Is Napa Valley Changing?

20 Feb
February 20, 2013

Observations from a Longtime Visitor (and Wine Club Member)

Another Napa Valley trip has come and gone entirely too quickly. As we think about the inevitable return to the hustle and bustle of chilly Chicago, we are happily recalling all of the wonderful things we experienced this visit. Fortunately, we arrived during one of the unseasonable warm spells and were able to soak up 70+ degree temperatures and sunshine, when we usually brace for February rain. We also enjoyed some best-ever meals and had the pleasure of trying many new-to-us wines and wineries. Mixed in with all of this emotion is a tinge of a new feeling as longtime visitors: disappointment. Not in the wine, not in the serene surroundings, but in the way some wineries seem to be evolving.

My husband and I began taking quarterly trips to Napa Valley in early 2009, which was in the depth of America’s economic crisis. As newish visitors, we were floored by the terrific service and wine we had at each turn – especially since we made our first serious visit in February – a typically slow point in the year, characterized by empty tasting rooms, “bad” weather, and, at that point in our country’s history, a “we will do anything to gain new wine club members” mentality. This escape from the doldrums of our hectic, big city routine is what drew us back season after season. We got to know wine educators who would remember to ask about our jobs and families and highlight wines added to the list since our last vacation. During slower winter months, some hosts would sneak us into a cave or barrel room to give us a taste of something special. And, generally speaking, we were presented with a tasting menu that allowed for a representative sampling of all available wines. (Depending on the winery, maybe two menus.) As a result of this impeccable attention and quality wine, we joined a handful of clubs that have ranged from three to 10 in quantity at any given time. While some have maintained a consistent approach with their club members over the span of our tenure, others have taken an unfortunate nosedive. From what we can deduce over these four years, the economy must be on an upswing. We also know that the 2011 vintage was one of the most challenging, leaving wineries and tasting rooms with a limited supply to sell and taste. Both of these factors, coupled with the freakishly warm, Valentine’s Day weekend crowd, contributed to what seemed like a very different experience this time around. Read more →

10 Tips for a Healthy Napa Valley Vacation

07 Feb
February 7, 2013

A Dietitian Dishes on Ways to Avoid Wine Weight Gain

Napa Valley vacations are typically characterized by a myriad of tastings by day and multiple-course dinners at Michelin Star-rated restaurants by night. Healthy Napa Valley vacation(And, that’s absolutely how it should be!) However, by the time I enter day three of my trips, I start to feel that indulgence hangover and dread the outcome of stepping on the scale for the first time again at home.  Based on a few of my past posts, you know that I do strive to lead a fairly healthy lifestyle, even though my biggest hobby – wine –doesn’t exactly help. In preparation for my next trip and the busy Napa Valley tourist season, I decided to approach the most relevant expert on this topic to help me and future travelers come and go without adding extra “baggage.”

Sanna Delmonico, MS, RD is a wine-making dietitian based in Napa Valley and was willing to chat with me about ways people can enjoy their vacations sensibly. She works as an Adjunct Instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, teaching nutrition to culinary students. In her spare time, she and her husband produce approximately 90 gallons of wine annually out of their home garage in partnership with three other families. Based on principles she follows in her own life, Sanna offers tips to adopt before, during and after a wine-centric vacation to maintain balance.

10 Tips for a Healthy Napa Valley Vacation


Before the Trip

  • Attempting to drop pounds to compensate in advance for vacation consumption is a bad move. You’re only increasing the chances of overdoing it on the trip or later.
  • Stick to your normal habits beforehand, which should include eating a daily breakfast and a mix of fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.

Managing Vacation Meals

  • Being mindful of your food intake while visiting this world-class wine region doesn’t mean sacrificing satisfaction. While on vacation in Napa Valley, structure meals in a way that will help you feel your best:Healthy Napa Valley vacation
    • Don’t starve yourself in anticipation of a big dinner. In addition to overdoing your meal, it’s never a good idea to taste wine on an empty stomach.
    • Plan to consume smaller portions during the day. Reach for fruit, oatmeal or eggs at the hotel breakfast buffet. Rather than eating a big lunch, visit one of the area’s beautiful farmer’s markets and buy some fruit, bread and cheese for a picnic. Read more →

Wine of the Week: Bressler 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

06 Feb
February 6, 2013

A More Special Than Usual #WineWednesday

In our house, we usually follow the mantra that wine can make a special occasion, rather than holding great wines to consume on special occasions. Today was a mix of both, being that it’s my birthday and I was granted the freedom to pick any wine I desired from our collection. I eagerly scanned the racks and opted for a big, sexy bottle – a Bressler Vineyards 2008 Cabernet – so my style…

I learned about Bressler a few years ago while on a work trip to Scottsdale, AZ. My group was out for a steak dinner and the sommelier strongly suggested we give the 2004 vintage a try. At one point in the night, the entire table stopped to comment on the complexity and quality of the wine. After our meal, I returned to my hotel room and immediately jumped online to learn more about this fantastic find.

