Wine Gift – It’s All In The Name

My youngest grandson was born on his paternal grandfather’s birthday. His first grandchild born on his 60th birthday. The best gift ever.

Peter and I shopped for a special wine to commemorate the double special occasion and found the perfect bottle.

Legacy Wine

This got me to thinking about other wines which could be given as gifts based on the name of the wine.

For example,

Let’s say you are looking for a wine gift to say “bon voyage” to a friend. How about a bottle from En Route, makers of wonderful Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California?

Or, you could wrap up a bottle of Sojourn Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, also from Sonoma, California.

Sojourn wine

Even the image on the bottle suggests a vacation!

Retirement? I recommend Ayoub Memoirs Pinot Noir from Oregon.

Do you know someone who is starting a new endeavor? How about a bottle of Pursuit Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir or Red Blend. These wines are produced by the wonderful folks at Bounty Hunter in Napa.

Need a gift for a law school graduate or to celebrate passing the bar exam? Bounty Hunter also makes Jurisprudence Red Blend.

Jurisprudence Red Wine

There are many, many wines named after members of the winemaker’s family. Perhaps one of these would fit the bill for a birthday or new baby gift:

Domaine Drouhin “Arthur” Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Foxen “Julia’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley area of Santa Barbara County.

Rudd “Samantha’s” Cabernet Sauvignon from the Oakville area of Napa Valley.

Lewis Cellars “Ethan’s” Syrah, “Mason’s” Cabernet Sauvignon or “Alec’s” Red Wine Blend – just a few of the fabulous wines made in Napa and Sonoma by former Formula One race car driver, Randy Lewis.

Lewis Cellars Mason's

Hall “Ellie’s” Cabernet Sauvignon, “Jack’s Masterpiece” Cabernet Sauvignon or “Craig’s Cuvee” Red Wine Blend from Napa Valley.

Hall Jack's Masterpiece

Walt Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Walt is owned by Hall Wines and produces wines from several spots along the Pacific Coast from California to Oregon.

Walt Wines

Hartford Court “Jennifer’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley.

Hartford Court Jennifer's Vineyard

Or maybe something a little different…

Eighty Four Wines Malbec or Syrah from Napa Valley.

Nickel & Nickel (Single Vineyard) Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay from Napa for someone celebrating their 55th birthday. Nickel & Nickel, get it?

Nickel & Nickel

Martinelli “Three Sisters Vineyard” Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from Sonoma.

Wallis Family Estate “Little Sister” Proprietary Red Blend from Napa.

Wallis Little Sister

Maybe you are looking for a “just because” wine gift.

Just because…

…your friend has great memories of times in New Orleans (or is a fan of Davy Crockett): Fess Parker “The Big Easy” Red Blend from Santa Barbara.

…your friend is facing a big challenge: Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

…you want to celebrate the resolution of “a situation”: Poetic Justice Red Wine, another great wine from Bounty Hunter.

Poetic Justice

…you know someone with a soft spot in their heart for “Old Blue Eyes”: Sinatra Family “Come Fly With Me” Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

…you want to show your love: Hall “Coeur” Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

Hall Coeur

These are just a few ideas based on wines we have in our cellar. All or most of these are available for purchase online directly from the winery.

Do you have more ideas to add to the list? Something you have seen in your local wine store or given as a gift yourself?

By the way, just a hint for my family and friends…

Shotbox wine bottle photo


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Sauvignon Blanc For Summer

Mo Wine Please

As summer zooms by, have you taken the time to sit back and relax with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc?

Sauvignon Blanc is a great “white wine alternative” for those of us who just can’t embrace Chardonnay. I love the bright, crispness of Sauvignon Blanc, especially in the summer.

Traditionally considered to be a cool climate wine, warmer spots like California and Washington State are finding great success producing somewhat fuller bodied Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc is often blended with a bit of Sémillon to help give it structure.

The classic food pairing with this varietal is something from the seafood aisle. However, it also lends itself very well to dishes featuring items from the vegetable aisle. Think pasta or risotto with fresh vegetables and, of course, a mixed veggie salad.

Sauvignon Blanc is at its best served chilled. Sometimes keeping that chill can be a challenge in the summer. Be sure to keep your bottle in an ice bucket at the table or use one of the other products on the market to keep wine from warming up too much.

Alright, now let’s talk specifics. I have some recommendations.

2013 Groth Sauvignon Blanc

2013 Groth Sauvignon Blanc

Groth is a family owned winery that started in 1981 with the purchase of just over 100 acres right in the heart of Napa Valley.

