Archived entries for Sparkling Wine

Marie-Christine Osselin Reflects on Moët & Chandon’s Grape to Glass Quality

Marie-Christine Osselin

When Marie-Christine Osselin looks at a glass (not champagne flute, mind you) of Moët & Chandon, she thinks about the multitude of steps it took to get from the grower to harvest to the wine making process to the bottle. Marie is the Wine Quality Manager for Moët & Chandon and has the daunting job of making sure what ends up in your glass.  Just one vineyard, for example, involves an effort of 1,500 acres of vineyards, 450 growers, a slew workers under the cellar master’s guidance, cutting-edge technology and a constant fight against nature and oxidation.  And these are big stakes as Moët & Chandon currently has 20 percent of the champagne market with an eye on the number one slot.

The company, which is a French champagne house is also co-owner of Louis Vuitton.  Moët & Chandon has set up its operating model over its 2,800 acres of vineyards where it can select from a wide range of grapes and select the best blends for each champagne.  Marie used terms like “freshness, fruitiness, seductive and sustainable.”  In fact, Moët & Chandon has been making champagne since 1743 and is committed to preserving the land but always using innovation to improve product quality.

That is why Marie had on her other hat – explaining champagne around the world by scheduling technical tastings for the trade in Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and New York.  This was her first trip to the US, with a task to evangelize the spirit of fine craftsmanship that is synonymous with the brand.  But her other reason was much more important – Moët & Chandon wants to completely understand the US marketplace as it introduces its array of products to meet the palate of the marketplace.

We started off our Monday morning (technically could have been brunch time) with several champagnes.  The blends vary but the three grapes remain the same – pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.

Our first was the Moët & Chandon Rose Imperial, a very approachable, lovely wine produced for consumers to enjoy every day.  The wine is a very intense color due to the thermos vinification process.  The wines are aged for 24 months.  I tasted lots of red fruit, floral notes with a little spice.   Marie described it as “an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time, but can instantly pick up with and have the same pleasure and enjoyment.”

We moved to the 2008 Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Rose described as the “act of freedom of the chef de cave.”  The vintage must express an exceptional year and the chef decides the vintage based on his assessment of what was best for the harvest.  The wine will never be replicable and will always be unique. These wines become part of the Maison’s Grand Vintage Collection, a library of wines that date back to 1842.

So how does one react to a blend of 100 different wines in one glass?  Just savor and enjoy this amazing composition of flavors in your glass.  Mature red fruits, citrus, almonds, a tinge of earthiness and floral notes.   This wine is completely meant to be aged.

Then we moved to the Moët & Chandon Nectar Imperial, a champagne that is the leading seller in the U.S., and is much sweeter than its two counterparts.  I tasted red berry, cream and a bit of raspberry jam.  I understand why it is doing well here, but at that point, the 2008 had captivated my attention.

And back to the champagne flute.  I had to ask why Moët & Chandon was usurping the flute for the white wine glass. Marie answered that there is no way to truly taste the nuances – especially of aged wine in a champagne glass.  I completely concur.


Vinitaly: A Glimpse of Verona, Varietals, Vineyards and Vinology

How do you create stories about an event where more than 4,000 wineries were present, each serving an average of 6 to 10 wines over a three-day period?  Some you plan, some you experience, some are pre-arranged … and some stories are just meant to be told.  The ITA had several pre-arranged tastings – some were fantastic and I walked away with an understanding of the region and the wines offered.  One was challenging … a neighboring booth had its sound system going and only one wine was poured to the lucky folks that stayed behind to hear more.

Here’s the recap on the tastings:

Our first tasting was with the Consorzio Tutela Vini D’Irpinia, an association of growers and producers from a place known for its terroir and diverse microclimates including volcanic soil.  Irpinia is known for bringing back grapes on the edge of extinction like Aglianico (we got to taste in the Nativ Blu Onice), Fiano, Greco, Coda di Volpe and Falanghina.  Wineries represented included Greco di Tuto, Nativ, La Molara, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, De Lisio and Manimurci Zagreo.

Our second tasting was with the Consorzio Alto Adige, a consortium of 155 members made up of cooperative wineries, estate wineries and independent grape growers who cultivate more than 99 percent of this DOC.  This is a small wine growing region with about twenty different grapes grown on 5,300 hectares.  Approximately 60 percent of the region is dedicated to white wines made up of Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Müller Thurgau, Sylvaner, Kerner, Riesling, and Veltliner.  Reds are focused on Schiava and Lagrein primarily but Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc also are grown.

We tried some really interesting, diverse and tasty wines including a sparkling (Arunda Metodo Classico Brut) and some classic whites (Muri-Gries Wine Estate/Monastery Cellar 2016 Pinot Bianco, Cantina Kurtatsch 2015 Pinot Grigio Penoner, 2015 Manincor Terlan Sauvignon Tannenberg, 2015 Castelfeder Gewürztraminer Vom Lehm) and a delicious red, the 2014 Hans Rottensteiner Lagrein Grieser Riserva Select.  This was one of my top region discoveries and I loved the diversity, the German and Austrian influences and the wines were fabulous.

