to the East side of Gilroy to visit Satori Cellars.

Satori – is a Japanese Buddhist term for enlightenment that literally means "understanding". In the Zen Buddhist tradition, satori refers to a flash of sudden awareness, or individual enlightenment, and is considered a "first step" or embarkation toward nirvana.

Satori is not just a moment of enlightenment, it is also the first letters of the names of the family that owns and operates the winery (Sandy, Tom, and Riley).  Not every winery has the privilege of having such a unique and meaningful name.  Satori cellars is a small winery in Santa Clara Valley that has 15 acres of grapes and a beautiful outdoor tasting room.  There is a bocce ball court, picnic tables, and a lavender labyrinth garden that you can enjoy while you are experiencing their offerings.  Music is always playing and something is going on every weekend at Satori.

They have a variety of excellent wines, and three of my favorites are: Cabernet of the Blue Hand, Harmonic Convergence, and JoyoUS.

Cabernet of the Blue Hand 2006 Estate – This is a big, bold 100% estate grown wine that will knock your socks off.  It is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc.  I have heard that new wineries take about 10 years to start making good wines from their grapes, but this wine is an exception to that rule.  I have tasted a couple years of this wine ('06 and '07) and I have to say that the 2006 is my favorite so far.  Flavors of black cherry and dusty earth with just a hint of tobacco make this one of my favorite wines. Period.

Harmonic Convergence Estate Reserve 2007 – This is one of the wines that Tom seems to take an exceptional amount of pride in, and he should.  A blend of Petite Syrah (81%), Syrah (11%), and Zinfandel (8%) make this a meaty wine, but with solid fruit overtones.  This wine has an aroma of blackberries with tasting notes of mocha, tobacco, and blackberries.  As you can tell. the blackberry tones really hit me on this wine, in a good way of course.

JoyoUS Estate Reserve 2007– JoyoUS is the go-to red wine in my house.  When we are having people over for dinner and we want to open a bottle of red, we open a Joyus.  It has a blend of flavors that all of our friends and family have found palatable.  Comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon (46%), Syrah (39%), and Merlot (15%) and aged for 20 months in French oak, it is a solid red wine that pairs easily with pasta, steak, or a crisp autumn evening.  Scents of spice and black raspberry blend seamlessly with flavors of smoke and a slight hint of vanilla.

Satori wine labels

Bernardus Winery

logo Out in Carmel Valley is  a cluster of tasty tasty wines produced by some of the friendliest wineries I have been to.  Take a drive down Carmel Vally Road and you will see wineries left and right, one of which is Bernardus Winery.  If you have a group with different wine preferences, or you just love all wine, as I do; Bernardus is a winery that has an impressive range of well crafted wines.  They have Chardonnays, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, a Bordeaux blend, and many others.

The tasting room is large with ample counter space to accommodate the crowds that visit on the weekends.  When visiting the tasting room, I recommend going in pairs so that both tasting menus can be enjoyed (the Bernardus Tasting and the Mr. Pon’s Reserve Tasting).  My particular favorites from Bernardus are: 2008 Monterey County Sauvignon Blanc, 2005 Ingrid’s Chardonnay, 2006 Tondre Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2002 Marinus and 2003 Reserve Marinus.

2008 Montery County Sauvignon Blanc – This Sav Blanc is exactally what I look for in a “summer wine”.  It is light, fruity, and fresh while retaining a full flavor and distinct characteristic.  When drinking this wine I am reminded of green apple, pear, and fresh cut grass.  Simply put, this wine tastes like summer.

2006 Tondre Vineyard Pinot Noir – While there are a few Pinots to taste at Bernardus, this one is my favorite because it has the biggest character.  It is not over the top in fruit, which I frankly cannot stand, but has its fruit balanced with a dose of tannins that make this wine a complex character.  Tasting this wine gives flavors of blackberry and light plum while the nose speaks of slight oak and earth.  It may sound like a heavier red wine, but this wine takes the heavier flavors and floats them on a bed of fruit across your tongue.

2003 Reserve Marinus – This is the wine that we jokingly call the “everyday wine”.  It is so good that I wish I could drink it every day, but I think that my teeth would be forever purple if I did that.  This is a bordeaux like blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (86%), Merlot (12%), and Cabernet Franc (2%).  This is a wine that is so dark red it looks opaque in the glass; with flavors of black cherry and hints of tobacco it seems to coat your tongue in a rich, dark flavor.

If you are making a trip into Carmel Valley, this is the winery that you must stop by; just tell Chris or Phillip that I sent you!  While you are in the area, there are many other wonderful wineries to taste at: Talbott, Boekenogan, and Chateau Julien to name a few of my favorite haunts.  Maybe someday I will encounter a reader at a tasting room.  Hey, anything is possible, right?

