Obelisco Estate Wines

Woodinville, WA


Obelisco wines have always been one of my favorite Washington State wines. We recently had the opportunity to visit their new (at least to us) Apple Farm Village Tasting Room located on 148th Ave NE. (They still have their tasting room in Woodinville’s warehouse district and the “Wine Cellar” in Leavenworth.

We visited on a beautiful fall day and were able to sit outside on the veranda for our tasting. Tastings are $15 and they pour all of the wines that are currently available. Our server was friendly and very knowledgeable about each wine that we tried, and she smiled as she brought out each new wine to the veranda. It was right before dinner, so we did not try any of the delicious sounding appetizers available. We did however, hear a bit of the live music.

Wines we tasted:

Sauvignon Blanc 17 – $35 – I was surprised when Obelisco came out with a white wine. I never was, and still am not a fan of this wine. I feel it is quite overpriced.

Syrah 2014 – $50 – Very intense with a deep color and berry flavor. We loved it.

Cabernet 2014 – $50 – This was very drinkable but also felt like some time in the cellar would really soften it out and make it even more delicious.

Merlot 2014 – $50 – This is almost 20% Cabernet so it has a wonderful richness that I was not expecting with a Merlot. It is also made with 100% Obelisco Vineyard grapes.

Nefer III 2014 – $125 (750ml) – Full disclosure – I have never been a fan of the electrum or the Nefers. I don’t know why as we have many friends who love them. This one was 100% cabernet sauvignon. The tasting notes said oily finish – maybe that is my turn off – not sure, but at $25 per taste or $125 per bottle I am not too upset that it is not my favorite. I could drink their Syrah or Merlot everyday and be quite pleased.


Susan’s Score: Obelisco is a class act. We have been wine club members on and off since they opened their first tasting room in Woodinville. Deep rich chewy red wines are their hallmark.

Inspire Moore

Naples, New York


Over the past year I have been experiencing and enjoying wines from Upstate New York. Having a Vacation Rental on Canandaigua Lake has been a great motivator. I have been surprised at how different the wines from the Finger Lakes are compared to the wines I am most familiar with – Washington State, California, Spain, France and Argentina.

I have been reading about the awesomeness of the Finger Lakes Riesling and up until a couple of weeks ago I hadn’t found anything that really knocked my socks off. That was until I tried Inspire Moore located in Naples. We did a tasting at Inspire Moore with a couple of our friends and it could not have been “Moore” enjoyable. 😊

We sat out on the patio which overlooks the vineyard. It was a beautiful day and we chatted with another couple that as it turned out were longtime wine club members. They gave us some wonderful advice on what to try. The names are a bit confusing until you drink a couple of glasses and then it becomes clear.

Here are the wines that we tasted that day:

Joy – $17.99 – This is a single-vineyard dry Riesling. A bit floral but not too sweet.

2017 Grace – $19.99 – I liked this Dry Rose so much I purchased a bottle. It is 100% Blaufrankisch, which I had never heard of before. It is a late-ripening German grape which is rich in tannin.

Levity – $17.99 – Another purchase for me. A delicious Sparkling white wine.


The tasting room is comfortable, and you overlook the barrels and stainless-steel tanks. The staff was extremely helpful and very knowledgeable about, not just the Inspire Moore wines, but wines in general. We ended up staying much longer than planned because it was so pleasant. The wine club members also told us that Roots Cafe next door is excellent. They serve house-made meals with local ingredients. They raved about the butternut squash soup and the bacon blue cheese burger. This is definitely on our list to check-out next visit.


Susan’s Score – If you are looking for some really delicious wine, this is your stop. A wonderful atmosphere, friendly people and great wine. If you are staying with us at Cliffside Condo, we include a free tasting for 2 coupon in your gift basket – it is that good!

Vail Wine Shop

Coupeville, WA


Recently we visited Coupeville to watch the sailboat races. What a nice surprise to discover Vail Wine Shop on Front Street. We started out with a tasting – $10 for 6 tastes. All the selections were Washington State wines – some well known as some a bit more obscure. The shop is charming and loaded with lots of wines I would love to try.

After our tasting, we selected a bottle of Mark Ryan (it is one I would not have selected if it had not been part of our tasting) and went out on the waterfront deck to relax and watch the end of the race. It was a very pleasant afternoon. Our server was very knowledgeable and pleasant making very good recommendations and giving us a bit of history about the wines that were unfamiliar to us.

I noted on their website that they have a vacation rental above the wine shop and I will certainly be checking that out on our next visit,


Susan’s Score – Definitely a great stop if you are on Whidbey Island. Lots of great wine, some snacks and friendly staff.


