Archived entries for Red Wine 

Hawaii, Wine and Mixing Work with Pleasure

Aloha.  I had the opportunity last week to go on a sales incentive trip to Hawaii.  I left as the snow and traffic snares piled up in Dallas and landed in paradise.  As many of you know, I head marketing for a software company for the paying gig, so it’s fun when my passion for wine and job collide.

Because the sales team worked their collective butts off to get to Maui, this trip needed to be special.  I learned early about the sacrifices that spouses/significant others and families make for deals to get done.  And wine was going to be a significant part of the experience.

I needed to find the perfect balance of “off the beaten path” wines that would satisfy palates from around the globe at a cost that wasn’t too outlandish, but certainly didn’t taste that way.  Here’s what I chose – Iet me know how you think I did….

 I learned a few lessons along the way:

  • Avoid “porn star martinis” at all cost.  Trust me.
  • A 7:00 a.m. excursion will not attract the masses.  Three out of 14 actually showed for the ATV trip.
  • Speaking of ATV tours, do not try to overachieve or you may come dangerously close to tipping the vehicle.
  • Do not try to out dance a dance troupe, even if you were in one in your younger years.
  • Every party has a tipping point moment, try to identify that before it happens.

I hope my co-workers had as much of an amazing time as I did.

 

 


A Tale of Two Cities: A Chat with Margo Van Staaveren and Christophe Paubert

 

Margo Van Staaveren, Winemaker, Chateau St. Jean, and Christophe Paubert, Winemaker and General Manager, Stags’ Leap Winery

Usually it’s the tale of two cities – Napa and Sonoma.  But sometimes there is an exception and that’s where the best stories originate.  I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Margo Van Staaveren, winemaker for Chateau St Jean, and Christophe Paubert, winemaker and general manager for Stags’ Leap Winery.  I learned quickly that an apostrophe is worth a thousand words when you are waxing poetic about your experience with the wrong, but closely named winery.

Let’s start with the correct history of Stags’ Leap Vineyard, a vineyard with a 100+ year history and more than 240 acres, which was founded by Horace Chase and his wife, Minnie Mizner. The property was named “Stags’ Leap” after an old Indian legend, which talks about a lone stag taking a great leap over the palisades to escape hunters.  During the Chases ownership, a manor house and a winery were built and it became quite the social destination, known for great parties with prominent politicians, artists and writers in attendance.

Fast-forward to a fortune lost, and Mrs. Francis Grange acquired the property in 1913.  She transformed the property into a working ranch and Napa’s top resort.  Again, the property remained a destination for the fun and the famous.  After the Grange legacy ended, the property fell into disrepair until Carl Doumani restored the property in 1971.  Carl’s dream originally was to restore the hotel, but Napa zoning laws kept that from being a reality.  He planted grapes instead.  Today the 80-are vineyard is divided into 23 blocks.

Christope joined Stags’ Leap in 2011 and has worked at some of the world’s most pre-eminent vineyards including Chateau d’Yquem and Gruard-Larose as well as projects in Chile, Spain and Washington State.  He wanted to go to California, but also wanted to make sure he could still produce the wines in the style that he was passionate about creating.  He said he was the only winemaker to actually bring his own wines to the interview.  Once he was hired, first and foremost, he focused on the fruit, the soil and making sure “the transparency is evidence between the consumer.”

Chateau St. Jean was founded in the Sonoma Valley in 1973 and has long been a leader in showcasing vineyard-designated wines with a “small lot mentality.”  In the beginning of its history, the winery made single vineyard cabernet sauvignon, merlot and zinfandel as well as chardonnay.  But, the winery became known for producing award-winning chardonnay and Chateau St Jean stopped making red wine in the early 80s.  In the mid 80’s, the vineyard was replanted and the winery started again to produce red wines.

Margo’s husband, Don, was the assistant winemaker when Cinq Cepages Cabernet, a Bordeaux blend of five varieties of Chateau St Jean was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the Wine Spectator’s “Wine of the Year.”  I asked Margo if she felt pressure about continuing the award-winning tradition, she said “Absolutely not.  I was part of this team from the beginning.”

