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Alison Cochrane
 
July 28, 2014 | Alison Cochrane

Planning your summer visit to Napa Valley

Summer is a beautiful time to visit Napa Valley. Well let’s face it, with our mild, Mediterranean climate pretty much any time of year is great to visit, but soaking up the sunshine while surrounded by vibrant green vineyards, rolling hills, and a glass of wine in hand is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon in the warm summer months. Here are a few ways to maximize your fun in the Napa Valley sun in the summertime:

♦ Pick 1-2 "can't miss" wineries, and fill in the gaps with others as your day progresses. Keep in mind that each winery will pour you roughly the equivalent of one glass (5 oz) of wine, so it’s good to limit yourself to 3-4 wineries per day. Trying to plan tastings at more than 3 wineries for one day can leave you feeling rushed, and wine country is all about relaxing. You’re on vacation, after all!

♦ Plan on spending 1-2 hours at each winery. This goes along with the “choose 3-4 max” rule of wineries per day (especially if you’re planning for winery tours). Most wineries in Napa Valley open around 9:30am and close around 6:00pm in the summer, so figuring out how early you want your day to start/ where you’re travelling to can be a big factor of how much time you have to actually taste. Pace out your day and take the time to enjoy each winery you visit without feeling you need to jump to the next.

 Have a designated driver. If nobody wants to take the keys, it might be a good idea to look into hiring a driver for the day. Napa Valley has many car and limo services that cater to the thirsty traveler (and even a Wine Train!), and if you’re staying in Calistoga, their shuttle is a great option for getting around the northern end of the Valley!

♦ Bring a water bottle/ snacks. Hydration is important! You’ll want to drink roughly one 8 oz glass of water for each tasting if you’re looking to avoid feeling too groggy by the end of your day, and it’s never a good idea to taste on an empty stomach! Keep in mind that most Napa Valley wineries cannot offer picnic facilities per county ordinance, so plan on snacking in the car or finding a park if you wanted to have a full picnic (our sister winery V. Sattui is one of the few wineries to offer picnic facilities, located just south of St. Helena).

♦ Start your day at the winery farthest away from your hotel/ dinner location and work your way back towards it. This helps to insure that you’re not stuck with a long drive when you’re all tired out from a full day of exploring the valley.

♦ Wear comfortable shoes (LADIES I’m talking to you here). Girls, I know you love those three inch heels, but I promise you will not be loving them after a day of walking on uneven surfaces/ in vineyards/ touring wineries/ standing at tasting bars. You don’t want to be the one drinking just to get to that point where you can’t feel your feet anymore.

♦ Bring a light jacket.  Daytime temps in Napa Valley tend to range from mid-70s all the way to low 100s, but it does drop down to the 50s in the evenings here, which can be a bit of a shock if you’re out in shorts and flip flops. Also keep in mind that most caves/ tasting rooms are around 50°-60°F (10°-15°C) to help keep the wines cool for aging (and pouring). Wine only helps to warm you up so much!

♦ Make reservations whenever possible. Whether for restaurants or winery tours, it never hurts to call ahead (especially if you are a big group!!). Summer is the busiest time of year in Napa Valley, and many winery tours/ restaurants book up quickly!

♦ Expect some traffic. I’m not talking full-blown rush hour madness, but don’t expect to be cruising down the highway at 80mph between wineries in the middle of the day. There are only two main roads to get through the valley (Hwy 29 on the west and Silverado Trail on the east), and since both are mostly 2 lane roads, you can imagine how easy it would be for either to back up quickly due to congestion, construction, accidents, or that person who slammed on their breaks because they almost missed their winery (on that note: please don’t be that person. Make a U-turn!!). If your winery or restaurant reservation is at 2:00, plan to be there 15 minutes early to check in. You won’t want to miss a thing!

See if any events are happening while you're here. Wineries throughout the Valley love to host special events year-round, and it's always a great idea to check out what's going on while you're visiting! From concerts in the park to winemaker dinners or themed parties like the Castello's Midsummer Medieval Festival or Hot Havana Nights, summer evenings are packed full of great opportunities to sip, swirl, & savor after the tasting rooms close!

