Chicago Is..

IMG_20150623_102710872Let’s do some word association. If I say Chicago, you say…………………………..Well if you are anything like me (and not from Chicago) then you think if things like big city, mob, cigars, sports (you pick, Cubs/Sox, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks), and most of all COLD. What I do not think of immediately is food, or at least not good food, maybe a dog and a big steak. But when I stated telling people I was going to Chicago for a conference everyone started giving me lists of places “I had to try”. Fortunately I was going with another “food person” (not cool to call us foodies anymore) who had been to Chicago recently and knew a little bit about the landscape. After reviewing all the “lists” and doing a little bit of research we started to put together our game plan. Dinner was relatively easy aside from getting the reservations we wanted. The real trick was figuring out what parts of the conference we could duck out on to get lunch and when we needed to get back, but needless to say we had our motivation.

I landed late Monday evening. My colleague was not due in till the next day. He was not IMG_20150622_215404204interested in trying any Chicago style pizza, so I figured this was my chance since I had never had Chicago style pizza IN Chicago. As you can imagine I had lots of options, but given the time and location it was narrowed down to Giordano’s and Pequod’s . I chose Giordano’s even though Pequod’s had somewhat better reviews. I just wanted a classic, old fashioned stuffed pizza and Giordano’s seemed to fit the bill. IMG_20150622_212052251It came out looking exactly as I had envisioned and after eating the first piece while it was still too hot (and burning the roof of my mouth as I have done with hot pizza since childhood) I let it cool a little to let the flavors settle and mature. I was happy I did, not only did I stop burning the roof of my mouth but the pizza came alive and tasted, dare I say, exactly as I had envisioned. Lots of cheese, a dark robust tomato sauce, sausage, mushroom and olive. All of the flavors playing off each other along with the light crunchy crust. I am usually a thin crust pizza guy, but after that I will go for a real Chicago stuffed style pizza any time.

IMG_20150623_093003479_HDRThe conference did not start till after lunch the following day. One of my friends had recommended Smoque BBQ and said that it had the “best brisket” he had ever had. How could I resist. Since it was, as my friend said, a little bit outside of town (the cab ride cost more than the meal) I figured this was a good time to go since I had the morning to kill. Yes, it was a long, expensive cab ride there but it was well work it. I opted for the ½ and ½ brisket and pulled pork. While the slaw and mac and cheese that it came with were nothing over the top, the brisket was IMG_20150623_091642033_HDRincredible, flavorful and tender without being too fatty or dried out. The real show stopper for me though was the pulled pork. Not sure exactly what they do to it but it was by far the best I have had. The meal also comes with two styles of BBQ sauce, Carolina style with a bit more vinegar and Memphis style, thicker and deeper in flavor. I liked the Memphis style more and if it had had more heat to it I would have found a way to bring some home.

IMG_20150623_193918735That evening my colleague and I met some of his friends at Parachute. A fun little neighborhood small plate Asian restaurant with a celebrity chef. All of the plates were good to great but the squid ink noodles and pork dish were over the top. The one down side of this place is that it can get a little loud and it seems like the louder it gets the louder they turn up the music, almost like it’s a competition. We stayed late and by the time we were finishing it was clearing out so the noise and the music were down to a hum and the whole experience was much better.

The week before we left my colleague shared with me that Au Cheval was crowned the best IMG_20150625_112726757burger in the US. So you think we could have left town without trying it, not a chance. We snuck out of our conference that day a bit early to try to beat the crowd but a place like this is always crowded. Fortunately we were able to get a spot at the bar rather quickly. We tried a few other IMG_20150625_103946285things on the menu, the fried chicken was good and a meal in itself, but the real treat was the burger. Served with 2 patties and an egg on top as a IMG_20150625_110730925standard, this was not a first date kind of meal. Sloppy but good to the last drop. I have had some other burgers that I might rank ahead of this one, but not many and this was definitely in the top 5.

That night we had reservations at Girl and the Goat. This was

the one place that my colleague said we had to go while we were here. Located in, and one of the founding fathers of what is known as the Randolph Restaurant Corridor, this is the place you notice from a block away. You can feel the energy as you approach and getting a table without a reservation means a long wait on the curb. Another small plate establishment with a menu broken down into V for vegetarian, F for fish and M for meat dishes, and then a separate menu for the goat dishes. We tried several from each category but fair warning, if you skip the goat options because you are “unsure” you will leave disappointed. I could go on and on about this place but the bottom line, this was the best meal I had while in Chicago! Put this place at the top of your list.