The year 2015 will mark Margo’s 36th harvest at the winery, which becomes an even cooler story when she tells you how she started as a lab tech.  We talked a little about some of the women like Merry Edwards who helped to pave the way.  Her perception that she’ll validate in time for a spring keynote is that the percentage of women involved in the winemaking top roles probably remains the same today as it was 35 years ago.  I sure hope that isn’t the case.

In talking with Margo, she is all about capturing what makes each vintage special with the best the fruit can bring to the wine.  I tried the following wines from both winemakers during the tasting:

-       2011 Chateau St Jean, Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay,

-       2012 Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley Cabernet

-       2012 Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley “The Investor”

-       2012 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Petite Sirah

-       2010 Chateau St Jean, Cinq Cepages

The philosophies of both winemakers and vineyards are the same.  The wines sampled were all delicious and truly showed this guiding principles of showcasing terroir, blending Old World and New World techniques and making the best and most genuine wine possible.   Both winemakers told me they look to retain their own expressions, but they have the “keys” and the crews behind them who make the wine possible.

 


Mondavi Legacy Continues: My February #ThirstyThursday Wines

After the opportunity to chat with Peter Mondavi last week, I had the chance to experience the wine of another Mondavi – Michael Mondavi.  This was another lesson in heritage as Michael strives to recreate the style of cabernets that the Mondavi family were known for in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.  

I was sent a sample of the 2010 Michael Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100 percent Cabernet, which is a rarity in itself. This wine truly reflects timelessness and a family heritage.  “Animo” means spirit in Italian and Michael Mondavi’s grandfather taught him that all great winemakers respect the soil. It is velvet in texture, a deep purple in the glass and has a rich mouthfeel.  It has elements of Old World and New World with lots of earthy, blackberry, plum, minerality, vanilla, cinnamon and caramel.  It was stunning and as my colleagues noted, “I think your eyes just rolled back in your head when you tried it.”

We tried several other wines on this #thirstythursday that made the list including the following:

  • 2013 Amici Sauvignon Blanc – this 50/50 blend of Sauvignon Musque and Sauvignon Blanc was full of tropical fruit, citrus, orange blossom and notes of flowers and flint.  It was mineral and a great afternoon patio wine.
  • 2011 Chateau La Pointe Pomerol Bordeaux – this was a great entry level Bordeaux with truffle, chocolate, terroir and red fruit.

My Conversation with Peter Mondavi from Charles Krug: Family, Sustainability and Tradition

It’s not often I have the opportunity to sit down with one of the reigning members of one of the undisputable first families of wine in Napa.  But I got to do exactly that when Peter Mondavi Jr, co-proprietor of Charles Krug, came to Dallas.  By the way, he also happens to be one hell of a nice guy.

Charles Krug is the oldest winery in Napa Valley and was founded in 1861 by Prussian immigrant Charles Krug.  Since 1943 and over four generations, the winery has been overseen by the Peter Mondavi Sr family. Estate vineyards are located in St Helena, Yountville, Howell Mountain and Carneros.

Cesare Mondavi first came to Minnesota from Italy in 1906 and became a miner.  In 1908, he returned to Italy to marry Rosa Grassi and started a boarding house and saloon.  In 1922, as Prohibition hit, the Mondavi’s and their four children moved to California and started C. Mondavi and Sons, which was a grape shipping business. 

Cesare didn’t set out to be a winemaker – just an accidental entrepreneur who wanted to take care of his family.  After success in the grape shipping business, he decided to purchase the Charles Krug winery.  Cesare Mondavi was an innovator and introduced the cider press for winemaking and many other advanced winemaking techniques that were unheard of during that time.

His son, Peter Sr, attended Stanford and pursued graduate studies in enology.  He then served in the US Army in World War II and returned home to the winery.  Peter has carried on many innovations at Charles Krug including vintage dating varietal wines, cold fermentation of white wines and fermentation in French oak barrels, among others.  Peter Sr had two sons, Marc and Peter Jr, who followed in his footsteps, one attending UC Davis and one attending Stanford.

