Bellingham Grape and Gourmet

Grape & GourmetThe 12th annual Bellingham Grape and Gourmet is less than a month away, and we are really looking forward to attending. This year, the event will be held at Silver Reef Casino on Nov. 1. 

The evening of “sensational wines and exquisite food” is hosted by Bellingham Bay Rotary Club.

The event is also a fundraiser — all proceeds will be donated to local non-profits.

Almost 40 Washington and Oregon wineries will be pouring — including our friends at William Church, Forgeron Cellars, L’Ecole 41, Walla Walla Vintners, Dunham Cellars, Airfield Estates and Hightower. Wines range from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Viognier to Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir. And there’s more, including both white and red blends.

If you find a wine that’s a real palate pleaser, you can purchase it at a 20% discount right on site. You can also sample tasty bites from local restaurants, including one of our favorites, The Steakhouse at Silver Reef Casino.

Last week, we were fortunate to be invited to a pre-tasting, hosted by BB Rotary Club event organizer Bryant Engebretson and his wife Hillary. Our two favorites were William Church Winery’s 2 Spires and Walla Walla Vintners Cuvee, but we know there will be more to add to that list on Nov. 1 at Bellingham Grape and Gourmet.

Grape & Gourmet 1So what are you waiting for – get your tickets now!

Sunday, Nov. 1 at Silver Reef Casino, 5:00 – 8:30 p.m.

VIP Tickets ($100) give you early admission at 5 p.m., which means 90 minutes without the crowds!

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for regular admission ($80).

We hope to see you there!

Margot and Dave


Columbia Crest Fall Release Wines

If you’re one of those people who look for good-value wines at a $10-$15 price point, this blog post is for you. We are very pleased with some Columbia Crest winery samples that pair well with the fall season.

First, you might recall that we praised Columbia Crest H3 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon In  a July post about Good Value BBQ Reds. H3 became our go-to, every-day wine over the summer ($10-$15, depending on where you look). We were not surprised to find out that H3 was a Double Gold winner at the 2015 Seattle Wine Awards.

And now, Columbia Crest offers their 2013 Limited Release “Gold” Red Wine Blend, in addition to several other new 2013 releases, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

We particularly enjoyed these four wines, all from Columbia Valley, all priced at $12.

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 5.53.39 PMColumbia Crest 2013 Limited Release “Gold” Red Wine Blend
According to the winery, a couple barrels of wine that represent the “gold standard” of Columbia Valley grapes are blended into this limited release Gold Red Wine. Harvested in September 2012, when Cabernet Franc had an excellent year, this wine features 52% Cab Franc, 38% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Merlot. Think spicy, rich and textured – and great to pair with grilled beef, lamb, rich stews or simply with strong cheese.

Columbia Crest 2012 Grand Estates Red Blend
This is a Syrah-Cab Sauv blend, specifically 57% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Viognier, 6% Merlot and 3% other varietals. Tasting Notes: “This complex red blend marries together a variety of characteristics and layers that complement each other, including lively flavors of red and black fruit punctuated with layers of spice and caramel on the finish.” We paired it with rich spaghetti and meatballs, and it was delicious.

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 6.11.45 PMColumbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon
The 81% Cab Sauv is rounded out with 15% Merlot, 2% Syrah and 2% of other varietals. Tasting Notes: “This bold style Cabernet Sauvignon displays great complexity and structure. There are aromas of dark berry fruits and plum on the nose with chocolate and vanilla on the palate. This wine pairs well with beef tenderloin or hearty pasta.” We think it also is wonderful paired with blue cheese and/or dark chocolate.

Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Syrah
In this classic, 95% Syrah is co-fermented with 5% Viognier. Tasting Notes: “Elegant smoky tones lead to notes of currant, dried herbs and hints of pepper. The supple texture is complemented by flavors of cedar and dark fruits.” Pair with grilled salmon, pork tenderloin or soft cheeses.

Although we haven’t yet tasted Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Unoaked Chardonnay, Wine Spectator called it out as providing the biggest bang for your buck.

We know it seems too early to start thinking about holiday wines, but at this price point, do you really want to wait? You can pour them at any party – your own or ones you attend as a guest — from Hallowe’en to Thanksgiving and beyond.

