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21 Sep

After 17 years, Bryan Harrington is shutting down his San Francisco winery, Harrington Wines. He is not making any wine from the 2019 vintage, and he will fully move out of his warehouse winemaking space, located in the back of a metal shop in Hunters Point, by the end of the year.

“It’s a hard business to make a decent living,” said Harrington, who made about 3,000 cases of wine last year. “I think it’s time for the next chapter for me, whatever that may be.” The presence of wineries in San Francisco is shrinking: Last year, Roar Wines relocated from its longtime home in Dogpatch to Monterey County.

Though it was a small, two-man operation (the other man being assistant winemaker Ken Zinns), over the last decade Harrington Wines quietly gained a strong reputation among wine aficionados for turning out restrained, well balanced wines from unheralded grape varieties. The ever-changing lineup of wines includes familiar types like Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre, but also unique entries like Corvina, Falanghina and Freisa. To those who know about them, the bottles, which often bear a large picture of a grapevine leaf on their labels, have become a familiar presence at top local restaurants.

In fact, Harrington himself is responsible for many of those grape varieties being planted in California in the first place: Since 2015, he has worked under grants from UC Davis to import new plant material from Europe. He’s contributed more than 30 new varieties to Davis’ nursery, including Rossese, Pecorino, Frappato, Sumoll and Trepat. His agreement with Davis requires that once the imported grapevines undergo a quarantine process, to ensure the plants will not introduce new diseases to American vineyards, they become available to everyone. “The open-source nature to me is a bonus, and one of the main reasons I got involved,” said Harrington. “It’s helped me build a collegial atmosphere I would like to see more of in California winemaking.”

The evolution of Harrington Wines mirrors the evolution of California wine over the last 20 years. Originally a painter, Harrington began making Zinfandel in his Bernal Heights home in the 90s, just for fun. He took it commercial in 2002, and made the wines in Berkeley for the first five years before moving into his current Hunters Point spot.

At first, Pinot Noir was the focus. “Pinot wasn’t all that important until that movie came out,” he said, referring to the 2004 film “Sideways,” whose main character waxes poetic about Pinot Noir. “You could get Pinot grapes pretty cheaply then.”

But in the post-“Sideways” Pinot craze, fruit got pricier and the market got more competitive. “When something becomes too popular, the writing is on the wall,” he said. Harrington decided to branch out in other directions. He wondered: What if he could apply the same careful winemaking techniques he’d lavished on Pinot Noir to a grape like, say, Nebbiolo?

“It’s been quite an adventure,” he said. “Last year we made 24 different varieties from 29 vineyards. Not bad for a couple of guys without any money.”

Maybe Harrington Wines was always a little too far ahead of the curve. Just as his winery’s initial focus anticipated a surge in Pinot Noir interest throughout California, so did his experimental spirit precede the current preference for obscure grape varieties.

Rents in San Francisco are rising, and demand for warehouse space is higher than ever. It’s becoming more and more difficult for a small, boutique winery to justify remaining in the city, he said. But Harrington said he doesn’t want to try to scramble to find a new space. He just wants to move on.

He plans to get back into painting, and to spend time traveling in Italy and Spain. He hasn’t yet decided whether he will continue working with UC Davis on the grapevine imports. “That was never about making any money, but I have to make a living doing something,” he said.

In the meantime, he’ll spend the remainder of the year closing up shop and selling what inventory remains. Harrington Wines are also available at local restaurants and bars, including Horsefeather, Marlowe, Del Popolo, Al’s Place, Verjus, Santino’s Vino, Pizza Hacker, Che Fico, 20 Spot, Gemini Bottle Co., Harris’ Steakhouse, Mission Cheese, Bar Crudo and Epicurean Trader.

Esther Mobley is The San Francisco Chronicle’s wine critic. Email: Twitter: @Esther_mobley Instagram: @esthermob

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20 Sep


There’s a first time for everything, even wine drinking! If you’re a wine admirer and tempted to introduce someone to the awesome world of wine, this can be a daunting task since there are thousands of wines and you have only one mouth. I love wine, and it’s no secret. But how does one get started with wine? And what are the appropriate tasting terms?

Wines are divided into two major styles: one is dry and the other richly sweet. One topic that is particularly confusing is that of wine sweetness. But after a little clarification, you’ll be talking and tasting wine like an expert. After tasting a number of wines, you’ll soon realize that some wines that are regarded as sweet are not as sweet as you expect, and many dry ones are actually sweeter than anticipated.

Thoughts while tasting Sweet Wine as a tyro…

To guide you when choosing sweet wines, here are a few characteristics for beginners to consider.