J. Lohr Winery

J-Lohr-logoJ. Lohr has two tasting rooms that you can visit; I have been to both.  The primary tasting room is in Paso Robles and the secondary tasting room is in San Jose.  I prefer the San Jose tasting room mainly because it is off the beaten path of wine tasting, which means fewer crowds to contend with.  They proclaim this tasting room as the best of “urban wine country”.  I hope I am not the only one to see humor is that statement!  They have so many wines to taste that you choose 6 and walk away promising to come back and taste all the others next time . . . or the time after.  I am glad that I brought Jack with me, as it allowed me to sample a few beyond my 6 I was allotted.

Tasting List

They have 7 wine series that are currently being produced.  The Cypress Vineyards label has all of the wine aged in stainless steel.  This makes for lighter whites and reds, and lighter on the pocket too.  The J. Lohr Vineyard Series and J. Lohr Estates labels are most of the wines that are being produced there.  The J. Lohr Cuvee Series are the creme de la creme of wines that are being offered.  Painter Bridge wines are the everyday, yet still taste good, wines.  ARIEL are non-alchoholic wines that are good enough to compete with regular wines.  Finally, there is a new series of wines with the common appellation Gesture to differentiate them from the other J. Lohr wines available.  The Gesture wines are also only available at the tasting rooms.  Of the wines that I tasted, my favorites were the 2007 Riverstone Chardonnay, the 2008 Wildflower Valdiguié, and the 2007 Gesture Mourvedre.Wildflower-Valdiguie-label

2007 Riverstone Chardonnay –  This Chardonnay is another one that goes on my list of favorites.  It is fermented in oak for 9 months rather than stainless steel, as are most of the Chardonnays that I enjoy.  It is crisp without being overly fruity and has enough depth that you would never confuse it with a lighter white wine.  Even though it went through malo-lactic fermentation, it is not buttery at all.

2008 Wildflower Valdiguié – This is a combination of 90.2% Valdiguie, 6.6% Petite Verdot, and 3.2% White Reisling.  I thought that this was a very nice lighter red wine with strong fruit elements.  Blackberries are what come to mind when drinking this wine.  I wouldwine_Estates_Family like to sit on a southern wrap-around porch and sip this wine as I watch the lightning bugs come out in the evening.

2007 Gesture Mourvedre – As I stated earlier, the Gesture wines are only available through the tasting room currently.  With this bold and complex Mourvedre to offer, I hope that they bring these wines out of the closet and into the public eyes.  With this wine, I got aromas of earth and leather and tasted elements of raspberry and a nice dry yet lingering finish.

Guglielmo Winery

IMG_1435Directly across the street from Live Oak High School (::sigh:: memories) is Guglielmo Winery.  It is located in Morgan Hill, on Main Street to the East of the 101.  If you are tasting in the South Bay, it is a required stop.  This is a great winery with a new remodeled tasting room.  They have reds, whites, and champagne; all in all, something for every palate.  With the wide variety of wines produced, it is an easy winery to revisit for tasting many times. 

There are three labels produced at the winery: Private Reserve, Villa Emile, and Emile’s Table Wine.  The Private Reserve wines are hand crafted with limited release.  The current Guglielmo Private Reserve series includes, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Villa Emile wines are made from grapes grown in the best regions of California wine-making.  The current Villa Emile wines are Chardonnay, White Zinfandel, White Reisling, ETW-redCabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.  Emile’s Tables Wines hark back to the founding of the winery in 1925, when the winemakers frequently used a blend of wines.  There is a Red and a White Emile’s Table Wine currently.  Of all the wines that they have, the ones I like best are: Emile’s Premium Red, Villa Emile Merlot, and the Private Reserve Rosatello.

Emilie’s Premium Red – This wine is a Italian-style blend of Zinfandel, Ruby Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Barbera, and Carignane.  This is not a “fancy” wine for you wine snobs out there.  I like this wine because it is a value priced table red that goes with just about anything, including nothing.  It is smooth, easy to drink, and still has an incredible amount of flavor.  I agree with the winery when they say that this is a “zesty table wine with aromas of cherries”.

2006 Villa Emile Merlot – This is my favorite wine of the Guglielmo selection of wines.  It is a VE-merlotbold Merlot with flavors of black cherry and cedar.  It has a strong and lingering finish while still being smooth and gentle on the tannins.  I love to use this wine to make french onion soup; about a cup of wine goes into the soup and the rest is drunk while cooking and eating.