Margot and Dave

Good-Value Wines

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 5.19.49 PMAs the summer winds down, we’re taking a look at some good-value wines that we and/or our neighbors enjoyed in the last five months. Summer sippers make us think of white wine on the deck or the patio, paired with tasty cheeses, seafood or chicken. But let’s not forget about robust reds to accompany delicious BBQs during the warm weather!

First, let’s talk about the featured wineries:

In 1836, Wente Vineyards began with 48 acres in Livermore Valley, California. Today the winery draws from approximately 3,000 acres of sustainably farmed Estate vineyards. While we’ve written about their reds in the past, Wente is known as California’s First Family of Chardonnay. In 1912, the Wente family brought Chardonnay cuttings from France and planted them in the Livermore Valley. Their 1936 vintage was the first varietally labeled Chardonnay in the United States. During crab season, we enjoyed 2013 Small Lot Eric’s Chardonnay, which was fermented and aged in stainless steel. But our neighbors preferred 2012 Riva Ranch Chard.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 5.18.18 PMFor five generations, two families — the Maggios and Reynolds — have grown grapes and made wine in the historic Lodi region of California. They transformed the oldest winery in Lodi, Oak Ridge Winery, into a state-of-art facility, where Old Soul wines were crafted because “the winery has an old soul.” You can definitely taste it in the rich 2012 Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, with a price point of $14.

Launched by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2005 as a restaurant-only brand, 14 Hands introduced its “The Reserve” label of wines sourced from the Horse Heaven Hills appellation in Washington state in 2012.

Santa Cristina produces Italy’s No. 1 selling red wine, Rosso, and is also represented by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. This Tuscan winery released its first wine in 1946 and has become a “benchmark” in Italian wines.

Motto Wines debuted this June, with a collection of distinct, dark, rich wines from California that offer a new take on that state’s wine. Motto is made by the renowned winemaking team at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, “putting a Washington spin” on California grapes. According to the winery, “the Motto winemaking team defies ordinary and makes it their motto.”

Of note, many of these wines are so reasonably priced that you can pour them at any time of the year. Just make sure to decant first for a few hours.

Summer Sipper Whites

  • Old Soul 2013 Lodi Chardonnay, $14
  • Wente Vineyards 2012 Morning Fog Chardonnay, $22
  • Wente Vineyards 2012 Riva Ranch Chardonnay, $22
  • Wente Vineyards 2013 Small Lot Eric’s Chardonnay, Small Lot (Unoaked) $25
  • Other good-value summer sippers

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 5.17.23 PMBBQ Reds

  • Santa Cristina 2013 Rosso, $12
  • 14 Hands 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, $12
  • 14 Hands 2013 Merlot Columbia Valley, $12
  • Old Soul 2012 Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, $14
  • Old Soul 2012 Lodi “Pure Red” Blend, $14
  • Motto Wines 2013 Unabashed Zinfandel, $15
  • Motto Wines 2013 Gung Ho Red Blend, $15
  • Wente Vineyards 2012 Southern Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, $19
  • Wente Vineyards Charles Wetmore 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon $30
  • 14 Hands 2012 The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills, $30
  • Other good-value BBQ Reds

 Thanks to Wente, Oak Ridge Winery and Ste. Michelle Estates for these and other samples provided in the last five months.

Margot and Dave


Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 1.16.32 PM Chateau Montelena is a Napa Valley winery established in 1882 and famous for putting California on the international wine map in 1976. That’s when the winery’s 1973 Chardonnay won a blind tasting at the prestigious Judgment of Paris wine competition.

The historic victory was surprising to many, particularly in Europe where the expectation was for a French winner; a fictional version of the amazing event was featured in the 2008 film, Bottle Shock. (Notably, the Paris competition is just one highlight of Chateau Montelena’s rich history.)

Winemaker Mike Grgich — who later joined with Austin Hills to establish Grgich Hills — crafted the 1973 Chardonnay, which remains on display at Chateau Montelena’s only satellite tasting room in California, just off the lobby at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco.

The St. Francis was where I happened to be speaking about social media analytics at the Dreamforce 2013 conference last November and, not surprisingly, I was drawn to the tasting room to try the lineup

I was very lucky that the knowledgeable and friendly sommelier Cassandra Brown happened to be pouring that day. (Cassandra pours at several events and locations in the Bay area, so be sure to stop by to see her, if you have a chance. I know you’ll have both an educating and enjoyable time.)

First, I must applaud three of the winery’s whites: 2012 Potter Valley Riesling, which has a beautiful nose, layers of rich peach and apple, and only a touch of sugar;  2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay, so opulent and creamy; and the crisper 2010 Chard.