The following day was our last in Chicago and not what we expected, cold and rainy in the IMG_20150626_110833479middle of summer. We gathered our last bit of motivation and hailed a cab to take us to Avec, recommended by several of our friends. I am not sure if it was due to the weather, being the end of the week, or that we were there for lunch but I was not overly impressed. I had a house made sausage sandwich which was good but nothing that I did not feel I could not have made at home. My colleague had the pulled pork sandwich which looked much better and he was very satisfied. Maybe I just made the wrong choice.

My final takes on Chicago; the food scene is truly happening here with a lot of creativity

and variety. This is definitely no longer just a city where you can get a good steak (although that still exists). From the research I did it also looks like they have a bit of a mixology scene and a few wine bars here that looked interesting. Unfortunately we were only able to get to one of them. They also have a ton of activities to do in and around the lake and river. Bottom line, this is not somewhere that I would consider a destination, but when I do have to be here (business) I know that I have many food/drink/activity options to make the trip truly enjoyable.


Going home: Red cups and ribs



I recently went home to Virginia to visit the family.  My parents are getting up there in years and other relatives are dropping like flies.  I met up with friends from high school, toured the Capitol with Hill, and we even had time to hit a couple of the local wineries. Pearmund and The Winery at La Grange. The tasting room at La Grange is circa 1790.

The one thing I looked forward to is hanging out with my sister and brother-in-law.  Naja and Biggie (his nickname is fitting), epitomize values we were raised with.  Family, friends, love and humor.  All are present in their home all the time.  Also present in their home all the time Is food.  Biggie loves to cook and I love eating Biggies cooking.  Ribs, chicken, mac and cheese, collard green, potato salad, all the standards we love.  Everyone has their own recipes for sauces and cooking techniques but no one will share.  Biggies is no different.  He made a flank steak that was marinated in one of his concoction, absolutely delicious.  He still hasn’t told me what was in it.  Even if he did, I wouldn’t tell.

This visit, the cocktail was Zaya  Rum and coke.  I like it with diet coke.  If you have not tried it, you will appreciate the vanilla and oak notes and smooth finish.  To me, the diet coke does not over power or cover the characteristics of the rum. 

Artist talk about the love, sweat and pride they put into their creations.  Biggie is no different, except for the sweat.  You can taste the love for his family and his pride in every bite.  I’m getting homesick thinking about it.  Until my next visit, love your family and be good to them.    -Brax

Silverado Trail part 1

I have decided to challenge myself, this summer, to visit all the wineries along the Silverado trail.   I know i know.  It is an ambitious under taking, that will be limited by hours of operation and state DUI laws.  But I am up for the challenge.  I have no plan or order in mind.  My wine glass will be my guide.  I will keep it Short and sweet and try to help you decide if the winery is worth a visit or not.  The first three on this adventure, I believe,  are all worth a visit. Black Stallion and Darioush have beautiful tasting rooms. Darioush is modeled after an ancient Persian palace and all the stones were imported from Iran.  First stop, Black Stallion.

Black Stallion.  I did the all red tasting.  We started with the 2013 los carneros Pinot Noir. $35.


Black fruit and spice.  Aromas of black cherry.
2012 Napa Valley Merlot. Dark fruit and oak on the nose.  Silky black cherry on the tongue lite tannins. $40.
2012 Napa Valley  Syrah. Aromas of spice and blackberry.  Medium body wine with flavors of berry fruits and hints of vanillla. Nicely balanced. $40
2011 napa valley Cabernet sauvignon. Bold black fruit on the front incooperated into a medium bodied wine. A little dry for my tastes but still enjoyable.  $75.  Next stop Darioush.

Darioush. Darioush makes  20k cases a year. 
The 2013 Signature Sauvignon Blanc. Tropical fruit flavor. Not overly sweet smooth  finish. $45.
2013 Signature Chardonnay.  Nice balance of fruit and oak. $45.
2012 Signature Cabernet Franc. Blueberry, black fruit flavors lite tannis. $62.
2012 Signature Shiraz. Full body white pepper and dark fruit. $74.
2012 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark fruit aromas of what is to come.  Well balanced full body dense black cherry with layers of  dried fig, tobacco  well balanced. $95.
2012  Capataz Malbec


Blueberry and dark berry fruit. Smooth on the tongue and lingers on the finish. $36. I found the wines were well done.  Price point a little high.  Malbec was the  best value followed by sauvignon blanc.

