My Favorite Wine Tasting Event

Recently, Peter and I traveled to southern California to visit family and to attend our favorite annual wine tasting event.

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event brochure

Sponsored by The Family Winemakers of California, this fabulous event showcases small, family owned wineries from throughout California.

Often, the people pouring the wine are the owners and their family members.

Peter and I have spoken so highly of this event from our past visits that we were able to rally a group of about a dozen family members and friends (mostly California folks) to join us at the tasting.

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event

Let me share three tips for those attending the Family Winemakers of California event.

Buy your tickets as soon as they go on sale and spend the extra dollars to snag one of the limited number of “For the Trade” passes that are offered to consumers.

For the extra money, you get two additional hours of tasting for a much more leisurely pace. You are allowed in at the very start of the event when it is less crowded and you have greater opportunity to chat with the winemakers. And, the pass gives you access to the “iSip Lounge” where wineries pour their very best selections (minimum $75 per bottle) giving attendees the chance to try wines they might not otherwise have access to.

The full access pass is well worth every extra penny.

While the point of this event is tasting wine and not consuming all you can in 4 hours, no one who was drinking should drive home from this event.

There are several solutions to this.

Bring along a designated driver. The event allows designated drivers in for free. They will be given a special wristband and, understandably, kicked out if they are seen drinking any wine.

Hire a car, taxi or Uber to take you to and from the event.

Or, you can stay at a hotel within walking distance of the event. We stayed at the Hilton Del Mar directly across the street from the Del Mar Fairgrounds at which the tasting took place. It was perfect.

Do not drink and drive!

Plan your strategy wisely.

Over 90 wineries were offering tastes of their wines. There is no way, in 4 hours, to responsibly make even a dent in that wide of a selection.

The entire list of participating wineries is available on the website of the Family Winemakers of California. Do a little homework. Find some wineries that look interesting to you, perhaps some you have heard of or some from a region you love.

We came armed with a list of “must try” wineries leaving room to discover some new favorites.


These wineries poured my favorite wines of the day:

The Farm Winery

Mocadeaux - The Farm Winery at Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event

Peter and I discovered this fabulous gem the first time we attended the Family Winemakers of California event.

The Farm Winery is located in Paso Robles where they make red wines from Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. Big, beautiful, bold and monumentally awesome red wines.

Fun fact: The Farm is owned by Jim and Azmina Madsen and Mercedes and Santiago Achaval who became friends while attending MBA school at Stanford. Santiago Achaval is a world renowned winemaker and producer of Malbec in the Mendoza region of Argentina.

The Farm’s 2012 Cardinal Cabernet Sauvignon was our group’s unanimous choice for Best Wine Of The Day.

Showing the attention to detail that goes into every aspect of The Farm’s wine, Jim was up at 3am to decant The Cardinal so it would have time to open up before being served.

Yeah…that’s how they roll at The Farm.

Oakville Cross

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event Oakville Cross

This tiny Napa Valley winery makes just one wine – Cabernet Sauvignon. And a delicious Cabernet it is!

Oakville Cross holds their wine back for longer aging which is why they were pouring a 2010 vintage while most everyone else was serving their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Another fun fact about Oakville Cross wines is that, because they find the 3% failure rate of corks unacceptable, their bottles are sealed with glass stoppers. Interesting, eh?

Vineyard 511

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event Vineyard 511

I was drawn to this wine because I LOVE Cabernet Sauvignon from the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley.

Owned by Ed and Irene Ojdana, Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is all that Vineyard 511 produces.

Fun fact (at least for me): Ed Ojdana is a graduate of Notre Dame. Go Irish!

Vineyard 511 poured their older vintages in the iSip Lounge, but it was the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon shared with all attendees that I liked best.


Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event 2016 - Mira

Also located in Napa Valley, Mira is on the opposite end of the spectrum making a wide variety of wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and both a Rosé of Syrah and a Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Fun fact: Mira operates the Napa Valley Education and Tasting Center in Charleston, South Carolina, where they offer wine tasting, seminars, speakers and other activities. The Center was built as an homage to the colonists who brought grape vines to the Charleston area around 1669. The climate made their winemaking attempts fail but kudos to those intrepid colonists for trying.

Peter put Mira on our list because they source grapes for some of their wines from the legendary Hyde Vineyard.

Other fabulous winemakers who create great wines from Hyde Vineyard grapes: Paul Hobbs, Kistler, Ramey, Miner and, of course…

Hyde Wines

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event - Hyde Wines

Larry Hyde has been farming his vineyards in the cool Carneros region of Napa Valley since 1979.

