Author Archives: Kareasa

ZAP’s 25th Anniversary Tasting

By Kareasa Wilkins

One of the most highly anticipated wine tasting events of the year is always the annual ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) tasting in San Francisco. Zinfandel lovers are a carefree bunch, and each year ZAP brings them together to revel in the pleasure-inducing, tongue staining, sumptuous sipper that is Zinfandel. This year marks ZAP’s 25th anniversary, and it will be a bacchanalia like no other, so get ready to swirl, sniff, and sip your way to Zin bliss.

The three day festival will kick off with a 25 year tribute party at the lavish Bentley Reserve, the former San Francisco Federal Reserve building. Guests will have the opportunity to mingle with ZAP’s founders, and toast the winemakers while sipping on rare and exclusive bottles of America’s heritage grape. The party continues with The Heritage Supper Club, a showcase of the world’s best Zins perfectly paired with an extravagant meal. The supper club will be accompanied by celebrated crooner, Margaret Belton, the star of ‘Always…Patsy Cline.”

Friday’s “Flights—Forums of Flavor” boasts the occasion to stimulate your inner wine geek with a seminar and themed flights exhibiting the distinct characteristics of Zinfandel. This year’s seminar features the Historical Vineyard Society, a non-profit organization made up of a team of some of the most famous names in the wine industry dedicated to preserving historical vineyards and educating the public their importance.

Friday night = fabulous as we return to the Bently Reserve for the Silver Anniversary Spectacular Winemaker’s Auction and Dinner. Magnums will be popped open to accompany a special farm-to-table dinner, while patrons can bid on the best of the best in the world of Zin.

Saturday’s Grand Tasting is the tasting extravaganza that we’ve all been waiting for. This year the illustrious event will take place at the recently revamped Pier 27. With over 150 producers showcasing their finest Zins, among them some of the most important personalities behind Zinfandel rise to fame, this is the perfect opportunity to experience the regional distinctions of Zin and chat with the producers making the magic.

With a line up of exciting events and rare opportunities to taste some of the most refined Zins on the market, the Zin Experience is bound to please wine lovers from the novice to the expert. The Purple Tongue Press will be part of the experience, and you can too.

To find out more about the world’s largest single varietal wine tasting, go to

To buy tickets, go to!tickets/c1hae

To learn more about becoming a member of the Heritage club, go to!heritage-club/c8hl

Pan-Seared Halibut with ValdeSil Godello Sobre Lías


By Kareasa Wilkins

After overindulging the week of Thanksgiving, I was ready for something healthier. The local Whole Foods had some good looking halibut, and I had some farro and spinach on hand, so tonight we did pan-seared halibut with preserved meyer lemon farrotto, and spinach salad. The wine: the 2013 Valdesil Godello Sobre Lías. Godello, a relatively obscure grape variety native to Spain once was on the brink of extinction, until winemakers in the Valdeorras region, just east of Rías Baixas, began reviving it in the 1970s. Though it still accounts for a small percentage of Spanish wines produced, Oz Clark, in his seminal Grapes and Wines: The Definitive Guide to the World’s Great Grapes and the Wines They Make declares it a contender for “Spain’s most interesting white grape.” Valdesil is a family-run winery that’s been dedicated to the Godello grape since the late 1800s. The Valdesil Godello Sobre Lías sung with the pan-seared halibut, offering notes of apricot blossoms, honeycomb, and a slight minerality. The wine had a decent amount of acidity, though not as much as Spain’s other white wine gem, Albariño, and the opulent weight of the wine worked well with the firm white fish. For anyone looking to try something new, or just have something nice on the table to pair with fish, the Valdesil Godello Sobre Lías is an excellent choice.

The Wine Memory: An Ode to Chateau Guiraud

By Kareasa Wilkins

It was January of 2003 and I had just finished a five-month stint living in England. I had recently graduated from college and didn’t really know what I wanted to do next, but I knew I wanted to travel and I knew I wanted to learn more about wine.  Using up almost everything I earned working in England, I bought a month’s stay in Bordeaux at a French language school, complete with my own apartment a few blocks from the school. I could’ve chosen just about anywhere in France to study French, but I chose Bordeaux because I wanted a chance to experience what is possibly the greatest wine region in the world.

