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Cornerstone Cellars and J Vineyards Make a Vacation Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mexican Wines?: What I Found on a Rainy Day in Mexico

A Non-Rain View of Punta Mita

We recently went to Punta Mita where we stayed at the Four Seasons for an awesome family trip.  We were ready for some surf, sea and fun, but the weather decided not to comply with a couple days of torrential downpours.  While our kiddo decided to do fun indoor activities, my husband and I braved the weather and went to hang at the Nunca Pool Bar.  That’s where I started my conversation with Armando, who taught me about wines from the Valle de Guadalupe/Baja California, Mexico, which is located less than two hours away from San Diego.

My uncle, who did a long-stint at Gallo, had talked about this region for years and told me about how it was an “up and coming Napa” in its own right.  Armando was also passionate about the region and we tasted through four wines that were diverse and unique.

Wine has been made in this region for hundreds of years and over the past twenty folks in the industry have taken notice.  The red wines produced here include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo, Syrah, Tempranillo, Malbec, Carignan and Grenache.

My line up included:

  • 2012 Tinto Mexicano, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit syrah and grenache.  It took a while to open up and was my least favorite of those that I tried that day. 
  • 2102 Santos Brujos Tempranillo, this was a nice expression of tempranillo and matched well with the food we had in front of us.
  • 2012 Monasterio, Sinfonia de Tintos, one of my two favorites. I loved the blend, the balance, the black fruit, the tea, the plum and the earthiness of this wine.
  • 2010 L.A. Cetto Nebbiolo Private Reserve, this was a great first try of Mexico’s Nebbiolo grape.  It had notes of blackberry, earthiness and made me crave something that was tomato based as my entrée.  

This region is definitely one that is worth exploration – especially when you are not paying Four Season’s by the glass bar prices.


 


All for the Love of the Goose and Gourmet: A Prelude to Joining the Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotissuers

Clay Cockrell, Bailli Dallas; Tom Dees, Chevalier; and Oscar Winston Durham, Chevalier

It all began in 1248 with a decree from King Louis IX and a passion for roasted goose.  When you are a king and you want your fowl roasted in a certain way, the smart move is to order the establishment of several professional guilds including the “Ayeurs” or goose roasters.  During the reign of Louis XII, the guild’s domain expanded to the preparation of other meats and the name was changed to “Rotissuers.”  In 1789, the organization went into dormancy when the guild system was dissolved during the French Revolution.  The charter was then re-established in 1950 and changed from goose roasting to  encouraging gastronomy and wines.

Fast forward to today and Chaine des Rotisseurs is the oldest and largest food society in the world with 23,000 members in 70 countries.  It has been active in the US for 54 years and has more than 6,000 gourmands in its membership.  After my Coquerel Wine dinner several weeks ago, Clay and Brenda Cockrell were gracious enough to ask me to attend a Chaine des Rotisseurs induction ceremony at the Mansion on Turtle Creek.

Self admittedly, I was a little nervous.  If you’ve been following me, you know that I have no official wine designation or certification.  It’s just a passion and my experience has been sip by sip, region by region. And, these two really know their wine.  When you get an invitation to drink great wine, eat amazing food, dress in black tie and you are designated to “wear your ribbons”, that is intimidating.

That is until I got there.  What a fun group of interesting food and wine loving people of all ages.  Clay is one of the organization’s leaders or Dallas’ Bailli and the new Bailli Provincial Bill Salomon of San Antonio led the ceremony.  The toast of the night was “Viva la Chaine” and the mood was celebratory. 

And the dinner … and the wine.  Definitely some favorite wines and an amazing dinner to go with it.  Here’s what they served:

Our first course was hot smoked salmon belly, horseradish, green apple and salmon roe with a 2011 Domaine Patrick Javillier Mersault Clos du Cromin.  This was my favorite pairing of the evening.  

We moved to a braised sweetbread ravioli with chestnut puree and warm shallot vinaigrette with a 2010 Chateau Paveil de Luze Margaux.

Our third course was a bison tenderloin with confit baby carrot, bacon jam and a bordelaise sauce served with my favorite red of the night – the 2010 La Cour Des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape.

Next up was the artisanal cheeses with a dark cherry compote and country bread served with a 2009 Fratelli Zeni Amarone.

Our grand finale was a 2006 Chateau Suau Sauternes with a hibiscus poached apple, honey granola and green apple sorbet. 

The conversation was fun … and engaging.  The topics surprised me.  I did find out that come next year’s induction, if the Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotissuers will have me, they will have a new and enthusiastic member.


