#MerlotMe with Duckhorn and J.Lohr paired with Duck Breasts Provençale

It’s time for another food and wine pairing extravaganza from the #WinePW group and if you’re a Merlot lover, you’ll love it! Because October is #MerlotMe month, each of the group’s fortunate wineloving foodies received sample bottles of wine from a variety of producers from California so that we could pair them with a complementary dish of our choice. Passionate about wine and food pairings, each of us planned and prepared our recipes with hopes that you will join us on Twitter this Saturday, October 10 at 11 am Eastern.  Simply use the hashtag #WinePW to join the conversation. Learn about about our delicious Merlot and food pairings and be ready to share your thoughts.

You may be surprised to read that Merlot is the second leading variety planted in California, the first being Cabernet Sauvignon. Its grapes, lighter blue and black than those of Cabernet Sauvignon, have a thin skin with loose bunches of berries hanging from the vines. In general, dominant flavors include raspberry, black cherry, plum, chocolate, and cedar yet earth, herbal, and floral notes may be detected. One of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux blends, Merlot from the Right Bank of Bordeaux, especially St. Emilion and Pomerol, helped boost its international reputation. California vintners have found success in their plantings of Merlot and each expresses its terroir as well as the winemaker’s style. Merlot on its own suggests gentle tannins and softness; in a blend, it adds, among other notes, a smooth and luscious mouthfeel.

I was pleased to receive one bottle each of Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot 2012 (sample) and J.Lohr Paso Robles Merlot 2013 (sample). Yet, the challenge was to choose a recipe that would complement both wines while bringing out the flavors and nuances of each. It didn’t take long to decide upon a recipe for Duck Breasts Provençale found on the Maple Leaf Farms website and, naturally, create this dish using Maple Leaf Farms duck breast filets. This savory dish boasting olive oil, Herbes de Provence, capers, sundried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and parsley atop the lightly seared then roasted duck breasts was absolutely scrumptious. It looked and tasted like a gourmet’s delight but was effortless to make; the Duck Breast is Provençale a dish I will make again and again…with a side of Merlot, of course! Read on…

The Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot 2012, luscious blend of 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec, presented intense aromas of black cherries, plums, and spice. Dry with succulent acidity and finely woven, satin like tannins, spice was dominant with blackberries, plums, mint, lavender notes, vanilla, and hint of cedar on the finish. Structured and complex courtesy of the blend, each taste of the duck breast followed by a sip of the Duckhorn Merlot was a surprise. This rich wine with its cedar, mint, and black fruit flavors highlighted the intriguing Mediterranean tastes of the Kalamata olives, capers, and sundried tomatoes. Cost is $54.

Another choice, J. Lohr Paso Robles Merlot 2013, was a woodsy blend of 86% Merlot and 14% Malbec. Paso Robles is one of my favorite wine regions and has received international attention for its production of quality Bordeaux blends. After aerating for thirty minutes, I noted aromas of cherries and vanilla wafting from the glass. Flavors included chocolate, spice, black cherries, and pomegranate with notes of spice, lively acidity, and integrated tannins that led to a lingering, fruit forward finish. The wine was delightful with the Duck Breasts Provençale; it would also serve as a wonderful pairing with roasted duck under a light herb sauce. Cost is $15.

Duck Breasts Provençale


  • 4 duck breast filets
  • 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence blend
  • 1/4 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon capers (rinsed)
  • 1 tablespoon parsley (chopped)


Step 1
Heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 2
With small sharp knife, remove skin from duck breasts. Season breasts on both sides with herbes de Provence.
Step 3
In 10 inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add breasts and brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
Step 4
Transfer breasts in one layer to baking dish or another skillet and place in the oven. Cook about 6 minutes for rare, 8 minutes for medium rare, and 10 minutes for medium, turning breasts once after 4 minutes.
Step 5
While breasts are in the oven, make pan sauce. Pour off fat in the skillet where breasts were browned. Add chicken broth, olives, tomatoes, and capers. Simmer until liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup.
Step 6
Remove duck from oven. Cut each breast crosswise on a slight angle into 4 to 5 slices about 1/2 inch thick. Fan 1 breast on each plate and spoon sauce over duck. Sprinkle with parsley.
Step 7

Duck Breasts Provençale

Cheers to Merlot! ~ Cindy 

See what our bloggers have cooked up! And please join us on Saturday, October 10 at 10am Central Time on Twitter. Use the hashtag #WinePW and share your thoughts.

