Central Otago: Where Nature and Pinot Noir Reign

048New Zealand was put on the wine map with their Sauvignon Blanc that exhibits its signature grapefruity aromas and tastes .  But there are more wines in that beautiful country which beg notice and a healthy pour.  Recently, representatives from New Zealand Complexity, a portfolio of “most impressive wines to showcase some the best what New Zealand can offer the USA” with its “hero wines and winemakers”, arrived in Chicago.  The Masterclass tasting was held at Rebar, the uber-hip lounge at the Trump Hotel.  Fortunately, Rebar’s sweeping views of the Chicago River and skyline didn’t distract me from tasting fifteen incredible wines which included Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Merlot blends, and Pinot Noir.

Enthusiastic winemakers from Canterbury/Waipara, Marlborough, Martinborough, Hawkes Bay, and Central Otago were in attendance and were thrilled to share tidbits about their winery, tasting notes, and an appreciation for their beautiful country.  Each remarked that they were not “standing still” or “resting on their laurels” but constantly striving to create better wine.

One region which seems to be on the cutting edge of New Zealand winemaking and piqued my interest is Central Otago.  As I tasted through four remarkable Pinot Noirs, I realized I needed to learn more about this up and coming area. With each sip I could taste the passion of the winemaker, the beauty of the region, and the quality of the grapes.

From Amisfield, the RKV Pinot Noir 2007 exhibited old world spice with vibrancy and purity from a cool vintage.  The Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2005 was incredibly smooth with spice, fruit, subtle vegetable notes, cinnamon, and cloves and the Mt. Difficulty Pipeclay Terrace Pinot Noir 2002 showed tingly spice and voluptuous fruit.  Finally, the Quartz Reef Bendigo Estate Pinot Noir 2001 looked and tasted a bit like sherry.  Rich and somewhat sweet with acidity, plenty of fruit (raisins?), this wine was incredible.  Apparently, I’m not the only one who has more than a passing interest in this wine region.  In April 2014, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Central Otago.  Local wineries were selected to share their best wines with a focus on Pinot Noir at a private event held at host winery Amisfeld.  Felton Road, Mt. Difficulty, and Quartz Reef were among those included and I would love to know what the royals thought about Central Otago Pinot Noirs!

Although there were vineyards in Central Otago as early as the late 1800s, a renewed interest in winemaking has occurred.  Now, modern wineries have been in production for approximately twenty years with twenty-thirty year old vines the oldest.  Twenty physical wineries with 175 vineyards can be found.  A new generation of winemakers has worked incredibly hard to work the land which by all accounts is a “brutal landscape for vines”.  Sustainable viticulture is practiced and the organically grown grapes claim the highest percentage in New Zealand.

Central Otago is the world’s southernmost wine region and the New Zealand’s highest.  With its semi-continental climate,  there are 850-1100 growing degree days.  Frosts are expected and a sharp diurnal shift, brilliant sunshine, and hot summers suggest that optimal site selection is paramount within each sub-region.  Climate, aspect, and altitude are factors to consider as is the soil which, common to all of the sub-regions, is Schist based, glacial, alluvial and free draining.  The good news is that dry autumns and usually low humidity provide the setting for wines exhibiting depth and complexity.  The result? Pinot Noirs from Central Otago exhibit an incredibly complex flavor profile which has prompted Jancis Robinson, MW, to state “Many believe this is where the Pinot grail is to be found.”

Of the 1909 hectares (ha) under vine, Pinot Noir claims 1356 ha.  Following are Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.  I encourage you to explore the New Zealand Complexity website for more information.

With fewer than 18,000 residents and an area of 10,000km, nature and Pinot Noir reign in Central Otago.  Snow capped mountains, rivers which glisten, ancient rocks, and tussock are the backdrop for breathtaking views.  There is the clear, bright light of sunshine during the day and a star studded sky at night.  Leaving the stress of daily life behind I can see myself appreciating these vistas in Central Otago with a glass of Pinot Noir in my hand.  I’m ready.  Won’t you join me?

Cheers~ Cindy





Posted in Events and Travel, Old World v. New World, Regional Wines, Wine Reviews, Wineries | Tagged 1 Comment


One Response to “Central Otago: Where Nature and Pinot Noir Reign”
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  1. I’ve definitely enjoyed some good Pinot from NZ, thanks for the reminder of their quality!

