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A #winestudio Family Discussion with Meeker Vineyards and a Flashback to My Wine Journey

My experience with #winestudio, to date, has been discovering new winemakers and small production wines.  The latest shipment contained Meeker Vineyard wines, which brought back fond memories of the beginning of my journey with wine when I would take classes (as many as I could afford) at the now defunct Marty’s just to learn.  I remember sitting in one of those classes and the Meeker Merlot (I cannot recall which vintage) was brought out and I remember being struck how visually appealing the packaging was.  This was followed up by a one-two punch when I tasted the contents in my glass and loved the wine.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I had the opportunity to revisit my Meeker experience, but with Lucas and Kelly Meeker at the helm.  It felt like a conversation with old friends combined with the comradery that comes with bloggers that have become friends long ago discussing a subject we all love.

Meeker is truly a family operation.  Charlie and Molly Meeker purchased their first vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley in 1977 with the understanding it was easy to grow different varietals effectively.  It was a labor of love as Charlie was still employed full time at MGM Studios and would travel from Los Angeles to make wine and work the vineyard.  Charlie handled the wine and Molly everything else.  In 1984, Meeker Wines was born.  This was followed by the tasting room, a historic bank in Healdsburg that was even robbed back in the day to add to the story.

They talked about their philosophy – we don’t take anything seriously but the wine itself.  Lucas talked about each wine having a unique personality and the need to express that personality through packaging.  “We’re not trying to look fancy,” Lucas said.  “We’re trying to look like us.”

The first Tuesday of #winestudio, we tried the 2013 Hoskins Ranch Grenache, which is 100 percent Grenache and delicious.  I tasted cherry, cranberry and strawberry.  It was an elegant wine that was very food friendly, but easily drinkable on its own.

The 2013 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Franc came from Bob Pedroni’s vineyard that was described as “red dusty earth on Russian River.”  I tasted black cherry, blackberry, green pepper, herbs and violets.

We then revisited the wine that introduced me to Meeker wines many years ago.  This time it was the 2013 Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot, which is a gorgeous bottle.  This time I was on a Spring Break trip with my family in Punta Mita and we enjoyed this at Casa Teresa, a fantastic Italian family restaurant that is outdoors with food to die for.  It was then that I learned that the gorgeous bottle begins to melt when you combine a cellar temperature bottle and outdoor weather – lesson learned.  Now back to the wine.  It had notes of blueberry pie, plum, cassis, mocha and a touch of vanilla.  It was as nuanced, elegant and stunning as it was the first time I tried it.

Lucas and Kelly summed it up for us, “what you have tried the last two weeks reflects our family, who we are and what we stand for.”  Wine is more than a product – every wine has a story and deserves a unique presentation reflecting that personality.  The Meeker family has figured out how each wine is part of the family’s mosaic and reflects authenticity and artistry in every bottle made.


A Dallas Wineaux Journey into Pennsylvania Wines

When my Dallas soul sista, top blogger and general partner in crime, asked a few of us to come to her house to try some Pennsylvania wines, I was immediately intrigued.  The Keystone State is named for its role in early America where it credited in helping hold together the states of the newly formed Union.

Even with Pennsylvania’s designation as the fifth top grape grower (also includes grape juice) and the seventh largest wine producer, I just haven’t had the exposure to their wines.  That all changed on a Thursday afternoon.  Eight wineries including Allegro Winery (Brogue), Karamoor Estate Winery (Fort Washington), Blair Vineyards (Kutz Town — Berks County), Galen Glen (Andreas – Lehigh Valley) Waltz Vineyard (Manheim – Lancaster), Va La (Avondale – Brandywine Valley), Penns Woods (Chadds Ford – Brandywine Valley) and Galer Estate (Chester County – Brandywine Valley) sent over 50 bottles.  Unfortunately, with not a lot of background, so the four of us were left to make some assumptions about blends, types of wines, etc.

The varietals in Pennsylvania are diverse according to the Pennsylvania Wine Association — Cabernet Sauvignon, Catawba, Cayuga, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles are all planted here on a dozen wine trails.

