Archived entries for French Wines

February: The Month of Just Opening That Bottle(s)

We have all done it.  Spent a ton of time cultivating some great wines in our cellars (or even holding on to a special bottle or two) and then let it sit … and sit … and sit.  Occasionally, when we finally get to that special bottle, it is past its prime and so frustrating to experience.

Chef Mike Smith Explains the Third Course

For me, it’s been an epic month of finally getting to break into the cellar and enjoy some wines that needed to be consumed.  We had a few great opportunities.  First, we had an amazing dinner that we purchased at a North Texas Food Bank auction, an organization that does amazing things to help feed the hungry in DFW.  It was a dinner with well-known chef, Mike Smith, who has a storied career at The Green Room, Arcodoro/Pomodoro and The Common Table before he joined Utopia Food and Fitness, the group who donated the dinner.  They have a great fundraising campaign going right now  – click here to help.

Zach Coffey, Musician

We all brought amazing wines and I’m not going to admit how much wine we consumed, but it was an incredible time with friends who are like the family you would choose, if you could.  We even had a private concert from Zach Coffey, a well-known Texas musician.

For me, it was time to break out a magnum of Reserva Barolo that was off the charts delicious and opened at the perfect moment.   Pol Roger, Gary Farrell, Paul Hobbs and Domaine du Pre Semele were the dinner wines and several were opened after the fact.  It may have been a foggy Sunday, but well worth it.

 

My husband took our daughter on her first ski trip to Vail and I had an opportunity for a girl’s overnight at a friend’s lake house.  She is an amazing cook and consummate entertainer, so we knew we had to bring wines that live up to her culinary skills.  And, well, we did.  There were several of us (I am not going to disclose how many) and work has been a little crazy for all of us.  This was about 30 hours of great food, amazing wine (I got to open another magnum – this time of Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas).  I also brought Ehlers, Foresight, Naia, Fel, Cartograph, Veuve Clicquot and my friend, Julie, may have brought a few more.  In terms of left overs … well, not so much.  It was Cards Against Humanity (kinda), lots of discussions about life in general, amazing food, Saturday Night Live and old movies.  I even met a person who followed me on Instagram who happened to know Jennifer and came down for a glass of wine.

And, I got to bring our new rescue pup who did well except for his walkabout when we were cleaning up on Sunday morning.

After all, what good is keeping great wines in the cellar if you don’t share them with good friends?

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

John and Ed

Me and Amy

 Angie and Jay Jacobs, me and John

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Ashley, one of my dear college friends, and me

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

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

 

Me, the aforementioned 11 year old daughter, and John

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

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


100 Wines, 30 Days and Wine Loving Ways

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

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

Whites

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

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

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


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

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

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

Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 


December to Remember: My Favorite Wines of the Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Wines of Roussillon: A Chat with Sommelier Caleb Ganzer and Snooth’s Mark Angelillo

Caleb and Mark, Co-Hosts for the Session

The Roussillon wine region is all about passing along wisdom, the culmination of thousands of years of history and a place with a personality exemplifying character and honesty.  Before I attended Snooth’s Wines of Roussillon media event, hosted by Caleb Ganzer, a sommelier and Wines of Roussillon expert, and Mark Angelillo, co-founder/CEO of Snooth, I didn’t know the extent of the important story housed in this region and in these wines.

There is a misperception about the region that needs to be changed.

The Languedoc-Roussillon region spans the Mediterranean coastline from the French border of Spain to the region of Provence.  It has 700,000 acres under vines and is the single largest wine producing region in the world – eclipsing other wine regions.

The Roussillon wine region is a different and a smaller piece of the Languedoc-Roussillon located near narrow valleys around the Pyrenees.  It is open to the Mediterranean Sea to the East and three rivers, the Agly, the Tet and the Tech, define the topology of the region.  Why is this important?  Think of the differences of a boutique winery – smaller production, greater concentration on the terroir and more focus on what is in the bottle – vs. a winery that ships 2,000,000 cases of mass produced wine.  Caleb categorized it as a “gem in the rough” in a region that is known for wines for a larger mass market.

