Wine and Cigars

Two of my favorite vices!   However, often fervent cigar aficionados avoid fine wine with their cigars.  As I travel around the US selling wine, I almost always find a local cigar shop to visit.  I frequently talk to the patrons conducting research on their favorite beverage to pair with their cigar.  The usual response is Scotch Whisky, American Bourbon, Port, or fine French Cognac.   I always try to influence the crowd to try fine wine.

There are many responses as to why some smokers prefer not to pair cigars and wine.  Usually it has to do with what can be dominating flavors in the cigar muting the flavor of the wine or the combination of bitterness that both cigars and red wine possess.   In both cases, I think they just have not had the right wine paired with the right cigar.

Truthfully, the proper pairing can be absolutely amazing.  The earthy tobacco notes of a good smoke can accentuate the same earth tones in a fine wine.  In addition, a properly aged red wine generally shows hints of cedar and spice similar to a great cigar.

The key to enjoying this play on flavors is finding someone knowledgeable enough on both wine and cigars to help put the right cigar in your hand for the wine you are enjoying.  I can tell you on my end that you can always find someone with the proper knowledge of one or the other.  Finding that rare aficionado of both smoke and wine is a bit more of a challenge.

I have had the good fortune of knowing a couple such professionals and always look forward to their recommendations.  Below are some of my favorite cigars to enjoy with our wines.  Yes, the wine selections are biased, but hey this is a winery blog!

Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc paired with My Father “The Judge”

This combination highlights the cedar and leather component to both the wine and the cigar.  The cigar is box pressed so it has a very slow even burn.  The smoke shows an earthiness that is perfect for Cabernet Franc.  This wine is a single vineyard CF that always displays a unique combination of floral perfume on the nose and rich earth on the palate.  The finish is smooth and reminiscent of cedar and tobacco.

Croze Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Olivia Serie ‘V’ Melania

OK, so this is a pairing that could change your life!   Make sure you have a solid 2 hours to enjoy the complexity of the wine and the cigar.  I also recommend a great playlist that will help you relax and take in all the glory.  Croze Cabernet Sauvignon is a deeply complex wine that showcases balance and elegance.  That same elegance is evident in the Melania.  Both showcase earth, espresso, and underlying spice.   The ‘V’ finishes with a touch of sweetness that is perfect with the acidity of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Smith Wooton Mélange paired with Ashton Sun Grown

This is another interesting combination.  The Ashton Sun Grown cigars have a pronounced Graham Cracker note along with course black pepper spice.  The sheer richness of the Melange can handle the spice and slight sweetness of the cigar.  Melange is a dense wine that is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  The Merlot gives the wine an unctuous that highlights the creaminess of the Ashton.

If you are a cigar smoker, I urge you to try a well made fine wine with your next smoke.  The pairing can be ethereal.  For those who need help matching the right wine and cigar, I recommend the following:

The Pipe and Pint – Larry and Pete are the best in the business.  Great selection of cigars and wines, plus decades of knowledge.

Napa Cigars – Eric is fantastic and can offer great recommendations.  Wines served by the glass and a great selection of cigars.



Buffalo Hanger Steak

Buffalo was once considered an exotic protein, but has become much more available in the last ten years.  7.5 million pounds of Buffalo meat is consumed annually in the US.   Many local gourmet grocery stores now carry various cuts of buffalo in their inventory.  If you cannot find buffalo at your local purveyor, you can easily order it online. I like to use #D’Artagnan.  The product is shipped frozen or fresh and arrives on ice within a day, depending on order date.

Buffalo has gained in popularity due to fact that it has a rich flavor similar to beef, but has reduced fat and cholesterol.  It has roughly 80% less fat than beef and 22% less cholesterol in the same serving size.  When cooking Buffalo, it is important not to over-cook it.  Without the large amount of intramuscular fat, the meat can dry out fast and goes from beautiful to dull with even slight over-cooking.  So, make sure you keep the meat medium-rare.  I also like to marinate Buffalo steaks, which I normally do not do with Beef.

One of the things I love about Buffalo is that it lends itself to a number of wine pairing possibilities.  While it has the richness to stand up to deep reds, it can also pair beautifully with less tannic red wines.  I love to pair classic varietals, like Merlot and Cabernet Franc with it.

