Archived entries for Viognier

Wine, Women, Food and Seattle: The Perfect Storm

When my work life and wine life intersect, I always bask in the glow.  I have been incredibly lucky to be accepted into the Executive Women’s Roundtable, an exclusive C-level women’s leadership organization that is run through the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.  The women are amazing – it’s a who’s who of women who leave me in awe every time that I am in a room with them.

The Executive Women’s Roundtable Group at JM Cellars

Annually, we have a weekend leadership retreat designed to be a time of learning, city exploration, laughter and networking.  This year we headed to Seattle.  Yes, the land of Washington Wine, which I fell in love with about five years ago at #wbc10.

Ian and Laura MacNeil

This trip allowed me to explore (briefly) a wine region that I did not have a chance to visit the last time I was there – Woodinville.  But first, we needed to explore vodka.  Ian MacNeil launched the Glass Distillery in 2012 to introduce his flagship spirit, Glass Vodka, to the public.  The shop includes a gorgeous exhibition of glass and on our visit was coupled with a tasting of four types of vodka.  Three were flavored, but the pure Glass Vodka was delicious, smooth and all about style.  This made a girl that wasn’t necessarily a vodka fan, a vodka fan.

Luly Wang Creation for the Vogel Alcove Gala

After a series of meetings and networking events, (if you want the outfit of the year, check out Luly Yang, one of the most fun designers I’ve seen in a long time), we headed to a morning tour of Pike Place Market. 

We had a private tour at the Dale Chihuly Boathouse.  It was awesome to see Chihuly’s glass vision come to life from an aquarium to his private pool to the best dining room ever.  It was a blast from the past to see what inspired the gorgeous designs that have become the standard of glass couture.

John Bigelow

Then the games begin.  I’m never a tour bus winery kind of gal, so I’m going to focus on the two “off the beaten path” wineries that I really enjoyed out of the three we toured.  Our first was JM Cellars, which is considered a private arboretum located on a hill named “Bramble Bump.”  John Bigelow, the incredibly charismatic and passionate winemaker, who had such an infectious excitement for his wines and the story of his family, made us all fall in love with his story and the property.  These guys make 500 cases a year – small and boutique in style.  The 2012 Vineyard Estate red and the 2012 Syrah were my favorite wines that I tried.

Brian Cade

Our next stop was Sparkman Cellars where we spent time with Brian Cade, the general manager.  I loved the vision, “work with the finest ingredients known to man, craft it from something truly real and share it with people that want to drink it.”  Sir, may I have another… I really liked everything that I tried.  The fact that the wine club is named after Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” resonated.  But sadly, to refrain a sad yet often stated theme, the wines are not yet available in Texas.  I hate you three-tier ridiculous legal system.  We are all missing out.

Anytime I can combine time with a group of awe inspiring women combined with the amazing city of Seattle paired with a region of wines that I just want to spend time exploring, that means one of the best weekend’s ever.


WBC Pre-Trip: A Glimpse into the Soul of Santa Barbara Wine

Larry Schaffer, Tercero Wines

Our WBC journey began with bread.  And yeast.  And really good wine.  What I found about the Santa Barbara region is that it has a soul.  It’s real, it’s eclectic, it’s quotable and it’s incredibly real.  It’s something that you can’t get with a cursory look, which is why I am so glad for the experiences that were planned outside the conference – because by the time I got there, I got it.

We started first with Larry Schaffer, the winemaker and owner of Tercero Wines, who began the week a stranger and ended as up in our circle of friends.  Larry’s got a fun background – he started out as a financial analyst in the music industry and evolved into a role doing sales and marketing for a publishing company.  In 2001, he wanted a change and became intrigued with the grape to glass concept.  Fast forward to a degree from UC Davis, a job at Fess Parker for six years and then to his own label.

Larry’s personality is larger than life and he held his own with our group … and then some.  He kept his comedic timing and composure until asked him, “If he had always been interested in all things yeast?”  At that point all bets were off and we officially were added to his chalkboard of funny and snarky things people said. 

Tercero (“Third”) was named because Larry is a third child and he has three kids.  His wines were incredible – I took home a mixed case of the 2012 Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and Grenache.  He talked about the similarities of a winemaker to an artist.  “Wine should be like art,” he said.  “Every wine reflects the unique vintage, vineyards and experience of the winemaker.”

Mikael Sigouin, Winemaker for Beckmen and Kaena

We also went to Beckmen where we met Hawaiian native Mikael Sigouin, the winemaker for both Beckmen and Kaena.    Mikael talked about Grenache being like a guitar riff – he has eight different compositions of Grenache from seven different places.  We went through the elements of each of the Grenaches – and it was amazing to see the differences.  In the wines, we experienced music – from Bruno Mars to Michael Jackson to Prince.