Husband and wife duo Bob and Stacey Bressler produced their first vintage in 2000 with grapes from their St. Helena property. Since then, their vineyard has grown to include 5-acres of their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot for blending. We had the pleasure of sharing a glass of wine with the Bresslers while visiting Napa on a subsequent trip and gained an appreciation for just how passionate they are about their craft. Since that first sip of the 2004, we have made sure to grab each release since. Read more →

Wine Blogs I Love

04 Feb
February 4, 2013

Add Stark Insider’s “Best Wine Blogs of 2013” To Your Reading List

Fellow blogger Clinton Stark’s profile on the top 10 wine blogs of the year features so many of the writers I follow, I wanted to pass along the1WineDude recommendations. (Read: “Best Wine Blogs 2013.”) Clinton surveyed the rapidly-expanding wine blogosphere and assembled his list based on criteria including: quality of content, uniqueness, domain (wine) knowledge and the writer’s point-of-view. His selections certainly run the gamut, from famed magazine editors to wineries and everyday enthusiasts – some more snarky than others.

I never thought I’d say this, but one of my personal favorite blogs is penned by’s wine writer, Joe Roberts. (Thankfully, 1WineDude stands alone from the other site and is “safe” to visit.) I am entertained by his witty and conversational style and appreciate his no-nonsense approach to wine topics and reviews. Take, for example, his recent post Wined Down: Four Wine Traditions That Need to Die.

Of course, you also can check out some other picks in my blog roll. is a must-read for anyone planning their Napa/Sonoma itineraries thanks to its detailed scoring system for area wineries.

I see a “Wine Books I Love” post in the near future…

So, tell me, which blogs are you reading?

1WineDude image courtesy of


Charity Wine: Discovering New-to-Me Finds at The d’Vine Affair

28 Jan
January 28, 2013

I had the opportunity to participate in the largest charity wine tasting I’ve ever attended on Sunday. The 12th annual d’Vine Affair, hosted by Catholic Charities of Chicago, helped raise funds for the organization’s Self-Sufficiency Programs. More than 250 wines from nearly 50 vintners were featured on two floors of the Union League Club. Two weeks out from our next Napa trip, I couldn’t help but make a beeline for the domestic wine tables to tide me over until our visit.

One of my first stops was to Elizabeth Spencer, where president and proprietor, Elizabeth Pressler (pictured above), was pouring. Her husband, Elizabeth SpencerSpencer, is the other half of their winery’s namesake. We tasted our way through their 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 2008 Sonoma Coast Syrah and 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. (For those who haven’t been, Elizabeth Spencer is a great place to stop in Rutherford. Aside from offering terrific wines, their outdoor tasting area is really beautiful.) I am also spoiled to be able to find Elizabeth Spencer wines at my local shop in Andersonville.

Breggo, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Spring Mountain, Steltzner and Keenan were just some of the other Napa wineries represented.

New Wines at The d’Vine Affair

After experiencing the wines we know, we were excited to try some of these new (to me) offerings:

  • Detert Family Vineyards – Though Sunday was the first I’d learned of Detert, it turns out I’m quite familiar with the work of their winemaker, Tom Garrett, who also makes wine for Revana Family Vineyards. Tom’s family has been growing Cabernet Sauvignon and LailCabernet Franc since 1953 (just behind the To Kalon vineyard in Oakville). We sampled the 2007 Oakville Cabernet Franc and loved the complexity of this wine. This vintage is comprised of 98% Cab Franc and 2% of their Cab Sauvignon and production is around 334 cases.
  • Lail Vineyards – At this table, we were presented with the refreshing Blueprint 2011 Sauvignon Blanc and Blueprint 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Both are priced around $40 – while that’s along the higher-end for a Sauvignon Blanc it certainly met, if not exceeded, the benchmark set by its peers at the same price point. Read more →

Wine Places: City Winery Chicago

27 Jan
January 27, 2013

A Taste of Napa in My Own Backyard

One of my new favorite haunts recently opened 10 miles from my home and has quickly become my go-to spot for dinner or drinks with friends. Living Napa CabulousWithin the past two months, I’ve been to City Winery Chicago (located along the Randolph Street corridor) four times; it certainly helps support my desire to live Napa “Cabulously” wherever I am.

