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Cindy Lemos
June 30, 2015 | Cindy Lemos

Introducing ... Lily Rock Cellars

There's a new wine label in the Middle Ridge family and after trying their debut wine – the Lily Rock Cellars 2009 Merlot – I have to admit, I am smitten. Also known as Tahquitz Rock, this huge monolith of granite rises over Idyllwild and was made legend by native tribes who told tales of disappearing maidens and boulder battles between braves and an evil chief that tore deep holes in the earth, forming the local lakes.  Today it is a favorite of rock climbers as the sheer granite pitches rival some of the challenging climbs found in Yosemite.

Merlot is my favorite wine grape, bar none.  It was disparaged for no good reason by Miles in the popular wine flick Sideways, which led to a real life collapse in Merlot sales.  However, it turns out his coup de grâce 1961 Cheval Blanc that he opens at the end of the movie is made from Cabernet Franc and yes, MERLOT! 

Merlot is a sibling of Cabernet Sauvignon, and both share Cabernet Franc as their proud papa.  It is one of the five grapes of Bordeaux that can be used in any combination in the popular American Meritage blends.  (Note:  Pronounce Meritage like “heritage”.  After all, we are Americans, not stuffy French oenophiles!)

Merlot's mother is a little known, but prolific grape varietal called Madeleine de Noire Charentes.  She also begat Malbec, another of the five red grapes of Bordeaux blends.

The fruit in the Lily Rock Cellars 2009 Merlot hails from the esteemed Russian River Valley, and I was hooked by the first sniff.  An intoxicating bouquet of cherries rushes your senses and is carried through in the taste of this delightful wine.  It is silky smooth with lush Bing and bright red cherries, and it finishes with a strong undertone of well-developed tannins – no bite here!  There's a hint of northern California produce throughout, reminiscent of baby spinach, which adds to the complexity of this wine.

It is the perfect match for a bacon-wrapped filet mignon with grilled asparagus.  It also would be stellar with a salad of baby spinach sprinkled with dried cherries, roasted walnuts, and a bit of crumbled Mexican queso fresco, all generously coated in a warm bacon dressing served with crusty sourdough garlic bread. 


Time Posted: Jun 30, 2015 at 7:20 AM Permalink to Introducing ... Lily Rock Cellars Permalink
Cindy Lemos
June 29, 2015 | Cindy Lemos

Nothing Sweet About This Rosé

2014 Vin Gris of Pinot NoirNormally, when a rosé is poured into my glass, I expect a sugar rush to accompany the first sip.

Not the new Middle Ridge 2014 Vin Gris!  The color is a beautiful salmon pink and it is decidedly on the dry side.  Winemaker Chris says it has aromas of pear and lychee – I'm unfamiliar with lychee so I looked it up.  It is the sole member of the Soapberry family. {wildly unhelpful!}  I also see that it's popular in southern Asian cuisine.  As I have no experience with it, I'm putting it on my shopping list to check out.  However, the pear on the nose is unmistakable.  

Rolling it around in my mouth, the pear is still there and is joined by a burst of strawberries, finishing with a smooth cranberry love bite. 

This is a blush of Pinot Noir.  It retains earthy undertones of the varietal and I immediately went to the refrigerator to pull out some gorgonzola.  That was a bit too much, so I added a wedge of brie, put both in the microwave to warm them up and voila!  The melding of sharp and creamy cheeses pairs perfectly with this wine and really brings out the strawberries in this delightful rosé. 

The fruit for this wine was sourced from the Santa Rita Hills, home to the Pinot Noirs made famous in the movie Sideways.  The region's fruit has always been stellar, however, Pinot Noir is extremely finicky and hard to grow.  It is a thin-skinned grape and needs the cool ocean breezes and almost perfect soil to reach its potential.  It's a wimp of a grape really ... you won't find Pinot Noir clinging to a steeply terraced hillside like Cabernet Sauvignon.  Then even with the best fruit, it requires a talented winemaker to create a truly exceptional wine. 

