Wineries of the Month

Ciacci Piccolomini
Located in southeastern Montalcino in the village of Castelnuovo del Abate, the Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona estate dates back to the 17th Century when Bishop Fabivs de Vecchis, Abbot of Sant Antimo, built the Palazzo. The estate passed to Francesco Ciacci in 1877, and today, the Bianchini family owns the property. The Bianchini story is unusual in that the family had no connection to the nobility, the clergy, or to wealth. Instead Giuseppe Bianchini farmed the estate for Countess Ciacci Piccolomini, who left the property to him when she died in 1985. Giuseppe’s children Paolo and Lucia were born there and now manage the 200-hectare estate with 40 hectares planted to vines. They farm organically without the use of chemicals or pesticides, and in the cellar, their Sangiovese-based wines are classically styled in large oak and cement casks. Ciacci Piccolomini is best known for its single-vineyard Brunello Pianrosso, one of the most noteworthy crus of Tuscany’s Montalcino.

Located in Castellina in Chianti near Sienna, the Gagliole estate was purchased in 1990 by the Swiss couple Monika and Thomas Bar, who decided to settle in Gagliole in order to return to Tuscany where they had met. Located at 500 meters above sea level, the terraced vineyards are planted to Sangiovese. Renowned enologist Stefano Chioccioli is the consulting winemaker. Wine critic Antonio Galloni, who tasted the wines in barrel in 2014, predicted that “they would be among the very best modern-style wines in all of Tuscany.”

La Spinetta Toscana
Giorgio Rivetti and his brothers founded La Spinetta in Piemonte and made their reputations with Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera. About 15 years ago, Giorgio began to publicly criticize his colleagues in Tuscany for pulling out old Sangiovese vineyards and planting international varieties. Giorgio eventually purchased one of these old vineyards and an adjoining 50 hectares at Casanova between Pisa and Volterra. In 2004, the brothers built a winery there and firmly established themselves in Tuscany, making wines from indigenous Sangiovese, Coloroino, and Vermentino. In addition to the wineries in Piemonte and Toscana, they have assembled a portfolio of wines under the Indigenous label, which features Italian grape varieties, farmed in small, family-owned vineyards. Like their production in Piemonte and Toscana, these small vineyards are farmed without chemicals, herbicides, or pesticides.


Winery of the Month

Philo Ridge Vineyards
Philo Ridge is located in remote Anderson Valley about 100 miles north of San Francisco and 27 miles over a winding road to the coast from Highway 101. One of the coolest wine regions in California, the Valley attracts Pinot Noir lovers, who appreciate the leaner, intense style that cooler temperatures instill in the wines. Alsace fans, looking for steely, aromatic versions of Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Riesling are also motivated to make the trek. In addition to the wines, towering redwoods, the meandering Navarro River, and a rugged coast add to the magic of the place.

Husband and wife Fred Buonanno and Heather McKelvey fell in love with Anderson Valley, its stunning topography and superb wines, and purchased their 10-acre estate in 1999, now planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. They live and work five miles up a dirt/rock road and two miles off the electrical grid, somewhere between earth and celestial territory, with a panorama of wooded hills that ends in the sky. “We power our home and winery entirely with solar and wind power and are the only winery to do so in all of Mendocino County,” Fred says.

Although Fred and Heather work together, Heather is the formal winemaker. “She’s an engineer and very analytical,” Fred says. “She loves to look at things and figure them out. She’s also an excellent cook, and I think that’s related to her ability to make our wines. She understands flavor. She understands subtle nuances.”

Making very small lots of different wines, whose fruit they source from pristinely farmed vineyards, Fred and Heather make about 2,500 cases a year and employ traditional farming and winemaking methods. “We are not trying to make better wine through chemistry,” Fred says. To preserve more varietal character, they don’t filter or fine their red wines. To clarify the wine, they rack it gently from one barrel to another instead of filtering. And they age their wines for as long as they think a wine will benefit even though holding back inventory means deferring income. “Not to make it sound like we’re hicks from the sticks. We have access to modern equipment, but we choose not to employ it. So winemaking is more hands-on and time intensive for us. We’re trying to do the right thing by the wines,” Fred says.

ITALIAN Wines of the Month


Ciacci Piccolomini
2012 Rosso Toscana
This delicious wine is a blend of 85% Sangiovese and 15% of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. The wine displays sweet cherry, red plum, flowers, leather, and dusty earth. I first tasted the wine slightly chilled by warehouse temperatures instead of room temperature and was reminded once again that reds with a slight chill, 65 to 68 degrees, are at their best (13% alcohol).

