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Chris Rota (Resident Wine Expert)

ROTA's RAMBLINGS ON WINE: Who Is That Masked Man?

Some of us can remember that old, black and white TV show that was framed in Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Opera. As Tanto might say, “Kemosabi, that was the The Lone Ranger”.  Since then, a new “Ranger” has appeared on the scene – Randall Graham of the Bonnie Doon Winery in Santa Cruz County. He believed that the sub tropical, semi arid climate of California provided ideal growing conditions for Rhone grape varietals just as it does in the Rhone Valley.  He caught the cover of The Wine Spectator, pictured with a black cowboy hat and a black mask in 1989 when he was known as The Rhone Ranger.  He was instrumental in bringing California grown Rhone varietals to the American wine scene.

Our last two Ramblings dealt with Rhone Valley varietals; namely Syrah in the Northern Rhone with its Continental climate and Petite Sirah (a Syrah hybrid) from the southern, more Mediterranean environs of the Valley. (See Blog “Che Sara – Sara” and “Che Sara - Petit Sirah.) This article will embrace Grenache and Mourvedre and conclude our Rhone Ramblings.  In other words, ‘nuff said, already. 

There are over 20 grapes allowed and grown in the Rhone Appellation, most of which are completely foreign or at least little known even to dedicated enophiles.  Are you ready for this?

White Grapes:  Viognier, Rosanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Vermentino, Picpoule Blanc and Bourbulenc

Red Grapes:  Grenache (Noir), Grenache Gris, Mourvedre, Picpoul, Terret Noir, Connoise, Muscardin,Vaccarose, Picardin, Cinsault, and Caragnane.


Out of all these potential blends and possibilities, there are three signature grapes:  Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre.  These are the main varieties used in the famous wines of Chateauneuf du Pape as well as V. Sattui’s Entanglement.  The Industry buzz word for this blend is “GSM” (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, usually in this descending order) and definitely not to be confused with MSG!!  It’s a classic blend with each varietal infusing its characteristics.  Grenache provides a base of power and lush, fullness.  Syrah gives the wine structure and grace with a hint of pepper in the finish.  Mourvedre lends an inky color along with cracked black pepper, gamey meat, spice and scented black fruit.  Unmistakable qualities 

V. Sattui Winery Entanglement (not to be confused with Entrapment) showcases this classic blend beautifully.  Importantly, it’s a Field Blend; that is, the grapes were picked and blended and then fermented together in the same tank.  This is the way many Rhone Wines are handled and it is also an ancient, time-honored process widely practiced in the South of France.  There is enzymatic activity that takes place without the presence of alcohol which contributes greatly to the resulting symphony of flavors.  In fact, V. Sattui Members can buy this blend out of the barrel as Futures and the 2015 Vintage will be released later this month.

VSW Entanglement 2012 is a blend of 51% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre which was later tweaked by 10% Petite Sirah, 2% Malbec, and  2% Alicante Bouchet.  This is a lovely blend with a lushness on the palate, and a body similar to Zinfandel.  It exudes layers of flavor beginning with pomegranate and then evolving into barbecuing, smoky meats, bacon and sweet, dried herbs finishing with licorice and a subtle bite of black pepper.  WHEW!!! That was a nose and mouthful.

I will show you later how Entanglement (and a Chateauneuf du Pape blend) pairs with food as opposed to Grenache and Mourvedre alone.

Grenache originated in Spain where it is called Garnacha and over time, it has become the most widely planted variety on the planet.  Grenache is second only to Shiraz (the exact same grape as Syrah) in Australian acreage.  It grows in Sicily, and neighboring Calabria and on the Island of Sardinia where it is called Cannonau.  It even grows across the sea in Algeria and Moracco.  Back in France and beyond the Rhone, it grows in Roussillon, Languedoc and Provence where it enjoys 3000 hours of sunlight to ripen and ripen and ripen.  As the vines acquire an age of “wisdom” they even control their own fruit production.

There are two Appellations in Roussillon – Maury in the north and Banyuls in the south near the Spanish border - which produce a VDN mostly from

Grenache (Minimum of 75%).  VDN is Vin Doux Naturel (Vahn Duh Nah-tur-EL) which is a wine that is “fortified” with a high proof grape distillate stopping its fermentation and rendering a tasty, grapy dessert wine of 15 to 15.5% alcohol.  The wines are aged in oak barrels – some in the southern sun to give them a nutty rancio flavor similar to Sherry – for up to 30 months.  Very tasty and a nice surprise on a Tapas bar.  

There is an appellation just across the Rhone River from Chateauneuf du Pape called Tavel where only Grenache grows and only Rose is made.  Grenache grapes are more red than they are black and they can be fashioned into a beautiful Rose color with great Grenache flavor.

In the Rioja region of Spain, Garnacha is blended with Tempranillo to soften the wine and make it richer.  It is widely grown in La Mancha, the largest appellation in Spain as well as in the Cava Country of Penedes. 

There’s one special area on the French Border near the Pyrenees Orientales called Priorat (Priorato in Spanish) where Garnacha and Carinena (Carignan) from ancient vines are blended to create some glorious wines.  The land is a network of crinkled, dizzying, twisted hills rising out of undulating surroundings.  The soil is comprised of black slate, laced with sparkling quartzite (called Llicorella in Catalan – Yee-cor-RAY-ya) which aids in ripening.  It forces the roots to tunnel in search of water, as the vineyards are dry farmed and only 16” of rain reaches the ground here annually. This stresses the vines to the point of producing  a ridiculous 1 to 1.5 tons per acre with fruit concentration that is hard to believe.  There’s even a unique, indigenous Grenache clone growing here called Garnacha Peludo  or “Hairy Garnacha” which refers to the furry nature of the underside of its leaves.  This protects the stoma or pores through which the leaves actually breathe and release oxygen. 