And most importantly…

♦ Remember: it’s a wine TASTING, not wine DRINKING. Pace yourself! Relax, and enjoy your visit to this world-famous wine growing region. With beautiful wines and incredible views all around you, you’ll be mapping out your next visit before you leave!

So grab that Napa Valley map and get to planning! With over 400 wineries and so many fantastic restaurants and things to do from Carneros to Calistoga, you have some important decisions to make!

Adventure (and  wine) is out there!

Time Posted: Jul 28, 2014 at 5:04 PM
Mary Davidek
 
July 13, 2014 | Mary Davidek

Storm The Castle—July 14th Is Bastille Day!

Most national days are in celebration of exactly what you would expect a ‘national’ day to celebrate. For example the national day of the United States, the 4th of July, marks the signing of a declaration of independence from a colonial power. Some countries mark the day the colonial power actually left their occupation for such freedom celebrations. Other countries like Germany and Italy celebrate unification and others like quirky Austria celebrate its declaration of neutrality. A handful of countries such as the United Kingdom and Denmark have no national holiday to celebrate. However, few countries can top France for the utter cool factor of its national day which commemorates the day an angry mob stormed a prison.

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Angry mob storms the Bastille!

In France July 14, commonly referred to as la fête nationale, became an official holiday in 1880. From the beginning, speeches, parades, and fireworks, along with public revelry, were part of the celebration.  Likewise, Francophiles throughout the world have taken up the observance of Bastille Day, celebrating with dinners of French cuisine, concerts of French music and enjoying all festivities with French wine.

Regardless of your origin, your nationality… your roots-- It's Bastille Day! Celebrate the onset of the French revolution in the spirit of equality and liberty. In honor of this day, I have put aside my affinity for all things Italian and opened a couple of bottles of vin du France. 

Okay, so maybe a hamburger is as American as it gets but the fries---definitely french!

 

Castello di Amorosa-- encircled by lovely vines and waiting to be stormed!

 

 

 

Time Posted: Jul 13, 2014 at 7:10 PM
Alison Cochrane
 
July 8, 2014 | Alison Cochrane

Castello di Amorosa wins big at this year's San Francisco International Wine Competition

Last month, a panel of 58 judges gathered at the Nikko Hotel in downtown San Francisco to taste their way through a record 4,570 wines from 26 states and 31 countries at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. This was the first year we have entered our wines into this prestigious competition (at which our Director of Winemaking, Brooks Painter, won Winemaker of the Year for our sister winery, V. Sattui last year), and our wines were very well received by the judges. Overall, we received a Best of Class, Double Gold, 4 Gold, 7 Silver, and 3 Bronze medals!

2013 Dry Gewurztraminer - BEST OF CLASS

2010 Il Passito Late Harvest Semillon/ Sauvignon Blanc - DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL

2010 Il Barone Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - GOLD MEDAL

2010 Napa Valley Sangiovese - GOLD MEDAL

2011 Zingaro - GOLD MEDAL

2013 La Fantasia - GOLD MEDAL

Cheers to our fantastic winemaking team!

Time Posted: Jul 8, 2014 at 2:54 PM
Mary Davidek
 
July 2, 2014 | Mary Davidek

Red, White and Pasta

Summer is a time to relax and watch a baseball game, munch on a hotdog, linger over a backyard barbecue and indulge in a few guilt-free s’mores by the campfire. Heavy comfort foods traditionally don’t hold much appeal when the mercury climbs, but, with a few variations and use of fresh seasonal ingredients pasta is one pantry staple that is never out of season. True-- pasta is a favorite comfort food in cold weather months. However, with quick and easy variations we can create light delicious meals which are easily transported for dining al fresco and provides yummy left-overs. As the temperature rises, simply exchange heavy additions for fresh seasonal veggies and farm fresh produce; corn, peas, tomatoes, and backyard herbs. And don’t put the red wine glasses away waiting for autumn’s first frost. Light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir and Sangiovese are just right with summertime favorites like King Salmon or pasta salads.

 

                                                          

Make a pasta salad with garden fresh produce and serve with an ear of sweet summer corn. Experiment with salad-friendly shapes like rotelli or farfalle which helps grab the dressing and the veggies.

