At Ease Wine Project: Chenin Blanc

The wine: At Ease Wine Project 2020 Chenin Blanc, Solano County Green Valley

The place: https://ateasewine.square.site/, and now on the Goose and Gander Saint Helena wine list

The price: $28

This decadent and golden Chenin is made from grapes with a very unique story. Winemaker Derek Baljeu sources this fruit from the Biggs Vineyard in Green Valley, a small, family-owned plot with Chenin vines 50+ years old. Baljeu explained that the winds in this valley spike to such high speeds during the late growing season that the vines shut down a portion of the ripening process, which allows the fruit to continue developing in phenolic and acidic complexity without sugar content getting too high. This creates a seriously delicious wine – the hue is somewhere between a yellow-gold sunshine and a pale amber. The mouthfeel is creamy but not overly so, and the tiny touch of sweetness on the finish is welcomed because the acid is still there.

On the nose, I get light honey, butterscotch, and lemon curd. The mouth is very complex – candied walnuts/nuts, candied fruit (pineapple), very light floral notes such as apple or lemon blossom, and fruits cantaloupe and peach. Overall this wine is very fruity and has what I would describe as a round favor profile. It’s honestly delicious.

I chose to pair this wine with savory and salty foods such as the salty, crumbly “Unexpected Cheddar Cheese” from Trader Joe’s, and their asiago cheese with rosemary and olive oil. The creaminess of the wine balances out the sharpness of a hard cheese and the two textures pair beautifully. I could also enjoy this wine with a duck paté with fig jam and toast points. For something more bold, try pairing with a Thai cashew nut chicken dish to really enhance the subtle sweetness of the wine. This wine is full bodied but delicate at the same time – you would not want to overpower it with a strong meal. Oysters would be a good pair as well.

Baljeu is a talented young professional in the industry and makes wine in Napa with grapes from both the North and Central Coast AVAs. He studied winemaking at UC Davis and has a vast range of experience in both the vineyard and cellar operations of the wine industry. I’m excited to see what the 2021 harvest brings for At Ease!

Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc

The wine: Lang & Reed 2016 North Coast Cabernet Franc

The place: Lang & Reed tasting room in Saint Helena, CA (can also purchase from their website)

The price: $29

Lang &Reed is about as “family owned and operated” as you can find in the wine world. Started by husband and wife John and Tracey Skupny in 1993, the oenophile couple first started making wine as a passion project that has since become one of the most tasteful and high quality portfolio of wines in Napa Valley. Their business model values the importance of hands-on winemaking, quality wines with minimal intervention (only where necessary), and only using exceptional fruit from growers that they know and trust. You are really tasting the vineyard, grape, and TLC put into these wines.

L&R are a true Loire Valley house, producing prestige cabernet franc and chenin blanc as their two main varietals. The North Coast Cabernet Franc is one of four of their cab francs and as the name suggests, highlights grapes from three different Northern California AVAs: Lake County, Sonoma County, and Napa Valley. The combination of the crisp Pacific air that flows into the Sonoma vineyards and the beautifully rich terroir of the Napa Sugarloaf Mountain make this north coast wine smooth and balanced on both the nose and mouth palates.

The wine has a beautiful garnet hue and is the perfect blend of spice, vegetation, and fruit aromas. It is at first pyraziney on the nose and has a beautiful bouquet of dark fruits such as dark cherry and blackberry on the nose and mouth. Upon tasting, vegetative flavors of fresh green bell pepper and a hint of eucalyptus make themselves known. This wine has a subtle and refined black-pepper spice which compliments the herby and earthiness on the palate.

The North Coast Cabernet Franc’s subtle spice makes it a great wine to pair with a barbecue dinner, spaghetti dish, or roast chicken. If you are interested in adding more cabernet franc to your repertoire, this is definitely the place to start.