Odette. This winery is owned by Plumpjack and our Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom is a part owner.
2012 Adaptation Chardonnay.  Citrus, tropical fruit lite oak. $32.
2012 Adaptation Cabernet. 78% cab 22% merlot. Hints of dark fruit, vanilla, coco. $46
2011 Cade Napa Valley Cab.88% cab, 5% petite verdot, 4% Malbec, 3% Merlot.  Rich. Cherry spice. $60
2012 Plumpjack Estate Cabernet


97% cab, 3% petite verdot. Very nice. Complex, well balanced. Dark fruits, vanillan silky smooth on the tongue. $104. 
2012 Odette Estate Cabernet. 75% cab, 14% merlot, 11% cab franc. Black cherry, raspberries on the front. Black currant and spice on the finish.  $98. I lean more towards Rhone varietals and blends but I could not resist the 2012 Plumpjack Estate Cab.  It went home with me. It was a fun start to my 2015 Silverado Challenge.

Arizona…Not Forgotten

It’s been a while, ok it was August, since Troya and I visited Arizona. I know, that was my first thought too, AZ in Aug, that’s not very smart. But off we when to Sedona for a little well deserved relaxation and time together. I have been to Phoenix several times and I have to admit that my impression of the state was influenced by what you see in and around Phoenix. I had seen pictures of other parts of the state, most notably Sedona, but in my mind AZ had heat, Saguaro’s and, well, heat. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised on several levels.

First of all driving up to Sedona from PHX airport is a trip I recommend. You get a real feeling of how not all desert is the same and you can definitely tell when you are in different parts of the state. Then, when you get to the Sedona area and see all the red

rock mountains rising up from the desert floor you know right away why this is considered a special, and for many people a spiritual, place. The resort we stayed at, L’Auberge de Sedona , was an incredible place with individual cabins overlooking a brook with running water and surrounded by tree’s and greenery, yes all this in AZ in IMG_20140807_174748726Aug. Can’t find that in California in August. Each cabin had its own deck and outside shower, Troya’s favorite part.  While it was hot, mid to upper 90’s, it never felt uncomfortable or limited us in doing anything (it’s a dry heat, right). Not only did not I expect our resort to be right on the brook, with an outdoor eating and imagelounge right on the banks, but I also did not expect water (outside of needing more while poolside) to play a major theme for the whole trip, from our afternoon picnic and wine sitting on the shores to a slow water river rafting trip with Verde Adventures. They also offer Wine tasting tours. What, you say, wine and rivers in Arizona?

And this brings us to the second big surprise of the trip. I knew that some people were making wine in Arizona but I have to IMG_20140808_140434903admit that I imagined it as roadside swill with little character. With the smile that comes with humble pie I can say that they are doing some truly amazing stuff with their wines. To appreciate AZ wine you will have to put aside your pre-conceived notion of what Arizona is and what it is not. Yes, Phoenix is Phoenix and I will not try to change that perception, but not one is growing grapes in Phoenix and not all of AZ is the valley of the sun. The state actually IMG_20140808_152429759_HDRhas many different climates and soils, all the ingredients for terrior. And while wine has been made in the state for many years at this time the big production wineries have been slow to take advantage. That means that the wines you do find here are generally smaller production with all the good and bad that comes from that. We spent our “wine tasting” time in the Cottonwood and Jerome area of the Verde Valley Wine Region. We did find some pretty bad wine, but IMG_20140808_153428243_HDRwe also found some really amazing wine with more flavor, layers and character then I would have ever expected. Caduceus Cellars really stood out with some amazing Rosé and one of the best Sangiovese’s  I have tasted. The highlight of the day was spending time at Passion Cellars IMG_20140808_161608651_HDRand getting to meet Cody Burkett, aka The Wine Monk. Passionate and entertaining, he was able to give a very concise overview on the history and business of Arizona wine. It’s a budding industry there but do not be surprised if they start making some noise and giving Cali a run.