When temperatures exceed 90*F, these pours shut down to prevent transpiration of plant fluids and this furriness is an added protection against the heat. 

Vines here are not planted in rows or on terraces; rather, they are simply planted in “sweet spots” or the best site on each given piece of land – an ancient practice still followed today.  They are also planted en vaso or in shallow pits as another defense from heat.  

Adding it all up, one can be certain that Priorat is a place to watch with anticipation of seeing some great wines.

This area also has a cultural impact. It’s a swath of land extending from Barcelona across the mountains into Languedoc which is home to the Catalan Culture.  On both sides of the border the language is different which prompted the French side to name the area Languedoc or “Old Tongue” alluding to a Shakespeare style of speaking French.

Flavor Profile:

Fruit:  Blackberry  **  Cherry  **  Grape  **  Raspberry  **  Tomato

Floral:  Violet

Earth:  Loam  **  Minerals  **  Potting Soil

Other:  Black or White Pepper

V. Sattui Grenache is grown in our Carsi Vineyard near Yountville in the Napa Valley and it aged in seasoned (used) American and French oak barrels – a practice in the Rhone which allows those beautiful varietal characteristics to shine through the wine. 

Aromas of blackberry, herbs and smoke abound with a tantalizing dusting of cocoa.  Lush on the palate, balanced with a lingering finish

Pairing Notes: 

  • The lushness of Grenache embraces a wide variety of cheeses particularly soft ripened cheeses like Brie; milder washed rind cheeses like Teleggio or the nutty style of Morbier
  • Grenache goes with game birds like Poussin, Game Hen and Turkey while Entanglement will stand up to gamier Squab, Duck or Pheasant.
  • You can even get away with serving Grenache with Seafood Paella, Cioppino and Bouillabaisse. 
  • While pure Grenache may not have the tannin to stand up to protein-rich steaks, peppery stews and heavy pasta, the Granache-led blends (Entanglement) can nicely engage these types of dishes.
  • Grenache and roast pork or roast lamb are naturals.
  • Grenache and ham make a perfect couple.
  • With juicy chops or that barbecued 6-rib rack, bring on the blend (Entanglement).
  • Make every attempt to avoid veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and most leafy vegetables.

It should be noted that Grenache and even the blend like Entanglement, and Chateauneuf du Pape are meant to be enjoyed in their youth.  They will lose their charm and turn brown in 5 to 7 years.

Mourvedre:  Here’s another variety with ancestral roots in Spain where it’s called Monastrell.  It grows in a swath that traverses Northern Spain and Southern France through Provence, Languedoc and Rousillon and, of course, along the Rhone River.  Like Granache, Mourvedre thrives in hot, dry climates and in harsh soils.  In California and Portugal it’s known as Mataro. 

It’s a blender for the most part providing richness, concentration and a nice little bite of pepper in the finish. However, there are some pure Mourvedre wines being produced as waves of new (actually, ancient local varietals being re-discovered) grapes arrive on the American market. Should you come across Mourvedre as a single varietal wine, here’s what you can expect.

Flavor Profile

Fruit:  Blackberry  **  Black plum

Earth:  Mineral  **  Stone                      Wood:  Spice

Other:  Anisette  **  Black Pepper   **  Game

Once again, I tapped into my favorite Sommelier’s book Daring Pairings for the food and profile information here.

Be certain that Rhone varietals will be taking an increasing share in the American wine spectrum. As their presence grows one could ask……………

Did you know that the Rhone Ranger’s horse is named Silver and that he shoots with silver bullets?


(Insert William Tell Overture)




Time Posted: Jan 13, 2016 at 11:27 AM
V. Sattui Winery
December 23, 2015 | V. Sattui Winery

Celebrate Big!

‘Tis the season to celebrate, and show friends and family how much we care about them.  We encourage you to THINK BIG!

Large format bottles are the unsung heroes of the wine industry. Not only do they make an impression at the table, they age better than their standard counterparts, making for a wise and generous investment.

Many people save the larger bottles for very special occasions such as Christmas Dinner when all of the family is gathered around the table, or New Year’s Eve to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter.  If you’ve been to V. Sattui Winery’s Harvest Ball, you know we choose that night as a great occasion to open our large format bottles of older vintages and share with our party guests.  

We find the presence of a large format bottle can make any occasion a special, and successful, one – a gathering of friends, the first time meeting the parents, a weekend out-of-town.  Our Vice President of Operations, John Winkelhaus, recently hosted a dinner party for 12 people where he opened a magnum of 2007 V. Sattui Morisoli Cabernet, and a magnum of our 2012 Crow Ridge Zinfandel.

“The wines tasted beautifully, since they age so well in the larger bottles,” says John.  “It was really a memorable evening of good friends and great wine served with a prime rib dinner, and later, a great cheese course.  Opening the large format bottles made our guests feel special and added a detail that made the night extra special.”

