Archived entries for Pinot Gris

Fine Wine On Tap Changes Dallas Wine By the Glass Landscape at Savor (and Beyond)

As I am in technology marketing for my paying gig, I am all about watching innovation and disruption change industries and I love watching transformations.  Google.  Apple.  Twitter. Uber.  All companies that pushed the envelope and changed the way we search, compute, live and ride. 

But let’s face it.  The wine industry has not been known for innovation and there has been a “what’s old is right mentality.” So anytime that I’m pitched a chance to talk to someone in the wine industry that is doing something different beyond a new app, you can sign me up almost immediately.

John Coleman and Dan Donahoe

I had the chance to sit down with Savor’s Executive Chef John Coleman and Free Flow Wines Co-Founder and Chairman Dan Donahoe to talk about their partnership in bringing the first premium wines on tap to Dallas.  It all started with a phone call.  John self-described himself as someone who finds it a challenge to find people who may or may not want to be found.  And, he wanted to bring innovation and “out of the box thinking” to Dallas in the form of premium wine on tap to his restaurant. A long-term friendship and business partnership was formed.

These guys are passionate about their business. And, the business benefits are impressive.  Savor is now the number one stand-alone top volume restaurant for wines on tap in the country.  Yes, Dallas – home of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay playdates and big steakhouse upcharged “premiere brands” – wins in wine innovation. 

Let’s talk about the benefits.  The keg packaging removes hundreds of tons of packaging waste from the environment.  I was there when Republic showed up to deliver the barrels.  At 58 pounds apiece, they seemed as easy as bringing in a few cases of wine.  If you’ve been to Savor, you know they don’t have a lot of space.  What they do with some many diners in such a small kitchen is pretty amazing.  And, the consistency is the real kicker.  Every glass of wine is guaranteed fresh – every single time.  I just had a great glass of one of my French favorites during a business trip to Houston.  It had turned and I sent it back.  That gets expensive for restaurants. 

I had the chance to tap my personal glass of wine.  It was lightning fast and the J Vineyards Pinot Gris tasted exactly like it did when I hung out with Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse from J Vineyards.

Now the brands.  There are some big boys embracing this technology – Arietta, Frog’s Leap, J Vineyards, MINER, Paul Dolan Vineyards, Robert Craig, Trefethen Family Vineyards – even Va Piano, one of my great winery finds in Walla Walla. Right now, 140 wine brands are shipping their juice to Free Flow Wines where they ship to 43 states.  It is pumped into ten staging tanks in a 22,000 square foot facility based in Napa and put into over 7,000 kegs where it is shipped across country.  It gives restaurants and consumers the opportunity to feature more “off the beaten path” wines at little risk.  And, wine geeks like me respond with open arms.

Savor offers eight whites by the glass, half carafe and carafe ranging from $9 for the glass to $44 for the carafe.  The whites include Simi Sauvignon Blanc, Trefethen Dry Riesling, Franciscan Chardonnay and Duchman Vermentino.  There are eight reds including Saintsbury Pinot Noir, Qupe Syrah and Paul Dolan Cabernet offered in the same format from $9 for a glass to $50 for a carafe.  They also feature a list of wines by the bottle. 

This barrel to bar approach is incredibly innovative.  The great thing is that chef and sommelier driven restaurants like Savor are embracing and encouraging this innovation.  Dan talked about several hotel and restaurant chains that are embracing the technology. If you’ve followed my “can you get a decent glass of wine at a chain” postings, you know I’m truly happy to see this as I’d rather not have to go taste chain food to make my point.

The only downside that was proactively brought up by Dan is that this technology is not for aging wine.  So, the tradition of an aged bottle and the ceremony around that will continue at Savor as well, but 80 percent of the wines today are sold by tap. 

Being guaranteed a fresh glass of wine with no cork taint (John has never had a corked wine since opening), giving restaurants the opportunity to expand their selections without the risk.  Having the ability to buy a good glass of wine at a fair price and the environmental benefits make this an innovation that is worthy of note.  The future quality, selection and value of the wines you drink by the glass depend on it. 


Post Conference Tour: #WBC12, Carlton Without Handcuffs

And then it was over.  Just like that.  But thankfully my post trip was about to begin.  The town of Carlton, where I had spent the #cuffedincarlton wine tour trip, was willing to have a group of us back for a two-day excursion with some of my most favorite wine bloggers.  We were picked up by the rocking party bus from the Doubletree with Motown music, couches and comfy seating where we were transported to Carlton’s “Walk in the Park” event featuring more than 30 Oregon wineries.  The event brought together some of Yamhill County’s best wineries and gave me the opportunity to spend some extra quality time with some of the people behind my favorite wines. 

 

A special shout out to Ken  Morrison from K&M, who was such an avid student on how to Tweet and was kind enough to continue the crazy chicken legacy.  BTW, he and his partner, Mauro Hernandez, make some pretty rocking Pinots that I can’t wait to receive once the weather breaks in Texas and my shipment arrives.

Lynn and Amy generously hosted us at Republic of Jam for cocktails and fabulous appetizers.  It was so fun to see the store that has become such a destination point and their vision brought to life.   I loved the craft cocktails made with so many of their products; they were just delicious. 

We had dinner at the Horse Radish, well those did that didn’t have a pork allergy (Carlton definitely loves its pork products), but they gave me a really nice salad and I was able to sneak across the street for a great turkey sandwich that I snuck into the hotel James Bond style.  I was able to share a bottle of Retour, one of my favorite Pinot Noirs who is owned by a dear friend of mine.

Marcy and I were assigned to the Casa della Valle B&B where we met Eve and Joe, the sweetest and kindest couple that treated us like dear friends.  Joe is an avid collector of some of the most classic toys and xxx has a huge collection of antiques.  Marcy and I had a blast getting to know them, learning about how they decided to start a B&B and finding more about their collections.  We were so excited to have been assigned to the B&B so we could get to know such an interesting couple (and the breakfast absolutely rocked).

