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A Dallas Wineaux Journey into Pennsylvania Wines

When my Dallas soul sista, top blogger and general partner in crime, asked a few of us to come to her house to try some Pennsylvania wines, I was immediately intrigued.  The Keystone State is named for its role in early America where it credited in helping hold together the states of the newly formed Union.

Even with Pennsylvania’s designation as the fifth top grape grower (also includes grape juice) and the seventh largest wine producer, I just haven’t had the exposure to their wines.  That all changed on a Thursday afternoon.  Eight wineries including Allegro Winery (Brogue), Karamoor Estate Winery (Fort Washington), Blair Vineyards (Kutz Town — Berks County), Galen Glen (Andreas – Lehigh Valley) Waltz Vineyard (Manheim – Lancaster), Va La (Avondale – Brandywine Valley), Penns Woods (Chadds Ford – Brandywine Valley) and Galer Estate (Chester County – Brandywine Valley) sent over 50 bottles.  Unfortunately, with not a lot of background, so the four of us were left to make some assumptions about blends, types of wines, etc.

The varietals in Pennsylvania are diverse according to the Pennsylvania Wine Association — Cabernet Sauvignon, Catawba, Cayuga, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles are all planted here on a dozen wine trails.

With more than 50 wines, we had our favorites that were pretty consistent across the board. You’ll see our favorites by producer.  We do feel like one very well regarded winery that we were all excited about trying had something off with the bottles we tried and we missed the experience that had enchanted others we admired.   Thanks to Michelle for all the great photos as a few of us ran out of time with work meetings and other life commitments.

It was a fun day for several of the Dallas Wineaux to experience the diversity of Pennsylvania.

 


The Montes Family Tour: Like Father, Like Son – A Tale of Two South American Cities

Aurelio Montes Jr, me and Aurelio Montes, Sr – taken by Michelle Williams

One of the most iconic families in South American wine rolled through Dallas during a several city tour this week for a side-by-side tasting of their finest wines.  I was lucky enough to meet Aurelio Montes Sr., a pioneer in making fine wines in Chile and the president of Montes Winery, and his son, Aurelio Montes, Jr., who is the former leader of the Argentinian Kaiken project and now tours international markets to promote his family’s winery.

It was a discussion about place, people, passion and a pedigree for wine making passed from father to son.  It was a very honest discussion and dynamic between an iconic father and a son who clearly continues to carry on the company’s tradition with pride, but with his own approach.

The senior Montes talked as a man who had the benefit of years of perspective.  He discussed the energy of the land – the stones, water and wood – combined with the importance of taking care of people (everything from scholarships to taking care of the schools where the workers children attend) and the land.

He jokingly told us that we needed to buy wine to support his family of 28.  He had a master plan to take his son, Aurelio Jr., to Napa knowing that would a great opportunity to make him love the business.

Per the junior Montes, his first experience of wine was documented in a cradle made from a wine barrel.  He talked about looking at his father as a hero and wanting to just love what he did as much as his dad did.  When he was 13, he worked in France during a harvest so he could understand how to make wine from the roots.

I love that the Montes family tackled both sides of the Andes – bringing in new methods that were once considered to be completely against all wine making wisdom at the time in each region – from the places they planted (steep slopes), to how they planted, to how the wines were harvested.  The common theme is believing in the grapes and terroir over winemaking.   He credits Robert Mondavi for teaching him a great lesson – make the best.

We tried several wines from Montes and Kaiken side by side and I was struck by the different nuances that clearly came from the land.  I laughed at the banter between the two men as Montes Sr talked about how Argentina has everything like the tango, for example, and he just wanted to push the limits in Chile in wine making especially with Malbec while his son wanted to push the limits beyond Malbec in Argentina.

Here were the wines that we tried in our tasting.

 

- 2014 Montes Alpha Chardonnay and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Chardonnay

- 2014 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon

- 2014 Montes Alpha Malbec and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Malbec

- 2015 Montes Outer Limits (a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Mouvedre – who knew) and 2014 Kaiken Obertura Cabernet France (again, who knew?)