The French lessons turned out to be grueling (I was the only person in my class who had never had a single French class before) and the port city of Bordeaux with its neo-classical architecture, lush parks, and enticing patisseries, though charming, was freezing in January. I spent most of my days running back to my apartment from school to huddle under a warm blanket. But my first weekend there, I discovered Bordeaux’s office of tourism, which offered jaunts to the local wine regions. I signed up for the tour of Barsac and Sauternes followed by a tour of the Medoc the next week and, for my final weekend in Bordeaux, a tour of St. Emilion. I remember riding in a small white tourist van with travelers from Japan, England, and Scandinavia. The skies were gray, and the trees were bare, and as we left the vast expanse of the city, to the rural French countryside, there was little more to see than the miles and miles of barren vines laid out before us. Our final destination on the day of the Sauternes tour was Chateau Guiraud. A wrinkled old man, perhaps the winemaker, or perhaps simply a tour guide, took us into what appeared to be an old barnyard packed with oak barrels. He poured us some sweet nectar and spoke in gravelly French about the beauty of noble rot. I was so seduced by the liquid gold in my glass, I spent what little money I had on two 750ml bottles. Back at the apartment I put one away in the closet to bring home with me, and the other I put in the refrigerator. I bought a wedge of Roquefort at the Carrefour market that day and for the rest of my stay in Bordeaux lived on bleu cheese and Chateau Guiraud Sauternes.  Everyday after my French lessons, I would stop at the patisserie next door to my school, buy a baguette, and go home to lunch on a few slices of Roquefort and bread with my glass of Sauternes. That month I was cold and lonely, and despite spending five hours a day learning the local language knew barely enough French to get by. But somehow my glass of Guiraud each day made things bearable. When I smelled the aromas of honey soaked pears I always seemed to get Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose stuck in my head and I’d think of the wonders of Europe, and remind myself that even though it was a bitter winter in Bordeaux, I was lucky to be there leading a life of the mind and the vine.

Once I returned to the States, I kept that second bottle of Chateau Guiraud in the back of my closet for years. Sauternes age brilliantly, and I wanted to save it for a special occasion. In 2009, a co-worker of mine who was studying for the WSET hosted a dinner party, and I opened the bottle, a 1998 vintage. The wine was every bit as unctuous as the one I savored in my small Bordeaux apartment and had taken on a rich complexity of stone fruits and lingering sweetness. I was home again, but in that moment I was transported back in time to the days when I was living on nothing but bleu cheese and noble rot.

Last night my mom and I were in Palo Alto to go see the performance at the local theater. Afterwards we went to a restaurant/wine bar that had Chateau Guiraud by the glass on its dessert menu. It was a 2006 vintage this time, but I couldn’t help but order a glass for memory’s sake. While the food at the restaurant was only slightly above average quality, as soon as I smelled the brown sugar sweetness of the Sauternes, I wanted to linger there all night, with Edith Piaf playing the background noise in my head, remembering that little piece of my life spent in the old world, that Southwesterly part of France that has so much history, the place that introduced the world to quality wine, the place that arguably made wine not just a beverage but a commodity, and the place that gave my dreary January days a little bit of sunshine.

If you have a wine memory you’d like to share, please post it in the “Leave a reply” section.

