Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and you’re being barraged with reminders. Reminders to buy jewelry. Get flowers. Pair chocolate with wine.
Before you rush out and grab your favorite bottle of Cultivar and box of local artisan chocolates or truffles, stop. Not all chocolate and wine is a match made in heaven. (If you’re unsure, finish your wine before sampling your chocolate.)
Between the wine and the chocolate you are looking for a balance of sweetness, fruit, and acidity. To help you achieve this balance, there are a couple of general guidelines to keep in mind.
Truly successful matches go beyond these guidelines.
What are the exact characteristics of a successful match? It depends; it’s a matter of personal taste. Some feel chocolate never pairs with wine. I believe it’s not that straightforward, and matches can only be found through experimentation. When pairing wine with chocolates, I look first to the aromas I’m inhaling when I first raise my glass. Then I think about the nuanced flavors I’m tasting.
Interested in learning more about the art of chocolate and wine pairing? Check out the three-part series on The Nibble: Part 1 – Introduction; Part II – Pairing Chart; and Hosting a Chocolate Tasting Party.
If you want a memorable bite, try one or all of these three pairings.
Rose is the perfect Spring wine. For Valentine’s Day, our 2014 Cultivar Napa Valley Rose is a great way to start your evening, light and crisp with just the right balance of tart cranberry and hint of strawberry.
Why this pairing works: The interplay between cranberry and strawberry notes is why our 2014 Cultivar Napa Valley Rose pairs with a Peanut Butter and Strawberry chocolate. The fresh strawberry jam in the chocolate brings the strawberry notes of the wine to center stage while the creamy peanut butter softens the sweetness of the milk chocolate with its saltiness for a soft finish.
Our 2013 Cultivar Napa Valley Rose (currently only available in keg), on the other hand, which is sweeter than our 2014 vintage, paired with a Candy Cane chocolate. This unusual pairing worked because organic candy canes were crushed into Strauss cream, organic butter, and white chocolate. The peppermint accented the strawberry notes while the cream coated the mouth and balanced the wine’s crisp finish.
A wine for scotch drinkers is how our 2013 Cultivar Oak Knoll District Chardonnay has been described. This characteristic is why when chilled you can enjoy with an Old Fashioned Chocolate which is a combination of single barrel bourbon, Fee Brothers bitters, a twist of orange all blended into Solstice Madagascar chocolate.
Why this pairing works: Our 2013 Cultivar Oak Knoll District Chardonnay, fermented in neutral oak barrels, delivers fruit on the nose and hints of baking spices that finishes with caramel and brown butter. These apple, pear, and melon notes in the wine balance the bitters and hint of orange in the chocolate for a richer experience. Where alone the wine has a delicate finish, the single barrel bourbon in the chocolate intensifies the wine’s caramel finish and adds a touch of oakiness.
At first glance, our last pairing looks as if the caramel might be sweeter than the wine. It’s not. Passion fruit is a tad bit sweet and yet also slightly sour. It is this contradiction that makes this match complementing the structure of our 2011 Cultivar Leaky Lake Cabernet Sauvignon.
Why this pairing works: On your inhale, nutmeg and cinnamon tantalize with a hint of mocha and cedar. These aromas scream for caramel and passion fruit. The Passion Fruit caramel combines these flavors into a creamy decadent bite that’s slightly bittersweet. Because the chocolate isn’t overly sweet and the flavors are those present in the 2011 Cultivar Leaky Lake Cabernet Sauvignon you have a match made in heaven.
Which ever way you enjoy your chocolate and your wine--together or separately, have fun this Valentine’s! Jot down notes about what you like as well as what you dislike. Then, the next time you’re standing in front of a chocolate counter pick up a few more to try.
Want to be daring while reducing the likelihood of a mismatch? Check out The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Simply find the wine you’re trying to match, for example Cabernet Sauvignon, and see what fruit flavors or dessert ingredients work with it, for example strawberries. (If there’s no fruit or dessert ingredient such as butter or cream, start with one of the aromas or one of the flavors on your palette that you experience with the wine.) Then look up strawberries (or the other fruit).
What chocolates do you enjoy with your Cultivar Wine?