We ended our evening with a group dinner at the Hitching Post and a stay at the same Day’s Inn featured in the movie Sideways.   Very old school, very fun and yes, we did drink f’in merlot.

The Texas Bloggers Get ‘Photobombed’ by Photographer George Rose

The next day we were invited to a very special tasting seminar “Santa Barbara: Drinking in the Differences” at Star Lane Winery, to truly experience Santa Barbara wines.  I can’t tell you how thankful I was to be included in this special day underwritten by the San Francisco Wine School and the wineries.   Fred Swan, Master Sommelier David Glancy and more than 20 winemakers and owners took us through the different Santa Barbara Country AVAs. 

The Central Coast is an incredibly diverse region made up of 250 miles of coastline and is comprised of ten very diverse counties – from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.  It’s California’s largest AVA with four million total acres in which more than 100,000 are under vine and with more than 360 wineries.  And the sense of place is very different – there’s no standard climate, temperature or soil.  In the last three years, 200 new wineries have opened.   Two river valleys – the Santa Maria River and the Santa Ynez River Valley are the two binders.

The region has a storied and long history beginning in 1782 when Junipero Serra planted the first vines.  Four years later, the Santa Barbara Mission was established.  Sadly this came to a screeching halt in 1920 with Prohibition and the wineries didn’t begin producing again until 1962.  Today the region has five AVAs (with more in progress), has 50 varieties of wines and is incredibly diverse by regions/AVAs due to the temperature.

We tried 22 wines from the different AVAs – everything from sparkling wine, dry Riesling, Riesling, Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, white blends, chardonnay, pinot noir, grenache and syrah from Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA, Sta. Rita Hills AVA (which must be spelled this way due to the Chilean winery), Ballard Canyon AVA, Los Olivos District AVA and Happy Canyon AVA.  The wineries that participated included Riverbench, Fess Parker, Municipal Winemakers, Dragonette, Presqu’ile, Star Lane, Brander, Jonata, Solomon Hills, Clos Pepe, Melville, Bien Nacido, Chanin, Foxen, Tercero, Qupe, Samsara and Stolpman.

My observations, which continued to be reinforced during and post conference, were as follows:

  • This is an underappreciated region.  The wines are diverse. The wines are unique.  The wines are amazing.  The wines have a true sense of place.  You need to seek out these wines.
  • The people here were great.  Wes Hagen, the winemaker for Clos Pepe said it best, “wine is liquid humanism.  We need to inspire the imagination of the people that drink own wines.”  I have never met a more down to earth group of people that have gathered together in their sense of place – it’s collegial, it’s fun and most importantly, it’s real.  You can see it as the winemakers helped each other go through the AVA application process to the banter about terrior, climate and grapes.  These are people that you want to party with later.

As Larry said at the end of the day, “we want to tell the story of our wines not by talking, but by what is in the glass.”   Tyler Thomas, the winemaker for Star Vineyards, added, “this region features great wine made by great vineyards and great people.” 

Summer BBQ: Jekel and Bonterra Style


It was in the midst of Summer BBQ season and the weather in Texas was hitting the 100’s when I received my blogger’s sample of Bonterra and Jekel Vineyards wines.  I knew that Bonterra was organic and biodynamically farmed as I had tried some of the wines prior.  I knew nothing about Jekel Vineyards from Monterey, who was a key pioneer in creating the AVA for that area.  I also received the Extreme Grilling Guide from Bonterra Chef Lia Huber that looked fantastic, but we were already heading to a friend’s house for dinner so I was hoping the wines would work well with what they were grilling.  The theme was Cajun and the wines were a great match.

We tried the following wines:

·      Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc – crisp with notes of grapefruit, citrus, melon and grass. It had a nice acidity and worked really well with some of the appetizers including a fantastic crab dip.

·      Bonterra Viognier 2012 – this was my favorite of the wines I tried from Bonterra.  It had a bit of sweetness from the Muscat, but was fruity and balanced with apricot, peaches, vanilla and almost a spiciness at the end.  It rocked some spicy deviled eggs.

·      Jekel Vineyards Riesling 2011 – this was such a wonderful find for me and ended up being the absolute favorite of the group.  It was funny – everyone underestimated this wine and even though it was labeled as a dry Riesling, the entire group had doubts.  Then we tasted it.  It was dry with notes of white peaches, apricot, citrus and ended up being the first bottle to disappear.

·      Jekel Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 – with notes of black cherry, herbs, spice and earth, I was told this was a perfect wine to match the pork that was prepared.  But as many of you know, I’m allergic to pork and can’t vouch for the taste combination.

We also tried two drinkable chardonnays from each producer, but the group favorites were the ones listed above.  For a group of wines under $17, these were easy drinking, good summer sippers.