 

 

Our third tasting was hosted by the Associazione Puglia in Rose.  The association is focused on promoting the regional wine industry including rosé from Apulia, the easternmost region of Italy surrounded by water – the Adriatic Sea in the east and north, and by the Ionian Sea in the south.   The climate is Mediterranean in nature with variances in the Summer and Winter.  We tried a white wine, several roses and reds from Cantine Teanum, Cantina La Marchesa and Tenuta Zicari. I kept coming back to the Cantine Teanum ‘Alta’ Falanghina white with its notes of tropical fruit, green apple and a nice minerality.  I also enjoyed the primitivo reds with lots of black fruit that were easy to drink.

 

Renato Vezza, the winemaker at Cascina Luisin

Our fourth tasting was focused on the delicious wines of Piedmont with the Associazione Nuovo Radici.  The region has 58 DOC and DOCG zones, is the sixth largest producer in volume and has the highest percentage of Italian classified wines. And wow – these were stunners.  Piedmont is known for its variety of wines from Asti Spumante to Barbera to the swoon worthy wines made with Nebbiolo like Barolo and Barbaresco as well as Gattinara, Gemme and Roero.  What struck me was the approachability of these wines, which traditionally need time to age and open.

We tasted wines from Cantino del Pino, Comm. G.B. Burlotto, Cascina Bongiovanni, Villa Giada and Cascina Luisin.  I was so happy I had the chance to talk and taste with Renato Vezza, the winemaker at Cascina Luisin.  There are so many gems to discover at this winery with a focus on Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Arneis grapes.

Our final tasting was by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Colli Berici E Vicenza, an organization bringing together the 34 wineries of the region.  The Colli Berici refers to the hills between the cities of Vicenza and Padua.  The area is known for its clay, volcanic and limestone soils with varying degrees of rain through the region.

 

We tried five wines from the Colli Berici region – the 2016 Collis Decanto Sauvignon Colli Berici, the 2015 Pegoraro Tai Rosso Colli Berici, the 2015 Vitevis Tai Rosso Colli Berici, the 2013 Piovene Porto Godi Tai Rosso Thovara Colli Berici and the 2013 Gianne Tessari Pianalto Rosso Colli Berici.  And then we got to try some local delicacies, which were amazing.

I tasted hundreds of wines and had a few sit-down meetings with some wine folks that I wanted to highlight.

La Salette – Rossella Scamperie

My college friend who now resides in Veneto saw on Facebook that I was going to be attending Vinitaly.  He reached out to give me a recommendation on his favorite winery and introduced me to Rossella Scamperle, a member of the winery family and his Italian language teacher.

Me and Rossella Scamperle

La Salette was built as a sanctuary and tribute to the Madonna when she freed the vineyards from phylloxera.  The sanctuary is a church that overlooks the hills and vineyards.  One of those vineyards is owned by the Scamperle family, a historical winemaking family of Valpolicella who have the same name as the church.  For the past four generations, La Salette has been dedicated to producing classic Valpolicella and has 49 dedicated wine growing acres for grapes like Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta and a little bit of Molinara, and Croatina.

We went through the portfolio of Valpolicella from the entry wines that were fresh and easy to drink to the reserve Valpolicella, Vernose and Amarone wines, that were nuanced and delicious.

Consorzio Tutela Roero

My friend Constance Chamberlain, the CEO of Wine & Co, asked me to a tasting of Roero, another new region to me.  Roero is north of Alba (Piedmont), on the left bank of the River Tanaro, between the plain of Carmagnola and the low hills of Astigiano.  It used to be part of the Goldo Padano, a sea that dates back 130 million years.  The terroir is known for its sandy soils, limestone, clay, fossil rock and sedimentary materials from the old sea.  The Roero hills are very dry in nature and get the least amount of rain in all of Piedmont.

The area is known for arneis and nebbiolo grapes.  The designation “Roero” is for red wines made from at least 95 percent nebbiolo grapes.  In most cases, Roero DOCG is 100 percent nebbiolo.  Roero Arneis is a term for white wines that are made from 95 percent arneis grapes and those that are designated Roero Arneis DOCG contain 100 percent arneis.  Other Roero DOCG wines include Roero Riserva and Roero Arneis Spumante.

Francesco Monchiero, President of the Roero Consortia and of Monchiero Carbone

I had the chance to talk to the President of the Roero Consorzio, Francesco Monchiero of Monchiero Carbone, one of the biggest and oldest estates in Roero.  It seems like this region is all about family and people that have worked together for generations.   Monchiero Carbone is in Canale, and was established in the 90’s to reunite two families with winemaking ties back to 1918.  Today, Francesco and his wife, Lucrezia, focus on Arneis. When I asked him about the phrase, “Ogni uss a l’ha so tanbuss” and the crest on every bottle, he responded that it stood for “Every door has its knocker.”  He added, “if you knock on our door, you’ll find our style of wines.”

 

We tasted a variety of red and white wines and I learned that Arneis can age like Riesling.  These are very drinkable, approachable and fresh wines that can be opened today, but some of them should have “riserva” status as they were more nuanced and elegant.  One sidenote: the Arneis Reserve classification will come into effect in 2017 and requires 16 months of aging prior to bottling.