We love a good celebration, and just because the holidays are over doesn’t mean the toasting has to stop. Keep the toasting going past the holidays and create a new tradition: a late January tasting party.
And right now is the perfect time to explore three Napa Valley Appellations through a horizontal wine tasting. We have three 2012 Cabernet Sauvignons available: 2012 Cultivar Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2012 Cultivar Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wondering what is a horizontal wine tasting? It’s when you select one varietal for a tasting of the same vintage from different appellations. This is a great introduction to the nuances imparted into the wines by the land.
Before the tasting, decant all of the wines you've chosen. We recommend about an hour to two hours for our St. Helena and Rutherford and just a touch longer for our Howell Mountain.
While the wines are decanting, set out three glasses per person (eighteen for a party of six people) that way everyone can compare the color of the wines as well as the legs before tasting. Be sure to mark the wine glasses ahead of time with color-coordinated Washi tape or letterpress coasters.
Once the wines are decanted, pour at least four ounces of each wine into everyone's glasses. Be careful not to overfill the wine glasses. You want everyone to be able to easily swirl the wine without fear of it splashing out of the glass. Swirling doesn't just look cool. It serves a purpose: swirling releases the aromas and coats the glass with them. Let the wines breathe for a few minutes before inviting guests to begin.
Once your guests are seated and have their wines in front of them it's time to begin tasting. Lead them through the steps for sampling the first wine. The following steps are conveniently included this tasting sheet that you can download and print for your guests.
As the host, you can decide whether you want to share the appellations ahead of time or have your guests guess. Our tasting sheet has general notes for tasting wines on the front and tasting notes for each of our 2012 Cabernet Sauvignons on the back. If your guests are Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon aficionados, testing how well they know their appellations can be fun. Simply print the tasting sheet on two pages and hand out the tasting notes after all guests have noted their picks.
When you first look at your glass note whether the wine is clear and bright. It should be. Is the color light? Medium? or Dark and opaque? Look at the wines next to each other and record any differences you see.
It's often said that you can tell a good wine by the thickness of its legs (the drips or tears that run down the inside of your wine glass after you swirl it). This is a myth, but the legs do reveal properties of your wine. Thick, slow moving legs mean your wine is heavy in alcohol and body. It will probably taste full and very rich. Delicate wines with less alcohol will have harder to see legs.
Swirl each wine and compare the legs of each. Record any differences you see on your tasting sheet.
Swirl your wine to coat your glass with the aromas of your wine and hold up your glass to your nose. You're looking for notes that will reveal where your wine came from. Some appellations are known for sour red-cherry notes where others are known for black currants. With complex wines you may not smell all the nuances in your first whiff.
There are 88 common aromas. On the provided tasting sheet we've identified eight common types of aromas: floral, spicy, fruity, vegetative, nutty, caramelized, woody, and earthy. An aroma wheel may help your guests identify what they're smelling.
Now the part you've been waiting for: the taste! As you sip and swish the wine in your mouth you're looking at its acidity: is it tart or acidic? Is it interesting? If you ponder a wine trying to discern what you're tasting it's a sign of a complex wine.
What's the finish like? Is it long or short? Elegant or harsh. Do you want more after you finish your sip?
Be sure to clear your palate in between each wine. In addition to lots of water, wine crackers are great to have on hand. Because they're flat, they don't impart any flavor to your next taste.
For six people, we like to have three bottles of each of the wines we’re pouring. For a horizontal tasting of all three of our 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, that's nine bottles total. This gives everyone enough wine to sample as well as being able to enjoy their preferred wine with the meal.
Remember that you receive 15% off wines when you order 12 or more bottles. So if a horizontal tasting sounds appealing, stock up and take advantage of the savings.
We are excited to announce the availability of our 2012 Cultivar Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which we bottled this past August. This is our second offering from the Howell Mountain Appellation, one of the first regions in Napa Valley to gain American Viticultural Area (AVA) status.
And right now with the cold, grey weather the Bay Area is experiencing, I’m really enjoying the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. For me, it’s the perfect wine to curl up with and savor. Why? Because thanks to its balanced acidity and sugar and long finish, the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is great on its own or with food!