Riedel Versus Fusion Stemware: Who Comes Out on Top?

I have been a long-time fan of Riedel glasses and have about 12 sets of the Riedel Extreme Vinum as well as a variety of spirit and champagne tasting glasses in our household.  I’ve tried several different brands of tasting glasses in comparison with the Riedel glasses and found they just didn’t compare to the original.  So when the folks at the Wine Enthusiast asked me to do a comparison of a set of the Viognier/Chardonnay tasting glasses versus Fusion Stemware, I was dubious, but took their challenge.

Wine Enthusiast sent me both sets of glasses.  The Fusion glasses were billed as the World’s Most Break-Resistant Glasses with a 10-year warranty.  Shatterproof glasses … hmmm.  I remember one fateful party at my house where a friend helping clean up quickly shattered three Riedel champagne glasses due to a faulty drying rack.  It still hurts to remember.

I opened up Chardonnay and Viognier wines and got to work.  I was surprised to learn that I preferred the taste of the wine in the Fusion glass versus the Riedel glass.  The flavors were enhanced, the crystal glass had the heft that I was used to (neither glass was the size of the ones I have at home though) and the fact that it was made for klutzes like me resonated.  Having had this experience, if I were to re-invest in my stemware, I’d choose Fusion.

Now neither of these glass sets are cheap and I haven’t seen the Fusion people come through Dallas with wine tastings priced to include the glasses at a big discount.

So you may ask why you should invest in a set of tasting glasses?  It matters – because a glass is a glass except when it isn’t.  Once you try the right stemware, you’ll notice when you don’t have it.

California Wine Club: A Wine Review

I recently received a shipment from the California Wine Club, a club specializing in hand-selected artisan wines from family-owned producers, which contained the 09 Trenza Winery Santa Barbara County Mourvedre-Syrah-Grenache and the 10 Tangent Winery San Luis Obispo Viognier.

We started with the Viognier, which had notes of melon, citrus, apricot and a bit of Fig Newton.  This was a well balanced wine with good acidity and priced at $17.  The red blend was full of berries, chocolate, mocha, oak and vanilla.  It went very well with our dinner and was food friendly.

The $50 per month price tag includes shipping, accompanying information about the wines and winery and recipes to complete your tasting experience.

If you want to give it a try, the California Wine Club is offering Dallas Wine Chick readers four bottles for the price of 2 when you sign up. Use the code vine12 at checkout.

Click Here to visit the California Wine Club’s website. Click here to check out @cawineclub and @boringwineguy on Twitter.

Disclosure: This review was made possible by Mom Spark Media and was valued at $50 for the shipment.

#WBC 12: Evening Festivities, Speed Tasting, Peruvian Food & Cuffed in Carlton

After the fun pre-trip to Salem, our bus pulled up for the long awaited start of the Wine Bloggers Conference, but not without a lung stopping beginning.  All the rooms at the Doubletree were deemed non-smoking except for the non-compliant guest that stayed our room prior to our arrival.  I went up to the room first and Liza, my roommate, generously offered to get the wine we had stored with the bellhop.  I walked into the room and the wall of smoke hit me.  I called down to the front desk, but when Liza walked in and saw me standing by the open window with the patio window open thought she had busted a closet smoker.  The Doubletree quickly moved us to another room and generously hauled our stash of wine to the next place.

We started our day prior to the conference with a long-awaited tasting of Two Shepherds Wine, which is owned by my friend, William Allen (a.k.a Wine MacGyver for his endless supply of wine glasses and accessories at previous conferences).  Many of us who write about wine dream, “If Iever make the jump into the wine making world, would I have what it takes?” – and knowing that William has a job as encompassing as mine as a software sales executive – I am incredibly impressed.  His premise is to make Rhone varieties that reflect their sense of place and shine when blended. 

We started with the Two Shepherds 11 Grenache Blanc, which tasted of melon, citrus and lemon with some minerality on the end.  Then we tasted the 11 Viognier with a floral nose, but with nice acidity.  Our next stop was the 11 Pastoral Blanc, which was a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, with notes of citrus and pear.  This wine begged for some king crab.  We tasted the 10 Syrah/Mourvedre blend with lots of berry and pepper and then a barrel sample of the Grenache.  One word – wow.  Based on what I tasted, I can say with certainty that you will be reading about Two Shepherds very soon – get on the list now because this is truly a small production winery destined for very good things.

We stopped by the welcome session, which was hosted by the Oregon Wine Board, and were given a snapshot of what we had to look forward to during the week and served as a long-awaited reunion of bloggers. 

