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Category Archives: Mendocino

Local Innovation at The Bewildered Pig

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Last week I traveled to Mendocino with Canuck for an early birthday celebration! He let me do the majority of the planning – including two breweries (no, I don’t just drink wine) – but did suggest a dinner spot in Philo for our first night of the trip: The Bewildered Pig. I trust Canuck’s picks, especially when it comes to food, and after checking out their menu and hearing that his friend from culinary school is the sous chef, I got pretty excited about this place.

The Bewildered Pig is the brainchild of Chef Janelle Weaver and her partner, Daniel. After spending several years as an executive chef at a prestigious Napa winery, Janelle ventured out on her own culinary endeavor with the goal to create an unpretentious restaurant with a large focus on farm to fork, sourcing everything locally (their pigs come from down the street) and from their own gardens. The dishes are elegant yet casual, refined yet rustic, sophisticated yet simple; dualities that I learned Janelle possesses herself after chatting with her throughout the course of the night.

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The wine list is a combination of selections from Anderson Valley and Sonoma County and an extensive list of Old World favorites. Keeping with the local theme, I selected the 2014 Balo “Suitcase 828” Estate Pinot Noir. The wine was more feminine on the nose, with aromas of white flowers, bright red fruit and an element of freshness. But the palate was bold and earthy, reflecting more of a masculine tone. One of the things I love most about Pinot Noir (especially Pinots from Anderson Valley) is how androgynous it can be, which makes it a versatile wine for food pairings. Sure enough, it paired perfectly with nearly everything that we ate.

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We started off the evening with a delectable amuse-bouche from the kitchen: Penny Royal Laychee Crostini with a Pea & Fava Pistou. (Side note: Penny Royal is a local farm and creamery that offers tours and tastings Thursday through Monday in their new shop on Hwy 128. They make a variety of cheeses that are also available at one of my favorite Philo wineries, Navarro Vineyards.) Our delicious cheesy bite was followed by a house made Mendocino County Heritage Pork country pâté with Dijon mustard and shallot chutney – the perfect combination of salty, sweet and spicy.

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On to the vegetables. Canuck selected “Celebration of Carrots” and I chose an assortment of seasoned radishes with salt and butter. The radishes were simple yet so satisfying, and it felt good to eat some raw vegetables after an afternoon of beer tasting (be sure to stop in Anderson Valley Brewery on your way into Philo). The carrot plate was indeed a celebration and quite possibly the best vegetable dish I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. The plate is composed of a seven different uses and varieties of carrots: confit tiny Thumbelina and French, pickled rainbow, housemade carrot crackers, fried carrot fronds, carrot top pesto and garlic aioli. I talked about this dish to anyone who would listen for several days. I’m still holding out hope that Canuck will find a way to recreate it…

And as if those were not enough starters, we picked two more to share: smoked local black cod potato salad, and Gulf prawns with garlic lemon aioli and what Janelle and her team affectionately call “fluff,” an array of herbs, flowers and stuff. The cod is local (Princess Seafood out of Fort Bragg) and smoked by Angelo’s in Sonoma. It’s served with heirloom potatoes, confited in olive oil, and fresh shaved Petit Teton horseradish, bloomed mustard seeds, whipped crème fraîche, herbs, watercress… and probably a few other amazing things that I am missing. Not only was it beautifully presented (like all of the evening’s dishes), but the combination of flavors was beautiful to eat.

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Last but not least, we each ordered the Lamb Duo (despite the fact that Canuck usually prefers not to order the same thing as his dining partner). It was written on the menu with all of my favorite Spring things so it was impossible to resist. In hindsight, we agreed that it easily could have been shared considering the amount of food we had leading up to our entrées, but we still managed to finish the majority of our dishes. The Lamb Duo was composed of lamb loin and confit cap, sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi, fresh tarragon, chives, lemon zest, fava beans, asparagus, fava leaf and garlic puree, served with a lamb anise hyssop reduction. I never imagined that all of these things could exist so cohesively on one plate, but it was near perfection.

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If you don’t already have enough reasons to visit Anderson Valley – the plethora of unique and inexpensive wineries, fishing along the Redwood lined highway, bountiful farms and orchards, whimsical seaside villages, adorable inns and a brewery in a town with their own made up language – add this dining experience to the list. The Bewildered Pig is truly a destination restaurant, worth every mile traveled, and I intend to make it a regular pilgrimage. In fact, I can’t wait to go back and see what other seasonal items they have on their fantastic menu.

Big thanks to Janelle, Izzy and the entire team for such a memorable evening!

