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Continue to Expect the Unexpected When It Comes to Paso Robles Wines

 

Art by Vino Mosaics, Wines by Paso Robles

I first discovered the beauty and uniqueness of Paso Robles in 2016 while on a press tour of Texas writers.  I didn’t know much about the region when I arrived, but left with a full understanding of the imprint this wine region has left on California as well as the number of diverse wines that are produced here.  According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, it is the largest wine region in California – 30 distinct soil series, many microclimates and varying topography within 612,000 total acres.

Zinfandel is the region’s heritage wine grape variety – first planted in the late 1880s.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Spanish and Rhone varieties are the most widely produced.  I love the ingenuity of some of the wineries – when Tablas Creek couldn’t get the quality of vines it wanted back in the 1990’s, it imported cuttings directly from the Beaucastel vineyard and then shared them.  In fact, there are more than 400 wineries that have descendants of these cuttings today.

First, a little about Paso Robles, ‘The Pass of the Oaks,’ is located in San Luis Obispo County on the Salinas River.  It is known for its wineries, olive oil and almonds as well as its mineral hot springs.

Paso Robles has a storied history in wine.  Grapes were introduced in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries.  Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez had the vision this would be a great wine region and encouraged those in Mexico and California to come to the region.  In 1882, Andrew York, who came from Indiana, established a winery that still stands today under a different name as Epoch Winery.  Fast forward after Prohibition and growth continued.  Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 vineyard acres with Zinfandel as the heritage grape.  The real expansion occurred in 1990 when the winery count was 20 and today totals more than 200 wineries.

According to a study commissioned by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the Paso Robles AVA accounts for 87% of San Luis Obispo County wine industry output and economic impact with 40,000 vineyard acres and more than 200 wineries, 95% of which are small production, family owned businesses.

In 2009, the Paso Robles AVA was split into 11 smaller viticultural areas and at this time the winemakers began to expand into a wider variety of grapes include Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.

If you want to know more about my journey, which included zip lining over a pinot vineyard, click here, here and here.

Me and Geri

A group of bloggers was called together for an online Twitter chat with my friend @1WineDude aka Joe Roberts as moderator.  Our focus was on four rosé and white wines.  This was fun for me because I had an online blogger friend @geriteaches who happened to be in town for the tasting.  She joined us along with some neighbors for dinner and we had a blast.

 Dinner is Served Thanks to the Husbands

2016 Justin Vineyard Rosé – notes of tart red cherry, peach, apple, guava, herbs, flowers and a lovely crisp, dry and refreshing taste.

2016 Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Blanc – a Rhône blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.  I tasted notes of pineapple, peach, citrus, wet stone, lime zest with a little spice.  It was a great wine.

2016 Vina Robles “White 4” Blend – notes of Bartlett pear, orange blossom, ginger, honey, peach, white pepper and tropical fruit.

2016 Adelaida Chardonnay – the crowd went wild for this one, but our bottle had cooked in the hot Texas sun and shipping heat.

All in all – these @pasorobleswines continue to reinforce my perceptions that you should expect the good things, hence the #unexpectedpaso when it comes to Paso wines.


2016: A Personal Journey and Year of Discovery

A journey is defined as the passage or progress from one stage to another.  That has certainly been part of my #seewhatsnext experience.  In December, I left my job as Chief Marketing Officer for a software company. If you followed along, you may remember my conversation with Cyril Chappellet, the CEO of Chappellet Wine, where I promised him that I would use this time to do some amazing things.   My goal was to finally exhale, spend time with the family and enjoy the ability to have some funded time to decide what I want to be when I grew up.  Little did I know where that journey would take me.

Barton Creek #goingrogue

Our Group Adventure at Chappellet Winery

Paso Robles with the Texas Writers

Fast forward seven months and I feel like I did just that.  I traveled to Austin to experience the Omni Barton Creek’s new wine and food program and rediscovered Texas wines in the process.  I went to Sonoma and Napa with a group of dear friends and had the trip of a lifetime.  I was invited on a Paso Robles media tour with a group of Texas journalists and actually zip lined over a winery.  And, I made my own wine with a small group of bloggers and a legendary winemaker (more on that next week).