That night, we were invited to an intimate event to get a glimpse of Oregon’s wine history featuring 02-08 vintages from past years of the Portland Indie Wine Festival with some wines from some of Oregon’s top winemakers. The 5-year-old festival, which is on hold this year, but is sure to be back in 2013, is a project that brings together up and coming independent wine producers with music and food.  We were picked up by the good people of Watershed and brought to a “speakeasy” bar at Portland Wine Storage.  The vibe was cool, the wines were great, the change during the different harvests (lots of rain in 2004 for example vs. the coolest season on record in 2008) and it was fun to sit one-on-one and talk to winemakers from Harry Peterson-Nedry from Chehalem, Lynn Penner-Ash from Penner-Ash and Ben Thomas from Montinore.  And then it was 2 a.m. – welcome to the reality of the Wine Blogger’s Conference….

I’m not going to give a moment by moment recap about the event because there are some really good ones already out there such as Randall Grahm’s speech by Ben Simons or the great write-up of the “Ready, Fire, Aim” live wine blogging by Winemundo.  

But, I will mention the wheels off lunch that I had with David Honig and Liza at Andina, the best Peruvian restaurant that I have ever tried. 

In the afternoon, we were marched out to buses where we randomly selected our wine region tour for the duration of the evening.  We totally scored getting one of the best tours with a group of people whom I absolutely adore.  Zephyr won’t tell you where you are going until the bus is moving so we were very excited to hear that we were going to Carlton, “the wine Capital of Oregon.”  Thanks to Mary Cressler and Thea Dwelle’s invitation in 2010, I had the chance to get to know Amy Wilder and Lynette Shaw during my last trip to Oregon when Amy introduced me to Voodoo Donuts and Lynette introduced me to Willamette Valley.  A friendship was quickly born. 

About 40 minutes into our journey I spotted a police car on the side of the road with a male and female officer in the car.  I made a comment to my seatmate right as the lights were turned on in the police car.  An officer boarded the bus and told us we needed to disembark due to a “situation,” which turned out to be a brilliantly executed PR ploy. 

And, so we began our #cuffedincarlton journey.  What the officer, who turned out to be the chief of police, did not bank on, were the comments about his attractiveness.  Female bloggers, thinking that perhaps he might be an actor or had a side job in Magic Mike, had fun writing about him.  Sorry Chief Kevin.

We stopped at the lovely Carlo & Julian winery where we were served 09 Albarino that was flinty and perfect for the hot weather – especially with the tuna and three pepper sauce that was served with it.  We walked to the vineyards where we had a beautiful cheese and bread plate served with the 09 Tempranillo.  I was surprised to see these two wines in Oregon, but they were tasty and made Joe ponder.


We then met Ken Wright, one of the father’s of Oregon wine, who talked about the geography of Carlton and Yamhill.  I’ll talk a little more in detail in a later post, since we were lucky enough to spend the morning with Ken on a post conference visit. 

Our dinner stop was at Cielo Blu and once again we had no idea what was waiting for us.  Imagine a room packed with “evidence” against us with the top chefs in Carlton and the top wineries ready to match a nine course meal with 26 of the region’s best wines.  Mary Cressler and I decided that we had to try everything and gamely set out to keep our palates sharp and our sobriety up. 

Our first course “or Evidence No. 1” was Chinook salmon from Pacific City cooked on a traditional Salish bake, which was an alder wood frame over an open fire by Chef Jeff Lorton from Valley Emporium.  We got to sample the 2011 Youngberg Hill Aspen Pinot Gris, the 2009 Noble Pig Pinot Noir, the 2010 Omero Iliad Pinot Noir, the 2010 Alexana Revana Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2010 Ghost Hill Pinot Noir Blanc.  It was hard to choose a favorite, but I really liked the 2011 Youngberg Hill Pinot Gris as the match.

Our second course “or Evidence No. 2” was a duck confit salad with apple, fennel, candied nuts and an orange balsamic dressing from Chef Chloe Couchee from the Horse Radish.  We tried the 2011 Omero Pinot Gris, the 2011 MonksGate Rose of Pinot Noir, the 2008 Mouvance Pinot Noir Julon Vineyard and the 2008 EIEIO Pinot Noir. 

I liked all of these wines, but have to give a shout out to MonksGate for making the first and only rose that I have ever, ever, ever liked.  For those of you who know me, this is an accomplishment equal to pigs flying.

I abstained from the third course “or Evidence No. 3,” which was a Carlton Farms pork loin stuffed with herbs, garlic and onions served with Northwest Succotash from Chef Gilbert Henri of Cuvee, because I am allergic.  I have to say the people in Carlton love their pork, but see more about that later.  Our wine choices were the 2011 Troon Vineyard Vermentino, the 07 MonksGate Pinot Noir, the 2010 Alexana Revana Vineyard Riesling and the 2008 Youngberg Hill Jordan Pinot Noir.  The favorite pairing was the 2010 Alexana Revana Riesling, which surprised me as I thought it was destined to be a Pinot Noir.

