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 For more information email

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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,


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.


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.

Sommelier Christopher Sawyer, the newest Winemaker at Raymond Vineyards

At public speaking events, I often say that I do just about everything in the wine industry except make wine. But that changed recently when I had the amazing opportunity to be one of the eight national sommeliers chosen to be part of the team that crafted the newest 2012sommselectrelease of the 2012 Sommelier Selection Cabernet Sauvignon at Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena, Napa Valley.

This new release marks the fifth vintage of the Sommelier Series. Hand selected by winery proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset and winemaker Stephanie Putnum, other cool sommelier friends from the years past have included: Emily Wines (Kimpton Gotels & Restaurants, CA), Michael Jordan (Master Sommelier, CA), Anani Lawson (French Laundry & Bardessono, Napa Valley), Haley Guild Moore (Stock & Bones Company, SF), and other star somms from around the nation.

The winning Sommelier Series blending team: SawyerSomm Christopher Sawyer and Marc Irving of Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.
The winning Sommelier Series blending team: SawyerSomm Christopher Sawyer and Marc Irving of Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.

As it worked out, Marc Irving from the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and I made the winning blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot that was used to make the 5,000 cases of the 2012 vintage that were just released in November.

The story of the experience was recently published in the October-November issue of Sommelier Journal. And below is is more information about this fabulous wine and the exception winemaking experience provided by Raymond Vineyards. Enjoy the Sommelier Series Cabernet Sauvignon and don’t forget to look for the wine and other new releases from Raymond Vineyard at fine restaurants and retail shops near you!

Exclusive dinner made by Chef Michel Cornu, in the lavish Red Room at Raymond Vineyards.

New Celluloid Sensations & Lively Winter Wines

If you need a break from Christmas shopping, group events, or simply want to slip away for an enjoyable winter evening with someone special, I’d suggest a staycation at your local movie theater.

Beyond the big box-office hits and holiday genre films, coming to a movie circuit near you are some of the brilliant new releases highlighted at the Napa Valley Film Festival in November. Below are some of my top picks and special seasonal wine pairings from vintners featured @NapaFilmFest, along with tasty delights offered by star chefs, galas, red carpet events, exclusive dinners, post-parties and interviews I did with!

For more information about all the films that played at this year’s festival, DVD releases, upcoming events, and much more, visit And don’t forget to stay tuned for my classic Christmas movie pairings coming up next week!

 The Imitation Game

If you’ve never heard of computer pioneer Alan Turing, you’re not alone. While working for Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cipher School during World War II, Turing created the world’s first legitimate computer that was able to break the famous Enigma encryption code used by the German army. Surrounded by a crew of other intellectuals, Turing used this powerful tool to save an estimated 2 to 3 million lives and helped stop the war two years early.

imitation1The film features a terrific cast with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead, and Keira Knightley, Mathew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance and Allen Leech (the chauffer in Downton Abbey) as his associates. And beyond exploring his accomplishments with science and computers, the film also looks into the darker side of Turing’s personal life, which was heavily influenced by a turbulent period as a teen and his post-war conviction for a now outdated criminal offense. As a result, he died at an early age and was not honored by the government for his services until 2013.

SawyerSomm Pairing: Although its impact isn’t nearly as great as Turing’s invention of the computer; a lesser known grape of great importance is Pinot Meunier, a fairly obscure red variety planted primarily in the Champagne region of France. Known for its deep flavors and ability to grow in wetter conditions, the varietal is often blended with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to make some of the world’s finest Champagnes but rarely bottled separately.

In the United States, an exception to the rule is the Domaine Chandon 2012 Pinot Meunier, Carneros ($35), an elegant wine with lively aromas of red fruits, cinnamon, nutmeg, and earth. On the palate, the flavors expand with notes of dark plum, cherry, pomegranate, wild mushroom, black tea and clove. Great with fine cheeses, grilled winter vegetables, fresh salmon, pork chops, and roasted chicken. And like the film, it’s a secret worth investigating!


Wayne’s World meet your maker! In his directorial debut, Mike Myers’ magnificent documentary follows the life of Shep Gordon, a bon vivant who began his career in the entertainment industry after accidentally running into Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix while staying in a hotel in Los Angeles in 1968. He then went on to build the music careers of Alice Cooper, Anne Murray, Teddy Pendergrass and Blondie; afterwhich he produced movies, created celebrity chefs, and worked with the Dalai Lama.


In Hebrew, a mensch is a person of integrity with a willingness to help others. The positive energy Gordon gives off to others can be seen throughout the film with dazzling archive footage, interviews, and guest appearances by Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Alice Cooper, Emeril Lagasse and many other personalities who think Gordon is the bomb. Hands down, an ultimate fantasy documentary for those who love rock n’ roll, cinema, and fine cuisine!