2007 Private Reserve Rosatello – This is an estate bottled wine made from 100% Grignolino Rose grapes that was first released two years ago in celebration of the winery’s 80th anniversary.  I generally do not like to drink a rose wines because they usually taste too fruity and sweet, like a white zinfandel was mislabeled actually.  This wine is much drier while still retaining the strong flavor pear.  There are only a few wineries that make a Grignolino Rose wine in California, so I think that this is a must try even if you cannot make it to the tasting room.  You can order a bottle of it at the Guglielmo Online Store.

As you can see, there are a number of wines to try at Guglielmo Winery when you decide to stop by and visit.  They have a well deserved reputation for making consistently good wines.  They also have an elegant area for weddings or other parties.  So drop in, have a glass, and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

(Guglielmo barrel image credited to Fire-Eyes Photography)

Solis Winery

Here is yet another wonderful winery in Santa Clara Valley.  Solis Winery uses “modern technology to produce meticulously crafted award-winning wines” that also taste good!  Solis is located on Hecker Pass, on the left if you are coming from Gilroy, with a cluster of other wineries.  Because it is near so many other wineries, they get quite a few tours coming through the tasting room and can be quite crowded on the weekends.  I personally like a more intimate tasting experience, so I recommend going there during the week if possible.  The tasting room is actually down a few SolisWinerystairs once you enter the building and there is a very nice outdoor area that you can enjoy while tasting.  Their tasting room has always stuck in my mind because of the stairs that you have to go down and the almost half circle bar that they have; it is unique in my experience.  There were two wines that I found exceptional in my experience: the Seducente and the Merlot.

2005 Seducente – Pronounced “sed-u-chent-ay” (I was corrected on this so many times I was ready to throw it in thebottles02 face of the person correcting me).  It is a Super Tuscan wine made of estate Sangiovese and Merlot from Mann Vineyards.  I found strong flavors of black cherry when I tasted this wine, and the Sangio blended with the Merlot really smoothed out the tannins.  I am a huge fan of Sangiovese by itself, so when it is blended I usually wonder why a good wine was wasted.  I did not wonder that with this wine; this blend works perfectly.  I want to buy enough of it to have a bottle every week (too bad the reality of bank accounts and having no place to store it keep me from doing just that).

2005 Merlot Estate – I thought that this was an excellent example of what a Merlot should taste like.  It had body and flavor without being too heavy on the tannins; extremely smooth and easy to drink.  I tasted berries and plum in this wine, along with a slight hint of earth, ironically I couldn’t smell anything past the good red wine smell.  I was enraptured.  I am not surprised that this wine has won two gold medals, only surprised that it has not won more!

While I did not personally taste the 2004 Sangiovese Estate, I have been told by many friends that it is an excellent wine.  Currently the winery is sold out of it, which is why I did not taste it, but it can be found stores.  I was referred to the local Nob Hill Foods as the best bet to get some.  They also make a Fiano, which is a rarely found Italian white wine varietal.  I cannot wait to go back and try this one in particular.  Along with these superb wines, Solis produces Syrah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Meritage called Cara Mia among others.  One final thing to mention is the Solis Wine Club; I am not a member but I have friends and family that are.  If you are interested in joining a wine club that has great events focused on food and wine pairings, you might want to consider Solis.bottleneck

Thomas Kruse Winery

Out past the Outlets in Gilroy there is a handful of wineries that enjoy the peace and quiet of being on that side of town.  Most of the other wineries are on the Hecker Pass side of town, but if you make the drive to Gilroy, I suggest exploring the other side of town for a more personal tasting experience.  Thomas Kruse Winery is one of the best onesIMG_2266 to try; with the good wine, laid back atmosphere, and beautiful view it is easy to spend hours just hanging out there.

After traveling down a gravel drive past Cabernet vines you arrive at the tasting room, which is also the main winery building.  Don’t expect fancy lighting and decor to distract you from the wine; the bar is a rough table and most of the light is natural sunlight.  I have 3 favorite wines from this winery, but I have been told that I will add a fourth once I try the Apricot Desert Wine (which is not released yet).

2006 Chardonnay – If you like an oaky, buttery Chardonnay this is not the place for you.  In fact, don’t even ask for one, unless you are joking.  This wonderful example of a Chardonnay had the aroma of kiwi and fresh apples.  I could smell this wine all day long, assuming I did not drink it all.  Sipping the wine the first thing you notice is a fresh crisp green apple flavor with pineapple following as a gentle finisher.  Sitting outside in the beautiful California weather is the perfect setting for this excellent wine.


Isn't the Port a beautiful color?

