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February 2015

News Highlights

Wintertime at Montemaggiore: a slower time of year?
2015 Cooking Classes: new classes scheduled, and gift cards, too.
Featured Wine: 2009 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah, at its peak.
Seasonal Recipe: classic Italian comfort from Baked Polenta with Mushrooms
Extra Virgin Olive Oil available: our last olive oil offering of the year.
Food Pairing Challenge: local members should join us on Feb 21.
Passport Breakfast: join us if you are coming to Passport to Dry Creek Valley.
Service Etiquette: Lise & Vincent share tips on serving wine.

Italians say, “At the table, one never grows old”.  Like a fine wine, this proverb has many layers of meaning, but at a high level: the world slows down at the dinner table, while you enjoy the simple pleasures of food, wine, and company.  We hope you have many occasions in 2015 to slow down, relax at the dinner table, and enjoy the moment! To help you do just that, continue reading our latest news from cooking classes to olive oil to a wintertime recipe. We finish off with some useful tips and tricks for serving wine at a dinner party, which we've gathered over the years of being in the wine business.

Wintertime Projects at Montemaggiore

If there were ever a “down-time” in the wine business, it’s the month of January.  Not that there is ever a break for anyone who has their own business, as many of you know.  After the busy grape harvest, followed quickly by the olive harvest, then the frenetic holiday season, we certainly welcome a bit of a breather.  Of course, we are still very busy here in the vineyard and winery:

Our exciting news is that our son just adopted an Australian cattle dog named Oreo (shown in photo at top).  Our beloved dog Zeppli passed away about a year ago, but our friends at Herd it through the Grapevine found us a great new dog, which Paolo is in the process of training. So this is what we’ve been up to, just in case you were interested!

New Cooking Classes planned for 2015, from Sicily to Ligouria

Chef Gloria has planned five bimonthly Italian Regional Cooking Classes for 2015, starting off with Sicily in mid-March.  These popular events are a wonderful way to share Sunday afternoons with friends both old and new: cooking, laughing, eating, and enjoying Montemaggiore wines.  You'll go home inspired, with flavorful new recipes and a deeper appreciation for Italian culture. 

Sunday March 15 Sicily  [SOLD OUT]
Sunday May 17 Puglia
Sunday July 26 Campania
Sunday September 6 Liguria
Sunday November 1 Tuscany


These small cooking classes are hands-on and fairly informal.  You can be intimately involved with every course, or perhaps you’d prefer to mainly watch—regardless, you’ll have great fun and a great meal.  Tickets to cooking classes make a wonderful gifts, and if you aren’t sure of the gift recipient’s schedule, we have just introduced gift cards which can be used for any of our 2015 cooking classes.

Featured Wine: 2009 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah

As you probably know, Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah is Montemaggiore’s flagship wine, thus the ultimate expression of our estate vineyards and hand-crafted winemaking.  But you may not realize that the 2009 Paolo's Vineyard Syrah, from a nearly picture-perfect vintage, is at its peak.  With a dry mild spring, a warm (but not too hot) summer, and an almost perfectly dry harvest, this wine exhibits classic Montemaggiore characteristics of fruit, spice, balance, warmth, and elegance.  This wine tastes magnificent right now, and the aromas will remain in your memory for quite some time.

When we first released this wine in 2012 to our wine club members, this wine had exuberant blackberry and blueberry flavors—and the texture had a bit of the youthful “grip” that Lise likes.  Now (five and a half years later) the flavors have melded together and become more nuanced, while the youthful exuberance has calmed down to velvety smoothness.  The wine has definitely filled out and deepened, with increased complexity—all without loosing balance.  If you have this wine in your wine closet or cellar, open it this week and let us know what you think.  If you don’t have any left, we know how you can acquire some! The 2009 Syrah also has a lot of life left in it, and should last for at least another decade to come. 

Seasonal Recipe: Baked Polenta with Mushrooms

During the winter, our meals gravitate toward comfort food that warms both body and soul.  It’s also the season when Lise’s favorite wild mushrooms abound in northern California, although mushrooms have never been our twelve-year-old’s favorite.  To our surprise, Paolo recently pronounced “mushrooms are beginning to grow on me.”  So we took the opportunity to make Baked Polenta with Mushrooms—after Vincent checked behind Paolo’s ears for emerging funghi ☺.  The creamy texture of the polenta and earthy flavors of the mushrooms pair really well with a well-aged Syrah, such as the above-mentioned 2009 Paolo's Vineyard Syrah.  We hope you enjoy this easy yet versatile recipe which can be either a vegetarian entree or a hearty side-dish, baked in a single pan or divided into single-serving ramekins.

2014 Extra Virgin Olive Oil is here!

The season for olio nuovo has past but now we’re bottling our traditional Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  The Tuscan varietal olives were harvested in November from our 2.5 acres of trees, which you see on the drive up to our winery.  The freshest olive oil is released as Olio Nuovo, which goes from tree to bottle within days.  A few months later, after the solids have had a chance to precipitate, we bottle the rest as traditional Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

2014 was an early year for olives due to the drought, thus we are releasing our EVOO a bit early this year.  We picked the the olives over four days in mid-November and our yields were somewhat on the low side.  Like most artisan olive oils, it has fairly intense olive and grassy flavors.  Since the oil is made from Tuscan varietals, it leaves you with a final spicy kick.  Our EVOO is most impactful when given the spotlight: dipping with bread or drizzling on hearty winter soups. 