For decades, he and his family focused on the farming, selling grapes to a couple dozen premier winemakers. Many of these relationships continue to this day, secured by a handshake.

Eventually, Larry and his sons decided to make some of their own wine, a tiny, tiny bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Delicious!

Fun fact: Well, not so much a fun fact as a piece of advice. If you ever see a wine noting that the grapes came from the Hyde Vineyard in Napa, give it a try. I’m quite sure that you won’t be disappointed.


You Might Also Like:

Chimney Rock Rocks!

Over the weekend, Peter and I decide to take advantage of being house bound by sub-zero temperatures to clear out the freezer and finally consume some of the leftovers that have piled up.

I don’t know about you, but we have a terrible habit of not labeling containers as we stash them in the freezer so it’s always a mystery when we pull something out weeks later.

Last night we thought our dinner was going to be beef stew until we defrosted the “beef stew” and realized it was actually pomegranate onion sauce.

And you know what they say…when your freezer hands you pomegranate onion sauce you need to grab a couple of steaks to go under it.

And, when dinner consists of steaks with a pomegranate onion sauce, you absolutely must open a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon to go with it.

That’s just what we did.

2006 Chimney Rock Tomahawk Cabernet

2006 Chimney Rock Tomahawk Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

It is hard to overstate how much I love Chimney Rock wines. They produce some of my very, very favorite Cabernets.

Chimney Rock’s wines exemplify the very best qualities of Napa Valley Cabs: rich, bright red fruit notes, a touch of spice and a long, glorious finish. Their rock star winemaker, Elizabeth Vianna, has been crafting these gems for over 14 years.

This particular wine, a single-vineyard Cabernet from Chimney Rock’s Tomahawk Vineyard in the Stag’s Leap District, paired perfectly with our steak dinner. It was awarded 92 points by Wine Enthusiast.

I’d also award a pretty high score to the meal. Not bad for leftovers!

steak with pomegranate onions

Peter and I have been members of Chimney Rock’s wine club for years.

In addition to the fabulous wines, every club shipment includes a recipe. In fact, the pomegranate onion sauce (a reduction including 2 cups of pomegranate juice, 1 cup of pomegranate jam and a pound of thinly sliced onions) came from a Chimney Rock recipe.

Chimney Rock’s customer service, like their wine, is second to none. If you make a visit to Napa, be sure to schedule a tasting – you won’t be disappointed!

Hmmm… I wonder what tonight’s mystery leftover will be. Who cares as long as there is good wine to go with it!

Designated driver, Uber or cab

No one paid me to say this.


You Might Also Like:

Everyday Cabernet

Mo Wine Please

Cabernet Sauvignon is my very favorite varietal.  But the big Napa Cabs often come with a big price tag. Not necessarily everyone’s idea of everyday wines.

So I’m always delighted when I come across great values.

First up:

2012 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon

(Paso Robles)

2012 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon

The Paso Robles AVA (American Viticulture Area) is located in San Luis Obispo County, about halfway between Santa Barbara and Monterey, California.

As recently as 1990 there were only 20 wineries in Paso Robles. Now the number is more like 200+.

Obviously there must be something wonderful in the water – well, actually, in the dirt.

Originally known for Zinfandel, Paso Robles started planting Cabernet Sauvignon by the 1960s.

At only about $14 per bottle, the 2012 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles is a bargain.

This wine brings some of the classic California flavors of dark fruit with a hint of chocolate. It has enough body to be respectable and tasted even better on Day 2 after being open for 24 hours.

The 2012 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon was awarded a gold medal at the 2014 Central Coast Wine Competition and a silver medal at the 2014 California State Fair. Pretty high praise, eh?


2011 Maryhill Cabernet Sauvignon

(Columbia Valley)

2011 Maryhill Cabernet Sauvignon

The Columbia Valley AVA is located in the Columbia River Plateau in Central Washington, dipping just a tiny bit into Northern Oregon.

The area includes over a hundred thousand acres, representing about 99% of the planted vineyard acreage in Washington.

The variety of micro-climates in this area lends itself to wines ranging from Pinot Gris to Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Columbia Valley is located at approximately the same latitude as some of the prime European wine growing regions. Columbia Valley wines boast wines expressing the best qualities of California wines and European wines.

The 2012 Maryhill Cabernet Sauvignon (under $20 per bottle) features a spicy fruitiness. A little pepper, a little tobacco and a little chocolate balance out this reasonably priced gem. It has a pretty decent finish, as well.

