Archived entries for Meritage

September Wine Round Up: Three Affordable Wines Made the Grade

In the spirit of another Thirsty Thursday #thristythursday, I grabbed a group of co-workers and we tried a variety of sample wines — eight in total.  The following were my favorite three sampled:

White:

2013 Kendall Jackson Avant Sauvignon Blanc – lime, lemongrass, green pepper, citrus and minerality made this a great patio ready wine.

2012 Matchbook The Arsonist – candid apple, caramel popcorn, citrus, vanilla and tropical notes made up this wine, but it had a nice balance and finish at the end.

Red:

2012 Kendall Jackson Avant Red Blend – an everyday drinking wine with lots of red fruit, vanilla, mocha and nutmeg.


WBC Pre-Trip: A Glimpse into the Soul of Santa Barbara Wine

Larry Schaffer, Tercero Wines

Our WBC journey began with bread.  And yeast.  And really good wine.  What I found about the Santa Barbara region is that it has a soul.  It’s real, it’s eclectic, it’s quotable and it’s incredibly real.  It’s something that you can’t get with a cursory look, which is why I am so glad for the experiences that were planned outside the conference – because by the time I got there, I got it.

We started first with Larry Schaffer, the winemaker and owner of Tercero Wines, who began the week a stranger and ended as up in our circle of friends.  Larry’s got a fun background – he started out as a financial analyst in the music industry and evolved into a role doing sales and marketing for a publishing company.  In 2001, he wanted a change and became intrigued with the grape to glass concept.  Fast forward to a degree from UC Davis, a job at Fess Parker for six years and then to his own label.

Larry’s personality is larger than life and he held his own with our group … and then some.  He kept his comedic timing and composure until https://twitter.com/marcygordon asked him, “If he had always been interested in all things yeast?”  At that point all bets were off and we officially were added to his chalkboard of funny and snarky things people said. 

Tercero (“Third”) was named because Larry is a third child and he has three kids.  His wines were incredible – I took home a mixed case of the 2012 Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and Grenache.  He talked about the similarities of a winemaker to an artist.  “Wine should be like art,” he said.  “Every wine reflects the unique vintage, vineyards and experience of the winemaker.”

Mikael Sigouin, Winemaker for Beckmen and Kaena

We also went to Beckmen where we met Hawaiian native Mikael Sigouin, the winemaker for both Beckmen and Kaena.    Mikael talked about Grenache being like a guitar riff – he has eight different compositions of Grenache from seven different places.  We went through the elements of each of the Grenaches – and it was amazing to see the differences.  In the wines, we experienced music – from Bruno Mars to Michael Jackson to Prince.

We ended our evening with a group dinner at the Hitching Post and a stay at the same Day’s Inn featured in the movie Sideways.   Very old school, very fun and yes, we did drink f’in merlot.

The Texas Bloggers Get ‘Photobombed’ by Photographer George Rose

The next day we were invited to a very special tasting seminar “Santa Barbara: Drinking in the Differences” at Star Lane Winery, to truly experience Santa Barbara wines.  I can’t tell you how thankful I was to be included in this special day underwritten by the San Francisco Wine School and the wineries.   Fred Swan, Master Sommelier David Glancy and more than 20 winemakers and owners took us through the different Santa Barbara Country AVAs. 

The Central Coast is an incredibly diverse region made up of 250 miles of coastline and is comprised of ten very diverse counties – from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.  It’s California’s largest AVA with four million total acres in which more than 100,000 are under vine and with more than 360 wineries.  And the sense of place is very different – there’s no standard climate, temperature or soil.  In the last three years, 200 new wineries have opened.   Two river valleys – the Santa Maria River and the Santa Ynez River Valley are the two binders.

The region has a storied and long history beginning in 1782 when Junipero Serra planted the first vines.  Four years later, the Santa Barbara Mission was established.  Sadly this came to a screeching halt in 1920 with Prohibition and the wineries didn’t begin producing again until 1962.  Today the region has five AVAs (with more in progress), has 50 varieties of wines and is incredibly diverse by regions/AVAs due to the temperature.

