Archived entries for Bordeaux Blend

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?

 


The Allstate Sugar Bowl: A Tale of Two Conferences, Wine and the Big Easy Experience

The Ofenloch and Stewart Families (thank you, Ed….)

This story involves wine, amazing food, dear friends, family, unrestricted access and a team that I love.  The backdrop of the story is in New Orleans – yes, the Big Easy – and the focus was Auburn University (my alma mater) playing The University of Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.  It was also a time to teach my 11-year-old daughter about winning and losing, being appreciative, enjoying the New Orleans experience and food (and yes, off of Bourbon Street, she’s 11….) and trying to instill in her that this was indeed a life experience and not how her parents experienced football in college.

We met two sets of good friends at the airport in Dallas.  One has an executive role with the Big 12 and he was the genie that granted access that would make a rock star jealous.  The others were our new neighbors who are very active and avid OU fans.  We pretty much were the only Auburn people on the plane and after the fifth round of “Boomer Sooner,” I had to let out a loud War Eagle.  Proud parent moment with my kiddo when she stood up and did it even louder.  It was one of those agree to disagree moments with our friends, but Morgan’s fearlessness made us all proud.

We arrived on New Year’s Eve and promptly went to Frankie and Johnny’s for a late lunch.  There the gluttony began as we sampled most of what the restaurant offers along with rounds of gin and tonics.  The food was great!

That took us through to the big gala party on New Year’s Eve, where we opened a bottle of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Champagne, which is billed as the most recognized rosé champagne in the world, as our pre-celebration.  This is such a great champagne, which is still made in the saignee method and whose bottle was inspired by King Henri IV.  It was vibrant, rich and wonderful with notes of berry, brioche, cherry and cassis.  It was absolutely the right start to bring in a new year.

John and Ed

Me and Amy

 Angie and Jay Jacobs, me and John

 

The party was amazing — it was a who’s who in the conference football world, the oysters and seafood were flowing and I was dancing my butt off (my favorite thing to do, but usually only happens once a year).  And, then we got the kiddo call around 11.  She wanted us to be back at the hotel with her when the ball dropped.  So, reluctantly, we made the good parent decision and decided that opening that bottle of 2013 Ehlers Estate J Leducq would ease the pain.  We complied and continued to drink wine back in the room.  This is a wine blog, what else did you expect?

Janice and Melanie, Big 12 Women That Make Things Happen, Amy and me

 Let’s Just Say There is a Reason I Outsource Crafts

 

The next morning, January 1st, I had the chance to be a part of the ladies Sugar Bowl event, where we met at Pat O’Briens, decorated our umbrellas and marched down Bourbon Street to a private lunch at Arnaud’s.  I had to clandestinely hide my Auburn paraphernalia as I decorated with the Big 12 folks, but they were incredibly gracious and made me feel right at home.  We went to an Auburn party later that afternoon where I got to see some of my dearest college friends (naturally I forgot to take pictures) and their families and later met up with John’s family for dinner.

The next day we received a surprise text from Auburn.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am on the PR Advisory Council for the School and work very closely with Athletic Director, Jay Jacobs and his very talented marketing/communications team.  “Good morning. I would like for you to sit in the suite with my family.  Would you like to do that?”  I was in the gym and tried to refrain from jumping up in down with 12 pound weights in my hands.  Of course, we immediately jumped on the opportunity.

Since we went to the gym, we opened a bottle of the Côté Mas St. Hilarie Crémant de Limoux NV Brut, for our walk to Peche because we were in a celebratory mode.  It was a great under $15 sparkling with notes of green apple, toast and citrus.  Very drinkable, very affordable.  Definitely something a divided table of Auburn and OU fans could agree upon.  That may have been my favorite meal in New Orleans.

Ashley, one of my dear college friends, and me

It was important to pay the suite generosity forward, so I sent out a text to some friends asking if anyone could use our tickets.  A great friend responded that she really could use them so I had the chance to run into her as well while we had an amazing lunch at Pesce.  The oysters and 2015 Domain Girard Sancerre pairing will run through my dreams for a long time.

Our Super Talented Bus Driver Breaks It Down While We Wait for Our Police Escort (seriously, did I just type that?)