Spirits of Mexico


It must be Christmas in September.  I am (If you didn’t already know) a huge tequila fan.  So, when a friend told me about an annual tequila event in sunny Del Mar, I got packed and headed to the airport.  The Spirit of Mexico: Mexican Spirit Tasting Festival is an event I will return to every year.  This year it was held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds next to Del Mar Race Track.  It was a great location for a great event.  Over 30 vendors pouring their best Tequila, Mezcal and Rum from Mexico.  Some of the vendors were small distilleries only producing 1000 bottles.  The big boys, like Herradura and Milargo, were also there.   As I walked into this event, I felt like a kid about to open all his gifts under the tree.  My sights were set on tasting ALL the  spirits being poured.   In the end, I ran out of time not enthusiasm.  It was speed dating with 30+ lovely ladies.   Of all the lovely ladies I dated that day, these were my favorites:
U4rik Tequila.  Just launching in the US and international markets.  Smooth…hints of lite vanilla, oak and agave.  100% puro de agave.
Don Fulano. 100% puro de agave.  Reposado.  Full oak, agave nose.  Mouth; agave on the front, smooth finish of French oak and caramel.
El Cachabilla.  1000 bottles in US.  Small production from  Tequila Mexico. 100% agave.  Extra anejo…yeeeeaa!!!  Double distilled.  All the hint of agave, oak, vanilla, caramel and lite smooth tannins.
T1.. Blanco ultra fine.100% de agave. double distilled, triple filtered.  The  Reposado looks and smells like a Blanco but has classic Reposado flavor.  Anejo.. agave and pineapple goodness.
T1. “Tears of Horona”. Double distilled extra Anejo.  The nose was of wood, tobacco. and agave.  Mouth;  Orange blossom, agave and caramel.  Nice…
On a side note, T1 is a creation of Master Distiller German Gonzalez Gorrochotegui.  Master Distiller of Chinaco.  T1 is his new brand.
Mexican moonshine.  Double distilled, triple filter in Kentucky oak whisky barrels.  18 months  in barrels, 100% puro de agave.  Nose of honey, wood and agave. Mouth; agave, tobacco and balanced tannins.
Critalo Tres Marcos..  Extra Anejo. The nose is awesome pineapple sweetness. There is smoke and caramel on the tongue.   Really good. The 3-5-7 blend is a blend of three-year old, five-year old and 7-year-old tequila.  It had a  strong agave nose.
The price point for these ranged from $45 to $80.  Well worth the investment.  The following also deserve mentioning.
Cantina Fortaleza.  Resposado. Nose of agave and pepper. 100 % de agave. Mouth;  Lite pepper, agave and oak.
La Gran Senora..  Jenny Riviera line of Signature tequila .  Reposado, 100 % de agave.  Agave front, full agave and tannins on the finish.  I was not  a fan of the Reposado but I did like the Anejo.  It had a nice vanilla agave nose. Agave on tongue with lite tannins.
Casa amigo.  Reposado, 100% agave. Agave, vanilla on the  nose. Mouth; Full agave and tannins on front and back. The  Anejo was the same with a little more oak on the finish.
Dirty Tequila Liquor.  Pineapple and cinnamon.  Tequila version of fireball whisky.
Tequila Celestial.  100% puro de agave.  The Reposado had heavy tannins and agave. The Anejo was the same but with smoother tannins and oak.
In the end, I had the opportunity to meet some of the best tequila makers in the world and taste the results of their hard work.  I can’t wait to see what is under the tree in December.

When in Vegas……………

IMG_20140725_200042170_HDRI cannot say I a Las Vegas kind of guy. Swank I am ok with, decadency, not so much. I am not a gambler and while the people watching is unparalleled, I do not find much else to look forward to when I come to Vegas. That is until this trip. It started with a conversation with Tony at work. He mentioned he had just come back from Vegas and I said I was just about to leave. When I told him that I was staying at the Cosmopolitan, he started to tell me about a little known pizza place on the second floor. “It’s right next to Holstein’s” he said, “the place with the best burgers in Vegas”.  “Would you walk past Holstein’s to get the pizza?” I asked. “No” he replied.  Well, that’s and easy decision I thought.

So in I walked, expecting a typical well hyped Vegas meal with little to show when all IMG_20140725_185843648was said and done. I sat at the bar and was instantly greeted by Toshi. He started to tell me about the over 100 beers they had available and then asked what I was interested in. I told him I was interested in a stout. He listed off several they had available and then asked me to wait. He returned with a Left Coast Ale Epeteios Imperial Stout and said I would not be disappointed. How could I refuse, and I am glad I didn’t. A very nice, deep flavored stout with coffee and dark chocolate flavors and a clean finish. He then proceeded to recommend several burgers on the menu that would pair well with my choice of beverage. I choose the The Fun-Ghi , a beef Patty with truffle marinated portabella mushrooms, caramelized Onions and gruyere cheese. I am well versed with wine and food pairing, but here was a BEER and food pairing that made me stop, smile, and slowly enjoy every bite. I can honestly say it was the best burger I have had and the pairing made it a meal to remember.