Our large format bottles also make great gifts, especially for BIG occasions.  One of V. Sattui’s longtime wine tenders, Marty Slavin, says he purchased a magnum to commemorate his son’s birth.  He also gives them to salute marquee occasions like weddings and retirements.

“I like to buy a large bottle with the vintage year of the special occasion for a gift,” says Marty.  “It’s a nice way to memorialize the moment, and be able to remember the event by enjoying a really great wine later.”

And because they age so well, you have plenty of time to decide which occasion is the right one. Simply make sure they are stored on their side, so the cork stays wet, at cellar temperature (55°F).  Our extensive portfolio of large format wines goes back decades. Our Magnum-sized offerings are the most diverse, though we do feature Double Magnums, Imperials and Nebuchadnezzars.

One magnum contains 1.5L of wine, which is the equivalent of two standard wine bottles. When is the last time you were in excellent company, enjoying one of those deep belly laughs, and loving the wine being shared, and a second or third bottle of wine needed to be opened? Those nights are perfect for large formats. 

Be sure to keep an eye out for our new limited membership Magnum Club- which will launch in 2016!

Oriana LaForte
December 17, 2015 | Oriana LaForte

New Year's Eve Party in a Box!

New Year’s Eve. It's happening. And all you need to know is bubbles, bubbles, bubbles… and brandy??

We’ve put together a fool-proof celebration box to cover your New Year's Eve celebration:

2011 Prestige Cuvée

This sparkling wine is like getting the fancy French stuff with a cool California twist. We use the traditional French methode champenoise and apply it to our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes grown right here in Napa Valley. This is a labor of love, truly, where the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle to create those lovely bubbles, bubbles, bubbles. Then, we add a little sugar (known as dosage) to bring the sweetness up to a level known as brut (1.3% residual sugar [RS]). Et voilà! Pop the cork and get ready for green apple, some toasted notes and a pleasant yeastiness.

2012 Cuvée Rouge

Made in the same methode champenoise as our Prestige Cuvée, we start off with Valdigué grapes (and a little Grenache). Valdigué is the same grape we use for our well-known and well-loved Gamay Rouge, so you know this sparkling wine will have those bright and juicy cherry and strawberry flavors. When it is time for the dosage, we add a little more sugar to this one (2.6% RS).

It’s a beautiful pink color, and perfect for those sparkling rose fans (you know who you are!).

2014 Moscato "Frizzante"

Oh, Moscato. With it’s ticklishly tiny bubbles, this one is definitely a fan favorite. We start out with its namesake – Muscat grapes. It is made a little differently than the first two, using what is known as the charmat method. This means the secondary fermentation happens right in the tank, so we can keep the wine nice and light and fruity. And it shows – orange blossom, peach, apricot and lychee burst forth from this fun wine. We keep the alcohol low, and the sugars a little higher (8.1% RS), for an effervescent experience.


So here’s where the brandy comes in. We take that sweet and delicate Muscat grape juice (not wine, just juice) and throw in some brandy, just to step it up a bit. The result is this ambrosial liquid. It tastes like honey, toasted hazelnuts, and vanilla. Oh heaven! And it so versatile – serve warm, serve chilled; in glass or on ice cream, or you can even add it to a glass of Moscato for a crazy delicious drink! And once it’s opened, it will last for six months to a year. So if you decide to hide it away halfway through the party to save it for yourself for later… don’t worry, we won't tell – we completely understand!

Order your New Year's Eve wines here!

New Year’s Eve – handled! Now all you have to worry about is your outfit…


V. Sattui Winery
December 11, 2015 | V. Sattui Winery

Help a Child- Receive a Free Tasting

It’s that time of year when we all want to “do good”.  Maybe it’s the crazy things happening in our world, maybe it’s the colder weather that forces us to be inside with each other longer, or maybe it’s because we were trained to “be good” for Santa at a very young age.  

At V. Sattui Winery, we are giving you, (and us!), a very easy way to “do good”.  Bring a children’s book, help a local child, and receive a free tasting. The books will be donated to Napa County Child Start Inc.’s Raising a Reader Program, which promotes lifelong learning for children.  We’re off to a good start, having asked our employees to donate books at our recent holiday party. We’d love to get your help in collecting hundreds more to give to local kids in our community.

Your new, unwrapped children’s book (ages 0-9 years) will eventually be sent home with a child to share with their parents and families.  While Raising a Reader is targeted to preschool children, the benefits are family‐wide as reading supports parent-child interaction, enhances a child’s ability to listen, and encourages a family routine of having “special time” together.

Just hearing a loving adult read, helps children expand their vocabulary, knowledge and imagination.  It also makes them aware of the spoken and written language.  It helps children listen better (wouldn’t we all love that?). 

We will collect the children’s books in our Main Tasting Room through the month of December.  We are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except December 24th when the winery closes at 3 p.m., and we are closed for business on Christmas Day.  

Guests who donate a book will receive a complimentary tasting at the winery.  

Let's give the gift of reading!  We hope to see you soon!

V. Sattui Winery
December 1, 2015 | V. Sattui Winery

Recipe: Filet Mignon with Morel Mushrooms

A great Cabernet calls for a great cut of meat; cooked to perfection and paired with a smooth sauce and succulent side dishes. Our favorite side dishes for this recipe are creamy polenta and asparagus, and we love pairing this dish with our Mt Veeder Cabernet. The grapes for this mountain-bred Cabernet come from the upper blocks of our beautiful and historic Henry Ranch property

Filet Mignon with Morel Mushrooms

(Serves 4)


4 filet mignons, about 6 ounces each
4 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, minced
1 cup red wine
1 cup beef stock
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon each thyme & parsley, chopped
2 ounces dried morel mushrooms, hydrated and roughly chopped



Heat your grill and rub the filets with half the oil and season with salt and pepper. Set the filets aside while you prepare the sauce. 