Lego Table and Eurocaves: A Shared Existence

One of the Two Eurocaves

The Bad Ass Center Drawer

Personally, we had some family changes (and compromises) too.  After living in the same 1927 Tudor house for 15 years, we made the tough family decision to move to a newer house closer to my kiddo’s school.  While there are lots of bells and whistles we’ve never had before, the new casa does not include my dream cellar or any cellar at all.  From the photos, you’ll see the Eurocaves now exist as part of the family TV and Lego playroom.  And after being incredibly sporadic about my wine reviews the first half of the year, it forced me to set a process, which makes me methodical about the reviews.

And, finally, I made the decision to branch out on my own and start my own consulting business.  I’m completely flattered that two of my former bosses and good friends made this decision for me by telling me that they needed my help.  I even turned down a great full-time position with an amazing company and I still get to work with them as a consultant.  I’m still focusing on technology marketing, but having the decision of who I want to work with is life-changing.

I am sharing this all with you because you have become an important part of my community – you are my friends, you are my readers and have made this blog last much longer than I ever anticipated.  I just want to thank you.


Day Three Paso Robles: From Zip Liner to Winer to Niner (Estates)

Feeling pretty certain this is a day that I will not be able to replicate … in any other wine region.  And how cool is that?

We arrived at Ancient Peaks Winery, which was the vision of three local winegrowing and ranching families, who dreamed of producing great wines from the Margarita Ranch region.  Fun fact – Robert Mondavi planted the Margarita Vineyard under a lease agreement until 2005 (when the Constellation acquisition happened) when the families decided to make the wines from their vineyard.  Ancient Peaks was chosen as the name due to the mountains that border Margarita Vineyard.  Santa Margarita Ranch first had grapes planted by Franciscan missionaries in 1780 and today is one of California’s oldest continuously operated cattle ranches.  With five distinct soil types and over 50 vineyard blocks, this is a winery that happens to have a town located in the middle of the ranch property.

We started our day with VP of Operations, Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, and Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor, with a safety lesson, a release form, tons of equipment ranging from a helmet to a harness to gloves and we set up the mountain to begin our adventure.  It was time to go zip lining across the pinot vineyards … and how cool is that?  Click here for my Paso Robles Zipline experience. We had a few folks on the team that opted out, but the rest of us were ready to go and seek adventure.  And what an adrenaline high!

Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor

After our zip line experience, we adjourned to the tasting room to learn more about the vineyard and the wines.  I loved the story about evolving from a corporate relationship to a small family-owned business based on wine quality and a focus on a sense of place.  Sinor said, “we want to let the vineyard speak and make wines that express the vintage for a price that over delivers.”

Our next stop was my favorite food experience (with fantastic wine) of the entire trip.  Niner Wine Estates is a LEED Certified Winery at Heart Hill Vineyard, a vineyard that has a natural heart-shaped growth.  We were hosted by Andy Niner, General Manager, and Molly Bohlman, Winemaker, who talked candidly about the struggles of pulling off a big estate vision – planting and harvesting three wineries, launching one restaurant with well-known chef Maegan Loring and making the decision to focus on estate wines – mostly Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.

 

 

Our lunch was amazing (I am still dreaming about the carrot soup which shockingly was fantastic with the Sangiovese) and we had the chance to visit the chef garden, which was an exercise in frenetic harvesting, in motion.  The experience was an artistic vison of how each wine should go with the food.

We briefly visited Tin City, a business park of small production wineries.  We toured Field Recordings, where we saw some innovative wine canning and packaging, and Broadside Wines, which had some off the beaten path Italian varietals.  The next stop was ONX Wines, which was one of my favorite wineries of the trip.  ONX only makes 4,000 cases and is the only estate vineyard in the Tin City complex.  I loved these wines and would have shipped them home, but many of them were sold out due to the small production quantity.

Our next stop was Eberle Winery, the oldest continuously owned winery in Paso.  Gary Eberle is often referred to as the “godfather of Paso Robles” and was instrumental in establishing the AVA in 1983.  After graduating from Penn State with a football scholarship, he joined the SEC with a graduate focus on cellular genetics.  After developing an appreciation for wine due to a professor who introduced him to great French wines, he headed to U.C. Davis for his enology degree and moved to Paso Robles in the early 1970s.  This led him to a decision in the late 70’s to produce his own wine and he founded Eberle (German name for small boar).

