Archived entries for Italian Wines

Vinitaly: A Glimpse of Verona, Varietals, Vineyards and Vinology

How do you create stories about an event where more than 4,000 wineries were present, each serving an average of 6 to 10 wines over a three-day period?  Some you plan, some you experience, some are pre-arranged … and some stories are just meant to be told.  The ITA had several pre-arranged tastings – some were fantastic and I walked away with an understanding of the region and the wines offered.  One was challenging … a neighboring booth had its sound system going and only one wine was poured to the lucky folks that stayed behind to hear more.

Here’s the recap on the tastings:

Our first tasting was with the Consorzio Tutela Vini D’Irpinia, an association of growers and producers from a place known for its terroir and diverse microclimates including volcanic soil.  Irpinia is known for bringing back grapes on the edge of extinction like Aglianico (we got to taste in the Nativ Blu Onice), Fiano, Greco, Coda di Volpe and Falanghina.  Wineries represented included Greco di Tuto, Nativ, La Molara, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, De Lisio and Manimurci Zagreo.

Our second tasting was with the Consorzio Alto Adige, a consortium of 155 members made up of cooperative wineries, estate wineries and independent grape growers who cultivate more than 99 percent of this DOC.  This is a small wine growing region with about twenty different grapes grown on 5,300 hectares.  Approximately 60 percent of the region is dedicated to white wines made up of Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Müller Thurgau, Sylvaner, Kerner, Riesling, and Veltliner.  Reds are focused on Schiava and Lagrein primarily but Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc also are grown.

We tried some really interesting, diverse and tasty wines including a sparkling (Arunda Metodo Classico Brut) and some classic whites (Muri-Gries Wine Estate/Monastery Cellar 2016 Pinot Bianco, Cantina Kurtatsch 2015 Pinot Grigio Penoner, 2015 Manincor Terlan Sauvignon Tannenberg, 2015 Castelfeder Gewürztraminer Vom Lehm) and a delicious red, the 2014 Hans Rottensteiner Lagrein Grieser Riserva Select.  This was one of my top region discoveries and I loved the diversity, the German and Austrian influences and the wines were fabulous.

 

 

Our third tasting was hosted by the Associazione Puglia in Rose.  The association is focused on promoting the regional wine industry including rosé from Apulia, the easternmost region of Italy surrounded by water – the Adriatic Sea in the east and north, and by the Ionian Sea in the south.   The climate is Mediterranean in nature with variances in the Summer and Winter.  We tried a white wine, several roses and reds from Cantine Teanum, Cantina La Marchesa and Tenuta Zicari. I kept coming back to the Cantine Teanum ‘Alta’ Falanghina white with its notes of tropical fruit, green apple and a nice minerality.  I also enjoyed the primitivo reds with lots of black fruit that were easy to drink.

 

Renato Vezza, the winemaker at Cascina Luisin

Our fourth tasting was focused on the delicious wines of Piedmont with the Associazione Nuovo Radici.  The region has 58 DOC and DOCG zones, is the sixth largest producer in volume and has the highest percentage of Italian classified wines. And wow – these were stunners.  Piedmont is known for its variety of wines from Asti Spumante to Barbera to the swoon worthy wines made with Nebbiolo like Barolo and Barbaresco as well as Gattinara, Gemme and Roero.  What struck me was the approachability of these wines, which traditionally need time to age and open.

We tasted wines from Cantino del Pino, Comm. G.B. Burlotto, Cascina Bongiovanni, Villa Giada and Cascina Luisin.  I was so happy I had the chance to talk and taste with Renato Vezza, the winemaker at Cascina Luisin.  There are so many gems to discover at this winery with a focus on Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Arneis grapes.

Our final tasting was by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Colli Berici E Vicenza, an organization bringing together the 34 wineries of the region.  The Colli Berici refers to the hills between the cities of Vicenza and Padua.  The area is known for its clay, volcanic and limestone soils with varying degrees of rain through the region.

