Cornerstone Cellars 2011 Napa Valley “The Cornerstone” – An Exceptional Wine

From the first swirl to the last sip, the Cornerstone Cellars 2011 Napa Valley “The Cornerstone” can be described in one word:  exceptional.  But I have others, too.

Craig Camp, Managing Partner of Cornerstone Cellars, has once again produced a stellar wine from a challenging vintage year in Napa.  A wet winter, spring, and early June delayed bloom and affected the fruit set.  Yet, a steady temperature throughout the summer months allowed the fruit to ripen slowly and evenly.  Cool and wet weather in September and October delayed harvest, but weeks of beautiful weather followed and provided time for ripening.  Thanks to the patience of growers and the talent of winemaker Jeff Keene, Cornerstone wines from the 2011 vintage exude the classic sophistication and style for which they are known.

I opened “The Cornerstone”, sent to me as a sample, one evening to celebrate my husband’s birthday at a favorite restaurant and realized immediately that this is a special wine.  Graceful and pure, complex and luxurious, Cornerstone Cellars 2011 Napa Valley “The Cornerstone” 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. Cost is $150.

Cornerstone Cellars 2011 Napa Valley "The Cornerstone"

To be honest, I can’t stop thinking about this exceptional wine.

Cheers~ Cindy

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Uncorked Ventures: Curating the Wines You Never Knew You Wanted

Mark Aselstine of Uncorked VenturesJust when I thought that there could not possibly be another online wine club that would interest me, Mark Aselstine of Uncorked Ventures sent me an email “wanting to start a conversation.” Although I knew that he wanted to promote his business, I didn’t want to press the delete button immediately. I always prefer to do my own research with hopes of finding a hidden gem to share. And this time I succeeded.

After a few back and forth emails, it was apparent that Uncorked Ventures is on target with their business plan. Mark and his brother-in-law Matt Krause are diligently searching (and are having quite of bit of fun doing so, by the way) for wines that meet the needs of smart, savvy consumers who have an eclectic palate, a desire to try new wines not found in the usual wine shops, and limited time to search for them.

Mark graciously sent me two bottles of wine from Uncorked Ventures so I could taste the style and quality offered.  I’ll go on the record and say that if these wines are indicative of what is sent, club members are fortunate indeed. The Bluxome Street Winery 2012 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley is a complex, layered, balanced Pinot that exhibited notes of red fruit, earth, mushrooms, and herbs leading to a spicy, satisfying finish. A sparkling wine, Caraccioli Brut Cuvee 2008 from the Santa Lucia Highlands is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and produced in the Méthode Champenoise. Fruit forward with toast, almonds, and citrus on the palate along with tiny, persistent bubbles, this was a real treat.

But what also makes a difference (to me at least)? I want to have a personal connection with the people who are curating the wines I’m purchasing; understanding their personality and philosophy always sheds light on what may be in the glass.

Read my Q&A with Mark Aselstine to learn about who is going to ensure that your wine is just what you want.

GE: How did you decide to start Uncorked Ventures?

Mark: We started Uncorked Ventures after noticing that the quality of wine from one region of California to another varied so greatly, let alone when we started looking at what was available to my family in Buffalo, New York. As an example, Pisoni is a pretty well known grower, but they produce a single, estate bottled Pinot that’s just amazing. Here in San Francisco, you can find it at a few select wine shops, in San Diego it’s nearly impossible to find and they don’t have distribution in NY (at least the last time we worked with the wine). We wanted to ship the wine that San Francisco gets to access based largely on location to people across the country.

GE: What is your background?

Mark: When we opened, I had absolutely no wine background at all. I had worked a corporate real estate job out of college, but was looking for something I could call my own. Matt’s been an avid collector of wine since the first tech bubble and introduced me to many of the names we worked with at the beginning of Uncorked Ventures.

GE: What are your business goals?