With more than 50 wines, we had our favorites that were pretty consistent across the board. You’ll see our favorites by producer.  We do feel like one very well regarded winery that we were all excited about trying had something off with the bottles we tried and we missed the experience that had enchanted others we admired.   Thanks to Michelle for all the great photos as a few of us ran out of time with work meetings and other life commitments.

It was a fun day for several of the Dallas Wineaux to experience the diversity of Pennsylvania.

 


Living the American Dream: An Ordaz Family Journey

It’s funny how things in life happen when you least expect it. I had a last minute business trip for a paying gig to Las Vegas, which meant I participated without wine in the first session #winestudio for Ordaz Family Wines. I was completely excited about the next session as I knew that Jesus (“Chuy”) Ordaz is a walking success story of the American dream.  Unfortunately, a flu completely knocked me out the next week and the only fluid in my glass was a cocktail of Dayquil and Nyquil.

So here I am this week tasting the gorgeous wines of Ordaz Family Vineyards – this time from a family Spring Break trip to the gorgeous resort of the Four Seasons, Punta Mita.  And, let’s just say that I am in a much better place in all aspects as compared to last week.  However, I did rely on Twitter accounts (except for the first tasting) and other great blog posts from those who did a great job covering the story that needed to be told.

Jesus Ordaz is the kind of guy that doesn’t take no for an answer.  For him, it took 33 times to make it to the U.S from a family fruit stand in Michoacán, Mexico.  He was the type of person who was going to do anything he could to support his family.  He started chopping wood at Korbel Cellars and later went to Kenwood Winery as a migrant picking grapes.  People who work hard get noticed and soon he was promoted to foreman where he led the charge for the benefits of organic farming.  After Kenwood was sold, his next path took him to start his own vineyard management company, Palo Alto Vineyard Management Company.  Fast forward almost 20 years and they now manage 400 acres of vineyards.  His son, Eppie, joined the business after realizing accounting wasn’t his calling and began his quest of making wines and founding Ordaz Family Wines with his brother, Chuy Jr.  His founding principal was to make wines from one vineyard in small parcels of land made from grapes harvested by the company.

We tried two wines during #winestudio that shattered my preconceptions of what I thought to be typical of Sonoma wines.  Eppie, the winemaker, talked about the two wines we tried and covered the very storied history of his family.

- 2014 Pinot Noir from the Placida Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, which is named after their grandmother. It is an awesome Pinot with black cherry, cranberry, raspberry, spice and earth.

- 2012 Sonoma Valley Malbec from the Sandoval Vineyard Malbec produced from only two acres of grapes from rocky clay soils. It was an intense wine with cassis, plum, mocha and black fruit.

As we wrapped, Eppie shared his mantra for producing wines – to make exceptional wines reflecting unique characteristics of the places they are farmed.  It’s all about embracing what is unique about the vineyards.  I love seeing the successful fruition of the realizing the American dream and building a legacy to be enjoyed for generations to come.

 


March Wine Line Up: Old World, New World and a Little More In Between

We tasted through twenty wines from around the world this tasting and ten of them made this month’s favorites.  They are diverse – different countries, different varietals and very different styles.

Rose

2016 Angeline Vineyards Rose – this was a citrus explosion – grapefruit, orange blossom, refreshing watermelon and floral notes.  This is light, refreshing and we went through the bottle faster than we realized.

Whites:

2015 Condes de Albarei Albarino – tropical and stone fruit.  It’s crisp, refreshing and a great representation of what an Albarino should be.

2015 Adler Fels Chardonnay – apple tart, stone fruit including peach and peach, tropical fruit and a nuttiness.

2015 Bodegas Ochoa Calendas Blanco – citrus, floral and easy drinking.

2015 Torresella Pinot Grigio – Pinot Grigio is not usually a go to wine for me, but this one had some depth and elegance.  I tasted citrus, floral notes and a little spiciness.

Reds:

2009 Pago de Larrainzar Reserva Especial – I loved this Spanish wine from the Navarra region.  It was juicy, complex and elegance with big notes of berry, chocolate and a touch of oak.