Gilroy Red – This is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that goes down very smooth.  I think that this is a quintessential table wine for any sort of meal, and a good wine to bring to a dinner party.  Smelling this wine gives hints of leather and blackberries while the taste brings up memories of black cherry with a slight hint of pepper.  This is currently the most popular wine, so get some while it lasts.

2006 Estate Merlot – This Merlot manages to be very smooth without sacrificing anything in the way of flavor.  It has the aroma of plum and tobacco with the flavor of blueberry and light tannins.  It has a beautiful color when held up to the sun, if you can leave enough in your glass to actually look at it.

Along with these wines, TK Winery also makes a wonderful Port wine.  I am generally not a fan of Port; the ruby ports are too sweet and the tawny ports are too strong.  This port is made from Cabernet grapes, rather than the Zinfandel grapes that are normally used.  I do not know enough about Port to say more than “I like it!”  If you get a chance, try the Port before it is gone!Thomas Kruse Winery

Jason-Stephens Winery

Take a drive on Watsonville Road and you will see a winery with palm trees lining the driveway and wildflowers growing between the vines.  You have reached Jason Stephens Winery!  We heard about this winery from family friends and were very happy with our experience there.  It is so nice to see a younger winemaker out on his own and being successful.  Jason Stephens Winery has a modern feel to it compared to other wineries.  The tasting room is the the barrel warehouse which is very clean and open.  Lighter colored walls, open space, and high ceilings make it a nice place to be after all the small and cramped tasting rooms.

2007 Estate Chardonnay – This was a nice complex Chardonnay that managed to be very fruit forward while still being oaked.  It smelled of pears and tasted smooth and fruity without being buttery.

2006 Merlot – This was my favorite wine of the ones that we tasted.  It was much more flavorful and complex than other Merlots I have tasted.  It had a good amount of tannins but still was able to be extremely smooth drinking.  I smelled tobacco and berries and tasted earth and more berries.  Now let me say that this is definitely not a fruity wine.  It is still a good strong Merlot for all the berries I tasted and smelled.

2006 Dorcich Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – There were 2 Cabs to taste and this one was our favorite of the two.  This wine had a very dark color, a beautiful purple-red that you would expect from a Syrah.  When I first saw the color of the wine I thought, Ohhhhhhh pretty!  In this wine I smelled cherries and black pepper and tasted smooth tannins and cherries again.  I am not a huge Cab fan, so they have to be extremely smooth for me to be able to enjoy a whole glass.  With this Cab, I could enjoy a whole bottle!  If Jack didn’t drink it first, that is. 

The vines and flowers

Sycamore Creek Vineyards

If you decide to go wine tasting in the South Bay, a must stop winery is Sycamore Creek.  This is a very young winery, only about 3 years under the current owners, but they have a very mature taste for all of their new-ness.  To get to the winery, take Watsonville Road until you get to the turn for Uvas Road.  The winery is right after you get onto Uvas Road; they usually have a sign on Watsonville Road pointing you in the right direction. 

When you enter the tasting room, you are going into the barrel room/warehouse.  The tasting counter is made of old wine barrels (which I really liked) and allows for small groups and couples to share one barrel for their glasses; I can see where this would be limiting for a overly large group that is tasting together.  I personally liked the intimate setting that the wine barrels encouraged even though the tasting roomnoyearuvas_200 was in a large warehouse.   Being the youngest people there (by FAR) I was surprised when we received just as much attention as the other, older couples.  The winemaker spent about 45 minutes pouring our tastings and discussing the wines, the winery, and the wine making business with us.

We tasted many wines there, as is the norm for my tasting expeditions, and two really stand out in my mind: Uvas and Malbec.

The Uvas is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon: 67% and Chardonnay: 33%.  When I first read the description of this wine, I though “Ummmm, ookkkaaaaay???”  Normally, I only get a Chardonnay and Cab blend like this when I am switching what I am drinking without rinsing my glass.  I have to admit that despite my reservations, I was pleasantly surprised by this wine.  Light and yet it still had the flavor I require in my wines.  I would recommend this wine to amateur wine drinkers as a good stepping stone into the full bodied red wines.

The other wine that I remember as being exceptional is the Malbec.  I am very pleased with how many Malbec’s I have been able to taste recently, and this one is the best.  That day Jack and I had tasted twoother Malbec wines and this one was the best.  This one was also the only one that was a pure Malbec, the other 06malbecblanc_label_200two had small amounts of other varietals in them.  If you like Italian wines, I would recommend driving to Morgan Hill just for this one.

