El Dorado County: Apples & Wine in the California Foothills

If you want to get away this holiday season, without a long trek, or crowded streets, then consider a drive up to the wine and apple farm region of El Dorado County. Just east of Sacramento this quaint foothill region, along historic Hwy 49 with legends of gold, can still stir up remembrances of times past.

(Photo credit Dianne Reber Hart)
(Photo credit Dianne Reber Hart)
This recent Press Democrat article Placerville’s Apple Hill Serves Up Tasty Fall Fun expounds the farm bounty and family activities to experience in the region!

Follow that up with an educational tour of the El Dorado Appellation that I wrote for Buywine.com. Be sure to share your tasty foothill adventures with us all here!

2015 Grand Harvest Awards!

First I want to congratulate Balletto 2012 Zinfandel from Russian River Valley which was the Top Wine of the Grand Harvest Awards this year. Get yourself a bottle to find out why!

GH2015dThe entire list of winners will be revealed soon so keep an eye out for the link here in the upcoming weeks. Until then if you are interested in a little background about the Grand Harvest Awards then check out the Wine Competitions site. Here are a few pictures to whet your mental palate!


PinotFest 2015 at Farallon Restaurant, SF

Short notice for a great event!

pinotfest15PinotFest 2015 is happening on Saturday November 21st, 3-6pm at the Farallon Restaurant in SF (450 Post Street, 4th Floor). Get tickets HERE.

A great opportunity to find exciting new Pinot Noirs to serve with festive cuisine or give as presents during the holidays. Join me and an all-star lineup of winemakers, sommeliers, and wine pros for this extensive tasting from 60 of Oregon and California’s best Pinot Noir producers. Featuring sumptuous hors d’oeuvres to complement the wines and an opportunity to meet the winemakers.

Fabulous wines on site will include Alma Rosa, Archery Summit, Au Bon Climat, Bonaccorsi, Byron, Calera, Charles Heintz, Chehalem, Cobb, Costa de Oro, Domaine de la Côte, Domaine Drouhin, Drake, En Route, Ernest, Etude, Failla, Fiddlehead, Flowers, Foxen, Freeman, Gloria Ferrer, Greenwood Ridge, Handley, Hartford Family, Hendry, Hitching Post, Joseph Phelps, Keller Estate, Kendric, Kosta Browne, LaRue, Littorai, Lutum, Lynmar, Marimar Estate, Melville, Merry Edwards, Morgan, Patz & Hall, Paul Hobbs, Paul Lato, Peay, Radio Coteau, Reuling, Saintsbury, Siduri, Sinor-LaVallee, Soliste, Soter, Talisman, Talley, Tendril, Testarossa, Thomas Fogarty, Twomey, Wayfarer, Whitcraft, WillaKenzie, Williams Selyem

Sonoma County Wine Pairings: A Thanksgiving Fit for a President

The following is a piece I wrote for Foster Farms to accompany this year’s Presidential Turkey, you can read more at this Press Democrat article as well.

The art of pairing wine with Thanksgiving cuisine starts by showcasing the quality of products the chef is using to create memorable dishes for guests to enjoy. For that reason, it’s important to find wines that complement rather than overwhelm. At the top of the chain, it starts with the quality of the turkey.

In Sonoma County, the tradition of working with the Nicholas White turkey dates back to the mid-1950s, when talented University of California Davis graduate George Nicholas established the Nicholas Oak Hills Research Farm. After perfecting this noble breed of turkey, chefs and vintners in the region began serving special wines to match the gracious flavor profiles of the magnificent red-headed birds.

Today, this tradition continues with the next generations of families who celebrate the delectable flavors of the turkey, the fixings on the table, and world-class wines which make Sonoma County one of the great wine and food destinations of the world.

For white or sparkling wine fans, using fresh herbs or citrus in the marinade or side dishes can create perfect match ups. Or, if red wine is your preference, you can adjust the flavor of gravy by adding a few cups of your favorite varietal or blend to the classic combination of neck, giblets, onions, carrots, celery and turkey or chicken stock before simmering. Other helpful hints include using strawberries, cherries, and roasted nuts in salads or dried cranberries in stuffing to match the flavors of the red or dry pink wines.

In the end, with so many styles to choose from, the key is find wines that make the guests happy and work harmoniously with the turkey and the rest of the fixings on the table.