Merlot has a bright fruit character that seems to lift the richness of the Buffalo.  The right Merlot will offer a  balanced acidity that helps cleanse the palate.  This creates a sensation that stimulates the appetite and opens the taste receptors.

A varietal that is even better with Buffalo is a well made Cabernet Franc.  This wine has a beautiful herb perfume with spice and darker red fruit undertones.  With the right aging, this wine is elegant and silky on the finish.  The flavors play perfectly with the finesse of the steak.  I also love our Smith Wooton Mélange with Buffalo.  As a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, it brings the best of both worlds to the party.

We cook and serve Buffalo many different ways here at the CROZE Kitchen.  Hanger steak has become a favorite, but we also braise Buffalo short ribs, and sear Buffalo tenderloin.  I highly recommend you add this flavorful and versatile protein to your arsenal and have a blast researching wines that pair perfectly with your creations!


Buffalo Hanger Steak from D’Artagnan
Buffalo from the CROZE Kitchen, with Oyster Mushrooms, Smoked Onion and Asparagus
Smith Wooton Melange

Food, Family, & Wine

With the holiday season in full swing, it is time to start thinking about three of my favorite things:  food, family, & wine (not necessarily in the correct priority order).  Over the years I have read so many opinions on serving wine with holiday meals and they generally make me laugh.  Some people think you should serve less valued wines, some recommend top shelf, others swear by specific regions or varietals.  I tend to approach the holidays like any special time and serve wines that, quite frankly, I love to drink.  I do not believe this is a time to go out of your comfort zone.  Choose wines that you love and share them with family and friends.  “Wine people” tend to over-complicate and overthink special occasions.

As a winemaker, I love to showcase our CROZE Viognier and Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc with the traditional holiday meals.  I believe that these wines pair well with the traditional fare, but more importantly, I love to drink and share them with family and friends.  I typically host Thanksgiving and prepare most of the classic dishes associated with the holiday.  However, we do add Oysters and Dungeness Crab to the line-up as every good Californian should.

As a varietal, Viognier is a great holiday wine.  It bridges the gap between high acidity croze_viognier_12white wines and rich, heavy wines like Chardonnay.  It has a richness in flavor and aroma, yet still finishes with great acidity.

smithwooten_cabfranc_12Likewise, Cabernet Franc is a very versatile red wine.  A well made, balanced Cabernet Franc can be a great match to roast poultry as well as rib roast.  It has a beautiful elegance and finesse that compliments a wide range of foods.  There is just enough tannin to take on beef yet enough elegance and acidity to compliment poultry.

The only real rule of the holiday table is that there has to be wine on it and people you love around it!  Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Croze and Smith Wooton Wines.




…and so it begins!

There is an excitement in the air.  Commercial agricultural vehicles fill the roads early in the morning.  The diesel engines provide an early morning wake-up call as they growl and hum outside our home.  Large white fruit bins are stacked high in vineyards ready to be filled with the bounty of 2015!   This is an exciting time of the year.  The buzz is contagious as winery and vineyard employees embark on the “busy” season.  20 hour days, over night harvests, and early morning crush pad action are finally upon us.

I love harvest.  This is the time when winemakers get the chance to showcase their skills.  At Croze, we have not picked our first fruit yet, but we are getting close.  I believe we will harvest our Chardonnay grapes in the coming 7-10 days.  Overall, this season seems to be here a little early this year.  We are a week or two ahead of schedule.  That is one of the wonderful characteristics of agricultural business.   We are never really in control.  Mother Nature is always the one who dictates our time frame.

As we put the final touches on harvest preparations, there is a nervous energy.  The vineyards all look fantastic.  We are looking forward to the chaos that brings us to the end product that we all love.  Cheers to Harvest 2015!

Lamb Sirloin with Ratatouille

We are certainly spoiled here in Northern California with the bounty of produce and fresh herbs.  Most of us grow culinary herbs as shrubs in our yards.  It makes it so easy to craft excellent dishes that reflect the seasons.  I have always felt that one of the biggest improvements home cooks can make to their food is to use more fresh herbs.

