Backyard Sippers: The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay 2015 & Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Winery: Dreaming Tree Wines is the creation of legendary musician Dave Matthews along with New Zealand winemaker Sean McKenzie. The duo is passionate about crafting accessible wines that express “the unique characters and rich flavours” of California’s wine country. The portfolio currently consists of 6 wines, all sourced from various sustainably farmed vineyards in California.

A Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing winery, they strive for sustainability in all facets of wine production, including sustainable methods in the vineyard, bottles that are a quarter pound lighter and manufactured with clean-burning natural gas, 100% recycled paper labels, along with natural corks sourced from sustainable farms. The winery also utilizes solar energy, having the largest solar footprint in the US wine industry.

Philosophy: To make “wines for people to drink. I don’t make wines for people to put in their cellar.”

The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay California 2015

Winemaking: Grapes were harvested at night and early morning to keep the fruit cool. Fermented and aged for 8 months in a combination of oak barrels and stainless steel tanks.

Tasting Notes: Gold in colour with lemon, pear, peach, grass and white pepper aromas radiating from the glass. Vivid pear, yellow apple, pineapple along with a hint of pink grapefruit are accented by a clean herbaceous streak. Creamy lemon and buttery toast linger between each sip. Intense fruit, yet light on its feet this is fantastic summery sip on its own or with a wide variety of dishes.

Pairing Suggestions from the Winery: Delicious with grilled seafood, goat cheese and mushroom pizza, herb roasted chicken, or stone fruits, ricotta, and arugula.

100% Chardonnay
13.8% Alcohol
$13 [average price]

The Dreaming Tree Cabernet Sauvignon California 2014

Winemaking: The heat and dry conditions of 2014 “delivered big fruit expression, great tannin development and nice ripeness across all varietals”. Wines were aged separately in oak for 16 months, then blended to bring out the true character of the varietal.

Tasting Notes: Garnet in colour with aromas of dark berry fruits, a hint of vanilla and wisps of toasted oak. Black cherry, blackberry and plum are wrapped around a black pepper core. Soft tannins facilitate a seamless merge into chocolate, pink peppercorn, earth and black cherry on the plush finish. A fantastic balance of bright fruit and spice, friendly and easy to pair with all types of dishes, especially anything off a backyard grill.

Pairing Suggestions from the Winery: A fun start or end to any meal. Enjoy with grilled flank steak, BBQ ribs, grilled veggies, portabella and grilled onion burgers.

78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc
13.6% Alcohol
$13 [average price]



Samples submitted for review purpose.

Château des Charmes Cabernet Sauvignon Niagara-On-The-Lake VQA 2015

Estate: Paul Bosc, a fifth generation French winegrower who holds degrees in Viticulture and Oenology from the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France, founded Château des Charmes in 1978. Paul brought his young family to the Niagara on the Lake region of Canada in the 1960’s “with the idea that growing our own grapes was the best way to make fine wine”. The estate consists of 280 acres of vineyards in four locations all within the Niagara-on-the-Lake region.

Paul established himself as a pioneer in the region, from planting traditional French varietals to employing cutting edge techniques such as installing wind machines to protect the vines from the cold. In addition to being recognized for their progressive, groundbreaking work with traditional French grapes and methods, their wines have garnered accolades for their balance, finesse and quality. Paul Sr still has an active role in the vineyards, his son Paul Jr is President of the estate, and Paul Jr’s wife Michèle is the Director of Marketing.

Philosophy: “We are custodians of the land.” Crafting wines that are “food friendly and age worthy. We hope you will call them delicious”.

Winemaking: Committed from the very beginning to sustainable practices, the family is a charter member of Sustainable Winegrowing Ontario. Chemical treatments are never used, and sustainable methods such as hedge vine canopies, and under drainage are utilized. Naturally occurring yeasts are used for the majority of the wines. All by-products from the winemaking process [stems, skins, seeds] are returned to the vineyards as natural fertilizer. Their extensive cellars are geothermal and do not require any heating or cooling, especially impressive considering how cold Canadian winters can be.

Grapes were hand sorted in the vineyard. Aged for 10 months in French oak barrels with regular stirring of the lees.

Tasting Notes: Red-violet in colour with cheerful aromas of cherry, wildflowers, black cherry, black pepper and a trace of roasted jalapeño. All the cherries [red, black and a pop of sour] glide atop polished granite minerality and smooth, fine tannins. Crushed pink peppercorn dusted fruit along with a hint of vanilla comprises the moderate finish. Super food friendly, give this a pour with almost anything!

