Archived entries for Cabernet Franc

Cornerstone Cellars, Elyse Winery & J Vineyards: Samples to Remember

When sample packages from Cornerstone Cellars, J Vineyards and Elyse Winery arrive in the mail, I’ve learned to stand up and take notice. 

I’ll lead with the still wines.  Both Cornerstone and Elyse are known for hand-crafted and boutique wines that express the terrior where they are produced.  I’ve found these to be balanced, delicious and get better and better every year.  The wines are all distinct and differ depending on where they are grown.  Winemaker Jeff Keene who talked about how his wines express their sense of place .

My notes on the wines were as follows:

  • The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon combines the grapes of three vineyards — Ink Grade on Howell Mountain, Oakville Station in the To Kalon district and Kairos in Oak Knoll.  Tons of blackberry, raspberry, dried herbs, chocolate and mocha.  I had the chance to try this in the spring and it only got better with age.
  • The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain known for its white soils, which is unique.  This wine had tons of black fruit, spice, flowers, mocha and chocolate.  I loved every sip of this and it was beautiful.
  • The 2010 Stepping Stone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc was full of berries, herbs and the greenness that is indicative of cabernet franc.  It was balanced and delicious.

In the spring, I sat down with the Elyse Winery’s portfolio of wines at the winery.  The Elyse Morisoli Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 was impressive then, and the 2009 is impressive now.  I took this wine to a gathering with friends and it was definitely the favorite of the evening.  It was full of red berry, spice, earthiness, plum and coffee. 

And now onto J Vineyards & Winery bubblies.  I had the chance to meet Kathryn Lindstrom, chief operating officer, and Melissa Stackhouse, vice president of winemaking, when they made a trip to Dallas, also in the spring.  Melissa talked about the collaboration that happens with her wine making team of three where there is a focus on the integrity of the grapes and bringing the fruit into the glass.  She views her team’s role as “allowing the wines to find their own happy place” and interfering minimally. 

I tried the J Cuvee 20 Brut which we opened at the turning point of the Auburn game when it became clear we were going to the Championship game.  I tasted almonds, citrus, pear and freshly baked bread.  With our victory solidified and as I made my plane reservations to Pasadena, we turned to the J Brut Rose NV, which was full of luscious strawberry, brioche, raspberry and notes of floral.  Both of these wines stood up to a national championship celebration!  War Eagle!


A Behind the Scenes Look at Cornerstone Cellars’ New Releases

Before I delve into my wonderful experience at Cornerstone Cellars, I wanted to give a shout out for a fun and affordable way to experience a Napa driver.  We used My Napa Valley Driver and met Chris Pittman, who was our “cruise director” for the day.  We often try to hire drivers for at least one day because even if you spit, you will have much more wine than you anticipate if you are visiting several wineries.

John and Chris

Here’s how it works.  Your driver meets you and drives your rental car at a rate of $35 an hour.  This way you are being driven around in your car (or rental car).  He even arrived with waters, snacks and took us up to look at rooms at the Poetry Inn because it thought it was one of the nicest places to stay in the Valley (he was right).  I had completely booked our schedule, but his knowledge and connections made me wish that I had another day to just let him take me to “off the beaten path places.” My experience with My Napa Valley Driver and Chris in particular has my highest recommendation.

I also want to give a shout out to a restaurant that we discovered during our Jordan stay.  Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar, is run by a lovely couple, Susan and Jeff Mall.  Susan serves as director of catering and Jeff is the executive chef.  It’s a fabulous menu full of farm to market ingredients and my husband still talks about the reuben sandwich blowing away anything he’s tried from any New York deli (which is a tough thing for him to say).

And now back to our regularly scheduled wine program.  I had a chance to sit down with Cornerstone Cellars Winemaker Jeff Keene who previewed the entire line-up of new wines that have yet to be released until this month.  Jeff started his career as a food scientist in New Zealand where he focused on grape and wine research.  After spending eight years inside a lab, he decided to pursue grad school and became a winemaker.  His first job was at Havens Wine Cellar in New Zealand and he worked at Truchard before coming to Cornerstone.   After 15 years of winemaking, he believes that his science background definitely translates into better wine in the lab and ultimately on your table.

Cornerstone is soon to roll out some new packaging for its Stepping Stone label and I liked the bright, cheery and colorful images that were similar to the Artist Series, which you may recall.  You’ll see them shortly on the White Rocks and Red Rocks labels, which will now come with a screw cap.  Keene reiterated that Stepping Stone is not a second label – it has its own style and character while maintaining the high standards of Cornerstone Cellars.  Both of the wines are designed to speak clearly of the vineyard, variety and vintage for where they came.  All are farmed organically or sustainably.