But what really captured my attention was Chateau Montelena’s Cabernet Sauvignon.

2009 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 1.52.32 PMThis is a wine with the “wow” factor: earthy, silky, rich and full-bodied, with berries and spice flavors, and an enticing mouthfeel. The Cabernet Sauvignon (98.25%) is rounded off with a splash of Cabernet Franc (1.75%).

According to the tasting notes:

The nose opens with big black cherry, currants, and plum spice cake notes. Underpinning all that fruit are layers of smoke, anise, and very subtle oak tones. The palate entry is soft and round, but builds quickly with loads of fine velvety tannin, huge black cherry, and red fruits that persist through to a rich finish layered with spice. A firm core of acid and barrel spice integrate beautifully across all layers, enhancing the structure and balance of this massive but approachable wine.

This winning wine is drinkable now, but the wow factor will be even more prominent in 7-10 years.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 2.00.59 PM2010 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

In Napa Valley, Cabernet is King and this is one royal, robust red — a big, dense wine with concentrated fruit, and layers of berries woven with tones of vanilla and spice.

The Cabernet Sauvignon (91%) is blended with 7% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc.

Try drinking it now with a big juicy steak, like we did with the bottle I brought home from San Francisco, or if you have more patience, put it in the cellar for a few more years.




March is Washington Wine Month

In our family, every month is Washington Wine Month, but the official celebration occurs in this state every March.

That’s when you will find great deals at wineries, wine shops, big grocery stores and many restaurants. For example, some promotions include discounts on full or half cases of Washington state wine, purchase discounts off any bottle or Washington wine or in-store free wine tastings.

For specifics, have a look at the Washington Wine Month Calendar.

One that caught our eye is a 20%-off promotion for Northwest Totem Cellars at Wine World on March 16th. And thanks Wine World, for quoting this blog in your promotion!

As for us, we celebrate by telling anyone who will listen about the great juice Washington state wineries produce.

Whether you like big, bold reds (like us), crispy Sauvignon Blanc, rich Viognier or buttery Chardonnay, you can find the best right in your own backyard, so to speak, from Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Tri-Cities, Walla Walla, Cascade Valley, Woodinville and many more.

We recently tasted these Washington wine gems:

Do you see a trend here? We heart Cabs!

And these are just some of the amazing wines you can find from Washington state. We encourage you to do so!

Happy Washington Wine Month!



Update: A Great Idea for Wineries

Back in October, I wrote about, a unique way to find wines you like among the thousands of brands that are available. provides samplers from wineries around the world (including top-of-the-line Silver Oak and Duckhorn) that come in a minimum of six 50ml bottles – so you can taste first, before deciding if you want to invest in full-sized bottles that range from $11-$110.

In October, we received a free sample of A Taste Adventure – Cabernet Taste-Off with Cabs from Washington state and Sonoma.

Since that time, we have happily noticed that some California wineries are sending samplers from to wine writers and wine industry trade folks to showcase the variety of their wines in an easy-to-ship, easy-to-taste experience.

You might recall that I wrote in early December that we received a sampler for a Don & Sons virtual tasting on Twitter, which meant we  had an opportunity to taste six wines without having to open (or drink from) large bottles.

Last week, we received a similar six-bottle sampler from Trione Vineyards & Winery in Alexander Valley in SonomaValley. Trione is a small, family-run operation, much like many of our favorites in Washington state. The Trione team wanted to send out their wines to people like us, who don’t live in California and don’t have too many opportunities to visit their tasting room.

Instead, they turned to, so they could introduce us to each of their current vintages – in a “pour size” instead of a full-sized bottle.

We now have an opportunity to taste — from the comfort of our home — 2010 Trione Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Chardonnay, 2008 Pinot Noir, 2008 Syrah, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Red Wine blend (Cab and Merlot). We haven’t poured them yet, but look for another blog post when we do.

Now, we don’t own or work at a winery, but it would seem to me that wineries could save money by sending samplers of their wine instead of full bottles. As a wine writer, I appreciate being able to taste an entire line-up, without having too many open full-sized bottles sitting around the house waiting to be finished or possibly go bad.

It seems like more and more California wineries are moving in this direction. I hope Washington state wineries look into it too. And kudos to Gilbert Cellars for participating in the Washington state vs. Sonoma Cabernet sampler!