In a small sauce pan add the shallot and red wine. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add the stock and reduce by half. Add the vinegar and sugar. Stir to combine. Add the thyme, parsley and mushrooms. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer while you grill the steaks. 

Grill the steaks to your desired temperature. It should take about 12-15 minutes to reach medium rare.

Place a steak on each of four warmed plates, spoon the sauce over each steak and serve with your side dishes.

Photo credits: The Gourmet Gourmand

Time Posted: Dec 1, 2015 at 6:35 AM
V. Sattui Winery
November 25, 2015 | V. Sattui Winery

Not Your Usual Turkey Leftover Recipe

Happy Thanksgiving!  We hope you are enjoying some time with friends, family, and of course, some great V. Sattui wine!  Think you might have some turkey leftover after your big feast tomorrow?  We enlisted some help from local chef John Ash.  

In addition to being a renowned chef, author, and food and wine educator, many refer to Chef John Ash as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine”. In 1980 he opened his namesake restaurant, John Ash & Company, in Santa Rosa, CA. It was the first restaurant in Northern California wine country to focus on local, seasonal ingredients used to create dishes that complemented the wines being made in the region. It continues to be critically acclaimed today.

 John travels the world teaching cooking classes to both home cooks and professionals. And for John, wine is always considered an essential part of the flavors of a meal.

The following recipe is from John’s Culinary Birds cookbook.  Tortillitas are a little-known savory pancake from Spain that make delicious little tapas.  They are meant to be served with Romesco Sauce (recipe is also below), and John recommends serving them with our Dry Riesling.  Enjoy--and use up that turkey!

Tortillitas with Turkey
From Chef John Ash
Makes 4-6 Pancakes


For Turkey
½ cup leftover turkey meat, cut into small ½” to 1” pieces
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Olive oil

For Batter
½ cup chickpea flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts
2 tabelspoons mixed chopped fresh herbs (such as rosemary, parsley, thyme, cilantro)

Combine turkey with cumin, coriander and black pepper and mix.  Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a small skillet over medium heat and cook the turkey until lightly browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Season to your taste with salt and set aside.
For the batter, in a bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and salt and pepper to taste.  Add 1 cup of water and stir to combine; consistency should resemble pancake batter (if batter is too thick, add more water, a tablespoon at a time).  Stir in the scallions, cooked turkey and any juices and the herbs.

Add 1-2 tablespoons olive oil to a 9 or 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, pour one-third of the batter into the center of the pan and tilt to form a pancake, spreading the batter gently with a spatula if necessary.

Cook until the pancake is set around the edges, about 1 minute.  Flip the pancake and continue cooking for another couple of minutes, then flip it again and cook for another 30 seconds or so, until it is crisp on the outside but still moist inside.  Remove from the pan and serve immediately, cut into wedges, Romesco sauce on the side to spoon over top.  Cook the remaining pancakes in the same way and serve warm.

Romesco Sauce
Makes 2 cups

2 large tomatoes
1 large dried ancho chile
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup peeled hazelnuts
¼ cup blanched almonds
1 (1/2-inch thick) slice firm white bread, cut into ½-cubes
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
¼ cup drained piquillo or pimento peppers, rinsed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or to taste
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the tomatoes under a hot broiler and roast until lightly charred and softened.  Chop them and set aside, saving all the juices.

While the tomatoes are roasting, slice the chile open lengthwise and discard the stem and seeds;  then tear the chile into small pieces.  Heat the oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, add the chile, and cook, stirring until the oil is fragrant and the chile turns a brighter red, about 20 seconds.  Transfer the chile with a slotted spoon to a heatproof bowl.

Add the hazelnuts to the skillet along with the almonds, bread, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the bread and garlic are golden, 2-3 minutes.  Add the mixture (including oil) to the chile in the bowl and let cool.

Combine the chile mixture, piquillos, and vinegar in food processor and purée until smooth.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional vinegar if needed.  Thin with water if desired.  Can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored covered and refrigerated.  Serve at room temperature.

Chris Rota (Resident Wine Expert)

ROTA's RAMBLINGS ON WINE: Che Syrah and Petite Sirah

A terrible blight (read mold) called Powdery Odium ravaged much of France in the mid 1800’s. By the time this disease was eradicated, the vines were weakened and set up for the next scourge which was even worse. It was a root louse called Phylloxera Vastatrix which wiped out almost all of the vineyards in Europe and greatly affected the New World. Hold this thought because this will constitute a future Ramblings.

Syrah is particularly prone to mold because the grape clusters are rather tight. By the time mold is manifest, it’s too late because it grew from the inside out. This prompted specialists to find a way to better ventilate the clusters by hybridizing.

Bear in mind that genetic engineering didn’t exist back then and hybridizing was a long trial-by-trial, exhausting task. Pollen had to be collected from the stamen of the trial plant with a small painter’s brush and applied to the sticky surface of the pistil of the host plant which is located just above that blossom’s ovary. When the cluster has been pollinated, a bag is placed over it to prevent any foreign pollen from getting involved. Then the fruit development and ripening pattern have to be analyzed and ultimately, a wine had to be made, analyzed and, of course, tasted. Try going through a hundred or so trials, keeping copious notes and records. It gives me the notion that nurserymen of that period didn’t live long lives.

