Archived entries for Pinot Noir

Five Texas Writers, Three Days of Paso Robles … The Adventure Starts Here

 Texas Media In Action

It felt a little like a Real World episode from the late 80’s.  Five writers, all from Texas, most who didn’t know the others, were brought together on a media trip.  At first glance, we were a diverse group – different ages, different religions and different ethnicities.  We ranged from career journalists to social media mavens to luxury publications to an occasional blogger like me.  And our interests were different – food, lifestyle and wine, but we shared a love for storytelling.

The View From My Room

Christopher Taranto, Communications Director, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance brought us all together to experience the Paso Robles region.  The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance is the collective voice of what makes Paso special.  The organization focuses on both growers and vintners and has approximately 500 members.  As we sat in the majestic lobby of the Allegretto Vineyard Resort, we knew we were in for some life moments ahead.

First, a little about Paso Robles, ‘The Pass of the Oaks,’ is located in San Luis Obispo County on the Salinas River.  It is known for its wineries, olive oil and almonds as well as its mineral hot springs.

Paso Robles has a storied history in wine.  Grapes were introduced in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries.  Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez had the vision this would be a great wine region and encouraged those in Mexico and California to come to the region.  In 1882, Andrew York, who came from Indiana, established a winery that still stands today under a different name as Epoch Winery.  Fast forward after Prohibition and growth continued.  Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 vineyard acres with Zinfandel as the heritage grape.  The real expansion occurred in 1990 when the winery count was 20 and today totals more than 200 wineries.

According to a study commissioned by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the Paso Robles AVA accounts for 87% of San Luis Obispo County wine industry output and economic impact with 40,000 vineyard acres and more than 200 wineries, 95% of which are small production, family owned businesses.

In 2009, the Paso Robles AVA was split into 11 smaller viticultural areas and at this time the winemakers began to expand into a wider variety of grapes include Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.  According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, it is the largest and most diverse wine region in California – 30 distinct soil series, many microclimates and varying topography within 612,000 total acres.

 

We started our trip with dinner at Cello Ristorante and Bar, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with a focus on the gardens, farms and vineyards of the region.  A group of legendary winemakers joined us and shared what makes Paso Robles special.  Don Brady, Winemaker of Robert Hall, talked about the dramatic growth of the region and how he decided to make his career there.  He was a splendid dinner companion and I had a blast talking about every subject under the sun.

Doug Beckett, Peachy Canyon Winemaker

Doug Beckett, Founder of Peachy Canyon Winery, kept us rolling with laughter and shared an inspiring story about his evolution from a home winemaker in San Diego, to one of the industry’s gurus.

Ben Mayo, the newly-named Winemaker for San Antonio Winery, which is known as the oldest winery in California, talked about his journey to taking his new position.

Steve Peck, the Winemaker for J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, talked about coming to the region because “it was the place where everything was happening and it represented the opportunity to realize the American dream.”

I found that like many regions, I could instantly decipher the Paso personality.  It’s a serious place for winemaking but with a collegial, family and a place willing to take a chance on grapes, varietals and the process of making wine.


A Wine Blogger’s Mea Culpa: A Long-Delayed Wine Roundup

The winemakers came marching into Dallas.  Five of them in four-week period.  Then I had two fabulous wine country trips to California providing tons of content.  There were numerous Twitter online tastings with three other winemakers to debut new wines coming to Texas.  Snooth came a-calling and asked me to be part of a French wine region seminar.  The Australians came to town for an in-depth wine seminar and educational session on the region.  Then I looked up and realized that it has been about well, uh, er … five months since I did a wine round-up.  I still have a closet of wine to taste and lots of enquiring PR folks, but now I’m only a month behind on coverage, so here’s my latest line-up of favorites.

I tasted 20 wines from Spain, France and California and 12 made today’s round-up story.  Here are some great bottles to seek out.