We tried 22 wines from the different AVAs – everything from sparkling wine, dry Riesling, Riesling, Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, white blends, chardonnay, pinot noir, grenache and syrah from Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA, Sta. Rita Hills AVA (which must be spelled this way due to the Chilean winery), Ballard Canyon AVA, Los Olivos District AVA and Happy Canyon AVA.  The wineries that participated included Riverbench, Fess Parker, Municipal Winemakers, Dragonette, Presqu’ile, Star Lane, Brander, Jonata, Solomon Hills, Clos Pepe, Melville, Bien Nacido, Chanin, Foxen, Tercero, Qupe, Samsara and Stolpman.

My observations, which continued to be reinforced during and post conference, were as follows:

  • This is an underappreciated region.  The wines are diverse. The wines are unique.  The wines are amazing.  The wines have a true sense of place.  You need to seek out these wines.
  • The people here were great.  Wes Hagen, the winemaker for Clos Pepe said it best, “wine is liquid humanism.  We need to inspire the imagination of the people that drink own wines.”  I have never met a more down to earth group of people that have gathered together in their sense of place – it’s collegial, it’s fun and most importantly, it’s real.  You can see it as the winemakers helped each other go through the AVA application process to the banter about terrior, climate and grapes.  These are people that you want to party with later.

As Larry said at the end of the day, “we want to tell the story of our wines not by talking, but by what is in the glass.”   Tyler Thomas, the winemaker for Star Vineyards, added, “this region features great wine made by great vineyards and great people.” 


Andegavia: Smart Package, Tasty Product

The folks at Andegavia Cask Wines reached out to me in the Spring with a green proposition – help reduce the amount of discarded wine bottles and still drink good wine daily.  A chat with our recycling guys would result in an admission that I drink a lot of wine and therefore generate a lot of empty bottles.  Or, perhaps they’d advise an intervention.

Andegavia Cask Wines was named after the region, Andegavia, where the wine trade began and where wines were once shipped in casks or barrels.  It’s meant to be an intersection between Old World and New World, but with a twist.  Andegavia is working with Patrick Saboe, the head wine maker at The Wine Foundry in Sonoma.  Patrick’s been known for overseeing production for Verismo, Keller Estate, Petroni and Pezzi King and has produced wines that the critics love.

I received a .375 bottle of Ruthven Napa Valley Red Blend.  If you look on its website, you see that the packaging is sustainable and eco-friendly.  I tasted big berry, black pepper and herbal notes with a bit of mocha.  It was a very nice wine and placed well in the #thirstythursday tasting with my colleagues.  Then you get to the price – one cask, which is four bottles, for $78, $199 for three casks making this a very affordable option that has some care and tending to the wine.  There are several red blends, one pinot noir and a chardonnay.


Summer Wine Round-up: Feeling Thirsty?

If you’ve been following Dallas Wine Chick since I started my job as the head of marketing for an energy software company, you know that I work with a great group of people who are more than willing to step in and “assist” in the tasting of wines.  We started #thirstythursdays which evolved into #winewednesdays and then occasionally turned into #tipsytuesdays.  My travel has been challenging lately, so when we were able to gather, I would open a large number of wines that I needed to review.

The latest tasting included 25 wines from Spain, France, California, Argentina, Italy and even two ciders – the first time that I have ever been given cider samples.  These were the 14 that made the favorite list:

Sparkling/Rose

California

2013 Isabel Mondavi Deep Rose Cabernet Sauvignon – very crisp with raspberry, strawberry and apple. I’ve come over the years to enjoy rose much more than I used to and wines like this have caused that evolution.

Spain

NV Anna de Codorniu Cava – a very nice drinking cava with notes of apple, lots of minerality and freshly baked bread.

Whites:

France

2011 Chateau Lamothe de Haux Blanc – this was a delightful white wine with crispness, character and balance at $13.  Refreshing and with a great minerality.

Spain

2012 Martin Codax Albarino – I am a huge fan of this wine and Albarino wines in general.  This one had great minerality, pear, white peach and notes of citrus.

2012 Laxas Albarino — lovely and also well regarded.  I tasted pineapple, orange, apple and apricot.  It was also a great expression of this grape.