It was Dr. Francois Duriff who successfully hybridized Syrah with a local (Rhone Valley) darling called the Peloursin. The new varietal was named Duriff after the good doctor and it goes by that name in Australia to this day. This combination produced smaller berries which allowed for better control of various molds. Smaller berries also accelerated the juice-to-skin ratio which extracted much more color and flavor from the skins, creating dense, intense, full bodied, huge (read brooding) wines. Early on, the wines were gritty, tannic monsters (so monstrous that bottles have been known to grow fur). Vintners soon learned to pick later rather than earlier and to press the skins gently, sending aggressive pressings to the distiller.

Soon, balanced, robust, rich, age-worthy wines were on shelves throughout France. Inevitably, this grape made it to Californian shores (circa 1915) and the “old timers” (like John Parducci) would plant Petite Sirah with other varietals to make Field Blends much like the Grenache vineyards in the South of France. A field blend is picking everything from that vineyard, keeping and fermenting it together and the field becomes the wine. Ultimately, Petite Sirah thrived in the dry, Mediterranean climate of California which is similar to that of Southern France.

The Name Game:
American marketers were searching for a name that would give the wine “shelf appeal” in the self service supermarket environment. They thought Duriff could not be associated with anything, much less wine. They grappled with Peloursin and thought not a chance. Finally, one bright, young “exec” thought smaller berries; why not Petite Sirah? As a final touch in relating to but separating from Syrah, they altered the spelling.

Here is an analogy that will help you. Would you see a movie starring Marion Morrison? What if that person was John Wayne??!! How about Bernie Schwartz? I’ll bet you would pay quickly to see that person as Tony Curtiss. It’s all about marketable, friendly names that can be easily associated with and related to.

The British Empire which ruled the seas and filled them with trade vessels was masterful in naming wines with difficult market appeal. Here are a few examples.

Bordeaux: This region had hundreds of Chateaus with French names – one harder to pronounce than the next, if you were not French. They simply dubbed the wines as a category called Claret (pronounced CLA- ret). By the way, they were instrumental in creating the famous Classified Growths of Bordeaux Vineyards in 1855.

Then, there is Germany with hundreds of vineyards equally hard to pronounce, if you are not German. The Brits called these wines along the Rhein and Mosel Rivers Hock Wines named after the town of Hochheim where that signature, slender Hock bottle was designed – green for Mosel and brown for Rhein (Rhine). To demonstrate confusion there are almost 200 villages along these rivers that end in heim.

Now the tongue twister for champions which again was rescued by British marketers: It was a region in the very dry part of Andalusia in southern Spain visited by the Greeks and called Xeres or Dry Land (witness Xerox or dry process). Later, it was invaded by the Moors and they called it Sherrisch. Finally, with the help of a Crusade, the locals reclaimed the land and called it Jerez de la Frontera (pronounced hay-RETH day lah fron-TER-ah). Who could possibly relate to that? So the Brits simply called the wines of the region Sherry and sub-classified the wines as Dry Sherry, Fino, Cream Sherry, etc. “Shall we ave a spoh a sheddeh”?

And, let’s never forget that the British classified and grouped all of those non-descript, average Country Wines or table wines as PLONK, which means the carafe was simply plonked on the table without comment, much less fanfare.

And, here’s a name that involved a Brit in the New World which will jog your memory every time you are in a supermarket produce section. Sir William Thompson came to California bringing with him two mating pairs of starlings for which we have never forgiven him. He also brought along some grapes that grew in England’s “Banana Belt” around Bath called Lady de Coverly which he planted along the San Joaquin River in California’s Central Valley. A devastating flood occurred one year, as in those days the San Joaquin was a significant river. (Today, it’s merely a trickle.) Sir William was prompted to say: “Well that ends my grapegrowing.

A couple of years later, he returned to the flood scene and noticed wild grapes growing in profusion. He, naturally, tasted a berry and it was delicious WITH NO SEEDS….!!! It was a mutation initiated by the flood waters and it was called Thompson Seedless and Sir William became known as Seedless Thompson, albeit he sired 12 kids.

Back to Petite Sirah:

Here are the aroma/flavor profiles of this Rhone style varietal.

Fruit/Vegetable: Beetroot *** Blackberry *** Black Currant *** Black Raspberry
Wood: Chocolate *** Clove *** Mocha *** Toffee *** Vanilla
Other: Black Licorice *** Black Pepper


Meat: Here is a wine created for carnivores. From slow-cooked briskets, to smoked sausage to rich braises and stews. Charcoal grilled steaks or burgers. Boldly flavored meats are especially good like Mongolian barbecue, Mexican Mole or Beef Chili and Asado. Red meats with a sweet edge like Teriyaki or a barbecue sauce (in Pulled Pork) show especially well. And, don’t forget Mom’s Meatloaf.

Cheese: Surprisingly, Petite Sirah pairs with a wide range of cheeses and you can even bend the rule a bit by serving a mild blue veined cheese without causing a tannic collision with the salty cheese. The larger-than-life presentation of Petite Sirah and the perceived sweetness in its juicy fruitiness allows this marriage. So, without trepidation, serve a Camembert, Teleggio, Aged Cheddar, Liverot, Morbier or Chaumes.

