Poco a Poco Zinfandel
Zinfandel reached American shores approximately 200 years ago. Soon after arriving, Zinfandel travelled west to California where it flourished, achieved success and has become so respected and adored that it is now commonly accepted to refer to it as America’s grape. A true American wine tale. I understood its allure early in my wine life. Zinfandel makes a wine that is easy to grasp and appreciate. The flavors are bold and forward; the pleasure is immediate. For me the connection is Zinfandel + Russian River = family + summer + good times. That’s why to mark the unofficial start of summer, a bottle of Zinfandel will trek up north with me to the family dacha this weekend. What will I be toting along? Poco a Poco’s 2014 Russian River Zinfandel.
Winemaker Luke Bass
Poco a Poco is a line of wines made by Luke Bass of Porter Bass Vineyards. Luke sources organic grapes along with his own biodynamically grown grapes to make easy, immediately accessible, well-crafted wine at more than fair prices. Thinking about this now, I can’t really come up with too many other producers who are deliberately using grapes of this quality to make value-priced wine on a small scale. Maybe there is no glory in it or probably the economics don’t play out well enough. All this means is that this wine buyer spends a lot of time combing through offers, meeting with vendors and keeping her eyes and ears open to who’s doing what to find such a gem.
Luke and Son on tractor
The 2014 Zinfandel is sourced from the Forchini family that owns a 24 acre vineyard 1/2 mile east of the Russian River just south of Limerick Lane. The vineyard is farmed organically. Luke, as he does with all his wine, approaches winemaking by celebrating the grape. For this Zinfandel, he fermented the grapes with native yeast andaged the wine in neutral French oak. Pretty straightforward, if you ask me. The resulting wine capturesthe zesty berry burst of Zinfandel allowing the tanginess of the fruit to emerge. Not soupy or marred by oak notes, this is a resoundingly bright natured Zinfandel. The inherent acidity will play nicely at the table, especially with bold-flavored grilled fare and won’t shy away from American barbecue.
Hacienda Bridge
I called my mom to find out what was on the menu for the family get-together dinner. She said “the usual Zaharoff cook-out…Bulgogi, rice, fresh cabbage salad, bean sprouts salad and a bunch of other stuff”. For years growing up I thought the classic Korean Bulgogi was actually a Russian dish. It is not a far stretch to imagine how a Russian immigrant family came to adopt classic Korean dishes as their own and turning it into their American tradition, serving it on National Holidays at family gatherings. I am excited to see how the Poco a Poco Zinfandel will soak up the savory flavors of the rum-marinated beef and sesame seed oil seasoned salads. I think its going to be a sensational pairing. And yes, Kon, I really am bringing a bottle of this wine to the River! – Anya Balistreri
Poco a Poco
The Poco a Poco 2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noiris another one of those strong values made by a talented winemaker offering an entry-level tier. I look out for these types of scenarios because, if the stars all perfectly align,fabulous juice can be purchased for a fraction of what the competition might charge for a comparable wine. The 2014 Poco a Poco Pinot Noir is delightful because of its vibrant, cheery red cherry fruit delivered in a charming light/medium-bodied weight package. This is not an over-the-top Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, but a restrained, fruity and pure example of one.
Poco a Poco is brought to you by Luke Bass and his wife, Elena. Luke Bass is the winemaker at Porter Bass. At the north-western edge of the Russian River Valley lies the vineyards of Porter Bass which are biodynamically farmed. The fruit from this small estate is in very high demand, and they only it sell to a select few. The tiny production at Porter Bass forced them to seek other vineyard sources to make wine under their Poco a Poco label. For the 2014 Pinot Noir, Luke uses fruit from the Forchini family’s vineyard just south of the town of Healdsburg and a half mile east of the Russian River. The Pinot Noir grown here is between 10-30 years of age and is organically farmed. The success of the Poco a Poco Pinot Noir is evident in that little by little production has increased. This is certainly a good thing because TWH has been cut short on more than one vintage. The 2014 has just been released, so I anticipate stocking it over the next couple months.
The 2014 Poco a Poco Pinot Noir is ideally suited for warmer days and evenings with its integrated, delicate tannins. If you decide to pop open a bottle and temps outside are pushing 90 degrees, its important to make sure the wine isn’t at room temperature. Go ahead and stick the bottle in the fridge for a few minutes in order to replicate optimal cool cellar temperatures. By doing so, you’ll get brighter and livelier flavors in the glass.

