Archived entries for Pinot Noir

The Art of Davis Bynum Blending: A Pinot Noir Clonal Lesson

Robert Larsen and Me

He just threw the question out, which might as well been rhetorical.  “Do you want to join the trade event or should we do a private one for a few of your wine club friends?”  That’s what Robert Larsen, director of communications for Rodney Strong and Davis Bynum Wines, asked me back in October.  Without hesitation, I gathered eight women and we began a journey led by Robert about Davis Bynum wines, the Russian River Valley and the art of deciphering clones of Pinot Noir.

First, a little about Davis Bynum.  Davis was the first to produce a single vineyard pinot noir from the Russian River Valley in 1973.  I loved hearing about how Bynum, an aspiring winemaker and reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, purchased his first wine, a petit sirah, from Robert Mondavi in 1951.  Other key dates included 1965 when he purchased a warehouse and transformed it into a winery in Albany to his purchase of a 26-acre vineyard in Napa, which he was unable to build due to construction restrictions.  His journey continued taking him to Sonoma in 1973, where he established the winery in Russian River Valley, which became an AVA in 1983.  Here he began his focus on pinot noir and chardonnay wines.  In 2007, he sold the winery to Tom Klein, who has been making wine for four generations and is the owner of Rodney Strong Vineyards.  Forty years later, the focus is still the same and he continues his involvement with Davis Bynum and often has lunch with winemaker, Greg Morthole.

Pinot Noir, a widely known grape, has several sub-varieties, referred to as “clones.”  The seminar that Robert led for us detailed five different clones and what made them special as well as the final Pinot blend – the 2012 Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, which shows the beauty of blending the right clones, at the right time and in the right wine.  Clones are described as a group of identical genes, cells or organisms derived from one ancestor.

Grapevine clones are those that have been grown from cuttings from one single “source,” and were found to have interesting or superior qualities.  Pinot Noir aka known as “I’m too sexy for my clone – at least after this tasting” is the grape with the most clones with a total of more than 400.

The clones found in Davis Bynum Pinot Noir are Pommard, Clone 777, Clone 667, Clone 115, Clone 114 and Wadenswil.  Here’s my assessment:

  • Clone 777 – dark, black cherry, earthy, fruit-forward, violet and licorice.
  • Clone 114 – earthy, cola , pomegranate, blueberry and some minerality.
  • Pommard – mushroom, cinnamon and cherry.  This was my favorite with lots of “sex appeal.”
  • Clone 115 – floral, cherry and raspberry. This was more Burgundian in nature than the others.
  • Wadenswil – cherry, rose, herbal with raspberry.  More tannins in this one due to the thicker skins due to climate.
  • Clone 667 – cherry, black tea and earthy. 

What I learned is that each clone has its own unique flavor and the finished blend was where the rubber meets the road and the grape meets the earth.  And, once again, Robert is truly the host with the most as he took us out for an amazing dinner at Dragonfly at Hotel ZaZa after the seminar.


Cornerstone Cellars and J Vineyards Make a Vacation Better

Punta Mita, Mexico.  It’s become the home that I can’t afford away from home – at least on a sustained basis.  Of course there is always a story behind the story.  More than 10 years ago when I worked in a different position, I had to buy trip insurance because inevitably the company that I worked for would force me to cancel my vacations due to a crisis.  In their defense, the company was going through a SEC investigation and communication was very important.

One New Year’s Eve, my husband made me resolve that I wouldn’t cancel vacations anymore.  A few months later, we found ourselves at the Four Seasons Punta Mita.  This was the first time we had gotten away in ages and the first time we left our daughter who may have been 12 weeks old at the time.

We had an amazing trip and after several bottles of wine, we decided we were curious about the Residence Clubs the Four Seasons were building.  In the dark, we snuck under the fence, climbed into the unit and saw how amazing it was.  My childhood trips involved driving many miles in a station wagon, all of us sleeping in one room at the Radisson Inn and nothing that remotely resembled a Four Seasons experience.  Let’s just say that we made the decision to purchase and have not regretted it once.