April 4, 2020

The wine: Lady of the Sunshine Chêne Vineyards 2018 Pinot Noir

The place: I purchased mine from Jack’s Filling Station in Sonoma. You can find Lady of the Sunshine wines in local wineshops featuring natural producers or at https://www.ladyofthesunshinewines.com/wineshop

The price: $26.99

This producer really does bring the sunshine to a rainy (quarantine) day. This wine is the embodiment of how a pinot should taste – light but full bodied, fruity (cherry, strawberry, cranberry) and floral, delicate and refined. The fruit that Gina Giugni uses to produce this pinot is from Edna Valley in the Central Coast AVA of California. The biodynamic practices that are used to farm this vineyard allow the fruit to truly express itself in the finished wine, especially since this producer focuses on making wine without additives or manipulation. This wine is extremely over-delivering for its price point – I’ve paid significantly more money for California (mostly Napa) pinot noirs that are much less expressive and true-to-form than what a pinot should be. Traditionally, pinot noir is a light, floral and fruity (but not overwhelmingly so!) subtle wine that does not smack you in the face with its profile. You have to be patient when drinking pinot noir in order to find and enjoy all of its intricacies and delicate aromas and flavors. It should be the opposite of a cabernet sauvignon in the way that a cab will hand you its bold flavor profile on a silver platter. This 2018 Lady of the Sunshine pinot noir is very close to wine from the grape’s traditional Burgundian roots which makes it a stellar California find. If you’re not drinking Lady of the Sunshine wine you are missing out!!

This wine is light enough to enjoy alone, and also pairs well with lighter meats such as lamb chops, pork chops, and roasted chicken or any pasta dish. It is a perfectly light spring & summer red that can be enjoyed at any time of day (including at 2pm during shelter-in-place🤭). Happy sipping!

December 2019 in Western Australia

Processed with VSCO with v5 preset

The wine: Stormflower 2017 Shiraz

The place: Stormflower Cellar Door, Margaret River, Western Australia

The price: ~30 AUD

In December of 2019 I visited one of my best friends in Margaret River, the ultimate winter wine paradise. While the vineyards in the Northern Hemisphere are dormant, muddy, and gloomy during the month of December, vines in Australia boast a lush canopy with little green berries on their way to veraison. Margaret River is on the west coast of the continent and is one of the world’s best kept secrets. It is a truly magical place where amazing wines can be tasted and discovered only 10 minutes inland from the beautiful Indian Ocean beaches. Not to mention, there are rolling hills and mountains that have breathtaking views of vines to the coast line. The Stormflower tasting room, and specifically this wine, capture Margaret River’s beauty and poise perfectly. This wine was not your typical Australian shiraz – it was actually closer to a Rhône-style – and had a lighter, smoother body compared to the more bold, tannic mouthfeel of most Australian shiraz wines which is why it stood out to me on this trip.

Stormflower came recommended to us by several cellar door employees at other wineries and was situated in a secret garden getaway, and had a beautiful wooden tasting bar inside the cellar door cottage. Every single wine was delicious – from the 2018 Sparkling Silver Lining to the 2017 Cabernet Shiraz. Stormflower is not as well known as other tasting rooms in Margaret River (Cullen, Voyager, etc.), however it is extremely authentic and homey with spectacular wines that make it definitely worth the visit. Combined with the great hospitality that we had here, this was hands down one of my favorite cellar doors in the Margaret River wine region.

More photos from dreamy Margaret River…

Yallingup beach trail
Delicious lunch at the Vasse Felix Winery restaurant terrace with views of their vineyard
Stormflower tasting room

Rivermouth Beach, Margaret River
Yallingup Beach sunset
Breakfast in North Fremantle Beach, Western Australia

November 28, 2019 (Thanksgiving!)

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

The wine: 2014 Juliénas “Vieilles Vignes” by Domaine Lassagne

The place: Sunshine Foods – Saint Helena, Napa Valley

The price: $32.00

Thanksgiving can be one of the most difficult events to pair with a wine – there are so many different flavors and textures, and the heaping portions leave you sleepy and stuffed. The challenge is to find a wine that is not too overpowering or bold, which pretty much eliminates most California Cabernet Sauvignons. Then you have Pinot Noir, one which many Napa Valley tasting rooms like to boast is the “perfect Thanksgiving wine.” While Pinot is a solid choice for this meal, there is an even better underdog on the scene – Beaujolais. I’m not talking about Beaujolais Nouveau – I mean the true, thousand-year old classically produced Gamay grape that makes the Beaujolais region such a gem of the wine world. When done right, this grape produces a well-balanced, light, and fruity wine with truly velvety tannins that lift you up while gorging on turkey and potatoes instead of bringing you down to the couch (or floor).