2014 Adler Fels Pinot Noir – this is a lush wine with big notes of black cherry, berry, caramel and spice.

2012 Principe de Viana Garnacha Roble – big notes of raspberry, cherry, pepper and mocha.

2014 Chateau Lamothe de Haux – I tasted cedar, blackberry, mocha and elegance as this wine continued to evolve in the glass.

NV Proprietary Red WA4 Locations by Dave Phinney, a blend of wine from Washington State.  This was a burst of berry combined with an earthiness with spices, flowers and chocolate.

I was also introduced to a great perfect for Summer drink.  The folks from JARDESCA created a blend of 3 California sweet and dry white wines, called JARDESCA as well, balanced with a double distilled grape eau de vie, that is enhanced with ten botanicals.  I was sent a kit complete with an orange, can of Prosecco, mint and the apertiva.  It was a light, refreshing way to celebrate a Summer day … or the SuperBowl in Texas with weather in the 70’s, which happened to be the day we drank it.


The Montes Family Tour: Like Father, Like Son – A Tale of Two South American Cities

Aurelio Montes Jr, me and Aurelio Montes, Sr – taken by Michelle Williams

One of the most iconic families in South American wine rolled through Dallas during a several city tour this week for a side-by-side tasting of their finest wines.  I was lucky enough to meet Aurelio Montes Sr., a pioneer in making fine wines in Chile and the president of Montes Winery, and his son, Aurelio Montes, Jr., who is the former leader of the Argentinian Kaiken project and now tours international markets to promote his family’s winery.

It was a discussion about place, people, passion and a pedigree for wine making passed from father to son.  It was a very honest discussion and dynamic between an iconic father and a son who clearly continues to carry on the company’s tradition with pride, but with his own approach.

The senior Montes talked as a man who had the benefit of years of perspective.  He discussed the energy of the land – the stones, water and wood – combined with the importance of taking care of people (everything from scholarships to taking care of the schools where the workers children attend) and the land.

He jokingly told us that we needed to buy wine to support his family of 28.  He had a master plan to take his son, Aurelio Jr., to Napa knowing that would a great opportunity to make him love the business.

Per the junior Montes, his first experience of wine was documented in a cradle made from a wine barrel.  He talked about looking at his father as a hero and wanting to just love what he did as much as his dad did.  When he was 13, he worked in France during a harvest so he could understand how to make wine from the roots.

I love that the Montes family tackled both sides of the Andes – bringing in new methods that were once considered to be completely against all wine making wisdom at the time in each region – from the places they planted (steep slopes), to how they planted, to how the wines were harvested.  The common theme is believing in the grapes and terroir over winemaking.   He credits Robert Mondavi for teaching him a great lesson – make the best.

We tried several wines from Montes and Kaiken side by side and I was struck by the different nuances that clearly came from the land.  I laughed at the banter between the two men as Montes Sr talked about how Argentina has everything like the tango, for example, and he just wanted to push the limits in Chile in wine making especially with Malbec while his son wanted to push the limits beyond Malbec in Argentina.

Here were the wines that we tried in our tasting.

 

- 2014 Montes Alpha Chardonnay and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Chardonnay

- 2014 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon

- 2014 Montes Alpha Malbec and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Malbec

- 2015 Montes Outer Limits (a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Mouvedre – who knew) and 2014 Kaiken Obertura Cabernet France (again, who knew?)

- 2012 Montes Alpha M (Bordeaux blend) and 2013 Kaiken Mai Malbec

Then we were treated to an amazing vertical of Taita Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007, 2009 and 2010.  Taita is the family’s hallmark wine from the best vineyards with a quest from perfection and was meant to go head to head with French top quality wines.  Taita loosely translated means the knowledge that a father or grandfather passes down with devotion, respect and love.  Tasting these, I was honored to be part of this special family legacy.

 

 

 

 

 


February: The Month of Just Opening That Bottle(s)

We have all done it.  Spent a ton of time cultivating some great wines in our cellars (or even holding on to a special bottle or two) and then let it sit … and sit … and sit.  Occasionally, when we finally get to that special bottle, it is past its prime and so frustrating to experience.

