You had me at aphrodisiac!

Aphrodisiac Food and Wine Pairing

Working in the wine business, I attend many events. After a while, many start to feel the same. However, at Dutton-Goldfield Winery in the Russian River Valley, which I reviewed previously, the event planners are clearly thinking outside of the box. One such event was their recent Aphrodisiac Food & Wine Pairing Class taught by Master of Gastronomy and author/fourth-generation publisher, Amy Reiley. I was excited, literally and figuratively, when Dutton-Goldfield allowed me to attend the class as a representative of the media.

You may not be as familiar as you should be with Reiley’s name, but I bet you’ve heard of some of her cookbooks such as Fork Me, Spoon Me: The Sensual Cookbook and Romancing the Stove, both of which attendees received as part of the class. She is also the founder of Life of Reiley, a boutique publishing company for culinary professionals, and the creator of EatSomethingSexy.

Amy Reiley teaching us about aphrodisiac foods

Attendees of the class were couples except me. Such is the life of a single girl. Regardless, I had a fantastic time and met a lovely couple with whom I shared a table. The wife was from my hometown of Asheville. Small world.

The class consisted of four food and wine pairings, with the recipes being from Reiley’s cookbooks and the wines from Dutton-Goldfield, of course. Chef and Innkeeper Larry Willis of the The Gables Wine Country Inn prepared the food.

As we proceeded through the pairings, Reiley explained to us what makes a food or drink an aphrodisiac. It is typically a food or drink that offers long-term health benefits, such as nutrients our bodies require and/or something that is good for cardiovascular health and blood flow. A few examples include honey (the nutricious nectar of Aphrodite), crabmeat (high protein, low fat), avocado (healthy fat, vitamin E), and oysters (zinc). Aphrodisiacs also often impart immediate physiological effects, as do wine, chile peppers, and ginger, for example. Now about those delectable pairings…

Honey Carrot Soup and 2015 Chileno Valley Vineyard Riesling

Pairing #1: Honey Carrot Soup and 2015 Chileno Valley Vineyard Riesling, Marin County
One of the reason’s I love Dutton-Goldfield is because of the beautiful Alsatian-style wines they produce. The riesling’s lively acidity and citrus and stone fruit flavors tamed the sweetness of the soup ever so gently, as well as cleansed my palate for every sumptuous spoonful.

Afternoon Delight Crab Salad and 2014 Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Chardonnay

Pairing #2: Afternoon Delight Crab Salad and 2014 Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Chardonnay, Green Valley of Russian River Valley
As as some of you may know, I am not typically a fan of California chardonnay, but this pairing left me wanting more in every way. This cool-climate chardonnay was luscious, yet also bright. Combined with the salinity of the crab and capers, the creaminess of the avocado, and the textured crunchiness of the apples, this was my aphrodisiac moment of the class. I took tiny bites and sips to prolong the deliciousness. I brought home two bottles of the chardonnay and I’m ready to make this crab salad for someone special. Oh, yes.

White Truffle Scented Wild Mushroom Risotto and 2014 McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir

Pairing #3: White Truffle Scented Wild Mushroom Risotto and 2014 McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview
This was the first rice recipe I’ve eaten in over five months. Oh, my. The velvety risotto coated my mouth, while the intensity and earthiness of this pinot noir gave way to sensual euphoria. This, my second favorite pairing, felt like comfort food, like home, and I imagined curling up beside someone and sharing this exquisite pairing together in front of a warm, crackling fire.

Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pork Albondigas and 2014 Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir

Pairing #4: Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pork Albondigas and 2014 Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir, Marin County
You had me at pork and pinot noir from the same farm, no less, right out of the gate! I mean, how could one go wrong? The acidity of the wine and sauce was a match made in heaven. And this pinot noir, for goodness sake, showed layers and layers of vibrant berry fruit and complex spices for days. I didn’t want this pairing to end.

As we progressed through the class, which I was sad to see end so quickly, I thought often about my Fit Body Boot Camp meal plan, which isn’t just good for me and has helped me lose lots of weight in just over five months (52 pounds as I type this!), but also contains many aphrodisiac foods. Now that’s a slam dunk: great health, improved body shape and image, AND increased libido. Now if only I could find someone with whom to try some of these recipes and wines…



Dutton-Goldfield Winery

2013 Cherry Ridge Vineyard Dutton Ranch Syrah
2013 Cherry Ridge Vineyard Dutton Ranch Syrah

Once you visit Dutton-Goldfield Winery in the Russian River Valley, you understand the significance of the phrase ‘cool climate’ with regard to winegrowing and winemaking. It is indeed quite chilly in the mornings, with moderating breezes throughout the day. I must confess that if I were not living in the Napa Valley, I would love to call Sebastapol and the Russian River Valley home.

Savoring the Sweet Life!



Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in DolceVita Safari’s first Sonoma Day Camp. I had previewed the itinerary on my blog a few weeks ago. Now it’s time for the scoop.

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The day of the event could not have been more beautiful, sunny and breezy. We began at Tin Barn Vineyards, which is one of Sonoma’s Eighth Street wineries. We were greeted by winemaker and co-owner, Michael Lancaster, and the director of communications and operations, Amy Bess Cook, whom I had met five years ago at the 2011 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. Tin Barn Vineyards wines were part of our swag bag that year.

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Amy poured for us two vintages of their Joon Rosé of Syrah, paired with Melon Skewers with prosciutto and mint and Smoked Salmon crepe, egg, red onion, dill, and capers, all provided by the Girl and the Fig’s Suite D. I’m fairly confident I can say that the skewers were our favorite. We also tasted their Hi Vista Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.

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Michael then led us into their barrel room for a tasting of their Coryelle Fields Syrah in different barrel types, to show everyone the difference a barrel can make with regard to aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel. Returning to the tasting room, we tasted additional vintages of the syrah – 2005, 2011, and 2012 – paired with mini quiche Lorraine with bacon. They had me at bacon and I really didn’t want to leave. And in fact, we didn’t leave immediately, as they poured us tastes of more of their wines such as their Desnudos Merlot and Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Mind you, this was all before noon. What a start!

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Our next stop was Stone Edge Farm Winery and Vineyards with a tour led by sales and marketing director, Dorothe Cicchetti. I didn’t know this until the day of the event, but the farm and part of their estate vineyards are located on the owners’ private property. Leslie and Mac McQuown purchased this land in 1995 and in 2004, along with winemaker, Jeff Baker, and organic viticulturist, Phil Coturri, created the organically-farmed Stone Edge Farm. The farm produces wine, fruits, vegetables, olives, herbs, chicken, and even beehives. I must admit I felt both strange and special roaming around someone’s private property. I knew that this was a visit that not many people have the opportunity to experience.

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After our farm tour, we traveled to Edge in downtown Sonoma, which is the culinary home of Stone Edge Farm, to enjoy a three-course, farm-to-table lunch prepared by culinary director and chef John McReynolds, who was there to not only cook for us, but walk us through each of the courses, while Dorothe told us about the three accompanying wines. What made this meal exceptional (besides the chef!) was enjoying the produce we saw growing on the farm. Lunch was nothing short of fantastic and included:

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A spring salad of lettuces, asparagus, leeks, radishes, and burrata (cheese) paired with the 2014 Stone Edge Farm Sauvignon Blanc

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Sonoma lamb with potato rosti and ember-cooked vegetables, roasted morel mushrooms with red wine and green garlic butter, paired with the 2012 Stone Edge Farm Surround (Bordeaux-style red blend) and the 2011 Stone Edge Farm Cabernet Sauvignon

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Almond cake, Watmaugh strawberries, rhubarb compote, crème chantilly, and strawberry sorbet

The salad was the best I’ve ever had, quite frankly. The Sonoma lamb course paired perfectly with both wines, although my favorite was Surround, which sees less time in a smaller percentage of new French oak, allowing the wine to demonstrate intensity of red and black fruits with a softer mouthfeel and approachable tannin structure. For a brief time, we did indeed live life deliciously in the company of Stone Edge Farm.

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After our amazing lunch, we traveled a short distance to The Donum Estate in the Carneros AVA of Sonoma, where we were joined by two more group members and our host for the visit, Laura Micciche. The Donum Estate, led by president and winegrower Anne Moller-Racke since 2001, is a producer of one Estate Carneros Chardonnay and multiple, single-vineyard pinot noirs from 70 acres of vines at the estate in Carneros, the 16-acre Winside Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, and Angel Camp Vineyard in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County.

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Laura poured for us a glass of the Carneros Chardonnay and led us on a brief tour of the property, which includes magnificent art curated and brought to the winery by its investors. The tour ended at the barn, which, by the way, opens to a splendid view of Carneros vineyards. We sat at a long table tasting the menu of the day, which included four of their premium pinot noirs. As we tasted each, it seemed as if each one were better than the next, although all of them were beautiful expressions of their single-vineyard sources.

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The day concluded with a focus group meeting, this being the first Sonoma Day Camp. During the discussion, I discovered that at least four of the participants did not consider themselves to be very knowledgable about wine, but enjoyed immensely the day that they described as immersive, a breath of fresh air, a conversation about wine, and like being at a friend’s house. I told them that analyzing wine doesn’t mean anything, really. What is most important is did you like it, not the why or what you tasted (or didn’t taste). I hoped I was able to reassure them that at the end of the day, it is the experience, the happy feeling, the enjoyment of a day spent with new friends, that ultimately matters. Life is too short to not savor the sweet life. Viva la dolce vita!

