Wines for All Seasons: Two Napa Cabernets

wineflashWherever you are right now, frolicking on the beach under sunny, warm skies or bundled in your cold weather gear in front of a fireplace, there are two Napa Cabernets that can be savored…now.  Both are so incredibly smooth, balanced, and, well, elegant that any white wine lover will toss that glass of Pinot Grigio aside and ask for a pour of one of these.  What am I loving (that you should, too) right now? Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and Cornerstone Cellars 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, both sent to me as samples, are the “it” wines of my week.

When many think of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, wines that are big, rich, and bold with high tannic structure may come to mind. But there are plenty of winemakers crafting softer Cabernets that express the purity of the fruits grown in a variety of vineyards each with its own microclimate and terroir.  As much as I appreciate those traditional grand Napa Cabernets, my palate leans towards those that are more elegant in design;  I want to be able to open an appealing bottle of Cabernet after a long day of snowboarding as well as during a lovely summer lunch on the patio…and be completely satisfied.

Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (sample) 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.  Cost is $49.

After tasting the focused and structured Cornerstone Cellars 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (sample), you would never know that the 2011 vintage posed challenges to Napa Valley winemakers.  At the same time,  I had no doubt that those at Cornerstone Cellars would succeed; their commitment to producing wines of quality is constant .

A wet winter and spring with rain continuing into June delayed bud break and without high temperatures during the summer, the fruit ripened ever so slowly albeit at the same rate.  The harvest was later than usual thanks to more rain yet warmth finally arrived and grapes were finally ready for picking. Cabernet Sauvignon from Kairos Vineyard, Oak Knoll District, Oakville Station, Ink Grade Vineyard, Howell Mountain and Merlot from Oakville Station spent 22 months in French oak barrels prior to bottling.

And the profile of the 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon? Teasing me to take that first sip were enticing aromas of black cherries, licorice, chocolate, dried rosemary, and damp earth.  Dark, red, luscious fruit notes, vanilla, and mocha were braided with soft, supple tannins and bright acidity.  With a velvety finish that lingered, this appealing wine is as elegant as you’ll ever find in a Napa Cabernet.  Cost is $65.

Most wine lovers know that it makes perfect sense to open a bottle of rich, elegant Cabernet during the winter months – instant warmth!  Beach loving snowbirds, may decide that a cool, crisp white wine may be their only choice.  I get it – it’s hot and you want to chill with a cool glass.  But wait.  A perfect end to a cold or hot day will be a glass or two of Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 or Cornerstone Cellars 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Because elegance is always in style…whatever the season.

Cheers~ Cindy


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It’s Time for a Wine Quiz – How Much Do You Really Know?

This week I’m offering a wine quiz that is different from the others. Following are tasting notes from some of my most popular posts published recently. It’s up to you to match the tasting note with the wines listed below. In the event that you need a bit of assistance or would like to learn more, click the name of each wine for a direct link to the full article. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine and have fun!


Your choices of wines are…

2013 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone White Rocks!

Fontana Candida Terre dei Grifi 2012 Frascati

Swedish Hill Riesling 2013

Bouchaine Vineyards Bacchus Collection 2012 Estate Pinot Meunier

2010 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon, Puente Alto Vineyard

Avantis Estate Charisma Red 2011

 1.  Aromas of dark fruits, purple flowers, and vanilla & tastes of black pepper, luscious red fruits such as cherries and a hint of strawberries, cinnamon and vanilla can be found on the nose and palate.  Subtle tannins and a nice amount of acidity rounded out this balanced wine.

2.  This wine exhibited fruit forward aromas and palate profile.  Raspberries, cherries, and blueberries burst with flavor alongside subtle baking spice.  Smoky oak lent an exotic flair.  Balanced with integrated tannins and food friendly acidity, the wine was a welcome pairing to my recipe for Cornish hens under a blanket of garlic and herb sauce.

3.  Ahhh…a secret blend of three varietals presented intense aromas of bright citrus and minerality that created a “wow” factor.  On the palate, I loved the mouthwatering acidity, refreshing tastes of pear and melon, tropical fruits, and balance all of which led to a lingering finish, both tart and fruit forward.