Our fourth course “or Evidence No. 4” was braised short ribs in a red wine, rosemary tomato sauce with creamy rosemary polenta from Chef Bonifacio Solorzano from Cielo Blu.  We tried the 2005 Spofford Station Estate Syrah, the 07 Cliff Creek Cellars Cabernet Franc, the 2009 WildAire Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir and the 2009 Terra Vina Bella Vista Red Vinters Blend.  My favorite with the course was the 2009 WildAire Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir.

Our fifth course “or Evidence No. 5” was a grilled flank steak with blue cheese butter and peppered D’affinois mashed potatoes from Chef Sean David from The Horse Radish.  This was served with the 2010 Seven of Hearts Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre Cuvee, the WildAire Cellars Tempranillo (no year given) and the 2009 K&M Alchemy Cuvee Pinot Noir.  My favorite was a tie between the 2010 Seven of Hearts and the 2008 K&M Alchemy.

As if we hadn’t had enough, it was time for a cheese plate served with the 2010 Mouvance Pinot Gris and dark chocolate currant-cabernet ganache made by Dana Dooley with Honest Chocolates served with the 2005 Spofford Station Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Troon Vineyard Meritage.  Yum!

Then, the desserts from Chef Amy Wilder, Republic of Jam, a cardamom cake with port preserved plums and dulce de leche cream with the 2010 Seven of Hearts Pinot Noir Coupe’s Cuvee.  Andone of the best desserts that I have ever had, the chocolate blue cheese cheesecake with cherries preserved in balsamic syrup served the same wines matched with the chocolate.  After we experienced every single bit of hometown hospitality in Carlton, we rolled (pun intended) on home. 

Perhaps my plan of moderation didn’t work (ya think…?) My apologies for starting the return sing-a-long on the bus home, but at least I kept it to show tunes and bad songs from the 70’s and 80’s.  Most of the people on the bus still talk to me, so that’s a good thing.

The reality at this point is that you should be done, you should go home, you should get some rest.  But, the post parties were just beginning.  We had the night of Many Bottles, where bloggers brought some of their favorites to share and there were hopes of a dance party (my contribution: 2 drained, one corked); a special tasting of Randall Grahm wines; the bubble and champagne lounge by Pernod Ricard and a few other late night happenings in which bloggers shared some of their favorite wines with a smaller group of people.  After making the rounds, I showed some restraint about 1 a.m. and retired fat and happy knowing I’d be running in the morning, which was not a a fun reality, but necessary with the food/wine consumed.


Pedernales Cellars: Texas Winery Wins the Unofficial Memorial Day Lake Tasting

I admit it – while I might be the Dallas Wine Chick, I haven’t found many Texas wines that meet my quality and price balance.  I believe in supporting Go Local efforts and I do in buying many Texas products on a daily basis. 

So, when I got the email from Pedernales Cellars’ public relations firm, I admit I was a bit skeptical.  I received three wines from the winery and today I’m going to write about the two that actually received favorite wine designation from a large group of folks tasting a number of wines while celebrating Memorial Day at the lake.

First, a brief background about Pedernales Cellars.  In the early 1990s, Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken planted their first vineyard near Fredericksburg making them one of the first wineries in Texas.  Their son David, and son-in-law Fredrik, wanted the winery to be a boutique winery focused on making small lots of wine with sustainable practices.

Today, the winery consists of 17 acres of tempranillo, touriga nacional, albarino, monastrell, garnacha and a few other varietals – mostly those that grow well in Texas.

And, now for the two wines of choice.  I’m not telling you the prices are low, but I am telling you that the wines are well made, tasty and interesting. 

  • 2010 Texas Tempranillo Reserve ($29.99).  Pedernales does tempranillo well and the Texas weather makes it the perfect grape for wine makers to succeed in our state.  It’s mineral and earthy, but with spiciness, red fruits and chocolate.
  • 2011 Texas Viognier ($17.99).  Really nice tropical and white stone fruit with honey notes, but with a dry finish.  This matched perfectly with sitting on a patio, playing backgammon and catching up with friends.

Wine-ing Through Europe

Many of you know that I recently took a marketing role at an international company based in Stockholm which requires that I spend at least once a month on the road.  While this sounds fabulous and glamorous, it usually ends up being planes, taxis, conference rooms, airports, little sleep and interesting dinners – some good, some really bad.

It’s rare that I get to take in the local sites – let alone the local wine bars, but this trip proved to be an exception.  It also turned into quite the adventure – from bomb threats at the airport in Amsterdam to a sad Cupid trying to buck tradition in Valentine’s Day apathetic Stockholm.