 

                                                         

Build a heartier dish by adding Italian Salami, salty cheese or briny olives. Toss together in a light vinaigrette and serve with a tasty herb ciabatta. Castello di Amorosa’s Italian-inspired Napa Valley Sangiovese comes alive with this light but satisfying salad entrée. Serving temps are vitally important with these lower pigmented grapes. Target 62-65 degrees, this allows the bright fruit notes to shine through without becoming dulled by warmth.

 

 

Mary Davidek
 
June 16, 2014 | Mary Davidek

Pinot Noir— The Art of Getting There

“There is no ‘there’ there”. Gertrude Stein’s often quoted prose is commonly used to describe something that lacks soul, culture, life, or identity. While Ms. Stein was referring to the faceless existence of city-life, some critics have proclaimed this lament when speaking of grapes grown in and the wine making efforts of America. 

The French speak of ‘terroir’ when referring to winemaking and the wines of France which is to say grapes are a reflection of the region in which they are grown; the soil, the climate, the aspect of a hillside, the amount of rain, the surrounding vegetation, etc. The United States’ AVA system has been criticized as nothing more than a weak effort to create a false sense of place in the wines prodced -- an illusion-- as they state, there is nothing ‘there’.

*le sigh*

I decided to look beyond Cabernet Sauvignon, the reigning king of grapes for my initial attempt at disproving this theory and thus directed my attention to a varietal that, in my humble opinion, is ‘place’ personified. Pinot Noir, the thin skinned red wine grape of the Burgundy region of France has become increasingly popular with wine-buying wine-drinking Americans. It is a classic, elegant, food friendly wine—its enigmatic character and appeal as elusive as it is obvious.

Pinot Noir grapes are grown around the world but they flourish in cooler growing regions. In Oregon, the Willamette Valley is nearly the same latitude as the famed Burgundy region of France and has become synonymous with world class Pinot Noir. Oregon producers have found their sense of place as the Pinot fruit embodies the sophistication and finesse of a great Burgundy yet displays layered earth and bright red fruit summoning unrestrained California productions.  

The rolling green hills of temperate Willamette Valley provide the perfect place for cool-climate loving Pinot Noir

California Pinot Noir is more mercurial stylistically without any one style from this large and geographically diverse growing area. From Santa Barbara and the Central Coast to the south and Sonoma County and Anderson Valley in the northern half of the state, diverse topography and weather patterns separate this region of more than 450 miles. From Santa Barbara and the Central Coast we find opulent wines with definitive Pinot Noir fruit that reflects its warmer and more southern roots with a controlled strength. Cooled by the San Pablo Bay, the Carneros region straddles both Napa and Sonoma Valley and shows hints of spice and brightness unique to these cooler vineyard sites of this sun-drenched area. North of Carneros we find the Sonoma Coast where Pinot shows depth and earthy complexity with some of California’s most acclaimed Pinot Noir producers firmly planted in this lush pacific expanse. Further north of Sonoma we find California’s newest Burgundy-like super star in the highly praised and sought after Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. Here the ocean cooled valley floor rarely sees summer temps above 85 degrees….even in the height of the season. Pacific marine influence floods the valley floor with morning coastal fog providing slow even ripening. Enthusiasts agree this temperate region yields fruit of subtle distinction.  

A Pinot Noir trio from Castello di Amorosa; Los Carneros, Anderson Valley and the highly acclaimed King Ridge of Sonoma Coast. Each with expressive fruit and character from unique vineyard locations.                                                                                                                                       

As far as American winemaking efforts, maybe we have not come up with anything quite as mysterious as ‘terroir’ to encapsulate the distinctive place of our wines….maybe we never will. But, as the saying goes, sometimes the best part of the journey is getting there.

 

Dungeness Crabcakes with Rainier Cherry Pinot Noir Reduction

 

For the reduction-

10-15 ripe cherries, pitted and chopped

10 ounces Pinot Noir

1Tbsp Honey

1 Tbsp Seasoned Rice Vinegar

Pink peppercorn to taste

Add all ingredients to sauce pan. Slowly reduce over medium heat.

