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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.


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!

Corison Winery: A Sense of Place, Time and Terrior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our single vintage Kronos line-up included the following:

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

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

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

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

Chateau St Jean Wine Dinner and the Future Direction of Bailey’s Prime


I was excited to meet one of the stalwarts of women and wine, Margo Van Staaveren the winemaker from Chateau St. Jean, at a wine dinner at Bailey’s Prime.  Sadly, the stars did not align and Margo was unable to make the dinner due to family commitments. 

Originally a chemist, Margo has been responsible for 32 harvests at the winery and she has a philosophy of making sure the wines truly express the uniqueness of the grapes from year to year.  Chateau St. Jean, which is based in Sonoma, has been making wines since 1973. 

We started the reception with the 09 Belle Terre Chardonnay, which had notes of lemon, oak, vanilla and a buttery flavor.

We then moved to the 10 Chateau St. Jean Fume Blanc paired with an Ahi Tune Crudo with English peas, red radish, shaved pearl onion and meyer lemon vinaigrette.  The grapefruit, minerality and acidity was a perfect companion for the tuna.

Our next course was the 09 Chateau St. Jean Pinot Noir with its red fruit and Asian spice paired with a squab breast “sous vide” with smoked bacon braised little gem, lardon, cauliflower puree and natural jus.

We paired the 08 Chateau St Jean Cing Cepage, which was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the “Wine of the Year” in 1996, with Lamb Bacon Wrapped Prime Beef Tenderloin with spiced octopus, carmelized spring onions, potatoes “Pont Neuf” and red wine braise.  This meritage of five Bordeaux grapes was a match made in heaven for the tenderloin.

Our dessert was a native peach “crisp” with caramel ice cream and sea salt paired with the 08 Gewurztraminer.  It had notes of honeysuckle and apricot and was an awesome finish with the dessert.

Carbery and Kucwaj

I also had a chance to sit down and talk with Bailey’s new General Manager, Ken Kucwaj, and executive chef, Ryan Carbery.  You may recall I was worried about the future of the restaurant and its stellar wine program built under the guidance of Jennifer Jaco, who is now the lead sommelier at Ruth Chris Steakhouse.  Over a bottle of 05 Rudd Cabernet, they both told me their vision about the food and the wine program.  I believe they will continue to make Bailey’s Prime a destination for great food and wine.  

Arista Winery: One Family’s Texas to Sonoma Journey

When I received the invitation to have lunch with Mark McWilliams, owner and winemaker of Arista Winery in Sonoma, I was reminded of his Texas connection with a very personalized note of his favorite Dallas haunts from Bolsa to Abacus; his affinity for White Rock Lake and how he loves the Dallas heat.  Other than making great wine, my interest was piqued – how do you love the Summer heat in Texas?

We met at the Place at Perry’s for lunch.  He’s an avid storyteller and I soon found myself with ten plus pages of notes.

His Texas-based family, who always had an affinity for food and wine, took the plunge in the early 90’s with the purchase of land in Sonoma.  It was an “all in” decision.  But, in hindsight, it wasn’t too far of a stretch.  Mark’s mom spent time in Paris and became a fabulous chef.  He and his brother grew up experiencing different tastes, flavors and smells.  His parents vacationed in Sonoma for a few decades and called the kids into a room for “the talk” in the 90’s.  The kids were dumbfounded to hear that they were not only buying land in Sonoma, they were relocating the family because they wanted to follow their passion for wine.  They partnered with a vineyard management company and other experts to put together a team.  The family sold to their grapes to wineries, some very established ones, for about ten years.

Mark, in the meantime, graduated college in 2000 with an international business and management degree, and decided to try out the family business during harvest.  The deal he made with his family was that he’d make a decision based on that experience whether to stay in the business or do something else.  His epiphany was walking with the wine makers of La Crema and realized he understood what they were talking about.  From that moment on, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.  He joked that he’s continued that summer job for the last 12 years.

At La Crema, he experienced growing season in the vineyard and harvest season in cellar learning all aspects of wine.  Then it was time for another leap of faith.  Mark convinced his family that it was time to make wine and McWilliams was launched in 2002.  McWilliams was quickly changed to Arista, the Greek word for excellence, after a cease and desist letter was sent from another McWilliams winery.  The first vintage was a couple hundred cases of three Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs.  In 2004, the family purchased 36 acres of estate vineyards in Sonoma that were last planted in the 1850’s by Reuben Harper, who is buried on the property and memorialized in Arista’s Harper’s Rest, a great wine.