Hence, you'll rarely find a rose made from a Pinot Noir.  Most winemakers simply aren't up to the challenge.  Our Mad Scientist from Idyllwild was not daunted.  Nor would he knuckle under to popular thought which would dictate a sweeter wine in the finished product.

The result is a smooth, dry, crisp rosé with gorgeous color and perfectly balanced acid.  It’s the perfect accompaniment to grilled salmon or a juicy pork chop – either of which would be awesome with a savory pear sauce.  I plan to enjoy another glass with some bacon/gorgonzola/brie stuffed mushrooms on a bed of greens with pear balsamic vinaigrette.

Cheers!  Oh, and while you're enjoying a glass of Vin Gris, read more about it in the summer newsletter, including an interview with Winemaker Chris.  Carry on!

Time Posted: Jun 29, 2015 at 7:50 AM Permalink to Nothing Sweet About This Rosé Permalink Comments for Nothing Sweet About This Rosé Comments (2)
Melody Johnston
May 19, 2015 | Melody Johnston

4 Medals for 2010 Meritage

Celebrate with Great Savings!

$27 per bottle with purchase of 3+
(regularly $37)
Shipping included on case orders

Our 2010 Meritage took another medal, this time at the Pacific Rim Wine Competition. This luscious wine has now racked up four awards -- two gold and two silver! We'd like to celebrate by offering our loyal followers a great deal on a great wine. For 3 days only (thru Thursday, May 21), you can enjoy this award-winning wine for only $27 a bottle ... and we'll even include the shipping on case orders.

We call our 2010 Meritage, Paso Robles our yum-yum juice. Aged in French oak for 39 months, it's a very aromatic wine with lots of ripe plum and juicy dark cherry aromas that morph into bright cherries. With just the right amount of acid and a smooth tannin structure, this wine is a delight to drink alone or pair with food. And Middle Ridge fans are enjoying it, too.

"This was a gift to me and is a fantastic gift for any wine lover. Velvety and rich without overpowering food. What a wonderful surprise."
-Vanessa H.

"Served this to my Thanksgiving guests and they loved it! I can't wait to age it for a few years to see how it matures."
-Linda H.


Use promo code MEDALS (3-11 btl) or AWARDS (for case orders).

Price includes delivery to IDYLLWILD ADDRESS with use of promo code IDY.
(Note: Multiple promo codes are accepted at checkout.)

Offer good through 5/21/15.
We are currently able to ship to three states--California, Florida and Washington, D.C.
Shipping to a California address is only $9.99 for any size order. Other rates available at check-out.
This offer may not be combined with any other discount.

Long Beach Grand Cru   Sommelier Challenge   Inland Empire Magazine Wine Competition   Pacific Rim Wine Competition

Time Posted: May 19, 2015 at 9:57 AM Permalink to 4 Medals for 2010 Meritage Permalink
Chris Johnston
May 18, 2015 | Chris Johnston

Deer Sightings Project - What a success

On June 21st, 2014 - we released our very first "Artist Series" labels. Six in all, captured from the 22 "Deer Sightings" public art installation in Idyllwild, California.  All of this in a public celebration that included wine tasting, presentations and honoring ALL of the people in our village that make up the arts community.

A place like Idyllwild is truly unique and inspiring.  I heard someone once say that "Per-capita, we have more artists and musicians than any other place in the USA".  This statement should be considered very accurate - because we have more creative people here than i have encountered anywhere else in my 50+ years of existence.

The day was filled with friends, family, and community enjoying great company, food supplied by the soon-to-open restaurant "Ferro" and our wine.  Great times.

Middle Ridge had produced a Cabernet Sauvignon in a 230 case run.  We had decided some time ago to come up with an "Artists Series" where we would find a theme we could use to put on the labels.

We had sponspored one of the deer sculptures to be painted.  She is beautiful.  Her name is "Dottie". 