  • Sweetness: Many beginners think that sweet wines are much easier to enjoy. Some also believe sweet wines are of lesser quality than other wines. This is not the case, as many sweet wines are highly regarded and are quite expensive. If your taste buds fall for sweet wines, consider those with higher alcohol content. Wines with high alcohol content are perceived to be sweeter, even when they don’t have as much sugar.
  • Tannin: If you’ve had dry red wine you’ve obviously noticed some sticky substance in your teeth and gums after you’ve sipped. This is called tannin. Beginners may find this sensation quite irritating for the first time; therefore, it’s advisable that you start with wines with low tannin levels when introducing newcomers to wine.
  • Acidity: Just like most fruits, wine grapes contain acid, making them crisp and refreshing. Different wines have distinctive acidity levels that vary considerably. When you taste new wines, find out whether you like them more or less sour, a sign of acidity. This will help to find your place in wine and to find wines which tickle your fancy.
  • Alcohol content: Too much alcohol in any wine makes it unbalanced. My suggestion is for newcomers to start with wines with 14% alcohol content or lower.
  • Taste indicators: The back labels on the bottles of many consumer-friendly products can be quite useful, as they carry important information. Look for symbols that show the sweetness level of a wine. For red wines, check how light, medium, or full-bodied they are.

The wine sweetness chart below diagrams the sweetness level of various wines. Note that these will fluctuate due to production variations.

How to taste and enjoy?

There is no official yardstick for measuring the quality of a wine. What you like someone else may dislike. With this in mind, here are some tips on evaluating how sweet wine suits your tongue.

  1. Always start with a clear wine glass when tasting a sweet wine. Hold your glass at the stem. This is to avoid warming the wine due to heat from your hand when holding the bowl.
  2. Pour a little wine, an inch or less, into your glass. Always begin with the lightest wine when tasting several wines, moving from sweet sparkling wines, to rosés, then to light whites and to full-bodied whites. Continue to the heaviest – light reds, more full-bodied reds, then lastly dessert wines. This keeps your taste buds sensitive to better enjoy each wine in series. Take sips of water in between wines to preserve your palate.
  3. Before sipping the wine, swish your glass around for different flavors to be released in the air, then smell the air inside the glass. Put your nose gently over the rim and breathe in. This is important since the aroma can carry more magic than the taste. Most wines aromas are characterized by the grapes they are made from, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Zinfandel. As time goes by and you gain experience with different wine varietals, it becomes easier to identify different wine aromas. Trust your nose to tell you the aromas; you may pick up hints of vanilla, peaches, berries, and even smoky or grassy aromas.
  4. Note the color of the wine by holding the glass up against a white background or light. The color usually tells the wine’s age. White wines tend to gain color as they age, while red wines lose color with age. Young red wines are redder, but as they age, they turn burgundy or brown.
  5. As you finally taste the wine, allow it to linger and touch all the taste buds on your tongue, including those underneath it. This is done by swishing the wine in your mouth.
  6. The initial taste you will get from the wine will come from your first sip. This awakens your taste buds and keeps them active. You can then swish the wine around the mouth while drawing a little air in.
  7. Observe the texture of the wine to see whether the body is light or rich. You can relax before taking another sip in order to catch the finish or aftertaste. Consider how long the flavor lasted in your mouth, and your overall experience in tasting the wine.


Describing wine tasting is harder than actually tasting wine. I recommend that you taste as many wines as possible to determine your favorite bottles. Another important factor in wine tasting is pairing your wine with the right meal – which can be like discovering a new recipe. Wine always enhances the dining experience if paired with the right food.

For more tips on wine pairing, visit the SweetWineClub blog and discover new ways to relish wine. Cheers!

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20 Sep

We’re back to the Rhone Valley with an exploration of the wines of Famille Perrin, seven bottlings from low-end table wines to higher-end offerings from some of the region’s finest growing areas. Let’s dive in.

2018 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve (Rose) – A seldom-seen Rhone rose, this grenache, mourvedre, syrah, and cinsault blend is bright, floral, and moderately sweet, with a marshmallow note that builds quite a bit as the palate develops. The finish is flowery, but rather innocuous. B / $11

2018 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve (Blanc) – This blend of grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne, and viognier is classically composed. Aromatic with gentle tropical notes up front, the wine wanders its way into notes of lime leaf, grapefruit, and quince before finishing with hints of white flowers. You’ll find it available for all of 10 bucks. A- / $10

2016 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve – Surprisingly innocuous, this simple GSM blend offers plenty of fruit without ever coming across as sweet or blown out. Gentle blackberry and some strawberry notes meld with a little tea leaf and cola, with some lightly earthy character on the finish. Simple but quite refreshing, and an amazingly good value. A- / $10

2017 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Villages – Grenache and syrah, soft and supple. A touch of pepper gets into the mix with ample black cherry and blackberry notes and a touch of mint. The finish is chocolaty, with just a bit of balsamic to it. Very approachable and food-friendly, and well-priced to boot. A- / $14

2017 Famille Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds – Hearty but approachable, this grenache-syrah blend is equal parts black berry fruit and fresh red berries, with silky tannin in the undercarriage. Notes of cola and some pepper add a touch of nuance on the finish. B+ / $19

2017 Famille Perrin Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards – A GSM blend from relatively young vines. Hearty but quite bitter, this is a complex wine that needs time in glass or decanting to properly appreciate. Bold with green herbs including rosemary and thyme, the wine eventually showcases its classically beefy undercarriage, though it’s laced with ample notes of balsamic and cloves. The twist as that the body is on the whole surprisingly thin, which doesn’t let the savory components shine through nearly as clearly as they should, making for a fairly gamy, vegetal finish. B / $40