The Roussillon region, which was acquired by the French from Spain in the mid seventeenth century, was once known as a producer of sweet wines.  However, with the Old Vines of the region and more than 20 soil types in the mountainous region ranging from chalk, limestone, gravel and alluvial soils, some vineyards decided to make the pivotal shift to making dry table wines.  I would characterize most of these having concentration, extracted flavor and intensity and is one heck of a value as compared to many other Old World wines.

Here was our line-up: 

2014 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc: Michel Chapoutier, Les Vignes de Bila Haut – this is the only wine with Texas distribution and I had the opportunity to try it prior to this tasting. I absolutely adored the fact that Michel Chapoutier was one of the pioneers of providing Braille on the label – making wine accessible to all as it should be.  It was a combination of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu with a mix of tropical, citrus and floral notes and a nice minerality.

2011 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel: Gérard Bertrand, Tautavel Grand Terroir – this wine was a combination of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan.  Bertrand is known for owning some of the most premium wine estates in the South of France and is known for wines expressing the unique terroirs of the region.  The soil is chalky and I tasted black cherry, plum, boysenberry, mocha, cocoa powder and the nose was almost port-like.  Wine Writer Meg Houston Maker likened it to the French version of Malbec with its concentration, acidity and balance.  This wine would stand up well to Texas BBQ.

2013 Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres: Château Planères, La Romanie – also grown in mountainous terroir with clay and gravel soil, this wine was made of Syrah, Mourvedre and Black Grenache.  It was a rustic Old World wine with notes of menthol, spice, black fruit and I think will be spectacular with some more time in the cellar or the right food pairing.

2013 Maury Sec: Domaine Cabirau, Cuvée Serge et Nicolas – described as the prototypical most picturesque and beautiful village that postcards are made of, this wine was nuanced, earthy and delicious.  Definitely one of my favorites from the tasting.

We then moved to the sweet wines of the region – including one made from Muscat and then to a red fortified wine of the Banyuls.  The 2011 Muscat de Rivesaltes : Domaine Cazes had notes of honeysuckle and flowers made from two different muscat grapes.  The 2014 Banyuls Rimage: Domaine La Tour Vieille, which was made of grenache, had notes of raspberry, godiva chocolate and plum.

My big takeaway was the diversity of the region, the range of styles and an increased focus on quality.


A Conversation with Akiko Freeman: The Story of An Almost Accidental Winemaker

Ken and Akiko Freeman

I recently spent the evening at Lakewood Country Club with Ken and Akiko Freeman, the founders of Freeman Vineyard & Winery based in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.  In the spirt of full disclosure, I serve as the wine committee chairman and was an invited guest.  Akiko, who serves as the winemaker, was my dining companion and she told me the story of how Freeman began and how she started to make wine.

It all began with Ken’s passion for wine and his desire to buy a winery.  Ken and Akiko were enthralled with Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and believed CaIifornia was able to produce that style of wine.  They looked at over 300 vineyards in search of a place that had the temperatures and coastal breezes to produce these wines.  The final chosen property had a winery that was started in 1978, but closed in 1981.  The first step was to buy fruit.

Well-known winemaker Ed Kurtzman served as the consulting winemaker starting in 2001 and Akiko became an accidental winemaker.  She originally served as an apprentice to Ed when she realized that they didn’t have the budget to hire an assistant winemaker and they were all in on making this dream a reality.  As Akiko stated, “Eighty percent of winemaking is cleaning up and that is how I learned.  But I fell in love with science and the art of fermentation along the way.”

After seven years as an assistant and ‘a million questions later,’ Ed told her she was ready to take the reins.  I could tell this is a woman who loves her job and based on the critic accolades and the fact that you can only buy these wines off the mailing list, she has come a long way from a wine collector to a wine maker.  While Ed still is deeply involved with the sales and marketing side of Freeman, Akiko drives the process.

