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Dennis Sodomka

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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…

Camille Braun Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, France Cost: $21-23 I don’t know about you, but I long for the days when we can safely gather with friends, or enjoy a nice restaurant meal. I especially miss wine tasting dinners that combine great wine with perfectly paired food. I am hopeful that all will happen soon, but in the meantime we have to do the best we can to make home meals something special. One of the things that make a meal special for Teri and me is sparkling wine. We always have a bottle of wine with dinner, but a bottle of bubbly makes those dinners feel like special events. Sparkling rosé is even better because there is something bright and festive about pink sparkling wine. Cremant d’Alsace is a great wine for those occasions because you can get a good bottle of wine without breaking the bank. The Camille…

This is the most wonderful time of the year, when the sound of wine corks popping is heard everywhere you go. The last three months of the year, particularly December, are the busiest time for sparkling wine sales. About 40 percent of all sparkling wine is sold in October, November and December. Leaders in the food and beverage industry estimate Americans drink about 360 million glasses of sparkling wine on Dec. 31 alone. So, the odds are good you will be drinking or buying sparkling wine in the next week or two. To help you find your way through the maze of sparkling wine available, we offer here a guide to sparkling wine and some tips on how to appreciate it. Though most Americans think of sparkling wine as primarily for celebrations such as New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, weddings and graduations, it can be enjoyed any time. Sparklers pair…

D o you have questions about fixing the food and pairing the wines for a turkey dinner? Well, Frank Family Wines has answers. They hosted an outstanding virtual wine tasting before Thanksgiving that included a professional chef who offered us many practical tips about preparing the turkey, stuffing and sides. Meanwhile, the Frank Family folks showed us four wines that would be perfect with a Thanksgiving dinner. Chef Christina Machamer’s accolades include winning the fourth season of FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen and working side-by-side with some of the world’s top chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Thomas Keller. She achieved a Sommelier certification from the Master Court of Sommeliers based in London. Chef Christina has lived in Napa Valley for the past decade where she now works as a personal chef for both wineries and tourists. It may be too late to help with this Thanksgiving, but if you cook a turkey…

Frank Family Wine Club Tasting I t would be difficult to point to good things that have emerged from our prolonged pandemic quarantine, but virtual wine tastings would be at the top of that list. Even though few of us have been able to travel to wine country to take part in wine tastings at wineries, the magic of the Internet has brought those tastings into our homes. I have participated in many such tastings and have loved every one. Frank Family Vineyards is legendary for its on-site hospitality, and now it offers the best virtual tastings for experts and novices alike, at no charge. They usually drink 4-6 wines and often pair them with food. They keep the chatter light, so it feels more like a cocktail party than a university lecture. And they keep the tastings to one hour. I have several tastings I will write about in…

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