Whites and Roses

2015 Tank Garage Winery “Stars Like Ours” Rose – whoa – this personifies Summer in a glass and I can’t wait to get more.  I tasted fresh, juicy strawberries, mango, raspberries, flowers and notes of honey.  It only comes in a three-pack and you can order it directly from the winery.

2012 Tricó Albariño Rías Baixas – I really liked this aged wine.  It had great notes of peach, apricot and flowers with a nice stony minerality.  As you swirled the wine in the glass, it continued to evolve.

2014 La Caña Albariño – notes of peach, apple and tropical fruits with the minerality and stone fruit that is typical for this wine.

2014 Vionta Albariño – juicy peach, apricot, green apple, melon, tropical fruit and a nice minerality makes this a zingy, tangy and delicious wine.

2014 Grassini Sauvignon Blanc – a great expression of a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc.  Notes of citrus, pear and granite with just the right amount of minerality and balance.

2014 Paramus Verdejo – a blend of flowers, tropical fruit, green apple, pear and herbal notes make this an easy drinking wine that drinks well with food.

Champagnes

Nicolas Feuillatte D’Luscious Rose Champagne – this champagne is blended with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, the classic blends for Champagne.  I tasted red and black cherry and a burst of raspberry.  I loved the elegance and layers of this sparkler.

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose Champagne – another great expression of Champagne in this bottle.  I tasted raspberry, currant, fresh bread and blackberry.  This had a great acidity, ripe fruit and a great minerality.

Reds

2013 Grassini Equipo – “Equipo” is the Spanish word for team and this wine was made to pay tribute to the team that has been with the winery since the vines were planted.  It’s a nice tribute with raspberry, cherry, currant, cassis and notes of chocolate.

2013 Grassini Articondo – named as another tribute to Larry Grassini’s grandfather, this well-made wine is drinkable today with notes of blackberry, chocolate, spice, mocha, black fruit and caramel.

2014 La Crema Virtuoso Pinot Noir – definitely not your grocery store La Crema, I made sure my group tasted this blindly and it received rave reviews.  I tasted raspberry, cherry, black licorice, plum, cherry cola and black tea.  This was a great wine and the decisions were made by 25,000 participants of La Crema’s Virtual Vintner crowd sourcing program.  Pretty cool.

2013 50 Harvests Meritage – this wine is absolutely delicious with notes of chocolate, coffee, red fruit, blackberry and is a fantastic Bordeaux blend.  This was made by the Scotto Family to mark the family’s 50 years in the wine business.

 


A Wine Country Journey: From Valley to Valley, Day Two

I heard a quote that came to life during my recent visit to the Maurtison Family Winery — “without history there is no future” – author, unknown.  The Mauritson family has been growing grapes and making wine for six generations and been in the Dry Creek Valley for more than 150 years.  During a Taste of Sonoma event in Dallas last year, I had the opportunity to meet Winemaker Clay Maurtison.  When I realized we would be staying about five miles from his family’s vineyard, I reached out.  I immediately received a response from Carrie Maurtison, who leads marketing and sales.  The next thing we knew we were four-wheeling it to the Rockpile Vineyard where we got up close and personal with the terroir that makes Maurtison Wines so special.

Carrie Mauritson

First a little background on the winery and the family.  S.P. Hallengren, the great-great-great grandfather of the family and pioneer of the Rockpile region, first planted vines in 1884 and was also a sheep rancher.  This land has quite the history.  The Rockpile land and ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960 when the Army Corps of Engineers decided the land was needed to build Lake Sonoma.  The government paid 48 cents on the dollar and the family found most of its original ranch was now under water.  The family moved to Alexander Valley where it purchased 110 acres and then to Dry Creek Valley.  Maurtison has 310 vineyards across Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and and the Rockpile AVAs.