100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Niagara-On-The-Lake VQA
Estate Bottled by Château des Charmes
13% Alcohol
$15 [Canadian Dollars]
Enjoy now thru 2018

Vino and Vinyl, A Brooklyn Pop Up Dinner with Robert Mondavi Wines

I was delighted to attend a pop-up wine dinner held in a historical, stunningly renovated brownstone in Brooklyn, featuring up and coming winemaker Joe Harden, of Robert Mondavi winery and innovative chef Theo Friedman. The event was a sensory pleasing showcase of the modern approach Joe is applying to the historic Mondavi vision.

Emmy award winner, James Beard award recipient, author and television personality Ted Allen hosted the evening. Incredibly knowledgeable in both food and wine (and also the history of Brooklyn and its brownstones), Allen brought a graciousness and warmth to the entire event.

The stunning dining room.

The legacy of Robert Mondavi is that of a man who put the Napa Valley wine region on the map. For over 40 years he pioneered sustainable viticulture and crafting high quality, approachable wines that express the terroir of Napa Valley. Today, Joe Harden is carrying forward his iconic vision.

A former professional basketball player, Harden grew up making wine with his father in a 30 acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. After obtaining a degree on oenology, he completed his training under renowned Mondavi winemaker Genevieve Janssens, learning the entire process from field to bottle in the To Kalon vineyard in Oakville, Napa Valley. Harden’s wine philosophy is to make the best quality wine that is balanced and food friendly. For a detailed account of Joe’s journey, click here.

Winemaker Joe Harden detailing the history and vision in each glass.

Chef Theo Friedman of Theory Kitchen [a traveling, pop-up kitchen], has trained at The Musket Room, Gotham Bar and Grill and other prominent NYC restaurants. At only 24 years old, Friedman has been creating pop-up dining experiences since 2010; establishing a cult following of passionate eaters, providing him with the opportunity to cook in kitchens and pop-up spaces across the country. As I was the only vegetarian attending the event, he was kind enough to go out of his way to create an entire meat-free menu for me. To read more of about his fascinating career, visit

Chef Theo Friedman describing his spectacular dishes.

To begin the evening, we enjoyed two very different Fume Blancs [Robert Mondavi is actually the man responsible for the name Fume Blanc], both hailing from the legendary To Kalon [ancient Greek for “the highest beauty”] vineyard in Oakville. To Kalon is “ recognized as one of the finest first-growth vineyards of the world” and Joe Harden is a “ firm believer in the power of To Kalon”. Predominantly Bordeaux grapes are grown at To Kalon [Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah], these 2 Fume Blancs are the only white wines coming from this historic vineyard.

Robert Mondavi Winery ‘Oakville’ Fumé Blanc Oakville 2014

Winemaking: Grapes came from the To Kalon vineyard, specifically from the young vibrant up and coming Sauvignon blocks that aren’t quite up to the caliber of the reserve wine. Hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. 91% of the wine was fermented in 60 gallon French oak barrels, then barrel aged [8% new oak] on its lees for 8 months with hand stirring [bâtonnage] to integrate the flavours and develop its creamy texture.

Tasting Notes: Bright and fresh with citrus, herbs and a trace of floral accented by a streak of clean minerality, finishing crisp and fruity. Easy drinking, fantastic sipping on its own or easily paired with a wide variety of dishes. [It was wonderful with crispy maitakes with cured egg yolk and parsley ranch.]

79% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Sémillon
14.5% Alcohol
$34 [average price]

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve To Kalon Vineyard Napa Valley 2014

Winemaking: Grapes were sourced from the iconic, dry farmed, Sauvignon Blanc vines planted in the 1960’s in To Kalon vineyard. Hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. Almost all of the juice was fermented in French oak [42% new], and then aged on its lees for 9 months and hand stirred [bâtonnage] twice weekly, for a creamy texture and to enhance the volume and length. A small amount of Sémillon was added to increase richness and body. Additionally, 2 egg shaped cement fermentation vessels were utilized to explore the purity of fruit that this process is known for, and added to the final blend.

Tasting Notes: Fresh pear, herbs and bright acidity fuse with soft, creamy lemon, whilst citrus zest and a streak of minerality comprise the lengthy finish. Elegant and rich, yet super easy drinking. [A perfect companion with the creamy, bright, chilled California avocado and English pea soup.]

98% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Sémillon
14.5% Alcohol
$52 [average price]

Robert Mondavi Winery ‘Maestro’ Napa Valley 2014

Winemaking: Maestro was created in commemoration of Mr. Mondavi. Upon the opening of the To Kalon cellar in 2000, Mr. Mondavi hired the Napa Valley Orchestra to perform, halfway though he grabbed the conductor’s baton and started conducting the orchestra. This led to a front page picture and headline calling him “The Maestro of Napa Valley”. Conceived as a free spirit, it’s a wine that allows the winemaker to explore and experiment, its not restricted by style or grape. The 2013 vintage is a red blend, whereas 2014 is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, as it had a beautiful harvest that year. The 2014 was crafted to be approachable, soft yet dense, and to pair really well with food.