- 2012 Montes Alpha M (Bordeaux blend) and 2013 Kaiken Mai Malbec

Then we were treated to an amazing vertical of Taita Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007, 2009 and 2010.  Taita is the family’s hallmark wine from the best vineyards with a quest from perfection and was meant to go head to head with French top quality wines.  Taita loosely translated means the knowledge that a father or grandfather passes down with devotion, respect and love.  Tasting these, I was honored to be part of this special family legacy.

 

 

 

 

 


Pinot in the City: Wine Event Now Bigger With the Texas Addition

 

Beacon Hill Liberty Pinot Noir

I’ve said it often and I’ll say it again.  Texas is a force to be reckoned with in the wine drinking market and wineries from all over the world have taken notice.  But, we have never had the highly-regarded Pinot in the City event come to not one, but two Texas cities – until this week.

Oregon Wine Country and the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, a non-profit focused on achieving recognition for the region – still not over the euphoria of the Willamette Valley being named the Wine Enthusiast ‘s 2016 Wine Region of the Year – assembled a crew of 65 winemakers and winery owners, the largest number of Willamette Valley wineries to ever visit Texas at one time.  The Pinot in the City  event has been at maximum capacity from coast to coast since it began in Seattle five years ago.  The event focuses on Pinot Noir – Oregon’s flagship wine — along with several other varieties, from Chardonnay to Riesling.  The event first came to Dallas at the Westin Downtown with a consecutive event in Austin, that started with trade in the afternoon and then a consumer event in the evening.

The trade and consumer response illustrated that Oregon wines are well loved in this city and the wineries that attended make fantastic wine.  Because I spent some time in the Willamette Valley at the Wine Bloggers Conference in 2012 and got to meet many of the participants paired with the fact that you never want to be an over served carpool mom, I narrowed my strategy, for the most part, to wineries that I had not yet tried.

Me, Terry Hill (Texas Wineaux), Michelle Williams (Rocking Red Blog) and Lori Sullivan (Lori’s Twisted Cork and Spork)

I met up with several of the #dallaswineaux and we met with a number of wineries that were recommended, that others had tried and loved, those where we were literally dragged across the room with someone we respected who said, “you’ve GOT to taste this one,” or were on the radar for a story that someone in the group was writing.  There is never enough time and I know I missed some amazing wineries.

Here’s the photo line-up of my notable wineries, some of the wines that we tried and characters that made the story fun, the wines great and kept us entertained.

John Grochau, Owner and Winemaker, Grochau Cellars

Jim Prosser, Owner and Winemaker, J.K. Carriere Wines

Pat Dudley, President and Co-Owner, Bethel Heights Vineyard

Clare Carver, Cow Boss (Best Title Ever), Big Table Farm

Chris Williams, Winemaker, Brooks Winery

Sanjeev Lahoti, Owner, Saffron Fields Vineyard

All  with that “It’s Willamette.  Dammit” sense of fun.  Charm that I adore.


A Conversation with Tom Gore: A Farm to Glass Experience

Courtesy of Tom Gore Vineyards

Tom Gore always knew he was going to be a farmer.  He grew up in the vineyards farming grapes with his dad and declared his vocation when he was seven years old.  “I’m going to do what he does,” he vividly remembers thinking.  And that’s just what he did.  He has a storied career where he currently serves, has served as vineyard director or in a similar role at some of the most well-known names in Northern California – Simi, Clos du Bois, Ravenswood and Rutherford Hills.

Courtesy of Tom Gore Vineyards

But he truly wanted to experience “the farm to glass experience,” and Tom Gore Vineyards was born.  The bottles proudly proclaim, “farming is my life’s work and greatest joy,” and Tom practices what he preaches as he grows and harvest the hundreds of acres of grapes across several vineyards in Sonoma County, Lake County and Mendocino Country.

It is all about the land and sustainable farming. He and his wife currently farm a half acre micro-farm where he grows about 70 different varietals of vegetables, herbs, flowers, olive trees and where 20 chickens roam free.

Tom Gore and me

He had a vision of taking his connection with the land a step further from the field and decided it was time to make a “Farmers Wine,” with Gary Sitton, a well-known winemaker and a personal friend.  It was now time to deliver different layers of flavor through his grape growing.  He believes that good wines start a long time before harvest.  He likens high quality grapes to the same premiere ingredients a chef uses in a dish.