To continue the four wheeling story, we arrived at the vineyard and learned that the fruit has to be grown over 800 feet above sea level to be called “Rockpile”.  Carrie summed it up perfectly, ”If it wasn’t for love, there would be no Rockpile AVA”.  What I loved (other than the amazing Zins) were the stories.  The vineyards had interesting stories behind their names from Buck’s Pasture where deer liked to congregate to Jack’s Cabin (a tree girdler with a colorful history and a love of the drink lived there many decades ago) to Independence (the grandfather killed four pigs there on July 4th), the sense of history and fun of this family shone through.

 

Our line-up included the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, three different 2013 Zinfandels – Jack’s Cabin, Cemetery and Jack’s Cabin as well as the Madrone Spring Vineyard Syrah and the 2012 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Cabernet along with an amazing picnic lunch.

Gee and Barber

Our next stop was the chance to experience the caves of Freeman Vineyard and Winery.  You may recall my visit with Ken and Akiko Freeman during a Freeman dinner at Lakewood Country Club.  This was my chance to experience the caves and winery while introducing my friends to these incredible wines.  I wanted to see the Keystone of September 28, 1985 firsthand above the wine cave.  This stone captures a special moment of time where happenstance brought Ken to a party in New York where they met that involves a hurricane, a Chanel dress and the beginning of a great love story. And this proved that you never know who you are going to run into as we collided paths with former Dallas Sommelier Scott Barber and Heather Gee from La Tache De Vin.

At this point, I have to give a huge shout out to Chris and Janette, from My Napa Valley Driver.  I would not consider coming to Napa and not using these incredible folks.  They are funny, knowledgeable, hospitable, wine country natives and some of the greatest folks in the Valley.  They come to where you stay, drive your rental car (bringing along snacks/water) and have tons of knowledge on great places to go.  They kept us on schedule, even picked up Bouchon goodies when we didn’t have time to stop, ordered lunch for us one day and then picked out the perfect lunch stop for us when we had time between stops.  Oh, and they figured out how to get us from our Napa to Sonoma accommodations and only charge $45 an hour.

 

 Mary Ann Turrentine, Paradigm

The next day we started at Paradigm, a 50-acre winery, which is owned and managed by Ren and Marilyn Harris, two winegrowers (who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary).  The Harris have Napa roots with grandparents who came in 1769 and 1890.  They moved to Napa in the 1960’s and decided to purchase land in Oakville in the 1970s and sell the grapes.  Paradigm’s first wine was in 1991 and Icon Heidi Barrett, was the first winemaker and continues to consult on the wines there today.  Mary Ann Turrentine, the director of sales and hospitality, tasted us through a line-up starting with the rose’ and we had the chance to try the 2012 merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon as well as the 2011 cabernet sauvignon. The 2011 to the 2012 cabernet side-by-side tasting was an expression of Old World vs the more fruit-forward New World styles.

 

Our next stop was Cliff Lede Vineyards, which was established in 2002 when Cliff Lede, a Canadian, successful construction company owner and music enthusiastic purchased the 60-estate vineyard.  He promptly hired David Abreu, a well-known viticulturist and winemaker, to replant the vineyards.  Lede was whimsical in naming the vineyard blocks after his favorite rock songs and albums.  We experienced that firsthand in the VIP tasting room where we saw signed guitars and the art from the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.  We tried several of the wines from Cliff Lede and FEL – ranging from $25 to $130.  This was a cool melding of great wine, music and whimsy.

My Napa Valley Drivers set up an awesome picnic for us in Healdsburg with food from Café R&D where we had a chance to drink a little water (and maybe some Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc) and ate some great food.

 

We then swung by Cornerstone Cellars – I’m a long-time fan.  The winery was founded in 1991 by Mike Dragutsky who wanted to make great wine.  Craig Camp, who recently left his Cornerstone position for his dream to make wine in Oregon, was the person who introduced me to these wines.  The mantra has always been about vineyard and variety.  Cornerstone also has a collaboration in Oregon to make pinot noir and chardonnay.  We tasted through the Corallina rose,’ which is also known as the artist series, as well as a number of the other full-bodied reds.  My favorites included the 2012 Cabernet France, Merlot and Michael’s Cuvee.

