Festive Wine Events Galore!

With the main snow season for 2015 still on hold, it’s time to look at the great wine tasting opportunities that are happening in Northern California.

San Francisco: Zinfandel Experience, January 29-31

Each year, fans of red wine from around the United States flock to San Francisco to participate in the annual event put on by the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (a.k.a. ZAP), a non-profit organization devoted to preserving the history and pageantry of world class wines made with California’s “sweet-heart” grape. Highlights of this year’s three-day event include: Epicurian, a magnificent wine and food pairing event at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio, on Thursday, January 29; Flights!, a thought-provoking tasting hosted by legendary winemaker Joel Peterson at the Four Seasons in San Francisco on Friday, January 30; and the annual Grand Tasting featuring over 500 wines being poured by the top California producers, a silent auction, and opportunities to learn about special wines from the important appellation where the cherished grape is grown at Sommelier & Winemakers Terroir Workshops on Saturday January 31, at the Presidio, Golden Gate Club & Film Centre. If you make it to the Grand Tasting, be sure to make time for my 2pm Workshop about Lake County & Mendocino AVA too! For ticket information to all these events, visit www.zinfandelexperience.com.

Anderson Valley, Mendocino: International Alsace Varietals Festival, February 7-8

If you like aromatic white wines with fragrant aromas and distinctive flavors, I would suggest you get in the car and head directly to Mendocino County for the 10th Annual Alsace festival in Anderson Valley, an event focused on rockstar wines made with Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat grapes grown in the Alsace region of France, California, Oregon, Michigan, New York, and other special appellations around the globe.

On Saturday, February 7th, the festivities kick-off with two special events at the County Fairgrounds in downtown Boonville (14400 Highway 128). The first is the Educational Session, a fantastic interactive event from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, which allows guests to listen to and interact with winemakers from around the world as they discuss the topics of grape growing, winemaking and food pairing specific to Alsace varietals.

PrintThe special 10-year anniversary Session will include a discussion on the Appellation of Crus in Alsace, complimented by a tasting of the 8 Grand Crus produced by Domaines Schlumberger. On the sommeliers side, I will be leading a special Pinot Blanc tasting focusing on wines from three wineries using grapes grown in the same vineyard (Schrader Ranch); fellow sommelier Christie Dufault, Instructor of Wine and Beverage Studies at the CIA Greystone, will do a presentation on how to pair food with Gewürztraminer; and the morning will be rounded out with a Cooking Demonstration done by talented Chef Francois de Melogue.

In the afternoon, the Grand Tasting will offer chances to taste over 100 Alsace Varietal wines made by producers from around the world, including local producers like Balo Vineyards, Brooks Wines, Claiborne & Churchill, Cutruzzola Vineyards, Elke Vineyards, FEL Wines, Foris Vineyards, Handley Cellars, Lula Cellars, Navarro Vineyards, Phillips Hill Winery, Philo Ridge Vineyards, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Saintsbury and Tatomer Wines, as well as special selections from the New Zealand Winegrowers and Wines of Alsace. To complement the wines, fresh oysters, Tarte Flambée and Pork Belly dishes will be served on the food tables at the event.

In the evening, the activities will conclude with the Winemakers Dinner at Scharffenberger Cellars in Philo (8501 Highway 128). The dinner will feature fabulous dishes made by Chef Janelle Weaver (Owner/Chef at The Bewildered Pig, Executive Chef at Peter Michael Winery, and former Executive Chef for Kuleto Estate), which emphasize the unique flavors of the wine s and how well they work with the bounty of the local area.

The Educational Session is $45 per person, and the Grand Tasting is $65 per person, but if you want to attend both a combined ticket is only $100. The Winemakers Dinner is $130 per person. To learn more and buy tickets visit International Alsace Varietals Festival.

Lodi: Wine & Chocolates Weekend, February 7-8

winechoc2014_0553With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about aphrodisiac wine and food pairings. For many, an easy choice is chocolate. This is what the Lodi Winegrape Commission had in mind when they started the popular Wine & Chocolate Weekend eighteen years ago. And this year’s event is bigger than ever!

Taste handcrafted sweet and savory chocolate bites with rich, spicy and complex wines at over 50 wineries. At $55 in advance and $65 at the door, tickets include an event wine glass, a chocolate treat from sponsor BRIX Chocolates, wine tasting, and admission to all participating wineries. Designated drivers are free of charge. www.Lodiwine.com.