Tom Gore Vineyards is in its second year of production with a few thousand cases in production in distribution in all 50 states.  Tom used his relationships with distributors for his vineyard roles at better known wineries to gain distribution across the United States.

I tried three of Tom’s wines and found them to be well balanced and a great value.   We started with the 2015 Tom Gore Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, which was described as “sunshine in a bottle,” by Tom.  It had tropical, stone fruit, tangerine and citrus notes and it was mineral, bright and fresh.

We moved to the 2014 Tom Gore Vineyards Chardonnay, which was described by Tom as “a wine that speaks to an intersection of Old World and New World farming.”  It was a balance of citrus, oak and would stand up to food.

Our final wine was the 2014 Tom Gore Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.  Tom described it as “if there a variety that tastes the same in the field and the glass, that is cabernet.”  It was a great, well-balanced wine that was a bargain at $15.

Tom talked about his dream of “building a life that he didn’t need a vacation from.”  You can see the passion that he has for connecting farming and the earth with what is in your glass.  He made a great point – “five years ago no one asked where their bacon came from.”  With wine, you can define and show the sense of place where you grow and harvest.  I asked him as a follow up how we knew at seven years old, what he wanted to do.  He answered, “Wine connects people.  In any intimate gathering of friends or family, there is a deep connection with wine and food.  Why would you not want to make that your life.”

Duly noted.


100 Wines, 30 Days and Wine Loving Ways

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

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

Whites

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

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

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


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

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

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

Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

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

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

 

David Long and me

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

 

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

 

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

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

Our food and wine line up was as follows:


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

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

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

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

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

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


Del Frisco’s Throws Down the Gauntlet with Top Female Somm Competition

As a sommelier, you are expected to use theory to ideally pair the right wine with the right food.  But, usually you have the opportunity to taste the food first.  Del Frisco’s – banking on the skills of its talented women sommeliers – turned that premise on its head by not allowing them to taste the food prior to Somm Wars., a three city competition between three talented female sommeliers in Dallas, New York and Chicago.

The finale was in Dallas.  I was lucky enough to be part of a panel of five local wine experts and enthusiasts, including: Paula Lambert, a world renowned American cheesemaker, cookbook author and entrepreneur; Neal Caldwell, Manager and Buyer for Pogo’s Wine and Spirits and wine judge for TEXSOM and The Dallas Morning News Food and Wine Competition; Leigh Ann Adam, weekdays on-air personality from KVIL 103.7 FM; John DeMers, author, food and wine writer, host of Delicious Mischief Food and Wine radio show and director of culinary hospitality and host instructor at Fischer and Wieser Culinary Adventure Cooking School and Brooks Anderson, co-founder of Veritas Wine Room, Rapscallion and Boulevardier.

It is clear that Del Frisco’s takes its wine program and the advancement of women seriously.  I spoke with Jessica Novar, the director of wine education who was a true innovator in bringing the program to fruition.  “We had these amazing women, many who pioneered being the first women somms in their restaurants and we wanted to bring them together to celebrate wine, food and progress.”

And these were some bad ass women who clearly brought passion for food, wine and the customer to their job every day.  I had the chance to speak to the three ladies the day of the competition and they talked about their backgrounds.

Chantel, Crystal and Amy

Dallas’ own Wine Director Chantel Daves holds a Sommelier Certification specializing in wine and food pairings.  She started her career at the Del Frisco’s in Boston in 2011 and moved to Dallas with the recent store opening.  New York’s Crystal Horton has been with Del Frisco’s for more than 15 years and has been a sommelier for 14 of them.  Her passion began early and ignited when she was first a bartender and quickly moved into the wine program, where she became a trailblazer sommelier.  Chicago’s Wine Director Amy Lutchen, has built an all-female sommelier team, which made me want to give her the world’s biggest high five as that is not the norm in the world of wine.

I asked them what surprised them the most about Somm Wars.  Because the tasting is completely blind and they don’t get to taste the food first (only the main course is the same from restaurant to restaurant), everyone starts equally.  They also wanted to spotlight at least one female winemaker in the pairings.  They loved the guest interaction and excitement.  Somm Wars also created this face-to-face bond that was elevated over lots of champagne.