Chef Mike Smith Explains the Third Course

For me, it’s been an epic month of finally getting to break into the cellar and enjoy some wines that needed to be consumed.  We had a few great opportunities.  First, we had an amazing dinner that we purchased at a North Texas Food Bank auction, an organization that does amazing things to help feed the hungry in DFW.  It was a dinner with well-known chef, Mike Smith, who has a storied career at The Green Room, Arcodoro/Pomodoro and The Common Table before he joined Utopia Food and Fitness, the group who donated the dinner.  They have a great fundraising campaign going right now  – click here to help.

Zach Coffey, Musician

We all brought amazing wines and I’m not going to admit how much wine we consumed, but it was an incredible time with friends who are like the family you would choose, if you could.  We even had a private concert from Zach Coffey, a well-known Texas musician.

For me, it was time to break out a magnum of Reserva Barolo that was off the charts delicious and opened at the perfect moment.   Pol Roger, Gary Farrell, Paul Hobbs and Domaine du Pre Semele were the dinner wines and several were opened after the fact.  It may have been a foggy Sunday, but well worth it.

 

My husband took our daughter on her first ski trip to Vail and I had an opportunity for a girl’s overnight at a friend’s lake house.  She is an amazing cook and consummate entertainer, so we knew we had to bring wines that live up to her culinary skills.  And, well, we did.  There were several of us (I am not going to disclose how many) and work has been a little crazy for all of us.  This was about 30 hours of great food, amazing wine (I got to open another magnum – this time of Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas).  I also brought Ehlers, Foresight, Naia, Fel, Cartograph, Veuve Clicquot and my friend, Julie, may have brought a few more.  In terms of left overs … well, not so much.  It was Cards Against Humanity (kinda), lots of discussions about life in general, amazing food, Saturday Night Live and old movies.  I even met a person who followed me on Instagram who happened to know Jennifer and came down for a glass of wine.

And, I got to bring our new rescue pup who did well except for his walkabout when we were cleaning up on Sunday morning.

After all, what good is keeping great wines in the cellar if you don’t share them with good friends?

 


Deciphering the German Riesling Puzzle and Why You Should

This month’s #winestudio focused on the Riesling wines.  Specifically, Massanois, a distributor of high-quality and boutique wines, introduced us to wines from Karthaeuserhof and Weingart Max Ferd. Richter, two wine estates located in Germany’s Mosel region.

Rieslings, while like candy to people who love wine, are often misunderstood in the United States – even though it remains the most important export market for German wines.  Perhaps it is because of the transformative nature of different Riesling wines?  Perhaps it is because the labels are a puzzle that are hard for consumers to solve?  Perhaps it is the varying styles of Riesling – from peach to mineral to floral to fuller body with notes of mineral and steel?

Our first wines were from Karthaeuserhof – the 2012 and 2015 Rieslings – which is located on the Ruwer, a tributary of the upper Mosel near the town of Trier.  On the Mosel, the banks with their blue slate soil rise so sharply that the vineyards are some of the steepest in the world.  It was also said that there was no back label on the wines because with the secret picnics (often with mistresses) that would occur on the River, they would wash off.

The next session focused on a wine from the estate of Weingart Max Ferd. Richter.  The estate has been passed down from father to son for the past 300 years and is currently on its ninth generation.  The wines are from single vineyards, are sustainably farmed and have a similar steep terroir that influences the wines.

We tried the 2015 Juffer Kabinett Riesling and the 2015 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett and both were a great representation of fruit, minerality and floral notes.

 

 

Our last session focused on how to decipher those tough to read bottles.

  • The word trocken means dry, but always check the alcohol percentage listed – at 12.5 percent or higher, the wine will taste dry; 11 to 12.5 percent will show some off-dry sweetness; while alcohol that is lower around 8 or 9 percent is the sweetest.
  • Look at the region.  Different regions have different styles.  Here’s a great link to find out which one aligns to your taste.
  • Different Rieslings have different quality levels.  Qualitätswein, or QbA, is good; and Prädikatswein, or QmP, is known to be best.  But a group of wine estates (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) banded together when they were tired of the confusion and created four categories to help consumers.