 

Me, the aforementioned 11 year old daughter, and John

The game was a blur.  We boarded our bus to the game with the Big 12 folks where we were serenated by our very talented bus driver while we waited for our police escort, which was late.  We then went to the Auburn side of the pre-game party and ran into some old friends along the way.  The suite was amazing and it was fun to see my kiddo get into the game and have a great time.  We were up in the first quarter and things were looking good until our quarterback broke his arm.  At that point, the game momentum shifted.

We stayed until the end, got back on the escorted bus and ended up in the Big 12/OU lounge with lots of happy fans for the other team.  They were incredibly kind, the drinks were flowing and it was an awesome lesson for our daughter on how to be a good loser.  She even had her own Big 12 badge as reinforcement, but was definitely ready with a good “War Eagle” at any time.


100 Wines, 30 Days and Wine Loving Ways

Since I left the corporate gig, which gave me ample opportunity to open a multitude of sample wines on a weekly basis, I’ve come to a point where I was completely swimming in fourth quarter samples.  I rectified this by hosting the Southern Methodist University MBA wine club, with Michelle Williams, where we conducted a brown bag blind tasting of more than 40 wines.  I  was the guest speaker of an executive Women Who Wine Group where I brought a variety of wines, talked about balancing my blog and a fulltime career with family.  And, of course the usual hosting of a variety of friends over the holiday season.

Of the nearly 100 wines we sampled, these are the favorites of the tastings.  They are diverse – several regions around the globe, different varietals and different price points.  I’ll be brief with descriptions since there are so many.

Whites

2014 Ferrari Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay – this traditional Russian River Valley Chardonnay was full of citrus, apple, melon and vanilla flavors. The word I would use to describe it is creamy.

2012 Duchman Trebbiano – this has always been one of Texas’ award-winning wines (provided by Texas Fine Wines) at a fair price point.  The wine is full of tropical and citrus fruits and is best enjoyed on a patio.

2014 Martin Ray Chardonnay – another Russian River Valley beauty with a balanced acidity with green apple, white stone fruit and vanilla.


2013 Brennan Vineyards Lily – another selection from Texas Fine Wines – it’s a dry wine with apricot, fleshy nectarine, citrus and notes of honeysuckle.

2014 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay – this is tropical in a glass – it’s full of stone and citrus fruit with nice acidity.

2013 La Scola Gavi Bianco Secco – it’s fruity, yet dry and refreshing. When Spring rolls around (or December in Texas), this is a great patio wine.

Reds

2014 Martin Ray The Tower Red Wine – this Bordeaux-style wine was full of black fruit, berries and cherries, herbs and spice.  It was surprisingly easy to drink with its rich, dark color.

2013 Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvee – this was a great Tuesday pizza wine with an attitude.  It was a Bordeaux blend that had notes of blackberry, blueberry, chocolate and herbs.

2013 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Red – Artist Wes Freed designed the label depicting a zombie picnic watched by two diligent crows.  I tasted herbs, spice, cinnamon, black and red fruits along with licorice.

2013 Antigal Uno Malbec – deep berry, cassis, plum, spice and flowers.  This was a great representation of a Malbec.

2014 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Malbec – since Flora Springs is one of Napa’s original “ghost wineries,” they have fun with the designation (and are one of the few that have restored the winery back to its original form).  Notes of mocha, black cherry, cassis and spice.

2010 Agly Brothers B Cotes-du Roussillon Villages – this well-balanced Rhone blend was full of chocolate, cassis, Fig Newton, blackberry and herbs. This is a great example of why people should drink more Rhone style wines.

2014 Garzon Tannat – big ripe red fruit with notes of pepper, mocha and spice.  This was a very nice version of a wine that shows its fruit while keeping its power.

2013 Chateau Ksara Reserve Du Couvent- cassis, chocolate and herbs.  It was balanced, but had some depth to it.

2013 Odfiell Orzada Cabernet Sauvignon – this cabernet begged for beef.  It had red and black berry, chocolate, vanilla and herbs. It evolved with time in the glass.

2014 Angeline Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of red cherry pie, black fruit, savory spices and mocha.

2015 Angeline Reserve Pinot Noir – this was a perfect Thanksgiving wine with notes of cranberry, cherry, herbs and spice.

2014 Carmel Road Pinot Noir – a very nice drinking Pinot with cherry, spice and some herbs.

2014 Martin Ray Puccioni Vineyard Zinfandel – rich red fruits, spice and jammy, yet with a balance.

I also received samples for #merlotmonth #merlotme (more than 20 in total), so I’m playing catch up here with a few great ones that didn’t make the Merlot-focused round-up a few months ago.