Naples, NY


Another favorite stop for us when we visit upstate New York is Arbor Hill20180610_152936…I am not sure that you would actually call it a winery. It is more of a Disneyland for Grown-ups. There is a small complex of fun things to do here. In the main building there is wine tasting. For $5 you can taste 6 different wines. The fee is refundable depending on what you purchase.

There is another building behind the Gift Shop / Tasting Room and that is called Brew and Brats. I have checked this out a couple of times. The brats are delicious and there are several kinds to choose from. I have tried both the hot andouille sausage and the sort-of hot chicken supremo. A friend tried the milder sherried wine sausage. They were all excellent. They also have some tempting side dishes. I have enjoyed their sauerkraut as we as the German potato salad and would recommend both.

You can certainly enjoy a pitcher of craft beer with your brats, as we did. The Turtle Crawl Porter is robust and flavorful, and the Frog Hollow Pale Ale hit the spot of a warm day. You can also have a glass of wine or a home-made root beer.

Arbor Hill has lots of fun events Often on Friday nights they have open mic night and steak night. There are often Saturday concerts.

We really enjoyed the gift shop. It is loaded with delicious items and great gift ideas including the famous “Naples Grape Pies”. There are lots of grape items – from candies to dressings and preserves. You can even take home their sauerkraut and one of the items I had to have – Frog Hollow Pale Ale Pub Mustard and the Horseradish Pretzel Dip.


I guess that we were having so much fun that the only thing we tasted on our visit was the craft beer. That means another trip coming up this fall with a promise to try ALL their wines.



Susan’s Score – I can’t score the wine yet, but I would definitely come for the craft brews, brats and fun!

Hazlitt Red Cat

1 Lake Niagara Lane, Naples, NY

It is summer and that means I have been spending time in New York State’s Finger Lakes Region. What better way to spend that time than to check out some of Canandaigua Lake’s wineries.


Six generations of the Hazlitt family have been farming in the Finger Lakes Region since 1852. In 1985, Hazlitt Vineyards was born. They produce Hazlitt Red Cat and advertise it as unpretentious and I do agree with them.20180610_155310

On the day we visited, the tasting room was busy – very busy. Kia was pouring for us and she had a great sense of humor and a relaxed friendly attitude. Leandra popped over from time to time to help and to make sure we were enjoying our tastings. There was a lot of energy in the tasting room and it was clear that people were having a great time. This is a fun place!

My friend, Theresa, and I have very different tastes in wine, so as you will see we tasted a wide variety:


2016 Sauvignon Blanc – $15 – Nice dry white – a bit of a rough finish

2014 Merlot – $24 – a good “Tuesday Wine” for the price – maybe good with a meat lover’s pizza

2013 – Cabernet Sauvignon – $24 – Grapes from the 1852 vineyard and a silver medal winner

2014 Cabernet Franc – $25 – This was my favorite wine that we tasted, and a bottle followed me home. Definitely a good choice with red meat.

NV White Cat – $8.49 – Theresa really liked this semi-sweet white – it comes in various sizes

NV Cabin Fever – $8.49 – You have to try it – it is served with chocolate! It is a semi-sweet blush that would be great to drink ice cold in the hot tub!

NV Bramble Berry – $9.49 – Made with the Catawba grapes of your youth – Bramble Berry feels like it should come in a juice pouch.

Hazlitt Red Cat also has a variety of logo’d apparel, wine related gift items and snacks – bread with cheese spreads, cheese and crackers and chips and salsa. There are tours available of the facility and walking trails that you can enjoy. We also tried a wine slushy. It was super cold, and I think you could drink way too many of them on a hot day. If you are not a wine drinker, premium hard ciders beer is available.

Check their website for live music and other special events. And, very important to me, they donate to and do fund raisers for the local Humane Society.


Susan’s Score – Is Red Cat the greatest wine in the world? No. Will I visit their tasting room most times that I am in the Finger Lakes Region – Yes!  The wine is good, but more important the place is fun, and they don’t take themselves too serious. The servers are knowledgeable and have personality plus. Go – you will have a good time.


JM Cellars

Bramble Bump, Woodinville, Washinton

JM sign

Just when you think that you have visited every winery, a new one pops up on your radar! Recently, a friend introduced me to her favorite winery – JM Cellars. While located in Woodinville, it is a bit off the beaten path on a seven-acre hilltop parcel named Bramble Bump. It is a private arboretum with trails that visitors can explore while sampling the wine.