 

We tried five wines from the Colli Berici region – the 2016 Collis Decanto Sauvignon Colli Berici, the 2015 Pegoraro Tai Rosso Colli Berici, the 2015 Vitevis Tai Rosso Colli Berici, the 2013 Piovene Porto Godi Tai Rosso Thovara Colli Berici and the 2013 Gianne Tessari Pianalto Rosso Colli Berici.  And then we got to try some local delicacies, which were amazing.

I tasted hundreds of wines and had a few sit-down meetings with some wine folks that I wanted to highlight.

La Salette – Rossella Scamperie

My college friend who now resides in Veneto saw on Facebook that I was going to be attending Vinitaly.  He reached out to give me a recommendation on his favorite winery and introduced me to Rossella Scamperle, a member of the winery family and his Italian language teacher.

Me and Rossella Scamperle

La Salette was built as a sanctuary and tribute to the Madonna when she freed the vineyards from phylloxera.  The sanctuary is a church that overlooks the hills and vineyards.  One of those vineyards is owned by the Scamperle family, a historical winemaking family of Valpolicella who have the same name as the church.  For the past four generations, La Salette has been dedicated to producing classic Valpolicella and has 49 dedicated wine growing acres for grapes like Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta and a little bit of Molinara, and Croatina.

We went through the portfolio of Valpolicella from the entry wines that were fresh and easy to drink to the reserve Valpolicella, Vernose and Amarone wines, that were nuanced and delicious.

Consorzio Tutela Roero

My friend Constance Chamberlain, the CEO of Wine & Co, asked me to a tasting of Roero, another new region to me.  Roero is north of Alba (Piedmont), on the left bank of the River Tanaro, between the plain of Carmagnola and the low hills of Astigiano.  It used to be part of the Goldo Padano, a sea that dates back 130 million years.  The terroir is known for its sandy soils, limestone, clay, fossil rock and sedimentary materials from the old sea.  The Roero hills are very dry in nature and get the least amount of rain in all of Piedmont.

The area is known for arneis and nebbiolo grapes.  The designation “Roero” is for red wines made from at least 95 percent nebbiolo grapes.  In most cases, Roero DOCG is 100 percent nebbiolo.  Roero Arneis is a term for white wines that are made from 95 percent arneis grapes and those that are designated Roero Arneis DOCG contain 100 percent arneis.  Other Roero DOCG wines include Roero Riserva and Roero Arneis Spumante.

Francesco Monchiero, President of the Roero Consortia and of Monchiero Carbone

I had the chance to talk to the President of the Roero Consorzio, Francesco Monchiero of Monchiero Carbone, one of the biggest and oldest estates in Roero.  It seems like this region is all about family and people that have worked together for generations.   Monchiero Carbone is in Canale, and was established in the 90’s to reunite two families with winemaking ties back to 1918.  Today, Francesco and his wife, Lucrezia, focus on Arneis. When I asked him about the phrase, “Ogni uss a l’ha so tanbuss” and the crest on every bottle, he responded that it stood for “Every door has its knocker.”  He added, “if you knock on our door, you’ll find our style of wines.”

 

We tasted a variety of red and white wines and I learned that Arneis can age like Riesling.  These are very drinkable, approachable and fresh wines that can be opened today, but some of them should have “riserva” status as they were more nuanced and elegant.  One sidenote: the Arneis Reserve classification will come into effect in 2017 and requires 16 months of aging prior to bottling.

We tried Roero wines from Giovani Armando, Monchiero Carbone, Marco Porello, Azienda Agricola Malvirà, Cornarea, Careglio, Matteo Correggla, Montriggio, Nino Costa, Azienda Agricola Cascina Ca’Rossa and Deltetto.

Ruche: Luca Ferraris

Luca Ferraris of Roche Ferrari Winery

Luca Ferraris from Roche Ferrari Winery is the second largest ruche producer – a varietal that I had never heard of.  When Joe Roberts asked me if I wanted to completely “geek out over a region,” the answer was absolutely.  He took me to meet Luca, whose family has been involved in making wine since 1921.   Luca’s great-grandfather Luigi Ferraris emigrated to American and was one of the lucky folks to strike gold.  He sent the money back to his wife, Bruno Teresa, and that led to the purchase of the house that later became the first winery location.