November Wine Round Up: California, Spain & Italy

For our November #winewednesday, we tried six wines and today I’m reviewing five of them – these came from Spain, Italy and California. 

Whites:

Matanzas Creek Winery sent a three pack of wines – two whites and one red.  Matanzas Creek has estate-wines that are certified to be sustainable from two different organizations. 

  • 2013 Matanzas Creek Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc had notes of lime, grapefruit, nectarine and citrus with herbal notes.  This was a great expression of sauvignon blanc.
  • 2012 Matanzas Creek Sonoma County Chardonnay had notes of white stone fruit with flowers and buttery notes.  It was well balanced and had some depth to it.

Reds:

  • 2011 Matanzas Creek Sonoma County Merlot had notes of blueberry, tobacco, plum, chocolate and tea leaves. It was smooth, juicy and delicious.
  • 2009 Cune Rioja Reserva had notes of  plum, licorice, spice, cherry and notes of smoke.  It’s a balanced wine and a very drinkable rioja.
  • 2012 Liberta Toscana had notes of currant, cherry, cedar, some minerality and lots of balsamic.  Trust me – that’s a good thing. I really like this wine. It was complex, but totally approachable.

Coquerel Wines and Gemma: A Sublime Experience

Recently, I attended a Coquerel Wine Dinner hosted by Clay and Brenda Cockerell at Gemma Restaurant.  The restaurant was at capacity with 50 attendees all who appeared to be fellow wine lovers, close friends, neighbors or colleagues. I felt like I was invited to a family dinner complete with great conversation and stories.  Clay and Brenda have a welcoming style, wicked sense of humor and are happy to see everyone.  They show passion in every wine that they describe and it is clear they love the dual life they have in Dallas and Calistoga. And, they let French Winemaker Christine Barbe do her thing.

The name Coquerel is a French version of the couple’s family name, Cockerell. The couple had their interest in making wine piqued after talking to a Napa real estate agent who encouraged them to try her own wine. The Cockerell’s figured that they knew the style of wine they wanted to make, they were avid collectors and the ability was there to do what the real estate agent was doing. They later made a decision to buy the vineyard over an anniversary trip, and purchased one that was dedicated to dry-farmed Sauvignon Blanc.  Three years later, they acquired the property next door and expanded into other varieties.

We tried a number of the Coquerel wines including two sauvignon blancs, the chardonnay, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon as well as a dessert wine with a comeback kid story.  Most of the wines are made with estate grown grapes.

We started our dinner with a wine that was a favorite of Allison Yoder, one of the co-owners of Gemma.  It was the Le Grand Courtage, a sparkling rose from France, which was the perfect way to start with the passed hors d’oeuveres. 

And let’s give a quick shout out to Gemma, which I think has some of the most superb and divine food in all of Dallas.  I adore this restaurant.

Our first course was matched beautifully.  Jumbo lump crab salad with heirloom apple and celery root remoulade paired with the 2012 Le Petit Coquerel Sauvignon Blanc.  This was a gorgeous wine with green apples, tropical, spice, citrus and minerality. 

The second course was grilled diver scallops with sunchoke puree, brown butter, sage, toasted hazelnuts paired with the 2011 Terroir Chardonnay.  It was made in a Chablis style with notes of lemon, steel, stone and flowers.  Brenda joked that “every single woman at the bar wanted to order a chardonnay, so we made one our own style.”

We then moved to grilled bandera quail with de puy lentils, bacon and red wine port reduction paired with 2012 Pinot Noir made in a burgundy style.  I loved the rich cherry and earthiness of this wine. 

The fourth course was a brandt flatiron with autumn squash, chanterelles and crispy brussels sprout leaves with the 2010 La Petite Sirah that had deep notes of blackberry, lavender, chocolate and was silky.  Clay talked about how he did not like petite sirah until this wine was made and now he finds himself often opening and drinking it often.

The last pairing was a basque cake with meyer lemon and green yogurt and the 2009 La Douce Revanche or “Sweet Revenge,” which was a divine late harvest sauvignon blanc.  This was made after a 19-day freeze resulted in the loss of the entire crop.  They purchased 8 tons of fruit and decided to give late harvest wine a try and I am so glad they did.

Clay said the next step for them is to build a winery on the property before his sixtieth birthday.  If the hospitality that I felt this night is replicated, I can’t wait for this amazing addition in Calistoga.