We tried Roero wines from Giovani Armando, Monchiero Carbone, Marco Porello, Azienda Agricola Malvirà, Cornarea, Careglio, Matteo Correggla, Montriggio, Nino Costa, Azienda Agricola Cascina Ca’Rossa and Deltetto.

Ruche: Luca Ferraris

Luca Ferraris of Roche Ferrari Winery

Luca Ferraris from Roche Ferrari Winery is the second largest ruche producer – a varietal that I had never heard of.  When Joe Roberts asked me if I wanted to completely “geek out over a region,” the answer was absolutely.  He took me to meet Luca, whose family has been involved in making wine since 1921.   Luca’s great-grandfather Luigi Ferraris emigrated to American and was one of the lucky folks to strike gold.  He sent the money back to his wife, Bruno Teresa, and that led to the purchase of the house that later became the first winery location.

The family began to acquire additional land, vines and bought barrels to make wines. His dad grew grapes and sold them to a cooperative until 2001 when the family started making wine. He had a big commitment to high-quality production and considered it his job to evangelize the varietal.  Today the Ferraris estate produces about 130,000 bottles of wine (about 50,000 of Ruchè) from 18 vineyards covering 25 hectares. Luca Ferraris Agricola is the largest family owned agricultural company in the seven municipalities of the Ruchè-growing region.

Ruchè is a relatively scarce, low production red varietal grown almost exclusively hillside around Castagnole Monferrato in the Piedmont region in northern Italy.  It’s also a fickle grape with its many leaves to prune that is a labor of love for those who helped it earn its DOC designation in 1987.  Overall, the wine has a bright ruby color with delicate floral and red berry aromas.

We tried three Ruchè wines – a classic good, better and best offering from the winery.  Our first was the entry level and very easy to drink 2015 Ruchè Clasic.  I got notes of black and sour cherry, rose petals and bright fruit with some earthiness.

Our next wine was the 2015 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato Bric d’Bianc is the name of the hill most suited for the cultivation of Ruchè.

The next Ruchè was the 2015 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato Opera Prima, which was a single vineyard wine.  It was delicious and elegant with notes of the cherry and flowers, but depth and complexity.  Luca dedicated this wine in memory of his grandfather and it’s very special.

We also tried the 2016 Vigna del Parroco, which had the same floral notes but with red raspberry and almost a nuttiness.

Our final wine was the 2015 Castello Monaci Primitivo Salento Artas.  This was a treat – I got tons of dark cherry, raspberry jam and black fruit with notes of rosemary, mocha and cedar.  It was elegant and continued to open during our discussion.

And here my whirlwind discussion of wines comes to an end.  It was an life-changing journey with amazing people and I feel like I have much more of an understanding of Italian wines.  I am so ready to continue to experience the wines, culture and evolution of what I learned at Vinitaly.  I consider myself a proud advocate of continuing letting you, my readers know, how my journey progresses.

 


Vinitaly: A Lone Wine Blogger’s Novice Navigation of 128,000 people, 4,000 exhibitors, 400 seminars and the quest for a story

After our trip to the Trento DOC region, I had some quality bus time with Gioia Morena Gatti, the Head of the Food and Wine Section for the ICE-Italian Trade Promotion Agency.  The agency is a government organization that promotes Italian companies globally in conjunction with the Ministry of Economic Development and provides ground cover and support to Italian companies looking to expand internationally in 86 cities around the world.  Keep your eyes open for a big focus on U.S. consumers showcasing Italian wines.  While the U.S. is the biggest market for Italian exports, increasing that market share, especially against French wines, is a key focus.

 A Group of Strangers Who Quickly Became Longtime Friends

 

 

Ornellaia Estate Director Axel Heinz and me

Finally, we arrived in Verona and were ready to begin our Opera Wine Experience.  Veronafiere, Vinitaly and the Wine Spectator host an exclusive invitation only “OperaWine, Finest Italian Wines: 100 Great Producers” event showcasing the best of the best Italian wines.  This was the sixth annual event and focused on the best wines presented by the 100 greatest Italian producers selected by “Wine Spectator.”  It was quite the adventure and copious amounts of Italian high-end dream wines were freely poured and talked about by the estate owners and winemakers.  Each room was segmented by region and you either had to have an advance game plan (note to self) or you found yourself glomming on to others that were not “experiencing their first rodeo.”

And now to Vinitaly, I’ll have some follow-up stories on the wineries that I met and a fraction of the wines that I got to taste in next week’s blog.  As a technology marketing gal, I am no stranger to large trade shows and earned my stripes at the Consumer Electronics Show, the National Retail Foundation Show, the Mobile Congress Show, etc.  I have balanced a box of 50 press kits on my head walking for miles to a booth because it was a union town (Las Vegas) and my client didn’t have union folks on call.  I’ve danced well into the late hours in a club with the Samsung dancers who were hired to drive traffic to the booth.  I’ve been in massive two-story booths where I’ve been involved with the biggest client meetings trying to get a deal done.  What I haven’t done is to be on the other side as a journalist trying to make sense of it all with copious amounts of wine.