The family began to acquire additional land, vines and bought barrels to make wines. His dad grew grapes and sold them to a cooperative until 2001 when the family started making wine. He had a big commitment to high-quality production and considered it his job to evangelize the varietal.  Today the Ferraris estate produces about 130,000 bottles of wine (about 50,000 of Ruchè) from 18 vineyards covering 25 hectares. Luca Ferraris Agricola is the largest family owned agricultural company in the seven municipalities of the Ruchè-growing region.

Ruchè is a relatively scarce, low production red varietal grown almost exclusively hillside around Castagnole Monferrato in the Piedmont region in northern Italy.  It’s also a fickle grape with its many leaves to prune that is a labor of love for those who helped it earn its DOC designation in 1987.  Overall, the wine has a bright ruby color with delicate floral and red berry aromas.

We tried three Ruchè wines – a classic good, better and best offering from the winery.  Our first was the entry level and very easy to drink 2015 Ruchè Clasic.  I got notes of black and sour cherry, rose petals and bright fruit with some earthiness.

Our next wine was the 2015 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato Bric d’Bianc is the name of the hill most suited for the cultivation of Ruchè.

The next Ruchè was the 2015 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato Opera Prima, which was a single vineyard wine.  It was delicious and elegant with notes of the cherry and flowers, but depth and complexity.  Luca dedicated this wine in memory of his grandfather and it’s very special.

We also tried the 2016 Vigna del Parroco, which had the same floral notes but with red raspberry and almost a nuttiness.

Our final wine was the 2015 Castello Monaci Primitivo Salento Artas.  This was a treat – I got tons of dark cherry, raspberry jam and black fruit with notes of rosemary, mocha and cedar.  It was elegant and continued to open during our discussion.

And here my whirlwind discussion of wines comes to an end.  It was an life-changing journey with amazing people and I feel like I have much more of an understanding of Italian wines.  I am so ready to continue to experience the wines, culture and evolution of what I learned at Vinitaly.  I consider myself a proud advocate of continuing letting you, my readers know, how my journey progresses.

 


Vinitaly: A Lone Wine Blogger’s Novice Navigation of 128,000 people, 4,000 exhibitors, 400 seminars and the quest for a story

After our trip to the Trento DOC region, I had some quality bus time with Gioia Morena Gatti, the Head of the Food and Wine Section for the ICE-Italian Trade Promotion Agency.  The agency is a government organization that promotes Italian companies globally in conjunction with the Ministry of Economic Development and provides ground cover and support to Italian companies looking to expand internationally in 86 cities around the world.  Keep your eyes open for a big focus on U.S. consumers showcasing Italian wines.  While the U.S. is the biggest market for Italian exports, increasing that market share, especially against French wines, is a key focus.

 A Group of Strangers Who Quickly Became Longtime Friends

 

 

Ornellaia Estate Director Axel Heinz and me

Finally, we arrived in Verona and were ready to begin our Opera Wine Experience.  Veronafiere, Vinitaly and the Wine Spectator host an exclusive invitation only “OperaWine, Finest Italian Wines: 100 Great Producers” event showcasing the best of the best Italian wines.  This was the sixth annual event and focused on the best wines presented by the 100 greatest Italian producers selected by “Wine Spectator.”  It was quite the adventure and copious amounts of Italian high-end dream wines were freely poured and talked about by the estate owners and winemakers.  Each room was segmented by region and you either had to have an advance game plan (note to self) or you found yourself glomming on to others that were not “experiencing their first rodeo.”