Game: The assertiveness of game meats matches well with the boldness of Petite Sirah – perfect with venison, elk, boar and even moose.

Spice: Slightly spicy Asian dishes such as Garlic Beef or Tandoori Lamb Kabobs and most Southwestern fare.

Humble Foods: Burgers, hot dogs (Mustard based dishes), smoked meats, most sandwiches and just about any red meat with Ketchup on it.

Chocolate: A good wine to pair with 80% Cocoa Chocolate, if so inclined.


By itself: Like most powerhouse red wines, Petite Sirah begs to have a munchable companion. It’s no fun to drink this wine by itself or alone, for that matter.

With Fiery Hot Food: Remember alcohol only exacerbates capsaicin and/or the heat in spice. The combination could be memorable, but not in a good way.

With Delicate Food: The robust nature of this wine will simply overrun any shy flavors.

With Fish: The tannins inherent in this wine will give fish a metallic flavor.

When Old: When Petite Sirah is young it is flavor-packed and explosive. When aged, its prowess diminishes and it should be paired as one would with an older Syrah or Zinfandel.

(Once again, I owe a debt of gratitude to my favorite Sommelier Evan Goldstein and his second book Daring Pairing)

V. Sattui Petite Sirah:

This wine harkens from the fabled Rutherford Appellation as well as our certified organic Vittorio’s Vineyard adjacent to the winery.  Dark and deeply colored, it sports highly extracted flavors of blackberries and wild plums with underlying, enticing, barrel notes of vanilla, pepper and smoke.  Full bodied and muscular, the wine has abundant tannins but not those that grip your tonsils; so the wine is approachable now with a bottle promise of at least 10 years.  So lay it down with your gorgeous Cabernets with confidence.

A Thought to Embrace  

Looking forward, American marketers will always have their plates filled with foreign grape/wine names to Americanize and familiarize for a long time ahead. There are thousands of grapes and local, darling wines that are totally unknown a scant 100 miles from their source(s) and their magic is just waiting to be discovered. Consider a book just published listing Italy’s 624 local and indigenous grape varieties heretofore unknown, and you’ll get an idea of what excitement lies ahead for consumers and marketers alike. Maybe, God will grant me another 25 years of life to witness and record these new dimensions added to our wondrous world of wines. Of course, much depends on regularly (and moderately) taking my  medicines of the vine and you know I’ll be sharing my findings with you.

“A good name is like a precious ointment; it filleth all around about and will not easily away; for the aromas of ointments are more durable than flowers”

Francis Bacon 1561 - 1626

Time Posted: Nov 23, 2015 at 3:05 PM
Chris Rota (Resident Wine Expert)


The headwaters for the Rhone River rise out of the snowpack in the Swiss Alps flowing west and south passing some of the highest vineyards in the world.  In fact, THE highest vineyard at 3600 feet is the Visperterminen Vineyard lying literally in the shadows of the Matterhorn. (Good trivia material.) 

The river flows through Lake Geneva and enters France in the Beaujolais Region near Lyon where it heads south to the Mediterranean Sea. With the Alps to the east and the Massif Central to the west, it neatly parts Provence from Languedoc and the Rhone Appellation begins at Vienne. 

The Rhone varietal - Syrah – has its origins in a grape growing region in the state of Fars in Persia midway between the Persian Gulf and the ruins of Persepolis about 500 miles from Tehran.  The Farsi capital and principal winegrowing region is Shiraz. This explains why the Aussies refer to this identical grape and its wine with this name. 

How it traveled some 3000 miles to France remains somewhat of a mystery.  One legend holds that a hermit monk brought it back from one of the Crusades and planted it not far from his residential cave along the Rhone River. Hence, the principal appellation of Northern Rhone memoralizes this monk with the name l’Hermitage and its surrounding area Croze Hermitage.

A more plausible theory lies with the Greeks from the sect of Phocaea on the Island of Lesbos who were known for their distant sea journeys, mapping such coast lines as Spain, the Adriatic and France.  They founded the French port city of Marseilles in 600 A.D. and most likely they brought the Shirazi grape with them.  Today, we should all be rather pleased that it emerged from Iran and, importantly, made it all way to the New World (Read California).

Meanwhile, back to the Rhone Valley which has two distinct climates.  The Northern Rhone region extends from Vienne to Montelimar a distance of approximately 70 miles.  Here, the climate is more Continental with adequate rainfall and hot summers that give way to an early fall and cold winters.  Two principal grapes are grown here along with peach trees and nuts – Viognier for white wine and Syrah for red.  As one could imagine,  the twists and turns of the river offer a variety of exposures to sun along with the river’s deposits and erosions of soils; Syrah ranges from powerful to graceful with a myriad of fruits and flavors that emanate from the terroir.  (Aromas and flavors unique to a patch of land. Called Lieux-dit – lee-yuh DEE – in this part of France)


The Southern portion of the Rhone Valley - from Montelimar south of Avignon to Cotes du Luberon some 55 miles further south – has a more Mediterranean  climate.  The weather is warmer and drier with warmer fall temperatures which guarantee consistent ripeness and lusciousness with each vintage.  Along with the olive trees and Lavender as far as the eye can see, there are some 20 grape varieties grown with appellate legality.  The signature grape in this region is the Grenache (originally from Spain where it is called Garnacha) along with Syrah and Mouvedre.  Some of the other grapes remain completely foreign even to oenophiles such as Picpoul Noir, Cinsault, Connoise and so on.