The Rind Sacramento

By Kareasa Wilkins

As a recent migrant to Sacramento from the Bay Area, I’ve been eager to try the numerous wine bars in the Sacramento metro. A friend recommended The Rind on L Street, and I’ve been there twice since I moved. The Rind is a quaint, cheese centric spot that’s a perfect place to unwind after a hard day of work or to gather with a few friends for happy hour. They offer daily specials, including Monday night fondue and Wednesday’s “Hump Happiness,” which boasts a free cheese platter when you purchase a bottle of $30 or more. This is truly a place to feed your inner cheese addict; they have a rotating menu of 30 +cheeses, including local favorites like Point Reyes Blue and Humbolt Fog, as well as far off finds like Italy’s La Tur. Cheese is the core of the main menu as well, with a wide selection of gourmet mac ‘n cheese and grilled cheese. The wine menu, though small, contains an eclectic mix of international wines at great price points. This is an excellent place to expand your palate by trying wines you’ve never heard of. You can find German bubbly, Viognier from Santa Barbara, Moschofilero from Greece, and The Rind’s best selling wine, Teroldego from Friuli.

My husband and I recently stopped by The Rind on a Wednesday, so we went for the bottle and cheese platter special. We had the Domaine de Cristia Grenache, a Vin de Pays from a good producer in the Rhône Valley. The Grenache was easy drinking with a nice peppery kick and worked well with our mix of sheep and cow’s milk cheeses from Spain and the UK. Not ones to be satisfied with just a cheese platter, we ordered more and more food as the evening went on. The Rind has followed the recent trend of haute comfort food, and we satisfied our hunger with some of their selections. Many Americans have fond memories of mac ‘n cheese from their childhood that came out of a blue box. These days, restaurants are gussying it up with anything from chilies to truffles. We opted for The Rind’s lobster mac ‘n cheese, and it was absolutely to die for. The cheese sauce was rich and creamy with just a hint of heat, and the large chunks of lobster were mouth wateringly tender. My only regret was that I didn’t order a rich chardonnay to go with it, because while a big buttery chardonnay may be about the least food friendly wine there is, the one exception to that rule is pairing it with big rich shellfish.

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After the complimentary cheese platter and lobster mac, we were still a little hungry so we went for the “Pepper Popper”—grilled sourdough loaded with Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar and Laura Chenel Chevre , and spicy roasted poblanos and jalepeños. Not the most wine friendly thing on the menu, mind you, but for grilled cheese, which I generally find boring, this explosion in the mouth was anything but dull. I doubt their was a wine on the menu that would’ve worked with this, but thankfully, The Rind has an impressive beer menu as well, so in this situation you can always order a nice IPA to cool the heat.

In my quest for quality wine bars in Sacramento, The Rind works on many levels. They’ve got a small but charming atmosphere, unique wine selection, and a menu full of cheesy goodness.

Bucatini alla Puttanesca with Ridge Lytton Estate Primitivo



By Kareasa Wilkins

I had a shload (for those of you that can’t put two and two together, that’s shit load) of olives left over from the paella party. I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one who likes to snack on olives, or maybe I just buy way too many olives and then other people bring olives and we end up with an olive explosion. Luckily, with this overabundance of olives, I can make pasta puttanesca, a stinky spicy salty southern Italian style pasta named for the women of the night. Tonight I made a lovely version with bucatini (the sipping straw style spaghetti) from Abruzzo. Sadly, my wine supply is running a little low right now and I didn’t have a single Italian wine on my shelf. I was hoping for a zippy Sangiovese or something more rustic from the bottom of Italy’s boot, but sometimes you’ve gotta go with what you have, and the closest thing I had to Italian was Ridge’s 2012 Primitivo. Ridge is of course famous for Zinfandel, which is genetically identical to Primitivo. The grapes for the Ridge Primitivo are grown in the Dry Creek Valley region of California, so why would they put Primitivo on the label rather than Zin? Well, it turns out that this wine is made from Primitivo vine cuttings that were taken from southern Italy and transported to the Lytton Springs vineyard in Healdsburg. It was an experiment of sorts to see how it would compare to the Zins grown in the same vineyard. This wine was not at all what I expected, but wow, was it a showstopper. I had a bottle of it about a month ago and it was somewhat closed and just kind of tasted like an earthier version of Zinfandel. Tonight when I opened it, it was all black and purple fruit with this amazing velvety tannin structure. In other words, the Petite Sirah that it’s blended with was really showing through (it’s 88% Primitivo with Petite Sirath making up the other 12%). This wine was really a knockout, though I think I was hoping for something with a little more acidity and red fruit to go with the whore’s pasta, not the big bruiser that this turned out to be. But in any case, the wine was phenomenal, and while I enjoyed the hell out of drinking it tonight, it will likely be even grander in the years to come.