Our winemaster, Julien has advised that the Howell Mountain will age for another 10 years, but I’m having a hard time saving it. Lately, it’s my wine of choice to serve before heading out to dinner or a party.
Our 2012 Cultivar Howell Mountain is beautiful to look at with its rich, dark, smokey purple color. Once you stop staring and bring it up to your nose, you’ll smell cassis, currant, and blackberries. When you taste the wine, your palette is hit with these powerful fruits as well as more subtle notes of cedar and wood smoke and hints of truffles, licorice, and espresso. The distinct long finish and smooth tannins demands a leisurely pace. This is not a wine you want to open if you’re rushed for time. If you’re not already dreaming of mountain cabins and the outdoors, you should be. What I tell my friends is that if they like Mountain fruit they will love this wine as much as I do. One sip and I’m imagining myself seated in front of a roaring fire staring out at snow kissed slopes or fire pit overlooking the ocean.
For best results serve the wine at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit, just below room temperature. Depending where you store your wines, you may need to bring your wine up to temperature. If your wines are stored at room temperature, you may want to tuck them into the refrigerator for about twenty minutes before serving and use an aerator pour spout to decant if having just a glass. Before enjoying I then let them sit for a few minutes to breathe.
To truly appreciate the Howell Mountain you'll want to enjoy it in one of the Riedel wine glasses made specifically for red wine. The shape of the glass allows the wine to breathe. If your wine is below the optimal drinking temperature, you'll be able to use your hands to slowly warm it.
Because the Howell Mountain is so drinkable now and only 148 cases were produced, we expect it to sell out quickly like our first offering did. (We have many Cultivar and Caspar customers who needed to restock or missed out on last year’s offering lined up for this release.) Don’t delay and pick up a few bottles for enjoying today as well as a few for your cellar.
Purchase your Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon now. Bottle $72 / $57.60 Wine Club; Case $734 / $691 Wine Club
The Howell Mountain AVA is located on the Northeast side of the Napa Valley within the Vaca Range near the town of Angwin, overlooking the town of St. Helena. The boundaries of the AVA are dictated by vineyard land located at elevations of at least 1,400 feet. Often you will see photos of the cabernet sauvignon vineyards on Howell Mountain with the fog filling the Napa Valley below.
We were drawn to Howell Mountain for its unique nutrient poor soils, the decomposed volcanic ash called ‘tufa’ and the red clay that is naturally high in iron. The soil types found in the Howell Mountain appellation stress the vines planted there. The result of this stress is that the vines produce lower yields than other appellations. But these lower yields have fruit that is consistently intense in flavor with balanced acidity and sugar and a unique minerality from the volcanic ash.
Prior to Prohibition in the United States, Howell Mountain was best known for its Zinfandel. Now the slopes of Howell Mountain are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. When you try our 2012 Cultivar Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon we’re sure you’ll see why we chose grapes from Howell Mountain and why we can’t wait to share our wine.
Because of the fruit’s balanced acid and sugar, you may be tempted to drink it now. (Be sure to stock up so that you have some left in your cellar to enjoy as the wine ages.)
The 2012 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is best paired with juicy steaks and hearty stews. For the holidays, it is the perfect complement to your standing rib roast.
This year has flown by! We’re excited that harvest is over, and we're looking forward to gathering with our family and friends to give thanks.
As you get ready to join your family and friends around the table, we wanted to share some of our favorite red wine pairings for smoked turkey. (Come back next Wednesday for tips on how much wine to have on hand!)
2012 Cultivar Oak Knoll District Cabernet Franc, with its sweet black cherry, plum, and blueberries with hints of vanilla and Asian spices, will leave your guests talking when you serve it up with either a curried pumpkin or sweet potato soup as your first course.
Or be a little daring and pair it with dessert. May we recommend a pecan pie or a rich pumpkin pie?
2012 Cultivar Oak Knoll District Cabernet Franc: Case $530 / $500 Wine Club
2011 Cultivar Phoenix Ranch Syrah, with its blueberry, black currant, and plum fruit, offers the perfect counterpoint to a smoked jalapeño turkey.
We especially love it with mushroom and sausage stuffing.