Fast forward a generation.  You can tell that both sons have the entrepreneurial spirit and understanding of how technology done well can improve key steps of a business and are very involved in the workings of Charles Krug.  Peter Mondavi Sr is still active, and comes to the winery to sign checks at age 100, but has handed the reins to his sons. 

Peter Jr told me about how his role at the winery evolved from working for 50 cents a day at age eight where he was assigned the task of unwrapping tasting glasses.  After returning to the winery with a BS in mechanical engineering and a MS in engineering management followed by a MBA, he handled everything from the capital expansion of the winery to designing the state-of-the-art temperature control system at the winery.

We tried a number of wines and I loved the pride that Peter had as he described each one, which were all delicious.  Here’s my assessment (please note that some of these wines will not be on the market for another few months).  I continued to drink them over a three day timeframe and the evolution was amazing:

  • 2014 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc – full of lots of citrus, grapefruit, peach and minerality.  It was the only wine with a twist top and meant to be enjoyed young.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Generations – this wine was designed to celebrate four generations of Mondavi family members.  Peter described it as a wine with “one foot in France, one foot in California.”  It was balanced with lots of cinnamon, All Spice and berry.  He discussed it being one of their cocktail wines that you drink before dinner as it stands alone without needing a food pairing.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Vintage Selection Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – lots of black fruit, mocha and caramel flavors.  This is a wine that is roughly not produced three out of five years and it was incredible.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – this was the second vintage of this wine and I loved the cranberry, cassis and big black fruit.

During my conversation with Peter I never lost track of the fact that Charles Krug Winery is about family, sustainability and keeping a tradition strong.  The Mondavi’s continue to innovate and invest to bring the Charles Krug brand back to its heritage.  The result is a delicious one.


The Best Party that Almost Wasn’t: A Night with Lindsay Hoopes

Me and Lindsay Hoopes

I had the opportunity several years ago to sit down and meet Lindsay Hoopes, the second generation leader of Hoopes Vineyard and Liparita wines as well as a former homicide prosecutor in San Francisco.  Lindsay was scheduled to come back through town and had tentatively scheduled an informal party at our house, but had a pretty bad fall where she broke her leg.  I was impressed by Lindsay’s focus and drive when I first met her and should have known that she’d find a way to make it through a grueling week in Texas, wheelchair and all.

This was almost the party that wasn’t.  Lindsay had sent 20 plus bottles to our home and we kept getting UPS delivery slips while we were at work.  I had a long week at sales kickoff for my paying gig and had to stay a few nights at the hotel where we scheduled the event.  My Friday in the office was crazy with people from all over the world who wanted to meet, so I just made the judgment call that I’d pick up the wine from UPS on Saturday.  I called my husband and he said, “are you sure that UPS will be open Saturday?”  I answered of course they would.  Luckily he checked.  And they weren’t.  So the wild goose chase began against time to grab the wine before UPS closed for the weekend.

I grabbed a very small group of wine lovers, who were up for the task of consuming the 20 plus bottles, because that is the kind of friends I have.   Lindsay told the story about her entry into the wine business and the how she was severely underestimated by many of the distributors.  I loved her quote, “I had to sell prison sentences of 20 years to life – this was nothing.” 

She talked candidly about how she decided to enter the family business when her father, Spencer Hoopes, became ill (the good news is that he recovered).  Spencer originally was a grape grower and decided 15 years later to make his own wine.  The focus has been on classic cabernets that capture the best of old world techniques and the new world of Napa fruit.  “I built a career, but it was time to come home to my family business.” 

Anne Vawter, the former protegee of Heidi Barrett, took over as winemaker with the 2012 vintage.  I also learned that Hoopes Vineyard boasts the oldest surviving set of vines in Oakville.  We drank some amazing wines.  We started with the 2013 Hoopla Chardonnay, which was a lovely white full of citrus, tropical fruits and minerality.  We moved to the 2012 Liparita Cabernet Sauvignon, which boasts a great story and a storyline that dates back to 1900. The winery, which was purchased in 2006 by Hoopes, boasts winning the Judgment of Paris in 1900 until it disappeared due to Prohibition.  We then tried the 2006, 2010 and 2012 Hoopes Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, which was beyond amazing – each and every one of them.