Ponzi Wine Bar

By Kareasa Wilkins

Set in the heart of downtown Dundee, the Ponzi Wine Bar is a must stop when tasting and touring in the Willamette Valley. The hallway leading into the wine bar is adorned with a photo/essay collection called “The Oregon Trail of Winemakers,” which documents the pioneers of Oregon winemaking. The bar itself offers a cozy atmosphere where you can chat with the wine servers at the bar or opt for a private table.  The Ponzis specialize in high quality Pinot Noir, but they have a brilliant selection of white wines as well, including Arneis, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc, and all are available to sample. The Ponzi wine bar also supports other local vintners, and offers rotating flights of other producers’ wines in addition to their own. When you’re done tasting, you can grab a bite to eat next door at the Dundee Bistro, which is also owned by the Ponzis and has great food and a great wine list to boot.

Elk Cove Winery

By Kareasa Wilkins

A visit to the Elk Cove winery in the beautiful Yamhill-Carlton AVA of the Willamette Valley can’t fail to put one in an overwhelming sense of calm. The pristinely manicured gardens and breathtaking views of the valley make this winery the perfect place to relax and enjoy a sip of Pinot Noir. Be sure to take the time to wander around by the pond and enjoy the garden and vineyard surroundings. Established in 1974, Elk Cove is one of the oldest wineries in the valley and offers a wide range of Pinot Noirs and white wines, such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Riesling in a serene setting. The winery is also has catering and event space available, making it a picturesque place for a wedding.

Wilson Winery

By Kareasa Wilkins

Wilson Winery, located in northern Sonoma County on Dry Creek Road, is always one of the most popular stops during Russian River Wine Road weekend events. Wilson is a must for Zin lovers, as they make an array of delicious single vineyard Zinfandels that are named after family members. But Wilson’s portfolio extends beyond Zinfandel, and they also offer a slew of good Bordeaux and Rhone-inspired wines as well. Tasting events at Wilson are always enjoyable; they have a huge patio that overlooks the Dry Creek Valley where you can often find a staff member grilling up their famous tri-tip recipe to compliment the wines being poured.

Livermore Valley: Can It Live Up to Its Golden Past?


By Kareasa Wilkins

Back when I was a freshman in college, I worked with a guy who had grown up in Livermore. He told me that natives of Livermore used to joke about the town’s suburban monotony, calling it “Live-No-More.” While my co-worker never mentioned anything about the Livermore Valley wineries, most people I’ve talked to in the wine industry seem to think that the wines produced in Livermore are just as dull as the tract housing that encompasses the region. Long overshadowed by Napa and Sonoma, Livermore Valley barely registers on most wine enthusiasts’ radars, and if it does, the general reaction is at best ignorance and at worst contempt. Yet unbeknownst to most wine drinkers, the Livermore Valley played a fundamental role in the history of California’s wine industry.

Livermore is one of the oldest wine regions in California. Spanish missionaries planted grapes in the Livermore Valley as early as the mid-18th century, and grapes for commercial use were planted in the 1840s. James Wetmore, once a newspaper reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, founded Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882, and shortly after, two of California’s founding wine families, the Wentes and the Concannons established their wineries in 1883. Wetmore helped to create the first viticultural commission in the state of California, and quickly became its first CEO. Believing that the gravelly soils of Livermore would be perfect for Bordeaux varietals, Wetmore took a trip to France where he obtained vine cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from the celebrated Sauternes estate Chateau D’Yquem.

