Archived entries for Sparkling Wine

I’m On A Boat – Wine, Stormtroopers and A Drone Bring the Night to Life

Welcome to Miami … Bienvenidos a Miami… nine months of long work hours and lots of planning was finally coming to a head with the arrival of several hundred customers for the paying gig’s annual Summit event. 

What does this have to do with a wine blog?  Well, I always try to bring you guys into my experiences and this was quite the experience. There was amazing food, lots of great wine, a ton of dancing and very early mornings combined with lots of late nights.

And then there was the boatI’m on a boat with a Storm Trooper (if you like the above pic, clink on the link)!  The customer appreciation party featured quite the cast of characters, tons of free flowing wine, an awesome DJ and a fireworks show that was captured by a drone flying above the yacht.  My team rocked it – what a talented group of folks that brought a life moment experience to light.

Just another experience – probably not replicable – But definitely a bucket list moment.


I’m on a Boat: My Post Conference Trip to the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail

Just like that the conference was over and we were on our final post trip journey for #wbc15.  This excursion took us to the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, an area that claims to not only be the oldest in the region, but the oldest in the entire U.S.  The wine trail consists of 16 wineries, a cidery, a meadery and four distilleries. 

Our journey from the Radisson took about an hour and a half by bus.  The conference organizers had enough foresight to arrange for Aaron Roisen of Hosmer Winery and Jeff Houck of Lucas Vineyards to talk to us about the region during the ride. 

The group of around 50 folks was split in two with one group tasting first at Thirsty Owl Wine Company and the second group beginning at Goose Watch Winery, which is where I began.  While at Goose Watch, we tasted wines from Treleaven by King Ferry Winery, Long Point Winery, Montezuma Winery & Hidden Marsh Distillery, Swedish Hill Vineyard, Knapp Winery, Buttonwood Grove Winery and Varick Winery & Vineyards. We had some nice wines, but my favorites were the Rieslings and sparkling from Knapp Vineyards as well as the tasting experience provided by Varick Winery with some off the beaten path foods.

After traveling to the dock and then by boat to Thirsty Owl, we tried wines from Toro Run Winery, Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery, Hosmer Winery, Lucas Vineyards, Bellwether Hard Cider and Wine Vineyards, Americana Vineyards and Six Mile Creek Vineyard.  About five years ago, Lucas Vineyards was my first experience with Finger Lakes Riesling and I was excited to see that I enjoyed rediscovering it just as much as I did the first time I tried it.  The Bellwether Cherry Street Cider, which was bursting with cherries, also impressed.  Cider is not usually my drink of choice but give this to me any hot Texas day and I’d be happy.

Liza Swift, Steve DiFrancesco (Glenora Winemaker) and me

We then journeyed to Knapp where Executive Chef John McNabb prepared dinner for us.  Knapp was founded in 1984 and was the first Finger Lakes winery to plant and vinify Cabernet Franc.  It was sold to its current owners, Gene Pierce and Scott Welliver, in 2000.  Knapp opened the Vineyard Restaurant in 1992, becoming the first winery restaurant on Cayuga Lake.  We sampled a ton of food and more wines from the region while walking the grounds of the vineyard.

The wineries went above and beyond to make us feel at home in discovering the food and the wine of the region.  Once we reached the lobby of the Radisson, we all stayed true to this week’s behavior – we grabbed left over wine, distilled spirits and cider, socializing in the lobby until the wee hours.

Another Wine Bloggers Conference … Another Compilation Article… My Time in the Finger Lakes at #wbc15

Liza Swift, My Trusted Roomie for Five Years Running

It’s been about three weeks since I got back from the Wine Blogger’s Conference (#wbc15) in the Finger Lakes and it’s always a struggle to encapsulate such an amazing exploration into the wine and the region along with the personal stories that make the conference.  Most of us take the easy way out and do a compilation article, well…including me.

So here it goes. 