 

 

Time Posted: Jun 16, 2014 at 9:30 PM
Alison Cochrane
 
June 9, 2014 | Alison Cochrane

Worlds of Wine - Old World vs New World Winemaking

Napa Valley is world famous for its premium-quality wines, placing it alongside other winegrowing regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, Chianti in Italy, Rioja in Spain, and Barossa Valley in Australia. While these regions may all grow similar varietals of grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, the overall style and even legal requirements of winemaking can produce very different results in the bottle.  These differences are often referred to as “Old World” vs “New World” styles of making wine.  But what do these differences really mean?

The Castello's La Castellana Super Tuscan alongside the Super Tuscans of Barrua and Sassicaia from Italy

"Old World"

The “Old World” of wine refers to the original winegrowing regions, including Italy, France, Spain, and other nations whose viticultural practices date back hundreds of years. Stylistically, “old world” wines are typically made using traditional methods and techniques, which are often controlled by strict laws that determine what goes in to each wine in order to earn the name on its bottle. For instance, Italian laws in the Chianti region require that every bottle of wine labeled “Chianti” contain at least 80% of the Sangiovese grape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The vineyards of Tenuto San Guido in Bulgheri, Tuscany

You might also notice more “Old World” wines tend to consist of blends, or list only the name of the region in which it was produced rather than a specific varietal. For instance, a “white Burgundy” from France would most likely consist primarily of Chardonnay grapes, or a red “Bordeaux blend” would contain at least two of the five varietals traditionally grown there (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec). Blending varietals allows winemakers to produce a balanced, often softer style wine, and tends to focus on the “terroir,” or region the grapes were grown, rather than particular types of grapes.  This tends to lead to these wines displaying more earthy or mineral characteristics in the glass. “Old World” wines also tend to be lower in alcohol, which allows them to be much easier to pair with food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patriarch Cellars, France

"New World"

Since “Old World” typically means “Europe,” think of the “New World” of wine as basically everywhere else. “New World” regions such as California, Australia, and Argentina have adopted the techniques and varietals of the “Old World” and expanded upon them with new winemaking technologies, often without the strict legal requirements in place in Europe. Wines produced in this style are often described as more “fruit-forward” and oakey, and tend to have a higher alcohol content than Old World wines. Think of your traditional “Big Napa Cab” found so often out here in the Valley, with its rich fruit and bold tannins that make you instantly crave the largest ribeye steak you can find.

The Castello overlooks the northern end of Napa Valley from the foothills of the Diamond Mountain District

 

Castello di Amorosa: where “Old” meets “New”

Here at the Castello, we focus on “Italian-style” wines, meaning we like to use Italian varietals such as Moscato, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, and Barbera. However, because our grapes are grown in Napa Valley and other regions of California, they do have a distinctly “New World” flavor profile, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay where the local “Terroir” is evident in the glass.

We try to take an “Old World” approach to our winemaking, including traditional winemaking methods such as hand-picking grapes, using gentler press and fermentation techniques such as bladder presses and the “punch down” method for maceration, and aging many of our wines in French Oak barrels in our caves. 

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Open top fermentation tanks, to allow the "punch down" of the grape skins & seeds during maceration

Our blends like Il Brigante, and La Castellana “Super Tuscan” have a balanced approach between the varietals, creating a softer, more velvety wine. Keeping our alcohol levels more moderate for our red wines helps to create a more food-friendly style that won’t overwhelm your palate at the lunch or dinner table. We hope to bring a bit of the Old World to the New here in world-famous Napa Valley, and we raise a glass to all of the wonderful wines made here and all over the world that bring new inspiration with every vintage!

Cheers to the best of both worlds!

Time Posted: Jun 9, 2014 at 3:42 PM
Mary Davidek
 
May 29, 2014 | Mary Davidek

The Perfect Blend

We are getting ready for a wedding in our family, my step-daughter is getting married in September. Last week my husband and I had a pre-nuptial trip to Boise, Idaho for talks of wedding plans. This was all to be considered and discussed at a dinner which included my husband’s first wife along with the future parents-in- law, yikes! Decisions had to be made on apparel, cakes, invitations, shoes, music, relatives and ever-growing extended families. The evening was an interesting and diverse mix of people with varied relationships and ages spanning from 25 to 65. There were enough backgrounds and life events to fill a night’s conversations with entertaining and thought-provoking stories. No topic was out of bounds or taboo as we covered everything from the best way to ripen avocados to current affairs to wedding invitations. It was a great evening of fun, laughter and growth. As we were tidying up my step-daughter said to me, “wow, tonight was certainly an interesting blend”.