And now to Vinitaly, I’ll have some follow-up stories on the wineries that I met and a fraction of the wines that I got to taste in next week’s blog.  As a technology marketing gal, I am no stranger to large trade shows and earned my stripes at the Consumer Electronics Show, the National Retail Foundation Show, the Mobile Congress Show, etc.  I have balanced a box of 50 press kits on my head walking for miles to a booth because it was a union town (Las Vegas) and my client didn’t have union folks on call.  I’ve danced well into the late hours in a club with the Samsung dancers who were hired to drive traffic to the booth.  I’ve been in massive two-story booths where I’ve been involved with the biggest client meetings trying to get a deal done.  What I haven’t done is to be on the other side as a journalist trying to make sense of it all with copious amounts of wine.

Let me put this into perspective for you.  According to Vinitaly, the show netted out like this:

  • 128,000 visitors from 142 countries.
  • 30,000 international wine buyers, up 8% on 2016.
  • The show attracted 4,270 exhibiting companies from 30 countries, up 4%.
  • There were also a series of 400 seminars and debates looking at issues such as increased US protectionism and the implications of Brexit.
  • There were also key business deals done including China’s 1919 distribution business signing a deal with the Vinitaly International Academy to increase Italian wine sales in China by more than 2 million bottles by 2020, worth €68 million euros.

And you can’t throw a huge show like this without a little controversy.  Through no fault of Vinitaly, Italian police removed wines from the Crimea region due to be exhibited by Russian companies.

Imagine trying to navigate over 4,000 exhibitors with a large percentage of them pouring multiple wines in different exhibit halls and pavilions.  Now imagine doing it for an average of eight hours (at least) a day.   Massive.  Crazy.  Incredible.  Amazing.  Overwhelming.  Awesome.  Life Experience.  The list goes on.

Vinitaly’s Stevie Kim and me

This is what we did until our last night together where we were hosted by The Italian Trade Agency, the Economic Ministry of Italy, Vinitaly and Veronafiere for a lovely dinner at the Palazzo Gran Guardia.  Also, I had the chance to see one of my favorite power CEOs, Stevie Kim, who seemed completely put together for having just pulled off such a massive event.

Our table was filled with many of my favorites from the trip and we had this amazing dinner that showcased the brilliance of Italian food.

The first course was pasta with cherry tomatoes, basil and Campania buffalo mozzarella.


The second course was risotto with Monte Veronese cheese and diced pears with a mountain butter.

We moved on to sliced beef, chicory and parmesan cheese in balsamic vinegar, Hollandaise potatoes and celeriac gratin.

And then the grand finale, a “Millefoglie Strachin”, by the renowned Pasticceria Perbellini.  No words.  One of the best desserts that I ever had and I still regret leaving two thirds of it behind.

Joe Roberts, Zoolander Style…

Vinitaly was an incredible, bucket-list experience that is so hard to describe accurately as it is the world’s largest wine trade show.  After 14 hours of sleep in 7 days, I prepared for my 3 am wakeup call (okay, you never prepare for that) for my 4 am car pickup… There’s always time for sleep on the other side…


A Tale of Two Cities: Trento to Verona

Charles Dickens started “A Tale of Two Cities” with the famous line, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  I had my own two city experience with a focus on the best of times where I was hosted by the Italian Trade Commission on a promotional tour with importers, restauranteurs and other supporters of Italian wines.  The Italian Trade Commission has a mission to promote Italian wines with US consumers, drive market share (more than 350 varieties of Italian wine are exported) and conduct trade education events.

The stars aligned for me and I upgraded my flight to London so the 18-total hour trip ending in Venice with the transfer to Trento was a little less hard on the body than I anticipated.

Trento is located in the Adige River Valley in Trentino-Alta Adige/Südtirol in Italy.  The landscape in Trentino includes Lake Garda to the Cevedale Mountain range and includes the Dolomites.  The Trento Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is an appellation for white and rosé sparkling wine made in Trentino, Italy.  Our exclusive focus was on sparkling, which focused on varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier all grown in the Province of Trento.  France, the leading provider of champagne and sparkling wines in the world, has a strong connection to the area.  When the chardonnay grapes were brought to the country in 1900 by Giulio Ferrari, Trento was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  After graduating from the Forschungsanstalt für Garten- und Weinbau in Geisenheim/Rheingau, Germany, Ferrari made champagne in Épernay.