Let me put this into perspective for you.  According to Vinitaly, the show netted out like this:

  • 128,000 visitors from 142 countries.
  • 30,000 international wine buyers, up 8% on 2016.
  • The show attracted 4,270 exhibiting companies from 30 countries, up 4%.
  • There were also a series of 400 seminars and debates looking at issues such as increased US protectionism and the implications of Brexit.
  • There were also key business deals done including China’s 1919 distribution business signing a deal with the Vinitaly International Academy to increase Italian wine sales in China by more than 2 million bottles by 2020, worth €68 million euros.

And you can’t throw a huge show like this without a little controversy.  Through no fault of Vinitaly, Italian police removed wines from the Crimea region due to be exhibited by Russian companies.

Imagine trying to navigate over 4,000 exhibitors with a large percentage of them pouring multiple wines in different exhibit halls and pavilions.  Now imagine doing it for an average of eight hours (at least) a day.   Massive.  Crazy.  Incredible.  Amazing.  Overwhelming.  Awesome.  Life Experience.  The list goes on.

Vinitaly’s Stevie Kim and me

This is what we did until our last night together where we were hosted by The Italian Trade Agency, the Economic Ministry of Italy, Vinitaly and Veronafiere for a lovely dinner at the Palazzo Gran Guardia.  Also, I had the chance to see one of my favorite power CEOs, Stevie Kim, who seemed completely put together for having just pulled off such a massive event.

Our table was filled with many of my favorites from the trip and we had this amazing dinner that showcased the brilliance of Italian food.

The first course was pasta with cherry tomatoes, basil and Campania buffalo mozzarella.


The second course was risotto with Monte Veronese cheese and diced pears with a mountain butter.

We moved on to sliced beef, chicory and parmesan cheese in balsamic vinegar, Hollandaise potatoes and celeriac gratin.

And then the grand finale, a “Millefoglie Strachin”, by the renowned Pasticceria Perbellini.  No words.  One of the best desserts that I ever had and I still regret leaving two thirds of it behind.

Joe Roberts, Zoolander Style…

Vinitaly was an incredible, bucket-list experience that is so hard to describe accurately as it is the world’s largest wine trade show.  After 14 hours of sleep in 7 days, I prepared for my 3 am wakeup call (okay, you never prepare for that) for my 4 am car pickup… There’s always time for sleep on the other side…


A Tale of Two Cities: Trento to Verona

Charles Dickens started “A Tale of Two Cities” with the famous line, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  I had my own two city experience with a focus on the best of times where I was hosted by the Italian Trade Commission on a promotional tour with importers, restauranteurs and other supporters of Italian wines.  The Italian Trade Commission has a mission to promote Italian wines with US consumers, drive market share (more than 350 varieties of Italian wine are exported) and conduct trade education events.

The stars aligned for me and I upgraded my flight to London so the 18-total hour trip ending in Venice with the transfer to Trento was a little less hard on the body than I anticipated.

Trento is located in the Adige River Valley in Trentino-Alta Adige/Südtirol in Italy.  The landscape in Trentino includes Lake Garda to the Cevedale Mountain range and includes the Dolomites.  The Trento Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is an appellation for white and rosé sparkling wine made in Trentino, Italy.  Our exclusive focus was on sparkling, which focused on varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier all grown in the Province of Trento.  France, the leading provider of champagne and sparkling wines in the world, has a strong connection to the area.  When the chardonnay grapes were brought to the country in 1900 by Giulio Ferrari, Trento was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  After graduating from the Forschungsanstalt für Garten- und Weinbau in Geisenheim/Rheingau, Germany, Ferrari made champagne in Épernay.

Fast forward to 1984 and the region started a commitment to be recognized with the founding of the Trento DOC Institute.  Nine years later, it was given the DOC status.  Trento DOC produces its sparkling wines in the méthode champenoise style, which means the second fermentation for sparkling must occur in the bottle with old school riddling required along with disgorgement where you freeze a small amount of wine in the neck of the bottle and removie the plug of ice containing the lees.

Our welcome gathering was at the Sartori’s Hotel with a four course menu paired with wine from 12 producers – Abate Nero, Bellaveder, Cantine Ferrari, Cesarino Sforza Spumanti, Letari, Maso Nero, Cantina D’Isera, Cantina Aldeno, Cantina Rovere Della Luna Aichholz, Cesarini Sforza Spumanti, Pisoni and Revi.

We gathered mostly jetlagged – some with lost luggage, some sporting credentials, some with more complex delays than others – all with the end goal of immersing in our experience.  I’m going to talk about our “Breakfast Club group” in a future column – but it was an amazing group of passionate wine folks that covered all stereotypes and defied them all by week end.

 

 

The next day we started at Palazzo Roccabruna, the Chamber of Commerce of Trento’s location, that houses the Enoteca Provinciale del Trentino (the Provincial Wine Promotion Board of Trentino) and is dedicated to the development and promotion of culture, tradition and products of Trentino showcasing the storied wine history of the region.