I asked if they took a risk with their selections and the answers varied.  Overall they went with a classic approach.  Amy said, ”what grows together, goes together.”

And now for the experience.  Executive Chef Tony Schwappach prepared an amazing four-course dinner at the newly opened Dallas Del Frisco’s, an awesome new see-and-be-seen steak mecca.

The wines ran the gamut – from California Chards to a Mosel Riesling with the first course.   Pinots from France and Sonoma to a Syrah blend with the second course.  A variety of red blends and cabernet based wines for the third.  And finally, two ports and an ice wine with the dessert.  After this election, I am not going to “armchair” quarterback any of them, but our judging group appeared to have a clear path of preferences.

We began with Marinated Texas Sterling Lamb Lollipops with Citrus Bleu du Bocage and Red Jalapeño Glaze.

The next course featured an Olive Oil Poached Dover Sole and Sweet and Sour Eggplant, paired with Tandoori Marsala Yogurt Sauce and Crispy Prosciutto, which it appears that I ate before I took a photo….

Third Course was a Crispy Duck Confit with Golden Chantrelles and Wilted Dandelion Risotto, with Peppered Bacon, Charred Kumato Tomato and Buttered Broth.

The main course featured a Simply Seared A-7 Wagyu Beef paired with Foie Gras-Charred Leek Ravioli, Rissole Potatoes, and Mission Fig & Black Garlic Reduction.

The dessert course was a Del Frisco’s Style Banana Split, which includes Caramelized Banana, Godiva Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Candied Pecans.

There were some amazing matches and some misses, but overall the takeaway was that you were part of this amazing process for bragging rights as Sommelier of the Year.  As for the winner, Chantel came in first in Dallas and Amy from Chicago clinched the entire “world series,” which appears to be spot on based on this year’s Cubs World Series clincher.

 


October Wine Round Up: Favorite Samples Over the Past Months

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

Reds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosé:

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

Whites:

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

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

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

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

Spirits:

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


No Sleep ‘Til Lodi: The Region, The Experience, The Myth and the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference

Historically I jump right on my posts after leaving the Wine Bloggers Conference, but Lodi was such a nuanced experience for me I needed some time to sit back and digest everything.  Lodi is well-known for its Old Vine Zinfandels and long-time grower families.

First a little about Lodi, which is located between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  With the recent designation by Wine Enthusiast as Wine Region of the Year, it has become glaring that the diverse soils and delta breezes allow an incredible diversity of wines, actually more than 100 of them – Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Southern Rhone and even German wines are made … and made well in Lodi.  At the end of the day, Lodi has two-thirds of its acreage dedicated to red wines.

The climate is Mediterranean and is known for its warm days and cool nights.  The soils are very diverse due to the two rivers in the Sierra Nevada mountain range – the Mokelumne and Cosumnes Rivers.

The Wine Bloggers Conference opened with Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson as the keynote speaker.  Other than being one of the most kind, open and humble people you will even meet, this world-renowned Master Sommelier (one of 23 females in the world) demystifies wine and writing in less than 50 minutes.  She had some great insights:

  • Writers have taken a wine experience that we love, to something that we commit to and aspire to grow.
  • Drink Lodi and be cooler than you really are.
  • She really was the first Dallas Wine Chick when she learned about wine while drinking it with Rebecca Murphy and at The Grape restaurant while at SMU.  She’d come back to her roommates and “teach” them the class she had just attended.  She hoped they’d just go with it and not ask questions she couldn’t answer.
  • Know your stuff – and when you don’t, say you don’t know and find out the answer
  • She had some great advice on taking things to the next level for bloggers:
    • Make it pay (pay can be more than money … my recent press trips make me agree completely).
    • Be better – better SEO, images and video.  That will be my commitment to you guys over the next few months.  I will be redoing Dallas Wine Chick – let me know what you want to see when I do.
    • Build value – whether that is personal wine certifications, writing for other publications, working with mentors or celebrating others … just do it.
    • Quality of content begets credibility – clearly after almost seven years, you guys have proven that to be the case.
    • Be authentic and always be who you are.

We then moved into a History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi.  Mark Chandler, the Mayor of Lodi, vineyardist and former executive director of Lodi Wine Commission joined Aaron Lange, Vineyard Manager of Langetwins Winery and Vice Chair of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG); Kevin Phillips, Vice President of Operations at Michael-David Winery and Phillips Farms and Markus Bokisch, Owner of Bokisch Vineyards talked about the growth of Lodi.

Today there are 700 growers in Lodi with an effort that started with a couple of dozen families with vision in late 80s/early 90s who chipped in a few thousand dollars to research what grows best in the region.  The region has drastically evolved with varieties once popular during Prohibition including many sweet wines (and sacramental wines) that are no longer produced.  Mark attributed Morley Safer, a veteran CBS journalist who did a report about red wine being good for the heart in 1993, as a catalyst for the region.  Over the next five years, the acreage grew from 40,000 acres to 100,000 acres.  In 1986, the Lodi AVA was formed, scientists were hired and a steering committee was created.  This lead to the creation of seven sub-AVAs.

As we sat in the same room that was once the site of East Side High School where Robert Mondavi started his education, it was clear that this was a region that was deep in heritage, authenticity, tradition, family and wine making.  Aaron described the region as the “heart of wine.”

We then moved to the Truth About Viticulture session which was an honest session about wine with Moderator Stuart Spencer, Program Manager at the Lodi Grape Commission and Owner/Winemaker of St Amant Winery.  The panelists were Tegan Passalacqua, director of winemaking at Turley Wine Cellars; Stan Grant, Viticulturist, Progressive Viticulture; and Chris Storm, Viticulturist of Vino Farms.

They spent some time covering the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, which is California’s original sustainable viticulture certification program designed to increase positive impact on the environment.  It’s a pretty rigorous certification process that is based in science, voluntary, and was the first to be audited by a third-party.  Lodi Rules certified growers balance environmental, social, and economic goals with a focus on sustainable agriculture.  More to come in another column on my personal Lodi Rules experience while we developed Masthead.

My favorite part is when they talked about the reality of the wine business and how people don’t truly tell the truth.  From sitting stuck in a truck in the mud for hours to the injuries sustained in the vineyard, it was a reality check in an often romanticized profession that is told through a marketing lens.

Chris had a very interesting perspective about how winemakers too often taste with their eyes instead of their mouths.  That does a disservice to the grape as balance is key; not the idea of what a vineyard should look like.  A good winemaker produces the maximum while maintaining what is right for vineyard.  It’s the right clone for the right area and the right rootstock with the right soil.

Tegan ended with a discussion about today’s labor shortage and how building strong relationships with producers and vintners pays off in the long run.  He also echoed a sentiment close to my heart – American palates need to drink more refreshing wines and therefore Lodi should concentrate more on white grapes.

The Winning Wine Blogger Award Winners

Me and Julien

From Passion to Pro Panel

Mary and Sean Celebrate Success!

A few other highlights of the conference:

  • Wine Educator Deborah Parker Wong worked in conjunction with Consorzio Italia di Vini & Sapori to present a wine education session featuring wines from Italy’s Veneto.  I missed the first wine as I was in another session and realized I made the wrong choice, but the line-up of under $20 wines (unfortunately not available widely or at all in the United States) showed the differences in grams of sugar, terroir and style.
  • We attended a private lunch debuting Velv.  It was an interesting experience in showing ageability and what happens with giving mid-priced wines some surface area and time with this new device.
  • This year I attended the Live Red Wine Blogging session and was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps the session has grown on me, but the quality of the wines that we tried this year was unsurpassed.
  • Sujinder Juneja from Town Hall brands needs a stage.  He moderated the Panel of Wine Blogger Winners with Sophie Thorpe from Berry Bros & Rudd; Mary Cressler from Vindulge; Jill Barth from L’occasion; Susan Manfull from Province Wine Zine and Jerry Clark who received the best wine blog post of the year with panache, humor and absolute class.
  • The Passion to Pro – Getting Paid to Write About Wine session was honest, open and showed the hard work of Jameson Fink, Debra Meiburg MW and Deborah Parker Wong with the funny Randy Caparoso running the show.  The anecdotes showed one needs to approach wine writing as a full time job vs just a hobby like I do today.
  • Ethnifacts continued its second annual diversity scholarship and this year what a deserving recipient received it.  Julien Miquel who won last year’s Best New Blog for Social Vignerons was finally able to make it.
  • My favorite panel was co-presented by my good friends, Sean Martin and Mary Cressler from Vindulge.  They brought to life the marketing campaign, hard work, non-traditional themes like Star Wars and the love for photography that makes their blogs and Embers and Vine BBQ business successful.  They are also two of my most favorite people and they kept the packed room on the edge of their seats.