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Date Night Wines ~ Cornerstone Cellars Rosé of Syrah and Cabernet Franc

datenightWhether you are in the throes of a new love, are just married and in the “honeymoon” phase, have children together and are often frazzled, or have been happily married for many years,  it’s important to have that thing called “date night“.  This is one evening when the two of you can be alone, reflect upon the good and not so good events of the week while getting to know each other once again.  It seems simple, but sometimes you just need to set aside a special time.  You may choose to dine at the local barbeque spot, favorite pub, fancy downtown restaurant, or at home (with the little ones safe and sound at grandma’s house).  Mr. Grape-Experiences and I have always had “date night” every week – even if it meant putting our young daughters to bed early so that we could dine by candlelight at the kitchen table!  But wherever you go, a good bottle or two of wine always enhances the moments together.  Take my word for it.

Recently, I chose two extraordinary wines to try which I knew would be perfect date night wines…and I was right!  Both from Cornerstone Cellars and sent as samples, each wine exhibits a unique personality.

* 2013 Corallina Rosé (sample) – To be honest, there is not a woman I have met who doesn’t like a lovely rosé.  Most have realized (often by accident due to the tasting of plenty of wine) that the best are made in the classic French tradition. In essence, the grapes are grown for the specific purpose of crafting a beautiful rosé with a pale pink color, high acidity, and low sugar which suggest complex flavor profiles, satin smooth mouthfeel, balance and grace.  The 2013 Corallina Rosé is this wine.  The intense aromas of ripe strawberries, raspberries, white flowers, and honeysuckle will remind you a of a garden in Provence and its high acidity and palate profile of tart berries, spice, and citrus led to a long, clean finish.  Lovely with any dish, this seductive rosé may prompt you to propose a trip to France…for your next date night!  Cost is $25.

*2011 Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc (Black Label Stepping Stone Cuvee) (sample) – Just as the relationship with your significant other is unique, Craig Camp, Managing Partner of Cornerstone Cellars, thinks that this Cabernet Franc is, too.  In fact, he feels that it has a wild side or, as the French may say, is a little “sauvage”.  He admits that this wine isn’t for everyone, but shouldn’t every relationship, with another person or with a wine, be an adventure?  And trying something new may just be what having date night is all about!  Aromas of deep purple fruit, herbs, earth, and spice were rich and enticing.  On the palate, more exotic spice was prevalent and the integrated tannins, bright acidity along with more deep red fruits. pepper, and herbs created a balanced wine which paired beautifully with our juicy, medium rare steak.  The finish on the Cabernet Franc was long, tangy, sexy and lush.  Cost is $45.


Let date night be a seductive adventure this weekend!

Cheers! ~ Cindy

Posted in Regional Wines, Wine Reviews | Tagged , , 1 Comment


One Response to “Date Night Wines ~ Cornerstone Cellars Rosé of Syrah and Cabernet Franc”
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  1. Thanks Cindy! We do hope our wines are romantic!

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It’s a Wine Quiz: Test Your Knowledge

I know you love quizzes to test your *wine* knowledge!  Every two or three months, I post a wine quiz to see if you know your stuff and actually remember what you read while checking out my site. This quiz is in a multiple choice format covering posts written from early May through June 2014.  Just scroll down to the end of the page to find out if your response is correct.  And for more info, the number of the question is linked to the entire article written about the answer!

Have fun! ~ Cindy


1.  Castello Banfi’s Rosso di Montalcino 2011 consists of which grape?

a.  Sangiovese     b.  Cabernet Sauvignon     c.  Merlot     d.  Primitivo

2.  The predominant red grape in D.O. La Mancha is…

a.  Monastrell     b.  Tempranillo    c.  Pinotage     d.  Gamay

3.  Which grape is NOT in the Piccini Memoro Bianco blend?

a.  Chardonnay     b.  Pecorino     c.  Vermentino     d.  Sauvignon Blanc

4.  Airen is the most widely planted grape in which region?

a.  Rioja     b.  Murcia     c.  La Mancha     d.  Cariñena

5. In my humble opinion, which may be Spain’s next “hot” wine region?

a.  Ribera del Duero     b.  Navarra     c.  Priorat     d.  Cigales

6.  A very unique characteristic of this wine region is its ancient soils, layers of rock, minerality, and earth.

a.  Cariñena      b.  Barossa     c.  Marlborough     d.  Languedoc

7.  Planeta Winery is located in…

a.  Basilicata     b.  Puglia     c.  Sicily     d.  Umbria

8.  I was given a vertical tasting challenge with three Sauvignon Blancs from which California winery?

a.  Turley     b.  Cornerstone Cellars     c.  Flowers     d.  Stag’s Leap

9.  Which varietal was NOT on my list of recommendations for Girls Night Out wines?

a.  Grenache     b.  Pinot Noir     c.  Pinot Grigio     d. Sauvignon Blanc

10.  How are Champagne and Cremant d’Alsace alike?

a.  They are from the same region.     b.  Both use Gewurtztraminer in the blend.     c.  Monks produce the wines.     d.  They both use Méthode Champenoise.