 

Roberto Anesi, a local wine expert, led us in a master class on eight Trento DOC wines including 2012 Revi Brut Millesimato, 2012 Tananai Brut Borgo dei Posseri, 2011 Maso Martis Dosaggio Zero Riserva, 2010 Cantine Ferrari Perle, 2010 Letrari Brut Riserva, 2009 Cavit Altemasi Riserva Graal, 2008 Cantina Rotaliana di Mezzolombardo Redor Riserva and 2008 Rotari Flavio Riserva.  The region has more than 45 producers and 100 labels.  The terroir is very diverse in climate, soil, weather and temperature.  There were lots of references throughout the two days of the “towering palisades” that are also known as the Dolomites, a mountain range that has a material impact on the region’s weather, grape growing, and how wines are made.

 

 

We then moved to our lunch at Scrigno del Duomo Restaurant, which was located near the historic and original wine cellar and 2,000-year-old door in the old City that came from a column from a Roman church.

 

Our Gracious Tourguide, Daughter Alessandra Stelzer

Our first winery stop was Maso Martis where we got to walk through the vineyards of this second-generation vineyard.  Maso Martis has been making wines since 1986 and is known for its terroir – calcareous soil and Trentino red rock.  Since 2013, the winery has been organically certified and makes 60,000 bottles per year with 45,000 of them dedicated to Trento DOC.  We had a chance to taste four other wineries – Maso Martis, Revi, Borgo del Posseri e Cantina Rotaliana.

Rotari Winemaker Matteo Covazzi

 

Our second winery stop was Rotari – Mezzocorona, which has been making wine since 1987 – with a very different business model of sourcing from more than 1,500 member farmers – many who do this as a second job.  This is a much bigger operation with more than 500,000 bottles hand-picked with a mix of NV and vintage affiliations.  We tried a combination of these wines and I adored the 2008 Rotari Flavio Brut, which has been made since 1998 with an average production of 5,000 to 10,000 bottles.

We returned that night to Palazzo Roccabruna where we were hosted at a dinner showcasing all things Trento DOC including more sparkling wines.

Our morning stop was at Altemasi, which is part of CAVIT’s premium range of sparkling wines focusing on the Methodo Classico winemaking procedure made from grapes from Trento hillsides, the Brentonico plateau and Valle dei Lahi Valley.  The CAVIT winery is quite the production – a four level, highly functioning, high producing and high technology facility.

Export Manager Massimiliano Giacomini

Our last stop before we hit the road to Verona was Ferrari which was led by Brand Ambassador, Jamie Stewart, who was quite the quotable and passionate host for all things Ferrari and the region.  My favorite, “the discovery of champagne was like man discovering fire for the second time.”

Ferrari started with the dream of Guilio Ferrari after working in Champagne France to create a sparkling wine in Trentino with the ability to compete with top French champagnes, which was a vision as none of the champagne grapes were grown in Italy.  He planted Chardonnay in the region and started to produce a few selected bottles with success.  Ferrari did not have an heir for the business so we started a search for the right owner to continue his dream.

He chose Bruno Lunelli, who owned a wine shop and shared the same passion.  The winery has continued to be run by family members and they kept Guilio at the winery until his death in the late 60s.  Today the winery has a large production 4.5 million bottles and are known for its brands — Ferrari Rosé, Ferrari Perlé and Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore.


The Montes Family Tour: Like Father, Like Son – A Tale of Two South American Cities

Aurelio Montes Jr, me and Aurelio Montes, Sr – taken by Michelle Williams

One of the most iconic families in South American wine rolled through Dallas during a several city tour this week for a side-by-side tasting of their finest wines.  I was lucky enough to meet Aurelio Montes Sr., a pioneer in making fine wines in Chile and the president of Montes Winery, and his son, Aurelio Montes, Jr., who is the former leader of the Argentinian Kaiken project and now tours international markets to promote his family’s winery.

It was a discussion about place, people, passion and a pedigree for wine making passed from father to son.  It was a very honest discussion and dynamic between an iconic father and a son who clearly continues to carry on the company’s tradition with pride, but with his own approach.

The senior Montes talked as a man who had the benefit of years of perspective.  He discussed the energy of the land – the stones, water and wood – combined with the importance of taking care of people (everything from scholarships to taking care of the schools where the workers children attend) and the land.

He jokingly told us that we needed to buy wine to support his family of 28.  He had a master plan to take his son, Aurelio Jr., to Napa knowing that would a great opportunity to make him love the business.

Per the junior Montes, his first experience of wine was documented in a cradle made from a wine barrel.  He talked about looking at his father as a hero and wanting to just love what he did as much as his dad did.  When he was 13, he worked in France during a harvest so he could understand how to make wine from the roots.

I love that the Montes family tackled both sides of the Andes – bringing in new methods that were once considered to be completely against all wine making wisdom at the time in each region – from the places they planted (steep slopes), to how they planted, to how the wines were harvested.  The common theme is believing in the grapes and terroir over winemaking.   He credits Robert Mondavi for teaching him a great lesson – make the best.

We tried several wines from Montes and Kaiken side by side and I was struck by the different nuances that clearly came from the land.  I laughed at the banter between the two men as Montes Sr talked about how Argentina has everything like the tango, for example, and he just wanted to push the limits in Chile in wine making especially with Malbec while his son wanted to push the limits beyond Malbec in Argentina.