2017 Famille Perrin Gigondas La Gille – Grenache and syrah, harvested in one of the Rhone’s most prized villages. Heavy at first with currants and blackberries, this Gigondas bottling settles into a groove that finds a vein of rosemary and sage, mineral-driven graphite, and mild tannins. A pop of pepper and sweet cherries hits on the finish. A great choice for a hearty meal. A- / $35

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2017 Famille Perrin Gigondas La Gille


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17 Sep

“Flavor Forward” brings to life Meiomi’s distinct, unrivaled taste in a bold new way. Visual cues, such as inky, black and white images with red graphic overlays grab attention and reinforce the unmistakable, unique flavor, quality and taste of Meiomi Wines. The creative dramatizes the inimitable wine experience and tri-appellation sourcing story of Meiomi, highlighting the earthy undertones of Sonoma, the dark fruit intensity of Monterey and the velvet body of Santa Barbara that set Meiomi Wines apart.

Meiomi has amassed a group of loyal fans who repeatedly enjoy the brand’s portfolio of wines and regularly refer them to friends. Research shows that Meiomi enthusiasts seek out the award-winning wines for their quality and flavor, and value their unique style and sourcing story. The “Flavor Forward” platform leverages insights like these to visually convey the characteristics that make Meiomi so memorable.

“Since Meiomi’s beginnings, our wines have been made like no other, for a taste like no other,” says Jaymie Schoenberg, Vice President of Marketing for Meiomi Wines. “Meiomi Wines have become synonymous with bold flavor and original taste, which has attracted a fanatical following. The new “Flavor Forward” campaign underscores our signature tri-appellation sourcing and the unrivaled taste experience we create blending the flavors of three premiere coastal California wine regions together. With the launch of this new campaign, we’re excited to introduce new wine enthusiasts to the world of Meiomi Wines.”

The “Flavor Forward” campaign is supported by Meiomi’s largest marketing investment to date and marks the brand’s first ever TV advertising debut. National cable television networks will begin running the ads in November and December, generating high levels of awareness during the wine category’s top selling period. To further support the campaign, Meiomi will bring the “Flavor Forward” platform to life through digital advertising running September 16 through December 31, retail, sampling, PR, experiential events and strategic partnerships, such as a recent partnership with the PGA TOUR.

The “Flavor Forward” advertising campaign was created by Meiomi’s creative agency of record, Calvary.

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About Meiomi Wines
Meiomi (pronounced may-OH-mee) wines take their name from the word for “coast” in the language of the native Wappo American Indian tribe – a word that best symbolizes the character of the sought-after coastal California vineyards, which lend their fruit to Meiomi’s distinctive wines. Using some of the best grapes from the cool-climate vineyards coastal appellations of Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Monterey counties, the winemaking team blends the best expression of each coastal region into a harmoniously balanced and rich style across Meiomi’s Pinot Noir, Rosé, Chardonnay, and Sparkling Brut wines.  Meiomi wines are always rich and ripe, yet elegantly expressive, with depth and complexity. For further information on Meiomi Wines and to learn where you can find them for purchase, please visit, or follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Please enjoy our wines responsibly. © Meiomi Wines, Acampo, CA. 

i IRI, TOTAL MULO+Conv, L52 wks 8.11.19

SOURCE Meiomi Wines

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15 Sep

It may still be hot out, but rest assured, winter is coming, and sooner than you’d think. For this inaugural edition of Drinkhacker’s Top 10 Wines for Winter, 2020 edition, we’ve dug into the last year’s worth of wine reviews – along with a few wines we didn’t formally review – to pull out a list of 10 bottles to add to your collection for cold weather drinking. These wines are focused on heartier reds, though we’re also including some celebratory sparkling bottles that should fit in perfectly with your holiday celebrations.

Without further ado, let’s dive in. (Note: All prices are based on the most recently available market prices.)

1. 2014 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder (California) – With this mountain cab, Freemark Abbey is firing on all cylinders. A deceptively gentle body kicks off with notes of dark chocolate, raspberries, and blueberries, then folds in layers of baking spice and, ultimately, some brambly notes that evoke charred wood. The tannins are integrating beautifully here, though the wine still has some time left ahead for further improvement. A killer. $100 -CN

2. 2006 Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut “Cuvee Nicolas Francois” (France) – A beautifully dry vintage Champagne, paired with a pushy, powerful body. With none of the yeasty notes typical of the style, Cuvee Nicolas lets nutty and fresh brioche notes shine alongside a growing grapefruit character. The choice for your New Year’s toast! $160 -CN

3. 2017 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional (Portugal) – Quinta do Noval’s Nacional bottling is an unbelievable rarity – and the most expensive vintage Port on the market, alas – but if you can find (and afford) this release, it’s worth it. It’s a beast of a wine, bold with chocolate and vanilla notes up front, delving from there into an incredibly deep level of tannin, featuring tobacco, tar, and licorice before finishing on a citrus note. As gorgeous now as it will be in 2050. $1000 -CN

4. 2006 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva (Spain) – The exceptional 2006 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva will treat the taster to robust aromas of red fruit, leather, earth, and dried herbs. It’s well balanced too with acid, tannin, weight and alcohol all keeping one another in check. The wine is grippy and hearty enough for red meat, yet it isn’t so hefty as to overpower poultry or pork. A great wine from a consistently excellent producer. $40 -SA