2014 Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot – this wine was full of black fruit, red fruit, vanilla and cassis.  It was approachable and was a crowd favorite.

2013 Rutherford Hill Merlot – this was elegant and had notes of blackberry, cherry, minerality, blueberry pie and herbs.

2013 Rombauer Carneros Merlot – notes of red stone fruit, flowers, mocha and spice.

2013 Duckhorn Merlot – notes of orange, raspberry, plum, mocha and cedar.  This had a great structure.

Texas Fine Wines provided samples of reds from Bending Branch, Brennan, Duchman and Pedernales.  These were my favorites.

NV Brennan Vineyards “W” Winemakers Choice – notes of stewed plum, blackberry and cherry as well as spice, Twizzlers and chocolate.

2013 Pedernales Tempranillo Reserve – notes of cherry, terroir, herbs and spice.

2012 Bending Branch Tannat – this is the signature red for Bending Branch winery and it had lots of red fruit, plum, mocha and caramel notes.

2011 Duchman Montepulciano – another nice every day wine from Duchman with red and black fruit, spice and herbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 


December to Remember: My Favorite Wines of the Season

Well, here we are at year end and I have once again let the wine pile up, so let’s consider this one hell of a holiday celebration.  This quarter (for the record, not by myself), I hosted a Halloween party, brought wine to the neighborhood holiday party, was the guest speaker at a Women Who Wine Executive Group, brought wine to numerous neighborhood parties as well as co-hosted a gathering with the Southern Methodist University MBA wine club.  All in all, we went through about 95 wines and today I’m writing about my “special shout outs,” the crème de la crème – my 12 A list choices.  The other 28 good ones will follow next week, but I thought a 40-wine line-up would give you, my readers, a blog hangover.

2009 Ferrari Perle Champagne – elegant, rich and beyond good. I tasted brioche, apple, citrus, stone fruit, almonds and French toast.  This is made with Chardonnay grapes and is the personification of what makes Champagne, well, Champagne.

NV Champagne Bruno Paillard Premier Cuvee –this was a delicious compilation of more than 35 of 320 crus of Champagne. It was a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.   I tasted lime, grapefruit, cassis, white stone fruits, raspberry with plum, almond and toasted bread.

2015 Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer – A Gewürztraminer from Sonoma?  Yes, you should.  This delightfully dry wine that Jacob Gundlach brought from his homeland in Alsace.  There are beautiful floral notes and minerality.  I also love the fact that the winery pairs this hip hop music – a perfect match to old school Run DMC.

2015 Naissance Sauvignon Blanc – The Galerie collection was named Naissance, which is French for birth or beginning, to blend Old World and New World wines.  You get an elegant blend of peach and tropical fruits, lemon zest, apple and great minerality.  Such a great expression of Sauvignon Blanc.

2014 Byron La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir – this is a big, ripe, rich pinot with notes of blackberry, black cherry, flowers and terroir.  It is complex and muscular, like my husband.

2014 Byron Pinot Noir Nielson Vineyard – I tasted blackberry, earth, herbs, spice and flowers.  This was very elegant and aromatic.

2014 Byron Monument Pinot Noir – this is the blend of the best vineyard blocks.  This was my favorite of the pinots with a pure elegance and notes of deep cherry, berry, licorice, Asian spice and floral notes.

2013 Flora Springs Holiday Kisses Red Blend – from the cool etched Mistletoe themed bottle to the great wine inside, this limited-edition Cabernet Sauvignon blended Napa wine, was a true gift.  It had notes of blackberry, blueberry, chocolate, mocha, plum, vanilla and Christmas spice.  A fantastic holiday themed gift both on the inside and out.

2012 Pleinair Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – this Galerie wine is named after the outdoor French painting method.  I tasted blackberry, spice, flowers, Heath bar and mocha.  It was silky and elegant – easy to drink today or would be even better with some bottle age.

2012 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella – this was a big, traditional raisined Amarone that needed more time to open, but was clearly the crowd favorite of the tasting (and therefore did not have the time it needed to develop).  I tasted red fruit, cherry and spice.  For being so young, it was still elegant.

NV Proprietary Red CA Locations by Dave Phinney, which represents a blend of the best wines by region across the globe.  This California blend is aromatic, flavorful and nuanced.  I tasted black cherry, raspberry, cigar, blackberry pie, tobacco and black tea.  It’s getting the least expensive wines of a well-known winemaker at a fraction of the price of his other wines.