- Gutswein: estate wine, dry

- Ortswein: village wine

- Erste Lage: first growth from one site

- Grosse Lage (dry wines can also be labeled as Grosses Gewächs): great growth/grand cru (from dry to sweet), from one site.

  • With a QmP designation, the label will include one of five designations, known as a Prädikat, to designate the grapes’ ripeness level when it was harvested.

- Kabinett: the lightest with defined fruit and the least ripe.

- Spätlese: More textured, rounded and full-bodied.

- Auslese: The most body and substance with layers to texture.

If you remember one thing, seek out the VDP logo and the phrase Grosses Gewächs, which means great growth.  And seek out a German Riesling.  There was a question from Tina Morey from #winestudio asking the participants about Riesling.  “It is transparent, pure, balanced and quite the chameleon – is that the problem?” It shouldn’t be with wines made this well, at this price point and with such history.

 


Don Melchor: One Owner’s Challenge Started Chile’s Fine Wine Revolution

Often, there is a quintessential wine that becomes common nomenclature even to those who may never taste it.  In Australia, that wine is Grange.  In Chile, that wine is Don Melchor, the signature estate red from Concha y Toro. Even more surprising, the wine first debuted in 1987.  And trust me, after receiving the Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines of the year designation as number 33, this wine will go beyond a well-known Chilean wine onto some of the top Cabernet Sauvignon lists of this vintage.

Winemaker Enrique Tirado joined Concha y Toro in 1995 to lead the company’s premium brands and was then appointed head winemaker.  Enrique makes magic from the stony and diverse soil full of clay, lime, sand and stones at the foot of the climatically diverse Andes Mountains located near the brand of the Maipo River.

As you sip it, you get an explosion of red fruit like plum and cherry, minerality, pencil lead, mocha and spice.  It is smooth and elegant with a long finish.  The wine is 91 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 9 percent Cabernet Franc and the vineyard is grouped into seven blocks with 142 parcels (usually 50 to 60 parcels are selected) that are used in this wine.

This whole story started with a challenge.  In 1986, Eduardo Guilisasti, the head of Concha y Toro, challenged his winemaking team to produce a wine that would elevate Chile as a player in fine wine.  The journey started with Guilisasti’s son leading a trip to Bordeaux carrying samples of Cabernet Sauvignon from Concha y Toro’s Puente Alto vineyard, which was established in 1890 with cuttings imported from France.  They met with well-known Professor Emile Peynaud. With those samples, they got his attention.  Peynaud’s business partner was recruited to advise on the blend. This pilgrimage continues even to this day.  And, clearly the team remains up to the challenge.


Pinot in the City: Wine Event Now Bigger With the Texas Addition

 

Beacon Hill Liberty Pinot Noir

I’ve said it often and I’ll say it again.  Texas is a force to be reckoned with in the wine drinking market and wineries from all over the world have taken notice.  But, we have never had the highly-regarded Pinot in the City event come to not one, but two Texas cities – until this week.

Oregon Wine Country and the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, a non-profit focused on achieving recognition for the region – still not over the euphoria of the Willamette Valley being named the Wine Enthusiast ‘s 2016 Wine Region of the Year – assembled a crew of 65 winemakers and winery owners, the largest number of Willamette Valley wineries to ever visit Texas at one time.  The Pinot in the City  event has been at maximum capacity from coast to coast since it began in Seattle five years ago.  The event focuses on Pinot Noir – Oregon’s flagship wine — along with several other varieties, from Chardonnay to Riesling.  The event first came to Dallas at the Westin Downtown with a consecutive event in Austin, that started with trade in the afternoon and then a consumer event in the evening.