In this region, Syrah is never alone as it is ALWAYS a blend of at least two grapes and as many as 13.

Two things are common throughout the Rhone Valley.  Ferocious winds called the Mistral which blow with enough force to strip vines of leaves, shoots and even fruit.  This is why ubiquitous rows of cypress trees act as wind blocks and vines are head trained close to the ground to minimize the wind effects.  Stones, called  Gallets from the size of a fist to boulders proliferate vineyards.  The one positive effect of these two elements is the lack of mildew or any problematical rot.

This region is the oldest grape growing region in France  Some 2000 years ago, the Romans cultivated the vine here and sent wines to Rome that were superior to those grown around Cesar’s local environs.  As Rome converted to Christianity, the Faith and clergy expanded to the Roman outposts and expanded their own beacons of the faith.  All of this leads me to the most famous chateau in the Rhone Valley………………

Chateauneuf du Pape:  In 1309, Pope Clement V was installed as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.  He was born in Bordeaux which meant that he was no stranger to wine and that he was quite content to remain in and pontificate from France rather than go to Rome.  In fact, he had vineyards in Bordeaux which is known today as Chateau Pape Clemente in the region of Graves. This “arrangement” was made because The King of France and the Vatican were engaged in a nasty dispute with severely strained relations.  The Pope had another small vineyard around Avignon and he decided to settle there.

It was his successor, Pope John XXII who decided to get out of the oppressive heat of Avignon and move to the more comfortable countryside.  He knew about a castle ruins nearby and after managing the Vatican treasury and setting it in order, he amassed funds to build his NEW CASTLE; since called Chateaueuf du Pape.  The massive and ornate structure was completed in 1338 and the good Pope died just a year after he moved into this summer residence.  In 1944, the Germans returned the structure to ruins by blowing it up as they retreated from the advancing Allies.

V. Sattui Syrah is like a Northern Rhone version and the V. Sattui Entanglement is very much like a Chateauneuf du Pape, as we will see later. Meanwhile, here is an overview of Syrah.

Syrah: While history holds many mysteries and shadows which give rise to legends, here is a more modern, unromantic version which I purposely omitted from all of the charm above.  A somewhat renowned UC Davis grape geneticist – Carol Merideth -  claims that Syrah was the result of a French hybrid of two uninspiring grapes – Mondeuse Blanche (white) x Durerza (red).  Be my guest.  Go ahead and embrace any one of these historical dimensions as it’s all right with me.  More importantly, let’s embrace what we have in our glass…!!!

No longer the domain of the Wine Cognoscenti, Syrah is becoming increasingly popular because of its food friendly demeanor and its ability to pair with a wide array of popular dishes. Like Zinfandel, Syrah and the vanillan characteristics of new oak are not well suited.  In fact, many producers – especially those in France – prefer to use only seasoned (older) oak to allow the innate personality of Syrah to dictate the character of the wine.  Finally, Californian Syrah lies scrumptiously between Australian and Cote du Rhone versions.   Nice place to be.

Here is a universal flavor profile for Syrah.

Fruit & Vegetable:  Boysenberry  **  Blackberry  **  Black Current (Casis)
Black Raspberry  **  Black Plum  **  Prune  **  Fennel  **  Black Olive
Bell Pepper **  Citrus (Orange)  **  Mulberry  **  Stewed Fruit  **  Fruitcake
Floral:  Violets  **  Tea Leaf  **  Mint  **  Eucalyptus  **  Menthol
Earth:  Graphite  **  Mushroom  ** Charcoal  **  Truffle
Wood (oak):  Cinnamon  **  Clove  **  Chocolate  **  Cocoa  **  Coffee
Toast  **  Vanilla  **  Coconut  **  Smoke or Char
Other:  Peppercorn (White & Black)  **  Sausage (Roasted Meat)  **  Soy
Bacon  **  Leather  **  Animal

The implicit black pepper in syrah invites the incorporation of spices and peppers into marinades, glazes, sauces, side dishes or condiments.  Dishes with a coarse texture work well with Syrah.  Polenta, Black Beans, even a sauce made with whole grain mustard provide a nice scrape against this ample wine.  Try French Cassoulet, Greek Moussaka and even good old American Chili (Rich but not too spicy) as partners.  Bouillabaise or Ciappino and other big stews show off well.  Barbecue Sauce from any region – Texas, The Carolinas, or St Louis as well as meat off the grill are great.

Keep in mind that Syrah is rich in alcohol and it will neutralize any dish with subtle nuances.  Also, as Syrah ages, it becomes like an old Bordeaux and it should be treated and paired as such.     


  • Grilled Foods like a char-grilled steak or peppercorn-crusted tuna. 
  • Assorted vegetables like eggplant, zucchini or tomatoes. 
  • Thick winter stews or a one dish does it all
  • Pungent and wild flavors like squab or wild boar
  • Herbs - no matter – how they are added or infused match perfectly
  • Barbecue sauce and moderate spice



  • Most fish.  Flavors are thrown out of balance by the generosity of Syrah
  • Hot and fiery recipes increase the Scoville Scale because of the alcohol.  Trust me.  You’ll be reaching for a beer.
  • Sour Foods such as dishes with a vinegar base and tart vegetables like escarole or leeks
  • While Syrah pairs well with sharp cheeses like Extra aged Gouda, Dry Jack and Pavie Vecchio; avoid stinky, washed rind cheeses like Epoisses or Camembert, runny soft ripened cheeses and, at all costs, any Blue Cheese.