NV Proprietary Red OR Locations by Dave Phinney – this was a blend of great grapes from Oregon.  This was Thanksgiving in a glass with cherry, cranberry, pomegranate, floral notes and spices.  This was such a lovely wine!


Prichard Hill: Life, Legacy and a Conversation with David Long from David Arthur Vineyards

Unless you have done some extensive time in Napa Valley, you may have never personally discovered Pritchard Hill.  But, you probably have heard the names Colgin, Chappelett, Ovid and David Long and if you have tasted the Cabernet or Bordeaux varieties, you quickly find this is an unforgettable region.

It is not an easy place to just drop in … It is a long and windy drive that takes you to wineries that rise to almost 2,000 feet above sea level.  By happenstance, in the last 11 months, I have had the opportunity to meet two very special people whose families helped shape Pritchard Hill into the special place that it is today.  Last November, I sat down with Cyril Chappellet in a conversation that ranged from wine and family, then veered to the big life choices that I was on the verge of making earlier in 2016.

 

David Long and me

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down for a wine dinner at Lakewood Country Club with David Long from David Arthur Vineyards.  David Arthur Vineyards and the Long Family Ranch began when Don Long, a butcher who went from carving meat to owning a small grocery store with a focus on personalization near Stanford University, decided to begin acquiring land on top of Pritchard Hill.  At that time, there was no access to roads or utilities and Don would hike to picnic with his wife, Annie.

 

David started the dinner, as we were drinking the 2013 Chardonnay, by telling us, “You are drinking my college education.”  He wasn’t the best student, but he made it to University of Denver where he pursued a degree in fine arts with a focus on ceramics and pottery.  That didn’t seem like a sustainable career for him, so he dropped out of school and was wished well by his father (which essentially meant he was off the payroll).  He worked his way from busing tables to managing dinner houses and went on to open a fondue restaurant with a selection of 25 wines in Boulder.

 

He vividly remembers drinking a Chappellet Chenin Blanc when he got a call from his father.  His future arrived on one snowy night when he had to shut down the restaurant due to bad weather.   His dad asked if he had an interest in running the 970-acre property, cultivate the land and grow the grapes.  The answer was a resounding yes and his dad disclosed that he would invest the money for him to plant the first ten acres of grapes.  The first grape planted was Chardonnay until his visionary dad saw the future and the future was a Bordeaux style wine.

The time that David had to taste wine after working the vineyard was 4 a.m. and during that process, he opened a bottle of Sangiovese that was sent by his importer, Louis Langdon, formerly of Langdon Shiverick Imports.  He describes it as being rustic with an amazing finish.  At 6 a.m., he had to go to work and poured the Sangiovese in his existing test Bordeaux blend.  Magic was made and he began looking for a name that described the French and Italian blend.  Originally named red table wine, he promised his brother 24 hours for a new name and Meritaggio Red Blend was born.

Our food and wine line up was as follows:


Course one – Steamed wild Hawaiian caught manchong with king crab, matsutake farro risotto, preserved lemon, brown butter, lemon, red ribbon sorrel with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Chardonnay.

Course two – Smoke salt seared quail with golden raisin, foie gras, sweet potato and red curry cream sauce with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Meritaggio Red Wine Blend.

Course three – Slow cooked beef tenderloin with olive oil, roasted cauliflower, porcini, bacon, sage, short rib ragout, anson mills polenta, veal reduction and 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Course four – A cheese course of Humboldt Fog Cypress goat cheese, Oregon Rouge smokey blue and Prairie Breeze with honey, marcona almonds, apple butter and grilled French bread with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards “Three Acre” Cabernet Sauvignon.

To say David is larger than life is an understatement.  From his stories about experimenting with apple juice to make alcohol at age 14 to walking the aisles of Sunshine Foods to sell his chardonnay and then, once the sale was made, had his then wife immediately come through the front door looking for the bottles of wine that he just sold saying, “I can’t believe they are carrying these wines”.  David has a menagerie of stories (half of which I can’t repeat), life experiences, history and amazing wines.

I am so excited about Prichard Hill, the rich history and the families that I have met that have pioneered an area that is making some of the best wines in the Valley.