The Groth Sauvignon Blanc is blended from grapes grown throughout Napa Valley. The winemaker uses some grapes from the warmer locations to bring the right amount of fruit – the classic Sauvignon Flavors of citrus and melon – and some grapes from the cooler locations to bring about just the right level of acidity.

The tasting notes suggest pairing this wine with raw oysters but, since I don’t play that game, we enjoyed it with a nice summer salad topped with grilled shrimp. Perfect!

At around $20 per bottle the Groth Sauvignon Blanc is terrific!

2013 Hall Sauvignon Blanc

Hall Sauvignon Blanc

Via Hall Wines

The folks at Hall pretty much knock it out of the park every time. That’s why Hall is one of our favorite places to visit in Napa.

The 2013 Hall Sauvignon Blanc was rated a 92 by Wine Enthusiast – and for good reason. Here is what Wine Enthusiast had to say about this delicious $24 bottle of wine:

“Voluptuous and well-developed, this is tingling in acidity with a luscious mouthfeel and flavors of ripe peach, grape­fruit and vanilla bean. Complex, the citrus is seasoned with a vibrancy of herb and pepper spice. A delicious wine for fresh oysters or crab cakes.”

Oysters, again? I’ll enjoy mine with the crab cakes, thank you.

2009 Rudd Sauvignon Blanc

Rudd Sauvignon Blanc

This is a wine that you won’t likely find at your local wine store. Rudd only produces about 530 cases of this wine each year so it is hard to get.

We purchased this bottle through Bounty Hunter (talk to our wine scout, Alan – tell him that Mo sent you!) and it has been resting in our cellar for a few years.

At $50 per bottle this would not be your everyday Sauvignon Blanc but for a special treat? Yes, indeed!

As the story goes, Leslie Rudd gave up a bit of his prime Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard block on the side of Mt. Veeder and planted Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes so that he could make his wife’s favorite wine. What a guy, eh?

I can best describe the Rudd as showing all my favorite characteristics of a Sauvignon Blanc but kicked way up. This wine boasts pleasing fruit flavors balanced by great minerality and perfect acidity.

The wine was awarded 93 points by Robert Parker who called it, “A beautifully textured, rich, fresh Sauvignon Blanc”.

I agree!

Have you discovered a new favorite Sauvignon Blanc this summer?

Designated driver, Uber or cab

No one paid me to say this.

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Napa: 7 Gems And A Clunker Part 1

Recently, Peter and I spent time wine tasting in Napa with a group of friends from college. We had a wonderful, wonderful time and tasted many amazing wines.

There was one clunker – a surprisingly disappointing experience. More on that in Part 2.

Using VRBO, we rented a fabulous 6 bedroom home on the Silverado Country Club golf course. The house featured a pool, hot tub, tennis court, putting green, outdoor fireplace, four patios and so much more. All of this for less than the price of a hotel room!

Napa rental house

If you are traveling to Napa and are looking for a large house to rent, let me know. I will give you the contact info!

The kitchen in this house was fully stocked. Rather than eating out at restaurants every night, we decided that it would be more fun to dine in, taking turns cooking. We also packed a picnic lunch each day so that we didn’t waste any time eating in a restaurant – time that could be better spent tasting wine!

Peter and I brought wine from our how-is-it-possible-we-have-reached-capacity wine cellar.

that wine is not going to drink itself

It seems crazy to bring wine TO Napa but we need help with inventory reduction. As Peter says, that wine is not going to drink itself.

The first stop on our trip was Silver Oak.

Silver Oak is owned by the Duncans, a family with many generations of Notre Dame alumni and very strong continuing ties to the University.

For our group – Notre Dame alums, ourselves – Silver Oak was the perfect place to kick off our wine tasting.

Silver Oak Duncan Hall

The bottle on the right features an etching of Duncan Hall, a dorm on the ND campus named for the Duncan Family.

Silver Oak makes just two wines: a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and an Alexander Valley (Sonoma) Cabernet Sauvignon.

That’s it.

With that kind of focus, you might guess that they do a really, really fine job of winemaking. And you would be correct.

Silver Oak’s goal is to make full bodied wine with characteristic dark fruit notes that can be consumed immediately or can be aged for another decade or more. To that end, Silver Oak ages their wine for a couple of years in American Oak barrels then continues the aging in the bottles, finally releasing the wine a good 4+ years after harvest.

Silver Oak offers a variety of tasting experiences and include tastes of wine from their secondary label, Twomey Wines as well.