But, wine is high on my Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and prior to this visit, I found the lack of selection along with the cost to buy imported wine in Mexico to be a hindrance.  I take a lot of care in selecting what we will take to dinner or drink watching the sun set.

Usually, I don’t take samples to Mexico, but in this case, I had great relationships with two wineries that I consider special and who happened to send wines that paired well with my happy experience.

The first is Cornerstone Cellars.  Managing Partner Craig Camp has been a long-time friend of all wine bloggers and I have been lucky enough to be included on Cornerstone’s media samples list.

We tried five wines from Cornerstone.  We began with three Sauvignon Blancs from 2009, 2010 and 2011 made in the Old World style that I love.  It was surprising to taste the changes from year to year.  This is a winery that highlights the terrior, the climate and the strengths of each vintage.  There is no size fits all blueprint for this winery.  Each wine tasted represents the spectrum from older to younger and what happens with a well-made wine with a little age.  Before I tell you how much I enjoyed each of these, the 2009 and 2010 wines are currently available as library wines, which command a premium price from the $30 2011 offering.  I loved each of them – from the complexity of the 2009 with notes of herbs, minerality and lemon peel to the freshness of the 2010 with pear, floral and oak notes.  And then there’s the younger 2012 which is also delicious with great minerality, citrus and melon notes.

My next bottle was the 2012 Cornerstone Chardonnay from Oregon.  This was a great mix of citrus, creamy textures and the steely notes of an Old World chardonnay.  The depth and textures of this wine was like unwrapping a beautiful package and the contents did not disappoint.

The last Cornerstone selection was the 2011 Pinot Noir from Oregon.  This was a great representation of Oregon Pinot with black cherry and herbal notes.

For those of you who have followed this blog, you know that I am a lover of sparkling wine and champagne.  We started with the J Vineyards Cuvee 20 NV Brut, which was delicious with lots of green apple, creaminess and lots of tropical fruit.  It was a perfect wine to sip on the patio while we watched the sun set.

Our final wine was the J Vineyards Brut Rose NV.  This is one of my favorite sparkling wines.  I love the strawberry and cherries, baked French pastry and a silky texture.

Cornerstone Cellars and J Vineyards thank you for making my vacation experience greater and sharing your wonderful wines with me.


October Wine Round-Up

Now that the weather has cooled down in Texas, I’ve been lucky enough to get a number of wine shipments coming my way.  Those shipments led us to another #TipsyTuesday with a group of work colleagues.  Sometimes you have to kiss many frogs before you find your prince, but this time we had a great line-up of wines from around the world.  We tried 15 wines, one was corked and one didn’t make the cut, but the rest were solid wines.

White

In the spirit of full disclosure, these wines were supposed to be part of Natural Chardonnay Day #ChardDay and I ended up having to go out of town for work.  I gave notice to the folks coordinating and they were nice enough to tell me to save them for a rainy day.  Favorites are below (as mentioned, one of the Chardonnay’s was corked, so I won’t talk about that wine).

  • 2012 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay – full of tropical notes, vanilla, orange blossom and floral notes.  This was a great representation of a chardonnay.
  • 2012 Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay – I also got tropical, but there were some notes of spice to this wine along with honey and vanilla.  A totally different chardonnay but also very nice.

The other favorite whites included:

  • 2013 Domaine Begude Sauvignon Blanc – lots of minerality, citrus, lemongrass and grapefruit.  This was a great everyday wine.
  • 2013 Carmel Road Unoaked Chardonnay – notes of citrus and pear.  This was a very crisp Chardonnay.
  • 2013 Carmel Road Unoaked Riesling – notes of orange blossom, honey, floral and apricot.  It was really interesting and I kept coming back to it.

Red

  • 2009 Cune Reserva 2009 Rioja – definitely one of my favorites of the tasting.  Big notes of rich berry, spice and great terroir. 
  • 2007 Montecilla Gran Reserva Rioja – earthy with notes of smoke, pepper, cedar, raspberry, spice and leather. I thought this opened up nicely over the time of the tasting.
  • 1998 Vina Albina Rioja – this wine was full of dried cherry, spice and vanilla.  It was an interesting expression of aged rioja and I enjoyed it.