2011 Cultivar Phoenix Ranch Syrah: Case $571 / $537 Wine Club
2012 Cultivar Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, with its ripe black currant, plum, and dark cherry with a hint of vanilla, violets, and warm spices, softens the tartness in some cranberry sauces.
Tired of canned cranberry sauce? Try your hand at a Cabernet-cranberry sauce with figs. Your guests will thank you.
2012 Cultivar Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Case $286 / $269 Wine Club
What better way to spend a Saturday than being surrounded by our wine club members and friends enjoying delicious food and drinking fabulous Cultivar wines? And a couple of Saturdays ago, that's exactly what we did!
After a quick headcount, we left overcast San Francisco in search of the sun, which we found just on the north side of the Rainbow Tunnel in Marin County. While on the bus, guests enjoyed our 2013 Cultivar Napa Valley Rose (currently sold out in bottles, but still available in kegs).
At Balboa Cafe, situated in downtown historic Mill Valley, we introduced our September 2014 wine club selections. There on the outside patio while sampling our wines, we enjoyed light bites styled by executive chef, Rick Edge, and live music by Tom Rhodes.
The light bites provided by PlumpJack Catering that we enjoyed were:
To learn more about the pairings, some classic and some others daring, check out our Food Pairings for Our September 2014 Wine Club Selections where we break the matches down for you.
Be sure to check out our Facebook page for more photos from the event. Also, if you'd like to hear about further upcoming events in San Francisco and Wine Country, be sure to like our page. In addition to news about events, you'll get behind the scenes peeks into how we make our wines along with recipes and pairing tips for entertaining in your home.
We have two brand new releases going out in this month’s wine club shipment that we think you’re going to enjoy. If you’re not in our wine club, now is the time to join because we have some great wines to share with you... just in time for those cooler nights when red wine sounds oh so right.
First, our 2012 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon. This is our first release from the St. Helena appellation, where the temperatures run about 4 to 5 degrees warmer than in Napa. This rise in temperature results in wine with richer, more concentrated flavors. Ours has wonderful aromas of cassis, plum and vanilla with beautiful yet subtle floral notes. On the palate, ripe fruit flavors are balanced with great tannins. This wine will age well for 7 to 10 years and will go perfectly with a delicious grilled steak.
Also a new release is our 2011 Leaky Lake Cabernet. The grapes for this wine grow in the Leaky Lake Vineyard, located on top of the Mayacamas Mountain Range. Bright red in color, this wine has incredibly enticing aromas of wild blueberries and cherries that seem to leap from the glass, followed by notes of spice, pepper, cedar and mocha. The palate reveals fruit-forward characteristics with dark cherry fruit flavors, smooth tannins and a lengthy finish. Decanting allows the wine’s complex flavors to shine now, but it will also age gracefully for the next 2 to 7 years.
For those of you who made it to our ‘Cultivar Wine Club & Friends’ happy hour event last week, I’m sure you can agree that it was a fun evening of wine, food and great conversation. More photos from the Mikkeller Bar are below, along with what we served to pair with our wines on tap. See which wines worked with certain menu items and why!
Even if you didn’t make it, you can still grab a bottle of your favorite Cultivar wine and test out your own food and wine pairings. You never know what perfect pairing you might find. And be sure to look out for details on our next event later this week on the blog.
Endive Cups with pine nuts, blue cheese and apples
Salt Cod Croquets with dill, parsley and lemon garnish
Why it worked: Sauv Blanc is a light-to-medium bodied white with green and citrusy notes. A natural pairing for salads, herbs (like dill and parsley) as well as lemony flavors, it also goes well with oily foods (like the herb/oil marinated olives). Yum!
2013 Rosé -
Salt Cod Croquets with dill, parsley and lemon garnish
Lil’ Smokies wrapped in bacon with Smoky BBQ
Why it worked: Rosé is one of those awesome wines that work with a lot of foods. Ours is crisp, minerally and delicate enough to pair with light foods yet big enough in body to withstand bolder foods like bacon and fried food. A tiny hint of sweetness helps cut through the smoky flavors of the bacon and bbq sauce as well as the saltiness of the cod.