Here was our line-up:

  • We started with the Corallina Syrah Rose, which had not  been bottled yet.  It was a traditional light, fruity and strawberry blend with a nose of bubble gum.
  • 2011 Cornerstone Sauvignon Blanc – aromatic, creamy, tropical, citrus with great balance.
  • 2010 Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc – green pepper, eucalyptus and blackberry.  This was a classic cabernet franc that was delicious.
  • 2010 Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – the quintessential delicious cabernet that Cornerstone does exceptionally well with blackberry, raspberry and lots of mocha.
  • 2010 Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – black fruit, smoky and elegant.
  • 2009 The Cornerstone, which debuted last year and I was thrilled to finally try.  This is a blend that changes each year depending what shows the best in the cellar.  Great structure, elegant, black cherries, cassis, spice, coffee and terrior.
  • 2010 The Cornerstone was full of bramble, tobacco and I could really taste the Cab Franc coming through.  Both were fabulous.

It’s rare that I enjoy the entire portfolio of a winery, but Cornerstone Cellars allows nature to take the helm while Keene’s job is to nurture.  And it works perfectly.


Corison Winery: A Sense of Place, Time and Terrior

Corison Wines are all about the time and place.  If you have paid attention to the evolution of blue-chip cabernets in Napa Valley, chances are you have consumed a wine that has Cathy Corison’s magic touch.  Cathy, one of Napa’s first female winemakers, started making cabernet in 1978; several years after getting her Master’s in Enology from U.C. Davis.  From 1980-89, she was the lead winemaker for Chappellet Vineyard.  She also made wine for Staglin Family Vineyard, York Creek Vineyards and Long Meadow Ranch.

In 1987, she decided to focus on her own wine and began making Corison after making a handshake agreement with three farmers, who still provide grapes for her Napa Cabernet.  In 2003, her venture was so successful that she stopped making wines for others.  She originally focused on “100 percent cabernet all the time” and she and her husband, William Martin, purchased the current winery property in 1996.

We were greeted by one of my favorite folks in wine, Hardy Wallace, who manages the tasting room and has his own wine that I’m dying to try.  We talked about Cathy’s philosophy that the winery should be a place to make wine.  Looking around, you see no big tasting salon and no branded merchandise underscoring her philosophy.  During harvest, it’s a three person production crew – Cathy, William and her cellar master – just the way it’s been for the past 15 years.

While Cathy originally started with just cabernet, she was quickly called to be on the wine dinner circuit due to the success of her wines.  Most wine dinners start off with a white wine, and since Cathy used to only make reds, someone else’s wines were usually served first.  After having to drink someone else’s white wine which was not up to her standards, she decided to start making the Corazón Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer.  The 2009 was bone dry with honey, floral notes and tropical flavors.  I now own six bottles.

We then tried the 2008 Helios Cabernet Franc, which had fabulous green notes with vanilla, spice and that chalkiness that defines a cabernet franc.  Cathy makes two barrels a year of this wine.  You may start to notice some Greek influences in the names as well as the fact that the Corison name is only branded on the cabernet which is 100% cabernet (a wine can be called cabernet even if just 75% of the grapes are cabernet).

We then moved into the Corison cabernet vertical line up made from grapes in the Rutherford Bench between Rutherford and St. Helena.  We tried the following:

-          2009 Napa Cabernet – full of berry, cocoa and promise of what magic would happen if you put this wine down for 20 years.

-          2005 Napa Cabernet – berry, fruit forward, cassis and lots of spice and cherry.

-          2001 Napa Cabernet – we actually opened a second bottle of this because it wasn’t showing the true potential and I am so glad that we did.  This was my favorite – it was balanced, earthy and full of blackberry and bramble.  This was truly a hallmark year and Hardy told me was one of Cathy’s favorite vintages.

-          2004 Napa Cabernet – full of flowers, plum, currant and definitely could use some more time in the bottle to show its truest potential.

Our single vintage Kronos line-up included the following:

-          1998 Kronos – elegant, smooth and ridiculously good.  My tasting note was “wow” and that summed it up.

-          2006 Kronos – this was a muscular wine with cassis, blackberry, allspice and chocolate notes.

-          2008 Kronos – cherry, blueberry, plum, allspice and chocolate were all prevalent in this wine.

We briefly had the chance to meet Cathy as her investors were in town and she was incredibly gracious.  If her wines could talk, they would have amazing, complex and unique stories to tell.  She definitely lets the vineyards speak for themselves.


Give Cork A Pop: A Wine Bar Review

It had been a while since I had last visited Cork Wine Bar and it was time for a return trip.  I knew that Cork used Enomatic wine dispensers, and I am a huge fan of the technology.  It allows consumers to try a wide variety of wines while making business sense for wine bar owners.  Thus, I made the journey to the West Village in Uptown.

When I walked in, I saw 48 wine options labeled into categories (big and bold, eight for eight, etc.) along with a variety of computer touch screens giving information about each of the wines along with the price.  You can try in quantities from a one ounce tasting to a full glass of six ounces. 

My friend compared it to a “grown up’s Dave and Busters,” in reference to the card that you buy to insert into the machines as you taste the wines.  We tried wines from several regions – from California to Spain to France to Washington State.  The unanimous favorite for the wine was the 2011 Chateau Guiraud ‘Le G de Chateau Guiraud’ Blanc Sec from Bordeaux, France.  It was a Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon and it had flavors of citrus (lemon and grapefruit), thyme and notes of honey. 

Our favorite red was the 2010 Spring Valley Vineyard Kathryn Corkrum Cabernet Franc from Walla Walla, Washington.  This was a well balanced red with flowers, green pepper, raspberries, herbs and some strawberry.  This was a very nice and fragrant cabernet franc that represented the grape well.

I tried six wines for less than $25 and loved the variety of choices.  Cork also designates a certain happy hour section each night and features a retail selection with 350 wines and craft beers.  They also have a selection of appetizers and desserts.


A Night with John Robert Eppler

In October, I had the chance to meet John Robert Eppler, the proprietor of John Robert Eppler wines, at a Howell Mountain Wine tasting in Dallas.  I was impressed with the Howell Mountain Cabernet that I tried and when I found out John had Texas roots, I asked him to host a dinner at Lakewood Country Club.  Happily he accepted and in less than 60 days we had set a date and a time.  John assured me that he’d bring several wines that you could only get at the vineyard and he definitely didn’t disappoint.

His mission is to produce wines that are rich, intense, and expressive from the terrior where they grow.  John’s passion for the wine industry began when his son’s grandfather, originally from the Park Cities in Dallas, served him a ‘61 Grand Cru Burgundy that changed his life.  “I never tasted anything that good before – it was a representation of the promise of wine.”

Then in 1974, he worked with the wine cellar of Neiman Marcus at the flagship store in downtown Dallas where Stanley Marcus told him that his first lesson was to learn to never say no, so he didn’t.  He went on to become a wine steward and sommelier in the area.  He attended a wine tasting in Austin and met a small producer of Burgundy whose passion for winemaking put him on the path to become a winemaker.  He went back to school for a degree and moved to California in 1986.  He produced his own wine for another 15 years until he started John Robert Eppler Wines. 

He classifies himself as a farmer first and is the only employee of John Robert Eppler Wines.  He produces about 3,500 cases of small production Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Fume Blanc, Chardonnay and others varietals.

We started with the 2009 Fume Blanc Rutherford, which had notes of banana, melon and other tropical notes, served with Iberico ham, olive oil and rye toast as well as ahi tuna, pate choux and preserved lemon.

William Koval, the executive chef of Lakewood Country Club and one of Dallas’ most accomplished chefs, had put together a menu that worked perfectly with the wines.

 

Photo courtesy of William Koval

Our first course was the shrimp pernod, saffron bisque, carrot, fennel, lobster and chive served with the 2010 Chardonnay from Sonoma.  The lobster in this dish sang with the wine with notes of lemon, minerality, melon and Old World style. 

 

Photo courtesy of William Koval

Our second course was the seared venison loin, sweet potato, chestnut, bacon, truffle, chocolate and blackberry gastrique.  Great pairing with the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain, which was a nice dense red with blackberry, mocha, cherry and floral notes.   

 

Photo courtesy of William Koval

Our third course was the braised short rib, prime cap meat, marjoram potatoes, porcini, roasted onion and beef jus served with the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Rutherford.  Big notes of cassis, blackberry, cedar and blueberry.  Very well balanced and definitely on my favorite list.

 

We then moved into two of my other favorite reds – the 2009 Cabernet Franc, with only 2 barrels made, and the 2006 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet.  These are collector wines and I adored both of them.

 

Photo courtesy of William Koval

We ended our dinner with the 06 Zinfandel Alexander Valley Late Harvest wine paired with olive oil ice cream, chocolate, basil, cranberry, nutella and hazel nut stuesel.  This was John’s “make lemonade out of lemons” approach when fermentation stopped on his Zinfandel grapes.  It made me sad that it might be his first and last vintage.


#WBC 12: Evening Festivities, Speed Tasting, Peruvian Food & Cuffed in Carlton

After the fun pre-trip to Salem, our bus pulled up for the long awaited start of the Wine Bloggers Conference, but not without a lung stopping beginning.  All the rooms at the Doubletree were deemed non-smoking except for the non-compliant guest that stayed our room prior to our arrival.  I went up to the room first and Liza, my roommate, generously offered to get the wine we had stored with the bellhop.  I walked into the room and the wall of smoke hit me.  I called down to the front desk, but when Liza walked in and saw me standing by the open window with the patio window open thought she had busted a closet smoker.  The Doubletree quickly moved us to another room and generously hauled our stash of wine to the next place.

We started our day prior to the conference with a long-awaited tasting of Two Shepherds Wine, which is owned by my friend, William Allen (a.k.a Wine MacGyver for his endless supply of wine glasses and accessories at previous conferences).  Many of us who write about wine dream, “If Iever make the jump into the wine making world, would I have what it takes?” – and knowing that William has a job as encompassing as mine as a software sales executive – I am incredibly impressed.  His premise is to make Rhone varieties that reflect their sense of place and shine when blended. 

We started with the Two Shepherds 11 Grenache Blanc, which tasted of melon, citrus and lemon with some minerality on the end.  Then we tasted the 11 Viognier with a floral nose, but with nice acidity.  Our next stop was the 11 Pastoral Blanc, which was a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, with notes of citrus and pear.  This wine begged for some king crab.  We tasted the 10 Syrah/Mourvedre blend with lots of berry and pepper and then a barrel sample of the Grenache.  One word – wow.  Based on what I tasted, I can say with certainty that you will be reading about Two Shepherds very soon – get on the list now because this is truly a small production winery destined for very good things.

We stopped by the welcome session, which was hosted by the Oregon Wine Board, and were given a snapshot of what we had to look forward to during the week and served as a long-awaited reunion of bloggers. 

That night, we were invited to an intimate event to get a glimpse of Oregon’s wine history featuring 02-08 vintages from past years of the Portland Indie Wine Festival with some wines from some of Oregon’s top winemakers. The 5-year-old festival, which is on hold this year, but is sure to be back in 2013, is a project that brings together up and coming independent wine producers with music and food.  We were picked up by the good people of Watershed and brought to a “speakeasy” bar at Portland Wine Storage.  The vibe was cool, the wines were great, the change during the different harvests (lots of rain in 2004 for example vs. the coolest season on record in 2008) and it was fun to sit one-on-one and talk to winemakers from Harry Peterson-Nedry from Chehalem, Lynn Penner-Ash from Penner-Ash and Ben Thomas from Montinore.  And then it was 2 a.m. – welcome to the reality of the Wine Blogger’s Conference….

I’m not going to give a moment by moment recap about the event because there are some really good ones already out there such as Randall Grahm’s speech by Ben Simons or the great write-up of the “Ready, Fire, Aim” live wine blogging by Winemundo.  

But, I will mention the wheels off lunch that I had with David Honig and Liza at Andina, the best Peruvian restaurant that I have ever tried. 

In the afternoon, we were marched out to buses where we randomly selected our wine region tour for the duration of the evening.  We totally scored getting one of the best tours with a group of people whom I absolutely adore.  Zephyr won’t tell you where you are going until the bus is moving so we were very excited to hear that we were going to Carlton, “the wine Capital of Oregon.”  Thanks to Mary Cressler and Thea Dwelle’s invitation in 2010, I had the chance to get to know Amy Wilder and Lynette Shaw during my last trip to Oregon when Amy introduced me to Voodoo Donuts and Lynette introduced me to Willamette Valley.  A friendship was quickly born. 

About 40 minutes into our journey I spotted a police car on the side of the road with a male and female officer in the car.  I made a comment to my seatmate right as the lights were turned on in the police car.  An officer boarded the bus and told us we needed to disembark due to a “situation,” which turned out to be a brilliantly executed PR ploy. 

And, so we began our #cuffedincarlton journey.  What the officer, who turned out to be the chief of police, did not bank on, were the comments about his attractiveness.  Female bloggers, thinking that perhaps he might be an actor or had a side job in Magic Mike, had fun writing about him.  Sorry Chief Kevin.

We stopped at the lovely Carlo & Julian winery where we were served 09 Albarino that was flinty and perfect for the hot weather – especially with the tuna and three pepper sauce that was served with it.  We walked to the vineyards where we had a beautiful cheese and bread plate served with the 09 Tempranillo.  I was surprised to see these two wines in Oregon, but they were tasty and made Joe ponder.

 

We then met Ken Wright, one of the father’s of Oregon wine, who talked about the geography of Carlton and Yamhill.  I’ll talk a little more in detail in a later post, since we were lucky enough to spend the morning with Ken on a post conference visit. 

Our dinner stop was at Cielo Blu and once again we had no idea what was waiting for us.  Imagine a room packed with “evidence” against us with the top chefs in Carlton and the top wineries ready to match a nine course meal with 26 of the region’s best wines.  Mary Cressler and I decided that we had to try everything and gamely set out to keep our palates sharp and our sobriety up. 

Our first course “or Evidence No. 1” was Chinook salmon from Pacific City cooked on a traditional Salish bake, which was an alder wood frame over an open fire by Chef Jeff Lorton from Valley Emporium.  We got to sample the 2011 Youngberg Hill Aspen Pinot Gris, the 2009 Noble Pig Pinot Noir, the 2010 Omero Iliad Pinot Noir, the 2010 Alexana Revana Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2010 Ghost Hill Pinot Noir Blanc.  It was hard to choose a favorite, but I really liked the 2011 Youngberg Hill Pinot Gris as the match.

Our second course “or Evidence No. 2” was a duck confit salad with apple, fennel, candied nuts and an orange balsamic dressing from Chef Chloe Couchee from the Horse Radish.  We tried the 2011 Omero Pinot Gris, the 2011 MonksGate Rose of Pinot Noir, the 2008 Mouvance Pinot Noir Julon Vineyard and the 2008 EIEIO Pinot Noir. 

I liked all of these wines, but have to give a shout out to MonksGate for making the first and only rose that I have ever, ever, ever liked.  For those of you who know me, this is an accomplishment equal to pigs flying.

I abstained from the third course “or Evidence No. 3,” which was a Carlton Farms pork loin stuffed with herbs, garlic and onions served with Northwest Succotash from Chef Gilbert Henri of Cuvee, because I am allergic.  I have to say the people in Carlton love their pork, but see more about that later.  Our wine choices were the 2011 Troon Vineyard Vermentino, the 07 MonksGate Pinot Noir, the 2010 Alexana Revana Vineyard Riesling and the 2008 Youngberg Hill Jordan Pinot Noir.  The favorite pairing was the 2010 Alexana Revana Riesling, which surprised me as I thought it was destined to be a Pinot Noir.

Our fourth course “or Evidence No. 4” was braised short ribs in a red wine, rosemary tomato sauce with creamy rosemary polenta from Chef Bonifacio Solorzano from Cielo Blu.  We tried the 2005 Spofford Station Estate Syrah, the 07 Cliff Creek Cellars Cabernet Franc, the 2009 WildAire Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir and the 2009 Terra Vina Bella Vista Red Vinters Blend.  My favorite with the course was the 2009 WildAire Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir.

Our fifth course “or Evidence No. 5” was a grilled flank steak with blue cheese butter and peppered D’affinois mashed potatoes from Chef Sean David from The Horse Radish.  This was served with the 2010 Seven of Hearts Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre Cuvee, the WildAire Cellars Tempranillo (no year given) and the 2009 K&M Alchemy Cuvee Pinot Noir.  My favorite was a tie between the 2010 Seven of Hearts and the 2008 K&M Alchemy.

As if we hadn’t had enough, it was time for a cheese plate served with the 2010 Mouvance Pinot Gris and dark chocolate currant-cabernet ganache made by Dana Dooley with Honest Chocolates served with the 2005 Spofford Station Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Troon Vineyard Meritage.  Yum!

Then, the desserts from Chef Amy Wilder, Republic of Jam, a cardamom cake with port preserved plums and dulce de leche cream with the 2010 Seven of Hearts Pinot Noir Coupe’s Cuvee.  Andone of the best desserts that I have ever had, the chocolate blue cheese cheesecake with cherries preserved in balsamic syrup served the same wines matched with the chocolate.  After we experienced every single bit of hometown hospitality in Carlton, we rolled (pun intended) on home. 

Perhaps my plan of moderation didn’t work (ya think…?) My apologies for starting the return sing-a-long on the bus home, but at least I kept it to show tunes and bad songs from the 70’s and 80’s.  Most of the people on the bus still talk to me, so that’s a good thing.

The reality at this point is that you should be done, you should go home, you should get some rest.  But, the post parties were just beginning.  We had the night of Many Bottles, where bloggers brought some of their favorites to share and there were hopes of a dance party (my contribution: 2 drained, one corked); a special tasting of Randall Grahm wines; the bubble and champagne lounge by Pernod Ricard and a few other late night happenings in which bloggers shared some of their favorite wines with a smaller group of people.  After making the rounds, I showed some restraint about 1 a.m. and retired fat and happy knowing I’d be running in the morning, which was not a a fun reality, but necessary with the food/wine consumed.

 


Loudoun County Wine Pre-Trip: Continues to Bring Great Surprises

Shaun T

I came out of my early morning haze with two words running through my mind – Dig Deepa! You see, I brought along the Shaun T Insanity workouts and I knew that I was about to sweat out the wine, cheese, dessert, nuts and other sins of yesterday. After a very ugly workout session, I was ready for day two.

Our first stop was Chrysalis Vineyards. This was to be my first experience with Norton and I was excited. I had read the “The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine,” by Todd Kliman and was very intrigued to taste the native Virginia grape that was such a labor of love for Dr. Norton. The Norton grape was almost destroyed during the Civil War and then again during Prohibition.

Chrysalis Vineyards is a 412-acre farm that is known for being the world’s largest grower of Norton, deemed by owner Jennifer McCloud as the “real American grape.” In addition to Norton, McCloud has planted a variety of Spanish and French varietals in addition to the usual line-up. The vineyard also has several American milking Devon cows and will be making cheese and ice-cream soon.

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We were split into two groups and our hostess, Pat, was born to showcase Chrysalis wines. She introduced us to “Sarah,” namesake of several blended wines and the vineyards gorgeous outdoor patio. Sarah, who died an untimely death of “consumption” or tuberculosis at the age of 16 in 1855, was the daughter of the property owners of the estate in the 1800s. Based on what I saw, she’s definitely resting in peace.

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We tried 15 wines – all except for two were grown on the estate:

- 10 Chardonnay – this was made in the Old World almost Chablis-like style with lots of acidity and green apple. This is one of the wines sourced from grapes outside the vineyard, $17.

 - 09 Barrel Reserve Chardonnay – more New World in style. Citrus and oak abounded, $24.

 - 10 Viognier – very refreshing with notes of vanilla, melon, floral and peach notes, $29.

 - 10 Mariposa – a dry rose with notes of raspberries and strawberries. Not my favorite wine as I struggle with rose wines that do not sparkle, $15.

- 10 Sarah’s Patio White – I tasted citrus, honey and almost a Chinese spice, $15

- 10 Sarah’s Patio Red – This 100 percent Norton had almost a hint of sweetness to it. Big cherry, raspberry and a note of Asian spice. Pat talked about how good this is as a base to sangria and I’m inclined to agree, $15.

 - 08 Rubiana – This wine combined Spanish and Portuguese varieties and tasted of black fruits and pepper, $17.

 - 07 Norton Estate – I really wanted to love Norton especially after reading about its resurrection and knowing this vineyard brought back Norton in 1992, but the earthiness combined with fruitiness made me pause, $17.

- 10 Norton Barrel Select – This wine was made in a Beaujolis style and was very fruity, n/a

- 08 Norton Locksley Reserve – Aged for three years in the bottle, this blend of Norton (75 percent), Petit Verdot and Nebbiollo was very earthy with pepper and chocolate. I would have been interested to see what happened to this wine had it been decanted.

- 06 Petit Verdot – I tasted chocolate, pepper and earthiness, $35.

- 07 Tannat (or poker playing wine) – I tasted mocha, currant, vanilla and blackberry. This wine could benefit with several more years in the bottle, but had nice structure, $35.

 - 08 Papillon – Had notes of mocha, cedar, pepper and pine, $35.

 - 10 Albarino – An explosion of white peaches, floral and even a bit of mango. This was one of my absolute Virginia favorites at $24.

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Then it was time for the pinnacle – the 10 Petit Manseng, reserved for only the VIP wine club members and it usually sells out instantly. Chrysalis was the first to bring this wine to the Americas. I tasted honey, candid fruit, spice and orange. It was a very special wine and as much as I tried, I couldn’t convince anyone to sell me a bottle.

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Our next stop was Boxwood Winery. Rachel Martin, EVP of Boxwood and the daughter of Rita and John Cook, former owners of the Washington Redskins, greeted us and talked about the history of the winery. Designed by Architect Hugh Jacobsen, it’s an airy, light filled and cheery place to experience wine. The 16-acre winery was first planted in 2004 and focuses on French Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The focus is producing fine wines in a French style with Virginia terrior.

Stephane Derenoncourt, a French winemaker, consults with Adam McTaggart, Boxwood’s day-to-day winemaker. Boxwood was Derenoncourt’s first U.S. consulting venture.

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We tried several wines:

- 09 Topiary Rose, a dry sipping wine with tasted of strawberry. You guys know I struggle with roses, but the rest of the bloggers enjoyed this wine, $14-16

 - 08 Topiary, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, was done in a right bank style. It had a deep purple color, dark fruits, berry, smokiness, spiciness and eucalyptus notes, $25-27.

- 08 Boxwood was done in the left bank style and was a blend of petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. I tasted blackberries, black cherries and almost a sandalwood essence, $25-27. – 09 Topiary, muted berry, cedar and earthiness. This wine will be released in the Fall, n/a.

- 09 Boxwood had big berry, a powerful structure and benefitted from a quick whirl in the Wine Soiree (actually both 09 wines did). I brought home a bottle of the 08 and 09 to compare at a future tasting, n/a.

A few things struck me after spending these two days tasting Virginia wines. First, I was surprised at the number of European influences on the wine styles and the grapes being planted. Second, it is clear that no expense has been paid to bring in some of the world’s top wine consultants. And finally, Virginia is an area that is making the commitment today to make some serious wine in the future.


Kindred Spirits Unite!

Happy New Year to everyone!  I hope you had a great time and good wine to ring in 2011.

Back in November, I read my friend Bruce’s East Dallas Times article about how Jon Whitaker, the owner of local wine shop, Kindred Spirits had secured one of the highly rated Charles Smith Royal City Syrahs.  Charles Smith is known for throwing some great parties, including one with burlesque dancers with flaming pasties at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in 2010.  But I digress, that is another story for another time, with you over wine.  This bottle received a perfect 100 score from the Wine Enthusiast and a 98 from Robert Parker.  Six bottles made it to the Dallas area – five were sold at ridiculously inflated prices to a select list of customers who were “lucky” enough to be on the list in the first place.  Instead of taking the same approach as his brethren in the area, Jon conducted a drawing to see who would purchase the wine at its retail price.

I respected this unusual approach so I reached out to him.  We met at his store at Mockingbird and Abrams one chilly Wednesday afternoon and instantly was greeted by his vivacious, not to mention utterly charming ten-year-old son, Chris.  It turns out that the TABC will let the oldest child work in the family business.  After watching he and Jon interact, I was impressed at how well he knew the store and the products that they offered.  Jon has an interesting wine/spirits distribution, operations and sales background.  He put himself through Baylor and then took a sales rep job after school in a territory so bad that he joked about Schlitz Malt Liquor keeping him alive because his clients knew no one else would bring it in.  He then successfully worked in hospital administration until his hospitals were acquired by a larger chain.  That’s when he decided to get back in the business and acquired Kindred Spirits.

It had been a few years since I had been in Kindred Spirits and I remember the wine selection being pretty pedestrian and predictable – your basic grocery store fare.  Whitaker has definitely made the selection interesting with everything from Grange to an “off the beaten path” selection of wines under $15.  He highlighted one in particular, the 09 Oveja Negra Cabernet Franc Carmenere Reserva from Chile.  Since I received a flip cam from Santa this year, I recorded his thoughts on why he liked this wine.  After trying to get it to download for almost two hours, I give my concession to the great technology gods and my apologies to Jon for sticking a camera in his face.  Update: You can see the video on the Dallas Wine Chick page on Facebook.

Oveja Negra

He gave me a bottle to taste and I found that it had evolved drastically from day one to day two.  Wow – today it was mellow and silky with hints of spice and blackberry with a great mouth feel.  Today it had great balance and an almost velvet mouth feel.  At less than $10, it is a good buy on day one, but a great buy on day two.

Kindred Spirits is definitely worth the trip and I’m excited to check out some of his recommendations like the La Joya Merlot or the Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir.  It’s nice to have a family owned wine shop with someone in it for the love of offering all of his customers a fair shot at the best products that he can bring to the market.


Dallas’ Most Interesting Wine List is at a National Hotel?

Last month I attended the Texas/New York Gridiron wine challenge had the opportunity to sit at a table with Hunter Hammett, sommelier for the Dallas Fairmont Hotel.  Surprisingly enough, our conversation shifted to wine and he told me about the Fairmont’s wine list which he had totally overhauled including a large number of Texas wines.  I was intrigued, so I asked Hunter if I could spend some time with him learning more about the list.