As wine trends go, I am over-joyed by the uptick in frequency of customers asking specifically for lighter reds. It warms this wine merchant’s heart to see wine drinkers embrace a wider diversity of wine styles. As we head into the summer months, it is not as if we all stop drinking red wine and start drinking white and rosé exclusively. And yet, how often, even with a rich piece of grilled meat, does a heavy tannic red fall flat (or hot) when outside temperatures spike? Avoid this mishap by selecting a softer tannin red, one that does not sacrifice flavor and complexity for heft like the 2014 Poco a Poco Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. I know I’ll be looking forward to bringing along a bottle to share with family and friends at one of this summer’s out-on-the-deck beneath the Redwoods dinner gatherings. – Anya Balistreri

Lacuna & Juicy Villages

Monday, November 25, 2013 7:24 PM

Carrying over Pete’s theme from last week – for Thanksgiving, drink what you like! Yes, the anything goes approach when choosing a wine for Thanksgiving is gaining strength even among wine writers and journalists. It is a relief to me that this new trend has emerged. If asked, I will share strong opinions as to what I think works best with turkey and all the trimmings, but I feel even stronger that at Thanksgiving, time should be spent on family and friends and not worrying about what wine to serve. It really only matters what you enjoy drinking and to understand your crowd. For years I was banging my head against the wall, trying to impress my food-loving, California wine-drinking family with the earthy, soil-driven red Burgundy I brought to share. With age and wisdom, I now know to grab a bottle of Zinfandel or Syrah from one of my favorite California producers to take home. Now we are all happy. So you see, relax and enjoy during this time of gratitude and reflection.

I have selected the following wines as viable options for the Thanksgiving table, that just also happen to be two top values from California. The quality that you get in the bottle far exceeds the price tag. They are not new to TWH and are probably familiar to many of you who read our newsletters, so without any further adieu welcome back in stock Lacuna and Juicy Villages!!!! 


The 2011 is the third vintage from Lacuna. Unlike the 2010, which was heavily influenced by Petite Sirah, and more like the 2007our Top Ten of 2010, the 2011 Lacuna has Syrah back in the driver’s seat. Leave it to winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson to source top quality fruit from various celebrated sites to blend together a perfect amalgamation of fruit, structure and perfume. 


For the three original partners in Lacuna, who were already actively working in the wine business, the aesthetic behind creating Lacuna was all about the aromatics and the texture. The three, passionate about Old World wines, wanted to apply their palate preferences to domestic wine. It may be a marketing nightmare for the guys, but I appreciate how each vintage of Lacuna brings out a different expression of fruit all the while adhering to a strong point of view. The aromatics at this young stage are quite dramatic in the 2011 Lacuna; notes of bacon fat, berries and petals waft up out of the glass. Inside the bottle you will find 85% Syrah, sourced from several sites and some co-fermented with Viognier just like they do in Cote-Rotie, with the balance comprised of old-vine Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Carignan. The mouth-coating fruit is persuasive and energetic. Yes, I would bring this wine to Thanksgiving, but I would also love to see it alongside braised short ribs or a steaming bowl of Carbonnade. The 2011 Lacuna proves to me that ’07 and ’10 weren’t just flukes. The gorgeous Lacuna reds are moving from strength to strength. 

12Juicy Rebound

Last year the 2011 Juicy Villages from Juicy Rebound made it to our list of Top Ten of 2012. It did not stay in stock for long. With only 100 cases produced, I expect the same to be true for the newly released 2012 Juicy Villages. Again it is a blend, but this vintage Syrah takes center stage with Grenache and Mourvedre cast in supporting roles. The Syrah and Grenache come from a vineyard in the Russian River Valley, while the Mourvedre comes from the legendary Evanghelo Vineyard in Contra Costa County. It is plush, dense and concentrated.Honestly, if you were to buy a wine of this quality from the majority of wineries out there, you could expect to pay 2-3 times more. So how do we get to be so lucky? It is one of those quirks in the wine industry; if you pay close enough attention though, this type of treasure can still be found.  Let’s just say, I’m deeply thankful to be able to recommend a wine of such pedigree and pleasure at such an affordable price to TWH customers.