Silver Oak

Silver Oak’s iconic tower.

Next on the agenda was Alpha Omega.

Alpha Omega

We reserved one of the picnic tables on their property and enjoyed our lunch before starting the tasting.

Once inside the lovely private tasting room, we were treated to a wide array of wines including a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a red blend and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

And, I guess because we were such a receptive audience, our guide, Chris, poured tastes of several wines that weren’t on the menu.

Alpha Omega tasting

Smart move. Our group bought a lot of wine…

We ended day one at Palmaz Vineyards.

Located up, up, up at the top of Mount George, the winery features gorgeous sweeping views of the Napa Valley.

What visitors don’t realize at first is that the winery’s entire production and aging takes place in a spectacular series of caves and tunnels built into the mountain, under the tasting room. You have to see it to believe it!

Fun fact: Dr. Palmaz was one of the inventors of the heart stent. It is not at all surprising that an attention to detail, precision and high tech-ery is evident throughout the winery from production to the tasting presentation.

Also quite evident: that Dr. Palmaz has spent a great deal of money on his “hobby” of making great wine.

Our tasting event included delicious small bites paired with wines. Serving wine with food is a good way to sell wine…I’m just sayin’.


The second day started out at Hall Wines.

The Hall St. Helena property includes a variety of buildings both old and new, lovely, lovely grounds for strolling or enjoying food and wine and lots and lots of very cool art.

Hall entry

Hall art

During our tour of the facilities we were treated to a barrel tasting of the upcoming release Cabernet.

barrel tasting

After the tour, we were seated in a private tasting room (surrounded by even more art), where we enjoyed the Hall Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Jack’s Masterpiece, Ellie’s and Napa Valley Cabernets. And, bought a lot of wine….

There seems to be a theme here.

Before leaving the sprawling grounds of Hall St. Helena, we stopped for a picnic lunch on the patio, reveling in the fact that our trip had been magical so far. Just one delightful experience after another.

Little did we know that a clunker was waiting for us, just down the road at our next stop…

Tune in next time for Napa: 7 Gems And A Clunker Part 2.

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My 5 Favorite Napa Experiences

In my humble opinion, the perfect wine tasting trip to Napa Valley consists of a combination of “belly up to the bar” tastings and special experiences. These experiences can range from small group tours to super fancy, over the top food and wine extravaganzas.

Each time we visit Napa, we try to add something new to our list.

Here are my 5 all time (so far) favorite Napa experiences.


Cakebread Food and Wine pairing

The Cakebread Cellars Wine and Food Pairing starts with a short tour of the winery – including the fabulous outdoor kitchen area – before sitting down to enjoy an array of delicious bites paired with Cakebread’s wines. Fresh local ingredients go into each dish. Your guide will lead you through each pairing helping to understand why each works so darn well.

Cakebread Cellar’s wines are pretty widely distributed so it is quite possible you have seen them at restaurants or in your local wine store. But, Cakebread also makes some very small production wines that are only available at the winery. Some of these will be included in the pairing.

Funny story…Our “Girls’ Special Birthday Group” went to Napa for one of our birthday trips. One member of our group has celiac disease (obviously not the funny part). When she saw Cakebread on our itinerary she said all she could think of was “Gluten-Gluten”.

But we visited the winery, everyone loved it and we even got to meet the charming Dolores Cakebread. Or, as we have come to refer to her, Mrs. Gluten-Gluten.

The Wine and Food Pairing is offered most Thursdays and Fridays at 11 am. The experience lasts 90 minutes and costs $45 per person ($20 for wine club members).


Far Niente is best know for its killer chardonnays but their Cabernet Sauvignon deserves equal praise. And then, of course, there is Dolce – the gold standard in sweet dessert wine.

Far Niente does not offer walk-in tastings. The only way to taste their wine on-site is to schedule a guided tour and tasting. Let me tell you, it is soooooo well worth it!

The tour takes you through the historic winery including the aging cellars. You will learn the history of the winery and the story of building the cellars on this lovely property.

The bonus stop on the tour, what makes the Far Niente experience different than any other, is visiting the Carriage House where you have the opportunity to see the late founder, Gil Nickel’s, incredible collection of classic cars.

Far Niente

After the tour (and taking a million pictures with the super cool cars), guests sit down to a tasting of Far Niente’s current releases, some select wine from prior vintages and Dolce.

Just a note, even if you think you don’t care for late harvest or dessert wines, do yourself a favor and TASTE THE DOLCE! I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.