Me and Elizabeth Smith 

Our final stop was at Ehlers Estate where my friend and tasting room manager, Elizabeth Smith, was an incredible host.  I love the story – Bernard Ehlers bought a vineyard in the late 1800s that wasn’t in great shape.  He started a quest to replant the vineyard and completed construction of the stone barn that now hosts the tasting room.  He built quite the legacy – his original Bale Mill Winery operated under his wife until the 1920’s (and during Prohibition).

There were other owners until French Entrepreneurs (owners of a large laundry and linen business who also founded a cardiac foundation bearing the same last name — hence the heart logo) Jean and Syviane Leducq acquired the winery and understood how well the Bordeaux wines they loved would do at this vineyard.  They brought in Jacques Boissenot, a renowned enologist, and acquired local vineyards that fit the Bordeaux vision.  About 16 years ago, they brought the Ehlers history back with the original stone barn and the Ehlers name on labels.  They hired Kevin Morrisey as the winemaker and Francisco Vega, the vineyard manager, who share the passion for creating Old World, estate-only wines that express the uniqueness of the terroir and are farmed organically.  The wines are sold mostly direct to consumers at the winery.

Kevin Morrisey and me

We had a great chance to visit with Kevin who talked about going to college to study art.  He did a graduate program in enology with an interest in science.  After receiving his undergraduate degree, he had friends that started making films and he fell into a junior camera man role.  That role brought him to Paris and he fell in love with French wines and cooking.  After two years he returned to Los Angeles where it was a tough market.  At age 35, he returned to school at UC Davis knowing that he wanted to make wine.  He wanted an internship in Paris and stalked Chateau Petrus until they gave up and took him as a harvest intern.  He was at Stag’s Leap twice (first working his way up to associate winemaker and then as head winemaker and general manager) as well as Etude before coming to Ehlers.

“I loved data and science,” he said.  “Chemistry is meaningful – I love data and science because there is a natural reaction.”  He talked about how making wine and blending is much more fun than baking because of the ability to improvise.

“I want the wines to be distinctive and to be true to the grapes,” he continued.  Ehlers is laser focused on building upon Bernard Ehler’s legacy and staying true to the land, what is in the glass and the people who work the vineyards and enjoy the wines.  It’s truly a special place.

 


Steve Rogstad: Cuvaison Winemaking and the Makings of a David Allen Coe Song

Steve Rogstad, Winemaker of Cuvaison

When I agreed to meet Cuvaison Estate Winemaker Steve Rogstad, little did I know that the ending of our meeting could easily be included as a verse in a country/western song that included Wrestlemania, an airstream trailer, Andy Warhol and a pen of chickens.  But I digress…

We met at Steven Pyles Restaurant and Steve told me the history of Cuvaison.  The winery was established in 1969 and known for the pinot noir and chardonnay sustainably produced at its Carneros vineyard in Napa.

In 1979, the matriarch of the Schmidheiny family of Switzerland visited the region and saw the vineyard’s potential.  She brought a soil sample home to the family and a year later her son, Thomas, purchased the winery.  The profits are re-invested in the winery and vineyards which allows cutting-edge things like block-by-block farming methods and a hand-crafted approach. Cuvaison has evolved some of the wines that it once produced like merlot into varietals like syrah and sauvignon blanc.

When the Schmidheiny family first purchased Cuvaison, Thomas showed his dear friend, Artist Andy Warhol, the wine label.  Warhol remarked that the label was ugly.  It was changed shortly afterward.

