Archived entries for Over $50

It’s the Holidays: Live a Little

I recently sampled two high-end wines that deserved their own write up.  First, let me say in the spirit of full disclosure, I am not on the Cornerstone Cellars payroll.  I just really like the style and structure of their wines – up and down the value chain.  They are consistently well made, represent the terroir where they are grown and vary from year to year depending on nature.

  • 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – we tried this over a two day period and it really needs a chance for the layers to unravel.  At first sip, it was big and powerful with notes of chassis, mocha and blackberry.  On day two, it was elegant, nuanced and the floral and spice notes really came through.  It was everything a Howell Mountain Cabernet should be.

  • 2010 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon – a blend of six different Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards and one Cabernet Franc vineyard from the renowned Puente Alto Vineyard in Maipo.  The wine had the juiciness of ripe red fruit, balanced minerality, notes of Asian Spice, plum and chocolate.  Since this was recently named number nine on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list, finding the Don Melchor might become a treasure hunt.  But well worth it. 

Rome Burned While Nero Fiddled: My 96 Lafite Rothschild Experience

That’s exactly how I felt the night I had the opportunity to try my first 1996 Chateau Lafite Rothschild.  We had plans for great sushi at Shinsei and planned to catch up with some friends that we hadn’t seen most of the Summer.  Because our friend’s husband was playing basketball, the rest of us planned to meet at the bar and wait for him to join us.  We had just settled in for a good glass of wine when my friend – the other Melanie O – got the phone call.  Louis had torn his calf muscle and she needed to hightail it home to help him.

You may remember when my husband tore his Achilles and three days later I dragged him to Napa and Sonoma for a wine tasting trip that had long been on the books.  He was a trouper, but it involved surgery, recovery and driving Miss Daisy all over town.  We knew it would be tough – he is a bad patient and I am a worse nurse.

We had taken Lyft to the restaurant because we knew lots of wine would be involved.  We also knew that Louis would need two urgent things that couldn’t be immediately acquired that evening – crutches and pain pills (previously left over from my husband’s accident).  My brother dropped both of those at the restaurant, we ordered dinner for our now infirmed friend and we cruised over to their casa.

The other Melanie O told me to go down to the cellar and pick something out.  I walked into the cellar and about had a stroke – bottles of 1996 Lafite Rothschild and 1999 Les Forts de Latour filled the shelf, among other bottles you only dream about.  I politely declined and asked to look at some more affordable bottles.  Melanie refused.  Clearly I couldn’t be a rude guest and well, I went for it…

It was gorgeous – deep purple with notes of graphite, minerality and black currant.  It was majestic, it was elegant and it was a life experience.  As I looked around experiencing one of my top wines ever, I looked at poor Louis drugged up on the couch.  Nero fiddled while Rome burned, I spose’.  But OMG, it was wonderful ….

 


Come for the Private Events: Stay for the Conference

The Wine Bloggers Conference was awesome, but it’s hard for 300 plus people to have the kind of conversations that lead to the stories that I love to tell.  Ironically, of the 39 pages of notes that I took during my time in Santa Barbara, only 12 of them came from my time at #wbc14.  I had the same trend with my photos as well. 

There were many highlights from #wbc14 including being able to catch up with many dear friends.  For $95, this is the deal of the century.  I think that there are a lot of bloggers like me that would pay more for some of the intimate experiences we were able to have by going off the beaten path. 

Our keynote at #wbc was Corbett Barr of Fizzle, a site that helps people make their thing online (their words, not mine).  Corbett had spot on advice for many of us who work to balance the content of our blog with what our readers find valuable.  He had six tenants that he outlined. They were all basic, but a good reminder:

  • Character trumps credentials.  You guys know that all I try to do is tell my story of wine. I have never claimed to be an expert or the right credentials.
  • Differentiate – does the world really need another wine review site?  While I review the wines that I sample and enjoy, I don’t think you guys really want a Dallas Wine Chick rating of these wines.
  • What if you work hard, but don’t get results?  Then you need to re-evaluate what you are doing, get out of your comfort zone and solicit feedback.  Kind of like what you should do when you find yourself in this situation in your life.
  • What is my content is good, but no one is reading?  Hope is not a marketing strategy, he said (love this).  I remember in the early days of starting my blog, I felt like the only folks reading were related to me.  But, I kept plugging and you guys came (thank you).
  • Your blog is not a business.  The goal of Dallas Wine Chick is not to make money, but to fuel my passion for wine.  Check.
  • 1+1=3.  Meaning that you are the average of the people you spend time with – get engaged, make friends with other bloggers, brainstorm with them.  Engage in a Mastermind 101 session where you talk about ideas, consort on great subjects and share your experiences.  I have the QBP (queen bitches posse) that have done this informally for some time now.  And, I loved my column with @NormalWine about the World Cup.  More to come there.