With the Foster Farms Nicholas White Turkey, here are “Sommelier to the Stars” Christopher Sawyer’s special Presidential Turkey wine picks for 2015.

Gloria Ferrer NV Brut Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County: Over the past three decades, Gloria Ferrer Brut, made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes primarily grown at the winery’s estate vineyard in the Carneros appellation in southern Sonoma County, has become a marvelous example of a world-class sparkling wine. The winery’s flagship bottling, Gloria Ferrer Brut features dazzling flavors of ripe apple, pear, citrus, and a creamy texture that works wonders with appetizers, starting courses, and saltier Thanksgiving dishes.
Price: $18

Gundlach Bundschu 2014 Dry Gewurztraminer, Sonoma Coast: Founded in 1858, Gundlach Bundschu is the oldest family-owned winery in California. This classic Thanksgiving wine features lofty aromas of ripe figs, melon and fresh citrus; tangy flavors of tree fruit, peach, lemon, white pepper and nutmeg; and a long, dry and engaging finish. Beyond the turkey, the fresh, crisp and perky acidity of this wine pairs extremely well with soups, salads, yams and sweet potatoes.
Price: $22.50

MacMurray 2013 Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley: One of the hallmark sites of Sonoma County, MacMurray Ranch was developed by actor Fred MacMurray and his family in the 1940s. Delicate floral aromas with notes of stone fruit and ginger lead to flavors of crisp green apples, ripe peach, pear, and lemon cream. Elegant, playful and fulfilling, this Pinot Gris is a fresh and expressive alternative to buttery Chardonnays.
Price: $20

Balletto 2013 Pinot Noir, Estate Grown, Russian River Valley: From a great farming family of Sonoma County comes a fantastic Pinot Noir with silky texture and notes of ripe cherry, red berries, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa, savory spices and a touch of earth. Not only does this Pinot Noir pair nicely with fine cheeses, salads, cranberries and mushroom-based dishes; it’s also a fabulous option to serve with turkey sandwiches on the days following Thanksgiving.
Price: $29

St. Francis 2012 Merlot, Sonoma Valley: From one of the first producers of Merlot in California, this flavorful release from St. Francis is made with fruit from the winery’s Behler and Wild Oak estate vineyards in Sonoma Valley. Highlights include fragrant aromas and lavish flavors of dark cherry, plum, chocolate and baking spices. Rich, smooth and supple, the texture of this wine complements turkey and its traditional fixings on the plate.
Price: $20

Dry Creek Vineyard 2013 Heritage Vines Zinfandel, Sonoma County: A delicious staple of the region, Zinfandel can provide that touch of spice to each course served during the holidays. Honoring the old vine plantings throughout the county, the Dry Creek Heritage Vines Zinfandel features aromas of wild berries, licorice and savory spices; flavors of blackberry, dark cherry, raspberry, black pepper and a hint of oak; and a long, graceful finish. Beyond tasting great on its own, this balanced wine pairs well with tangy sauces and the savory dishes served alongside turkey.
Price: $20

The final additions to The Perfect Case & opening of NVFF, November 11-15

In America, celluloid dreams are to Hollywood what prolific Cabernet Sauvignons are to Napa Valley. And to celebrate all pairings of wines with film, I include 3 last bottles to The Perfect Case, to coincide with the beginning of Napa Valley Film Festival on Wednesday November 11th. Either way, on big or small screen, enjoy the combinations!

Classics with Cabernet Sauvignon

Raymond 2012 Sommelier Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($18)
Crafted by a special team of sommeliers from across the United States, this magnificent mixture of grapes from special North Coast vineyards creates lingering notes of ripe red fruits, raspberry, red currant, black fig, cocoa, espresso and elegant tannins.
Film pairing: Great sommelier wine to serve with Goldeneye or other classic James Bond films as hip red alternative to martinis shaken not stirred.

pianoFreemark Abbey 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($44): Visceral cabernet with pleasurable flavor of wild berries, plums, cherries melded with secondary notes vanilla, cedar box and pastoral spice.
Film pairing: Like the vivid scenery in The Piano, the precious joys of this fine cabernet are slowly revealed inside the glass.

Grgich Hills 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($65): Rich wine with elegant notes of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, and silky texture.
Film pairing: Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean and Natalie Wood. The core fruit in this wine came from vines planted in Yountville the same decade the film was released and maverick winemaker Mike Grgich arrived in Napa Valley from Croatia.