5. 2017 Bouchard Pere & Fils Chambertin-Clos de Beze Grand Cru (France) – I love Burgundy in the winter, and this top of the line bottling from Bouchard Pere is the perfect example why. Chewy and bold, it mixes spice and pepper notes with dried fruit on its powerful, seductive body. Gorgeous. $305 -CN

6. 2012 Domaine Carneros Le Reve (California) – This sparkler is a beautifully fruity concoction of apples and pears, touched with notes of peaches and lemon. The bubbles are perfectly integrated into a wine that offers the lightest touch of brioche atop a creamy, almost pillow texture. An excellent celebration wine at an approachable price point. $97 -CN

7. 2017 Maple Creek Winery Artevino Pinot Noir Estate Yorkville Highlands (California) – Fresh and fruit-focused, with ample blackberry and blueberry jam notes, but this wine is nonetheless ready to stand up to colder months and bolder meals, with notes of clove and cedar box adding a brooding complexity. $45 -CN

8. 2015 Primus The Blend Apalta (Chile) – A stealth, blue chip Chilean blend of cabernet, merlot, carmenere, and more, this wine has an incredible depth, loaded with chocolate and cassis. There’s an unusual botanical and spicy element here, a curious edge that hints at a bounty of elements ranging from honeysuckle to wet earth, dried flowers to toasted coconut. Again and again I went back to Primus to pick out new flavors and experiences, and again and again I found myself surprised. And now for the big reveal, the price tag: $16 -CN

9. 2016 Cartograph Pinot Noir Estate (California) – Another powerhouse pinot noir, this one made from estate fruit. Bold cherry and orange peel notes contribute to an impossibly bright body. Starry and acidic, it shows a touch of mint on the lively finish. $68 -CN

10. 2012 Masi Costasera Amarone (Italy) – This widely available Amarone is deep and rich. At 15% alcohol, this wine will keep you warm on a winter night, and while it goes very well with a range of foods, I like to just sit with it after dinner. If someone has another Amarone to recommend that is equally as good but perhaps less expensive, I would happily cede my selection. $40 -RL

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14 Sep

This is our second go-round with Balletto this year, following on our review of its heartier wines back in March. Today we look at some lighter fare: three whites, all made with fruit from the Russian River Valley. Thoughts follow.

2018 Balletto Pinot Gris Russian River Valley – Boldly fruit-forward with lemon and sharp tangerine notes, there’s an equally punchy floral character underpinning this wine, giving the experience a substantially perfumed element. Notes of lychee and pineapple brighten up on the otherwise sharp, acidic finish. B+ / $20

2018 Balletto Chardonnay Teresa’s Unoaked Russian River Valley – While slightly doughy, this stainless steel-rested chardonnay pours on plenty of fruit, a guava and gentle lemon character dominating. Notes of coconut and mango hang in for the finish, though a somewhat gummy texture robs the wine of some needed acidity. B+ / $20

2018 Balletto Savuignon Blanc Russian River Valley – A surprisingly creamy sauvignon blanc, this wine wears its fruit on its sleeve. Mango, pineapple, and coconut notes all interplay a bit bluntly, with a squeeze of orange juice over the top. The acidity that sauvignon blanc so badly needs is a bit lacking here, though the finish is reasonably bright. B / $20

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14 Sep

Football season is finally here again, and the match-up we’re most excited about is wine and the NFL. With the 2019 season, more teams than ever have announced official wine partnerships, bringing fall-friendly Cabernets and victory sparklers to stadiums and living rooms. Players across the league are discovering wine and flaunting their bona fides, from Panthers QB Cam Newton‘s sommelier stylings to Vikings rookie linebacker Cam Smith, who interned at Melville Winery in Lompoc, Calif., between summer workouts when he was at USC.

And then there are veterans: QBs Dan Marino and Drew Bledsoe, coach Dick Vermeil and late owner Lamar Hunt, who started the American Football League and coined the term “Super Bowl,” are just a few of the gridiron pros who founded wineries that have been making increasingly ambitious and respected wines.

Players, Coaches, Owners

Drew Bledsoe, former New England Patriots QB

Wine: Doubleback Cellars, Bledsoe Family Wines, Bledsoe-McDaniels
Partner winemaker: Josh McDaniels
First season: 2007 vintage
Extra point: Bledsoe has been making wine in his native eastern Washington for nearly as long as his NFL career, but the veteran has been having breakout season: His Doubleback wines got a new home in his state-of-the-art Walla Walla winery for the 2018 vintage. August 2019 brought word that Bledsoe had opened a new tasting room in his adopted home of Bend, Ore., and that he’d be launching a new label for site-specific Willamette Pinot and Washington Syrah. “Having a winery specifically focused on Pinot Noir and Syrah will be clarifying for our customers and will give the wines a greater sense of purpose and authenticity that they deserve,” Bledsoe told Unfiltered via email.