Each wine is paired with cheese which magically brings out the best in the cheese and the best in the wine.


Taste wine with bread

The Far Niente Guided Tour and Tasting is by appointment only, daily between 10am and 3pm. Allow a couple of hours – you don’t want to rush through any of this! The cost of the experience is $65 per person but wine club members receive four complimentary reservations per visit.

Special tip: At the end of the tasting, politely ask if they have any extra empty Dolce bottles. These bottles are absolutely stunning and make an excellent vessel for olive oil.

Hendry Wines Owner-Winemaker Seminar Tour

George Hendry, the owner and winemaker at Hendry Wines, is an interesting guy. His father passed away leaving George in charge of the family farm. They had been growing a bunch of different crops but pretty quickly George figured out that the only crop making money was the grapes. Then he figured he should try his hand at winemaking. Good call.

By the way, when he is not making killer wines, George Hendry is a nuclear physicist. I’m just sayin’…

The Hendry Wines Owner-Winemaker Seminar Tour covers everything you could possibly imagine: the history of the land, the winemaking philosophy, the business of winemaking and whatever George feels like talking about. After the tour you sit down to taste 8 or 9 wines – everything from Albariño to Zinfandel. (I’m pretty sure we tasted at least 12 because George just kept thinking of another wine he wanted us to try.)

George is also a super-foodie. With every wine he poured, he described the dish he makes as the perfect pairing. By the end of our visit we were ready to invite ourself to dinner.

Hendry Wines

I love this experience because of the passion George Hendry has for his land, his grapes, the winemaking business and his wine. The visit lasts 2 1/2 to 3 hours and costs $75 per person, but the fee is waived if you purchase an equivalent amount of wine. By appointment only at 10am each day.

Darioush By Invitation Only

Even if you don’t sign up for this amazing experience, you should definitely make Darioush one of your Napa wine tasting stops. The winery itself is beautiful and the wines are exquisite.

Darioush Winery

Not kidding…this place is amazing.

During the Darioush By Invitation Only experience, your host fills you in on the interesting story of Darioush Khaledi’s journey from being a civil engineer in Iran to a grocery store chain owner in California to starting the winery in 1997. All this while enjoying small bites prepared by the resident chef and enjoying wines from Darioush Khaledi’s personal wine cellar. On our visit this included a variety of wines from the Darioush vineyard and some from France to show the influence they had on Khaledi’s winemaking philosophy. These are wines that we would never have access to on our own.

Peter and I splurged on this experience for a special anniversary trip. At the beginning of the event our host asked each person in the small group to introduce ourselves and tell our connection to the wine industry. All the other participants were part of “the trade” – wine store owners, wine distributors or restaurant sommeliers. When it came to be our turn to introduce ourselves, the host asked how we were connected to the wine industry.

Peter’s response: “Consumers?”

This fabulous event is available by appointment at 11am daily. It lasts two hours and costs $150 per person.

Kathryn Hall Rutherford’s Appellation Exploration

The most beautiful tasting room in all of Napa Valley.

Kathryn Hall Rutherford

It’s impossible to capture the grandeur of the chandelier. Designed to look like the roots descending from the vineyards above, this chandelier is adorned with jillions of Swarovski crystals. It. Is. Breathtaking!

As you wind your way up the one lane, narrow driveway to the top of the hill to enjoy the Kathryn Hall Rutherford Appellation Exploration, you are in for a once in a lifetime experience.

Starting with the gorgeous, sweeping views of the valley from the patio, your host will take you on a tour of the Rutherford facilities and into the vineyards including the 100-point Sacrashe Vineyard. A perfect score…doesn’t get much better than that.

The tour takes you through the caves lined with bricks reclaimed from Bavarian castles then ends up in the uber-luxurious tasting room where you will enjoy a comparative tasting of Hall wines from different appellations throughout Napa Valley paired with gourmet food bites prepared to complement each wine.

Every participant from the novice to the pro will enjoy the glorious wines but the true wine aficionados will appreciate the opportunity to compare wines created from the same vintage, subject to the same climate, handled by the same winemaker with the only difference being the plot of land from which the grapes have come. This is the kind of thing that wine geeks live for.

By appointment only, this 90 minute experience costs $125 per person ($100 per person for wine club members).

If you are traveling to Napa Valley and looking for a memorable experience to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, retirement or other special occasion, any one of these will fit the bill and make your trip.


I’m always looking for new ideas – what is your favorite Napa experience?


Now for the technical stuff…

Do Not Drink and Drive No Compensation

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