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Bubbly for the Holidays: Why Yes, I Think We Will…..?

We are officially in holiday mode and that means it is the most “bubbly time of the year.”  According to the Wine Institute, 40 percent of sparkling wine and Champagne for the year is sold in the fourth quarter.

Although I am a year-round bubbly kind of gal, nothing embodies the holidays more than the festive pop of a cork.  As I plan for my annual sparkling wine tasting that I hold for my girls’ wine group, I am in festive mode.

Champagne is very different than sparkling wines such as prosecco, cava and Franciacorta.  Some sparkling wines are made in the traditional Methode Champenoise, not all of them can be called Champagne unless they are made in the region of Champagne, France.

Champagne and sparkling wines can be very dry (brut), slightly sweet (extra dry) or sweet (sec and demi-sec).  You will also see them identified as “blanc de blancs” (Chardonnay grapes), “blanc de noirs” (wines from black grapes such as Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier) or rose sparkling wines.

Here’s my list of sparkling wine and Champagne recommendations at all price ranges:  

De Chanceny Cremant de Loire ($13)
This wine from the Loire Valley is complex with notes of apple, flowers, white stone fruit and lime.  It is lovely and one of the best values out there.

Bocelli Prosecco NV, Italy ($17)
Made by that Bocelli that sings opera… It is full of green apple, tropical fruits, pear and floral notes.  The Bocelli family collaborates with Trevisiol, the first family of prosecco.

Fratelli Berlucchi Rose ($27)
Franciacorta comes from Lombardy in Northern Italy, which is the well-known region for Italian sparkling wines using the traditional method of re-fermentation in the same bottle and the first to obtain Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation.

I can almost guarantee that you’d be introducing your guests to something that they had not had a chance to try before.

J Vineyards Brut Rose NV ($38).

This is one of my favorite sparkling wines.  I love the strawberry and cherries, baked French pastry and a silky texture.

Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($56)
This is what I am serving at the girl’s tasting.  It is one of my favorite grower’s Champagnes, and is a favorite of many sommeliers.  It has notes of apple, apricot, floral, fresh bread, lemon zest and orange with a finish that lasts forever.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne ($80)
This is elegant, beautiful and is amazing.  I taste citrus, pear, raspberry, flowers with some herbs and spice at the end.

In the words of the late Lily Bollinger, figurehead of the Bollinger champagne house, describing her attitude toward drinking Champagne:

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.” 

A very smart lady giving me the right direction on enjoying this holiday season.  Will you join me?

 


Cornerstone Cellars and J Vineyards Make a Vacation Better

Punta Mita, Mexico.  It’s become the home that I can’t afford away from home – at least on a sustained basis.  Of course there is always a story behind the story.  More than 10 years ago when I worked in a different position, I had to buy trip insurance because inevitably the company that I worked for would force me to cancel my vacations due to a crisis.  In their defense, the company was going through a SEC investigation and communication was very important.

One New Year’s Eve, my husband made me resolve that I wouldn’t cancel vacations anymore.  A few months later, we found ourselves at the Four Seasons Punta Mita.  This was the first time we had gotten away in ages and the first time we left our daughter who may have been 12 weeks old at the time.

We had an amazing trip and after several bottles of wine, we decided we were curious about the Residence Clubs the Four Seasons were building.  In the dark, we snuck under the fence, climbed into the unit and saw how amazing it was.  My childhood trips involved driving many miles in a station wagon, all of us sleeping in one room at the Radisson Inn and nothing that remotely resembled a Four Seasons experience.  Let’s just say that we made the decision to purchase and have not regretted it once.

But, wine is high on my Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and prior to this visit, I found the lack of selection along with the cost to buy imported wine in Mexico to be a hindrance.  I take a lot of care in selecting what we will take to dinner or drink watching the sun set.

Usually, I don’t take samples to Mexico, but in this case, I had great relationships with two wineries that I consider special and who happened to send wines that paired well with my happy experience.

The first is Cornerstone Cellars.  Managing Partner Craig Camp has been a long-time friend of all wine bloggers and I have been lucky enough to be included on Cornerstone’s media samples list.

We tried five wines from Cornerstone.  We began with three Sauvignon Blancs from 2009, 2010 and 2011 made in the Old World style that I love.  It was surprising to taste the changes from year to year.  This is a winery that highlights the terrior, the climate and the strengths of each vintage.  There is no size fits all blueprint for this winery.  Each wine tasted represents the spectrum from older to younger and what happens with a well-made wine with a little age.  Before I tell you how much I enjoyed each of these, the 2009 and 2010 wines are currently available as library wines, which command a premium price from the $30 2011 offering.  I loved each of them – from the complexity of the 2009 with notes of herbs, minerality and lemon peel to the freshness of the 2010 with pear, floral and oak notes.  And then there’s the younger 2012 which is also delicious with great minerality, citrus and melon notes.

My next bottle was the 2012 Cornerstone Chardonnay from Oregon.  This was a great mix of citrus, creamy textures and the steely notes of an Old World chardonnay.  The depth and textures of this wine was like unwrapping a beautiful package and the contents did not disappoint.

The last Cornerstone selection was the 2011 Pinot Noir from Oregon.  This was a great representation of Oregon Pinot with black cherry and herbal notes.

For those of you who have followed this blog, you know that I am a lover of sparkling wine and champagne.  We started with the J Vineyards Cuvee 20 NV Brut, which was delicious with lots of green apple, creaminess and lots of tropical fruit.  It was a perfect wine to sip on the patio while we watched the sun set.

Our final wine was the J Vineyards Brut Rose NV.  This is one of my favorite sparkling wines.  I love the strawberry and cherries, baked French pastry and a silky texture.

Cornerstone Cellars and J Vineyards thank you for making my vacation experience greater and sharing your wonderful wines with me.


My Wine Country Experience: The Intersection of Passion and the Paying Gig

The stars aligned.  The angels sang.  There were rainbows.  And even unicorns.  Exactly how I felt when I flew to San Francisco for the Platt’s P3 Partner Summit for a two-day conference.  Typically, my job as Chief Marketing Officer for an energy software company and a wine blogger do not intersect.  Last Monday, they came together in perfect harmony.

After hearing about the personal stories and losses from the Napa Earthquake, I wanted to see firsthand how wine country was faring so I could report back to you.  Platt’s had arranged for stops at three winerys – which surprisingly all had little to no damage.  Our tour bus took us through American Canyon, the epicenter of the quake.  From the bus, it looked as if it were business as usual – at least from a tourist point of view.  I’m not downplaying the millions of dollars that were lost and the massive cleanup efforts required by some wineries, but I can tell you with full confidence to come support Napa and plan your wine country trip in 2014.  Harvest is in full swing and it was fun to see the full cycle of farm to bottle.

Our first stop was at Grgich Hills.  Mike Grgich is considered one of the original godfathers of California wine and credited with putting Napa on the map from a worldwide wine drinking perspective during the French/Napa challenge.  Our guide – also named Mike — took us through two whites and four reds – I loved being able to try the Croatian Red that is only available at the tasting room. 

Grgich suffered the most damage of the wineries we visited that day – 10 barrels and several bottles.  But it was business as usual and they were busy with harvest.  The wines were lovely, true to their varietal and we ended our time with a Lucille Ball Grape Stomping challenge.

We stopped next at Stag’s Leap, which was the winery that made me fall in love with wine.  Many years ago I was on a work-related trip in preparation for a conference and the company told us we were not needed to help that day.  Three girls took off for wine country in a convertible, very little knowledge and happened to come upon Stag’s Leap Vineyards.  I was aghast that a winery could charge $9 for a taste of one wine – Cast 23.  But, I had to try it.  When I did, it was my “a ha” moment that made me fall in love with wine.  I remember in my early 20’s holding my breath that the credit card would go through for my $90 bottle purchase … it did.  But, I had another uphill battle to fight with my husband later about the justification of buying the bottle when we clearly couldn’t afford it.  However, when we opened it, he understood.

We didn’t try Cast 23 that day, but we had a delightful host named Carla who met us bearing a tray of Stag’s Leap  Sauvignon Blanc.  She then took us through the caves and showed off the winery that did not lose a glass during the earthquake due the bedrock foundation. 

Next we had an amazing lunch with a picturesque view of the winery’s lake over two more wines – the Stag’s Leap Chardonnay and the Stag’s Leap Cabernet. The setting was pristine, the wine was great, the company was charming and a canoe race even broke out between several participants at the end.

Our last stop was Mumm Napa.  I had done the full tour here before so I won’t repeat the details, but ending the day on the Mumm porch with glasses of aged sparkling wines makes it hard to wipe the smile off of your face.  We even stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge for a photo opportunity.  Thank you Platt’s for making your partners feel so valued and taking such good care of us.  


Going Rogue: A Guide to the Best Parties at the Wine Bloggers Conference

Robert Larsen, the Ringmaster of Rogue 

During the conference, I was lucky enough to get invited to a few really cool private events that we later coined #goingrogue.   After the fantastic tasting at Star Vineyards, a small group was invited to Rodney Strong’s 25th anniversary “silver” dinner at Root 246.  Rachel Voorhees and Robert Larsen came dressed to impress – and several of the ladies followed suit.

The Ladies and Willie the Photobomber

 

It was an awesome dinner featuring a wide selection of Rodney Strong and Davis Bynum wines.  Rodney Strong people are my kind of people and I did chuckle when I saw our small little group was out trending the overall conference.  Never underestimate the power of a fun group of bloggers.

The next evening, the much anticipated Jordan and J Wineries after-party took place.  Over the years, I’ve seen this party bring everything from sabering (this one was successful) to random people walking the floors in robes to dancing to the great unknown.  That’s the joy.  What continued was a line-up of Jordan and J’s best wines and the chance to taste through a number of verticals.  

QBP in da house

One constant was the Cornerstone Cellars/Steppingstone Cellars suite hosted by Craig Camp, one guy who really gets bloggers.  I have always been a fan of these wines and find they change each year depending on the harvest.  They truly have a sense of place – whether it is Howell Mountain, Napa Valley or Willamette Valley.  I have never tried one that I haven’t enjoyed and the entire line-up from rose to white to red was featured.  It was at Craig’s party that I finally got to try Ed Thrall’s wine, which was also delicious and you never can underestimate the power of heart shaped tub to get iPhones snapping pics.  Craig also hosted us for a really fun dinner the night of the Wine Blogger Awards and we had a blast!  

 Tenley Fohl, Photo Credit

Keith Saarloos and Andrew Murray, Tenley Fohl: Photo Credit

Another really cool event was the Authentic Press party sponsored by Shawn Burger (@awanderingwino) that brought together a number of smaller family producers from Santa Barbara at the Sarloos and Sons tasting room as well as some of the best pizza that I’ve ever tasted from Bello Forno Pizza.  The wineries included Ampelos, Andrew Murray, Nacido/Solomon Hills, Cebada, Lindley, Native9, Palmina, Roark, Saarloos & Sons, Storm and Tercero as well as Fig Mountain Brew.

The vibe was cool and very Santa Barbara.  I found out after the fact that Nicholas Miller from Bien Nacido/Solomon Hills is one of the top 40 under 40 influencers in the wine industry; James Ontiveros, who was from Alta Maria and Native9 was recently co-awarded the farmer of the year; and Michael Benedict, is known for planting the first pinot noir with Richard Sanford in Santa Barbara County.   

I got to visit with Keith Saaroos when I tasted through their wines (and quickly bought a case).  I loved the tenants of the winery taught from him and by looking at the website:

  • “We are farmers first and foremost – the wines are 100 percent estate grown by the family.”  They name the wines after family members or roles within the family. It’s fun.
  •  There are no tasting notes – it’s your decision what you taste – and wines are only sold at the tasting room.  I love this. 
  •  Winemaking is voodoo.  Nuff said.
  •  The Saarloos family planted each and every vine about 15 years ago.
  •  Wine is for every one – not just rich people.
  •  Winemakers drink beer and scotch.
  •  No snobs are allowed. 

Wes Hagen, Close Pepe Winemaker and Host With the Most

The very last night, after the conference had ended, Wes Hagen and Wil Fernandez hosted a party to meet local winemakers and local musicians at Clos Pepe Vineyard’s.  It was everything that I came to love about Santa Barbara – the vibe, the non-corporate sponsors, the wine makers, farmers, musicians and bloggers having a great conversation.  The foods and the wines were local and plentiful and Wes showed his prowess with a pizza oven.

The wine makers were asked to bring wines for a brown bag tasting (like 90 plus of them) that included the wine that influenced them to make wine as well as a selection from the winery.  I also had a chance to talk to OCD Brewing who made an incredible mango habanero saison that made me re-evaluate the fact I don’t drink much beer.

Jeff Kralik Shows Pizza Prowess 

Jeff’s “Bless Your Heart” Sabering Moment

As usual, Wes was quotable and I was able to experience Jeff’s not so successful sabering experience.  A quick word about Jeff, who became our entertainment for the evening.  He’s true Renaissance man – from making and dropping pizzas to being the most tenacious man in the world on sabering a champagne bottle.  Jeff, perhaps we should under-promise and over-deliver in 2015.

 It was an incredible end to quite an incredible conference.


World Cup 2014 Recap: May the Best Wine Region Win

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that the 20th annual FIFA World Cup, a tournament for the men’s soccer (or football) world championship, is currently happening in Brazil and the United States is shockingly still in the game. A total of 64 matches were or are being played in 12 cities across Brazil and this is big stuff. The World Cup is live or die for most sports fans around the world and has been for decades. In the US, we’re far behind the curve in having only a brief, passing interest in previous years but finally, in 2014, we’re catching up! Football fever/ soccer sickness has struck Americans and it may never be the same again for us.

So it’s only fitting that when a mutual friend of ours, Guy Courtin, posted a reference on Twitter to wine and the world cup, copying both of us, we had a great idea for a blog post!

We’ll deem it “she said, she said” with our perspective on what you should be drinking from each country still in the finals.  In some cases, we’ll recommend our favorite wines or the most appropriate ones for the tournament.  In some cases, we’ll tell you to drink something else.  It may be a stretch to find some bottles for the teams you’re rooting for, we’re not seeing Costa Rican wine lighting the import market in the US on fire…

And for you REAL soccer fans, please keep in mind that this is meant as a fun analysis of a game we both admit we know almost nothing about!

 

Argentina

Argentina

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

Argentina’s signature wine is Malbec, a red wine originally from the Bordeaux region of France. Argentina has been growing Malbec grapes for 150 years, but these wines gained mass appeal in the last 20 years.  Argentina now produces more than 70% of the world’s Malbec.  The price point is great and the wines are usually consistent.  Grab a wine from Riccitelli, Es Vino, Finca Las Moras or Remolinos Vineyards, crack it open and enjoy the game.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

No offense my dear friend but…yeah, yeah – Malbec, Malbec, Malbec.  I’m not going to argue that it’s at a height of delicious here. But to really show Argentine passion, I’m going to suggest the other grape of Argentina: the white Torrontés. Why? It’s a hybrid of Muscat d’Alexandria and Argentina’s historical grape, Criolla Chica, a red that was brought to South America by the conquistadors.  This highly floral, honeyed, peachy, and acidic white is best when it’s from the province of Salta, which boasts vineyards at 10000 feet or more! Refreshing, delicious and sort of native to Argentina, you gotta do it.

 

Belgium

 

Belgium

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

Drink beer.  That’s all.

She Said  (Wine for Normal People):

I agree on that Belgian beer is awesome, but it turns out that they after poking around, I’ve discovered that the Belgians do grow grapes and that it’s a growing industry there. Who knew? While Chardonnay is their big gun, I’m not sure you’ll be able to find a bottle so may I suggest some fine Belgian chocolate with ruby Port? Portugal’s not in it now anyway, so it’s not like you’re being disloyal with this pairing, right?

Brazil

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not had a wine from Brazil.  Just a lot of coffee.  But Bento Goncalves is a wine town in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil, and is known to be the wine capital of Brazil. The country has a few things going for it — 150 years of wine heritage and the area’s strong Italian-German heritage.  Drink a sparkling and watch Neymar, he’s been deemed as the next David Beckham.  You’re welcome.

Brasil

She Said (Wine for Normal People)

They’re the host country. They’re favored to win. And they could theoretically celebrate with Brazilian wine (although, like Melanie, I’ve never had it). The far south of the country is making some good efforts at Cabernet/Merlot blends, so if you can snag one, do it. If not, you could always get a Portuguese wine from the Douro that’s massive, brawny and powerful – kind of like Neymar’s leg.

 

Colombia

Colombia

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

Another region that I thought primarily produced coffee, carnations, and James Rodríguez (thank you Colombia), has two regions that produce wines – in tropical Sutamarchán known for Riesling and Pinot Noir and Consorcio del sol de Oro, where European specifications are followed to produce Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc wines.  I haven’t had the chance to try Colombian wines yet, but the country appears to be progressing with the wines that it offers and I’m hoping they make it to Texas so I can.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

Didn’t know about the carnations — cool fact DWC! For me, aguardiente (made from sugar and anise) is the way to go. That firewater will put you on your a** but is well worth it! Wine just isn’t their forte so I’ll go for the stuff that is.

 

Costa Rica

June Wine and Costa Rica 084-2

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

I spent a week last Summer with my family in Costa Rica and asked the locals if there were any local wines that were worth trying.  They told me that I should drink the widely available Chilean wines … or coffee … or beer.  Okay, I trusted them and anyway I always bring a case of wine on vacation.

 CostaRica

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

Coming up with nothing for this. Besides coffee. And it’s almost tasty enough to forego vinous pleasures for.

 

France

France

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

Known for its incredible wines and being the largest producer in the world, France has a history of making wines since 6th century BC.  Bordeaux.  Champagne.  Alsace.  The Rhone Valley.  The Languedoc-Roussillon. The Loire Valley.  Provence roses.  Choosing my favorite would be like shooting fish in a barrel, but if I had to choose, I’d probably go with Champagne from Pierre Peters or Billecart Salmon.  If I had to.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

This isn’t really fair. The wine world is your oyster if you’re a Francophile. Any region really will do. You can’t lose. But my suggestion: go bold and get yourself a wine from Cahors. Mostly Malbec, brawny and bold, and obscure enough so you’d have to really love France to know about it, I’d get one of these dark fruited, coffee, and earth flavored gems. But I agree with Melanie, there’s no beating Billecart Salmon…great stuff!

 

Germany

Germany

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

For me, Germany personifies what a good Riesling wine should be.  It’s floral, fruity and elegant and can range from dry to sweet.  Dr.  Loosen, a family wine dynasty that has been producing wines for over 200 years, makes world class wines.  If I can find one, I reach for the Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Kabinett. Why?  Because it rocks – lots of apple, pear, minerality and a flintiness that makes up this wine works perfectly for my palate.  But, I think we were talking about soccer … Germany is good, but the U.S. did well against them.  I remain hopeful.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

Ok, I’m with Melanie on this one. Riesling is the obvious choice and it’s one of my favorite wines (check out these podcasts with Riesling expert Stuart Piggott to hear a dorkfest on it), so I’ll say an off-dry Mosel Riesling with bone-rattling, jaw clenching acid and beautiful lime, peach, and jasmine flower flavors, this will keep you awake and your mouth watering while you’re waiting for that elusive GOOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!

 

Netherlands

Netherlands

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

The Netherlands – specifically Amsterdam – is known for a perfectly legal substance sold in coffee shops.  What does that have to do with football?  Well nothing.  Except maybe you’ll chill out a bit in the rest of the country (where it is illegal) knowing that you won’t be actively prosecuted as an individual user.  As for wine … well … let’s just say the focus is elsewhere.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

Yeah, they make wine in the Netherlands but I think it’s best we stick with their historical ties and one of their awesome contributions to the wine world: draining the Left Bank of Bordeaux so those gravel soils could grow kick ass Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. If you’re rooting for the Dutch, you’re going to be drinking well with this suggestion!

 

Switzerland

Switzerland

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

I didn’t know much about Switzerland other than chocolate and fine watches.  But there are over 40 varieties of grapes that grow in Switzerland.  I have tried none of them.  Valais, which produces approximately half of the country’s wine, is known for having good pinot noirs and is the most widely planted grape. As for recommendations, my experience has been buying several Swiss watches (future family heirlooms) and eating my weight in chocolate.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

I too am a fan of Swiss chocolate and watches (although I have the cheap Swiss Army ones so they will NOT be heirlooms!) and I did have wine when I was in Zurich but it wasn’t memorable. There isn’t a ton of Swiss wine makes it outside the country’s borders, but that’s changing as import regulations have relaxed and producers need to find markets for their wines. Although most is white, bland, and neutral, there are a ton of native grapes that may make some cool stuff in the future. For now, I’d go for Dôle, a Pinot Noir/Gamay blend that’s light and fruity and can help you maintain a neutral disposition while watching the Swiss play for the win! If you can’t find that, try a northern Italian wine (Switzerland borders Germany, France, and Italy and the Italians are the only ones out) like the sparkling and delicious Franciacorta, from the Lombardia region that borders Switzerland!

United States

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

The fact that we are still here and so many Americans actually have tuned into the game is shocking, but pretty cool.  Through my own research and several Wine Bloggers Conferences, I’ve had the chance to try wines from all over the United States.  Choosing would be very hard, but I can tell you that my most recent favorite comes from Larkmead Vineyards, an off the beaten path winery near Napa, where the Solari red blend scored a total GOOOOAAAALLLLL. Sorry – caught up in the moment….

US

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

America is a wine powerhouse and we’re working on becoming a football/soccer powerhouse too. Although it’s American by way of Croatia, I’m still saying Zinfandel is the way to go if you’re a US fan. It’s so American – big, bold, loud, and spicy. Nearly 10% of California’s vineyards are planted to Zin, and if you’re looking for a quick buzz, these are usually pretty high in alcohol too. For nuance and style, I’d stick with one from Mendocino County, where the layers of flavor tend to make wines that are more than just showy fruit bombs.  I love Navarro Vineyards and I’m not afraid to say it!

 ________________________________________________________

You can drink your way around the world with our ideas and if your team gets eliminated, you can move to the next best option and maybe drink even better. The parallels of soccer/football to wine is striking – as the world has become more global, we’re getting exposure to the great wine and great sport traditions the world around.

What did we miss? Drop a comment and let us know what you would have included for your favorite team!

Elizabeth Schneider, who remains one of my favorite winos, is a Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers, Certified Specialist of Wine by the Society of Wine Educators, internationally followed wine blogger and podcaster (both can be found on: winefornormalpeople.com and the podcast is available on iTunes), and owner of the wine education company Wine For Normal People, that specializes in teaching interactive, live online classes. She is also author of the forthcoming book, Wine For Normal People. Elizabeth has an MBA and has lived in Northern California and worked for the largest winery in the world doing marketing and training programs. She has toured wineries around the country and the world from California, to Italy, to France, to South Africa, to her native Long Island, and appears as a wine expert in publications and other media channels. Despite the credentials, Elizabeth considers her most important accomplishment to be the fact that she has managed to remain a normal person, despite her exposure to lots of wine snoots! Follow Wine for Normal People on Twitter @normalwine and on Facebook.

 


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.




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