I always have to call out Cornerstone Cellars wines whenever I am lucky enough to receive them as there is a line out my door whenever they appear and with good reason.  We tried the 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Syrah, which was full of leather, coffee and notes of blackberry.  You could almost taste the intersection of the fruit of the earth with the skill of the winemaker who brought it all together like a conductor’s crescendo.  The second wine was the 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which continues to ‘hands down’ be one of my favorite Napa Valley Cabernets (just do a Google search of Cornerstone and Dallas Wine Chick and you can follow my love affair with these wines).

Rose

  • 2013 Anna de Joyeuse, Camas, Pinot Noir Rose – Lots of red cherries, raspeberries and a freshness and minerality that I really enjoyed.

Dessert Wine

  • Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port – this was a treat for the group.  It was balanced with red fruits, cherry and had a nice finish at the end.  

Rodney Strong Celebrates 25 Years In Style

In July at the #wbc14, I was invited to hang with the cool kids at a special dinner in Solvang to celebrate the Rodney Strong Vineyard Silver Anniversary.  Several months later, I was invited to attend the Rodney Strong Silver Anniversary and James Beard Chef’s Tour Dinner celebrating 25 years of the Klein family owning the vineyard. 

Top chefs in Austin, Healdsburg, Miami and New York, hosted dinners that we were able to watch live on the #rsv25 channel.  There were also nine bloggers who are also fantastic home cooks that hosted mouthwatering dinners in different markets.  And then there were a few like me who don’t cook but were lucky enough to have received the wines so I could taste along.  All of the dinners benefitted the James Beard Foundation, echoing the family’s continuing commitment to give back to the community.

 Owner Tom Klein talked about how his goal was to create world-class wines that captured the essence of Sonoma.  In the 25 years under Klein’s ownership and direction, the winery has expanded, the number of wines offered has increased, the practices have became sustainable and the winery was named American Winery of the Year by the Wine Enthusiast in 2013.

From the Pre-Event at #wbc14

I’ve always said Rodney Strong was one of the top wineries that really understood the power of digital and social media.  They are front and center in raising the bar, making bloggers feel appreciated and understanding that if they get the right people in the room, they can and will out-trend any other wine event.

We tasted through six wines and there was a sense of fun to the entire evening.  The people at the dinners had fun.  The people on social media had fun.  The bloggers like me who were lucky enough to be included had fun.

We had six spectacular wines:

  • 2013 Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Symmetry, Alexander Valley
  • 2010 Brother’s Cabernet, Alexander Valley
  • 2008 Rodney Strong “A True Gentleman’s Port (named after Tom’s brother who passed away in 2003

According to Vintank, the undisputed leader in providing social intelligence for wineries, the results were impressive:

  • #RSV25 Trended #1 on Twitter, ahead of an HBO show.
  • When the event began, there was a social post every 12 seconds. Near the end of the evening, social posts were coming in every 6.7 seconds
  • 3,104 posts tagged with #RSV25. Nearly 700 people tuned into RSV25.com for the broadcast
  • Rodney Strong saw more than a 27% rise in its social media footprint.

For more information on the event, check out rsv25.com.

Or search #rsv25 for a glimpse of the fun.  Cheers to the Klein family, the Rodney Strong Vineyards staff and everyone involved in showing how much fun silver anniversaries can be.


A Conversation with Santiago Mayorga from Nieto Senetiner

Santiago, me and Fernando

Santiago Mayorga, the assistant winemaker for Nieto Senetiner, recently came through Dallas with Fernando Salmain, the export director for the winery as well as Kelly Elder, representing Foley Family Wines, to talk about the past, present and future of their wines.

This is a storied winery dating back to 1888, when Italian immigrants founded the winery in Mendoza.  In 1969, the company was acquired by the families Nieto and Senetiner, who brought new world techniques and technology, but kept the old world quality.  In 1998, it was acquired by the Grupo de Negocios de Molinos Río de la Plata, but the family is still very involved.   So you find a mixture of cultures – the Spanish, the Argentinian and the Italian.

The present is Santiago’s focus is the higher end Nieto wines.  He works closely with Roberto González, who has served as the lead wine maker for 20 years.  He brings a boutique perspective from his previous employer.  He joined Nieto Senetiner because it was an amazing opportunity to chart a course for an important winery in Mendoza. 

