By Allen Dale "Ole" Olson   |   Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at 9:52 pm   |   Leave a Comment »

Because August 30 has become accepted as International Cabernet Sauvignon Day, I had to observe it properly. As I have often lamented, this date is of dubious value when one considers that this most robust of fine wine grapes is at its best on a frosty evening near a roaring fire in a fireplace, and is not considered a hot-weather wine at all. Nonetheless, with the help of a few friends, 95-degree temperatures notwithstanding, we took on the day.

Our invocation was a 2012 Anomaly Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Helena, a very rich, fruity Bordeaux blend which, in spite of its youth, could be described as “graceful” and “long.” The vintage was also an exceptional one resulting from a season-long pattern of warm days, cool nights, and just enough periodical fogs. It was an ideal observance wine, revealing what the grape can do in California’s most noble earth when everything works as one would hope.

The 2011 Patland Cabernet Sauvignon was the antithesis, a difficult vintage, especially up on Howell Mountain where sometimes the clouds are below the vineyard, obliterating the valley and leaving the grapes fully exposed to an often merciless sun. I was at the Stagecoach Winery as the 2011 harvest began and walked among the vines with founder-owner Dr. Jan Krupp who explained how the Cabernet thrives on adversity. Back then, he said this wine would need several years to show its best face; I deemed four years to be “several,” and its muted tannins and dark fruit showed well — but suggested it could profit from still more time in bottle.

The 2007 Bremer Family Austintatious, also a “mountain” wine from just above St. Helena, was the proper benediction. I have known Laura Bremer for quite a while and appreciate her wordplay as much as her wine-producing skills, We apologized a bit to the Cabernet Sauvignon because of Laura’s love of the Cabernet Franc of which she typically blends up to 40 – 41% with her Sauvignons, imparting a definite Pomerol character to the finished wine. The name on the label plays on her son’s name — Austin — and her belief that some very high quality wines deserve to be ostentatious. At eght years, Austintatious was a deep, almost black purple, and its escape from the bottle wafted across the table. Our group fell silent in homage to the day’s last salute to our observance.

We all pronounced our celebration of the Cabernet Sauvignon a success. And vowed not to wait till next August 30 before drinking another.

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By Maria McKinley   |   Monday, August 31, 2015 at 3:40 pm   |   Leave a Comment »

If you think today’s column is about landscaping, you would be incorrect. It’s about beverages made with shrubs, a concentrated beverage mixer with a base composition of vinegar, sugar, and fruit. A variety of herbs and spices can be added for additional flavoring. Shrubs can be used in non-alcoholic drinks – just add club soda, ginger ale, lemonade, or tea – the possibilities are endless. Shrubs can also be added to flavor your favorite cocktail.

What are shrubs doing in a wine column? Vinegars are made from wine (ethanol or drinking alcohol) with the exception of good balsamic vinegar. Not a vinegar at all, pure balsamic vinegar is made from crushed grapes (grape must) that are not allowed to ferment into wine but then are aged in barrels, hence the “years aged” on the label. Unless wine is added to the end product, no matter what the label says (white wine vinegar), there is no wine in the vinegar. The method of vinegar production turns the alcohol into acid. The same goes for rice wine vinegar (sake), malt vinegar (beer), and cider vinegar (cider). Distilled white vinegar is made from grain alcohol.

It may be the latest fade but the origin of drinking vinegars can be traced back to the Middle Ages while Colonial Americans used shrubs to also preserve fruit. You can purchase commercially made shrubs but it is easy and affordable to make your own. First you need a recipe. Or do you? Use clean utensils and glass jars or bowls. Fermentation requires the growth of good bacteria, not bad. I like to use a ratio of 2:1:1, that is 2 cups fruit, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup vinegar. Experiment with your favorite flavors and ingredients.

Maria’s Mixed Berry Shrub
2 cups mixed berries, rinsed, drained
1 cup brown sugar
Stir berries, sugar together in a glass bowl, smashing berries with spoon. Cover, place in refrigerator for 48 hours.

1 cup red wine vinegar
1 sprig mint, rinsed, dried
Place vinegar, mint into a clean glass jar. Tighten with lid. Place on counter for 48 hours.

Strain liquid off fruit, squeezing out remaining juice from fruit. Remove mint. Mix juice with vinegar. Secure lid and place in refrigerator for one week.

Mocktail: 1 part shrub to 4 parts carbonated beverage, over ice
Mixed cocktail: 1/2-1 oz shrub to flavor your favorite cocktail

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By Maria McKinley   |   Monday, August 31, 2015 at 11:15 am   |   Leave a Comment »

It’s time to go back to school.  Now that the youngsters are settled in and you’ve made the college delivery of not only your young adult but the mega tuition check, you may be wondering about all this extra time you have on your hands.  Not to worry.  You, too, can go back to school.  Wine school, that is.  There are so many opportunities for the novice  as well as the aficionado and it’s all available online.  Here are just a few examples to get your mental juices and the wine flowing.

Check out the free wine school at  Tom Cannavan started the website back in 1995 and is an award winning journalist, international wine judge, speaker, and radio broadcaster.  The online school offers six general topics of interest.  There is no registration or collection of personal information.  Just go to the website, click on the drop-down tab “Wine School” and choose your topic. You’ll also enjoy browsing through his public forum, travel and food section, and restaurant reviews.

Andrea Zimmer Robinson is a three times James Beard Award winner, one of only 26 female Master Sommeliers in the world, and the only woman to be recognized by the Sommelier Society of America as the Best Sommelier in the United States.  I became acquainted with Andrea through her TV program, Simply Wine.  She has a great TV presence which makes her online video school appealing. There are 34 video tutorials which can be accessed by an annual membership fee of $29.95.  Andrea developed and sells online her universal wine glass called “The One.”  Find her online school at

“Discovering the World of Wine” is the program of 26 online classes offered through Fairleigh Dickinson University’s International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.  According to their website, FDU is the largest private university in New Jersey with two campuses in the state and two outside the U.S.  Three writer-educators teach the online course in an academic setting which may explain the $149 tuition price tag.  Register for classes at

The Harvard of online wine schools is University of California Davis.  UC Davis offers a Winemaking Certificate Program which takes approximately two years to complete and requires college level chemistry as a prerequisite for admission.  Tuition is $2000+ and expect to be placed on a waiting list.

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