2014 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi
We followed Giorgio Rivetti across the Tuscan border into Le Marche for our Artisan Series white and chose his Verdicchio from one of the best Verdicchio appellations in Italy, Castelli di Jesi, know for racy acidity and bright fruit. Serve chilled with appetizers, shell fish, and prosciutto (13% alcohol).


Gagliole 2012 Chianti Classico Rubiolo
With raspberry and blackberry fruit in the nose and fresh fruit with a spicy edge on the palate, this fine wine is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot. Aged for 12 months in oak casks and stainless steel vats, Chianti fruit flavors remain fresh and vibrant (13% alcohol).

La Spinetta 2008 Il Gentile di Casanova
From the sustainably farmed Casanova vineyard, the grapes for this wine are 100% Prugnolo Gentile, a particular Sangiovese clone from Montepulciano. The wine shows everything we love about Sangiovese, bitter cherry, dried flowers, menthol, and smoke on the nose and lush and layered sensations on the palate. The Il Gentile di Casanova is a beauty.

La Spinetta
2013 Toscana Vermentino di Casanova
Farmed without pesticides or herbicides at the Casanova vineyard, this 100% Vermentino shows beautiful acidity at 13% alcohol and aromas of citrus, rosemary, and pine. On the palate, the wine is bright and elegant with fruit and floral notes, especially apricot and peach. Serve chilled.


Cacci Piccolomini
2009 Brunello di Montalcino
This delicious Brunello was made from a selection of the best grapes from all of the estate vineyards, including the esteemed Pianrosso vineyard. Antonio Galloni, writing for online Vinous Media, praises the wine as one of the best Brunellos from a challenging vintage. “Sweet tobacco, menthol, racy red cherries, hard candy, spices, and Mediterranean herbs blossom in an impeccable, large-scaled Brunello loaded with class. The style is quite rich and textured, but all the elements are in the right place.” Serve at cool room temperature (14.5% alcohol).

2010 Colli della Toscana Centrale
A blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, this captivating wine is rich but beautifully balanced. Antonio Galloni awarded the wine 93 points and describes it as follows: “The 2010 Gagliole Rosso is gorgeous in this vintage. A rich, deeply spiced wine, the 2010 is laced with cloves, cinnamon, plums, licorice and black cherries. A deep, dense wine, the 2010 is loaded with fruit, but at the same time, there is more than enough structure to provide support. All the elements are very nicely balanced here (14% alcohol).”

ITALIAN Region of the Month


The name Toscana comes from the Latin Tuscia, which the Romans called the area to honor the Etruscans, who developed an advanced civilization there before the Romans subjugated them. The Etruscans were wine makers, but the Romans preferred stronger southern wines. Thus the Etruscan wine trade faded until monks revived viticulture in the region. Wine became a daily beverage in the medieval cities of Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca, and Arezzo. During the Renaissance, which began in Florence, the wines of Toscana were transported throughout Europe. The noble red grape variety of Toscana is Sangiovese. Although many clones of Sangiovese exist, the superior ones are among the world’s finest vines, such as Montalcino’s Brunello, Chianti’s Sangioveto, and Montepulciano’s Prugnolo Gentile. Among other fine Sangiovese based wines are Rosso di Montalcino, Vino Nobile, and Carmignano. Tuscan wines also include the “Super Tuscans,” which are100% Cabernet or Sangiovese-Cabernet blends. In the government system of laws that regulate wine production, Toscana boasts 11 DOCG areas, 39 DOC areas, and 6 ITG.

CALIFORNIAN Wines of the Month


Philo Ridge Vino di Mendocino IV
A blend of 55% Zinfandel, 25% Petite Sirah, 15% Carignane, and 5% Syrah, the Mendocino IV echoes the California field blend of old. The wine shows bright berry flavor with pepper and earth in the background and is balanced with plenty of clean acid and smooth tannins. This fine medium bodied red will compliment anything on your summer grill (alcohol 14.2%, pH 3.56, total acidity 0.65 g/100ml, 225 cases produced).

Philo Ridge 2013 Gewurztraminer,
Ferrington Vineyard
Eliminating the need for herbicides and pesticides, Ferrington Vineyard is farmed by tilling native grasses between vine rows, providing both beneficial insect habitat and soil enrichment. Dry, fresh, and aromatic, the wine presents the fresh flavors and aromas typical of Gewurztraminer (alcohol 14.1%, pH 3.38, total acidity 9.69 g/100ml, 105 cases made). Serve chilled.