He talked about his passion for winemaking and how there is “no recipe.”  It’s about the quality of wines and the importance of the terroir over three estate vineyards in three different valleys. 

We tried a line-up of wines, which were all great and the quality for the price was an incredible find.  We started with the 2013 Torrontes, which was a very intense white with notes of rose petals, lemon curd, grapefruit, peach and a richness that kept drawing me back. 

Our next wine was the 2013 Pinot Noir, which was the first Argentinian Pinot Noir that impressed me.  It’s not yet in the Dallas market, but will come soon.  It was full of ripe cherry, cranberry and had hints of the earth.  Niento Senetiner buys the grapes for both the Torrontes and the Pinot Noir, but grows the rest on their own vineyards.

We moved to the 2012 Nieto Senetiner Bonarda.  This was my first experience a 100 percent Bonarda wine, which is the second most planted grape in Argentina after Malbec and is used often for blending.  It was fabulous – intense with smoke, chocolate, raspberry, herbs and oak notes.  Very complex and layered – I definitely want to try more.

The next wine was the 2012 Malbec, a new vintage full of plum, cassis, spice and vanilla.  It was very drinkable – with or without food.  We then moved to the 2012 Cabernet, which was full of blackberry, spice and notes of vanilla and oak.

Our final wines were amazing.  We had the 2011 Don Nicanor, a Malbec Reserve that was named after the founder.  In Spanish, it translates into “of noble origin.”  This wine, which shockingly retails for under $20 at Whole Foods and Central Market, was complex with notes of black cherry, violet, cassis, plum, Dijon mustard (it rocked – trust me) and a nuttiness.  I loved this and will be buying it.

The last wine was the Nieto Senetiner Terroir Blend Malbec, a blend of three vineyards with very different elevations and characteristics.  At $35, it was a special occasion wine without the special occasion price.  It was a beautiful symphony of flavors that brought together the past and the present in a compelling way.  I am looking forward to trying the future. 


Refugio Ranch: A Haven of Calm After the #WBC14 Storm

When Jeff Butler, the director of sales for Refugio Ranch Vineyards in Los Olivos, reached out with a wonderful invitation to experience his special vineyard, he didn’t flinch when the invitation for one grew to an invitation for ten.  If you’ve been following the adventures of the QBP during #wbc14, you’ve realized that we are loud and proud, love wine and long for the ‘off the beaten path’ experiences that are not replicated with larger conferences.

“The more the merrier,” he said – probably not quite realizing what was in store.  We met at the tasting room and tried the 2013 Aqua Dolce de Refugio on the patio.  The wine, which was made of Malvasia Bianca, was very refreshing with notes of honey, orange blossoms, white flowers and nectarines. 

We loaded up the cars and coolers and headed to the winery, where we promptly lost Thea Dwelle, who joined us with her carload of folks a few minutes later.  The winery, which is on private property and not open to the public, is a sanctuary. Imagine flowers everywhere you look, beautiful vineyards, an inviting front porch, a fantastic host and the wines, oh the wines.

Refugio Ranch was originally part of one of the original Spanish land grants.  The Gleason family discovered the property, which was a cattle ranch for several hundred years, in 2005.  They brought in Daniel Roberts from Napa who analyzed the soils and microclimate to discover the winery was ideal to grow Rhone and Sauvignon Blanc wines.

 We tried the following line-up:

  •  2011 Sauvignon Blanc – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon with notes of peach, apple pie, citrus, minerality and almonds.  This was a great wine.
  • 2011 Tiradora – a very different version of the same grape with lots of lime, stone, pear, citrus and herbs.  Loved this one too.
  • 2010/2011 Ineseno – a Rhone blend of Rousanne and Viognier with lots of depth.  This was made in a white Bordeaux style – I tasted brown butter caramel, tropical fruits, orange and dried fruits.  I liked them both, but ordered several bottles of the 2011.
  • 2012 Viognier – white jasmine, peach, nectarine, honeysuckle and dried fruit were the primary flavors that I tasted.  Another delicious, complex wine.
  • 2011 Escondrijo – this was a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Petite Syrah with notes of raspberry, cherry, licorice, black tea and spice. Yum.
  • 2010 Barbareno – a blend of Syrah and petite sirah with floral, cherry, mocha and spice.  Great depth and layers in this wine. 
  • 2010 Nectar de Refugio – a honeyed, complex dessert wine that was a wonderful end to a wonderful day.

