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Alexander Valley Vineyards wines
A wine dinner at Vittorio's Italian Ristorante, showcased a number of wines from Alexander Valley Vineyards. Photo via Facebook/Alexander Valley Vineyards
Columns Food & Wine Taste of Wine

A tasty tour of Alexander Valley Vineyards, Sextant Wines

Victor Magalhaes, owner of Vittorio’s Italian Ristorante in Carmel Valley, recently hosted a wine dinner showcasing the wines of Alexander Valley Vineyards. Caitlin McDonald, account manager at Republic National Distributors Company, was on hand to share the Alexander Valley story.

Frank and I enjoyed learning the history of the vineyard along with Caitlin’s commentary on the wines we tasted over dinner.

Harry and Maggie Wetzel purchased the historic Cyrus Alexander homestead from heirs in 1962, with hopes and dreams of creating a thriving agricultural lifestyle. Alexander was one of the region’s first settlers in the mid-1800s, hence Alexander Valley.

In 1963 with children in tow, the Wetzels arrived, and the original vines were planted. Current owner Hank Wetzel grew up learning about the vineyards tying canes and trimming vines as a young boy.

The first bottling (cabernet sauvignon) was in 1968 with the entire family, including the children, taking part. Hooked on wine, Hank went to UC Davis in 1969 to formerly learn viticulture. Today, visitors will embark on a relaxed atmosphere with family at the heart of Alexander Valley wines representing four generations of Wetzells.

Grapes picked and ready for winemaking at Alexander Valley Vineyards
Grapes picked and ready for winemaking at Alexander Valley Vineyards. Photo via Facebook/Alexander Valley Vineyards

Dinner kicked off with seared scallops atop polenta in a brown butter caper sauce. This was paired with 2019 Estate Chardonnay with a hint of viognier (1%).

The food-friendly chardonnay was light and bright. The stainless steel fermentation imparted floral tones with peach and melon on the palate. Guests enjoyed Chiocciole pasta in a savory lamb ragu served with 2019 merlot for the second course.

“AVV’s merlot is for cab lovers based on the 11% cab sauv blending,” McDonald said.

The blended merlot held up well with the savory ragu.

My favorite course of the evening was the third course — Tuscan-style pork belly served over garlic mashed potatoes along with sauteed green beans paired with a 2016 zinfandel. As a reminder, Frank and I love 2016 vintage wines that benefitted from a near-perfect growing season and harvest.

Alexander Valley’s 2016 Estate 100% zinfandel from the land of zin, Alexander Valley American Viticultural Area, was proof of a stellar year. Alexander Valley Vineyard’s zinfandels have evolved from Harry Wetzel’s original “Sin Zin,” to second release “Temptation,” to third release “Redemption,” to the present fourth-generation “Estate Zin” with jammy and spicy fruit flavors created by American oak fermentation and aging.

At our table, the fourth course featuring grilled petit filet mignon paired with 2018 ‘Organic’ Cabernet Sauvignon, was equally liked as the third course. The organic 100% cabernet sauvignon was sourced from a small estate plot and is aged 24 months creating bright acidity and soft tannins.

“Cabernet sauvignon along with chardonnay, merlot, and zinfandel are best suited for the American Viticultural Area and what Alexander Valley Vineyards focuses on growing,” McDonald said.

Additionally, Kary Favish, The Crosby Baker, spoiled guests with coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate for dessert.

Perhaps one of the largest sustainability efforts at Alexander Valley Vineyards is its wine caves. In 1997, Hank embarked on a 7,000-square-foot wine cave project with perfect humidity and temperatures to accommodate the growing production in a sustainable manner. The caves later expanded to 25,000 square feet to handle the 700 acres planted.

Winemaking is under the leadership of Kevin Hall who joined in 1998 and was named the 2018 Sonoma Winemaker of the year.  More info at avvwine.com.

Taste of Wine and Food Travel Writers visit Sextant

We (Travel Writers Nancine Belfiore & Scott Hagner) are back “on the road again” in our RV after a long “COVID hiatus.” Our journey started up the coast.  We pulled into Edna Valley, a wine region located just east of Hwy 101 near Pismo Beach. We discovered and found a gem, Sextant Winery, nestled in “Old Edna,” a historic town established in 1909.

We had the good fortune of meeting Amy Griffith, VIP Relations Director, who gave us a tour of the property, a collection of original buildings from the era. The main tasting room and gourmet deli are operated from an original structure, providing a unique and charming ambiance.

Owners and winemakers, Craig and Nancy Stroller, first established their roots in the industry through Sunridge Nurseries, combining their experience and love of wine creating Sextant wines.

Sextant Wines
Sextant Winery’s Amy Griffith, center, Scott Hagner, right, and Nancine Belfiore, left, at Sextant
Wines in Edna Valley. Photo by Belfiore and Hagner

And what amazing wines we experienced! Of the wine varietals we tasted, it was difficult to choose a favorite, so much so that we decided to become Sextant Wine Club members.

If we had to choose a favorite, Nancine would choose the 2019 Holystone Zinfandel with its more subtle tannins, yet full body flavor. However, Scott chose the 2017 Portolan, Founder’s Collection, with firmer “well-balanced” tannins.

We highly recommend Sextant Winery & Gourmet Deli and can’t wait to return, along with visiting their other property in Paso Robles. Details at sextantwines.com.

Wine Bytes

— Chart House invites wine aficionados to Orin Swift Wine Dinners at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 24 at their Coronado, Cardiff by the Sea, and Dana Point locations. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy a beautifully crafted four-course dinner paired with an exquisite collection of wine while learning from Orin Swift Winery representatives. The main course features grilled Beef Short Loin with cherry bacon jam paired with Abstract Red Blend. The cost is $130 per person plus tax and gratuity. RSVP at bit.ly/3MaXxir.

— Save the Date: The Gator By The Bay Festival, the largest, most-authentic Louisiana-themed music and food festival this side of the bayou, will start May 5 at Spanish Landing Park on beautiful San Diego Bay across from the airport. The four-day event, presented by San Diego’s Bon Temps Social Club, features live music with over 100 musical acts and special performances on seven stages, southern cuisine including 10,000 pounds of crawfish trucked from Louisiana, non-stop live music, dancing and family fun. Details including ticket info are available at gatorbythebay.com.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading commentators on the web.  View their columns at tasteofwineandfood.com. Go to recent columns.  Reach them at [email protected]

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