4.  Shimmering light gold in the glass, aromas of yellow flowers, sweet spice, and citrus aromas were lovely.  Dry with high acidity, I noticed a palate profile of pears, more juicy citrus, exotic fruits, and subtle notes of apricot and almonds.  Balanced and smooth, this was delicious with fresh seafood and a crisp salad.

5.  Deep red fruit and sweet spice grabbed my nose.  Although I craved my first taste, I was mesmerized by the intense aromas in the glass.  Notes of rich and jammy red fruits, minerality, and graphite were elegant on the palate.  The initial juicy fruit tastes led to a more complex structure balancing tannins and acidity, fruit and alcohol.  A deep, long finish didn’t want to let go and I was much more than satisfied.

6.  One whiff of the peaches, grapefruit, and tropical fruits in the glass was all I needed to be enticed to take my first sip of this fresh and rich wine. On the palate, the fruit profile continued along with a subtle dash of minerality. Creamy and bold, this wine had more depth than I expected.

Cheers!  ~ Cindy



1.  Avantis Estate Charisma Red 2011

2.  Bouchaine Vineyards Bacchus Collection 2012 Estate Pinot Meunier

3.  2013 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone White Rocks!

4.  Fontana Candida Terre dei Grifi 2012 Frascati

5.  2010 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon, Puente Alto Vineyard

6.  Swedish Hill Riesling 2013

Posted in Random Thoughts, Tasting Techniques, Wine Reviews, Wine School | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , 2 Comments


2 Responses to “It’s Time for a Wine Quiz – How Much Do You Really Know?”
show comments ⇓

  1. I already know I failed this quiz. Looks like I need to drink more wine to learn more.

    :] // ▲ ▲

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Wine and Dine: Avantis Charisma Red 2011 and Spanakopita

This past weekend my family and I dined at a favorite local Greek restaurant, Greek Islands, in Chicago.  Although I continue to enjoy upscale restaurants serving delicious authentic regional dishes from Greece, I always return to the old-school stylings of Greek Islands…what’s there not to love about reasonable prices, a bounty of dolmades, souvlaki, gyros, saganaki, spanakopita, and more?

I love spanakopita.  Whenever I visit a Greek outpost of food, I always ask for this dish either as an appetizer or entree.  During the holidays, I spent a day at Pike’s Place in Seattle where a street vendor offered this savory treat.  Many years ago, a hole-in-the-wall spot on Chicago’s Clark Street offered some of the most memorable I have ever tasted.  Yet, the spanakopita from Greek Islands is one of the best and although the recipe below isn’t that used in the restaurant, it’s incredibly close.  Bursting with flavors of spinach, green onions, dill, feta cheese, and nutmeg carefully tucked between thin, buttery, layers of phyllo pastry, this delectable delicacy will transport you to a sunny, wind swept island, a trattoria in a small Greek village, or Baba’s warm kitchen.

Of course, all you’ll need is a bottle of wine!  Our family enjoyed a bottle of Avantis Charisma Red 2011 sent to me as a sample.  Grapes were sourced from selected semi-mountainous vineyards on the island of Evia, located off the eastern coast of central Greece, and Viotia, in central Greece and north of Attica.  Consisting of 50% Vradiano, a rare indigenous grape from the area, and 50% Merlot, the Charisma Red from Avantis Winery in Evia was a wonderful complement to our Spanakopita and frankly, with the other dishes tasted.

With aromas of dark fruits, purple flowers, and vanilla, the Avantis Charisma Red 2011 presented tastes of black pepper, luscious red fruits such as cherries and a hint of strawberries, cinnamon and vanilla.  Subtle tannins and a nice amount of acidity rounded out this balanced wine which is only $10.