Time Posted: May 18, 2015 at 11:00 AM Permalink to Deer Sightings Project - What a success Permalink
Chris Johnston
November 3, 2014 | Chris Johnston

Wine Aromas & Oak Barrels

In my post on Demystifying Wine Aromas, I mentioned that smell – not taste – is the human sense that defines the overall flavor of wine.  And I spoke about the Middle Ridge Signature Aroma Table – a smell-able display of aroma “reference standards” that are typically used to train wine competition judges and wine writers.  I prepare the Aroma Table every year to help guests at our Annual Barrel Tasting learn to identify aromas in wine and develop an understanding of what they enjoy.  The table contains over 40 aroma samples – everything from black cherries, nutmeg, and tobacco in red wine to pears, lime and grapefruit in white wines.

The Signature Aroma Table has been a huge hit year after year.  Guests enjoyed it so much – especially when they had one of those “Aha!” moments – that I wanted to do more to enhance their learning experience.  And that’s why I expanded the table to include oak aroma samples.

The first addition to the table was five samples of wine aged in French oak.  Each sample represents a different toasting level on the inside of the barrel – light, light+, medium, medium+, and heavy.  (Winemakers get to choose the toasting level when buying barrels.)

It was so much fun to see the looks of surprise when guests smelled the samples and realized how much barrel toasting impacts the aroma of wine.  These are definitely good students, so I couldn’t stop there.  The following year, I added a set of American oak samples.  Now guests could experience not only the impact of toasting levels but the differences in the type of oak used as well.  Wow, this was fun!

So what is it that folks experience?  Here’s some interesting info on what happens to wine aromas the longer a barrel is toasted:

  • Wine aged in a lightly toasted barrel retains some of the fresh wood aromas of the barrel.
  • As a barrel is toasted longer, the fresh wood aromas diminish and sweeter, sugary aromas from the wood such as butter, caramel and vanilla increase.
  • At higher toast levels, these aromas are replaced with darker, earthier aromas such as spice, smoke, tobacco, and coffee.

And what about the differences between French and American oak?

FRENCH OAK is a much tighter grain than American oak.  As such, the aromas imparted by a French oak barrel are more subtle, which allows those of the grape varietal to be more noticeable.  In addition to a perceived aromatic sweetness, common descriptors for wines aged in French oak are fruity, cinnamon and allspice along with chocolate, smoky and coffee.

AMERICAN OAK, with its wider grain, tends to impart stronger, more obvious and sweeter aromas.  Common descriptors for American oak are vanilla, honey, butterscotch, coconut, sweet spices and dill.  Aromas of pine, resin, and cedar are also associated with American oak.

From the winemaker’s perspective, a wine barrel is never “just” a barrel but a powerful took in the winemaker’s arsenal.  I actually think of them as my spice boxes.  I use them to season wine in much the same way that I use spices to season food when I’m cooking.

Winemakers usually have a strong preference for the kind of oak and the toasting level used to make their barrels.  I certainly do!  I use French oak – and a medium or medium+ toast – exclusively because I like the way it works in subtle ways to enhance the natural fruit aromas of the wine.  In my opinion, American oak tends to overpower the beauty of the fruit.  But, like I said, that’s my preference.  You have yours, too, although you may not know how to describe it or what to look for when you’re shopping for wine.  And that’s why I love sharing the experience of our Signature Aroma Table.  If you live in Southern California or can make arrangements to be in the area, I hope you’ll join us for our Annual Barrel Tasting and develop a better understanding of what you enjoy in wine … one sniff at a time!


Time Posted: Nov 3, 2014 at 7:03 PM Permalink to Wine Aromas & Oak Barrels Permalink
Chris Johnston
October 8, 2014 | Chris Johnston

Demystifying Wine Aromas ... One Sniff at a Time


Did you know that smell – not taste – is the human sense that defines the overall flavor of wine?  The unfortunate thing is that so many people are unsure of themselves when it comes to identifying aromas in wine and developing an understanding of what they enjoy.  In fact, they’re downright uncomfortable with the whole experience.  That’s one of the reasons I created the Middle Ridge Signature Aroma Table.