The final comment about this winery is the wine club.  Talking to the winemaker, we learned about some of the events that this winery offers for its club members.  The one that impressed me was the chili day.  In the winter months, when no one is really doing anything, the winemaker makes a giant pot of chili and invites the club members to the winery to hang out and have chili.  I thought that this sounded like a lot of fun.  Many wineries have very pretentious events, like caviar and cheese pairings, which are cool but not my style.  I do not enjoy going to events where other club members look at me and wonder if I work there because I am in my 20’s.  I think Sycamore Creek is much more age open and welcoming of every type of wine drinker.

Birdstone Winery

Driving out to Fresno, CA by way of Highway 99-South, you drive through a little town called Madera.  This town has an abundance of wineries for such a small population; and while some are “ehhhh”, there are a few stellar examples of uniqe, small batch wines.  One of these such wineries is Birdstone Winery.  It is off Avenue 9 (most of the exits in Madera are Avenue Some-#) almost all the way to Highway 41.  There is one small wine trail sign near the turn for the winery, but make sure to bring a map and watch the streets you drive by.

SangioThis winery produces mostly red wines, with a very nice Chardonnay for those wimps who cannot take a good red.  Their bottles are mostly under $20, which makes this our favorite stop for everyday and gifting wine.  Jack and I are still debating on which wine we like the best, but our three favorites are: Sangiovese, Barbera, and Tempranillo.  Last time we were there we got to meet the owner/winemaker and do a barrel tasting of a Cabernet Sauvignon.  My first barrel tasting, YAY!  They also have a worker there named Matt, who was very nice.  He also “forgot” where we were in the tasting list and had to start us over again.  Three times!  If you happen to go there, ask for the story about the Red Headed Step Child Chardonnay; it is a great story even if the wine is all sold out.

Sangiovese – This is a lighter red wine, as the afficiandos already know, but unlike most Sangio’s that you buy at BevMo, this one has flavor.  It is not watered down at all, and has a nice and light finish Barberafor how much flavor is on the tongue.  This is our favorite Sangio that we have ever tasted, and we prove that by buying a couple bottles each time we go there.  Those couple of bottles are usually gone within a week.

Barbera – This is the first time that we tasted a Barbera, and we liked it.  It reminded me alot of a good Pinot Noir on the body and finish, but a blended Grenache on the lightness of the overall taste.  It did not leave a chalky feeling on my tongue; this surprised me when it tastes so heavy.  I could not drink this wine everyday, Jack can, but it would go great with a rich pasta or a red meat.

Tempranillo – I was hesitant to try this wine because I have been dissatisfied with them in the past, but this one was a nice middle ground between the Sangio and the Barbera.  If I didn’t know better, I would think it was a blend of the two.  Lighter yet stronger, it was a very nice wine.

Bonny Doon Vineyards

Santa Cruz Mountains

In the beginning of April, Jack and I went wine tasting at Bonny Doon Vineyards in Santa Cruz.  When I say “in Santa Cruz”, I mean only in SC by a techicality.  It is really far up in the SC mountains, which is a beautiful drive.  Bonny Doon is known for its non-standard wines and creative wine labels.  If we could be members at another winery, this would be our pick.

The tasting room was very busy the Friday that we went up there.  Luckily, our attendant was only dealing with us and another couple.  The other couple were wine club members and they were just finishing up their tasing and deciding Albarinowhat to purchase when we began at the top of the list.  The attendant gave most of her attention to the other couple at first, and I don’t blame her because they were making a large purchase, but I was releved when they finally left and I could ask questions about the wine.  I liked just about every wine that we tasted, and Jack actually enjoyed a white wine!

2006 Ca’ del Sol Albarino – I have never tasted an Albarino before, but it is now on my list of white wines that I really like, and Jack likes too.  I found it to be a light and refreshing white wine, lighter than a Chardonnay but still with more flavor than a Pinot Grigo or a Sauvignion Blanc.  If you are wondering what the hell is on the label, as I was, here is the golden moment of enlightenment.  It is a sensitive crystalization of the wine.  They take a drop of the wine, let it crystalize and then take a picture of it.  Isn’t that neat? (Science can be art too!)

Le Cigare Volant2003 Le Cigare Volant – This was a red blend that I found very enjoyable and fast drinking.  ::grin::  This is a Rhone style blend of : 35% mourvèdre, 32% syrah, 26% grenache, and 7% cinsault.  It has flavours of raspberry dominating, with spice and pepper as a close second.  It has a slightly dry finish and a lingering taste on the palate that would go greate with a cigar.  The last time that the made a blend of this type was in 1995, and it was great from the start and aged beautifully.  They are expecting this wine to just keep getting better over the next 15 years, and I am looking forward to it.