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Auburn Football, the BCS National Championship and Wine

I had the honor of attending the BCS National Championship Game last week.  I’m honest with you all — so I’ll admit it — the emotional hangover is still there.  For those of you who follow me strictly for wine – bear with me – I’ll get to that.  This game was about a “bucket list” experience that involved highs, lows, ups, downs, drama, fairy tales and passion.  It was about winning and losing.  It was about friendship – seeing very old friends and cementing relationships with new friends.  I couldn’t have better content for a blog that talks about experiences.

If you don’t follow college football, the BCS National Championship Game is the last game played to decide the top college team.  This year, Auburn and Florida State were the teams competing.  The atmosphere was electric and seeing Pasadena washed in a sea of orange and blue was an emotional experience.

So how did we get there?  I was asked several years ago to be part of an Auburn Athletics advisory committee and I’ve gotten to know the folks that make the athletics department tick.  Because of that relationship, we had an opportunity to buy tickets to the game at a decent cost vs. the four figure estimates featured on Craigslist.  Couple that with a dear friend who is a high ranking college conference official (who would never want to be identified) and we had our hotel hook up and friends to play with for the weekend.

We stayed at the Langham Hotel, which has been around since 1907 and has to have the most complete amenity kit ever.  The hotel also hosted many of the VIP college conference officials, ESPN’s commentators and other sports icons.  Walking through the lobby after going for a run and seeing ESPN’s Game Day’s, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit, as well as Johnny Manziel formerly from A&M, and other sports VIPs was intense.

We drank some great wines and because of the company we were with, I can claim that the Chairman of an unnamed Bowl purchased a bottle of 2009 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir for our table.  I also had my first BevMo experience where I tried out several of the wines recommended by Wine Bloggers Conference friend, Wilfred Wong.  Wish we had this store in Texas!

And because I am a dork, one definite highlight leading up to the game was the multiple motorcycle police escort we had going to the Rose Bowl.  And answering the question that many of you had, I was not in trouble.  This was pre-game and I did not go all Alabama mom (just Google it, I don’t want to give that crazy woman any encouragement) on someone.  But blowing through lights when you are not dead or involved in a funeral procession, is a pretty cool experience.

Auburn was up until the last 79 seconds.  It was one of those games where the lead changed 3 times in the final handful of minutes.  Florida State had the ball last and took home the crystal football.  As an Auburn fan, I maintain my emotional hangover.  As a fan of the overall experience, I had a “bucket list” moment.  War Eagle and wait until 2015!


A Few of My Favorite Sparklings

Courtesy of Pierre Peters Champagne

I published a few of my favorite sparkling wines at a variety of price points just in time for your New Year’s celebration.  See what you think of what I published in Culture Map Dallas.  What are your favs?


Take Time to Be in the Moment

For the last nine years, I’ve hosted an annual girl’s wine club champagne and sparkling tasting.  Usually this involves me recruiting my kind husband who cooks massive amounts of great food paired with very loud conversation, lots of catch up and of course bottles and bottles and bottles of sparkling wines and champagne. 

Each year there seems to be one dominant brand — and 2013 was the year of Perriet Jouet, which was ironic because that trend continued on a carriage ride a few days later with friends.  Someone asked me if I was ready to blog about everything we tasted the memorable and not so memorable.  While I got some good content for an upcoming Culture Map article about sparkling wines, my answer was no.  I love blogging and I love writing Dallas Wine Chick, but this was a time for friendship, good food, catching up and just being in the moment.  Truly what the holidays are all about and if you approach it with a notebook in hand, you are going to miss what is really important.

And so, my dear readers and friends, put down your notebook and look up.  That’s how memories are made.  Cheers and happy holidays!

 


Malai Kitchen: Off the Beaten Path Wines and Rockin’ Asian Food

I was an invited guest of Malai Kitchen, the Southeastern Asian cuisine restaurant owned by Yasmin and Braden Wages, for a food/wine pairing showcasing their off the beaten path wine list.  I visited the Thursday evening prior to “Icemaggeden.” 

