“…their frangrance will be like the wine of Lebanon.” Hosea 14:7


Founded in 1857 by Jesuit Priests, Chateau Ksara is the oldest commercial winery in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Fine wine making in Lebanon, however, goes back thousands of years. In Biblical times Lebanese wines were held up as the standard for all wines. And why wouldn’t they be? The vineyards in the Bekaa Valley are planted at higher altitudes. Some of Chateau Ksara’s vineyards are planted at 3600 feet. The 75 mile long valley has a Mediterranean climate with the viticultural benefits of a rain shadow effect from Mount Lebanon producing 240 sunny days a year for fully ripened grapes. Breezes are common in the valley, which, along with the moderating effects of the two rivers, the Orontes and the Litani and the big diurnal swing, from the 50’s Fahrenheit at night to the high 80’s during the day work to preserve the beautiful acidity of the grapes.

The grapes grown in the vineyards of Chateau Ksara are predominantly French reds such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Those are the grapes in their Reserve du Couvent, 2013. The wine is a deep ruby color with a garnet rim, very viscous with a medium plus intensity in aroma. The fruits are both tart and ripe, red currant, red cherry, black cherry and bramble berry. Intermixed with the fruit are aromas of fennel, clove, vanilla and charred wood. There is quite a bit of structure to this wine with a playful acidity and a meaty body, it is both juicy and harmonious. After tasting Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent it becomes very clear that to be compared to the fragrance of ‘…the wine of Lebanon,’ is high praise indeed.

*I was given this wine as a sample.  It is the first Lebanese wine that I have had and I didn’t know what to expect, though I was hoping I’d like it.  It was very easy to like, so well structured and lovely.  Had I purchased it, I would consider it a great value, as it retails under $20.

Dinner at Spenker Winery

P1020450Founded in 1869 as a train stop for the Central Pacific Railroad, Lodi began as a farming community known for wheat and watermelons. Lodi was also known, early on for grapes. Since the 19th century Lodi has moved from the Tokay grape to the Zinfandel grape. Home to over 80 wineries and a downtown bursting with fine restaurants, Lodi presents itself with the sophistication of a city in the charm of a small town. At its heart, Lodi is still a farming community.

SpenkerWineryChuck Spenker is a 3rd generation grower and Lodi farmer. His farm, Spenker Winery is located just west of downtown Lodi where he grows Petite Sirah, Muscat and Zinfandel. Dinner at Spenker Winery with the Spenker family includes not only their wines but their farm-made goat cheese, which was fresh and creamy and all the more tasty having met the goats  before dinner. Every goat is named, and every name fit, especially Shenanigans a mischievous character indeed.  P1020544

Though there are several things produced at Spenkers, it is the Zinfandel for which the winery and Lodi are best known. “Zinfandel has changed the way wine is made,” says Chuck Spenker. Because of its structure, Zinfandel is a grape that can withstand a longer hang time, especially in Lodi where the Delta breeze and cool nighttime temperatures maintain the natural acidity of the grape. A longer hang time produces a wine that is big enough to stand on its own. It can be enjoyed without food. But Chuck does believe in pairing his wines. According to Chuck Spenker you should always ‘pair your wine with your friends.’

Are Bloggers the Burners of the Wine World?

P1020447In the town of Lodi last week-end, 300 wine bloggers gathered for the 9th annual Wine Bloggers’ Conference. While most of the conversations centered on wine and writing, there were a few comments and presentations focused on the commercial side of blogging and some advice on how to ‘monetize authenticity.’

In less than a week Black Rock City will be once again re-purposed to host Burning Man, a ‘culture of possibility. A network of dreamers and doers.’ Beginning its third decade, the event has grown from a community of 30 to a city of over 67,000. There is some talk that the event is becoming overly commercialized. As the participants descend on Reno, we’ve noticed that more and more orders in the store are for cases of grand cru Champagne and first growth Bordeaux. It seems to have become to some extent, a rich man’s playground.

At this point in time, wine blogging is still a medium of self-expression that has no rules. Each blogger has a different perspective, a different take and different way of talking about wine. To develop rules in order to ‘monetize authenticity’ would suffocate the free self-expression that bloggers celebrate.

At the conference as I went from glass to glass and from blogger to blogger, I was greeted and welcomed at each table. A spirits lounge was set up by Justin Koury of the grapevineconsulting.com and wizards of whiskey. Each night there was a different ‘free-range’ experience; free spirits for free spirits. Wine bloggers may well be the burners of the wine world. Theirs is a culture of individual expression without judgment. Lets hope they continue to avoid commercialism and remain a free for all…for all. And like the burners, lets hope the bloggers, continue to live by the principles of ‘Radical Self-expression’ and ‘Radical Inclusion.’

Why Do Generations Matter?

Visit just about any winery in Lodi, California and you will hear the tag line, ‘4th generation grower’ or maybe, ‘5th generation grower.’ There are a lot of family farms in Lodi that have been growing crops since the 19th century and are now making wines. A visit to these wineries is not just about tasting the wines. It’s about meeting the families. But what is it that the generations pass on that somehow makes its way into the final product? Can you taste the character of the family in the wine?