Which, of course, made me think about wine. Totally understandable as the evening had consisted of at least 4 different bottles of vino and they were-- blends. While some varietals like Pinot Noir or Chardonnay are best as a single varietal because blending can overwhelm the unique characteristics of thin-skinned grapes, many varietals suffer from this imposed solitary confinement. Wine blends often deliver increased complexity and are more interesting than single varietal wines. In fact, some of the world's greatest wines are made from a blend of grapes rather than a single varietal.

                                                     

Some of the most prestigious wines in the world are blends. Bordeaux wines from the left bank of the Gironde River in France are typically blends of Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. When blending Bordeaux varietals in the U.S. they are known as Meritage blends.The pronunciation is often subject of debate but the correct usage rhymes with heritage.

                                                          

Sassicaia is approximately 15% Cabernet Franc blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to create one of the most sought after and priciest Super Tuscan wines made.

Robert Parker of Wine Advocate described Castello di Amorosa ‘s Super Tuscan blend, La Castellana as “Full-bodied, lush and seductive”. La Castellana marries Sangiovese and Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon to create this blended masterpiece.

                           

Blending gives the advantage and potential of adding complexity to the resulting wine and provides a tapestry of multiple flavors and aromatics. It also offers an opportunity to achieve balance-- the happy ‘marriage’ of fruit, acid, tannin, alcohol, and oak that makes great wines sing in perfect harmonic splendor and not-so-great wines seem full of wrong notes and missed opportunities.

People and grapes, we’re not so different.

 

Mikaela and Jon getting ready to embark in life as a blend, cheers to a happy marriage!

 

 

Time Posted: May 29, 2014 at 9:49 AM
Mary Davidek
 
May 9, 2014 | Mary Davidek

Mama Mia!

The great thing about a blog; I am able to write about whatever I am feeling or thinking or what may be inspiring me. Given the time of year and last week’s heat wave I considered an esoteric look at grilling and barbecue. But, in all honesty, the outdoor grill has never has been my forte. Cinco de Mayo had possibilities as cuisine from south of the border is infinitely more inspirational to me than a gas grill, a Weber or a hibachi--and practically anything made into a taco is delicious.However, as we approach Mother’s Day, I decided to take it home.

My Mom was a great cook which was no minor achievement for an Irish woman who married into an entirely Italian family. I’m not simply referring to pot roast or a weekday casserole. No, she was creative in her use of spices and seasoning. Mom was instinctively technically correct and taught me the importance of making food visually appealing before we had top celebrity chef royalty or cable networks devoted to food with culinary game shows and cooking competitions. As a child I would sit and play quietly each afternoon while my mom watched Julia Child or Graham Kerr aka The Galloping Gourmet. As they explained the dish featured on the episode she would comment “oooh, I think I will try that on Dad’s birthday” or “Julia is sure using a lot of cream today!”  

My mom was also a great hostess and loved to entertain. Monthly cocktail parties were particularly exciting for me. Although I may not have sampled the libations, the yummy and abundant little treats  made for the occasion were so tasty it was just cause for excitement-- especially if mom’s delicious mini meatballs were on the menu! I knew while the adults milled about, that evening I would host a private party of one with my own little array of goods. With a Shirley Temple stuffed with more cherries than liquid in hand, off I would go to my bedroom for an evening of sitcoms du jour and yummy bits from the gala. Mom checked on me to replenish my sustenance but eventually I would nod off to the sound of canned laughter from the TV and the comforting banter of my parents and friends enjoying a festive evening in the background.

I guess I inherited mom’s love of entertaining and hopefully, her talent of being a great hostess as I have the distinct joy and pleasure of entertaining guests at the Castello on the 'Royal Paring', a food and wine pairing experience. With one of the most beautiful settings in the world as my backdrop, and at times with a lump in my throat, I envision my mom smiling and nodding with approval at a job well done.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Salud.