Once again, my favorite reference was at work here and that is Perfect Pairings by Evan Goldstein.  He’s the best and I strongly recommend getting his book which is available in our tasting room.

Here is how V. Sattui Winery Syrah fits onto the global tapestry of Syrah.  We have vineyards up and down the Napa Valley.  Vittorio Vineyard (57%), in the warmer heart of Napa Valley, yields ripeness, chocolate, sweet blueberries, loam and white pepper.  Our cooler, Carsi and Carneros Vineyards add refinement and subtlety.  In my personal evaluation, I saw lovely crimson colors, smelled violets and sweet smoke, bacon, meats on the BBQ along with that inherent black pepper and an elegant, creamy texture on the palate. It definitely represents a Napa Version of the Northern, more elegant dimension of the Rhone Valley.  Viola….!!!

Here is an expression found on a 17th Century Italian painting that said: 

Ricorda questo bene
Un barile di vino da’ quello che ha
Se e’ vino ordinario, e’ che cosa ottenete
Se si ha l’acqua, e’ cio’ che dovete attingere
Se esso viene riempito di Gloria……………..Allora!!!

Remember this well. 
The barrel of wine gives what it has
If it is ordinary wine, that is what it is
If it is water, that is what you will draw
If it is filled with glory…………………. well then.

CHE SARA’ SARA’…………..!!!

Time Posted: Nov 23, 2015 at 1:52 PM
V. Sattui Winery
November 20, 2015 | V. Sattui Winery

Elevate Your Tailgate Ranch House Fajitas and Gilsson Zinfandel

Whether it’s your favorite professional team, college team, or your kids’ little league team… we Americans love our football!  At V. Sattui we are really into the spirit, especially since Super Bowl 50 will be played in February just a couple of hours down the road from us.

But some of us are even more enthusiastic about the Tailgate Party before the game!  Whether you enjoy hanging out in the parking lot with your portable grills blazing, or chilling in the family room with friends, we love to fuel up on tasty fare before cheering our team on to victory.  But we encourage you to think outside of the “nacho and beer” box.  

This recipe comes from our friends at Harris Ranch Beef.  This family-owned business is located in California’s Central Valley, has been in operation since the 1930’s.  They produce some of the finest quality beef and it’s available widely on the West Coast.

These fajitas are brought to a new level of flavor when you pair them with V. Sattui’s Gilsson Zinfandel.  This wine has equal “weight” to match the beef in the fajitas, some fruit-forward flavors like ripe boysenberry and blackberry that complement the spiciness in the dish.

Try elevating your tailgate to new heights—and hopefully your team’s success will follow!

Ranch House Fajitas
From Harris Ranch Beef

2 pounds, marinated Harris Ranch skirt, flap or flank steak
2 bell peppers (red, green or yellow), sliced
1 large red onion, sliced
2 medium tomato, wedged
3 cups Harris Ranch Restaurant Marinade (recipe to follow)

Slice steak across the grain into 1/4"-1/2" strips and marinate for at least four hours, or overnight if desired. Remove meat from the marinade and discard the marinade. In a sauté pan, sauté beef, onion and bell pepper over medium heat until beef is browned and onion and bell pepper are tender. Stir in wedged tomatoes and sauté for five minutes more. Serve immediately with warm flour tortillas, grated cheese, sour cream, salsa and guacamole. Serves 4-6

Harris Ranch Restaurant Marinade:
8 oz. soy sauce
16 oz. water
2 oz. brown sugar
1 tbsp. granulated garlic
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 dashes Tabasco
1 oz. lemon juice

Marinade Preparation:
Combine above ingredients and refrigerate.

V. Sattui Winery
November 16, 2015 | V. Sattui Winery

V. Sattui Winery’s Black Sears Zinfandel- Love for the Land Shines Through

Mention V. Sattui’s Black Sears Zinfandel to any of our members who love big, bold flavors and you will see a little twinkle in their eye.  This single-vineyard Zinfandel comes from Howell Mountain, Napa County’s highest vineyard, which is also biodynamically farmed and certified organic.

The unique climate of Howell Mountain produces wines with a firm structure, intense fruit flavors, earthy spice, and round acidity. The ashy, iron-laden soils are perfectly suited for growing full-bodied, peppery Zinfandel and earthy, rich Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. 

Joyce and Jerre Sears purchased their vineyard property in 1979, and now caring for the vineyards has become a full family affair, with their daughter and son-in-law, Ashley and Chris Jambois joining the family business in 2008.  They are committed to using organic and biodynamic farming practices not only in the vineyards, but also in the acres of orchards and gardens on this gorgeous property.

Their love of the land shines through in the wine.  V. Sattui’s 2012 Black Sears Zinfandel is a beautiful dark garnet color with concentrated blackberry fruit and a scent of cracked black pepper that is a signature of this vineyard.  People love this wine because it is both restrained and loaded with flavor.  It is impeccably balanced, and is ready to drink today, but if you are patient and lay it down for the next 5 to 8 years, we believe you will be richly rewarded.

Purchase our 2012 Black Sears Zinfandel here >>


Some information in this blog has been reprinted with permission. For more information about the Black Sears vineyard please visit

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