Here were the wines that we tried in our tasting.

 

- 2014 Montes Alpha Chardonnay and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Chardonnay

- 2014 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon

- 2014 Montes Alpha Malbec and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Malbec

- 2015 Montes Outer Limits (a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Mouvedre – who knew) and 2014 Kaiken Obertura Cabernet France (again, who knew?)

- 2012 Montes Alpha M (Bordeaux blend) and 2013 Kaiken Mai Malbec

Then we were treated to an amazing vertical of Taita Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007, 2009 and 2010.  Taita is the family’s hallmark wine from the best vineyards with a quest from perfection and was meant to go head to head with French top quality wines.  Taita loosely translated means the knowledge that a father or grandfather passes down with devotion, respect and love.  Tasting these, I was honored to be part of this special family legacy.

 

 

 

 

 


February: The Month of Just Opening That Bottle(s)

We have all done it.  Spent a ton of time cultivating some great wines in our cellars (or even holding on to a special bottle or two) and then let it sit … and sit … and sit.  Occasionally, when we finally get to that special bottle, it is past its prime and so frustrating to experience.

Chef Mike Smith Explains the Third Course

For me, it’s been an epic month of finally getting to break into the cellar and enjoy some wines that needed to be consumed.  We had a few great opportunities.  First, we had an amazing dinner that we purchased at a North Texas Food Bank auction, an organization that does amazing things to help feed the hungry in DFW.  It was a dinner with well-known chef, Mike Smith, who has a storied career at The Green Room, Arcodoro/Pomodoro and The Common Table before he joined Utopia Food and Fitness, the group who donated the dinner.  They have a great fundraising campaign going right now  – click here to help.

Zach Coffey, Musician

We all brought amazing wines and I’m not going to admit how much wine we consumed, but it was an incredible time with friends who are like the family you would choose, if you could.  We even had a private concert from Zach Coffey, a well-known Texas musician.

For me, it was time to break out a magnum of Reserva Barolo that was off the charts delicious and opened at the perfect moment.   Pol Roger, Gary Farrell, Paul Hobbs and Domaine du Pre Semele were the dinner wines and several were opened after the fact.  It may have been a foggy Sunday, but well worth it.

 

My husband took our daughter on her first ski trip to Vail and I had an opportunity for a girl’s overnight at a friend’s lake house.  She is an amazing cook and consummate entertainer, so we knew we had to bring wines that live up to her culinary skills.  And, well, we did.  There were several of us (I am not going to disclose how many) and work has been a little crazy for all of us.  This was about 30 hours of great food, amazing wine (I got to open another magnum – this time of Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas).  I also brought Ehlers, Foresight, Naia, Fel, Cartograph, Veuve Clicquot and my friend, Julie, may have brought a few more.  In terms of left overs … well, not so much.  It was Cards Against Humanity (kinda), lots of discussions about life in general, amazing food, Saturday Night Live and old movies.  I even met a person who followed me on Instagram who happened to know Jennifer and came down for a glass of wine.

And, I got to bring our new rescue pup who did well except for his walkabout when we were cleaning up on Sunday morning.

After all, what good is keeping great wines in the cellar if you don’t share them with good friends?

 


Grapefest: A Celebration of Grapes, the Vines and the City

For years, I have billed myself as someone “with a love of the grape and a collection to prove it.”  Ironically, I had never attended the largest wine festival in the Southwest.  Grapefest is in Grapevine, Texas, a suburb about 20 miles from Dallas.  Luckily, this is the year I could rectify that situation.

The city was founded in 1843 when General Sam Houston led representatives of the Republic of Texas to a meeting with members of 10 American Indian nations. They joined to negotiate a treaty of peace and friendship at Grape Vine Springs, also known as Tah-Wah-Karro Creek. The first settlers started arriving a year later and the city was named for the wild mustang grapes that grow abundantly in Texas.

For the past 31 years, Grapefest has entertained 150,000 patrons with wine tastings, special events, a variety of foods, a family Carnival and Midway as well as an interactive KidsWorld.  We brought our daughter, so some of the over 21 events like the People’s Choice Wine Tasting Classic, the world’s largest consumer-judged wine competition, and the Texas Wine Tribute were off limits to us and we spent much more time on the Midway than normal.

 

 

But we got to enjoy the Champagne Terrace, we were a “celebrity” guest at the GrapeStomp (Team Dallas Wine Chicklet) and spent a lot of time in the wine pavilion tasting a variety of wines from the Central Coast in California and Barossa Valley in Australia.

 

We even spent a little time in the VIP room of Messina Hof’s first urban winery in Grapevine.  I discovered that a Texas winery is making two sparkling wines, which was a surprise to me.  The tasting room is located on the site of the former Wallis Hotel.  The winery had more than 40 different wines, tastings and premium flights, wines on tap and gourmet food items.

Grapefest is sponsored by Bank of the West and in 2012, Grapevine was named a World Festival and Event City by the International Festival and Events Association.  It was a great celebration of wine, winemakers and wineries.  While I’ll probably attend a few more adult-oriented tastings next year, it was a fun family event.