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

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Last week I splurged and bought the $17.99 frozen Wild Argentinian Red Shrimp from Trader Joe’s. They don’t always carry them at my local Trader Joe’s, so I usually pick a bag up if I can spot them. I suppose it’s a high price tag for TJ’s, but a pound of frozen shrimp goes a long way when you’re cooking for one. I usually use 4 shrimp for one meal since they’re so big, or double it up if I plan on having leftovers. To defrost, place how ever many shrimp in a sealed ziploc bag and put in a large bowl of warm water for about 30 minutes, or until no longer frozen. Then cook and use in a salad, stir fry, as an entree, or in a pasta.

Last night I was in the mood for something tomatoey, so I decided to make Shrimp Fra Diavolo. In place of canned crush tomatoes, I picked up a pint of assorted cherry tomatoes at my local farm stand, along with some fresh basil. The rest of the ingredients were on hand, and I even got to use a mini bottle of Limoncello that I had been saving for some sort of Italian occasion!

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Shrimp Fra Diavolo (serves 2)limoncello

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 lb jumbo shrimp (about 8), peeled and deveined
  • 6 oz dried linguine
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup Limoncello
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 10 basil leaves, julienned
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Parmesan, for serving

Set a medium-sized pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add linguine and cook for 8 minutes. Strain and run a bit of cold water over the pasta to keep from sticking. Set aside in strainer.

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Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high flame. Generously season shrimp with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, sear shrimp for two minutes on each side. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds, then transfer shrimp to a plate.

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Add Limoncello and wine, then stir in tomatoes. Add lemon juice and Italian seasoning and sauté for 3 minutes. Crush the tomatoes using a slotted spoon, and cook for another 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed.

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Add shrimp back into the pan and toss to coat with sauce, then add pasta and toss to combine. Top with basil and serve with grated parmesan.

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I enjoyed this meal with the white wine that I used to make the sauce, Navarro Vineyards 2012 Mendocino Chardonnay. It’s light and bright with subtle oak flavors and hints of citrus; very adaptable in regards to pairing with food. I was very pleased with this pick since I didn’t have a lot to choose from – most of my wines are packed up for my impending move to Napa… but that’s another story.

The Husch Experience

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I’m still dreaming about being back in Comptche, warming my toes in front of the fire and sipping on a 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – my favorite varietal right now. Starry had never been to Anderson Valley before and I had been once in June 2009, so I thought it would be cool to repeat my original Anderson Valley Winetinery, adding in a couple new stops as well. We packed as many wineries into Saturday that we could handle, beginning the day of tasting with one of my favorites: Husch Vineyards.

The tasting room at Husch

The tasting room at Husch

Husch is one of the oldest wineries in Anderson Valley, and the tasting room building is 110 years old! There are guesses as to what its purpose was before the winery existed: a pony barn, grain storage, chicken coop. Whatever it was, I’m glad Tony Husch had the brilliant idea to make a winery out of the property! In 1979, Husch Vineyards was sold to Hugo Oswald Jr., and the winery is still owned by the third generation of Oswalds. A few years ago, Husch bottled a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah and called the wine Grand Oz. I got to taste the 2009 Grand Oz (second vintage) this past weekend, which is only available in the tasting room with a 2 bottle limit per person. Grand Oz is smooth and delicious, with bright fruit and a hint of spice. I was tempted to purchase a bottle, but I didn’t want to blow my budget at the first stop!

The wall of awards

The wall of awards

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Starry and I were led by Mike as we each tasted six different wines from the current selection at Husch (of which there are 16). Mike had been working in the tasting room for about six years, and before that he was launching rockets at Cape Canaveral! He even launched one of the missions to Mars, and got a little nostalgic when recounting to us his days at the Cape. I love the attention that you get from the host at small wineries like this, and I also love to taste the wines that are only available in the tasting room. So I opted for a diverse selection of winery exclusives, including: 2012 Renegade Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino, 2012 T-Bud Dry Cuvee Gewürztraminer Anderson Valley, 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, 2010 Knoll Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, 2010 Syrah Mendocino and of course, the 2009 Grand Oz Mendocino.

selection at Husch

While Starry and I both really enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite of the whites was most certainly the T-Bud; slightly sweet with hints of pear and grapefruit on the nose and a refreshing palate of citrus and baking spice. I also had a sip of Starry’s 2012 Vine One Chardonnay Mendocino, which was light and delicate with floral aromatics and fermented mostly in stainless steel tanks. I would later learn that much of Anderson Valley white wine is fermented in stainless steel with just a touch of oak. I think this is because the Anderson Valley white varietals are mostly cool climate grapes, such as Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Blanc. These grapes are more delicate and bright, and possess zesty and somewhat tropical flavors so an overabundance of oak in the fermentation process would clash with the natural flavors in the wine.