Fast forward to 1984 and the region started a commitment to be recognized with the founding of the Trento DOC Institute.  Nine years later, it was given the DOC status.  Trento DOC produces its sparkling wines in the méthode champenoise style, which means the second fermentation for sparkling must occur in the bottle with old school riddling required along with disgorgement where you freeze a small amount of wine in the neck of the bottle and removie the plug of ice containing the lees.

Our welcome gathering was at the Sartori’s Hotel with a four course menu paired with wine from 12 producers – Abate Nero, Bellaveder, Cantine Ferrari, Cesarino Sforza Spumanti, Letari, Maso Nero, Cantina D’Isera, Cantina Aldeno, Cantina Rovere Della Luna Aichholz, Cesarini Sforza Spumanti, Pisoni and Revi.

We gathered mostly jetlagged – some with lost luggage, some sporting credentials, some with more complex delays than others – all with the end goal of immersing in our experience.  I’m going to talk about our “Breakfast Club group” in a future column – but it was an amazing group of passionate wine folks that covered all stereotypes and defied them all by week end.

 

 

The next day we started at Palazzo Roccabruna, the Chamber of Commerce of Trento’s location, that houses the Enoteca Provinciale del Trentino (the Provincial Wine Promotion Board of Trentino) and is dedicated to the development and promotion of culture, tradition and products of Trentino showcasing the storied wine history of the region.

 

Roberto Anesi, a local wine expert, led us in a master class on eight Trento DOC wines including 2012 Revi Brut Millesimato, 2012 Tananai Brut Borgo dei Posseri, 2011 Maso Martis Dosaggio Zero Riserva, 2010 Cantine Ferrari Perle, 2010 Letrari Brut Riserva, 2009 Cavit Altemasi Riserva Graal, 2008 Cantina Rotaliana di Mezzolombardo Redor Riserva and 2008 Rotari Flavio Riserva.  The region has more than 45 producers and 100 labels.  The terroir is very diverse in climate, soil, weather and temperature.  There were lots of references throughout the two days of the “towering palisades” that are also known as the Dolomites, a mountain range that has a material impact on the region’s weather, grape growing, and how wines are made.

 

 

We then moved to our lunch at Scrigno del Duomo Restaurant, which was located near the historic and original wine cellar and 2,000-year-old door in the old City that came from a column from a Roman church.

 

Our Gracious Tourguide, Daughter Alessandra Stelzer

Our first winery stop was Maso Martis where we got to walk through the vineyards of this second-generation vineyard.  Maso Martis has been making wines since 1986 and is known for its terroir – calcareous soil and Trentino red rock.  Since 2013, the winery has been organically certified and makes 60,000 bottles per year with 45,000 of them dedicated to Trento DOC.  We had a chance to taste four other wineries – Maso Martis, Revi, Borgo del Posseri e Cantina Rotaliana.

Rotari Winemaker Matteo Covazzi

 

Our second winery stop was Rotari – Mezzocorona, which has been making wine since 1987 – with a very different business model of sourcing from more than 1,500 member farmers – many who do this as a second job.  This is a much bigger operation with more than 500,000 bottles hand-picked with a mix of NV and vintage affiliations.  We tried a combination of these wines and I adored the 2008 Rotari Flavio Brut, which has been made since 1998 with an average production of 5,000 to 10,000 bottles.

We returned that night to Palazzo Roccabruna where we were hosted at a dinner showcasing all things Trento DOC including more sparkling wines.

Our morning stop was at Altemasi, which is part of CAVIT’s premium range of sparkling wines focusing on the Methodo Classico winemaking procedure made from grapes from Trento hillsides, the Brentonico plateau and Valle dei Lahi Valley.  The CAVIT winery is quite the production – a four level, highly functioning, high producing and high technology facility.