 

Interesting fact – in spite of a drought over the last three years, the region and vineyard is on target for another great harvest year and no one can explain why.  The climate is unique – Jeff talked about letting the wine “hang out.”  It takes patience, perseverance and confidence, he said, to let the wines do what they do.  And as the former winemaker for Star Ranch, he has quite the resume to understand the entire sales/marketing function and how to uniquely position the value proposition of Refugio Ranch.  As a marketing person, I have to say the tasting notes just rocked as he described the wines in detail as well as the perfect dish to go with every wine.

 

He talked a lot about terroir or a sense of place, which connects wine to the land.  We had a soulful experience with good friends, great wine, tasty food, a few chickens and a very special vineyard.


Going Rogue: A Guide to the Best Parties at the Wine Bloggers Conference

Robert Larsen, the Ringmaster of Rogue 

During the conference, I was lucky enough to get invited to a few really cool private events that we later coined #goingrogue.   After the fantastic tasting at Star Vineyards, a small group was invited to Rodney Strong’s 25th anniversary “silver” dinner at Root 246.  Rachel Voorhees and Robert Larsen came dressed to impress – and several of the ladies followed suit.

The Ladies and Willie the Photobomber

 

It was an awesome dinner featuring a wide selection of Rodney Strong and Davis Bynum wines.  Rodney Strong people are my kind of people and I did chuckle when I saw our small little group was out trending the overall conference.  Never underestimate the power of a fun group of bloggers.

The next evening, the much anticipated Jordan and J Wineries after-party took place.  Over the years, I’ve seen this party bring everything from sabering (this one was successful) to random people walking the floors in robes to dancing to the great unknown.  That’s the joy.  What continued was a line-up of Jordan and J’s best wines and the chance to taste through a number of verticals.  

QBP in da house

One constant was the Cornerstone Cellars/Steppingstone Cellars suite hosted by Craig Camp, one guy who really gets bloggers.  I have always been a fan of these wines and find they change each year depending on the harvest.  They truly have a sense of place – whether it is Howell Mountain, Napa Valley or Willamette Valley.  I have never tried one that I haven’t enjoyed and the entire line-up from rose to white to red was featured.  It was at Craig’s party that I finally got to try Ed Thrall’s wine, which was also delicious and you never can underestimate the power of heart shaped tub to get iPhones snapping pics.  Craig also hosted us for a really fun dinner the night of the Wine Blogger Awards and we had a blast!  

 Tenley Fohl, Photo Credit

Keith Saarloos and Andrew Murray, Tenley Fohl: Photo Credit

Another really cool event was the Authentic Press party sponsored by Shawn Burger (@awanderingwino) that brought together a number of smaller family producers from Santa Barbara at the Sarloos and Sons tasting room as well as some of the best pizza that I’ve ever tasted from Bello Forno Pizza.  The wineries included Ampelos, Andrew Murray, Nacido/Solomon Hills, Cebada, Lindley, Native9, Palmina, Roark, Saarloos & Sons, Storm and Tercero as well as Fig Mountain Brew.

The vibe was cool and very Santa Barbara.  I found out after the fact that Nicholas Miller from Bien Nacido/Solomon Hills is one of the top 40 under 40 influencers in the wine industry; James Ontiveros, who was from Alta Maria and Native9 was recently co-awarded the farmer of the year; and Michael Benedict, is known for planting the first pinot noir with Richard Sanford in Santa Barbara County.   