The Gewurz vines outside the Husch tasting room.

The Gewurz vines outside the Husch tasting room.

As for my red selections, I was very pleased and particularly enjoyed the 91 point (Wine Enthusiast) 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir. The wine had complex aromas of toast and black cherry, with a soft yet full palate. For only $38 (not including my industry discount), I couldn’t resist buying a bottle! I also enjoyed the 2010 Knoll Pinot Noir, a historically significant wine because it was the first planting of Pinot Noir in the Anderson Valley. The wine had a lot of body and complexity, with hints of cloves on the nose and a soft, velvety finish in the mouth. Of course, neither of these compared to the Grand Oz, which simply blew me away.

Grand Oz

Mike was pleased to tell us that they had sold out of their innaugural 2008 vintage of the Grand Oz, a vintage that all wineries in Anderson Valley struggled with due to the forest fires. We had heard that some wineries tried to profit off the unique smoky flavor, claiming that it was a piece of history and created an interesting tasting Pinot Noir. While this may be true in some sense, Starry and I knew better than to be duped by this marketing twist. We did manage to taste some 2008 Pinot from other wineries throughout the weekend. While most we found to be undrinkable – with one even smelling like gasoline – we hardly noticed the smoke in a 2008 Pinot Noir from Breggo. This probably had something to do with the reverse osmosis truck that they used during production.

Husch Vineyards proved to be the perfect start to our weekend, and Mike’s in-depth account of the winery’s background and the history of the valley made the experience all the more special. This tasting also launched my new obsession with 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – which I’m told is one of the best years in the region for growing Pinot. Thank goodness the bottle prices in Anderson Valley are more than reasonable; not to mention that the majority of the wineries offer free tastings to the public! The wine nerd in me has never been so happy to live in Northern California.

#PrivateRomanticCabin(inthewoods)

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A few months ago my friend/fellow wino (a.k.a. Starry) and I came up with a plan to visit Anderson Valley for a weekend of wine tasting. We started to look at lodging options and found a few cheap motels in Ukiah (too far), some nice B&Bs in Mendocino (too expensive), and a few airbnb options for a rustic cabin in the woods. We were intrigued by the cabin idea, and then I came upon this gem in Comptche. Although the title of the rental suggested it would be ideal for a couple, Starry and I are no strangers to sharing close quarters and we’re both big fans of nature. Plus – it was a mere 30 minute drive to the wineries, AND only $75 per night!

private romantic cabin in the woods

Our kitchen was minimal, but included a couple hot plates, a toaster oven, and some basic cooking essentials. We figured pasta would be easy enough, so I brought some homemade pesto, Pecorino, and a box of Baia “Mohawk” pasta that was gifted to me by GGD. On the way into Anderson Valley, we stopped at a market and deli in Boonville and picked up some local pesto chicken sausage, broccoli and Pennyroyal Farms cheese. When we got to the cabin, Starry started a fire and I opened up a special bottle of wine: Paloma 2007 Merlot from Napa Valley. This is one of my favorite bottles, and it did not disappoint! Starry loved it, and it paired perfectly with the Pennyroyal Farmstead Boont Corners cheese that we devoured.

Paloma and Pennyroyal

After a rousing game of Scrabble (which I promptly ruined when I stepped on the board), I got started on dinner while Starry tended to our fire. The hot plates took a LONG time to heat up, but in the end the meal came together perfectly and we were very pleased with the quality of all the ingredients.pesto

Almond Pesto (makes 1 cup)

  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • small handful of raw almonds
  • 4 oz fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan

For pesto, chop garlic and almonds in a large food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add basil and continue to process, then add oil in a slow, steady stream while the motor is running. Add salt and cheese and pulse to combine. Using a rubber spatula, transfer to a small tupperware container. Use within a few days, or freeze.Baia pasta

Pesto Chicken Pasta with Broccoli (serves 2)

  • 1 head broccoli, florets only
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 cups noodle-shaped pasta (I recommend Baia “Mohawk” Pasta)
  • 1 pesto chicken sausage, casing removed
  • 1/2 cup homemade almond pesto
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Set oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees. In a small pyrex dish combine broccoli florets, olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until tender.

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Meanwhile, heat a large pot of water for the pasta and set another large pan over a medium-high flame. Once hot, add sausage and cook until browned, using the back of a wooden spoon to break up the sausage. Once browned, add broccoli and lower heat.

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Cook pasta for 10-12 minutes, or until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining. In the empty pot, combine pesto and half of pasta water, stirring to combine. Add more water until you reach desired consistency. Then add sausage and broccoli to pot, stirring to combine into a sauce. Transfer pasta back to the pot and toss to coat in the pesto sauce.