The next morning, we had a private tour with Ken Wright, who in my mind is one of the “father’s” of Oregon Pinot.  Because there have been really great discussions on other blogs by attendees of WBC12 about Oregon terrior,  I have no need to recreate my version, so I’ll just talk more about Ken’s point of view from that day.  He talked about the wines doing so well because all of the conditions are right for Pinot Noir and the depth and how where the grapes are planted matter.  He called others to task who are growing Pinot grapes on the floor of the valley making poor wines and hurting the Oregon wine industry.  Ken has earned the right to have an opinion. 

He talked about how nutrition is key to making great wine and the plant is the ultimate report card.  Ken told a great story about seeking out a farmer in Washington State who was responsible for growing a specific apple for the Japanese market who had 15-acres dedicated to doing only that.  Ken and his team visited the farmer who at the beginning of their discussion peeled one of his apples and took them on a tour of the vineyard.  When they returned, the apple had not aged a bit and was “freaking unbelievable.”  This further solidified that each plant must be allowed to take its fruit to the ultimate stage.  Microbiology and protecting the fruit is so important – not only for wine, but for the fruits and vegetables that we eat daily.

We tried two of his wines – the Ken Wright Cellars Abbott Claim, Yamhill-Carlton AVA, which was lush with stone fruit, cassis and spice.  Our next wine was the Ken Wright Cellars Carter, Eola-Amity AVA, which was much more mellow in nature with blueberry, cherry and plum.  Totally different vineyard, totally different terrior and elevation.  Cool experiment!

Our next stop was Lemelson Vineyards, a 160 acre, carbon-neutral facility, focused on producing certified organic wines.  The winery owns seven estate vineyard sites located in Yamhill-Carlton, Dundee Hills and Chehalem Mountain.  We started with a glass of 2011 Dry Riesling, which was full of tropical notes and was very enjoyable.  We then toured “the Starship Enterprise,” the winery’s gravity flow facility designed by Steve Cornish, who also designed Palmaz Vineyards (link).  After we climbed up the ladder of this high tech wonder with our glass of 2010 Tikka’s Run Pinot Gris, I didn’t time my ladder climb with the person ascending before me and ended up covered with Pinot Gris and a broken glass.  Lesson learned – make sure you get your timing right if climbing a ladder with a glass of wine in hand. 

Anthony King, the wine maker and his wife Kara, talked about the collegial community of winemakers in the region.  We then tasted some of the same wines aged in different coopers – such a cool experience and it becomes easy to see why a winemaker pays $1,100 for a high-end barrel – aromas, flavors, smells are all different.  We adjourned to the porch and had the opportunity to taste several wines (most of which I ended up ordering – you will find that was a common theme of this day).

  • We tried the 2010 Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir (which of course I had to bring a bottle to @winebratsf , that was named after Dorothy (Eric’s mom), who wanted to be called Thea.  It was earthy, cherry and full of licorice.
  • Our next wine was the 2009 Mt. Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir, which was very floral with bright fruit.
  • The 2009 Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir was next, which needed some bottle time, but was full of rich notes and big fruit. 
  • We moved to the 2010 Jerome Reserve Pinot Noir, which is made of a different blend every year, and was my favorite Pinot.  Big depth, dark fruit and a fabulous wine. 
  • We ended with 2009 Oeneous Dessert Riesling with figs, which was a ridiculously fantastic match.

Our next stop was lunch at Cuvee, several tart flambées prepared by Chef Gilbert Henry, which happily did not contain all pork products.  The veggie and salmon ones made me very happy.  Belle Pente, Alexana and Carlo and Julia joined us for lunch and talked briefly about the wines that were paired with the lunch. 

I sat across from Felix Madrid, the owner and winemaker of Carlo and Julia, who talked about naming the winery after his twin sons (now 23!).  At five, his child smelled one of the wines and remarked, “dad, this smells like perfume.”  A child after my own heart and probably a pillar in the family business.

Then we did a speed dating of sorts with a number of wineries.  I don’t think that Carlton understood how much we liked their wines and we slowed down the schedule when we insisted on buying at every stop.  We visited Carlton Cellars, Valley Emporium, Noble Pig (loved the food/wine pairings), Terra Vina, Mouvance and Troon (super interesting and non-traditional wines like meritage, zinfandel and port).  I would have loved another hour at each place.

Thank you again to the City of Carlton, “the wine capital of Oregon” for rolling out the red carpet and making this group of bloggers feel special.  Your town has so much to offer and I can say with certainty that I will be returning as soon as possible.


Day Two, Wine Bloggers Conference 2012: 42 Hours of Wine, Key Learnings and Post Parties

Bless me father, for I have sinned.  I went to bed at 2 a.m. and needed to exercise, so I did.  And based upon what is waiting around every corner of the Wine Bloggers Conference, you’ll understand why.  Here is my roomie, Liza’s, morning breakfast of a lovely French wine and Voodoo Donuts.

While I missed the first session, I started my day with a session entitled “the winery view of wine bloggers” with Sasha Kady of Kings Estate, Christopher Watkins of Ridge Vineyards and Ed Thralis of Wine Tonight.  Sasha, Christopher and Ed are well known, well respected and well integrated wine people in the world of social media and what they had to say was a validation that my many unpaid hours spent on a passion made a difference.  The conversation was two-way; because that’s what these guys know how to do well, and why they are at the top of wineries that bloggers want to engage with in a meaningful way.

We had a very quick lunch at a food truck lot in Portland, where I had a fabulous Korean taco with extra, extra, extra spicy sauce.  As someone who usually is written off on spicy, this stand complied and I was very excited – especially for $5.50.

I attended “The Art of Oregon Pinot – A Clonal Tasting, which was a total wine geek tasting that I so enjoyed.  So basically, clones are separate organisms that are genetically identical to their predecessor, which is paramount to creating wines that reflect the qualities of different clones in Oregon Pinot Noirs.  Erath hosted our clonal tasting where we discussed the different terriors in Oregon and why the clones where so different.  We tried Pinot clones from Wädenswil and Pinot Noir Pommard as well as new Pinot Noir clones developed in France and at UC Davis to address disease problems and later to isolate vineyard characteristics such as early ripening, open clusters, and small berries including “115,” which had lots of red raspberry, red fruits and tasted of black pepper; “777,” with black fruits and vegetal notes, which was described as “slutty”; the Pommard UCD 4 clone, my favorite, which stood alone as a traditional Oregon pinot; and the blend, which incorporated  spice, but was rough at a young age. 