For more information about samplers, wine by the glass and a wine club, see my previous post An Innovative Way to Find the Wines You Like, or visit The



An Innovative Way to Find the Wines You Like

Hundreds, no thousands upon thousands of wines await you, but how do you know which ones you’ll like? Or maybe you know you like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah or Chardonnay, so that narrows your choices … a little bit. But there are still so many to choose from. What to do?

Help is on the way!

Experience A Taste Adventure sampler from The samplers come in a minimum of six 50ml bottles – so you can taste first, before deciding if you want to invest in full-sized bottles that range from $11-$110.

What an amazing idea! has partnered with wineries from around the world (including top wineries such as Silver Oak and Duckhorn), so you can try a variety of wines at reasonably low costs – from $22.95 to $39.95 for six mini-bottles, which come in a beautiful box with tasting notes, so it’s a learning experience while you sip.

For example, you can choose between two samplers of wines selected by New Orleans celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse – Emeril’s Everyday Sampler ($32.95) and Emeril’s Holiday Party Sampler ($39.95) to pair on holidays from Thanksgiving to New Years.

Or you may prefer a large number of other samplers including: Gary Vaynerchuk-Wines for Dudes; Several “Taste Adventures (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Reds for Picnics, Australian Gems, Red & White Essentials and many more); Party Packs such as Great Wines for BBQs; plus different samplers showcasing individual wine regions.

We received a free sample of A Taste Adventure – Cabernet Taste-Off, with this description: Over the past 35 years Sonoma County, California has attracted fame and fortune for producing powerful, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignons. In the last decade, though, Washington State has started producing Cabernet Sauvignons that many argue are better structured and better value wines.

The growing conditions in each region are different, so how did these wines stack up?

We’ve been cheerleaders for the Washington wine industry since we moved to Seattle in 1999, and even more so since Write for Wine launched in 2007. So not surprisingly, our palate preferred the Washington state wines over the Sonoma wines – but in some cases, it was a tight race!

Of the six wines, our favorite was a rich and elegant 2008 Gilbert Cellars Wahluke Slope Cab Sauv ($27.95 a bottle) — again, not surprising, since we’ve been fans since we first tasted Gilbert Cellars wines at Sexy Syrah at Salty’s in April, 2008.

An extremely close second was 2008 Amavi Cellars Walla Walla Valley Cab Sauv ($27.95 a bottle), which was also robust and powerful, as our palates prefer.

Our favorites from Sonoma were two we had never tasted before: 2008 Icaria Alexander Valley Cab Sauv ($27.95 a bottle) and 2008 Watkins Family Winery “Nuns Cliff” ($39.95)

We also enjoyed 2007 Cadaretta Columbia Valley ($36.95) and 2008 Dutcher Crossing Taylor Reserve Sonoma (442.95) – so the entire sample was indeed a fun adventure.

You can also order Wines by the Glass, Or “Wine Your Way,” which offers a single 100ml serving, so you can drink a single glass of wine whenever and wherever you want.

And then there’s an unique program called the Taste Explorer Wine Club, where you can taste the wines before choosing which bottles you want in your club shipments.

So many people have asked me over the years about which wines to choose. The answer depends on your palate. The helps you decide – in three different ways – samplers, pour sizes and a wine club. We recommend that you give it a whirl. Your palate will thank you.


Blitz Carlton!

After the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland last month, I had an opportunity to join a few friends – and make new ones – on a post-conference tour to Carlton, Oregon.

And I can’t say enough good things about the people, the wine, the food, the accomodations and the amazing hospitality. I will most definitely return to Carlton – and I highly recommend you think about visiting too.

I will definitely write more in future posts, but I’m traveling a lot in the weeks ahead, so for now, I’d like to give big thanks to the wonderful people in Carlton Wine Country,  Republic of Jam, Seven of Hearts Wine, K&M Wine, Lobenhaus Bed & Breakfastwith special shout-outs to Thea, Lena, Bethany, Lynette, Byron and Ken.

Here are some of my tweets I posted while I was visiting the wonderful Carlton on a Blitz bus (hence, the Twitter hashtag, #BlitzCarlton). Enjoy!