Thank you Toshi for the hospitality, recommendations, and reminding me how good beer and food pairing can be. I will be back!

#WBC14 in the rear view mirror

IMG_20140711_110805016Well the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara is behind us and here are my thoughts on the conference itself and the region we got to visit. I would not call myself a conference veteran but Troya and I did go to the 2013 WBC so I knew what to expect. This was Brax and Hills first time though so I will be interested to hear their thoughts. The concept is to bring like-minded people, wine bloggers in this case, together in a wine-producing region to network with each other, network with the wineries in the area and learn about their chosen craft or hobby in a way that otherwise would not be possible. Oh, and we get to drink a lot of wine too.

This year’s visiting country was Portugal. I have been intrigued by this area of the world for a while now so I was excited to taste some of their wines, both with food and in a traditional tasting setting. I was very impressed with the wines themselves and how they paired with a number of foods. While they have a long history of wine making they are just recently being recognized by the wine drinking world. Last year Uruguay was the featured country and we were equally impressed. Now I have another on my “must visit” list.

Maybe it was just because it was my first time but last year I was a little more impressed IMG_20140711_173430069_HDRwith the break-out sessions. Some of the themes were similar and all of the information was relevant but I thought last year the information was just a little more directed to the world of blogging. We did have a writing critique break-out (sorry if no one notices any improvement here) and while the information was very valuable with regard to writing in general, and writing to an audience, writing a blog is a very different style then print or formal publications so not all of their advice and recommendations were transferable.  It’s a little like having a ballet professional judge a hip hop contest. We did get to taste some great wine, not just from Santa Barbara County and Portugal but also from Greece, Chile, Italy and France. Yeh, I know, tough job huh. Unfortunately, unlike last year when they did a great job of show-casing the beauty of the BC area, this time it felt like we spent a lot of time in tents.

IMG_20140711_173327859We have wanted to get down to the Santa Barbara area to do some tasting for a while now buts it’s just so hard to drive past Paso without stopping. This was a good excuse to get to know the region and its people. Santa Barbara County has 5 official AVA’s and have over 200 wineries. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are the big players here but they grow more than 50 varietals. We got to view a press release for a podcast done by Vintage 2014 called “dirt don’t lie” that follows the regions growers and wine through the 2014 season. Very well done and more informative than I could ever be so if you want the real low down on the area it is available on iTunes. Bottom line is this seems like a rather close knit group of wine makers that do a great job on their own but also collaborate a lot to produce some very distinctive and pleasing wine. I was able to enjoy several very good wines produced here but for me the wine maker that stood out was Blair Fox. He is the wine maker for Fess Parker but also has his own label. He was pouring a Syrah at one of our events that made me walk away from the crowd so I could enjoy it alone. That good.  I am looking forward to a return trip to the region and will especially look into more of the Syrah’s since I was not able to taste very many on this trip.

The highlight of the weekend was meeting and getting to know a bunch of new people IMG_20140711_175000370and leaning about the latest and greatest in the world of wine. We got to spend a lot of time with Denelle who works for Vital Vessels, a company that produces “eggs” for wine and spirit production. A very cool concept, similar to concrete, but these are ceramic so they breathe a bit better and their shape allows an internal current to keep the product at a constant cool temperature. This process allows the wine to mature with very little interruption and the end result is a very smooth and flavor full wine. The idea of making wine in an “egg” shaped vessel has been around for a long time but has recently revived (what’s old is new again).  If you have not already, I am sure you will come across a winery that is using this process soon (inside tip: Vital Vessels also makes a small-sized egg that is perfect for some viticulture at home). We were also introduced to and Quini, two mobile aps for wine drinkers that might succeed where the some of the others have failed. uses analytics (like the baseball teams) to help identify wine you might like after you enter some data on wines you already know you like and why. It’s meant for those that just want to be told what to get with a certain meal instead of guessing or relying on someone who does not know them at all. Quini is a tasting notes aps that is touch screen based and very user-friendly. You can quickly produce a note on a specific wine and then see what your personal ranking of that wine is. You can also put in your own personal notes if you have something specific to say and also see how others are ranking same wine. All of the information is stored on a cloud so you can access your notes from any web-based device to help you recall a wine or pair a wine with a specific meal. While only available on the iphone platform right, it should be available for droid devices soon. With a few updates they are working on this might be enough of an ap to make me stop thinking about creating my own.