Mark: Our goals are pretty straight forward: we want to provide wine and gift baskets that customers will enjoy, while telling the story of the people behind the wine and why we think the wines we’re shipping are important or noteworthy. Sure, at work we all have growth goals etc, but really…..many of these small production wines deserve more attention and if we do a good enough job telling their story, the rest should work out just fine.

GE: How many wineries are represented in Uncorked Ventures?

Mark: Unlike virtually anyone else, we don’t have a set list of wineries that we work with. Looking back at my notes, we shipped wines from 103 wineries over the past year. Very rarely will customers see a second bottle from the same winery, unless there’s something truly unique about the winemaker, vineyard, etc.

GE: How do you curate the wineries and their wine?

Mark: Everyone always likes to laugh at the process, almost always asking about how it was that I came about this job…but I actually spend time in wine country. Last week, as an example I spent a day in Napa, first tasting through a range of wines from the wineries on Atlas Peak (many of which were their lots for Premiere Napa), then meeting a winemaker in Calistoga and tasting through his lineup. It’s not the toughest part of the job, but relationships in the wine industry matter, I think, more than most. Given that there are under 1,000 people making wine in Napa, it actually doesn’t take long before winemakers end up suggesting projects from their friends or former coworkers, and more to check out.

GE: Does Uncorked Ventures have a specialty or focus for the wines?

Mark: We try not to have a specific focus. Instead I’d rather tell the tale of what’s happening and what the wine industry feels is important. In California, there’s so much talk about the low alcohol movement and cooler vineyard sites, so we’ve shipped a lot of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley and quite a few from Oregon. We’ve also tried to feature wines from urban wineries since those are all the rage right now and more than likely, you’ll have one in your neighborhood sooner rather than later.

GE: Are you going to offer unusual varietals or do you already?

Mark: I think everyone has a different definition of what is an obscure varietal at this point, heck sometimes in San Francisco it seems like a truly obscure varietal might be Merlot! That being said I know we have a California coastal Pinotage upcoming that’s always a fun one since there’s so little of it planted in California. Over the past few months we’ve also shipped a Touriga and a few Rhone whites that aren’t exactly mainstream….yet.

GE: Do you travel to wineries to taste the wines you’ll offer?

Mark: Over the past four years… maybe 200? More perhaps. We’ve spent a ton of time in Sonoma, Napa, Paso Robles and and Santa Barbara. The Willamette Valley is a favorite just because it still feels so new compared to California’s wine regions. I’ve also worked harvest, bottling and more at wineries over the past few years. Being able to better communicate in winemaker’s language, I believe, helps us find better wine.

GE: How does your wine club stand out from the others?

Mark: I think the wines that we ship are what stands out more than anything else. Plus we’re actually family owned and operated. As an example, I mentioned tasting in Calistoga earlier, the winery is called People’s Wine Revolution and they make about 750 cases across 6 wines. It’s small enough that my competitors, especially those in Los Angeles and New York (both cities I love by the way) wouldn’t ever find them.

GE: Why should I buy wine from Uncorked Ventures?

Mark: We’re nice and we honestly care? In all seriousness, we ship a lot of wine that simply isn’t available elsewhere, so if someone wanted access to wines not available where they live with a focus on quality, we’re a good bet.

Cheers to you, Mark! ~ Cindy


Posted in Product Reviews, Regional Wines, Sparkling Tastes, Tasting Techniques, Wine Connoisseurs, Wine Reviews | Tagged , Leave a comment

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Anthony Scotto III Continues His Family’s Heritage at Scotto Cellars

Anthony Scotto IIIAnthony Scotto III, energetic CEO of Scotto Cellars, is a member of a fifth generation of California vintners located in Walnut Creek.   Recently he told me during a phone conversation that as a child, his family “never saw wine as glamorous. It was simply a piece of the puzzle when it came to dinner.”  This large Italian family considered wine a humble addition to the meals served each Sunday when everyone gathered.  Scotto’s great grandfather, Dominic, arrived in the United States from Ischia, Italy in 1903 and settled in Brooklyn.  Having made wine in Italy, he taught his sons to make their own which they sold from horse drawn wagons on the streets of New York.  Interestingly, Anthony  Sr. and brother Sal introduced their first brand, Villa Armando, in 1948 and it continues to be sold today.  In 1963, Anthony Sr. moved from Brooklyn to Livermore Valley in California with his own family during harvest and continued the tradition of winemaking.