The Signature Aroma Table is an interactive, smell-able display of over 40 aroma “reference standards” that are typically used to train wine competition judges and wine writers. The inspiration for it came from a couple courses Melody and I took at UC-Davis – “Introduction to Sensory Evaluation of Wine” and “Descriptive Analysis of Red and White Table Wine.” They are fantastic two-day seminars that I strongly recommend to everyone. In the second course, we were introduced to over 200 aroma standards that mimic what you smell in wine. It was so much fun that I wanted to share the experience with our club members and friends.

Making the aroma standards is a lot of work, though, so I make just a few dozen for the interactive display at our Annual Barrel Tasting. I start with a cheap wine that has little aroma of its own – but it’s important for its alcohol content.  I pour the wine into small bottles and then add a single ingredient to each bottle based on the “recipes” developed at UC-Davis. The alcohol in the base wine volatilizes – turns into vapor – the ingredients that are added to it. So, for instance, I’ll add something like juice from a fresh grapefruit to a bottle of white wine, or pureed black cherries to a bottle with red wine. As the ingredient sits in the wine for a couple days, the aromas are extracted and really start to pop. Once the aromas are fully extracted, I strain any solids out of the sample and it’s ready to go!

Although the aroma standards are made from fruit and other ingredients, the aromas naturally occurring in wine are the result of the entire winemaking process.  It starts in the vineyards with the soil and climate. For example, the smell of olives is very common in Temecula Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – it’s just something about the area. And then there’s the fermentation process.  All kinds of things can happen there. For starters, there are hundreds of strains of yeast that can be used, and each brings out a different aroma from the grapes. The barrel in which a wine is aged affects the aromas, too.  Winemakers love to play around with all these things.

If you like the idea of learning about wine aromas and live in Southern California, be sure to join us for our Annual Barrel Tasting event.  The Middle Ridge Signature Aroma Table is one of the highlights of the evening, and it’s a lot of fun!  You start by getting a glass of wine and then head over to the Aroma Table.  I recommend smelling a few of the aroma standards before sniffing your glass of Middle Ridge.  Go back and forth, sniffing the aroma standards and comparing them to your own glass of wine. And before you know it, you’ll have an “Aha!” moment and be able to identify some of the aromas in the wine you’re drinking.


Anyone can develop a good “wine nose.” The trick is to smell things whenever possible – smell the produce at the grocery store, sniff the herbs while you’re cooking, smell the flowers in the garden.  It’s important to exercise the nose as much as possible. Your brain will store all these impressions even though you’re not consciously aware of it.  Just keep working at it, and one day you’ll surprise yourself – and your friends – and start calling out wine aromas!

*    *    *    *   *

What can you expect to smell in wine?  Check out the Wine Aroma Wheel created by Wine Folly.

Original Source: Wine Aroma Wheel by Wine Folly

Time Posted: Oct 8, 2014 at 8:00 AM Permalink to Demystifying Wine Aromas ... One Sniff at a Time Permalink Comments for Demystifying Wine Aromas ... One Sniff at a Time Comments (3)
Chris Johnston
September 4, 2014 | Chris Johnston

Our Red Takes Home a Gold

Our 2010 Meritage made from Paso Robles grapes was released just a few months ago, and I’m happy to announce that it’s already racking up awards—most recently it won a Gold Medal at the Long Beach Grand Cru. We call it our yum-yum juice, and it seems the judges think so, too. Not a surprise, really, since Meritage has always been one of our signature wines.

This Bordeaux blend, so called because it’s made from grape varietals from the Bordeaux region of France, consists of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon … heavy on the Merlot.

Here’s a fun fact: A red Meritage must be made from a blend of at least two of the following varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and the rarer Carmenère, Gros Verdot and St. Macaire.  None of these varietals can comprise more than 90% of the blend, and no other varietals can be used in the blend.

By the way, did you ever wonder if you’re pronouncing the word Meritage correctly?  It’s really easy to remember the correct pronunciation.  Just think of the word heritage. The word Meritage is actually a combination of the words “merit” and “heritage” and is the result of an international contest – with 6,000 entries! – held in the late 1980s by the Meritage Alliance. These American winemakers joined forces and held the competition to create a name that would identify wines blended in the tradition of Bordeaux.  Why didn’t they just call their wine a Bordeaux?  Good question.  Wineries outside of Bordeaux, France are prevented from doing so based on an international agreement.  Now there’s an interesting tidbit!

