Summer Tote Must Haves for the Wine Lover

Summer ToteEveryone has a summer tote bag with the requisite water bottle, thirsty towel, and plenty of snacks.  But wine lovers need a few more things to enhance their fun in the sun. Besides a favorite corkscrew, I have some suggestions that you won’t want to leave at home.  Whether you are attending a picnic or music festival, relaxing at the beach, pool, or lake, or sailing the high seas, these tote-worthy wine items are guaranteed to make your summer weekend that much better!

Saving Grapes by J.T. Lundy (sample) – Everyone needs a fun and quick read while lounging and this is it. Crazy, colorful characters from small town Illinois travel to France to claim an inheritance to a vineyard now run by nuns.  Naturally, madcap antics ensue replete with (more) nuns, women, villains, and plenty of wine to make each entertaining chapter one that you can’t wait to finish and there is a unique twist at the end. Interestingly enough, this is a romantic comedy from a male perspective. Let’s just say that I’ve already casted the movie.  Saving Grapes is available on and  Cost is around $15.

Line 39 Chardonnay 2013 (sample) – No day at the beach is complete without a splash of refreshing white wine in your glass. Named for the 39th parallel that runs through California wine country (and where you can find Line 39 wines), this Chardonnay with its fresh, clean aromas of citrus and stone fruit will add a special something to your day. On the palate, high acidity laced with green apple, apricot, snappy citrus and dash of oak lead to a lip smacking finish. Cost is $10.

Summer Tote must haves
Goverre Wine Glasses (purchased) – I heard about Goverre Wine Glasses through a wine loving friend who encouraged me to assist in their Kickstarter project.  The project was a success and I received four portable, stemless, wine glasses with a silicone sleeve and drink-through lid in tangerine, lemon, sea blue, and black as a thank you.  Leakproof and dishwasher safe, these unbreakable glasses hold about two glasses of wine and are easily transportable from the dock to the boat.  If you don’t have one of these in your beach bag, you are missing out on a brilliant product! Ditch the red Solo cup and switch to Goverre.  Cost is around $15 each.

Goverre wine glasses
Smart Living Wine Chiller Set (sample) – Before you pour your glass of Chardonnay into a Goverre glass, you’ll want to keep it chilled under the beach umbrella.  The Smart Living Wine Chiller Set (see picture at the end of this post) comes with a stainless steel wine chiller stick, drip free pouring spout, in-line aerator, and wine stopper.  Just screw in the pouring spout piece to the chiller stick (which must be chilled in your refrigerator before you pack your tote), pour one glass of wine first so your treasured juice won’t be displaced, insert the stick in the bottle, and voila! Your wine will be kept cool for an hour or so – plenty of time to have a few glasses of wine while reading Saving Grapes.

Old York Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (sample) – This enticing summer red is from (sit down) New Jersey! Yes, the Garden State is producing some lovely wines and this is one example.  You may not consider a rich Cabernet Sauvignon lake side worthy on a hot day, but trust me, this will pair beautifully with a pasta salad, sharp cheddar, and more.   Ruby in my glass with a hint of vanilla and dark red cherries on the nose, this dry wine was fruit forward with more dark cherries and blackberries, light oak, vanilla, and spice. Balanced with integrated tannins lifted by gentle acidity, the finish was lingering and delicious. Cost is around $21.

Old York Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Vinomax Pourer Aerator (sample) – Easy to use, the Vinomax Pourer Aerator gives triple (!) the aeration to your bottle of red wine.  Dampen the silicone stopper before use and firmly insert the neck of the aerator into the bottle of wine.  I’ve already written about the Vinomax Hand Held Aerator and this product is just as effective. You’ll be the talk of the pool crowd since your Cabernet Sauvignon will taste the better than all of the others’… Cost is $44.95.

Stain Rx (sample) – It’s inevitable that a splash of red wine will find itself on your white shorts.  What I love about Stain Rx wine stain remover wipes is that it’s fragrance free with no bleach, peroxide, or phosphates.  I’ve already used these handy wipes that can be tucked away in the corner of your summer tote to remove a red wine stain from a new dress – it worked!  You may find this “I can’t live without it” product for any wine lover available at wineries or retail outlets but you may order them online, too.  Cost is $14.99 for 18 wipes.

Summer Tote must haves

Cheers! ~ Cindy

Posted in Product Reviews, Regional Wines, Thinking Out of the Box, Wine Reviews | Tagged , Leave a comment

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

Wine and Dine: Bellangelo 1866 Reserve Gewurztraminer 2013 and Pineapple Cheese Ball

What goes around comes around.  The last “cheese ball” (the name says it all) you may have had was most likely one from your youth, but I’m here to let you know that this appetizer staple of the 70s is back…and here to stay.  Tangy or sweet ingredients encased by cheesy goodness and usually rolled in nuts for crunch (and stability) comprise a dish worthy of a prominent place on your table for guests to nosh on then nod their approval.  Paired with a delicious wine your guests will be raving and you may have to take a bow for making the cheese ball a new throwback favorite.