There is a classification of winemaker that I describe as “a winemaker’s winemaker”. Douglas Danielak is such a winemaker. He may not be a household name like Randall Grahm, but if you ask around, you will find the respect and admiration for Doug’s winemaking skills, tasting prowess and overall wine knowledge is universal. As proof, Morgan Twain-Peterson (see Lacuna above) last July tweeted, “My vote for most historically underrated winemaker would likely go to Doug Danielak,” along with a photo of a bottle of Juicy Rebound Grenache. So you see, it is not just my opinion! 

It probably comes as no surprise that I do love Thanksgiving! All you do is eat, and drink. Yes, I love the roasted turkey and the traditional sides, but I also love how this American holiday adapts to each individual household. At my husband’s Italian-American family, there will be a platter of ravioli and at my family’s Russian-American table there will be pickled mushrooms and peppers, some type of beet dish and this year, fresh roe my mother cured. I hope to make the rounds to see everyone (and to taste a bit of everything!). Wishing you and yours a bountiful Thanksgiving! – Anya Balistreri

Cazar: Hunting For Quality

Monday, September 16, 2013 9:30 PM


The latest offerings from Cazar, the 2011 Chardonnay Russian River Valley and the 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, may in fact be the best values in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from California. A strong case can be made for this opinion. Under the Chasseur label, winemaker William Hunter has been widely recognized for making some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from “West County”, Sonoma County’s western edge of the Russian River Valley and Green Valley and the ocean-influenced Sonoma Coast. Taking his cue from Burgundy, William makes small lots of vineyard-designated wines. His wines are expressive and opulent. A few vintages back he created another label, Cazar, utilizing wine that doesn’t quite fit into his Chasseur offerings. His approach to making Cazar is not unlike his approach to making his vineyard-designated wines save for the oak regiment, which can dramatically impact cost. In essence, what you get with Cazar is something far more compelling and delicious than the majority of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir available for under $25. Seriously.



The 2011 Chardonnay is sourced entirely from the Russian River Valley. Aged in oak, this Chardonnay is full-bodied and rich. Golden-hued in color with notes of roasted hazelnuts, honey, ripe apple and pear, with a delectable, texturally rich, long-lasting finish. The intensity of this Chardonnay is bounded by the vintage’s trademark minerality. It is fancy through and through. The Cazar Pinot Noir has the coveted Sonoma Coast designation and comes from the picture perfect 2012 vintage. It is an intense Pinot Noir with notes of cherry and the sweet tangy goodness of ripe pomegranate seeds. Stylistically full and lush, this could easily be another winery’s flagship offering. I imagine there are probably wineries out there cursing William Hunter for offering wine of this quality for such a price. I just relish in knowing that bargains can still be found in the crowded wine market.



The appeal for these Cazar wines is not based solely on price. This pair successfully deliver the goods for a full-bodied, plush tasting experience. It was wise for William Hunter to create a separate label for Cazar as these wines are not sloppy seconds to his Chasseur wines, but can stand on their own. TWH has been carrying the Cazar wines for several vintages now and yes, they’ve all been great. However without a doubt, these new offerings are the very best yet. Stunning. Perhaps not collector’s wine, but if you are a devotee of sun-soaked California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, these wines should not be passed by.