The tasting room itself is gorgeous and there is outdoor seating available (I want to come back in the summer). It was quite crowded the day we visited, but service was still very good. Reservations are required for groups of six or more. Parking is limited, but valet parking handles it quite well.

JM 2

On the day we visited (they are open Friday, Saturday and Sunday), both Laura and Emily were pouring for us. Both friendly and fun with great knowledge about the wines and the history of the winery. I like the fact that JM Cellars is a family affair. John and Peggy Bigelow have been producing limited-release wines since 1998.

All the wines are delicious. I particularly liked Tre Fanciulli which we were told means Three treasured sons after their boys: Jack, Tom and Joe. We were also told that one year that the boys were particularly unruly, the wine was simply called, “Tre”. Maybe I identified a bit too much with that story.

Here are the wines that we tasted that day:

2015 Tre Fanciulli – $49 – This cabernet, merlot, syrah blend was well balanced.

2015 Red Mountain Syrah – $49 – 100% Syrah – lots of berry favors.

2015 Bramble Bump – $28 – I thought this was a great value for a remarkable wine and bought a case! Cabernet, Malbec, merlot and petit Verdot – it is yummy now and will be even better after a few years in the cellar.

2016 Cinsaut Red – $35– a favorite of my friend. It was a bit too light for my taste.


Susan’s Score – a great place to visit. Really good wines, friendly staff. The only sour note for me was when my friend and I chose to purchase a case and enjoy the 10% discount the person handling the transaction tried to tell us that since we were splitting the case we had to split the discount also – 5% each not 10% total. They almost lost a $600 sale over this. I suggest a little basic math review for anyone operating the cash register.


Jerez de la Frontera


House of Sandeman Visitor’s Center

No visit to Jerez de la Frontera would be complete without a visit to the world-famous House of Sandeman. You probably know the label by the man dressed in the Portugese student’s cape and wide brimmed hat.

Sandeman has a deep history in Spain’s “Sherry Triangle”. The facility is huge and very well run. We had an excellent tour when we visited at the end of March. Our guide was a student who donned the traditional cape and hat that you see on the label for the beginning of our tour.

First he gave us some of a the history. The company was founded in 1790 by George Sandeman who came from Perth. It remained a family-owned company until 1993. Then we had a 30-minute tour, which included a ten-minute video, of the original cellars. It was very well-organized and the spaces we visited were clean, well-lit and in many cases had information signs. The tour was followed by a tasting. They also offer Port tastings and if you are very nice to your guide – brandy tastings also.

If you want to visit Sandman or any of the local sherry bodegas, be sure to reserve your space either online or by phone. They fill up quickly, especially in the summer months. This is also the way to ensure that your tour will be in your preferred language. The tours range in price between 8 euros and 22 euros depending on how many sherries and brandies you want to taste. There is also a very nice gift shop that is worth a few minutes of your time.


There was a stork feeding the babies on top of the Sandeman sign

We planned our visit to Sandemans to coincide with a visit to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. The horses and riders were truly amazing. We went during their practice period. The next time we will be sure to catch a performance.



Bodegas Tio Pepe

Jerez de la Frontera

In March I had the opportunity to visit Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain. Jerez is famous for three things: flamenco dancing, dancing horse and sherry production – not necessarily in that order. Sherry is a fortified (read as potent) wine that is made from the white grapes that grow in the region of Cadiz.


Tio Pepe is one of the most well-known sherry bodegas in the world

The Phoenicians began making sherry in this area about 3,000 years ago. Tito Pepe was established in 1844 and has operated continually since that time. It is owned by Gonzalez Byass (the founder was Manuel Gonzalez Angel). We signed up online and took the 90-minute tour and tasting. There are several different options for tastings with both wine and tapas. Since it was lunchtime we opted for the tour with tapas.

The tour is well worth it. It is a beautiful facility – you will be transported back in time. Our English-speaking guide was knowledgeable and very friendly. He began with a short film on the sherry making process and a bit of history hosted by “Uncle Pepe”. I learned a lot about the sherry making process – prior I knew very little. Sherry comes from two types of grapes: most common is the Palomino grape which makes a wide range of sherry, from fino (light, dry and pale) to oloroso (heavy, dark and dry). The second is Pedro Ximenez grapes. This is used to make the sweet, desert wines.


The train ride is part of the Tio Pepe tour.

One of the things I really enjoyed was a barrel room that had the signatures of many celebrities who had visited the bodega. Among them are Steven Spielberg and Winston Churchill. There is also a little train that takes you around the grounds. I had only seen this once before at Freixienet. It makes it much more efficient to tour the immense grounds and facilities. The tasting was also quite nice. Our tapas included a bit of jamon, potato salad and cheeses.