  • 2lb fresh spinach (washed, dried, trimmed, and coarsely chopped)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch scallions (about 10 small white and light-greenparts only, trimmed and finely chopped)
  • 2 cups crumbled feta cheese ((10 ounces))
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Greek kefalotyri cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 Large eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill (finely chopped)
  • 1/3 cup fresh, flat leaf parsley (finely chopped)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • kosher or fine sea salt
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil for brushing the dough
  • 18 9x14 inch sheets frozen phyllo dough (thawed and at room temperature)
  • 2 teaspoons whole milk


Step 1
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Step 2
To make the filling: Heat a 10 inch straight sided sauté pan over medium high heat. Add a few large handfuls of the spinach and cook, tossing gently with tongs. As the spinach starts to wilt, add the rest a few handfuls at a time. Cook until all the spinach is wilted and bright green, about 4 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the spinach to a colander set in a sink. Let cook slightly and squeeze with your hands to extract as much of the remaining liquid as you can.
Step 3
Wipe the pan dry with a paper towel. Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the scallions and cook until soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Stir in the spinach, turn off the heat, and let cool for 5 minutes.
Step 4
Stir in the cheeses, eggs, dill, parsley, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix thoroughly.
Step 5
To assemble the pie: With a pastry brush, lightly coat the bottom and sides of a 9x13x2 inch baking pan with some of the oil. Working quickly, lightly oil one side of a phyllo sheet and lay it in the pan oiled side up and off center so that it partially covers the bottom and reaches halfway up one long side of the pan (the edge on the bottom of the pan will be about 1 inch from the side). Lightly oil the top of another phyllo sheet and lay it oiled side up and off center so it reaches halfway up the other long side of the pan. Repeat this pattern with 4 more phyllo sheets.
Step 6
Lightly oil the tops of 3 phyllo sheets and layer them oiled side up and centered in the pan. Spread the filling evenly over the last layer.
Step 7
Repeat the oiling and layering of the remaining 9 phyllo sheets over the filling in the same way you layered the previous 9. With the oiled bristles of the pastry brush, push the edges of the phyllo down around the sides of the pan to enclose the filling completely.
Step 8
With a sharp knife, score the top phyllo layer into 24 rectangles, being careful not to cut all the way through to the filling. Using the same pastry brush, brush the milk along all the score marks (this will keep the phyllo from flaking up along the edges of the squares).
Step 9
Bake the spanakopita until the top crust is golden brown, 35 - 45 minutes. Let cool until just warm. Cut out the rectangles carefully along the score marks and serve.
Step 10


 Enjoy! ~ Cindy


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Valentine’s Day Wine: How to Get the Girl

There is one simple way to get the girl this Valentine’s Day:  give her mother a bottle of wine.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.  We all have mothers who at one point or another have solved any problem, dished out advice (solicited or not) on any subject, and made you feel like the best and/or worst person in the world with just one look.  They love their children like no other so when it comes to their daughter’s boyfriends, beware and be scared.  These moms can deem you daughter-worthy with a lightning fast assessment.

If you’re already in good graces with the mother of your Valentine hopeful that’s great…let’s keep it that way with a delicious bottle of wine.  But, if you are on the periphery of the tight family group, bringing Mom some vino may be your ticket into the circle of trust.

The five wines below are some of my previously reviewed favorites.  Each is under $20, a price you can afford, and which will not seem, in Mom’s eyes, that you are “trying too hard”!  Hint: if you’re really smart, you’ll purchase a bottle for your Valentine, too!

Barone Fini Pinot Grigio 2013 (sample) – Most people I know enjoy a good glass of two of Pinot Grigio – just ask any self respecting book club member.  From Alto Adige in Northern Italy, this delicious wine showed aromas of flowers, citrus, pear, and crisp yellow apples.  Its high acidity and rich tastes of more citrus were smooth and balanced which paired ever so nicely with grilled calamari and bruschetta.  Cost is $12.


Piccini Memoro Bianco NV (sample) – Four of my favorite grapes blended into one tasty wine?  Yes!  The combination of 40% Viognier from Sicily, 30% Chardonnay from Trentino, 20% Vermentino from Maremma, and 10% Pecorino grapes from Marche shimmered gold in the glass.  With rich, intense aromas of honey, ripe melon, peaches,  and yellow flowers, I felt as if I was about to taste a delectable cross section of Italy!  In fact, the compass on the label signifies the four different grapes, “each a typical expression of a distinct Italian region.” On the palate, I found more honey, beeswax, pear, and oak and the finish on this balanced white wine was long and concentrated.  Mention to Mom that she may want to pair this wine with seafood, pastas with a creamy sauce, roasted vegetables, her daughter, and you.  Cost is around $10.


