Category Archives: Competition

Live Thurs Feb 16th on KGO! SFWC Public Tasting on Feb 18th.

The final round of our my team’s flights of high-end Viognier.

I will miss the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Public Tasting this year, but instead I get to share my thoughts about the exciting results from a wine judge’s perspective ahead of time on KGO! Catch me tonight, February 16th, from 8:45 to 9pm with Pat Thurston.

The SFWC Public Tasting will be Saturday, February 18th at Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco from 1:30-5pm.
Get your tickets HERE!

East Meets West: 2017 Competition Results!

As promised, results from the recent East Meets West Challenge results.   Check the site for a more thorough summary later this month.

Best of Show: East
Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, 2014 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, Finger Lakes Natural Ice Wine, $45

Best of Show: West
Miro Cellars, 2014 Petite Sirah, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley, Reserve Coyote Ridge Vineyard, $32

Best Sparkling: East
Trump Winery, 2009 Brut Reserve Estate Monticello, Methode Champenoise, Estate Bottled, $75

*Best Sparkling: West
Gloria Ferrer, Royal Cuvee 2007, $37

Best White: East
Wine Insiders, Simue 2016, Verdejo, Spain, $30

Best White: West
Oak Farm Vineyards, 2016 Albarino, Lodi,
Certified Green under Lodi Rules, $24

Best Rosé: East
Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, 2015 Rosé, Maryland, $20

Best Rosé: West
Stave & Stone Winery, 2016 Dorothy Pinot Noir Rosé, Columbia Gorge, Broten Boulder Vineyard, $25

Best Red: East
Pollak Vineyards, 2014 Cabernet Franc, Reserve Estate, Monticello Estate Grown Reserve, $50

Best Red: West
Miro Cellars, 2014 Petite Sirah, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley, Reserve Coyote Ridge Vineyard, $32

*Best Riesling: East
Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, 2014 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, Finger Lakes Natural Ice Wine, $45

Best Riesling: West
Carol Shelton Wines, 2014 Black Magic Late Harvest Zinfandel, $20

*Indicates Best of East Meets West in Class

Valentine Delights: Pairing sexy food and wine with Chef Domenica Catelli

When it comes to fine cuisine, the love of food goes deeper than most people think. That’s especially true around Valentine’s Day when the subject of aphrodisiac ingredients takes center stage.

Traced back to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, an expert in the fields of sexuality and love, the term “aphrodisiac” refers to edible bites that can stimulate the heart, brain and body, seduce the senses, and inspire lovers to have intimate encounters—particularly if they use the right ingredients.

While expensive delights like oysters, caviar and wild mushrooms fall into this category, most of the basic items are things we eat quite often, including: arugula, fennel, onions, radishes, carrots, figs, lemon and other citrus, olives, pine nuts, coconut, coffee, cocoa, and chocolate.

Studies have also found that complex wines made with pinot noir and other red grapes typically contain resveratrol, an antioxidant that helps boost blood flow and improves circulation before and during physical intimacy.

The topic of aphrodisiacs is also a great subject to bring up with star chefs, many of whom have a fun time crafting a mixture of sexy bites around the Valentine’s Day theme.

With these thoughts in mind, earlier this week I teamed up with my longtime friend Chef Domenica Catelli of Catelli’s Restaurant in Geyserville to test some of these love-inspiring ingredients on a special group of eager diners, my fellow wine judges from the East Meets West Wine Challenge 2017, which was held at the Santa Rosa Fairground earlier that day.

A native of Sonoma County, the roots of Domenica’s love for food started when her grandparents, Italian immigrants Santi and Virginia Catelli, founded the original Catelli’s restaurant in the historic downtown district of Geyserville in 1936. Thus, Domenica’s early years in Sonoma County were filled with memories of fresh, seasonal foods.

As a result, after creating a series of magnificent menus at several restaurants in Laguna Beach and the Stanford Inn on the Mendocino Coast in the 1990s, she began working on her first cookbook, Mom-a-licious: Fresh, Fast Family Food for the Hot Mama in You!, which hit bookstores in September 2007.

Thanks to ongoing success of the book, coupled with her unique style of working with healthy products in the kitchen and her cool appearances on Iron Chef America, CBS News, and Oprah and Friends on XM radio, Domenica became the national spokesperson for the Organic Trade Association and brand ambassador for Safeway’s O Organic line. Before and after she reopened the family restaurant with her brother Nicholas in 2010, celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela, Julia Roberts, John Travola and Lady Gaga have enjoyed her food.

From a sommelier’s standpoint, having watched Domenica become one of the star chefs of Sonoma County, it was a joy to once again work with her on this special aphrodisiac-themed dinner and the fun romantic movie-themed names we gave to each course. Here is a summary of the ingredients and wine pairings we worked with that evening:

Appetizer: Love Bites

Domenica’s Romantic Delight: Artichoke Hearts & Burrata with Crispy Prosciutto. For starters, artichoke hearts are naturally high in vitamins and antioxidants, which helps increase blood flow to enliven the senses. However, the rich texture and earthy flavors of this spiny and bulbous vegetable is often quite hard to pair with wines. Thus, Domenica took this factor to heart by softening the texture and adding additional layers of creamy Burrata cheese and salty sensations provided by the prosciutto. These components were presented beautifully at the end of the artichoke skin to resemble the naturally smooth slurping process used to consume a raw oyster on the half-shell.

SawyerSomm Sexy Wine Pairing: To compliment these flavors, I served the new release of the Gloria Ferrer 2007 Royal Cuvee Brut, Carneros. Highlighted with elegant flavors of crisp apple, lemon, roasted almonds, vibrant acidity, and a long dry finish; this special vintage style of sparkling wine worked wonders with the rich texture, salty components and earthy nature of the appetizer. A fabulous way to start the evening off in style! www.gloriaferrer.com.

(As a fun side note: The Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee would go on to win the Best of Class for all Sparkling Wines from the West Coast and eventually beat the Trump Sparkling Wine by a landslide to win the prestigious honor of the Best Sparkling Wine of the entire competition. For complete results from the East Meets West Wine Challenge, watch for my upcoming SawyerSomm post!

Salad: Eat Drink Man Woman

Domenica’s Romantic Touch: Organic Kale, Blood Orange, Honey Glazed Walnuts. Much like arugula, kale is leafty, minerally, and high in antioxidants—the latter of which helps promote good health and prevents diseases. In the dressing, the blood orange added amino acids to compliment the rich and fatty compounds in the Dry Creek Olive Oil, which is commonly known to help stimulate hormonal activity. For toppings, the natural sweet flavors of the honey provides Vitamin B, estrogen, and helps boost strength, endurance and regenerates sexual energy; while the walnuts (sourced from Lou Preston’s organically farmed orchard in Dry Creek Valley), provided a burst of extra protein to give the sex drive a boost. Granted, while we have no idea what happened amongst the guests later that evening, we can say the complex flavors in this salad stimulated plenty of fun conversations around the two large wooden tables we dined at in the private dining room!

SawyerSomm Sexy Wine Pairing: To further enhance the experience, my colleague Debra del Fiorentino and I served a wide array of the Best of Class white wines that we judged earlier in the day. My favorite pairing was the Oak Farm Vineyard 2016 Albarino from Lodi, which featured lively flavors of ripe melon, peach, lime and racy acidity that isolated and elevated the dynamic flavors of the kale, citrus, honey and walnuts that made this romantic salad so memorable. www.oakfarmvineyards.com

Entrée: Lady & the Tramp

Domenica’s Romantic Touch: House-made egg Tagliatelli, Domenica’s Organic Tomato Sauce and Catelli’s famous Mini Meatballs  Known for her tasty and healthy approach to cooking, this gorgeous dish was the epitome of Domenica’s style. For starters, the flavors of the mini meatballs, made with free-range beef and house-made pork sausage, were amplified with the natural richness of the sauce. In addition to organic tomatoes and virgin olive oil, other special ingredients included fresh basil, which naturally arouses the senses and boosts blood circulation; garlic, a strongly scented delight that provide the body with a bolt of allicin, which is known to increase blood to the organs, stamina and sexual energy; and celery, a powerful food source of Vitamin E, zinc, potassium, magnesium, and a natural stimulant to the volume of semen. In keeping with the theme, Domenica made the pasta with eggs that provide more protein and sexual energy. In addition to shaved parmesan, the dish was also topped with fresh arugula, an ancient source of Vitamins A and C. Brilliant flavors from first bite to last.

SawyerSomm Sexy Wine Pairing: In staying with the Italian theme, I chose one of my favorite regional wines from Alexander Valley, the LaStoria 2012 Cuvee 32 Red Wine from Trentadue Winery in Geyserville. Crafted by my fellow wine judge, winemaker Miro Tcholakov, this dazzling, food-friendly Super Tuscan-style blend was made with 54% Sangiovese, 29% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Montepulciano. Layered with lively flavors of ripe blue fruits, wild strawberry, cherry, pomegranate and spicy notes of cinnamon, cocoa and allspice; the wine quickly seduced the senses and helped amplify the fresh and spirited flavors of this fabulous pasta dish. www.trentadue.com.

Dessert: Like Water for Chocolate

Domenica’s Romantic Touch: Chili and Cinnamon Spiced Chocolate Bodino, Maldon Salted Caramel, Banana Mousse  Chocolate. Need we say more? Besides a natural burst of sugar and energy, tasty bites of chocolate have more antioxidants than red wine. Studies also show that women who eat chocolate have sex more often than those that don’t. To make this dessert even more interesting, Domenica added cinnamon, which helps balance blood flow and increase sexual appetite; red chilies, which provide a boost of endorphin, a natural “feel good” stimuli for the brain and libido; and bananas, an easy source of Vitamin B, potassium, and testosterone. Plus, the texture of the caramel and mousse increased the sexy factor tenfold.

SawyerSomm Sexy Wine Pairing: To finish off the experience, we stimulated the palate with the Wilson 2013 Buzz Reserve Zinfandel, Buzz Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley. The ripe and juicy flavors of wild berries, black pepper and clove from this special selection of classic vines planted in 1976 added fresh, fruity and spicy elements to the dessert. A few judges were also enamored by how the Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee Brut matched up with the flavors of chocolate, caramel, banana and spice. www.wilsonwinery.com.

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While it’s true that Domenica is in a league of her own, the ultimate intent of this pre-Valentine’s Day menu was to show that putting extra focus on working with aphrodisiac ingredients and wines pairings is an easy way to amplify your love for your soul mate—not only around Valentine’s Day, but all year long.

“Try it, you might like it,” says Domenica, with a smile. “After all, you never know where a natural bounty of flavors might get you!”

Located at 21407 Geyserville Avenue in Geyserville, Calif; Catelli’s is open 7-days a week. For reservations, call 707.857.3471 or visit www.mycatellis.com. For special events, call 707.857.7142 or catellisevents@gmail.com. Moms can also purchase Domenica’s book at local bookstores or on amazon.com.

For further information about eating something sexy and pairing it with wine, read my Valentine’s Day article in the new issue of Valley of the Moon Magazine at www.vommag.com.  And for more stimulating ideas, check out Romancing the Stove: the unabridged guide to aphrodisiac foods, the new book by culinary author Amy Reiley, which is available at www.lifeofreiley.com.

Harvest Challenge: Submit Your Entries by Nov 14th!

harvchall2016Why enter your wines?  Because the Harvest Challenge 2016 is a wine competition that bases its judging on a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making savoir-faire, which contribute to give the specific personality to the wine.

 In other competitions, this factor is ignored. At the Harvest Challenge, judges taste wines with other wines of the same appellation. Thus, with cross-regional competition removed, the inherent quality of wines can be seen without the influences that sometimes eclipse even a wine of very high quality.

Convinced yet?  Follow this LINK to enter the competition!

I hope to taste your wines there!
Cheers, Christopher

Glorious Bites Challenge elicits delicious food & photos!

gbites2Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards hosted the 2nd annual “Glorious Bites Challenge” this weekend, where three other judges and I selected Chera Little of Leander, Texas, as the 2016 winner, earning her bragging rights, a custom glass trophy and a check for $5000.  Her Miso-Maple Glazed Cod Wonton-Cho’s with Crispy Bok Choy Slaw has been deemed this year’s most glorious appetizer recipe in the country to pair with Gloria Ferrer’s sparkling Sonoma Brut. Little, who lost her husband just three months ago to brain cancer, said he encouraged her to enter the competition.  “My late husband was my biggest cheerleader.  He loved won tons, he loved cream cheese and he loved fish. This dish was inspired by him,” said Little.   “I am very excited and very humbled.  This has been an incredible experience. ”

Out of more than 1800 entries from 44 states, Little’s recipe rose to the forefront, bringing her to the semi-finals and ultimately to the winner’s circle at the final cook-off at Gloria Ferrer Winery on Saturday.   The judges unanimously enjoyed her recipe.

Joel Riddel, myself and Sara Deseran while Judging the Gloria Ferrer Glorious Bites.
Joel Riddel, myself and Sara Deseran while Judging the Gloria Ferrer Glorious Bites.

“I just loved the way the miso married so well with the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut,” said award-winning radio show Host and Producer Joel Riddell.

“I definitely thought it was the most complex dish. There were so many layers of flavors.  Every bite stood out and different elements played nicely with the wine,” said Sommelier, Wine Educator and Journalist Christopher Sawyer.

(Photos above: Three delicious entries and a bit of “ham” with colleagues Joel Riddell and Leslie Sbrocco.)

“I think we all agreed that this dish was really beautiful to look at and beautiful to taste.  It had it all the elements going on – bitter, salty, sweet—just a great dish,” according to Sara Deseran, Food Writer and Editor-at-Large for San Francisco magazine.

“Having tasted all the dishes previously at the semi-finals, I had no idea who would win today,” said Jennifer Luttrell, Keynote Glorious Bites Judge and Executive Chef for Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.  “It was really tough to choose, but Chera’s dish had really bright layers of flavors and complexity and, most of all, it was delicious with the Sonoma Brut.”

gbites5
Won tons stuffed by Diane Williams of Auburn, CA with Beef, Blue Cheese and Bacon.

All finalists’ appetizers were judged on originality, taste and ability to pair with the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut.  During the competition, the more than 200 guests in attendance were entertained by TV Host, Wine Expert and Author Leslie Sbrocco, known for her appearances on NBC’s The Today Show and as the host of Check Please! Bay Area and her newest show Taste This.  Attendees also voted on their favorite appetizer from among the four finalists.  Taking home the popular vote, or the “Pop Award,” was Diane Williams of Auburn, California, for her Triple “B” Won Tons with Beef, Blue Cheese and Bacon.

All recipes from the 2016 finalists are available for download from the Glorious Bites website: www.gloriousbites.com 

2016 North Coast Wine Challenge Results!

The fabulous panels for the 2016 North Coast Wine Challenge.
The fabulous panels for the 2016 North Coast Wine Challenge.

Spectacular finish to the North Coast Wine Challenge with some of the finest wine judges in America. Our team sent the top red & white wine winners to the final round and the 2012, 2013 & 2014 vintages were brilliant.

Enjoying the fabulous Judges Dinner at MacMurray Ranch in Russian River Valley.
Enjoying the fabulous Judges Dinner at MacMurray Ranch in Russian River Valley.
My fellow judges and two of my favorite people in the wine industry: Traci Dutton, Manager of Wine & Beverage Studies at the Rudd Center at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone, and Master Sommelier Fred Dame.
My fellow judges and two of my favorite people in the wine industry: Traci Dutton, Manager of Wine & Beverage Studies at the Rudd Center at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone, and Master Sommelier Fred Dame.

The big winners have been published in the Press Democrat in this article by Diane Peterson:

Find the entire winners’ list is HERE!
Cheers! Christopher

 

Pizza prizes and plentiful posts! Saturday, March 26th

Follow my social media this weekend for updates from Sebastiani’s pizza16bPizza My Way Contest™.   Participants entered their homemade pizza recipe and will be competing for the $10,000 Grand Prize!

The event is sold out, but I will be sharing posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter of the best pizza and wine pairings done by me and my fellow judges Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in SF, Tony’s of North Beach at the Graton Casino, and author of The Pizza Bible by Ten Speed Press; Sondra Bernstein, proprietor of girl & the fig restaurant in Sonoma; and Chef Carlo Cavali of Burgers & Vine in Sonoma.

Also look for my posts of recipes to try at home!
Christopher

Fun selfie of me and Pizza King Tony Gemignani taken at Flavor Napa Valley. This week, Tony and I will be judging the Pizza My Way event at Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma.
Fun selfie of me and Pizza King Tony Gemignani taken at Flavor Napa Valley. This week, Tony and I will be judging the Pizza My Way event at Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma.

Tasty results from the American Fine Wine Competition 2016

Every wine competition has its own unique shtick. Some are focused on specific varietals or regional specialties; while others are concentrated on wines from around the globe at different price points.  For these reasons, it’s very rare to find a large-scale competition that is solely focused on high-end wines. An exception to this rule is the American Fine Wine Competition.

afwc1In mid-January, myself and twenty-three extremely qualified wine professionals from all areas of the wine and food industry were put through the test of judging 770 high-end wines at the 9th Annual AFWC held at the Chaplin School of Hospitality Management in the Wine Spectator Restaurant Lab at the Florida International University in Miami.

Co-founded by Shari Gherman and Monty & Sara Preiser in 2007, the AFWC has become one of the most influential wine events in the country over the past decade. The competition is followed by the annual Charity Wine Gala which takes place in April. There is also a series of Wine & Business After Hours events that raise money for a variety of non-profits and promote award-winning American wines throughout the year.

Since its inception, AFWC has raised more than a million dollars for local charities. The organization also works closely with the Dolphins Cancer Challenge, an organization founded by Michael Mandich, whose father Jim “Mad Dog” Mandich, a popular player for the Miami Dolphins and a beloved broadcaster, died of cancer in 2011.

Pink out! Kenwood-based Muscardini Cellars won the coveted Best of Class award for Dry Rose with this elegant wine made with fruit from Alpicella Vineyard in Sonoma Valley.
Pink out! Kenwood-based Muscardini Cellars won the coveted Best of Class award for Dry Rose with this elegant wine made with fruit from Alpicella Vineyard in Sonoma Valley.

“We are also proud that most other competitions charge $25 – $75 for each bottle of wine entered, garnering big profits for the organizers. We charge nothing, and all profits realized go to charity. Few can make such a statement,” says Gherman, the president and co-founder of the organization.

In addition to myself and Dr. Barry Gump of FIU (who I annually judge with at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition), some of the other well know judges included Masters of Wine Dr. Liz Thach and Peg San Felippo; Master Sommelier Virginia Philips; internationally renown sommelier and wine educator Charlie Arturaola; Wine Director Kris Margerum from Auberge du Soleil in St. Helena; East Coast wine sales experts Veronica Litton and Scott Caruso; and Patrick Sullivan, editor of DINE Magazine.

