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By Michael Hepworth

Albino Armani Wines from Italy

It sounds like an Italian designer clothing line, but is in fact a wine company from Vallagarina in Italy ’s Adige Valley . I recently tried their 2006 Cassetta and the 2009 Pinot Grigio from Val d’Adige at Terra del Forte. The Cassetta wine is a deep red and has traces of sour cherry cinnamon, leather, dried plums and musk. Produced from 100% Foja Tonda grapes, this is a reasonably limited edition wine priced at $19.99 that is aged in Slovenian Oak barrels for 12 months and then followed by an additional six months of bottle aging.  The Pinot Grigio comes from an area with intense temperature shifts and constant winds.  This makes this wine long and structured with a complex finish that has a touch of spice.  There is a lengthy fermentation process in the making of this wine at 68% in stainless steel tanks, and this is a wine well worth seeking out.


Silvertap Wines from Sonoma

These “green style” wines only surfaced in April 2009, and Silvertap is the first brand in the country to create a winery for the purpose of producing high quality wine for keg distribution. Their kegs are lightweight refillable plastic kegs made out of recycled material. What happens when the wine is poured out of the kegs, nitrogen fills the space so that oxygen never reaches the wine, thus eliminating oxidation. This concept apparently has been commonplace in European villages for centuries, especially Spain , Germany and France .  Based in Sonoma County , the company that was started by three wine industry veterans, produces merlot, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and zinfandel, and use a lot of organic grapes and native yeasts. At press time the restaurants and bars stocking these wines are mainly in San Francisco and Northern California , and it could be an idea whose time is right, as restaurants are always looking to improve their margins.  Consulting winemaker is Bill Knuttel, currently also doing the job for Dry Creek and Stromburg Vineyards. I particularly liked the Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi in the central coast. Nice taste of blackberries and cherries with slight hints of cedar and vanilla.


Cupcake Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay

New releases from a vineyard we like a lot and priced around $14 deserve special mention partly due to the passion of winemaker Adam Richardson. The Cupcake 2009 Riesling (20,000 cases) comes from the Mosel river valley where the vineyards are as steep as they come and the grapes are hand harvested. Robust and with tastes of creamy lemon and citrus fruits prevalent, a stirring process in the cellar helps round out the body of the wine.  The Pinot Grigio (20,000 cases) stems from the foothills of the Dolomites in Italy where warm days and cool evenings produce a complex wine with hints of pineapple, pears and lemons. A portion of this wine (5%) is made also using the passito method, where the grapes are harvested and left to dry on straw mats for several weeks. After dehydration they are crushed, fermented with the wine being blended into the overall wine.  The Cupcake Chardonnay (5,000 cases) comes from the Lacheteau winery in the Loire Valley and has hints of pears, almonds and caramel. The aging process can last up to twelve months after the initial fermentation takes place in steel tanks to preserve the fruit characters. The whole process takes two years to produce this creamy and sparkling wine.


Franciscan Estate New Releases

Check out the Sauvignon Blanc from the 240 acres Franciscan Estates (established 1972), great value at $16, from a winery located in the Oakville District of Napa, an area with a total of 5,000 vineyard acres. A combination of soil (gravelly and well drained), topography and climate make this area a bit of a treasure for winemakers. The winemaking process under Janet Myers takes place in St.Helena, a few miles north of the vineyards, which also hosts a relatively brand new visitor’s center. Myers has been head honcho since 2005 and learned her craft, one that she is totally obsessed about, in Australia and at local establishments Stags Leap and Louis Martini.  Other wines produced here are Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuvee Sauvage (100% wild yeast fermented Chardonnay), Magnificat (red wine blend) and the $100 a bottle Stylus (ultimate Cabernet). The 160 fermentation tanks available, ensures that each wine lot is kept separate from the vineyard through fermentation and aging, quite a luxury.

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