He also asked the Steinbeck Family, who has evolved from growers to vintner ten years ago, to show their small production wines.  These wines are fantastic but a gift to those who visit Paso and Eberle.

Gary Eberle

Eberle built the first wine caves in Paso Robles, which now total 16,000 square feet of underground caves.  He decided to create a community – tastings are free and the vibe is “family reunion.”  Gary personally cooked his world-famous BBQ paired with Eberle and Steinbeck wines as we watched the sunset over the vineyards.  Such an iconic ending with a Paso pioneer.

So let me end with the only caveat of the trip – the San Luis Obispo airport.  Be afraid – you will hear how easy, how fast, how simple your check-in will be.  This is false.  You need to allow for the 90 minutes you hear about and frequently ignore.  We didn’t do that.  Four out of six (unable to give up the wine because we couldn’t check luggage) did not make our original flight.  I made my connection (18 minutes in between) from Phoenix to Dallas doing a quintessential OJ Simpson (pre-murder) and I still feel bad for my poor seatmates.

 

 


Paso Robles: History in the Glass

Our second day in Paso Robles was billed as a “vineyard to glass” experience.  We started with our chariot bus from Breakaway Tours where Owner Jill Tweedie helped start our journey in style.  We arrived at the train-themed Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, where Matt Merrill, the general manager, and Jim Shumate, the winemaker, greeted us with a tour.

 

The Merrill family has been growing grapes for eight generations and the business is still family owned.  After 30 years of growing for others, they decided to produce and farm their own wines five years ago.  The Merrill’s great grandfather was a railroad engineer and the tribute to him is an integral part of the winery experience.

 

 

Also joining us was Steve Martell, the winemaker for Sextant Wines and Ashley Leslie, portfolio manager.  Sextant is located right around the corner and Steve talked about how he uses fruit from the Pomar Junction as well as his own 100-acre vineyard.  This is when we started to hear about the Templeton Gap influence and how the diverse number of climates in the region along with the calcareous rock allow for so many different wines to be produced.  Jim Gerakaris, Winery Sommelier of Justin Wine, also talked about how Paso Robles has all of the qualities of any great global wine region.  Jim Shumate also talked about the lack of fear in trying new things that pushes the winemakers to do things that are different.

 

Our next stop was Adelaida Cellars, another family-owner vineyard located in the mountainous Adelaida District.  The winery focuses on Rhône, pinot noir, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.  The winery has 157 acres of vineyards in three different locations.  We hiked up to a spectacular view of the entire AVA and were greeted by Jeremy Weintraub, winemaker, and Paul Sowerby, national sales manager.  Also joining us was Jason Joyce, winemaker from Calcareous Vineyard, and Jordan Fiorentini, winemaker of Epoch Wines.  We took in the palate of colors from the mountain, drinking a Adelaida Rose, life was good.  Jason talked about the diversity of the region, “You throw a rock and find a new soil type.”

 

Jason Joyce, winemaker from Calcareous Vineyard

We came back to the tasting room that was remodeled about two years ago where we tried a line-up of great wines from these producers and had lunch.  The Rhone influence was really fun to see (and try) and the wines that are being produced out of the region were top notch.  It’s an influence of Old World vs New World with a special blend of Paso uniqueness thrown into the mix.

 

Our next stop was a first for me – Pasolivo Olive Oil.  We experienced the process of tasting five different oils, adding spices (habanero, lemon pepper, Italian mix, etc) and determining our perfect blend.  It was fun to go into the orchard and see the olive trees in bloom.

 

 

 

We then traveled to one of the pioneers in the region, Tablas Creek Vineyard.  Tablas Creek is a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, a long-time importer and founder of Vineyard Brands.  In 1985, the families formally partnered and purchased the 120-acre property in 1989.  The vineyard is all about the limestone and chalky soils and temperatures that allows the sun to ripen the grapes, the rain to dry farm the vineyard and for biodynamic farming.  When Tablas Creek couldn’t get the quality of vines it wanted back in the 1990’s, it imported cuttings directly from the Beaucastel vineyard and then shared them.  In fact, there are more than 400 wineries that have descendants of these cuttings today.  Our host, Manager John Morris, talked about how making better Rhone wines helps the quality and acceptance of these wines on a global scale.  We toured the vineyards, met alpacas and sheep, learned how to graft a grapevine and saw the sustainability measures in place firsthand.