Earning a gold medal and score of 92 points at the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition, this wine would be a great choice for your everyday Cabernet,

A Few Oldies, But Goodies…

2009 Maddalena Cabernet Sauvignon

Maddalena is another great, moderately priced Cabernet from Paso Robles. I mentioned the 2009 vintage here. The 2010 is on the shelves now at about $10 per bottle.

Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon

Liberty School, another great Paso Robles Cabernet, has an excellent lineage which I talked about here. Between the quality of the growing area and the quality of the winemaker at Liberty School, you will not be disappointed in the $12ish bottle of wine.

2012 Leese-Fitch Cabernet Sauvignon

I previously reviewed the 2012 Leese-Fitch Cabernet here. It was a delicious pairing with Guinness Beef Stew. Look for the 2013 vintage on the shelves now. Leese-Fitch has a reputation of, year after year, producing a Cabernet Sauvignon that tastes way above its $10-$12 price.

How about you? Do you have a “House Cabernet”?

Designated driver, Uber or cab

No one paid me to say this.

You Might Also Like:

Reliable Wines

It’s been way too long…

Let’s Talk Wine!

Mo Wine Please

Surrounded by moving boxes and bubble wrap, I could sure use a glass of wine. Well, maybe not at 8 a.m. as I am writing this, but most definitely by the end of the day.

Has this ever happened to you?

Looking for a bottle of wine for dinner (or cocktail hour!), you head to you local grocery store or favorite wine store, step up to the shelves and your mind goes completely blank.

Too many choices!!!!

In times like this it is important to know a couple of reliable wines – names that you can remember and wines you can count on to always be good.

I’ve told you about The Prisoner which is my very favorite, reliable wine in the $35-40 range.

The Prisoner

But Mo, are there reliable wines at lower price points?

I’m glad you asked.

First up: B Side Cabernet.

B Side Cabernet Sauvignon

Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t shared this wine with you before. My bad…

I have to give all the credit for this find to my sister-in-law, Kate. She discovered it at her favorite wine store and it has become one of her house wines which she is kind enough to have on hand every time I visit.

Don’t you love the name?

Harking back to the old 45 records which featured the A side – the chart topping song – and the B Side – the less well known but often hidden gem, the winemakers chose the name to describe their approach to the wine.

If the wines made by the Napa Valley “big guys”, the most powerful and well-known names, are the A Side, this wine is aptly named B Side.

As the winemakers say:

B Side reds are crafted with grapes sourced from the slightly-off-the-beaten-track vineyards along the valley’s eastern hillsides. They’re authentic originals: a little experimental and unexpected, crafted and perfected behind-the-scenes for those with a penchant for discovery.

At about $20-25 per bottle, B Side Cabernet brings delicious, classic Napa Cabernet flavor that won’t disappoint. Luscious dark fruits, a little chocolate, a little spice and nice full body are the hallmarks of the 2013 vintage. If you are a wine geek like me, you can read the full tasting notes here.

Love, love, love this wine!

Next up: Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon.

Liberty School Cabernet SauvignonThis wine comes from the Paso Robles area of California. You may be less familiar with Paso Robles as it does get overshadowed by its cousins to the north, Napa and Sonoma.

But keep an eye out for wines from Paso Robles. Wine Enthusiast called this area “a region to watch” when it named Paso Robles the 2013 Wine Region of the Year.

Liberty School Cabernet started out as the second label of the Wagner family’s Caymus brand using primarily grapes from Napa. But the Wagners started to become intrigued by Paso Robles and teamed up with the Hope family to source grapes for the Liberty School Cabernet from this region.

In the mid-90s, the Hope family bought the company and have since added a Liberty School Chardonnay and other wines to their collection.

Liberty School works with 50 or so family farms throughout the region. The result is a really nice, reliable Cabernet at a VERY nice price point.

The wine brings the berry and cherry notes you’d expect from a Cabernet. Although the body and finish are not what you would get from a $40 or $50 bottle of wine, at $10-15 per bottle the Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon shows pretty darn well! The tasting notes are here.

This wine is often included on lists of the best wines under $20.

While some of my pictures aren’t the greatest, I want you to be able to see the labels on the wine bottles so that the next time you are standing in the wine section and your eyes start to glaze over, maybe you will see one of these wines and say “Yes!!!”.


No one paid me to say this. Do not drink and drive!

You Might Also Like: