Celluloid delights and Pinot Noir dreams at the upcoming Mendocino Film Festival 2014

Lights! Camera! Action! This Thursday marks the beginning of the Mendocino Film Festival 2014, a dazzling cinematic mélange of independent films, local wines, and the flavorful cuisine Mendocino County has to offer, May 29 to June 1.

mendo film 650Last year, I was honored to play an important role at the festival by introducing the fantastic documentary SOMM at the special screenings in the charming towns of Mendocino and Philo. In addition to fielding great questions from the audience at each showing, I and fellow sommeliers Ian Coble and Sabato Sagaria (two of the co-stars featured in the film) had many opportunities to taste through a wide range of the world-class Pinot Noirs made with fruit from the premium vineyards in Anderson Valley throughout the festivities.

This weekend, film buffs attending the film festival will also have multiple chances to taste the great Pinot Noirs from the recent vintages. So as a preview, a couple weeks ago I tasted through many of the exciting new releases at the 17th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, May 16-18. Below are five of my top picks that will be available at the Mendocino Film Festival 2014; local restaurants like the Booneville Hotel and Little River Inn; and fun winery tasting rooms along the way. In the meantime, for more information about the Mendocino Film Festival, visit www.mendocinofilmfestival.com. And for contacts to wineries mentioned in this article, visit www.avwines.com.

Husch 2010 “Knoll” Pinot Noir, Estate Grown, Anderson Valley ($40)

Located on the hillside above the Husch tasting room, the first Pinot Noir vines in Anderson Valley were planted on “The Knoll” above the tasting room on the Husch property in 1971. Today, the grapes from these old vines are still putting out dense flavors as evident in the new release from the 2011 vintage, which is highlighted by notes of fresh red cherry, pomegranate, vanilla, earthtones, forest floor, layers of spice, and rich texture. Only 13.7% alcohol and a tremendous value at under $45 per bottle!

Knez 2012 Pinot Noir, Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley ($42)

Located above the quaint town of Boonville, the Cerise Vineyard features 13 blocks of Pinot Noir planted on four separate ridges. The new release from Knez is a blend of the specific Pinot clones and special selections, which include 2A (Wadenswil), Pommard, Martini, David Bruce and 667. Elegant and refined, the nose is filled with hints of fresh carnations, green tea and ripe plums. The flavors (which open up with each sip) are highlighted by plum, ripe red cherry, cocoa, redwood bark, and a hint of freshly sliced prosciutto.

Domaine Anderson 2012 Pinot Noir, Estate Grown, Anderson Valley ($45)

Made with clones 4, 114, 667 and 777; this is the debut Pinot Noir release from Domaine Anderson, which is located at the site which used to be home to Jim Ball Winery. Deep aromas of red and black fruit, leather, tobacco, clove, earth and black tea. Flavors of plum, red cherry, wild strawberry, rhubarb and a long, dry finish.

Drew 2012 Pinot Noir, Morning Dew Vineyard, Anderson Valley ($55)

Crafted by talented winemaker Jason Drew, this expressive Pinot Noir is a combination of 60% Rochioli clone and 40% of the La Tache special selection planted at a cool-climate hillside vineyard owned by Burt Williams, one of the original founders of the famed Williams-Selyem brand. From the first sip, the wine teases the senses with notes of fresh red fruits, rose petals and mineral. The flavor profile echos these sensations with bright flavors of raspberry, cranberry, pomegranate, wild mushrooms and baking spices; zippy acidity; and a long rewarding finish.

Goldeneye 2011 Pinot Noir, Gowan Creek Vineyard, Anderson Valley ($80)

Located near the small town of Philo, the Gowan Vineyard is highlighted by a moderate daytime temperature influenced by the warmer segment of the valley to the south and the cooler climate influence to the north known as the “deep end” of the valley. As a result, this new release features sexy aromas of ripe blue fruits, fresh violets, pennyroyal, leather, and cigar box. On the palate, concentrated flavors of ripe blueberry, boysenberry, black cherry and dark chocolate; vibrant acidity; rich texture; and an ample nuance of toast oak and spice on the finish. Dense. Elegant. Ethereal.

For more reviews of Pinot Noirs and other gems from Anderson Valley, stay tuned for my detailed report upcoming in June.

-Cheers, Christopher

Catch some more pics from my trip at the Sawyer Sommelier Pinterest page, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Fesitval

In memory of the great winemaker Bob Sessions of Hanzell Vineyards

In honor of the great Bob Sessions, the emeritus winemaker at Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma Valley, who passed away last week; here’s a link to my article “History Captured in a Bottle” on the Sessions Vineyard Pinot Noir that ran in The Tasting Panel Magazine last September. Bob was an iconic man, who myself and many others learned a lot from, and he will be greatly missed. -CS


Tastes for all palates at the Southern Wine & Spirits event in San Francisco

On a lovely warm afternoon in San Francisco this past Monday, Southern Wine & Spirits and their subsidiary company American Wine & Spirits held their annual “A Taste of the Best” event at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero Hotel. Below are my top red wine picks from the event. Cost per bottle is based on the retail price at each winery.

Fog Dog 2012 Pinot Noir, Estate Grown, Sonoma Coast ($35)

In the English dictionary, the noun Fog-Dog means “A bright or clear spot that appears in breaking fog.” Working on this premise, this new gem from Joseph Phelps Winery is made with fruit from the prime cool climate areas in the Sonoma Coast appellation where the fog makes a daily break. In my opinion, the 2012 vintage is bigger and more gracious than the 2011 with fond aromas of dark fruit, rose petals and subtle spice. On the palate, the wine opens up with lavish flavors of black raspberry, dark cherry, cola, baking spices and racy acidity. Oh so satisfying!

SawyerSomm’s tasty pairing:Grilled salmon served with sunchoke hash, spinach, sundried tomatoes and gourmet mushrooms.


Archery Summit 2012 Pinot Noir, Premier Cuvée, Willamette Valley ($49)

Following the celebrations of the 30-year anniversary of the Willamette Valley appellation and the 20-year anniversary of Archery Summit Winery in 2013, this new release is young, vibrant and very age-worthy. The blend or cuvée of premium Pinot Noir grapes are from the six cherished vineyards that Archery Summit has worked with for years: Arcus Estate, Archery Summit Estate, Red Hills Estate, Looney Vineyard and Renegade Ridge Estate. With attractive earthy-berry aromas and deep flavors of briary blackberry, cherry, licorice, cinnamon, mocha, forest floor and a rich, silky texture, it’s easy to love this wine. Plus, it’s a great value from Willamette Valley at under $50 per bottle.

SawyerSomm’s tasty pairing:Pork Tenderloin stuffed with compote of cherries and plums.


Madrigal 2010 Zinfandel, Napa Valley ($28)

Live and personable: Sawyer with Winemaker Ed Sbragia of Sbragia Family Winery and Chris Magrigal of Madrigal Family Winery.
Live and personable: Sawyer with Winemaker Ed Sbragia of Sbragia Family Winery and Chris Magrigal of Madrigal Family Winery.

Located between St. Helena and Calistoga in Napa Valley, talented vineyard manager Chris Madrigal and his family established the Madrigal Family Winery in 1995. Today, with the help of legendary winemaker Ed Sbragia (see below), Chris makes a wide range of tasty limited release wines. Of the current releases, one of my favorites is the Madrigal 2010 Zinfandel, a zesty wine with dynamic notes of wild strawberry jam, black cherry, dark chocolate, clove and fresh ground pepper. Not too jammy; so it’s a great wine to sip by itself or serve with spicy cuisine.

SawyerSomm’s tasty pairing: Baby Back Ribs with tangy BBQ sauce.


Qupe 2012 Syrah, Central Coast ($20)

For the money, it’s hard to beat this amazing new release of Syrah crafted by Rhone Ranger’s legend Bob Lindquist. Highlights include enchanting aromas with notes of berries, flowers and citrus and fresh flavors of ripe red berries, boysenberry, mineral, earth, white pepper, cardamom, ocean mist and lovely texture.

