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California, French and Italian Quarterly Wine Update

I had fallen behind on the work #ThirstyThursday events so it was imperative that I grab some co-workers and taste some wines.  This time, we had 14 wines from California, France and Italy.  I’m featuring the nine that made the list which did not, for the record, include the wine marketed to the “inner diva” in me.  If that what my inner diva looks like, I would say that she should stay bottled up.

White Value Wines

California

2012 Jekel Vineyard Riesling – notes of white peaches, apricot and citrus.  I fell in love with this wine last Summer.  It still is great, but something about drinking it on a cold January day vs. pool or porch-side was different. It made me yearn for warm weather.

2012 Bonterra Chardonnay – tropical fruit, almonds, lemon with a touch of oak, but had balance.  A nice chardonnay for those who don’t like chardonnays.

Italy

Bolla Prosecco NV – always a totally quaffable sparkler with notes of green apple and toast.  Drink with OJ or without.

Red Value Wines

California

2012 Artesa Pinot Noir – strawberry, black cherry, oak with floral notes.  Hands down, this was one of the top wines tasted.

2011 Bonterra Zinfandel – was what a zinfandel should be – smoky, spicy and big.

2012 Five Rivers Pinot Noir – smoky, dark cherry, earth and good balance. 

France

2012 Domaine Constant-Duquesnoy Vinsobres — a classic Rhone blend with notes of cherry, spice, herbs, earth and flowers.  This was one of my new value favorites that I will be looking to buy at my first opportunity.

Italy

2010 Bolla Creso Rosso Verona – lots of fruit, cassis, spice and leather.  A good Tuesday night pizza or pasta wine.

Red Date Night (with someone you like a lot)

2012 J Vineyards Misterra Pinot Noir ($50) – a new J Vineyards wine combining Pinot Noir, Pinotage and Pinot Meunier was earthy with notes of herbs, flowers and fig.  I really enjoyed the unique taste and blend of this offering.


Holiday Wine Round Up

It’s a new year and time for a new wine round up of those sampled over the holidays.  This time I tried 18 wines in the $10 to $125 range from California, Chile, Italy and Spain.  Half of them made my list, which excluded some high priced samples:

Whites:

Italy

NV Mionetto Brut Prosecco – the quintessential, easy to drink brunch wine.  Priced at $14, this sparkling wine had notes of green apple, pear, citrus and peach. 

2012 Rocca Sveva Soave Classico ($17) – I liked this wine, but I think it needs to be paired with Italian food.  I got lots of tropical fruit, melon, apple and floral notes. 

Spain

2012 Franco Espanolas Royal White Rioja ($10) – lots of lemon curd, citrus and green apple.  This was a nice aperitif wine that begged for shellfish.

Reds:

California

2011 90+ Cellars Pinot Noir ($16) – a very drinkable wine with black cherry, strawberry, vanilla and earth.   This is a wine club that sources wines from around the world delivered at an “everyday wine” price point.

2010 Wolfgang Puck Red Wine Blend ($14.99) – when a master chef puts his name on a bottle of wine, you know it will be very food friendly.  You taste the berry in the Merlot, followed by the black fruit in the Cabernet, and then finish with the spice of the Zinfandel.  I’d pair this with beef tenderloin.

Chile

2009 Viña Concha y Toro Don Melchor ($125) – this lived up to its billing as Chile’s first ultra-premium wine.  Cassis, berry, tobacco and chocolate notes are showcased in this very well balanced special occasion wine.

Spain:

2009 Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Crianza ($13) – a great value wine with notes of cherry, herb, wood, spice and chocolate. 

2007 Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Crianza ($15) – notes of cherry, rosemary, basil, and tomato plant – this made me crave a margarita pizza.

I’m also going to give a special shout out to one wine that blew me away from the Guarachi Family.  Guarachi, which was previously unknown to me, sources small parcel lots from top vineyards in Napa and Sonoma and makes Cabernet and Pinot Noir.  The winery was launched by Alex Guarachi, a native of Chile and importer of South American wines.  The winery just purchased Sun Chase Vineyard in Sonoma and if this wine is any indication of what is to come, I’m beyond excited.

2011 Guarachi Family Wines Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($65) – this was full of red berries, cherry, floral, earth and cherry cola.  I loved this wine.


Round Pond Wines: A Great Match for the Holidays

Sometimes it’s crazy how serendipity works.  A few months ago I was in Punta Mita, Mexico, at a resort with my husband and some friends where I happened to run into a group of girls celebrating a milestone birthday.  Literally – in an intertube on the lazy river at the Four Season’s Resort.  One of the girls began chatting with my friend about wine.  Turns out she has a sales position for Round Pond Winery, a winery that came across my radar recently because other bloggers have been talking about their wines with my accolades.  I logged on later that day and received an introductory email probably around the time I was drinking cava in the lazy river with my new friend.  Serendipity.