October Wine Round Up: Favorite Samples Over the Past Months

Today I’m going to talk about some of my favorite recent samples, which include wine and for the first time, spirits.  I tried 28 wines and 12 of them made the list along with one gin and one vodka.

Reds:

2013 Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec – this was a great expression of Malbec.  Lots of berry, plum, herbs, mocha and chocolate notes.  I brought this to a girl’s wine group and it disappeared quickly.

2013 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir – this had a nice earthiness and notes of black cherry, strawberry and a nice touch of herbs.

2014 Flora Springs Merlot – this was a well-balanced merlot with plum, chocolate, berry and a bit of cherry.

Locations by Dave Phinney E and F – Dave Phinney has always had a personal mission to make the best wines possible.  Now he is taking his concept that he can get great grapes from vineyards (taking out the appellation rules) across the world and use his winemaking skills to make great wines.  It works.  I tried several of his wines and was impressed with the result.  The E blend from Spain had lots of cherry, plum, berry and spice.  The F blend from France was delicious with Grenache (Roussillon), Syrah (Rhone) and Bordeaux Blend Varieties.

2012 Northstar Merlot – this merlot was velvet on the tongue with notes of raspberry, cherry and chocolate and a hint of vanilla.

2013 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon — rich berry, dark cherry, mocha, a touch cedar.  Very easy drinking.

Rosé:

Jolie Folle Rosé – this embodies everything that a good rosé should be.  Notes of strawberry, watermelon and a great minerality.

Whites:

2013 Ramey Chardonnay – orange blossom, stone fruit, buttered popcorn and floral notes make this a wonderful entry level chardonnay that keeps its balance.

2015 Martin Ray Chardonnay – this old world chardonnay had notes of white stone fruit, flowers, vanilla and was delicious.

2014 Castello Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio – this was a nice representation of a pinot grigio.  Fruity, crisp and a nice minerality makes it a great porch Summer wine.

2014 Grillo Cavallo delle Fate Sicilia DOC – this was my first experience with Grillo from Sicily and not my last.  It is a very easy drinking wine with lots of white stone fruit.

Spirits:

For the first time, I had the chance to try the Azzurre gin and vodka.  They are both made from apples, grapes and sugar cane with no added ingredients.  I served these both at a dinner party and to rave reviews.  I enjoyed both of them, but found myself going back to the gin as it truly was a sipping gin with lots of fruit-forward notes that also sung with specialty tonics.


A Conversation with Tom Gamble: A Focus on Farming and Making Great Wine

Tom Gamble at Lakewood Country Club

The moment I sat down with Tom Gamble of Gamble Family Cellars, he made it clear that it was as important to talk about how this was his family’s 100th year in farming as it was to talk about the wines he was there to pour.  Tom’s a third generation farmer, the first in his family to make wine, and this is Gamble Family Cellars 11th vintage.  As he said, “Prices for the land here make sense when paired with a successful wine label.”

“It is always said that the first generation buys the land; the second generation pays for it and the third generation starts the label,” he said.  “And, we did too.” He sees it as a legacy, but admitted that not all of the next generation of twelve nieces and nephews think that tractors are as cool as he does.  Nonetheless, he sees teaching them how to be good landowners as an important lesson.

And wearing his signature cowboy hat, you can tell that this is a man who gets his hands dirty.  The family first sold grapes to very well-known stalwarts and even some cult wineries.  When Tom decided he wanted to go to UC Davis to learn how to make wine after purchasing his vineyard in 1981, he wanted to bring the farming perspective to winemaking.

His commitment to sustainability and taking care of the land is evident. He and his wife farm 170 acres of vineyards that are made up of three distinct microclimates.  He talked about the only thing being constant is continuous change.

The wines are only available through the wine club and the wholesale market, which is where I first became associated with the Gamble Sauvignon Blanc as a by the glass selection at Lakewood Country Club (full disclosure: I am the wine committee chairman).  I enjoyed every bottle of Gamble that I tried and it was my first time trying the reds.  Our line-up was as follows:

2015 Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

2013 Gamble Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 Gamble Family Vineyards Paramount Red Wine

2012 Gamble Family Vineyards Family Home

Getting to hear Tom’s story was a pleasure and expanding my knowledge of the goodness of the Gamble Family Vineyards red wines was even more fun.