Another thing most folks don’t know is that most wines are blends. The label may say Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, what have you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the bottle contains 100% of that particular varietal. The government has specific guidelines on wine labeling. For example, a wine must be made from at least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon in order to label it as a Cabernet Sauvignon. The remaining 25% can be whatever grape the winemaker wants to use to bring out the best notes of the Cab Sauv.

But back to the Meritage … Another fun fact: I like to age my reds for at least 24 months in French oak. This one was aged exceptionally long – for a full 39 months! Yep, that’s a long time. But the result is a beautiful, rich wine with lots of ripe plum and juicy blackberry aromas that morph into cherries. With just the right amount of acid and a smooth tannin structure, it’s a delight to drink alone or to pair with red meat dishes like roast beef or barbeque tri-tip.

One sip and I’m willing to bet that you’ll feel that our Meritage is worth the wait!

Time Posted: Sep 4, 2014 at 10:30 AM Permalink to Our Red Takes Home a Gold Permalink
Melody Johnston
September 1, 2014 | Melody Johnston

Idyllwild Home Tour & Wine Tasting

Home Tour: 10:00am - 4:00pm
Wine Tasting: 1:00 - 4:00pm

Presented by
Idyllwild Area Historical Society
Middle Ridge Winery

The mountain lifestyle … Curious to see what it's all about?  Then you won't want to miss the 14th Annual Idyllwild Home Tour where you will have access to five private homes that will be open to the public for the first time.  The homes vary in age, style and setting – from quaint old cabins to modern, dramatic architecture.

And when you’re ready for a break from your self-guided tour, stop by the Historical Society Museum and relax with a Middle Ridge wine tasting.  The annual home tour is the Historical Society's major fundraiser, and this year Middle Ridge will be joining the fundraising festivities with wine tastings at the Museum from 1:00-4:00pm.  You can also purchase a bottle to take home at a special 10% discount when you show your Home Tour book.

Home Tour
10:00am-4:00pm, $20 per person
(wine tasting not included)

Tickets can be purchased on the day of the event at the booth in the center of town next to the Idyllwild Inn (54300 Village Center Road) or at the Idyllwild Area Historical Society (54470 N. Circle Drive).  Presale tickets are also available at the Historical Society Museum and by mail.  For more information, call Carolyn (951-317-4613) or Charlotte (951-201-1400).

Middle Ridge Wine Tasting
1:00-4:00pm, $15 per person
Complimentary for Middle Ridge Wine Club Members (up to 2 people)

SPECIAL NOTE for wine club members: Your fall wine club package will be available for pickup at the event.

Idyllwild Area Historical Society
54470 N. Circle Drive
Idyllwild, CA 92549

Time Posted: Sep 1, 2014 at 8:32 PM Permalink to Idyllwild Home Tour & Wine Tasting Permalink
Chris Johnston
June 16, 2014 | Chris Johnston

Getting to Know Petit Verdot

It seems very few people have had the good fortune of tasting and appreciating a Petit Verdot. That’s because few winemakers attempt making it – the grapes produce a wine that is typically coarse, tannic and hard to drink. However, mine has nice bright acids, smooth tannins and is really delicious.

The name Petit Verdot means “small green” and is actually the reason this grape is difficult to grow in its home region of Bordeaux. Unless weather conditions are perfect during flowering, the berries won’t develop, and they remain small. It also tends to ripen later than other Bordeaux varietals, which means that in some years the entire crop is lost. As a result, many French growers uprooted their Petit Verdot plants in the 1960’s in favor of the easier-to-grow Cabernet and Merlot. However, the 1980’s saw a resurgence of Petit Verdot when viticulturists in the U.S., Australia and Argentina discovered that the grape grows really well in the right climate.

I can’t wait for you to try my Petit Verdot.  It just may become one of your favorites!

Time Posted: Jun 16, 2014 at 1:19 PM Permalink to Getting to Know Petit Verdot Permalink
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