2013 Cune Monopole Rioja – tropical fruit, jasmine and other floral notes make this a perfect wine for a hot Texas Summer. 

Reds:

Argentina

2008 Susana Balbo Brioso Agrelo Malbec – this was one of my favorite reds of the tasting and personified what a Malbec should taste like. 

California

2011 Emblem Cabernet – a very nice cabernet with notes of blackberry, cassis, vanilla and tobacco.

2012 Olema Pinot Noir – black cherry, all spice, black pepper with some of the earthiness that comes from Sonoma Pinot Noirs.  It was a head turner.

NV Rare Red 4 Grape Blend – a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Verdot, Petite Sirah and Merlot from Lodi, Paso Robles and the Central Valley.  This is your perfect pizza wine at $10.

Chile

2012 Rios de Tinta – I thought this was a very affordably priced everyday Chilean table wine.  I got notes of blackberry, mocha and plum.

2011 Rios de Chile Reserva Carmenere – lots of tobacco, vanilla, clove, plum and blackberry in this wine. Well balanced and a great representation.

Oregon

2011 Elizabeth Chambers Winemaker’s Cuvee Pinot Noir – this was delicious and I tasted mushroom, plum, black cherry, truffle and violets.  I so enjoyed this and am very glad this Oregon-based winery has expanded nationally and to Texas.

Ciders:

I am new to craft ciders so it was fun for me to learn more about Michael & Paul Scotto’s approach to bringing wine making techniques to making hard apple cider.  They use a combination of five different apple varieties and the process of making wine and making cider have many similarities.  We tried two versions – the William Tell Hard Apple Cider and the William Tell Pinot Grigio Hard Apple Cider.  I liked them both, but the 15 percent of Pinot Grigio had a special something.  It was delicious, refreshing and tasted like a baked apple.


A Conversation with Eleanor Coppola: The Untold Story of a Renaissance Woman

 Courtesy of Coppola Winery

I was honored last week to spend several hours with Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola at two different Dallas-based events.  The first, and my absolutely favorite, was an intimate lunch with a who’s who of women in Dallas food and wine, hosted by Eleanor Coppola, who is one of the most iconic women I’ve had the chance to sit down with in the wine industry.

You would never know that she has become part of the “first families” of California wine.  You would never know that she’s a well-regarded artist with curated shows around the world.  You would never know she’s an accomplished artist and film documentarian.  You would never know that she’s one of the most accomplished women that I’ve ever had the chance to sit down and talk to about her life.  That’s because Eleanor is focused on you. 

She started our intimate lunch of 12 at Hotel Za Za with a toast where we had to look each other in the eyes or we’d be cursed with seven years of bad sex, according to her husband.  She asked us to talk about how our love for food and wine got us to where we are today.  We spent a lot of time talking about family, what’s on the dinner table and what wine complements the family experience.

Eleanor’s journey began when her father studied art in Paris and discovered food and wine.  They lived in a blue collar town where it was unusual for wine to be on the table.  In college, she drank the traditional Gallo jug wine and it was funny to share that same college wine experience with her.

When she met and married Francis, he came from a big Italian family where wine was always on the table and kids drank the table wine, diluted with ginger ale.  She and Francis’ first experience with fine wine came when he was writing for Bill Cosby in Las Vegas.  Cosby, a wine aficionado, enlightened them to some of the world’s top wines and a love affair was born.

The Coppola’s have two wine properties in Sonoma and Napa.  One is the old Inglenook property in Napa, which was originally known as one of the first great California wines, but fell into making jug wine for many years.  They acquired the property in 1975 and in 2011 they were able to acquire the Inglenook name. They hired Phillipe Bascaules, an agricultural engineer who worked for Chateau Margaux, with the vision of bringing the property back to its glory days of making beautiful estate wines.   “These will be the best wines we can make,” said Eleanor.

But they never lost their love for “macaroni wine with family.”  Francis Ford Coppola Winery with its mid-range Diamond Series is meant to illustrate that love and they have created a family friendly experience in Geyserville complete with a swimming pool, tasting room, and restaurant featuring Francis’ personal favorite items.