The winery has been operated by the second generation of the MacDonnell family for the past 25 years and with a focus on Napa Valley wines that are sustainably farmed as well as an olive mill and citrus syrups.   The family started as growers 30 years ago and still sell Cabernet grapes as well as produce their own wines. 

I received three samples from Round Pond and decided to bring them to my husband’s family Christmas dinner in Huntsville, AL.  Note that it is rare that I bring sample wines to holiday dinners, but I took a guess that these wines would pair well with my brother in law’s steak grilling abilities.  It was a wise choice.

The three wines that we tried were two reds and one white:

  • We began with the 2012 Round Pond Rutherford ($24) which matched perfectly with the appetizers.  Lots of notes of tropical fruit, peach, apricot, citrus, melon and lemon grass made this wine a perfect aperitif wine to start a fabulous holiday meal.
  • Our second wine was the 2011 Round Pond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) which had notes of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate, currant and spice.  It was balanced and matched perfectly with the steak.  Absolutely a fantastic special occasion wine.
  • The last wine was the 2011 Round Pond Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($30), which has lots of red ripe fruit, plum, cassis, flowers and herbs.

These are three highly recommended wines in the $24 to $50 range that will remain on my list of wines to seek out in the future.


A Few of My Favorite Sparklings

Courtesy of Pierre Peters Champagne

I published a few of my favorite sparkling wines at a variety of price points just in time for your New Year’s celebration.  See what you think of what I published in Culture Map Dallas.  What are your favs?


Take Time to Be in the Moment

For the last nine years, I’ve hosted an annual girl’s wine club champagne and sparkling tasting.  Usually this involves me recruiting my kind husband who cooks massive amounts of great food paired with very loud conversation, lots of catch up and of course bottles and bottles and bottles of sparkling wines and champagne. 

Each year there seems to be one dominant brand — and 2013 was the year of Perriet Jouet, which was ironic because that trend continued on a carriage ride a few days later with friends.  Someone asked me if I was ready to blog about everything we tasted the memorable and not so memorable.  While I got some good content for an upcoming Culture Map article about sparkling wines, my answer was no.  I love blogging and I love writing Dallas Wine Chick, but this was a time for friendship, good food, catching up and just being in the moment.  Truly what the holidays are all about and if you approach it with a notebook in hand, you are going to miss what is really important.

And so, my dear readers and friends, put down your notebook and look up.  That’s how memories are made.  Cheers and happy holidays!

 


Cornerstone Cellars, Elyse Winery & J Vineyards: Samples to Remember

When sample packages from Cornerstone Cellars, J Vineyards and Elyse Winery arrive in the mail, I’ve learned to stand up and take notice. 

I’ll lead with the still wines.  Both Cornerstone and Elyse are known for hand-crafted and boutique wines that express the terrior where they are produced.  I’ve found these to be balanced, delicious and get better and better every year.  The wines are all distinct and differ depending on where they are grown.  Winemaker Jeff Keene who talked about how his wines express their sense of place .

My notes on the wines were as follows:

  • The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon combines the grapes of three vineyards — Ink Grade on Howell Mountain, Oakville Station in the To Kalon district and Kairos in Oak Knoll.  Tons of blackberry, raspberry, dried herbs, chocolate and mocha.  I had the chance to try this in the spring and it only got better with age.
  • The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain known for its white soils, which is unique.  This wine had tons of black fruit, spice, flowers, mocha and chocolate.  I loved every sip of this and it was beautiful.
  • The 2010 Stepping Stone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc was full of berries, herbs and the greenness that is indicative of cabernet franc.  It was balanced and delicious.

In the spring, I sat down with the Elyse Winery’s portfolio of wines at the winery.  The Elyse Morisoli Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 was impressive then, and the 2009 is impressive now.  I took this wine to a gathering with friends and it was definitely the favorite of the evening.  It was full of red berry, spice, earthiness, plum and coffee. 

And now onto J Vineyards & Winery bubblies.  I had the chance to meet Kathryn Lindstrom, chief operating officer, and Melissa Stackhouse, vice president of winemaking, when they made a trip to Dallas, also in the spring.  Melissa talked about the collaboration that happens with her wine making team of three where there is a focus on the integrity of the grapes and bringing the fruit into the glass.  She views her team’s role as “allowing the wines to find their own happy place” and interfering minimally. 