Grapes were sourced from the Wappo Hill vineyard in Stag’s Leap, along with To Kalon vineyard. Hand harvested and sorted in the gravity flow cellar. The clusters were destemmed directly into French oak tanks for cold soak, fermentation and extended maceration, a total of 24 days of wine to skin contact, serving to maximize the extraction of varietal character and complexity while keeping the tannins fleshy and supple. Next the wine was drained and pressed into 28% new French-oak barrels for malolactic fermentation, then aged for 21 months.

Tasting Notes: Vibrant, concentrated jammy fruit [think blueberry, plum, black cherry] vanilla and baking spice supported by velvety tannins. A dessert-like finish, with pink peppercorn dusted Grenache, coffee and toasted oak lingering decadently between each sip. [ A fantastic foil to the wonderfully fresh, pungent ramp pasta.]

73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot
15% Alcohol
$46 [average price]

Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To Kalon Vineyard Napa Valley 2014

Winemaking: The reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine that met a lot to Mr. Mondavi, “a wine he hung his hat on”. He crafted it with the intention that it be “enjoy with food and friends and family”. Today it is known as a reflection of his philosophy on winemaking, creating wines that are powerful yet gentle. [Joe provided us with my favourite quote of the evening, stating that Mr. Mondavi said: “I want my reserve Cab to be as soft as a baby’s bottom and have the power of the voice of Pavarotti”. The “First Growth” grapes form the finest blocks in To Kalon vineyard provides the wine with natural structure, acidity and power.

Hand harvested grapes spent 34 days fermenting and extended maceration in French oak tanks. The wine was then pressed and underwent malolactic fermentation in 100% new French oak barrels. The final blend spent 21 months in oak barrels, and was bottled in August 2016. Consistently being tasted to monitor its development, it is looking as though the wine will be released this October.

Indeed, my favourite wine of the evening, it is exudes elegance and power, well structured and perfectly balanced.

Tasting Notes: Food friendly acidity and well integrated oak accent fresh, ripe berries, crushed pink peppercorn and herbaceous elements. Silky smooth tannins, vanilla, chocolate and a trace of menthol linger on the lengthy, plush finish. Elegance along with a strapping, robust gentility in every sip. [Wonderful with grilled portabello covered in cocoa and malt glaze.]

93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot
14.5% Alcohol
Currently not released [$165 Suggested Retail Price]

Robert Mondavi Winery Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis Napa Valley 2002

Winemaking: With the dry climate in Napa Valley, the humid conditions necessary for botrytis or noble rot [the concentrating of sugars and flavour by allowing the grapes to shrivel or raisin] to develop need to be created. Following the regular harvest, select grapes are left on the vines for noble rot. Sprinklers are used at night in order to increase the humidity, with harvest taking place in November. Grapes were sourced from the Wappo Hill vineyard in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District AVA. Fermented for 2 months in French oak barrels [13% new], then aged on its lees and hand stirred once a month for 19 months.

2002 is the last year the Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis was made since the conditions haven’t been right. Joe stated that they are hoping this year they will have the opportunity for a 2017 vintage.

Tasting Notes: Fresh and vibrant with a bright acidity balancing the sweetness. Honey drizzled orange, lemon and apples fuse into lingering buttery croissant and candied orange notes. Sweet and vibrant, delicious on its own or a wonderful pairing with all types of deserts, from rich cheeses to decadent chocolate. [A great pairing with mild to stinky cheeses, dried apricot and clove preserve, and roasted nuts.]

100% Sauvignon Blanc
12% Alcohol
$100 [average price]

A superb finish to the evening.

Media event hosted by Robert Monday Winery.

A Fun, Dashing Trio of Washington State Reds from Rock Star Winemaker Charles Smith

Winery: Renowned, self-taught pioneer winemaker Charles Smith is the founder and winemaker behind Charles Smith Family wines. His “kick ass attitude and bold packaging has earned him the moniker ‘rock star’ of Washington State Syrah”. With his many diverse brands [K Vintners, Wines of Substance, Sixto, Charles & Charles, Secco and Vino] he is able to offer a wide variety of wines varying in cost from budget friendly to highly rated, single vineyard Syrahs in the $100 range. Within all of his labels, Smith strives to craft sustainably farmed wines that “are full of flavor, balanced, and true to place of origin”.