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Serve in bowls and top with grated Pecorino. Starry and I enjoyed a 2007 Joseph Swan Zinfandel with this pasta. One would think it would be an odd pairing, but the fruity Zinfandel was able to stand up to the heat in the pasta (from the raw garlic in the pesto), thus bringing out the spice in the wine. It’s also an incredibly tasty wine, and the perfect bottle to finish off an evening in front of the fire.

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Admittedly, it really was quite a romantic evening… in a best girlfriends weekend getaway kind of way. More to come on all the great wineries we visited in Anderson Valley!

Pairing Pork with Asian Flavors

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Pork is sometimes a tricky thing to pair wine with. Because it’s a type of meat that is flavored mostly by what sauce you cook it in, the wine pairing largely depends on those flavors. For example, if you’re making a BBQ pork, then I would suggest a Rose or Beaujolais. But if you’re using Asian ingredients then a Gewürztraminer or Riesling would be a better match because the sugars in these wines help smooth out the spice in the food.

Last night MM Jr. (MM’s younger brother) joined me for dinner. I offered to cook for him when he told me that he mostly ordered dinner every night. MM Jr. pretty much eats anything, but I was craving Asian food so I opted for this stir-fried pork dish from Cooks Illustrated, a recipe that my mother has been making for years. I follow this recipe to the T (except I do the pork in one batch) and I love all the Asian components in the dish, especially the oyster sauce. It’s pretty easy to make as long as you prepare all the ingredients in advance and have them within an arms reach (like all stir fry dishes). I also made a side of Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley, which I cooked in a rice cooker with chicken broth and one teaspoon of butter. It turned out very moist and flavorful, with a great texture and full of healthy ingredients. Be sure to start your rice well before (45 min-1 hour, brown rice takes longer than white) you begin making the stir fry so that it’s ready to serve when the stir fry is ready. Additionally, I put together a salad of romaine lettuce, chopped carrot, thinly sliced cucumber, scallions, yellow pepper and miso dressing. The miso dressing is homemade, lasts a while in the fridge and has a lot of crossover ingredients with the pork stir fry – so it makes for a perfect side salad!

Miso Dressing

  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2-inch piece of ginger, outside cut off
  • 1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 TB white or yellow miso
  • 1 TB toasted sesame oil
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  1. Chop garlic and ginger in a food processor.
  2. Add vinegar and miso and process to combine.
  3. Add oil while motor is running in a slow, steady stream.
  4. Add white pepper and briefly process.
  5. Transfer to jar and refrigerate. Makes 6-8 servings of dressing for individual salads.

I paired this meal with one of my favorite American Gewürztraminers, 2011 Navarro Cuvée Traditional Gewürztraminer. It’s slightly sweet with a good balance of spice – perfect for any Asian stir fry. A steal at only $15, the winery is sold out of the 2011 vintage but still has a small lot of the 2010, which is also delicious. Even MM Jr. (who once claimed he didn’t like wine) had two glasses! I must admit, I have been quite successful at converting the MM boys into wine drinkers…

Slow-Baked Salmon with Pinot Gris

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I’m traveling this week for work, and knew I would only have one night at home to cook a nice meal. I was in the mood for salmon, and wanted to try a new recipe using the leftover fresh thyme I had in my fridge. I browsed Epicurious and found this recipe, which I altered only slightly by adding minced garlic and removing the skins of the salmon. I served the salmon with tricolor Israeli couscous with sautéed tomatoes and shallots, basil and spinach. The whole meal was very easy to prepare, and the salmon was so melt-in-your-mouth-delicious.

Slow-Baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme (serves 2)

  • 2 filets of salmon, skin on or off based on your preference
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Israeli Couscous with Tomato and Spinach (serves 2-3)

  • 1 cup Israeli couscous (tricolor, if you can find it)
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small shallot, diced
  • 8 basil leaves, julienned
  • 2 cups spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 2 TB shredded Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

I chose to have the salmon skinned because I wasn’t sure how the skin would crisp up when baked in this slow method, and I only like salmon skin if it’s really crispy. If you have tried this recipe with the skin on, I invite your reviews in the comments section.

Preheat oven to 275. Combine olive oil, lemon zest, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper into a small bowl. Cover a baking sheet with a layer of aluminum foil and place salmon filets on, flat side (skin side if not skinned) down. Coat each salmon filet with the oil blend and let sit for 10 minutes so flavors can meld. Bake for 22 minutes and remove from oven.