                                                                         

 

Italian Style Chicken Mini Meatballs

1.5 pound ground chicken 90% dark meat preferred (or Italian chicken sausage removed from casing)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan style cheese
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons dried or 1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried or 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 TBSP sea salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 -2 Tbs fennel seed
¼ C seasoned Italian bread crumbs (optional, use more grated parm if no bread crumbs used)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine chicken, grated cheese, egg, basil, parsley, garlic powder, salt, red pepper flakes, fennel and bread crumbs. Using your hands, mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Measure mixture into approximately 1.5-ounce portions. Shape or scoop into rounds and place the meatballs in individual, miniature muffin tin cups. Bake for 15- 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Serving suggestions: Toss in a light marinara before serving and sprinkle with additional cheese.

 

Time Posted: May 9, 2014 at 5:30 PM
Mary Davidek
 
April 23, 2014 | Mary Davidek

My Beef with Vegetables

When pairing wine and food, while vegetables are certainly a seasonal selection; wine and vegetables rarely makes a reasonable connection. When it comes to compatibility, wine and veggies make for a challenging relationship. However, with a little pairing intervention, we can salvage this savory dilemma.

First, let’s discuss the easy ones; mushrooms, potatoes and eggplant. Denser, heavier and earthier vegetables often used in heartier dishes. Think of the earthy quality of Pinot Noir to pair with these meaty veggies. A hearty mushroom like Portobello can even take on Bordeaux varietals like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

With green vegetables, play off the green flavors of these veggies by grilling and topping with a balsamic glaze. For richness add a cream sauce or cheese (there, I finally said it…you’ve been waiting for it!). These green flavors work well with Pinot Bianco or Pinot Grigio which often have notes of green fruit and provide a less aggressive palate then grassy and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc.

Asparagus and Artichokes. These delicious little buggers get their own space as they are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. This is due to cynarin. Cynarin is a phenolic acid compound found in the green leaves and seeds of artichokes and asparagus which gives a sweet flavor to these yummy vegetables. However, it can be challenging to complement these notes with wine because the sweetness is not from actual sugars and it makes most wines, even those with low levels of residual sugar, taste bitter. A sure way to contrast these flavors is with spicy aioli, a creamy dip, or a rich sauce. For wine, try an Austrian, Gruner Veltiner. Don’t underestimate this peppery white, Gruners are not to be taken lightly. This polished Austrian has attitude to spare and can finesse the most fickle flavors--even artichokes and asparagus.

If the addition of sauce, cheese, and cream is not an option as it can defeat the benevolent intentions of serving and eating vegetables, fear not, I have a sure fire way to make veggies almost wine-friendly; meat. Therein lies my beef with vegetables.

Merlot Beef with Broccoli

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 pound sirloin beef tips, sliced against the grain 1/8 inch thick
3 tablespoons grape seed oil
10 ounces broccoli florets
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup merlot (approximately 4 ounces)

Toss together cornstarch, salt, pepper, and beef in a bowl until meat is coated. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok or sauté pan over medium high heat until hot but not smoking, stir-fry beef until just cooked through, approx. 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, transfer beef to another bowl and keep warm. Add remaining oil to sauté pan along with broccoli and garlic. Stir-fry until broccoli is just tender and garlic is pale golden, about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce and wine and bring to a low boil. Return meat to skillet. Stir until sauce is thickened.

 

I know; adding bacon is not playing fair but...absolutely delicious!

A little food and wine levity. When all else fails.....go back to the basics!

Alison Cochrane
 
April 14, 2014 | Alison Cochrane

Bringing Wine Country Home: How to Throw a Wine Tasting Party

A great perk of living/ working in wine country is the opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of wines and winemaking styles. One of the obvious ways to expand one’s palate in this area is going out and exploring the myriad of tasting rooms and wineries available (and with over 375 in Sonoma County and 400+ in Napa Valley, there are many important decisions to make!). Basically, we in the wine world lead a rough life of roaming around beautiful rolling hillsides and valleys covered in leafy green and gold beauty searching for whatever our taste buds desire.

Just another day at the office...

Like I said, life’s hard sometimes.

But what about experiencing wine after hours? Or what if you don’t have the ability to drive 20 mins to an hour to get to the nearest winery? Well there are plenty of opportunities to explore new vintages and varieties from the comfort of your own home. Why not try hosting a wine tasting party?