#1 – Prepare to check what you think you know at the door.  I knew that I’d taste some great Rieslings and Cabernet Francs, but I didn’t expect the diversity that I discovered the conference.  I tasted roses, sparking wines, sauvignon blancs, chardonnays, albarinos, cabernet sauvignons and even merlots.  There are more than 100 wineries centered around the region’s four main lakes – Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka and Canandaigua – and more than 400 wineries overall with such diversity in the terroir.  These wineries yield 90 percent of the New York wine produced each year.  Then there is Long Island, which we didn’t explore, which has approximately 25 varietals planted across 2,500 acres.  New York’s biggest issue is actually getting the wines out of the New York wine buying community on to a national stage. 

 My Bus Ride with Karen

#2 – Meet amazing people.  I was more than excited when Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible and accomplished wine expert and amazing writer, was named the keynote of the conference.  I admit I was a little in awe of her – moving to New York in her Volkswagen Bug with $6 in her pocket and taking on three jobs to make ends meet.  After 324 rejection slips, she received a $30 gig writing about butter in the Village Voice.  This launched her career.  Eventually, she was invited to attend tastings with a small group of men considered the who’s who in the New York wine community.  Karen told us “I didn’t talk for eight years – I just wanted access to the wines.” Clearly she found her own voice and worked for ten years on what became the first edition of the Wine Bible. 

Her advice – tell your story; find your style; hone your writing; know your subject well; and represent yourself well.  I loved her quote about never stripping wine of its culture. Karen said,” There is no way to understand Malbec without understanding the tango.” 

When she sat next to me on the bus to the wine excursion, I admit I was excited.  But we had such a fun conversation about wine, kids, work, the future and everything in between.  Everyone asked me what we talked about for almost two hours.  You know – it felt like an honest conversation with a new friend, so it won’t be part of my blog.  But, trust me, her next chapter will continue to change the wine world. 

Corron-Power, McNeal, Kim and Frank

The next day, my friend, Amy Powers Corron, moderated the Women in Wine panel of amazing women with Karen; Stevie Kim, founder of VinItaly; and Meaghan Frank, General Manager of Dr. Frank’s Winery in The Finger Lakes.  They talked about the generational differences that were apparent depending when they were moving up in the wine world.  Stevie’s presentation showed that the glass ceiling is still intact.  Women are lagging or almost non-existent in the top power positions. 

Rousseau and me

#3 – One person can make a difference (so can you – think about who you know).  I’m on the scholarship committee and I’ve been thinking about how we need more diversity in our blogging community.  My uncle happens to be the president of EthniFacts, a multicultural knowledge and insights consultancy.  We brainstormed how they might be a fit and they funded the “EthniFacts Diversity in Wine Writing Scholarship,” to encourage ethnic, gender and cultural diversity in the North American Wine Bloggers Conference attendees.  Then when my Facebook friend, Regine Rousseau of Shall We Wine! was named, the recipient, it became even more special.

Constance and her older Rieslings

Craig Camp’s Dinner

#4 – Color outside the lines. #goingrogue will continue.  There is a fine line between experiencing all the great things the conference has to offer and exploring the community and hanging out with friends.  This year, we stayed offsite at a really cool place just down the street from the Radisson.  It gave us the freedom to explore the restaurants – like Hand & Foot, which became the unofficial stopping point of the Wine Bloggers Conference crowd.  Going to Craig Camp’s Cornerstone offsite non-awards dinner was another classic moment of sitting down with my favorite people and drinking amazing wines.  Eating pizza with Robert Larsen from Rodney Strong Vineyards and Amy Gross of Wine4.Me along with Fox Run Vineyards and Anthony Road Wine Company.  From drinking vintage Riesling wines with Candace Chamberlain to hanging at the Jordan party to trying some amazing new release J McClelland Charbono with the gentlemen from Scotto Family Vineyards and swapping travel stories, was not something I would ever have wanted to have missed.

#5 – Just go where the tour takes you.  Every year people try to game the system and get on the “right bus tour.”  It took me five years to figure out that your chances of having an amazing time is pretty high.  Our tour, for example, took us to Glenora Wine Cellars.  Glenora Wine Cellars is the first winery to open on Seneca Lake in 1977. 