We finished in the tasting room where we tasting 12 Rhone-style wines – a diverse range from red to white to rose.  After a day at Tablas, one proudly sports the badge of a “Rhone Ranger.”

We then had about 47 seconds to get back to the hotel and change for our dinner at Thomas Hill Organics, a restaurant that started as a CSA and then evolved into a well-known restaurant that focuses on local ingredients.  We had pairings for each course and four winemakers joined us – Kevin Willenborg from Vina Robles; Molly Lonborg (assistant winemaker) from Halter Ranch; Tom Lane from Bianchi Winery and JC Diefenderfer from Treana.


Tom from Bianchi has been the head winemaker for the past 11 years and bought the property 16 years ago.  He was born in Kansas and had “an illogical, romantic vision of what winemaking would be,” he said.  This was also his second career – he has three other degrees in biology, chemistry and botany.  Tom is the quintessential Renaissance man.  He actually brought the shocker wine of the meal – a Gewürztraminer that was an awesome dry white wine.

I didn’t get to spend much time with Molly from Halter Ranch Vineyard, which originally started as a grower’s vineyard.  The winery does 15 varietals – 60 percent Bordeaux and 40 percent Rhone-based.  Molly was generous enough to give us a bottle of wine to take and it was absolutely delicious.

Kevin from Vina Robles was also on the other side of the table.  He talked about the importance of having the vines do the work.  “You express the fruit, you never mask the fruit,” he said.

JC from Treana originally wanted to be a circuit board engineer until analog geometry got in the way.  But he knew he still wanted to develop, build and create.  His long-time friend, Austin Hope asked him to design and build their crush facility in Paso Robles.  This led to JC being on the winemaking team at Hope Family Wines starting in 1998 where he apprenticed under then-winemaker Chris Phelps.  When Austin asked him what he wanted to do, winemaking was the obvious choice.  “There are many of us that make Paso special by doing things differently,” he said.

My sense of community being alive and well in the region was reinforced.  The growers and winemaker look at making this one of the greatest regions in the world as a team effort.  The fact that Tablas Creek gave away cuttings from a highly-regarded vineyard to improve Rhone wines is only one proof point.  Winemaker Jordan Fiorentini from Epoch Estate Wines summed it up perfectly, “Make the best wines that you can and help those around you do the same.”


Five Texas Writers, Three Days of Paso Robles … The Adventure Starts Here

 Texas Media In Action

It felt a little like a Real World episode from the late 80’s.  Five writers, all from Texas, most who didn’t know the others, were brought together on a media trip.  At first glance, we were a diverse group – different ages, different religions and different ethnicities.  We ranged from career journalists to social media mavens to luxury publications to an occasional blogger like me.  And our interests were different – food, lifestyle and wine, but we shared a love for storytelling.

The View From My Room

Christopher Taranto, Communications Director, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance brought us all together to experience the Paso Robles region.  The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance is the collective voice of what makes Paso special.  The organization focuses on both growers and vintners and has approximately 500 members.  As we sat in the majestic lobby of the Allegretto Vineyard Resort, we knew we were in for some life moments ahead.

First, a little about Paso Robles, ‘The Pass of the Oaks,’ is located in San Luis Obispo County on the Salinas River.  It is known for its wineries, olive oil and almonds as well as its mineral hot springs.

Paso Robles has a storied history in wine.  Grapes were introduced in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries.  Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez had the vision this would be a great wine region and encouraged those in Mexico and California to come to the region.  In 1882, Andrew York, who came from Indiana, established a winery that still stands today under a different name as Epoch Winery.  Fast forward after Prohibition and growth continued.  Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 vineyard acres with Zinfandel as the heritage grape.  The real expansion occurred in 1990 when the winery count was 20 and today totals more than 200 wineries.

According to a study commissioned by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the Paso Robles AVA accounts for 87% of San Luis Obispo County wine industry output and economic impact with 40,000 vineyard acres and more than 200 wineries, 95% of which are small production, family owned businesses.

In 2009, the Paso Robles AVA was split into 11 smaller viticultural areas and at this time the winemakers began to expand into a wider variety of grapes include Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.  According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, it is the largest and most diverse wine region in California – 30 distinct soil series, many microclimates and varying topography within 612,000 total acres.

