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Dennis Sodomka

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Frank Family wine tastings are always fun, whether you are at the winery or joining one of their virtual tastings. Their latest online event was even better than usual, as the winery staff was joined by a North Carolina pit master. Now, I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting a pit master to offer much help on cooking steaks. I think of a pit master as being great with Boston butts or pork shoulders or even whole hogs, cooking low and slow. But Jack Arnold, the Davidson, N.C. pit master, was terrific. He cooked two kinds of steak, tomahawk and filet, and they both looked great. I even tried some of his techniques, and they made my steaks better. But that’s the way it is with the Frank Family tastings. I’m always learning something. This tasting was in honor of Independence Day and the founding of Frank Family Vineyards, which opened July…

Gotas de Mar Albariño 2020, Spain Cost: $21-23 What: You never know where you are going to find your next bottle of favorite wine. I was first attracted to the Gotas de Mar Albariño by the striking bottle, tall and thin, made of blue glass with bold white and blue stripes. But I was won over by what is inside the bottle. This is a classic Albariño, with powerful stone fruit aromas and flavors with some minerality and a touch of the sea. If you have never had an Albariño you owe it to yourself to try one. My wife Teri is a huge fan of Chardonnay, but she will never turn down an Albariño. They usually are crisp and clean, with a touch of minerality and loaded with flavor. While they usually are a touch on the lighter side, they have enough weight to handle most any seafood dish.…

Veramonte Chardonnay Cost: $11-13 What: When you find a wine you like it’s a good idea to write it down and keep a list of favorite wines. If you are like me that list gets long. The Veramonte Chardonnay is on my list, but I had not opened a bottle in a few years, so I was eager to try it again. If anything, the wine was even better than I remembered it. And at about $12 a bottle it is a great bargain. My wife Teri and I sometimes try to forget about the price of the wine and then try to guess it when we drink it. I think our lowest guess on this wine came in at $20. It’s a bright, smooth wine, with some good weight. It is a not a wimpy wine, and can hold it’s own with a great meal. The wine is made…

There is nothing better than a great pairing of food and wine, and the folks at the Jones Creek Clubhouse provided that with excellent food and wine from Ketcham Estate. It was great fun for me because it was the second time in a week I was able to participate in a Ketcham Estate wine dinner. Owner Allie Ketcham was in town for a few days, and it seemed like every stop was a roaring success. The 40 or so people at the Clubhouse had a great time, laughing and talking and raving about the food and wine. My wife Teri and I joined a table full of interesting people and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. That’s one of the fun things about these wine dinners: you get to meet new people with a shared interest in good food and wine. For some it was their first experience with Ketcham Estate,…

Calvert’s Restaurant jumped back into the wine dinner business with a splash this week, welcoming a full house to a great six-course dinner paired with Ketcham Estate wines. Thoughts of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown were far away as people laughed, talked and enjoyed the terrific meal. “I always feel like I’m home when I come to Augusta,” said Allie Ketcham, owner of the winery. “It’s a whole community of friends and family.” Allie said this was her first post-COVID wine dinner, and she was very excited. She has been to Augusta before and several people in the crowd had visited her at Ketcham Estates in Healdsburg, in the Sonoma Valley. It also was great to see restaurant owner Craig Calvert and his expert staff. It is hard to imagine better wine dinners than the ones offered by Calvert’s. They leave time for the winemaker to describe the wines, time for…

Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner 2020, Austria Cost: $17-19 What: After you have been drinking wine for a while you start to feel like you can figure out just about anything you come across. But one of the best things about drinking wine is you are guaranteed to be surprised at times. I have had several pleasant surprises lately, and I will be writing about them in the weeks ahead. Today’s surprise is the Grüner Veltliner from Domäne Wachau in Austria. I have had Grüner Veltliner (or gru-vee as it’s sometimes called) many times, and have always enjoyed it. But this one was really something special. It was loaded with fresh fruit and strong minerality, a combination I love. I have never had a bad gru-vee, but this one stood out. As I researched the wine I figured out why I liked this one so much. This wine had “federspiel terrassen”…

Line 39 Spritzers, Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc Cost: $13 What: Just in time for the hot days of summer we get a new refreshing wine drink called Line 39 Spritzers ($13/4 pack). Each of the three flavors features good wine, sparkling water and a hint of a natural flavor. They are delicious and with just 5% alcohol, each small aluminum bottle contains only 100 calories. So if you are watching your weight and still want to drink wine, this is the drink to try. I liked all three flavors, but I think my favorite was the Rosé, which has a hint of strawberry flavor added. It’s bright and refreshing. The strawberry flavor comes through clearly, but without any sweetness. It’s perfect for a light lunch, or an afternoon snack on the deck. I also tried the Pinot Noir and the Sauvignon Blanc. I loved the strong black cherry and…

The Hilt Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, 2018 From: Sta. Rita Hills Cost: $45 Great wines often are made from fruit grown in places where you hardly expect to find grape vines. And great winemakers like to push the boundaries to see how far they can go. That’s the case at The Hilt, where the rugged terrain of the southern Sta. Rita Hills fits perfectly with Matt Dees “farming in the margins” philosophy. With grapes from The Hilt’s windswept Radian and Bentrock vineyards he makes spectacular Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I recently joined a virtual tasting of the 2018 vintage of their Estate Chardonnay and Estate Pinot Noir, and both wines are as breathtaking as the vineyards where the grapes were grown. I also visited the vineyards last year just before the pandemic shut down nearly all travel, and I found the winery and vineyards stunning. “The 2018s represent the essence of…

Pfendler Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Cost: $45, $55 What: If you want to find out why wine lovers rave about the Petaluma Gap, just try the Chardonnay or Pinot Noir produced by Pfendler Vineyards. The 2019 vintage of both wines displays all the best characteristics of wines originating in this unique area: rich, elegant fruit with crisp acidity. Just 25 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Petaluma Gap generates unusual wind and fog conditions that make the region one of the best for growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Pfendler and its winemaker, Erica Stancliff, take full advantage of these conditions to produce outstanding artisanal wines. Peter Pfendler planted the first vineyard on the family’s Sonoma Mountain ranch in 1992, with subsequent plantings flowing from the peak of the mountain to its base. His wife, Kimberly, founded the winery in 2007, after Peter had died. On the winery’s website…

Samra Morris took an unusual path to becoming a winemaker in the surging Sta. Rita Hills region of California. A native of Bosnia, she grew up in a war zone. Later she had dreams of becoming a brewmaster. Now she is the winemaker for Alma Rosa, a Sta. Rita Hills winery that makes some outstanding wines. Trying to make the best of the COVID pandemic lockdown, Alma Rosa introduced Samra to wine writers via a virtual tasting. She was delightful, and her wines were fabulous. The four wines we tasted all were the first wines in which she had control from vineyard to glass. I would prefer to do these wine tastings in person, and nothing can compare to meeting winemakers face-to-face, but the virtual tastings do allow all of us a greater range of tastings. And while wineries are slowly reopening tasting rooms, they can at least reach wine…

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