Black Butte XXVI Reserve
Style: Imperial, barrel-aged, Porter
Serving Style:22-ounce bottles
Availabilty: Limited quantities in national markets
Appearance: “Not quite black. Coffee-colored.”
Aroma: “Vanilla from bourbon barrels and a little bit of fruitiness from the cranberry. You can tell it's higher in alcohol.”
Taste: “Chococate and rasperry (perhaps from the pomegranate). A sweet beer, better suited as an after-dinner or dessert beer.”
Food Affinity: “Vanilla ice cream. Canolli.”
Reviewed by Chris Moo, a food service professional
2012 Sky High Ranch Pinot Noir
Suggested Retail: $48
“This is a powerful example of what a California Pinot Noir can be. Stopping well short of the unfortunate, too-big style some winemakers have taken with this variety, the Ferrari Carano Sky High Ranch still delivers plenty of punch. Aromas of blackberry, dark cherries and a little cedar precede layered flavors that demonstrate the breadth of the Pinot Noir palette. Dense berry flavors (blackberries, blueberries) are prominent, with some mocha and dark chocolate in the background. There's a fullness in the mouth and a long-lasting finish.”
Food Affinity: “After tasting, reviewer decided to serve with enormous pork T-Bone chops, that were first seared, then slowly baked in the oven. The choice seemed appropriately substantial to come up to the heft of the wine. Other directions could be taken, of course. Duck with cherries would be one possibility. Anything accompanied by a ragout of wild mushrooms would also intrigue.”
TASTE News Service, August 29, 2014 – Every evening before sunset, travelers claim their spots on the patio of the historic Inn at Furnace Creek awaiting a nightly show that is a stark contrast to the neon nights of Las Vegas just 2 ½ hours away. And when the sun finally sets, guests are rewarded with an uninterrupted darkness. Until they see the first of the stars.
Death Valley National Park in eastern California
has been deemed a “Gold Tier” International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association. With clear nights the norm and the exterior lights of the resort dim by design, the big sky of the desert shines with starscapes that can be experienced in few places in the U.S.
“Although our guests gather nightly on the Inn patio to watch the sunset and the stars come out, the best seat for the show is practically anywhere in the park,” said Denise Perkins, director of sales and marketing for Furnace Creek Resort. “And after the stars come out, our guests find plenty of ways to enjoy the nightlife in Death Valley.”
In addition to the luxurious Inn, which is open mid-October through mid-May, the resort includes the family-friendly Ranch at Furnace Creek located about one mile from the Inn and open year-round. The Ranch and Inn are accessible via a free resort shuttle that runs between the two locations. Both locations offer not only great vantage points for serious stargazing but a variety of ways to while away the evening hours as well.
The Inn at Furnace Creek Dining room is known for its eclectic cuisine, elegant atmosphere, attentive staff and quiet sophistication, which encourages guests to linger and relax. The famous date nut bread, served with three types of flavored butters, has been a favorite signature treat for decades. Guests looking for an energetic and entertaining evening often head to the Ranch at Furnace Creek and the Corkscrew Saloon for pizza and drinks is an atmosphere reminiscent of Wild West saloons – without the gunfights. Beer-lovers should be sure to try the local favorite, Badwater Ale. And steak lovers will find their beef nirvana and more a The Wrangler, also located at the Ranch.
Families staying at the Ranch at Furnace Creek often gather at the spring-fed pool for one last energy-busting swim before bedtime. While those staying at the Inn frequently gather around one of two stone fireplaces for a quiet nightcap or a late-night swim in the spring-fed pool before enjoying a casual, starlit stroll back to their rooms along paths that meander through date palm-lined gardens.
Lucky guests staying at the resort when there is a full moon can join one of the free guided moonlight hikes led by the National Park Service. Called Full Moon Festivals, these monthly events include ranger-led walks in moonlit canyons, salt flats or sand dunes. Participants can view the moon’s surface through telescopes and learn about the habits of nocturnal wildlife in the park.
Guests can also take a moonlight horseback ride with Furnace Creek Stables located at the Ranch at Furnace Creek.
Death Valley is a photographer’s otherworldly heaven, and amateur and professional shutterbugs alike gather for both sunset and sunrise shots in several locations. Among the most popular are Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point and the Sand Dunes.
Editor's note: Links to the websites of Lodging and Dining options, including the Furnace Creek Resort can be found in the Desert section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.