Steve grew up in North Dakota and went to The University of Washington to become a literary major.  He landed in Paris after graduation and lived above a wine shop.  That’s where he fell in love with the culture of wine and started learning.  After doing a bunch of biochemistry requisites, which originally terrified him, he attended grad school as a part of UC Davis’ viticulture and enology program.  He completed an internship at Beaujolais and then worked at Saintsbury, Spring Mountain Vineyard, La Crema and Clos Pegase as well as at custom crush clients like Viader, Dominus, Duckhorn and Spottswoode.  He joined Cuvaison in 2002 where he got to build the winery from the ground up.  “We custom built it to best handle the estate fruit when it is ready”, said Steve.  He employed tactics like block-by-block farming methods, green initiatives and certified sustainable farming.

Our line-up was full of amazing wines:

2014 Cuvaison Sauvignon Blanc – this was a fresh and tropical sauvignon blanc and a perfect expression of the grape.

2013 Cuvaison Chardonnay – notes of caramel apple, pear and nectarine make this well balanced wine a crowd pleaser.  There is good reason why the winery is known for this varietal.

2013 Cuvaison Pinot Noir – lots of black cherry, black fruit, cardamom, clove, roses, truffles and earthy notes make this a fantastic representation of pinot noir.  Delicious.

Then we moved to the Brandlin wines.  In 1998, Cuvaison purchased the R Brandlin Vineyard from the Brandlin family.  R Brandlin is a Napa Valley estate that produces wine in the Mount Veeder appellation.   The wines pay homage to the Brandlin family.   The winery was established in the 1870’s when the Brandlins were pioneers in the Mount Veeder region.  It filled the need for an estate cabernet for the Cuvaison portfolio and the Brandlin’s knew Steven would take great care with their legacy.

We tried the following:

2012 Brandlin Henry’s Keep Proprietary Red – this was soft and silky and made with the best grapes on the vineyard.  I tasted black cherry, blackberry, violets, mocha and spice.  The composition is 78 percent cabernet, 9 percent malbec, 7 percent petit verdot and 6 percent cabernet franc.

2012 Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of blackberry, herbs, coffee, mocha and chocolate made this a wonderful, aromatic and silky cabernet.

So it appears that I didn’t completely pay off the headline … yet.  Well, Steve was here during Dallas’ WrestleMania event and there were no hotels to be found for miles near Dallas.  He went to this  listing on Air B&B and hark there was the coolest, hippest Airstream trailer complete with chicken coop and within walking distance of Henderson Avenue.  All we need now is mama, getting drunk and prison and we’ve got ourselves a David Allen Coe anthem.


A Conversation with Akiko Freeman: The Story of An Almost Accidental Winemaker

Ken and Akiko Freeman

I recently spent the evening at Lakewood Country Club with Ken and Akiko Freeman, the founders of Freeman Vineyard & Winery based in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.  In the spirt of full disclosure, I serve as the wine committee chairman and was an invited guest.  Akiko, who serves as the winemaker, was my dining companion and she told me the story of how Freeman began and how she started to make wine.

It all began with Ken’s passion for wine and his desire to buy a winery.  Ken and Akiko were enthralled with Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and believed CaIifornia was able to produce that style of wine.  They looked at over 300 vineyards in search of a place that had the temperatures and coastal breezes to produce these wines.  The final chosen property had a winery that was started in 1978, but closed in 1981.  The first step was to buy fruit.

Well-known winemaker Ed Kurtzman served as the consulting winemaker starting in 2001 and Akiko became an accidental winemaker.  She originally served as an apprentice to Ed when she realized that they didn’t have the budget to hire an assistant winemaker and they were all in on making this dream a reality.  As Akiko stated, “Eighty percent of winemaking is cleaning up and that is how I learned.  But I fell in love with science and the art of fermentation along the way.”

After seven years as an assistant and ‘a million questions later,’ Ed told her she was ready to take the reins.  I could tell this is a woman who loves her job and based on the critic accolades and the fact that you can only buy these wines off the mailing list, she has come a long way from a wine collector to a wine maker.  While Ed still is deeply involved with the sales and marketing side of Freeman, Akiko drives the process.