In the end, the top awards for 2016 went out to a fabulous mixture of producers from northern California:

Best of Show Sparkling Wine (Tie): Signal Ridge, Anderson Valley ($25) and Breathless Blanc de Noirs, North Coast ($30) Best of Show White Wine: Rivino 2014 Pinot Blanc, Mendocino ($25) Best of Show Red Wine: Luna 2013 Canto Super Tuscan Style, Napa Valley
($70)
Best of Show Sweet/Dessert Wine: Castello di Amorosa 2013 LH Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley ($39 – 375ml) In addition to California, there other top wines entered in the competition from Virginia, Maryland, New York, Texas, Oregon and Washington State. The complete list of the Best of Class winners and all the medalists will be out next week on www.AmericanFineWineCompetition.org.

In the meantime, to get your taste buds primed for the great results from the AFWC, here are my notes on for some of my favorite gold and double gold medal wines that I tasted at the two days of judging in Miami. Enjoy! -CS

High-end Chardonnays

Miner Family 2012 Chardonnay, Wild Yeast, Napa Valley: Complex flavors of ripe pear, apple, citrus and creamy custard accented with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice and roasted nuts. Elegant texture with plenty of depth, structure, and length, ($50). DOUBLE GOLD www.minerwines.com

Lobo Wines 2014 Chardonnay, Wulff Vineyards, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley: Sultry combination of golden delicious apple, melon, white peach, coconut, lemon and grapefruit. Bright, expressive, lovable ($60). DOUBLE GOLD  www.lobowines.com

Shadowbox 2013 Chardonnay, Forty-Sixth Leaf, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley: Sweet fruit notes of ripe melon, apple, citrus, banana cream pie, chamomile and subtle spices lead to a lingering finish. Superb! ($60). DOUBLE GOLD  www.shadowboxcellars.com

Fisher Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay, Mountain Estate, Sonoma County: Lovely aromas of spring flowers, honeysuckle, ripe melon, citrus, vanilla and toasty oak; elegant flavors of poached pear, Crenshaw melon, peach, mineral, and roasted almonds; smooth mouthfeel; and long finish. ($70). DOUBLE GOLD www.fishervineyards.com

Coastal Pinot Noirs

Castello di Amorosa 2014 Pinot Noir, Il Rubino, North Coast: Pretty nose and complex flavors of ripe blueberry, candied red fruits, earth and spice ($39). DOUBLE GOLD  www.castellodiamorosa.com

Calstar Cellars 2012 Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast:  Elegant and fruity, with notes of wild, berries, cherry cola, ripe plum, cinnamon, nutmeg, licorice and smoked meats; vibrant acidity, and a rewarding finish ($40). DOUBLE GOLD www.calstarcellars.com

The Lando 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was one of the big medal winners in the high-end category at the the AFWC 2016.
The Lando 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was one of the big medal winners in the high-end category at the the AFWC 2016.

Lando Wines 2013 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast: Sophisticated Pinot with concentrated flavors of blackberry, dark cherry, blueberry, mineral, and silky tannins. Dense, spicy and generous($42). GOLD  www.landowines.com

MacPhail 2013 Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast:
Well-balanced wine with vibrant flavors of black raspberry, cherry, blackberry, and layers of spice ($49). GOLD  www.macphailwine.com

Lichen Estate 2012 Pinot Noir, Estate Grown, Lichen Estate, Anderson Valley: Dark berries, raspberry, plum, mint, vanillin, and forest floor.  Beautiful Burgundian-style wine with a rustic twist ($65). DOUBLE GOLD www.lichenestate.com

Donum 2013 Pinot Noir, Angel Camp Vineyard, Anderson Valley: Rich flavors of blackberry, blueberry, dark cherry, blood orange peel, wild herbs, and mineral. Gracious, complex and ageworthy ($72). DOUBLE GOLD www.thedonumestate.com

Alquimista Cellars 2014 Pinot Noir, Manchester Ridge, Mendocino Ridge:  Wild strawberry, red cherry, clove, tangerine rind, and a linger finish ($75). DOUBLE GOLD  www.alquimistacellars.com

Napa Valley Cabernets

Triumph Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: Young, vibrant wine with layers of ripe raspberry, dark cherry, plum, cocoa, wild herbs, and a burst of bright acidity on the long, engaging finish ($40). DOUBLE GOLD www.calistogacellars.com

Triumph Cellars 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Napa Valley: Rich, lively and extremely balanced. Deep flavors of dark berries, cherry, cassis, vanilla, smooth texture, and toasty oak ($52). GOLD
www.calistogacellars.com

Roberts & Rogers 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain: Concentrated notes of black raspberry, blueberry, cassis, maple, black pepper and wild mountain herbs ($55). DOUBLE GOLD www.robertsandrogers.com

Lagniappe Peak 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pere, Napa Valley: Rich texture with dark berries, black currant, bittersweet chocolate, layers of spice, chewy tannins, and a persistent finish ($75). DOUBLE GOLD. www.lagniappepeakwines.com

Four of the fabulous Merlots entered into the AFWC 2016 by top Napa Valley producers.
Four of the fabulous Merlots entered into the AFWC 2016 by top Napa Valley producers.