The wine I chose for this Thanksgiving was from Juliénas, one of the 10 Beaujolais crus. It was by Domaine Lassagne from “old vines” of the 2014 vintage. This wine was the archetypal Beaujolais – very fruit forward which complemented the cranberry sauce perfectly. It nearly melted the turkey in my mouth, and had the perfect light texture to complement the entire meal which included: turkey, potatoes au gratin, sweet potato casserole, bacon-wrapped Brussels sprouts, steamed green beans, sautéed red cabbage, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. Aesthetically, this wine was easy on the eyes with a tastefully designed label (I love a label with a pop of color) that caught my attention on the shelf. In addition, this wine was decently affordable for being imported from the Beaujolais region itself. This was my first Gamay purchase in the states and it will definitely not be my last!

November 18, 2019

Processed with VSCO with c9 preset Processed with VSCO with s3 preset

The wine: 2018 Honeymoon by Martha Stoumen

The place: Martha Stoumen Wines, local Northern California wine shops

The price: $34.00

“This wine tasted like honey in a glass – it was perfectly round with the most delicate balance of sweetness.”

Every once in a while you find a really special bottle of wine – one that is worth biting the bullet for and paying $20 for shipping for because you won’t find this exact bottle ever again. For me this year that special bottle is the one and only Martha Stoumen’s 2018 Honeymoon. This French Colombard and Chardonnay (?!?!?) blend is straight honey in a glass. Colombard is often looked over and regarded as a “lesser” grape, used in small percentages for blending or fluffing up a wine. On the other hand, the notorious Chardonnay is often found on its own either as White Burgundy or varietelly showcased as the favorite child in Napa Valley (ie “Napa Valley Chardonnay”). However, Honeymoon presents a beautiful side of both grapes that you don’t often see and has a perfectly round mouthfeel with the most delicate balance of sweetness. Upon reading the tasting notes about this wine, I was hesitant to purchase because the 2 grams/liter of residual sugar (due to some botrytized Colombard) sounded like quite a lot for me as a person who doesn’t normally prefer “sweet wines.” However, I tried this wine at the 2019 Wine Call (natural wine event) in San Francisco and I immediately fell into the honeymoon stage and had to buy a bottle of my own before this wine was gone. The sweetness was not overwhelming and was in fact balanced by a full, favorable acid that meshed with the residual sugar to craft a truly beautiful, golden wine.

***Pro tip – Martha Stoumen is a producer who often rotates the wines she is producing depending on the grapes of that vintage, so if you truly love a wine of hers you should buy it when it’s available because it may literally never exist again. Martha (fellow Davis alum) is amazing and definitely worth checking out! Instagram: @marthastoumen

Affordability: 7

Presentability: 10

Aroma: 8

Balance: 10

October 21, 2019

Processed with VSCO with l5 preset

* please excuse my ugly harvest hands/nails.

The wine: Foggy Veil Hillside Selection 2017

The place: Trader Joe’s

The price: $12.99

This wine is a Rhône-style blend from Santa Barbara County. The 2017 vintage saw a wine with 78% Syrah and 22% Grenache (two quintessential Rhône grapes). This wine was green and floral on the nose with tons of red fruit (strawberry, cherry) on the mouth, with smooth and velvety tannins as well. This wine was light but full-bodied – and developed even more after decanting for about 30 minutes to an even more velvety and round mouth feel. Regardless of decanting, this wine carried through to a smooth finish and has bright acidity that balances the fruitiness. For its price, this wine is almost everything you should be looking for in a Rhône varietal blend, and seems to be the perfect harmony of these two icons of the valley. I’ve had Syrah blends from Santa Barbara for $70+, and this wine is comparable with those and is worth every penny. For pairing – A perfect thanksgiving dinner wine and would melt the turkey in your mouth. This wine also goes well with poultry and sautéed veggies.

Affordability: 10

Presentability: 7

Aroma: 6

Balance: 10

October 7, 2019

Processed with VSCO with au5 preset

The wine: FREEDA Rosé Trevenezie

The place: Trader Joe’s

The price: $8.99

A rosé in October? When the weather’s 80°F all week, anything is possible. This rosé from Northeastern Italy is full bodied with huge fruity (peach, strawberry, watermelon) and floral notes. You don’t really find a glass like this at many places that have rosé on the menu. This is almost the opposite of a Provençal-style bottle – and I’m in full support of the change. For this price, this bottle is an ultimate steal from Trader Joe’s and I found it worth every penny. Get it before they swap out their inventory for the season! The occasion: Day or night. Summer, or whenever the weather is sunny and warm. Drink this wine solo or paired with barbecue. The sweetness of BBQ sauce will heighten the fruity aromas in the wine and create a delectable culinary experience! This wine has no vintage.

Affordability: 10

Presentability: 10

Aroma: 10

Balance: 10