I tried the J Cuvee 20 Brut which we opened at the turning point of the Auburn game when it became clear we were going to the Championship game.  I tasted almonds, citrus, pear and freshly baked bread.  With our victory solidified and as I made my plane reservations to Pasadena, we turned to the J Brut Rose NV, which was full of luscious strawberry, brioche, raspberry and notes of floral.  Both of these wines stood up to a national championship celebration!  War Eagle!


Angove Family Winemakers: 127 Years of Family, Legacy and Australian Heritage

I heard from my PR contacts at Trinchero Family Estates, who have been working in partnership with Angove Family Winemakers, that Tim Boydell, their senior vice president, was making a visit to Dallas and had a great story to tell me about their history and their wines.

Tim Boydell was brought on several years ago to help the winery manage change.  That’s tough at a winery that has been part of the family business for 127 years and is currently on its fifth generation, but with Australia’s renewed focus on quality wines, biodynamic processes and expanding its reputation for world-class wine, the family knew it needed to invest to grow.  Tim chuckles at the time he provided John Angove, the Chairman, with his strategic plan for the winery which involved writing a check “with many zeros.”

First, a bit of history about the Winery’s Founder William T. Angove, MD, who came from Cornwall, England to Adelaide in 1886.  Like most doctors of his time, wine was used for medicinal purposes and he developed a vineyard.  Like many, his hobby became his passion and he started making wine full time after he closed his practice a year later.

Today Angove is a major player in Australia.  It provides about 1 million cases of wines per year, which includes 14 different labels.  It is the eighth largest Australian winery and exports half of its production to more than 40 countries.  The Angove shield depicts the family interests of mining and winemaking.

 

We tried a number of wines that showcased why Australian wines have been scored so highly over the last year or two.  Here was the line-up:

  • 2010 Angove Warboys Vineyard Range – an elegant mix of licorice, berry and spice with lots of fruit and finesse
  • 2010 The Medhyk – this is the Angove’s approach to a flagship wine.  Lots of chocolate, spice, black fruit and terrior.  I loved this wine.
  • 2008 Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Selection — all fruit up front.  Meat in a glass, screams for food, blackberry, cassis, mocha and oak.
  • 2012 Dr Angove “The Recipe” – red blend that was made specifically for the US market that was based on the wines he used to make in England.  Very juicy with mocha and cedar.
  • 2012 Nine Vines Moscato – oldest grapes in Australia which result in a wonderful dessert wine with hints of orange blossom, honeysuckle and apricot.

Unfortunately because the Four Seasons appeared to have no understanding of Friday Dallas traffic from Las Colinas to the West Village, we had to cut our visit short.  But, based on the Australian hospitality and the quality of the wines that I tried that day, I was glad to find out Texas is the number one US market for Angove Wines.  I look forward to watching what comes from Angove Family Winemakers.

 


A Conversation with Lindsay Hoopes: From District Attorney to Vineyard Scion

The story of wine.  That’s the entire premise for why I founded Dallas Wine Chick.  When I received an invitation to meet Lindsay Hoopes, a badge carrying San Francisco Assistant District Attorney who is in process of taking over her father’s wine company, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite stories.

Lindsay and I met at a Favorite Brands portfolio tasting where we tried the line-up of Hoopes Vineyards, Liparita Cellars and Hoopla wines.

The Hoopes Vineyard wines are very well made Cabernets from Oakville that have carried the same $60 price tag since 1999.  Impressive and part of Owner Spencer Hoopes’ dedication to helping people appreciate the terrior and fruit of Napa at a value that is pretty impressive considering their blue-chip neighbors like Screaming Eagle and Caymus Special Select.

The Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet is the flagship wine for the family.  I tried both the 2008 and 2009 and was blown away.  They were very different – both with layers of flavor and depth.  I tasted currant, dark chocolate, tobacco and cherry in the 2009 and more soft blue fruit in the 2008.  They were both fantastic and a great deal at $60.

We then talked about Liparita Cellars, one of the oldest wineries in California dating back to the 1890’s that was wiped out during Prohibition.  A wine from the Liparita vineyard was the very first wine to win a gold medal at the Paris World Fair in 1900 – long before the infamous Judgment of Paris.   For the Hoopes family, this is a chance to get back to the roots “of being a Frontier wine maker” and the bottles sport the original wine label.

We tried the 2009 Liparita Oakville Cabernet ($60), which was full of juicy blue fruit, red cherry, Asian spice, toffee, vanilla and licorice.  It was elegant and could be sipped today or cellared for greatness tomorrow.

Then I had a chance to try the 2010 Liparita Yountville Cabernet ($55).  I tasted plum, black cherry, vanilla and spice.  This is a deal for the price.