Josh McDaniels and Drew BledsoeJosh McDaniels and Drew Bledsoe

Drew Bledsoe (right) and winemaker Josh McDaniels are adding to their roster of Pacific Northwest wines. (Courtesy of Josh McDaniels/Drew Bledsoe)

John Elway, former Denver Broncos QB and current president and GM

Wine: 7Cellars, a Rutherford, Calif., project specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay
Partner winemakers: Robert Mondavi Jr. and Mari Wells Coyle
First season: 2015
Extra point: “I’ve applied the lessons that I’ve learned in football to every aspect of my personal and professional life,” Elway told Unfiltered via email, “so when we launched our 7Cellars wine company, we wanted to surround ourselves with the greatest components we could to ensure success.” Proceeds from 7Cellars benefit Team Rubicon, an organization that helps veterans use their training to assist fellow citizens in times of natural disaster.

John Elway's 7CellarsJohn Elway's 7Cellars

John Elway wore No. 7 and now his wines do as well. (7Cellars)

Terry Hoage, former NFL safety

Wine: TH Estate Wines, focusing on Rhône styles in Paso Robles
Partner winemaker: Wife Jennifer Hoage
First season: 2002
Extra point: Terry and Jennifer Hoage purchased a vineyard in 2002 in what is now the Willow Creek AVA of Paso Robles and planted most of the vines themselves; it now encompasses 26 acres of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and a few white Rhône varieties. Justin Smith of Saxum was an early mentor, though Jennifer is the primary winemaker now. The Hoages joined other area winemakers in founding Must! Charities to fund community education, health and economic initiatives, and in 2016, they added a Pinot Noir–focused label, Decroux.

Lamar and Norma Hunt, founder of the American Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs

Wine: Perfect Season, Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Partner winemaker: Philippe Melka
First season: 2002
Extra point: Norma Hunt fell in love with wine on trips to Tuscany and Napa Valley. She named Perfect Season in honor of her late husband, Lamar, who was skeptical about entering the wine business at first. “When I asked Lamar about buying a small vineyard, he rolled his eyes,” Norma told Unfiltered. “He was a very good businessman and he knew it was a difficult business.” After Lamar’s death in 2006, Norma continued to seek out vinous excellence, culminating in a newly released Chiefs-themed Arrowhead Red & Gold Reserve Knights Valley Cabernet. “Each season provides opportunity for perfection,” Hunt said. “This is true in both the football and wine worlds where both businesses are extremely competitive.”

Perfect Season wine labelPerfect Season wine label

A landscape painted by Thomas Moran in the 1880s is part of the Hunts’ collection and adorns the Perfect Season labels. (Courtesy of Perfect Season Wines)

Dan Marino and Damon Huard, former NFL quarterbacks

Wine: Passing Time, a Washington Cabernet-focused winery
Partner winemaker: Chris Peterson of Avennia Wine
First season: 2012
Extra point: The game plan started back in the ’90’s, when Marino introduced Huard to Washington wines. “I fell in love with them immediately,” Huard told Unfiltered. “We always talked about one day when I was done and retired, to do this thing.” Marino reflected on the days when his partner was yet a rookie both on in the field and in the cellar. “I was starting to collect wines and, basically, [Damon] was a beer drinker,” Marino told us. “And I said ‘Damon, you gotta taste some of the wines that are right in your backyard!'”

Claire Marino, Dan Marino, Julie Ann Huard and Damon HuardClaire Marino, Dan Marino, Julie Ann Huard and Damon Huard

In the cellar, from left: Claire Marino, Dan Marino, Julie Ann Huard and Damon Huard. (Courtesy of Passing Time)

Years later, Passing Time was born, and the roster has since expanded to include appellation-specific Cabernets from Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain and Walla Walla, in addition to the flagship Columbia Valley Bordeaux blend. “I think it’s about the mentality of working together to create something special,” Marino said, “I think that overflows into the wine business and understanding how you get across what you’re trying to produce.”

Carmen Policy, former president of the San Francisco 49ers

Wine: Casa Piena, a Napa project specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon
Partner winemaker: Thomas Brown
First season: 2003
Extra point: San Francisco’s culinary hot spots introduced Policy to Napa wines, and eventually he’d march up to the valley after each of the 49ers’ many ’80s and ’90s Super Bowl parades. “That started my interest in wine and collecting, and the passion stayed every bit as strong when I went back,” Policy told Unfiltered. Soon after leaving a stint in Cleveland, he began Casa Piena, which means “full house” in Italian.

Dick Vermeil, Super Bowl–winning former NFL coach

Wine: Vermeil Wines, specializing in Napa and Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and more
Partner winemakers: Thomas Brown and Andy Jones
First season: 1999
Extra point: What started as a hobby, turned into a full-fledged wine business for Vermeil. The same grapes his grandfather picked from the Frediani vineyard are still used today to make Vermeil’s flagship Cabs, but he sources fruit from other esteemed spots like Dutton Ranch as well. “It’s just like having a great football team,” Vermeil told Unfiltered. “You’d better have a quarterback, and Thomas Brown is the Tom Brady of Napa Valley!”