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3 more bottles for The Perfect Case, to accompany Dramas

In continuation of building The Perfect Case to pair with wines, I next take on the category of Drama. In deeper films, match the engaging characters with the grape varieties used in special proprietary blends.

Dramas with Proprietary Reds

Wolf Family Vineyards 2012 Phaedrus Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)
Made with smaller portions of malbec and petit verdot, this robust red wine is layered with notes of black cherry, wild berries, chocolate and allspice.
Film pairing: With American Beauty, the complex characteristics of this cabernet blend balance masterfully with the portrait of a dysfunctional suburban family.

birdmanFavia 2011 Cerro Sur Red Wine ($145)
With a dark purple hue, this magnificent blend of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon offers lofty aroma of leather, lavender and tobacco leading to concentrated flavors of blueberry, wild berries, fresh sage and a long dry finish.
Film pairing: High energy. Intensity. Birdman: Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.

Modus Operandi 2012 Vicarious Red Wine ($45)
Classy Napa Valley blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite verdot, petite sirah and syrah with generous flavors of ripe cherry, wild berries and ground black pepper.
Film pairing: With powerful, rustic and savory notes, think red meat on the grill and Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood.

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The Perfect Case: 12 Wines with Films continues

The first 3 wines of The Perfect Case were paired previously on SawyerSomm.com with Comedies. Here is the next set of 3 wines, to accompany stimulating films focused on captivating characters, vivid scenery and romance in the making, try these spicy syrahs with a touch of finesse!


Romance with Syrah


Caldwell 2014 Syrah Rosé, Estate Grown ($30): Refreshing Provence-style rosé with alluring aromas of dried rose petals leading to vibrant flavors of red berries, red currant, watermelon, cinnamon, and a dry finish.
Film pairing: The wild flavors of this dry rosé match gracefully with the fusion of romance and nature in The Lobster staring Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz. (Weisz will be honored at the NVFF 2015).

wingsdesireEleven Eleven 2012 Estate Syrah, Oak Knoll Vineyard, Napa Valley ($55): Full-bodied wine with lavish notes of dark plum, cherry, black raspberry, mineral and fresh herbs.
Film pairing: Enjoy afterlife with seductive flavors and the original Wings of Desire.

Hess Collection 2012 Small Block Syrah ($36): Although most of the Small Block wines come from the Hess Estate, the Syrah fruit bursting with notes of brambly berries, blueberry, cedar and clove came from the Stagecoach Vineyard across the valley.
Film pairing: In The Holiday starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black, the romantic notion of sharing sites (and lovers) is alive and thriving.

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The Perfect Case: Movies, Wine and the Napa Valley Film Festival

As the world’s first ever film festival sommelier, I have spent the last twenty years pairing wines with films. This fall I will once again be spreading my words and tastes to guests attending the Napa Valley Film Festival, November 11-15. I like to start with finding wines that compliment the theme of a film and the development of characters as the story progresses.

Here are the first 3 bottles of a Perfect Case, that I developed originally for a story with Saveur magazine: Twelve of my favorite new releases from Napa Valley with films you can enjoy in the comfort of your home this fall.

Comedies with Whites

Comedies are meant to be colorful, refreshing, chipper, and a little left of center. So instead of relying on a big oaky chardonnay, try a perky alternative style of white wine.

Priest Ranch 2014 Grenache Blanc, Somerston Estate ($22): Fragrant floral aromas lead to refreshing flavors of white peach, cantaloupe, pear, and an elegant texture.
Film pairing: Elevate the fun personality of this wine with a Ben Stiller gem like Flirting with Disaster.

Cairdean 2012 Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley ($32): downwloveLovely sauvignon blanc aged in French oak barrels with gracious notes of passionfruit, kiwi, key lime pie, grapefruit, honey, creamy texture, and hints of peppermint and smoke.
Film pairing: Match the smooth and sassy characteristics of this fumé blanc alongside Down with Love.

Matthiasson 2013 White Wine ($40): In the glass, this unique blend of sauvignon blanc, ribolla gialla, semillon and tocai friulano expands with lively notes of ripe melon, fig, citrus, roasted hazelnuts, and a long graceful finish.
Film pairing: Showcase the young, energetic nature of these intriguing grapes with amusing films focused on adorable characters like Juno.