The love for family was quite evident during the lunch.  We started with a glass of the Sofia Blanc de Blanc, which Francis made for their wedding.  It was a great wine and Sofia designed the packaging and other aspects of the wine.

Our next course involved their granddaughter, Gia, the daughter of Gian-Carlo Coppola who died in a tragic boating accident.  Gia, a photographer and bartender, is following in her grandfather’s footsteps with the release of Palo Alto, which will be released this Spring.

Then we followed with Eleanor’s wine, labeled Eleanor, whose label featured her passion for textiles.  She’s partial to red wines and this wine brings together a mix of the two properties in Napa and Sonoma.

Eleanor gave us a glimpse of what it was like to grow up in a blue-collar family and suddenly, with Francis’ success with the Godfather, go from a one-bedroom bungalow to a 22 room mansion.  “I felt like I needed to go to hotel school,” she laughed.   

Francis Ford Coppola Live at the Lakewood Theater, Courtesy of Coppola Wines

That night, I went to a very different event.  Francis Ford Coppola was at the Lakewood Theater where a few hundred food and wine lovers attended his one-man show.  This was a mix of Francis talking about his fascinating life with video clips supporting his story in the background.  He talked, he laughed, he sang.  He told a great story.  But, I was lucky.  I had already spent several hours with the woman who was the rock of the family.  Her story is the one that I choose to tell today.


A Quick Twitter Trip around Italy, France and Wines for the Holidays

Exhibit A of what not to drink after a Bordeaux tasting

November was the season of Twitter tastings and I was asked to be a part of three tastings – one from #planetbordeaux, the second from #Franciacorta, and a Whole Foods Top Holiday wines under $25.  Lesson learned #1 – if you really want to enjoy the next morning, don’t invite your girlfriends over, taste all the wines and then plan a crazy night out.  Lesson learned #2 – and I should know better – even if you are spitting the wines, tasting eight of them in one evening leads to palate fatigue.

You may remember that I was blown away by the sparkling wines from Franciacorta during the last Twitter tasting.  Let’s just say that “the blush is not off the rose.”  I continue to be blown away by the versatility, complexity and individuality of these sparkling wines.  We tried four during the tasting and they were delicious:

-          Antica Fratta Brut ($25 retail) – notes of green apple, flowers; citrus; bread and a nice minerality.

-          Bellavista Cuvee ($35 retail) – pear, apple, fresh baked biscuits and ginger made this blend in my top #2.

-          Ricci Curbastro Extra Brut ($40 retail) – it was complex with minerality and savoriness; notes of almond, fresh baked bread and pear.  I loved it.

-          Contadi Castaldi Rose ($25 retail) — notes of berry, spice, flowers and bread.

The other tasting scheduled the same night was the Whole Foods: Holiday Wines Under $25 Tasting.  We tried several wines with other bloggers around the country including the following:

-          2011 Grace Lane Yakima Valley Riesling – notes of peach and green apple with spiciness that would be perfect with a holiday dinner – especially turkey.  This was in my favorite two.

-          2012 Tablao Navarra – notes of stewed plum, tobacco and cherry. A nice tempranillo for under $10.

-          2008 H&G Priorat – nice balance with notes of black cherry, vanilla and black pepper.  This was my favorite of the tasting.

-          2011 Les Hauts de Bel Air Bordeaux Rouge – notes of raspberries, blackberries, violet and black pepper.

The final tasting was for “Planet Bordeaux for the Holidays.”  This is #Planet Bordeaux (shout out to Duran Duran’s Planet Earth).

There I said it as it goes through my mind every single time I see the hashtag. We had a line-up of six wines that were all priced under $15 and all were ready to drink today although some may benefit from decanting.

-          2011 Mouton Cadet Bordeaux – red fruit, herbs and oak.

-          2011 Chateau de Camarsac Bordeaux – spice, berry, cassis and plum.  This was one of my favs.

-          2011 Les Hauts de Lagarde Bordeaux – cranberry, herbs, spice and blackberry. Definitely one of the top ones from the tasting for me and many of the participating bloggers.