  • First stop for #blitzcarlton #WBC12 is Seven of Hearts
  • Wine bloggers at Carlton’s Walk on the Park. Post #WBC12 #blitzcarlton
  • Pinot Gris @7ofheartswine is refreshingly crisp on a warm day. (Stainless steel & barrel fermented #mustbuy #blitzcarlton
  • K & M 2010 chardonnay an understandable award winner #blitzcarlton
  • 09 Cuvee from K&M Wines is bright, beautiful & a new fave @kandmwines #blitzcarlton
  • 2010 Luminous Hills Estate Pinot Noir wins Mr. Personality and only $28. Wow! #blitzcarlton
  • Mmm pepper. Thank you @marycressler for encouraging me to taste GSM 2010 @7ofheartswine Bring on the steak! I am a new fan! #blitzcarlton
  • Yea! RT @melanie0: @republicofjam Lovely ladies rocking hospitality. Some of my fav folks of all times #blitzcarlton
  • Ben Rice band is rocking the house @horseradish restaurant in Carlton. And love their blues. Oh yeah. #blitzcarlton #WBC12
  • Late night with Lena @7ofheartswine: Cab Franc and chocolates Yummy! #blitzcarlton
  • The Lobenhaus B&B in Carlton wine country is beautiful. Make time to stop over if you are near Portland OR #blitzcarlton #WBC12
  • 3 cheers, no 10 for the wonderful people in Carlton wine country @CarltonWine So friendly, nice & mighty fine wine & food #blitzcarlton
  • Good morning beautiful Lobenhaus B&B @Carltonwine. View from my patio! #blitzcarlton
  • This is definitely one place I am coming back to visit. Lobenhaus B & B @CarltonWine #blitzcarlton thanks!
  • Finally! I have wanted to taste @KenWrightCellars wine since 1997. And Ken is brilliant and funny #blitzcarlton
  • Love to learn – side by side cooperage tasting at @lemelsomwinery #blitzcarlton
  • 06 Estate Reserve from @carloandjulian – wow that is special! @CarltonWine #blitzcarlton
  • Brilliant! @CuveeRestaurant Thanks for a beautiful lunch #blitzcarlton @carltonwine @alexanawinery @bellepente and Carlo & Julian
  • 2011 Cannon Beach Pinot Gris, Carlton Cellars, the crispest Pinot Gris in Oregon @Carltonwine #blitzcarlton
  • Pinot Blanc is the new burrito wine! @noblepig? #blitzcarlton
  • Big reds loaded with fruit, 2010 Cab Franc is smooth & the Maserati of Cab Franc! @terravinawines #blitzcarlton @CarltonWine
  • If you like big red wine, @terravinawines in @Carltonwine is a must stop in Oregon wine country. #blitzcarlton
  • Donna Jean 09 Pinot Noir from Mouvance @Carltonwine is savory, silky & makes me want to sing like Michael Jackson #blitzcarlton
  • 09 Old Vine Meritage: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec & Petit Verdot & I love it @trooncarlton #blitzcarlton

So again, if you’re thinking about taking an Oregon wine country tour, plan to spend a day or two in Carlton!



Big Winemaker News at EFESTE

Winemaker extraordinaire Brennon Leighton is becoming a consulting winemaker at EFESTE in Woodinville and after Crush 2012, he will be relocating to eastern Washington near EFESTE’s vineyards and taking on additional projects with other wineries.

He personally selected winemaker Peter Devison, formerly from Apex, Alder Ridge and Willow Creek, to join him on an expanded EFESTE winemaking team “because of his experience in reductive winemaking — a distinctive old-world style seldom seen in Washington.”

“Peter’s knowledge of our winemaking style is incredible,” Brennon explained. “We have similar philosophies and perspectives that will make for a great progression. It’s like being in a foreign country and finding someone who can speak your language.”

Regular readers of this blog know we’ve been fans of Brennon and EFESTE for years. My article about Brennon in Seattleite Magazine landed him in third spot in the magazine’s Top Ten newsmakers of the year (2011).

We first met him in 2008, when we barrel-tasted Jolie Bouche during a St. Nick’s event in Woodinville. We instantly became members of EFESTE’s Inner Circle wine club, and applauded when the next year, 2009, Seattle Magazine hailed Brennon as Winemaker to Watch and EFESTE as the Best New Winery.

As his star rose, Brennon remained constant – open, blunt, funny, sharp and passionate, a talented man whom my mother would have said “pulls no punches,” an artist who also likes to experiment and a thinker who reads several books a week.

We’ve also written numerous posts about Efeste’s award-winning wines such as Feral Sauvignon Blanc, Jolie Bouche Syrah,  Lola Chardonnay and Big Papa Cabernet Sauvignon, my personal favorite (although it’s hard to choose).