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

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

Five Wines Take a Bow to Summer’s End

It may be the first true week of autumn but I’m not ready to open too many bottles of full bodied reds quite yet. In fact, last week I, along with some like minded wine lovers, paid homage to the last days of summer with a knock your socks off bottle of bubbles, refreshing Pinot Blanc, a tantalizing Rosé of Syrah, a crisp Rosé of Pinot Noir, and, yes, we had to do it, a deliciously smooth and magical Cabernet Sauvignon to end the star filled, breezy evening.

Perhaps you’re not ready for summer to end either. Yet, if you are planning to have a glass of wine while entertaining your friends at a seasonally inspired lunch or dinner, reading a favorite novel on your porch, gardening on a fall afternoon (go ahead and have a glass of wine chilling on your deck!), or enjoying a cozy backyard fire with friends, one of these interesting and delicious wines will be a lovely way to toast the end of one season and anticipate another.

Siren Song The Muse 2013 (sample) – Made from 100% estate grown Pinot Noir and produced in the classic French Méthode Champenoise, this brilliant sparkler is from Siren Song Wines in the Washington’s Lake Chelan AVA, an area I have visited and loved. A vibrant mousse in the glass led to hints of strawberries and raspberries as well as toast and more citrus. Everyone in the group loved the palate profile and lingering finish…as the first wine of the night, we were smitten. Cost is $45.

Siren Song The Muse 2013
Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc 2013 (sample) – This is one wine of six that I received from Pierre Sparr with whom I’ll be chatting in the next few weeks to learn more about his precise and snappy wines from Alsace. I loved this delightfully crisp and light Pinot Blanc thanks to its racy notes of pear, floral, mouthwatering acidity, and minerality. Delicious with cheeses and our light appetizers, the Pinot Blanc was smooth and balanced and oh-so appreciated as we reminisced about those lazy summer days at the lake. Cost is $16.

Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc 2013
Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé, Artist Series 2014 (sample) – I was thrilled to share this gorgeous rosé with my friends all of whom had never tasted wines from one of my favorite wineries, Cornerstone Cellars. Not your mother’s wimpy rosé (sorry, Mom), the Corallina, aged in French oak barrels for five months, was strong and fearless. Notes of juicy red fruits and herbs with food friendly acidity and a tart, lingering finish were not unlike that night. In fact, the striking Corallina Wine Dance Label was a reflection of…us! Cost is $25.

Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rose, Artist Series 2014
Siren Song La Vie Est Belle 2013 (sample) – Another gorgeous rosé, this from Siren Song Wines in Lake Chelan AVA, is of 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. Incredibly refreshing with tingly aromas of strawberries and bright citrus, I found more strawberries, subtle notes of white pepper and minerality on the palate; its racy acidity led the path to a satisfying finish. Pair La Vie Est Belle with a charcuterie platter or even pizza – we did. Cost is $25.

Siren Song La Vie Est Belle 2013
Van Duzer Sorcery 2011 (sample) – As the night became cool, we knew that fall was only days away – a perfect reason to open this rich and bold Cabernet Sauvignon from Van Duzer Vineyards in Oregon. Aromas of jammy dark fruit burst from the glass and with more swirling, the aromas were even more intense…and mesmerizing. Braided with chewy tannins were notes of blackberries, plums, blueberries, eucalyptus, vanilla, and pepper; all were lifted with bright acidity that made this complex, memorable Cabernet Sauvignon an enchanting pairing with our dark chocolate dessert. Cost is $35.