The SawyerSomm.com 2016 Calendar is UP!

My resolution for 2016, to share a calendar of my upcoming adventures that may be investigated by my readers: This is a way for you to anticipate upcoming events that might be of interest, and maybe even join in the fun!

The Calendar Page is here on my site, among the tabs at the top right, and will be updated periodically as new plans are made, so hope to be seeing you in this exciting new year.

Cheers!  Christopher

Ready for action at MacMurry Ranch for Taste of Sonoma, a few years back.
Ready for action at MacMurry Ranch for Taste of Sonoma, a few years back.

My Reflections on 2015

If we only live once, then 2015 was a benchmark in my life so far. For starters, it almost makes me blush when I think of all the projects I worked on with so many great wine associations, winemakers, star chefs, actors, musicians, corporate groups, economic analysts, and even President Obama.

In the wine industry, 2015 will certainly be remembered as the year of the drought. And while the lack of rain hurt the yields, the quality was there in the grapes that were picked. The year also marked the 50-year anniversary of the planting of the first Pinot Noir grapes in Willamette Valley. And closer to home, some of the most notable news stories were focused on the devastating Valley Fire in Lake County; the departure of Sunset Magazine from its historic headquarters in Menlo Park to new offices in Oakland and Sonoma; and the heist of $300,000 in wine from the French Laundry in Yountville.

Below is a list of my favorite accomplishments in 2015. Alas, I also have plenty of fond memories catching up with old friends; enjoying delicious lunches and dinners or attending lavish parties with winemakers, proprietors, marketing gurus and other pals in the wine industry; travels with the family; winning the Bohemian magazine’s Top Sommelier of Sonoma County award for the second straight year; and watching the Warriors win the NBA Championship.

On a more personal level, the year also marked the passing of my mom, Linda Sawyer, at the age of 67. It was a hard loss for our family, but we were happy that she died peacefully after a long battle with cancer. Recently my mentor, Master Sommelier Bob Bath, sent me a very nice note about my mom, in which he wrote: “She will always be proud of you…I sure am.” That really touched my heart and made me realize how lucky I am to have support from such an amazing group of friends, colleagues, and family.

With that in mind, I’m looking forward to a very exciting 2016. As a preview, the year will kick-off quickly with me judging three major wine competitions between now and mid-February. At the same time, I’ll be starting more new projects with Feast It Forward, Allvino, ZigSaw Production, and ramping up my activities with the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone as the official Wine Director for the Flavor! Napa Valley Festival, March 16-20.

In a nutshell, I can’t wait to start sharing more cool, fun, and educational stories about wine, food, travel and philanthropy with you in 2016. In the meantime, thanks so much for following SawyerSomm.com and best wishes for a Happy New Years to all! –CS

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“Sommelier to the Stars” Christopher Sawyer’s Top Picks of 2015

1. Wine Writers Symposium: Held annually at the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort & Spa near St. Helena, this exclusive gathering of professional writers was a true learning experience for me and all those in attendance. Guest speakers included marquee writer Jancis Robinson MW, Evan Goldstein MS, Andrea Emmer Robinson MS, Karen McNeill, Wall Street Journal Wine Columnist Will Lyons, and Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Great discussions, education, opportunities, fabulous tastings, fine cuisine and bright ideas resonated throughout this superb three-day event!

2. Speaking Engagements: 2015 was a monumental year for me at major speaking engagements for an assortment of wine consumers, collectors, private parties, media, sommeliers, winemakers, winery proprietors, and bigger wine associations. Here are some of the highlights:

– Santa Barbara Vintners Seminar. As a special part of the Santa Barbara Spring Weekend, I was honored to moderate a fabulous seminar with gifted winemakers Jim Clendenan of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines and Eric Mohseni of Zaca Mesa, whose careers were all influenced by stints at Zaca Mesa Winery and the development of the Santa Ynez Valley, which became an official appellation on April 15, 1983. Other highlights included a magnificent Winemaker Dinner at Mattei’s in Los Olivos; a fun Sauvignon Blanc-inspired lunch with winemaker Fred Brander and MW Patrick Farrell; the Festival Grand Tasting at Grand View Park’ a few late night shenanigans; and some great time spent with Chad Melville and his staff during my stay at Melville Winery. For tickets to the 2016 Spring Weekend April 21-24, visit www.sbvintnersweekend.com.

– Banfi’s Cru Artisan College 2015.
Highlighted by a colorful cast of some of the world’s leading winemakers and me as the “Head Master” at the San Francisco stop on this exciting multi-city tour; this unique wine education platform explored the different ways that terroir, plant material, sustainable farming practices, new technology and the winemaker’s touch can add more personality to the flavor profiles of some of the finest wines of Italy, Chile, and Washington State. In 2016, the Cru Artisan College Campus Tours will be happening in new metropolitan markets across America. For information on these comprehensive seminars and intimate wine tastings and pairings, visit www.cruartisancollege.com.