-          2011 Chateau du Bois Chantant Cuvee Laurence Bordeaux Superieur – plum, soft berry, cedar and mocha.

-          2010 Chateau des Arras Bordeaux Superieur – plum, vanilla, mocha and toast.  This is a fantastic wine for the price (under $14).

-          2010 Domaine de Courteillac Bordeaux Superieur – oak, berry, plum, chocolate and a touch of anise.

To read more about these Bordeaux wines, visit www.planet-bordeaux.com.

 


Hardy Wines and Accolade Wine Group: A Match Made in Heaven

Australian wines hit America right around the time I started to drink wine with a cork and figured out that I could afford to buy a case of Lindeman’s.  About 1.6 million cases were imported in 1995.  Today the Australian wine industry is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine with 750 million liters a year.

I credit Australian wine with beginning my long love affair with the grape.  However, along the way what was shipped in by the large wine makers began to lose its luster.  Smaller production companies were acquired and some of the brands languished.  Luckily, that course is starting to correct.

With the acquisition of Hardy Wines by Accolade Wine Group about 15 months ago, there is a renewed focus on bringing the Nottage Hill and William Hill brands back to the US market.   Paul Lapsley, group chief winemaker for the Hardy portfolio wines, came through Dallas to talk and taste about the wines in his portfolio.  Lapsley’s been making wines for more than 30 years and has worked at some of the top wineries in Australia after doing several months in Burgundy.  Hardy Wines have been made since the late 1870s and are one of the long-time family wine making legacies.

We tried the following wines and they were some of the best value wines I’ve tried in a long time:

  • Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2012 – had lots of tropical fruit, peach, nectarine and oak.
  • William Hardy Chardonnay 2012 – loved the minerality and acidity of this wine.  It was made in a very Old World style with tropical fruit, lemon, vanilla and oak.
  • Nottage Hill Pinot Noir 2012 – black cherry, mushroom funkiness, vanilla and herbs.  Quite the bargain at under $10.

  • Nottage Hill Shiraz 2011 – dark berry, spice, chocolate, licorice and herbs.
  • William Hardy Shiraz 2011 – blueberry, plum, blackberry, chocolate and earthiness.

We then moved to the Tintara wines from McLaren Value, which was established in 1861.  These wines were from 2010, what has been referred to by many as a stellar year for Australian wine.  After trying the 2010 Tintara Cabernet Sauvignon and the Shiraz, seductive and lush are the words that came to mind – especially for the $20 price tag.

The grand finale was the Winemakers Rare Release Shiraz 2008, which was made from the best grapes of three wineries.  This was incredible with notes of chocolate, spice, pepper, thin mint Girl Scout cookies (trust me), blackberry, mocha and vanilla.  It had miles of depth, power and complexity.


Scotto Wines: Fifty Years of Family and New Eye Toward Legacy Wines

When I was contacted by the “biggest winery that I’ve never heard of” last month, it peaked my interest.  I missed Anthony Scotto III, the CEO of Scotto wines, when he was in Dallas last month, so when the winery offered to have Bill Chenault, the national sales manager for Scotto pour the wines for me, I accepted.

Totally unrelated, but interesting. Bill spent some time in Atlanta, where I grew up, and sent his two daughters to Auburn University, where I received my undergraduate degree.  It was an unexpected bonus.

As someone with an Italian heritage, I loved hearing about another successful Italian American dream story. Salvatore Dominic Scotto started a winery in Ischia, Italy, in 1883.  In 1903, the family emigrated from Italy and settled in Brooklyn, NY.

They opened Scotto Liquors, one of the oldest liquor stores in the state of New York, which has since been sold, but is still in business.  The Scotto’s made wine in their home from whatever fruit they could source in Brooklyn and similar to the Gallo family, sold it door to door out of crocks from a horse drawn wagon.  In 1961, they bought a facility in Pleasanton, California, that they named Villa Armando, where they began making their own wine. They created Villa Armando Rustico, one of the oldest US wine brands.  I tried it and appreciated that this was the type of mass production wine that allowed them to build a family business with overall capacity of more than 300,000 cases annually.