Van Duzer Sorcery Cabernet Sauvignon

Cheers! ~ Cindy

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

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

Required Reading – Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine

Justin Hammack, founder, and Madeline Puckette, the creative wine guru of one of my favorite sites, Wine Folly, have written a book that everyone should be required to read – Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. From wine newbies to seasoned sommeliers, what’s there not to love about this easily understood, incredibly informative, thorough, and unpretentious guidebook? Nothing! This book answers the wine questions you never even knew you had!

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine
Fundamentals of wine include the basics (everyone’s favorite subject, sulfites, is addressed), tasting tips so you can assess the profile of a wine like the pros, how to handle your wine (what is “room temperature” anyway?), and food and wine pairing suggestions…all are made surprisingly fascinating. The many styles of wine, from sparkling to aromatic white wine to full bodied red wine to dessert wine, are explained with detailed and straightforward charts. Each wine’s flavor profile, list of regions where it is grown, and food pairings are written in such a vivid way that you’ll refer to this book again and again. I love the section about the wine regions of the world where you can find maps, top wines in those regions, terms, and answers to those questions that have been bothering you for awhile. Seriously, you’ll finally be able to figure out where Chateauneuf-du-Pape is located and what the heck GSM really means.

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine
But how did these two innovative authors make a complex subject so explicit? My new favorite must-have is written for the visual you with comprehensive, colorful infographics, twenty detailed wine maps, charts and narratives, bullet points identifying succinct facts, easily readable fonts that I love (yes, I’m also a font freak…), and chapter headings that actually make sense. Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine includes links to how-to-videos, a plethora of articles, resources, and more.

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine
After reading this book, you’ll be wine literate but not a wine snob (whew!). You’ll be able to pronounce the name of a wine correctly (Claret is Claire-ette), navigate a wine list so you’re able to choose a new favorite, and have a meaningful conversation about the fruit of the vine without embarrassing yourself(you’ll now learn what tannins really are…). And so much more!

Perfect to give for someone’s birthday, to your favorite host or hostess, or to share “just because”, you can bet that Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine book will be on my site’s annual holiday gift guide in December. Just don’t forget to purchase one for yourself for $25 at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Nook, and more. Check out the links here.

Madeline and Justin have made wine knowledge accessible without intimidation. Interesting and entertaining, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine must be in your hand…the one that is not already holding the wine glass!

Cheers ~ Cindy

Note: Thank you to Madeline Puckette for graciously sending me a complimentary copy of Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine for review. I love it! ~

Posted in Product Reviews, Random Thoughts, Tasting Techniques, Thinking Out of the Box, Wine Connoisseurs, Wine School | 1 Comment


One Response to “Required Reading – Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine”
show comments ⇓

  1. I can definitely see that you are a font freak!!

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

Why You Need to Follow the Seneca Lake Wine Trail (and why I’ll return…)

Finger Lakes Wine Region

The Seneca Lake Wine Trail

I have travelled many paths but until this summer, never the Seneca Lake Wine Trail where history, beauty, and award winning wines are found in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Prior to the annual Wine Bloggers Conference held in the area this past August, I participated on an excursion to the Seneca Lake Wine Trail where warm greetings and unbridled enthusiasm from winemakers, wine growers, and winery owners matched those of the fifty wine loving bloggers from around the world. Our mission was to learn as much as we could about the region, the people, and of course, the wines.

The Seneca Lake Wine Trail was formed in 1986 to attract those who appreciate good wine, history, and beautiful surroundings. It’s now a vibrant community of over thirty five wineries, a distillery, seven breweries, and a meadery. With the deepest water in the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake boasts gently sloping hillsides and a terroir in which cool climate grapes thrive.