Frank Morgan: “Get in the Car” and Other Going Rogue Experiences at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference

Frank Morgan sporting the saying that started it all…

It all started with a phone call from Steve Havill, Wine Club Manager for Bella Grace Vineyards.  Steve saw a few posts I had done after other conferences and wanted to make sure that the Amador County pre-conference tour was going to be an amazing experience for the wine bloggers.  I immediately went out to my network of #goingrogue bloggers to get their opinions.  I have to say what we proposed was a success as the tour was sold out before any of us could register.

But Steve was bound and determined that he was going to do something special for the group.  So the day the conference ended, we boarded a bus and began our journey to discover what makes Bella Grace special.  The answer?  The family… the wines … the hospitality … the experience … and my very own Frank Morgan “Get in the Car” customized shirt…

Charlie and Steve Havill

But first about Amador County.  The region is self-billed as “The Heart of the Mother Lode” and became the destination for those looking to strike gold.  The region fell upon hard times after the California Gold Rush became saturated and Prohibition hurt the wineries established during that time.  Today this area is thriving and there are over 50 different wineries with very different microclimates. Steve told us that surprisingly, 60 percent of the grapes leave Amador Country.  It is known for Zinfandel, but also a number of other varieties due to the number of Italians who brought vines from Italy during that time.

Bella Grace, which was named for two great grandmothers, was founded in 2006 by Charlie and Michael Havill who followed their dream of owning a vineyard.  The winery and vineyards are located in the Sierra Foothills, which is known for a variety of grapes from Zinfandel to Primitivo to Rhone varietals.  The focus has always been on quality and sustainability.  Steve told us that the goal was “to continue the experience of being at our home to every guest in our winery.”  Bella Grace makes 8,000 cases annually as well as organic olive oils, imported balsamic and fruit flavored vinegars.

 

 

 

 

We met most of the family that day and their very talented son, Chef Robert, who recently moved back from Colorado after cooking at Taste.  He provided a gourmet dinner that paired beautifully with the wines.  In fact, this is part of the hospitality – as they do more than 250 dinners a year at no cost to their wine club members.  I loved every wine that I tried.

You can’t do one of these #goingrogue experiences without the side stories.  From Jeff Kralik’s ongoing quest to saber sparkling (with varying levels of success) to the surprise Frank Morgan “Get in the Car” T-shirts to Michelle Williams and I rapping The Beastie Boys’ Paul Revere on the bus ride back, it was absolutely a great end to a very fun trip.

This year it seems that #goingrogue was the overall trend, as the conference was so spread out from the host hotels.  Walking was not an option for most of us.  I felt like I didn’t get to spend the usual quality time with so many of the people I wanted to see, but there were some constants.

 

The Unconference hosted by Craig Camp, now with Troon Winery continued.  This has become one of my favorite events every year because it brings an intimate group together to laugh, eat, talk and in my case, try Troon Wines for the first time.  Color me impressed, Craig.  I’m excited for your new venture and I know you will do a great job putting them on the map.

Gary Krimont

Thea Dwelle scheduled a pre-trip this year that allowed me to discover Anderson Valley wines.  I discovered Foursight Wines, a winery with five generations of family involved that just celebrated its tenth vintage.  I enjoyed being part of the “pinot people” and loved the diversity of these wines.  We also experienced the hospitality of Phillips Hill and Gary Krimont at Yorkville Cellars who poured great wine and kept us in stitches.  I loved discovering the history and great boutique wines of this region.

 


Operation Masthead: Four Bloggers Quest to Secretly Make A Wine (and Wait to Tell the Tale)

Early Draft of Masthead Wine Label

Call me Bond … James Bond.  Well that might be an overshoot, but it started out as an amazing clandestine story – Operation Masthead.

“I have something amazingly cool that I am working on and you are going to be a part of it, but it is very secretive…,” said Bradley Gray in the scope of his representation of Scotto Cellars.  Granted, this was about ten months ago and while I was intrigued, life happened and no further information was shared.  Fast forward almost nine months and he called me back with the opportunity of a lifetime.  “How do you feel about making a wine from Lodi with Famed Winemakers Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto and some really cool well-known bloggers,” he said.  “You’ll do the blending, help with the marketing and then you’ll debut it at the Lodi Wine Bloggers Conference.”  Um, yeah.  You had me at hello…

It turns out that four bloggers – Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget from www.pullthatcork.com and Cindy Rynning of www.Grape-Experiences.com  received the same invitation and I’m sure had the same “I will make this happen come hell or high water” reaction that I did.   Cindy and I were picked up at the airport by Bradley and Scotto’s head of marketing, Robert Walker, and we drove out to Lodi to meet Peter and Nancy for our tour of the under construction Scotto Cellars tasting room.