The tasting room at Tio Pepe

One plus is that Tio Pepe is one of the few bodegas open on the weekends. They usually offer tours in Spanish, English and German. Cost ranges from 14euros to 20 euros depending on the number of wines that you taste and if you include tapas.  Unless you are a true sherry lover, you will probably be happy with the 2 wine tasting.

Susan’s Score – A must visit if you are in Jerez de la Frontera. It is probably the most famous sherry producer in the world. You will learn a lot about sherry and a bit about the history of the area. You may even find a bottle or two that you will want to take home.


2016-09-30-at-17-37-13Red Mountain

After our wonderful visits to Hedges and Col Solare, we stopped by Fidelitas, also located on Red Mountain. The tasting room is spacious and modern with all the focus on the vines and the view. There are tables and chairs outdoors so that you can drink in the view along with your wine.

Charlie Hoppes is the owner and winemaker. He has been involved in winemaking since the 1980’s and has worked along side such notables as Dick Boushey, Mike Januik and the Antinori family. He has been the red winemaker at Canoe Ridge and also Three Rivers Winery.

2016-09-30-at-17-40-32Tammy was pouring for us the day we visited. She did an OK job, maybe a bit of a let down after the stellar service we received at Col Solare. She did not have very much information about the wine or the winery.

The wines were excellent. We tasted the following:

2015 Klipsun Vineyard Semillion – $22 – This is a very nice summer wine. It is a dry white with a bend of Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc.

3013 Champoux Merlot – $50 –  Very thick and juicy. It was a favorite of our group.

2013 Red Mountain Malbec – $40 – Fruity with some pepper. Has a very nice finish.

2013 Optu Red Mountain – $50 – We were told this is Charlie Hoopes (the winemaker / owner) signature wine. I thought that this was good but would really benefit from 5-10 years of cellaring to smooth off the rough edges.

2012 Ciel du Cheval Cabernet Sauvignon – $65 – In my opinion, this is the most elegant wine that Fidelitas produces. Of course I had to have a couple of bottles for future research. There is a subtle floral aroma and a bit of fig. Delicious!

Susan’s Score – Definitely worth a stop if you are on Red Mountain. Take the time to relax and enjoy the view with a glass of fabulous red wine.

Chalk Hill Winery

Healdsburg, CA

ch-wineChalk Hill Winery is a bit out of the way and I had high expectations. Unfortunately, our experience shows how much impact the person in the tasting room can have on your experience and your impressions of the winery and the wine.

Chalk Hill Winery is located in a breathtaking setting – nearly 1,500 acres surrounded by woods. The tasting room is set up on a hill with a beautiful outdoor patio. There is an Olympic-size equestrian center that is used for many events. The tasting room has a beautiful outdoor patio, spacious tasting room and a very small gift shop area.

Our tasting started off pleasant with a nice young man who began pouring a 2013 North Slope Pinot Gris. It was cool and refreshing and we were enjoying ourselves and his conversation. Then “Hannah” sashayed in and shooed him away and took over our tasting. Things went south very quickly. I wanted more information on the winery, especially interested in its history. I asked Hannah how long the winery had been there, obviously she misunderstood and said she had been there since February. I clarified and asked if I could take a few photos and she launched into a story about how someone had come in recently and still had her photo from when she worked in another tasting room. Again, I clarified, I wanted to take photos of the winery and tasting room, not of her.

We continued our tasting with a 2014 Mt Eden Pinot Noir, which is made from grapes from Santa Cruz that have been cloned onto grapes in the Russian River Valley – interesting – this is what I was looking for info on grapes, not her personal life. J

We then tried the Cabernet Sav/Carmenere, which is a gorgeous color. This is a delicious wine and even though I was put off by its $85 price, I could not resist buying a bottle to take home. As 4:30 approached, Hannah must have had a hot date because we felt practically thrown out.

Chalk Hill is lovely and the wine is very good. Having a tasting with someone like Hannah makes me appreciate all the true professionals we have met that treat their job with enthusiasm and passion.

ch-3While I enjoyed the scenery and the wine, I would call first to see who is in the tasting room pouring before I spent time with Hannah. The fee was $20 for the tasting and lasted about 15 minutes with three wines.

2013 North Slope Pinot Gris – $30 – This was very refreshing on a gorgeous sunny day.


2014 Mt Eden Pinot Noir – $60 – It was a nice wine but not my favorite of what we tasted.


Cabernet Sav/Carmenere – $85 – Delicious. Gorgeous color. Bold. Would cellar very well.

Susan’s Score – I would try the wine but skip the tasting room until they upgrade their staff.