Dick Vermeil on a tractorDick Vermeil on a tractor

Dick Vermeil gears up for the drive! (Courtesy of Vermeil Wines)

Charles Woodson, former Oakland Raiders cornerback

Wine: TwentyFour by Charles Woodson; Intercept
Partner winemakers: Robert Mondavi alumni Gustavo Gonzalez and Rick Ruiz on TwentyFour; O’Neill Vintners & Distillers on Intercept
First season: 2001 vintage
Extra point: TwentyFour is a higher-end, Cab-focused lineup from Woodson’s home terroir, Napa, where Woodson trained with the Raiders. Intercept, launched in August 2019, is a more accessible line of Paso Robles Cabernet, red blend and Chardonnay, plus a Monterey Pinot Noir. “[With] this price point, I can reach a lot more of my fans. And that’s what’s going to be most exciting about it,” explained Woodson at the launch.

Charles Woodson with his winesCharles Woodson with his wines

Any fan can be an armchair cornerback with Charles Woodson’s new accessibly priced wine. (//


Chicago Bears
Los Angeles Rams
New York Giants

Wine: California Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Partner winery: Woodbridge, by Robert Mondavi
First season: 2019
Extra point: Woodbridge is launching 375ml cans of its Cabernet sporting gridiron-themed uniforms in the Chicago, L.A. and New York markets. “Woodbridge wine drinkers have expressed a love for football and, looking deeper into their interests, we saw a strong overlap with football fandom,” Jaymie Schoenberg, vice president of marketing for Woodbridge, told Unfiltered.

Woodbridge Cabernet cansWoodbridge Cabernet cans

Fall is also Cabernet season: the new Woodbridge cans. (Courtesy of Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi)

Carolina Panthers

Wine: California Cabernet Sauvignon marking 25 years of the team’s existence in the NFL
Partner winery: Wine by Design
First season: 2019
Extra point: For wine-loving fans of all levels, this is available around the Carolinas, at wine retailers, supermarkets and for game-day toasting at Bank of America Stadium. “We are looking for more ways to bring together wine and sports,” CEO of Wine by Design Diane Karle explained of the partnership in a press release.

Woodbridge Cabernet cansWoodbridge Cabernet cans

A Panthers Cabernet game-day soiree (Courtesy of Wine by Design)

For his part, Panthers QB Cam Newton had a prolific 2018 vintage, soothing losses with Sauvignon Blanc and cigars, watching the Somm documentaries and musing about his own possible post-football career working the floor, and finishing out his vinous vintage in a pair of “Vineyards of N.C. #1 Reserve” wine cleats.

New York Jets

Wine: “Jets Uncorked” Sonoma/Napa blend of primarily Zinfandel, plus Merlot, Syrah and Petite Sirah, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl III win
Partner winemaker: Copper Cane founder Joe Wagner
First season: 2018
Extra point: The logo pays homage to the game-winning play, “19 Straight,” which got the Jets their 1968 Super Bowl win, and the label reflects the vintage jersey design. Copper Cane and Belle Glos vintner Joe Wagner, who created the blend, is a longtime Napan who once played for the St. Helena Saints.

New York Jets wineNew York Jets wine

Marking 50 years since Joe Namath led the Jets to a Super Bowl victory (New York Jets)

Tennessee Titans

Wine: California red blend celebrating the team’s 20th anniversary in Nashville
Partner winemaker: Chris Cameron of Paso Robles’ Broken Earth Winery and Wine by Design
First season: 2018
Extra point: Move over, Tennessee whiskey. The Music City is in good hands with Paso winemaker Chris Cameron, whose bottling is now available in Nashville-area retailers as well as at Nissan Stadium. “It was a natural fit for both partners,” Cameron explained to Unfiltered via email. “Our heritage and sustainable farming practices matched [the Titans’] heritage and corporate responsibility initiatives. It is our intention to continue the partnership.”

Tennessee Titans wineTennessee Titans wine

Titan up! (Courtesy of Wine by Design)

Indianapolis Colts

Wine: Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, one celebrating 35 seasons, another in honor of Peyton Manning’s retirement; California Cabernet 2015 commemorating 10 years since 2006 Super Bowl victory
Partner winemaker: Oregon winemaker André Hueston Mack of Maison Noir
Extra point: The bottling signed by Manning was unveiled along with the QB’s statue at Lucas Oil Stadium, and at $400, may be the most elite of the NFL wines yet, or at least the most collectible.

Green Bay Packers
Houston Texans
Kansas City Chiefs
New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints
Philadelphia Eagles
San Francisco 49ers

Wine: The red wine for all these teams is a blend of Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon and Monterey Merlot aged 15 months in French and American oak, and each team has a different set of designs etched into its bottles to commemorate championships and anniversary years; the sparkling wine is Lodi blanc de blancs
Partner winery: Mano’s Wine in Kansas City, Mo.
Extra point: “We are always in discussion with several teams in the league—some approach us, we approach others, dependent on the market and what is going on with that franchise in the current or upcoming years,” Mano’s executive vice president Chelsea Mura explained to Unfiltered via email. So far, the bottles are intended as keepsakes or for armchair consumption, but “we have some products in the works for the 2020 season that will be seen in and around the stadiums for fans to drink.”