We moved on to the “Off the Beaten Path” seminar presented by Winebow with Sheri Sauter Morano, MW, and the most humbling session of the conference.  We had a blind tasting of seven wines, which I began with confidence, but ended with the realization that I have so much to learn.  In order, we tried the following wines:

  1.  Itasad Mendi, Hondarribi Zuri 2011 – Bizkaiko Txakolina is a small denomination that covers wines in the province of Vizcaya in Spain.  The wine is full of citrus, tropical and zesty minerality that left me guessing on a new wine, grape and region.
  2. Argiolas S’elagas Nuragus di Cagliari 2010 – apple, floral, nutty, floral with stone fruit.  This Sardinian wine kept me guessing.
  3. Cousino- Macul Sauvignon Gris 2011 – Maipo Valley in Chile.  Almost candy-like with starfruit, smoky notes with a crisp acidity.  A very interesting wine.
  4. Librandi Duca San Felice Ciro Rosso Riserva 2009 – Calabria in Italy.  Earthy, mocha, red cherry, kirsch, tobacco and a bit of meat.  Lots of structure.
  5. Weingu Heinrich Zweigelt 2008 – Austria.  Strawberry, all spice, red fruit and an earthiness that was unique.
  6. Bodegas Nieto Senetiner Reserva Bonardoa 2010 – aka known as Charbono, but only in Argentina.  Plums, raspberries, spice and oak with lots of tannins. 
  7. Anima Negra An 2008 – Mallorca in Spain.  Meat, cedar, earth and leather. 

Key learning here – no matter what you think you know about wine, there is a blind tasting out there to make you realize you know nothing.  And with the exception of the last wine listed, this is a fun exercise with the most expensive bottle listed at $25, but many at least $10 below that price.

After that, Rex Pickett, author of Sideways, took the stage.  Here is my picture.  I’m sure someone else will dedicate ink to his discussion.  I will not.

I wish I had more time to join the reception for the Wines of Greece, but everything was running behind and I only had about ten minutes to spend to find out I need to know more about the wines of Santorini. 

There were a few folks who bagged on the wine dinner hosted by King Estate.  Shame, shame, shame.  This was a wine dinner that brought together the best of wine, food and social media and was seamlessly organic.   We started with a salad of fennel with heirloom tomato, grilled corn and duck breast prosciutto with the 2011 NxNW Horse Heaven Hills Riesling. 

Our next course was the confit of spot prawns with a cucumber, roasted peach and opal basil with the 2011 King Estate Signature Pinot Gris, a delightful and refreshing wine that paired perfectly with the course. 

We then went to a wild Chinook salmon with garlic sausage (except for me – thank you for asking), potato gnocchi, buttered leeks and aged balsamic with 2010 King Estate Signature Pinot Noir.  Another divine match.

The next course was a roasted top loin of beef with wild mushroom, Yukon potato and shallot marmalade with the 2009 NxNW Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 

The dessert course was a lemon panna cotta with summer berries and lavender syrup with a 2010 King Estate Riesling Vin Glace.  It was a brilliant display of social media, showcasing local farmers and sources and highlighting all that Oregon has to offer.

We quickly ducked into the International Wine Night, which unfortunately probably got shorted due to the dinner running over by about 90 minutes.  Then it was time for the after-parties, which I had opt out on some as they were too numerous to attend all of them.

  • We went to the Holy Grail of Alsace Riesling party, which featured vintages from 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001 including Trimbach’s Close Ste Hune, a great single vintage Riesling.  I was lucky enough to try everything but the 2000, and it was a nice reminder of how great Alsace Grand Cru Rieslings stand the test of time.  They aren’t called “somm candy” without reason.

  • There was a vertical tasting of Oregon magnums with some that weren’t represented at the conference, so it was fun to try some new vintages.
  •  #Get Vertical by Palm Bay Wines – this was a fun opportunity to taste verticals of international wines including Bertani (Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC, 1980, 1993 and 2004); Col D’Orcia (Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino DOG, 1980, 1997 and 2007);  Faustino (Faustino Gran Reserva Rioja DOC, 1964, 1982 and 1999); Jean-Luc Colombo (Jean-Luc Colombo “Les Ruchets” Cornas AOC, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2009); and Trimbach (Timbach Riesling “Cuvee Frederic Emile” Alsace AOC, 2000 and 2001).  I really wish that this wasn’t my second to the last stop as there were some great wines that I would have liked to savor more, but thank you Palm Bay Wines for the experience.

  • Jordan – this event has brought many bloggers to their knees on Sunday morning and is always the party never to miss.  Lisa brought a wide array of Jordan’s best vintages, right off of their 40th anniversary.  These were wines to remember (or perhaps some attending did not).

I’ll end this post with a full disclosure and an introduction to “Crazy Chicken.”  I travel the world for my day job and so my seven-year-old daughter asked me to bring a toy and take pictures so she can experience my journey.  The chicken has traveled with me from London to Stockholm to Singapore and finally to Portland, where he has adventures – clearly tonight he spent too much time at the after-parties (and no, those photos aren’t shared with her).  Look for him in the return to Carlton winery post-trip.


#WBC 12: Evening Festivities, Speed Tasting, Peruvian Food & Cuffed in Carlton

After the fun pre-trip to Salem, our bus pulled up for the long awaited start of the Wine Bloggers Conference, but not without a lung stopping beginning.  All the rooms at the Doubletree were deemed non-smoking except for the non-compliant guest that stayed our room prior to our arrival.  I went up to the room first and Liza, my roommate, generously offered to get the wine we had stored with the bellhop.  I walked into the room and the wall of smoke hit me.  I called down to the front desk, but when Liza walked in and saw me standing by the open window with the patio window open thought she had busted a closet smoker.  The Doubletree quickly moved us to another room and generously hauled our stash of wine to the next place.