1A     2B     3D     4C     5D     6A     7C     8B     9A     10D

Posted in Random Thoughts, Regional Wines, Sparkling Tastes, Wine Reviews, Wine School | Leave a comment

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Wine and Dine for Bastille Day ~ Quick Coq au Vin and Chateauneuf-du-Pape

bastilledayThe first Bastille Day celebration in Paris I viewed was one summer during college.  I was an exchange student and lived with a Parisian family whose apartment was above the jewelry store they owned.  During the parade we stood along the Champs Elysee to watch rows and rows of military, tanks, and more strutting past.  Among the many happy memories I have of that oh-so-French summer was the lingering lunches with fresh fruit, ripe cheeses, tender meat dishes and perfectly cooked vegetables.  And wine.  In fact, my command of the French language rose to new levels between 2:00 and 4:00pm each day.  At that time, I didn’t have a favorite…my choice was to try as many different French wines as possible and there seemed to be an unlimited supply!

When I returned to the States, July 14 held a special meaning for me and I have always harkened back to that summer of wine, croissants, couture, cathedrals, and cuisine.  Through the years, I have experimented with a variety of French recipes, some authentic and some obviously Americanized.  The following recipe for Quick Coq au Vin from Bon Appetit magazine is one which fits somewhere in between yet will be perfect for you to try this weekend or on the 14th.  It’s delicious and healthy, especially when made with organic ingredients.  For the ultimate ooh-la-la moment, pair the dish with this outstanding Chateauneuf-du-Pape from 2010, sent to me as a sample and reviewed below.

*Chateau La Nerthe 2010 (sample) – 2010 was indeed a very good year for the winemakers in southern France.  This blend of 48% Grenache Noir, 29% Syrah, 22% Mourvedre, and 1% Cinsault was delicious with the savory Coq au Vin.  Dark purple in the glass, I just had to close my eyes while inhaling the aromas of red berries, blueberries, sweet spice, hint of earth and rich herbs..  The mouthwatering tastes of raspberries, cherries, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and herbs glided like velvet on the tongue leading to a long, spicy finish.  A classic, I loved how the complexity of this wine brought out the rustic tastes of mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and bacon found in the creamy wine sauce which blanketed the chicken. This wonderful example of Chateauneuf-du-Pape can be purchased for around $55.


Quick Coq au Vin


  • 4 bacon slices (coarsely chopped)
  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley (divided)
  • 8oz large crimini mushrooms (halved)
  • 8 Large shallots (peeled, halved through root end)
  • 2 garlic cloves (pressed)
  • 1 1/2 cup dry red wine (such as Syrah)
  • 1 1/2 cup low salt chicken broth (divided)
  • 4 teaspoons all purpose flour


Step 1
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Saute bacon in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer to bowl.
Step 2
Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon parsley. Add to drippings in skillet. Saute until cooked through, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer to pie dish (reserve skillet). Place in oven to keep warm.
Step 3
Add mushrooms and shallots to skillet; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Saute until brown, about 4 minutes.
Step 4
Add garlic; toss 10 seconds. Add wine, 1 1/4 cups broth, bacon, and 1 tablespoon parsley. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil 10 minutes.
Step 5
Meanwhile, place flour in small cup. Add 1/4 broth, stirring until smooth.
Step 6
Add flour mixture to sauce. Cook until sauce thickens, 3-4 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
Step 7
Arrange chicken on platter; stir juices from pie dish into sauce and spoon over chicken. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley.
Step 8
Open your bottle of Chateuneuf du Pape and enjoy the tastes of France!




 Enjoy the Bastille Day celebration! ~ Cindy


Posted in Recipes, Regional Wines, Wine Reviews | Tagged , , , 2 Comments


2 Responses to “Wine and Dine for Bastille Day ~ Quick Coq au Vin and Chateauneuf-du-Pape”
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  1. I am a huge fan of Coq au Vin, I’ll have to test this recipe out next time I’m feeling French.

    I’ve never tried Chateau La Nerthe, I’ll have to check it out if I ever see it.

    • Cindy Rynning

      Thanks for the comment! You won’t believe how easy this recipe is…if I can do it anyone, French or not, can! Enjoy~

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Four Terrific Wine Blogs to Follow ~

wineblogs1This week I will be immersed in wine…more so than usual!  Beginning Wednesday, July 9 with tours and tastings at heralded Paso Robles wineries,  I’ll be attending the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara which officially kicks off on Thursday evening.  Hundreds of wine bloggers, industry pros, winemakers, and more will convene to do more than reminisce about the movie, Sideways, which was filmed in the area or snag a swag bag with corkscrews, maps, keychains, and perhaps a bottle of wine.  Among the variety of offerings are seminars focusing on the various wine regions around the world,  the business of wine, and data as it pertains to the U.S. wine consumer.  You can be assured that I’ll be meeting new wine lovers while rekindling the friendships of those I already know.