The sweeping view of the lake from the tasting room of Villa Bellangelo was the setting for our first stop, a walk-around tasting of wines from King’s Garden and Villa Bellangelo. Later, we arrived at Ventosa Vineyards where a vineyard tour, a lively presentation from the area’s women winemakers, and a beautiful four course dinner on the verandah were held. The following morning, refreshed and ready to learn and sip once again, our group visited Anthony Road Wine Company for a morning tasting and tour of the production facility and vineyards. Our last stop of the excursion was Fox Run Vineyards for another vineyard tour (honestly, I always learn something new during these tours…) and lunch complemented by five estate wines.

You may already be aware that the Finger Lakes wine region is on many a wine aficionado’s A list. I’m certainly returning to this enchanting area and if you’ve never had the opportunity to visit, you must.

Here’s why…

The wines are delicious

Throughout the little more than twenty four hours of my visit, I tasted a plethora of food friendly Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and more…so many were memorable. From Lakewood Vineyards I found a full bodied 2013 Pinot Gris with aromatics of melon and yellow flowers. Villa Bellangelo’s 2013 Gewurztraminer was bright and lively with floral, spice, ginger, and apricot notes. Wagner Vineyards offered their 2013 Fathom 107, a dry and tangy blend of Riesling and Gewurtztraminer that exuded floral notes and stone fruit on the nose then bracing acidity, spice, and a snappy finish. The first winery on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail to open after the 1976 Farm Winery Act was passed was Glenora Wine Cellars. I found their 2013 Pinot Blanc enticing with aromas of lemon and chalk and notes of vanilla, pear, citrus, lime and minerality on the palate. And yes, the area produces red wines as well. I particularly loved the powerful Ventosa Vineyards 2011 Lemberger that had just that day received a coveted award, The Governor’s Cup. Other noteworthy wines included the dry Three Brothers Wineries and Estates 2014 Pinot Noir Rose that displayed light red fruit flavors and paired beautifully with beet-melon-arugula salad with goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and cheribundi-curry vinaigrette. Leidenfrost Vineyards Cabaret Port exuded the rich, raspberry, black currant, and vanilla notes that I craved as I enjoyed salted caramel and shaved dark chocolate…

The Wines at Villa Bellangelo

The food is organic and authentic…with style

Beautifully presented at each winery was a bountiful tray of local cheeses, charcuterie, breads, jams, and fruit, each item labeled with its name and origin. The cheeses melted in my mouth, the breads were fresh (and often warm), and the fruit was bright and juicy. Our aptly termed “Culinary Experience” at Ventosa Vineyards included (among other courses) grilled petit Finger Lakes Farms filet mignon and scallops with wilted baby kale lightly dressed with Piggery Bacon vinaigrette and Cayuga blue and pickled red onion. Are your mouth watering yet? The following day Fox Run Vineyards shared a “Food and Wine Experience” luncheon with Bel Ceillo from the Muranda Cheese Company in Waterloo, housemade wine barrel smoked sausages and salami from Battistoni Brands in Buffalo and shortbread with fresh butter from Kriemhild Dairy Farms. Each course at both Ventosa and Fox Run was paired with one or two carefully chosen wines. Served with casual elegance, the cuisine of the Finger Lakes impressed my palate as much as the wines.

Lunch at Fox Run Vineyards

I appreciated the sense of community

As in a small town, everyone in the wine business knows one another. Wherever I swirled and sipped, winemakers, winery owners, and others demonstrated a genuine appreciation for their colleagues’ talents, personalities, and wines. Winemakers are willing to assist others with techniques and owners are more than ready to help when called upon. Everyone I met understands that by working together more will be achieved. In this case, they are acutely aware that a collegial atmosphere is crucial in order to gain the much deserved national and international recognition for this wine region. I like that.

Women winemakers rock!