All in all it was a great weekend and a great introduction to the Santa Barbara County wine region. We will definitely be back, even if we do have to pass up on Paso Robles to get there. I am looking forward to tasting more of the wines from the area and specifically tasting more from Blair Fox. Cheers!

Wine Bloggers Conference 2014


1100 hrs
Waaahoooo.  We have just landed in Santa Barbara for the 2014 Wine Bloggers conference.  Not wasting any time, we are starting out with wines from Portugal.  Herdade eo Esporao- Duas Castas Branco 2012 was my favodrite white.  Floral, fruity crisp.  More to follow.

1146 hrs
Just tasted Quinta do Romeu- Colheita Douro Tinto 2010 paired with a Brazilian Frittata.. OMG.. Great alone too.  Big fruit but lite with alcohol.

1400 speed blogging
Aridus vigionier. Born and raised in Wilcox Arizona.

Alta Maria 2012 Chardonnay. The neutral French Oak created a  lite buttery hint that does not overshadow the grape.  Velvet on the palate.

Fess Parker 2012 Viognier.  Yes, Fess Parker the actor.  If you are as old as Hill, you will remember him.  Ooh, nice and clean on the palate, fruit forward with hints of oak and caramel.

Terravant 2011 Chardonnay.  Monterey grapes. Classic Chardonnay.  Deep, rich. Complex.

Pacific Rim from Columbia Valley Wa.  Riesling. Owner is Nicolas Quilla created the sweetness meter called Riesling Rule.  This one was dry per the meter.

Urban Legend from Oaktown. 2011 Grenache Blanc.  Capay Valley grapes.  Fruity, dry.

1530 Wine Blends

Blind tasting of wine blends from around the world.  Excellant.

1700. Santa Barbara winery excursion

We got on the short bus for a mystery trip to an unknown winery for tasting and dinner.  We ended up at Melville winery.  Chad Melville gave us a tour.  Tasted some berries right off the vine. Then, we went into the tasting room and tasted 7 wineries.  My poor liver.

We tasted; Alma Rosa, Melville, Brewer-Clifton, Lafond, Zotovich, Carr, Ampelos,  and Babcock.

Saturday 0930 hours

First class of the day.  Business of wine.  Eye opening. Thank you Tim Hanni and Paul.

4th of July weekend

Hill and I are off to Clearlake to celebrate our Nations Name Day.  We are looking forward to a weekend of wakeboarding and adult  beverages with our great friends.  Luckily for us, our route to Clearlake is via the Silverado Trail through Napa.  Of course, we could not resist visiting a few wineries on the way up.

Paraduxx is one  winery I have wanted to visit for awhile.  We parked the boat into the lot and headed in for a tasting.  The tasting fee is $30, so Hill and I decided to share aTasting.  Johnny Bon brought out our tasting flight and introduced us to the winery and the wines we were tasting.  We tasted the 2013 Napa Valley Rose, 2011 M blend, 2011 C blend, 2011 Rector Creek Red Wine, 2011 Howell Mountain Red Wine, and Johnny treated us to a bonus pour of their 2011 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.  I enjoyed all of their wines.The M blend was a Merlot-Zin blend. It was full of red fruit, plum and spice.  I found the mid range heavy in tannins (for my taste)  but the finish was well balanced and even. The wine is well priced and would go well alone or with food.

The 2011 Rector Creek and Howell Mountain are really good Zin-cab blends.  The price point is a little high but, you do get what you pay for.

Last stop before heading over the hill was Cuvaison.  We first discovered Cuvaison on a recent weekend trip to Sonoma. I was really excited to visit the original tasting room on the Silverado Trail.  It did not disappoint.  The tasting flight was their 2012 Kite Tail Chardonnay, 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, 2012 Estate Syrah, 2011 Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2012 Brandlin Zin.  All of their wines were delicious and well priced.  We are considering joining their wine club.  The one that really got my attention was their 2012 Estate Syrah.  It gas a deep red plum color and a nose that will make your mouth water.  It is full of dark berry fruits with bacon, pepper and silky tannins.  It is everything you look for in a Syrah.  The 2012 Brandlin Zin is also worth mentioning.  It is old  a old vine Zin full of spice and pepper with hints of caramel and vanilla on the finish.  It is complex and mature and worth discussion.

Overall, not a bad way to start off the holiday.  Happy 4th of July.