What to Look For This Month

pietra-santa-cienega-valley-sangiovese-2010In September, The International Wine of the Month Club’s Premier Series features four special offerings, two of which are from Cienega Valley’s Pietra Santa Vineyards.  This month includes Pietra Santa’s award-winning 2010 Estate Sangiovese, which recently received 91 points from Wine Enthusiast, and the 2014 Pietra Santa Estate Chardonnay, a rare, highly allocated Chardonnay that’s making its first appearance with The International Wine of the Month Club.  For several years, we have been trying to secure enough of Pietra Santa’s elegant Macon-style Chardonnay, and we’ve finally been able to procure just enough to satisfy our membership.  Also on tap this month is the 2014 Valle Secreto Key Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère.  Bring on the barbecue and light the grill for this tasty blend.  Finally, to round out September’s line-up, we recommend beginning an evening or event with the 2014 Bisci Verdicchio Matelica from the Marche’s finest producer.  It makes a great aperitif and provides the ideal complement to seafood.

Domaine-du-Grand-Tinel-Chateauneuf-du-Pape-NVThis month, The International Wine of the Month’s Collectors Series is proud to offer the 2012 Stolpman Vineyards Ballard Canyon Estate Syrah.  It’s hard to imagine a better Syrah, and its 94 point score from Wine Enthusiast will attest to that fact.  Equally compelling is the 2014 Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko from one of the oldest and most distinctive grape varieties on earth.  The extremely rare, 100% Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko is the finest white wine we have ever tasted from Greece.  Last, but certainly not least, is the 2012 Domaine du Grand Tinel Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which scored 91 points from Wine Advocate.  A classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape from an outstanding vintage, Grand Tinel is one of the finest and most consistent producers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.   Looking ahead to October, we will feature the outstanding, highly allocated 2010 Vinyes del Terrer Nus del Terrer, a profound blend of Garnacha (Grenache) and Cabernet Sauvignon from a tiny vineyard in northern Spain.  This is just one of many exciting, upcoming features.  Enjoy!

Sea Bass Fillets with Lemon-Hazelnut Brown Butter

Fast and easy, this impressive dish pairs great with steamed veggies and Domaine Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2014 from this month’s Collector’s Series!

Sea Bass Fillets with Lemon-Hazelnut Brown ButterIngredients:

  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Four 6-ounce sea bass fillets
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 2 large eggs, beaten


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. On a baking sheet, toast the hazelnuts for 8 minutes, until fragrant. Using a clean kitchen towel, rub the skins off the nuts. Coarsely chop the hazelnuts.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the bread crumbs with the parsley, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
  3. In a skillet, cook 4 tablespoons of the butter over moderate heat until browned, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped nuts and fresh lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a large skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter in the olive oil over moderate heat. Season the sea bass fillets with salt and pepper, then dredge them in flour, dip in the beaten eggs and coat with the parsley and bread crumb mixture. When the butter starts to brown slightly, add the fillets to the skillet and cook until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Flip the fillets and cook until just white throughout, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer the fish to plates, spoon the browned butter alongside and serve.

Recipe and photo from www.foodandwine.com.

Great California Wines From Off the Beaten Path

Pietra Santa Winery
Pietra Santa Vineyard

John Steinbeck would have no problem finding Hollister, California, or making his way through the nearby Cienega Valley to taste the fruit of the vines that grow upon the slopes of the Gabilan Mountains or in the valley of the Salinas River.  But, how many of the wine tourists that crowd the tasting rooms of Napa Valley would know where to begin to look for Hollister or the Cienega Valley?

Off the beaten path and under the radar of the masses who travel to more trodden wine destinations, Hollister and the Cienega Valley offer the thirsty traveler in search of fine wine a trove of affordable treasures.  Located on the San Andreas Fault in the northern half of California’s Central Coast AVA, Cienega Valley may well be the most unspoiled wine country in California.