City Winery Chicago Events

I first visited City Winery in late November after reading a few promotions for a wine tasting seminar with renowned glassmaker, Maximilian Riedel. Having debated the topic of varietal-specific glassware at various points throughout my wine-drinking tenure, I embraced the opportunity to hear an argument for its benefits from the master himself. We tasted three wines in three different glasses and the character did, in fact, change with each. Attendees were even sent away with a set from Riedel’s Vinum XL collection. You can read about my experience in my past post, “Does the Shape of Your Wine Glass Really Affect the Taste?” Their large event space frequently hosts wine tastings, comedy shows and concerts.

City Winery Chicago: Food & Wine

It wasn’t long before I returned three subsequent times for dinner; I keep going because I appreciate City Winery for what it is – a casual place to enjoy good food and wine in an atmosphere that feels just like I’m in a Napa tasting roLiving Napa Cabulousom.  The beautiful rustic bar and restaurant area overlook the venue’s working winery. I was told they aren’t serving their own just yet, but they are offering several wines from City Winery New York made with high-quality grapes from the likes of California, Oregon and Argentina. Each time I’ve visited, the tap wine list features many new renditions of their popular red and white varietals – they seem to procure fruit from many different vineyards. I’ve been particularly impressed with the Cabernets, while my husband has a soft spot for their Cab Francs. Read more →

Wine Places: Las Vegas Wine Bars and Shops

26 Jan
January 26, 2013

Living Napa Cabulous on The Strip

Living Napa Cabulous is about finding ways to enjoy Napa and its world-class wines no matter your location. Last weekend, I took a quick jaunt to Las Vegas with family and made it a priority to scope out the best wine bars and specialty shops. Yes, I needed something to help keep me busy and away from the roulette and blackjack tables… With its proximity to California and demands of its wine-aficionado visitors to meet, Las Vegas didn’t disappoint. Let me tell you about some of the Las Vegas wine bars and shops I found – some classic, some new – for your next visit to Sin City.

  • EATDRINK at The Cosmopolitan – First off, this hotel is a scene! After wandering through its uber-modern lobby and crystal-draped Las Vegas Winelounge, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon this shop. As the name suggests, EATDRINK is devoted to highlighting the cuisine and wine served by chefs and sommeliers at The Cosmopolitan. A portion of the space is devoted to its walk-in wine cellar and tasting room, which features one of the many enotech/enomatic wine machines I saw throughout the city. Coincidentally, we arrived during happy hour and were offered as many tastes of their 10+ wines as we wanted for $20. They also sold wine by the bottle and the 100 milliliter “test tube” in addition to unique wine gifts. EATDRINK is best for a quick stop to taste if you need a break from gambling or shopping because there were only four chairs in the room.
  • The Wine Cellar at The Rio – Known as the best wine bar in Las Vegas, The Wine Cellar certainly lived up to its reputation. (Pictured in header image.) Accessible by a winding staircase down below the casino floor, we instantlyThe Wine Cellar at The Rio felt like we were walking into a Napa Valley tasting room or otherwise magnificent cellar. An impressive collection of wine lined the walls, including an 1855-1989 vertical of Chateau d’Yquem. There were several tables and leather couches to choose from, but we opted for seats at the bar. The wine educator/bartender presented us with expansive menus that profiled at least a dozen flights and even more wines by the glass and bottle. (They are willing to create custom flights, too.) We decided to share oaky-white and hearty reds flights and were really pleased with the line-up. The whites were Far Niente 2010 Chardonnay, Camelot Highlands 2009 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay (we loved this!) and a third wine I can’t remember for the life of me. We think it might have been a Beringer. Reds included Caymus 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Silver Oak 2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Shafer 2009 One Point Five and a French Barons de Rothschild 2010 Pauillac. The service was wonderful and we also had a great time talking wine with a few of the fellow patrons; the atmosphere was more our style than the swanky lounges. The Wine Cellar is a great, cozy place to start your evening before heading out or to end the night. Read more →

Weekend Wine Roundup: A Sassy Blackbird Rosé and a Sultry James Cole Malbec

15 Jan
January 15, 2013

Napa Valley Wine Reviews and Ratings

As the W.C. Fields saying goes, “I cook with wine and sometimes I even add it to the food.” Saturday afternoon was one of those occasions when the wine remained in my glass while I prepared a baked ziti with turkey sausage. I pulled two very different bottles from our stash and enjoyed one as I “worked” and the second while we ate. Here’s the scoop on these Napa Valley wine reviews and ratings.

