Food & Drink

Russ Winton: Odd lots and other thoughts of wine

By Russ Winton

The year 2014 was a busy one for the Navigator and me. Busy, but always fun. By the end of the year, I always have a stack of wine-stained notes on my desk that didn’t make into Wine Line. I think they should, hence, wine thoughts and not-too-odd lots. Here goes.

Pieces of Chocolate: How does a chocolate tasting room sound? Professional Chef Michael Barnes makes his own specialty chocolates and pairs them with wine. I tasted several of his chocolates paired with moscato and thought I’d gone to chocolate heaven. His tasting room is in Danville. You can find out more at

Lucca Winery: Yes, there is another Italian winery in Stanislaus County. We received an invitation to a release party at this 2-year-old winery on East River Road in Ripon. We had a great time. I thought Louie Prima would show up any minute. Farmer-winemaker Mark Lucchesi sources his grapes from Oakley and makes big, bold red wines like carignane, sangiovese, zinfandel and mourvedre. Shop locally at

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines and Navarro Vineyards: Both are celebrating their 40th anniversary and produce excellent wines. Navarro planted vineyards in the beautiful Anderson Valley of Mendocino County before it was the “in” spot. Their Deep End Blend Pinot Noir is what we drink every Thanksgiving. You can find more at J. Lohr Vineyards helped develop the wine regions of Monterey and Paso Robles. Today, J. Lohr’s sustainable certified estate program spans more than 3,700 acres. My table selections have been the Los Osos Merlot and the Falcon’s Perch Pinot Noir. Both are award-winning wines at very fair prices.

The Big Crush: Set aside the first weekend in October next year and attend the Amador Vintner’s Harvest Festival. This is an extremely well-run event. You’d think with over 4,000 attendees it would be a madhouse. Not so. All the participating wineries (40-plus) provide tasty food, live music, special wine deals and many set up extra space for tasting. They know how to throw a party and it’s a good one. It’s just $40 for two days. Are you kidding me?

Peter Mondavi Sr.: Charles Krug was the first winery to open a tasting room in Napa Valley. Peter Mondavi Sr. assumed the role of president in 1976 and celebrated his 100th birthday on Nov. 8 this year. His research on cold fermentation and planting vines in the Carneros region contributed to his being named one of the 12 “Living Legends” by the Napa Valley Vintners Association. The recently remodeled winery includes Cucina di Rosa, a trattoria named after matriarch Rosa Mondavi. If you visit, make sure you taste the 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. That alone is worth the trip. Cheers!

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