Export Manager Massimiliano Giacomini

Our last stop before we hit the road to Verona was Ferrari which was led by Brand Ambassador, Jamie Stewart, who was quite the quotable and passionate host for all things Ferrari and the region.  My favorite, “the discovery of champagne was like man discovering fire for the second time.”

Ferrari started with the dream of Guilio Ferrari after working in Champagne France to create a sparkling wine in Trentino with the ability to compete with top French champagnes, which was a vision as none of the champagne grapes were grown in Italy.  He planted Chardonnay in the region and started to produce a few selected bottles with success.  Ferrari did not have an heir for the business so we started a search for the right owner to continue his dream.

He chose Bruno Lunelli, who owned a wine shop and shared the same passion.  The winery has continued to be run by family members and they kept Guilio at the winery until his death in the late 60s.  Today the winery has a large production 4.5 million bottles and are known for its brands — Ferrari Rosé, Ferrari Perlé and Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore.


Jesse Rodriguez: Sommelier and Renaissance Man Committed to Change the Lives of Others

The Women of EWR

The story of wine is often unpredictable.  This weekend I attended a Leadership Retreat with 40 plus women who are a part of the Dallas Chamber’s Executive Women’s Roundtable.  This is a group of C-level women who are usually the only females sitting in a leadership role in some of the biggest companies in the world.  We come together for this retreat once a year to learn, laugh, network and reconnect with the other women in the room and ourselves.  This year it was at the Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina.

Naturally, wine is a part of this process.  On Friday, we gathered at the River House in the private wine cellar for an amazing dinner.  There I met a true Renaissance man.  Jesse Rodriguez is the Director of Wine and took me for a tour of the cellar, which was amazing and full of hand-selected bottles of boutique and very special wines from around the world.

Because this is a leadership retreat, one of the women asked him a very pointed question about legacy that we had been discussing during the conference.  At that point, we found out the many nuances of Jesse.  He builds the best wine lists in America with a list of coveted awards from the Wine Spectator Grand Award as well as Forbes.com’s “America’s Best Spots for Wine” as well as the first ever nomination for the James Beard Awards Semi-Finalist for Outstanding Wine Service and one of Wine Enthusiast’s “100 Best Wine Restaurants” for two years and the list goes on. He was the Head Sommelier at Napa Valley’s The French Laundry, helping the restaurant become the only dining venue in California to receive a Three Michelin Star rating.

The Menu and Wines from the Dinner

He is relentless in his own learning.  Jesse is an Advanced Sommelier by the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, is credentialed as a Certified Wine Educator by the Society of Wine Educators, and has completed the Diploma level through The Wine and Spirits Educational Trust (WSET) and is in his second year of his Masters of Wine certification. Rodriguez was named one of “America’s Best New Sommeliers” by Wine & Spirits magazine in 2007 and one of StarChefs.com’s 2010 “Los Angeles-San Diego Rising Stars.”  He was also named “Best Sommelier” by the readers, editors and critics of San Diego Magazine and Ranch & Coast: San Diego’s luxury lifestyle magazine for four consecutive years.

He’s a teacher – he holds a Master’s in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University, where he also received his undergraduate degree.

And most importantly, he is a kind family man with a passion to give back to the community.  He grew up in Beaumont, California, a Southern California blue collar desert town, the grandson of a Mexican farm worker.  He discovered his passion for wine when waiting tables at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale.  Jesse launched a six-month campaign to get a job on the wine team and quickly rose through the ranks.

Once he was making “real money,” he created Figueroa Family Scholarship as a tribute to his grandfather 11 years ago for Mexican American students at Beaumont High.  “I was able to put aside $1,000 and that’s where it all began,” he said.  He personally goes back to Beaumont every year to award the grant.  He also serves as a career-long mentor to those recipients.

He’s a wine maker.  He and his good friend and fellow sommelier, Michael Scafiddi, make pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon under the label Kaizen.

And most importantly, he’s one heck of a nice man with a passion for lifelong learning, the artistry of wine and making the customer feel special.


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?

 


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!


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.