One of the best values in the marketplace, the Qupe 2012 Central Coast Syrah.
One of the best values in the marketplace, the Qupe 2012 Central Coast Syrah.

SawyerSomm’s tasty pairing: Roasted Duck or Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze (Artisan Cheesemaker Mary Keehn’s fabulous offering of fresh Goat Cheese infused with lavender and fennel pollen buds).


Pefolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz, South Australia ($75)

From the land down under, comes the new release of Penfold’s affordable version of baby Grange. Fragrant aromas of ripe red berries, fresh lavender and lambs ear flowers. On the palate, concentrated flavors of blackberry, blueberry, savory spices and long, smooth finish. Ace! (“Excellent!” in Australian slang).

SawyerSomm’s tasty pairing: Lamb Sliders with caramelized onions and blue cheese.


Sbragia 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma Valley ($55)

After more than thirty years of working as head winemaker at Beringer Vineyards in Napa Valley, in 2006 Ed Sbragia returned to his childhood roots in Sonoma County to start his eponymous winery with son Adam in Dry Creek Valley. From the family’s Reserve wine collection, this Cabernet Sauvignon is made with world–class fruit from Monte Rosso Vineyard, a historic site near the top of the new Moon Mountain appellation overlooking Sonoma Valley in southern Sonoma County. Classic hillside aromas of dark berries, fresh tobacco, leather, roasted espresso beans, earth, mineral and wild sage. Elegant flavors of ripe blueberry, briary blackberry, huckleberry, cola, clove, pepper, and savory herbs.

SawyerSomm’s tasty pairing: Think hearty.Think hillside. Think Wild boar ragu made with sage, fresh picked vegetables, and served with wild mushroom risotto. Yum!


Justin 2011 Isosceles Red Wine, Paso Robles ($70)

Right Bank meets California: The 25-year anniversary release of the Justin 2011 Isosceles Bordeaux-style blend from Paso Robles.
Right Bank meets California: The 25-year anniversary release of the Justin 2011 Isosceles Bordeaux-style blend from Paso Robles.

Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of one of California’s most iconic wines; the brilliant new release of the Justin 2011 Isosceles is a deep Bordeaux-style blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc. Elegant and sophisticated, the wine opens up with lofty aromas of ripe red berries, licorice, vanilla, and cedar box. Then, with each sip, the flavors become more expansive with deep notes of dark cherry, black raspberry, roasted walnut and baking spices; velvety texture; bright acidity; and a long, rewarding finish. Distinct, refined, and ultimately delicious!

SawyerSomm’s tasty pairing: An ideal wine to pair with grilled Hanger Steak with garlic cream sauce, or an artisan selection of hard cheeses served at the end of the meal.

Le Début

From the moment I graduated from University of California Davis and started in the wine industry in the mid-1990s, I was fascinated by the wines produced with the high-quality fruit from the Hyde Vineyard in the winegrowing region of Carneros between the cities of Napa and Sonoma. Like other pro sommeliers, over the two decades, I’ve followed the evolution of spectacular releases from the vineyard crafted by respected producers like Patz & Hall, Ramey, Kistler Vineyards, and the long string of successful estate wines made by Larry Hyde, his extended family, and a talented French winemaker named Stephane Vivier that became known as the Hyde de Vallaine brand (otherwise known as HdV).

Bright bubblies, aromatic whites and sexy pink wines: Tasty options at the "Independence Celebration" party on May 1.
Bright bubblies, aromatic whites and sexy pink wines: Tasty options at the “Independence Celebration” party on May 1.

