Association President tells passionate story of Sonoma County Winegrowers

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Map of Sonoma County wine region
Map of Sonoma County wine region

California was the original US player in the global wine market. And now individual regions, just as in France, have become stars on their own. Everyone knows about Napa Valley. And everyone has heard of Sonoma – in fact, many say the two in the same breath, “Napa-Sonoma” to describe the richest wine terroirs in the state. And lately, Sonoma County – roughly 1700 square miles that is home to about half a million people – is taking pride of place as a truly innovative leader in the wine world.

Sustainability is a question on everyone’s mind, especially in these days of increasing global warming, and Sonoma County Winegrowers are behind that concept in spirit and in fact, in no small measure because of their trade association president. This dynamic woman, Karissa Kruse, came to Chicago recently to talk about the exciting news going on in their region.

Karissa Kruse in her vineyard mode
Karissa Kruse in her vineyard mode

Kruse is a petite blonde beauty with the education, experience and passion to make her the ideal flag carrier for Sonoma County Wine Growers. She used to be a Chicagoan and still loves to visit, but has now gone completely over to the California wine country lifestyle. She is passionate about helping the members of her association become more effective at sustainable growing and helping make wine an even more powerful force for good in the world.

Hosting a group of trade and media at a beautiful semi-private dining space at GT Prime Steakhouse, the trade president glowed as she talked about the exciting initiatives she’s helped spearhead on behalf of Sonoma County Wine Growers. One of those is the move to have every single vineyard in Sonoma County be certified a sustainable growth vineyard by 2019. This will be the first entire region to be certified in the United States and possibly in the world. Sustainable farming requires a commitment – of faith and of resources – to make it happen and keep it going. Kruse was a driving force in getting the wine growers to understand how critical it is to make that commitment in spite of what might appear to be insurmountable obstacles like cost.

Many compliments to the serving staff and the culinary team at GT Prime steakhouse where Sonoma Winegrowers presented their wines with a carefully curated selection of dishes. The Dutton Estate 2017 Kylie’s Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc from the Russian River area (just grapefruity enough, yet much smoother than a typical New Zealand SV), and the sustainably grown Lynmar Estate 2016 Quail Hill Chardonnary were delectable with all the first course choices, which included Tuna Tartare, House Gem Salad (strawberries, snap peas, manchdgo) and a Kale Salad with sweet cherry tomatoes, brioche croutons and white anchovies).

The second course choices were Prme Beef Tenderloin, Halibut with lobster, fennel and corn, or Roasted Green Circle Chicken Breast with chipotle buttermilk, cucumber and onion rings. Along with the entree GT offered shared sides of Shishito & corn with parmesan sauce, lime and paprika, French-style mashed potatoes with chives and olio verde, and Brussels Sprouts with maple butter, prosciutto and peppercorn. All this was paired with two Sonoma reds.

The final course, a lovely selection of cheeses from Michigan, Wisconsin and France, was beautifully complemented by the Ridge 2016 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel.

Altogether, an uplifting evening of California Sonoma winemaker passion and energy shared with winelovers in Chicago – another perfect pairing.

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Stemmari has sexy ways with Nero d’Avola

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Lucio showcases Stemmari wines in Chicago
Stemmari wines in Chicago

Stemmari is one of the premier wine brands in Sicily today. And their winemaker Lucio Matricardi, PhD, came to Chicago recently to share some of the exciting new ways he is using Sicily’s indigenous Nero d’Avola grape to make powerful wines, including Stemmari’s new creation, Hedonis Riserva Sicilia DOC 2015.

Tall and handsome, with the quintessential charm for which Italian men are famous, Lucio revealed some of the secrets of the work he is doing for Stemmari. Speaking to a group of members of Chicago’s trade and media at Fig & Olive’s delightful semi-private dining space, Lucio explained that Nero d’Avola, the single most important grape in Sicily – grown on 50,000 acres of the island – is quite different from those associated with areas like Tuscany – e.g., Sangiovese, Italy’s biggest-selling grape and the principal ingredient in Chianti Classico. Lucio explained that the Nero d’Avola grape suffers in the dry wind conditions of Sicilian vineyards and then expresses itself with vigor.

Stemmari’s basic Nero d’Avola 2016 vintage is deep red with violet pinpoints and has a bouquet of wild strawberries in the forest with hints of currants and pomegranate. The flavor is fruity, soft and velvety. And the Nero d’Avola grape takes very well to blending. For example, Lucio makes a wonderfully rich and structured wine called Cantodoro. He brought along samples of the 2015 vintage of this blend of 80% Nero d’Avola and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon (~$16). He says adding Cab grapes grown in the same soil as the Nero d’Avola complements and gives muscle or backbone to the Nero d’Avola. In this case, the Cab mix gives a deliciously full and structured mouth feel, flavor and finish. Lucio makes many a fresh and elegant wine for Stemmari, including a Pinot Grigio, a mango-and-papaya scented Grillo (another extremely popular Sicilian grape that Stemmari brought back to prominence for its floral, fruit and nut flavors with a hint of salinity ~$10), a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Pinot Noir, a Moscato, a lovely, fresh and fragrant Rosé Terre Siciliane IGT (~$10) – the 2017 is perfect with food, even spicy meats.