Our night ended with a very special treat that Lindsay had in store for us.  We became the only consumers in America to try the 2012 Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that was especially bottled for the Napa Valley Premiere Auction (#164 to be exact).  Last year, HEB bought the lot for $1,000 a bottle.  Absolutely gorgeous and what a special experience for Lindsay to share with us.


January Wine Favorites: Top Three that Knocked My Socks Off

Last week’s tasting acutely illustrated the expression that you have to kiss frogs to find a prince. We tried 12 wines.  I’m going to cover three.

White

  • 2013 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone North Coast White Rocks – this wine begs for a pairing with Asian food but is delicious on its own.  You’ll taste jasmine flowers, honeydew, peach and other tropical notes.  Note there is some sweetness, but the balance is countered with a nice acidity.  Definitely a group favorite of all the whites in the tasting and a top three of all wines tasted.

Reds

  • Santa Rita Triple C 2010 – what a lovely red wine!  This elegant blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere brings together black currant, tobacco, blackberry, violet, mocha and chocolate.  It was absolutely delicious and was the first bottle consumed.

  • 2012 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Stepping Stone Cuvée – full of juicy cherry fruit, herbs, earth and balance.  This was a delicious pinot noir and another shining star example of how Cornerstone continues to produce wines that are consistently on my list of favorite wines.

Minibar Launches in Dallas: The App Bringing Alcohol Your Way in a Zap

I usually do not wax poetic about another wine, spirits or beer related app.  I was recently introduced to Minibar, an experience that could easily be the most ingenious and dangerous app ever introducing to wine, spirits and beer loving consumers.

Minibar launched in Dallas on December 9th and the folks there gave me a $20 credit to try the experience.  The holidays got in the way, so it was actually December 27 when I downloaded the app, checked out the inventory and ordered my bottle of Domaine Carneros by Tattinger.  It took about 2 minutes to download from the app store (available on IOS, Android and the web); plug in my information including age (ID is checked for some and a $20 restocking fee is charged for those who cannot confirm being over 21) and credit card and then search the inventory available from the wine, spirits and beer local vendor partnered with Minibar near my location.  The service is free (you just tip the delivery person who is sourced by the local vendor).  Thirty seven minutes later and the bottle was at my door.  I had a $20 credit and probably put another $14 which included tip. The service also offers pairing recommendations, cocktail recipes, mixers and bar supplies – it’s truly one stop shopping in the palm of your hand.

The company started out of New York in February 2014.  After the completion of a $1.8 million round of financing, the service is available in New York, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago and New Jersey.  And the folks at Minibar tell me there are many more to come.  The company was founded by two successful corporate business women with direct to consumer experience.  Co-founders Lara Crystal and Lindsey Andrews worked for successful businesses like Rent the Runway and FreshDirect.  They realized that almost every other service was available to consumers, with the exception of the trip to your local liquor store.

It truly is the perfect app for those on the go; those who want to restock their bars but have little time as well as those who are currently in celebration mode and should not venture out to the liquor store.  From app store to your door in less than an hour, Minibar truly breaks down the last delivery frontier from your friendly neighborhood liquor store.


Twas the Night Before …. A December to Remember? Maybe?

‘Twas the Christmas season and all through the abode, my liver was working overtime to keep up with the load.  Much to my delighted eye did appear, some of the best wines that I’ve seen all year. 

Come Dom, Come Schramsberg, Come Pierre Peters. Come Charles Heidsieck.  As far as the eye can see, there are full tables of delicious bubbly. 

Come Clos Pegase.  Come 24 Vineyards.  Come Terra Valentine.  Come Coquerel. Come Barnett.  Come Caymus Select.  Come Quilceda Creek.  Come Larkmead. Come Tercero.  But I’m not done yet.

The bubbles have sparkled, the magnums shone bright.  The posts have been many – each and every night.  Merry Christmas to all, and in the next year, the added bulge I will fight.


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.


It’s the Holidays: Live a Little

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

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

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



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