We moved to try Hoopla Wines, a project that Lindsay spearheaded to create wines that can be consumed immediately but have structure.  We tried the 2012 Hoopla North Coast Chardonnay, which is done in an Old World style with pear, green apple, tropical fruits and nice minerality.  At $12, it is priced to be your house white.

Like the Hoopes Cabernet, the 2010 Hoopla The Mutt ($28) features a dog on the label.  Sadly, Dante, the family dog, celebrated his last vintage in 2009.  This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (80 percent), merlot (10 percent) and petite sirah (10 percent).  This is the first vintage and the blend will change annually.  It was a nice blend of fruit and spice.

You can tell that Spencer Hoopes has a farmer’s mentality in how he treats the grapes, how he maintains his quality and how he insists on maintaining his price point when he could make much more money on his wines.

But his daughter, Lindsay, also has a story to tell.  From her first job on the distribution side of Gallo to being hired at Pottery Barn to source furniture due to her Mandarin language skills, she’s been driven.  Even though she had two fabulous jobs, she knew since seeing a TV show when she was young, that she wanted to be an assistant district attorney.  And she pursued that goal relentlessly – from the time when she found someone to take her to the district attorney’s office when she was in grade school to taking her LSAT to writing a letter to secure a job at the district’s attorney’s office.

And she still holds her badge.  But sometimes life, a family illness and a desire to do your family proud becomes your destiny.   If I were to guess, I’d say the Hoopes Family legacy is in very good hands.


A Conversation with the Men behind Sartori Wines

Bernabei and Sartori 

When Banfi invited me to experience the Sartori family wine portfolio, I knew I was in for some great wines and a lunch that would take me right back to my Italian roots, but without all the yelling.  I met Andrea Sartori, fourth generation of the Sartori family, and Franco Bernabei, a renowned consulting wine maker, to explore their portfolio of wines.

This was my first experience with Sartori wines, a well-known name for over a century from Italy’s Veneto region.  The family’s initial foray into hospitality was as a hotelier and later as owners of a restaurant and hotel.  In 1898, Pietro Sartori bought Villa Maria, a vineyard with a small cellar attached in the heart of Valpolicella, to source good wines for his hotel and as a small cellar for the family’s personal consumption.  Pietro’s son, Regolo, an Air Force officer in the first World War, sold the restaurant and declared the future of his family was in wine. By the 1950’s, Regolo’s two sons expanded the winery with an eye on expanding its distribution outside of Italy.

In the late 90’s/early 2000’s, Andrea Sartori, Pietro’s great-grandson, took over the business. Soon afterward, in an effort to get closer to the grapes, he made a decision that would turn the negociant system in Italy on its head.  In 2002, the company joined with Cantina Colognola, giving the family rare guaranteed access to more than 6,200 acres of high-quality grapes from 800 farmers in Soave and Valpolicella, where virtually no wine houses control their own vineyards.  This freed them from ‘the mercy of the market’ and gave them the ability to work with the best farmers, grapes and vineyards.  Sartori said, “People thought we were crazy, but for the first time, we had the ability to do significant projects from the ground up and farmers now owned a piece of our company.”  The two coops merged together in 2011 and these relationships as critical to their success.

Bernabei, who is a fifth generation winemaker, took the consulting job with Sartori because he is originally from Veneto and wanted to work with a family that “paid considerable attention to the history and heritage of Italian wines.”  He believes that wines should be original, traceable and carry an identity card based on the vineyard.  In harvest, the balance of acidity and pH are important.

We started with the Sartori Di Verona 2012 Pinot Grigio. This wine had a mineral characteristic with floral notes, peach, citrus and pears. Bernabei talked about how this wine is treated like a great burgundy in the style it is produced. I asked him what he was going for in this wine. “I want to pick a grape and the consumer tastes the dew – it’s a perfect fruit.” He believes that winemakers should not be invasive and wines should be expressions of the vineyard.

He then talked about the trends in wine making and why Sartori will never follow the path of forcing a style that isn’t native to the grape. “The greatest wines are not forced, pushed or exaggerated,” said Bernabei. “They maintain their sense of place – we make wine with what we have. That expression can’t change,” he said.

Our next wine was the 2010 Sartori di Verona Pinot Noir, a fun project the two men put together to see if they could make an Old World expression that would stand up to the classics.  It had the classic vegetal notes and pungency that makes up good pinot with notes of vanilla, black cherry, spice and pepper.  It is meant to make pinot accessible and for $11, this was a wonderful expression of affordable pinot noir.