 

We started our trip with dinner at Cello Ristorante and Bar, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with a focus on the gardens, farms and vineyards of the region.  A group of legendary winemakers joined us and shared what makes Paso Robles special.  Don Brady, Winemaker of Robert Hall, talked about the dramatic growth of the region and how he decided to make his career there.  He was a splendid dinner companion and I had a blast talking about every subject under the sun.

Doug Beckett, Peachy Canyon Winemaker

Doug Beckett, Founder of Peachy Canyon Winery, kept us rolling with laughter and shared an inspiring story about his evolution from a home winemaker in San Diego, to one of the industry’s gurus.

Ben Mayo, the newly-named Winemaker for San Antonio Winery, which is known as the oldest winery in California, talked about his journey to taking his new position.

Steve Peck, the Winemaker for J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, talked about coming to the region because “it was the place where everything was happening and it represented the opportunity to realize the American dream.”

I found that like many regions, I could instantly decipher the Paso personality.  It’s a serious place for winemaking but with a collegial, family and a place willing to take a chance on grapes, varietals and the process of making wine.


Summer Wine Round-up: Feeling Thirsty?

If you’ve been following Dallas Wine Chick since I started my job as the head of marketing for an energy software company, you know that I work with a great group of people who are more than willing to step in and “assist” in the tasting of wines.  We started #thirstythursdays which evolved into #winewednesdays and then occasionally turned into #tipsytuesdays.  My travel has been challenging lately, so when we were able to gather, I would open a large number of wines that I needed to review.

The latest tasting included 25 wines from Spain, France, California, Argentina, Italy and even two ciders – the first time that I have ever been given cider samples.  These were the 14 that made the favorite list:

Sparkling/Rose

California

2013 Isabel Mondavi Deep Rose Cabernet Sauvignon – very crisp with raspberry, strawberry and apple. I’ve come over the years to enjoy rose much more than I used to and wines like this have caused that evolution.

Spain

NV Anna de Codorniu Cava – a very nice drinking cava with notes of apple, lots of minerality and freshly baked bread.

Whites:

France

2011 Chateau Lamothe de Haux Blanc – this was a delightful white wine with crispness, character and balance at $13.  Refreshing and with a great minerality.

Spain

2012 Martin Codax Albarino – I am a huge fan of this wine and Albarino wines in general.  This one had great minerality, pear, white peach and notes of citrus.

2012 Laxas Albarino — lovely and also well regarded.  I tasted pineapple, orange, apple and apricot.  It was also a great expression of this grape.

2013 Cune Monopole Rioja – tropical fruit, jasmine and other floral notes make this a perfect wine for a hot Texas Summer. 

Reds:

Argentina

2008 Susana Balbo Brioso Agrelo Malbec – this was one of my favorite reds of the tasting and personified what a Malbec should taste like. 

California

2011 Emblem Cabernet – a very nice cabernet with notes of blackberry, cassis, vanilla and tobacco.

2012 Olema Pinot Noir – black cherry, all spice, black pepper with some of the earthiness that comes from Sonoma Pinot Noirs.  It was a head turner.

NV Rare Red 4 Grape Blend – a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Verdot, Petite Sirah and Merlot from Lodi, Paso Robles and the Central Valley.  This is your perfect pizza wine at $10.

Chile

2012 Rios de Tinta – I thought this was a very affordably priced everyday Chilean table wine.  I got notes of blackberry, mocha and plum.

2011 Rios de Chile Reserva Carmenere – lots of tobacco, vanilla, clove, plum and blackberry in this wine. Well balanced and a great representation.

Oregon

2011 Elizabeth Chambers Winemaker’s Cuvee Pinot Noir – this was delicious and I tasted mushroom, plum, black cherry, truffle and violets.  I so enjoyed this and am very glad this Oregon-based winery has expanded nationally and to Texas.

Ciders:

I am new to craft ciders so it was fun for me to learn more about Michael & Paul Scotto’s approach to bringing wine making techniques to making hard apple cider.  They use a combination of five different apple varieties and the process of making wine and making cider have many similarities.  We tried two versions – the William Tell Hard Apple Cider and the William Tell Pinot Grigio Hard Apple Cider.  I liked them both, but the 15 percent of Pinot Grigio had a special something.  It was delicious, refreshing and tasted like a baked apple.