Philo Ridge 2012 Zinfandel,
Firebrick Vineyard
Located in the Redwood Valley appellation of Mendocino County, organically farmed Firebrick Vineyard was planted in the 1960s and features dry-farmed and head-trained vines that look like small trees. The wine is 95% Zinfandel with 5% Petite Sirah, which contributes color to lightly pigmented Zinfandel. The wine is aromatic, elegant, and balanced, a style that is rare for normally fruit-heavy Zinfandel. Decant the wine to release full flavors of blackberry, chocolate, and pepper (alcohol 14.06%, pH 3.58, total acidity 0.64 g/100 ml, cases produced 250).

Philo Ridge 2010 Pinot Noir,
Marguerite Vineyard
Forty year-old Marguerite Vineyard, located at an elevation of 1500 feet, is entirely dry-farmed without irrigation. Naturally mined minerals and amendments are added to the soil, replacing dependence on chemical fertilizers, toxic fungicides, and insecticides. Aged for 27 months in mostly older French oak barrels, this beautifully balanced wine is marked by floral aromas and tastes of blueberries. Philo Ridge reds are tight when opened, so decant before serving to expose the full range of flavors and aromas. This versatile wine will compliment grilled fish as well as white and red meats (alcohol 13.72%, pH 3.56, total acidity 0.63, cases produced 150).

Philo Ridge 2012 Pinot Gris,
Marguerite Vineyard
Wines made from Marguerite Vineyard fruit are remarkably aromatic, including the Pinot Noir above. This Pinot Gris has a floral bouquet and flavors of peach and apricot with a beautiful acid balance (alcohol 13%, pH 3.37, total acidity 0.65 g/100ml, cases produced 195).

CALIFORNIAN Region of the Month


Created in 1850 at the time of California statehood, Mendocino County is located 90 miles north of San Francisco and is noted for its Pacific Ocean coastline, Redwood forests, wine production, microbreweries, and liberal views about the use of cannabis. Nearly 25% of vineyards are cultivated organically. In 2004, residents voted to become the first GMO-free county in the United States, an initiative that was supported by the county’s largest wineries. The Mendocino Range segment essentially divides the region into two climatic spheres. The land to the west of the ranges, closest to the coast, has a maritime climate that includes cooling and rain influences from the Pacific ocean. Among the wine regions in this cooler area are the AVAs Mendocino Ridge, Anderson Valley, and Yorkville Highlands. East of the ranges, the climate turns warmer around Ukiah and along the path of the Russian River. The Redwood Valley, Potter Valley, Cole Ranch, McDowell Valley, Covelo, Dos Rios AVAs and most of the large general Mendocino AVA are in this warmer area. The climatic and geographical diversity of Mendocino county allows the region to produce a wide range of grape varieties.


Father’s Day Bash

A platter of watermelon, sliced into bite size triangles, drizzled with
olive oil, followed by a sprinkle of salt and pepper, then layered with
finely sliced red onions, pieces of feta cheese, and finally coarsely
chopped flat-leaf parsley

Main Course
Mixed grill, including sausage, herb marinated chicken thighs,
and rack of lamb, served with Castellccio lentil salad

Green bean, tomato, and red onion salad, dressed
with olive oil and chopped parsley

Sour cherry pie

Castelluccio lentil salad with oven-dried tomatoes

The internet, with its thousands of food sites, was supposed to forever end the publication of cookbooks. Then along came London chef Yotam Ottolenghi with a series of run-away best-selling cookbooks. The following recipe was adapted from one of his first, Plenty, published by Chronicle Books.

Oven-dried tomatoes
5 plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 small red onion, halved and
thinly sliced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1-1/3 cups Castelluccio lentils
3 tablespoons olive oil or more
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 tablespoons chopped chives
4 tablespoons chopped dill

To make the oven-dried tomatoes, preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Quarter the tomatoes vertically and place skin-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar over them and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 1-1/2 hours or until semi-dried. Allow to cool down slightly.

Put onions, garlic, herbs, olive oil, vinegar, and salt in a large bowl, big enough to hold the lentils, and mix well.

Place the lentils in a pan of boiling water with enough to cover them by at least an inch, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender but chewable. Drain well and add to the vegetables immediately. Mix well. Finally add tomatoes and their cooking juices, and mix lightly. Add more salt, vinegar, or olive oil if necessary. Serve on a platter.