New England Patriots wineNew England Patriots wine

Patriots fans can order a half-case of championship wines. (Courtesy of Mano’s Wine)

One known wine aficionado among these teams is Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who notoriously gifted rival Panthers QB Cam Newton a consolation bottle of Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet after his team swept the Panthers, and later befriended vintner John Jordan. Another is Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who rode a Super Bowl duck boat into the sunset, supping from a bottle of Hundred Acre Napa Valley Cab.

Seattle Seahawks

Unofficial wine: Washington reds and whites
Winemaker: Northwest Cellars Winery
Extra point: Formerly, the winery offered a Seahawks “12” label—a hat tip to Seahawks fans, who call themselves the “12th man” at Seattle games, “but their legal team put a stop to that,” Northwest owner Bob Delf told Unfiltered. Now, fans can get any Northwest bottle labeled with an “I’m In!” Seahawks-hued design in a nod to another team mantra—but this one trademarked by Delf.

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14 Sep

On Wine of the Week, wine expert Scott Greenberg tells the tale of how a sleepy California town became the home of a vineyard that champions sustainability.

For years, the sleepy Santa Lucia Highlands, located in Monterey County, California, was home to cattle, sheep, horses and row crops. But in 1979, Swiss born Nicolaus “Nicky” Hahn and his wife, Gaby, changed all that when they purchased the Smith and Hook vineyards, located about an hour outside of the city of Monterey.

At the time, the land, which had previously been used for grazing cattle and horses, was a blank slate where Hahn saw amazing potential for vineyards.

In 1980, the Hahns released their first wine from Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH), and then just eight years later, he led a successful campaign to establish SLH as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). In 1991, Hahn and his neighbors prevailed and a new AVA was born.

Over the next 30 years, Hahn’s commitment to both the Monterey County and Santa Lucia Highlands wine industry deepened and intensified, bringing critical acclaim not just to his winery, but to the entire region, which is ideally situated near the tourist destination cities of Carmel and Monterey.

Today, Hahn Family Wines is now run by Nicky and Gaby’s son Philip. The estate sustainably farms 650 acres of estate vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, where their pinot noir and chardonnay wines have garnered international attention.

And they take sustainability very seriously, making it an integral part of their farming and business practices, taking a long-term view by recognizing that taking care of the land is a responsibility that lasts well beyond the current generation but for generations to come.

It is an ongoing obligation that starts in the vineyards, but is also practiced in their winery, and even in their tasting room. From growing the fruit, to making the wine, to delivering their product to consumers, and even the well-being of their employees, the Hahn family has demonstrated their commitment to sustainability. As a result, Hahn Family Wines is one of the first wineries in SLH to have all of their estate vineyards certified under the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) program and is recognized as a leader in the sustainability movement.

Lastly, the team at Hahn Family Wines is more like a family than a business. From the people who work in the vineyards, from the winemaking team to quality control, and even the people who work the bottling line, there is a sense of commitment dedicated to delivering the best quality wine possible for the money. And it shows in every bottle.

The SLH designation is used by Hahn Family Wines for wines made from grapes blended from their designated single vineyards. These wines are not just a wonderful value, but they also provide a glimpse into the Saint Lucia Highlands terroir.

The 2017 Hahn SLH Chardonnay is made using mostly fruit from the Lone Oak Vineyard and just a touch of new oak. The result is a wine that features lovely aromas of ripe pear and nectarine and a beautifully balanced mouthfeel featuring flavors of orchard fruit. A touch of guava slides in on the charming finish. Try it with soft cheeses and fresh fruit. $25

Another stunning value from the SLH lineup is the 2017 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir. In a word, this is a pretty pinot noir. The charming nose is full of aromas of baking spices and wild strawberry. In the mouth, flavors of red berry fruit, ripe strawberry and a touch of clove mingle together beautifully, supported by silky tannins and nice acidity. Perfect with duck or chicken. $30

Saint Lucia — for which the SLH region is named — was the patron saint of light, as represented by the crown of candles she wears in many traditional religious depictions. The Hahn wine program that features fruit from their single vineyards is called Lucienne, which is not only Nicky Hahn’s middle name, but also translates to “light.” A happy coincidence, indeed.

The 2017 Hahn Lucienne Lone Oak Vineyard Chardonnay is one of the best values for a high-end chardonnay in California I have come across in a long time. Aged for 14 months in 45% new French oak barrels, it’s just enough to give this wine a pitch-perfect kiss of oak. Aromas of apple, nectarine and baked bread are enticing. The mouthfeel is beautifully balanced between the flavors of Gala apple, ripe pear and white nectarine and the lovely acidity that keeps the fruit lively and focused. Just a touch of toasty oak comes into play on the long and delightful finish. Pair this wine with sand dabs or flounder. $40

If Lucienne is light, the 2017 Hahn Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard is brilliant. There are only 1,100 cases of this amazing wine made, so start hunting it down now. Black olives and forest floor aromas waft up from the glass. Savory notes of dark fruit and dried sage attack the front of the palate while notes of black cherry and dark plum float on the long, elegant finish. A perfectly balance wine with an elegant structure. Grilled salmon would be happy to be in the company of this wine. $50

And be sure to listen to this week’s episode of The Vine Guy podcast

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14 Sep


Although less popular than dry wines, about 25% of wine drinkers sometimes consume dessert wine, which is particularly popular with older consumers. If you’re not drinking dessert wine, you’re missing out. Like dry wine, dessert wines have their own unique characteristics that make them special and awesome in their own way. Dessert wine is not just a drink, though! It’s a noble beverage that should be consumed in style. Just kidding. You can have it any way you want.