It was Back to School Night this week at my daughter’s school. They sure get you for fundraising, donations and volunteering. But it is all good – the school’s wonderful. We had to guess our child’s self-made profile which included a family portrait, favorite things, etc. Besides recognizing her hand-writing, I immediately knew which one belonged to Sascha because she listed baking and cooking as her favorite activities. I was relieved that wine tasting was left off, but I know now that I am raising a Foodie! —Anya Balistreri

Miro’s Cellars Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir

Friday, November 23, 2012 10:25 PM

I am not exactly sure why a single-vineyard, 200 case production, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir would be offered for under $25 when Pinot Noir from the same exact vineyard, Floodgate Vineyard, can command bottle prices twice as much.Floodgate Vineyard, at the southern end of the Russian River Valley in an area known as the “Middle Reach”, was first planted decades ago and has been the source for numerous award-winning wines. I suppose the reason why winemaker/proprietor Miro Tcholakov offers this lovely, jubilant cherry-infused Pinot Noir at the low, low price of $22.98 (at The Wine House) is because he can. I have not personally met him (yet), but I’m going to go out on the limb here and conclude that Miro is probably a bit of a rebel who bucks convention to make wines that outperform expectations given their modest sticker price. We get inundated with wholesale books, dropped off regularly by hopeful wine salespeople. Time allowing, I will peruse the pages, hoping to find a gem among the crowded field. When I came across Miro’s Cellars in a small boutique portfolio, I thought the prices listed were a typo. I quickly emailed my rep and asked to taste the wines…only after confirming that the prices were indeed correct. I tasted the Floodgate Pinot Noir with Tom who when asked what he thought of it said something to the effect of “what are you waiting for?” Yeah, really, how often am I going to find a balanced, approachable, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from a famed vineyard for $22.98? Not nearly often enough; back up the truck!


Miro Tcholakov, a Bulgarian native, came to the U.S. on a student exchange program offered through the Future Farmers of America. He landed in Napa and quickly thereafter came to Dry Creek Vineyards where he worked up the ladder from harvest intern to winemaker. Now that is an American success story. These days he is winemaker for Trentadue Winery in Alexander Valley and as a side gig, makes wines for himself under Miro’s Cellars. Everything I’ve tasted from Miro to date has been wonderful and along with the Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir, we are carrying a Grist Vineyard Zinfandel and a GSM blend called “Cuvee Sasha”. Most of what I am sharing with you is information gathered from the Miro’s Cellar website where I found it revealing and refreshing that to read about Mr. Tcholakov, you have to scroll down to the very bottom of the homepage and click on a link. Obviously he is a modest winemaker who wants his wines to take center stage.


Miro’s 2010 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir is indicative of the intense cherry fruit you look for in Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Though relatively low in alcohol, labeled at 13.5%, for a red from this area, and with time in new oak, about 11 months, this Pinot Noir is expressive of place and is reigned in nicely. It’s a wine to consider for the Thanksgiving table or to bring along to your next dinner party.

The warehouse has been reloaded with a container from France. We’ll be unveiling the new arrivals in upcoming newsletters and once pallets have been broken down and wine counted in, many of you will soon be getting emails for wines purchased on pre-arrival. I’ve been having a major clean-up at home as I no longer can take refuge from the mess by staying outside. I made my first pot of stew of the season and have been on a roasted vegetable kick. Have you tried roasting Brussels Sprouts? My daughter scoffs them down! She told me the other night as she stabbed the tiny cruciferous morsel, “Do you know that some kids at school think these are yucky? I don’t…I love them!” Put that in the win column for mom. —Anya Balistreri

2 Cabs and a Zin

Thursday, October 11, 2012 7:40 PM

California Cabernet Sauvignons in the $15-$30 category is a tough slot to fill especially if you expect the grapes to come from a premium wine growing region and also be from a small production bottling. Tough yes, but not impossible. I just discovered two terrific Cabernets, one from Paso Robles and the other from Napa Valley that fit the criteria beautifully. And because I can’t seem to settle on just one wine to write about this week, I have also included a Russian River Valley Zinfandel, an old favorite, that has started a new chapter in its long history.