One of my favorite side dishes to make in the summer is ratatouille.  Our garden is a prolific producer of squash, zucchini, and egg plant.  Outside of the basic vegetables you can greatly impact the flavor profile of your dish by what fresh herbs you choose to use.  For summer I like a little thyme and oregano.  In the winter I use heartier herbs like sage and rosemary.

My basic Ratatouille is made using:

2 summer squash diced

2 zucchini diced

1 onion diced

1 large eggplant diced

Fresh chopped garlic

3 fresh tomatoes diced

1/4 cup of white wine

Salt and Pepper to taste

Fresh Herbs chopped (Thyme and Oregano)

This is a really easy and basic dish.  Sauteed the onion, zucchini, and squash in olive oil for 8-10 minutes.  Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and continue to cook for another minute.  Finally add the tomatoes and white wine.  Let the mixture reduce for several minutes and add in your fresh chopped herbs.

This dish pairs with just about any protein.  Here we serve grilled lamb sirloin over the ratatouille with a port reduction.  This is fantastic with Croze Vintners Reserve Cabernet!

Lamb Sirloin with Ratatouille and Port Reduction
Lamb Sirloin with Ratatouille and Port Reduction

The 2015 Journey Begins

As the calendar rolls to a new year, the time to begin preparing the vineyards for a new season rolls around.  While pruning and vineyard maintenance are not the most romantic notion in the wine business, it is a vital part to the quality of the finished product.

Each year as I set out hand pruning the vineyards that we manage, I find myself visualizing the upcoming season.  Pruning the vineyard is a time of rebirth for the grapevines.  We cut away the canes that brought us our amazing fruit last season and strategically set the grapevine up for harvest 2015.  How we prune dictates where and how the vine will grow in the upcoming season.  It can also greatly dictate the quality of the upcoming harvest.   While it may seem like menial labor, those workers who are out in the vineyard are highly skilled and very knowledgeable.  They are a huge part of the quality of any wine.

To me this time of year is a magical time in the valley.  As I walk the rows and prune grapevines, I rejuvenate myself and the vineyard.  These hours of manual labor offer a time to put the 2014 harvest to rest and begin the journey towards the 2015 season.  With the right amount of skill, passion, and care for the vineyard, Mother Nature will reward us with beautiful 2015 crop.  The cycle of life in the vineyard is an amazing thing!  It will not be long before we are celebrating the fruits of our labor.

Gallagher’s Vineyard Past, Present, Future…

For over 20 years we have made our signature Cabernet Franc from fruit grown in Gallagher’s Vineyard.  This vineyard is just barely over 1 acre in size and is located on the Silverado Trail in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley.  To us this is a very special, even sacred, piece of land.

The vineyard was planted in 1990 using cuttings from Stags Leap Wine Cellars to propagate the vineyard.  The soils are shallow and very rocky as the property sits at the base of the mountains.  This makes planting and farming extremely difficult and labor intensive, but the fruit from this rugged patch of land is quite simply amazing.  The fruit brings true varietal flavors to the wines with layers of complexity.  Gallagher’s Vineyard has a trademark dried rose petal aroma that I would consider the signature of this vineyard.  The grapes have very minimal harsh green notes, which is difficult to get away from when working with Cabernet Franc.

The one concern I have had over the years was the lack of investment into the future of the vineyard from the founding owners.  Well that is all about to change, along with the name!  New ownership of the property brings a bright future for one of my favorite vineyards in the Napa Valley.  Gallagher’s Vineyard will now be named Flinn Vineyards.

The new owner has made a considerable investment into the future of this vineyard.  There are new vines going in to fill spaces where some of the old vines stopped producing years ago.    The vineyard is being expanded to add 7 additional rows of grapes to maximize the area available.  In short, the vineyard is getting some much needed TLC.

As the vineyard manager of this property, I am relieved that this special place in the valley is getting the love it deserves.  I can only predict that the wines that will come from Flinn Vineyard in the future will take our Cabernet Franc to new limits.  Harvest cannot get here soon enough.  The first Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc, Flinn Vineyard will be the 2013.  Unfortunately, we have a long time before we get to sample the fruits of our labor, but the future is bright for Flinn Vineyard and Smith Wooton Wines!

Daniel Benton