This was the beginning of the heyday of Livermore wine. While nearly century later, Napa Valley wineries made headlines at the 1976 Paris tasting, Livermore Valley was the first California wine region to receive a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1889. Not long after, C.H. Wente, founder of Wente Vineyards began his lifetime research of the chardonnay grape, a grape that was little known in California at the time. Livermore was the first wine region in California to varietally label its chardonnay, and these days, more than half of the chardonnay grapes planted in California are linked to the Wente clone. The pioneering spirit of the first winemaking families in Livermore set the stage for more ambitious followers. By the early 1900s Livermore boasted 50 wineries, and was primed to be one of the most successful wine growing regions in California.

So what happened? Given the historical significance of winemaking in the  Livermore Valley, why isn’t it on par with Napa or Sonoma today? Why is it that many wineries in Livermore add “San Francisco Bay” to their labels just to clue people in on where it’s located? One explanation is that when prohibition hit Livermore, it hit hard. While Concannon was able to maintain its livelihood by selling wine to the church, most other wineries were forced to close their doors forever. Later, in the 1960s and 70s when Napa was undergoing a wine renaissance, Livermore, instead, was experiencing a boom in suburban housing developments that would wipe out nearly all of the existing vineyards. It wasn’t until 1993 that a plan was put into effect to protect the remaining vineyards and promote the planting of new ones.

Thus, despite a great history, and with the exception of a few old wineries that have survived, the Livermore wine industry is still relatively youthful in the current market.  Moreover, while Napa seemed to find its niche with Cabernet and Dry Creek Valley with Zinfandel, Livermore currently seems to be going through an identity crisis. The original winemakers of Livermore Valley were convinced that Bordeaux varietals were the most suitable for the region, but now things are changing. Concannon made a name for itself by introducing Petite Sirah to the American palate in the 1960s, and subsequent to its success others have followed suit. Many people liken the climate of Livermore to the south of France and in addition to Petite Sirah are experimenting with other Rhone varietals. Still others are trying their hand at Italian, Spanish and Portuguese varietals, yet none seem to have a distinct taste of “place.” While these efforts to cultivate a wide range of wines are admirable, they seem to detract from a real focus, and at this point the experimentation seems to be more on the basis of chance than out of a genuine studied attempt to place the proper grape varietal to the most appropriate site. Finding a distinct sense of Livermore Valley terroir is further hindered by the fact that many of the wineries purchase their grapes, sometimes for more than half of their production, from outside of the Livermore AVA. Another disappointment has been the lack of knowledgeable tasting room staff.  Few of the salespeople I’ve encountered at the Livermore wineries have expressed familiarity with the larger sphere of the wine world, and at one particular tasting room, I asked the pourer if the winery’s sparkling wine was made in the traditional champenoise method, and she replied, “No, our sparkling wine is made in Lodi.”

Still, there is hope for the future of the Livermore Valley wine industry. The last few times I went to the region the quality of the wines had drastically improved from my previous visits there. More and more growers are employing sustainable farming methods, and some producers, such as Wente and Steven Kent, have upped the quality control by introducing small lot wines to their portfolios. Improvements in wine education are being made as well. Many wineries are beginning to host winemaker dinners and educational seminars, and the local community college, Las Positas, has recently implemented a viticulture and enology program.  The new program at Las Positas could allow Livermore to compete with AVAs such as Napa, Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara, which have long had the advantage of being located near colleges with wine programs.  Thus, with more focus on education, improvements in quality, and the potential of turning out enthusiastic young winemakers, Livermore could be standing on the edge of a rebirth worthy of its roots.

Hosting a Tasting Party

Party Host

By Kareasa Wilkins

The world of wine is a many splendored thing, but it can be daunting because there is just so damn much to learn about it. Grape varietals, regions, producers, interpreting the language of wine bottles—all of these things can be intimidating to the novice wine drinker. Yet if you’ve established the fact that you enjoy consuming wine and you’d like to learn more about it, one of the best ways to improve your wine knowledge and have a fun time doing it is by hosting a wine tasting party. Wine tasting parties are also great for people who already know quite a bit about wine as there is always something new to learn by wine tasting.