A group of us at the Castello get together on a regular basis for wine tastings, and it always ends up to be an enlightening, delicious, and fun way to try new wines and hear impressions from everyone. We’ve had evenings dedicated to a specific varietal (such as Pinot Noir), winemaking styles (Old World vs New) and wine regions around the globe. Our most recent tasting focused on the wines of Spain. We sampled Riojas, Priorats, and Tempranillos with Spanish cheeses and Tortilla de Patata, a classic Spanish egg and potato appetizer made by our very own resident Spaniard, Maria!

Spanish wine tasting night with the Castello crew (and friends!)

Throwing a wine tasting party can be fun and easy, and is a great way to connect with friends over a few bottles of delicious vino! Here are a few tips for planning your own wine tasting night:

What you need:

♦ Wines (obviously) – Make sure to have enough wines for your party to taste! It’s generally a good idea to keep these get-togethers between 6-12 people so everyone has a chance to sit around the table and share their thoughts and stories about the wines being poured, and it’s a good plan to allot about a half bottle’s worth of wine per person at the tasting, though having an extra bottle or two on hand never hurts “just in case”! Keep the pours around 2 ounces for each wine, especially if you have a wider selection to taste through.
♦ Glasses – Always make sure to have enough glasses for all guests present. It’s usually nice to have at least 2 glasses per guest, especially if you want to evaluate your wines side-by-side. It’s fine to reuse the glass for multiple wines, as long as you’re not going from a red to a white or sweet (you don’t want to make your own “rose”)
♦ Dump Bucket – Have a vase or pitcher off to the side for people to dump any wine they don’t want to finish (remember, the more wines you consume, the less you’ll be able to taste!)
♦ Water – Place a water pitcher on the table with glasses for guests to sip from between tastings. Sparkling water is even more helpful in warding off the dreaded "palate fatigue"
♦ Snacks – Small bites make a delicious centerpiece at the table. Try to find foods that pair with the wines you’ll be trying; cheeses and charcuteries with a fresh baguette are always a good idea, and you can even ask your guests to bring an appetizer they think would complement the wines. 
♦ Wine charms/ glass markers – These are helpful to keep track of which wine is in which glass. If you’re on the third round of tastings and trying a California Cabernet next to a French Bordeaux, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a little reminder to keep you focused on what’s in front of you. If you don’t have wine charms, dry erase markers or even stickers work well (as long as they peel off easily)
♦ Notepads/ pens – These are especially useful for guests who want to remember which wines were tasted and which were their favorites. Great to hang on to for the next time you’re trying to remember a delicious wine you had to pair with dinner!

You can even segment notes to help guide your guests through their tasting with categories like Color, Nose, Taste, and Finish

 

Things to avoid:

♦ Perfume/ cologne – Remind your guests to refrain from wearing any strong scents, as this can detract from the overall tasting experience (as nice as your Chanel No 5 may smell, nobody wants to be drinking it)
♦ Scented candles/ flowers – Same reasons as above (nobody wants to be picking up "essence of Pumpkin Spice" in their Pinot Bianco)

Who needs candles when you can make your own centerpiece from corks and Champagne cages?

There are plenty of great themes you can have with a tasting party. Here are a few to start you off with:

♦ Varietal tasting – Pick a grape and see how the results differ based on where it’s produced and who is making it. Examples: Try Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, Sonoma, Carneros, and Oregon to see how terroir affects the outcome
♦ Old World vs New World – Choose wines from a specific “Old World” region (think Europe) and compare them with their “New World” counterparts. Examples: Italian varietals (Sangiovese, Barbera, Pinot Grigio)  vs. their California counterparts
♦ Vintages – Pick a specific wine from your favorite winery and see how that wine changes with each year. Examples: A vertical tasting of Castello di Amorosa Cabernet Sauvignon from 2008 – 2010
♦ Blind Tasting – Break out the brown paper bags and test your senses! See if you can spot the difference between a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Riesling vs Moscato. The sky’s the limit!

And finally, the most important part of a wine tasting party: Have fun!! Whichever wines you choose, you'll be sipping, swirling, and savoring a great evening with good friends! 

Salute!

So many glasses, so little time…

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