Lil’ Smokies wrapped in bacon with Smoky BBQ
Why it worked: Cab Franc and pork work well together, because both are more medium in weight (as opposed to a hefty Cab paired with a giant steak). Our 2012 Cab Franc has notes of pepper, tobacco and spice, which complemented the smoked, spicy flavors of the Lil’ Smokies.
Pork & Garlic sausage in puff pastry
Why it worked: Full-bodied and big on tannins, Cabernet can withstand bigger, fattier meats and sausages. The rich pastry and garlic-y pork sausage seemed to pair nicely with our rich and structured Cabernet. With wines big on tannins, it’s best to avoid spicy foods - so the Lil’ Smokies would work with the Cab if you omitted the spicy BBQ sauce.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks around the winery. We’re getting ready for a fun wine and food happy hour event in San Francisco AND we’ve been bottling new vintages of your favorite wines. It wouldn't be summer if we weren't a little busy, right? All fun things, though.
Just recently, we spent the day bottling the 2012 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - 148 cases to be exact! If you were fortunate to try the 2011 vintage, you’ll know that this best selling wine is known for its big, elegant tannins and ripe plum and spicy black currant flavors. We have no doubts that our 2012 will be just as delicious, if not better!
Check out the photos from bottling day.
Bottles going through the machine.
It’s already August (where does the time go?!) but that doesn’t mean we’re not taking full advantage of summer and celebrating all the good things that are happening around us …like sunshine, picnics, bottling, and celebrating exciting Cultivar news!
The Fifty Best recently held a blind tasting of Napa Valley Cabernets in the $25-$55 price range. We’re happy to share that our 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet took home a silver medal in this “Best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon” competition!
The Fifty Best is an award-winning online guide to fine living, featuring rated lists and tasting awards based on a panel of wine/spirit professionals and connoisseurs. For this competition, a panel of 16 pre-qualified judges tasted the 27 contending wines and evaluated each individually using a 1-5 point scoring system, with 5 being the most satisfactory. Medals were awarded based on a set range of final point scores, and we’re thrilled that our NV Cab was so well-received!
Have you tried our 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet yet? It has the chops to stand up to pricier $50 bottles but is in a much more affordable price bracket (at $28, it’s a steal for California Cabernets). The grapes were sourced from St. Helena, Howell Mountain and Rutherford sub-appellations, which are all high-quality regions (and 2012 just so happened to be a fantastic harvest!). The wine was aged for 12 months in oak, resulting in an incredibly aromatic and bright wine, with sweet tannins and refined structure. A touch of new oak comes through on the nose with hints of vanilla and warm spices, complemented by dark fruit, violets and tobacco. On the palate, the wine is rich with ripe dark cherry and plum, rounded out with an elegant finish with a touch of herbaceousness. A great addition to your wine collection - at a fantastic price! Cheers.
You've heard of beer in kegs, but have you heard of the newer trend of wine in kegs? Wines on tap seem to be popping up in wine bars all over the nation, but is this a trend that will last? I bet so. Cultivar has actually been producing several varietals in kegs since its start, as the wines were originally targeted for by-the-glass programs in restaurants and bars. A keg of wine actually holds 26 ½ bottles - more than two cases! - think of how many bottles of wine are saved right there. And, since the kegs are reusable, they’re cost effective and ‘green,’ creating less waste. Just like wineries are tending to gravitate toward screw caps to eliminate cork taint or oxidation, kegs preserve the wine, allowing consumers to get a better glass of wine at a restaurant every time (no 3 day old opened bottle for you!).
Of course, making wine for a steel keg will change the way a wine is made in most cases. Wine on tap is designed to be consumed within roughly 90 days of being ‘packaged,’ so the winemaker may produce the wine with more fruit-forward characteristics and less structure (aka less tannins since the wines will not be aged).
So which wines can you find of Cultivar’s on tap? The 2013 Rosé, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2011 and 2012 Napa Cabernet! I recently enjoyed the Sauv Blanc on tap at a wine bar in Southern California… refreshing and perfect for summer!
Don’t you think it’s time to forget the beers on tap and head straight for a freshly poured glass of wine? I'm in! Cheers.
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