*For more information about DolceVita Safari and its off-the-beaten path excursion options, please visit their website! *

2012 MacLaren Atoosa’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Syrah

The 2012 and 2013 MacLaren Atoosa's Vineyard Syrahs
The 2012 and 2013 MacLaren Atoosa's Vineyard Syrahs
The 2012 and 2013 MacLaren Atoosa’s Vineyard Syrahs

The choice for my latest Snooth contribution was automatic and without hesitation: the 2012 MacLaren Atoosa’s Vineyard Syrah, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. I fell in love with this syrah a couple of years ago. After publishing this, winemaker Steve Law confessed that he made this syrah for himself and it’s his “wine geek” syrah. That’s why it’s right up my alley. Enjoy reading about this syrah and the rest of list of suggestions from my wine writing peers. Oh, and stay tuned for an upcoming review of MacLaren Tasting Lounge on


Trousseau Gris: New To Me

#MWWC, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge
#MWWC, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

A few years ago, I became a member of the Wine Century Club, which requires that one taste wines made from 100 different grape varieties. I was new to wine and became fanatical about buying and tasting atypical varietal wines. One variety that did not make my first 100 list was trousseau gris, a relatively unknown grape variety that thrives in cool climates. A mutation of trousseau noir, trousseau gris is believed to have originated in the Alsace-Lorraine area of eastern France. Today, along with trousseau noir, it is one of a few varieties produced in the Jura wine region of France located between Burgundy and Switzerland, along with chardonnay, pinot noir, poulsard, and savagnin. In the past, trousseau gris, known as grey riesling, was more widely found in California until it waned in popularity. Today in California, it is only available from a 40-year-old, 10-acre vineyard block, the organically-farmed Fanucchi Wood Road Vineyard in the Russian River Valley appellation of Sonoma County.

The Century Club Seal (
The Century Club Seal (

A few producers in California, such as Jolie-Laide, Two Shepherds, Wind Gap, and Zeitgeist, have rediscovered this rare grape and sourced it from Fanucchi. My friend, winemaker and owner Cynthia (Cindy) Cosco of Passaggio Wines, whose wines I have reviewed previously, told me that trousseau gris had been on her radar for a while, but she was unable to acquire any of the fruit. Finally in 2015, she had the opportunity to purchase a ton of this trousseau gris and she seized it. For those who are not familiar with Cindy’s wines, she is primarily known for her whites and rosés produced in stainless steel, along with a few reds produced in neutral oak, so trousseau gris was an ideal addition to her portfolio.

First Draft of the Tasting List
First Draft of the Tasting List

I had the opportunity to taste the 2015 Passaggio Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley ($31, Stelvin closure), Sunday, February 28, before its release next month. I tasted it along with Cindy’s upcoming and current releases to assist her in ordering the wines by aroma and flavor for the new tasting menu. The spring lineup of wines is fantastic, but I was particularly intrigued by the trousseau gris, as this would a new grape for me. It would be my first taste. The grapes were harvested August 24, 2015 at 24.5 brix, another early harvest in Sonoma County due to a warm, dry growing season. As soon as the grapes arrived at the winery, they were gently pressed, with no prolonged skin contact. The juice settled overnight and later was racked off gross lees. The juice was cold fermented and the wine aged in stainless steel for approximately five months, with bottling taking place February 20, 2016. Only 48 cases were produced.

2015 Passaggio Wines Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley
2015 Passaggio Wines Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley

The 2015 vintage in Sonoma County produced less fruit, but offered tiny, concentrated berries, which makes this trousseau gris pop with perfumed aromatics and intense flavors. Pale yellow in the glass, this wine is fragrant, textured, and spicy, reminiscent of gewürztraminer. Complex fruit flavors run the gamut from citrus to stone to tropical fruits, including a mélange of apricot, grapefruit, melon, white peach, and tangerine. This wine also showcases the minerality of Fanucchi’s unique terroir and exhibits cool-climate acidity. I immediately imagined this pairing well with spicy Asian cuisine.

Tasting the Passaggio Wines Spring 2016 Wine Lineup
Tasting the Passaggio Wines Spring 2016 Wine Lineup

I tasted many wines that day, including the new rosés, merlot and tempranillo, as well as Passaggio’s first chenin blanc and familiar favorites, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc. The trousseau gris found its place near the end of the new tasting menu of spring wines due to its sheer power on nose and palate and its uncommon and noteworthy expression. Sunday, February 28, 2016 will remain in my memory as the day I finally tasted trousseau gris, a new grape for me and maybe for many of you, too. I am excited for the official release on Saturday, April 2, 2016.

*This post is my entry for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #23, #MWWC23, as described by wine writer Jeff Kralik of The Drunken Cyclist at this link. Voting begins Tuesday, March 8 and ends Monday, March 14. You may vote at this link. Thank you for reading and for your support of wine writers.*