California Wine Club Brings the Valley to You

I was recently asked to take part in Mom Spark Media’s blog review campaign for the California Wine Club.  I felt I was very qualified due to the creative budgeting I used to do with my husband when I went to wine country.  I thought that wine club sign ups “didn’t count towards my wine budget” until one fateful day when my Visa card was hit with eleven charges and my finance guy husband was not amused.

The California Wine Club has been around for over 20 years and specializes in hand-selected artisan wines from family-owned producers.  I was given a three-month Premium Club membership, which features wines from smaller producers and is valued at $150 ($50 per shipment).  I had a slight mix up with my first month, so month one and two arrived within one week.  Each shipment includes two boots of wine and a newsletter outlining the winery, food pairing suggestions and the club’s tasting notes, recipes and other reading material.

 

 

  • 10 Tobin James “Radiance” Monterey County Chardonnay – We were with a group of friends and one eloquently pointed out that “the label matched the taste.”  It was a bright wine with lots of apple, pear, pineapple and citrus with just a touch of oak.  It was creamy and had a good balance.  Definitely was a crowd pleaser.  $18.00 retail, $10.99 club price.
  • 08 Tobin James Titan Hills Vineyards “Fiasco” – This wine from Paso Robles tasted of licorice, Asian spices, spice and pepper.  It was juicy, but smooth and easily drinkable.  $11.99 club price, $20.99 retail.
  • 2010 Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Riesling – this semi-sweet wine has lots of lychee, mango, lemon and other bright summer fruits.  It was off-dry, but still a vibrant wine with acidity.  $26.00 retail, $12.99 club price.
  • 2010 Parker Station Pinot Noir tastes of black cherries, vanilla, cranberry and terrior.  This is a very food friendly and approachable wine.

Interesting factoid:  Fess Parker Winery was established in 1989 by the late actor Fess Parker, who was known for his roles as Walt Disney’s Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone in the 1950′s and 60′s, and the winery remains a family business.

If you like trying “off the beaten path wines” that you probably can’t easily track down in Texas, this could be a great fit for you.  The $50 per month price tag includes shipping and is a fair price for the club, especially if you like the wines and plan to reorder them.  The accompanying information not only told you more about the wines and winery, but gave you recipes to pair to fully complement your tasting experience.

If you want to give it a try, the California Wine Club is offering Dallas Wine Chick readers four bottles for the price of 2 when you sign up. Use the code vine12 at checkout.

Click Here to visit the California Wine Club’s website.  Click here to check out @cawineclub and @boringwineguy on Twitter.

Disclosure: This review was made possible by Mom Spark Media.


Decent Glass of Wine At A Chain Series: Russo’s Coal Fired Italian

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As a part of my ongoing and often sporadic “Can You Get a Decent Glass of Wine from a Chain Restaurant” series, I was invited to Russo’s Coal Fired Italian Kitchen, a chain of more than 25 Italian restaurants.  I’d never been to Russo’s before and so I made the ride to Richardson, TX, with my friend, David, who graciously agreed to be a part of the taste experience.

This series started after I told my husband that I did not want to meet him for drinks after work at Mi Cocina due their very pedestrian wine list.  While I have been pleasantly surprised  with the results of this series (I’ve had two good experiences at Cafe Express and The Olive Garden),  I wasn’t sure what to expect from a pizza and pasta chain.  Again, I found that I need to check my pre-conceived notions at the door.  

We were warmly greeted by Chris Demers, director of operations for Russo’s, who began talking passionately about the wine program.  Russo’s offers twelve wines by the glass — one prosecco, five whites and six reds — and ten of those rotate monthly.  All of these wines retail for $7 for a 5 oz. pour.  When we visited the restaurant, there were some other specials including Ferrari Carano for $6 and Masi for $9.  Demers has a background of helping bring The Wine Loft, a national wine bar concept, to fruition so when he came to work at Russo’s he immediately overhauled the wine program.