Champagne on a plane

After finding out that British Airways had Tattinger by the glass, I happily accepted a few glasses on my DFW to London leg of the trip.  However, while the flight attendant on the London to Amsterdam flight tried very hard to convince me to have champagne, it was only 8:30 a.m., and even I have my standards.  I was very thankful that he convinced me to take the split of Pommery to drink at a later time.


We landed in cold and snow in Amsterdam and were greeted by our tour guide and colleague, Rose, who had set up a wine and cheese tasting of a well-known, Holland-based cheese maker, Reypenear.  We had two very drinkable French wines – a La Croisade Viognier and a Syrah that were nicely priced around $12 a bottle and port that rocked with the cheese.

Cheese in Amsterdam

After touring the heart-breaking Anne Frank museum, we went to a wine bar named Wine & Bubbles that had fabulous flights.  Our group sampled bubbles, French and Italian flights and everyone was very happy.  There was a great line-up of very fun wines and a cool atmosphere.  That’s where the culture ended and a very interesting night out begin.  Let’s just say that seeing the various sites of Amsterdam is very different by night than by day.

Amsterdam Mess

After the meetings, I headed to the Amsterdam Airport just a few hours after the bomb threat happened.  Security, chaos, lines that were more than two hours long and lots of very angry people that had no chance of making their flights.  Thankfully, the two million miles that I have on American/British Airways served me well and I found a frequent flyer line that only took 45 minutes.  And then I discovered the wheel of wine in the lounge. 

Wheel of Wine

Fast forward to the Stockholm portion of the trip that happened to take place over Valentine’s Day.  Stockholm is not as “Hallmarked” as we are in the U.S. and I saw no flower deliveries of general giddiness at the office during the day.  However, as I ate dinner in the hotel, I did see a little guy with a bouquet of roses waiting and waiting and waiting for his date.  Sadly, she never showed.  I hope she met him elsewhere.

Wine-ing Through Europe Sad Champagne

My Valentine’s night included lots of work emails and a very hearty battle with the aforementioned split of champagne that refused to open.  However, there is nothing that stands between me and champagne and I’m happy to say that I triumphed.

My trip ended with a child seated in business class who cried for nine hours straight.  This time, glasses of Tattinger, Bose headsets and a string of movies kept me sane.

Loudoun County Wine Pre-Trip: Continues to Bring Great Surprises

Shaun T

I came out of my early morning haze with two words running through my mind – Dig Deepa! You see, I brought along the Shaun T Insanity workouts and I knew that I was about to sweat out the wine, cheese, dessert, nuts and other sins of yesterday. After a very ugly workout session, I was ready for day two.

Our first stop was Chrysalis Vineyards. This was to be my first experience with Norton and I was excited. I had read the “The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine,” by Todd Kliman and was very intrigued to taste the native Virginia grape that was such a labor of love for Dr. Norton. The Norton grape was almost destroyed during the Civil War and then again during Prohibition.

Chrysalis Vineyards is a 412-acre farm that is known for being the world’s largest grower of Norton, deemed by owner Jennifer McCloud as the “real American grape.” In addition to Norton, McCloud has planted a variety of Spanish and French varietals in addition to the usual line-up. The vineyard also has several American milking Devon cows and will be making cheese and ice-cream soon.


We were split into two groups and our hostess, Pat, was born to showcase Chrysalis wines. She introduced us to “Sarah,” namesake of several blended wines and the vineyards gorgeous outdoor patio. Sarah, who died an untimely death of “consumption” or tuberculosis at the age of 16 in 1855, was the daughter of the property owners of the estate in the 1800s. Based on what I saw, she’s definitely resting in peace.


We tried 15 wines – all except for two were grown on the estate:

- 10 Chardonnay – this was made in the Old World almost Chablis-like style with lots of acidity and green apple. This is one of the wines sourced from grapes outside the vineyard, $17.

 - 09 Barrel Reserve Chardonnay – more New World in style. Citrus and oak abounded, $24.

 - 10 Viognier – very refreshing with notes of vanilla, melon, floral and peach notes, $29.

 - 10 Mariposa – a dry rose with notes of raspberries and strawberries. Not my favorite wine as I struggle with rose wines that do not sparkle, $15.

- 10 Sarah’s Patio White – I tasted citrus, honey and almost a Chinese spice, $15

- 10 Sarah’s Patio Red – This 100 percent Norton had almost a hint of sweetness to it. Big cherry, raspberry and a note of Asian spice. Pat talked about how good this is as a base to sangria and I’m inclined to agree, $15.

 - 08 Rubiana – This wine combined Spanish and Portuguese varieties and tasted of black fruits and pepper, $17.