Fast forward to 2015…the puzzle has many more pieces than it did when Scotto was a child. With three wineries in Lodi, another in Amador County, and one small winery leased in Napa Valley, business is booming and the Scotto family wants to produce wines for consumers who “want to take a chance and are not dictated by brand loyalty.”  Anthony knows that the younger generation is experimenting with different varietals, brands, and price points and he wants Scotto Cellars to deliver.  With distribution in all fifty states and ten foreign countries, wines from Scotto Cellars are sold at Whole Foods and other outlets where shoppers appreciate an eclectic selection.  Within the portfolio of brands, you may recognize the labels of SeraFina Cellars (the only winery with a tasting room), Villa Armando, Brownstone, Heavyweight, Howling Moon, 99 Vines and many more.

I had a chance to taste wines sent to me as samples.  The three selections from the Rare Wines brand will set you back a mere $10 or so and are blends from multi-vintages so that “the winemaker is able to be more creative.”  I felt that all three wines were a good value for the price. The 50 Harvests 2012 Napa Valley Meritage was a stunner.

The Rare Rosé showed intense aromas and tastes of strawberries and juicy raspberries from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, and Symphony (a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris developed for growing in hot Central Coast vineyards).  Grapes were sourced from vineyards in Lake County, El Dorado Hills, and the cooler areas of the Central Valley. Light and refreshing, the tart citrus finish was lovely. With aromas of green citrus, stone fruit, honeysuckle and hint of minerality the Rare White was a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, and Symphony from grapes grown in Mendocino County, Lake County, Paso Robles, and the Central Valley.  I noted a fruit forward palate profile with citrus, ripe stone fruit, and a bit of spice on the finish.  The Rare Red is a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Verdot, Petite Syrah, and Merlot from Lodi, Paso Robles, and the Central Valley.  On the nose, ripe red fruits and a tingly spice led to more of the same on the palate.  More of that zesty spice lingered on  the finish and the Rare Red was just as good sipping on the deck as it was paired with dinner.

The 50 Harvests 2012 Napa Valley Meritage, commemorating fifty consecutive harvests for the Scotto family, is a wine I absolutely loved.  Created at the family’s Napa Valley winery, Steele Cellars, the 2012 is its second release.  From vineyards in the Oak Knoll District on the Silverado Trail, 50 Harvests is a rich Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, and 10% Malbec.  Deep garnet in the glass, I found aromas of overripe raspberries, plums, rhubarb, vanilla and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Dry with medium acidity and a well integrated tannic structure, notes of lush red fruits, white pepper, and graphite created a balanced wine with complexity and intensity that were memorable.  The cost of the 50 Harvests is a well priced $50.

50 Harvests 2012 Napa Valley Meritage
Anthony Scotto III and his four brothers and sisters have found their own niche in the wine business. His father “made sure that we all worked together as children and adults” and no negativity then or now is allowed.  Scotto remarked that he is “very protective of family togetherness” and is “proud that Scotto Cellars is a true family owned and run operation.”  While talking to him, it became obvious that family, heritage, and making good wine are of the utmost importance.  Scotto wants to continue to build the business for the next generation and shared that “this is more than a job. I’m part of a group that cares. The human spirit must infiltrate everything.”