SawyerSomm Pick: As noted before the screening of the film, Shep drinks wine on a daily basis. And to match his character, you need a wine with flavors that run deep. A fantastic example is the Cornerstone 2011 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($65), a magnificent wine made with premium fruit grown in the Howell Mountain and Rutherford appellations, and small amount of Merlot (12%) grown in Oakville. From the moment the cork is pulled, the aromas and lush flavors are bursting with notes of pretty blue fruits, blueberry, cassis, black raspberry, Himalayan blackberry jam, black olive and dried mountain herbs; soft tannins; velvety texture; and a long, elegant finish. Thus, instead of being big, powerful and brazen; this seductive wine is best described as soft, balanced, sultry, and sexy like Gordon.

With food, try this delectable new release with wild mushroom strudel, fresh gnocchi with black truffle, grilled sausage, slow-cooked ribs, lamb sliders, beef wellington with peppercorn sauce, hearty stews, and complex cheeses.

Black or White

Kevin Costner stars as Elliot Anderson, a successful attorney, who suddenly loses his wife and finds himself raising his grandaughter Eloise: She has been in his family’s custody since his daughter died blackwhite_during childbirth. To make matters worse, Eloise’s African-American paternal grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spenser) files papers to get custody of the child back to her son, who suddenly resurfaces after attempting to clean himself up from drug addiction. Packed with racial tension, class struggles and family values, this is a powerful movie that demonstrates the importance of making the right decision in hard situations.

SawyerSomm Pick: Granted this is a heavy movie, but it also makes it clear that the world would be a better place if the adult characters could find their way to chill out, relax, and see the values in each other. For that reason, at the Q & A following the Red Carpet Screening of the film at the Uptown in Napa, Costner said it was very important that he and director Mike Binder made sure the film was rated “PG” instead of “R” in order to open up the conversation to a wider audience.

In the sommelier circuit, “PG” often refers to Pinot Grigio, a light, perky and refreshing style of wine which matches nicely with the cultural scenes in the movie that revolve around the families playing on the lawn, the swimming pool, singing, and playing instruments. For a classy style with body and texture, I would suggest the Benessere 2013 Pinot Grigio, Napa Valley ($22). With fragrant aromas of spring flowers, peach and citrus, the freshness of the wine is expressive and alluring. In the glass, the flavors open up with notes of melon, guava and lime; vibrant acidity; and a long crisp finish. Not hard to get along with his wine, especially when served with fancy appetizers, hot soups, gourmet salads and shellfish during the winter months.

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

Directed by James Keach (Walk the Line), this touching documentary follows the life of musical legend Glen Campbell and the final tour he played while suffering from the Alzheimer’s disease.

Before becoming a country music icon, Campbell was known as a talented session guitarist, who played with Elvis, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, the Monkees, and the talented team called the “Wrecking Crew.” After going solo, Campbell sold over 50 million albums, won five Grammy awards and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. As a consummate entertainer, he starred with John Wayne in the cowboy classic True Grit and had his own variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.


Through the years, other well-known musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Willy Nelson, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, The Edge and Brad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers (all of whom appear in the film), were touched by his style of music. If life is about memories, then this is a movie that is hard to forget.

SawyerSomm Pick: When Campbell’s hit song “Rhinestone Cowboy” came out in 1975, red grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were still in their infant stages in America. As a result, the typical red wines were made with Zinfandel. Today, a star-spangled selection that keeps these spirits alive is the Robert Biale 2013 Zinfandel, R.W. Moore Vineyard, Coombsville District ($50), a small appellation just a few miles south of where Campbell played his last show at the Uptown Theater in Napa. Originally planted in 1905, the aromas and flavors of the fruit are plush and elegant, with deep flavors of raspberry, wild strawberries, plums, dark chocolate, wild herbs, cardamom, clove, and a long, silk finish. Think mushroom risotto, duck breast, osso buco, and spicy lamb meatballs. Like Campbell, the vines do their best to weather the storm no matter what the circumstances ahead may bring.

Escobar: Paradise Lost

In this historic thriller focused on the life of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Josh Hutcherson (Hunger Games) commands escobar2attention with his outstanding performance as Nick, a young Canadian man who moves to Columbia with his brother to start a surfing business. Soon after meeting a lovely young girl, he is introduced to Escobar (Benicio Del Toro), who hires him to help with odd jobs. But after Nick catches on to the cover up of drug trafficking and murder, the lives of he and his loved ones are in jeopardy.

SawyerSomm Pick: To match the intensity of the film, try the Hope & Grace 2011 Malbec, Oak Knoll, Napa Valley ($75). Deep and rich with an inky hue; the wine starts off soft and plush and finishes spicy with layers of ripe blackberry, dark chocolate, licorice, black pepper and baking spices. To stay with the South American theme, the wine is also great to pair with chicken mole, barbecued pork, roasted goat, tri-tip with a green sauce, and hard cheeses.