Akiko grew up in Tokyo and her grandfather’s love for wine, literature and art was her inspiration.  She visited New York to study abroad and met Ken, who became her husband.  They visited California wineries and decided that owning one was a long-term goal.  Later, she received her Master’s degree in Italian Renaissance art history from Stanford where she traveled around the world.  After earning his M.B.A. from Kellogg, Ken established the Discovery Channel in Asia.  A position at CNET moved the Freeman’s to California and the winery plan was established.

Four years after they purchased the property in Sebastopol, they acquired an adjacent property, now the site of their Gloria Estate Vineyard; and in 2007 they purchased the Freeman Ranch further west in the Sonoma Coast appellation, where they planted their second vineyard, named ‘Yu-ki’.  The Freeman’s work with a variety of vineyard partners.  The winery makes less than 5,000 cases per year of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Our line up of the wines and dinner that was prepared by Lakewood Country Club’s talented Executive Chef William Koval (who happened to be the youngest executive chef for the Ritz Carlton and the chef who received a Mobil star during his tenure at the French Room in Dallas) was perfect.  Here’s the overview:

2013 Freeman Ryo-Chardonnay with seared sea scallop, sweet potato pine nut sage, ravioli and ver jus.

2013 Freeman Russian River Valley Pinot with seared ahi, herbs, foie gras with apple raisin compote and red wine butter

2012 Freeman Sonoma Coast Pinot with bacon seared pheasant, farro parmesan style risotto, pear salad and green peppercorn pheasant jus.

2013 Freeman Keefer Ranch Pinot with peppered Colorado lamb medallions, pancetta, fava bean, sweet carrot Brussel sprout with a huckleberry sauce.

Our dessert was a warm lemon soufflé cake with chocolate ice cream.

Elegance is what Akiko is serving for in her wines.  “It’s completely a philosophy of using the best fruit, handling it with care and making the best wine possible,” she said.


A Night In Dallas with Greg Morthole, Winemaker of Davis Bynum

Me, Andrew Chalk (wine author/writer); Robert Larsen (president, The Larsen Projekt);  Terry Hill (editor, Texas Wineaux); and Greg Morthole (Winemaker, Davis Bynum)

My favorite posts on Dallas Wine Chick have always been ones that tell a great story about wine, a winemaker or a region.  As a blogger, research goes into every post.  Living in Dallas, not necessarily next to acres of vineyards, much of this research is done online, while drinking the wine or during wine trips.  Davis Bynum is a winery that has figured out not only how to tell its story but how to truly teach complex lessons in a very easy to understand format.

In December 2014, Robert brought a group of us together to learn about Pinot clones; what goes into each clone and why; and we had a chance to sample the stand-alone clones and a resulting blend.  Here was my last experience with the clones of Davis Bynum.

So what is a clone?  Basically, a cut is made from a “mother” vine with the assumption that the cut will be genetically identical to the first.  Usually the winemaker is trying to find certain characteristics in the mother vine that they want to replicate.

This trip, Robert brought Greg Morthole, winemaker of Davis Bynum, to pour the latest round-up of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and four of its pinots.  Greg started working for the winery as a lab director before he was promoted to his current position.  His grasp of the intersection of science and earth was apparent as he discussed the wines.

First a little background about the winery. Davis Bynum was the first to produce a single vineyard pinot noir from the Russian River Valley in 1973 from Joe Rochioli’s vineyard.  Bynum was a newspaper man working at the San Francisco Chronicle, but inherited his love of wine from his father, who was a wine judge at both the Los Angeles and California State Fairs. He originally experimented with petite sirah from Robert Mondavi, which he deemed a success.  After several years, he decided to make wine his career and did it in Albany, California.  In 1973, he bought a property in Sonoma and found his group of dedicated grape growers.  The rest is history.  In 2007, he sold the winery to Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong, but the goal of producing single vineyard wines has not wavered.

 

 

We tasted through the 2014 Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc and then tried the 2013 Chardonnay.  We moved to four different pinot noirs – two that were Sonoma blends from 2013 and 2014, one from the Russian River Valley and one from a single clone – all from Jane’s Vineyard.  The pinots had such different characteristics and I remain astonished on the range and deliciousness of each of these wines based on the block, the clone and the elevation.


Cellars of Sonoma: A Virtual View of Sonoma’s Boutique Wines

Cellars of Sonoma asked several bloggers to partner during the month of February as part of its TV Tuesday Live sessions #tvtuesdaylive.  These tastings are scheduled every Tuesday at 6 pm PT at the Cellars of Sonoma tasting room in the Railroad District of Santa Rosa and feature family-owner, small-production boutique wineries from Sonoma counties.  The format is live and interactive with the Owner Scott Jordan interviewing a wine maker about his wines, wine philosophy and includes virtual participants (who use the Ustream feed at http://bit.ly/e4nxIF can ask questions).

From all accounts, Cellars of Sonoma truly feels like a neighborhood place.  Aside from the tastings, it sells wines by the glass, has a great selection of boutique wines you can’t find elsewhere and has great live music.

I received a four pack of wines from Cellars of Sonoma, which all are featured in their wine club shipment – four bottles in each shipment once per quarter.  It was fun for me to have to research all of the wines and the winemakers since I had never had the wines before.  And, they were all really good wines.

We’ve tasted with two of the winemakers so far and I was impressed with the passion for staying true to Sonoma that each exhibited.  These are the wines that we sampled:

2011 Super Sonoman Knights Valley Meritage — we tasted this with Winemaker Chris Taddei where we had the chance to try the wines and ask questions about the challenges of working with mountain fruit that is known as being tough because of the elevations and changing temperatures.  The Meritage as a blend of five grapes and I really enjoyed the wine.  Big notes of dark berry, herbs, tobacco and spice.  It was even better day two.

2011 Deering Cabernet Sauvignon – We tasted with Todd Maus, winemaker and owner of Deering Wine. Todd talked about the family’s belief that “their roots are in the earth.”  That is certainly evident with the long agricultural and farming background of the family.  This is another tough terroir with rocky slopes with fluctuating temperatures.  This wine had notes of tobacco, blackberry, spice, pencil lead and herbal notes.

There are two other wines that we have not had winemaker sessions with yet.  I wrongly assumed that we would open the wines the first session vs. having several sessions so I can tell you what I thought about the wines. You’ll have to stay tuned for the winemaker conversations to come.

2013 Moondance Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir – this is everything a Russian River Valley Pinot should be!  Big notes of cherry cola, raspberry and earth.  This was a gorgeous wine.

2012 Bonneau Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – this had earthy notes of plum, cassis, mocha, cedar, dark chocolate and clove.

 


Favorite Brands Portfolio Tasting: Kid in a Candy Store Reality

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

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

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

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

 


Malai Kitchen: Laser Focused on the Consumer Food & Wine Experience

In Texas, there are too many restaurants that refuse to take the same care with their wine lists as they do with their food menus.  Five years ago, after an experience with one of Dallas’ “venerable” institutions, I let loose with my vent and the idea that Dallas diners deserved so much better.

Then restaurants like Malai Kitchen come around and bring back hope that a dining experience should involve equal attention to food as well as the wines that bring out the full flavors of the menu.  Almost two years ago, I was invited by Yasmine and Braden Wages to try the 20 wines by the glass they had carefully chosen to compliment their Asian menu. Here was my experience.

I loved that they challenged convention and had suggested pairings to make the dining experience easier and to take the guesswork out for consumers.  Fast forward to December of 2015, and the Wages had added flights of red and white wines.  For $22, consumers receive four white wines or four red wines equaling about two full glasses of wines.  Because the menu is so diverse, it was a great way to experience a wide range of food and wines.  The process also allows some discoveries about non-traditional pairings.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our Texas Wineaux group, a group of wine lovers who have gathered together to taste wines, eat great food and generally have a great time.  When I received the invitation from Malai, I knew that this group would so enjoy the experience.

Our line-up looked a little like this.

The White Flight:

  • 2014 Selby Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2014 Chateau Routas Rose
  • 2012 Les Vignes d’Alexandre Chateauneuf-du-Pape
  • 2014 Kessler “R” Riesling

We paired these with Vietnamese meatballs, Ahi Tuna tartare, crab curry spicy dip and coconut soup.  The Selby and the tuna tartare as well as the coconut soup were fantastic pairings.  The Chateau Routas and the spicy crab dip was amazing.  While we all agreed the Kessler Riesling was a great match, it was the safer choice of all of the other wines.

The Red Flight:

  • 2006 Chateau Compassant Bordeaux
  • 2014 Bodegas Filon Granacha
  • 2011 Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel
  • 2012 Bell Syrah

We paired this with a number of dishes including the Iron Pot Green Curry Chicken, the Snapper special and the Drunken Noodles.  The Chateau Compassant Bordeaux was the clear winner with both the curry and the snapper dishes.

Malai Kitchen continues to be an affordable, well concepted and fantastic bright spot in Dallas’ dining scene run by one of the nicest couples out there.  And for those of you who live closer to Southlake, you will soon have a Malai Kitchen to call your own as well.  Try the coconut cream pie – it is worth breaking your New Year’s Resolution.


Ruth’s Chris Downtown Opening: A Food and Wine Experience

It all began with instant message on Twitter. 

My neighbor who has the boutique distributor with labels like Scarlett has put together a wine dinner with the new Ruth’s Chris downtown just for our little group. He will be providing the wine and Ruth’s Chris the food. Anyone interested? @erikj

Photo Credit: Asher Swan, Swan Photography

First, what? There’s a new Ruth’s Chris in uptown … like four blocks from my office?  Second … why don’t I know more about Redoux, a distributor focusing on boutique California wines?  Then you throw in this group of amazing Dallas wine lovers and the answer was an emphatic yes!

Photo Credit: Asher Swan, Swan Photography

I haven’t been to a Ruth’s Chris in years.  Based on the wine pairing dinner I was served, along with the attentive service of Alan Schulz Jr. and his passionate staff, I have been missing out.  We started with a five-course menu that was lovingly paired with wines by Samuel Rickords, the co-owner of Redoux.   Samuel had his own special story to share about Ruth’s Chris and how he took his future wife there on their first date.  He walked in without a reservation and the dining room was packed.  Yet the hostess sensed a special night and found room for them at the bar.  That night evolved into a marriage and three children.

I didn’t know there were 150 Ruth’s Chris restaurants in 13 countries (there are two in the Dallas area).  What you need to know is about the happy hour aptly named “Sizzle, Swizzle and Swirl.”  It features $8 wines and bites from 4:30-6:30 pm from Sunday to Friday. 

Here was our wine and food line-up (note several of these are on the happy hour menu).  Unless otherwise noted, all photos are from the very talented Asher Swan of Swan Photography.

  • 2013 Sojourn Chardonnay paired with Spicy Crispy Lobster

Photo Credit: Asher Swan, Swan Photography

  • 2013 Burt Street Cellars Pinot Noir with Saffron Veal Ravioli

  • 2012 Rubica Red Blend with New Orleans BBQ Shrimp

Photo Credit: Asher Swan, Swan Photography

  • 2007 Rust Ridge Cabernet with Tenderloin Skewer Salad

  • 2008 Robledo Cabernet Lake County with Chocolate Turtle Cheesecake and Dark Chocolate Bark

Then as a surprise, Samuel opened a 2013 Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon, which topped off the perfect end to the perfect evening.

 




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