EFESTE’s new winemaker, Peter Devision, is fortunate to join Brennon and the owners whose last names make up the letters that spell EFESTE: Daniel and Helen Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin and Angie Taylor are also passionate about wine, dedicated to several worthy causes, and fun to hang out with in the tasting room.

Devison began working with Brennon for crush 2012, taking place now.

We look forward to meeting him. In addition to talking wine, we have Canada in common – he’s from Nova Scotia and worked in my hometown, Vancouver before moving to Washington state.


Travels to Napa Valley

We just came back from Napa Valley, where we visited five wineries that we highly recommend. Here are the highlights:

Goosecross Cellars: The Howell Mountain Cab from Goosecross has always been a favorite, and this year did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded expectations. This full-bodied Cab is rich and elegant with so many layers of lovely that I wish I could buy a few cases. Goosecross also produces one of the best stand-alone Cab Francs we tasted in Napa Valley. Cab Franc is my #1 choice, and Goosecross is as excellent as my favorite Washington state Cab Francs.

In addition, Goosecross makes a crisp refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, which is perfect for a warm, sunny day on the deck. (Note: We credit our summer passion for Sauv Blanc to Goosecross along with two Washington state wineries, Efeste and JM Cellars.) Goosecross’ popular tasting room underlines the superb customer service, friendliness and wow-worthy wines.

Grgich Hills: The first time I went to Napa Valley – more years ago than I care to admit! – Grgich was on my list of must-visit wineries. We didn’t know then that winemaker Mike Grgich crafted the 1973 Chardonnay, which won the Paris Competition that put California and Chateau Montelena on the worldwide wine map in 1976 and again in 2009 when the movie Bottle Shock was released.

So it was no surprise to find that Grgich Carneros Selection Chardonnay 2008, was simply, beautiful. We also were lucky to be invited to two side-by-side tastings while we were there. The first was Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2008, plus the Yountville Selection 2007, from some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Napa Valley. The second was a “decades tasting” of Napa Valley Cab Sauv from 1982,1992, 2002. What a treat! I preferred the 02, while Dave’s preference was the ’92. Frankly, every Grgich wine we tasted was stellar.

Hall: We had so much fun at Hall, partly because their wine educator, Kendra Wax, hails from Walla Walla, so we could compare Napa wines to our glorious juice from Washington state. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Hall wines are also glorious. We took home a library release, 2006 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which was rated 94 points by Wine Spectator. We also recommend 2009 “Jack’s Masterpiece” Cab Sauv and 2006 “Bergfeld” St. Helena Cab Sauv. Beauty!

Plumpjack: We added Plumpjack to our list of Top Napa Wineries to visit last year, and continue to suggest it, along with the other four mentioned in this post, as a must-stop. The 2008 CADE Napa Cuvee Cab was spectacular and the Sauv Blanc was zesty and cool on a warm California afternoon. Most of all, we give full props to Plumpjack’s 2009 Syrah – a big, juicy, spicy and peppery Syrah that stands out as the best California Syrah we’ve tasted, because it’s so close to the Washington- state style that our palates embrace. Frankly, we find most California Syrahs bland, and hadn’t even planned on trying Plumpjack’s pour until Guest Services Manager, Heather Manross described it as the most Northern Rhone-like Syrah they’ve ever produced. Bring it!

Cornerstone Cellars: This was our first visit to Cornerstone, chosen because of their high-profile presence on Twitter from both Craig Camp and Allison Zickfeld. Their tweets beckoned us, and we are glad they did. Cornerstone wines are complemented by a bright and beautiful tasting room and knowledgeable and fun staff, such as Kerry Hourigan. The 2010 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Corallina was an impressive rose’ named for its beautiful, pale copper-coral color and its balanced, supple and bright flavors. We brought home a bottle to savor on our deck this summer. We also enjoyed the 2008 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, with a unique raspberry flavor.

Their new label, Cornerstone Oregon, is a collaboration between Cornerstone Napa’s Craig Camp and Oregon winemaker Tony Rynders from Domaine Serene. We tasted the 2009 Cornerstone Oregon Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, a supple, well-balanced medium-body Pinot, which received 91 points from Wine Spectator. We’re looking forward to tasting more close-to-home Pinots, when Craig brings them to the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, held this August in Portland.