TASTE News Service August 28, 2014 - As the 2014 harvest begins, El Dorado-grown wine grapes are capturing the attention of both large-scale wineries and small artisan producers outside the area. Thanks to dramatic elevation changes, unique soils, distinct microclimates and its diverse selection of grape varieties, El Dorado is establishing its identity as a world-class growing region, the El Dorado Winery Association announced this week. The county has more than 2,000 acres of grapevines at elevations ranging from about 1,000 to 3,500 feet and is home to nearly 70 wineries.
With several vineyards already picking fruit this week, El Dorado growers are excited to see their grapes gaining more and more notoriety. Nearly half of El Dorado’s wine grapes leave the area to be made into wines made in nearby Amador, Napa, Sonoma and Yolo counties. According to the county’s grape reports, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah are the most highly sought after grapes.
Family owned and operated Bogle Vineyards is a large case production operation that recognizes the diversity of the state by sourcing grapes from several AVAs. They bring in nearly 500 tons of grapes from El Dorado to their winery, which is located south of Sacramento in Clarksburg. Local grower Ron Mansfield helps Bogle source grapes from several growers in the region, mainly Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Bogle credits the area’s diverse topography and rocky soils for its quality fruit. “It’s a very good relationship,” Mansfield says, “that benefits both Bogle and the El Dorado grape growers.”
“There is also a lot of interest and demand for the less usual grape varieties from wineries outside the county,” says Elizabeth Standeven, president of the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association. “Our mountain setting offers winemakers a unique and vast selection to choose from; we grow more than 45 different grape varieties here.”
Dirty and Rowdy, a North Coast-based winery, sources grapes from around the state, including vineyards in El Dorado. Co-owner and winemaker Hardy Wallace describes the soil as “incredible, unique and unlike any of the other regions we’re using.” Wallace says, “There's this pioneering attitude in El Dorado. Growers are still in discovery mode and there are really cool plantings of super interesting varietals.”
Mansfield, who owns Goldbud Farms and sells grapes to several distant wineries, has been growing fruit in the region since 1980. After initially planting two acres to eight varieties, he was convinced to focus on Syrah and other Rhône varieties by Steve Edmunds (of Berkeley-based Edmunds St. John), who started sourcing grapes from El Dorado in the late 1980s. This progression continues today with a mini revolution of Rhône-loving winemakers finding the rocky soils and higher elevations ideal for grape growing.
Jared and Tracey Brandt, co-owners/winemakers at Donkey & Goat (another Berkeley-based winery) came to the area in search of Syrah in 2003 and today more than half of their 6,000 case production is from El Dorado. Tracey Brandt says, "We fell in love with the terroir for our Syrah.” Over the years Mansfield has planted and grafted many Rhône varietals for the Brandts and today they have 11 of the 22 Rhone varieties including many of the lesser known like Counoise, Cinsault, Picpoul and Clairette, which is one of two known plantings in California. “There is still a wild west spirit in El Dorado which resonates with us,” says Jared.
A rising star in the wine world, Helen Keplinger looks to El Dorado as the source for her Caldera blend – Mourvèdre, Grenache and Counoise - from a sixteen-year old, head-trained vineyard. Speaking about the increased attention coming to the region, Keplinger notes, “Hopefully the majority of winemakers will see it as an opportunity, not just to raise the profile but to also to continue to raise the bar.”
Teena Hildebrand, president of the El Dorado Winery Association and co-owner of Narrow Gate Vineyards, is excited about wines from El Dorado, regardless of where they are made, “The fact that so many winemakers are searching us out is a testament to our quality. It’s validating to those of us who came here in search of a magical wine region and now call it home.”
The future looks bright for El Dorado. Standeven is optimistic, stating, “With each year, we’re gaining notoriety for our wines and as we continue to refine our vineyard practices, our reputation and reach will only get stronger.” The El Dorado AVA will continue to add a valuable piece to California’s winegrowing industry with its unique soils and microclimates, one-of-a-kind mountain locations, and ability to grow a diverse selection of varieties.
Editor's Note: More information on wineries located in El Dorado County can be had at www.eldoradowines.org. If you are planning a visit to this exciting part of Califonia's wine country, visit the Gold Country listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of all the foothill wineries, as well as links to hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to craft beer purveyors in the area.