Annual Food Pairing Challenge on February 21st

Just a quick reminder to Wine Club members that one of our most fun events of the year, the Food Pairing Challenge is coming in a few weeks on Saturday, February 21.  This event is our excuse to have a lot of fun with friends while tasting good wines and good food. 

Passport Breakfast on April 25th

Are you planning to attend Passport to Dry Creek Valley on April 25 and 26?  During this festive two-day extravaganza, wineries in our region open their doors,  offer great food-wine pairings, and arrange live music.  Although Montemaggiore doesn’t participate in Passport itself due to our secluded spot, we do host breakfast for our friends on Saturday morning before the wineries open.  Please email us to RSVP for breakfast if you are interested.  Note that tickets to the main event, Passport to Dry Creek Valley, are sold first-come-first-served starting today (Sunday, February 1) on the Winegrowers to Dry Creek Valley website.

Wine Etiquette: tips & tricks for serving wine

Choosing the wines for a dinner party is exciting because you'll get to open all those wonderful wines.  But once you’ve decided on the wines, a whole host of daunting questions emerge.  Should the wine be decanted? What temperature should I serve it at? What if the cork crumbles?  How much should I fill each glass?  Below are our tips for serving wine—remembering that we value the quality of food, wine, and conversation over formal etiquette!

The right equipment requires planning ahead

Wine Service “equipment” is something you will want to address long before your party—but you may already have this category completely under control.  The types of equipment we think are most important are the glassware (crystal), the wine opener (worm, not screw), the decanter (easy to clean), and your wine storage area (constant temperature). 

There are lots of other wine gadgets which may be helpful, but we like to keep things simple.

Pre-party preparations require the most attention

Most of your attention to wine service should be spent on the pre-party preparations, which include: setting the table, selecting the right sequence and quantity of wine, decanting the wine, and serving it at the right temperature.  The first two are fairly straightforward, but temperature and decanting require more thought.

Although there's no need to be exceedingly precise,  the temperature at which to serve wine is very important.  If a wine is too warm, it will taste alcoholic and flat or flabby.  But if it’s too cold the aromas and flavors will be muted and, for reds, the tannins may seem harsh and astringent. Often, white wines are served too cold right out of a 35F refrigerator, while reds are opened at a toasty 70F room temperature, both of which discredit the wine. Here are our general guidelines:

  • 40° to 50° F for light dry white wines, light rosés, and sparkling wines to preserve their freshness and fruitiness. Think crisp Pinot Grigio and Champagne.
  • 50° to 60° F for full-bodied white wines and light, fruity reds to pick up the complexity and aromatics just still be refreshing. The Montemaggiore 3Divas, a rich Chardonnay, a fruity Beaujolais, and even the Montemaggiore Rosé fall in this category.
  • 60° to 65° F for full-bodied reds, which makes the tannins feel more supple and smooth. All Montemaggiore reds lie in this category.  Note that 65° F is cooler than most room temperatures and warmer than many cellaring temperatures.

In order to reach those ideal temperatures, put a bottle of red wine in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes before serving, or a bottle of white/rosé in the refrigerator about two hours ahead (and then take it out 15-30 before serving). To measure the precise temperature of the wine, you can use a wine thermometer (the infrared ones don’t require the bottle to be opened), but in our opinion, it's overkill.  A few other tips: (1) when in doubt, serve the wine a bit too cold because it warms up in the glass quickly (especially if you instruct people to cup their hands around the bowl); (2) we generally like wines cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter;  (3) lower quality wines are better when they are cooler. Don't have time to chill the wine?

The other major thing to contemplate before your dinner party is whether to decant the red wines.  At Montemaggiore, we decant wines for two reasons: to aerate a really young wine or to remove the sediment from an older wine.  If a wine is less than five years from vintage and it’s full-bodied like a Cabernet or Syrah, aeration will release more nuanced aromas and “open up” the wine’s flavors.  The tricky question is how long ahead of time to decant.  While a young, intense, tannic Bordeaux first growth may need up to 6 hours, with Montemaggiore wines we think 2 hours is a good rule of thumb. Don't have time to aerate?

Older or fully mature wines can benefit from decanting to remove the sediment (the dark residue on the bottom or side of the bottle).  If you don’t remove the sediment first, it will likely end up in everyone’s glasses which can be annoying although not harmful.  You'll want to leave the bottle upright for at least one day prior, and then decant just before serving.  Don’t decant ahead of time because the fragile aromas of older wines dissipate quickly.

Dinnertime etiquette is somewhat intuitive

At this point, you have everything you need for great wine service, and it’s a mere matter of actually serving the wine.  Here are a few practical tips, which you may already know:

Afterwards... the cleanup

So you’ve had a great party, and everyone has left.  You still have a lot of work to do!

Wine disasters are often easily mitigated

Life is never ideal, so here are some backup plans:

The only true disaster is when you’ve run out of wine.  For this, we regret that there is no hope.

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Final Note: As always, we welcome your visit to our mountainside estate vineyards and winery in Sonoma County. Simply request an appointment on-line or give us a call (707.433.9499). If you have wine-loving friends who might be interested in learning about Montemaggiore, enjoy a glass of Montemaggiore wine with them!

We wish you many enjoyable winter nights at the dinner table, full of good food, wine, and conversation—perhaps it will seem that you aren't growing old!