 - 07 Norton Estate – I really wanted to love Norton especially after reading about its resurrection and knowing this vineyard brought back Norton in 1992, but the earthiness combined with fruitiness made me pause, $17.

- 10 Norton Barrel Select – This wine was made in a Beaujolis style and was very fruity, n/a

- 08 Norton Locksley Reserve – Aged for three years in the bottle, this blend of Norton (75 percent), Petit Verdot and Nebbiollo was very earthy with pepper and chocolate. I would have been interested to see what happened to this wine had it been decanted.

- 06 Petit Verdot – I tasted chocolate, pepper and earthiness, $35.

- 07 Tannat (or poker playing wine) – I tasted mocha, currant, vanilla and blackberry. This wine could benefit with several more years in the bottle, but had nice structure, $35.

 - 08 Papillon – Had notes of mocha, cedar, pepper and pine, $35.

 - 10 Albarino – An explosion of white peaches, floral and even a bit of mango. This was one of my absolute Virginia favorites at $24.



Then it was time for the pinnacle – the 10 Petit Manseng, reserved for only the VIP wine club members and it usually sells out instantly. Chrysalis was the first to bring this wine to the Americas. I tasted honey, candid fruit, spice and orange. It was a very special wine and as much as I tried, I couldn’t convince anyone to sell me a bottle.


Our next stop was Boxwood Winery. Rachel Martin, EVP of Boxwood and the daughter of Rita and John Cook, former owners of the Washington Redskins, greeted us and talked about the history of the winery. Designed by Architect Hugh Jacobsen, it’s an airy, light filled and cheery place to experience wine. The 16-acre winery was first planted in 2004 and focuses on French Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The focus is producing fine wines in a French style with Virginia terrior.

Stephane Derenoncourt, a French winemaker, consults with Adam McTaggart, Boxwood’s day-to-day winemaker. Boxwood was Derenoncourt’s first U.S. consulting venture.



We tried several wines:

- 09 Topiary Rose, a dry sipping wine with tasted of strawberry. You guys know I struggle with roses, but the rest of the bloggers enjoyed this wine, $14-16

 - 08 Topiary, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, was done in a right bank style. It had a deep purple color, dark fruits, berry, smokiness, spiciness and eucalyptus notes, $25-27.

- 08 Boxwood was done in the left bank style and was a blend of petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. I tasted blackberries, black cherries and almost a sandalwood essence, $25-27. – 09 Topiary, muted berry, cedar and earthiness. This wine will be released in the Fall, n/a.

- 09 Boxwood had big berry, a powerful structure and benefitted from a quick whirl in the Wine Soiree (actually both 09 wines did). I brought home a bottle of the 08 and 09 to compare at a future tasting, n/a.

A few things struck me after spending these two days tasting Virginia wines. First, I was surprised at the number of European influences on the wine styles and the grapes being planted. Second, it is clear that no expense has been paid to bring in some of the world’s top wine consultants. And finally, Virginia is an area that is making the commitment today to make some serious wine in the future.

The Experience of Loudoun County: Award-Winning Wines Take Bloggers by Surprise

I remember the crowd reaction last year during #wbc10 when Virginia was named as the host city for the next Wine Bloggers Conference in 2011.  There was skepticism, puzzlement and I heard the comment that the conference was clearly sold to the highest bidder.  I encouraged those around me to give the state a chance and that some of the wine there just might be a well-kept secret.  I was correct.

Fast forward a little over one year and I found myself at the Dulles airport at the pre-conference tour of Loudoun County.   Stacey and Wendy served as our very generous and knowledgeable hosts and we had no idea what a fabulous time we were about to have.  I was also thrilled to see some old friends from last year and those I connect with often on Twitter.  Our first stop was a tour and tasting of Tarara Winery.  Jordan Harris, general manager and winemaker, served us a variety of local meats, cheeses and fresh-picked blackberries.  I had to exercise a great deal of willpower to not eat the entire blackberry bowl single-handedly.



Jordan Harris, general manager and winemaker


Tarara Winery was founded in 1989 by Whitie and Margaret Hubert.  It is one of the oldest wineries in Virginia and focuses on artisan wines.  The winery has three main vineyards – Nevaeh (estate vineyard), Tranquility (in Purcellville) and Honah Lee (in Orange).  In Jordan’s opinion, these three vineyards best represent the terrior of Virginia and are defined by their place, not their varietals.  Interestingly, all of the wines produced by Tarara have screwtops.

We tried the following wines:

-          09 Charval, a blend of chardonnay, pinot gris, viognier and sauvignon blanc.  I tasted tropical fruits, floral notes and a little lemon on the nose, $20.