Next up … the launch of Masthead and how did people respond, going rogue and my Bella Grace Vineyard experience….

 

 

 


August Wine Round Up: Martin Ray and Gloria Ferrer Wines and a Peek into Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

The themes of this month’s sample round-up include bubbles from Gloria Ferrer, Martin Ray Portfolio Wines and a look at Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which features several wines previewed for the Taste of Sonoma scheduled for Labor Day Weekend.

Martin Ray Wines

For the first time, I had the opportunity to be introduced to the Martin Ray portfolio.  Martin Ray was established in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1943.  The winery was purchased by Courtney Benham in 1991 and moved to Russian River Valley in 2002 to the former Martini & Pratt winery.

Martin Ray’s model is to handpick growers from different regions in California expressing different versions of terroir.  We tried a variety of wines and I found them all to be solid.  There is also a very funny story that I will soon tell about the rosé … and rafting … but that will be another story out of the context of a wine round-up.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Rosé of Pinot Noir – this rosé was delicious and perfect.  It was well balanced with tropical fruit, watermelon and a wonderful minerality.  It was one of the best rosés that I have had recently.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Chardonnay – an Old World expression of chardonnay with notes of nectarine, ginger, crème brulee, vanilla, Meyer lemon and floral notes.  Several non-chardonnay tasters were very complimentary.  Also included in the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend package.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Sauvignon Blanc – this was a great expression of sauvignon blanc with pear, lime and floral notes that made for easy drinking.  A very nice expression of the grape.

2014 Martin Ray Russian River Pinot Noir – notes of cherry cola, dark cherry, mushroom and earthiness.  This was a nice representation of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

2014 Martin Ray Sonoma Country Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of blackberry, black currant, herbs, chocolate and tobacco make up this elegant cabernet.

2013 Synthesis Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – whoa … this wine features “the best of the best” from the top vineyards and it shows.  This is a big, bad, juicy cabernet with blueberry, blackberry, fig, cassis and notes of herb.  It was definitely a group favorite.

Gloria Ferrer Wines

We also tried several of the sparkling wines from Gloria Ferrer, which was the first sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros, and also the first to plant Champagne clones as well as the first to plant in Carneros.  The winery has been around for more than 30 years

Almost thirty years later, with 335 acres under vine, the estate vineyards at Gloria Ferrer produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that will be reviewed in a later column.  I had the chance to try four of the sparkling wines:

NV Blanc de Blancs – apple, pear, orange, baked bread, lemon zest and notes of citrus.  This was an easy drinking sparkler that was well crafted.

NV Blanc de Noirs – this had notes of strawberry, raspberry, citrus and vanilla.  It was juicy, refreshing and delicious.

NV Sonoma Brut – pear, ginger and notes of citrus make this a great sparkling option.

07 Royal Cuvee – notes of citrus, apple, honey and freshly baked bread.  This was a great sparkling wine that was the crowd favorite.  Just delicious!

These wines were well priced, delicious and had a great quality making them all a great sparkling choice for your table.

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

Since Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is coming up over Labor Day weekend at MacMurray Ranch Estate Vineyards featuring more than 200 wineries, I wanted to highlight one of the samples that I received as a part of this tasting.  This event has, to date, raised more than $20 million for local organizations.  I’ll be tasting through them in the next few weeks, but wanted to give the winery and organization that has done so much for the area, a big shout out.

And that winery is Jordan.  I tried the 2014 Chardonnay from Russian River Valley and got a burst of tropical fruit, lemon curd, crème brulee, citrus with great stone fruit.  It is made in a Burgundian style and is a classic wine to put on the table.

 

 




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