They sold this facility in the 1980s and expanded the Scotto portfolio into Lodi and Napa.  Five generations later, they have expanded the scope of their wines to include more than 40 brands sold to customers around the world.  I was honored to try an unlabeled limited-edition, higher-end Napa wine from the Van Der Hayden Vineyard in honor of the Scotto’s family’s 50th California harvest that I thought was fantastic.  The 50 Harvests Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Napa Valley is a small production wine that will change your image from a mass producer of wine to a winery that takes winemaking to another level.  It’s a blend of 94 percent cabernet sauvignon and 6 percent petite verdot.  The Scotto children rightfully knew that while the value labels are important, this unlabeled bottle would be the one to put them on the map in the wine world.

I tried a few other wines that were made to be fruit forward, drinkable and enjoyed every day.  The first was Scotto Family Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel made with Lodi fruit.  This had a nice spice, lots of red and black fruit and notes of cedar.

The next was the NAPA by N.A.P.A Michael’s Red, the first Napa release from the Scotto family.  The name represents the five siblings: Natalie, Anthony, Paul, Anne (NAPA) and Michael who recently joined the winery. This is a very drinkable every day wine with dark fruit, oak and notes of chocolate and mocha.  Look for it at Cost Plus World Market stores, who pretty much took most of the inventory produced.

We ended with a Moscato wine that was semi-dry, honey-touched and the perfect aperitif to a great meal and conversation at Max’s Wine Dive.


A Conversation with Lindsay Hoopes: From District Attorney to Vineyard Scion

The story of wine.  That’s the entire premise for why I founded Dallas Wine Chick.  When I received an invitation to meet Lindsay Hoopes, a badge carrying San Francisco Assistant District Attorney who is in process of taking over her father’s wine company, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite stories.

Lindsay and I met at a Favorite Brands portfolio tasting where we tried the line-up of Hoopes Vineyards, Liparita Cellars and Hoopla wines.

The Hoopes Vineyard wines are very well made Cabernets from Oakville that have carried the same $60 price tag since 1999.  Impressive and part of Owner Spencer Hoopes’ dedication to helping people appreciate the terrior and fruit of Napa at a value that is pretty impressive considering their blue-chip neighbors like Screaming Eagle and Caymus Special Select.

The Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet is the flagship wine for the family.  I tried both the 2008 and 2009 and was blown away.  They were very different – both with layers of flavor and depth.  I tasted currant, dark chocolate, tobacco and cherry in the 2009 and more soft blue fruit in the 2008.  They were both fantastic and a great deal at $60.

We then talked about Liparita Cellars, one of the oldest wineries in California dating back to the 1890’s that was wiped out during Prohibition.  A wine from the Liparita vineyard was the very first wine to win a gold medal at the Paris World Fair in 1900 – long before the infamous Judgment of Paris.   For the Hoopes family, this is a chance to get back to the roots “of being a Frontier wine maker” and the bottles sport the original wine label.

We tried the 2009 Liparita Oakville Cabernet ($60), which was full of juicy blue fruit, red cherry, Asian spice, toffee, vanilla and licorice.  It was elegant and could be sipped today or cellared for greatness tomorrow.

Then I had a chance to try the 2010 Liparita Yountville Cabernet ($55).  I tasted plum, black cherry, vanilla and spice.  This is a deal for the price.

We moved to try Hoopla Wines, a project that Lindsay spearheaded to create wines that can be consumed immediately but have structure.  We tried the 2012 Hoopla North Coast Chardonnay, which is done in an Old World style with pear, green apple, tropical fruits and nice minerality.  At $12, it is priced to be your house white.

Like the Hoopes Cabernet, the 2010 Hoopla The Mutt ($28) features a dog on the label.  Sadly, Dante, the family dog, celebrated his last vintage in 2009.  This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (80 percent), merlot (10 percent) and petite sirah (10 percent).  This is the first vintage and the blend will change annually.  It was a nice blend of fruit and spice.

You can tell that Spencer Hoopes has a farmer’s mentality in how he treats the grapes, how he maintains his quality and how he insists on maintaining his price point when he could make much more money on his wines.