Other upcoming events:

SRJC Wine Classic: February 8th, 2-5pm

San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Public Tasting: February 14th, 1:30-5pm

Feast It Forward: Official Sommelier

FIFProud to announce my latest collaboration with the team of Feast It Forward, as their official Sommelier!

Check out the Feast It Forward web page to learn more about their charitable endeavors, particularly how you can contribute to finish building a school in Malawi at their Fundrazr Site.  I am happy to be helping such deserving people in an impoverished country!

Winemaker & Viticulturalist Steve Matthiasson: A Rare Breed

When you open a bottle of the Matthiasson Napa Valley White Wine, the nose is immediately dazzled with fragrant aromas of fresh melon, peaches, citrus, and fresh picked spring flowers. In the matthiasson1glass, these distinctive aromas and fruity flavors are further enhanced by notes of mineral, chalk, roasted hazelnut, a lush texture, tangy acidity, and a long, vibrant finish. The end result is a graceful wine with qualities that set it apart from other proprietary white wines.

In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Tocai Friulano grapes, another special ingredient in the blend is Ribolla Gialla, a unique white grape from the Friuli region of Italy, which winemaker Steve Matthiasson was introduced to in 2002. Since then, Steve has gone on to promote the grape and carve his own niche with the delicious white and red wines he makes with fruit grown at his family’s estate vineyard in Napa and other special sites in Napa Valley and Sonoma County. For his commitment to quality, the San Francisco Chronicle named him “Winemaker of the Year” last year.

To learn more about Steve’s journey to becoming a viticulturalist and winemaker, read my interview with him that was published in the new issue of Vineyard and Winery Management.

1st SRJC Wine Classic being held on February 8th

Santa Rosa Junior College will hold its first SRJC Wine Classic from 2–5 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 8, on campus at Bertolini Hall.

Join in on this opportunity to support your local community college students, as they organize and host a social gathering, featuring 25 Sonoma County wineries, pouring over 50 wines, live music, gourmet appetizer buffet, and a souvenir glass for each attendee. Read more about it at the North Bay Business Journal.

Tickets for the event are $55 per person for adults age 21 or over. All proceeds will go to fund SRJC Wine, Culinary Arts & Hospitality students and student scholarships. Purchase online at srjcwineclassic.com. For more information email srjcwineclassic@gmail.com.

French Laundry Heist a Wake-Up Call!

wineheistThis recent occurrence has many wine collectors nervous: Is it time to get a better lock for the cellar or hide the entrance behind a secret bookshelf?

Today’s Press Democrat article by Derek Moore & Randi Rossmann details what sounds like an increasing trend, my interview was included to represent a sommelier’s perspective.

Read it here: Wine Heists Highlight Value of Luxury Vino

San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition 2015

Happy  New Year!  As per usual I find myself up in Cloverdale the first week in January judging at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest in the United States, with over 6400 wines being judged.

The gold medal winners of the high-end Pinot Gris wines to determine which one was the Best of Class: The winner will be featured in the Sweepstakes round on Friday morning.

Put Saturday February 14 on your calendar to attend their public tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco: 2015 Sweepstakes Award Winners and Tickets available through www.winejudging.com.

Keep posted for updates via my Sawyer Sommelier Blog!

Me with fellow judges Miro Tcholakov of Miro Cellars and Sean Brosnihan of Jordan Vineyards.

Here Comes ZAP!

It is that time of year again, the Zinfandel Experience in San Francisco happens January 29-31!


Not only will you get to taste a slew of amazing Zinfandel, but also the opportunity to learn about a collection of appellations through their Sommelier & Winemakers Terroir Workshops on Saturday January 31, at the Presidio, Golden Gate Club & Film Centre.  Be sure to make time for my 2pm Workshop about Lake County & Mendocino AVA!

Purchase your tickets online!


Tues Dec 30th: Nick Cave film screening!

Needing your Cave fix?  PBS recently featured he and his Bad Seeds on an episode of Austin City Limits, which left me wishing for an opportunity to get more of his wild stylistic performance.

This Tuesday December 30th,  the film 20,000 Days on Earth will be shown 7pm at City Winery in Napa: An in depth exploration into the mechanisms of Nick Cave.

A film the Hollywood Reporter declares “richly cinematic…a stunner…[a] unique investigation into the mind of an artist”.  What a bargain night out at $10!  Buy your tickets through City Winery.