The Fifth Generation of Scotto Family Cellars
Like Dominic Scotto who emigrated to America and started the puzzle of Scotto Cellars, this fifth generation with Anthony Scotto III at the helm is continuing to piece it together with an eye on the wine lover and the other mindful to the family legacy.  I don’t think this puzzle will be done for quite awhile.

Cheers~ Cindy



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Wine and Dine: 2012 Van Duzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Chicken Breasts and Zucchini with Marjoram

Last week was Open That Bottle Night (see below), an evening when many wine lovers decide to pop the cork on a wine they had forgotten was in their cellar, had always wanted to open but for some reason neglected to, or had longed to try.  As for me, I was excited to taste the 2012 Van Duzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, sent to me as a sample; I will be chatting with Florent Merlier, Winemaker at Van Duzer Vineyards, in the next few weeks. Merlier fashioned this wine with a subtle similarity to those produced in Burgundy, his home.  It’s no secret that I love the Burgundian style of Pinot Noir and this wine has a lovely American twist.

But what to pair with the 2012 Van Duzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir? A few weeks ago, I read Provence 1970 which tells the tale of six culinary greats who converged in the South of France during that summer.  Besides Julia Child, James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, and others was Richard Olney, the recluse of the group.  His first book, “The French Menu Cookbook”  had just been published and he was living in Provence while leading the charge towards a new “culinary bohemianism” in the world of French cuisine.  Lucky was I to find a recipe for Chicken Breasts and Zucchini with Marjoram from the 40th anniversary edition of Olney’s cookbook, “Simple French Food” published in 2014.  If you follow my recipes, you’ll know that I only share those that are delicious and easy to prepare.  This recipe met both criteria and was a wonderful complement to the wine with its French undertones.

Intense aromas of rich red fruits, succulent black cherries, white pepper, and vanilla were a lovely introduction to the 2012 Van Duzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($32.).  On the palate, tastes of juicy cherries and ripe red fruits were lifted with a gentle acidity and satin like tannins which led this balanced wine to a lingering, spicy finish.  Although the wine was more than satisfying to sip on its own while preparing dinner, the marjoram notes and creamy texture of the dish brought forth more spice and fruit.  Just wonderful.

2012 Van Duzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Chicken Breasts and Zucchini with Marjoram


  • 1lb zucchini (thinly sliced)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flowers and leaves of marjoram (substitute 1/2 teaspoon finely crumbled dry, if necessary, or switch to fresh tarragon)
  • 2 Large chicken breast halves (skin, bones, and fat removed cut into 1/2 by 2 inch strips)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream


Step 1
In a large heavy skillet, toss the zucchini, seasoned, in 1 tablespoon butter over a high flame for about 6 minutes until barely tender and hardly colored.
Step 2
Toss in the marjoram and put aside.
Step 3
In the same pan, with the other tablespoon of butter, over a high flame, toss the seasoned breast strips for no more than 3 minutes. They may stick at first; gently displace with a wooden spoon.
Step 4
As soon as they become firm and rubbery, return the zucchini to the pan, toss the two well together, add the cream, swirl, and toss.
Step 5
It's ready when the cream reaches a boil.
Step 6
Serve with a pilaf and enjoy!

Chicken Breasts and Zucchini with Marjoram

Cheers! ~ Cindy

Which wine did you choose on Open That Bottle Night?  Please join a live Twitter Chat on Saturday, March 14, at 11 a.m. ET, via the Twitter hashtag #winePW.  You are encouraged to share notes about the bottle you opened and the food paired with it.  Of course you can just drop by Twitter and chime in with your thoughts of some of the following Open That Bottle Night pairings found below! I’ll see you on Saturday, March 14…

Culinary Adventures with Camilla paired Roasted Flank Steak with Goat Cheese and Caperberries + La Marea 2012 Mourvèdre

Tasting Pour is sharing Chenin to Sheepie?  Brava Cava! #Winewpw #OTBN

Pull That Cork served Crozes Hermitage and Braised Lamb with Puréed Root Vegetables for #winePW 10