This was followed by a panel of winemakers from Santa Barbara County moderated by one of my favorite winemakers, Larry Schaffer from Tercero Wines.  The presentation wasn’t working so I have to rely on my notes.  We had some of the stalwarts – Ken Brown from Ken Brown Wines, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa Winery, Bob Lindquist of Qupe and Richard Longoria of Longoria Wines.  They underscored their passion about the region and how their love of the region is answered in their wines.  As Ken Brown said, “the best is yet to come here.  We have a commitment to make quality wines and are lucky to do it in such a beautiful and special place.”

We did the usual speed tasting, which is something you either love or hate.  I love getting to try wines that I would never be exposed to, but I truly wish we could strike box and supermarket wine (Bandit) from the line-up. But, hanging with Larry from Tercero, I did laugh through the entire question session.  For the whites, my favorites included the 2012 Consilence Viognier, 2012 Jordan Chardonnay, 2013 Buttonwood Zingy Sauvignon Blanc and the 2013 Grassini Sauvignon Blanc.  The red favs included 2012 Labyrinth Pinot Noir, the 2012 Garnet Pinot Noir and the 2011 Vineyard 511 Cabernet.  Delicious. 

We moved to a breakout session from Winebow – When the Sum is Greater than its Parts: Wine Blends from Around the World.  Sheri Sauter Morano, MW, who has taught other #wbc Winebow events, was great and underscored the importance of making sure blends only occur when the resulting wine is superior to each component.  We tried seven blends that were somewhat obscure – I wish there was one that would have been easier to guess in the line-up, but I was happy to learn.  I did okay guessing region, but some of the blending elements were unknown to me.  We tried the following wines – the 2008 Juve Y Camps Reserva de la Familia, 2013 Tasca D’Almerita Regaleali Bianco Sicilia IGT, 2013 Weingut Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz, 2012 Fattoria Le Pupille Morelino di Scansano DOCG, 2011 Wine & Soul Quinta da Manoella Red, 2011 Bodega Renacer Enamore and 2010 Cousino-Macul Finis Terrae.

Then the madness began.  The buses were leaving for the Santa Barbara blogger excursions.  This is tough because you have large groups of friends who want to hang together, but the buses only take a certain number of people.  I was lucky enough to get on a fun bus and with a great group of people.  This was when I was able to observe Jeff Kralick in his native habitat – first pole dancing on the bus and then with a sabering incident.  For the record, I did see him successfully saber a bottle at the Jordan afterparty.

We went to Zaca Mesa Vineyards as well as Andrew Murray Vineyards, where many of the winemakers we have gotten to know around the region poured wines that they couldn’t pour en masse.  We had a bus that broke down (and was quickly replaced) by the region, great food, awesome wines and lots of laughs. 

One of my favorite sessions the next day was the Ballard Canyon Grower Producer Wineries where we did a deep dive into the fabulous syrahs of the region.  We started with a bevy of jokes about the misunderstood grape – what’s the difference between a case of syrah and a case of pneumonia?  Much easier to get rid of pneumonia.  People, wake up – these are fabulous wines. 

We learned that Ballard County has “somewhereness” – meaning it has unique climate, chalk and limestone soil, great fruit and a sense of place.  Patrick Comiskey from Wine & Spirits, along with a panel of eight winemakers, talked and tasted the group through the wines from Beckmen Vineyards, Larner Vineyard, Kimsey Vineyard, Jonata Wines, Harrison Clarke, Rusack and Stolpman Vineyards.  Sarrloos and Sons also attended, but had sold out of its syrah.  I was able to rectify getting my hands on some of their wines at an afterparty I’ll write about in the next post.   

Mike Larner from Larner Vineyards talked about how there is clarity in the wines.  Keith Saarloos talked about the soulfulness of syrah.  They are both right – there is depth.  And spice.  And passion.  And herbs.  And flowers.  And big berry flavors.  And art.  And just loveliness.

That theme continued with any wine that I tried from the region.  I’m putting my theory to action in Dallas and trying any wine that I can find with a Santa Barbara delineation.  So far, I’ve impressed my friends with a Grenache and Syrah that I ordered on a leap of faith.

    


Savino Connoisseur – A Way to Preserve Your Wine Investment

I recently received a sample of Savino Connoisseur, a glassware product designed and advertised to keep wine fresh for up to a week.  I was leaving for a work trip to Barcelona and I knew that with all the work I needed to do and the events we already had scheduled, I wasn’t going to be able to finish a bottle of wine I had just opened.  It was a 2006 John Robert Eppler Cabernet, so I didn’t want to see a drop go to waste.  I decided I was going to open it and have a glass every day over a three day period.

The product looks like a decanter – a pretty glass container that you could put on your table – and was very simple to use.  You open your bottle, pour what you do not drink into the glass container, put the float in at an angle, seal the container with the glass top and pop it in the fridge.  It holds a full bottle of wine and is safe to put in your dishwasher.

The wine tasted the best the second day but did not lose its essence the third or even the fourth day.  I’ve tried a few wine preservation devices and found that this one is definitely the best of the bunch.  I’m usually not in a situation where wine remains unfinished at my house, but when I am, I’m reaching for my Savino Connoisseur.  At around $60 for the glass version and $30 for the plastic version, it’s an investment that helps to preserve your long-term wine experience.   

 


McGah Family: Football, Family and Fabulous Wine

I originally planned to do a wine and National Football League oriented column, but I find myself writing this over a week after the Big Yawn (Big Game).  And I guess you already lived through that with me with my column around the BCS Championship Game.

I’ve tasted wine from a lot of athletes and as a trend I’ve found that those affiliated with the NFL seem to make pretty good juice by affiliating themselves with great winemakers.  McGah Family Cellars keeps that tradition going with Winemaker Mike Smith.  The McGah family’s Northern California heritage began a century ago when the patriarch, E.W. McGah, came to San Francisco.  McGah co-founded the Oakland Raiders football franchise in 1960 and it stayed in the family until 2005.  Several generations of family members were involved in the winery and today, Sherratt Reicher, E.W.’s great grandson, manages Hudson Companies, a wine portfolio company. 

McGah Family Vineyards, which were purchased by the McGah’s in 1990, is located in Rutherford in Napa Valley.  The philosophy is to create natural wines that are expressive of the terroir and fruit.   They talk about harmony from the soil to the glass.

I had the chance to try two review wines:

2012 McGah Family Cellars 1070 Green Sauvignon Blanc – this was a wonderful white wine with complexity, minerality, lemon grass, green apple and floral notes.  It was acidic and balanced. 

2011 McGah Family Cellars Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, chocolate, earth, tobacco currants and spice make this a lush, complex and perfectly balanced wine. 

Both of these wines were delicious and I knew that football may be over for the season, but wine drinking is a year long hobby.


Holiday Wine Round Up

It’s a new year and time for a new wine round up of those sampled over the holidays.  This time I tried 18 wines in the $10 to $125 range from California, Chile, Italy and Spain.  Half of them made my list, which excluded some high priced samples:

Whites:

Italy

NV Mionetto Brut Prosecco – the quintessential, easy to drink brunch wine.  Priced at $14, this sparkling wine had notes of green apple, pear, citrus and peach. 

2012 Rocca Sveva Soave Classico ($17) – I liked this wine, but I think it needs to be paired with Italian food.  I got lots of tropical fruit, melon, apple and floral notes. 

Spain

2012 Franco Espanolas Royal White Rioja ($10) – lots of lemon curd, citrus and green apple.  This was a nice aperitif wine that begged for shellfish.

Reds:

California

2011 90+ Cellars Pinot Noir ($16) – a very drinkable wine with black cherry, strawberry, vanilla and earth.   This is a wine club that sources wines from around the world delivered at an “everyday wine” price point.

2010 Wolfgang Puck Red Wine Blend ($14.99) – when a master chef puts his name on a bottle of wine, you know it will be very food friendly.  You taste the berry in the Merlot, followed by the black fruit in the Cabernet, and then finish with the spice of the Zinfandel.  I’d pair this with beef tenderloin.

Chile

2009 Viña Concha y Toro Don Melchor ($125) – this lived up to its billing as Chile’s first ultra-premium wine.  Cassis, berry, tobacco and chocolate notes are showcased in this very well balanced special occasion wine.

Spain:

2009 Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Crianza ($13) – a great value wine with notes of cherry, herb, wood, spice and chocolate. 

2007 Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Crianza ($15) – notes of cherry, rosemary, basil, and tomato plant – this made me crave a margarita pizza.

I’m also going to give a special shout out to one wine that blew me away from the Guarachi Family.  Guarachi, which was previously unknown to me, sources small parcel lots from top vineyards in Napa and Sonoma and makes Cabernet and Pinot Noir.  The winery was launched by Alex Guarachi, a native of Chile and importer of South American wines.  The winery just purchased Sun Chase Vineyard in Sonoma and if this wine is any indication of what is to come, I’m beyond excited.

2011 Guarachi Family Wines Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($65) – this was full of red berries, cherry, floral, earth and cherry cola.  I loved this wine.


A Few of My Favorite Sparklings

Courtesy of Pierre Peters Champagne

I published a few of my favorite sparkling wines at a variety of price points just in time for your New Year’s celebration.  See what you think of what I published in Culture Map Dallas.  What are your favs?


Take Time to Be in the Moment

For the last nine years, I’ve hosted an annual girl’s wine club champagne and sparkling tasting.  Usually this involves me recruiting my kind husband who cooks massive amounts of great food paired with very loud conversation, lots of catch up and of course bottles and bottles and bottles of sparkling wines and champagne. 

Each year there seems to be one dominant brand — and 2013 was the year of Perriet Jouet, which was ironic because that trend continued on a carriage ride a few days later with friends.  Someone asked me if I was ready to blog about everything we tasted the memorable and not so memorable.  While I got some good content for an upcoming Culture Map article about sparkling wines, my answer was no.  I love blogging and I love writing Dallas Wine Chick, but this was a time for friendship, good food, catching up and just being in the moment.  Truly what the holidays are all about and if you approach it with a notebook in hand, you are going to miss what is really important.

And so, my dear readers and friends, put down your notebook and look up.  That’s how memories are made.  Cheers and happy holidays!

 


Cornerstone Cellars, Elyse Winery & J Vineyards: Samples to Remember

When sample packages from Cornerstone Cellars, J Vineyards and Elyse Winery arrive in the mail, I’ve learned to stand up and take notice. 

I’ll lead with the still wines.  Both Cornerstone and Elyse are known for hand-crafted and boutique wines that express the terrior where they are produced.  I’ve found these to be balanced, delicious and get better and better every year.  The wines are all distinct and differ depending on where they are grown.  Winemaker Jeff Keene who talked about how his wines express their sense of place .

My notes on the wines were as follows:

  • The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon combines the grapes of three vineyards — Ink Grade on Howell Mountain, Oakville Station in the To Kalon district and Kairos in Oak Knoll.  Tons of blackberry, raspberry, dried herbs, chocolate and mocha.  I had the chance to try this in the spring and it only got better with age.
  • The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain known for its white soils, which is unique.  This wine had tons of black fruit, spice, flowers, mocha and chocolate.  I loved every sip of this and it was beautiful.
  • The 2010 Stepping Stone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc was full of berries, herbs and the greenness that is indicative of cabernet franc.  It was balanced and delicious.

In the spring, I sat down with the Elyse Winery’s portfolio of wines at the winery.  The Elyse Morisoli Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 was impressive then, and the 2009 is impressive now.  I took this wine to a gathering with friends and it was definitely the favorite of the evening.  It was full of red berry, spice, earthiness, plum and coffee. 

And now onto J Vineyards & Winery bubblies.  I had the chance to meet Kathryn Lindstrom, chief operating officer, and Melissa Stackhouse, vice president of winemaking, when they made a trip to Dallas, also in the spring.  Melissa talked about the collaboration that happens with her wine making team of three where there is a focus on the integrity of the grapes and bringing the fruit into the glass.  She views her team’s role as “allowing the wines to find their own happy place” and interfering minimally. 

I tried the J Cuvee 20 Brut which we opened at the turning point of the Auburn game when it became clear we were going to the Championship game.  I tasted almonds, citrus, pear and freshly baked bread.  With our victory solidified and as I made my plane reservations to Pasadena, we turned to the J Brut Rose NV, which was full of luscious strawberry, brioche, raspberry and notes of floral.  Both of these wines stood up to a national championship celebration!  War Eagle!


Wine Bloggers Conference 2014: A Preview into Clos Pepe and Central Coast Wine

With eight months to the day until the 2014 Wine Blogger’s Conference (#wbc14) in Santa Barbara, Central Coast Wine & Food conducted a live Twitter tasting with 12 of the top-tier wine bloggers (plus me).  Wes Hagen, the colorful winemaker and vineyard manager of Clos Pepe Vineyards, hosted us with lots of quotable commentary and the best hashtag ever #dirtdontlie.

Central Coast Wine & Food is undertaking a marketing campaign for the up-and-coming agricultural regions between Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.  Hagen led us through a tasting of his acclaimed 2008 Close Pepe Estate Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir.

Clos Pepe Vineyard was the ninth vineyard in what would become the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The vineyard makes small production, boutique pinot noir and chardonnay.  The winery has its own label but provides fruit to other well-known California winemakers.

The wine was full of black cherry, spice, oak, cranberries, mushrooms, herbs, earth and a beautiful balanced taste.  Unfortunately this wine is really hard to find, but I would easily pay the $62 price tag.

Aside from the really funny comments from a great group of bloggers who have gotten to know each other well over the years, Wes’ great personality, promised “underground parties” and a really great bottle of wine, July can’t come soon enough.




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