Bolla Chianti 2012 (sample) – Red cherries and purple flowers were fragrant in the glass and you’ll enjoy the mild tannins and food friendly acidity of this Sangiovese based Chianti from Tuscany.  Creamy and balanced, flavors of black cherries, plums, and raspberries led to a deliciously lasting finish.  I paired the wine with an authentic Chicken Marsala dish, but Mom may also enjoy it with rich pastas, roasted meats, and aged cheeses.  Cost is $10.


Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro La Planta 2013 (sample) – Consisting of 100% Tinto Fino, another name for Tempranillo, the winery is located in the heart of the Ribera del Duero.  Fermented in stainless steel, the wine was aged in French and American oak for six months.  A lovely cherry color in the glass, aromas of spice, blue and purple fruits, toasty oak, and butterscotch were intense.  I enjoyed the flavors of more spice, oak, and fruit as well as its balanced acidity and tannins which led to a satisfying finish.  Mom may want to serve the La Planta 2013 at the next family dinner (with you as a guest?).  Cost is $16.


Josh Cellars Legacy Red Blend 2012 (sample) – A blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah, I loved this delicious wine of grapes sourced from California’s Central Coast, Lodi, Sonoma, and Napa.  On the nose, black cherries, baking spices, and vanilla extract were enticing.  Soft tannins and bright acidity with jammy flavors of blueberries, more black cherries, sage, rosemary and a touch of chocolate led to a smooth finish.  Crafted in honor of his father, Winemaker Joseph Carr has produced a delicious wine sure to please.  Cost is $15.


Happy Valentine’s Day!  Good luck! ~ Cindy



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Wine and Dine: Garcia + Schwaderer Pinot Noir 2011 and Duck Bacon Black Bean and Sweet Corn Salsa

Duck bacon, you say?  Why, yes!  Although I regularly receive wine samples and occasionally wine related products and food items about which to write, I have never received duck!  Consider me a lucky duck (pun intended) having been approached by the powers that be at the Boston Wine Expo with hopes that I would like to receive samples from Maple Leaf Farms and be available for a twitter tasting about duck paired with the wine of my choice on Monday, February 9 at 8pm Eastern time. 

You, of course, can join the conversation by using the hashtag #BWEChat, @BostonWineExpo, and @MapleLeafFarms.

After I quickly responded “yes”, a package of duck bacon, a half pre-cooked duck breast, and two duck fillets all from Maple Leaf Farms were sent.  Located near Milford, Indiana, Maple Leaf Farms was founded in 1958 and continues to dominate the duck market in North America.  Their website offers a plethora of information about its history, sustainable practices, and stewardship.  Thankfully, there are recipes galore and most are uncomplicated…such as the recipe I chose for Duck Bacon Black Bean and Sweet Corn Salsa.

To be honest, I substituted duck bacon in the salsa instead of shredded duck breast, suggested as an ingredient in the recipe.  I wanted to take the salsa to a neighborhood party and thought that the duck bacon would contribute a spicy flavor and chewy texture.  My new found team of duck lovers at the party begged for the recipe…and I’m sure they’ll keep quacking until they read this post!

The trick, of course, was to find a wine to pair with the savory taste and texture of the finely chopped duck blended with cilantro, beans, lime, and more.  I finally decided that the Garcia + Schwaderer Pinot Noir 2011 (sent as a sample) from Chile may be a good choice…and it was.

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.  Cost is $35.

Neither the Pinot Noir with its fruit forward palate profile, spice, and fresh acidity or the duck salsa with its savory and tangy notes overpowered the other.  This was a surprisingly successful pairing!


Duck Bacon with Black Bean and Sweet Corn Salsa


  • 4 medium slices Maple Leaf Farms Duck Bacon (finely chopped)
  • 1 cup cooked black beans
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (finely diced)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 limes
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 bag tortilla chips


Step 1
Fry the four slices of duck bacon for four minutes on each side. Drain on a paper towel.
Step 2
Finely dice the duck bacon.
Step 3
Mix all ingredients except limes and taco chips in a non reactive bowl.
Step 4
Juice the two limes and add juice to the mixture.
Step 5
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Step 6
Garnish salsa with sprigs of cilantro.
Step 7
Serve at room temperature.
Step 8


Cheers~ Cindy

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