We had the chance to receive our “Master of Dosage.”  First, we chose our favorite method champenoise with either one percent residential sugar or 1.5 percent residual sugar.  Then we actually got to dose and bottle our own preference sparkling.  It was super cool and I was lucky enough to keep all my fingers intact thanks to the great training from Winemaker Steve DiFrancesco. 

We then moved into “A Finger Lakes Wine & Tapas Experience” featuring four wineries, four winemakers, four chefs and four farms. 

Our first course was the Lucky Dog Green Salad with Parmesan Potato Tuile and Ramp Vinaigrette by Chef Orlando Rodriguez of Genora Wien Cellars’ Veraisons Restaurant with the 06 Glenora Wine Cellars Brut.

We then moved to Duck Confit with Watermelon and Cucumber Relish with a Crispy Polenta from the Executive Chef at Zugibe Vineyards.  

We continued with a Cast Iron Seared American Kobe Steak with Blackberry Ketchup, Pommes Puree with First Light Feta and a Heavenly Cup Coffee Crouton from Sous Chef Sarah Hassler from Veraisons Restaurant at Glenora Wine Cellars.

Our final course was an Apricot Napoleon with a Salted Short Crust from Executive Chef John McNabb of Knapp Winery & Vineyard Restaurant with the 2014 Knapp Winery Riesling Ice Wine.

#6 – Attend the events beyond the conference.  Whether it’s the organized pre- and –post tours that really give you a glimpse into the region or another event that has been organized, like the Santa Barbara pre-conference seminar prior to last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, these are the sessions that allow you to really dig into a region. 

The Pre-Conference Journey to Fingers Lakes Begins: The 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference Pre-Trip, Day One

I met blogger extraordinaire Thea Dwelle at the Philadelphia International Airport and we geared up for a road trip.  The night prior to our journey to Corning, The Drunken Cyclist was nice enough to open up his home and invite us to his family birthday dinner.  The food was amazing.  The wines were ones that you only open for very good friends.  Jeff, I am honored you shared those last precious birthday moments, your family and those wines with us.

The next morning we began our journey of planes, buses and automobiles while traveling on badly marked and tollways that all seemed to be under construction.  For about five hours, it felt like we were on a journey to nowhere – the signage was cloaked, the exits were few, but the laughter was continual.

We arrived at the Radisson to begin our pre-trip tour and spent some time on the Seneca Lake Trail, which is home to 30 wineries, a distillery, cider producers and several breweries.  It is geographically located in the center of the Fingers Lakes.  Seneca Lake is the largest lake, covers 43,343 acres and spans 38 miles through the center of the Finger Lakes region.

The blogger bus took us to Villa Bellangelo.  The view was gorgeous and what a display of hospitality.   The winery was founded by Christopher Missick and his family, who left the corporate world in California, to focus on terroir and making cool climate wine.  Bellangelo is a boutique wine producer, crafting only 6,000 cases of wine each vintage.  We learned a lot about the soil – originally formed by “Ice Age” glaciers. 

We then had a chance to mingle and experience four tasting and education stages with several wineries – King’s Garden 20 Year Vertical Tasting of Finger Lakes Cabernet Sauvignon; the Bellangelo Riesling experience featuring a dozen different Rieslings; Side Acre Hills and Schtayburne cheese samplings, which produce local cow and goat cheeses; and “Others,” a portfolio of experimental and alternative wines made by Villa Bellangelo.

The theme of our evening venture, which was scheduled at Ventosa Vineyards, was all about Finger Lakes Women in Wine.  There was a bit of irony that the Wine Bloggers Conference (#wbc15) was hosted in Corning, NY, the home of the Corning Glass Museum, where one of the common themes became how women are breaking through the glass ceiling in the wine industry.

The stats are sobering – according to an article by Adrienne Vogt in the Daily Beast, half of the graduates at UC-Davis’ oenology program are female, but women lead only 10 percent of California’s wineries.  I couldn’t find any definitive research outside of California.