-          10 Viognier, a classic Virginia viognier (and that is meant as a compliment) with peach, melon and honeysuckle.  A very elegant wine for $15.

-          09 Navaen White, which is a blend of viognier and chardonnay.  I got mandarin oranges, floral, cinnamon and a little minerality.  This elegant wine was borne from a hobby that got out of control, $30.

-          09 Three Vines Chardonnay, full of pears, butterscotch, fennel and citrus.  This is a classic chardonnay for $20.

-          97 Chardonnay.  This was an interesting wine as we wondered how well Virginia wines could age.  Unfortunately this was past its prime and I couldn’t get over the musty smell, n/a.

-          09 Tranquility Red, this is a blend of the top two barrels that three wineries – Tarara, 8 Chains and Hiddencroft Vineyards – produced from Tranquility Vineyard.  It’s a great example of the collaboration that you find between Virginia winemakers.  I tasted blackberry, licorice and pine.  I’d like to have some time for this to open up to truly experience the flavors and in fact the winemaker recommends holding for 5-7 years, $40.

-          08 Nevaeh Red.  I tasted berry, cassis, mineral, plum and oak.  This wine is one of the first east coast wines to be named a Rhone Ranger, $40.

-          09 TerraNoVA, this allocation-only wine tasted of big currant, eucalyptus, menthol and red raspberry.  The fruit was harvested from several vineyards from Loudoun County.  Tarara selects its two favorite barrels of cabernet that best represents Loudoun’s terrior.  At $45, this is a very nice wine.

-          08 CasaNoVA.  This was the biggest wine of the bunch and therefore, my favorite red.  I tasted chocolate, mint, tobacco and cedar.  It was lovely, complex and well-rounded.  It was also $45.

-          07 Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was very Old World with earthiness, plum, cooked raspberries and strawberry notes.  It aged better than the white, but wouldn’t be my first choice to pull out of the cellar.

We ended with the 10 Honah Lee LH Petit Manseng, the winery’s first late harvest wine.  I tasted floral, honey and tropical notes.  It was a great dessert wine, but wasn’t for sale. We also tried an 08 syrah that was cold fermented with viognier – also not on the regular wine list yet.


Our next stop was Breaux Vineyards, which was founded in 1994 and opened to the public in 1997.  It has 104 acres planted with 18 different grape varieties – half red, half white — with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Owners, Paul and Jennifer Breaux, welcomed us with a hayride around vineyard.  It was scorching weather, but of course I had to participate as did most of our blogging crew. 



Jennifer Breaux Blosser, Sales & Hospitality Director 

We then moved into the cool cellar where we got to taste amongst the barrels and see how Virginia winemakers are encouraging experimentation with lesser known varietals like nebbiolo. 



We tried the following wines: 

-          10 Sauvignon Blanc – the perfect “after hayride” wine.  At $17, it was very crisp with citrus, melon and green apple notes.

-          10 Viognier – Lots of apricot, honey and floral notes with a touch of oak on the finish.  A very nice elegant wine for $24.

-          07 Nebbiolo Barrel Sample – Lots of promise in this wine.  I tasted deep berry, violet, roses and a bit of terrior-driven chalkiness.  It was a soft wine – even in the barrel – and one I can’t wait to try in the bottle, n/a.

-          07 Meritage – Definitely an Old World style with spice, pepper, blackberries and chocolate and oak on the finish.  It was a nice mosaic of Bordeaux varietals, which is priced at $28.

-          07 Cabernet Franc Reserve – very soft tannins with spice, blackberry, vanilla and raspberry.  Two bottles of this came home with me.

-          10 Cabernet Franc Barrel sample – I tasted raspberry and mocha.  This had a nice structure and it will be interesting to see what the end result brings, n/a.

-          10 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel sample – Blackberry, chocolate, mocha, cassis and mint were the dominant flavors in this blend.


David Pagan Castaño, winemaker

We then got to try a few others including the 08 Nota Viva Viognier, which was refreshing with tropical notes, but a nice minerality and the Corcoran Seyvel Blanc, which wasn’t my personal taste.


After that, we took a short bus trip to Grandale Farm Restaurant. The restaurant is located on a Historic Operating Farm in Loudoun County.  The mission of the restaurant is to source locally as much as possible and the picturesque garden showcased some great looking herbs, fruit and vegetables.  The dinner was fabulous and paired with Loudoun County wines.  I enjoyed the first two whites – a Viognier and a Chardonnay, but the dessert wine pairing tasted to most of us at the table like it had turned.


Wine Soiree Came to the Rescue Many Times This Weekend, But Couldn’t Save the Dessert Wine


After eating way too much food, we were transported back to one of two hotels where we either hit the bar, pool tables or if you were smart, got a full night’s sleep.  I wasn’t.

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