End Post is produced by Adelaida Cellars who established themselves on the west side of Paso Robles in 1981. Their vineyards are at 2000 feet elevation and only 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The Cabernet Sauvignon for the 2009 End Post comes from their famed Viking Vineyard, which lies on ancient calcareous soils of limestone and chalk. I was blown away by the deeply concentrated, expansive fruit-it is all plump, juicy black cherry and plum fruit, teetering on the brink of too juicy but stays anchored with chewy tannins, pleasant acidity and judicious use of oak. This is an amazing value for those looking for fruit impact. The End Post Cabernet was introduced to me by a broker for whom I have great admiration and who represents some very high end/prestigious California wineries. As I was tasting the End Post and listening to him describe the vineyard, I couldn’t help but wonder to myself,“how is he going to sell any of the expensive stuff, if he’s pouring something this good at this price?” I guess not everyone is looking for a bargain like myself, but seriously this tastes far more opulent than the $17.98 price suggests. This unabashedly Cali Cab is quite the delicious drink and at under 400 cases produced, it is not likely to stay on the shelves for long.
2009 Adelaida Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon End Post Paso Robles

Red Wine; Cabernet Sauvignon; Central Coast;
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Sensorium was created by two Silicon Valley electrical engineers, Lee Ritchie and John Zasio, in 2002. They hired Lee’s son Jeff, a UC Davis alum, to be their winemaker. Sensorium’s 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon comes from two vineyard sources, one in warmer Pope Valley and the other from the cooler Coombsville district. What drew me to this wine is the balance of ripe cassis and pomegranate to the silky tannins- the overall elegance, really. This Napa Cab is approachable and drinkable now, so no cellaring required. And despite the boutique production level of 189 cases, it can be purchased for under $30. This is truly a rarity these days as my experience shows that most Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa start at $50, even from large-scaled wineries. And frankly, not all of them are worth the price of admission. Sure, most of California’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignons come from the Napa Valley but being from Napa in and of itself doesn’t always equate to quality. I’m confident you’ll find much to be pleased with Sensorium’s fair-priced, elegant 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon…it’s a beauty!
2007 Sensorium Cabernet Napa Valley

Red Wine; Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa;
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I was re-introduced to Limerick Lane’s Zinfandel recently and it truly felt like bumping into an old friend. Limerick Lane is a 30-acre estate that has vines dating back to 1910. The estate was purchased by the Collin’s brothers in the mid-70’s , who produced their first estate bottling of Zinfandel in 1986. Last year, right before harvest, Mike Collins sold his beloved property to Jake Bilbro, whose family runs Marietta Cellars. Apparently, Mike didn’t want to sell his estate to just anyone or even to the highest bidder. He had approached Jake in 2009, proposing the offer to sell Limerick Lane to him. Two years later Jake was finally able to arrange the finances and is now the proud owner of Limerick Lane. Though Limerick Lane’s reputation as a premium producer of Zinfandel has remained intact over the years, I think we’re going to see a new infusion of passion and enthusiasm into this estate. I’m expecting some terrific Zinfandels to be released from this new, old producer. The 2010 Limerick Lane Zinfandel is a charmer. On the nose there is blackberry patch aromas and dried late-summer grass and dustiness. On the palate, vivacious berry compote flavors linger warm and cozy and then finish with an unexpected burst of acidity. This tangy finish gives off a real savory-ness and gets the mouth juices flowing. I’d love to pair this with a Moroccan lamb tagine dappled with prunes. Yum!
2010 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Sonoma County

Red Wine; Zinfandel; Sonoma;
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“Expectation is the harbinger of disappointment”, a classic Pete-ism, that pretty much sums up my week. Each day was tightly scheduled and planned for both work and pleasure but alas my daughter fell ill with the flu and that was that; we stayed home and nothing got done (expect the laundry!). At least the dog was grateful for the company. Thankfully Sascha is on the mend, but our weekend plans have been scrapped and our post-anniversary celebration has to be put off (yet again!) for another day.Wine, yes wine, will have to be the remedy for my let-down…which reminds me of an interesting article I read recently that asked women to write in on the topic of why they drink wine. There are many, many reasons why I drink wine, but high on my list is the pleasure that a glass of fermented grape juice will inflect on my mood. So here’s to pouring your self a glass of Sensorium, End Post, Limerick Lane or other such goodie and START FEELING GOOD!Anya Balistreri

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