The discussions mirrored one that I had several years ago with Merry Edwards, the winemaker of Merry Edwards Vintners.  In 1984, she left Matanzas Creek to devote herself full time to consulting and her winery.  She told me over dinner about the difficulty in getting her first winemaker job and that she had to work harder.  I loved her ingenuity.  She would go to the Farmer’s Market weekly and gather the throwaway fruits and veggies to make wine.  Hint: rutabaga wine is not tasty.

Our panel of women winemakers, farmers, scientists and chefs were awe-inspiring.  They all shared the fact that they have made significant contributions to the sustainable food and farming movement across the Finger Lakes.  Marti Macinski, the Winemaker and Owner of Standing Stone Vineyards, candidly talked about the point when she and her husband decided she must transition from the “traditional hospitality role” to serving as the operator of the winery – without any training.  And while her first reaction was to put her head on the table and cry, it turns out she was damn good at it.  While she talked about her fear, it was clear that Marti is fearless.

Another amazing woman was Jenna LaVita, the winemaker of Ventosa Vineyards.  She was originally a law student who decided over a glass of Pinot that she wanted to be a winemaker.  She hit the road in her Saab and began her journey.  It took her from cleaning tanks to teaching over harvest break to even selling (unsuccessfully) bottle cap earrings in Etsy.  At 23, she was asked to become the full-time winemaker and inherited vineyard responsibility at age 25 when her vineyard manager was deported.  Jenna took us through the vineyard and we had an opportunity to pick grapes on different blocks in order to experience how a winemaker gauges ripeness.

And then we met our showstopper – Liz Leidenfrost, the winemaker, grape grower and activist of Leidenfrost Vineyards. What a cool and well-rounded women.  She talked about how she became interested in winemaking after she failed the image of being a classical musician.  With her tattoos, piercings and dyed hair, she thought she could make a difference in the family business and her father put her to the test.  She passed with flying colors and the fact that she’s also a burlesque dancer on the side makes her even cooler.

Kas Deys, a biochemist and grape geneticist from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, talked about the research that Cornell is doing on the grapes and the region.  She had an amazing background and clearly is making a big difference in her research in mining grape genes.

Our meal was prepared by Heather  Tompkins, the chef and owner of Opus Espresso and Wine Bar.  Here was our line-up:

Candy beet melon arugula salad with Red Jacket cheribundi-curry vinaigrette with Stony Brook pumpkin oil, First Light goat cheese and Stony Brook pumpkin seeds paired with 2014 Three Brothers Pinot Noir Rose and Leidenfrost Vineyards Blanc de Blancs.

Sweet corn muranda cheese, cheddar studded risotto cake, summer tomato-fennel coulis and jalapeno orange mascarpone with 2012 Ventosa Vineyards Pinot Noir and 2013 Standing Stone Vineyards Gewurztraminer.

Grilled Petit Finger Lakes Farms Filet Mignon and Scallop with wilted baby kale, Piggery Bacon vinaigrette with Cayuga Blue and pickled red onion with Three Brothers Wineries and Estates Degree of Riesling and 2011 Ventosa Vineyards Cabernet Franc.

Red Jacket peaches – ginger galette with Seneca salted caramel and shaved Seneca salt bark dark chocolate with Leidenfrost Vineyards Cabernet Port and 2014 Standing Stone Vineyards Gewurztraminer Ice.

On the menu was the wording – bold, fearless and original.  Absolutely a great descriptor of the women we met and the experience that we had.


Cavas Freixenet: Exploring the World of Cava

After surviving a business trip to Barcelona, I decided to take advantage of my time there and do some further exploring of cava.  The folks at Cavas Freixenet nicely agreed to add me to the general tour (in English) and a group of us embarked to experience cava.