While looking through cookbooks recently, I found one of my favorites, Pineapple Cheese Ball, that my Lilly Pulitzer clad mother always made for deck parties each summer. A sphere of fresh green pepper and crushed pineapple mixed with cream cheese and seasoned salt then covered with pecans and served with crackers was always a crowd pleaser and I loved to sneak bites when I could.  I can’t recollect the wine Mom served (perhaps it was a gin and tonic or whisky sour instead!), but I found a fabulous pairing:  Bellangelo 1866 Reserve Gewurztraminer 2013 (sent to me as a sample) from the Finger Lakes wine region in New York.

The Missick family now owns Villa Bellangelo, a winery on Seneca Lake where I can’t wait to visit this summer during the Wine Bloggers Conference.  As an homage to Dr. Byron Spence who made the decision to plant grapes on the sloping east side of the lake in 1866, the premium wines, 1866 Reserve, are produced; 2013 was the first vintage year for the 1866 Reserve Gewurztraminer. Intense aromas of lime, lemon, pineapple, spice, and roses were vibrant and enticing.  Lychee nuts, citrus, sweet herbs, honey, and ginger blended to create a palate profile which was balanced, bold, and bright. A touch of sweet with just enough acidity, I loved the lingering finish of this wine which paired surprisingly well with the pineapple, green pepper, cheese, and pecans in the appetizer. Trust me, you’ll love this pairing. Cost is around $30.

Bellangelo 1866 Reserve Gewurztraminer 2013

Pineapple Cheese Ball


  • 16oz cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple (drained)
  • 1/4 cup pecans or walnuts (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup green pepper (finely chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt or salt and pepper to taste


Step 1
Mix all ingredients together.
Step 2
Form into a ball and roll in nuts.
Step 3
Cover and chill. Serve with crackers.
Step 4

Pineapple Cheese Ball

Cheers! ~ Cindy


Posted in Recipes, Regional Wines, Wine Reviews | Tagged Leave a comment

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

Summer Sippers from Van Duzer Vineyards

Surprisingly, there are many wine lovers who have not been introduced to wines from Oregon. I’m a huge fan of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and other varietals grown in that beautiful state and love to share wine reviews and information about its wine regions.   Just last week I profiled Florent Merlier, winemaker at Van Duzer Vineyards in the Willamette Valley, where cool winds from the Pacific Ocean breeze through the Van Duzer Corridor to the center of the valley.  Merlier has received plenty of accolades for the cool climate wines that reflect his unique style of winemaking.  I was fortunate to receive from him samples that included two whites and a rosé that are just delicious for summer sipping.  Perhaps you will find them as porch friendly as I did!

2014 Estate Pinot Gris – The Pinot Gris grape is the same as Pinot Grigio; it’s the region and the style of winemaking that reflect the differences.  Van Duzer Estate Pinot Gris is fermented in four batches using three different yeasts.  One is to build upon the aromas of bright tropical fruit, another is to offer a “rich mouth feel”, and the last is to maintain its flinty character.  The grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks and released after six months.  In my glass, I found aromas of zesty minerality, stone fruits, and a touch of floral.  On the palate were intense yet light notes of the same as well as crisp green apple and bright acidity.  I enjoyed this lovely, chilled Pinot Gris with spinach and artichoke crepes and a fresh, green salad, but you could pour a glass or two and pair with a good book while soaking up the warm sun.  Cost is $18.

Van Duzer 2014 Estate Pinot Gris
2013 Riesling–  Hand harvested grapes from two different vineyards in the Dundee Hills AVA in the Willamette Valley were pressed then inoculated with three different yeasts to “increase and highlight the floral, aromatics, and mouthfeel characteristics”.  Fermentation in stainless steel tanks and three months of ageing on the lees resulted in a fresh palate profile with a creaminess I love. On the nose I found intense floral notes, nuts, and tropical fruit; flavors of citrus and lemon with a dash of minerality followed.  Balanced with depth that was notable, the lively finish was incredibly satisfying.  Cost is $20.

Van Duzer 2013 Riesling
2014 Pinot Noir Rosé –  One of my favorite rosés from Oregon, the Pinot Noir grapes in the Van Duzer 2014 were gently pressed after a short skin contact and fermented with four different yeasts.  After cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the juice aged on the lees.  Mesmerizing aromas of flowers, red fruits and melon wafted from glass.  My palate was in wine heaven with the fresh, rich flavors of red berries including cherries, raspberries, and strawberries.  With a snap of acidity in this dry Rosé, I found a touch of spice on the lingering finish.  If you’ve never tasted a Rosé of Pinot Noir, this should be the one! Cost is $18.