Israeli couscous can be found in most Mediterranean markets, Whole Foods or Trader Joes. It has a similar consistency to orzo, but with a pearl shape. Use 1 1/4 cup water for every 1 cup of couscous. Bring the water to a boil, add the couscous, reduce to simmer and cover until water is absorbed – about 8-10 minutes.

Start to prepare the couscous when there is about 12 minutes left to the fish. While preparing the Israeli couscous, heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add shallots and tomatoes and sauté over medium-low heat for 7 minutes. When the couscous is mostly cooked, transfer to the pan with tomatoes and shallots and continue to sauté over a simmering flame. Add the basil and spinach and stir to combine until the spinach begins to cook. Top with salt, pepper and parmesan and stir to combine. Serve immediately alongside slow-baked salmon.

Because the flavors in the basil, thyme and lemon zest are so strong, you want to pair it with something crisp and light, which are the qualities in a California-style Pinot Gris (known as Pinot Grigio in Italy). This grape sometimes gets a bad rap because there are a lot of cheap American wines out there labeled “Pinot Grigio” – a name that is more widely recognized in airport bars and grocery stores. But if you do a little digging, and you’re willing to spend more than $10, you can easily find a nice Pinot Gris from California. The Tangent “PG” Paragon Vineyard Pinot Gris from Edna Valley is a steal at only $14. Bouchaine also makes a great Pinot Gris from their estate vineyard in Carneros, and I love the Navarro Pinot Gris from Anderson Valley. These are also great wines to sip on before dinner, or as you’re cooking!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Rosé season!

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Ahhh, my favorite time of the year: Rosé season. Any restaurant I go to, I order Rosé. Any time the sun comes out in San Francisco, I drink Rose. Any winery I come across that makes Rosé, I try (or usually buy) it.

I love Rosé. I love how it’s this delicious combination of sweet and tart. I love the different tastes and shades of Rosé – though, I usually prefer Rosés of the light, peachy color. I love how when you open the first Rosé of the year, you know it’s Springtime.

Note: Please do not confuse my beautiful Rosé with the pathetic-excuse-for-a-wine White Zinfandel that I would rather ban from a river boat dinner cruise than let anyone mistakenly drink it (true story; San Antonio, Spring 2011).

My father insists that Rosé over $20 isn’t worth buying; that it’s a casual drinking wine that should be priced at $15. I’d also like to note that while there are several great California Rosés in the $15-20 range, you can’t go wrong with Southern France Rosé and it’s almost always under $15. That being said, here are my Rosé recommendations for the Spring/Summer:

2011 Navarro Rosé – $16.50. This Mendocino winery is known for producing excellent, affordable wines, especially their whites, Pinot Noir and Rosé. I bumped into them at Vintners Market last weekend and tried their 2011 Rose that they just released in March. I ended up walking away with half a case for about $86.00 (granted, I’m a club member so my discount helped a bit). This Rosé of Grenache is not too sweet with nice floral tones and crisp summer fruit flavors. Perfection.

2011 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare Rosé – $16.00. Another Rosé of Grenache, this pink wine from Bonny Doon is light and fruity, with notes of peach, strawberry and white cherries. I also tried this at Vintners Market and adored it. I will definitely be looking for it at my local BevMo soon.

2010 Domaine Begude Pinot Noir Vin de Pays d’Oc Rosé – $12.99 at K&L. I drank about half a case of the 2010 last year, so I can only imagine that the 2011 has lived up to it’s predecessor.

2011 Argiolas Serra Lori Isola dei Nuraghi Rosato – $14. This Sardinia Rosé is flavored with berries, roasted carrots and a touch of citrus. Vibrant and flavorful with a long finish, it’s great for food pairings – especially barbecue.

2011 Chateau Revelette Rose – $18.99 on WineAccess.com. This is a great Rosé from the Provence region of Southern France. This pale salmon-pink wine is crisp, vibrant, and bone dry with harmonious acidity. Maybe hard to find in retail, but check with your local wine shop.

Even Bethenny Frankel has released a Skinnygirl Rosé that has been reported as “sweet and light” by one reviewer. While I am a huge fan of the Skinnygirl cocktails, I’m not sure I trust wine that is advertised as “low-calorie”. After all, most wines are about 100 calories per glass anyway. That being said, I will not be shy to try!

Last but not least, don’t forget about sparkling Rosé! Mumm, Domaine Carneros, and Iron Horse are some of my favorite Northern California wineries that produce sparklers. Mumm actually produces three different Rosé sparklers: DVX, Brut and Brut Reserve. Cava (Spain) and Prosecco (Italy) also make for great sparkling Rosés, and are a nice way to start off the evening before dinner.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a glass of my Navarro Rosé. Cheers!

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