Wine & A Movie! Part 2: Countdown to Christmas 2014

For your viewing pleasures, here is the second part of my annual Christmas film and wine pairings. Merry Christmas to all! Cheers, Christopher

scrooged2 Scrooged (1988)  Based on the classic Charles Dickens’ character Ebenezzer Scrooge, Bill Murray plays Francis Xavier Cross, a top New York television company executive with a serious chip on his shoulder. While trying to salvage relationships with his girlfriend, co-workers and family, Francis learns the hard facts of life from an amusing trio of Christmas ghosts representing the past, present and future.

Pairing: Ravenswood 2012 Zinfandel, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley ($60)         

Although he is the main character in this film, Murray’s role is further enhanced by a great cast which includes Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Robert Mitchum, John Houseman, Lee Majors, David Johansen, Robert Goulet, Carol Cane, Bobcat Goldthwait and other fine actors. In many ways, a similar thing is happening inside a bottle of the Ravenswood Old Hill Zinfandel. Planted in the 1880s, this special site features a one-of-a-kind field blend of Zinfandel, Mataro (Mourvedre), Carignane, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, and 20-plus other grape varieties. As a result, this intriguing selection of grapes produce a powerful wine with a substantial amount of depth, structure, and plenty of high-tone flavors of ripe blackberries, black raspberry, licorice, vanilla, violet, fine French oak, and complex notes of dried herbs, Mexican baking chocolate and black pepper spice on the finish. Pour yourself a glass, kick back, and notice how these supple flavors continue to expand along with the mixture of holiday drama, dark humor and the lavish music by Danny Elfman. www.RavenswoodWinery.com.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)  Frustrated with his life, his job and his wonderfulawful boss, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is ready to commit suicide when he meets his guardian angel Clarence. In turn, Clarence shows Bailey what life would be like if he was removed from the picture. When this emotional rollercoaster finally stops, Bailey goes on to correct the wrongs in time to celebrate Christmas with his family.

Pairing: Elks Cove 2013 Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley  ($19)

Directed by Frank Capra, this holiday classic screams out to be paired with a wine of equal stature. In 2014, one of my favorite picks is the Elk Cove 2013 Pinot Blanc, a crisp, clean and favorable wine made with scrumptious grapes grown in Willamette Valley. The end result is a brilliant white wine with aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, ripe melon, pineapple, crisp apple, white cherry, honey and cardamom, hint of mineral, racy acidity, and a generous creamy note on the finish. Superb with this movie and a plethora of other holiday treats, warm soups, gourmet salads, or by itself when paired with this classic Christmas film. www.elkscove.com.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) miracle2

In the beloved Christmas tale Miracle on 34th Street, Edmund Gwenn stars as Kris Kringle, a sweet old man who plays Santa at the Macy’s Day Parade. But once he claims to be the original jolly man from the North Pole, the story quickly become a bit more complicated. Is he nuts? Is he Santa? You have to wait for the court case to find out.

Pairing: Col Solare 2011 Red Wine, Red Mountain, Washington State ($75)

Given the fact that generosity and teamwork are the underlying themes that make this film a true Christmas classic, a taste-tempting sensation that addresses these important topics head-on is the Col Solare 2011 Red Wine, a joint project began in 1995 by Ted Baseler of Chateau Ste. Michele in Washington and Marchese Piero Antinori of Tuscany. Made by talented winemaker Darel Allwine and team this concentrated blend contains 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc  and 4% Malbec grapes grown primarily at the Col Solare Estate in the Red Mountain AVA of Washington State. The end result is rich and complex wine featuring fruit-driven aromas and deep flavors of ripe cherries, black currants, mineral, milk chocolate and toasted almonds; smooth tannins; and a long, elegant finish. Besides pairing great with the powerful characters played by Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara and Fred Gailey, the vibrancy of the wine is enhanced by Natalie Woods’ portrayal of the young girl. In short, it’s a lively compliment to such a sentimental film. www.colsolare.com.

Wine & A Movie! Countdown to Christmas 2014

With only a few days until Christmas, it’s time to start relaxing, opening bottles of fine wines, and absorbing the seasonal spirit with the help of true celluloid classics. Below are three of my favorite pairings. Stay tuned for more of my seasonal picks over the next few days.  Cheers! Christopher


 A Christmas Story (1983)

xmasstorySet in rural Indiana in the 1940s, Peter Billingsley plays Ralphie Parker, a young boy who will do anything possible to get a shiny new Red Rider Air Rifle for Christmas. But it does not take long until Ralphie finds himself jumping through a series of comical hoops to convince Santa (a.k.a his father) that he deserves such an expensive present.