Before you begin, you should establish a few things. First decide how many people to invite, and only invite people who are serious about learning more about wine. Wine tasting parties can all to easily turn into drunken ragers if the people involved are focused more on drinking than on educating themselves. It’s best to keep the group relatively small, though that depends on how much space you have. You should be able to provide a table space that is free from any distracting noises or smells, and ideally you should use a white tablecloth or white paper background in order to see the wines clearly. Also, be sure to provide a spit/dump bucket. As much fun as it is to get a little tipsy from wine, the professional way of tasting is to sip and spit. This allows you to have a clear head to analyze the wines and helps ensure that you won’t have people crashed out on your couch after the party.

Unless you have a huge selection of glassware, the best thing to do is have your guests bring their own glassware—one glass for each wine you are going to taste is ideal, since side-by-side tastings are an excellent way of distinguishing the different nuances between wines. You also need to determine how much wine you plan to taste, and who will be providing it. You can provide all of the wine yourself and trade off by having different people host the parties each time you meet. Alternatively, you can buy all of the wine and collect money from your guests, or you can have each person bring a wine to the party. Before the party, you should come up with a method of analyzing the wines that will be served. In most recognized wine societies, such as the  Wine and Spirits Education Trust and the International Sommelier’s Guild, the following items are assessed in a wine tasting:

Appearance: (including clarity, intensity, color, rim vs. core)

Nose: (including condition, intensity, development, fruit character)

Palate: (including sweetness, acidity, tannin, fruit intensity, fruit character, alcohol, length)

Conclusions: (including quality, maturity, price range, region)

You may also come up with a rating of the quality of the wine or how well you like it.

Once you’ve figured out your method of analyzing the wines, the fun part is deciding what type of tasting party to host. There are numerous types of tastings you can do, but here are a few suggestions:

Varietal Focus: This is one of the best ways to get to know the character of a particular grape variety and the subtle differences between the regions in which the grape is grown. For this theme, first choose a varietal, such as Pinot Noir.

Ask each person to bring a Pinot Noir from a different region: ie, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands, Willamette Valley, Burgundy, New Zealand. Pour the wines side-by-side, and assess the similarities and differences between the wines. Alternatively, you could do a varietal tasting of Pinots from the same region, but different producers.

Country/Region Focus: For people who are just beginning to learn about the world of wine, focusing on a country, such as France or Italy, or a region, such as Bordeaux or Piedmont,  is a great way of expanding your wine knowledge. This is the perfect opportunity to do research—look at maps, provide a handout for your guests, or assign a different region of one country to each guest and have them research and talk about their assigned regions.

Does Price Really Matter?: This is a good sub-theme of a varietal focus party. Choose a varietal, such as Cabernet, and buy one wine in the $10-under category, one in the $10-$20 range, one in the $20-30 range, and one in the $40-and over category. Blind taste the wines side-by-side and see if price really makes a difference.

Guess the Varietal: Buy different varietal wines and blind taste them side-by-side to see if you can guess which is which. This is a great party theme if you have a more experienced palate. If you are new to wine tasting, do research on the typical flavor profiles of the varietals that you are serving. Discuss these before tasting, then see if the wines conform to their typical tasting profiles.

Old World vs. New World: Another sub-category of the varietal focus. Pick a grape varietal, such as Grenache, and find examples from the New World (ie. The U.S., Chile, Australia), then find examples from the Old World (France—the Rhone Valley, Spain, Sardinia) and assess the similarities and differences.

Vertical Tasting: A vertical tasting is a tasting of the same wine from different vintages. If you are lucky enough to have access to multiple vintages of the same wine, this is a great way to taste the difference of vintage. For example, pour a Ridge Montebello 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004, and look for the differences and how the wine changes with time.

But the fun doesn’t stop here…tasting parties give you the opportunity to be creative. Just about any tasting theme you can think of can be successful and educational, so call your friends and bring out the corkscrew!