Wines That Stand Up to Scorching Texas Temperatures

It’s July in Texas.  The temperature is scorching, the lake parties are plentiful and the wine is flowing.  This wine round-up features wines from seven different regions and unique countries. It was also my first experience with Albariño from Uruguay.  I reviewed 20 wines and here are the ones that made the cut.

Rose

California

2015 Matchbook Rosé – we were at a friend’s lake house when we tried this Syrah-based rosé.  It was an awesome complement to a hot day.  Notes of ripe melon, strawberry and a nice creaminess.  It was gone in a matter of minutes…

Whites

California

2013 Balletto Cedar Ridge Chardonnay – Rich and elegant, with citrus, guava honey and floral notes make this an easy drinking, yet nuanced Chardonnay.

New Zealand

2015 Chasing Venue New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – tropical, grapefruit, lime and passion fruit made this a well-balanced representation of this region.

Uruguay

2015 Bodega Garzon Albariño – ever tried an Albariño from Uruguay?  I hadn’t either.  Really nice stone fruit, citrus and flowers with notes of minerality and a rich mouthfeel.

Reds

California

2014 Balletto BCD Vineyard Pinot Noir – black cherry, mocha, mushroom and spice make this a nuanced and elegant pinot noir.

2012 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – this Bordeaux blend is delicious. Notes of blackberries and black cherries with cedar and chocolate.  This wine is elegant, silky and drinks beautifully.

2013 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, cassis, herbs, mocha and dark cherry make this a smooth and very drinkable wine.

Italy

2014 Tenuta Sassoregale Sangiovese Maremma Toscana – this is a wine with a personality. Big notes of black cherry and berries, licorice, herbs and spice.

Oregon

2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir – cherry, herbs, white pepper and cassis make this a fabulous representation of Oregon Pinot Noir.

Spain

2010 Marques de Riscal Baron de Chirel Reserve Rioja – this wine was absolutely delicious.  Big notes of blackberry, stewed prunes, vanilla, smoke and spice made this an elegant and big Rioja that just got better and better as you sipped it.


Day Three Paso Robles: From Zip Liner to Winer to Niner (Estates)

Feeling pretty certain this is a day that I will not be able to replicate … in any other wine region.  And how cool is that?

We arrived at Ancient Peaks Winery, which was the vision of three local winegrowing and ranching families, who dreamed of producing great wines from the Margarita Ranch region.  Fun fact – Robert Mondavi planted the Margarita Vineyard under a lease agreement until 2005 (when the Constellation acquisition happened) when the families decided to make the wines from their vineyard.  Ancient Peaks was chosen as the name due to the mountains that border Margarita Vineyard.  Santa Margarita Ranch first had grapes planted by Franciscan missionaries in 1780 and today is one of California’s oldest continuously operated cattle ranches.  With five distinct soil types and over 50 vineyard blocks, this is a winery that happens to have a town located in the middle of the ranch property.

We started our day with VP of Operations, Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, and Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor, with a safety lesson, a release form, tons of equipment ranging from a helmet to a harness to gloves and we set up the mountain to begin our adventure.  It was time to go zip lining across the pinot vineyards … and how cool is that?  Click here for my Paso Robles Zipline experience. We had a few folks on the team that opted out, but the rest of us were ready to go and seek adventure.  And what an adrenaline high!

Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor

After our zip line experience, we adjourned to the tasting room to learn more about the vineyard and the wines.  I loved the story about evolving from a corporate relationship to a small family-owned business based on wine quality and a focus on a sense of place.  Sinor said, “we want to let the vineyard speak and make wines that express the vintage for a price that over delivers.”

Our next stop was my favorite food experience (with fantastic wine) of the entire trip.  Niner Wine Estates is a LEED Certified Winery at Heart Hill Vineyard, a vineyard that has a natural heart-shaped growth.  We were hosted by Andy Niner, General Manager, and Molly Bohlman, Winemaker, who talked candidly about the struggles of pulling off a big estate vision – planting and harvesting three wineries, launching one restaurant with well-known chef Maegan Loring and making the decision to focus on estate wines – mostly Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.