On a recent visit to my parents’ house while having dinner, I noticed something about my Dad. While often quite charming, he likes to tease and get a rise out of people, not unlike my son. On this particular night, rather than let Dad get the better of me, I simply turned to my son and said, ‘Now, I know where you get it. You get it from Grandpa.’ ‘You’rP1020398e wrong,’ my son replied. ‘I get it from you. You get it from Grandpa.’

I never realized how much like my Dad I am
until this visit while we were driving through a pretty neighborhood. There were too many of us for one car, so we drove caravan style. As we approached one particular house I turned to my husband and said, ‘See that house? That’s the best house in the neighborhood. It’s on the golf course, has a view of the lake. And the house itself is not overdone.’ Just as my sentence came to an end, my Dad in the car in front of us pulled over in front of the house. He got out and walked over to our car, ‘See that house? It’s the best house in the neighborhood. It’s on the golf course and has a view of the lake.’ ‘And it’s not overdone,’ I added. ‘Right. It’s not overdone.’ When he got back in his car, I said to my husband, ‘Does it scare you that I think just like my Dad?’ From the back seat came my mother’s voice, like a haunting warning, ‘It should!’

This years Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 is being held in Lodi California.  Many of the wineries or vineyards represented have been in the same family for generations.  Klinker Brick is sixth generation.  Mohr-Fry Ranch is 5 generations as are Michael David Winery and Lange Twins Winery. Oak Ridge Winery is run by a 5th generation Lodi grape grower.

Character is not just found in individuals. There are often common traits in individuals that make up the character of a family. I am looking forward to meeting the wine-making families of Lodi and finding out how their character is reflected in their wines.

(If you are going to the WBC16 leave a comment.  I would love to meet you in person.)

Birth, Death, and a Beautiful Gesture

IMG_0263In 1728 Louis XV issued a proclamation allowing the ‘foamy’ wines of Champagne to be shipped in bottles rather than barrels. As Champagne isn’t Champagne until its second fermentation in bottle, Louis XV’s proclamation is what allowed Champagne to be known and enjoyed outside of the region.  The house of Champagne de Venoge calls this event the birth of Champagne and the proclamation Champagne’s birth certificate. For this reason they have named their vintage cuvée Louis XV.

Last night a regular customer who usually shops with a friend, came into the store alone and went straight to the lock box asking for the not inexpensive Louis XV. I got the bottle out for him and said, ‘This must be a special occasion.’ He looked a bit pained, but didn’t say anything. Then seeing that there was quite a wait at the check out, he pulled me aside. ‘Is there any way to expedite this?’  He hesitated then went on, ‘My friend is dying. I want him to have a chance to enjoy his favorite Champagne one more time, but I need to get back in time.’

I imagine there is nothing that softens the pain of facing one’s last moments on earth more than a beautiful gesture from a loving friend.

Loud and Bold; No Thinking Required

Zinfandel originated in Croatia where it is called Crljenak Kastelanski (pronounced trill ya knock kahs ta lan ski). Though it is of the European species (vitis vinifera), Zinfandel, called Primitivo in Italy, has come to be known as America’s grape. It is here in the US, especially California, that the grape has been embraced and adopted as our own. Once known mainly as a sweet rosé (white zinfandel), Zin, as she is affectionately called, has earned our respect as a full-bodied, dry red that, though never subtle, is often quite beautiful.

20160523_155745.jpgTim and Lani Holdener operate the Macchia winery out of Lodi. They produce a few different zins including the Mischievous Zinfandel. Ripe and juicy with blackberry and red cherry aromas, loads of spice, cedar and vanilla all harmoniously balanced with a full body, this Zin is a meal. The aromatics are intense and abundant, the finish is long and satisfying.

Tim and Barbara Spencer operate the family winery, St Amant in Lodi 20160523_155832.jpgwhere they make an old vine Zin from the Mohr-Fry Ranch vineyard. Some of the vines are over 66 years old. The older the vines the more intensely flavored the fruit. This old vine Zin has ripe and jammy flavors of raspberry and blackberry, meshed with hints of purple flowers, eucalyptus, dried sweet herbs and a bit of mocha on the finish. Layered with intense aromatics in a medium-bodied, there is a lot going on with this Zinfandel.

Zinfandel will never be a wine that will be referred to as ‘cerebral.’ But when done right, as both the Macchia and St. Amant are, Zinfandel is that loud, bold friend we always look forward to seeing.

Thanks for the Spot

There I was at the gym getting ready to bench when someone I had never met before, a young man wearing a certain amount of camo, stood over me with a simple, two-word command, ‘Do it.’ ‘Will you spot me?’ I asked. Then he spoke these three simple words, ‘Yay, Do it.’

I leave tomorrow for Napa where I will sit for my level 3 WSET. It will be my first graded blind tasting, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m a bit nervous. But over the past few months I’ve heard more than a few words of encouragement from wine friends, comments like, ‘Stay focused and let the wine speak to you.’ ‘Tests are stressful, but how often do you get to take a test on something you’re passionate about?’ ‘I had a dream that you passed with distinction.’ My wonderful wine friends are all saying to me what that stranger in the gym said. They’re all saying ‘Yay, do it,’ only with more words and less camo.