The Allstate Sugar Bowl: A Tale of Two Conferences, Wine and the Big Easy Experience

The Ofenloch and Stewart Families (thank you, Ed….)

This story involves wine, amazing food, dear friends, family, unrestricted access and a team that I love.  The backdrop of the story is in New Orleans – yes, the Big Easy – and the focus was Auburn University (my alma mater) playing The University of Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.  It was also a time to teach my 11-year-old daughter about winning and losing, being appreciative, enjoying the New Orleans experience and food (and yes, off of Bourbon Street, she’s 11….) and trying to instill in her that this was indeed a life experience and not how her parents experienced football in college.

We met two sets of good friends at the airport in Dallas.  One has an executive role with the Big 12 and he was the genie that granted access that would make a rock star jealous.  The others were our new neighbors who are very active and avid OU fans.  We pretty much were the only Auburn people on the plane and after the fifth round of “Boomer Sooner,” I had to let out a loud War Eagle.  Proud parent moment with my kiddo when she stood up and did it even louder.  It was one of those agree to disagree moments with our friends, but Morgan’s fearlessness made us all proud.

We arrived on New Year’s Eve and promptly went to Frankie and Johnny’s for a late lunch.  There the gluttony began as we sampled most of what the restaurant offers along with rounds of gin and tonics.  The food was great!

That took us through to the big gala party on New Year’s Eve, where we opened a bottle of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Champagne, which is billed as the most recognized rosé champagne in the world, as our pre-celebration.  This is such a great champagne, which is still made in the saignee method and whose bottle was inspired by King Henri IV.  It was vibrant, rich and wonderful with notes of berry, brioche, cherry and cassis.  It was absolutely the right start to bring in a new year.

John and Ed

Me and Amy

 Angie and Jay Jacobs, me and John

 

The party was amazing — it was a who’s who in the conference football world, the oysters and seafood were flowing and I was dancing my butt off (my favorite thing to do, but usually only happens once a year).  And, then we got the kiddo call around 11.  She wanted us to be back at the hotel with her when the ball dropped.  So, reluctantly, we made the good parent decision and decided that opening that bottle of 2013 Ehlers Estate J Leducq would ease the pain.  We complied and continued to drink wine back in the room.  This is a wine blog, what else did you expect?

Janice and Melanie, Big 12 Women That Make Things Happen, Amy and me

 Let’s Just Say There is a Reason I Outsource Crafts

 

The next morning, January 1st, I had the chance to be a part of the ladies Sugar Bowl event, where we met at Pat O’Briens, decorated our umbrellas and marched down Bourbon Street to a private lunch at Arnaud’s.  I had to clandestinely hide my Auburn paraphernalia as I decorated with the Big 12 folks, but they were incredibly gracious and made me feel right at home.  We went to an Auburn party later that afternoon where I got to see some of my dearest college friends (naturally I forgot to take pictures) and their families and later met up with John’s family for dinner.

The next day we received a surprise text from Auburn.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am on the PR Advisory Council for the School and work very closely with Athletic Director, Jay Jacobs and his very talented marketing/communications team.  “Good morning. I would like for you to sit in the suite with my family.  Would you like to do that?”  I was in the gym and tried to refrain from jumping up in down with 12 pound weights in my hands.  Of course, we immediately jumped on the opportunity.

Since we went to the gym, we opened a bottle of the Côté Mas St. Hilarie Crémant de Limoux NV Brut, for our walk to Peche because we were in a celebratory mode.  It was a great under $15 sparkling with notes of green apple, toast and citrus.  Very drinkable, very affordable.  Definitely something a divided table of Auburn and OU fans could agree upon.  That may have been my favorite meal in New Orleans.

Ashley, one of my dear college friends, and me

It was important to pay the suite generosity forward, so I sent out a text to some friends asking if anyone could use our tickets.  A great friend responded that she really could use them so I had the chance to run into her as well while we had an amazing lunch at Pesce.  The oysters and 2015 Domain Girard Sancerre pairing will run through my dreams for a long time.

Our Super Talented Bus Driver Breaks It Down While We Wait for Our Police Escort (seriously, did I just type that?)

 

Me, the aforementioned 11 year old daughter, and John

The game was a blur.  We boarded our bus to the game with the Big 12 folks where we were serenated by our very talented bus driver while we waited for our police escort, which was late.  We then went to the Auburn side of the pre-game party and ran into some old friends along the way.  The suite was amazing and it was fun to see my kiddo get into the game and have a great time.  We were up in the first quarter and things were looking good until our quarterback broke his arm.  At that point, the game momentum shifted.

We stayed until the end, got back on the escorted bus and ended up in the Big 12/OU lounge with lots of happy fans for the other team.  They were incredibly kind, the drinks were flowing and it was an awesome lesson for our daughter on how to be a good loser.  She even had her own Big 12 badge as reinforcement, but was definitely ready with a good “War Eagle” at any time.


August Wine Round Up: Martin Ray and Gloria Ferrer Wines and a Peek into Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

The themes of this month’s sample round-up include bubbles from Gloria Ferrer, Martin Ray Portfolio Wines and a look at Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which features several wines previewed for the Taste of Sonoma scheduled for Labor Day Weekend.