And there will be wine.  A lot of it.  I’ll try my best to rock the Live Wine Blogging session (think speed dating with wine…) and will attend a “wine discovery ” workshop hosted by Sanford Winery from Santa Rita Hills, a food and wine pairing brunch hosted by Wines of Portugal, the after hours party featuring wines from Santa Ynez Valley, and a few invitation-only events.  I’ll be participating in other workshops and events, too.  The conference agenda is a full pour of activities sure to please anyone’s taste so check it out.  You may want to start a wine blog one day and attend!

As an active participant in the wine blogging stratosphere, I constantly strive to discover more about all things wine.  Tweaking my writing skills in order to appeal to a broad base is crucial and sometimes I have to chuckle when I read a few of my first posts from almost three years ago.  So how do I learn more?  Obviously, going to conferences, seminars, wine tastings, food pairing events, and talking to winemakers and others in the field are some ways I am able to increase my knowledge while at the same time writing about these “grape experiences” for you!

Yet there is another strategy which I employ regularly to fuel my passion:  I read others’ wine blogs.   But not just any old wine blogs…I review those that have useful content, excellent writing skills, and interesting stories.  I’d like to share some of those blogs so that you, too, can learn even more about wine in a fun and casual way!  Just don’t forget to keep following Grape Experiences!

**Wine Folly – Madeline Puckette was awarded the 2013 Wine Blogger of the Year by the International Wine and Spirits Competition and there is a reason for that.  Her blog appeals to wine newbies and seasoned wine-ohs thanks to her right-to-the-point articles, videos, and (my favorite) infographics.  Readers can learn the basics about wine, explore the world’s wine regions and what they produce, purchase her fabulous infographic posters, regional maps, and more.  Once you start following Wine Folly, you’ll be hooked!

**Vindulge – How a busy mother of twin toddlers, founder of Vindulge Wine Education and Consulting, a staff writer for Palate Press Online Wine Magazine, and a wine contributor to Barbecue America has time to write a blog is beyond me, but she does it…really well.  I met Mary Cressler last summer when we traveled together as part of a press trip through Spain’s region of Murcia on the hot trail of Monastrell and we had a ball (and alotta wine).  At that time I began following her blog for recipes, food and wine pairing suggestions, terrific photographs, and her newest topic, barbecue (with drink pairings of course!).  If you love all of the above, this is the blog for you!

**Vinography – Founded in 2004 by Alder Yarrow, considered by almost everyone as the pioneer of wine blogging, Vinography is one of the most influential online wine blogs.   What I love about this blog is that its content is broad and appeals to a worldwide audience of all levels of wine knowledge.  Restaurant reviews, editorials, book reviews, wine news and reviews, wine event coverage as well as some “ramblings and rants” are interesting and objective.  You won’t find any ads for wineries, wine products, or services on Vinography.  Alder Yarrow is committed to maintaining a blog for an “intelligent community of civil and respectful wine lovers”.  I like that.

**Wine Camp Blog - Grab your hiking shoes, big hat, and sunglasses…it’s time for Wine Camp (the blog, that is.).  Maybe it’s because I know Craig Camp, Managing Partner of Cornerstone Cellars, have waxed poetic about his amazing wines on Grape Experiences, or respect his Midwestern upbringing (he’s from Illinois), but Craig’s blog is one I go to for great wine writing and gorgeous photography.  My review of the 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Franc, Black Label Stepping Stone Cuvee will be posted July 17, but you can get a heads up right now with his June 15 backstory of the Cab Franc.  You may also enjoy his recent post about the comments Alder Yarrow (see above!) shared about Cornerstone Cellars.  Yes, the blog is specific to the winery, but to me that’s fantastic…You’ll like it, too!

 Cheers to lifelong learning about your passion. ~ Cindy



Posted in Events and Travel, Random Thoughts, Thinking Out of the Box, Wine Connoisseurs | 3 Comments


3 Responses to “Four Terrific Wine Blogs to Follow ~”
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  1. Alina

    I *love* Mary’s blog! I’ve been following her for a long time. See you on Thursday, right?!?

  2. Really looking forward to meeting you and all the other fabulous writers!

  3. Many thanks for the mention of Wine Camp Cindy! I find it helps me organize my thoughts and feelings about wines to write about what I taste and what I make. It’s a pleasure and an honor to know that people are enjoying my thoughts about what I love to do.

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