2014 Pinot Noir Rose

Cheers! ~ Cindy



Posted in Regional Wines, Wine Connoisseurs, Wine Reviews, Wineries | Tagged , , Leave a comment

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

Let Dad See Red on Father’s Day

Father's Day winesWe all know the look when Dad is not happy. The look in his eyes says it all. He speaks. What did you do? Why did you do that? What were you thinking? Go to your room and we’ll discuss this later. Or something like that… Yep, he’s seeing red and you’re on the hot seat.

But Sunday is Father’s Day, the day set aside for all children, young or old, to thank their father for teaching them many of life’s lessons and helping them become brilliant contributors to the universe (because of course you know you are). What better way to honor Dad than to give him a bottle of delicious wine?  You know he won’t be angry about that!

Following is a roundup of five reds, all sent to me as samples, that I’ve loved during the last few months. From a variety of tastes to price points, I know you’ll find a wine that your dad will love as much as he does you.

Happy Father’s Day!

Garcia + Schwaderer Pinot Noir 2011  – From Chile’s Casablanca Valley, this wine in the Burgundian style showed intense aromas of cherries, blueberries, and white pepper.  On the palate, its mouthwatering acidity, supple tannins, and abundant fruit coupled with floral notes, vanilla, spice, and minerality led to a long lasting finish.  Aged for 18 months in used French oak, the Garcia + Schwaderer Pinot Noir 2011 was lightly filtered and bottled.  Dad will most likely open this as soon as you give it to him! Cost is $35.

Garcia+Schwaderer Pinot Noir
Matanegra Vendimia Seleccionada 2010 – The tempranillo in in this wine is from 80-90 year old vines located in the D.O. Ribera del Duero region of Spain. Aged for nineteen months in French oak barrels, aromas of cherries, vanilla, exotic spice, and hint of florals were lovely. On the palate, soft tannins and medium acidity were braided with notes of more vanilla and spice as well as cocoa and minerality. This elegant, smooth as satin Tempranillo was one of the best I’ve had in awhile and I’m guessing Dad will agree. Cost is $60.

Matanegra Vendimia Seleccionada 2010
Alanera Rosso Veronese IGT 2012 – If you love red blends then you’ll be thrilled to taste this medley of Corvina, Rondinella, Corvinone, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon from Italy’s region of Veneto.  The name “Alanera” means “black wing” of the raven, “corvino” in Italian, and is a bow to the region’s signature grape, corvina.  Throughout the area, the appassimento method of drying grapes is used; the concentrated juice from those grapes adds unique aromas and flavors.  50% of the grapes harvested to produce Alanera Rosso are partially dried for 45-60 days. Aromas of currants, vanilla, sweet spice, and dried cherries were intense and indicative of that traditional appassimento method.  On the palate, I found sensuous notes of raisins, dark berries, vanilla, and coffee along with well integrated tannins and lively acidity.  Balanced and bright, this wine with its $20 price tag could be mistaken for one that costs much more. Trust me, Dad will appreciate this!

Alanera Rosso Veronese IGT 2012
Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – The Faust is a perfect example of a wine from a vintage year that was ideal.  A beautiful summer of warm days and cool nights in Napa led to a harvest offering no surprises from Mother Nature.  Cabernet Sauvignon from Rutherford and Coombsville, and Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot from growers in Atlas Peek, Mount Veeder, St. Helena, and the Oak Knoll District were hand picked, double sorted and crushed, then cold soaked and fermented in French oak and stainless steel tanks.  After maceration and malolactic fermentation in the barrel, the wine was aged for 19 months in 100% French oak. Aromas of mint, chocolate, red fruit, flowers, and sweet vanilla spice were rich and intense.  On the palate, this dry wine with mouthwatering acidity and well integrated tannins burst with juicy ripe berries.  Balanced and complex, intense yet graceful, the satin like finish with a touch of spice reminded me with every sip why I love wine.  Dad will understand. Cost is $49.

Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Cornerstone Cellars 2011 Napa Valley “The Cornerstone” – Graceful and pure, complex and luxurious, this is everything a wine should be.  It can be held for several decades…but that wasn’t about to happen. “The Cornerstone” is a blend of selected barrels from Oakville Station Vineyard in Oakville.  A true masterpiece, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc join to create intense, lush aromatics of dark rich cherries, licorice, plums, blackberries, and sweet spice. On the palate, sweeping strokes of deep red berries and more spice are framed by well honed tannins and bright, mouthwatering acidity which provide harmony and balance.  Its finish is long, elegant, and intriguing. Give Dad nothing but the best. Cost is $200.