October Wine Round-Up

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

White

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

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

The other favorite whites included:

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

Red

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

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

Rose

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

Dessert Wine

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

The Wines of San Juan and the Quest for Dallas Distribution

Arturo Guillermo Arias, President, Finca Sierras Azules, and Marcela Nunez, Translator

Recently, I was invited by the producers of the San Juan Province in Argentina to try the wines of approximately 20 of their producers.  The event, which was hosted by the Federal Investment Council of the Argentine Government (CFI) and held at the Intercontinental Hotel, focused on wines produced in the second largest region for wine production in South America.  The mountainous region is known for fertile ground and diverse soils. 

It struck me that every winemaker I had the chance to converse with talked about the terroir doing most of the work due to its diversity, how the wines expressed nature and how the wines are priced to gain visibility and acceptance in the U.S. market.  The producers who attended were currently not imported to Dallas – hence the purpose of the tour.  I didn’t get to try the wines of every attendee, but I was really impressed by the quality of those that I did try.  I’ll highlight some of my favorites. 

  • Bodegas Borbore, 2011 Aya Malbec and 2014 Martin Fierro Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc blend
  • Consorcio ABA S.A., 2014 Bodega y Vinedos Hagmann Bonarda
  • Finca del Enlace, 2012 Tracia Honores Malbec and 2011 Tracia Honores Blend
  • Finca Sierras Azules, 2013 Expresion Blend, which is hand-picked by women due to their meticulous approach.  Insert girl power here – and the winery was nice enough to give me a bottle to share in the future.
  • La Guarda, 2012 El Guardado Malbec and 2013 El Guardado Blend
  • San Juan Juice and Wine S.R.L., 2012 Malbec “7 Vinas,” 2012 Torrontes “7 Vinas,” 2012 Ancellota “7 Vinas”

Very hopeful that these wines will find the distribution channels they need in Dallas so you can taste them too.  Otherwise, this large group of wine lovers will need to share the one bottle of Finca Sierras Azules and that would never be enough once you’ve tried it.  


Wine Blogger Conference 2015 Preview: Get Your Riesling On

As a follow up to the announcement that the next Wine Blogger’s Conference will be in the Finger Lakes area, the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance asked me to participate in the 2013 Vintage Riesling Launch on Twitter #FLXRieslingHour. 

Nineteen wineries participated to virtually celebrate the release of the 2013 Finger Lakes Rieslings.  The four wines sent to me came from Sheldrake Point Winery, Knapp Winery, Heron Hill Winery and Boundary Breaks Winery.  More than 50 bloggers engaged in spirited conversation and learned all about the diversity of the Finger Lakes region in New York.

Contrary to popular belief, Rieslings are not just sweet white wines – they can be bone dry to sweet and the taste profile can be very different.  In fact, the International Riesling Foundation came up with a taste profile with the help of wineries who voluntarily rate their wines to help consumers navigate wines produced after 2008.

The wines that I tried were diverse – one was very dry with lots of minerality while others were much sweeter.  The soil of the region, the shale that these grapes are grown in, diverse elevations and distance from water, result in very different wines.

The first was the 2013 Sheldrake Point Dry Riesling, which had notes of lime, petrol, stone, peach and tropical fruits.  The family-owned winery has been making wine for 15 years and is located in a very unique microclimate next to Cayuga Lake.  This was the driest Riesling of the bunch and it was the group favorite.

The second wine was the 2013 Knapp Winery Dry Riesling, which also had notes of peach and apricot.  It begged for an Asian food pairing. I really liked this, but I think that food was necessary to bring out the true complexities in this wine.  The winery is also located near Cayuga Lake and has been around since 1984.  It is the first winery in this association to plant Cabernet Franc.

Our third wine was the Heron Hill Winery 2013 Classic Dry Riesling.  This was a nice wine with hints of orange blossom, floral notes, minerality and stone.  The winery is located near Keuka Lake and has been around for 35 years. 

Our final wine was the 2013 Boundary Breaks Vineyard’s #239 Dry Riesling, which was another great expression of the Riesling grape.  The winery property, which was a farm from 1850 until purchased in 2007, had its first vintage in 2013.  Very shortly after, The New York Times rated it in the top ten Finger Lakes Rieslings.  It was delightful – notes of peach, apricot, stone and flowers. 

If this experience was an indication of what I’ll get to experience at the #wbc15, I’m looking forward to getting my Riesling on.

 


Rodney Strong Celebrates 25 Years In Style

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

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

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

From the Pre-Event at #wbc14

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

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

We had six spectacular wines:

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

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

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

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

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


A Conversation with Santiago Mayorga from Nieto Senetiner

Santiago, me and Fernando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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