The restaurant is located in Uptown and the concept was inspired by the Wages’ travels to Thailand and Vietnam and their love for the cuisine.  Braden serves as the executive chef and Yasmin manages the front of the house as well as the wine and beverage program. 

In the spirit of full disclosure, I love this style of food and while the cocktail and beer lists look great, I encourage you to try their wine list.   The Wages have put so much time into putting together a well thought through, approachable and unique wine list.  Many of the wines that I tried were ones not familiar to me and the ones that I have tried before were on my favorite list.  Malai offers 20 wines by the glass and they are great values. 

We tried two dishes and started with two wines per dish, but quickly Braden and Yasmin began pulling out others that I just had to try.  Their enthusiasm and passion for food and wine was contagious and I loved spending time with this delightful couple.  

We paired the ahi tuna spring rolls with the Rodez “Cuvee des Crayeres” Ambonnay Grand Cru champagne from France.  At $45 for the bottle (yes, at a restaurant – grand cru champagne at $45 a bottle)…, I got fresh baked bread, floral notes, minerality, pear and apple.  It went really well with the spring rolls, which were fantastic.  Our next wine was the 2012 Aveleda Vinho Verde from Portugal at $7 for the glass or $26 for the bottle.  With a slight effervescence to it, I tasted notes of lemon and apple.  Another great match. 

The next course of Thai coconut soup was paired with a 2008 Domaine Laru Murgers des Dents de Chien, Saint-Aubin Premier Cru at $11 a glass or $42 for the bottle. The acidity and depth of this wine worked perfectly with the soup.  The second wine was the 2007 Pinot Noir Domaine Jean-Michel Guillon Les Crais (Gevrey-Chambertin, France), which was priced at $12 for the glass, $46 for the bottle.  This was a pairing that I never would have considered but it rocked.  Big notes of cherry, earth and spice worked perfectly. 

Yasmin and Braden wanted to share the 2010 Domaine de Nalys Chateaneuf-du-Pape at $38 for a half bottle.  I got lavender, pepper, rose, cherry and spice.  I wish more Dallas restaurants offered half bottles so you can better pair the dishes with the wine.  Malai has this as well as a 2003 Sawyer Merlot half bottle at $25. 

Our final course was an Australian lamb shank with Massaman curry which was a great match with the lamb. We then moved to one of my favorite Syrah’s from the New World, the 2005 Longoria Clover Creek Vineyard Syrah, at $10 a glass and $38 a bottle.  Lots of wild cherry, berry, plum and oak in this wine and it rocked the lamb.  You can’t find this wine easily in Dallas – come and drink it before I do.  Our final wine was the 2006 Chateau Compassant Bordeaux at $10 a glass or $38 for the bottle. I definitely preferred the Syrah with the lamb, but they both worked. 

Thankfully, Dallasites are moving beyond the safe choices and trying the adventurous wines with happy outcomes.  And with a 4-7 happy hour with $6 wines, cocktails and a happy hour appetizer menu from Monday to Friday and all day on Sunday, you have every reason in the world to try Malai Kitchen.  I have already returned with my husband and kiddo and all signs point to us becoming one of the many regulars who rely upon the Wages’ hospitality.


Franciacorta: Discovering a Sparkling Powerhouse

I recently participated in a Twitter tasting for a region that was new to me – the Franciacorta region from Lombardy in Northern Italy.  The region, which was originally known for still wines, now is a powerhouse area for Italian sparkling wines using the traditional method of re-fermentation in the same bottle and the first to obtain Italy’s DOCG (Demominazione di Origine Controlla e Garantia) designation.

The region is located about an hour East of Milan on the hills from towns south of Lake Iseo in the Province of Brescia.  Franciacorta has made still wines since the 16th century and sparkling wines started in the region about 50 years ago.  These wines are made using the Chardonnay, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Pinot Bianco grapes on about 5,400 acres.  The soil is rich with minerals and calcareous and sandy soils on limestone bedrock.

We tried a variety of styles of the sparkling wines that day all made in the metodo classico style.  Our line-up was as follows (all were non-vintage wines):

-          Lo Sparnerre Saten NV ($25) – notes of yellow apple, toast, saline, mineral and pear was silky, refreshing and delightful.

-          Barone Pizzini Brut NV ($35) – notes of tropical fruit, yeast, creaminess, ginger and floral notes. Loved the acidity on this one.

-          Montenisa Brut NV ($37) – tasted like brioche, apple, peach, lemon and pear.  Another blogger described this as “apple pie in a glass.”  It was a great description.

-          Ronco Calino Brut NV ($30) – notes of floral, pineapple, vanilla and citrus.

-          Fratelli Berlucchi Rose 2008 ($27) – notes of strawberry, citrus, apple, grapefruit and raspberry.  Delightful.

-          Villa Franciacorta Brut 2007 ($35) – apple, toast, citrus, peach and ginger.

These were all great and received glowing reviews from the folks in my party who tasted them. I am a firm believer that sparkling wines should not just be for special occasions.  The Franciacorta region has been doing sparkling wines with finesse, Old World style and traditional champagne methods.  In 2012, 14 million bottles were sold around the globe.  Once this knowledge becomes more than a wine insiders secret, I suspect this number will be off the charts.


Behind the Scenes at Mumm Napa

After waking up to a great breakfast in our beautiful room at the Harvest Inn (another first for us, but a great place to stay with its good food and wine receptions nightly), we set off for our trade tasting at Mumm Napa. We were warmly greeted by Charles, our host, who took us for an in-depth hour-long walking tour of the interworkings of Mumm Napa.

Mr. Wine Chick, aka, “I am in a boot, but I can do it without a wheelchair,” deserves a gold star for being a great sport during the tour. But then again, we got to try a lot of great bubbly.  We began the tour with a glass of the 08 Devaux Ranch sparkling, which was full of vanilla and fig with a yeasty yumminess and hints of almond.

First some background on Mumm Napa.  In 1979, the French champagne house of G.H. Mumm began looking for a place in the United States after the success of the French-American tasting.  Guy Devaux, an experienced winemaker, looked for four years for the perfect terrior ideal for the méthode champenoise process of winemaking.  Napa was the right place due to the grape growing friendliness of the climate and land.  Mumm winery was completed in 1986 and Guy stayed at the helm until his death in 1995.  Today, Champagne-born master winemaker Ludovic Dervin leads the wine making in the same handcrafted method.

During our tour, we stopped in several different locations – the first was a representation of the grapes and soil types present in Napa Valley – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris – all grapes used to make the sparkling wines.  We talked about irrigation, water stress management and harvest.  Mumm is a Napa Green Certified winery.

Mumms takes a dual approach to their wines.  First, is the vintage approach, which showed big depth and character – these were the most interesting to me.  The second, which has very wide distribution and features some good wines, is the multi-vintage approach where you’ll find the consistency of the wines tasting the same from year to year.

As we went through the tour, each stop underscored the care taken with each grape cluster – from the selection of only Napa Valley grapes to transportation to pressing to bottling to fermenting every bottle separately.   We had the chance to do our own blending session to create different versions Mumm’s sparklers.  What they couldn’t personally show us, we saw by short video, which gave a behind the scenes look from grape to bottle.

Our last stop before the patio, was the Fine Art Photography Galleries featuring Ansel Adams’ and Jeffrey Davis’ amazing photos.  Then we enjoyed a beautiful cheese spread complete with the full Mumm wine line-up.

We tried eight sparkling wines and I absolutely loved the 07 Blanc de Blanc, which tasted of crème brulee, bread, vanilla and almonds.  I also shipped home the 2000 DVX, a wine made to honor Guy Devaux, which tasted of apple, flowers, nuts and had a spicy character, as well as the Devaux Ranch served to us at the beginning of our tour.  Of interest, was the Santana Brut, a partnership between Carlos Santana and Mumm Napa that benefits the Milagro Foundation, Santana’s charity for children in Mexico.  This wine will be released in May.

Trust me – if you think about Mumm only for what you can find on a grocery store shelf – think again.  There are some wonderful sparkling wines to be found and the tour is definitely worth the trip.


First CultureMap Dallas Post – What Do A Cadillac Dealership and High End Wine Bar Have in Common?

My first CultureMap Dallas post about a Fort Worth Cadillac dealership … with a wine bar? Check it  out and click through so they ask me back to write.


Max’s Wine Dive: Fried Chicken, Champagne and Why The Hell Not?

I never expected arriving around 5 p.m., the first official day at Max’s Wine Dive, that there would be a question of finding a place to sit.  The place was absolutely packed with a who’s who in the wine (including winemakers), food and spirits industry.  And there’s good reason.  You put a dream team of Paul Pinnell of Dali and Nana fame; Patrick Russell formerly of Craft; and Juan Pablo Trabado (JP) who never got to spread his talented wings at Decanter and people will attend.

The vibe is cool and laid back.  The people are helpful, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.  How could it not be with great wine, gourmet “comfort” food and a mantra of “Fried Chicken and Champagne?  Why the Hell Not.”  Nuff said.  I see myself quickly becoming a regular here.

 

The wine list is well thought through (150 selections) and there is an extensive by the glass program.  Also, if you commit to buying two glasses of wine, you can get anything on the list at a by the glass price.  A word of advice is to ask the price and see if the bottle is a better deal.  We started with a glass of sparkling, moved to a wonderful (and complimentary) glass of Sauternes paired with our bison sliders and a great carpaccio taco, which rocked with our red.  And try the Brussels sprouts – even if you hate Brussels sprouts – trust me.

 JP bearing Sauternes

The Texas-based restaurant has locations in Austin, San Antonio and Houston.  Also of note is the reverse happy hour with $2 off wines by the glass from 4-7 and then the last two hours before closing.


Dita Von Teese, Spirited Libations and European Men

 

You may ask what Dita Von Teese, the International Queen of Burlesque, and Cointreau Liquor have in common.  More than you would think.  I had a chance to talk to Dita again last month during her trip through Dallas where she served as the brand ambassador for Cointreau at a poolside event at Ku de Ta.  You may recall that she came through Dallas last year, where she paid homate to Margarita Sames, the Dallas socialite who created the original Cointreau Margarita in 1948.

Dita and I talked the synergies – she does her burlesque act in a giant cocktail glass, the brand is sophisticated, it’s international and Cointreau supports her vision for her brand.  Of course I had to ask her about her favorite wine and she enthusiastically declared it as champagne.  When pressed a little more, she told me that she dates mostly European men and that they know good wine. 

The party , with about 200 guests, was fun and included a special synchronized swimming performance by the Aqualillies who definitely had a “Mad Men” 1950’s vibe.

 


Domaine Carneros: Le Rêve and Pinot Noir Tasting

I received a welcome package recently from Domaine Carneros with a two pack of Le Rêve 2005 ($95) and Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir 07 ($35) to review.  I have always been a big fan of Domaine Carneros wines from all price points and find that they make delightful sparkling wine and pinot noir.

 The Le Rêve, the winery’s flagship blanc de blanc, was how I remembered it.  Lots of pear, lemon and toasted almond on the end with a fantastic finish.  While this is a splurge wine, it is definitely one that I will buy again. 

 The Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir was a strong, but elegant pinot with juicy red fruits like raspberry and cherry combined with cedar and chocolate.




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