Cornerston Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 "The Cornerstone"
Devil’s Collection Red 2013 – From the Rapel Valley, a sub-region of the Cachapoal Valley and the largest wine producing region in Chile’s Central Valley, aromas bursting from the glass were of lavender, black cherries, and vanilla.  Aged in French and American oak, I found notes of sweet spice, black pepper, herbs, chocolate, and red fruits with a touch of earth.  Balanced with integrated tannins and a long, tingly finish this wine of 60% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Carmenere paired well with burgers on the grill.  After aerating for a half hour or so, you may sip and savor this interesting red with game meats, pizza, meat with rich sauces, or hard cheeses.  For the Dad who loves good wine and a reasonable price…cost is $15.

Casillero del Diablo Devil's Collection Red 2013

Cheers! ~ Cindy



Posted in Random Thoughts, Regional Wines, Thinking Out of the Box, Wine Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , Leave a comment

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

Thriving on Challenges: Florent Merlier, Winemaker at Van Duzer Vineyards

Florent MerlierFlorent-Pierre Merlier, Winemaker at Van Duzer Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, sent me one of the most gracious emails I have ever received – he thanked me for my positive review of his Van Duzer Rose 2013 after I attended Pinot Days 2014 in Chicago.  I was impressed by this kind and thoughtful gesture and I have kept that email as a reminder that yes, some winemakers actually do read reviews of their wines!

Called “Flo” by those who know him well, Merlier and I follow each other on social media.  He was the winner of a raffle I conducted on my site this past January (all legal I assure you!). And through casual conversation, we realized that we were in France at around the same time this spring; he was in Burgundy while I visited Chamonix.  At that point I knew that I must learn more about this man whose life seems just as interesting as the wines he crafts at Van Duzer Vineyards.

Growing up in Escolives Ste. Camille, an old village around Auxerre where Romans imported grapes in the third century BC, Merlier learned about wine at a very young age.  His playground of sorts was the barrel room and underground wine cellar belonging to the family of one of his childhood friends. As time went by, Merlier attended the Sorbonne in Paris with the intention of studying film.  However he fell in love with the wine business after working at wineries in Burgundy and Switzerland; he changed career paths, receiving a Diploma in Viticulture from the University of Dijon.  Merlier shared that he learned an incredible amount from his work in Switzerland.  Its “weather, terrain, variation from one site to another, and disease create one of the most challenging endeavors for any winemaker” explained Merlier who quickly added that he is always “pushing himself to do better and deal with hurdles.  If it’s too easy, you don’t learn.”

Merlier moved to Oregon in 2009 and interned for a winery while “looking for the right job”, a “tough proposition” in his words.  He became a staff member at Van Duzer Vineyards in 2010; by 2013 he was promoted to Winemaker and is now producing wines that have helped put Oregon firmly on the wine map. With coastal winds from the Pacific Ocean, cool nights, and warm breezes during the day, the vineyards of Van Duzer are located in the most beautiful area of the Willamette Valley…in Merlier’s humble opinion.

Van Duzer Vineyards
Winemaker, Florent Merlier may be from Burgundy but don’t assume he’s crafting wines at Oregon’s Van Duzer Vineyards in the Burgundian style. He is quick to admit that there are differences between the two regions, one of which is dry farming which may be effective in Burgundy (thanks to so much rain), but not Oregon.  Another difference is sugar accumulation and acid degradation.  “It is extremely common to chaptalize (add sugar) and remove acid in Burgundy; it is the opposite in Oregon.  Those facts lead me to adapt my winemaking to minimize alcohol conversion by using appropriate yeast for example or in the vineyard by trying to preserve acidity (balance sun exposure of the cluster).”

Merlier wants to craft wines with vibrancy, texture and depth with silky tannins and a chalky mouthfeel depending on the clone of course. One of the many highlights of the job is tasting the first bottle of the vintage.  But of course.

Challenges? Florent Merlier thrives on them.  “You see what you get, react, and do your best” could be his mantra.  Merlier’s viticultural work in Switzerland with its difficult terrain and more, his search to find a job that would be the best fit for him, the “stressful 2013 vintage year” when there was plenty of rain, the “inconsistencies of the wine business”, and more continue to test this on-the-go winemaker.

If Merlier isn’t tending to his winemaking duties at Van Duzer,  gardening, cooking, or spending time with his wife and two children, you may find him enjoying a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir (he is from Burgundy after all!) or one from the Gigondas in the southern Rhone wine region of France. Merlier even loves “wine that challenges. Finding a new wine gives me such pleasure.”  Now that’s a challenge I’m guessing all of us would accept.

Cheers~ Cindy

Note: I was sent as samples wines from Van Duzer Vineyards.  I will continue to update this post with links to my reviews as they are written.

2012 Van Duzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

2014 Estate Pinot Gris

2013 Riesling

2014 Pinot Noir Rosé

Posted in Old World v. New World, Regional Wines, Wine Connoisseurs, Wine School, Wineries | Leave a comment

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png