After appetizers and before dinner at Ventosa Vineyards, four women in the wine industry shared thoughts and anecdotes. Marti Macinski, former attorney and now owner and winemaker at Standing Stone Vineyards, discussed the many roles of women in the vineyard. Winemaker at Leidenfrost Vineyards, Liz Leindenfrost, explained how she arrived at her job as third generation winemaker and owner after not pursuing her passion as a classical musician (but she is a member of a burlesque troupe). Jenna LaVita, winemaker at Ventosa Vineyards, gave us more information about the Governor’s Cup award, and Erica Paolicelli, Partner and General Manager at Three Brothers Wineries and Estates, explained how the “industry thrives on community and camaraderie”. These four women are proud, strong, and an asset to the Seneca Lake Wine Trail and Finger Lakes wine region. Please click on the links to learn more about these fascinating women.

Women in the Wine Industry in the Finger Lakes

The scenery is stunning

What’s there not to love about driving through the gently winding roads, noting historic homes in quaint towns, and arriving at a winery where a view of Seneca Lake with its shimmering blue water awaits? Vineyards at Ventosa are located between the broad porch of the tasting room and lake and the production facility at Anthony Hill offers appreciative wine lovers a view of the vineyards, tasting room, and bright blue water. In fact, the vast majority of wineries on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail are at water’s reach. As I watched the orange and golden hues of the sun setting beyond the trees at Ventosa, I couldn’t help but realize how fortunate are those who live and love life in this part of the country.

Sunset at Ventosa Vineyards
Will I return to the Finger Lakes wine region? Absolutely. And you can, too! If you would like to enjoy all things wine on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail in 2016, you may receive a $5 discount for any ticketed events. Check out the website here; when tickets go on sale simply use the code GRAPE at checkout.

Seneca Lake Wine Trail Events in 2016

Those along the way of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail shared with me their food, wine, stories, and spirit. They are ready to share all of those things with you, too.

Cheers~ Cindy

Posted in Events and Travel, Regional Wines, Wine Connoisseurs, Wine Reviews, Wine School, Wineries | Tagged , , , , , Leave a comment

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

What’s in Your Punch Bowl?

Find that cut glass punch bowl from Grandma’s attic, dust off the bowl of cheer that you received for your wedding, or what the heck, grab the largest mixing bowl you have. We are celebrating National Punch Day on Sunday, September 20 and that empty bowl needs to be filled with something delectable! In the past year, I’ve concocted punch for two baby showers, a New Year’s Eve party, our gourmet dinner club, and random girl’s night out gatherings. I love pouring and mixing the bubbly, fruit drinks, mixers, or whatever the recipe demands and having my guests enjoy something that screams “Celebrate”!

I was surprised to learn that the origin of this ubiquitous beverage dates to the 17th century when men working the ships for the British East India Company needed an alcoholic drink other than beer, a drink which each was able to swill in great quantities…until it became rancid courtesy of the warmth of the Indian Ocean. Their problem was solved as these industrious imbibers concocted drinks out of ingredients native to their destination.  Rum, spice, and tropical fruit were combined…punch was born! Home in Britain once again, the idea of the overflowing punch bowl was embraced.

Punch in the 1700s
Just this week, I was sent as a sample three bottles of Calling All Angels Chardonnay 2013 ($12 each) from Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co. and a recipe for White Wine Punch. Easy to make and absolutely delicious with brunch fare, this is a delightful way to honor all things punch – no matter what day it is! Enjoy!!

Calling All Angels Chardonnay

White Wine Punch


  • 3 bottles Calling All Angels Chardonnay
  • 16oz frozen raspberries
  • 2 cups frozen blackberries
  • 1 quart club soda (chilled)
  • 2 lemons (thinly sliced)


Step 1
Place berries in the bottom of the punch bowl.
Step 2
Pour wine over berries.
Step 3
Add club soda and sliced lemon.
Step 4
Mix and serve!!

White Wine Punch

Cheers! ~ Cindy


Posted in Events and Travel, Recipes, Regional Wines | Tagged Leave a comment

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png