What is dessert wine?

What simply defines dessert wine is that it’s enjoyed during the last part of a meal. Although most dessert wines are sweet, some of them are dry wines and not so sweet in style. Sweet wines are ideal at dessert due to their sugar that stimulates digestion and eliminates further appetite. Choosing the right sweet wine determines how your meal ends. Although there are many dessert wines, they are categorized into many types, ranging from less sweet to a high level of sweetness, low alcohol content to high alcohol content, and wine geared toward younger drinkers and to those who are more experienced. In short, there is something for everyone when it comes to wine.

Why so sugary?

The sugar content in wine is what turns it into alcohol. This process happens when yeast consumes sugar to produce alcohol (ethanol). If yeast consumes all the sugar, it becomes dry wine and the alcohol content increases. For a wine to be classified as sweet, it has to have between 2 and 7.2 grams of sugar per 100 ml in the finished wine. A very sweet wine will have 7.2 – 13 grams of sugar per 100 ml. See the chart below for more details.

With this in mind, here’s the ultimate guide to dessert wines in order to prepare you for wine indulgence as you unwind this weekend.

  1. Late Harvest

What characterizes the different types of late harvest wines is the period during which grapes are left to dry out to increase its sweetness. Almost all grape varieties can be made into a late harvest style. This incorporates several winemaking techniques that lead to different flavors. Some terms:

The process of late harvest means leaving the grapes on the vine to pick later, after the season.

Noble rot is a kind of fungus that develops on grapes, especially in foggy regions. It sounds gross but essentially this fungus increases the sweetness of the wine, often providing honey, saffron, and ginger notes.

This style of wine processing is common in Italy with different methods and styles of dried grape wines produced. The harvested grapes are laid out on mats to dry in special rooms before being pressed into wine.

Ice wine is produced from frozen vines with grapes which are picked and pressed to release their sugar.

  1. Fortified

Fortified wines are blends of wine and a grape-based spirit which is added either during or after fermentation. This depends on whether you want it dry or sweet. The spirit will rise to about 30% of the blend. Blending before fermentation ends makes the wine sweet since there will be traces of sugar left in the wine. Fortification after fermentation ends will make the wine dry. Fortified wines will have higher alcohol content, whether dry or sweet.

Sherry is produced by three major grapes, namely Palomino Fino (accounting for the bulk of Sherry production), Moscatel, and Pedro Ximénez.

Port is always sweet and red in color, compared to Sherry. It is made using local Portuguese grape Touriga Nacional and other locally available grapes.

This sweet or dry wine can last for centuries and is made using four core grapes, Sercial, Malmsey, Verdelho, and Bual.

Marsala is typically made from white grapes, the best versions being from the Grillo grape. Depending on when the wine was fortified, Marsala ranges from dry to sweet.

This wine is fortified during fermentation with Muscat Rouge à Petits Grains and left on the vine to increase its sugar. It is then aged oxidatively in barrel, creating a sweet wine with intense flavors.

This wine is fruit forward and aged in a barrel. Banyuls has concentrated aromas and flavors of baked red berries, prunes, and spice.

  1. Passito

Passito is a style of Italian sweet wine made from dried grapes. The winemaking technique of Passito involves late-harvesting grapes which are selected carefully and laid on mats to dry. This process increases their sweetness level and flavor.

From the heart of Tuscany, Vin Santo Del Chianti is made from grapes like Trebbiano, Toscano, and Malvasia. It undergoes significant barrel aging of three to eight years in oak or chestnut barrels. Usually, it has a golden raisin color and dried fruit flavors.

  • Recioto Della Valpolicella

Made from dried Rondinella, Corvina, and Molinara grapes, this unique and awesome wine is produced in Veneto. The grapes are dried on straw mats and later fermented to achieve an alcohol content of about 14%. The characteristics of this wine are dried berry and raisin notes coupled with chocolate and vanilla.

  1. Oxidized

Customarily in the language of wine, oxidation is the physical process of dissolving oxygen into the wine. Although oxidation is regarded as bad for dry table wines, in dessert wines, it can be good for adding flavour to a wine. For dessert wines, oxidation is usually caused by aging for long periods in oak barrels, which softens the wines and causes them to lose their fruitiness, making them gain a rich, nutty flavor.

  1. Sparkling

Sparkling wine involves a second fermentation process, which causes the wine to become naturally carbonated. While sparkling wine is often dry, when searching for sweet wines, you’ll often notice sweeter grape varieties like Moscato and Riesling. These are preferred as dessert sparkling wines and pair well with lighter desserts. My personal favorite is Moscato d’Asti, which is perfect with summer fruit salad. Nowadays, Moscato d’Asti is available in semi-sparkling and fully sparkling versions, both with its distinctive fruity sweetness.


One thing to watch for when looking for a refreshing sweet wine is the alcohol content. Port will have a high alcohol content, while many dessert wines are lower in alcohol. That said, whichever you choose, you’re in in for an awesome time!

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