The family found four different soil types on the property, which they divided into four different vineyards.  This is the tenth vintage and Arista makes 14 pinot noirs and a limited production of two chardonnays, one gewürztraminer and one zinfandel that are about 50 percent estate grown.  The family just announced the purchase of the historic 74-acre Martinelli Road Vineyard, adding to their 36 acres of estate vineyard ownership at the home winery with zinfandel planted in 1880, chardonnay planted over 30 years ago and pinot noir planted 22 years ago.  Also notable are the well-regarded neighbors – Williams Selyem Estate and the Allen Ranch.

And now for the wine line up, which is sold almost 85 percent direct and via Artisa’s list (there’s a big wait now):

  • 2011 Ferrington Vineyard Gewurztraminer (Anderson Valley), this non-estate wine was bone-dry and had great tropical fruit like mango, lychee and guava.  It was crisp, mineral and fabulous.
  • 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, one of the non-vintage pinots identified by the white label, this was very approachable and drinkable.  Full of black cherry, cranberry and raspberry, it was a smooth wine typical of the Sonoma Coast.  This is their largest production wine with 600 cases.
  • 2010 Longbow Pinot Noir, a barrel selection wine from the Russian River Valley, had dark red fruit, Asian spices with notes of black tea and licorice. It’s a very lush wine and the style of the wine might change year to year to reflect the vintage.  This is the flagship Pinot for Arista.
  • 2010 Mononi Vineyards was described in the sense of a musician releasing an album as “the song that won’t get the radio play, but it is most creative song on released.”  This site, which was purchased from Merry Edwards, was the most elegant with soft fruit, five spice and a great balance.
  • 2010 Harper’s Rest Estate Vineyard (Russian River Valley), this is the only example of a single clone Pinot Noir and is named after the aforementioned Reuben Harper.  Big stone fruit, molasses and black tea, but very soft and feminine in its approach.  This was a fantastic wine.
  •  2010 Two Birds Estate Vineyard (Russian River Valley), this was the powerhouse of the line-up.  Very intense with blackberry, chocolate, smoke and earth with lots of complexity.  On a sweet note, this was named after the nicknames that his parents have for the other.

I asked Mark about what he is trying to accomplish in his wines – he said, “I want them to stop you and get your attention.  I want to make wines that take people on a continuum of what they first drank and the evolution of their palate.”  He also mentioned how food and wine continue to be mainstays at Arista where they offer several sensory experiences including food/wine experiences where guests pick food from their garden which they later eat during dinner to gardening to glass classes where people make pizzas with ingredients fresh from the garden.

I realized that I never asked Mark about the Texas heat, but clearly here’s a family where it takes more than 100 degree weather to scare them away from their ambitions.

Beyond Safe Labels: Dallasites Take the Challenge

A few weeks ago, I was shocked to read a blog comment from The Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague about what Dallasites are drinking. Teague visited a Sigel’s Fine Wine shop in Frisco and was told by manager Tim Farina that we only drink big cabernets and big brands.

Whaaaaatttt? While I don’t personally follow the steak to cabernet sauvignon rule, I can understand a local steakhouse having a larger selection of those wines. So, I decided to go for a sanity check. I reached out to Terri Burney, owner of  WineTastic, who told me that while she has some customers that would fit the bill, even more are trying Malbec, Rioja, Albarino and Champagne.

Brooks Anderson, owner of  Veritas, had some great insights. “To say that Dallasites drink only overpriced, big labels of Cab and Chard is absolutely ridiculous and wholly inaccurate. If that were true, Veritas would have gone out of business long ago. We do not carry Cakebread; we do not currently carry Silver Oak; we do not currently carry Caymus; we do not currently carry Far Niente; we do not carry Nickel & Nickel; etc. Instead we carry lots of fun, boutique Cabs and Chards (and other wines from around the globe) that aren’t necessarily cheap and we sell them all day long. There are plenty of Dallasites who love to explore new labels, who would rather offer a delicious wine that their dinner guest has never heard of rather than an overpriced ‘label’.”