We started our day prior to the conference with a long-awaited tasting of Two Shepherds Wine, which is owned by my friend, William Allen (a.k.a Wine MacGyver for his endless supply of wine glasses and accessories at previous conferences).  Many of us who write about wine dream, “If Iever make the jump into the wine making world, would I have what it takes?” – and knowing that William has a job as encompassing as mine as a software sales executive – I am incredibly impressed.  His premise is to make Rhone varieties that reflect their sense of place and shine when blended. 

We started with the Two Shepherds 11 Grenache Blanc, which tasted of melon, citrus and lemon with some minerality on the end.  Then we tasted the 11 Viognier with a floral nose, but with nice acidity.  Our next stop was the 11 Pastoral Blanc, which was a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, with notes of citrus and pear.  This wine begged for some king crab.  We tasted the 10 Syrah/Mourvedre blend with lots of berry and pepper and then a barrel sample of the Grenache.  One word – wow.  Based on what I tasted, I can say with certainty that you will be reading about Two Shepherds very soon – get on the list now because this is truly a small production winery destined for very good things.

We stopped by the welcome session, which was hosted by the Oregon Wine Board, and were given a snapshot of what we had to look forward to during the week and served as a long-awaited reunion of bloggers. 

That night, we were invited to an intimate event to get a glimpse of Oregon’s wine history featuring 02-08 vintages from past years of the Portland Indie Wine Festival with some wines from some of Oregon’s top winemakers. The 5-year-old festival, which is on hold this year, but is sure to be back in 2013, is a project that brings together up and coming independent wine producers with music and food.  We were picked up by the good people of Watershed and brought to a “speakeasy” bar at Portland Wine Storage.  The vibe was cool, the wines were great, the change during the different harvests (lots of rain in 2004 for example vs. the coolest season on record in 2008) and it was fun to sit one-on-one and talk to winemakers from Harry Peterson-Nedry from Chehalem, Lynn Penner-Ash from Penner-Ash and Ben Thomas from Montinore.  And then it was 2 a.m. – welcome to the reality of the Wine Blogger’s Conference….

I’m not going to give a moment by moment recap about the event because there are some really good ones already out there such as Randall Grahm’s speech by Ben Simons or the great write-up of the “Ready, Fire, Aim” live wine blogging by Winemundo.  

But, I will mention the wheels off lunch that I had with David Honig and Liza at Andina, the best Peruvian restaurant that I have ever tried. 

In the afternoon, we were marched out to buses where we randomly selected our wine region tour for the duration of the evening.  We totally scored getting one of the best tours with a group of people whom I absolutely adore.  Zephyr won’t tell you where you are going until the bus is moving so we were very excited to hear that we were going to Carlton, “the wine Capital of Oregon.”  Thanks to Mary Cressler and Thea Dwelle’s invitation in 2010, I had the chance to get to know Amy Wilder and Lynette Shaw during my last trip to Oregon when Amy introduced me to Voodoo Donuts and Lynette introduced me to Willamette Valley.  A friendship was quickly born. 

About 40 minutes into our journey I spotted a police car on the side of the road with a male and female officer in the car.  I made a comment to my seatmate right as the lights were turned on in the police car.  An officer boarded the bus and told us we needed to disembark due to a “situation,” which turned out to be a brilliantly executed PR ploy. 

And, so we began our #cuffedincarlton journey.  What the officer, who turned out to be the chief of police, did not bank on, were the comments about his attractiveness.  Female bloggers, thinking that perhaps he might be an actor or had a side job in Magic Mike, had fun writing about him.  Sorry Chief Kevin.

We stopped at the lovely Carlo & Julian winery where we were served 09 Albarino that was flinty and perfect for the hot weather – especially with the tuna and three pepper sauce that was served with it.  We walked to the vineyards where we had a beautiful cheese and bread plate served with the 09 Tempranillo.  I was surprised to see these two wines in Oregon, but they were tasty and made Joe ponder.

 

We then met Ken Wright, one of the father’s of Oregon wine, who talked about the geography of Carlton and Yamhill.  I’ll talk a little more in detail in a later post, since we were lucky enough to spend the morning with Ken on a post conference visit. 

Our dinner stop was at Cielo Blu and once again we had no idea what was waiting for us.  Imagine a room packed with “evidence” against us with the top chefs in Carlton and the top wineries ready to match a nine course meal with 26 of the region’s best wines.  Mary Cressler and I decided that we had to try everything and gamely set out to keep our palates sharp and our sobriety up. 

Our first course “or Evidence No. 1” was Chinook salmon from Pacific City cooked on a traditional Salish bake, which was an alder wood frame over an open fire by Chef Jeff Lorton from Valley Emporium.  We got to sample the 2011 Youngberg Hill Aspen Pinot Gris, the 2009 Noble Pig Pinot Noir, the 2010 Omero Iliad Pinot Noir, the 2010 Alexana Revana Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2010 Ghost Hill Pinot Noir Blanc.  It was hard to choose a favorite, but I really liked the 2011 Youngberg Hill Pinot Gris as the match.

Our second course “or Evidence No. 2” was a duck confit salad with apple, fennel, candied nuts and an orange balsamic dressing from Chef Chloe Couchee from the Horse Radish.  We tried the 2011 Omero Pinot Gris, the 2011 MonksGate Rose of Pinot Noir, the 2008 Mouvance Pinot Noir Julon Vineyard and the 2008 EIEIO Pinot Noir. 

I liked all of these wines, but have to give a shout out to MonksGate for making the first and only rose that I have ever, ever, ever liked.  For those of you who know me, this is an accomplishment equal to pigs flying.

I abstained from the third course “or Evidence No. 3,” which was a Carlton Farms pork loin stuffed with herbs, garlic and onions served with Northwest Succotash from Chef Gilbert Henri of Cuvee, because I am allergic.  I have to say the people in Carlton love their pork, but see more about that later.  Our wine choices were the 2011 Troon Vineyard Vermentino, the 07 MonksGate Pinot Noir, the 2010 Alexana Revana Vineyard Riesling and the 2008 Youngberg Hill Jordan Pinot Noir.  The favorite pairing was the 2010 Alexana Revana Riesling, which surprised me as I thought it was destined to be a Pinot Noir.

Our fourth course “or Evidence No. 4” was braised short ribs in a red wine, rosemary tomato sauce with creamy rosemary polenta from Chef Bonifacio Solorzano from Cielo Blu.  We tried the 2005 Spofford Station Estate Syrah, the 07 Cliff Creek Cellars Cabernet Franc, the 2009 WildAire Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir and the 2009 Terra Vina Bella Vista Red Vinters Blend.  My favorite with the course was the 2009 WildAire Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir.

Our fifth course “or Evidence No. 5” was a grilled flank steak with blue cheese butter and peppered D’affinois mashed potatoes from Chef Sean David from The Horse Radish.  This was served with the 2010 Seven of Hearts Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre Cuvee, the WildAire Cellars Tempranillo (no year given) and the 2009 K&M Alchemy Cuvee Pinot Noir.  My favorite was a tie between the 2010 Seven of Hearts and the 2008 K&M Alchemy.

As if we hadn’t had enough, it was time for a cheese plate served with the 2010 Mouvance Pinot Gris and dark chocolate currant-cabernet ganache made by Dana Dooley with Honest Chocolates served with the 2005 Spofford Station Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Troon Vineyard Meritage.  Yum!

Then, the desserts from Chef Amy Wilder, Republic of Jam, a cardamom cake with port preserved plums and dulce de leche cream with the 2010 Seven of Hearts Pinot Noir Coupe’s Cuvee.  Andone of the best desserts that I have ever had, the chocolate blue cheese cheesecake with cherries preserved in balsamic syrup served the same wines matched with the chocolate.  After we experienced every single bit of hometown hospitality in Carlton, we rolled (pun intended) on home. 

Perhaps my plan of moderation didn’t work (ya think…?) My apologies for starting the return sing-a-long on the bus home, but at least I kept it to show tunes and bad songs from the 70’s and 80’s.  Most of the people on the bus still talk to me, so that’s a good thing.

The reality at this point is that you should be done, you should go home, you should get some rest.  But, the post parties were just beginning.  We had the night of Many Bottles, where bloggers brought some of their favorites to share and there were hopes of a dance party (my contribution: 2 drained, one corked); a special tasting of Randall Grahm wines; the bubble and champagne lounge by Pernod Ricard and a few other late night happenings in which bloggers shared some of their favorite wines with a smaller group of people.  After making the rounds, I showed some restraint about 1 a.m. and retired fat and happy knowing I’d be running in the morning, which was not a a fun reality, but necessary with the food/wine consumed.

 


Salem Pre-Trip Journey: Wine Bloggers Conference 2012

It’s always tough to distill all the information from the Wine Bloggers Conference.  The pre-trip, the conference and the post-trip all provide experiences that are so unique it is hard to bring them to life.  This being my third year of attending the Wine Bloggers Conference, with my first opportunity to serve as a judge of Best Wine Blog and Best New Wine Blog, I finally felt like I had the lay of the land.  Being a judge was a humbling experience, and I’m thrilled to see so many great wine blogs out there and hope you are expanding your horizons by reading some of the nominees.  They are well worth your while.

I started my journey on the Wine Bloggers Conference pre-tour, “Salem – Outside the Bottle”, where I was met by Irene Bernards, a woman who is the director of marketing for the region and loves her job.  I knew very little about Salem, Marion County and Polk County.  Salem is Oregon’s State Capital and is located in the Willamette Valley, which has more than 200 wineries.  Our first stop was the Evergreen Aviation Museum where we tried a few wines and saw some of the most iconic aviation and space museums including the Spruce Goose, which was the largest airplane ever constructed and flown only once by Howard Hughes.The plane was born of a need to move troops and materials across the Atlantic Ocean when German submarines were sinking Allied ships. 

Our next stop was a short hike as it was 100 plus degrees, which appears to be the curse of the Wine Bloggers Conference, from Johan Vineyards to Left Coast Cellars. 

Johan Vineyards is a small family vineyard with 85 acres dedicated to estate vineyards adjacent to the Van Duzer corridor.  This family claimed heritage from the days the Vikings sailed to Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland.  Dag Johan Sunby, a native Norwegian, came to North America in 2004, seeking a new life with a dedication to finding the ideal terrior similar to Burgundy and making great Pinot Noirs.  We had the opportunity to taste several bottles and barrels including a mini-vertical of 09-11 Pinot Gris wines that were so different and showed the power of the terrior combined with great winemaking skills.  I also enjoyed the 07 Pinot Noir.  Some hiked, some did not.

Those of us who did hike, had the chance to see the gorgeous vineyards and sample the Boedeker Pinot Athena 08 and the Et Fille 08 Pinots, made by a very talented husband and wife team with a different sense of style for each wine.  I personally enjoyed both of them. 

Then we had the chance to spend some time at Left Coast Cellars, one of our co-hosts for the event, with the lovely and fun Ivy Hover, marketing director, tech guru and hospitality expert extraordinaire. Left Coast Cellars is situated on the 45th parallel (important for the world of Pinot) and consists of 306 acres.   It’s somewhat of a nature preserve and I saw lots of evidence of wildlife including a spectacular heron.  I had the chance to try the estate-grown Pinot Noir, White Pinot Noir (yes, it’s fabulous), Pinot Gris and Syrah, which were all really great wines.  They also made us a great dinner to match their wine line-up including a white pinot noir, which was a fun and tasty discovery.

That night we were split into several hotels and I was lucky enough to stay at the Grand Hotel in Salem, which was a lovely place that I’d visit again when I have more time.  

We had a tour the next day at the Willamette Heritage Tour, where we were transported back to what was once a leading textile factory in Oregon.  We also got to preview the “History of Tap” exhibit where we learned about the free lunch, a marketing program encouraging workers to enjoy a free lunch with the purchase of a pail of beer.

We then reached Willamette Valley Vineyards, one of my favorite stops of the tour.  I had the opportunity to meet Don Crank randomly at the Whole Foods in Dallas and immediately picked up one of his elegant estate Pinot Noirs to take home.  Willamette Valley Vineyards was purchased in 1983 by founder, Jim Bernau, who planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.  By 2011, the winery was named as one of the greatest Pinot Noir Producers by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.   The name of the game is to allow the terrior to express character and the wines are expressive of the varietal and place where they are grown.  Photo Credit: Travel Salem

We tried several 09 Pinot Noirs – the basic Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot (rated highly at 92 points in 08 by Wine & Spirits) as well as single vineyards from Tualatin Estate, Eola-Amity Hills and Bernau Block.  We also tried the 2011 out of the barrel from Tualatin Estate, which showed a ton of promise.  I also want to mention the 2010 Pinot Gris, which was full of pear, apple and lemongrass.  I also really enjoyed the 2011 Pinot Blanc Founder’s Reserve.  I left to buy wine, so I missed trying the sparkling muscat, but heard good feedback from the group. 

Photo Credit: Travel Salem

Big shout out to Eric Nelson, the chef for Willamette, for one of the best meals that I had while in Oregon.  Absolutely fabulous foods that couldn’t have matched better with the wines.  Note that gruner veltliner appears to be an experimental grape that I would absolutely support based on my tastings.

At this point, I’d really like to do a public service announcement of what is appropriate for wine country.  Yes, I have lovely designer heels that make my legs look longer and make me feel very tall.  However, I go to wine country for the experience of going to wine country.  It’s not a fashion show or about wearing designer for designer’s sake.  Dress appropriately, people.

Our next stop was Piluso Vineyard for a vineyard walk and tasting.  Sandee Piluso decided that when she was ten, she decided that she would make wine after sneaking out to a friend’s vineyard while spending the night.  However, she became convinced there was no future for women and winemaking.  Eight years later she decided  to go for it.  In 1999, she went through the new UC Davis program in Temecula and received her viniculture degree in 03 and enology degree in 04.   She was the first person   to graduate and hit the ground running with her husband.  I loved her trial vineyard program, which included 4 acres of Muller Thurgau, Viognier, Marechal Foch, Dolcetto, Gamay Noir, Tempranillo and Pinot Noir.   We tried a number of wines including her 2010 Pinot Noir, 2010 Blanc de Noir, 2010 Fiore Bianco, several Pinot Noirs, but her 2010 Estate Gruner Veltliner was the stand-out and a differentiation from what we had been drinking.

And, let’s talk about our final stop at E.Z. Orchards, a farmers market for about 10-15 growers featuring Oregon farm grown fruit, vegetables and nuts, where we had a tasting of their branded hard cidre made from 10 varieties of bittersweet French apples that was incredibly refreshing.  This was served with some of the best fruit shortcake (my choice was peaches, mixed berries and lowfat ice cream).  I cannot do any justice to this dessert and how this was so worth the trip and calories.

This was an amazing experience, but I have to say that it was just the beginning of a total love affair with the state of Oregon.


COOPER: A Red Mountain Winery Comes to the Heart of Texas

Cooper Wines

Those of you who remember last year when I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in my first Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, WA, I mentioned meeting Neil Cooper. Neil was working on opening his winery when I made my visit to Red Mountain with Margot. Fast forward almost 11 months and COOPER: A Red Mountain Winery is not only up and running, but has taken home a slew of awards and medals for its Bordeaux-style reds. Having taken on several states successfully, Neil set his sights on Texas and I was more than happy to host the Dallas stop on his Texas tour.

Neil originally followed in the footsteps of his father, a farmer, and began growing grass seed. But he always had a strong appreciation for wine due to his family’s close relationship with Bill Preston, wine maker for Fidelitas. While I was drinking Gallo blush in a big jug, he and fellow members of the St. Luis Obispo water skiing team, would pool their money and buy wine. When they didn’t have tournaments, they went tasting in different cities in California. Grass seed farming was lucrative, but Neil found himself getting stuck in corporate politics and began to think about the wine business.

Around the same time Neil and his partners – all who were not in the industry — were looking for a place on Red Mountain to make wine. After three years of negotiating, the winery that they desired was for sale and, Neil decided to make the plunge into running a winery including the operations, sales and building a brand from scratch. Long story short – with the wine being made today by Charlie Hoppes from Fidelitas – COOPER has some fantastic wines that provide a great value as compared to the Napa blends. He brought the full line up with him to Dallas, which gave me the chance to throw a party that coincidentally fell during the kick-off of my husband’s birthday week.

Cooper Urban Crust

About 50 folks rolled up to find the Urban Crust pizza mobile kitchen in front of our casa and were treated to Neil’s fantastic wines. I loved that the top wines differed among so many of our guests, but what didn’t change was the universal agreement that we need these wines in Texas. Here’s the line-up:

Coop Wines

Coop Whites

2008 Pinot Gris (Columbia Valley). This wine was crisp, bright and refreshing. I tasted tropical fruit and some floral hints. This is the first wine that I have ever heard my mom ask to have shipped to her and I totally understand why. Neil was sweet enough to let her have a bottle.

2009 COOPER Estate Chardonnay (Red Mountain). This is not your typical buttered toast bomb. It’s definitely an Old World style with butterscotch, pine nuts and a bit of lemon. There is lots of depth to this first estate wine. 2007 and 2008 Cooper L’inizio (Columbia Valley) L’inizio is a Bordeaux-style blend that showed spice, berry, tobacco, licorice and oak. While both were great wines, the 07 was my favorite as it was much more elegant with the gift of time. L’inizio means the beginning and is the cornerstone of the line-up and shows big notes of coffee, vanilla and cherry.

2008 COOPER Merlot (Columbia Valley) This is a very full bodied merlot with lots of berry. This one was the favorite of a good friend who is also a distributor in Dallas. I’d recommend some decanting time if you open it young. 2007 Cooper Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley) Dark fruit, cherry, spice and coffee made up this great tasting, full-bodied cabernet.

2007 COOPER Cabernet Sauvignon * Walla Walla Valley This is a big, complex, earthy cabernet. Lots of dark fruit and herbal essences like rosemary and even a little cardamom. Definitely one of my favs.

2008 COOPER Cabernet Sauvignon Hightower * Red Mountain This is the model for what Red Mountain Cabernet should be. Lots of tannins, minerality, cherry and a dry finish.

Coop Corks

Cheers to l’inizio for COOPER wines in Texas and Neil Cooper, one heck of a great guy who followed his dream.


Food, Wine & Birds of Prey: A Night with Raptor Ridge

The other night I had the opportunity to attend a Raptor Ridge Wine dinner at Lakewood Country Club.  Usually I am totally psyched for William Koval’s five-star food and the chance to sit down for an intimate discussion with a great winemaker, but I have to admit, I was beyond wiped after an especially trying week with the paying gig and doing single mom duty because my husband was out of town.   A casual night  hanging out in pajamas with my daughter  was sounding better and better …

Annie (3)

But blog duty called and I got dressed and ready.  My sentiments immediately changed after being handed my first glass of Raptor Ridge 08 Pinot Noir and talking to the delightful Annie Shull, one of the winery co-owners.   Annie’s husband, Scott, serves as the winemaker and Annie is responsible for all other operational aspects of the Chehalem Mountain-based winery.  Raptor Ridge is named after the many birds of prey that live on the property — red-tailed Hawks, kestrels, sharp-shinned hawks and owls – that share the winery’s 27-acre estate.  The vineyard is named “Tuscowallame,” the indigenous word for “place where the owls dwell.”  In fact, each bottle features a feather from a particular bird.  The winery gives a percentage of proceeds to the Raptor Rescue Foundation and to a program that helps to provide medical and dental care to vineyard workers.

Surprisingly, Annie’s love affair with wine didn’t begin until she met her husband and he introduced her to more subtle French wines vs. the big fruit bombs that she had been drinking.  After they moved from California to Oregon due to a promotion for her successful job in technology, Scott started to take correspondent classes at UC Davis and collaborate with the other Oregon vintners.   After her husband received enough outside kudos for the home wines that he was blending, he decided to give commercialization a try in 1995 – a decision that Annie describes as “a hobby that went awry.”

We started our first course with the Raptor Ridge 09 Pinot Gris paired with Chilled Alaskan King Crab, Roasted Lemon and Pear Salad.  The wine’s pear, lemon and floral notes paired perfectly with the seafood goodness brought to our table.  I wanted this course to never end.

The second course was a Braised Milk Fed Porcelet, Anson Farms Polenta, Goat Cheese and Fresh Fig for the other attendees, but due to my pork allergy, I got a revised version.  The short rib substitute paired perfectly with the 07 Raptor Ridge Reserve Pinot, Willamette Valley, which had big cherry and cranberry flavors with a silky texture.

The third course was the Raptor Ridge Shea Vineyard 07 Pinot Noir paired with a Colorado Lamb Chop; a Dried Cherry, Zucchini Shallot Bread; Acorn, Crushed Spinach and topped with Mint Pinot Sauce.  This was a juicy wine with notes of earthiness pairing perfectly with the lamb.

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The finale was a Crème Brule, Almond Cake and Honey Ice Cream paired with the 05 Raptor Ridge Blanchefleur, Pinot Blanc from the Willamette Valley.  I’ve been really good on the diet plan lately, but ended up polishing off half of this before I realized what I had done.  Just sublime.  The presentation for the birthday of my friend Susan, who was in attendance, was a special touch.

The success of Raptor Ridge is a story of hard work, collaboration between Oregon winemakers and a focus on excellence from the vineyard to bottle.  I am so happy that these wines have made it to Texas (hats off to Pioneer Wines) so you can try them.


Dallas’ Most Interesting Wine List is at a National Hotel?

Last month I attended the Texas/New York Gridiron wine challenge had the opportunity to sit at a table with Hunter Hammett, sommelier for the Dallas Fairmont Hotel.  Surprisingly enough, our conversation shifted to wine and he told me about the Fairmont’s wine list which he had totally overhauled including a large number of Texas wines.  I was intrigued, so I asked Hunter if I could spend some time with him learning more about the list.

He’s an agreeable guy and very passionate about wine, so I found myself in the totally revamped Pyramid Restaurant & Bar at the Fairmont – with a tasteful local focus on Texas products and a rooftop garden.  I was handed the list, which received a Wine Spectator 2010 Award of Excellence, and like a kid in the candy store, I started perusing.  As Hunter hand-selected the 250 wines that are on the list, it was important find a variety of on and off “the beaten path” wines at any price that patrons would love.  I especially enjoyed the Underrated Reds and Underrated Whites sections that had a number of wines I have enjoyed in small little wine bars or across the country.  I never expected to see them at a restaurant in a national hotel.  You’ll also find grapes you’ve probably never heard of nor had the opportunity to try like Aligoté, at least in Texas, until now. 

Gruet was one of the selections on the Underrated Reds list and I mentioned that I had never tried its still wines.  In short notice, I had a glass of the 06 Gruet Pinot Noir Cuvee Gilbert in hand.  Hunter also had a large selection of wines that are positioned by varietal vs. region to encourage experimentation of all different types of grapes from around the world.

Of course, because this is Texas, you will find the usual big suspect Cabernets -we all know that restaurants have to carry these to please certain patrons.  Also, I believe that having some of the big steakhouse wines gives people the trust factor to try other wines that may not have considered otherwise.  

Wines that are sustainable, organic and environmentally farmed are given special consideration.  You’ll probably see a future focus on building out the French section of the list in 2011.  Hunter’s credo, like The Wine Century Club, is to broaden the wine drinking scope at every opportunity.  I, for one, look forward to my trip around the world with his wine list as my guide.


Dallas Wine Chick Behaving Badly: How NOT to do Wine Country

I’ve been asked by many of my friends and readers about the right way to experience wine country.  I always smirk a little to myself when I’m asked because I was such the poster child of bad behavior the first time I visited with my husband and our dear friends, Karen and Jim. 

My uncle was pretty high up at Gallo at the time (I’m so sorry, Uncle Mike) and he set up a hosted day of tours for us at three of Gallo’s higher end vineyards.  Because I was clueless, I booked our a room at a cute looking hotel – MacArthur Place – conveniently located in Sonoma – almost 80 minutes away from where most of our activities occurred – mistakeRule number one – stay near where you will be tasting or start the day with your first visit at the winery furthest away and work your way back to where you will be sleeping that night.  Better yet, hire a car to drive you.

We figured that if we gave ourselves 90 minutes to get there, we’d be fine – mistakeRule number two – make sure you account for Napa Saturday traffic – it can slow to a crawl even if you understand “the ladder” and use the Silverado Trail.  So, we rolled in late for our first tasting, which did I mention was set up by my uncle? - mistakeRule number three – never be late for a pre-arranged tasting, especially one planned upon your behalf.

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We had a lovely day of tasting with a start at Gallo of Sonoma, where we were driven around by a wonderful hostess and had glasses – not really tastes – but glasses of their reserve wines overlooking the pond by the vineyard.  I was amazed how high tech every detail was at the vineyard. Previously I had only been to the smaller vineyards and the differences were eye opening.

Next we visited MacMurray Ranch, which was previously owned by Fred MacMurray, the Hollywood legend known for his role in My Three Sons.  We had a tour and lovely patio lunch overlooking the vineyard.  They opened about four bottles of the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, which I took full advantage of enjoying.  At that point, I realized that there were lots of empty glasses on the table (mostly mine) and I really should be thinking about how much I was drinking.  But, I was having too much fun – mistakeRule number four – you might want to monitor how much you are drinking and for God’s sake, spit and don’t finish everything offered to you.

Our last stop was Louis Martini Winery where we  toured the facility and sampled the wines offered to us.  My friend, Karen, and I spotted a bottle of Old Vines Zinfandel that wasn’t on the tasting menu and only sold by the bottle.  Oh course we had to try it – mistakeRule number five – if you have been drinking all day, you don’t need the bottle.  Buy it if you must and drink it the next day or take it home.

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This is the point where everything gets a little hazy for me.  Karen and Jim have very good friends, Dave and Annie, who live in Calistoga.  We were going to meet that night for dinner.  We drove to their house in Calistoga where they had a lovely cheese and cracker tray out.  I can’t confirm this, but I have this visual of myself going all drunken Dan Akroyd with the salmon in Trading Places.  This is how I met Dave and Annie.  I was quickly cut off from the wonderful wines they had out to greet their friends and this couple (us) that they were told “they had to meet” - mistakeRule number six – never meet new people when absolutely bombed from tasting wines all day. 

Well, I survived the dinner remembering very little of it except being belligerent and arguing with my husband about how I was not drunk  (true as I was actually totally bombed).  I reintroduced myself to Dave and Annie the next day and apologized for my awful behavior the night prior.  Because Dave and Annie are incredibly gracious, we have become friends and look forward to visiting them about once a year at their home in Calistoga.


Wine, Love and Auburn Football

Last weekend I took my first trip back to Auburn University since I graduated in 1992 (in case you are wondering I graduated when I was 10 years old).  I had a very close-knit group of six friends that became my running buddies.  After all reconnecting on Facebook (go social media), we planned to reunite in Auburn for the opening game of the season with our families in tow.  Since my last Auburn football drinking experience was comprised of bourbon and coke or Gallo blush wine in a Big Gulp cup with ice, I decided I would bring a few bottles of wine (or nine) to show that “Weezie had moved on up” and so I didn’t need to navigate finding “off the beaten path” wine at a shop in Auburn, Alabama.

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As I looked around that first Friday night at this group of women that I loved with all of my heart and because I liken many situations back to wine for the purpose of Dallas Wine Chick, I realized that I had inadvertently chosen wines that reminded me of my friends and how we evolved from crazy college kids to the women we are today.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I have one friend who has turned into a beer aficionado and other than champagne in mimosas, has no use for the grape.  Because of our friendship, we have agreed to disagree. 

The Pinot Gris Phase (the age of the 20’s):

Capalanca Pinot Gris Sueno Profondo – this reminded me of when we all first met.  Our outlook on life was fresh and crisp – we had the whole world ahead of us and the world was literally our oyster (coincidentally this wine would go well with oysters).  Fresh and crisp also translated into young and stupid at times, not with this wine, but with this group back in the day.  I may or may not have dropped a class once because a test coincided with Kappa Alpha’s Old South three-day party.   I do believe that my friends are a bit incredulous that I eventually found career success in my chosen industry of public relations due to my college choices.  

The Cabernet Phase (the age of the 30’s):

David Arthur, Sojourn and Del Dotto St Helena Cabernets — This is when we became much more nuanced as we matured.  We realized that we were no longer the center of the world (at least most of us did).  We were knee deep in kids, families, careers and the realities of life.  Like these wines, we were working on balance – trying to be a good wife, mother, employee, friend, relative, etc. – and often because of our Type A standards, failing miserably in our own eyes.

The “Off the Beaten Path” Phase (now – you read between the lines, okay?)

Quinta de la Quietud Toro, Turley Duarte Zinfandel, Mi Sueno, Fefinanes Albarino “1583” – We’ve reached the stage of being comfortable in our own skins – working to find balance from realizing that family and friends are the most important things in the world.   For me, this is the most fun stage.  As I say, “it is what it is” and you realize that you no longer care about appearances the way that you used to in your youth.  As I reconnected with my friends and got to know their families, I realized that we all did well on the most important thing in life – raising well mannered, ethical, smart and fun kids. 

While times have definitely changed and we have a few more wrinkles than we used to as well as 17 kids (holy crap – 17 kids) between us, it felt like time had stood still when we got together.  So much had changed – a successful battle with breast cancer, deaths/illness of parents, one of us now lives in Saudi Arabia – but so much remained the same including the fact that we were all still married to our college or right after college sweethearts. 

While I don’t like to admit that I have hit my 40s, I’m looking forward to what the next wine phase will bring.




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