Calera is perhaps the region’s most recognizable name and the most lauded winery in Steinbeck country. Year in and year out, Calera’s wines are consistent favorites among critics and consumers, especially its award-winning Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.  Who knew that Calera wasn’t in Napa or Sonoma?

Pietra Santa is another Cienega Valley jewel.  Pietra Santa’s Tuscan-born winemaker, Alessio Carli, possesses a magic touch with Sangiovese, as the estate’s recently released 2010 Pietra Santa Sangiovese will attest.  Equally compelling is Pietra Santa’s Sassolino, a delicious, age-worthy super Tuscan red consisting of a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Recent Pietra Santa Signature Selection Pinot Noirs merit special attention, too, as does the 2014 Pietra Santa Estate Chardonnay and Amore Pinot Grigio, easily one of California’s finest Pinot Grigios. In addition, remember that Léal and Derose are two other noteworthy Cienega Valley wineries.

If you are in search of a wide variety of high-quality California wines at affordable prices, wander the road less taken and beat a path to Cienega Valley.

Baked Penne with Sausage and Creamy Ricotta

“This hearty pasta dish is studded with chunks of Italian sausage and mixed with a quick garlic-infused tomato sauce. It’s then topped with dollops of fresh ricotta and a sprinkling of both mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano, which form a cheesy layer as the pasta bakes.”  Pair it with this month’s Premier Series Valle Secreto Key Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère 2014.

Baked Penne with Sausage and Creamy RicottaIngredients:

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 pound hot or sweet Italian fennel sausage, casings removed
  • One 28-ounce can tomato puree
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound penne
  • 3 cups Creamy Ricotta
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat, until browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato puree, water, sugar, bay leaf and fennel. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove the garlic, mash it to a paste and stir it back into the sauce; discard the bay leaf.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the penne in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Using a slotted spoon, add the cooked sausage to the pasta, then add 1 cup of the tomato sauce and toss to coat the penne.
  3. Spoon the pasta into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the pasta and dollop large spoonfuls of the Creamy Ricotta on top. Gently fold some of the ricotta into the pasta; don’t overmix—you should have pockets of ricotta. Scatter the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake the pasta for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.

The baked penne can be refrigerated, covered, overnight. Rewarm before serving.

Photo and recipe from: www.foodandwine.com

What to Look For in August

cru-appellation-series-santa-lucia-highlands-chardonnay-2011In August The International Wine of the Month Club’s Premier Series features four exceptional offerings, including the 2011 Cru Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay and the just released 2014 Château Eulalie Plaisir d’Eulalie from Minervois.  In past vintages, Madame Coustal’s Plaisir d’Eulalie Minervois from France’s oldest wine producing region has been a perennial favorite with club members.  For the record, Madame Coustal’s 2014 Plaisir already drinks beautifully and looks to be one of her finest Plaisirs to date.  Wine lovers will also want to check out this month’s two Spanish wine offerings, the 2012 Bodegas Ayles Barrica Garnacha and the 2013 Nidia Rueda Verdejo.

yardstick-ruth's-reach-napa-valley-cabernet-sauvignon-2012This month, our Collectors Series members won’t want to miss Nick Goldschmidt’s 2012 Yardstick Ruth’s Reach Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine by which many other Napa Valley Cabernets will be measured.  Yardstick is made by Goldschmidt Vineyards, which produces an elite group of limited release Cabernet Sauvignons from single sites.  It earned it a 90-point rating score and Gold Medal from The Tasting Panel magazine (Anthony Diaz Blue).   The limited, highly allocated 2014 Joseph Chromy Tasmania Chardonnay and the 2013 Nugan Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz, a special wine akin to the great Amarone wines of Italy’s Veneto, both make their debut with The International Wine of the Month Club in August.

Looking ahead, September promises more outstanding wines, including the 2012 Stolpman Vineyard Ballard Canyon Syrah, 2012 Domaine Grand Tinel Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Greece’s most compelling white wine from the enchanted island of Santorini – the 2014 Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko.  Enjoy!