Martin Ray Wines

For the first time, I had the opportunity to be introduced to the Martin Ray portfolio.  Martin Ray was established in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1943.  The winery was purchased by Courtney Benham in 1991 and moved to Russian River Valley in 2002 to the former Martini & Pratt winery.

Martin Ray’s model is to handpick growers from different regions in California expressing different versions of terroir.  We tried a variety of wines and I found them all to be solid.  There is also a very funny story that I will soon tell about the rosé … and rafting … but that will be another story out of the context of a wine round-up.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Rosé of Pinot Noir – this rosé was delicious and perfect.  It was well balanced with tropical fruit, watermelon and a wonderful minerality.  It was one of the best rosés that I have had recently.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Chardonnay – an Old World expression of chardonnay with notes of nectarine, ginger, crème brulee, vanilla, Meyer lemon and floral notes.  Several non-chardonnay tasters were very complimentary.  Also included in the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend package.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Sauvignon Blanc – this was a great expression of sauvignon blanc with pear, lime and floral notes that made for easy drinking.  A very nice expression of the grape.

2014 Martin Ray Russian River Pinot Noir – notes of cherry cola, dark cherry, mushroom and earthiness.  This was a nice representation of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

2014 Martin Ray Sonoma Country Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of blackberry, black currant, herbs, chocolate and tobacco make up this elegant cabernet.

2013 Synthesis Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – whoa … this wine features “the best of the best” from the top vineyards and it shows.  This is a big, bad, juicy cabernet with blueberry, blackberry, fig, cassis and notes of herb.  It was definitely a group favorite.

Gloria Ferrer Wines

We also tried several of the sparkling wines from Gloria Ferrer, which was the first sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros, and also the first to plant Champagne clones as well as the first to plant in Carneros.  The winery has been around for more than 30 years

Almost thirty years later, with 335 acres under vine, the estate vineyards at Gloria Ferrer produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that will be reviewed in a later column.  I had the chance to try four of the sparkling wines:

NV Blanc de Blancs – apple, pear, orange, baked bread, lemon zest and notes of citrus.  This was an easy drinking sparkler that was well crafted.

NV Blanc de Noirs – this had notes of strawberry, raspberry, citrus and vanilla.  It was juicy, refreshing and delicious.

NV Sonoma Brut – pear, ginger and notes of citrus make this a great sparkling option.

07 Royal Cuvee – notes of citrus, apple, honey and freshly baked bread.  This was a great sparkling wine that was the crowd favorite.  Just delicious!

These wines were well priced, delicious and had a great quality making them all a great sparkling choice for your table.

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

Since Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is coming up over Labor Day weekend at MacMurray Ranch Estate Vineyards featuring more than 200 wineries, I wanted to highlight one of the samples that I received as a part of this tasting.  This event has, to date, raised more than $20 million for local organizations.  I’ll be tasting through them in the next few weeks, but wanted to give the winery and organization that has done so much for the area, a big shout out.

And that winery is Jordan.  I tried the 2014 Chardonnay from Russian River Valley and got a burst of tropical fruit, lemon curd, crème brulee, citrus with great stone fruit.  It is made in a Burgundian style and is a classic wine to put on the table.

 

 


Five Years of Wine Blogger Conference Recaps: #WBC16 Fun Begins Next Week

Tis the season (and the week of the Wine Bloggers Conference) for wine bloggers to take the easy way out with recap posts.  Color me guilty and enjoy the story behind the stories for each conference.  I always have such an amazing time discovering the region, bonding with my friends who I don’t see enough and laughing so hard that I cry.  So, I’m about to attend my sixth wine blogger’s conference next week.

Let’s start with 2010 in Walla Walla, Washington.  As you can see from the post, this was my first wine bloggers conference and I was really playing by the rules.  To me, the moment by moment recap is amusing, but I still had glimpses of the type of coverage I write today, but without the #goingrogue experience.

In 2012, we were in Portland.  The bus outing featured a handsome police officer that pulled the bus over on the way to Carlton, Oregon.  Hence, we had Carlton without handcuffs.

I missed the 2013 event due to a family trip to Costa Rica, which was amazing but I did really want to experience the wine of Canada.

Santa Barbara was the site of the 2014 conference.  We had an amazing pre-trip that was hosted by the San Francisco Wine School and certain wineries.  It definitely established 2014 as the year to come for the private events, stay for the conference.  I walked into this conference with a great understanding of the region.

 

In 2015, we traveled to the Finger Lakes.  This year, we were on the pre-trip, but first a side journey to Philadelphia where Jeff Kralik opened his home for a birthday celebration with his family.  Special note: his birthday falls this year during the conference.

 

And now we move to 2016.  The pressure is on for me because I am actually debuting Masthead, a wine made by four bloggers (one being yours truly), and the pressure is on because we had the right grapes (Mohr-Frye vineyard), the right coaches (Mitch Costenino and Paul Scotto) and every tool for success to make this great.

We will see if this is a humbling or well received experience this week. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.




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