– Mt. Veeder Media Lunch and Q & A Session To celebrate the 25-year anniversary of the Mount Veeder appellation in Napa Valley, this year’s panel featured Chris Carpenter of Loyoka Winery, Steve Lagier and Carol Meredith of Lagier-Meredith Vineyard, and me as the moderator. Kudos to Sam Peters for organizing this great discussion, luncheon, and public tasting at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco! www.mtveederwines.com.

– “A Winemakers Perspective on the Petaluma Gap AVA” Seminar
As the VIP and Media kickoff to the “Wind to Wine” Festival put on by the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance, I was happy to do this interactive seminar with talented winemakers James MacPhail of MacPhail Family Wines and Ryan Pritchard of Three Sticks Wines at the Sheraton Hotel in Petaluma. Overall, the festival was a smashing success and a great sign of things to come in wines made with fruit grown in this cool climate area in southern Sonoma County, which is currently under review to become its own appellation. For breaking news in 2016, check out www.petalumagap.com.

– Taste of Sonoma “The Glass makes a Difference” Seminar For the second year in a row, the two special seminars I taught at the historic MacMurray Estate in Russian River Valley were focused on showing how Stolzle Stemware brings out the unique flavors in special wines made in Sonoma County. Tasty delights for the seminar were provided by Bennett Valley Cellars, Matanzas Creek, St. Francis, Stryker Sonoma, and Dutcher Crossing wineries. Other highlights of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend included attending special dinners and lunches, working with the Somm Stars team, and once again being the private sommelier for the top table at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction which raising $4.5 million for local charities. Job well done by everyone involved! www.sonomawinecountryweekend.com.

– “Sip & Discover: Livermore Valley Wine Stories” In the luxurious Grand Hall at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, this brilliant seminar explored how the unique growing conditions, rich history, specially selected grape varietals, farming techniques, and a modern approaches to winemaking make the wines from Livermore Valley so special. After my intro, I passed the microphone to the passionate “storytellers” of the region: Karl Wente of Wente Vineyard; John Concannon of Concannon Vineyard; Steven Kent Mirrasou of The Steven Kent Winery; Collin Cranor of Vasco Urbano Wine Company; Bob Bossi of Dante Robere; Steve Burman of 3 Steves Wines; and John Kinney of Occasio Winery. For more information about this unique appellation, visit www.lvwine.org.

– Single Varietal Tasting Series at Napa Valley Wine Academy. Organized by Jolene Patterson of Discover Napa Valley Wine & Discover Sonoma County Wine, this magnificent series of in-depth tastings was designed to educate members of the media, sommeliers, wine buyers, vintners, winemakers and other wine professionals from the Bay Area. As the official moderator of the series, I got to work with a fascinating group of winemakers who are also grape varietal experts: John Skumpky of Lang & Reed Winery (Cabernet Franc); Ehren Jordan of Failla Wines (Syrah); Michael Scholz of St. Supery (Sauvignon Blanc); Chris Pettinger of Skinner Vineyards (Grenache); and Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars (Petite Sirah). Stay tuned for the continuation of the series in 2016!

3. Epic Wine Cruise on the Mediterranean: In July, I spent eight amazing days sailing from Rome to Venice on the Oceania “Riveria” with Chris Silva, the president & CEO of St. Francis Winery, and Steve, Lawrence and Emily Lohr from J. Lohr Vineyards & Wine. Organized by Brian Murphy of Expedia Cruise Ship Centers in Petaluma, the “Isles & Empires Wine Cruise” included stops in Sorrento/Capri in Italy; Taormina, Sicily (with a magnificent side trip to Benanti Winery near Mt. Etna); Argostoli, Greece; Kotor, Montenegro; Zadar, Croatia; Koper, Croatia; and a memorable day in Venice at the end. The food was fantastic and Chris, Lawrence, and I hosted informative wine education classes along the way. Can’t wait to go on my next trip with Oceania Cruises!

4. Napa Valley Film Festival
It’s back! This year marked the 5-year anniversary of the Napa Valley Film Festival, a magnificent experience which fused together film, wine, talented actors, star chefs, sommeliers, mixologists, and other colorful characters in mid-November. Highlights of this year’s event included the cinematic debt of SOMM Into the Bottle, an extremely entertaining exploration of some of the greatest wines of the world through the view of the sommeliers, winemakers, and world-reknown experts; a set of unique Celebrity Tributes honoring John Travolta, Bruce Dern, Keegan–Michael Key and other talented actors; lively parties and culinary events; and a continuous flow of remarkable features and documentary that make this annual event so special! www.nvff.org.