We then moved to the 2009 Sartori di Verona Valpolicella, which had notes of earth, cherry and represented a classic version of this wine.

We then made the switch to a white wine – the 2010 Sartori di Verona Ferdi, which was a muscular white with elegance, power and notes of pear, apricot, lemon curd and lots of complexity. We actually came back to this wine after the full line of up big reds and it had lost nothing. And, for $14, it was a heck of a deal.

It was time for the big boys next. I have to point out that we were eating lunch at Terilli’s and Bernabei asked for some Parmesan cheese, which fell woefully short of Italian cheese standards. But we persevered on (making me really want to get some of the cheese they wanted me to have). The 2008 Sartori di Verona Regolo uses a technique of gentle pressing followed by skin maceration at low temperatures for 10 days. The wine then sits on Amarone pomace to enhance the aromatics and aging potential.  This results in a wine with great minerality and notes of berry and cherry. Great to drink today, but at $19, you should put some down and see what happens.

We moved to the 2010 Sartori di Verona Regolo, which had a great balance of black fruit and acidity. The Sartori Amarone 2010 had notes of wild fig, dates, terrior and was incredible. The “I Saltari” 2001 Le Vigne di Turano is a collaboration of the Colognola and Sartori wineries to improve viticulture, winemaking and production of Verona wines. The wines are aged in casks and slow racked to “bring the marriage together.” It was old world and had aged wonderfully with notes of spice and dried fruit.

A constant over the last 100 years is the Sartori family’s love of their land and heritage.  I look forward to continuing to watch the family’s evolution of their classical portfolio and evolution into what we consider non-traditional varietals of Italy.


Wine Review Round-up: French, Spanish, Italian and California

With the new gig, a little behind on wine reviews… 

It’s been a while since I’ve done a wine round up and lately I’ve been fortunate enough to try some really great wines at all price points.  Since I started my new job in Dallas, I have been instituted “Thirsty Thursday’s,” where I gather my co-workers and we have team building with wine involved.

I’ve listed my favorites in several different categories based on trying more than 40 wines.  These were often tried by region, varietal or price point.

Value Wines ($15 and Under)

2011 Domaine Maby La Forcadière – a dry rose with a nice minerality and notes of raspberry and flowers.  I really enjoyed this rose and I don’t give compliments on roses lightly.

2011 Bolla Soave Classico – a well-priced summer wine with citrus, apricot, peach and a nice crispness.

2012 Bodegas Ostatu Rioja Blanco – tropical notes, crisp and refreshing.  Another great summer refresher.

2012 Vina Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc – citrus, tropical fruit, minerality with a nice balance of herbs and a creamy texture.

2012 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc – apple, grapefruit and pear.

2011 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Carmenere – a nice expression of Carmenere with blackberry, forest floor, mocha and spiciness.

2010 Matchbox Dunnigan Hills Syrah – at $10, this wine with notes of raspberry, currant, black fruit, cocoa, spice and jam, was the best red wine that I’ve tried at this price point.  It had depth and complexity that I have never found in a $10 bottle.

2009 Ruiz de Viñaspre – I tasted lots of red fruit and floral notes in this 100 percent tempranillo.  It was a well-balanced wine and very drinkable with or without food.

2010 Vina Zaco Rioja Tempranillo – lots of vanilla and spice with blackberry and mocha.

2009 Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Pomal Crianza – blackberry, licorice, cedar, mocha and spice make this a well-balanced wine.

$15 to $40

2001 Ramirez de La Piscina Gran Reserva – all spice, flowers, cherries, currant and lots of depth.  This is an elegant wine that is drinking very well today.

2005 Finca Allende Rioja Allende – notes of blackberry, cherry, earthiness with layers of depth.

2005 Deobriga Rioja – smokiness combined with lots of red fruit, flowers, vanilla, spice and tobacco.

2006 Grupo Olarra Bodegas Ondarre Reserva – a very smooth wine with lots of rich red fruit, dates and spice.

2009 Domaine Bressy-Masson Cotes du Rhone-Villages Rasteau Cuvee Paul Emile – this was a rich and smooth wine with notes of blackberry, fig, tobacco, black tea, spice and chocolate.

2009 Domaine du Pesquier Gigondas – this was a big wine with lots of terrior, berry, black cherry and herbs.  This was a very well balanced wine.

2010 De Martino Legado Reserva Carmenere – another good expression of Carmenere with notes of tobacco, flowers, vanilla and cassis.

Over $40

2007 Finca Monteviejo – a powerful wine with blackberry, plum, mushroom, currant, dried fruits, spice and earth.  Exactly what a great Rioja should taste like.




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