Freixenet is located in the Penedés region and we traveled by train from Barcelona to the Sant Sadurni d’Anoia train station. We literally got off the 45 minute train ride, took a left and we arrived at our destination. The winery is easy to reach by both car and by train. In fact, the entrance to the caves is just 50 meters from the Sant Sadurní d´Anoia train station, just about 45 minutes from the center of Barcelona. The public tour we were a part of was about 2 hours and included both adults and kiddos. 

We started with a film about the history of the company featuring the iconic boy in the red cap, who has been a part of the company’s brand since 1914.  We also heard about the two families who came together by marriage to make the winery a reality after phyloxera occurred years prior.  We started in the oldest part of the winery, which was eight-levels deep.  I got a deep dive into the making of cava, the evolution of the technology as well the expansion of Freixenet into more prestigious brands including a King’s stamp of approval on one of the bottles. The grapes used are Xarello, Macabeu and Parellada that come from both Freixenet estate vines and over 1,200 grape growers in the region.

We then – much to my daughter’s delight – boarded a train to ascend into the new part of the winery where we saw the cellar evolution, blending, bottling and other examples of modern technology at work.   We ended at the tasting room, where the adults got a glass of the Freixinet Brut Barroco Reserva and my daughter was given grape juice.  It was an awesome learning experience and I’m definitely on a mission to explore more cava – I hope some of the reserve bottles of Freixenet will be part of that future learning experience.

Max’s Summer Menu: Chicken Fried Lobster and Champagne? Why the Hell Not?

Max’s Chef Patrick Russell

I was invited last week to the debut of the summer menu from Chef Patrick Russell from Max’s Wine Dive.  Color me impressed.  From the food to the wine to the general cool mantra of “Fried Chicken and Champagne?  Why the hell not?!”, the place is cool, fun, funky and my kind of place.  Throw in the Monday to Friday Happy Hour from opening to 6 pm, which features wines like Far Niente Chardonnay Nickel & Nickel State Ranch Cabernet, along with the “patio pounders,” which features mix and match cases, six packs and three packs to allow you to try a number of wines at a value, and you had me at hello…


This was our line-up.  We started with a pre-course of chicken fried nothing with a goat cheese dipping sauce, duck meatball crostini and blue crab and bacon dip with house-made pepper crackers.  This was served with Moet Imperial bubbly.  Wow!

We moved on to butter lettuce wedgettes with pan-roasted asparagus, bacon lardons and baby fennel on top of butter lettuce with green garlic parmesan dressing.  This was followed by short rib sliders and a chef’s nine cheese mac topped with bread crumbs.  This was served with a fantastic (can’t tell you how great this was) 2009 Chave Hermitage.  The sliders are really really good.

Our main course (was full on the second round) was pork spare ribs, a lobster tail 2.0 (chicken fried lobster tail atop a jalapeno sweet corn waffle topped with parsley butter served with a Moet Nectar.  This was accompanied by roasted mushrooms, barbeque sweet potato chips and creamed corn.

The cheese course was a selection of local cheese out of Patchi Patchi (need to confirm) out of Waco served with a 2011 Nickel and Nickel Ranch Cabernet. 

I look forward to  my next visit.   




Savor Dallas: Bringing Dallas’ Art District, Wine and Food Together

Many years ago, I was a board member on an organization dedicated to reinvigorating the Dallas Arts District.  We had a vision of people walking through the district embracing what Dallas had to offer culturally with a bevy of food and wine framing the experience.  Fast forward about eight years to Savor Dallas’ Arts District Stroll, which kicked off Savor’s four day wine and food event. 

We started at the Meyerson Symphony Center then moved to the Nasher Sculpture Center with a final stop at the Crow Collection of Asian Art.  This was a packed event hosted in the nation’s largest contiguous urban arts district, and I loved the diversity of the totally packed house.  It took the “wine is for white tablecloth venues” to task and I loved it.  Granted, if you wanted to truly taste and chat with the wine makers and restaurants, you probably want to look at the other events scheduled on Friday and Saturday, but Savor Dallas made me smile with the culture, wine, food and general experience with 40 plus winemakers offering wares, a variety of spirits and some restaurants offering great food.

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.



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.

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