5. Memorable Tastings
While there were plenty of special tastings of international wines in the Bay Area in 2015, some of my favorite memories were based on the accomplishments of gifted winemaker and family owned wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

– Celebrating the 50 years of Winemaking with Winemaker Richard Arrowood. To kickoff his monumental 50th vintage, Sonoma County icon Richard Arrowood hosted a series of retrospective tastings featuring over 60 wines from his private collection. My great mentor Master Sommelier Fred Dame and I were there to help with each of these tastings. I must say it was a pleasure to taste through this vast collection of gems. Highlights include: a rare series of vineyard designate wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Riesling and Chardonnay grapes from legendary sites like the Laurel Glen, Wildwood and Glen Ellen (now Moon Mountain Vineyard) that were part of the Chateau St. Jean collection from 1974 to 1988; to a series of elegant and ageworthy wines from Arrowood Vineyards; and finishing with an impressive grouping of the more powerful styles made under the Amapola Creek label from 2005to the present. My stories on this experience appeared in Tasting Panel and Napa Sonoma Magazine in 2015 as well.

– The 40th Harvest Luncheon at Jordan Winery. This special gathering honored winemaker Rob Davis and his dedication to the craft, the winery and his family. Other special guests included SF Giants coach Bruce Bochy and radio announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper; winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet of Chateau Petrus, Dr. Ann Noble of UC Davis, and the dazzling meal was prepared by Executive Chef Todd Knoll and his fabulous staff. A winning combination!

– The 25th Anniversary of Robert Biale Winery: Hosted by co-founders Robert Biale and Dave Pramuk, this magnificent tasting of single-vineyard designates wines made with pristine fruit from old Zinfandel and Petite Sirah vines was a complete joy to the senses. Through the years, the winery has done a great job of protecting these old vines and it showed in the lively flavors in each of the wines we tasted. For that reason, I’m looking forward to Robert Biale being part of the Preservation Society Seminar I’m moderating at CIA Greystone as part of Flavor! Napa Valley on March 18. For more info, visit www.flavornapavalley.com.

6. Wine Writing: This year included a wide range of writing assignments, as well as reviewing wines for Vivino and other wine, food, and travel projects.

– At the top of my list is the article I wrote about chefs Duskie Estes and John Stewart of ZaZu Restaurant in Sebastopol for the inaugural release of The Clever Root, a new cutting-edge culinary magazine created by the publishers of The SOMM Journal and The Tasting Panel. The next issue will feature my article on Chef Trevor Kunk of Press Restaurant and the Rudd Farms in Napa Valley. Can’t wait to work with Editor Meridith May and the team in 2016!

– For Diablo Publications, I wrote a series of articles focused on wine, food and travel in Napa Sonoma Magazine. In addition to the story on Richard Arrowood’s 50th vintage and another I did on hip wine caves; one of my favs was the “Power Duos” article focused on intriguing teamwork between family-based winemakers and proprietors featuring Heidi and Bo Barrett, Joel Peterson and Morgan Twain Peterson, Mike and Violet Grgich, Jamie and Lisa Whetstone, Susan Lueker and Chef Ralph Tingle, and Jesse Katz and star photographer Andy Katz. In the fall, my story on Urban Tasting Rooms highlighted Cornerstone Cellars in Yountville, Starmont Winery in Napa, Ramey Wines in Healdsburg, MacPhail Family Wine Salon in Sebastopol, Corner 103 Wines in Sonoma, and Ancient Oaks in Santa Rosa. Versions of the article were published in both Napa Sonoma and Diablo magazines. Coming soon is my article on the new Virginia Dare brand started by Francis Ford Coppola at the old Geyer Peak facility in Geyserville.

– With Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine, I did a special article on the 50-year anniversary of the planting of the first Pinot Noir vines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and two dynamic Q & A articles focused on Jean Arnold Sessions of the Jean Arnold Group and Chris Indelicato of Delicato Vineyards. In November, I also served as the official spokesperson for VWM Media at the 25th Anniversary of the Grand Harvest Wine Competition.

– As a side note, it was also nice to have my sister-in-law, Alexander Russell, write a fantastic profile piece on me in North Bay Biz Magazine. Thanks, Alex!

7. Thanksgiving Wine Pairings for President Obama:
Finally, I must say that it was a pleasure to be asked to do a special set of Thanksgiving pairings with Sonoma County wines for President Obama. The premise behind the pairings was the fact that the two birds the president pardoned, Mac & Cheese, were from a unique breed developed at the Nichols Ranch in Sonoma County. Articles with my pairings ran throughout the United States, including a great story written by Diane Peterson for the Press Democrat. Featured wineries included Gloria Ferrer, Gundlach Bundschu, Balletto Vineyards, Cline Cellars, St. Francis Winery and Dry Creek Vineyard. Special thanks to the President Obama, Foster Farms and Fineman PR for getting me involved in such a unique project.