Pairing: Gloria Ferrer 2010 Brut Rosé, Carneros ($45)

Born in the 1940s, many Baby Boomers would have their first wine tasting experiences with Mateus and Lancer’s, two sweet and enticing brands of pink wines from Portugal which flooded the American market in the 1960s and 70s. But today, pink wines are much more sophisticated and finish dry. This is especially true with delicious versions of vintage sparkling wines. A great example is the new release of the Gloria Ferrer 2010 Brut Rosé, a delicious sparkling wine made with premium Pinot Noir and a tiny splash of Chardonnay grapes (10%) grown in Carneros. In the flute, this delicate bubbly with a pale salmon pink hue features aromas and flavors notes of wild strawberries, ripe peach, Meyer lemon, raspberry and cherry; a rich, creamy texture; tangy acidity; and toasty notes of roasted almond on the finish. Hands down one of the best new sparkling wines to pair with holiday cuisine—especially roasted turkey, ham, salmon, and fine cheeses. www.GloriaFerrer.com.

Did you know? Freixenet, the parent company of Gloria Ferrer in Spain, is currently celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2014. To celebrate the winter months with Freixenet wines, snacks and films, check out my new article published in the December issue of Food Network Magazine, focused on pairing Peppermint Popcorn with the Freixenet Sweet Cuvee Brut, www.FreixenetUSA.com.


White Christmas (1954)

whitexmas1White Christmas is sweet, sentimental and fairly amusing film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen as musical entertainers who join forces to raise funds to help save a hip resort in the snowy hills of Vermont.

Pairing: Bouchaine 20102 Pinot Gris, Carneros ($24)

Aside from the classic ditty “White Christmas,” another important Irving Berlin song in this film is “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” In Spanish, the term “carneros” refers to a ram or sheep. In the past, the rolling hills in the Carneros region between Sonoma and Napa were known as a home to many of these cute and fluffy animals. However, today much of this beautiful landscape is blanketed with vineyards. Among the many delectable white wines made with the cherished fruit from the region is the Bouchaine 2012 Pinot Gris, a crisp, bright and sophisticated Alsatian-style wine featuring fresh aromas of fresh apple, citrus, orange blossom and mineral. On the palate, the generous flavors include ripe green apple, grapefruit, lemon and nectarine; and a long sassy finish that compliments this memorable holiday musical. Try this wine with medium cheeses, soups, salads, seafood, and roasted chicken with rosemary. www.Bounchaine.com.


Elf (2004)

elfHands down one of my favorite Christmas movies, Elf stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, an orphan accidentally whisked to the North Pole by Santa (Ed Asner). Once Buddy becomes an adult he quickly learns that it’s hard to be an oversized human in Elf world. On the brink of deep depression, he travels to the seven levels of the candy cane forest, past the sea of swirling gum drops, and through the famous Lincoln Tunnel on his journey to New York City to find his father (James Caan), a hard-nosed businessman at the top of Santa’s naughty list. Directed by Jon Favreau (Chef, Swingers), this film is jolly Christmas fun from start to finish!

 Pairing: Trombetta 2012 Pinot Noir, Gaps Crown Vineyard, Sonoma Coast ($65)

For a wine pairing with Elf: think Pinot Noir—a marvelous red-grape variety grown in cool climate conditions. Like Buddy and the rest of the elves, Pinot noir grapes come in many different shapes and sizes. The best styles of these wines are gentle, delicate, flavorful, complex and ageworthy. For a tasty example, try the new release of the Trombetta 2012 Pinot Noir, an admirable wine made with world-class fruit from the Gaps Crown Vineyard located in the Petaluma Gap section of southern Sonoma County. The wine features alluring aromas of dark cherry, wild berries, mineral, spice and homemade peanut butter crust. On the palate, the fantastic flavors are highlighted with memorable notes of cherry, blackberry, blueberry, black pepper, clove, and a hint of cola which pairs extremely well with the scene in which Buddy pounds a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. Overall, the full-bodied flavors and true complexity of this wine match perfectly with happy demeanor of Santa, Buddy and the rest of the elf clan. www.TrombettaWines.com.