After making wines for five generations, the Scotto’s are opening their first tasting room on South School Street in downtown Lodi.  The tasting room will feature wines as well as craft ciders including one made with Pinot Grigio made by Paul Scotto, Winemaker and Cider Master.  This is going to be a really cool spot complete with food, wine, a future Speak Easy and just a cool place for folks in Lodi to hang out.

And food, wine and family is part of the Scotto heritage.  Wine was an addition to the weekly Sunday gatherings and has been part of the family’s routine for many generations.

Salvatore Dominic Scotto started a winery in Ischia, Italy in 1883.  In 1903, the family emigrated from Italy and settled in Brooklyn, NY.  They opened Scotto Liquors, one of the oldest liquor stores in the state of New York, which has since been sold, but is still in business.  The Scotto’s made wine in their home from whatever fruit they could source in Brooklyn and similar to the Gallo family, sold it door to door out of crocks from a horse drawn wagon.  In 1961, they bought a facility in Pleasanton, California, that they named Villa Armando, where they began making their own wine.  They created Villa Armando Rustico, one of the oldest US wine brands.

In 1963, Anthony Sr. moved from Brooklyn to Livermore Valley in California to continue making wine.  They added wineries in Napa and Lodi to continue the Scotto expansion – making them the 30th biggest winery in California.  In the 1980s, they expanded the Scotto portfolio into Lodi and Napa.  Five generations later, they have expanded the scope of their wines to include more than 40 brands sold to 180 customers around the world.

We toured the Lodi operation including the cider operation and were amazed by the technology and supply chain (I am a former supply chain marketing geek).  From the mobile bottling unit that can do 110 bottles a minute to the efficiencies of producing 350,000 cases of wines under different brands (some named specifically for geographies), it was clear that this was a well-run machine.  And you can tell that this family does this because they love it – wine is in their blood and they want to share their family traditions with employees, distributors and wine drinkers.  We got to meet Anthony Jr and spend significant time with Paul and Natalie Scotto Woods and found them all to be unassuming, passionate and clearly happy to come to work and do what they love every day.

Winemaker and Cider Maker Paul Scotto, Scotto Cellars

It was unusual for a group of storytellers to not be able to tell a story.  We are all about the story, wines, reviews, food, travel photos, social media and becoming immersed in a region.  We couldn’t really do that because this was under wraps.  It was funny to see a bunch of fish out of water as we weren’t quite sure if we could, should or were able to talk about this amazing journey.

Mitch Cosentino and me

So let’s talk about Operation Masthead – an exercise in how four people with zero background in making wine actually made a wine.  We started with a visit to Mohr-Fry Ranch, which is run by Jerry Fry and his son, Bruce.  Ironically, a few weeks later, they were named the 2016 Growers of the Year by the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

We are talking bad ass grapes.  Mohr-Fry is an iconic, family-owned vineyard and farm in Lodi with roots that reach back to the 1850’s in California.  The farms began in Mount Eden and over time extended into Lodi and the San Joaquin Delta.  The Fry’s farm about 12 varietals on 600 acres – all for winemakers of their own choosing.  The Mohr-Fry vineyard designation appears on all of these wines.  Mitch Cosentino talked about the importance and quality of these grapes and how he remembered when he first could purchase them for his wines after waiting for four years to just pick one row back in 1998.  He talked about the differences in grape costs of Cabernet grapes from Napa Valley at $6,300 a ton to the Lodi price of $750 a ton.

When Mitch and the Scotto Family began their relationship and the Scotto’s wanted premium Sangiovese, Mitch knew that Block 433 was the ideal choice.  The vineyard is farmed and certified according to Lodi Rules™ for sustainable wine growing.  As Mitch told us, “So we know our grapes were the best they could be.”  Walking through the gnarled, twisted vineyards, we felt history under our feet.

 

 

Now for the blending.  Picture a mad scientist lab with test tubs, Riedel glasses, beakers, 11 components to blend with and four different barrels of Sangiovese aged in different types of Oak – French, Hungarian and American.  We were guided by Mitch and Paul who taught us lesson after lesson about Sangiovese and Zinfandel being a match made in hell to the right palate cleansing crackers to use doing the process.  We debated, sipped, spit, swirled, debated, debated and debated some more for more than three hours.  We selected a final cuvee that was 100 percent Sangiovese that combined two barrels of Sangiovese; one aged in French oak, the other in Hungarian oak.