But his daughter, Lindsay, also has a story to tell.  From her first job on the distribution side of Gallo to being hired at Pottery Barn to source furniture due to her Mandarin language skills, she’s been driven.  Even though she had two fabulous jobs, she knew since seeing a TV show when she was young, that she wanted to be an assistant district attorney.  And she pursued that goal relentlessly – from the time when she found someone to take her to the district attorney’s office when she was in grade school to taking her LSAT to writing a letter to secure a job at the district’s attorney’s office.

And she still holds her badge.  But sometimes life, a family illness and a desire to do your family proud becomes your destiny.   If I were to guess, I’d say the Hoopes Family legacy is in very good hands.


A Conversation with Rodrigo Soto

It seems like the Wine of Chile people have been everywhere lately.  Since I’ve been writing Dallas Wine Chick, I’ve received invitations to a number of events including live Twitter tastings and wine makers coming through Texas who make the time to tell me their stories and let me taste their wines.

Last month, I participated in a live Twitter tasting of three pinot noirs from the Casablanca region of Chile.  Casablanca, which is located northwest of Santiago, was the first vineyard planted in the mid-1980s, and has 10,000 acres of vines in the region.  It is known for its cool climate coastal location and started the wine movement in Chile.  The wines tasted were as follows:

-          2010 Montes Alpha Pinot Noir – which was the first premium wine in Chile.  It was full of mushroom, cherry and had a meaty taste.  It would benefit for some more time in the bottle.  Ironically, I found a few bottles in my cellar of a different vintage that I will keep aging.

-          2009 Nimbus Pinot Noir – full of fruit, pepper, spice, mint and earth.  It is hard harvested and was the most elegant of the wines.

-          2011 Ritual Casablanca Pinot Noir – this wine had a cherry cola taste, wood and spice.  It was drinkable right out of the bottle, but lacked some of the complexity of the other two wines.

Ironically, Rodrigo Soto, the winemaker for the South American brands for Huneeus Vitners, which includes Veramonte, Preimus, Neyen and Ritual wines, sat down with me a few weeks later.   Agustin Huneeus, founder of Huneeus’ family portfolio of wines, focuses on wines in North and South America.  He founded Quintessa, Faust, Veramonte, Neyen and Illumination. He has partnerships with Flowers Vineyards & Winery and agreements to help market some iconic California wine brands.

Soto talked to me about his vision for his wines.  He has experience working at various wine regions around the globe including Chile, New Zealand as well as Napa/Sonoma where he served as head winemaker for Benzinger Winery.  Soto believes that while Chilean wines have evolved a great deal, there is so much room to grow.  His focus has turned to the more specialized portfolio of wines where he wants to make Chilean wines truly world-class.

There are a few factors that he still needs to overcome.   For example, wineries pay growers by the acre and he needed to find ways to find the clones and refine his grower portfolio to get the best grapes possible.  Primus wines are a great example of that – it took ten years to find the clones.

He believes the transformation of Chilean wine will come, but people need to embrace the differentiation of the wines.  Part of that is distribution, part of that is marketing and part of that is better wine making.

We tried the Ritual Pinot Noir and he talked about how he is going to overhaul the style beginning in 2012 to reflect his “thumbprint”.  You can tell his passion for wines with a sense of time and place.  He is a believer that wines should be a “map of the region” and he is dedicated to sustainable, organic, biodynamic wines that are authentic.

Our next wine was the 2010 Primus blend and he talked about how David Ramey, who consulted for Benzinger, taught him to pick grapes “when they taste delicious.”  It was lush with black pepper and berries.  This was a great wine.

The final wine was the 2008 Neyen “The Spirit of Apalta,” which is an estate concept with older vines.  This is an old vineyard that is deploying many of newer scientific wine techniques like drip irrigation.  It was a blend of carmenere and cabernet sauvignon with big notes of berry, flowers and vanilla.

His passion for wines with a sense of place and the continuing evolution of Chile’s place in winemaking is evident.  He said the key is changing the farming.  “It’s like choosing vegetables from the market. When you grow them, you have total control so you can ensure longevity and quality.”




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