Curious Cuisiniere paired Entrecote Bordelaise (Steak: Bordeaux Style) with Red Oak Vineyard Meritage

A Day in the Life on the Farm served up Michigan Red with City Chicken

Girls Gotta Drink is sharing A Priorat Wine Masterpiece: 1974 Scala Dei

Vino Travels paired Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello and Pappardelle with Bolognese

Grape Experiences is sharing Wine and Dine: 2012 Van Duzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Chicken Breasts and Zucchini with Marjoram

Wild 4 Washington Wine paired A Special Oregon Pinot Noir with Eastern North Carolina Inspired Ribs #OTBN #winePW 10

Rockin Red Blog is sharing Celebrating #OTBN on #WinePW

Cooking Chat paired Avocado Chimichurri Beef Tenderloin with a Reininger Carmenere

ENONFYLZ Wine Blog is sharing Friends, Food and Wine; An #OTBN To Remember #winePW.


Posted in Recipes, Regional Wines, Wine Reviews | Tagged 7 Comments


7 Responses to “Wine and Dine: 2012 Van Duzer Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Chicken Breasts and Zucchini with Marjoram”
show comments ⇓

  1. My husband prefers red wines so I often pair Pinot Noir with our chicken dishes. I will have to try the Van Duzer Winery.

  2. Looks like an amazing pairing Cindy! I think marjoram is one of the those herbs that works well with Pinot! Cheers!

  3. Nice pairing Cindy. Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is always delicious!

  4. Sounds like a delicious wine! And what a fun label!

  5. Love it when folks promote Oregon wine!

  6. I never cook with Marjoram. Need to fix that. Red wine paired with chicken…well done. This is a recipe and pairing folks need to try at home. Not complicated as stated. Thank you.

  7. Sounds like a nice pairing. I love a good pinot noir!

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“A Year in Champagne” – Watch the Magic

“It’s a drink that can be enjoyed at 7am in a balloon or in the middle of the night.” This statement could only apply to our favorite sparkling wine: Champagne. This line and many others were shared in the film “A Year in Champagne” which can be viewed (as of Friday, March 6) on iTunes and in select theatres. I was able to see a preview a few days ago at the Trump Hotel in Chicago while savoring gourmet popcorn and sipping pours of Gonet-Medeville Extra Brut Rose Premier Cru Champagne.  Oh yes, “Champagne is…magic.”

Martine Saunier, world renown wine importer, leads viewers of the film through the Champagne region to visit six Champagne houses in the course of a year.  Both small and independent houses such as Champagne Saint-Chamant where traditional techniques continue to be used and those that are larger including Bollinger and Gosset that have been integral in making the region of Champagne what it is today are profiled. Saunier interviews winemakers and families who own these iconic houses while ambling through the vineyards, having wine filled lunches or dinners with the families or workers, and more. This peek into the lifestyle and emotions of those who produce Champagne is enlightening.  Family values coincide with their sense of place, replete with history and ravaged by war.

It was fascinating to learn through the words of those who live and work in Champagne that every grower must abide by a voluminous array of rules meant to give each house, no matter how large or small, an equal advantage in production. From how to trellis the vines to when to pick the grapes during harvest, Champagne is the most regulated region in all of France. And then there is the weather. Frost, hail, cold, rain, rot, pests are prevalent; growing grapes in Champagne is only for the hardy…and hopeful.

I never tire of seeing the process of making this beautiful wine. “A Year in Champagne” shows the path from bud break to bottle with striking photography and music, a reveal of the raw emotions of those in the field and in production, and the elation of the winemaker and family members who share the finished product with others.

The second film in a trilogy (the first is the award winning documentary A Year in Burgundy”), “A Year in Champagne contributes to the mystique and essence of its signature sparkling wine. Why don’t you indulge yourself and open a bottle while you watch the magic?  You’ll be able to taste it, too.


Cheers~ Cindy

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