Blackbird Vineyards Arriviste 2011 Napa Valley Rosé (13.5% Alc.)

Though it was one of the coldest winter days we’ve experienced in Chicago this season, I was in the mood for a bright, light-bodieBlackbird Arrivisted wine to kick off my afternoon. I found this bottle at a local shop recently and, as usual, couldn’t wait to give it a try. I’m familiar with Blackbird and have driven by their vineyards along the Oak Knoll Crossroad, but have not actually tasted with them at Maisonry in Yountville yet. My husband also tells me I’ve had one of their reds at some point, but it must have been long ago, pre-blog. This pick was meant to be. As we unscrewed its top, songs from the Beatles’ White Album randomly began popping up on our iTunes playlist.

The 2011 Arriviste is a Bordeaux-blend Rosé comprised of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 27% Cabernet Franc. The wine took on a beautiful salmon hue in the glass and was highly aromatic. I observed floral notes, along with blood orange and strawberry on the nose. While sipping, I couldn’t help but comment on just how crisp and balanced this wine was drinking. The strawberry permeated throughout and made its medium-long finish all the better. I saved some for the following day to pair with an Asian-inspired chicken dish, which worked well. I really enjoyed this mid-day pick-me-up and know it would be a great porch wine again this summer. Rating: 4.83

Read more →

Wine of the Week: Vineyard 7 & 8 2001 “7” Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

08 Jan
January 8, 2013

Wine Review and Rating

 On a fluke, I decided to stop by a local wine shop on my way home from work and was thrilled to find the one and only bottle of Vineyard 7 & 8 2001 “7” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the result of challenging the shop employee, whom I hadn’t met before, to “show me something from Napa I haven’t tried.” (Thanks, Darren!) This wine caught my attention because A) I love a good Spring Mountain Cabernet, B) Vineyard 7 & 8 is one of the few Spring Mountain wineries I have yet to visit/taste, C) I’ve never actually had the pleasure of having a wine produced by 7 & 8 and D) Who doesn’t want to grab the last of anything? Thus, I was willing to swallow the $80 price tag.

Vineyard 7 & 8 produces Estate Cabernets and Chardonnays, as well as what they call their “growers” wines, like the “7” Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from Spring Mountain fruit grown by others and the “8” Chardonnay from Russian River Valley grapes. I recently wrote about two mountain wines, so you know how much their intensity excites me. Not surprisingly, this bottle of 2001 “7” lasted all of about 20 minutes in my possession before I opened it. Given the tight timing, I used a Nuance Wine Finer aerator to help give it some air as I poured it into my glass. (I actually use this tool quite frequently.) Read more →

Celebrating Four-Legged Friends with Some of the Best Wines I Ever Drank

06 Jan
January 6, 2013

Wine Reviews and Ratings

Some nights just call for an incredible roster of wine… Within the past couple of months, our closest friends, who happen to live just down the Living Napa Cabulousstreet, lost their two sweet dogs, “Wile E” (yellow) and Sullivan aka “Sully” (brown and white) to old age. When Sully passed yesterday, we collectively knew it was the right time to grab some of our most special wines from the cellar. We took time to look at old photos and share funny stories about these furry boys in their youth and turned the night into more of a celebration. Both wine enthusiasts, we opened four bottles and toasted to great pets past and present, a delicious meal and good, lifelong friendships. Together, we pooled four mind-blowing bottles from the West Coast of the U.S. and Australia. I love Napa wine because it’s what I know. I do enjoy opening my palate to wine from other areas in an effort to continue to broaden my knowledge and appreciation.

Wine Reviews and Ratings

I think I could even go out on a limb to say these were four of the best wines I’ve ever had:

  • Lewis Cellars 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – The tone of our night was set with this beautiful, fruit-forward wine, produced by former pro race car driver, Randy Lewis. It’s a complex 100% Cabernet with grapes from Calistoga and Oak Knoll.  It began with aromas of cocoa, black fruit and spice and included flavors of oak, anise and chocolate. This vibrant wine had elegant supple tannins and a dramatic finish. Rating: 4.63 Read more →