He’s an agreeable guy and very passionate about wine, so I found myself in the totally revamped Pyramid Restaurant & Bar at the Fairmont – with a tasteful local focus on Texas products and a rooftop garden.  I was handed the list, which received a Wine Spectator 2010 Award of Excellence, and like a kid in the candy store, I started perusing.  As Hunter hand-selected the 250 wines that are on the list, it was important find a variety of on and off “the beaten path” wines at any price that patrons would love.  I especially enjoyed the Underrated Reds and Underrated Whites sections that had a number of wines I have enjoyed in small little wine bars or across the country.  I never expected to see them at a restaurant in a national hotel.  You’ll also find grapes you’ve probably never heard of nor had the opportunity to try like Aligoté, at least in Texas, until now. 

Gruet was one of the selections on the Underrated Reds list and I mentioned that I had never tried its still wines.  In short notice, I had a glass of the 06 Gruet Pinot Noir Cuvee Gilbert in hand.  Hunter also had a large selection of wines that are positioned by varietal vs. region to encourage experimentation of all different types of grapes from around the world.

Of course, because this is Texas, you will find the usual big suspect Cabernets -we all know that restaurants have to carry these to please certain patrons.  Also, I believe that having some of the big steakhouse wines gives people the trust factor to try other wines that may not have considered otherwise.  

Wines that are sustainable, organic and environmentally farmed are given special consideration.  You’ll probably see a future focus on building out the French section of the list in 2011.  Hunter’s credo, like The Wine Century Club, is to broaden the wine drinking scope at every opportunity.  I, for one, look forward to my trip around the world with his wine list as my guide.


Taste Napa Meets My Grape Expectations

During #wbc10, Julie Crafton, communications coordinator of Napa Valley Vintners, led several of us up to her room with the promise of trying some small, boutique Napa wines and we were not disappointed.  She told me that #tastenapa was coming to Texas in October and I marked my calendar on July 1 hoping against hope that work travel wouldn’t keep me away.

Those of you that know me (or know me through this blog) know that I am a big fan of both Napa wines and Twitter.  I was feeling a little melancholy knowing I couldn’t return to the Valley this year, so I was very excited about this event.  As the event approached, I was able to get a sneak preview through the Tweets of @winewonkette and @houston wino from Another Wine Blog, who share my palate.  I took copious notes and formulated my game day plan as I literally could have tasted somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 plus wines. 

Because I have a day job, I arrived at CityPlace Center much later than those in the trade and was able to get some additional intel.  As I made my way around the packed room, two things were reinforced. The first was how many wine makers were in the room, which overscored how much Napa wine we drink here in Dallas.  Not surprising considering we are the land of the steakhouse, but winemaker after winemaker told me how profitable a market Texas is for them.

John Anthony

Winemaker John Anthony

O’Shaughnessy

Betty O’Shaughnessy of O’Shaughnessy Vineyards

The second is how much I adore Napa wines. Granted, a Stags Leap Cast 23 was my first wine “a ha” moment, and the wine didn’t disappoint.  My favorites included the Meander Napa Valley Cabernet 07 ($65); the Larkin Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc 07 (both $60), the 07 Gemstone (price not released, but averaged $140 online), the O’Shaughnessy Mount Veeder Cabernet ($95), the John Anthony 06 Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) and Waterstone’s  07 “Study in Blue” ($45). 

Conquerel

Brenda Coqueral from Coqueral Family Estates

I also really enjoyed meeting Brenda from Coqueral Family Estates, a fellow Texan who caught the vineyard “bug” and moved to Calistoga to make wine with her husband.  They focus exclusively on the Sauvignon Blanc grape and make three wines.  My favorite was the Terroir Coquerel at $37.   

Peju

Herta Behensky “HB” Peju from Peju Vineyards

And, I must give a special shout out of the 2004 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon H.B. Vineyard, Rutherford, Napa Valley, which was fantastic.  The wine spent 30 months in French Oak and I believe I savored every drop, especially for the $225 library wine price.  I enjoyed my conversation with Herta Behensky “HB” Peju, who must have spent 20 minutes with me discussing her wines, the Valley and her perspective on winemaking.  A delightful and talented winemaker who has made some of Napa’s great wines since 1982.

Look for these vintages coming to your favorite wine bar, restaurant or wine store soon. Let me know your favorites or the Napa wines you wish you could get in Texas. Your voice (and dollar) matter and based on the attendance, our wholesalers, distributors and suppliers are listening.




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