Hedonis Riserva beauty
Hedonis Riserva beauty

And introducing one of his most impressive accomplishments, Lucio presented the new Riserva that artfully combines the strengths of both Nero d’Avola and Cabernet sauvignon grapes – Stemmari Hedonis Riserva 2015 (~$50). Winemaker notes:

Color: Intense ruby red with hints of violet. The resulting aromatic profile of Hedonis is a bountiful and deeply complex expression with hints of dried red fruits, anise and sweet spices, notes of almond, vanilla and tobacco resulting from aging in wood. There is a profound structure on the palate along with a velvety and juicy attack, finishing with soft and sweet tannins.

This  premium red blend is a showstopper in the Italian red category.

And while we’re at it, let us not forget to compliment the serving staff and the culinary team at Fig & Olive where Stemmari held this lovely introduction of its wines. Delicious bites and warm, gracious service all round.

Affordable wines that complement your meals and showcase for you the unique beauty of the Sicilian marriage of soil and vine. Perfect for gift giving or treating yourself anytime.

Follow @StemmariWine and use hashtags #LiveSicilianly, #PursueHedonis.

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Reviews: 2 food-related products

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We are sometimes offered samples in the hope we’ll review them, so we try to accept samples of only products we think our readers might be interested in. They’re usually food and drink, but sometimes they’re simply related to food and drink, like today’s products (occasionally they’re even more random than that). One is a floss-bristled toothbrush that’s also antimicrobial. The other is a new type of food storage container we are pretty excited about called Wellslock. We wrote about these once already but thought they were worth mentioning again.

Doctorr Plotka's flossing-bristle toothbrush
Doctorr Plotka’s flossing-bristle toothbrush

Doctor Plotka’s Mouthwatchers is a group promoting the toothbrush invented by a dentist that has flossing bristles that clean better on and around your teeth. Those bristles are also infused with silver which they say makes them naturally antimicrobial – meaning they eliminate 99% of bacteria that grows on bristles between uses. The net effect for users of the new brush, according to their marketing department, is an opportunity to have better overall health by not reintroducing harmful bacteria into your body via your toothbrush. They couldn’t direct us to any scientific studies backing this up or any way for the consumer to see it in action, so feel free to take this claim with a grain of salt.

But those flossing bristles do seem to clean teeth better than any of the brushes we’ve been using lately – grocery-store varieties and the ones that come free from the dentist. We like the feel of this brush when it’s cleaning – it seems more thorough than most toothbrushes these days that are being made with fewer and fewer bristles. The Doctor Plotka’s brush bristles are also made of polyester, which they say will outlast the nylon ones on most traditional brushes. Can’t say for sure on that because we haven’t been using this one long enough, but we did learn something new. Their marketing materials note that your toothbrush durability is based on times you brush. SO, if you only brush once a day, yours should last six months instead of three!

We are fans. And if you try it yourself, they offer a 100% guarantee that if you don’t like it, you get your money back. You can get ’em in a two-pack on Amazon for $9.99.

Wellslock comes in cool sizes
Wellslock comes in cool sizes

As for Wellslock, these containers boast a double-snap tab that, in one move, creates a watertight seal that really works. And the plastic of the containers themselves (not the lids) is nearly crystal clear, like glass, so you don’t have to guess what’s inside. We particularly appreciate that they come in some unusual sizes – for example, one deep enough to accommodate a big avocado with just a small section removed (normally something we’re not able to fit into a plastic container and have to put in a plastic bag), or a big chunk of fresh orange or of red onion or any clunky piece of fruit or veggie. We use one for our cut lemons and limes, which we tend to have always on hand. Once you’ve identified a size that fits something you regularly use and/or refrigerate, you may, like us, tend to want to re-use that one for the same thing each time. It’s like buying one of those containers-made-just-for-half-an-onion, except it doesn’t have to be for that. It’s nice having options!

We enthusiastically recommend these Wellslock containers. Safe for dishwasher, microwave and freezer. Start with the smaller 14-piece mixed-size Wellslock storage set ($27.47 on Amazon). Try ’em in the bathroom, or sewing room, or craft room, or kitchen, and see where your imagination takes you. P.S. The taupe-tinted lids look classy.

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