Created in 2006, the Charles Smith Wines label was themed as “The Modernist Project”. Focusing on how people tend to drink wine today, which is immediately, the goal is to create approachable wines “to be enjoyed now, but with true typicity of both the varietal and the vineyard”. A fantastic concept; a Syrah that tastes like a Syrah from Washington State!

Modern with a sassy edge, Charles Smith labels are renowned for their clean black and white artwork created by Charles Smith and artist Rikke Korffsure. Super eye catching and easily recognizable, the style has become synonymous with K Vintners and Charles Smith.

Philosophy: “It’s just wine, drink it.”

Charles Smith Wines ‘The Velvet Devil’ Merlot Washington State 2014

“Truth in a name: Velvet.”

Winemaking: Grapes are sourced from the following sustainably farmed vineyards: Sundance, Art Den Hoed, Goose Ridge, Weyns, Hawk, Oasis and Purple Sage. Whole berry fermentation with partial native yeasts. Aged for 10 months on the lees in 30% new French oak barrels.

Tasting Notes: Bright garnet in colour with aromas of cherry, warm summer woods and crushed black peppercorn. A spicy edge to the ripe, plush fruit [think blackberry, cherry, wild strawberry]. Appropriately named, velvety tannins fuse with summer woods and spice on the lengthy, plush finish. Fantastic on its own, versatile at the table.

94% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc
13.6% Alcohol
$12 [average price]

Charles Smith Wines ‘Boom Boom!’ Syrah Washington State 2014

“I can tell you this. It is the best Boom Boom! thus far.”

Winemaking: Grapes are sourced from the following sustainably farmed vineyards: Art Den Hoed, Pheasant, Weyns, Arete and Gamache. 30% whole cluster fermentation together with the Viognier. Aged on the lees in old oak barrels.

Tasting Notes: Red-violet in colour with aromas of wild berry jam, vanilla and crushed pink peppercorn. Exuding fruit & spice, with cherry, black cherry, blueberry, plum, vanilla and a trace of roasted herbs wrapped around a pepper spice backbone. Silky tannins compliment dark chocolate dusted fruit on the woodsy finish. An elegant edge to the well balanced fruit and spice, each glass will disappear rather swiftly.

97% Syrah, 3% Viognier
13.5% Alcohol
$17 [average price]

Charles Smith Wines ‘Chateau Smith’ Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2014

“If you like Cabernet dark and rich, this is your sexy beast.”

Winemaking: Grapes are sourced from the following sustainably farmed vineyards: Art Den Hood, Hawk, Roza Hills, Wahluke Slope, Don Talcott and Clifton Bluff. Whole berry fermentation with native yeasts. Aged on the lees for 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels.

Tasting Notes: Red-violet in colour with inviting aromas of roasted jalapenos, cherry, fresh herbs, vanilla and toasted oak. Plump cherry, blackberry and red currant fruits are balanced by a bright acidity. Velvety tannins underscore earth, tobacco and pink peppercorn. The rich fruit follows thru to the plush, lengthy finish, joining vanilla and subtle toasted oak. Well structured, with a robust character, an engaging companion to a wide variety of dishes.

96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot
13.5% Alcohol
$19 [average price]


Samples submitted for review purpose.

Atticus John Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007


Brand: Atticus John is only made during the best harvests in Napa Valley. Although the actual vineyards [near St. Helena] and winemaker have managed to stay anonymous, there are only so many options, so it’s possible to theorize quite accurately. ☺

The accepted account behind the brand is that when this rather famous winemaker has a fantastic harvest, rather then bottle too many of his high priced wines [making them less rare and less in cost] he bottles the extra wine under a different label and price point. Essentially a $25 bottle that really is a $75 bottle. I consider this a win.

The name Atticus John is in honor to a local Napa Valley legend, Atticus John. According to the legend told by many Napa farmers, “he was a recluse who lived in the valley around the turn of the 20th century. He had several dozen large dogs and lived his whole life off of what the bountiful Napa soil had to offer.”

Winemaking: “Almost 32 barrels were blended with no fining, no filtration and one final racking to bottle.” From the front label: “Old vines and minimal wood secure the generous spirit of Atticus John Cabernet”.

Tasting Notes: Dark garnet in colour with cozy aromas of dark berries and autumn woods. An herbaceous streak runs thru blackberry, tobacco and vanilla notes, evolving into spiced oak and berry fruit on the plush finish. Well balanced, with complimentary velvety tannins and good acidity. Versatile and easy drinking, great on its own or with a wide array of dishes.

Cabernet Sauvignon [I could not verify varietal percentage.]
Napa Valley
Vinted and Bottled by Brandon Cellars, Suisun City
14.3% Alcohol
Enjoy now