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He told us that, overall, Richardson (Dallas) wine drinkers were adventurous and while he needed to have some traditional Italian Chianti’s and Pinot Grigio’s on the menu, people were also willing to try Argentian Malbec and Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.  After checking his website, we realized the list Demers has is different from the Russo’s wine list.  That is by design.  Half of these wines aren’t available via retail as he’s trying to encourage a positive adventure in wine for his diners.  It is paying off — since he overhauled the wine program, sales are up over 50 percent.  There has only been one exception — Mark West Pinot Noir.  He tried to replace this crowd favorite and quickly realized it was a sacred cow.

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Here’s the line-up that we had the night of our tasting:

White:

  • Cavit – Lunetta Prosecco 09.  I tasted peach and pear with a mineral ending.  A very nice drinkable sparkling to start your meal.
  • Castegio – Pinot Grigio 10.  This is a crisp and tart pinot grigio.  This grape isn’t my usual first choice in wine, but it was a good representation.
  • De Martino – Sauvignon Blanc 10 (Chile).  This was my favorite white.  Lots of citrus and pineapple, but with the minerality that I like.  If I tasted this blindly, I would have said this was a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.  Note this one is very hard to find in Dallas.
  • Alias – Chardonnay 09 (California).  Loved the story behind this project by eight un-named wine makers who wanted to make a good wine.  This was made in Old World style with lemon, tropical fruits and honey, but without being a butter bomb.  This was David’s favorite white and a very nice chardonnay.
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle – Riesling 10 (Washington State).  Always a critics’ favorite — especially at this price range — this had lots of stone fruit flavor and was a great value riesling.

Red:

  • Mark West – Pinot Noir 09 (California).  The people have spoken.  No comment.
  • Ruffino – Sangiovese 10 (Chianti).  You have to have a by the glass chianti, but there are much better options on the list.
  • Ca’Momi – Merlot 09 (Napa).  This is one of them.  A big jammy, food-friendly wine with notes of plum, cherry and menthol.  A really nice merlot and David’s favorite red.
  • Altos – Malbec Classico 10 (Mendoza).  A very nice representation of a Malbec with vanilla, mocha and chocolate. 
  • Blackburn – Cabernet Sauvignon 08 (Paso Robles).  Run, do not walk and see if you can find this wine in Dallas (if I don’t buy it all first).  This drank like a $30 cab and was off the charts good.  Big notes of plum, cherry, earth and menthol.  

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We also got to sample a few of the menu items, prosciutto with buffalo mozzarella, which I didn’t try because I’m allergic to pork, and the spinach and artichoke dip, which was off the charts good.  My advice for you is to come from 3-6 for Happy Hour or on Wednesday’s when wines are $5.  Order the dip and the Blackburn and savor the fact that not only can you get a good glass of wine from a chain, but you have found a cabernet that is a fantastic price to taste ratio.

Salud.


First VA Wine Release on Twitter: Let the Spirit Move You

From the moment that I heard that the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011 (#wbc11) was going to be in Virginia, I was a little surprised.  I figured that Paso Robles had the leg up on hosting the next gathering of more than 300 wine bloggers that came from around the country. 

Either way, last year was my first year to attend the conference and I decided that I want to arrive at next years’ event much better informed about the region and its wines than I did in Walla Walla.  My first stop was to do research on grape varietals – and I learned about the Norton grape by reading The Wild Vine by Todd Kliman.  It’s a fascinating story about a doctor that basically loses everything that he has in his quest to make a world-class Virginia wine using the Norton grape. 

My second stop came by happenstance and a friendship with @drinkwhatulike, who coordinated the tasting.  I was invited to be one of the first bloggers to experience the release of a Virginia wine via Twitter.  Mountfair Vineyards took a chance and gave about ten of us around the country the opportunity to debut the 2008 Wooloomooloo.  The wine is named after a mythical spirit that roams the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Like Dr. Norton, perhaps the spirit is seeking awareness and passion for Virginia wines.

The wine arrived in a nail biting day of delivery.  I didn’t have the chance to chill and decant it the way that I would have because was a young wine.  The red blend was 60 percent Petit Verdot, 30 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Franc.  It had a big berry taste with an almost “Cherry Icee” finish (which was a good quality) and almost a floral essence that I later identified as violet.  The more that I let it open, the more it evolved in the glass.   At $25, it definitely peaked my interest for the other wines in Mountfair’s portfolio.

I’m going to continue to do my research on Virginia wines and look forward to discovering the other treasures the state has to offer.




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