Akiko grew up in Tokyo and her grandfather’s love for wine, literature and art was her inspiration.  She visited New York to study abroad and met Ken, who became her husband.  They visited California wineries and decided that owning one was a long-term goal.  Later, she received her Master’s degree in Italian Renaissance art history from Stanford where she traveled around the world.  After earning his M.B.A. from Kellogg, Ken established the Discovery Channel in Asia.  A position at CNET moved the Freeman’s to California and the winery plan was established.

Four years after they purchased the property in Sebastopol, they acquired an adjacent property, now the site of their Gloria Estate Vineyard; and in 2007 they purchased the Freeman Ranch further west in the Sonoma Coast appellation, where they planted their second vineyard, named ‘Yu-ki’.  The Freeman’s work with a variety of vineyard partners.  The winery makes less than 5,000 cases per year of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Our line up of the wines and dinner that was prepared by Lakewood Country Club’s talented Executive Chef William Koval (who happened to be the youngest executive chef for the Ritz Carlton and the chef who received a Mobil star during his tenure at the French Room in Dallas) was perfect.  Here’s the overview:

2013 Freeman Ryo-Chardonnay with seared sea scallop, sweet potato pine nut sage, ravioli and ver jus.

2013 Freeman Russian River Valley Pinot with seared ahi, herbs, foie gras with apple raisin compote and red wine butter

2012 Freeman Sonoma Coast Pinot with bacon seared pheasant, farro parmesan style risotto, pear salad and green peppercorn pheasant jus.

2013 Freeman Keefer Ranch Pinot with peppered Colorado lamb medallions, pancetta, fava bean, sweet carrot Brussel sprout with a huckleberry sauce.

Our dessert was a warm lemon soufflé cake with chocolate ice cream.

Elegance is what Akiko is serving for in her wines.  “It’s completely a philosophy of using the best fruit, handling it with care and making the best wine possible,” she said.


The Oscar Goes to … Piper Heidsieck

 

 

When one gets an invitation to a party by the official champagne host of the Academy Awards, the answer is a resounding yes.  From the moment we walked the red carpet at the terrace of the Joule Hotel – naturally in our black tie attire – this was a dress to impress party that was absolutely a special occasion.  Aside from the Oscars in Los Angeles, other parties were held in other major markets in the US including New York.

First, the champagne was free flowing starting with the Piper Heidsieck Brut NV and the Piper Heidsieck Rose Sauvage.  As the evening continued, we had a chance to sample both the 1999 and 2002 Piper Heidsieck Millesime Champagne, which were poured at the Oscars and the bottles had a detachable Tierra (of course I had to wear it).  Naturally it was opened by sabering the bottle.  The guests had a chance to fill out Oscar ballots and win prizes so the spirit of competition kicked into gear.   There were great prizes from customized gear to magnums of champagne.

Terri Burney, Owner of Winetastic and Oscar Trivia Pro

I started off strongly with my ballot, but sadly ended up pretty middle of the road at the end with some of the big upsets like best picture.  Thankfully, the owner of Winetastic, a great wine bar in Dallas, took home the special magnum, so I was glad to see that it found a good home.


Bella Vita Bags: For the Most Interesting Wine in the World

You always hear that it’s the inside that counts, but I am a sucker for a well adorned package.  I’m not usually one to review many wine accessories, but these were just so darn interesting that I had to do it.

Bella Vita Bags features wine gift bags, gourmet bags, olive oil bags as well as wine charms, bottle stoppers, corkscrews and just about any other wine accessory needed to make what’s in your bottle shine from the outside.

Two immediately caught my eye — For the ladies there is a pink leather wine purse with flowers on the side. It’s not cheap at $39.99, but put an amazing bottle of wine there and it puts a paper bag to shame.  I’d suggest a Pierre Peters champagne to match the look here.

And for the more rugged male in your life (Masseto not included), there’s the Wooden and Leather wine box tower priced at a more affordable $14.99 here.  There are a ton of other options as well that are going to beat the majority of your wine store bags that start at $1.99.  And for those stores looking for a better selection, Bella Vita also does wholesale as well.




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