I got to visit with Keith Saaroos when I tasted through their wines (and quickly bought a case).  I loved the tenants of the winery taught from him and by looking at the website:

  • “We are farmers first and foremost – the wines are 100 percent estate grown by the family.”  They name the wines after family members or roles within the family. It’s fun.
  •  There are no tasting notes – it’s your decision what you taste – and wines are only sold at the tasting room.  I love this. 
  •  Winemaking is voodoo.  Nuff said.
  •  The Saarloos family planted each and every vine about 15 years ago.
  •  Wine is for every one – not just rich people.
  •  Winemakers drink beer and scotch.
  •  No snobs are allowed. 

Wes Hagen, Close Pepe Winemaker and Host With the Most

The very last night, after the conference had ended, Wes Hagen and Wil Fernandez hosted a party to meet local winemakers and local musicians at Clos Pepe Vineyard’s.  It was everything that I came to love about Santa Barbara – the vibe, the non-corporate sponsors, the wine makers, farmers, musicians and bloggers having a great conversation.  The foods and the wines were local and plentiful and Wes showed his prowess with a pizza oven.

The wine makers were asked to bring wines for a brown bag tasting (like 90 plus of them) that included the wine that influenced them to make wine as well as a selection from the winery.  I also had a chance to talk to OCD Brewing who made an incredible mango habanero saison that made me re-evaluate the fact I don’t drink much beer.

Jeff Kralik Shows Pizza Prowess 

Jeff’s “Bless Your Heart” Sabering Moment

As usual, Wes was quotable and I was able to experience Jeff’s not so successful sabering experience.  A quick word about Jeff, who became our entertainment for the evening.  He’s true Renaissance man – from making and dropping pizzas to being the most tenacious man in the world on sabering a champagne bottle.  Jeff, perhaps we should under-promise and over-deliver in 2015.

 It was an incredible end to quite an incredible conference.


Come for the Private Events: Stay for the Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    


July Wine Roundup: Top 10 from my Last Tasting

This tasting included 18 wines from California and Italy.  We toggled between a selection of Proseccos from Mionetto and a selection of California wines.  Here’s the top 10 list:

Italy

Sparkling

Mionette Prosecco Luxury Cartizze – a very nice dry sparkling wine with notes of apple, pear, flowers and baked bread.  It had a bit of sweetness to it, but was a nice expression.

Mionette Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene Millesimato – this had green apple, tropical fruit and some citrus.  Another nice expression of Prosecco with a bit of nuttiness.

Mionette Prosecco Cuvee Luxury Valdobbiadene Superiore — this was elegant and creamy with apple, pear and floral notes.  This was my personal favorite of the proseccos.

California

Rose

Cornerstone Cellars Corallina Rose 2013 — for someone who is not typically in love with roses, this was my kind of rose.  It had vivid notes of strawberry and raspberry, but avoided what I call the “jolly rancher” syndrome.  It had great minerality, dryness and fruit.  Another delightful wine.

White 

J Pinot Gris 2013 – this is the wine that saved an otherwise crappy birthday due to a work crisis that started my day at 5 a.m.  Full of pear, orange blossom and citrus with a great minerality.  One glass of this (and my sweet family) made my day much better.

Zenato Lugana di San Benedetto DOC 2012 – stone fruit, citrus, tropical fruit and herbal notes.  This was a great summer refresher.

Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – this was hands down the favorite white wine of the bunch.  Full of tropical fruits, citrus, orange blossom and minerality, this was a fantastic expression of Sauvignon Blanc.  Yum!

Red

Byron Pinot Noir 2012 – cherry cola, black cherry, cinnamon and mocha with a nice earthiness made this a Pinot Noir that merited a (quick) second sip.  I enjoyed the Burgundian style.

Edmeades Mendocino County Zinfandel 2012 – blackberry, black pepper, vanilla, chocolate, cherry and I think I even got graham cracker.  I liked the richness of this wine and the different layers I uncovered as I sipped.

Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 2011 – meaty, green pepper, tobacco, basil, spice and blackberry with a great sense of balance.  This wine can be enjoyed with food, without food, with friends… but once you take a sip, you may want to keep it all for yourself.  I want to age this bottle and see the magic that happens.


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

Larry Schaffer, Tercero Wines

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

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

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

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

Mikael Sigouin, Winemaker for Beckmen and Kaena

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

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

The Texas Bloggers Get ‘Photobombed’ by Photographer George Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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