The trade and consumer response illustrated that Oregon wines are well loved in this city and the wineries that attended make fantastic wine.  Because I spent some time in the Willamette Valley at the Wine Bloggers Conference in 2012 and got to meet many of the participants paired with the fact that you never want to be an over served carpool mom, I narrowed my strategy, for the most part, to wineries that I had not yet tried.

Me, Terry Hill (Texas Wineaux), Michelle Williams (Rocking Red Blog) and Lori Sullivan (Lori’s Twisted Cork and Spork)

I met up with several of the #dallaswineaux and we met with a number of wineries that were recommended, that others had tried and loved, those where we were literally dragged across the room with someone we respected who said, “you’ve GOT to taste this one,” or were on the radar for a story that someone in the group was writing.  There is never enough time and I know I missed some amazing wineries.

Here’s the photo line-up of my notable wineries, some of the wines that we tried and characters that made the story fun, the wines great and kept us entertained.

John Grochau, Owner and Winemaker, Grochau Cellars

Jim Prosser, Owner and Winemaker, J.K. Carriere Wines

Pat Dudley, President and Co-Owner, Bethel Heights Vineyard

Clare Carver, Cow Boss (Best Title Ever), Big Table Farm

Chris Williams, Winemaker, Brooks Winery

Sanjeev Lahoti, Owner, Saffron Fields Vineyard

All  with that “It’s Willamette.  Dammit” sense of fun.  Charm that I adore.


A Conversation with Tom Gore: A Farm to Glass Experience

Courtesy of Tom Gore Vineyards

Tom Gore always knew he was going to be a farmer.  He grew up in the vineyards farming grapes with his dad and declared his vocation when he was seven years old.  “I’m going to do what he does,” he vividly remembers thinking.  And that’s just what he did.  He has a storied career where he currently serves, has served as vineyard director or in a similar role at some of the most well-known names in Northern California – Simi, Clos du Bois, Ravenswood and Rutherford Hills.

Courtesy of Tom Gore Vineyards

But he truly wanted to experience “the farm to glass experience,” and Tom Gore Vineyards was born.  The bottles proudly proclaim, “farming is my life’s work and greatest joy,” and Tom practices what he preaches as he grows and harvest the hundreds of acres of grapes across several vineyards in Sonoma County, Lake County and Mendocino Country.

It is all about the land and sustainable farming. He and his wife currently farm a half acre micro-farm where he grows about 70 different varietals of vegetables, herbs, flowers, olive trees and where 20 chickens roam free.

Tom Gore and me

He had a vision of taking his connection with the land a step further from the field and decided it was time to make a “Farmers Wine,” with Gary Sitton, a well-known winemaker and a personal friend.  It was now time to deliver different layers of flavor through his grape growing.  He believes that good wines start a long time before harvest.  He likens high quality grapes to the same premiere ingredients a chef uses in a dish.

Tom Gore Vineyards is in its second year of production with a few thousand cases in production in distribution in all 50 states.  Tom used his relationships with distributors for his vineyard roles at better known wineries to gain distribution across the United States.

I tried three of Tom’s wines and found them to be well balanced and a great value.   We started with the 2015 Tom Gore Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, which was described as “sunshine in a bottle,” by Tom.  It had tropical, stone fruit, tangerine and citrus notes and it was mineral, bright and fresh.

We moved to the 2014 Tom Gore Vineyards Chardonnay, which was described by Tom as “a wine that speaks to an intersection of Old World and New World farming.”  It was a balance of citrus, oak and would stand up to food.

Our final wine was the 2014 Tom Gore Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.  Tom described it as “if there a variety that tastes the same in the field and the glass, that is cabernet.”  It was a great, well-balanced wine that was a bargain at $15.

Tom talked about his dream of “building a life that he didn’t need a vacation from.”  You can see the passion that he has for connecting farming and the earth with what is in your glass.  He made a great point – “five years ago no one asked where their bacon came from.”  With wine, you can define and show the sense of place where you grow and harvest.  I asked him as a follow up how we knew at seven years old, what he wanted to do.  He answered, “Wine connects people.  In any intimate gathering of friends or family, there is a deep connection with wine and food.  Why would you not want to make that your life.”

Duly noted.




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