 

 

Our lunch was amazing (I am still dreaming about the carrot soup which shockingly was fantastic with the Sangiovese) and we had the chance to visit the chef garden, which was an exercise in frenetic harvesting, in motion.  The experience was an artistic vison of how each wine should go with the food.

We briefly visited Tin City, a business park of small production wineries.  We toured Field Recordings, where we saw some innovative wine canning and packaging, and Broadside Wines, which had some off the beaten path Italian varietals.  The next stop was ONX Wines, which was one of my favorite wineries of the trip.  ONX only makes 4,000 cases and is the only estate vineyard in the Tin City complex.  I loved these wines and would have shipped them home, but many of them were sold out due to the small production quantity.

Our next stop was Eberle Winery, the oldest continuously owned winery in Paso.  Gary Eberle is often referred to as the “godfather of Paso Robles” and was instrumental in establishing the AVA in 1983.  After graduating from Penn State with a football scholarship, he joined the SEC with a graduate focus on cellular genetics.  After developing an appreciation for wine due to a professor who introduced him to great French wines, he headed to U.C. Davis for his enology degree and moved to Paso Robles in the early 1970s.  This led him to a decision in the late 70’s to produce his own wine and he founded Eberle (German name for small boar).

He also asked the Steinbeck Family, who has evolved from growers to vintner ten years ago, to show their small production wines.  These wines are fantastic but a gift to those who visit Paso and Eberle.

Gary Eberle

Eberle built the first wine caves in Paso Robles, which now total 16,000 square feet of underground caves.  He decided to create a community – tastings are free and the vibe is “family reunion.”  Gary personally cooked his world-famous BBQ paired with Eberle and Steinbeck wines as we watched the sunset over the vineyards.  Such an iconic ending with a Paso pioneer.

So let me end with the only caveat of the trip – the San Luis Obispo airport.  Be afraid – you will hear how easy, how fast, how simple your check-in will be.  This is false.  You need to allow for the 90 minutes you hear about and frequently ignore.  We didn’t do that.  Four out of six (unable to give up the wine because we couldn’t check luggage) did not make our original flight.  I made my connection (18 minutes in between) from Phoenix to Dallas doing a quintessential OJ Simpson (pre-murder) and I still feel bad for my poor seatmates.

 

 


Favorite Brands Portfolio Tasting: Kid in a Candy Store Reality

Being a blogger is pretty amazing.  The A-list invitations to dinners, wine debuts and portfolio tastings makes for a blessed existence. I recently posted pictures of more than 100 bottles of wine and amazing wine makers present at a Favorite Brands portfolio tasting and my direct messages exploded with very pointed questions about the process and how does one get invited.  Having just returned from a Universal Trip with my daughter to Harry Potter World, this is my idea of “kid in a candy store” with fun that is not manufactured.

So the main question is what is a portfolio tasting?  Essentially it’s when distributors debut the entire portfolio of wines available to the wine shops, restaurants, country clubs, etc., who have the ability to buy wines in the market.  Favorite Brands always has an incredible European portfolio of wines that are highly coveted and delicious and the wine makers are always front and center.  This year, Pierre Pastre from Chateau Fortia; Bertrand Stehilin of Bertrand Stehilin Vigneron; Bruno Boisson from Domaine Boisson and Domaine Cros de Romet; Jean Baptiste Lafond of Domaine Lafond; Luc Planty of Chateau Guiraud; John Junguenet of Alain Junguenet and Peter Wasserman of Becky Wasserman & Co all attended to talk about the wines.

Essentially, this showcase is a “best of the best” weighed by regional preference but focused on a specialty or region of wines that are believed to be successful in a certain region.  If you have heard of “wholesale markets,” this is the wine industry version of that.

I can’t tell you how to get an invite, but you will see pictures of what I loved. I hope it reaches your favorite wine bar, restaurant or retail store so you get a chance to try these wines, which is the entire goal of these portfolio tastings.

 




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