The name Masthead was chosen to reflect both traditional media – a standard newspaper page from long ago and printed wine reviews.  We made 528 bottles of Masthead 2014 Mohr-Fry Ranch Block 433 Sangiovese and will debut the wine next month in Lodi at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference.  We felt validated when Mitch told us that he was hoping we’d go with a different Sangiovese as he really wanted to use this one for his wine.

 

Cindy Della Monica, Owner

This was the main story, but there were also some other plotlines that evolved over the three- day period.

First,  Cheese Central, a gourmet cheese shop absolutely needs to be a must visit on your Lodi list.  Owner Cindy Della Monica is passionate, knowledgable and is not afraid to steer her customers to try new things.  I cannot wait to go back.

Cindy and I were the first women to stay at the Scotto apartment located upstairs from the tasting room.  It’s a converted old hotel that is such a really cool space and is where we conducted our blending session.  It is located in a cool spot in downtown Lodi, which had its own vibe – from the middle of the night ringing phone to the homeless guy named Sean in the alley to the “Garry’s Lounge Bar Rules” (no hoodies allowed) for the across the street dive bar.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a ghost or two roaming the halls.  I had an early plane out of Oakland on Wednesday morning and Bob and Bradley were nice enough to drive us to the airport.  I am not anywhere near a morning person and kept waking up dreaming that I missed waking up.  We originally had a 5:15 am pick up time, but Bob and Brad decided to come at 4:45 am.  Let’s just say that the doorbell scared me to death, I fell out of bed and then tried to navigate the light on the ceiling fan in the dark.  One cut hand later and a litany of words that I would never use in front of my kiddo, we were on our way at the originally scheduled time.

I will never look at a blend the same again and learned so much about the time, patience and talent that goes into the process.  Nancy and Peter were able to try the Masthead wine this week and all accounts point to this being a great wine.  And to read the stories from Cindy, click here.  Peter and Nancy’s chronicles are linked here, here and here.

Note: A special thank you to Bradley Gray for many of the photos shown above. Because I merged ours together, I’m not sure  where to issue a photo credit.


Wines That Stand Up to Scorching Texas Temperatures

It’s July in Texas.  The temperature is scorching, the lake parties are plentiful and the wine is flowing.  This wine round-up features wines from seven different regions and unique countries. It was also my first experience with Albariño from Uruguay.  I reviewed 20 wines and here are the ones that made the cut.

Rose

California

2015 Matchbook Rosé – we were at a friend’s lake house when we tried this Syrah-based rosé.  It was an awesome complement to a hot day.  Notes of ripe melon, strawberry and a nice creaminess.  It was gone in a matter of minutes…

Whites

California

2013 Balletto Cedar Ridge Chardonnay – Rich and elegant, with citrus, guava honey and floral notes make this an easy drinking, yet nuanced Chardonnay.

New Zealand

2015 Chasing Venue New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – tropical, grapefruit, lime and passion fruit made this a well-balanced representation of this region.

Uruguay

2015 Bodega Garzon Albariño – ever tried an Albariño from Uruguay?  I hadn’t either.  Really nice stone fruit, citrus and flowers with notes of minerality and a rich mouthfeel.

Reds

California

2014 Balletto BCD Vineyard Pinot Noir – black cherry, mocha, mushroom and spice make this a nuanced and elegant pinot noir.

2012 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – this Bordeaux blend is delicious. Notes of blackberries and black cherries with cedar and chocolate.  This wine is elegant, silky and drinks beautifully.

2013 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, cassis, herbs, mocha and dark cherry make this a smooth and very drinkable wine.

Italy

2014 Tenuta Sassoregale Sangiovese Maremma Toscana – this is a wine with a personality. Big notes of black cherry and berries, licorice, herbs and spice.

Oregon

2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir – cherry, herbs, white pepper and cassis make this a fabulous representation of Oregon Pinot Noir.

Spain

2010 Marques de Riscal Baron de Chirel Reserve Rioja – this wine was absolutely delicious.  Big notes of blackberry, stewed prunes, vanilla, smoke and spice made this an elegant and big Rioja that just got better and better as you sipped it.




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