He went on to say that “in addition to ‘not cheap’ Cabs and Chards, we sell loads of Chateauneuf du Pape, Brunello, Barolo, Barbaresco, Burgundy, Amarone, Sancerre, etc. Dallasites are trying inexpensive wines like White Rioja; White Bordeaux; Gavi; Albarino/Alvarhino; Cotes du Rhone; Spanish Garnacha; Carmanere; Malbec; Baby Super Tuscans; Nero d’Avola; etc.”

So, where do we go from here? We need to take a stand. While there is a place for Cabernets, Chardonnays and other mainstays in our lives, let’s try some new varietals.

I had the recent opportunity to meet Anne-Laure Helfrich of Helfrich wines to try wines produced in her family’s Alsatian vineyard. The price points were fantastic — $14.99 for the Noble Tier wines that were really good (Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gerwürztraminer). The Grand Cru wines with the same varietals were fantastic and priced at $24.99. The Grand Cru Riesling was elegant with orange blossom, apricot and minerality. The Grand Cru Gewurztraminer had a floral nose with honeysuckle, citrus and a floral nose. I personally am adding these to my wine “off the beaten path” selection list.

In Dallas, you can find these wines at Whole Foods, Costco, Majestic Liquors (Fort Worth), Winestyles (Arlington and Fort Worth), Vino 100 and Veritas.

Let’s prove to Tim that we’ve moved from a “safe label zone” and into wine drinkers that have the courage to put an unfamiliar bottle on the table.

Sensory Overload

“I taste tobacco with a hint of currant and maybe even some shoe leather. To me, this is a big cherry fruit bomb …”

I refused to make eye contact with my husband. I knew that I was in for the classic eye roll or perhaps the under-the-table shin kick.

We were at dinner with those friends — you know, the ones who knew so much more about wine than we did. The ones who knew about swirling, proper stemware, what flavors should be in a certain glass of wine, and were willing to spend much more than we wanted to per bottle.

On the conversation home, my husband asked me, “Did you really taste all of those flavors? I taste … wine. And, why in the heck would I want to drink shoe leather?”

Over the years and after drinking many bottles of wine, I am at the point where I can taste certain flavors in a glass. But reading tasting notes or sitting around with your friends enjoying wine is one thing. When you have to do it without notes, without discussion, and without anything but your intuition and palate, that’s another.

So, I thought I’d put my knowledge to the test at a sensory evaluation tasting hosted by Women for Wine Sense. Or as my husband, who attended the tasting with me, put it, Women, Plus One Man, for Wine Sense.

Our group met on a sunny Saturday morning and we were given one caveat — no coffee before the tasting. The organizers wanted our taste buds to be fresh for what was ahead.

Armed with four white wines and one intimidating blank piece of paper, we began our sensory journey. The first hour was spent focusing on sight and smell. We were asked to judge each wine by its clarity — was it cloudy or clear — as well as its color.

Yes, all were “white” wines, but they were different shades. Two of the wines had hints of green in their color, one was pale, and one was golden.

For smell, we were asked to swirl the wine and take a deep whiff. Grapefruit. Menthol. Green pepper. Lychee. Butterscotch. Melon. Lemon. Vanilla, or Coppertone as I deemed it.

I smelled these aromas in those four wines. They then passed out about 20 samples of various items, including small roses, butter, pear, and lemon to allow us to smell different aromas and see if this woke up our olfactory senses.

It was then time to taste — hurray!. We judged for sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and any saltiness — ew, thankfully none. You taste sweet things with the tip of your tongue.Acidity is determined on the sides of your tongue. And bitterness is detected in the back.

We sipped. We swirled. We spat into buckets. And then we repeated the process.

Finally we had to come to conclusions about the types of wine. I correctly picked three out of the four — sauvignon blanc, riesling, and gewurztraminer. But I was shocked to find that I missed the most obvious of them all — an oaked chardonnay. It was my least favorite of the bunch, smelled like Coppertone, and was uninspiring.

It was a really cool experiment and a fun exercise.

The next time you pour a glass of wine, stop for a minute. Swirl it in the glass and look at the color. What do you see?

Put your nose deep into the glass and take a big whiff. What do you smell? Take a small sip of the wine and think about the different flavors that you taste.

And finally, if you are up for the challenge, put it in a brown bag and see if your friends can figure out the varietal.

I currently don’t see a sensory evaluation class on the calendar in Dallas for March or April.  But, when one is scheduled, forego the coffee and give it a try. I promise you won’t have to taste shoe leather.

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