That’s why when Stephane called me at Carneros Bistro at The Lodge at Sonoma late last sumer to show me a new limited release wine he produced under the HdV label, I was happy to set up an appointment to hear what he had to say. It was on that day that I tasted the inaugural release of the HdV 2011 “Le Début” Chardonnay, a magnificent proprietary blend of premiere Chardonnay fruit from the vineyard which immediately stimulated my senses with sexy aromas of Meyer lemon, lime, jasmine and honeysuckle. Then, upon the sip, my palate was dazzled with rich flavors of ripe stone fruit, white peach, tangerine, mineral, toasted oak and layers of spice. In essence it was a wine that could easily be mistaken for a classic white Burgundy but with a distinctive California swagger.

From left: Daedalus Howell, Brian Murphy, Eva Bertran, me, and David Bolling.
From left: Daedalus Howell, Brian Murphy, Eva Bertran, me, and David Bolling.

Needless to say, I ran “Le Début” by the glass at Carneros Bistro until the vintage was completely sold out earlier this year. It was a proud feeling that I had helped launch a great new wine from a legendary vineyard and pair it with the amazing dishes created by Chef Andrew Wilson, whom I’ve worked with since spring 2011.

I bring this subject up because today the old Frenchie term “le début” has an exciting new meaning in my life. In essence, it signifies the beginning of an exciting turning point for me that began this past April when I informed my co-workers at Carneros Bistro that I would be leaving as Head Sommelier and Wine Educator at The Lodge at Sonoma to pursue my new endeavors as a wine consultant, writer, wine educator and to develop my own personalized blog site.

Of course, the departure was bittersweet. On one hand, I’m honored to say that I was able to pair thousands of wines over the past decade with the masterful styles of California cuisine created by three amazing chefs—Andrew, Peter Smith and Janine Falvo—during my tenure at Carneros Bistro. I’ve also appreciated winning numerous awards for my wine list and wine flights, most recently being voted 2014 Best Sommelier in Sonoma County by readers in The Bohemian’s Best of the North Bay issue and receiving The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 2014.

May 1, 2014 043To help me make the transition smooth and seamless, my dear friend Jeff Bundschu and the multitude of other stars at Gundlach Bundschu Winery hosted a special “Independence Celebration” event in my honor on May 1st. The event featured a medley of local stars I’ve worked with through the years, including fellow journalists and social media personalities Kathleen Hill and David Bolling of Sonoma Index Tribune/Sonoma Magazine, Daedalus Howell of DHowell.com, Cindy Friedman of Twitter.com/@Vinegrl, Dyann Espinoza of Twitter.com/@Dywrite, and Tina Caputo of Vineyard & Winery Management magazine and ZesterDaily.com; winemakers and winery proprietors TJ Evans of Domaine Carneros, Jeff and Roberta Kunde of Kunde Estate, Squire Fridell of Glen Lyon/Two Amigos Wines, Bart Hansen of Dane Cellars and Lasseter Family Winery, Eva Bertran of Gloria Ferrer Winery & Caves, Greg Morthole of Davis Bynun, Danny Fay of Envolve, and Alex Schug of Schug Estate Winery; rockstar wine reps Michelle Hogan of Anaba Wines, Keith Lindstrom of The Estates Group, Luis Velez of Monterey Bay Wine Company, Cristina Bisio of Highway 12 Winery, Sean Riebli of Don Sebastiani & Sons, Steve and Deborah Van Horn of Bartholomew Park Winery, and Lisa Valentine of AWA and Canopy Wines; and other dear friends that I can’t resist hanging out with that included Gary and Jennifer Buffo of Pure Luxury Transportation, Maureen and Adam Cottingham of Sonoma Valley Vintners & Grower Association, Brian Murphy of Petaluma’s Cruise Ship Centers, and local artist Kelly Ostendorf.

In all, this gathering and the fantastic post-party hosted by Chef Matthew Nagan at The Schellville Grill was an amazing launching pad for many adventures, blogs and upcoming events to come on www.SawyerSomm.com. So stay tuned for more to come in the debut month of May 2014 and many years to come!

As a side note, I recently had a chance to taste the new HdV 2012 “Le Début” Chardonnay with my friend David Dennis of Chambers & Chambers. The second vintage is equally stunning and a testament to what a great vision of the future can bring.

For more fun party pictures from the big event visit: